ELP LASER TURNTABLE
OUR OBSERVATIONS-CES/THE SHOW 2004
OWNER NO. 1
OWNER NO. 2
After many years of refinements and improvements, it now appears the most recent version of the ELP Laser Turntable from Japan must be taken seriously by even the most hard core vinyl enthusiasts. This may even become the first ever component, in audio history, to obsolete all previous designs attempting to accomplish the same task; accurately extracting the musical signal from the grooves on a vinyl record.
The information I'm receiving about this turntable is becoming pretty lengthy, and the ELP is also a totally unique component, so I felt the creation of a dedicated file would assist readers looking for everything posted about the ELP on this website.
I finally had a chance to see and "hear" this unique turntable at the 2004 CES. I say "hear" because it was demonstrated with mediocre "Home Theater" equipment (I'm serious), in an awful room, where you had to sit right in front of the speakers. Needless to say, all I can report, with certainty, is that it "works", even with records in poor condition.
After this highly disappointing experience, my associate and I, both of us vinyl die-hards, spent that evening discussing the turntable and how we should proceed with it at the current time. We took into consideration what happened that day, the review in the December 2003 Stereophile by Michael Fremer, and new technology in the pipeline.
Our bottom line advice for fellow, hardcore analog audiophiles:
This is our reasoning:
1. No experienced audiophile analog reviewer has lived with this turntable and reported on their findings with the sole exception of Michael Fremer. Further, in my opinion, Fremer does not have nearly enough credibility, on his own, to inspire the confidence to purchase such a risky, radically different component.
2.We are skeptical why, with a plethora of excellent systems and rooms available for use, the laser people chose a venue that did not allow an honest assessment of their model. Even if they were ignorant of their associate system before the show, many displayers would have welcomed them after they arrived, even for a temporary audition. They passed on this opportunity for the entire four days. It appeared to us that they may have something to hide.
3. Then there's Fremer's actual review. After reading it closely twice, I've come to the conclusion that it's another one of his (and Stereophile's) typical "read between the lines review", if you want to know his complete outlook. This opinion is based on the inconsistencies between Fremer's:
-Lengthy description and text;
-His personal course of action and
-His bottom-line recommendation and statement that "It's almost like a reel-to-reel tape". There are three issues that created this disconnect for us:
A. There's not enough honest and sincere "enthusiasm" from Fremer.
"What", you say, "he almost equated the turntable to a tape!?"
That's true, but he was even more enthusiastic about the Rockport Sirius III, which he claimed was so much better than the competition ("in every way, laughably better than anything else I've heard"), that Stereophile actually created a special class for it (A+). Fremer even admitted that he lost physical control of himself in his excitement ("I lost my footing. Literally. I was floored! I had to sit down and cool off."). That's not all...
He then asserted that a (homemade) CD-R copy of the Rockport's output was supposedly still better than the actual LP played on his own (Yorke/Immedia/Graham) reference system! ("the CD-R topped the LPs in overall presentation...") He doesn't state anywhere near such a performance gap this time. In contrast, the (professionally made) CD demo of the laser player is downplayed by Fremer.
In fact, at one point, Fremer even compared the Rockport to "live music"! ("This 'table produced forward motion and drive like nothing else I've ever heard...except live music.") After that, an "almost like a tape" performance isn't so impressive. The Rockport review is "on-line", so you can read it yourself to appreciate the enormous difference in the relative use of superlatives for the two models.
This "new laser era" should be, by far, the most exciting discovery and time of Fremer's entire audio life, but we don't get that feeling from him. He didn't even order one for his own personal use, even though it costs less than his current references, which he owns.
(Update- As predicted above, Stereophile/Fremer ended up placing the ELP into "Class A" of its Reference Components List of Turntables, along with a number of other turntables. The Rockport Sirius III Turntable is still, all by itself, in "Class A+". No, I'm not a "psychic", no one is. It's just that Fremer almost always "overestimates" a component's performance within the actual review. The truth comes out much later, usually only when it is irrelevant. See his SME and Avid turntable reviews for more examples of Fremer's interminable "cheerleading", which was soon forgotten.)
B. Fremer's description of the sound of "dirt" in the grooves didn't sound kosher to us. He used the words "soft", "more muted" and "thicker, more like blobs". Since dirt has a much greater variety of shapes and angles than the groove wall, it only makes sense that at least some of them should sound sharp and unique compared to the music engraved in the groove. He states just the opposite. However, if he is correct, this may be an indicator of a much more serious problem with this turntable.
C. Fremer totally ignores the profound economic implications of this laser design within his review. The basic ELP (33/45) costs around $ 11,000 with shipping and taxes. If the ELP performs as well as Fremer claims, the entire, serious high-end phono (turntable, tonearm, cartridge, MC step-up) industry is now permanently obsolete. Why would anyone, in their right mind, want to make a traditional purchase anywhere near the $ 11,000 total price to listen to:
1. far inferior sound;
2. in an always less than perfect setup;
3. and experience far less convenience,
4. while still living with a continual risk/damage to their records?
Take an example of a $ 5,000 turntable: Add a $ 2,500 tonearm, a $ 1,500 cartridge and a $ 1,000 step-up. You're now at $ 10,000, plus tax, with maybe a cable still required for your step-up, so you have to go a lot lower. The most you could rationally invest in a conventional phono system within this "new laser reality" would be in the $ 7,000 range tops, total. That eliminates virtually all turntables above $ 3,000, tonearms above $ 2,000, pickups above $ 2,000, and those numbers assume you don't require a step-up and an extra cable for a step-up, or an expensive set-up.
Just as important, why didn't Fremer advise the many people who already own expensive phono systems to sell them to get the ELP? Fremer doesn't even hint at any of these implications. If he was frank, dead honest and guileless, they would be emphasized.
4. There is a new, highly relevant technology that the current version of the ELP does not employ: the Blue Light Laser, which is much smaller than what they currently utilize. This new laser, if and when it is optimized, should noticeably improve the performance of this design. It should be able to read and reproduce what the current laser may be missing; the sharp angles of the dirt and, ultimately, the individuality of the music previously hidden within the grooves.
Since the Blue Light Laser will be used in the new generation High-Definition DVDs that have been recently announced, the cost of utilizing this new laser should drop like the price of Enron's stock.
5. Since the above was written, we now have confirmation (see "Owner No. 1") that the current ELP has "I.C.'s and Op-amps" in the signal path. This means that substantial sonic improvements can still be made in the future, and while they will surely increase the cost, they will be well worth it for the many audiophiles (such as myself) who much prefer tube (pre)amplification. (Note- Despite rumors to the contrary, the ELP does NOT convert the analog signal into Digital at any time.)
The ELP turntable could still be some type of sonic breakthrough even as this is written, but we would wait until considerably more questions and doubts were allayed before making the expensive choice of actually purchasing a model. After all, conventional designs, with all their problems, got us through "Digital", and they're still improving. We should all hope this laser player is for real, for all the obvious reasons, but demand thorough verification before placing it on the highest analog/phono pedestal.
Further- While this original conclusion, from January 2004, should be partially modified by the extra information I have since received from actual ELP owners, posted below, plus my personal comments on their observations,...
I want to make it clear what it will take for me to be personally interested in purchasing one of these laser turntables.
1. An ELP with a new tube circuit (or transformer step-up), to replace the transistors, plus...
2. The use of blue light lasers and
3. A phase switch (on the remote too!).
This is all technologically possible in 2006. For audiophiles who aren't as extreme as I am when it comes to demanding "all-out" performance, the current ELP may be quite satisfying. I would read this entire file, plus anything else you can find, before making a final decision. You may be able to hear an actual demonstration of the ELP, if you live near Los Angeles. See the Miscellaneous section below.
And now, as promised, the "radical" turntable alternative, basically forgotten by most audiophiles...
The unexpected performance level of the Reference Lenco MK. II inspired me to seriously think about how far we still are from "practical perfection" when it comes to turntables, and phono sources in general, and how the seemingly impossible engineering challenges can ever be overcome. This led me, step by step, to the only possible solution that I've ever been able to take seriously.
I still believe that the ELP Laser Turntable, while mainly ignored at present by serious audiophiles, has the potential to outperform any current (or even future) turntable/arm/cartridge combination. Sadly, the ELP has not evolved, even in the slightest degree, since its latest generational change, now more than a decade ago. In effect, the people who run the company are their own worst enemy.
So, what can be done to improve it to the next generation, where it will finally reach its potential? A number of important advancements are possible, all of them using currently available technology:
1. Utilizing a Blue Laser- This is, by far, the most important modification possible, because this laser has the ability to decipher ("see") smaller groove changes (the "music signal"). The blue laser is already used in "Blu-Ray" players, which are now selling at bargain prices, in contrast to when they came out more than a decade ago. There is no economic excuse not to utilize them at this point, plus they are now further advanced in precision and reliability. I believe the ELP would be sonically transformed with this one modification alone. Why they haven't already made this change by now is a complete mystery to me.
2. Computer Controlled Drive System- The ELP doesn't have to deal with "groove resistance" or "stylus drag", since there is no contact or friction involved in its playback (just like with CD/SACD). With powerful computer chips now selling for "peanuts", there is no reason not to upgrade their present drive system (and also utilize high quality materials for the platter/LP interface).
3. Upgraded "Amplification"- All the ELP requires is to output a signal suitable for a MM phono stage, and they already have a high enough output in the current generation. They should now improve the quality of the signal by hiring a top-notch designer, and not skimp on the parts and power supply (if even needed). This should not be expensive to accomplish, especially since no RIAA equalization is required in this design. They should also offer the option of tube amplification or even a simple (but high quality) step-up transformer, if technically possible. This modification could be a serious improvement.
4. Phase Switching- At the very least, a "phase switch" should be offered as an option, even if it would compromise the purity of the signal. For some audiophiles, it would still be worth it.
With these changes, the ELP will pick up much more information than at present, and then more accurately deliver it to the next (MM) stage. Since its design requires no contact, and is "linear", it inherently already has the optimum Alignment, Anti-Skating, VTA, VTF and Azimuth. Further, the ELP will never require any cartridge/tonearm set-up(!), break-in, later alterations due to break-in or seasonal changes, and will never damage even the most delicate record, no matter how many times it is played. All one must do is keep the records as clean as possible, which is a given in any circumstance, and acoustically isolate the player, which is also a given with conventional turntables.
The Bottom Line on the ELP- I believe, if it's ever made*, this new generation ELP would come closer to "perfection" than any conventional player, now and in the future, and at any cost. It's the only technological option for those audiophiles seeking the "Ultimate" and "Final" phono source that I can imagine. It will be expensive, and never be considered a "best buy", but it will still cost far less than most of the current premium players, especially considering the added costs of the tonearm and cartridge, and, finally, you can't put a price on never again being worried that you are wearing out your precious and rare records just by playing them, as they were meant to be. (If I was wealthy, I would consider coming out of my audio retirement, buy out the company, and make all of these changes myself. That's how confident I am that they would work.)
*There is one audio company in particular, Esoteric (Teac of Japan), which has the ideal engineering skills and financial resources, as well as the technological experience and manufacturing capabilities, to enable it to completely optimize the laser phono design. Its enviable reputation, and its existing and extensive marketing channels, would also be a huge plus. My fantasy is Esoteric fully commiting themselves to this unique design and finally doing it the justice it deserves.
Maybe, An Important Update!...
A veteran reader, who is also a long-time owner of the ELP, sent me some interesting information about this unique design in November 2014. Here are his edited letters:
1. The reader discusses the use of blue lasers, in contrast to what they are using now (CD Red):
"On his website, Mr. Chiba dismisses blue light lasers on the issue of noise. They've tried them years ago and found them wanting in this regard he says. Heuristically, this makes some sense to me as follows: assume there are tiny little specks in the grooves; imperfections in the vinyl, tiny granules or the like. With a larger laser beam, that is red, they are 'averaged', yielding a high s/n. With a much smaller laser, blue, the ratio of coherent signal, the music, is reduced, hence more noise. The same would apply to even larger stylus contact points.
It seems to me a critical issue is the size of the laser compared to the edge of the tool that cuts the groove for the master. If the beam is smaller than that, nothing is to be gained by making it smaller. I have no idea whether either or both types of beam meet such a criterion."
2. The reader also discusses the reported recent upgrade of the ELP, according to the manufacturer:
"In the manufacturer's own words: '(The) Laser System is the most critical section for (the) LT, such as reading audio in vinyl records and sound. As I reported (to) you, we achieved to get (the) Laser System (to) work double power so that the Laser Sound Quality from LT is now drastically better than (the) previous LT.'
I am still an owner, and I would repeat myself to the extent of saying that the convenience of the device, compared to traditional turntables, would make me very reluctant to turn back, not even considering the gentle treatment of precious vinyl. The sound remains excellent in my view, though I am not actively seeking alternatives. In a recent note, Mr. Chiba responded, to a direct query, that the doubling of the laser power captured more nuances from the groove. I thought this might be the case, though I have no good idea why. Since Mr. Chiba and his folks seem to have set this out as a design objective, given their years of experience with this technology, we might grant them the credit for knowing what they're doing. They seem to be alone out there pursuing this technology which has to be lonely."
Personal Notes- Well, there goes my decade old idea about using Blu-Ray lasers as an obvious "advancement", since the argument against them, stated above, appears pretty convincing to me. However, I still believe the internal amplifying electronics, currently in use in the ELP, can also be "drastically" improved, so there are still more acts to be played in the ELP "drama". (And my latest ELP "fantasy", having Esoteric manufacture their own all-out version of this turntable, is something I may never give up on.)
A reader of this website has purchased the latest ELP turntable. Even better, he has had extensive experience with top-of-the-line conventional turntables. Fortunately, he has allowed me to post his observations on this website. I've only edited his name and some personal stuff. Here are his e-mails:
"I just read your latest update and noted your thoughts on the ELP. I actually bought one and have been listening to it for a few days now. I'm not really into discussing my impressions with other audiophiles, as they typically don't share my tastes or musical preferences, but I have enjoyed your website and find many similarities in your sonic priorities to mine. Although my musical tastes lean more towards vocals and singer/songwriter music, I do value symphonic music a great deal.
Anyway, as a point of reference, my system consists of Vyger Indian Signature tt, ZYX 1000 Airy cartridge, Cat U-1 mkII pre, Wavac 833 mono amps, Stacked Quad 57 rebuilt by Wayne Piquet and Silversmith Palladium cabling. I recently purchased a Micro-Seiki SX-8000 (very excited about that) and a Shroeder Reference arm which will replace the Vyger (whether they sound better or not, I think the Micro is a 'classic' and something of a collectors item).
My initial thoughts on the ELP are positive. It reveals more subtlety and resolves complexity far better than the analog setup. High frequency is simply the best I've ever heard. There is a noticeable increase in immediacy, or lack of veiling, compared to the tt/cartridge. Vocals simply sound more 'present', and symphony music is more realistic in its ability to maintain all instrumental lines distinctly. Best of all, my foot seems to want to tap more. I find myself less concerned about stuff like VTA/VTF, because there isn't any and just listen to music. Initial concerns? May compress dynamics a little. Bass, especially midbass, is just plain different. Makes me wonder if all my experience is colored by resonance or if the ELP simply doesn't do bass as well. Bass articulation is quite good however. Even though it runs into the phono input on the preamp, I wonder if the ELP doesn't dry out the sound a little bit. I suspect the initial stage of amplification out of the laser is some sort of solid state device, maybe even an op-amp. Certainly a possible area for future improvement, as is the blue laser, like you suggested.
Bottom line is that for now I will be listening to the ELP a lot more, and the Vyger a lot less. Its ease of use and sonic qualities make it my preference for now. 2 months from now? That will be the test (along with the Micro/Shroeder).
Like most of us, I tend to get a little excited by new stuff, especially when there are clear, audible differences. The ELP is clearly different, and in ways which initially have me wanting to listen to more and greater variety of material. Its lack of distortion, transparency and immediacy are quite compelling. There is clearly more information coming thru than with phono. Much like your SE analogy of the ZYX cartridge (I liked that analogy a great deal as it was exactly what I heard with my ZYX), e.g. the ELP increases the subtle articulation of vocals. So far its strengths out weigh its weaknesses. Only over time will tell whether the ELP is better, or just different. One thing for sure; its more convenient!"
You should try isolating the ELP to see if there is room for further improvement, especially in the bass. If isolation can improve a CD player or a Digital Transport, which also use lasers, it should be able to improve the ELP.
"At present, I have the ELP up on a set of Mapleshade Ultimate triple points on a Billy Bags rack with sand in all the vertical rack tubing. Shelves are an unusual 'cracked glass' that Bags does (a layer of shattered safety glass sandwiched in between two layers of regular safety glass). Oddly, these shelves are quite 'dead', which is attributable to all the air spaces in the shattered safety glass layer, I think. Over the years, I continue to wonder whether its better to isolate components by 'grounding', like I've done with the ELP, all the way down into the cement floor, or 'floating' such as putting components on Aurios or other isolation devices. Grounding attempts to physically link all components into the ground itself, thus providing a path for vibration to travel and also lower overall component resonance by linking them together. Floating trys to isolate each component from the rest of the rack/system, and leave it to its own organic resonance's.
I've tried both, and have never drawn any firm conclusions. At the moment I've gone the 'grounding' route. But I have several sets of Aurios from past setups, and can always switch back.
The ELP continues to offer interesting insights into most records. Symphony in particular seems to benefit the most from the ELP's lack of distortion and ability to resolve lower level info and maintain independent instruments in the orchestra. I'm reasonably convinced its superior in overall extraction of information and transparency. Noise floor is lower as well. Bass, while different, is not objectionable. Bass impact, like dynamic peaks seems somewhat blunted but not at the expense of intelligibility. Imaging/soundstage is quite good in terms of stability and lateral/depth placement. There is a definite increase in ambience extending down into the lower frequencies. This may just be the result of a lower noise floor.
Overall, I continue to look forward to listening to more records. Only clear objections so far are the compressed dynamics. Only time will tell if, like most solid state and digital, the ELP's attractions are relatively short lived. For now it is relatively appealing."
"I do need to up date you: I discovered that the ELP was running into a 300 ohm load, instead of the suggested 47k ohm load. When I removed the loading, and restored the impedance to 47k ohm, the sound changed appreciably. In particular, the dynamics came back in spades, the bass become more prominent and extended and the somewhat analytical flavor of the sound was removed. So I'm back to re-evaluating. I'll send you more of an updated opinion in a week or two."
"Brief update. I've now spent another several weeks with the ELP (with 47k loading), and my early reservations about the bass and dynamics are completely gone. Both are at least the equal of my analog rig, with the bass response being better in most cases. Intelligibility, and/or enunciation, are clearly better on the ELP without any hardness. Air and HF info is superb; orchestral music sounds distinctly more 'real' due to several effects:
1.) Superior ambient information retrieval
2.) Subtle definition of notes (like French horn) are much improved. It's easier to follow individual instruments through musical passages. Better localization of instruments, BUT within their own sound field (this is key, they still float but in their own reverberant field, when it exists)
3.) Better cohesion of the entire sound field during more demanding moments.
So what don't I like?
Large, dynamic moments cause the ELP to 'skip'. This may be fixed (haven't tried yet) by moving the laser down the wall of the groove slightly. But on RCA Reiner Pines of Rome (Classic reissue), the final adagio produced several skips.
Dirt and groove damage still sound worse than on normal analog playback.
Unit seems to sound strained under demanding and loud passages, though this may actually be my speaker/amp combo. I'm not sure yet. But music does seem to get 'grainy' in these moments.
The ELP seems to reveal more of the artificial accent of the highs on popular (rock, singer/songwriter etc) music. My Vyger/ZYX sounds better in this instance, but they are still muffled/indistinct compared to the ELP on a relative basis.
While the ELP definitely makes vocals sound more 'alive' and 'present', it does seem to lose a little richness. It clearly brings out more nuance in voices without being edgy or bright, but it does sound a little dryer perhaps. I can't tell whether this is more due to the recording or not, since I don't get as much of this sense of 'dryness' on symphony material.
That's about it for now. I am planning to set up my Micro-Seiki with Schroeder in the next few weeks and will see how they fare. So far I would say the ELP is a 'keeper', because it is so easy to use and it does sound preferable overall to the Vyger, but not without its own weaknesses. I do hope someone with considerable circuitry skill can eventually look inside to evaluate the gain stages after the laser pickup. I have to believe they are probably using an IC of some sort, and this could be major source of potential improvement.........hope springs eternal!"
You can try lowering the volume and see if it effects the problems you're having at high volumes. Maybe there is an overload in your system.
I often wondered about what happened to the "signal" from the laser. They were ambiguous about this when I asked them about it at the show, but implied it went directly to the outputs, with no amplification at all, except in the model with RIAA equalization and a line output.
Now you inform me that it may be going through some sort of "IC". If this is true, it's great news, because that means what you are hearing can be much improved with proper tube preamplification, as you mention.
"I am not entirely sure about the IC circuitry. At some point I hope to have a knowledgeable US person open it up and take a look. As I have continued to think about it, the ELP actually seems to combine many of the positive aspects of CD and LP playback. That would be my 'capsule' summary of it.
I do wonder if it may be temperature sensitive. Its been fairly cold of late in So Cal, and my room temp has dropped form the low 70's to the low 60's. The sound has seemed a little 'harder' lately. Only time (and seasons) will tell. I will keep you posted."
"We have had a heat wave of sorts and this has given me some new reflection on the ELP. It appears to be temp sensitive. With my room temps climbing back above 70, the sound becomes more natural and softer. the highs which were sounding rather 'hissy' (as in ssssibilence), have come back in balance and overall the sound is now back to my original recollection of being more 'real' sounding than my turntable. You just cannot get away from the transparent and immediacy of this product. I find it disarming despite the fact that there are distinct solid state sounding artifacts still left in the music. I wonder though if these are artifacts in the recoding themselves as the degree of these artifacts vary widely from record to record. We all assume that the record is infallible and that the equipment must be at fault, but this is not true as many records have been made with less than ideal electronics in the recording chain.
In further studying the ELP owners manual, I now see a note regarding the need for an initial 'warm up' of 20-60 minutes when the ELP unit is first unpacked. Specifically, this refers to the 'photo-chemical' elements of the laser pickup needing to warm up and how they will alter the sound until they are sufficiently warmed up. It adds that winter temperature conditions may adversely affect playback. So I guess I need to keep the ELP warm somehow. Maybe sit it over my amps??"
And an addendum:
"...One thing I forgot to mention preciously is that the ELP does benefit from about 30 days of break-in. Music becomes somewhat more relaxed and ambience (which is really one of the major strong suits of the ELP) is further enhanced."
And a further addendum:
"...the ELP experienced its first operational failure and is back in Japan being repaired. I'll keep you posted on the cause of its failure and whether it is something to be concerned with on a longer term basis...FWIW, ELP has admitted to the use of both IC's and Op-amps in their audio circuitry; good news and bad news. I will be lobbying them to make changes in this area."
My Reply- The fact that the ELP has now been confirmed to have "IC's and Op-amps" in its signal path is fantastic news for dedicated vinyl enthusiasts. This means that the ELP's performance, no matter how superior it is overall at this time compared to conventional turntables, can still be dramatically improved in the future. Also, a phase-switch should be a relatively easy addition with this design, since it can be accomplished before the amplification stage, which traditionally causes all the problems with switching circuits. An ELP with a new tube circuit (or transformer step-up), blue light laser and a phase switch (on the remote too!), is fast becoming one of my greatest audiophile fantasies.
Please go to the Micro-Seiki entry in Turntables, Class B, for the prologue to these observations. As for the ELP turntable itself, these are the most recent (edited) letters from this same reader (they're actually from late Spring 2004, but I was slow in my updates):
"On the subject of the ELP, I have continued to listen and compare. I have spent some time trying to dial in my ZYX cartridge on the Micro Seiki (I lowered the tracking force to about 1.8 gm and increased the magnetic damping on the Schroeder arm). At this point I would give the overall nod to the Micro/ZYX. The ELP still sounds better on voices and (is) more 'alive' by virtue of its hi freq reproduction. The ELP falls short in the bass in terms of both power and intelligibility. The most noticeable shortcoming of the ELP is that it sounds distinctly 'strained' during more complex passages. On simple stuff it still sounds stunning but on symphony it starts to loose its cool somewhat relative to the turntable. This may be a power supply issue of simply the telltale signs of the IC's and op amps used in the gain stage(s). One interesting item is that when I pressed the ELP technician about why they haven't tried a tube gain stage he replied that it would be too expensive. I hope the circuitry is straight forward enough to allow a good technician to go in and possibly upgrade the circuit/signal path. Its still a wonderful piece of gear and I suspect that the current discounts they are giving on older models may allow more of us to try them (and maybe modify them)."
This was from another letter a week later:
"A little more of an update: I spent a great deal of time yesterday and today comparing the ELP and the Micro... The ELP does the best overall job of producing 'life like' sound both in terms of transparency and harmonics.
The Micro/ZYX are a notch behind in information retrieval but some might prefer their laid back presentation. It is exceptionally smooth. I do wonder if the thin suede mat used by the Micro over the steel platter might be partially to blame for this. (I) may experiment with this later. As (I) mentioned previously, this is especially true on music which is simple; the more complex music tends to take on a strained character. The main drawback to the ELP is the distortion that creeps in as complexity goes up and a lack of relative energy in the bass. My wife characterizes voices on the ELP as 'richer' and with more 'body'. This is absolutely the case. The distortion present is not enough to make you want to change the music, but just a minor sort of slight fuzziness that come through and reminds you that its still not perfect.
I am going to try and get an acknowledged high end electronics tech to look inside the ELP over the summer. Minimally I hope we can either by-pass or replace some of the Op amps/IC's in the gain circuitry. I'll keep you posted as things progress."
Another reader of this website also purchased the latest version of the ELP. These are his observations, with minor editing:
"...I promised you some comments on the ELP turntable after I had a chance to listen to the one I bought. Let me give you some initial comments that may still suffer from "the halo effect".
First, I'll say I have very little to quarrel with MF's comments in Stereophile.
I'd add the following: bass seems more solid across the board than I've heard from analog and easily rivals digital in every respect. This effect is most noticeable in rock, jazz or pop with the kick drum or string bass. The sound here has a realistic edge or punch that I had heretofore thought of as an immutable advantage of digital. No more. This is not, of course, limited to such recordings, just more frequently noticeable.
The other noticeable effect (which is more important, IMO), is what I'd call transparency for lack of a better word. This comes in two parts: first a seemingly silent background (yes pops and ticks, see below), like digital. But second, no sense that the music is in any way spatially limited in terms of depth (and not very limited in terms of breadth as well). Unlike digital, the music can seemingly fall away very deeply into the transparent pool. This is, of course, not true of all records by any means. Some of my favorites have been disappointing in this regard (the Springteen I've listened to so far for example). Many classical and pop records have seemed, however, to demonstrate this effect.
I just got done listening to a Reiner-Don Quixote. Really wonderful in almost every respect (I've got a Victrola pressing, BTW, not the original RCA). The presentation sonically is superb, spatially, very wide and deep with a localization and breadth one would expect from a fairly close seat in a concert hall.
There are much more in the way of pops and ticks than is normal from a stylus. These can be cured to some degree by serious cleaning, but not as much as one would like. However, the impact is ameliorated to some extent because the noise is isolated to a single point on a very wide and deep soundstage. But I'm in the market for the best cleaning stuff to use with my VPI. A slightly disconcerting fact is that this machine is very orthogonal to a stylus in terms of record defect impacts. One's instincts learned over forty years of playing with a stylus are consistently wrong. What look like serious problems on the surface of a record often have minimal, if any, effect. On the other had small bits of dust can have big results, the most spectacular being fine cat hairs (adhering per static electricity), which would ordinarily be brushed aside by a stylus, cause strange effects even to the point of stopping play.
I don't follow (Michael) Fremer enough to know whether he held back from giving this machine his highest praise. It is the best of my experience, though that experience is limited to AR/Sumiko and Maplenoll. However, I'd make another point in favor of this machine. Those of us who have irreplaceable vinyl have a vested interest in the success of this machine. We are all in a sense archivists, and no device with a stylus can be as good at this. I've found, despite my best efforts, which I'm sure fall short of many enthusiasts, that I notice what can seemingly only be stylus damage in the grooves of a number of records I would have thought to be in good shape. Fortunately, the ELP almost always can find another part of the groove so to speak so avoid this. But I'm glad I'm sure I'm not damaging my records anymore.
Hopefully, with support, this product can succeed and its quality can improve in every respect and/or the cost come down. That's it for now."
Personal Notes- The evidence keeps growing that the latest ELP turntable is "special". My desire to hear one of these players, in my own system, is also "growing". It's too bad that auditions are next to impossible to arrange, but I guess that would raise the price.
As fas as I know, this is information from and about the current ELP dealer for the United States:
"BLW Corporation is our newest Laser Turntable dealer for the United States. Located only 8 miles south of the Los Angeles International Airport, BLW features a special Laser Turntable demonstration room. Local residents and visitors to the Los Angeles area can make an appointment for a private demonstration in person. BLW's customer care support and local experts on staff will make sure you are satisfied with your purchase!"
For more information, please contact BLW Corporation:
Torrance, CA, USA
Further Note- There's also some information from the former agent/distributor of the ELP in North America. It's at this URL address: http://www.smartdev.com/LT/laserturntable.html
I received this letter from a reader who has extensive experience with many of the finest audio components ever made. Even better, he has compared these components to each other, and is not hesitant with directly stating his observations and evaluations. There is some minor editing and my bold:
"ELP Laser turntable - Initially, this had a sound that closely resembled master tapes (a friend of mine has a Studer A80 and respectable collect of 15 IPS master dubs). However, the sound seemed to homogenize and become increasingly dull as the unit aged, losing most of the magic it had when new. I sold mine, but later bought a second ELP used. The used model had already lost its 'magic' and sounded just like my original after it had aged for about 6 months. I cannot explain why the sound changes (maybe the photochemical elements age??). Certainly a brilliant concept, but not a commercial success." (08/2013)
I recently received this brief news update from a reader who is a long-time owner of the ELP turntable, which I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere. How important it is, I don't know at this time. Here it is, with some minor editing:
"I opted for the latest ELP upgrade, which according to Chiba works at double speed and double power. In any case, I've gotten it returned and I think I detect a significant improvement in resolution which aids imaging and more solid bass. These were always very good to my ears and are better now. Of course, I wouldn't know how to eliminate halo effect." (04/2016)
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