CLASS C (LOWER) LINN SONDEK LP-12
OTHER INTERESTING TURNTABLES
VPI EXCLUSIVELY NEW!
VINTAGE IDLER DRIVES
ELP LASER TURNTABLE
Turntables have made steady progress from the original idler-drives and the early efforts of the, then revolutionary, AR (Acoustic Research) belt-drive turntable (and tonearm from the early 1960's). The first true modern high-end turntables were the original version of the Goldmund Studio and the (large) Micro Seikis, quickly followed by the innovative Oracle and the original Townshend Rock. The VPI HW-19 turntable eventually evolved into a less expensive combination of the Goldmund and the Oracle designs. The two Versa Dynamics models arrived at the end of the 1980’s. Then came the superior Forsell models and the Rockports etc.
Nothing revolutionary (no pun intended) has been done with "modern designs" in the last few years, but there has been some evolution; multiple motors, better isolation, heavier platters and deader materials. In my opinion, and experience, the most important development since 2000 has been the rediscovery, and optimization, of idler and direct drives, using superior plinths and then improved bearings and motors.
This is the finest turntable I have ever heard. For me, the Reference Lenco was an important and unexpected development, and, accordingly, I wrote an extensive essay/review of it in May/June 2010. It was originally located here. However, the length and scope of this essay/review was such that I have now decided it should have a dedicated file: The Lenco L 75 Reference Turntable. Also included in this file are my early and recent correspondence with idler-drive (and rim-drive) enthusiasts, which were also originally located in this file. In effect, idler/rim-drives now have their own dedicated file.
One of my associates, who has many decades of experience with the finest turntables available, recently (June 2015) sent me his observations concerning the latest version of the top-of-the-line Kuzma turntable. I haven't heard this turntable yet myself, though I am very familiar with the earlier XL4. Here is his review, with minor editing and my bold.
For the record- Both turntables used the exact same tonearm and cartridge, so they were not a factor.
After owning the Kuzma XL4 turntable (with the AirLine Tonearm) for 7 years, and being fully satisfied with its performance and reliability, coupled with ease of use, I could not foresee another analogue set up that could be its superior. About a month ago, an email arrived from Franc Kuzma advising that a substantial upgrade to the XL4 was now available. The upgrade involves the following: replacement of all 4 motors with a single much larger DC motor, as well as a new short, hard plastic belt in lieu of the previous 4 soft rubber belts, and an all new DC computer control unit replacing the previous AC controller. Added for convenience is a control pad that can be placed next to the platter, obviating the need to control speed and on/off at the controller.
My initial reaction was, how could this new single motor offer a performance upgrade to the 4 motors which created a virtual equal drive system to the platter? Color me skeptical. But on Kuzma's recommendation and insistence that the upgrade would be highly worthwhile, I ordered the DC XL kit. Cost is a hefty 8,800 Euros (almost $ 10,000 US). It better be superior was my thought.
If the DC kit was in fact an upgrade, now becoming obsolete would be the previous AC computer controller, 4 motors and belts. Three weeks later the DC XL kit arrived. Installation is a 15 minute completely intuitive procedure. Kuzma does provide excellent instructions on how to install the kit. The process involves firstly removing the platter. Then the 4 belts come off. The 4 motor connections to the AC controller are removed as well as the AC power cord. The 4 motors are removed. The DC kit involves placing the new DC motor to the left of the platter with a puck like guide used to position it in exact alignment to the platter. The new blue plastic belt is placed around the motor pulley and the sub platter. The platter is then reinstalled. The control pad is placed to the right front of the platter. Two provided power connection cables are attached to the motor and the control pad which then connect to the DC controller. Process complete.
From a functional point of view, the new DC motor drive gets up to speed in about 4 seconds compared to 30 seconds for the original. And the speed is absolutely dead on, with the total absence of any wavering or fluctuation.
Although being intimately familiar with the sound of the XL4, a conclusive comparison of the old table to the new set up mandated auditioning a series of reference recordings first on the original turntable and then on the new DC kit. I was somewhat skeptical that the new DC would improve the performance of the already superb XL4, but I was determined to remain as open minded as possible. In other words, there was no predisposition to the DC kit being a priori superior. After concluding the evaluation on the original XL4, the sound as always was superb in all parameters of performance, but I was aware of certain aspects of the reproduction on a couple of LPs that could be improved upon. Next up was listening to the same recordings using the DC kit.
From the first cut of the first LP, it was abundantly clear that DC Kit takes the sonics to a new level. Initially, the volume actually appeared to be up 1-1.5 db in level. All the LPs were more transparent with greater immediacy and not only more transient precision, but with impact that was viscerally thrilling. There was a directness to the reproduction that was lacking before. The old motor drive system slightly smeared transients causing a slurring between fast changing notes. Higher resolution of low level detail as well as more complete harmonic rendering was apparent. There was now a sense of solidity and authority that is akin to the amplifiers in the system doubling in power. This is highly reminiscent of the best qualities inherent to the finest idler-wheel drives.
Bottom Line- This modification tangibly enhances the musical message. A previously great analogue set up has been elevated to a new realm. And that is what makes the new DC XL an overwhelming success.
Personal Note- Based on my own experiences comparing belt and idler-drive turntables, it is my opinion that the primary reason for the sonic improvements, observed and described by my associate, is the "new blue plastic belt", and not the new DC motor. Somehow, Kuzma has severely reduced the problematic sliding and/or stretching of normal turntable belts (which causes speed instability), while still avoiding the transference of motor noise and vibrations. This development may be an actual "breakthrough" in turntable design, though only time will tell if that is true.
Kuzma Audio (Turntables and Tonearms) NEW 9/14
This turntable/tonearm combination was evaluated by (3 of) my associates over the last 6 months. At my request, the most literate and experienced of the group has written a succinct "review". I was not part of the listening group. Please keep in mind that this is Kuzma's latest 4 motor unit. Furthermore, I have a somewhat different perspective concerning turntables, so I have posted some "Personal Notes" below the review. There's some very minor editing on my part, plus my bold:
"Spending almost $40,000 on a tonearm/turntable combination, especially in light of the vast advances in fidelity offered by the finest SACD players, may seem wildly irresponsible or decadent (others may classify it insane), but if the goal is to extract the most information from those archaic vinyl discs, and maximize the enjoyment involved in listening to records, it is money well spent. Bear in mind that a further expenditure of at least $5,000 for a cartridge, and at a minimum another similar amount on a phono preamp, and we are now talking $50 big ones to spin vinyl. Obviously, the Kuzma, with 4 motors, is a highly esoteric product that is beyond the reach of the overwhelming majority of even hard core analog addicts, but its significance cannot be dismissed or minimized.
The Kuzma, mated to a top flight cartridge, like a Dynavector XV 1S, and a state of the art phono preamp such as the Aesthetix Lo, will allow the listener to hear detail and musical nuances from records that were heretofore buried in the grooves. The resultant music will be revealed at a level that must be experienced to be believed. As good as other turntable/arms of lesser price can be (i.e Forsell, Acutus, VPI HRX, Clear Audio, Basis, Linn, Verdier, Goldmund, etc), once the Kuzma is auditioned, it becomes evident just how much information has gone missing in action, or has been perverted in transmission.
To simplify, turntables fall into two categories of design and construction. They are generally low mass, spring suspension designs which are typified by Linn, Oracle, Avid, Basis, and then there are those that are high mass, either damped or not, such as VPI HR-X, Forsell, Micro Seiki etc. To generalize, the former group will excel in the micro realm, that is they usually offer a transparent, neutral sound that is not the last word in bass impact and overall weight and impact. Compared to turntables in this category, good SACD players will sound noticeably superior in terms of bass performance, dynamics, impact and punch. The high mass turntables' strengths will be macro oriented, with bass extension, wide dynamics and impact being their forte. These analog units will provide stiff competition and may even surpass the performance of the best SACD players in these sonic parameters.
It takes an ingenious design with meticulous execution to be able to combine the best attributes of both turntable design camps. Very few manage this feat, and unfortunately it cannot be accomplished on the cheap. The Kuzma is the least expensive (I know difficult to believe at its steep price) design that has achieved success in combining the micro and macro performance in one package. The Kuzma's overall sound is so neutral, that after months of evaluation it is difficult to criticize. It is so superior to any competitor that sells for $20K or less, that delineating its flaws are almost impossible. Its all there- transparency, immediacy, full extension at both frequency extremes, huge image with pin point precision and localization of instruments within the soundstage, complete rendering of harmonics and low level detail AND explosive dynamics with weight and impact that will make you think your amplifier is on steroids.
From a design perspective and build quality, the Kuzma is state of the art. Nothing about the arm and the table are less than the finest. It is designed to be simple to set up and maintain and it has proven highly reliable that should provide decades of enjoyment filled use. Once it is set up, there is very little to adjust, except of course, cartridge adjustments such as VTA, VTF, SRA etc. These are made exceptionally easy due to the Kuzma tonearm design which permits VTA adjustment on the fly and exact settings with the use of a digital readout. Using an air compressor for the air bearing tonearm is a minor annoyance, but it is exceptionally quiet and virtually maintenance free.
There may be other turntable/tonearms that offer superior performance in specific areas, or perhaps even overall. Rest assured that they will NOT be less expensive, and most likely will be substantially more costly. At its price (that of a very nice automobile), the Kuzma will not be bettered nor will it be easier to use or maintain. To hear the seemingly unlimited potential of analog reproduction, the Kuzma must be experienced in a state of the art audio system. It will represent musical reproduction at its highest level."
Personal Notes- I am very confident of my associates' evaluation of the sonic performance of the Kuzma. That is why I placed the Kuzma in Class A, despite the fact that I have not heard it myself. However, I have a somewhat different perspective on turntables. I believe there are two inherent and fundamental problems that all turntables must overcome: incorrect speed and audible vibrations.
Accurate speed requires enough torque and inertia to overcome any drag caused by the inevitable friction from the continual and changing stylus/record groove interface. That sounds easy to accomplish, but it isn't, as audiophiles who have (joyfully) experienced (and appreciated) idler-drives (for proper torque) and/or very heavy platters (for inertia) will testify. If successful, this is where the "macro" information will be heard (and felt) and then jealously valued. Thorens and Garrard provided torque with their (now vintage) idler-drives, while Micro Seiki and Melco were the first turntable manufacturers that used extremely heavy platters.
The turntable must also be vibration free, including the platter, from internal and external sources. Goldmund, using metapolymers, was the first manufacturer I know of to address this issue in a serious manner. Townshend Audio (with the Rock) made their contribution with a hydraulic suspension. Now almost every modern turntable design attempts to reduce unwanted vibrations. If successful, this enables the turntable to sound neutral (without a character) and pure at all volume levels, along with allowing low-level ("micro") sounds to be heard, and not obscured.
My historical take is also somewhat different. While it is true that the Linn LP-12 was once relatively superb at capturing low-level sounds (in the 1970's, compared to most mediocre direct-drives), which is why it became popular in the first place, it can no longer compete in micro capabilities compared to the many superior modern turntables, such as the Forsell or Kuzma, which have much fewer internal vibrations (resonances).
Finally, as I promised a few years ago, I have recently initiated a project of building a DIY Idler-drive turntable, using a vintage turntable as the foundation. It will be "all-out" (meaning "no excuses"), and will have a tonearm similar to the (linear) Forsell. Thus any comparisons will be fair and relevant. I'm hoping the turntable will be completed this Fall, or early Winter. I should receive it in February 2010. I will report back at that time, or earlier if helpful. My goal is for it to honestly compete with the Kuzma, but at a much lower cost. I'm optimistic. If the project is deemed successful, I will do my best to help interested readers duplicate the results.
I asked my associates to evaluate any differences that could be heard going from 2 to 4 motors on the (top of the line) Kuzma Stabi XL turntable. This is important, because most owners (and reviewers) have only heard the original 2 motor version. This is their report, with my bold:
"The differences are subtle, but noticeable and more discernable the higher the resolution the audio system in which it is placed. The sonic advantages of the 4 motors are as follows:
1. Greater speed stability- Which results in virtually perfect pitch reproduction. This becomes apparent only when you switch from the dual motors to the quad, or if one is hyper sensitive to pitch deviations. The rock solid speed stability provides the feeling that sustained instruments such as piano, never alter their timbre and tone and sound disarmingly real.
2. Wider dynamic gradations- The gradations from ffff to pppp are more relaxed, and the levels between those extremes more obvious.
3. Enhanced sense of weight and authority- Akin to increasing the wattage of your amplifier, but with no sonic penalty. Hard transients have greater intensity, and instruments possess a heightened feel of more harmonic content.
4. More expansive soundstage- The sound field opens up, especially on large orchestral works. Grander sense of scale is revealed, and with no loss of focus or precision within the soundstage.
Overall, the improvement going to the 4 motors is worthwhile and, once experienced, there is no going back to the dual motors."
Personal Notes- The Kuzma Stabi XL4 is now our baseline Reference turntable. The first competitor for the Kuzma will be an all-out Wood Lenco (with a Graham Phantom II tonearm, while the Kuzma will use its own Air-Line linear arm).
With the one important exception of the Reference Lenco, these are the two finest turntables that I have ever heard overall in my own system. This Class A ranking is conditional. These turntables (both of them) require extraordinary isolation and very specific air regulation to reach their ultimate (Class A) level of performance. When the Forsells are optimized, they have unprecedented neutrality and retrieval of low-level information, plus a huge and focused soundstage, and they are at least excellent in every other sonic parameter, though not "state of the art".
The Air Force model, with the flywheel, is a little better than the basic "Reference" model; it has slightly superior speed stability, but I feel it is not worth the hassle, cost and speed pitch problems (the basic speed will change slightly every time it's turned on.) Both turntables share another problem:
The VPI HR-X "Special Edition", the Verdier, the top of the line Maplenoll models, and all of the Melcos, have better bass reproduction than either of the Forsells.
Further- I was recently (12/03) asked by a reader to name any "potential problems" to look for before purchasing a used Forsell Turntable. This is how I replied to him:
There are two potential problems:
1. The Motor- It may get noisy and fail. Fortunately, it should be able to be directly replaced with an entire new motor from Redpoint. This "solution" is in theory only at this time, since I don't know anyone who has done this so far. (I might take this route next year myself if I decide to keep my Forsell loaner, for sonic reasons, along with the increased reliability.)
2. The Platter Bearing- The only method of testing for this is to listen to solo piano, or another instrument, which is sensitive to noticeable "wow and flutter". If the bearing does go, the only possible repair, that I am aware of, is from Forsell themselves. I had this problem with my previous Forsell, and a technician from Forsell repaired it (along with my friend's Forsell, which had the same problem).
Forsell Motor Replacements- A helpful reader sent me some important information for Forsell Air Reference owners who require a motor replacement. This is really good news, since there appears to be no manufacturer or distributor assistance at this time, in North America or in Europe, which I consider a disgrace. Sadly, the people who own the "Air Force" model, which uses a separate flywheel, still have a problem. Here's his communication, slightly edited;
"I found the (Forsell) motor in Belgium. The cost is $ 30. The company is Premotec, and it's located in the Netherlands (www.premotec.com)".
(The item number is:) 9904-120-16214. (It is) 24V DC.
PS: They should look and ask for the Belgian Agent. He may have it in stock, but they have also an agent in the USA."
For Improved Air Flow- I use 3 low-pressure, high-flow pumps for the tonearm, and 2 low-pressure, high-flow pumps for the platter. Each group has its own dedicated regulator, with 1% variability down to 1 PSI. I use the Schrader-Bellows models. The tonearm supply also uses the surge tank that comes with the turntable, the platter does not.
For Improved Acoustical and Mechanical Isolation- I use an 18" bicycle inner tube underneath a .75" metapolymer plate, then 9 fluid bags between the plate and the bottom of the Forsell base. The fluid bags must all be the same size, or one/some of them will bear more/all of the weight, compromising the isolation and maybe even causing an eventual leak, which could be disastrous. This isolation system, both the most economical and effective I've found, may also work with other turntables.
This reader, from Europe, has discovered an easy method to improve the performance of the Forsell air-bearing tonearm. I will try it myself as soon as I have a chance, and get back with the results at that time. Any Forsell owner who duplicates this experiment, is highly encouraged to relay their experiences here, no matter what the results. This letter was edited:
"I discovered that if I twisted the (Golden) armtube slightly towards the front, then the arm would float easier on its air cushion, allowing me to turn down the airflow and get less turbulent flow. Why this is, I do not know, but it may be a good tip for other Forsell owners as well. The armtube is just slightly turned along its axis, making the air holes not pointing straight upwards, but slightly to the front (maybe 5 degrees from the vertical). I adjusted all the angles, and set the vta to almost neutral (level arm), and found it to play marvellous."
A helpful reader sent me a link to Forsell's (new?) website. The actual link is below, and also in the Link File. Here's the URL:
The Verdier La Platine comes without its own tonearm (they don't make any). However, it can accommodate two tonearms at the same time. Our experiences have been very positive using one of the Class B tonearms (VPI JMW 12).
The overall sound quality appears to be competitive with the Forsell combinations, and superior to the other designs within this class. This turntable utilizes magnets for its bearing instead of air pumps, but it has its own impracticalities; including no suspension, a weight of 120 lbs., and a price of $ 8,000 without the tonearm, which I still find "reasonable".
CAVEATS: The earlier models had an overly resonant (concrete) base which they called "granito". They are not References. (One reader wrote that he was able to reduce the resonance "by using 3 heavy triple point brass cones (Mapleshade) on top of the base at the available 3 corners, and an additional cone on top of the arm board over the mounting bolt.")
There have also been some problems with the magnets, which can cause hum over time. This problem is repairable by the owner, so it is not serious.
I have, personally, auditioned this particular model, but not at great length. It is probable that this design subtracts some low-level information (in comparison to the Forsell models). This was based on two (short) listening sessions and also conversations with some other of my associates, who are much more familiar with the sound of this design than I am.
Further- I've read a number of comments by Verdier owners who claim that using the Redpoint/Galibier Motor Drive System noticeably improves their turntables. It uses batteries and also provides critical speed adjustments. The cost is $ 800. Neither I, nor my associates, have any direct experience with this drive system. There are links to these two companies in the Link File. (8/03)
These turntables should have been here from the initial introduction of this list. They were missing because of my oversight. They were superb value new, and even better value used. Their bass, dynamic qualities and speed stability are as good as it gets. They are also generally neutral and highly detailed. They can be further improved with updates. They lack the last bit of "refinement" and neutrality that is necessary to join the Class A turntables.
Neither of these are turntables for a "novice". They are both very heavy and difficult to set-up properly. They are still well worth the trouble to find and optimize.
A reader informed me that he has updated manuals for certain Maplenoll models. He can also suggest simple modifications to improve virtually all the different models.
This generous reader is prepared to help people for free. Any reader interested in this information should send an e-mail to this website, and the message will then be forwarded to this Maplenoll connection. This website is not otherwise involved in the communication.
There were originally two models, plus enhanced versions of both. Both have had some reliability problems because of their complicated design. The original designer/owner, John Bicht, is still available to both service and upgrade them. In their day, the late 1980’s to early 1990’s, they were the best turntables in the world.
They still hold up today because of their very advanced design and unique tonearm. They should be modified with better air regulation and by defeating their suspensions, if possible. The more expensive model, the Model Two, is a little better than the Model One, but both are superb. They have very noisy pumps that you will have to sonically "hide", despite the fact that they are within a solid container. When optimized, the two Versa’s are probably the finest overall turntable/tonearm combinations within this class.
It's around 3 decades ago now, but there was a time when the original Goldmund Studio took the title of "The Finest Turntable in the World" from the Linn-Sondek LP-12. Of course it was an unfair competition, considering that the Goldmund was much more expensive, had up-to-date engineering and was manufactured from advanced materials (lead/plastic polymers). It was also much easier to setup, and it stayed setup.
The last model they made, with a metacrylic base, is the finest of this series and the particular model designated as a Reference. The suspension should be defeated like the above Versas. (Sorbothane pucks or their equivalent.)
The Goldmund Tonearm, the T-3F, was very good, but it was not equal to the performance of their own turntable and a hassle not only to set-up, but also to operate and maintain. Other tonearms are preferable. (See the Tonearm File.) All of them will work well with the Goldmund, though the mounting will be tricky. (The Goldmund Studio's subchassis (or plinth), which is made out of an exotic metapolymer, is very difficult to drill through.)
With the proper tonearm mounted correctly, and the suspension defeated, the Studio comes reasonably close to the Versa for a lot less money and it is a joy to use. It is noticeably superior to any of the CLASS C turntables below.
Considering its long-term influence and the fact that this design is still "competitive" after 3 decades, it is obvious to me that:
and not the (far inferior) Linn Sondek LP-12, which is just a few years older.
Caveat: The Studio is as deep as it is wide, and doesn’t fit on standard shelves.
Clarification- The earlier Goldmund Studio models, with their metapolymer platter and subchassis, but with wood bases, are still superior to the Class C tables below, but the sonic differences are not as pronounced; so you can rate them Class B/C.
Repair Issues- I've been recently informed that Goldmund can no longer provide the direct-drive motors for these turntables if and when they need to be replaced. Any verification of this bad news would be appreciated. Even better would be some information on how to find a (direct) replacement motor.
However, really early Goldmund models have a potential problem that can not be repaired. This is from the Goldmund website:
"Our early production of the Goldmund Studio and Studietto turntables used a motor made by Pabst in Germany which was discontinued in the early 80s by its manufacturer without service possibilities. We changed the motor for a JVC one which we still have in stock for service. Any turntable using the early motor will be unusable when the motor stop working and we have no way to help, the original manufacturer not providing even spare parts. The Pabst motor is easily recognizable being in one part, with very thin loose wire connecting it to the front panel of the turntable. On the contrary, the JVC motor was made in two separate parts, motor and electronic board, was covered, under the suspended top plate of the turntable by a thin molded plastic black cover and attached to the front panel by a flat cable. We strongly encourage all buyers to not buy the Pabst version since the motor are now 20 years old minimum and cannot be repaired."
The Clamp- The Goldmund Clamp was expensive, but superb, one of the finest clamps ever made and I highly advise using it.
The Studietto- The Goldmund Studietto was their least expensive design. Its midrange and high frequencies were similar to the Studio, but it had mediocre bass and its (less expensive and simpler) tonearm had the same problems as described above. (The original Rock Turntable/Tonearm "wiped the floor" with this model in a "shootout" many years ago.)
Further Information on the Studietto- I've always assumed that the Goldmund Studietto could be improved, like the larger Goldmund Studio, with a better (non-spring) suspension, though I've never done it myself. Now, a reader has actually made this improvement with satisfying results. Here's part of his (edited) letter, with some important details:
"(I'm) using the Audioquest Sorbothane domes instead of the springs. (Note: to do this correctly, you need to remove, invert, and re-install the large knurled height adjustment knobs so the Sorbothane domes can rest on a nice flat surface.)"
Personal Note- I advise any owner of the Studietto to duplicate this reader's actions, unless the stock springs are necessary because of serious and unsolvable isolation problems. (6/04)
The Goldmund Reference model was their finest sounding turntable, but it was still not quite equal to either the Versa or the Forsell, and it cost considerably more. It was extremely impressive looking though, and its ultimate performance was most likely compromised by the use of the Goldmund Tonearm. This particular assessment, unlike the others, is from people I knew, rather than from my personal experience. (There may be a new, improved version of this ultra expensive design, but we have no information on it as of yet.)
Further Reference Information- One reader, who has very broad experience with "all-out" turntables, has written to me that the Goldmund Reference, with the Air Tangent tonearm, "is still a world beater", and that he now regrets selling the combination. His opinion is credible to me.
A veteran reader, who has already relayed his observations to us about the MFA Luminesence preamplifier, has been recently experimenting with an early Goldmund Studio. Initially, he was not very impressed with it. These are his latest experiences (with minor editing):
"After living with a Studio/T3 combo for a while and getting it all right, I have changed my mind on it completely. Granted, it is not as clean as modern super-tables, but its sheer musicality, huge blooming midrange, transparency, unbelievable dynamics and slam, not to mention earth-shaking bass, finally convinced me to keep it.
I was at first taken aback by its sound after living with dry Japanese tables and an EMT for a while, but now I'm a fan. It is true that my early wooden version is a "voiced" table, having colorations not unlike the Linn, but they are mostly in the right places, so to speak. Plus, when I isolated the subplatter on hard foam/sorbothane pucks, I didn't hear much of the wood anymore. In fact, it is very possible to remove the subplatter altogether, and use it on those pucks sitting on any hard surface.
As for the Pabst motor, it is performing well, and I found a spare (albeit expensive). I also took it apart, and found it is very possible to fix it, if the main coils are OK, and they rarely go. For a while, I had two identical early Goldmunds with defeated suspensions here, one with a T3, and one with ET-2/magnesium tube. The T3 won every time. The ET-2 was definitely more accurate, delicate and neutral, but it was "asleep" compared to the T3. It had no midrange bloom and it lacked bass. Great tracker though, even with the Koetsu Onyx. I was also surprised to see that the T3 is worth MORE on the open market than the table itself! "
Personal Notes- I never had a chance to play around with an early Studio, other than at customer's homes, though I did have an opportunity to optimize the last version they made, including one that I owned for a few years. I really enjoyed that turntable. In fact, I can't think of any turntable I've ever used that has provided as much satisfying sound, with as little hassle and effort while using it.
Removing the entire base, as this reader suggests, is well worth trying. However, you have to have not only the isolation devices, but a different method to control the motor, since the controls are all on the base. I never liked the T-3 tonearm, including the "F" version. It was a real pain to set-up; not the alignment etc., but the fine motor adjustments, that determined if and when the arm moved on its rails. The best combination I heard was the SME V on the late Studio.
Below is potentially "Great News" for the owners of the Goldmund Studio turntables. It is from a veteran reader and contributor to this site; Here it is, slightly edited;
"...I found out that an EDS-900 Dual 704 motor is nearly identical to the one used in early Goldmunds. Furthermore, the EDS-1000, used in the Dual 701/721, is an IMPROVED vesrsion. I recently aquired three junky Duals and will check these motors out. If this, indeed, is true, than older Goldmunds can be kept going indefinitely. Dual Europe has both new EDS-900 ($300) and the EDS-1000 ($650) in stock, but they can be salvaged form old tables for next to nothing (I paid $140 for three). Will keep you posted as to feasabilty of retrofitting. You can let all stranded Goldmund owners get in touch with me for any questions they have. Goldmund Europe still has miniature motors for the arm in stock ($300 a pop)."
This update from the same reader arrived a few days later;
"Dual motor update: Dual 701/721 motors are larger in diameter, so some machining is required. Other than that, they could be used. Of course a HANDY guy can do it. Dual power supply must be used. Not a DIRECT replacement, no. Dual 704 looks to be much closer from a picture, but I won't know till I get it (next week)."
Futher Correspondence- These updates are from the same helpful reader above. After a little editing;
"Final breakdown on the replacement motors from Dual tables:
Dual 701/721, EDS 1000/EDS 1000-II- These motors are 5.5" in diameter, while the original Goldmund Papst is 4 3/8", so machining is required.
Dual 704 (may be also 504, never got that, EDS 500 motor), EDS 900 motor- IDENTICAL top, diameter, color etc. Major difference: circuit board extension beyond housing about 0.5" x 1.5", so some machining is required. This motor is not as thick as the original, has less of a magnet and as a result, less torque. Dual's own platter is much lighter.
EDS 1000 has more torque and it is smoother than original Goldmund. There is a posting on Audio Asylum by a Goldmund Studietto owner who actually wanted to replace a WORKING Papst with an EDS 1000 to acheive smoother ride.
Further, both motors are fed via their own electronics, and MUST be used with it. It is not bulky, will fit inside. All in all, I would only recommend these if all other options are exausted (that is, the original motor replacement at about $500, if you can find one). I paid $50 for a Dual 704, so it is a cheap fix, but Goldmund platter probably will have to be given a spin to start turning!
The last word- The Dual 704 (EDS 900) motor definitely wouldn't work - not enough torque. So forget about quick cheap fixes."
Personal Note- This reader deserves thanks for sharing his time, investment and efforts. After everything is said and one, the EDS 1000 motors, found in the Dual 701/721, can still work, though "some machining is required". They may even provide an improvement!
A superb turntable/tonearm combination that was very underrated by the audio press. A number of English 'reviewers' disgraced themselves, and their profession, by claiming it wasn’t even equal to the performance of the far inferior Linn Sondek. (This embarrassment occurred during the "Linn Hysteria" of the early 1980's.) Their matching tonearm, the Excalibur, was also excellent.
This turntable had many innovative features; including the (oversized) bearing, composite platter, hydraulic suspension and tonearm trough. Its only serious problem was that the basic speed of the earlier models varied with the room temperature.
Its performance was superior to the better known Goldmund Studio/T-3F and I even believe actually competitive with the Versa. This turntable, without the tonearm, may still be available in an updated version new from England. This will be difficult to find but it is worth the effort.
Further- I have been informed that Townshend is coming out with a new and superior version of this turntable. My source also wrote "that it wouldn't be cheap".
All of the Melco turntables, while rather rare, are excellent performers. They all have very large and heavy machined platters with no suspension. They require above average isolation and some fine-tuning to reduce resonances or else their colorations will disqualify them from this class. Their bass, solidity and dynamic qualities are state-of-the-art. They can also accommodate two tonearms. These are worth purchasing, if you can find them.
When it comes to the Melco turntables, there is a simple Rule: The heavier the platter, the more desirable the Melco.
Warning- Some Melcos have a worn bearing, due to the extraordinary pressure of their platters, so check them out before purchase.
I made a mistake when I originally combined the descriptions of the Melco and Micro-Seiki turntables. They are quite different in design. I only have enough personal experience with them, all of it on friends' systems and all of it impressive, to know that they should be in this Class, or even higher (specifically the large, heavy models). One reader, who is both familiar and enthusiastic with the entire Micro-Seiki line, sent me this information, which I have edited:
"The Micro-Seiki models 1500, 2000 and 3000 are suspended, although Micro understood and implemented the suspensions slightly differently. The models 5000 and 8000 used their own air suspensions. Once again it was not a suspension in the normal sense, but an uncoupling because their internal resonances were taken care of within the turntable itself.
They do not 'require above average isolation'. Their design was a total self-containment. You could put some of the Micros in your bed and they would perform like they were on top of a 5 ton concrete slab.
None of the Micros allow any fine-tuning or adjustments. There is NOTHING on Micro to adjust or to tune. They are not the Walker Proscenium adjustments nightmare!
None of the Micros (from model 1500 and up) have any colorations that could be fixed by adjustments. There were different versions of Micros that were designed for different purposes (like the Bronze platters meant to work with SS electronics and so on) and those 'versions' have different intended colorations. None of the Micros had colorations due to the resonances.
Generally, Micro-Seiki (since 1965) was the company from which all contemporary TTs imitated their design (quite unsuccessfully I would say). Micro’s TTs (along with EMT 927) are quite in a different league that really has no references to the entire army of contemporary TTs. It is very sad...." (7/03)
Further- A different reader had some observations concerning his new Micro-Seiki front-end, which he used while his ELP Laser Turntable was being repaired. With some minor editing:
"On another note, I have finally set up my big Micro-Seiki with the Schroeder Reference tonearm and ZYX 1000 Airy. Without having the Vyger set up next to it, I can only say that the Micro/Schroeder/ZYX is very satisfying. They are a joy to operate compared to the Vyger and the arm sets up in no time. The Schroeder arm definitely tracks better than the Vyger arm and has a much more stable image. Oddly, surface noise is also reduced. One surprise was that in setting the azimuth visually I found the sound quite satisfying. Upon checking the crosstalk with the Wally tools Analog Suite and Cardas test record, I was surprised to see only 1 dB of channel cross talk and over 40 dB of separation in both channels. The Schroeder arm definitely has very stable tracking abilities. I did not play with the azimuth after this as I figured it was more likely I'd make it worse than better."
"So the overall sound with JL-3's and Micro/Schroeder/ZYX is certainly the best I've ever had in 25 yrs of audio experience. Its the old adage of hearing your record collection all over for the first time. So far I am reluctant to nit pick on the sound because its simply a joy to listen to. We'll see how long the novelty lasts, but so far its well worth all the efforts. One thing for certain: there may be better (conventional) turntables out there but I doubt I'll ever change. The Micro is just a delight to operate and is an incredible piece of engineering."
I've owned and lived with an Aries 1/JMW-10.5 combination. They provide the best performance and value I know of at anywhere near their (now used) price points. The Aries will provide excellent performance in every sonic area, and it's very easy to set-up since it has no suspension. It is more attractive than most of their other models and is also very well built. Because of the setup, I was not able to isolate the individual performance characteristics of the turntable and tonearm. Despite its overall excellence, it still lacks some of the refinement that the Class A turntables possess.
It’s worth the extra money (if you have it) to move up to the Aries from the HW-19. The only TNT model we feel is superior to the Aries, is the (now also used) TNT-6 "Hot-Rod", with the really heavy platter. (Unfortunately, the "Hot-Rod" is rather rare, but worth purchasing at a good -50% off- discount.) How does the Aries compare to a Class A turntable/tonearm...?
VPI Aries 1/JMW 10.5 Vs. Forsell Air-Reference Turntable/Tonearm- Considering only the respective retail prices of these two front-ends, this comparison is obviously unfair, but the Forsell can be purchased used at a major discount, and the VPI is a modern design that has really impressed me. The question is: Can a "modern design", the best that I've heard for the money, equal or even surpass the performance of an "all-out" design from a decade earlier?
When it comes to audio, I don't like suspense. The Forsell is better, and it is easily noticeable. The Forsell has sonic advantages in every parameter except two. It is a little more natural, it has a larger and more focused soundstage, and, most importantly, it has a lower sound-floor, allowing the subtleties of the musical performance and the recording space to be more easily heard, felt and sensed. The VPI equals the Forsell in speed stability and it also has a slightly more solid, deeper and impactful bottom-end, though the bass on the Forsell appears to be a little more cohesive with the rest of the audio spectrum. (Note- With proper modifications, mainly extra air pumps, the Forsell's bass equals or even exceeds the bass of the Aries.)
On a purely practical note; the Forsell requires the owner to upgrade its air supply and it also has problems with room isolation, while the Aries, and the JMW 10, are as easy to set-up and optimize as any serious turntable/tonearm I've experienced, and I've had many.
Both these particular Forsell and VPI models that were compared can still be improved. The Forsell by better air regulation and acoustical isolation, while the tonearm that comes with the VPI Aries has been updated. These various improvements do not alter my overall evaluation.
Further- I also prefer the Aries 1, overall, to the (standard) VPI HR-X (discussed below), which is twice the price. I've had both in my home. Still, the "Special Edition" HR-X, in Class A (above), is noticeably superior to the Aries.
These two turntables both come with the all "frosted acrylic" platter, which is inferior to the heavy-duty aluminum and acylic platter which came with the Aries 1, so they are not References. They do have some sonic advantages, but they're not great enough to offset the new platter's problems. They also have the improved versions of the JMW tonearm, but that also doesn't make up for the problems inherent with their inferior platters. Don't forget, any early version of the JMW tonearm, which were installed on the Aries 1, can also be updated, in stages if need be, and that is what I advise at this time.
If VPI ever gives the purchaser the option of replacing these new platters with the older heavier versions, the above caveat is then obviously both irrelevant and cancelled. Considering VPI's history of updates, this is definitely a possible scenario.
The better BASIS turntables may be in this class, but my associates and I have no direct experience with them.
There are many other new turntable designs that could also equal, or even better, the performance of the above Reference models, but they are almost all very "pricey". We will not stop looking none the less.Top
These are one of the best overall values of any turntable ever made. They are excellent in every way; sound quality, build quality, ease of setup and use and they can even be updated. They do have one (minor) "downside": Their appearance is just "plain Jane", unless you get their (more expensive) piano black finish. There is more than one version of this turntable, so please read what is below carefully.
Important- Only the HW-19 Mk. IV is in the Upper Category, the older models are in the Lower Category.
After some correspondence with a reader, who is more familiar with the different iterations of the HW-19 Mk. IV and the Aries turntables than me, I am clarifying (and changing) my previous advice:
All the versions of the (now discontinued) HW-19 MK. IV are References, except the last version they made, which, instead of the previous heavy platters, had the all ("frosted") acrylic light-weight platter. This version is not a Reference because the platter will seriously compromise the sonics. As for the Aries, it's a very similar story...
Only the Aries 1, with the aluminum/acyrlic heavy platter, is a Reference. The later Aries 2 and Aries 3, with the same "frosted acrylic" platter, are not References, despite some sonic advantages. It's the old cliche of "one step forward, and two steps back". The only exception would be if their platters are refitted back to the original aluminum/acrylic. These two models both have an updated version of the JMW tonearm, which has improved sonics, but that doesn't make up for the inferior platter.
Besides, the tonearm that came with the Aries 1 can always be updated itself to the latest version. This is what I advise at this time. It is not only the best sonic choice, it's also the most economical, since the Aries 1 is now a bargain on the used market.
FURTHER: The Mk. IV is behind only the Maplenoll Ariadne (and probably also the Michell Orbe) in sound quality within this class. It can accommodate any tonearm I can think of. This turntable can also be noticeably improved if its spring suspension is defeated, actually replaced (with Navcom "silencers" etc).
Caveat: This design is wider than most other turntables and does not fit on standard turntable shelves. Fortunately, extra wide stands and shelves are generally available.
July 2006 Update- For 15+ years, I've been advising the owners of the HW-19 to exchange the 4 isolation springs (in the corners) for Sorbothane pucks, or their equivalent. Well...
Great news! The same advertisement from Elusive Disc, mentioned just above (HR-X), also includes an offer for four "Sorbothane Isolators", to replace those same 4 springs. For years, numerous readers have asked me where to find those pucks (with no success), and now VPI is finally offering them on their own. The price is $ 40, and well worth it for the noticeable improvement in sonics. Their exact description is as follows:
"Replacement sorbothane pucks for all HW-19 Turntables. Four are needed for all turntables. It most cases we like the sorbothane pucks better than the springs used in the MK#3 and MK4 models!"
Personal Notes- These Sorbothane Isolators should also work well with the original HW-19 as well as the MK. II version. The only exceptions are where the turntable is poorly isolated from footfalls etc, in which case the springs are a requirement.
With proper setup and care, this turntable/arm combination may be the best sounding ever made for the money. The model that receives the Reference designation has no suspension and was made from the late 1980’s until the early 1990’s. It was well built, but because it used an air pump and had a linear tonearm, it was difficult for an average audiophile to setup. The VPI 19 Series is preferable for most audiophiles.
The Maplenoll is so good, that it even approaches the CLASS B turntables in some areas of sonic performance. This company is now out of business, but a former employee was servicing them. This turntable is the one to get in this class if you are comfortable with air pumps, linear tonearms and can find a good, isolated location.
IMPORTANT: Make sure to read the entry on the Ariadne Signature in Class B above. There is relevant information there concerning all Maplenoll turntables.
The original (then revolutionary) Oracle became the first turntable to improve on the performance of the Linn LP-12 for around the same amount of money. When it comes to these stunningly attractive and (once extremely) innovative turntables, the more recent the better the performance. They are similar in sound to the VPI if you use Oracle’s hard mat. Their only sonic downsides, compared to the VPI, are less extended bass reproduction and a little less sense of solidity.
Conversely, the Oracle is most likely slightly more neutral in the mids and highs, and maybe also a little purer sounding. These advantages are audible only if and when the Oracle is setup properly*. Unfortunately...
The earlier (entire 1980's/early 1990's) models were very difficult to set up properly (meaning no wobbling*), which is critical in optimizing their sound. These turntables are also not as versatile as the VPI when selecting tonearms.
*A properly setup Oracle MUST:
1. Bounce perfectly straight up and down,
2. With absolutely NO wobble,
3. Exactly 3 times when the spindle is depressed straight down,
4. And then STOP.
That is the difficult test we used.
FURTHER NEWS: This company is now back in business, so you can get parts and maybe some upgrades. The Oracles can be purchased used at quite reasonable prices.
Caveat: Always have extra spare belts and even an extra motor for this turntable, because their availability can never be assumed with this company. Their current (visually stunning) design is too expensive to advise purchasing new (unless you get a serious "deal"), but it is much easier to set up than their previous models and it also sounds a little better.
IMPORTANT- Only the latest model of the Delphi is in the Upper Category, the older models are in the Lower Category.
There were a number of reasons why I didn't put this turntable line on this list from the very beginning. I admit that it was a very close call. I have now had second thoughts. Here is the complete story...
I was a Gyrodec dealer during the 1980's. Their model then (the MK. II) was a very attractive turntable (it looked like a large Oracle) and an excellent performer, but we also felt that the design wasn't quite fully thought out (just like the earliest VPI). The Details...
It was prone to minor adjustment problems which couldn't be rectified and, accordingly, we were never confident that it was totally optimized, no matter how much time we worked on it. This was a very frustrating experience for us. While our customers really liked the turntable, I was uncomfortable with it, fearing that there would be other problems surfacing over time, which would eventually haunt me. Next...
Some listeners felt that the continual movement of the (6) inertia weights (on the bottom of the platter) was distracting. There was one other issue...
Because it was an import (with the inevitable extra distributor markup), it didn't have the performance/value ratio that the VPI HW-19 series had at that time, at least in North America.
However, a few things have changed:
1. My perspective (and judgement) on how relatively (in)significant those older problems actually turned out to be in practice.
2. The current longevity and popularity of the design, along with owner loyalty and long-term satisfaction.
3. Michell's continual improvement of their basic design and their update program, while still keeping the prices "reasonable".
So, here is where I stand today.
Used (Mk. II) models...
If a reader can find a Mk.II used, that is in good operating condition, and properly set up, then it should be an excellent purchase. It will be in the same sonic league as any of the older Oracle or VPI models (though not the Mk. IV), and preferable to the Linn. Still...
The VPIs can work with more tonearms, and they are also far easier to setup and to keep setup.
Further Notes- The Gyrodec (Mk. II) worked particularly well with the SME IV or V, and so should the more recent models.
The Gyrodecs (and Orbes) can also accommodate two tonearms with some "special order" custom work.
As mentioned above, Michell also offers upgrades on all of their older turntables, so they can be brought up to their latest models. This is a very important policy, which makes all of their models desirable. These upgrades are highly desirable, especially if there are any problems or annoyances with an older model. The owners of the earlier models will obviously have to absorb more costs and difficulties for these upgrades.
Their latest models, the Gyrodec MkV and the simpler SE, plus the top-of-the-line Orbe models, are even more advanced versions of the Gyrodec MkII, but I have no direct experience with them. The Orbe uses a different motor, which cannot be upgraded to by Gyrodec owners.
Since all these models are basically iterations of the same design, they are all References. They should all be superior to the older MkII. I make this statement based on the descriptions of the upgrades, my personal experience with this company and the overwhelming and unanimous anecdotal evidence of objective observers. That being said, there will most probably be noticeable sonic differences amongst these different models*.
*A number of readers, who claim to be very familiar with this line, have written to me that the Orbe is "different" than the Gyrodec. One reader wrote:
"The Orbe (MkI) sounded darker, massier, more stable, while the Gyro (MkIV) is more airy, breezy, less stable. The gap even widened with the Orbe MkII, which uses a tacho-controlled DC-motor which is NOT available to GyroDec users, and as such present Gyros can not be upgraded to near-Orbe status."
Another reader, who is also a part-time reviewer, informed me that "the SME IV and Orbe isn't a brilliant combination whatever the two manufacturers say - the SME just dumps too much energy into the Orbe's singalong chassis and gives it an upper bass bloat. You can help this by isolating the armboard with blue tac. Every other arm I've had here works better:-)". He much prefers the Morsiani unipivot, a tonearm I never heard of (they also manufacture a serious turntable). He claims that the Morsiani "is stunning", and sells for only about $ 450 direct from the manufacturer, but he also states that adjustment of the tonearm is tricky, so it isn't for everyone.
The earliest Michell turntable, with 6 "pods" instead of a conventional platter, is not part of the Gyrodec "family". It is not a Reference under any circumstance. It does look neat though, and it would make a good prop for a "sci-fi" movie.
The Michell Clamp was relatively inexpensive, but it also wasn't very good. The Orbe clamp is claimed by the above reader to be "far superior" to the earlier model.
IMPORTANT- Only the Orbe and the latest model of the Gyrodec is in the Upper Category, the older models are in the Lower Category.
The description for these models is above. They are not quite good enough for the "Upper" level.
Description is above. They are not quite good enough for the "Upper" level.
Description is above. They are not quite good enough for the "Upper" level.
This turntable (WTT) is another excellent performer, which excels in speed stability, the retrieval of low-level information and neutrality. Its bass reproduction and dynamic contrasts are not as good. It is very easy to set-up and maintain. I advise purchasing it used only; sadly, the new retail price is now too high to compete with the latest VPI.
This company also made/makes some other turntable/tonearm combinations. The less expensive model, the Well Tempered Record Player, is not as good, but it could be an excellent "starter" if found used at a cheap price. I recently placed this model within the Entry-level References. (9/03)
Their more expensive model is even better than the Classic, but it is not worth the very large premium they are asking for it. However, if you can find one used for a really low price, I would seriously consider it if its strengths are appealing.
Note- These turntables have no suspensions.
Caveat: The distributor overcharges for some spare parts, like belts.
This turntable may include a modified Rega RB-300 tonearm, though it can be purchased without any arm.
This turntable is very similar in overall performance to the Well-Tempered, including its problems with reproducing bass and dynamic intensity. The one major advantage though is their arm-trough with silicon fluid, which dampens numerous tonearm resonance's. Another is their (isolation) base; an actual Seismic Sink. On the other hand, the speed stability of the Rock doesn't equal the WTT.
This is one of the better values on the turntable market today, but it is not in the same sonic league as their superb Rock Reference, listed above.
The Linn now has its own dedicated file. Here is the Link: THE LINN SONDEK LP-12Top
From what we had read, and seen, we felt the Rockport had the potential to be the finest turntable/arm in the world, when it initially came out. The designer/owner of Rockport, Andrew Payor, has extensive experience manufacturing all-out turntables. The price to the consumer, purchased direct at "wholesale", was more than $ 70,000. There was no retail price, thank God.
An actual physical description of this model is within the review in the August 2000 issue of Stereophile, as well as on the Stereophile website in their "archive" section. The physical description is excellent (though just a "rewrite" of Rockport's own description), but the review itself is controversial and, in some parts, ridiculous. (Rockport has no website itself at that time.)
The original models of this turntable (those from the early/mid 1990's) were very well built and had superb sonics, though not quite as good as the Forsell.
There may also be a potential problem with the Model II's power supply. It was custom designed and built by Rowland to Rockport's specifications, but it can no longer be replaced, and it may be very difficult to repair.
Andrew Payor, himself, appears to be very accommodating to his customers, based on my personal correspondence with Payor, three Rockport customers and other anecdotal evidence.
Rockport has moved on since then (along with their price). However...
Someone in our group heard the Sirius III in the Fall (2000), and within two different, very high quality systems. These two auditions, each lasting a few hours, were in Europe, not North America. He was also familiar with most of the other components. He noticed some problems. Unfortunately, neither system had the resolution required to make a definitive observation or opinion.
A little later (February 2001), an experienced and objective reader, who lives in Europe, also heard the latest Rockport, and independently described the same sonic problems that my associate had previously heard: A dry, "clinical" sound, though superb in other areas; detail, imaging, bass etc. (The reader actually preferred the less expensive, and now discontinued, "Acapella" model.)
Recently, within early Fall 2001, a veteran audio distributor also described the exact same sonic problem with a Rockport (latest model) that he heard in the New England area. It is also important to note that, as far as I know, this was a model that Andrew Payor himself felt did have optimized sound.
Meanwhile, I have now discovered, from a very reliable source, that at least one of these "European" Rockports (and maybe both) had the ultra-expensive Clearaudio cartridge installed on it, which just happens to have the same "clinical", "mechanical" sound that they (the reader and my associate) both describe. Accordingly, two of the listeners didn't hear the Rockports at their full sonic potential, and may have unfairly transferred the sonic problems of the cartridge to the turntable.
The situation is a little confusing. However, with 3 independent listeners (within 3 systems and with four auditions) describing the exact same problem, a "warning flag" must now go up on this design.
This problem, if it exists, may not bother some listeners (or reviewers), but many others will find it a disqualifying condition. At the very least, listeners must be made aware of its potential existence prior to any serious audition.
On the "pro" side you have; Michael Fremer*, HP/TAS and Peter Moncrieff of IAR. On the "negative" side you have; one of my readers and two of my associates. However, it is only fair to emphasize that all** of the "pro" side actually "lived" with the turntable in their own homes while the entire "negative" side only auditioned it in other peoples' homes.
On the other hand, all the "pro" people are "reviewers", which, in today's environment, means that they will most likely have some serious and undisclosed "baggage" (especially Michael Fremer*). Also, it must be stressed that each person within the "negative" side independently heard and described the exact same sonic problem. I find it extremely difficult to believe that this is only just a highly unusual coincidence.
* Michael Fremer and Andrew Payor (Rockport Technologies) have had an ongoing "relationship" for many years. Just compare Mr. Payor's writing and literature to Fremer's writing on the same subjects. They are "closer than two coats of paint". Be cautious of Fremer's reviews of any turntable or tonearm that is competitive, in any manner, with the Rockport designs. The same warning goes for any other component built or marketed by Andy Payor that is reviewed by Michael Fremer.
**I am assuming Peter Moncrieff "lived" with it. The review, still in process, is ambiguous at this point, despite its length.
What does all this mean to a potential purchaser?
The Rockport, because of its price, only makes sense if it is "head and shoulders" above everything else. Any audiophile who has enough money and interest to purchase this design should take the time to hear it in depth, and in optimized conditions, along with making valid comparisons to its serious competitors.
I would especially focus on the potential sonic problem that is discussed above. In short: I would purchase one of these models only after all doubts are totally satisfied.
The Rockport was a Reference (in August 2000) based on what I had read and also what my associates had heard about it from inside the reviewing community. This designation was consistent with my "Reference Policy" at that time, but it was also something I had never done before (or since). Why did I take such a risk with some people I didn't even know well?
I "dropped my guard" (with some prominent magazines and their reviewers) because I thought it was safe. I wasn't concerned with the usual "conflicts of interest" because of the unprecedented price of this model. No matter what the final conclusion will be concerning the true sonic performance of the Rockport- I still feel now that I was WRONG to do that.
In short-I have now changed my original policy on how a component may join this list.
To read the exact details of "The (new) Reference Policy" go to The Overview of the main file of The Reference Components.
Accordingly, I have decided that this (singular) Reference designation (based only on reviews and reviewers) is no longer consistent with my new policy, so I have removed the Rockport from Class A and placed it in this section, where it should have belonged from the very beginning.
A reader, whose identity will remain private and confidential, was kind enough to share this information with me:
"I purchased a very early Rockport Sirius almost fifteen years ago from Andy Payor to replace a Goldmund Reference. At the time there was no air isolation base or outboard power supply for the motor. I proceeded over the next five years to spend more for updates than the original cost of the turntable. Given that the updates were installed one at a time, I have an excellent perspective with respect to what each of these mods accomplished [air isolation base, Rowland power supply (digital), mods to fix the power supply by Demian Martin (substitution of analog signal generator), 50# stainless steel platter, various motors, flywheels and belts, etc.] Of all these updates, the only one that was not a clear improvement was the original Rowland power supply.
I am also very familiar with the early version of the Acapella (a friend bought the unit which Michael Fremer reviewed) and a somewhat later version owned by another friend and with the Sirius 2 (the use of granite for the plinth was in my opinion a mistake that gave this turntable a cold clinical sound). Based on these experiences, I can say that each of these tables shares certain familial traits, the most salient of which are the substantial elimination of mechanical noise originating from the turntable coupled with extreme isolation from environmental noise, extreme low level detail and dynamics. Of the three versions with which I am familiar, I would say the 2 is cold, the 1 very neutral and the Acapella somewhat warm.
Based on talks with the owners of two of the Sirius 3 tables, I have every reason to think that they surpass the earlier models."
I was a dealer of this line from 1996 to 1998. Their original, lower-priced models (the Planar 3 & 2) are within the Entry-Level section. Their performance is excellent for the money, but it is not equal to the level of the present Class C models.
Further- A customer of mine measured the speed of a number of Rega turntables some years ago. He claimed that they were all slightly fast. This observation has also been made by a number of other critical listeners since then, including myself, and could be the reason for their slightly "exciting" sound.
I was not impressed with Rega's highest priced model (the P9), which I was able to audition for more than a month in my former retail store. It was well detailed, but I felt it lacked solidity and liquidity and it also had an unnatural tonal balance and some frequency irregularities. It additionally looked like it was cheaply built for the high retail price. Rega claims that the high cost is due to the P9's exotic and very expensive (ceramic) platter.
I understand that some significant improvements have now been made with this design (including their new RB1000 tonearm), but I have no direct experience with them. I haven't auditioned the P25, their medium priced model. So no turntable from this company is within these 3 Reference Classes, for now.
I was also a SOTA dealer for a few years in the 1980's, and I sold quite a few of them, both new and used. I also compared both models to everything in existence back then. The SOTA turntables were very good, but they had reliability problems with their power supplies, plus they were constantly going in and out of business (like Oracle).
They were heavy and solidly built, but the suspension moved like a pendulum for an extended period of time as soon as the tonearm was put into position and engaged, and in any other instance in which the subchassis moved. This horizontal "oscillation" is the main problem with this design. (See the IAR website's lengthy discussion of turntable designs and compromises.)
I didn't find them quite as tonally natural and, even more important, as good in speed stability as the other turntables (I assume because of the above noted oscillations); including the VPI, the Oracle and even the Linn Sondek. It wasn't a big difference, but it was noticeable when listening to the turntables over extended periods of time. Personally, I found it a disqualifying characteristic for my own system, then and now.
The SOTAs had excellent bass and good dynamic qualities, and were relatively easy to setup, though not quite as easy as the VPI. The setup, while straight forward and quick, never seemed to be as optimized as with either the VPI or the Oracle, though the Oracle was much more time consuming and required real skill. They could not be used with some tonearms, but this is true with just about every other turntable except the VPI series.
The vacuum model (the Star Sapphire) requires an ultra clean platter at all times and, even then, it may still damage some records. It did have some sonic advantages over the original Sapphire though, a more "solid sound" and slightly better speed stability.
I have known people who were very happy with these turntables, so it is possible that I am being overly critical with them, but that is my nature, and especially when their (inevitable) area of weakness just happens to be one of my top priorities for excellence. I am not familiar with any of their "budget" models, or any other SOTA turntable that came out from the mid 1990's till the present.
The SOTA Clamp was excellent, one of the finest ever made, and reasonably priced. I highly advise using one of them.
The (original) Pink Triangle had a few (minor) innovative design features and a unique appearance, but the build quality was mediocre and the sound quality was unexceptionable. My store had a few of them come in as "trade-ins". It had all the problems of the Well-Tempered Turntable, but lacked most of its corresponding strengths.
However, someone (that I highly trust) has informed me that their most recent upscale model (the Tarantella II) is a total redesign and an excellent performer. It may be competitive in sonics with the best of the current Class C models. On the downside, it may also still have some problems with its build quality and reliability. In any event, it is worth checking out.
I have very limited personal experience with these models (only the early, "big buck", Model 30), but my associates have helped me fill in some of the "blanks". The real problem with evaluating these models (fairly) is removing the SME tonearms from the equation, which I don't think anyone has done so far. They all appear to be superb in sonic performance; actually comparable to the finest models in Class B. They are very well-built, which should be no surprise with this company. Unfortunately, they are also very expensive and relatively overpriced compared to their peers, at least in North America.
SME's competitors (in Class A, B and other models) are usually (much) less expensive, and they are either almost the equal, the equal or even superior, in actual performance. The SME problem - they sounded slightly "dead" and "analytical" compared to the competition. In short, the SME turntables should only be seriously considered if you can find a "real deal" on them (which I have seen).
I should stress than none of us has heard the "second generation" SME 30 or 20, which, according to a reader, have improved bearings.
Further- Very recently, the Model 30 was proclaimed to be, in effect, "the finest turntable" by Michael Fremer of Stereophile. Within the actual "review", there was no direct comparison, or any technical explanation, in the required depth, of why he now preferred this turntable/tonearm to his "former champion", the much more costly Rockport Sirius 3.
Considering Michael Fremer's long-time relationship with Rockport's owner/designer Andrew Payor, audiophiles will have to make a potentially expensive choice when deciding whether Fremer is both completely "on the level" and also accurate in his assessment, or if there was a "falling-out", which may have clouded his judgement. Based on Michael Fremer's past history, see some of it in the lengthy Fremer file in Reviewing the Reviewers, I don't envy those of us who will make this choice.
The early history of this company, and its rival Linn (and Fons), could be the subject of an interesting book, or even a movie. Each has claimed to be the "original" design, and I don't know the actual truth in this case. (Check the Vinyl Asylum search engine for further information.)
Their original model, the RD-11S, was a virtual clone of the Linn LP-12 in appearance and in basic design during the 1970's, or maybe it was the other way around. The sound was very good, but I (and many other listeners) felt that the Linn still had a slight edge in performance.
I never found out why, but there was speculation at the time that it was due to the superiority of the Linn's bearing and general machining. At least that was what Linn claimed. It is also very possible that this "difference" might have been totally imaginary (it wouldn't be the first time that happened). Linn played up this slight "difference" to the hilt, with the big help of an obsequious British press, who embarrassed themselves (in the late 1970's) with their lack of objectivity and their near hysterical admiration for the LP-12.
The result: Linn won their first "marketing war", and the LP-12 became a cult object at the same time. Their marketing skill has proved to be their greatest strength over the years.
In the 1980's, the two companies went in different directions. Ariston was, by then, unfairly left behind by "serious audiophiles", but they reorganized and came out instead with some high quality budget models. They were all "good for the money". Their new name was: Systemdek. I was a dealer for this line when I opened my store back in 1981. These turntables must not be forgotten. I will put them in the Entry-Level section.
Further- A reader later informed me that a new version of the Systemdek is still available from Audio Note, which is well-known for their single-ended amplifiers, kits and high-quality, exotic parts. Below is the short write-up on the Audio Note website:
"The Audio Note TT1 turntable is a three point fully floating suspended sub chassis model derived from the award winning Systemdek IIX. The platter is a acrylic platform and drive to the platter is provided by a round rubber belt."
None of us has had any experience with this model, but a different reader sent me a letter in early Fall 2005 with some interesting information and observations. It is in The Recent File at this time.
Their linear tonearm is also made in the same factory as the Goldmund models. It is very similar in design, with most likely the same strengths and weaknesses.
Their J1 model, from the early 1990's, was not equal to the Goldmund Studios (any of them) in sonics. This was an observation I made when I auditioned one of them in my store during a lengthy loan. The only qualification with this audition and comparison is that the Audiomeca was used with its own tonearm, while the rival Goldmund Studio had a SME V.
I haven't heard their most recent efforts, which they (and some owners) claim are improved and might have turned things around.
I had some limited experience with this line back in the early 1990's. It was very similar to the budget Rega's in overall design, but with a reduced build quality. I also felt that the sound was similar, but with the slight edge going to the Regas.
The Alexandria is very competitive with, but isn't quite as accomplished as, the Lower Class C models above. It is still an excellent value for the money, especially at its typical used price. It is a Reference and located, for now, within the Entry-Level section. It is a priority to purchase the extra belts and motors for it also.
Further- A reader has informed me that Oracle no longer has parts for this model. I have no other verification of this information. (5/03)
More Recently- These excellent sounding turntables are now prone to failing motors, which the manufacturer can do nothing about. There is a motor from Origin Live that some owners have used as a replacement, but the results have been inconsistent. See "Readers Letters" for more information on this subject.
This company sells turntables direct to the public, and they can also be purchased as kits for further (modest) savings. So far, every owner's correspondence that I've seen has been very positive. Comparisons to commercially available turntables have almost always been in the Teres' favor, even when there was a large price differential against them.
If these writers are accurate, and some of them have had considerable experience with turntables, then the Teres line is simply a "steal" and the typical (and well-known) turntable manufacturers from the past are in potential trouble (just like most North American tube amplifier manufacturers).
None of us has heard any of the Teres models. One associate is seriously considering purchasing their (former) top of the line (Model 255-$ 2,600/$ 2,300 Kit). Their new "top of the line" is the Model 265*. It has "a lead loaded platter constructed from solid hardwood". I have never seen anything like it. The retail price is $ 3,700. There is no mention of a kit.
My current advice is that I would seriously look at this line (and the Redpoint below) before making a new turntable purchase. In fact, with the highly positive, anecdotal evidence continually accumulating, it will not be long before I can properly and safely use the word "overwhelming" to describe it. This means I can then, consistent with the posted "Reference Policy", add it to the existing References without any of us actually hearing it ourselves.
*Further- I just heard there is a new "top of the line" planned for this Fall. It is the Model 340, and it is supposed to weigh around 130 lbs. and cost around $ 6,000 direct, with no kit available. It appears to be a "heavy-duty" version of the recently introduced Model 265. This company is becoming increasingly serious. (6/03)
This (more recent) company is an offshoot of Teres, and also offers direct sale turntables, though no kits as far as I know. There are two basic models in the line, with a further choice of exotic platters etc. They have appeared to move ahead of the Teres line in development, but their turntables also cost more. (This situation may have changed with introduction of the Teres 265.) My advice concerning Redpoint mirrors exactly my advice concerning Teres.
Parts- There is also increasing evidence that the parts (motors, platters etc.) that they (both Teres and Redpoint) sell separately can improve existing designs (Verdier, VPI Aries, Scout etc.). There is an obvious trend here which is great for audiophile consumers and not so good for everyone else in the (established) audio industry.
On a purely personal note, I find it very exciting to have these two companies (along with their DIY equivalents) continually coming out with innovative products at reasonable prices. Their enthusiasm and passion are obvious. It reminds me of audio 20 years ago, when "the quest" for perfection was more important than anything else.Top
This model must not be confused with the "standard" HR-X (see below), which also includes the latest JMW 12.6 tonearm. This version is one of the three earliest models made by Harry Weisfeld and was purchased by one of my associates. He preferred it to the Verdier La Platine, which he also owned. The "shootout" with the Verdier was done in the correct manner, using the exact same tonearm and cartridge.
I have also heard this same model myself, four times now, and with equipment I am familiar with. All the auditions were quite lengthy and extensive. While I can't say that I am fully intimate with its performance, since that would require actually living with it, I can say that it is truly superb, with rare and desirable qualities. I also preferred it to the Verdier.
The two versions of the HR-X share the same basic design, but there are two major differences between the Reference model and the "standard" HR-X (which is NOT a Reference-see below):
1. The "special edition" has a solid (all) aluminum plinth (and not an aluminum/acrylic "sandwich"), and also has
2. The exact same heavy duty platter used on the earlier TNT Hot-Rod (and not the relatively lightweight acrylic platter).
The "Special Edition" (my own term) HR-X is not available by "special order", and since only three of them were ever made, or likely ever will be made, it is only an "Interesting" turntable, rather than the Class A turntable is was, and still would be as of today (7/07). This "special edition" HR-X is Weisfeld's greatest achievement. It is really an accumulation of everything he has learned in the last 20+ years and is, in essence, a super version of their basic Aries model. It is far evolved from the earlier TNT models that I am familiar with. The beauty of it, for me, is its basic simplicity and elegance. Intensive thought, and careful execution, appear to have been applied to every aspect of its design.
To avoid any confusion, below is a picture of the HR-X Special Edition that I heard. Notice the solid plinth.
As for the "standard" HR-X, I, and an associate, were able to compare it directly to a modified Forsell turntable and tonearm. The results are described below.
Unfortunately, up until recently, it has been nearly impossible to convert the (non-Reference) "standard" version into the superior "Special Edition" (which has both a much heavier and deader platter and an all aluminum plinth). Well, I have some really good news...
VPI is finally offering current HR-X owners the choice of the Special Edition heavy-duty platter. The price is $ 1,200, and, in our experience, the extra cost is well worth it. While it still won't be the full "Special Edition", with our combined experience, we estimate it will be around 75%* there. That may also put this "hybrid" version of the HR-X in our Class A, but we will be cautious for now, and wait for more direct experience and anecdotal evidence before proceeding. Besides, the competitive field in "all-out" turntables has also changed since the "Special Edition" HR-X itself came out two years ago now.
*I later realized that this number could be ambiguous, if not misleading. I meant 75% (or even more) of the difference (or improvement) between the basic performance of the standard HR-X and the superior performance of the (complete) "Special Edition".
CAUTION- I highly advise having VPI perform all of the skilled labor involved in installing this new platter (and the matching bearing). I feel it's far too risky to try to "wing it" with something like this, despite the extra shipping costs and time lost in transit.
Finally, I heard about this HR-X platter option from a couple of sources, neither of them being Harry Weisfeld, the chief designer and co-owner of VPI Industries.
July 2006- A reader recently brought to my attention an advertisement on the website of Elusive Disc. It includes the HR-X's optional heavy-duty platter, which I have strongly advised using to the readers of this website for years now. The price is $ 2,000, which appears distinctly overpriced to me (but still worth it). As far as I'm concerned, this heavy-duty platter should be stock, considering the $ 10,000 retail price of the HR-X. Also, there is no mention of a trade-in on the inferior platter that comes with the stock HR-X. Here's the actual text of the ad:
"Easily upgrade your HRX Turntable with VPI's HRX Super Platter for superior sound! The HRX Super Platter weighs in at a hefty 30 pounds which will give you a quieter background, better speed regulation, deeper, tighter bass and improved soundstaging and dynamics.
Easy to Upgrade! Upgrading the the HRX Super Platter is as easy as replacing the old platter with the new and changing the belt!
This upgrade includes: HRX Stainless Steel and Acrylic Super Platter & a new Belt."
Personal Notes- There's some good news here for HR-X owners;
1. They have included a new belt,
2. It appears that the platter can be replaced without the requirement (and the cost, hassle and time) of sending it back to the factory. Meanwhile...
It may be possible to later sell the (then useless) stock, clear, lightweight platter to those audiophiles who still (mindlessly) follow Harry Pearson, Brian Damkroger, Anthony Cordesman and (the normally reliable) Roy Gregory. Don't forget that all of those reviewers went "bonkers" over the HR-X with that same original platter. However, I would not make any unethical and/or disingenuous claims to sell the inferior platter. Simply refer to their reviews and leave it at that.
This short "review" was written by one of my associates. This audiophile has extensive experience with turntables, and the HR-X in particular. He also has the finest system, overall, I've ever heard in someone else's home. In short, I have complete confidence in this report, which is why it is located here, rather than in the "Readers Letters" below. There's some very minor editing, and my bold as usual:
"The VPI idler wheel drive was substituted on the HR-X in place of the regular belt driven flywheel. The performance of the HR-X (with the "Super Platter"), prior to the inclusion of the idler wheel, was nothing short of superb on all levels. There did not seem to anything lacking or in need of improvement. To cut to the chase- The idler wheel drive evinced the kind of sonic advancement more associated with preamps or amplifiers rather than motor changes on an already stellar turntable. The sonic improvements (many of which I expected) included more weight, impact and authority, especially at the low frequencies. Much like going to a more powerful amplifier. Bass was tighter and punchier.
What I did not expect, and was surprised to encounter, was greater purity and transparency in the mids and highs. More air around instruments with enhanced ambient retrieval and low level detail. Transients were now reproduced with a precision that I had not previously encountered.
In conclusion- There are no sonic downsides, only improvements that are wrought by the insertion of the idler wheel drive. It takes a turntable that was close to state of the art and nudges it into that esteemed realm.
There is a caveat, however, and it is a fairly significant one- SET UP. Unfortunately, the instructions included with the idler wheel are virtually useless. They do not even begin to prepare one for the incredibly frustrating journey in getting the idler wheel to operate properly with the HR-X. (I have been told that the other VPI turntables do not present the same degree of difficulty in set up due to their lack of a lossy suspension - a la "air balls" in the HR-X). The critical precision, and I do mean critical, in accurately locating the idler wheel in relation to the turntable's platter requires tremendous patience and diligence.
Placing the wheel too close will result in an awful grinding noise accompanied by oscillation which will cause the arm to be jimmied to and fro. Pull the idler wheel too far away and the turntable will run at too slow a speed. After days of experimentation, I can offer the following advice to hopefully spare others my tumultuous ordeal in setting up the idler wheel drive.
1. Set the SDS to 60 Hz (for 33 1/3 operation).
2. Place small round cut outs of .25" thick sorbothane pads* with the adhesive side facing down under the rubber feet of the motor assembly. The pads should be large enough to accommodate the entire rubber foot.
3. Position the wheel as far away from the platter while still maintaining fairly accurate speed. This will prevent the grinding and the oscillations. Do not worry about total speed accuracy at this point, since the SDS will be adjusted later for that purpose.
4. If the distance of the idler wheel to the platter needs to be adjusted in any direction, move the turntable and not the motor assembly.
5. Once you have correctly located the motor assembly (meaning there is the absence of grinding and oscillations AND proper speed has been achieved), use the VPI stroboscope to precisely set the speed by adjusting the SDS.
6. Upon successful completion of all these steps, it is now necessary to run the turntable at 45 rpm for at least 6 hours otherwise wow and flutter will be painfully evident. This is a result of the round belt on the idler wheel needing to become adequately seated.
*If the sorbothane pads are not used, the idler wheel will be in need of period and frequent realignment since the turntable rests on air balls which are prone to slight movement. Any movement is sufficient to disrupt the distance relationship between the idler wheel and the platter. The sorbothane pads actually act as a spring loading mechanism maintaining the correct alignment between wheel and platter.
Is the idler wheel drive worth all the effort required and the substantial expenditure ($1,000)? The response would be a resounding YES."
Personal Notes- I have no experience with the rim drive. The above information was earlier conveyed to Harry Weisfeld, the co-owner of VPI, who has since confirmed the observations and results of my associate.
I finally had a chance to carefully set-up this beautiful and well-built turntable, along with its JMW 12.6 tonearm, and then compare it to the Forsell Turntable and Tonearm, which has itself finally been optimized after more than 18 months of use. Everything was kept exactly the same. The HR-X was very impressive for around a half-hour or so, but the final results, unfortunately, were seriously disappointing.
The HR-X is highly detailed, powerful and delicate, but it's also noticeably dry and analytical in character. It's much different than the Aries I lived with and even the older HW-19 Mk. IV, both of which are References on this site. The HR-X reminds me of the Spectral preamplifiers from the 1980's. Like the HR-X, the Spectral had unprecedented outer detail, extended frequency extremes, but it also subtracted low-level musical information, which for me was, and still is, an "amusical" (unnatural) and fatal flaw. I much prefer the Forsell overall, or their own Aries for that matter.
As for the details; The natural harmonics, "bloom", body, decays, sense of space, musical textures are all compromised and bleached out on the HR-X. In other words, the "sound floor" of the HR-X was noticeably high. I also feel there is a subtle emphasis in the upper midrange and lower highs, which artificially enhances the musical details, along with tape hiss and vinyl noises, but this is the least of the problems, and may even be my psychoacoustic reaction to the uncovered details I was finally hearing. The fact that the HR-X has many sonic strengths, and is easy to set-up, is irrelevant in the larger context I'm discussing. Changing the various "settings", like VTA, VTF and the the amount of air pressure in the four columns, were not able to even alleviate the serious sonic problems we observed.
An example; One LP I played, Oregon In Concert (Vanguard VSD 79358), was converted from a concert hall recording into a studio recording. The notes no longer "hung in the air", as they have with other top turntables I've heard over the years. With other LPs, instruments and voices tended to sound "generic", instead of being unique to themselves, meaning they lost some of their "individuality".
For those audiophiles who don't understand the differences between "detail" and "low-level information"; please listen to this turntable. It's like the difference between looking at a forest in Summer, and the same forest in Winter. Yes, you will see more of the trees in Winter, but that's only because the leaves and foliage are all dead and gone.
I realize that my criticisms will leave me all alone among an tsunami of rave reviews and hype for this component, but there are times that you have to stand up by yourself if you're a truely independent critic, with your own individual outlook, and this is one of those instances. This is a relatively low-profile website, with little real influence in the audio world, but I would still be doing my small readership a gross disservice if I attempted to hide, temper or obscure the above observations and my subsequent judgement.
For those readers who look for "wedge components" to separate, expose and test audio reviewers, this is that component. Please read Anthony Cordesman's "rave" (Issue #151), plus another rave by (shockingly!) Roy Gregory (Hi-Fi+), and then compare them to my profoundly different description and, even more important, my highly negative reaction.
The English magazine, HiFi+, even declared the HR-X to be their "Analog Component of the Year", while it's my "Disappointment of the Year". More recently, in May 2006, Stereophile also gave it another rave review, which is posted on their website. Of course, since Stereophile now gives rave reviews to more than 95% of the components they "review", this result is hardly surprising. (Interestingly, they had Brian Damkroger review the HR-X, and not Michael Fremer, their so-called "analog specialist", who has heard some of the HR-X's competition. There must be a reason that the editor, John Atkinson, made this decision. Of critical importance, Damkroger didn't mention even one other competing manufacturer's turntable by name.)
I welcome the comparisons with other audio writers myself, and advise readers to listen to the HR-X themselves, even if it takes an effort.
I'm still highly impressed with the "Special Edition" of this turntable. The only differences between the two models, which share the same brilliant design, are in their execution. The "Special Edition", my own term, is an incredible component. In fact, it WAS in Class A of the Reference Turntables on this website, and still would be if it was actually available. Its sonics are far different, and far superior, to the "standard" version described here. It's definitely worth the extra money, hassle and time to get one of them.
For those audiophiles who already have a HR-X, and truly enjoy it, my observations should be irrelevant. For those owners who have a similar outlook to mine, there are a few possible "remedies". You could switch to the TNT Hot-Rod platter, which is what the "Special Edition" uses. Based on my experiences with platters, the majority of the problems of this model should be eliminated. The extra cost, whatever it is, will be well worth it. Plus, you can always sell the old platter to someone on Audiogon who wants to build a DIY turntable. It may also be worthwhile to consider using a "lush" cartridge with the HR-X, like a Koetsu, or its closest contemporary equivalent.
I can not explain the popularity of the HR-X with hardcore phono buffs. I can only speculate that "The Emperor's New Clothes" fear factor has been in effect until now; meaning no one wanted to be the first person to go out on a limb and criticize the HR-X and, by implication, challenge Harry Pearson's and HiFi+'s competence for good measure. This short "review" removes that "excuse".
On a positive note, I can think of three scenarios where an audiophile would be understandably happy with the HR-X;
1. An audiophile who requires some "offset" for a veiled, slow and overly heavy sounding system,
2. An audiophile who owns a large record collection, but still prefers the sound of a good CD player, and has been dying to find a turntable that sounds similar to their digital ideal. The HR-X could be their "dream come true", and
3. An audiophile who can't hear, or doesn't care about, "low-level musical information".
I've known and admired Harry Weisfeld, the designer/co-owner of VPI Industries, for more than 20 years. He still has the best track record for designing and building turntables of any person I know, especially for value. That is why his turntables are the most common line within my Reference Turntable File, but no one is perfect. I consider the HR-X an anomaly for him. Ironically, if I was going back into the audio retail business, VPI would be, literally, one of the the first companies I would call, but my initial order would NOT include their (standard) HR-X.
Further Updates and Information- One of my associates recently received the new (Gingko Audio, modified, 'squash-type balls') "footers", which directly replace the original air suspension inserts found within the HR-X's four posts, that are used for isolation. He informed me that they definitely made some sonic improvements*, along with eliminating the annoying requirement to regularly pump-up the air isolators, which inevitably leaked a tiny amount of air over time. I don't know the cost and/or availability of the "footers" at this time.
*My associate felt the sound was "rock solid"; with greater "purity"; as well as more "impactful", "punchier" and "tighter bass"; and had a "more open and focused soundstage". He used the expression "greater solidity" more than once.
Personal Note- Unfortunately, while these new "footers" are welcome news, they don't directly address the sonic problems of the HR-X that I discussed above. To do that, the actual HR-X platter and (to a lesser extent) the subchassis will both have to be changed.
A reader, and also a former customer of mine from Toronto, sent me some relevant information about the HR-X platter upgrade. He also included a description of his own experiments. They're interesting, so I included them, with just a little editing:
"I have some information to share with you, direct from VPI; The new, heavy-duty platter for the HR-X table will be available sometime in the Spring. It will have a weight of about 30 lbs. I believe this is a little more than the "Hot-Rod platter". It will also have a much better bearing than the one used on the Hot-Rod platter. Apparently they will also size it for other tables such as the Aries, Scout etc. This could be good news for owners of these tables. The price will be $1,000 with a trade-in, or $1,500 without a trade.
My first attempt at making my own plinth turned out so good that I have plans to make another one. This time I am going to use a solid "2 inch" thick aluminium piece. I don't know if this will have any sonic advantage, but it is something I want to do. It will also have the new platter from the HR-X, a better tonearm (Triplanar or close to it) also one of the ZYX cartriges. When I am finished, I think this will be a very serious table."
Personal Note- I can only repeat myself. All HR-X owners should switch to this platter, pronto. The only thing I can add is that now Aries and Scout owners should also make the switch.
These turntables both have the all "frosted" acrylic platters, which I don't like, so they are not "References", despite some advantages. If their platters are somehow refitted to the original heavy-duty aluminum/acylic (20+ lbs.) version, which was standard on the Aries 1, then they are References.
A reader sent me the below letter describing his experiences and judgement with this turntable, and the VPI HW-19 Mk. IV, which is still a Reference, despite the fact that it is now discontinued. I added my reply to him (both include slight editing-the writer is European), for the sake of my perspective on these two models, and my thinking on making a fair comparison in this instance. Here's the reader's letter:
"I've compared my VPI HW-19 Mk. IV (Audioquest PT-6 tonearm) with the new VPI Scout (JMW-9), and the Scout is way more refined, detailed and more impactful to my ears. (My humble system: Wright Sound wpa3.5 2A3 mono blocks, Wright Sound WLA-12A preamp, Klipsch Cornwall II speakers.) Both turntables were tested with the Denon 103R, but the Scout/JMW-9 has a 3 grams headshell weight added. How come you never mention anything about this Scout turntable with inverted bearings? Now that the VPI HW-19 Mk. IV is obsolete..."
My Reply to this reader- None of us has had a Scout for personal and/or professional use. I don't challenge the reader's observations, since other serious audiophiles have made very similar claims, but I would first use:
1. the exact same tonearm and I would also
2. defeat the MK IV's spring suspension (using Sorbothane pucks etc.), as I advise in the listing,
before I came to a definitive conclusion about them. (Further, I don't like the platter on the Scout. My experience tells me that the much heavier and deader platter of the Mk. IV* will outperform it, everything else being equal.)
In short, until you hear the HW-19 Mk. IV with the exact same tonearm, and its suspension defeated, in effect bringing it up to the same level of potential performance as the Scout (both turntables can still go further), you can't state, definitively, that the Scout is the superior model. (The Scout is also much less versatile when it comes to tonearm compatability.)
My present "bottom line" on VPI turntables is this: The basic design of the Scout is brillant, but it's the execution that concerns me. For the same design, but with much superior execution, I would go with the original Aries 1, now discontinued, if it was my choice. I think it's a steal at its typical used prices. Then use the considerable savings to upgrade the (included) JMW 10 tonearm to the latest version, and/or look at a VPI SDS and even their flywheel.
*I strongly advise upgrading every single earlier version of the VPI HW-19 with the "heavy-duty" Mk. IV (aluminum/acrylic) platter/bearing, if possible. It's an outstanding ("no-brainer") sonic investment for the money. (12/05)
I just received this information from a reader. There is also a thread on this subject in the Analog section of Audiogon. The cost of the platter, according to a poster on Audiogon, is $ 1,199. There's minor editing and my bold:
"VPI is now taking orders on the new 25 pound 'super platter' with matching inverted bearing. Orders will begin shipping on or around May 1. The 'super platter' can be ordered directly from VPI or any one of its many authorized VPI dealers.
This platter is the most advanced platter VPI has ever made and, of course, it is compatible with the VPI Periphery ring. Made from an acrylic/stainless/acrylic sandwich (just like the HRX chassis), this is a big bad platter upgrade, and will fit all VPI turntables EXCEPT for the HRX. This platter has better bass performance, will fit the periphery ring, is ultra quiet, and has more stability, great slam, and power.
Yes, it will fit the HW-19 series, all Aries, all Scouts, Scoutmasters, and the SuperScoutmaster. It’ll even fit all the previous 20 years of TNTs, just not the HRX, which has a larger diameter bearing assembly, and has its own optional HRX super platter. VPI is offering a $300 discount if the platter is purchased with a current model VPI turntable.
If a customer has purchased any VPI turntable (except the HRX) after 3/1/07 and they purchase the Super Platter, they are eligible for a $300 rebate on the Super Platter directly from VPI with the return of the old platter and bearing."
Personal Notes- As many readers know, I've been requesting this "super platter" for years now. I highly recommend it for any VPI turntable with the all acrylic light-weight platters, or the older platters that are around 10 lbs (most HW-19s). However, those VPI turntables which already have heavy platters (20 lbs and up, such as the Aries 1 or some TNT models), may not receive a serious improvement. In that scenario, I would consider this purchase only if there were a "trial period". Credible anecdotal evidence may change that condition.
Finally, if VPI wants to be really fair, and smart, they should offer the exact same $ 300 rebate to every owner of an appropriate turntable, no matter when it was purchased, even if it was 20 years ago. The potential monetary profit, and goodwill, from such a generous gesture, is obvious. I feel this would be particularly appropriate for the recent Aries and TNT models, because a serious platter like this should have been "stock" in the first place.
As promised above, here is the interesting news about a new idler-wheel turntable. I don't have all the information yet, but that will be forthcoming. A number of audiophiles already know more than we do about this development, because I found out that VPI was at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, where they demonstrated their new drive system.
At this time, I've been told that this new idler-wheel is an upgrade for VPI's top-of-the-line HR-X and (some) TNT drive systems, in effect replacing their current flywheel systems. I don't know the cost of the upgrade. I assume it will later become an option when purchasing one of these models, and maybe even other models one day, such as the Aries. It should be available within a few weeks.
According to VPI, the idler-drive is a big improvement in "weight, impact, dynamics and the bottom-end," and with no downside. If true, the performance of the upgraded HR-X, especially with their heavy platter, may be unprecedented in certain important musical areas. (If this wasn't enough to digest, it's even possible that an all-aluminum HR-X chassis will also become an option. This is the "MORE!".)
We plan to eventually get one of these idler-drives, and we'll report the results (compared to the present flywheel system) as soon as they are definitive. (10/07)
A reader from Europe has just sent these interesting observations about his experiments with the popular VPI turntable. There is some editing, because English is not the reader's mother language, and my bold:
"I have tried some different solutions, and:
-The upgrade from standard acrylic platter to the heavy platter provided clearly quieter sound reproduction, better timing, and less need of the periphery ring. The bass also seems a little better.
- The upgrade from belt drive to rim drive is not very easy. The distance/pressure between the rim drive and the platter must be exact, but when this is accomplished, the bass improves a lot. Further, the timing, and all kinds of 3D/perspective skills, are so much better that it seems like an entirely new turntable construction (which it probably is).
Be careful not to put the rim drive too close to the platter. If you do so, you will get some motor noise into the system, and you may also have some further difficulties with feedback. Alternatively, if the rim drive is not close enough, you will lose much of the described improvements. However, the sound quality from the upgraded SSM seems to be much better than any of the Aries I have tried." (3/08)
Personal Note- I feel this letter is highly credible and makes perfect sense to me. However, I believe that the Aries, once equally modified, will at least match the performance of the (modified) Super Scoutmaster, if not prove to be superior.
A veteran reader sent me his important observations on a topic that I previously had no idea would be relevant. He also discusses the importance of cleaning the belt. Some minor editing, and my bold:
"I am an owner of the VPI Super Scoutmaster Reference, and just wanted to let you know about my findings with the rim drive.
There are two rubber bands available for the rim drive - a black one, and the orange one. The black is not nearly acoustically good as the orange one (which is stickier). However, the orange one causes a lot of static when I remove the LP. The black rubber band has no such problems. Furthermore, the orange rubber band can collect a lot of dirt on itself, causing flat spotting and overall low level bumping noise (kind of like a flat spotting car tire).
I cannot minimize the proper hand cleaning of the orange rubber band in hot water, once a month." (01/11)
Another reader has sent me his observations concerning these belt differences. Please note; he does not mention the orange belt, as did the first reader in January. Here is the letter, with some editing and my bold:
"I would like to comment on the contention that the brown belts are better than the black. My experience is the opposite. My VPI HR-X arrived with brown belts i.e. the small belts between the motor pulleys and the rim drive itself. There was no speed stability. The speed had to be constantly corrected by enormous amounts. It varied so much that there was often insufficient adjustment on the SDS to correct speed. It nearly drove me mad.
I corresponded copiously with VPI on the subject. I adopted all the 'cures' they recomended. I cleaned the brown belts and brown rubber 'tyre' (which remains)with isoproplyl alcohol. They sent out a pair of 'proven' black belts. Hey Presto! problem solved. Speed stability is now excellent." (02/11)
A reader sent me his observations about this combination, which I felt should be shared. I must note that I have also had excellent results with the "Bearpaws", which are installed on my Reference Lenco. Here is his letter, with some minor editing and my bold:
"I have been experimenting with this setup for over a year, and have found the solution for its setup. The VPI arm was never happy with the rim drive, which caused an undulating rocking movement, even with the new orange ring around the drive wheel. Using the belt drive on the turntable, the arm was absolutely steady.... this rim drive problem needed fixing. I found that the VPI minifeet are entirely too soft for the rim drive, permitting a rocking of the table which is transmitted to the arm.
I installed Bearpaws (Vermontaudio.com), which are very solidly made brass spikes which absolutely prevent the VPI turntable itself from moving...the soft feet on the motor assembly absorbing all of any extra motion. With the addition of the Bearpaws, the arm is solid, but also, the sound of the whole system is much refined... airier, more dynamic, etc., etc. These Bearpaws simply screw into the threads when the minifeet are removed. Incidentally, even the new Classic series tables benefit from the Bearpaws....Highly recommended." (07/11)
A veteran reader, who made an earlier contribution concerning the VPI Super Scoutmaster a few years ago, has sent me a letter with his most recent observations, which I felt should be shared. Here it is, with no editing:
"I have written to you before about the VPI SSM, and the platter/rimdrive upgrades.
Some months ago I received a new 'plastic' belt ring to replace the old black, rubber ring which made the contact between the SSM’s platter and flywheel. This made a very big improvement – the sound from the flywheel disappeared completely, and the setup process (putting the distance between the motor and the plinth) became much easier. This new material cost almost nothing, and is a 'must have' for anyone with a VPI rimdrive-based turntable." (08/11)
A reader sent me this question (some minor editing and my bold):
"I cannot understand why not a single word is uttered in terms of the original VPI TNT -- the original Mk I and Mk II for instance (in your Reference Turntable File). You devoted quite a few lines to the Oracles (mk I, II, III, V) and also the Linn Sondek!!! Nothing on the TNT.. Is it that bad??"
...the TNT is mentioned in passing, while the later TNT models, and especially their heavy platters, are mentioned frequently... The reason why I didn't write extensively about the original TNT models was because I was ultimately disappointed with them. Here are the relevant details...
I was a VPI dealer when they originally came out more than 20 years ago now. I even purchased a TNT Mk II as a "demo" in my store, and I liked it quite a bit. However, I was also a Goldmund dealer at that exact same time and I loved making direct comparisons back then even more than I do now (because of all the assistance I received).
So, one day, Israel Blume (now of Coincident Speaker Technology) and I spent an entire day (literally) comparing the TNT MK II to the last version of the Goldmund Studio, using the exact same tonearm and cartridge, going back and forth several times, which took a lot of detailed work. The results in short- The Goldmund was noticeably superior to the TNT, so much so that Blume quickly sold his Oracle turntable and purchased the Goldmund (with a SME V). I also ended up with the same Goldmund/SME combination myself shortly thereafter (and we both loved it).
After that, I (along with Blume) went on eventually to the Forsell turntables and lost interest in the TNT models until the 2000's. (04/13)
All my early and recent correspondence with idler-drive (and rim-drive) enthusiasts were originally located in this file. They are now located in this file: The Lenco L 75 Reference Turntable, which obviously includes my extensive essay/review of the Lenco, that was written and posted in May/June 2010. In effect, idler/rim-drives now have their own dedicated file.Top
There is now a dedicated file on the unique ELP Laser Turntable.
I've been hearing about this turntable from a variety of sources, all of it positive and enthusiastic. This is taken and edited from two letters by a reader who is both excited and (is apparently) very experienced:
"As a huge fan of analog music reproduction (in any format), I recently went on a quest to find the table of my dreams... I've owned many tables and have found great things in each, but had yet to find one that embodied everything I was looking for. To cut a very long story short, my research ended with the Redpoint Testa Rossa XS. WOW!!! MAGIC! MUSIC, SLAM, ARTICULATION, IMAGING, SOUNDSTAGE, TONALITY, PACING--you name it, this table has it! While it costs $ 6,500 (direct price), I feel that it outperforms tables costing 3 times as much. As you've already pointed out, Redpoint has provided sonic upgrades in the form of their motor to numerous folks owning Verdiers, VPI's, etc. The XS weighs 130 lbs, uses Teflon, aluminum, lead-shot and oil in it's composition and is DC operated. I've never heard a table quite like this (and I've heard "them all" including the Teres)."
"(This)... is my honest assessment of the vinyl machine scene--as I have thoroughly evaluated it in the NYC market. In addition, several "audiophiles" have stopped in for a listen to the system with the Redpoint XS TT, and most are utterly stupefied by what they had just heard! One close friend was shaking is head in disbelief and giggling like a little girl as we listened to Basie's 88 Keys recording on Pablo!!!"
"I have owned many different tables, and the VPI I am now parting with is the HW19 Mk4 (with every upgrade, including the latest Mk5 TNT platter and bearing) and Triplanar/Audioquest 7000. To my ears, there was very little difference sonically between the TNT Mk4 and the 19,... and living on a busy and noisy street in Brooklyn, it made more sense go with the 19 over the TNT..." (10/03)
I have only "show" experience with some Teres models, and no experience at all with the Galibiers (or the Redpoints either). There are various discussions of these different designs on Audiogon, Vinyl Asylum and other websites, but this reader also makes a relevant contribution to the discussion. Here are his observations, slightly edited, with my own "Notes" in the middle and at the end:
"After living with a Linn turntable for 20 years, and upgrading periodically, I switched to CD as my main source about 10 years ago. In January, I played a few old LPs and thought they sounded awful. I had it serviced and a new (Denon 304) fitted and still wasn't happy - colored, muddled bass, etc. exactly as you describe.
To cut a long story short, I have spent a significant amount of time auditioning the most frequently recommended analog components and would like to share a few observations.
First, ...the Kuzma Stabi turntable... would rate class C at best. I heard it with the Stogi arm and powered by the Bastin "Wave Mechanic" power supply. It was pleasantly musical sounding, although the bass response rolled off early and steeply.
Having read about the Teres tables on Audiogon, I arranged an audition in Colorado and also got to hear the Galibier Quattro. (When Chris Brady went commercial with Teres, two of the other leading members of the Teres group (Thom Mackris and Peter Clarke) set up Redpoint. Due to logistical challenges, Peter and Thom split in 2003, and Thom now builds and sells the Galibier range (www.galibierdesign.com).)
Arriving in Colorado, I was pretty much convinced that I would be buying a Teres 265. However my extended auditions changed this. The massy Teres tables offer great isolation from vibration and excellent speed stability. However, the use of hardwood and lead for the platter, and chassis, means that, to my ears, they are over-damped*. I have a 70s rock lp that is very complex, with lots of transients, which I use to check whether a turntable does "timing". The Teres couldn't manage it - it damped out the leading edge of the bass guitar, which gave the curious effect of making the cut sound like it was playing slow. Also, the resolution wasn't as good as I had hoped - there's a passage on a Supertramp LP where sax and guitar are playing in unison, in the same place in the sound stage, and only the best tables resolve this as two discrete instruments playing - the Teres didn't."
(*I would use the word "under-damped" myself-See "Personal Notes" below.)
"I believe that analog components reflect the music tastes and sonic preferences of their creator (e.g. SME and classical/opera). Chris Brady (Teres) likes quite bland music and with his Koetsu Urushi cartridge (plus SET amps and horns) he's achieving a very lush, smooth sound that's the opposite of digital, however it's colored all the same. I heard the top end model too, the 360, which had the same sonic signature but more refinement and detail. As an objective assessment I would say that the Teres range couldn't be rated higher than lower class B.
The Galibier, in contrast, was agile and dynamic whilst having detail, bass extension, everything one could wish for. I spent 8 hours in 2 sessions listening to this turntable, playing complete LP sides. What I found fascinating was that the cuts in between the ones that I particularly wanted to hear (my references) sounded fresh and engaging as never before. I think it's that previously, listening to them on the Linn, they were simplified to the point of banality. On the Galibier, the complexity and charm of the songs was revealed. Extending the information about designers' tastes in music, Thom Mackris listens to bluegrass, jazz, small classical ensembles and 60' West Coast rock which was reflected in a better balanced set-up.
The other observation is that both Thom and Chris used the Schroeder Reference tonearm. I also heard this at the UK ZYX distributor's demo. The Schroeder's distinguishing features are its sense of airy openness around the instruments; complete absence of coloration induced by bearings and the absence of leading edge exaggeration caused by arm tube resonance. It is apparently highly responsive to fine adjustment and in two of the demos it was slightly lacking authenticity in reproducing string bass and bass guitars (due to the tastes of the owners). However, I have discussed this with the designer/builder, and I am assured that it is possible to optimize the set-up to achieve this. I would rate the Schroeder Reference above the SME V.
I noted your caveat on the Dynavector Karat 17D. From conversations I have had with owners, the consensus was that this cartridge was a little lacking in bass weight compared to others in the Dynavector range, however the 17D2 version corrected this. I would suspect that the UK owner who contacted you was using a Linn, possibly with Naim amplification which tends towards a lean sound."
Personal Notes- 1. Despite the reader's observations, I would still like to audition the Kuzma Stabi Reference, which is a very different model.
2. While at the Las Vegas 2004 CES, one of my associates and I attended a similar "shoot-out" of two Teres platters; the cocobolo wood with lead, and an acrylic with lead. The results were surprising to us. Almost everyone there, except the two of us, preferred the wood platter, which sounded much fuller and "richer". Sadly, it also noticeably smeared and colored everything at the same time. The acrylic platter was much more focused, neutral and clean, but it was also analytical and dry. So, we weren't happy with either platter.
3. I feel that all designers should use the most challenging musical software, in order to test and learn the component's inherent limits.
4. One of my associates also felt the latest Dynavector 17D2 was lacking in deep bass weight, and he used it on a VPI JMW 12.6.
5. I asked the reader for further clarification of his experiences. This was his reply;
"1. I heard the 200 series Teres at Chris Brady's home, and he replicated the "shoot out", so I heard the 245 (all acrylic platter), the 255 (lead loaded acrylic) and 265 (lead loaded cocobolo wood) and two examples of his range-topping 360. In each case he moved his Schroeder Reference and Koetsu Urushi between the turntables. I heard the Galibier at Thom Mackris's home the previous evening and then went back the following day to cross-reference what I had heard.
I think that the explanation is that Chris Brady is seeking an analog sound that is tonally richer than cd and has gone off on a track towards lush and mellow. His 360 turntables are quite detailed but lack that ability to transcribe the transients accurately. Thom Mackris has a view that the development of the Teres sound is limited by the (narrow range) of music that Chris listens to.
2. I live in the UK and don't get Stereophile. I checked their website and the only reference I could find was to Michael Fremer reviewing the Kuzma Stabi S in July 1999*, and it was also a runner up in their products of the year that year. It was the same model, the Stabi S, that I auditioned, with the Bastin Wave Mechanic power supply. I heard it at a dealer's suggestion - he felt that it was a product that "punched above its weight." It had a pleasant, balanced tonal quality but came unstuck on more complex program material with a pronounced bass roll-off. In my view this was a trade-off that I couldn't live with at any price, however I got the impression that it's one of those products that is very tolerant of matching components and set-up inaccuracies."
(*The Stabi Reference was later discussed by Fremer in the September 2004 issue.)
Personal Note- I still think that these new, direct-sale, turntable companies, Teres, Redpoint and Galibier, are the wave of the future. They offer a wide range of continually evolving products, good service and are flexible in meeting customers' changing demands. It's going to be difficult for stores to compete with them, especially since they rarely offer relevant experience, expert set-up or choice. I can even see some veteran turntable manufacturers selling direct-to-the-public in the future.
FURTHER- This Teres/Galibier post inspired a thread in Vinyl Asylum, which is both interesting and informative. The thread started on July 1, 2005 (#428594).
It is titled: D.I.Y. Time: Teres & Galibier 'semi-shoot-out'.
I've heard some good "buzz" about this turntable for a while, so I decided to share it with everyone. I have no experience with it personally, and neither do any of my associates. Still, it seems to be a serious contender for "the finest turntable available", and it's not "crazy money". Here's a press release sent to me by a helpful reader. I've edited out the most enthusiastic "propaganda" that was included (my bold):
The TW Acustic Raven table...was recently judged to be one of the highlights of the Heathrow High Fidelity Show.
Designed by Thomas Woschnick, of TW Acustics, the Raven AC is a true high end turntable benefitting from the finest German engineering, build quality and attention to detail. Consisting of a solid base (50kg), machined from a specially developed high density polymer, a one-piece bearing of the highest density non-resonant stainless steel, and a heavy polymer platter together with pure copper, this turntable ensures the ultimate in stability and control.
Drive is provided by a microprocessor controlled DC motor employing quartz crystal referencing to ensure accurate speed to within 0.000000002 seconds per minute! This high torque motor enables the 10kg platter to reach operating speed within one second, via a maintenance free belt. The tonearm is fitted to the turntable via a bronze armboard with Teflon underlay. It is possible to fit up to four tonearms to the Raven at once. The result of this no-compromise approach, is an effortlessly natural sound throughout the entire frequency range, extremely high resolution coupled with ultra-precise timing and a tightly controlled bass that retains all its detail.
• Solid turntable - total weight 50kg. Platter weight 10kg
• Materials - custom high density polymer, stainless steel,Teflon
• Inverted one-piece bearing with capillary lubrication
• Tightest manufacturing tolerances
• High-torque DC motor, quartz referenced and microprocessor controlled
• Speed accurate to 2 nanoseconds per minute
• Motor controller is fully adjustable and programmable
• Spin-up time - >1 second
• Extremely smooth and quiet in operation
• Optional Stillpoint feet
• Optional extra bronze armboards with Teflon isolation
Further- I don't know the price of this model. The North American distributor is High Water Sound. The person to contact is Jeffrey Catalano. Their website is a work in progress as of now. They're located in New York City (212-608-8841).
Here's the latest letter from a reader concerning this beautiful turntable line, which I would love to hear in my own system. I felt it should be shared. It's almost unedited, except I broke it into more paragraphs (my bold):
"... Could I just chip in my observations on two decks you mention...the SME 30 and the SPJ La Luce.
I owned the SME 30, Mark Two, for four years. Fitted with the Series Five arm, it is a deeply unconvincing experience. As you point out, the sound is analytic and 'cold'. I'd go further, if you use this deck for any length of time you will become aware of a sort of 'grey' mechanical sound. The result is dangerously close to Cd rather than fine analog. The key offender is the arm....something like a Graham Phantom shows a real move forward. But the 'cold' quality does not fully go away. It is always there, lurking in the backround.
As for Michael Fremer's suggestion that it equals the Rockport Sirius....complete and utter nonsense. I once spent several hours doing a direct comparison of these two decks ..something no reviewer seems to have done...and the difference is massive. The Sirius disappears, leaving a wonderful, billowing soundstage full of life and detail. Above all, the Rockport manages to shrug off any sense of mechanical reproduction. It is one of the few components which really does approach mastertape quality...once heard, never forgotten (this was a Sirius Three, using a VDH Grasshopper). Switching to the SME 30 was a shock. I do not exaggerate..a real shock. The soundstage collapsed (same cartridge), the sound become analytic and 'grey' and the whole thing left a profound sense of disappointment. If you were giving points out of ten, the Rockport would get 9.5 and the SME, about 5. The difference really is that great. Only the deaf would not hear it.
I note that both Mr. Fremer and Roy Gregory, of Hi Fi Plus, have compared the Rockport to other decks, without being able to do a direct comparison. I can think of no other reason for their profound ignorance in this matter (well, actually, I can, but.....). The Rockport is in a league of its own...and probably always will be, given the astonishing cost and complexity of engineering.
Now, the SPJ La Luce: I bought this to replace the SME 30, and have fallen in love with it. It just might be the best 'afforable' deck available. Well, affordable is a relative term, but I could buy one, and not the Rockport (more's the pity). This deck has some of the same attributes as the Rockport, at a lower level. Wonderful, billowing soundstages that you feel you could walk into; a lack of mechanical artifice, the ability to produce masses of detail in a natural unforced manner. I suspect that the real gem here is the unipivot arm; but as a complete system, the SPJ with something like a Benz Ebony cartridge, is the unit to beat.
One further point, the friend who owns the Rockport (his third!) believes the SPJ La Luce to be the only 'normal' deck to approach its qualities...and he has no axe to grind. Expensive, and the manufacturer could be said to be a touch 'quirky', but well worth the cost. I speak as someone with no bias in these matters..I have learnt, like most of us, by making mistakes and then moving on....costly but great fun.."
And here's a short comment from a more recent letter from another reader who lives in Europe, with some reservations concerning the SPJ tonearm, with some minor editing:
"Very interesting info about the SME 30 and the La Luce from Spotheim. I agree with the SME turntables, but I know 2 owners, with the SPJ, who changed the Spotheim tonearms, the latest one went for a DaVinci tonerm."
I just heard about these models. Here's the intial information I received, somewhat edited. I don't know who the U.S. distributor is, or even if one presently exists. I also don't know about the relationships of these people below, or if there is a financial conflict somewhere, but I think there's enough real substance here for those interested to further pursue:
"(We) have heard some Acoustic Solid turntables from Germany recently, which are just about the steal of the century for tables. The "Solid One" model (of about 10 different models!!) is a massive aluminum table with separate electronically controlled ac/dc motor with separate aluminum billet pod for arm (up to 3). Retails for $4,000 (comes stock with incognito Rega 300 and Ortofon MC cartridge--which you can flog on Audiogon for around $300-400!). Soncially as good as the (TW) Raven for less than half the cost!... Len Gregory mates it with his Conductor tonearm for world class sound.
Check out the website at: www.acoustic-solid.de (Note to Readers- this link is already in the Links File.)
A friend and business associate of mine in Germany, Robert Graetke, introduced me to Acoustic Solid. Robert is the distributor for Shindo and Sun Audio in Germany, and manufactures exceptional tweaks for Garrard and SME products (eg. titanium bearings, spindles, etc.). Robert has been in the analog business for a number of years, and knows Mr. Fiekert (partner in Scheu Audio), Dr. Forsell, Thomas Wosniak of Raven AC and the owner of Platine...
So he really knows the European analog business backwards and forwards, and is a very good critical listener (former concert violinist). In Robert's opinion, all the models of the Acoustic Solid sound great, expecially when considering the price. One of the lower cost models, the Black Wood Classic ($1,600 retail!) apparently sounds better than the VPI Super ScoutMaster costing 4-5 times the price. In fact, there's a dealer in San Francisco who's said, to the AS rep in the US, that he's having a hard time selling his more expensive tables, because the AS Black Wood model sounds too good!
At the high end of the Acoustic Solid line, the "Solid One", the "Solid One Plus One" and the "Royal" (very pretty too!) models are all world class sounding tables. AS also makes two tonearms that appear to be a reminescent of the Ortofon arms so highly prized in Asia. The arms sell for $2,200 (...with Cardas Incognito wiring/VandenHul silver optional).
Thorsten Loesch, noted audio engineer from England, did a review of the Acoustic Solid "Solid One" in 2003 for "Enjoy the Music", and loved the turntable so much, he still uses it as his reference table as does Geoff Husband the reviewer for TNT Audio magazine in Europe. Geoff is using the Conductor tonearm on it, and says "I'll never go back to a convention pivot design arm (he sold his Schroeder Reference...). Thorsten says that the AS Solid One is as good, if not better, than the Platine Verdier for a considerably lower price...."
Personal Notes- I checked out the website and the Thorsten Loesch review of the Solid One. It looks like I now have the "hots" for a third turntable (the Royal). For the record, the previous two turntables on the list are the Garrard 501 and the TW Acustic Raven. I also feel the same way about two new (and very different) tonearms; The Graham Phantom B-44 and The Conductor. I can't get to any of these components until well into the new year, but they're now on my radar. (12/06)
ACOUSTIC SOLID TURNTABLES- I received a letter from Musical Sounds, who are located in Connecticut, informing me that they are the North American distributor of this line. There is now a direct link to them below, and in The Links File. The turntable which I have a personal interest in, "The Royal", has a retail price of $ 10,000. Here is the letter, which is slightly edited, from Zed Husain:
"Someone sent me a link to your recent posting concerning one of the product lines we import and distribute in North America, 'Acoustic Solid'. We carry the entire line of products... For those that wish to contact us for referrals to our dealers... can reach us at, 203-877-7776." (12/06)
- This is another turntable manufacturer located in Germany. Their models look quite similar to those from Acoustic Solid (see above). The reader, who introduced me to this company, explains the "coincidence", amongst other things in his letter (with some minor editing and my bold):
"I read your recent recommendation of the Acoustic Solid range of turntables from Germany and I feel that the very similar Acoustic Signature range also deserves a mention (see http://www.acoustic-signature.com/).
Apparently Acoustic Signature and Acoustic Solid used to be one company.
I have personally listened to several models from the Acoustic Signature range, including the top-of-the-line Analog One MkIII, with the new Continuum Audio Labs Copperhead tonearm, fitted with a ZYX Airy 3X H Cosmos cartridge, into a Connoisseur phono stage, built by Peter Mares. This combination trumped my current Basis 2800 vacuum with Basis Vector tonearm combination, with the same cartridge, in the areas of solidity, macro dynamics, bass weight, definition and image size.
May I also highly recommend the Boston Audio graphite record mat. This is a definite improvement to any non-vacuum platter turntable in my experience and totally transforms the sound for the better... lower noise floor, better leading edge definition but not at the expense of tonality or decay."
Personal Notes- For the record, while I am highly interested in the Acoustic Solid Royal turntable, I have NOT made a "recommendation" of any of their components. There's now a direct link to Acoustic Signature in the Link File. (12/06)
I've been hearing about these turntables for a while now, and may have seen them when attending the CES in 2004, but I can't remember one way or the other. They're beautiful, but also expensive, though if what I'm hearing about their supposedly stellar performance is true, they may be worth the price. Below is a reader's observations. I feel they should be shared, since they appear basically credible to me, though that doesn't mean, of course, that one should "drop their skeptical guard". I'm not myself. I see these models as two more potential alternatives to the known "all-out" turntables already out there. Time, as usual, will eventually sort things out. Here it is, with only slight editing:
"I bought the SPJ La Luce Turntable with the Lyla arm and Cardas Myrtlewood Heart cartridge...it CLEARLY outperformed my Versa 1 and the "reference grade" Kuzma XL table with Airline arm and the (re-worked Shelter 90x) Kuzma Ref cartridge set up by Scot Markwell from The Absolute Sound... I burned pre-liminary CD's of various music from each of the turntables, identical levels, but unscientifically, not the same cartridges. The Versa and the SPJ had the same cartridge. The soundstage that the SPJ posseses is ENORMOUS! In a blind listening test, I thought for sure it was the Kuzma based on how well linear arms have performed in the past. When my roomate told me to open the drawer of the cd player, my jaw dropped. It was the SPJ. The power and complexity that this unipivot arm has is amazing. Next I compared it to a Avid Actus with a Triplaner 6 and an ebony LP Benz. The same thing...this huge soundstage with all the inner detail able to resolve...that was on a set of Wilson MAXX 2's, driven by a Hovland HP200 and a Radia amp, all Golden Ref Cardas cable. And the backgrounds are so black...the music just jumps out at you.
...I'm telling you, I've heard almost every table out there and this clearly beats everything I've ever heard. I STRONGLY recommend you audition this table wherever you are that you can...Oh, just as a side note...there was an occasion where Wes Bender from InnerSound, Dan Meinwald from E.A.R. and some fellow from the Robb Report heard the SPJ Centoventi compared to the SME 20/2...I was off axis and my jaw dropped as well theirs' did too...
The difference between the La Luce and Centoventi is very small...maybe only in the fact that original arm is on the Centoventi...mmm...Brooks Berdan is not too inclined to "sell" me on something because he knows I can tell the difference (maybe due to being a musician as a profession). And he also knows that I'm cheap enough to do serious comparisons to de-bunk any myths."
Further- The main website for SPJ is: www.spotheim-spj.com/
Besides the usual information and pictures, there are links to Brooks Berdan and other distributors. Missing among them is Tri-Cell Enterprises, who distributes the SPJ line in Canada. Tri-Cell's link can be found in this website's own Link File.
This provocative letter is from a reader who has made some valuable contributions in the past. This is a follow-up on his last correspondence. There is only some minor editing to shield the "innocent", plus my bold:
"I know my previous experience of the Teres and Galibier turntables was challenged by a Teres owner here. It was interesting to hear the new Teres Certus direct drive at the RMAF last October. Chris Brady admitted to me that it removed a layer of veiling that he didn't know was there on the table I heard on my previous trip. He attributes the improvement to the motor. I would say that the Certus is now close to equalling the Galibier Stelvio.
Three stand-out impressions from (the 2006) RMAF for me were:
1) The Cogent True to Life field coil speakers - not absolutely accurate, but very engaging and the most enjoyable sound at the show.
2) Flying Mole class D amplifiers - they have a pre/power combination with 100 wpc/8 ohm that has agility, nuance and power and is not expensive. (I have a theory that our friends in the audio press are conspiring against class D because the technology represents a threat to their established solid state advertisers.)
3) I was in the TW Acustik room when Frank Schroeder was there with a guest. They played the same track on the cheaper model Raven, fitted with a cheap arm (Sumiko MMT like) and the Dynavector 20X cart, followed by the expensive table with the Schroeder Reference SQ and the ZYX Universe.
There was a difference - the expensive rig sounded brighter but less dynamic. Herr Schroeder and Woschnik admitted they were close and favored the extra "air" of the expensive arm/cart. However, sitting there asking myself "which sounds more convincing, more like real musicians and instruments?", my answer was the cheaper arm/cart combination. How is it I never hear "air" around instruments and singers when I go to live concerts? (1/07)"
I recently received a letter from a reader with two questions. Here's the first, the second (Apogee/Krell) will require a much lengthier response. There's some slight editing and my bold:
"I have a Goldmund Studio ST4 with the original tonearm...Your article mentions using sorbothane pucks to replace the very soft springs. It appears the Audioquest ones are no longer available. Is there another source for these? My other concern is the adage of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". Does the use of the sorbothane significantly improve a very musical deck's isolation, and therefore performance? As far as I understand, sorbothane comes in differing densities, and using the wrong one will not work, being either too solid or too wobbly to be effective."
My Response- I don't know anything about the different densities of Sorbothane, but I strongly advise using a hockey puck with one of the new VPI Sorbothane isolation pucks on top of it, interfacing with the bottom of the Goldmund's subchassis. You should also use something below the hockey puck to make certain that it doesn't slide around. The whole point is to stabilize the Studio's subchassis, while also absorbing micro vibrations. One of my associates and I both used this method with great success (he had an ET tonearm, while I had a SME V). The improvement was easily noticeable. The VPI Sorbothane pucks are sold by Elusive Disc, and maybe some others.
Finally, I'm pretty sure that this same solution can also be used with the smaller Goldmund Studietto. If so, I highly advise the procedure. In fact, it's possible that the resulting improvement will be even larger than with the Studio.
This letter is from a veteran European reader and past contributor. He doesn't pull his punches, and even gives some helpful advice on improving the sound of the new copper platter update of the Raven. There's some editing, due to privacy issues, and my bold:
"I recently listened to the Raven turntable. Audiophile friends own them, and we also conducted a tonearm comparison. They have a collection of the best modern arms and I would like to give you my impressions. Two identical cartridges, two identical tonearms, same electronics and both the owner and I came to the same result: The Raven is a fast, but a cold and analytical sounding unit. Based on this – and the differences we heard compared to the other turntable, we wondered for a while what had confused us: The expensive copper update for the platter is not good. A record directly on it was really bad in reproduction. We then tried a cheap paper mat between the copper and the record, and it became DRAMATICALLY better. Arthur, a PIECE of Paper!
I am amazed that Fremer raved about it so much. Tastes are different, but cheap for the money??? Hm, strange...
I heard that this unit is sometimes offered as a package with the Schroeder tonearms. Another friend had a Raven with a DPS Schroeder arm for a loan, and told me he had problems to get the right setting with that arm. He gave up, because the results never satisfied him compared to his other tonearms (Phantom, Kuzma Air Line). The Schroeder SQ is an updated Reference, but there's no big change in the construction; the main difference is the Valhalla tonearm wire. I listened probably 5 to 8 times to his Reference arm, and in my opinion it is very good in the mid frequency area. It can create a wide soundstage, but in the high frequencies and bass, it is no match to other tonearms like the Graham or Triplanar. A well known importer told me that he sold his Schroeder Reference arm, because it never held its settings, and he got tired of adjusting it all the time after his wife opened a window (also confirmed by the owner with this loaner turnable). I think the Phantom betters them in every area, and even the TriPlanar has a better overall performance."
Personal Notes- Fremer's "reviews" are utterly predictable by now. Even components which are actually proven to be "defective"*, still receive "raves" from him, which is why the raves are also totally meaningless. Any confirmation of this "paper mat" modification would be welcomed. The Raven AC/Graham Phantom is still a combination I would love to hear one day.
*Zanden DAC- November 2006, plus the Harmonic Technology Cables-August 2005.
I received an interesting letter from an European reader who has taken issue with a letter from another European reader that was posted in February 2007. Below is the reader's letter, then the relevant parts of my reply, and finally the reader's reply to my reply. There's very little editing and my bold:
"I find it upsetting that someone as experienced as yourself would print a letter without all relevant information in place. We do not know what cartridge was used for comparison or what speakers the person used. I own a Raven after owning a Hyperspace and have tried multiple arms. What the Schroder does is fabulous. For sure it is not perfect. But we do not read anything but a criticism from this letter. I have tried many cartridges on the Schroder and there are varying synergies depending on the compliance & compatibility of the cartridge. I have also tried many different mats and the copper platter direct as well. The copper platter alone performs very well. I use the Living Voice Mystic Mat, which I love. What many of us have found is that different mats offer different synergies, depending on arm/cartridge combination. Also depending on even the recording being played back.
For me the most important thing to note in this comparison is does the person have the turntables properly isolated. My Raven is on a spring based shelf that is mass loaded. After the addition of effective isolation the turntable achieved another level of performance. In addition, I was not able to hear the results of any tonearm comparisons as readily with the turntable not fully isolated. In this comparison of the person providing the letter were both turntables isolated equally? Also, did the person have speakers that produce the full frequency spectrum including bass. Many reader in Europe have small rooms and speakers that are not able to produce the lowest octave of bass. In my opinion this fully negates a large part of any review. Any equipment having strengths in a few areas while having glaring weakness at the frequency extremes or as such can not be used evaluate other equipment. In this case, speakers lacking bass and the ability to image can not be used to evaluate a turntable or any source equipment. Source equipment needs to be evaluated full range. Many people proclaiming one thing better than another do not have full range systems to hear the "truth". In addition, once bass is introduced into a system, everything changes. Bass often effects the perceived detail in music and can introduce resonances that are very difficult to dissipate into the music. Again, I must emphasize the importance of isolation in evaluating any analog source.
If you have noticed, most of the new "Super Turntables" in the $ 40,000 dollar and up range have isolation included with the turntable in the form of either air, springs or magnets etc. I would suggest many of the turntables out there would easily compare to megabuck turntables once isolation is added. In a "good room" a wall shelf might suffice. In a more complex system a mass loaded rack w. air or spring isolation would be even better. My spring base, from Machina Dynamica, was revelatory in allowing me to hear my turntable for the "1st" time. Many of my comparisons were invalidated once adding effective isolation."
I have numerous and prominently displayed caveats and conditions posted at the very top of the Recent File, and also before every monthly section of the reader’s letters. I can’t do more than that to caution readers that the letters may have to be read with a skeptical outlook, at the very least.
I choose letters from people who appear credible, unbiased and experienced. I never meant the Reader’s Letters section to be “definitive”. I realize that all the relevant information is not posted, but sometimes the writer omits information that he feels may identify him, or is not relevant to the larger issue. These letters are usually not from people who go to extreme lengths to keep it all “scientific”, but I still feel they may have value.
I realize some may find some of the opinions “upsetting” or “offensive”, but that’s the cost of honest opinions that are not censored or edited. This reader’s mentioning of the “paper mat” alone made it worth posting.
You should also remember my own “Personal Notes” at the end of this person’s letter. Here is what I wrote:
“Any confirmation of this "paper mat" modification would be welcomed. The Raven AC/Graham Phantom is still a combination I would love to hear one day.”
I’m not familiar with the Schroder tonearms. so I am not able to make a comment about them. With their design and materials, it’s obvious that they will work with some cartridges better than others. I agree with you that the cartridge should have been mentioned, and that it is critical to make a final evaluation, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from posting the letter. Readers will have to do their own research to find out if one of the Schroder tonearms is a good match for them.
Finally, I agree with you about acoustic isolation, which is why I have discussed it on a regular basis.
"Thank you for the prompt reply... Due to the length of the update thread, you end up reading excerpts. As such I forget your disclaimers. After doing some research, I do know the person who submitted the letter. The person in fact does not have a full range system. This is my primary problem. I have learned that once you have a full range system that everything you listen to is different. You hear the effect of bass & more on the full sonic spectrum. While you thought your system was perfect you now hear its deficiencies. Once again thank you for the response and do feel free to post my response.
FYI, my system; Wilson Maxx II, VTL MB 750 w. 7.5 preamp using 5751 tubes. A custom tube phono stage & custom solid stage battery powered phono stage. EMM CDSAse CD for source (excellent for SACD but not for CD). Turntable is TW Acustic Raven AC w. Schroder SQ, Ikeda IT407, SME V & Graham Phantom coming soon. Cartridges currently in use are a Koetsu Jade and ZYX Universe X-SB. I have had a Dynavector XV-1s, VdH Condor, Dynavector XV-1s, Koetsu Urushi and Sonic Labs Eminent. I have had extensive experience in learning about synergies. These do extend to the phono stage as well. An often ignored point: I use an outer ring to great effect. And of course the Promethean base, which makes all the difference in the world. I could not hear much of my testing until after installing the base. It allowed me to hear each cartridge/arms true capabilities. If the turntable is not effectively isolated you would not truly know how the combination you are listening to sounds."
Personal Notes- I agree with this reader about the serious problem of evaluation when not having a "full range" system. The same is true when the person has a small room, and/or any other conditions where a system's, or a component's, potential performance is seriously compromised. This is why all reviews of relevant components must be looked at with a ruthlessly critical eye.
Finally, this reader was actually able to identify the earlier reader, despite my best efforts. This is more evidence of how truly small our audiophile community really is. Still, openness and honesty in communication is the best policy in the long run, because no one knows it all, which means we must share what we do know, or else we'll live in ignorance, or, worse, in deceit. Accordingly, I thank both of these readers for their contributions.
Another reader has sent me an enthusiastic appraisal of this isolation mat. This confirms the letter from the earlier reader (just above). Here are the two letters he sent, put together and edited:
"I picked up a Living Voice mystic carbon fiber turntable mat on audiogon after reading this article:
This mat is everything the article says. It is like the mat acts as a buffer above and below the record, reduced noise vibration, feedback distortion is killed = infinitely sharper resolution. Tonal density is more vivid. The sound stage and instruments are extremely sharp and 3 dimensional. This is much more live and life like. It is instantly recognizable as soon as you drop the needle. This mat is really quite remarkable. This is a much greater improvement over what the equitech q transformer and dedicated lines brought.
...I have heard that the needle running in the groove causes the record to vibrate.. which would interact with the platter.. which would feedback to the arm.. etc..etc. I am not a scientist, but the transformation is undeniable. This mat seems to kill any induced vibrations/distortion. Like a Minus K situated right under the stylus. The resolution comming thru the needle is aplomb. The article I sent you talks about timber, speed, tonal density, improved bass, high end etc etc.. yes with aplomb.
My tt does not have a hydro conditioner/speed control - but the real test is Piano. Piano now sounds utterly convincing, life like and real. The 3 D imaging jumps right out and is the most noticeable for me. The sound stage is so real and crystal clear you can see the performance... literally walk around with the musicians. The recording has turned into a live event!
I don't know if you have or seen High Definition TV, but this is the same kind of change. This is like a very large Turntable upgrade. Again this dwarfs the difference good power conditioning brought to my system. Usually by the second side of an LP my system starts to sound good.. Now I fire everything up, drop the needle, and my jaw drops. I was alway sceptical about the cartridgeman's isolator. The new one is suppose to to be hugely improved, and the mat and isolator are suppose to work in tandem to produce even larger improvements."
Personal Note- You can't read something like this without wanting to hear it in your own system. The review at 6 Moons appears to be well done. Unfortunately, this mat is really expensive, 225 Pounds (I couldn't find the U.S. retail price). Still, I will try to audition one of them after I'm through with my current projects. The U.S. distributor is: Bill Feil (Audiofeil) Tel: 716 400 6177
A veteran reader sent me his recent observations concerning turntable mats. There's some editing and my bold:
"I hadn't really researched this whole mat idea...after thousands of hours reading and researching countless other audio topics. To an extent, mats are turntable dependant, where one solution may not be the best bet for all decks. My TT has an acrylic platter... and apparently they can generate quite a bit of "grundge". No wonder getting a good mat has made a world of difference.
A quick tour around the forums often point to the Acromat being the best mat they had tried - after trying many others. The Mystic Mat is always close to the top. They have a really good description of the interaction of vibration and the importance of a good mat. http://www.sounddeadsteel.com/case.asp?caseID=13
Herbies mentions the Boston Acoustic mat, and the Mystic Mat, and claims that their mat equals and outperforms even the mighty Mystic Mat with acrylic platters. http://herbiesaudiolab.home.att.net/grungtt.htm
I have also heard really good results using the outer ring, with the Mystic Mat, and other mats as well, where the record weight is not doing the whole job.
Which intrigues me with the SOTAs and their vacuum system. Owners of vacuum systems swear by them... Jerry has a brief description of the benefits : http://www.10audio.com/sota_cosmos_iv.htm
And how the vacuum bonds the record to the platter... Which is closely tied in with understanding resonance, and implementing solutions into a turntable design that works! That also is the drum the new Merrill-scillia's are beating, in this very interesting article: http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/ms/ms2.html
Intellectually, and intuitively, I feel that the Mystic Mat may be correcting design flaws help to kill any platter/bearing/spindle/plinth induced noise. And an interesting concept about the isolator is that it helps to stop the (record - stylist - cartridge - arm) feedback loop, and this makes a lot of sense why the sound has been cleaned up so much when using both products.
Maybe I am finally hearing details every one else has been hearing all along... Who knows??? In any case, I am thoroughly enjoying the unprecedented clarity. Or is it that once and a while we get a glimpse of real clarity...?" (3/08)
A veteran reader and contributor recently sent me his observations on two turntables that are still popular with many audiophiles. A little editing and my bold:
"Thought I'd give you my opinion on the Oracle Premiere Mk IV Limited "Gold" Edition
I just got it...The "Limited Edition" is differentiated by all parts that are gold-plated being not aluminum, but machined from some heavy metal. May be brass, may be steel alloy. Even the clamp is twice the weight of regular Delphi. The Premier is a larger table, and it took my 2-lb MG-1 air-bearing as if it was Rega. It has no electronics on board, speed controller is separate, and it has a Turbo power supply, the one that later was used on Mk V. The platter is lighter than earlier Oracles, which were all metal. This one is a sandwich of black acrylic and two aluminum plates top and bottom. Tapping it reveals less ringing than earlier ones.
In fact, when I contacted Oracle about possible upgrades, they did not say anything about the platter, just new Mk V clamp (it has a delrin damping ring) and delrin suspension towers. All of those upgrades are very inexpensive (clamp is $120 and the pillars are $105). Gone are those sticky mats. This one has a very hard acrylic one. Subchassis has additional weight attached to it, which is hidden by the platter. The Mk IV has the much better AC motor. Because of its rarity, people are not familiar with it. Price in 1994 was $4,500. So, in a way, Premiere to Delphi was as (VPI) TNT to HW-19. It is very rare, only a few were built. Perhaps there are just a few of these in the US. There was a later Premiere Mk V, but I have never seen one. I saw a few regular Delphi Mk IV recently being sold for $2,000 easy, so I imagine this one is worth considerably more. I imagine that Mk V optional granite base would be a great improvement.
Besides killer looks, here are my observations (compared to my old trusty VPI HW-19 Mk III with a TNT platter/bearing and defeated suspension):
1. The whole tonal balance is more open, there is much more air and high end;
2. The sound overall is somehow "smoother", it does not have a "texture" to it, which leads me to believe that that heavy power supply does indeed do it's job;
3. It has a much wider and deeper soundstage;
4. Sound is BIG;
5. It does not have the low bass power nor energy of VPI. Very low frequencies are there, they are just "gentler"; but, that is easily compensated by the midrange and treble that are more natural, liquid and transparent;
6. Subjectively, it seems more dynamic in upper bass, mids and treble. I think that TNT platter sucks too much life out of vinyl.
7. All in all, it is somehow easier to listen to;
8. If memory serves me right, it does not have the low detail retrieval capability of Goldmund, but it also does not have the Goldmund's slightly nasty midrange (with the Goldmund arm).
The main trait, I would say, is the overall NATURALNESS of sound, and DELICACY on top." (5/08)
Personal Note- I never heard the Oracle Premier in either my store or home, so I don't know how it compares with their Delphi, let alone other turntables.
A veteran reader, and past contributor, recently sent me these observations. I don't have any personal experience with either mat. Some minor editing and my bold:
"There is quite a bit of buzz about the Acroplatmat, and I was able to pick one up for $100 and test it against the Mystic Mat.
For both tests, I used the Cartridge Mans Isolator. I tested the Mystic Mat and the Acroplatmat sitting flat on my acrylic Platter, and then tried both mats sitting on cork and Herbies damping dots. I tested every iteration backwards and forwards.
I found the Acroplatmat quite enjoyable. Using both mats, I gained an appreciation for the improvement that mats can bring. The various blogs and asylums seem to favor the Acroplatmat. With my Clearaudio Champion 2 and Schroeder 2 tonearm, I found just the opposite.
The Mystic Mat sitting flat on the platter is the hands down winner. Vast and far reaching improvements in all areas. The Mystic Mat/Isolator is a killer combination revealing extraordinary levels of energy, expression, clarity, resolution, impact and nuance.
First Rate." (5/08)
A veteran reader sent me his latest observations. Here it is, with some minor editing and my bold:
"...(My) new item is a turntable, the Galibier Serac, with Tri-Planar Mk.VII tonearm (cartridge is still my ZYX Airy 3, low output, with silver base). This is a vast improvement over my previous Acoustic Solid turntable, in all areas. I heard several combinations of Thom Makris' turntables when I visited him in April, and one thing that they seem to all have in common is a remarkable sense of layering: the various instruments or instrumental groups are very well defined, timbrally and spacially and there's a lot of air between them. Indeed, that characteristic was immediately apparent when I put mine in my system.
...I think that, at this point, I'm almost where I've been trying to get for the last three years--there's still a bit of room for improvement in the turntable area, with an aluminium base and/or heavier platter, which I heard at Thom Makris' home in April (the Gavia model). I won't go to the Stelvio, which is really far-out, price-wise; I know two people who have it here in Seattle, and I can't say that it sounds tremendously better than mine--we're almost starting a Galibier club!). After that, it would require a large financial investment to improve things a little bit here and there."
The same reader, as above, also brings us up to date with his most recent experiences with two Galibier turntables, and with another change of mind. Once again, there's no editing but my bold:
"On the Galibier front, I must correct a statement that I made last year, after I had received my Serac. I had mentioned that the Stelvio (the top model) wasn't "tremendously better" than mine, as I heard it in two different systems in town. Well, I was wrong. The problem was that these systems weren't set up properly at all, something I discovered later.
Since that time, I've upgraded my Serac platter to the TPI (with graphite mat) platter, and that did improve things quite a bit, particularly in terms of the silence behind the music ("blacker background" indeed), and the quality of layering and separation between instruments. I've also had the opportunity to hear one of these Stelvios again with the system in better shape than earlier, and it is indeed quite a jump up again in performance. It still remains that the Serac is an incredible bargain for what you get!" (10/09)
I've recommended defeating the Goldmund's spring suspension for 20 years now. The only question is finding the best method. This reader may just be on to something:
"I own a Goldmund Studietto, with an SME-V arm I bought about fifteen years ago in Melbourne. I never really liked the "pogo-stick" suspension, and the turntable for the most part sat on the shelf looking pretty. I found your website about five years ago and thought about various sorbothane solutions like you suggested, but never got around to doing it.
This past week I bought a new cartridge and looked for a solution, and the one I found not only functions well, it has distinctly better cosmetics than those damned springs. I inverted the knurled height adjustment knobs, and placed a Vibrapod Isolator Isolation Feet on top, and then Walker Audio resonance control disc on top of that-- I bought them at auction on Audiogon and had them sitting around looking for a use. The Walker Audio discs fit exactly into the recesses in the bottom of the plinth where the springs rested, and the Vibrapods keep everything from slipping around.
This was not the first combination of discs that I tried but is by far the best performance-wise, particularly since the acrylic cover can come down on top of the table and not impact either the top assembly of the tonearm or the record clamp. It does not look like a home-made solution, either!" (10/10)
This website is becoming a Goldmund modification center, for both their turntables and tonearms. Here are the latest tips from a new reader (my bold):
"I too have modified the suspension of my Goldmund Studio in a very simple and effective way. I simply put three tennis balls under the (meta)acrylic plinth (it raises the acrylic plinth so that it no longer rests on the springs – I suppose you could remove them). I cut three pieces of PVC pipe, so that the tennis balls rest in these to stop them moving about in the wooden base of the plinth. Squash balls would work equally well I’m sure. What can I say, the Goldmund on tennis balls is improved in every possible area. I am working on a Garrard 301 project (ie new solid plinth), and have sometimes wondered if I couldn’t do the same with the Goldmund one day.
I read with interest the adjustments suggested by one reader re the T-3F tonearm. I agree with him re that counterweight being almost hidden under that bridge - an absolute bugger, and one of the reasons I hardly ever change cartridges on that arm. I must say that ever since I got a seamless belt for that arm, it has behaved pretty much flawlessly, so I can’t complain." (10/10)
A reader sent me a letter concerning the Rockport and his observations when directly comparing it to other famous and highly expensive designs. I feel his perspective and experiences are truly unique and therefore must be shared. Further, he's highly opinionated, and doesn't "pull his punches". Here's his letter, which I had to seriously edit for various reasons, and my bold:
"...I just wanted to share some insights into the Rockport turntables I currently own. I am a great analog enthusiast, and over the past 26 years I have owned many offerings from the likes of: Linn, Alphason, Kuzma, Verdier, Continuum, Rockport, Pink Triangle, Basis, VPI, Voyd, Brinkmann, Goldmund. I currently use the Rockport turntables, and I have also owned and purchased, with my own hard earned cash, the wonderful Continuum Caliburn with the Cobra tonearm. So I have listened to the Continuum and the Rockport System 111 Sirius side by side.
My journey started with Rockport in 1995, when I purchased a System 11 Sirius, and in 1997 I purchased a System 11 Sirius Mk2 le. To my ears, the Rockports were above any other turntables. They just sounded more natural, with a huge sound stage and were less mechanical. The only problem with owning a Rockport was that they were sold factory direct, which meant that there was no dealer or reviewer accommodation price...there was only one price for all...
I currently own three Rockport system 111 turntables. I actually own the last ever turntable to be built by Rockport, and the only deck to be shipped out of the facility for the past 8 years. I received the unit in May 2011. This is an awesome device, as it has all the latest revisions that were implemented by Tim Sheridan of Lorien Consultants. People just don't understand to what degree Tim and Andy (Payor) went to to produce what I believe is the finest turntable ever built.
Tim, who produces very complex instruments for NASA and the medical world, put his life and soul into this unit. The Rockport turntables are just not commercially viable products. The motor alone in 2012 would now cost $35,000; the drive amplifier would cost £25,000. These are just two items. If the Rockport were to retail with current dealer distributor mark ups, in 2012, it would cost in the region of $650,000. For sure, it is the most completely perfect bit of audio design I have ever come across.
Tim Sheridan is a world authority on speed rotation and air bearing design that goes far beyond anything ever done in the audio world. I have had the Continuum side by side, and, in direct comparisons, the Rockport wins all day long. It is just in a different class. Now I have no axe to grind since I have spent my own money. The Rockports have a sense of solidity and presence that the Continuum just does not have at all. The Continuum just does not have the sense of correctness in the midrange, with natural textures. The Continuum is very good and a superb product, but just does not feel like a true quality product like the Rockport.
The build quality of the Rockport is the finest I have ever come across. The Continuum seems much more home made and does not exhibit the same class of finish. I paid a big big amount of money to own a System 111 in 2011, far more than what it retailed for in 2000, but it was worth every penny, as it is, what I believe, the finest record deck on this planet, full stop. The Continuum, which is the only other deck I would own, just does not have that freedom and sense of ease.
Of the three turntables, one has the Koetsu Blue Onyx Diamond cartridge, the other with a Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement and the final unit with a Koetsu Tiger Eye." (01/12)
Personal Note- I am not able to confirm the reader's opinions or observations, or the costs of the Rockport's parts, or the projected retail selling price.
I received letters from two readers concerned with replacing the Alexandria's motor with the Origin Live motor. Unfortunately, they contradict each other. Here they are (my bold):
"I have just installed the "Advanced Motor Upgrade" kit (from Origin Live) into my Oracle Alexandria Mk II. I can say without reservation that the improvement in sound quality is significant and worth way more than the $ 540 that I spent.
I did not have high expectations for sonic benefits other than the elimination of the increasingly annoying motor noise from the aging Pabst. Extending the service life of the deck was the focus so I was not prepared for what I heard. As I related to the Origin Live folks, it was like looking at fine print with my aging naked eyes and then slipping on my reading glasses. It's just a lot easier to enjoy the musical presentation.
The installation required a little DIY ingenuity but was relatively straightforward. I was anxious to complete the installation so it is not as tidy as I would like. Therefore, I will be making a more refined version of the motor mount adapter plate in the next two weeks. As I told Origin Live, digital pictures and detailed assembly instructions will be forthcoming in case other adventurous Alexandria owners are looking for an upgrade." (4/04)
A second reader sent me his observations which contradict a previous reader's experiences. I felt it should be shared, and I hope more relevant experiences will arrive here. No editing and my bold:
"On the recommendation of one of your readers, I replaced the motor of my Oracle Alexandria with the Origin Live 'upgrade' motor and speed controller (due to issues with the Alexandria's speed controller). The OL 'upgrade' turned out to be a DC BRUSH motor, which made the Alexandria sound more like a sewing machine than a turntable. You could literally hear it running across the room. Any motor this noisy does not belong in a turntable. I ultimately reinstalled the original Pabst DC brushless motor and had a reputable turntable repairman fix the stock speed controller." (09/12)
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:
"I've been through a large number of turntables/arms including - Vyger, Micro Seiki, Tritium, Kuzma (XLS and Airline), TW Acustic, Kenwood L-07D and most recently the Horning Zigma table with Kuzma 4 Point arm. I've used ZYX, Kondo, Dynavector, Soundsmith SG and most recently the Panasonic SG cartridge (more on that in a minute). Oh yes, and the ELP of course. Tonearms have been Air Tangent, Schroeder, Kuzma, Terminator. My favorites have been the current Horning Zigma - by a wide margin, and Kuzma XLS tables. They are both massive with excellent bearing systems and very strong belt drive motors. The Horning Zigma wins out due to its sheer mass and ultra quiet drive motor. Its platter is 110 lbs, and definitely proves that you just can't beat pure mass when it comes to capturing subtlety and bass extension on a record. Assuming it remains reliable, it is something of a final purchase." (08/13)
A veteran reader sent me his latest observations which may be useful to readers, especially those living in Australia. Here it is, with minor editing, but with my bold:
"Once Analog Turntable (www.onceanalog.com.au)
I have mentioned this turntable to you before. Hand made by a boutique manufacturer on the south-east coast of Australia, it retails in the region of $7K here, but is probably more than that in the US. My turntable is an earlier version, which looks a bit like a Voyd. Vince Hamilton, of Once Analog, has just now upgraded my bearing system and power supply to his latest versions, for even more micro detail across the audio spectrum, but especially in the bass, and more precise speed (I can't hear the difference in speed, but I am not cursed with perfect pitch).
The Once Analog is a medium mass turntable (I guess about 25kg all up), and looks like it could not possibly compete with the big players. In my opinion, it easily outperforms vastly more expensive turntables that I have heard. There is a US valve amp manufacturer who replaced his Platine Verdier by a Once, saying it is the only turntable he has ever heard which presents scale correctly." (08/13)
A reader asked me why SOTA turntables were missing from my Reference Turntable File. This was my edited answer to him:
"I was a SOTA dealer from almost when they started back in the 1980's until around 1990. I liked both models, but I and my associates ultimately felt that the competing VPI models were better overall performers and they also had more versatility when it came to using a variety of tonearms (such as the linear ET). Our main problem with them was their inconsistent speed stability, which we felt was caused by their (otherwise excellent swinging) suspension. Some listeners are not bothered by such instability, or don't hear it in the first place, so the SOTA still has many adherents. The SOTA record clamp from back then is one of the finest ever made in my opinion, and is well worth seeking out. I am not familiar with any of their models from around the last two decades." (10/13)
A veteran reader recently sent me some incredible pictures of his all-out plinth upgrades of two JVC direct-drive turntables. I've never seen anything like it myself, and I can only imagine what the larger model must sound like. Below are his short (edited and with my bold) descriptions and observations, plus the amazing pictures:
"...Some guys in Canuck Audio Mart* forums built their own Lenco plinth and compared their results to the Brinkmann Bardo (Coreless motor DD if I recall) and thought the Bardo was much better than their Lenco creation. This ignited my curiosity as I have been 'stuck' with my Oracle Delphi Mk II for a long time and was always curious about Direct Drive."
*Editor- The "Lenco Creation" did surprising well "for the money". Here is the link (the actual comparison begins on Page 20): Lenco Rebuild Thread
"Most Japanese DD's came with particle board made plinths (JVC QL-5, 7, 10), Pioneer, Denon, Technics, etc. and many audiophiles built massive plinths for these TT and reported good results. I did the same with a JVC TT-71 motor, using my exact same Zeta/EMT HSD-6 tonearm and cartridge which I removed from my Oracle to have a true apples to apples comparison. The results...?
This TT just killed my Oracle Delphi Mk II without even trying...Explosively dynamic, meaty and harmonically complete with no loss of detail. In addition, smoother sounding to boot. The Oracle Delphi sounds like a toy in comparison...go figure."
"I am very pleased and impressed with the results. Now I'm planning to do something really crazy: Build a console out of it by continuing the plywood layers all the way down to the floor. The reason is that I 'discovered' (duh) that the more weight you put on it, the deeper the bass, the more extended the top end, the cleaner and more focused the overall presentation and the lower the sound floor without any losses in tonality or musicality."
"The JVC TT-101 drive unit is now installed in 40" tall, 280 lbs (!), solid birch plywood, and using the Zeta tonearm and EMT HSD-6 cartridge, This is now the best TT I have ever heard, bar none (including the Kuzma Stabi XL4 with the airliner air bearing arm and Dynavector XV-1 cartridge). The sound-floor is 'Dead Sea' low, background is pitch black, the tonality is accurate (meaty and full bodied) and the dynamics are explosive. The top end is creamy smooth (speed stability). I am very happy I went ahead with this project...
...a stock Lenco starts with numbers like 60 dB S/N, wow and flutter at 0.6% and with a 4 pole (!) motor when the JVC TT-101 is a core-less motor with 75 dB S/N (DIN B), 0.02% wow and flutter. One can argue about torque differences and cartridge drag on transients, but then how much torque do you really need?!? One owner tested the TT-101's speed stability with a laser when 3 tonearms and cartridges were mounted and playing at the same time and got zero deviation. Compared to my previous Oracle Delphi Mk II, all the micro dynamics that the Oracle excels at, are there but with even extra air and detail. However the Oracle sounds like a CD Player compared to this TT. Watered down, anemic and lacking harmonic completeness, meat/substance and macro dynamics. Don't get me going one the Oracle's speed stability."
"My friend's Oracle Delphi Mk V, with its Turbo power supply, didn't fair any better. He was stunned by these results and is now interested in getting us to build him another 'monster' like this one... When you really dig deep, past audiophiles' conventional wisdom, you find out that most recording studios and radio stations did the same: bought a good drive unit and installed it in a massive console which was anchored to a concrete floor. So the reasons not to go that route are related to non-audio considerations like staying married:-), ensuring aesthetics are addressed and lack of interest in schlepping, back-crushing, 280 lbs plinth down one's basement...
This was one exciting project and I highly recommend anyone (who can get away with it) to grab one of Japan's classic DD drive units and build a massive, birch plywood plinth for it. The sonic rewards will far exceed any commercial attempt, in my opinion." (09/14)
"I hoed and hummed about how to anchor this, and kept it simple in the end:
I drilled 3 x 5/8" holes with recesses for 5/8" nuts (no tee nuts available in the unhappy size of 5/8"). Punched the nuts to the recesses, put studs in these drillings and threaded 5/8" internal thread hard steel spikes:
These can handle the high weight of the plinth. Of course I did not use the bottom spike bases, but let the spikes pierce the Berber carpet and contact the concrete underneath. The spikes' thread helps leveling the table as well."
I received two interesting and helpful letters about this long underrated turntable from a reader, which I felt should be shared. I include a Personal Note at the conclusion of his letter for further clarification. Here they are, with my bold, except the phrase in italics:
"Regarding the placement of the Oracle Alexandria MkII turntable in Lower Class "C" or "Entry Level", I must disagree with your basic assessment. In and of itself it is a fine turntable and with a minor amount of work can be stellar. I've owned my Alex Mk II for over 25 years and have never had any serious issues with it. There are however a few caveats that must be heeded to ensure that one's tt is performing the way it should:
Belts are the primary maintenance item, as well as regularly cleaning the oil well and refilling it with a quality oil. I use Mobil 1 SAE 5W30 usually. If the belt is new, I have used oils as heavy as SAE 50 with no noticeable ill effects.
-A better turntable mat is a 'must have' item. I use a DIY type that is made up of 8 X's 1" 'spots' of dense , thin foam. This removes the LP off the platter and minimizes any contribution of the platter ringing
-The speed must be checked, checked and CHECKED with a record being played. I use a laser tachometer for this as I do not trust the strobe disk/household lamp method. The household voltage frequency may vary (slightly). One must understand that even a tiny variance can have a dramatic effect on the sound.
-I have drilled out the front of my plinth (the lower plastic portion) to allow access to the coarse speed adjustment screws. We must remember that electrical circuits do "age" (well the caps' and resistors' values do drift over time...)
-If you have an Oracle Prelude arm mounted on any Oracle, please throw it away! This tonearm is perhaps the single worst arm that I have ever experienced. Thankfully I bought my Alex with a Sumiko MMT which is substantially better in every way. Currently I have a SME 309 (most recent version) mounted on it and it is a good match with a Grado Sig8 MCZ (I like old Grado cartridges).
-As far as modifications go, I haven't really done anything except the mat and the access hole for the speed adjustment. Knowing what I now know, I will create a modification to the suspension, as I have never been able to get it to centre itself. It has always caused the built in spirit level to rub against the plinth's stainless steel top plate. IT is obviously non-pistonic in its motion. A Pedersen style mod to it (as per the Pedersen mod for Michell Gyrodecs) should result in a non-ringing and much better controlled suspension.
-In the event of motor failure, apparently the Origin Live/Maxxon motor replacement can be accommodated easily and has been completed successfully. I am unsure if just the motor needs to be installed or both the motor and motor controller is required.
-I suspect that some sort of improved feet could benefit the old Alex, or at least the use of some marbles or ball bearings Blu-tac'd to the bottom of the existing feet should added. And don't forget a quality stand under any turntable.
I think if these steps are taken, then an old Alexandria can be a huge bargain which will absolutely slay almost any competitor within its price range (as a used model). Except of course my re-plinthed Sugden Connoisseur BD-1 "kit" turntable with hand built custom tonearm. But that is a completely different story.
One thing I failed to mention was stuffing the plastic plinth base with as much Blu-tac (or similar) that one can safely install without interfering with the electronics or mechanics of the turntable that have a significant effect on the impact of the music coming from the tt/arm/cart system. I also have my tt sitting on a 1" bamboo cutting board, supported by Audio Technica AT-605/606 feet which then resides on the top shelf of my Target Delta 5 (welded) equipment rack.
Another thing that many old Alex MkII tts seem to suffer from is a bent or broken sub-chassis. I can say that in the 25 years or so that I have owned mine, I have never had an issue with the sub-chassis being bent or tweaked in any way. One has to actually work pretty hard and be fairly careless when moving the table to damage the sub-chassis, methinks." (12/2014)
Personal Notes- Within this website, I describe the Alexandria as a turntable with "very good sonics, superior to the Rega 3 and even comparable to the models in Reference Class C (Lower)". I still believe that this is a very accurate description of the Alexandria, and also quite complimentary, since the other Class C Lower turntables are all more expensive. Further, having heard the Alexandria extensively in my former store (all trade-ins) and in customers homes, I firmly believe that it is not at the same performance level of Class C Upper, no matter what you do with it. My various associates, who have vast experience with numerous turntables, concur with this evaluation.
I'm confident of my/our opinion because one of my former customers, a real "audio fanatic", went all-out modifying his Alexandria. By the time he was through, it must have weighed something like 50 lbs, and was quite difficult to lift. By then, it had reached Class C performance, but not "Upper". I took it in "on trade", so we had a chance to play with it for a while. Modifications can almost always provide sonic enhancements, but they are likewise almost always limited in scope, especially with this design.
Finally, I never felt that the Prelude tonearm was as bad as the reader states above. I felt it was "OK", but many Alexandria owners did end up purchasing better tonearms, so his point does have some practical validity.
Below is an interesting letter from a reader concerning one of the most important subjects for audiophiles with a serious phono source. Here it is, with minor editing and my bold, plus some bonus pictures the reader sent me:
"I read with interest the letter from one of your contributors about his JVC direct drive plinth project. So I thought you might be interested in high mass TT support I put together couple of years ago as a heavy weight 'plinth' for my Kuzma XL 4 (now upgraded btw). The Kuzma has no built in isolation which is an issue, so, to get the best out of the TT it is important to have a carefully implemented isolating support. I have suspended floors so it is more difficult to isolate and cure vibration issues, however the arrangement described seems to have achieved that.
Briefly, the construction I developed consists of a heavy beech table (approx 50 lbs) which supports a furman power supply (80 lbs). A platform above this provides a base for a “floating" sandwich of slate and granite (100 lbs). Bonding the two dissimilar materials deadens them and stops ringing. The stone sits on four air springs. The total weight of this support plus the turntable with 2 arm towers is over 400 lbs.
I arrived at this structure after experimentation with several alternatives because the TT seemed to suffer from very slight motor noise breakthrough when originally sited on a single piece of slate with a dense 50mm vibration absorbing material under the slate. The new arrangement has cured any motor noise with the XL4, seemingly lowering the noise floor, resulting in increased dynamics, greater detail, bigger sound stage.
You will have noticed, from the photos, the Kuzma XL now has only one motor instead of the original four (or two). This is a very recent modification, the single motor is a high torque DC motor with a new, special drive belt, new power supply and control module.
The upgrade has put the XL on a new level further lowering the noise floor. Dynamics and depth of sound stage also improve over the, all ready excellent, XL4. I have enjoyed the XL ever since first ownership, however the music flows with even more naturalness, realism and excitement now." (04/2016)
A veteran reader and highly experienced audiophile sent me two letters concerning this critically important issue. Here they are with minor editing and my bold:
"I read your February 2015 update with the mention of the Lenco idler TT and the discussion regarding speed stability. I use a Yamaha GT-2000 direct drive TT with external power supply. It has been my mainstay for about 8 years now and it is one of the finest turntables ever made, with a true “no-cogging” motor and extreme speed stability.
There is another device on the market that can allow you to tell the true speed stability of a turntable rather well and that is the Allnic 'Speed nic' (see Link below). This device is a strobe light (frequency independent) and a record weight with the black line strobe markings. What this means is that you can monitor the record speed stability while the record is playing without interference. I have tried this now on a number of 'high end' turntables, including an SME 20/2 and a big Transrotor. Both show very quickly how bad speed stability can be when there is pressure applied to the platter. It doesn’t take much and you see the lines on the strobe weight wiggling around as the turntable slows, then speeds up, then slows etc.
How does my Yamaha fare with this?? It doesn’t so much as flinch, no instantaneous wiggles left or right (speed up or down). It sounds this way too, having a rock solid soundstage and very dynamic rhythm. Only an old 3 motor Voyd belt drive TT I used to have gave similar dynamics. I am not surprised that the Technics SP 10 passes this kind of test, but there are large differences in SP10s depending on whether it is a MkI, MKII or MKIII (MKIII is the most desirable by far).
I have not tried an idler TT yet with the speed nic because I don’t know anyone who is running such a TT. If I get a chance I will see how one of them fares with my 'Speed Nic' test."
"...to the subject of turntables and speed stability. I first really started thinking seriously about this matter when I went to a shop in Germany called Black Forrest Audio. There I made friends with a very knowledgeable dealer named Volker Kuhn. We were listening to some old Voyd turntables (the 2 motor Valdi and the 3 motor Reference) and I found the sound to be far more dynamic than I heard with other belt drive turntables (at this time I thought DD turntables were just cheap junk). Volker told me that the speed stability and drive capability of these TTs was far superior to all other belt drives in his extensive experience. I had at that time the quite nice sounding Michell Gyrodeck with DC motor. It was good, but did not have the drive and precision I heard with the Voyds. So, I went out and go myself a Voyd with 3 motors and outboard power supply (not the reference though). It also had the very nice Helius Cyalene tonearm. It was a bold and powerful sounding player, but a bit noisy (mine was pretty old and three motors does make some noise.).
Then I read an article about the Rockport Sirius III and that it was direct drive and no cogging as well. The article was in IAR by (Peter) Moncrieff (see Link below) and it went into detail about the micro speed variations and how most TTs get this wrong and that the Rockport gets this right. I started to think more about this and the logic of it and started to see if it was really a new way of thinking or a rehash of old thinking. This started me looking into what the Japanese did in the past with direct drive technology and I found some pretty amazing things. By the end of the first turntable era (we are in a kind of renaissance now I would say) the Japanese had come up with VERY advanced TT designs with extremely good, zero cogging motors and very sophisticated motor control schemes that eliminated the earlier problems of “hunting” by itchy trigger finger phase locked loops (PLLs).
The King design of these, in all ways except one, was the Kenwood L-07. An extremely good, zero cogging motor, heavy platter, high torque, mag levitated (both good and bad as I will explain), and a base that is advanced composite 'sandwich' construction. The motor control was a nested loop design with a “loose” control, allowing the mass of the platter to do some of the work. The only thing those clever Japanese chaps didn’t figure out was that this magnetic levitation put strong magnets too close to the phono cartridge and this was found to have a negative impact on the sound. DIYers found that putting a sheet of Mu metal under the platter cures this and the sound is then incredibly good. My Yamaha, while not quite as advanced, is very close in that uses a heavy platter (nearly 6Kg), a zero cogging motor with good torque and it uses JVC’s bi-direction servo control that also eliminates the 'hunting' problem that afflicted the earlier DDs. The Yamaha doesn’t need the mu metal because it is not mag levitated so it achieves a noise level of 'only' -85db. This is the second best I have ever seen besides the Kenwood (spec’d at -94db). By comparison most other TTs are at best in the -75db range and idlers are even noisier.
So, what does my DD give me that the Voyd did not? Mostly it is deathly quiet and the imaging and soundstaging precision are among the very best I have heard. Better than the Voyd (although maybe not the reference). I think this is a benefit of the extreme speed precision and accuracy. That less fluffy sound may make some recordings sound austere, but the better recordings only benefit from this. Pace and rhythm is flawless. Maybe the only real improvements would be a better tonearm (I am using the Yamaha arm, which is good, but probably can be bettered) and perhaps better vibration control (it is a heavy mdf box with some kind of Yamaha made suspension feet).
The funny thing I have learned along the way is that most TT engineers focus on the wrong thing. They tend to focus on vibration control and damping…perhaps because they are coming from a mechanical engineering background and the motor seems a bit like an afterthought. Indeed, I was always told and read that vibration control, smooth bearing, silicone damping etc. was the most important part of TT design. Almost no one talked about the motor and its limitations. I realized that this thinking is wrong and that speed accuracy and precision (on both the macro and micro scale) are paramount. I also learned that speed stability is not guaranteed by a heavy platter unless it is truly massive. A slight touch of the finger is enough to slow down noticeably most TTs when using the Allnic strobe. Watching a record play is instructive this way with a strobe active at the same time.
I don’t know as much about idler TTs since I have not been exposed to many. The Lenco is interesting because they can be found for very cheap. Garrards and Thorens are more. I heard the Thorens TD-124 and found it to sound somehow old fashioned and noisy. I can’t speak for the Lenco you like so much. I have seen another concept that is interesting and that is rim drive. This is basically the same as idler drive but external rather than internal. Teres was offering a rim drive solution for belt drive TTs. In principal though, I would think that the same issues are for idler as for DD. The motor and speed control have to be very advanced to eliminate cogging and hunting. Belt drive inherently smooths these things out but has other issues, like imprecision in speed over time and belt stretching and drift. Also, belt drives often lack the torque to properly address the issues of needle drag. I saw this clearly with my friend’s high end belt drive TTs. A very expensive SME 20/2 has a puny little motor that cannot withstand even slight touches without slowing down noticeably (with the Allnic strobe). The big transrotor (3 motors and magnetic coupling drive) of another friend fared better and sounds noticeably more accurate and precise compared to the SME.
As you know, Audio Note UK bought out Voyd and took over the same design concept. IMO, those and other multi-motor belt drive TTs are probably the only belt drivers that are competitive with a top notch DD. This is only true though if they use powerful motors and advanced motor control and/or power supplies (if it is an AC motor). Noise though is a bigger issue once you start increasing the number of motors.
I might be able to measure another DD TT soon that should have a good motor and control system. It is a Kenwood KP-990 that has a zero cogging motor as well. Not very expensive now but for those on a budget it might very well destroy the likes of Rega, Project, Music Hall etc. It might even take out many overpriced belt drivers.
Here is a list of DDs for you to check out, that based on my research should deliver really great sound:
Kenwood L-07 (modded as described with mu metal)
Yamaha GT-2000 (especially with outboard power supply)
Kenwood KP-990 and 1100 (has mechanical grounding system and zero cogging motors)
Pioneer Exclusive P-3 and P-10 (stable hanging rotor system)
Nakamichi TX-1000 and Dragon (Dragon is a safer bet due to complexity of TX-1000 and non-repairability)
These are all classic Japanese decks (except for the Goldmund) and can be had for not insane money. There are now a number of new DD turntables and they are all very expensive (like the VPI at $30K) so recommendation is hard when there are so many of these great classic players out there. What about the Brinkmann DD designs? I think the concept of low torque, high mass, misses the main benefit of having DD simply because Brinkmann was not able to design a proper zero cogging motor, so they try to minimize the effects of cogging by having low torque and high mass…kind of like what Nottingham Analog was trying to do with belt drive (you have to actually hand push start them because the motor is so weak). I haven’t heard the Brinkmann DD at length so I will not comment on the effectiveness of their concept but it seems backwards to me and to the conclusions of half a dozen Japanese makers and Voyd/AN.
FWIW, I am designing now my own DD turntable with servo control. I was able to find a commercially available zero cogging motor and a professional motor controller with optical encoder for speed regulation. I will build it more or less in a traditional looking box (but still with a mind towards vibration control). I will use a Nottingham 12 inch unipivot arm with carbon fiber wand (the Space Arm 294). It has been a fun and challenging project so far. I will let you know when it is completed and how it compares to other TTs I have access to." (04/2016)
Important Notes- I can't speak for the direct-drives above, but for idler-drives, such as the Lenco, "vibration control and bearings etc" are still critical factors for them to reach optimum performance, though I agree with the reader that "speed accuracy and precision are paramount" (and have been ignorantly neglected for decades).
The above reader, and writer of this article, is also known as "morricab" on the Audio Asylum website. He is, in my opinion, the most informative and valuable poster on that entire website. If I notice one of his posts on a thread of interest, I will always read it and I advise the readers of this website to do the same.
The IAR Article on Turntable Speed (Very lengthy and informative, but never finished)
I received two letters from a reader regarding this most important subject. He has "invented" an unique method to stabilize the record on the platter which I felt should be shared. If anyone else has experience with this technique, I would love to hear about it. (I would try this on my own platter, but the Goldmund mat isn't wide enough.) Here are his two letters combined, plus a picture he took at my request, with some editing and my bold:
"Regarding the speed stability discussion: I've come to realize more and more that this is the one key factor to aim for!
I own the Forsell turntable, and although it does not have the idler drive, here is what I've discovered (I do not by any means doubt the fact that you and everybody else already knows this): Still, I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere else...
1. I never understood that 'record clamp' thing. I lock my records in place by putting four small double-sticky tape bits at the outer edge of the platter.
2. I make sure the belt and the motor pulley and the platter (where the belt makes contact with it) are absolutely clean, and free of any dirt or greasy stuff whatsoever. I clean those areas using a piece of cloth soaked in acetone. I never ever touch those parts with your fingers. If so, then you will need to start all over again..!
There are simply 4 double-sticky pieces of tape. The record won't go anywhere, and I can clearly hear it. It works very well for me. I never managed to accomplish this by using only the centre record clamp - especially on an acrylic platter..." (05/2016)
Personal Notes- It is obvious that if the LP is "sliding" around the platter during play, then it doesn't make that much of a difference how much, or how little, the platter itself deviates from perfect speed stability. So both factors must be addressed. Also, I've had excellent results using record clamps, of various types, on numerous turntables, for over 3 decades now, so I strongly believe that they still have a serious place in turntable optimization.
A reader sent me this letter with a project that looks interesting and it should also be reasonably easy to copy. I especially like his utilization of the dual platters. Here it is with some editing and my bold:
"Here... (is a picture)... of the turntable that I made. Please keep in mind that this started out totally as an experiment on a very very small budget, so it is very primitive so to speak, but believe me its sonic performance far surpasses its looks.
I used the platter and tonearm from a VPI HW-19 MK IV, that I purchased for $ 1,200, and I also had a second platter that I purchased for $ 400. Everything else was zero cost (just my time). Also the MK IV motor is only temporary until I can get a better replacement. So for a total cost of $ 1,600, I think I have a turntable with sonic qualities that will be hard to surpass except at a much higher cost.
The details of my work are as follows: All the parts except the platters, tonearm and motor were made by me alone. All the machining was done by hand feeding (not CNC). That was very time consuming and difficult (but well worth the effort). The entire plinth sits on Sorbothane pucks, one under and one on top. The upper and lower pucks also hold the outer rings in place and add to the appearance. Then the 4 posts (feet) are placed under and above the pucks, nowhere do the posts (feet) touch the plinth. This makes for acceptable isolation, but maybe not the absolute best.
I first set this up and used this with one platter with an inverted bearing. The results were very very pleasing and even more than I was expecting. After some time went by, I started thinking about the extra platter I had packed away. I thought what if I stacked the two platters together and see if there would be any sonic differences (good or bad). Well, to my surprise, this turned out to be the BIGGEST sonic improvement of this whole turntable project.
If time and $ permits, I would like to go even further with improvements to this project, but for now I am more than pleased with the results and it will keep me satisfied for a long time." (06/16)
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