Revel Finalizes Performa3 Speaker Range

HARMAN’s Revel announced that it has finalized the models, specs and availability of its upcoming Performa3 loudspeakers. The Revel Performa3 Series is a complete range of home theater and music loudspeakers that incorporates significant engineering and aesthetic enhancements to the original Performa Series to deliver extraordinary music and movie soundtrack reproduction.

The nine models in the Performa3 line include the following:

·       F208 3-way floorstanding tower (1-inch tweeter, 5.25-inch midrange, dual 8-inch woofers; SRP: $5,000/pr)

·       F206 3-way floorstanding tower (1-inch tweeter, 5.25-inch midrange, dual 6.5-inch woofers; SRP: $3,500/pr)

·       M106 2-way bookshelf monitor (1-inch tweeter, 6.5-inch woofer; SRP: $2,000/pr)

·       M105 2-way bookshelf monitor (1-inch tweeter, 5.25-inch woofer; SRP: $1,500/pr)

·       C208 3-way center channel (1-inch tweeter, 4-inch midrange, dual 8-inch woofers; SRP: $2,000/ea)

·       C205 2-way center channel (1-inch tweeter, dual 5.25-inch woofers; SRP: $1,000/ea)

·       S206 2-way surround speaker (dual 1-inch tweeters, dual 6.5-inch woofers; SRP: 1,800/pr)

·       B112 powered subwoofer (12-inch woofer, built-in 1000-watt amplifier; SRP: $3,000/ea)

·       B110 powered subwoofer (10-inch woofer, built-in 400-watt amplifier; SRP: $2,000/ea)

Complementing their industry-leading value and performance, Revel Performa3 loudspeakers are stunning in appearance, with a choice of high-gloss walnut or piano black finishes that are overseen by master Italian craftsmen for unparalleled quality. Models F206, M105 and C205 are also available in high-gloss piano white. Model S206 is only available in matte black. All Performa3 passive loudspeakers will be available in December 2012, with both subwoofers available in early 2013.

“Our Revel Performa loudspeakers have earned rave reviews from audiophiles since their initial introduction,” said Jim Garrett, Director, Marketing and Product Management for HARMAN Luxury Audio and Loudspeakers. “We have made a number of advancements in loudspeaker materials and manufacturing technologies that we are now able to incorporate into the upgraded Performa3 models. We are confident that listeners will be thrilled with the improvements in sonic performance and musical accuracy.”

To achieve their superior sound quality, Revel Performa3 loudspeakers deploy proprietary drivers throughout. The 1-inch aluminum-dome tweeters deliver airy, extended high-frequency response to beyond 20 kHz, with superlative detail and clarity. The tweeters operate into an exclusive patent-pending Acoustic Lens Waveguide that is precisely shaped using an entirely-new mathematical approach. These new waveguides result in an utterly seamless transition from the midrange to tweeter; greatly enhancing the sense of reality and musicality.

The midrange and low-frequency drivers employ aluminum cones and sophisticated motor systems for extraordinary resolution with low distortion. The cones have integral ribs that add strength and rigidity without added mass, resulting in very low distortion for more natural vocal and instrumental reproduction. The drivers incorporate additional refinements including cast-aluminum frames and efficiently vented, high-power motor structures, to deliver the same superb sonic character over an extraordinarily wide dynamic range.

The F208 and C208 also feature a tweeter level control that allows the speakers’ high-frequency balance to be fine-tuned, and a boundary control, which enables the speakers to be tailored to individual room acoustics and placement positions.

The enclosures are built to the highest standards, with bracing at critical locations and curved side panels that minimize cabinet-induced coloration. The three-way models feature individual sub-enclosures for the midrange drivers for maximum midrange clarity and definition.

HARMAN ( designs, manufactures and markets a wide range of audio and infotainment solutions for the automotive, consumer and professional markets

A Quick Chat With TR

A few years ago, I had a great chat with Todd Rundgren backstage in Seattle, the day before he released the Arena album, which lead to a formal interview a few weeks later.  So for all the Todd fans in the crowd, here’s a little bit of history.

TA: How are you feeling after kicking the show off in Seattle?  It seemed like the audience responded well and everyone I talked to in line before the show had already purchased the new album, which was released yesterday.

TR: It’s been surprisingly well received for an unfamiliar batch of music. The release was originally supposed to be in July, so we expected to be playing for an audience more familiar with the material. I guess the word of mouth has been good, or we never would have made it back to Seattle.

TA: You mentioned the album is a bit of a continuation of what you started with
Liars. I guess the Socrates quote about the “unexamined life isn’t worth living” does not apply to Todd Rundgren?

TR: I have selfish reasons for making my records. Sometimes it’s just self-entertainment, but I’m usually trying to externalize my own thoughts. It helps me figure out to what degree I’m bullshitting myself — it can be very revelatory to hear what you think said out loud.

TA: Though Liars and Arena are part of your ongoing self-exploration, they are very different texturally, with Liars being a much more keyboard-oriented record and Arena being a heavy guitar record.  What led you down this path?

TR: When the New Cars prematurely ended the first tour because of Elliot (Easton’s) collarbone accident, I was looking at a summer with no gigs. I put together a guitar quartet with Jesse Gress, Tony Levin and Jerry Marotta and toured across Canada for a few weeks. The response was so enthusiastic that I continued the format in the U.S. and Japan. People seemed to like the return to the ‘70s approach, so I knew when I got around to recording that the guitar would be the featured instrument.

TA: As always, you had a great choice of material last night, but where did “Lunatic Fringe” come from?  Didn’t think I’d ever see you doing that song, but it was killer…

TR: Sometimes a great song will go unplayed because the original act (in this case, Red Rider) has ceased touring. I like to adopt one or two of these orphans every once in a while, especially if the subject matter fits in with what I’m doing with my own material.

TA: How did you meet Rachel Haden, (daughter of bassist Charlie Haden) and decide on her for the bass slot in the band?

TR: I met Rachel last winter when she was on Kauai visiting her brother-in-law, Jack Black (he was filming Tropic Thunder). I didn’t know she was a bass player at the time, but her name came up when we were looking for a replacement for Kas when he went out with Meat Loaf. Someone suggested we hire a girl for the position and the idea intrigued me. While there were other candidates, I took our prior connection as a sign and asked her to do the gig.

TA: Are you doing everything on Arena: playing, singing, mixing, etc., or are some of the guys from the current band playing on it?  I could swear I hear some Kasim backing vocals!

TR: Once again, it’s all me. Living in Kauai, it’s hard to just call a session and have people hop over. If I had been on the mainland, I likely would have incorporated other players.

TA: You’ve been doing the solo thing on and off for a long time.  Is it easier or more difficult to work alone?  How hard is it for you to say, “That’s it, I’m done” when you know you can always do one more track?  Are you the consummate perfectionist or a pretty task- oriented guy?

TR: It always depends on what I’m going for. Often, spontaneity is not the principal goal; recording can be an exercise in precision since the result can be so carefully examined. For a record like Nearly Human, spontaneity was the principal goal. Arena, not so much.

TA:How has your style of working changed since Something/Anything?  Do you still write, compose and play in the same way or has your thought process changed dramatically over the years?

TR: I was a more conventional songwriter in the Something/Anything days, probably because most of my writing was done outside the studio. The more I had continual access to the studio and the more flexible the tools became, the more composition became a part of the recording process. Now it’s hard to distinguish between recording and composition.

TA: Digital tools have changed the audio and visual world and you’ve been an early adopter of both. Has the digital world helped you maintain your level of innovation and set you free creatively, or do you have more limitations now?

TR: I was never an analog nut, so I’m perfectly used to the digital approach. A greater range of tools in all price ranges has changed the game the most. Arena was done entirely on my laptop, and from a budgetary standpoint is probably the cheapest and easiest record I’ve ever produced.

TR: I hope this isn’t a sore spot, but seeing that you have always been such a technically oriented guy, why don’t you have a major Web presence?  Is it just too much to deal with these days?

TR: I don’t, as some people assume, have a slavish fascination with technology. I don’t own a cell phone, and I hate driving. There was a time when the effort and skills needed to build a Web presence were beyond the average person. Now everyone in the world is contributing to the noise. The digital soapbox is sometimes occupied by some truly nasty personalities, which has made me something of a digital hermit.

TA: Speaking of creativity, how much has the move to Hawaii changed your life?  It seems that instead of slowing down, you’ve done just the opposite.  What’s the next big idea on the horizon?

TR: My location doesn’t seem to have a major effect on my creative juices. It’s still the same culture that gives me most of my ideas. The isolation does make it a bit more difficult to collaborate, but I travel enough to make up for that.

TA: What are you doing to take such good care of your voice?  While some guys your age (and younger for that matter) are really struggling to belt it out, you’re singing better and stronger than ever.

TR: In some ways, I’m not taking care of it. It’s just a set of muscles, and like body building, you sometimes have to abuse them to make them stronger. The tour in Japan last spring was pretty abusive, with ten shows over six nights. As long as I don’t try to fix my voice artificially, by using drugs to get through a show, a little rest is usually all I need.

TA:Do you still stay in touch with Willie Wilcox and Roger Powell?  Is there any chance of one last round of Utopia shows with the original lineup?

TR: That is the 64 million dollar question. Every couple years we discuss the possibility, and something usually happens to end that discussion. For my foreseeable future I’m playing with the Arena lineup.

TA: Have you been producing anyone lately, or is that period of your life over?  You did a lot of great records over the years.

TR: We still have discussions with potential production partners. Scheduling is always a problem, especially with my current touring itinerary. There are some possibilities after this year.

TA: Though you are known best for being up front and center with a guitar, what’s your favorite instrument to play after all these years?  Is there anything you hate to play?

TR: I’ve learned not to play the piano live any more. I’ve never been able to develop that Billy Joel/Elton John comfort level. I put too much focus on the singing and any instrument I’m playing is going to suffer. With only six strings, the guitar has fewer mistakes available to make.

TA: Is there anyone that you are listening to these days that you really enjoy?

TR: I’m just trying to get some listening time in, period.

Welcome to the Analog Barbershop

On a recent excursion to the Oregon coast, as I was snooping for used records, who would have thought I’d find them in a barbershop!  When I saw the sign out front claiming “$15 Hair Cuts Until the End of the World” from the Analog Barbershop, I couldn’t resist.  Inside the lovely Olynxa was giving a gentleman a haircut amidst two walls of neatly bagged LP’s of all genres.

Pretty cool I say.

So, the next time you are in Astoria, Oregon, stop by the Analog Barbershop – located at 250 11th. Street.
Their phone number is 503-468-8277

Tell them TONEAudio sent you.

Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil

Who knew that while I was busy playing with Hot Wheels underneath the Christmas tree on my sixth birthday, that Rudy Van Gelder was busy making such a cool record a few thousand miles away?

Speak No Evil has Herbie Hancock on piano, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Ron Carter on Bass and Elvin Jones on drums backing Shorter up with a formidable quintet – enlisting Hancock and Carter from Miles Davis’ last lineup.  Having worked with Jones and Hubbard as well, the group gels instantly, as they blast off in a more modal direction than much of the hard bob that had characterized this era of the Blue Note sound.

The first track, “Witch Hunt,” still has a heavy dose of bop, with Shorter and Hubbard leaping out of the speakers, engulfing you in horns – it’s almost hallucinogenic. The vibe slows down considerably after that and the rest of the record takes a mellower tone, slow and sweet on “Infant Eyes.”  Hancock’s piano floats way in the back of the soundstage and Jones provides delicate brushwork that is exquisitely captured.

Though these records are filled with quiet passages, there is no surface noise – just the slightest bit of tape hiss creeps in on the quietest parts, but it’s never offensive. And the big dynamic swings get the adrenalin flowing. Once again, Music Matters sets the bar for vinyl perfection.  This is as close as it gets to having the master tape at your disposal.

Music Matters Jazz

2 – 45 r.p.m. LP’s

Click here to purchase from Music Direct.

The VPI Classic 1 Turntable (originally featured in issue 46)

It’s easy to compare turntables to vehicles, and for good reason: They share a related sense of implementation and involvement. Much like vehicles of the two- and four-wheeled persuasion, a turntable requires more knowledge and guardianship than just turning a key to achieve a rich experience.

Rather than like eye-catching European automobiles to which high-end turntables are often contrasted, the VPI Classic 1 is more akin to an unmarked mid-90s Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, recently decommissioned and returned to service as a street car. Casual observation yields few clues to what lurks under the hood, but careful scrutiny reveals a very purposeful vehicle. Everything, including the engine and suspension, is calibrated for high-speed performance.

The VPI Classic 1 boasts analogous aspects. In today’s world of superfly, bling-laden turntables, it’s easy to pass by the Classic 1 from an aesthetics standpoint—just like every teenager that has sped right past an unmarked squad car. Don’t be fooled by the basic wood trim and lack of plating. The Classic 1 is purpose-built. There’s no fancy casework, external power supply, or exotic wiring. It doesn’t have a dust cover or tonearm cable.

An output pod with RCA jacks and a grounding terminal lurk at the rear corner of the plinth. There’s a quick-release connector, meaning tonearm wands are easily interchanged and cartridges effortlessly swapped. And since Lyra’s Kleos and Kleos mono cartridges possess identical bodies and parameters, the switch between stereo to mono is a snap.

While it flies in the face of convention, the Classic 1 differs from VPI’s other ‘tables given that its AC synchronous motor is mounted to the plinth (rather than the motor housed in a separate enclosure). Thanks to careful mounting and fine-tuning, no vibration creeps into the presentation. Yes, the Classic 1 boasts a big sound. Al DiMeola, Paco deLucia, and John McLaughlin’s acoustic guitars seemingly appear out of nowhere as the stylus travels the grooves of ORG Music’s recently remastered A Night In San Francisco. Wonderful guitar tones linger, applause swells from the soundstage, and the percussive thud of feet stamping on the stage leaps from the speakers.

The Soul of a Much Bigger Turntable

The Classic 1’s distinctiveness relates to its build and ability to extract musical soul from an LP in a way few under-$10k record players can muster. I’ve unboxed too many $3,000 turntables that my dog could chew to bits in a matter of seconds. VPI’s robust construction puts any such fears to rest. The unit weighs 60 pounds, nearly a third of which is concentrated in the solid aluminum platter.

Playing through the new Audio Research REF Phono 2 SE, the Classic 1 ably cruises through recent Music Matters Blue Note remasters. Comparing the playback on “Scrapple From the Apple” (From Dexter Gordon’s Our Man In Paris) between the Classic 1 fitted with the Kleos cartridge to Lyra’s flagship mounted to my reference AVID Acutus Reference SP with TriPlanar arm reveals the Classic 1’s ability to cover the basics—rhythmically and dynamically. Of course, the AVID/TP combination offers a larger dynamic swing, but the Classic 1 always captures the essence of the performance, with Dexter Gordon’s tenor sax escaping out into the room in a manner it doesn’t via lesser turntables.

In the context of a system comprised of the factory-rebuilt CJ MV-50 amplifier, Coffman Labs preamplifier, and Harbeth Compact 7ES-3s, the Classic 1 paints a larger musical picture than one might think could sprout from such diminutive speakers. The Classic 1’s tonal body will thrill you when listening to vocal-dominant material. Whether you prefer Johnny Cash, Dusty Springfield, or Diamanda Galas, the ‘table’s weightlessness will leave you swearing you’re listening to something with a much higher price tag.

Such advantages should keep classical and hard rock aficionados equally happy. A quick spin of the recent Black Keys LP demonstrates the Classic 1’s capabilities. The grungy guitars, only part of a large noise ball on an entry-level ‘table, now have well-defined space and texture. It feels as a wall of amplifiers is in the room. A recording that always feels too densely packed, Fear’s self-titled album now offers more bloom. Singer Lee Ving’s vocals are no longer drowned out by raging guitars on “Let’s Have a War,” and the saxophone lead on “New York’s Alright if You Like Saxophones” is truly discernible.

Increasing the volume to near concert-hall levels reveals a total absence of acoustic feedback—especially impressive for a non-suspended turntable. With the volume control on the ARC REF 5SE at 70, the woofers of my GamuT S9s remain controlled, no matter the program material. Plus, the Classic 1 generates a prodigious soundfield in both dimensions. All of the twinkly bits on Jean Michel Jarre’s Equinoxe float around like funnel clouds.

What You Don’t Get

The world’s finest turntable/tonearm combinations require no sacrifices on the part of the listener. They feature enormous dynamics, a wide tonal palette, incredibly low noise floors, and virtually perfect speed accuracy. All are prerequisites if and when one is asked to spend crazy money on a record player. The Classic 1’s strength stems from its balance. No single parameter is given priority, and because no area is deficient, the resulting blend allows you to concentrate on the music. It’s a tough balance to achieve at any price.

No, you don’t get any excess aesthetic touches. This is a record-playing machine, not a piece of fine jewelry. However, the product’s honesty is refreshing.  Founder Harry Weisfeld’s son, Mat, emphasizes that VPI’s business philosophy and attention to the bottom line are responsible for the Classic 1’s amazing price. Not only is the Classic 1 made in America, all VPI turntable components are produced locally. “This keeps costs way down and minimizes the shipping expenses necessary to get parts to the factory,” says Weisfeld. “My Dad always kept an eye on the bottom line, allowing us the ability to offer a great product at a fair price, so everyone can earn a living.” The Classic 1 shares the same 600 RPM drive motor with the Classic 2 as well as other key components that are purchased in bulk.

Which Model?

VPI’s new Classic 4, with two tonearms, is catnip to this analogaholic. While it is the ultimate expression of the Classic concept, the $10k ‘table isn’t as stealthily priced as the entry-level Classic. Other models in the Classic lineup offer more performance and versatility, albeit at higher cost. The Classic 2 ($3,495) provides the ability to set VTA (vertical tracking angle) on the fly, which needn’t be a concern to those relatively monogamous with cartridges.

Thanks to a more massive plinth and the addition of VPI’s Ring Clamp, HR-X weight and 300 RPM motor, the almost twice-as-expensive Classic 3 ($5,995) presents serious sonic upgrades over the 1 and 2. For better rigidity, the 3 also upgrades from aluminum to stainless the armtube on the JMW 10.5i tonearm. Additionally, the copper tonearm wire is upgraded to Nordost’s legendary Valhalla.

Overwhelmed? Begin with the Classic 1 and just start playing records, dammit. The Classic range is fully upgradeable, so you can take a Classic 1 all the way to the Classic 4 level, should analog madness get the best of you.

Keeping Perspective

Remember, analog is about flavor. The Classic 1 might not be for you, but it turns me on. And while I won’t be putting my reference AVID decks on the auction block, listening to the Classic 1 is so enjoyable, it’s easy to forget about high-zoot hardware. Some days you want to drive the Porsche, some days you want to drive the police car.

Listeners that don’t want a harem of analog playthings, take note: Match the Classic 1 with a great phonostage, a solid cartridge (I suggest the Lyra Kleos), and relax. Price be damned, the Classic 1 is one of the most engaging turntables I’ve had the pleasure to use. For $2,750, it’s a steal.  Sure, more performance can be had, but it will cost you at least $5k-$10k, whether or not you move to a different platform or upgrade within VPI’s ranks.

The Classic 1 is highly deserving of our Exceptional Value Award. It exemplifies the concept.

VPI Classic 1 Turntable

MSRP:  $2,750



Cartridges                  Lyra Kleos, Kleos Mono and Titan i, Sumiko Pearwood and Palo Santos, Grado Statement 1, Dynavector DV-20xl, Rega Apheta

Phonostages             ARC REF Phono 2 SE, ARC PH8, Manley Chinook

Preamplifier                ARC REF 5 SE, Burmester 011

Power Amplifier        ARC REF 150, Burmester 911 mk. 3, Coffman Labs PR-01

Speakers                   GamuT S9, Sonus Faber Ellipsa SE, Harbeth Compact 7 – 3

Cable                         Cardas Clear

Power                         Running Springs Dmitri and Maxim

Accessories               Furutech DeMag and DeStat, Audience Au24e phono cable, AudioQuest LeoPard phono cable, Audio Systeme Deck record cleaner.

Focal and Goldmund Announce Strategic Partnership

Top high end audio brands, Focal and Goldmund announced today that they are now working together on “The creation of extremely advanced customized reproduction systems” and are aiming at optimizing the association of speakers and amplifiers that are already at the top of what is now considered state of the art.

While there are no pictures yet, this looks to be an exciting prospect in the stratosphere of high end audio.  Stay tuned for more details.

Contest at Audio High – Los Angeles

On Wednesday June 6th, from 6pm – 9pm, Audio High LA will be hosting an event with KEF showcasing their range of loudspeakers.  From the revolutionary Blade, through the award winning reference onto the exciting new R-Series, we will have something for everyone.

Contact them directly at [email protected] or via phone at 323-939-3000

AVID Acutus Reference SP Turntable

Unless you earn $2 million an episode, a la Charlie Sheen, $30k is a lot of change to spend on a turntable and tonearm, especially when adding a worthy cartridge and phonostage could easily double the sum. Taking economics into consideration, TONE receives plenty of email from readers with turntables in this range or considering a similar level of purchase. We get substantially fewer communiqués from listeners contemplating a six-figure turntable—now, that’s crazy talk.

To be certain, audiophiles opting to make purchases in these price ranges are well-heeled, yet most seem to be longtime analog lovers that are seeking out that “destination table.” They’ve owned a number of turntables and amassed a fairly substantial vinyl collection. Typically, $30k doesn’t constitute an entry-level price point for many vinyl aficionados; something is often sold or traded (maybe a jet ski or motorcycle) for the down payment, so the sting isn’t quite as severe.

While it’s easy to get carried away with any number of six-figure turntables, $25-$30k represents the sweet spot, and right where the AVID Acutus Reference SP lies. The ‘table itself lists for $24,995 and the SME V tonearm (which arrived pre-mounted on our review sample) bumps the price up another $5,495. The subchassis on comes pre-drilled for an SME tonearm, but adaptors for Rega, Triplanar, and a few others can be purchased from $100 – $225, depending on the version you require. Current Acutus owners can easily upgrade to the Reference SP—which incorporates AVID’s latest-generation digital-speed control, larger power supply, and two-drive belt system—for $6,400.

Save for a sold-out 10th Anniversary Model ($40,000) limited to just ten units, the Ref SP stands for all practical purposes as AVID’s top-of-the-line turntable. In case you’re wondering, AVID stands for “A very interesting design.” And since the Acutus served as AVID’s original turntable design, the SP Reference takes advantage of everything the manufacturer has learned during the past decade.  AVID designer and director Conrad Mas explains that, a few years ago, he wanted to take the company and his products to an even higher level.

“Rather than say that’s my product, take it or leave it, we listened very carefully to what our customers had to say and, bit by bit, addressed any issues they didn’t feel were best-in-class. We’ve taken this approach all the way to the packaging, with excellent results.”

Everything is Jelly

While the Ref SP is AVID’s premier turntable, the entire line benefits from Mas’ design philosophies. He feels that it is essential for a turntable to get rid of the vibrational energy in the environment as well as that in the vinyl record itself. As he likes to say, “Everything is jelly at a certain frequency; you just can’t see it. The goal is to move the all of the vibration away from the cartridge.”

The subchassis is cast from a variable density, highly granular aluminum, which damps the mid and low frequencies most effectively while even the coating on the subchassis is specifically designed to reduce the skin tension of the aluminum casting, effectively dissipating the HF resonance. Rather than cast from a solid shape the area between the bearing and the tonearm mount looks as if it is folded, giving the shape more rigidity than a solid piece, yet having lighter weight. Mas comments, “This is the most important part of the subchassis, where rigidity is most critical.”

The platter takes the same approach. Mas adds: “The chrome plating on the SP Ref isn’t for the bling factor, it’s functional. It does an excellent job at killing HF resonance. We’ve tried a number of different coatings, but when we did the measurements, nothing worked as well as the chrome plating. When we listened to the different finish options, the chrome sounded best by far.”

Interestingly, Mas feels that the recent trend of 180- and 200-gram LPs is counterproductive. “What we want to do is evacuate the vibration of the record as far away from the stylus as fast as possible. A 200-gram platter stores more energy that the stylus will read and adds a veil to the sound.”

Most turntables concentrate the majority of the mass in the chassis/subchassis assembly. AVID takes a different approach with its units by making the platter the most massive component.  Since there’s no heavy subchassis deflecting the bearing during vibration, bearing noise is kept to a minimum. This is the main reason that the Reference SP has such a low noise floor. In addition, a polymer disc is bonded to the 10kg aluminum platter has a specially designed polymer mat bonded to it which reflects vibration created by the stylus during playback, this being channeled through the bearing that the record is mechanically grounded to. This differs from plastic platters that store vibration or felt mats that allow the records to vibrate causing mistracking.

Mas feels that a suspended ‘table represents the optimum in vinyl playback design because the springs can be tuned to a specific frequency, again effectively isolating the important stylus from outside vibration.  In the vertical axis, AVID’s suspension is tuned to 2.5Hz, a factor of two lower than the average cartridge/arm compliance frequency. By comparison, a seismograph, tuned to measure the vibration of the Earth, is at .5Hz.

The Opposite Approach

The main advantage of direct-drive turntables relates to the amount of on-hand torque; by comparison, to minimize the motor’s control on the platter, belt-drive ‘tables rely on wimpy motors coupled to a tiny belt. Flying in the face of convention, AVID utilizes a powerful motor to drive the platter, thus offering more control. Belt-drive owners also likely notice the fairly pokey start-up. Not so the Ref SP. It starts quickly, just like a direct-drive broadcast table!

AVID hand-builds the motors in its factory, where they are then hand-tuned to the individual power supply that will be shipped along with the turntable. In the case of the Ref SP, the power supply alone weighs 42 pounds (19kg.) and features a 1KV power transformer. As I unpacked the box, I honestly thought the company made a mistake and shipped me one of its new power amplifiers instead.

Tradition aside, the approach works flawlessly. A cursory check of the speed with the Acoustic Sounds test record and digital multimeter revealed perfect accuracy: 1000Hz on the nose.


The Ref SP requires some assembly, but thanks to the concise manual, you should be up and running within about 30 minutes, even when working at a leisurely pace. As much as you will want to spin records as quickly as possible, a more metered set-up pace will give you an even greater appreciation for the care that went into the component parts.

Once the bearing ball is inserted and the main bearing gently slid into place, you can mount the 35-pound platter on the subchassis, making mounting and aligning your cartridge a much easier task than doing so with the whole ‘table assembled—a nice touch. This streamlines the set-up process, because you aren’t fighting the turntable suspension when trying to set VTA and such. It allows closer access to the area where the stylus meets the alignment gauge and, again, a higher degree of accuracy. AVID supplies an alignment protractor to help with the overhang alignment. Mas mentions that this step is “absolutely critical.” Which is exactly why the company spent the time and trouble to create its own alignment jig for the SME tonearms.  (AVID also produces these for Rega and Linn arms as well as a universal version.)

The last bit of setup involves fine-tuning the suspension and placing the chassis onto a level surface. Once the subchassis is leveled with the supplied tool, the suspension is perfectly tuned to the proper frequency. The final act involves fitting the three O-rings to the suspension towers and attaching the two drive belts, the only tough part of the entire process. First, pause in order to focus your concentration. Fortunately, my chi was in perfect order. I slipped the belts on just right on my first attempt.

An $80 syringe of silicone damping fluid that usually comes with the SME V is one lone thing missing from the Ref SP box. It’s not advised. The subchassis’ unique design moves the vibration straight away from the base of the tonearm mount, effectively into the subchassis.

External damping is usually required when using a cartridge with too much compliance in an arm with too much mass, but the AVID’s low suspension frequency and clamping system eliminates the need for its use.  “That’s why the SME arms get a bad reputation for wooly bass. Reflected vibration boosts bass and colors the midrange. It’s not the arm at all. And the non-linear damping in the vibration path, making up for the compliance mismatch, kills the high frequencies.  Not so with our table.”

Having spent quite a bit of time with SME tables and tonearms in particular (I own four of them, from the vintage 3009 up to the V), I can assuredly state that the Ref SP is a completely different animal.  If you didn’t think an SME arm could sound light and lively, guess again. Though I’ve always found SME arms slightly heavy-sounding,

their consistency and ease of setup has always made them a favorite. But with AVID’s ‘tables, there is no sonic compromise. Mas is definitely on to something.

Listening and Comparisons

While it is always difficult to actually describe the sound of any component without putting it into context, the Ref SP reminds me of a combination of my two favorite turntables: the Rega P9 and the SME 30. If you can imagine a ‘table with the weight of an SME 30 that also has the pace, timing, and speed of the P9, that’s the closest anyone can get to telling you exactly what the SP Ref sounds like.

Almost immediately, the Ref SP became the go-to mechanism in my stable of reference turntables. After a few days of comparisons, it was obvious that I could not live without it. It also meant that a couple of other turntables had to go. Its performance with grade A+ pressings was nothing short of amazing. But even with average pressings, like Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Trilogy—a record I’ve heard hundreds of times since the 70s—revealed new tidbits. Listening to “Abaddon’s Bolero” revealed another layer of very quiet synthesizer playing at the beginning of the track. And as Greg Lake’s bass line entered, there was more texture—and the bass actually had a firm placement in the left channel. Playing the same track with the same tonearm and cartridge combination on my Oracle Delphi V spread the bass out almost evenly between the channels, with a significant loss of pace.

Staying in the classic rock vein and moving to the Classic Records pressing of Alan Parson’s I Robot also yielded a completely new experience. The background chanting in the title track possessed a chilling realism I’d never heard before, as it simply rose up and crept in and out of the forefront.

Experiencing acoustic material proved equally great. Listening to Analogue Productions’ recently remastered Bill Evans The Riverside Recordings box set approximated sonic nirvana. “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” from Moonbeams, starts gently. The ultra-low noise floor of the Ref SP brought the music up out of what seemed like nowhere; the tonality of the piano epitomized perfection. At the beginning of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1, the horns jumped right out of the soundstage in a way that they never have done in my system. Thanks to the additional dynamic range, the overall presentation felt louder since quiet passages were now significantly quieter.

Having performed a number of listening experiments with many turntable/cartridge combinations, I’ve arrived at the firm conclusion that a top-notch turntable with a modest cartridge will deliver more sound than a big-bucks cartridge on an inexpensive turntable. Even when using the Ref SP with the inexpensive Denon DL103R, I was consistently impressed at how much further I could hear into the cartridge’s capabilities. Hence, a device I considered somewhat lackluster in budget turntables turned in a stellar performance with the Ref SP. Moreover, all of the $5,000 cartridges I had at my disposal came across as relatively ho-hum (even when aligned to perfection) when mounted to a budget turntable—again confirming Mas’ analysis of how important every aspect of a turntable design is to playback. The Ref SP does a better job of extracting the music out of vinyl grooves than anything I’ve encountered—a job that is deceptively simple yet incredibly tough.

When listening to familiar records with the same cartridge (in this case, a Lyra Skala) mounted to both the Ref SP and my current reference, the Spiral Groove SG-2, the Ref SP’s additional dynamic punch became instantly apparent on heavy rock music, large-scale symphonic music, and everything in between. The ‘table’s ability to unravel the intricacies of complex recordings is simply phenomenal. What’s more, the rock-solid pitch stability and ultra-low noise floor offer up more than pinpoint imaging, painting tonal images in true three-dimensional space. Who needs multichannel when two-channel is rendered so clearly?

The Rabbit is in Hand

I’ve been chasing the analog rabbit for more than 30 years. I’d come awfully close to catching it in the past, but with the AVID, I finally got the rabbit by the ears. The Acutus Reference SP combines bespoke build quality, ease of setup, and stellar performance in a gorgeous package. What else could you possibly want?

Yes, this is the point in the review where the reviewer often says that they would “buy this ‘table if they could afford it and will really miss it when they send it back.” Not here baby. I love this ‘table; it offers by far the most enjoyable analog experience that I’ve ever had. Not only did I purchase the SP Ref, I bought two of them.

The Acutus Reference SP is indeed A Very Interesting Design.

AVID Acutus Reference SP Turntable (tonearm not included)

MSRP:  $24,995 (US); £16,500 (International)

Manufacturer Contact: (US importer – Click link to purchase from MD)


Preamplifier                            Burmester 011

Power amplifier                      Burmester 911 mk. 3

Phono Preamplifier                 Audio Research REF 2 Phono, AVID Pulsare

Phono Cartridges                    Koetsu Urushi Blue, SoundSmith Sussurro Paua, ClearAudio DaVinci, Grado Statement 1

Tonearm                                  SME V

Tonearm Cable                        Furutech Silver Arrow

Speakers                                  GamuT S9

Power                                      Running Springs Audio Maxim, Dmitri

Cable                                       Shunyata Aurora

Spiral Groove SG-2 Turntable (originally featured in issue 19)

I loved the ending of the first Iron Man movie, when Tony Stark declares in the press conference, “Yeah, I’m Iron Man,” and the crowd goes wild.  While it might not drive a press conference into frenzy, I’m going to tip my hat right now and tell you that the SG-2 is a fantastic turntable.  There’s still a few high rollers on the list that I haven’t experienced yet, such as the SME30 (which I have heard a number of times but not in my system), and a few others in the $100K and higher category. But let’s face it, most of us aren’t buying 100 thousand dollar turntables. Even a five-figure table such as the SG-2 is a luxury, but one that some of us can afford.  For the price of a tricked-out WaveRunner, you can have analog bliss.  I know which I’d rather have.

When I first heard the flagship SG-1 at the Immedia offices, I was immediately impressed.  Fortunately, designer Allen Perkins had a complement of gear in his listening room with which I am familiar, so it wasn’t just a bunch of audio parlor tricks; this is a very musical sounding table. The main differences between the $25k SG-1 and the $15k SG-2 are that the SG-1 uses a few more exotic materials in the plinth; stainless steel in the SG-1 is replaced with aluminum in the SG-2. The SG-1 weighs 70 pounds, while the SG-2 is only 50.  Both tables feature the same motor, speed control/power supply and bearing, along with a finely machined record clamp.  The material making up the platter is the same in both tables, but the outer ring in the SG-1 is  stainless, where the SG-2’s is aluminum.

The SG-1 features a removable armboard that bayonets out like an SLR camera lens.  Perkins told me that this was inspired by his Leica cameras and made in house by SG. This feature allows multiple tonearm configurations as the mood strikes, while the SG-2 has a standard, albeit removable armboard. Sharing Allen Perkins’ passion for photography, I thought this was an exquisite touch. Retail price for the Spiral Groove SG-2 without arm is $15,000, while the current Tri-Planar mk. VII is $5,500. Come on, this is way more interesting than a WaveRunner and you don’t need a wetsuit to use it.

Every surface on the SG-2 is beautifully finished, and as far as tables go, I put it up on par with the SME’s in terms of build quality and understated excellence.  The Continuum is a Dodge Challenger with a blower sticking out of the hood, jacked up with tires about three sizes too big sticking out of the wheel wells, while the SG-2 is an Audi S8 —  elegant, understated and much more capable the minute you get into the first turn.  Should you be someone who wants a turntable based on the high zoot factor, the SG-2 may not be for you.  But if your primary measuring stick is musical performance, and timeless style like an Eames Chair, read on.

Getting out of my comfort zone

Most of my recent analog experience has been with SME and Rega tonearms, but Perkins suggested that my current reference, the iV.Vi would not be a mechanical fit for the SG-2 or the SG-1.  “There’s nothing wrong with the SME arm, it’s just the oval-shaped base that the SME mount uses is too big to work with the oversized platter on the Spiral Groove tables; the pivot to spindle distance would be too great.  The 12-inch SME arms, would probably work just fine, though.” I’m guessing this also will eliminate the Graham arms as possible contenders.  Perkins should have his arm complete soon, which he was quite excited about offering as the perfect match with the SG tables.  As fate would have it, the arm would take longer to reach the market, but the analog cohorts I know that have used the arm assure me it is fantastic.

So for now, we went with the Tri-Planar mk. VIII. I’ve always been intrigued with the Tri-Planar, and this provided an excellent opportunity to break some new ground.  One of the virtues of the Tri-Planar is its almost infinite adjustability, which can be a blessing for some and maddening for others, who may feel they have never gotten it just right.

If you have some records of varying thickness, the Tri-Planar is quite handy, with its large dial indicator on the back of the arm.  You can find settings for 140, 180 and 200-gram records, with a little practice, and then return to those settings when you play those records again.  Or, if you are like me, you can just set the arm up for whatever you have the most of and go from there.  I’m of the mind that constant fiddling is bad for the cartridge suspension, and as I seem to get long life out of my cartridges, I might be on to something.  The good news is that with the Tri-Planar, you can have it your way.

Incredibly easy setup

I’m a huge fan of Rega and SME because they are easy to set up and once set up, tend to stay that way. The SG-2 is a marvel of simplicity and after carefully unpacking the table along with its external power supply, I merely had to remove a few spacers holding the platter up off the base and I was ready to mount the arm.  Underneath the plinth is a set of three cone-shaped feet that in addition to damping vibration make it easy to level the SG-2.  Add the SG-2 to the “easy to set up” category.

A newcomer to the Tri-Planar back then, it took about an hour and a half to complete initial setup with the help of my Acoustic Sounds test record, Acoustic Sounds protractor and trusty Fluke Multimeter. Fortunately for me, the SG-2’s speed was spot on right out of the box, saving another step.  Fine tuning the Lyra Skala took about another hour of careful listening, and I ended up settling on a final tracking weight of 1.62 grams, a bit on the light side as the data sheet suggests 1.65-1.75 grams.

I zeroed in on the Skala for the review period because it has a sound I am very familiar with and I happen to have a pair of them.  This always makes it easy to perform a direct comparison between my reference Raven Two turntable with an SME iV.Vi and whatever else I’m evaluating.  I was able to keep everything else the same except for tonearm cables.  The Tri-Planar comes with its own cable, so there may have been a slight difference between it and the Furutech cables I normally use on my other tonearms.  Regardless, it was easy to get a good feel for the inherent differences between the Raven/SME combination and the SG-2/Tri-Planar combination.

To investigate a few other possibly good combinations, I also had excellent luck with my other reference cartridges, the Dynavector XV-1s and the Grado Statement.  I would also like to mention that the combination of the SG-2 and the Tri-Planar has offered the best performance the Grado has ever exhibited in my system.

My initial comparisons were with the Nagra VPS phono stage, and once I had a good feel for the combination, I also used the SG-2/Tri-Planar/Skala combination to evaluate the stellar Naim Stageline phono preamplifier with the HighCap2 and SuperCap power supplies, but that’s for another review.

This is what analog is all about folks

I might be a little crazy, but I believe great analog should sound really analogy.  Smooth and natural (not rounded off) with an organic sound that is convincingly realistic enough that on the right recording, it takes you to that place where you get fooled into thinking the musicians are actually playing in your listening room.  I understand that you can’t put a full symphony orchestra or Snow Patrol with a wall of Marshall amps in your living room.  But you can get damn close with a solo vocalist, a small string quartet or a few musicians playing acoustic instruments if your room and system are up to the task.

If you are a newcomer to the world of analog, you might not realize just how difficult this balance is to achieve.   I’ve been chasing it for decades.  While thousands of pages have been written trying to describe this, if you have listened to your fair share of music, you know instantly when it’s right, yet it can drive you to madness when it’s not.  Even at the beginning of the setup phase, the minute I lowered the tonearm onto the record I knew the SG-2 was an analog gem. It just got better as the final adjustments were made.

This may not be scientific, but the SG-2 was one of those rare components that would not allow me to do any multitasking whatsoever.  Whenever I put a record on this table and tried to work at the same time, I just couldn’t do it.  I’d shut my laptop and hours would go by, playing one record after another and pretty soon, the better part of the day had evaporated before my eyes.

So much of achieving this rightness has to do with timbral accuracy, while part of it is the ability of a turntable, arm and cartridge to achieve high resolution without harshness.  The mechanical aspects of a turntable at this level also are a major contributor to the dynamic range of the analog system, going hand in hand with the resolution aspect.  The more unobtrusive the table becomes, the more it can get out of the way and reveal the music present on the discs being played.

Keeping it real

Rather than go on and on about different records that I played, let’s suffice to say I played a lot of them.  Here’s what I feel are the most important points about this fine record playing system:

First, nuance.  It is always a great experience to listen to your favorite records and hear small details that weren’t present before, or as clear.  The SG-2 was a master of this, whether offering up a little more texture as a bow was drawn across the violin strings, or revealing more echo at the end of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.”  No matter what kind of music you enjoy, this will grab you immediately with an SG-2.  Perkins feels that the detail his tables offer has much to do with the platter design and the materials used, forming an excellent record-to-platter interface.

Next, quiet.  Thanks to a well-designed drive system, the SG-2 could form the textbook definition of the classic audiophile cliché, “velvety black backgrounds.”  Not a molecule of rumble or other mechanical noise, which gives you CD quiet out of your highest quality pressings.  The bearing in the SG-2 is not directly attached to the spindle, an approach taken by only a few other tables.

Big sound.  Did I say big? I meant HUGE.  As I’ve mentioned in past articles, I tend to listen to music spatially and interpret the sound field that my system produces as a cube.  My Raven Two produces a very large sound field, but moving to the SG-2, the sound field expanded in all three dimensions.  If you’ve ever had the opportunity to listen to a properly setup pair of MBL speakers in a good room, it feels as if someone poured out a room full of sound and you can just concentrate on the music.

According to most engineers I’ve spoken with, a big part of that big sound comes from drive accuracy and stability. The oversized platters on the SG-1 and SG-2 help reduce mechanical error, and the extra mass helps maintain inertia, smoothing things out further.

It’s like comparing Kodachrome with Ektachrome.  The Continuum has more contrast, like Ektachrome, which grabs you at first and feels like a lot of fun.  Some might even prefer its presentation.  But like Kodachrome, my favorite film, the SG-2 has a tonality that just goes on forever.  Acoustic instruments have the perfect amount of texture; drumheads sound correct, piano decay sounds correct, with the proper attack, decay and most of all, texture, with nothing muffled or truncated.

The bonus here is the SG-2’s amazing resolution, another Kodachrome hallmark. Some gear that I’ve heard that is wonderfully tuneful does it at the expense of resolution; not so with this table.  For those who have amazing record collections, consisting of early edition pressings and high-quality audiophile remasters, you will really be in for a treat.  Again, the Skala cartridge seemed to be a phenomenal match for this arm-and-table combination, with the Dynavector right behind.

I won’t use the B-word, but…

Back in issue 19 when I originally reviewed The Spiral Groove SG-2, I found this table one of the most musically involving tables I’d heard at the time and not only purchased the review sample, but lived with it happily for three years. It’s audio performance is top notch, build quality exquisite, and it is aesthetically elegant.  The kicker is that this is truly an affordable reference.  Not in a Rega P3 kind of way, mind you, but if you are a music lover/collector/audiophile that has been at this for a while and are looking for a statement table that doesn’t cost as much as a Porsche, the SG-2 should be at the top of your audition list.

Now that the Spiral Groove tonearm is available, we look forward to revisiting this great table again very soon.

The Spiral Groove SG-2 Turntable

MSRP:  $15,000 (without arm), Tri-Planar Mk. VII, $4,700

Manufacturers Information:

Spiral Groove, distributed by Immedia


Preamplifier                            Conrad Johnson ACT2/series 2

Power Amplifier                     Conrad Johnson Premier 350

Phono Preamplifiers               Nagra VPS, Naim Superline with SuperCap power supply

Cartridges                                Dynavector XV-1s, Lyra Skala, Lyra Olympos, Grado Statement

Speakers                                  MartinLogan CLX with (2)Descent i subwoofers