First Listen: The new Technics SP-10R

Though the 1200 is the world’s most ubiquitous turntable, with legions of followers around the world, ask many a 1200 fan/owner/aficionado what turntable they most covet and the answer will be “An SP-10.”

Like everything else cool, vintage, and in short supply, used SP-10s are climbing up the chart as fast as air cooled Porsche 911s. If you want the Singer Porsche equivalent in SP-10 world, look no further than the folks at Artisan Fidelity. Their rebuilds combined with plinths that are out of this world gorgeous, will impress you if an SP-10 is your grail.

But some of us don’t like vintage, no matter how well executed. Some of us want brand new. Two years ago, when the new versions of SP-1200s were introduced, (and I bought two of them) there were whispers in dark hallways that perhaps an SP-10 replacement was in the works as well.

The future is here turntable lovers. And it’s beautiful beyond expectation. But don’t expect to see one soon. We were lucky to have an hour listening session, courtesy of the folks at Audio Vision San Francisco, before their guests were to arrive for the evenings festivities, with Technics.

Yes, yes, we can all play the “it’s not my system, so I can’t hear things properly” card, or we can get down to listening. After all, if someone flips you the keys to your favorite car or motorbike and tells you to have a go for an hour, you don’t refuse? Do you? And besides, Antonio, Randy, and Chris always have great sound in their rooms, so it’s no big.

Flipping through a handful of tracks from current MoFi tracks, including the spectacular Elvis Costello/Burt Bacharach collaboration, all the way to a super clean copy of Ohio Players’ Honey, via a new Ortofon A90 cartridge, it’s easy to get a read. Yes, it’s incredibly good. The sound is massive, as you would expect from a great direct drive table, yet elegant and full of nuance in a way that the 1200G is not. That’s what you pay the extra $14,000, for.

The new SP-1200G and the less expensive GR are both fantastic turntables at $4,000 and $1,600 respectively. The SP-10R is a fantastic turntable period, and this writer feels it’s a major bargain at $18,000, with tonearm. Especially compared to most of the tables in the $20k range. The SP-10 will also be available without plinth, and the ability to use up to three tonearms. We’ll post more as soon as we know final details.

Beyond the big, weighty, ultra-quiet sound, this table is a work of art. I’d buy one just for the impeccable build quality, even if I never played a record on it. But like the Magic Bus, I can’t have one. The backorders are piling up, and AVSF’s Antonio Long (one of the US’ largest Technics dealers) told us, “I’ve got four on order already and I might not get them all when the first shipment arrives in the US.”

While the design aesthetic is very similar to the original SP-10, the result is similar to the SL-1200. Place a Mk.II next to a new 1200G and the new one not only looks bespoke in comparison, but futuristic and retro all at the same time. It’s like those wacky episodes in Star Trek where the new Enterprise faces down the old one at the opening to a spatial anomaly.

If this table piques your interest as much as it does mine, get to your Technics dealer and place an order. Now. Hopefully, you will get one before the end of the year. I know I’m probably looking at a mid 2019 date on one for me. Crazy.

Technics Flagship SP-10 at AV San Francisco

Stop by tomorrow, Thursday, to AudioVision San Francisco to oogle and audition the new Technics direct drive flagship SP-10. It truly is a feat of engineering to behold. The event will also have people on hand from Nordost, YG Acoustics and Bel Canto.

See you there! Festivities start at 7:30pm

Klipsch Forte III

Klipsch speakers are such a big part of audio’s history, and such a big part of American audio history, the first round of listening had to be all-American. Just because.

Taking full advantage of a custom made VPI Classic One turntable, Eminent Technologies tonearm and the latest Statement cartridge from Grado, the gorgeous walnut Forte IIIs went front and center in my listening room, powered by a full Pass XS front end, funneled through Cardas Clear cables and a freshly rebuilt Audio Research D-79 power amplifier. So we had a bit of vintage, current and custom all in the mix, but American hi-fi to the core.

The Klipsch Forte speakers have been around for decades, but the current model III has a number of updates that you can read about here (link) on the Klipsch website. Our review samples arrived in American Walnut (which is my personal favorite) but distressed oak, black ash and cherry are also available. Just like my LaScalas, built in May of 1976, each Klipsch Forte is hand assembled in Hope, Arkansas. All Fortes feature book matched veneers and upon completion, are signed off on by the person completing final testing, as they’ve always done.

Are you ready?

Queing up Kiss, Alive! only seemed appropriate. Thanks to a 99db/1watt sensitivity, this combination nearly blew the windows out and “Firehouse” never sounded better or, shall we say more alive? Staying with the live vibe, and moving from the Motor City to the City by the Bay, the legendary Friday Night in San Francisco, featuring Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia is next. In addition to the frantic fretboard activity, you can almost feel the tension in the room between these three guitar greats as they streak through “Short Tales of the Dark Forest,” with the audience clapping, cheering and gasping in the background as the music swells and fades.

With so much discussion in audiophile circles about holographic imaging, pinpoint focus and the like, the fourth dimension is dynamics, or the lack therof. While the Forte IIIs don’t image like a pair of minimonitors, they paint a large, lifelike sonic picture that doesn’t subdue the wide dynamic swings you get when attending a live performance. Besides, when was the last time you went to a concert, rock or otherwise and heard “pinpoint imaging?” What the Forte’s do, incredibly well, is recreate a sense of size and spatial correctness that few speakers match.

Next on the list, Jeff Beck’s “Bigblock” from Live at Ronnie Scotts. This track opens with a low, growling bass line that fills the room, and throughout the album, it’s easy to hear the spatial cues that let you know you’re in a small club. As Jeff Beck’s signature Stratocaster screams in and out of the mix, the extra headroom that the Forte’s offer helps take things to 11. These speakers do an incredible job at keeping the presentation clean at moderate to high volume, yet even when played more softly adding the extra liveliness to keep the listener engaged.

Chilling it out

Thanks to a 99db/1watt sensitivity rating, you can use the Forte IIIs with small tube amplifiers and get great results. As good as the Fortes are at pinning your ears back, their wide dynamic range makes for an incredibly open presentation at low levels. Substituting the 20 watt per channel Nagra 300p amplifier drives these legendary speakers more than loud enough, but at low to medium levels provide a heavenly experience. If you want to keep it inexpensive, fun and tubes, think a restored Dynaco Stereo 70 like Klipsch shows on the website.

If you can imagine listening to Led Zeppelin at a modest volume level, the Fortes show off another side of their personality. The bass line in “No Quarter” is simply stunning, revealing perfect harmony between the rear-firing, 15” passive radiator and the front-firing 12” woofer. There is a low level clarity and linearity here that makes the Fortes just as much fun to listen to at a modest level as an Earth shattering one.

Reluctantly, a suite of female vocal tracks are investigated, because that’s part of the audiophile drill, but when your neighbor flips you the keys to his Hemi Charger, the minute you get out of his sight, you don’t head for Starbucks, you head for the nearest stoplight and do the biggest burnout you can muster. That’s how fun the Forte’s are. You could listen to Ella Fitzgerald, but you play Betty Davis. Which is exactly what I did, though Ella sounds lovely through the Fortes too. Listening to her snarl through “If I’m in Luck, I Might Get Picked Up,” illustrates the grit in this funk icon’s voice loud and clear.

Simple set up

As mentioned, with the high level of sensitivity the Fortes offer, pretty much any amplifier will get you started on your journey, but make no mistake, these speakers offer a high level of resolution to go with their wide dynamic range. The better your components, the more finesse they are capable of. Much like my vintage LaScalas, I’ve heard Klipsch pooh-poohed by the audiophile crowd, because they’ve only heard them driven by a mass market receiver at Best Buy. My Sonus faber speakers and Focal speakers sound lousy under the same conditions.

Even though the Fortes can pretty much be thrown in your room and sound ok, paying attention to getting the speaker to rear wall distance right plays huge dividends. First, what you probably perceived as boominess from this speaker when you heard a mediocre demo was the rear firing passive radiator fighting the woofer. Get the Fortes spread out in your listening room where the stereo image is how you like it, then move them back and forth in relation to the rear wall, first in 6-12 inch increments. Pay careful attention to the upper bass response and the blend with deep bass.

When you nail it, the Fortes disappear in the room, and not only will you get much smoother bass, the stereo image opens up tremendously. Then fine-tune the toe-in the same way. When you’re right there, the sound just washes over you without sounding harsh. A little too much and the Fortes will squawk at you, not enough and they sound lifeless and diffuse. Then crank it up and enjoy.

The best party guest

For $3,500 a pair, the Klipsch Forte IIIs are tough to beat. They exude old-school style, combining it with present day passion and quality control, resulting in a speaker that’s easy to live with, and works well with nearly any amplification you can pair them up with. I bought the review pair. You need em too!

The Klipsch Forte III

MSRP: $3,500/pair


Analog Source                        VPI Classic One/ET 2.5 arm

Digital Source                        PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Transport

Amplification                         Pass Labs INT-60

Speaker Cable                       Cardas Clear

Motorcycle Money

A recent TONE Facebook post had a number of people pissing themselves in anger over a $5,300 Louis Vuitton record case that’s not even available anymore.

They all screamed “stupidity,” because after all, who would spend $5,300 on a box that holds only 50 records? (to be fair it does have an extra compartment for some CD’s and “accessories.”

Would I buy one? Probably not at $5,300, but I might for $2,000 – it is pretty cool. For those interested, LV will still make them through their custom shop, but that’s not the point.

There’s always been a disheartening angst for things outside of our budget. So many are so easy to dismiss things that don’t make sense financially to them. As Stewie Griffin on Family Guy is fond of saying, “whatever gets you through the night, bitch.” However, by this definition, more than half of the stuff in our world is stupid because it is non-essential. Everything that is above the baseline of what we need to get by is not required and therefore open to ridicule.

Geez. Those of us that enjoy hifi live in a world of non-essential stuff. Really? You’re going to sit there straight faced and tell me your non-essential stuff is more worthy than my non-essential stuff?

Let’s put this in context. Your neighbor buys a new Ducati Panigale-V4 Speciale, tipping the scales at pretty close to $40,000. You think he or she is a God. (And I must admit I’m pretty envious too…) Said neighbor is probably only going to put a few thousand miles a year on that beauty, so it might translate into about an average use of an hour a day, spread out over the course of a year.

Yet neighbor number two that just spent $40k on a hifi system that they will probably use 4-10 times that much, is an idiot. Even more, God forbid, they spent $40k on a pair of speakers or a turntable. And it’s not like that Ducati is going to get you to the emergency room.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a gearhead to the core. I’ll be the first one across the fence slapping my neighbor on the back when they are out in the driveway admiring their latest acquisition. But this is how I see hifi – motorcycle money. There are plenty of people driving nice cars and nice motorcycles that aren’t terribly wealthy people – they’ve just decided to spend a (perhaps) disproportionate amount of their income on something that brings them joy for whatever reason.

So, if you’re wondering why hi end audio attracts neither new people nor women to the ranks, this is why. Who wants to be part of that? Think about it.  – Jeff Dorgay