Funk Firm Little Super Deck

Things that reference hallucinogenic drugs tend to pique my interest.  And the Little Super Deck (or LSD) from the Funk Firm will indeed take you on a trip to vinyl bliss, doing so for a lot less money than you’d expect—$1,995 to be exact.  Our review unit arrived in a very THX 1138–esque shade of white, but the table is also available in black or red, or with a black top and wooden base.  You can also dress it up with a different colored Achromat for an extra $99.  Brian Tucker of Pro Audio Ltd., Funk Firm’s U.S. distributor, suggests using only the 3-mm Achromat, as the 5-mm version raises the arm too far for the correct vertical tracking angle to be established and bumps the arm up against the dust cover.  A standard felt mat, similar to the one on a Rega or Linn table, is included at no charge.

Dropping the stylus on the record is a revelation, pure and simple.  After a few long evenings of playing records until the wee hours, I still find myself shaking my head, wondering how this much performance can be had for two grand.  As I listen to the records from the large pile of my Music Matters Blue Note collection, it becomes clear that this table gets to the heart of the music—it’s a master of tone.  Whether I’m listening to Herbie Hancock or Lee Morgan, the LSD delivers acoustic instruments with a level of tonal body and contrast that I’m not used to from a $2,000 turntable.

Though the sky is the limit for turntables these days, the $2,000-to-$3,000 range has so many excellent choices, with the playing field being upset on a regular basis.  Rega, Clearaudio, AVID, VPI and Pro-Ject (just to name a few) all have strong offerings that provide a major improvement in performance over tables costing about half as much.  With so much competition at this level, it’s a pretty exciting time for analog lovers who have a bit of spending money but who don’t want a table costing as much as a new car.

Some Assembly Required

A cursory look at the LSD doesn’t arouse suspicion, meaning that it looks fairly generic from a distance.  Closer inspection reveals just how much engineering has gone into this little marvel.  The LSD does not provide the same plug-and-play install that a Rega deck does, and there isn’t much similarity between the LSD and a Rega beyond the glass platters.  And, unless you’ve got good mechanical aptitude and are fairly intuitive, have your dealer set this baby up.

Unfortunately, the instructions for the LSD, which requires a fair amount of unintuitive assembly, are somewhat dreadful.  I understand that the cost of printing a manual like the one that accompanies a pair of Sonus faber speakers is prohibitive for a $2,000 turntable, but a high-resolution PDF file showing some actual pictures of the damn thing during each stage of the setup process should be considered essential.  I’m not singling out Funk Firm here, though:  I’ve yet to read a great turntable setup manual.

The photo included in the manual does illustrate the three-pulley “vector” system, which uses two additional free-spinning pulleys, so that the drive belt goes around the platter in a triangular formation, minimizing the need for multiple motors.  This is an ingenious solution for a table at this price, and a further example of how over engineered this product is—not to mention he fact that this system provides tremendous benefits when reproducing stringed instruments, particularly the violin.  Keep in mind that this is the same system used in Funk Firm’s flagship table, as well as the company’s $4,500 upgrade to the Linn LP12.

Just to see if this was all marketing hype or not, I used a shorter belt, driving the platter only with the motor pulley (returning to the Jung Trio for the same violin passages).  While you might not notice the difference the pulleys make when listening to your favorite rock records, those loving acoustic music will really appreciate the additional pitch stability this setup provides.

The LSD features a DC motor, similar to what designer Arthur Khoubesserian introduced decades earlier with his highly successful Pink Triangle table, powered by a small wall wart.  You can change speeds between 33 and 45 rpm using the switch on the plinth, which is handy for those having large record collections.

Moving Right Along

Those who are Jedi master enough to assemble the LSD will be highly impressed with how it implements some of its features.  Funk Firm takes a unique approach (patent applied for) to setting the anti-skate, using a weight attached by fishing line to a sliding rod. This allows for ultra-fine tuning of the anti-skate force, which couldn’t be achieved by simply putting the loop in a rung marked in ¼-gram increments.

Funk Firm also has a unique way to set the tracking force:  Using a combination of an under-hung counterweight and a vertical-track-force slider, located right on the arm tube, allows for a better optimization of mass on the table than merely adjusting the weight on the back end of the tonearm.  You can slide the collar up towards the headshell to increase effective mass for your favorite MC cartridge, and slide it back for the opposite effect when using MM carts.

The single screw holding the headshell in place allows adjustment of overhang and azimuth, and it is also a little tricky.  Keep the screw snug but not tight while making minor adjustments, or this will drive you bonkers.

This worked perfectly with my favorite MM, a NOS Ortofon VMS 20 Mk II, and the Lyra Kleos MC.  Dialing in the mass optimizes each cartridge better and ultimately eliminates that “thin” feeling that seems to accompany most budget turntables.  On the other side of the spectrum, my standard-issue late-’80s LP12 sounds slow and out of time by comparison—it lacks the sheer jump and acceleration on musical transients that this table possesses.  Some of this can be attributed to the F5 arm using the same Swiss Abec 7 bearings that my $5,500 SME V arm does.

Because of the F5’s ability to extract information from the black grooves, mating it with a cartridge that costs 50 percent more than the table still makes sense—though a cartridge at this level is probably at the limit of what most LSD owners will consider purchasing.  Lyra’s more reasonably priced Delos ($1,695) is a super partner for the F5 and LSD, as is the $850 Dynavector DV-20X2 and the $1,195 Sumiko Blackbird.  I also had excellent results with the $379 Denon DL-103R cartridge; the variable mass aspect of the F5 tonearm really comes in handy with this classic cartridge.

A Great Pickup Arm, All by Itself

As the F5 pickup arm is available separately for $1,295, the LSD seems like the ideal upgrade for a Rega table.  And, as we just happen to have a pair of P3s on hand, it makes perfect sense to take one for a spin, mounting an Exact 2 on each table. Those of you possessing a P25, P3, or P5 and wanting a serious upgrade should seriously consider an F5—everything improves dramatically.  The arm (sold separately) features the newer, three-point Rega mount.  The one supplied with the LSD is compatible with older Rega tables, and the mounting plate is similar to those of AVID tables.

My P3, already equipped with a Groovetracer subplatter, is now somewhat of a “Frankentable” with the F5 installed, but it’s a blast.  Bass weight increases dramatically:  Going back to The Art of Noise’s Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise? reveals bass that goes deeper and hits harder.  However, the biggest improvement is that of inner detail.

When listening to George Harrison’s guitar on “Taxman,” there is definitely more bite and decay compared to the standard Rega arm, and overall pace is improved, as well—no more cowbell required.  A similar effect is realized with “Eleanor Rigby,” in that the violins now have more separation and body, and less grain.

Finally, we gave the F5 a spin on the new AVID Ingenium, with similar results.  As good as the LSD is, the F5 is the star of the show.

It’s Like Buying a Pickup Arm and Getting a Free Turntable.

Putting the Funk Firm LSD through its paces with a handful of cartridges proves that this table is a steal for $2,000.  When compared to equally priced competitors from SME and Rega, the F5 pickup arm makes the LSD an even better bargain, with some innovative features that the competition doesn’t have.  But remember, this table will need a good dealer or good skills to set up properly.

But once it was setup, I could not find fault with the LSD, no matter what kind of music I listened to.  Going back to a few of the higher-dollar tables in my collection, I could see what I wasn’t getting in terms of dynamics and resolution, but the LSD combines it all so well, it won’t leave you wanting much more, no matter how good your system is.

The LSD strikes such a good equilibrium of basic, balanced aesthetics and the ability to reveal a lot of music that it may actually be a destination turntable for many analog aficionados.  Those stepping up from anything in the $500-to-$1,000 range will be shocked at how much music is lurking in their record collection.

And because of this, we are happy to award it one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2013.  -Jeff Dorgay

The Funk Firm’s Little Super Deck

MSRP:  $1,995