Simaudio Neo 380D DAC

Simaudio is one of the elite companies in the high end audio industry today with over three decades of history. The Canadian company’s MOON brand products are among those that continually impress Tone reviewing staff. Simaudio’s MOON gear is hand-crafted in Quebec, Canada, and a recent factory tour by Tone made obvious the company’s obsessive attention to detail and the pride they take in every product that gets shipped. A ten year warranty on MOON components shows a level of confidence in their design and execution.

MOON is known for it’s powerhouse amplifiers, transparent preamplifiers, and their unique and rather stunning industrial design. They recently have been getting accolades for their cutting edge digital products, including disc players with digital inputs, DAC’s, and network streamers. In for review is the MOON Neo 380D Digital to Analog Convertor. The 380D is a unique product with a dizzying array of features and enough technology to make your head spin.

It would be impossible to cover all the techie notes about the Neo 380D, but we will try to summarize. First, the unit uses the ESS Technology SABRE32 Ultra DAC / Digital Filter (ES9016) “working in 32-bit Hyperstream™”.  Simaudio goes out of their way to stress their efforts to reduce jitter with what they call their “Dual Jitter Control System” that they say is responsible for producing a “virtually jitter-free digital signal below 1 picosecond for ultra-low distortion, and ensuring compatibility with virtually any connected digital device.”

There is an array of eight digital inputs including AES/EBU, USB, Coaxial, and TosLink.  The Neo 380D handles PCM signals up to 192 Khz. Interestingly there is also digital output and a digital monitor loop. There are separate digital and analog power supplies,  The design is fully balanced, and there is a pair of XLR and RCA outputs.  Care is taken in regards to chassis resonance. The Neo 380D is available in silver, black, and two tone, by the way.  A remote control is supplied to control virtually every function.  The front panel display is large and easy to read from the listening position, displaying input selection and sampling rate.

The review sample is supplied in black, which makes for a beautiful contrast with the silver function buttons and red LED readout on the front panel.  There is much more. The Neo 380D came equipped “fully loaded” with the optional volume control, and the MIND (MOON Intelligent Network Device) module which allows for network streaming. The volume control is the same circuit found in the reference level Evolution Series, knowns as M-eVOL.  The basic Neo 380D retails for $4400, with volume control costing $600, and the streaming module adding $1200.  The total cost of the review unit is $6200. The MIND module is also available as a stand alone purchase in it is own chassis.  It should be noted the 380D is firmware upgradeable via the network. A firmware upgrade did take place during the review period, and it was seamless.

The Neo 380D is tested in my system first with fixed outputs into a passive controller, then for the majority of the review period, driving a power amplifier directly using the variable outputs.  To get things started  Simaudio’s MiND iPad app is installed, with MiniMServer and Twonky server software running on my Mac Mini, where attached drives house the music library. Plugging in an Ethernet cable into unit and selecting the Network input gets you streamed music from a remote networked computer or NAS in seconds. There is also WiFi capability as well, however the unit defaults to Ethernet on startup if a network cable is attached.

From the first few albums streamed over the network, it is obvious the Neo 380D is an exceptional  digital source component.  Recordings are rendered with an ultra natural presentation with body and a sense of natural flow. The 380D seems to extract the maximum from great recordings but does not flatter less than stellar sounding albums. The 96 Khz, 24 bit remaster of the Velvet Underground’s seminal White Light/White Heat is raw, rough, and primitive in the best possible way. The 380D lets you hear how well mastering engineer Kevin Reaves preserved what was on the original master tapes. You can practically see the tape spinning.

Another catalog getting proper remastering is the Black Sabbath 1970’s output. The Neo 380D  unleashed the mayhem found on such classic albums as Paranoid, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and Vol. 4.  The 96 Khz digital transfers are superb, and again the SIM creates more texture and immediacy than one would have thought possible on these thirty five year old recordings.

On more nuanced material, such as CD remaster of Miles Davis’ Seven Steps To Heaven, the 380D shines bright, presenting Davis’s horn, and the superb accompaniment from Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and others in a glorious light. The piano, bass, and drums fill the room with life like dimensionality one experiences rarely in a home system.

On large scale orchestral pieces, like the amazing Telarc CD of Stravinksy’s Rite Of Spring, the 380D creates an enormous soundstage and plumbs the depths. For fetishists who enjoy hearing the “recording space”, it was there is spades, with Telarc’s minimalist, natural recording technique paying dividends.

As a stand alone with other digital sources, the Neo 380D is beyond reproach.  Connecting my Squeezebox Touch optically yields excellent results.  The 380D also worked with the Squeezebox via USB (with Triode Applet installed).  A Jriver 19 loaded laptop also connected via USB sounds superb as well. To cover all bases,  I connected several disc transports via AES/EBU and coax and the 380D shows that all of it’s digital inputs are of a very high standard.

The Neo 380’s volume control proves to be the ace in the hole. It is utterly transparent to these ears with an excellent usable volume range and fine gradations in 1 dB steps.  This option is highly recommended if the 380D will be the only digital source in the system and you connect directly to a power amp, as is the case with our reference system.  The optional MIND module and SIM app were flawless, never failing to connect to the network. Browsing the library is a pleasure, especially one with properly tagged and with an organized folder structure.

Perhaps the only place to nit pick is the smallish, cluttered layout on the supplied remote control unit. It would be nice to have the volume control buttons somewhat enlarged. Aside from this minor complaint the Neo 380D integrated into the system without flaw, and provided endless hours of hassle free operation.

Simaudio has a real winner with the Neo 380D, especially in the “fully loaded” edition, with streamer and volume control on board. As a stand alone DAC it easily attains reference status. The 380D will remain a Tone staff reference for some time to come, and sets a benchmark at this price point. Highly, highly recommended.

Additional Listening

With so much excitement in the stratosphere of digital design, it’s easy to lose track of some of the more real world products that have benefited highly from recent technological advances.  Some might squeal that $4,400 is still a ton of money for a DAC, but in the realm of my $110,000 dCS Vivaldi, it is not.

Yes, there are a lot of great DACs in the $1,000 – $1,500 range, and they are getting better all the time, but there still is nothing we’ve heard for a grand that makes us want to forget about spinning records.  Simaudios Neo 380D, when placed in the context of a nice $20,000 system is so well implemented that all but the most hard core analog enthusiast just might want to think twice about all the vinyl bother.  If nothing else, when listening to well mastered files, you won’t be facing quiet desperation when you switch from analog to digital.  This one, like the AURALiC Vega that we’ve recently reviewed, raise the bar for musical reproduction at this price.  And they raise the bar pretty damn high.

Though I didn’t concentrate a ton on the MiND setup, I did stream a lot of files from my Sooloos Control 15 and Aurender S10 servers, with fantastic results.  While so much emphasis is put on the reproduction of high-resolution files (with good reason), what impressed me the most about the 380D is the stunning job it does with well recorded 16/44.1 files.  Let’s face it, if you have a massive music collection, I’m guessing that the majority of it is ripped at CD resolution.  And while tip-top high res performance is important, 16/44.1 performance is paramount, and this Simaudio DAC does not disappoint.  As a matter of fact, it delights.

One of the worst CDs I own has to be The Monkee’s Here and Now, The Best of the Monkees. Yet, through the Neo 380D, “Daydream Believer” makes a believer out of me.  Moving along to KISS Alive!, the same thing happens, I’m drawn into the music and my Japanese pressing of this rock classic sounds pretty damn good.  While the worst files in my collection sound great, the great ones sound sublime, and that’s what really turns my crank about the Simaudio Neo 380D.  Adding the MiND on board, just makes it so much easier to integrate your digital files into the mix, not having to add a digital cable, power cord, or take up more valuable shelf space.

This mix of sound, function and style, backed by a manufacturer known for high build quality means exceptional value, and we have awarded Sim thusly, with one of our 2014 Exceptional Value Awards.  -Jeff Dorgay

Simaudio Neo 380D

MSRP: $4400,  $6200 as tested.


Amplifier Audio Research VS55
Preamplifier Audio Research SP16L    CIAudio PLC-1 MkII
DAC/Streamer Marantz NA-11S1    Squeezebox Touch
Speakers Thiel CS2.4    KEF R700
Cables Stager Silver Solids    Darwin    Transparent    Acoustic Zen
Accessories Audience aDeptResponse ar6    Shakti Stone    Symposium Acoustics   Rollerblock Jr.

Coffman Labs G1-A Preamplifier

With the renaissance that vacuum tubes have been undergoing for the last decade or so, it’s more challenging than ever to create a tube preamp that stands out from the pack.

So when engineer, musician, physicist and Portland local Damon Coffman told me he designed a new preamp that’s “amazing,” I was a bit skeptical.  But when I saw Coffman’s creation, the G-1A, upon a recent trip to local gear shop Echo Audio, it was like catnip.  The unique casework caught my eye instantly, where fledgling manufacturers usually fall short—think steampunk meets art deco, fused with some mid-century modern.  The shop’s wry owner, Kurt Doslu, who is usually the one curbing my enthusiasm, showed me the nifty little preamp.

“Kurt, what’s this?” I asked. “Oh, it’s this new preamp that we’re going to be distributing,” he replied. “It’s pretty good, want to take it home and give it a listen?”  And so the adventure began.

The G-1A has an MSRP of $5,495 and, at present, is only available through Echo Audio in Portland.  There will be a total production run of just 500 units and the first 25 have already been pre-sold—impressive for a new product.

A two-box design, with an outboard, tube-rectified power supply, the G-1A is a full-function preamplifier.  It has a phonostage, with moving-coil (via step up transformer) and moving-magnet inputs and a headphone amplifier built in, which is a lot of capability for that price point.  The G-1A features a single-ended design throughout, with premium RCA connectors for the four high-level inputs and two phono inputs, along with two fixed high-level outputs and a tape out, which makes life easier for this tape enthusiast.

Circuit Basics

The G-1A uses six vacuum tubes in the main circuit: two 12AX7s, two 12AU7s and two 5687s, with a 5AR4 in the rectifier position.  The preamp  ships with standard-issue, current-day production tubes, leaving things wide open for tube rolling—but the G-1A was so enjoyable as delivered, I’ll leave tube rolling for a future blog post.

Coffman says that much of the impetus for the design of the G-1A came from revisiting classic tube designs from the 1920s, when “the original concepts in tube audio” were born.  As a result, his preamplifier is a masterpiece of simplicity, even down to the number of screws holding its case together.  Inside, we see a mix of new and classic parts.  Coffman sourced a number of oil and paper capacitors (“NOS KGB items”) and an input selector switch from the aerospace industry.  He also went so far as to hand-select and measure every single component for sound quality and durability.  Yet, even with this bespoke approach, Coffman’s training in the medical-instrumentation field drove him to streamline the manufacturing approach to assure consistency from unit to unit.

A concert violinist with a master’s degree in physics, Coffman made his mark in the medical electronics industry by producing digital stethoscopes.  A hi-fi guy since his early teens, he admits that building this preamplifier was, in many ways, even tougher than building his stethoscopes.  And most importantly, Coffman is a music guy through and through; his wife, daughter and parents are also musicians. So he is constantly asking himself if the sound is natural.  With the G-1A, a result of two years and countless prototypes, Coffman has finally answered that burning question in the affirmative.

Stunning Musicality

Wanda Jackson’s 2011 release The Party Ain’t Over is a dense recording and, as the first album on my long listening list, established that the G-1A has a timbral clarity that is unmistakable.  The upright bass at the beginning of “Rum and Coca Cola” has a loose, resonant, almost unturned quality such that you can actually hear the bass rattle—and the G-1A brings all this detail front and center, capturing every bit of texture available.

Zooming through some audiophile standards proves equally rewarding.  Listening to the Doors and the Grateful Dead in 24/96 was a spectacular experience with this preamp.  The soundstage that the G-1A presents is enveloping, dishing up the magic you usually have to spend five figures to achieve.  This preamplifier produces a stereo image that extends well beyond speaker boundaries on all axis—of course, the better the source material, the better the result.

The true triumph of the G-1A is its effortless reproduction of acoustic instruments.  Acoustic playback is a must considering Coffman’s background.  The tonal accuracy of piano, violin and drums must be experienced to be believed.   The gentle tap of Phil Collins’ drumstick on the snare frame in the title track of Brand X’s album Unorthodox Behaviour was scarily real. That extra dollop of texture the G-1A provides seems to come from nowhere and yet still makes itself known.

The sparse drumming and percussion in this record, with its almost Zappa-like triangle taps and bells at the far corners of the soundstage, show off the immediacy that the G-1A delivers.  No matter how complex the musical passage, there’s always enough headroom to accommodate another instrument in the mix.  This level of dynamic competence at both ends of the scale is rarely found without spending a lot more money.

Not Terribly Tubey

While you won’t mistake the G-1A for a solid-state preamplifier, much like my Audio Research REF5 SE, the Coffman preamp is highly accurate, with that extra bit of airiness suggesting vacuum tubes under the hood (or, in this case, poking out of the top of the hood)—and nothing more.  Where a few of my favorite tube preamplifiers of old injected their share of warmth and often coloration, the G-1A plays it clean all the way.  It is worth noting, however, that this one really needs a good hour to warm up.  At initial power-up, it does sound a bit thinner than some of the other tube preamplifiers we’ve experienced.  But to complement the highly resolving nature of the G-1A, it is equally well represented in the lowest octave.

Because the G-1A offers such a great balance, I did not spend any time tolling tubes in search of a different “tuning.”  I’m sure it would be fun to swap the phonostage tubes, because the 12AX7 allows so many different variations on the theme, but we’ll leave that for another day.  Plus, the tall, spun-aluminum towers that ensconce each of the tubes do not make for easy tube swaps, and perhaps it’s for the best.

At this point, we could call the G-1A a “best buy” without the phonostage and headphone amplifier.  As both of these segments practically warrant full reviews on their own, I will go into greater depth on our Analogaholic and Macro sites.

Full Function Phono and Phones

The G-1A includes inputs for MM and MC cartridges.  While everything in the preamp is so carefully thought out, this vinyl junkie would love to see that as a function addressable from the front panel.  Coffman does thoughtfully include a loading switch for the MM input, giving 47K, 70K and 90K ohms, allowing most of my favorite cartridges to shine.  The Shure and some of the Ortofon MM range have a much more open sound when loaded to 70k than at 47k, so this is a nice touch.

The phonostage is excellent, easily on par with anything I’ve heard in the $2,500 range, including the outstanding Manley Chinook, and the G-1A is head and shoulders above the EAR 834P, which is fairly colored in comparison.  Most impressive is the sheer dynamic drive that the G-1A provides, with the same tonality as the linestage.

Soundstage width and depth are enormous, making the freshly rebuilt Quad 57s in my second listening sound like a pair of stacked Quads.  Spinning the recent MoFi remaster of Dead Can Dance’s Into The Labyrinth, the level of detail revealed was no less than stunning.  With a diverse combination of acoustic and electronic elements, featuring male and female vocals, this record gives a quick and accurate read on a component’s spatial abilities.

Sampling a wide range of cartridges, including the Denon DL-103R (and the Zu Audio variation), Ortofon Cadenza Bronze, Ortofon SPU and Clearaudio da Vinci all proved excellent matches with the G-1A.  Unfortunately, the Lyra family of cartridges was not as exciting.  The Atlas, Titan i and Kleos all offered the same result: slightly slow and rolled off, which is likely the result of an obvious impedance mismatch.  There are still a few more on the audition list, so stay tuned for a follow-up on the Analogaholic site.

As this was the first sample from the production line, the headphone stage was not complete at this time, so for now we are concentrating on linestage and phono performance.  A full review of the G-1A’s headphone stage will occur on our website very soon as a follow-up review.

The lack of a remote control proved not to be an issue, especially when moving the G-1A into room two, where the listening chair is directly in front of the main rack, so volume adjustment is easily handled.  Coffman assured me that the output stage of this preamplifier would drive “anything” and, after mixing it up with about eight different power amplifiers and driving 20-foot interconnects, I concur.  Driving a few of my test power amplifiers with one-meter and seven-meter lengths of ALO Audio’s newest premium interconnects reveals no change in sound quality or high-frequency rolloff.

So What Makes This Thing Awesome?

The Coffman G-1A has a unique and striking look and it’s built by a man with a plan.  Some might be surprised by the $5,495 price, but consider this: In the best old-school tradition, the G-1A includes an onboard phonostage (MM and MC) and an onboard headphone amplifier—remember when you could buy a full-function preamplifier with all of this under the hood?

With vinyl still growing in popularity and headphones a full-fledged sub-genre of audio, a preamplifier incorporating these two elements is exciting.  Considering that you won’t have to purchase an outboard phonostage, headphone amplifier or a pair of power cords, the G-1A is fantastic if you value sound quality above everything else. The design is so pure it even lacks a remote control.

Judged strictly as a linestage for $5,495, the Coffman G-1A is at the top of its class.  The fact that it includes an excellent phonostage and headphone amplifier makes it the bargain of the year.  All of the tubes are easily found and those predisposed to tube rolling can tune and tweak until Election Day.   Coffman has plans to expand the lineup, possibly making the phonostage and linestage separate boxes. When I asked him if there might be a companion power amplifier in the works, he smiled that evasive smile that usually means “yes, but I don’t want to talk about it now.”

So with that in mind, we award the Coffman Labs G-1A one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2012 and look forward to the company’s future offerings.  Coffman is certainly off to a brilliant start.  I have purchased the review sample, so that it can become an anchor component in room two, and so that we can do a long-term report when a year has passed.

The Coffman Labs G-1A Preamplifier

MSRP: $5,495


Analog Source               AVID Volvere SP turntable/SME V, various cartridges

Digital Source                dCS Paganini stack, Sooloos Control 15, Aurender C10

Power Amplifier             Conrad Johnson MV-50C1

Speakers                       Quad 57

Cable                            ALO Audio, Cardas

Power                           Audience AR-6TS

SL-1200 Upgrades: Sound HiFi

Though I am not a huge fan of modded gear, I’ve always appreciated the ingenuity exhibited by the DIY side of the audio world.

Just like my other favorite hobby (automobiles), there is always plenty of room for the wrench turners to coexist with the check writers, and while they always like to banter about whose approach is more pure, the decision to mod is up to you.

If you are new to the modding game, keep in mind that a modded piece rarely has great resale value, because once you start tinkering with anything, there are only so many people who will want to purchase your version of nirvana.  So keep that in mind before you get out the Sawzall. In this case, if you perform the Sound HiFi mods with care, you could reverse the process and go back to a stock SL-1200, should you decide to sell it.

From the beginning

My journey in HiFi started with a Technics SL1200 about 35 years ago, yet I quickly got caught up in being a proper audiophile trading that table in for a belt-drive Rega Planar 3.  To be fair to the Rega, I still prefer the sound of a P3 to the sound of a stock Technics SL-1200, which I find rather dark and cloudy sounding overall.  Careful attention to detail when setting up an SL-1200 will wring every bit of resolution for which it is capable, but this is still not a ton.

The good news is that Technics has been building the SL-1200 for a long time and the core turntable mechanism (motor, base and platter) is robustly built.  The direct-drive mechanism has a lot of torque and the table has a very weighty presentation with a fair amount of bass detail despite its other shortcomings.  While a basic “audiophile approved” turntable can easily run a couple thousand dollars without a tonearm, you can still find a like – new SL-1200 on the secondary market for $400 -$500 (in the U.S. anyway), so this is an excellent platform for modification.  Think of the SL-1200 as the Volkswagen GTI of the turntable world.

I’ve investigated the KAB series of modifications for the SL-1200, and they have ultimately left me cold because I still feel that the stock SL-1200 arm is the weak link in the equation.  The full suite of KAB mods certainly improve the SL-1200, the minute I drop a record on a Rega P5, or a nice used Linn LP-12, I’m still not that interested in the Technics.

However, the rabid enthusiasm for the 1200 out in the world of internet forums has kept my interest piqued.  The Sound HiFi mods described here were brought to my attention by a good friend on the MartinLogan forum (an SME owner) who had just heard the modded table at a friend’s house with an SME 309 arm fitted.  “You need to get this mod in for review.  You won’t believe how great the SL-1200 sounds with this arm and a good cartridge.”

Dave Cawley of Sound HiFi ( has been running a HiFi shop with on-site repair facilities for a long time and is a true analog enthusiast.  During our phone conversation, he said, “Look, I sell AVID, SME and Clearaudio.  I’m not going to tell you my mod will turn an SL-1200 into an SME 20, but I do think you will find it very interesting.”  Should you live anywhere near Sound HiFi in the U.K., they can modify your 1200 for you if you are not so inclined.  Sound HiFi also still services and refurbishes the legendary Technics SP-10 broadcast turntable, which is enjoying a tremendous resurgence in the audiophile world.

Choices, choices

There are a few different options to this series of modifications.  The external power supply is about $450 at current exchange rates (£299), the arm board for an SME arm is £89.95 and they also offer a great mat for £89.95.  A series of upgraded feet and a clamp can also be purchased to take the SL-1200 to the limit of its performance envelope.

Our European readers may have an easier time of this, as the SME arms are not as expensive there as they are here.  However, there always seems to be a great deal on a used 309 that someone is trading to move up the ladder.  A 309 in excellent shape can usually be had for about $900, and I’ve seen them as low as $700.  The M2-09 is a less expensive arm, but in much shorter supply and I’ve actually seen them selling for more than a 309.

I prefer the mechanical robustness of the 309, and the stock SME tonearm cable isn’t bad either, though once you get done with all of this, you now will be able to easily hear the difference an upgraded tonearm cable will make.  Should you decide to take this even further, I highly suggest the Furutech AG-12 tonearm cable. It offers world-class performance, and I use it on my other two SME tonearms.

Some assembly required

The Sound HiFi kit is relatively easy to install, but it will require good basic soldering and mechanical skills.  If you have never done anything like this, I would not make this your first electronic project without the help of a friend possessing some skills.  The instructions that come with the Sound HiFi kit have a few holes in them, so we will be posting some additional tips and photos on our website to guide you a little better.

Granted, I’ve seen far worse, but being a visual person, I wouldn’t mind just a few more pictures to ease the process.

As with all electrical and mechanical projects, the key is to budget an hour or so of quiet time and give yourself room to spread out everything.  As you remove the bottom cover of the SL-1200, there are quite a few screws to keep track of.

All the parts required were included and the organization of the kit was very tidy.  I was taking my time and taking pictures along the way. Two hours later, I had a very nice looking SL-1200 with an SME 309 ready for setup and adjustment that looked as if it came that way from the factory.  This speaks volumes about the quality of the Sound HiFi modifications.

The Sumiko Blackbird that I had been using on the SME 309 fitted to my Raven Two is now only a headshell swap and quick readjust away.  Now you have the versatility of setup that the SME arm offers while retaining the removable headshells that made the stock SL-1200 desirable.

The sound – glorious!

Yes, you heard right; I’m gloating about the sound of an SL-1200.  I performed the modifications in two steps –  first the power supply and then the tonearm – so that I could evaluate each step’s improvement to the overall sound.  Thanks to removing that big transformer from under the platter and adding the more robust external power supply, the SL-1200 sounds more open and focused, even with the stock arm.  But when the SME arm was added, the table goes from capable to outstanding.

The more practical readers in the audience will note  that adding the external power supply, arm board and a decent used SME 309 to the mix, I’ve quadrupled the original price of the SL1200; wouldn’t I be better off just spending $2,000 on a proper turntable, in a box with a manufacturer’s warranty?

Well, yes, if you worry about that sort of thing. But no, if you want to push the boundaries of what you can achieve for an investment of $2,000 in a turntable.  I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a lot of turntables in the $2,000 – $3,000 range from Rega, VPI, Pro-Ject, Music Hall, etc., and for my money, this one is the one to beat.

Would I give up my Rega P9/RB 1000 or Raven TWO with SME 309 for this table?  No, it’s not that good, but it’s so damn good for $2,000, paired up with your favorite $900 cartridge, that you may not ever need to spend more money on a turntable unless you have a mega system.  This truly is a magic combination, being much more than the sum of its parts. Some find joy in customization, while others find joy in turnkey solutions.

The big-bucks tables still offer more resolution at the frequency extremes, with more fine detail throughout, and that’s what you pay the money for.  But balance is the key to a great HiFi system, and for the Journeyman Audiophile, a five-figure analog setup is a waste of money.

I noticed immediately that the wonderful bass presentation of the stock SL-1200 is still there and, if anything, improved.  The table now had plenty of weight and  a high degree of bass definition.  When listening to Charlie Haden’s Private Collection on Naim records, I could really enjoy all of the texture present in his acoustic-bass playing. The one-note bass feel of the stock table now gone.   My favorite early Genesis records now sound  more like what I’m used to on my reference tables, and even LL Cool J sounded a lot better, with more bass slam and control.

I was not ready for the amount of delicacy and resolution through the midrange and high frequencies offered by the modded SL-1200.  The stock table is a clunker with acoustic music or densely recorded rock records; things become two dimensional lacking any kind of proper depth.  Honestly, I’d prefer a decent CD player to a stock SL-1200 any day.

With the Sound HiFi mods in place combined with the SME arm, serious analog magic is going on.  This is an analog setup you can be proud to own.  My usual group of audiophile buddies teased me to no end when they saw a Technics table sitting on the rack next to my Raven TWO and Spiral Groove SG-2, but the minute I put a record on, everybody shut up.

Listening to the first track on Lindsey Buckingham’s current release, Gift of Screws, the acoustic guitar barely makes it to the outer edges of the speakers with the stock table.  The Sound HiFi version extends the soundstage about three feet past the speaker boundaries, with a healthy measure of height thrown in.  Everything has a lot more body and my LP’s sound great again, not flat and lifeless as they did on the stock SL-1200.

Vocals take on a realistic character, now clearly hearing the subtle details that make good analog such a treat, with a very expansive soundstage no matter what I was listening to.  Combined with my ARC PH3SE phono stage, the SL-1200 and Sumiko Blackbird make an excellent showing. Stepping up to the Nagra VPS/VFS, even more detail is present.

Sure, pairing this table up with a $4,000 cartridge and an $8,000 phono preamp is a bit overkill, but the Sound HiFi SL-1200 makes a good showing.  Playing more in its league, with the Shelter 501, Sumiko Blackbird, Lyra Dorian, etc., and  a Lehman Black Cube SE, Dynavector P-75 mk.2 or the like, I dare you to find more pleasing analog playback for this kind of money.

Get out your credit card and call Dave

Again, if the idea of a project like this is not for you, the cost of shipping an SL-1200 to the U.K. and paying to have these bits installed may outweigh the cost of the end result.  Those of you who are handy and up to the challenge of creating something wonderful for a reasonable expenditure should look no further.  I can’t think of a more musically revealing turntable for this kind of money and I’ve heard most of them.

When assembling a system in the $10k range, every place you can save $500 is a big plus and money that can be invested in more performance elsewhere or perhaps for some room treatments or even more music!  The Sound HiFi modded Technics SL-1200 gets my highest recommendation, and you can plan on seeing it around here for a long time as my reference table at this price point.

NOTE:  This article was originally published in issue 22 of TONEAudio.  Dave Cawley has some even newer SL-1200 bits that we will be investigating soon.  This story is far from complete!


Preamplifier                Burmester 011

Phono Preamplifiers   Nagra VPS/VFS, Nagra BPS, ARC PH3SE

Power Amplifier         Burmester 911 mk.3

Speakers                      MartinLogan CLX w/JL Fathom F110 subwoofers (2)

Interconnects              Shunyata Aurora

Speaker Cables            Shunata Orion

REVIEW: Creek Audio Wyndsor Phonostage

Is it just me, or has it been raining phonostages lately?

It seems as though the vinyl downpour keeps coming, and there are no signs of it subsiding.  Vinyl sales were up 37% last year, which is a great thing for vinyl lovers.  And equipment manufacturers seem to be keeping pace with this trend, considering how many new phonostages are popping up from out of nowhere these days.  Where you land in this sea of analog goodies will certainly depend on the size of your record collection, the quality of your system and your ultimate dedication to vinyl.  You’ll know vinyl fever has hit you really hard when you decide to make the step up to more than one turntable (or a table with two tonearms), or even if you’re just adding a mono cartridge or a second cartridge of different tonality or quality.

The new Wyndsor phonostage offers two inputs, one RCA and one balanced, which makes it perfect for the budding analogaholic.  While Creek Audio has offered fine and very cost-effective phonostages in the past, the Wyndsor is in a different league, both in performance and price.  The English company has come a long way from its humble beginnings.

Opening the Box

Like many others on the market, the Wyndsor is a two-piece affair.  The signal from a phono cartridge is so faint and fragile that any attempt to preserve its integrity is welcome.  This is why the Wyndsor’s power supply comes equipped with individual mains transformers and separate regulation for each channel, connecting to the main unit via an umbilical cord.  The main chassis is a deceptively simple looking unit, with an illuminated readout section that can be dimmed or turned off completely, a back button, a mute switch and a main controller knob marked “Select.”

It’s this “Select” capability that is the key to what’s available from the Wyndsor.  From this feature the user can select various parameters for various cartridges and store them in the unit’s memory.  You can select cartridge type, load resistance, capacitance, EQ and arm wiring.  Arm wiring?  Yes, you can select single-ended RCA or balanced DIN for the phono cable input.  How cool is that?!

A lot of other phonostages allow for various levels of configurability, but none (at least none in this price range) offer the variety of settings and options available from the Wyndsor.  The folks at Creek certainly thought the feature set through on this product.  What’s even better is that these features can be easily dialed up and stored via the “Select” function.  This is a far cry from having to dial up DIP switches that are either behind a panel or, worse, inside the phonostage.

Best of all, you can use the 16-character alphanumeric display to list gain, loading and cartridge type.  This is an awesome feature, and helps to keep your vinyl world organized; especially if you have an arm with multiple headshell/cartridge combinations, it’s great to see the one you’re using displayed.  Vampires in the audience will be glad to know that you can shut the display off completely if desired.

It’s Not Just About Features

The Wyndsor offers up a lot of sonic goodness, but you will have to wait for it a bit.  Straight out of the box, it’s rather small and thin sounding, like so many other solid-state phono preamps we’ve tried.  But don’t panic.  Leaving it powered up 24/7 will alleviate about half of this, but it needs some serious break in.  I suggest one of those handy little Hagerman devices that knock high-level output down to an RIAA signal at phono-cartridge level.  Avoid the grumpiness, leave your iPod on repeat for a week and be prepared for the caterpillar to make a big change for the better.

Once broken in, the first cartridge on my list was the Goldring 2400 MM.  I dial up the parameters by the data sheet and let her fly.  Most memorable is the recent ORG offering 45 rpm of Weather Report’s seminal album, Heavy Weather.  Of the hundreds of times I’ve listened to this recording in its various iterations, I’ve never enjoyed it as thoroughly as I do through the Wyndsor.  The solid, weighty bass line on this exquisite disc makes for much foot tapping and big grins during this listening session.

I couldn’t resist another period classic, Edgar Winter’s They Only Come Out At Night.  You guessed it, I crank “Frankenstein,” taking advantage of the big soundstage provided by the Wyndsor, this time courtesy of the Denon DL-301 MK II MC cartridge.

Very Versatile

Changing the cartridge again to the (2.5-mV-output MC) Sumiko Blackbird is easy with the Wyndsor.  Often this high output MC, which likes to be loaded at 47K ohms, is often a little shy for many phonostages’ high-output settings, but a bit high for the low output.  Thanks to gain settings at 40, 45, 50, 61 and 70 dB, optimization for maximum dynamic range proves straightforward, with the 50-dB setting perfect in my system.  Even the low output MC Dynavector 17D3 (.23 mV) works well with the 70 dB maximum gain setting, yet it maintains a very quiet noise floor.

The Blackbird’s high trackability is a perfect match for Ginger Baker’s monstrous drumming on “Toad,” from the Fresh Cream album.  Cymbals are nicely fleshed out, with plenty of extension, but no harshness or sibilance.  Unable to escape the gravitational field of classic rock, I turn to the drum solo from “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” to wind up the evening’s listening session.

One last cartridge change proves the Wyndsor is an equal match for an upscale dance partner, this time the $1,995 Ortofon Cadenza Bronze, a .4-mV MC.  Switching the program to jazz, I play something from the Meters.  The rich tonality of Leo Nocentelli’s guitar on the Look-Ka Py Py album is full bodied and three dimensional, with great attack and decay.  A superset of various Dave Holland records gives the Wyndsor a sufficient set of bass calisthenics to prove its mettle.

The longer the Wyndsor is plugged in, the more it smooths out.  You won’t mistake this one for a valve unit, but it is not plagued with the graininess that pervades most of the lesser transistor offerings.  If your taste falls more to solo vocals or acoustic music, the Wyndsor delivers, offering a delicate midrange, along with a healthy dose of pace and timing.  The recent Rickie Lee Jones Pop Pop remaster is a perfect example:  Jones’ voice never becomes trampled by the big, acoustic bass lines present on this disc.  The Wyndsor proves equally nimble with dense recordings.  The title track of Pat Metheny’s Song X collaboration with Ornette Coleman is a torture test on a budget analog rig, with Metheny and Coleman riffing at maximum velocity out in front of a robust rhythm section.  The Windsor keeps it all well sorted, without becoming a gigantic blob of noise—a job well done.

Beyond the Facts

Thanks to the power supply and circuit refinements, the Wyndsor offers quite a bit more sound quality and flexibility compared to the plethora of phonostages in the highly contested $1,000 range.  There are a few single input units in this price range offering even more performance, but if you’re like me, then part of your joy in the hobby comes from having multiple tables, tonearms and cartridges. Such being the case, the Wyndsor should be at the very top of your list.  – Jerold O’Brien

The Creek Audio Wyndsor Phonostage

MSRP:  $2,495

REVIEW: The Clearaudio DaVinci MC Cartridge

Forget what you know about Clearaudio cartridges of old.

Since they brought out the new generation Goldfinger, Clearaudio has been going towards a more-balanced sound.   These days, their newfound expertise has trickled down to the $7,500 Titanium and the $5,500 DaVinci.  And like their top two cartridges, the DaVinci also has coils wound from 24kt. gold wire.

After living with the Advance for a few months, I purchased the review sample to round out my own arsenal of cartridges, which includes the Lyra Scale and Dynavector XV-1s. The DaVinci is a special cartridge, offering a high level of detail retrieval without crossing the line and sounding harsh, always a tough proposition.

This review started along with the Clearaudio Innovation turntable, mated with Clearaudio’s TT-2 linear track tone arm.  If you haven’t yet made a turntable choice, I’d highly suggest the whole system; the synergy is fantastic.  The DaVinci worked well on my Raga, SME and Triplanar arms, too, but it was tough to beat the all-Clearaudio system.

The DaVinci is part of Clearaudio’s new V2 series of MC cartridges, with improved magnet and generator assemblies as well as a new stylus profile that Clearaudio claims has one-fifth less mass than their previous design.  In the real world, the DaVinci is an excellent tracker.  One particular torture track that comes to mind is Joni Mitchell’s “Jericho” on the album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.  The last track on the side, we’re already headed for trouble; about half of the cartridges I’ve reviewed won’t get through Joni’s voice without distortion.  But the DaVinci handled it perfectly.

The price of admission

Let’s face it, there are a fair amount of people in the audience who haven’t spent $5,500 bucks on their whole system, so a cartridge at this price level is built for an exclusive clientele.  My main requirement for a cartridge in the $5,000 – $10,000 range is that it has to not only have a unique personality, but it needs to take you somewhere you can’t go with the lesser-priced cartridges.  For five BIG ones, you shouldn’t have to make any excuses, and the DaVinci doesn’t ask you to.

If you have an equally high-achieving turntable and phono stage, you will be rewarded with some of the most exciting analog playback money can buy.  When Musical Surroundings’ Garth Leerer dropped the TT-2 Clearaudio tonearm down on that first record, I was very impressed.  About a hundred hours later after some serious break in, I was blown away.

Opposing views on setup

When used on Clearaudios’ TT-2 linear track arm, you only need to dial in VTA and tracking force beacuse there are no other adjustments. With a linear track arm, there is NO tracking error, so you don’t need to argue with your buddies on the Internet about which set of  null points to use.  Set it and forget it.  As my review of the Innovation said, “The sound is super smooth, like analog tape.”

I also had excellent luck on my other table/tonearm combinations, with the virtues of the DaVinci always coming through.  At 2.8 grams, the DaVinci tracks a bit heavier than you may be accustomed to on some other cartridges.  Using Clearaudios own digital stylus force gauge, I ended up right at 2.8 grams for the best overall balance.
I also made it a point to try the DaVinci with a number of excellent phono preamplifiers,  all with great results.  The Naim Superline/Supercap was on hand, as well as the $20k Montana phono stage, the Manley Steelhead RC and my reference, the Nagra VPS with VFS base.  Final loading ended up between 400 and 500 ohms with all phono stages, and the DaVinci was so revealing, it made it easy to hear the differences between each of the four phono preamplifiers.

Personally, I liked the two tube phono stages the best, as the high resolution of the DaVinci mixed with a touch of tube warmth was a match made in heaven for my system.  While I was never put off by matching the DaVinci with the solid-state phono preamplifiers, there were times where there was so much resolution it was tough to process, but a few of my audiophile buddies were addicted to the extra resolution on tap.

In all but the most forward sounding systems, the DaVinci should be a winner.

Spacious and resolute

Clearaudio claims that their V2 cartridges have a 100db dynamic range that is “better than CD.”  While I don’t have any LP’s with a 100db range with which to verify this, I was immediately attracted to the punchy, fast presentation.  If pace and timing push your hot button, you will be amazed by the speed of the DaVinci. Unlike some so-called “audiophile” products that only shine with your best records, the DaVinci extracts every bit of information from the grooves on whatever records you are playing.  Of course, the flawless first-stamper pressings are going to wow you more, but you will be pleasantly surprised at how much more music you hear on some of your old favorites that you might have thought unworthy of a mega analog setup.  This alone makes the DaVinci worth its price tag.

The only drawback to having extra resolution on tap is that it will reveal the records in your collection that have not been thoroughly cleaned, but the benefit of good vinyl hygiene when using the DaVinci will be an analog presentation that is CD quiet.  It takes a little while to get used to that kind of silence, but once you do, it’s very exciting.  And it’s always fun to listen to your anti-vinyl friends claim “that can’t be a record!”  If you don’t have a good record-cleaning machine, I highly suggest one of the Clearaudio Matrix models that clean in both directions.  Combining clean surfaces with the incredible detail retrieval capabilities of the DaVinci, it just feels like you can hear into the record forever.  Listening to “Between My Head and the Sky” on Yoko Ono’s new Plastic Ono Band album, the cymbals hung in the air, while guitars popped in from all over the mix, with Yoko’s signature trippy, squeaky vocals front and center, and the overdubs of her voice way beyond my speaker boundaries.  When I switched to a few budget cartridges, everything lined up on the same plane.

The DaVinci really excels at front-to-back separation; it always has you wondering if you really do have a secret pair of surround speakers in your listening room.  This record led me to some of my wacky favorites from Kraftwerk, Jean Michel Jarre and Mickey Hart, just to bask in the giant fishbowl of sound I was experiencing.

I always felt like I was watching a Hitchcock movie while listening with the DaVinci.  Hitchcock was a master of having quite a few layers of interest in his shots, with the main action center frame, but equally important things going on way off in the distance or in the lower corners of the frame.  This is the perspective my system takes on with this cartridge; there is something going on all over the soundfield.  It is very engaging  indeed.

Switching back to some straightforward rock, MoFi’s Santana was another incredible experience.  I’ve been listening to this record for about 35 years and it’s never sounded better. On the last track, “Soul Sacrifice,” when the bongos fade up over the drums, they sound somewhat blurry. But now they had their own distinct soundstage in the mix.  I didn’t even hear that while I listened to the master tap at the MoFi studio last year!

Perhaps a bit larger than life

Because the Clearaudio DaVinci reveals so much information, some may perceive it as having a “slightly larger than life” kind of sound, but I found it to be very exciting and I haven’t tired of it in the least.  If you’ve been craving the perfect fusion of dynamics and fine detail, the Clearaudio DaVinci is the cartridge for you.  Just be sure to get those records spotless if you want everything it can deliver.

-Jeff Dorgay

The Clearaudio DaVinci

MSRP:  $5,499



Turntables Clearaudio Innovation w/TT2 arm, Spiral Groove SG-2 w/Triplanar arm, TW Acustic Raven Two w/SME iV.Vi arm, Rega P9 w/RB1000 arm

Phono Preamplifiers Montana Olympia PX, Manley Steelhead RC, Naim Superline/Supercap, Nagra VPS/VFS

Preamplifier Burmester 011

Power Amplifier Burmester 911mk. 3, McIntosh MC1.2KW, Moscode 402Au

Speakers Martin Logan CLX w/JL Audio F110 subs, Gamut S-7

Cable Shunyata Aurora Interconnects and Stratos SP Speaker cables

Power Running Springs Dmitri and Jaco power conditioners

The importance of stability

Do you feel like Jack Bauer trying to disarm a nuclear missile  when trying to set overhang on your turntable?

Close to freaking out?  Beads of sweat running down your forehead?  I know I used to, especially with some of the mega-expensive cartridges that have come my way lately.  One slight slip backwards and no more Goldfinger. This is definitely a case of what’s good for the DJ is NOT good for the audiophile.

Here’s a simple and inexpensive tip.  Use that same green or blue painters tape that you’ve been using to mark where your speakers go and lock your turntable’s platter down while using your favorite alignment protractor.  If you aren’t marking where your speakers go with tape, and don’t have any on hand, stop by your local Home Depot, hardware store or paint supply shop and get a roll.

The reason for painters tape, instead of traditional masking tape or duct tape?  The adhesive.  Painters tape is made with an adhesive slightly weaker than masking tape and is designed to pull off cleanly without residue.  You don’t want tape scum all over your pride and joy, do you?

Here’s to a quicker way to better alignment!  Happy listening.

Ikeda Sound Labs now in the US

Beauty Of Sound, a new high-end shop located just outside of Albany, has become the exclusive U.S. Distributor for Ikeda Sound Labs analog products.

They just announced the release of the Ikeda 9TT, a low-output moving coil cartridge employing a duralumin pipe cantilever that exhibits very low resonance and coloration. The cartridge also features a line-contact stylus, permalloy core, low impedance coils, and strong neodymium magnet that renders a layered, three-dimensional sound. The 9TT is also available in a mono version.

Ikeda has also just introduced the flagship KAI low output moving coil. The cartridge is made by hand, one by one, using a single piece of aluminum alloy. The generator unit is made of titanium, the stylus is a micro-ridge profile which will trace the groove accurately into the super-high frequency range. It also features a boron cantilever, low impedance coils, ideally shaped magnet yoke, and a samarium-cobalt magnet for the generator.

The sound of these new products is in keeping with the legendary sound that Ikeda is known for. Pricing for the 9TT is $4,600; the KAI is $10,000.

Please visit the Beauty Of Sound website, or contact us at    wdemars@beautyofsound or 518-852-9183.

We will have a review in progress of the 9TT very soon…

The Big Lebowski Soundtrack

The Big Lebowski has a cult following that just continues to grow and if you had five bucks for every time you tried to ape “the dude,” you could probably go on holiday somewhere pretty nice this year.

Soundtracks are always a hit or miss, often getting stuck between chic and cheesy, but the BL serves up some pretty cool choices – perhaps the most intriguing, the Gipsy Kings rendition of “Hotel California,” the fourth track on a fairly chilled out side two.  This side ends with Townes Van Zandt doing”Dead Flowers.”  Side one is even more eclectic, featuring Captain Beefheart, Bob Dylan and Nina Simone mixed in with a previously unreleased Elvis Costello tune, “My Mood Swings.”

Fans of the movie know what a bizarre romp it is and this record captures the feel perfectly. The sound quality is fair, but this is a record you by for the fun factor.  If it wasn’t a movie soundtrack, it could easily be a cool mix tape from a clever friend.  And isn’t that what it’s all about?

SoundStageDirect has an exclusive on this gem, so click here to add one to your collection…

Review: The Benz Micro Ruby Z Cartridge

More phono cartridges than I care to remember have passed through my stereos over the past four decades. Given the relentless onslaught of digital media, it’s great to see that Benz Micro has not only stayed in the game but continues to strive for better products.

The Ruby Z stereo cartridge, named for its zebra wood body, represents the evolution of one of the company’s top moving-coil cartridge lines, falling just below the flagship Ebony LP cartridge. But, does a shift from Bruyere in the previous model to zebra wood in the current unit make a noticeable sonic difference? How about the new microridge stylus?

The Zebra Enters the Corral

The six prior Benz cartridges I’ve owned were all standard-output Rubys. Setting them up on VPI ‘tables has always proved straightforward. Adding the Fozgomter, available from Musical Surroundings, simplified azimuth configuration. Indeed, the Fozgometer is an essential analog tool, especially if you have multiple cartridges and tonearms.

I set the tracking force on the Ruby Z to the suggested two grams and loading to 47k ohms, with the cartridge body approximately to the record surface of my modified VPI Aries turntable with flywheel drive and VPI 10.5 tonearm. A full complement of Pass Labs electronics took care of the signal from the XP-15 phono preamplifier, all the way to the MartinLogan CLX speakers. Along with 50 hours of cursory listening before critical evaluation, the Cardas Sweep LP accelerated break-in time.
Out on the Range

Zebras are not domestic animals, yet the Ruby Z cartridge is anything but wild and untamed. The “house” sound for Benz Micro’s higher-end MCs is often described as warm and spacious, albeit articulate. I concur with this reputation. However, each subsequent generation offers improved tracking abilities and increased dynamic range. The Zebra continues this fine tradition.

A slightly low output of .35mv presented no problem for my Pass Labs XP-15 phonostage (currently under review) that boasts 71-76db of gain. Those with lower gain need to make sure their phonostage can accommodate the Zebra. The varied and simple songs on J Ralph’s Wretches and Jabberers soundtrack feature well-recorded vocals, and the Ruby Z did not disappoint, offering realistic presence and body with near-perfect reproduction of each of the solo singers’ distinct timbres. Similarly, Grammy-winning jazz artist Esperanza Spalding’s voice and string bass were beautifully reproduced on her Chamber Music Society; the depth of the recording bowled me over.

On ORG’s reissues of London “blueback” LPs, Espana and de Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat—both of which represent substantial improvements over the legendary original editions—the Zebra transparently resolved the difference between the old and new pressings. The spread of the orchestra, as well as the inner voices, created a dramatic experience. The Ruby Z’s ability to capture the compositions’ big dynamic swings confirms its superb tracking prowess and extended frequency range.

For its high-end cartridges, Benz Micro supplies a performance graph that shows measured frequency response and channel separation. While separation tapers off somewhat above 7kHz, it is still amazingly high at almost 40db. It has an excellently neutral balance swept across the audible spectrum, with the frequency response curve almost ruler flat. Swapping arm wands with the VPI tonearm is a snap, so a quick side-by-side comparison with previous sources confirmed what my aural memory intimated. While the Ruby 3 is still an excellent transducer, the Z’s fuller soundstage and better low-frequency extension stood out. The most complex passages tracked with greater ease, allowing previously buried minute details to clearly emerge.

Ride the Zebra to the Finish

The Ruby Z not only delivers on the excellence suggested by its cost, but also outperforms its predecessor in every way, with improvements extending to tracking, musicality, and soundstaging. As with the best cartridges, the Ruby Z will not transform poor records into good ones; it is not overly “voiced.” But it retrieves the maximum from all LPs and does justice to the greatest audiophile recordings. Current Benz Micro or Clearaudio cartridge owners wishing to upgrade can take advantage of an authorized trade-in program that should ease the financial burden of buying a Ruby Z. Check with your dealer, or contact Musical Surroundings to get the exchange rate.

With an increasing number of cartridges selling well beyond the $3,995 cost of the Ruby Z, the latter offers up a substantial degree of what cost-no-object models muster. Best of all, the presentation reinforces the relevance of vinyl in the 21st century. -Lawrence Devoe

MSRP: $3,995



Amplifier Pass Labs XA 100.5

Preamplifiers Pass Labs XP-20 and XP-15

Analog Source VPI Aries (modified) with flywheel and VPI JMW 10.5 I tonearm

Speakers Martin Logan CLX

Cable Nordost Valhalla and Odin

Power Running Springs Dmitri and Maxim

REVIEW: Bryston BP 1.5 Phonostage

Listening to Serge Gainsbourg’s low drawl, mixed with groovy, early 70’s melodies and sparse instrumentation reminiscent of a beat movie, it dawns on me that even though I don’t speak a word of French, I don’t care because the Bryston BP 1.5 phono stage is really drawing me into this vintage recording.

Its low, low, noise floor adds to the splendor of this record, barely getting above a whisper.  Surface noise would be a bad thing right about now, but the BP 1.5 is CD dead quiet, combined with the AVID Volvere SP turntable, SME V tonearm and Ortofon Cadenza Bronze MC cartridge.

The BP1.5 isn’t an inexpensive phonostage.  MSRP is $3,195 without power supply.  Bryston loyalists already in possession of a BP series linestage, need just plug in – the MPS-2 has more than enough juice to cover both components.  If you fall into this category, the BP1.5 is an outright bargain.  Everyone else will need to add the MPS-2 for another $1,695. Thanks to Bryston’s 20-year warranty, this is a product that you can buy with confidence.  While this does sound impressive, they wouldn’t offer it if their stuff spent a lot of time in the shop with the hood up.  I don’t think I’ve ever met an unhappy Bryston owner.

Getting down to business

A matched pair of AVID turntables simplifies the task of comparing analog components, and it takes aural memory out of the equation.  Switching back to the Monk – Audio phonostage that I’ve been using in room two was a revelation. Even with a pair of modestly priced Dynavector 20X2L cartridges, the increase in weight and dynamics the Bryston offers is staggering – so much so, that I had to turn the REL G2 subwoofer down three clicks.  But then I’m a sucker for any phonostage that has a huge power supply.

A quick comparison between the BP1.5 and a few other phonostages, both more and less expensive establishes that the Bryston is properly priced. Returning to the AVID/SME/Ortofon combination for the remainder of the evaluation is an excellent combination.  The BP1.5 has a single RCA input and output.  The front panel has an on off switch with an LED that turns from red to green when the unit is fully powered. I suggest leaving it on all the time for the most musical results. (As I would with any solid state phonostage) While the BP1.5 only requires a few days to stabilize and does not change tonal character after about 50 hours, there is a definite fog in the presentation when first turned on, as with all solid-state gear.  It sounds much more lifelike after being powered up for a day or two.

A quick taste of Led Zeppelin II, reveals plenty of sock in John Bonham’s bass drums, and the level of texture present in his bongo playing during the drum solo in “Ramble On” is phenomenal.  The precise attack and decay goes a long way towards painting a highly realistic musical picture.  As the album slows down for “Bring it on Home,” the harmonica just fades gently, slowly into nothingness with a smoothness that’s tough to come by in the digital world without spending a lot more of your hard earned paycheck.

Aimee Mann’s Lost In Space has become somewhat of a workhorse around here because it has such a big soundfield, along with a myriad of small, electronic sounds and texture that make it easy to get a quick read on the spaciousness present in any analog component.  The BP1.5 does not disappoint, portraying things flying all over the room, yet Mann’s voice stays anchored just slightly left of center.

Stays locked in place

The BP 1.5 delivers rock solid musical pace. The more dense the recording, the more you will be impressed with it.  Tears For Fears recent MoFi remaster of Songs of Love again illustrates how well the BP 1.5 not only maintains clarity throughout the album, keeping the multiple layers of lead and backing vocals distinct, it stays  tonally neutral and does not embellish.  The BP1.5 will not help the records in your collection that sound awful, but it will take the well recorded ones into new territory.  It strikes a perfect balance in the tonality department, being neither thin nor overly forward.  Yet you will never mistake this one for having valves under the hood.

You might suspect that a phonostage with a larger power supply than the main chassis would have excellent dynamic range, lower bass slam and control.  The BP1.5 meets all these requirements, and if there is one strength standing out from a very balanced performance, it is the BP1.5’s LF weight and No matter what the program source, I was always impressed with how much energy was now coming through down deep.  The Dynaudio Confidence C1s used in my reference system gained more authority than I’m used to with the Bryston BP1.5 in the reproduction chain, and these speakers are no slouch to begin with.

Because the BP1.5 has such a low noise floor, it is a master of low-level detail. This is its other strength.  Those stepping up from a phonostage in the $1,000 – $2,000 range will experience a revelation with their vinyl collection that should make for many late night listening sessions.  The healthiest competitor for the BP1.5 I had on hand was the equally excellent, but different, Zesto Andros PS1 that we reviewed in issue 48.  Vacuum tube all the way, the Zesto has an extra bit of air and front to back depth that the Bryston does not, but it doesn’t have the rock solid LF performance either.  Your personal objectives and system synergy will determine if the BP1.5 is the perfect match for you.

One of the last listening sessions confirms the straight-ahead tonality of the BP1.5 is the latest release from the Portland Cello Project, Homage. This record is of only fair quality and comes across somewhat flat in comparison to something like the Jung Trio’s The Jung Trio Dvorak Piano Trio, Op.65, which is flawlessly recorded.

A variety of test-drives

The BP1.5 has modest adjustments, but you’ll have to pull the cover to get at them.  Fortunately the 35dB gain setting for MM (41db available) or 57.5dB setting for MC (51.5 or 63.5dB available) will handle most cartridges.  Because transformers are used for step up, the impedance of your cartridge will affect synergy.  Dynavector, Lyra and Ortofon cartridges proved a great mix, while my Sumiko Palo Santos was only ok, lacking a bit of dynamics with this setup.  The Grado Statement 1, a moving iron cartridge with a 47k impedance, yet only .5mv of output is not a perfect match with the BP 1.5, however the wood body Grados with 5mv output are an excellent combination for someone desiring a bit of tonal saturation, with a substantial shot of solid state punch.

Is it your cup of tea?

The Bryston BP 1.5 phono stage is a top performer and makes no missteps, but understand its honest presentation will not favor cartridges and/or systems that are already biased towards the forward and analytical.  Both the Sumiko Blackbird and Lyra Titan-i proved way too revealing for my taste.  I suspect a more neutral or even slightly warm cartridge is going to be your slice of analog heaven.

Build quality is superb and Bryston’s reputation is well deserved.  Perhaps the only question, with the BP1.5 tipping the scale at just over $5,000 is whether a single input is enough and having to open the case every time loading needs to be changed is a deal breaker. Those more firmly planted in the “set it, forget it, and spin records camp” will love the steadfast consistency of the BP1.5.  The more fiddly ones in the audience may end up preferring something easier to adjust.
All other considerations aside, judging the Bryston BP1.5 solely on it’s sonic performance, it delivers the goods and compared to other phonostages we’ve auditioned in the $4,000 – $6,000 range, is well worth the price asked.

The Bryston BP1.5 phonostage and MPS-2 power supply

MSRP:  $3,195 (BP1.5) $1,695 (MPS-2)


Analog Source                        AVID Volvere SP, SME V tonearm, variety of phono cartridges, mentioned in review

Preamplifier                          Burmester 011

Power Amplifier                    Burmester 911 mk. 3

Speakers                                Dynaudio Confidence C1 II, REL G-2 Subwoofer

Power                                     Audience aR6-TSS, PowerChord AU24

Cable                                      Cardas Clear

Accessories                             GIK room treatment, Furutech DeMag and DeStat, Audio Desk Systeme RCM

Red Wine Audio’s Ginevra LFP-V

When “Perfect Sound Forever” debuted in 1983 in the form of the CD, I doubt that anyone seriously imagined the LP would still be with us in 2011.

The compact disc immediately ignited an analog/digital debate among hardcore audiophiles, and while true believers on each side are still holding tight, it’s the CD, not the LP, whose future remains uncertain. No wonder many analog loving audiophiles continue to upgrade their turntables, tonearms, cartridges, and phono preamplifiers.

If you happen to be in that group, Red Wine Audio’s luscious new Ginevra LFP-V Edition Phono Preamplifier should be on your short list. It’s a fully discrete Class-A FET gain stage/buffered tube output, passive RIAA equalization network, and battery-powered design. And that makes the Ginevra the first tube design I’ve seen that doesn’t work off AC power. That said, it’s not all that tubey, and there’s no overt electronic signature. Indeed, the Ginevra’s sound is totally organic. It has substance and weight, so it sounds like live music.

Intriguing Design and Construction

Red Wine founder Vinnie Rossi favors the 6922 (E88CC) dual-triode vacuum tube, and uses it in most of his designs. If you like to experiment with “tube rolling,” feel free to try some 6DJ8/ECC88, 7308/E188CC, 7DJ8/PCC88, 6N23, 6H23, 6N11 or 6GM8 tubes. Since the Ginevra uses just one tube, it won’t break the bank to keep a few tubes on hand, allowing you to change the sonic flavor when the mood strikes.

Moving-magnet cartridge gain is spec’d at 40dB and loaded with 47k ohms. Moving coil gain, at 60dB, is moderate, so owners of really low-output coils may not have enough juice; Rossi recommends using a step-up transformer if you need more gain. Moving-coil loading options are 75, 82, 90, 100, 350, 500, 1k, and 10k ohms, settable via internal DIP switches, and load sockets for individual resistors are provided for owners that prefer custom loads. While separate connectors for moving magnet and moving coil cartridges are provided, the owner’s manual cautions against connecting both types of cartridges at the same time.

It should be noted that Red Wine doesn’t just pack the Ginevra with a bunch of “D” cells and call it a day. No, the preamp boasts state-of-the-art 25.6-volt “Lithium Iron Phosphate” (LFP) battery technology. These low-impedance battery packs are exclusively manufactured for Red Wine Audio and designed for long life. The battery pack includes a built-in, custom-designed cell management board that balances individual battery cells, both optimizing reliability and battery pack performance. The pack is also user-replaceable, and doesn’t require any soldering to install.

Best of all, the Ginevra completely operates “off-the-grid,” meaning the preamp is electrically decoupled when it runs off the battery supply. A full charge lasts approximately eight hours, but for all-night parties or background music, you can run the Ginevra off the AC power supply. The battery charges whenever you play the preamp with AC power and when you switch off the Ginevra.

The Ginevra’s nicely machined, anodized black front panel is the preamp’s most interesting design feature—it’s a very plain-looking black box. The unit measures a scant 12″ wide, 9″ deep, and 3.5″ high. Sans the separate battery charger, it weighs 8 pounds. Giving a determined nudge to the power button triggers an internal relay that disconnects the charger’s negative and positive AC feeds to the preamp. And the “piezo” switch, with a rated cycle life in the millions, is made in Israel with aircraft-grade aluminum.

Let the Listening Commence

I listened to the Ginevra with a few tubes: the standard JJ Electronic Russian 6922, which possess a sweet demeanor; a similar-sounding Holland-made Amperex 6DJ8; and a significantly more aggressive Sovtek 6922. A $225 EAT ECC88 tube that comes with an attached red anodized heat sink upped the resolution a notch or two over the others, but Rossi’s stock tube is very listenable.

With my VPI Classic turntable and van den Hul Frog low-output moving-coil cartridge at the ready, the Ginevra’s gain definitely proved lower than that of my Whest TWO phono preamp. Still, I never felt like I needed more gain. The Whest is no slouch, but it’s distinctly cooler-sounding and leaves a lot of music on the floor. The Ginevra is grainless, sweet, and beguiling—this preamp is not the sort that dazzles with displays of audiophile “speed,” “detail,” or “resolution.” It’s much more musically honest. Treble is purer, better, and more natural than I’ve heard from most SACD and DVD-A discs. Moreover, the Ginevra is very quiet in battery mode; switching over to AC raises the noise level. Hence, I ran with battery juice most of the time.

The importance of power supply design in phono preamps also can’t be overstated. Rossi’s battery pack delivers pure DC current just perfectly, which is crucially important when amplifying miniscule voltages generated by phono cartridges. Since the preamp automatically decouples from the AC line when operating on battery power, Ginevra owners will never be tempted to buy pricey power cables or power-line conditioners.

With the Ginevra, record surface noise, clicks, and pops are not necessarily lower in level, but they recede into the background more than they did with my Whest. And the Ginevra’s deft portrayals of the quieter parts in music are remarkable in their own right; dynamic shadings and expressive nuance really shine through. In short, music sounds more natural and less like hi-fi. Always a good thing.

I also love the way the Ginevra allowed the sound of Egberto Gismonti’s guitar on his Duas Vozes to radiate in three dimensions. Each pluck and every strum fill the studio space to holographic effect. In addition, Nana Vasconcelos’ evocative vocalizations and palpable percussion accents populated a broad and deep soundstage.

In listening to the Persuasions’ We Came to Play, the Ginevra absolutely nailed the ensemble’s a capella sound. I hung around these guys at a few Chesky recording sessions, so I have a good fix on their individual voices and group vibe. I closed my eyes and the Persuasions simply appeared—voices, foot shuffles, thigh slaps, finger snaps, the entire package. This session record led me to The Intimate Ellington, which starts off with Duke talk/singing “Moon Maiden” and gently playing a celeste keyboard. I’ve spun this LP countless times, and this much I know for sure: Hi-fis rarely get this close to sounding so expressive and downright human.

Making a Tangible Musical Connection

Moving on to more contemporary recordings, like Tom Jones’ all-analog, live-in-the-studio Praise & Blame, put a big smile on my face. Jones is no youngster, but his pipes are in great shape, the bluesy, gospel-infused record is loaded with great tunes. By comparison, the Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Revisited sounded cooler, brighter and, well, more modern. Its more upfront nature, sparkly treble, and tighter, more direct-sounding bass stood in sharp contrast to the older, all-analog LPs in my collection. Don’t get me wrong. The Junkies’ record is nice, but the Ginevra’s sweet temperament didn’t smooth over the differences.

Paul Simon’s brand-new So Beautiful or So What is likely a digital recording (the LP comes with a free 96/24 download), but it’s a delight nonetheless. The material is wonderful, and the sound clear and clean, with the musical connection on LP is a wee bit stronger than what I gleaned from the high-resolution file. The Ginevra also lit up the English Beat’s stellar I Just Can’t Stop It LP. The ska revivalists’ beats are as nimble as they come, and the band’s tunes are tops. Bass definition was excellent, tuneful, and rich.

I couldn’t stop putting LPs on the platter. Giorgio Moroder’s dense synthesizer tapestries drifting through the Cat People soundtrack kept me up late at night. The record’s high-frequency shrieks and sputtery flourishes floated high above the rest of the soundstage, and I couldn’t get enough of the throbbing beats and eerie whooshes. All so 1982! Those were the days, before the CD came onto the scene.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

If you’re in the market for a phono preamp that’ll get you closer to the by-the-number sound of the better solid-state alternatives, the Ginevra probably ain’t it. But if you’re like me, you might be in love at first listen. And while the LFP-V is sold factory-direct with a 30-day satisfaction guarantee, I can’t imagine many customers ever sending their units back.  -Steve Guttenberg

Red Wine Audio Ginevra LFP-V Edition Phono Preamplifier

MSRP: $3,000


Analog Source: VPI Classic turntable with a van den Hul Frog cartridge

Digital Sources: PS Audio PerfectWave DAC & Transport, MSB Technology Platinum DAC & Data CD Transport, Oppo BDP-83 Special Edition

Electronics: Parasound JC 2 and Pass Labs XP-20 preamps, Whest TWO phono preamp; Pass Labs XA100.5 and First Watt J2 power amps

Speakers: Dynaudio C-1, Mangepan 3.6, Mangepan 3.7

Cable: XLO Signature 3 interconnects and speaker wire; Zu Mission interconnects, speaker cable; Audioquest Sky interconnects

Naim SuperLine

(Ed. note:  This review originally ran in issue #21 of TONEAudio. While some of my reference components have changed since this review, the SuperLine/SuperCap combination is still part of our reference fleet. Our enthusiasm for this phonostage is as high as it was almost three years ago.)

I agree with Naim that a hefty power supply goes a long way to achieve big, natural dynamic sound.

My other reference phono preamplifier, the Aesthetix IO,  also has two external power supplies, and in my book, is the pinnacle of analog reproduction, but it’s full of tubes.

These days, I just can’t get behind 32 vacuum tubes to play a record. The 12AX7’s of only moderate quality can fetch $50 each and the exceptional ones can cost three times that.  As SpongeBob likes to say, “That’s crazy talk.”  Enter the Superline solid-state phono preamplifier:  all of the analog goodness, none of the tube hassle.

Don’t put me in the valve-hater category. I still enjoy them in small doses, but I spend a lot of time with my system fired up, and there’s nothing more frustrating than getting a tube preamplifier sorted to perfection only to lose the magic when it’s time to retube.  This happened to me recently, so I am on a quest to eliminate, or at least minimize, the glowing bottles in my system.

When asking Naim why they  produce a premier phonostage when they don’t even make a turntable, the answer was simple.  As a company that goes way back with analog, they still wanted to produce what they feel is the best phonostage they are capable of making. It’s their way of giving something back to the analog community.

Like a Butterfinger, the surprise is inside

In understated British fashion, the Superline looks like a little black box, slightly narrower than a standard Naim component and lacking even a power switch on the front panel, just a backlit green Naim logo.  When you pick it up and realize it weighs more than a Nait 5i integrated amplifier, it sinks in that this is a serious phono stage.

The circuit board is suspended, floating inside the case, much like Naim’s approach to the CD555 CD player.  The actual preamplifier is a single-ended, Class-A design, with no op amps in sight.  The wiring is executed with surgical precision and features 25 internal regulators while borrowing thermal isolation concepts from Naim’s flagship NAP power amplifier.

Powerful Options

Some criticize Naim for taking the separate-power-supply approach, but I applaud it.  I hate getting rid of gear to which I get attached, so I prefer components with an upgrade path.  The Superline itself retails for $2,950 without a power supply, but it offers a number of power options.  This allows you to purchase a top-shelf phono stage that you can upgrade as your system improves by merely changing the power supply.

If you own one of the SuperNait integrated amplifiers, or a Naim preamplifier, you can power the Superline with that.  I started my journey plugging the Superline into the SuperNait and was quite impressed.  If you will use the Superline in a non-Naim system (or just want more power) you can mate it with their entry-level FlatCap 2x ($1,100), a HiCap 2 ($1,900) or the SuperCap2. ($5,950)  If you are on a tight budget, you can usually find an original FlatCap used for about $500 from a Naim owner moving along the upgrade path.  Still with me?

You also have the option of purchasing the Superline in a standard (58db) or high-gain (64db) model.  I had the high-gain version here, which worked fine with my Dynavector 17D3 with its .23mv output and it had no problem handling the 2.5mv output of the Sumiko Blackbird without overload. So it should work well with whatever cartridge you have.  Keep in mind, though, that this phono preamplifier is not intended for MM cartridges.

Lightning fast setup

When first setting up, be sure to remove the two transit screws that keep the floating circuit board secure (the manual warns you not to use the Superline with the screws still in place) and I suggest putting them in a Ziploc bag and taping them to the inside of the shipping carton, just in case you ever need them.  Keep the Superline level and over a table while you are removing the screws and then carry it gently to where it will be used, as it is now floating free.

Once the Superline is connected to your power supply, the next step is to set loading and input capacitance.  Naim supplies four resistive plugs and three capacitive ones, giving you loading options of 100 ohms, 500 ohms, 1,000 ohms and 10,000 ohms.  Chris Koster from Naim USA suggests a 440-ohm plug with the Lyra Olympos cartridge, and he sent along a custom loading plug.  Should you have a cartridge that requires different loading, your Naim dealer can have custom sets made for you at $60 each.  The plugs are tightly matched for value and channel balance, so I’d advise against doing this yourself.  I used the minimal capacitance loading with all of the cartridges tested.

I still had my ASR Basis Exclusive when the Superline first arrived, and the first thing that struck me about the Naim was that it is every bit as quiet as the battery-powered phono stage that was off the grid entirely!  So chalk up an immediate victory for the engineers at Naim.  The ASR depends on very high-quality op amps, however, and is not nearly as grain-free as the Superline, even while plugged into the SuperNait.

Four cartridges were used for the primary evaluation of the Naim combo – the Dynavector XV-1s, the Lyra Skala, the MoFi 3.5C and the Lyra Olympos.  Thanks to the ease of changing the loading on this preamplifier, it was easy to optimize for each cartridge.  Koster was kind enough to send an extra 470-ohm loading plug, which he felt would be optimum for the Olympos.  The Skala found happiness at 220 ohms while the other two preferred 100 ohms.

Snaic or Burndy?

I did not get a chance to audition the Superline with the FlatCap power supply; the rest of the review period was spent with the HiCap2 and the Supercap.  If you are not a current Naim user, you will need to familiarize yourself with their various cable and connection options.

Plugging into a SuperNait, requires a Snaic, as does the FlatCap or HighCap2.  This is a five-pin cable that brings current to the Superline and high level audio output back to the power supply.  You plug your tonearm cable right into the Superline and you take another cable (Din if you have an all Naim system or a Din-to-RCA cable in a non-Naim system) out to your linestage; this works the same with all three power supplies.  The SuperCap2 will require the higher-capacity Burndy cable, which goes where that big plug is on the back of the Superline.

Analog bliss, a stage at a time

Those who have heard the Superline with one of the smaller supplies may wonder what all the fuss is about.  As an addition to your Naim preamplifier or SuperNait, the Superline makes a good showing and is well worth the asking price.  When the HighCap2 is added to the equation, you start thinking something pretty special is lurking inside that little black box.  And by adding the SuperCap2, you are taken somewhere very special indeed.

It is always a challenge to describe a component this good because all the great audiophile clichés have already been taken.  Cutting to the chase, I’ve never heard a phono preamplifier reveal more information from the black grooves than the Superline/SuperCap2. What puts the Superline/SuperCap2 solidly on the top of the mountain is the presentation; those seeking tonal neutrality and boundless dynamic range will be in heaven.  This combination knocks down the walls of your listening room, expanding the presentation in all three dimensions.

I like that big, big sound, and the Superline/SuperCap2 gets it right.  It doesn’t make everything sound big, but it has a very precise ability to capture dynamic contrasts and spatial cues, doing a good job at convincing your brain that what you are hearing is happening right in front of you.

The Superline had plenty of hours on its clock from using it for the SuperNait review, and I thought I was very familiar with the sound.  But after the addition of the SuperCap2, I was on another planet.  I haven’t been this impressed with a phono preamplifier since the famous Vendetta Research of the ’80’s, which was the last time I had a major paradigm shift in analog listening. In my system, the Superline/SuperCap2 opened the window to the music wider than it has ever been.

The Superline/SuperCap 2 hits you first with its weight and power, but it keeps you riveted to your chair with subtlety and nuance.  Naim enthusiasts always like to talk about the immediacy of their gear, and the Superline/SuperCap 2 has that quality in spades.  Everything else I’ve heard in comparison sounds moderately hazy.  As expected, the perfect tonality of this preamplifier is intact, even with the basic configuration, but as you increase the power supply you get more dynamics, less noise and a more-sorted view of the music.

The Naim Superline with SuperCap2 power supply is the closest I’ve heard to analog perfection.  It neither adds nor subtracts from what’s in the groove and faithfully offers what I’m looking for in any component.  It offers a staggering level of resolution without being harsh or forward. while offering tremendous musicality without being overly romantic or rounding off the edges of musical transients in an effort to sound polite.

Not an audiophile component

Phenomenal recordings will send you into bliss, yet even average recordings will yield sonic rewards that with surprise you.  While the Superline/SuperCap2 does not romanticize, should you want that sound, you can always mate it with a romantic-sounding cartridge.  I could have easily lived with either the lush presentation of the Lyra Olympos or the slightly more neutral, yet dynamic, presentation of the Dynavector XV-1s.  Every one of the cartridges in my stable sounded fantastic!

One of the biggest complaints I hear from people with mega systems is that they only sound good while playing a handful of “audiophile-approved” records.  This couldn’t be further from the truth with the Superline/SuperCap2 combination.  Sure, the best pressings gave their all, but I have a substantial collection of just-average records.  So I went on a power pop binge and listened to a lot of my favorite but fairly lousy-sounding  records one night, and I was astonished at how much was actually lurking in those grooves.

On Cheap Trick’s self titled album, when Tom Petersson’s bass line kicks in on “Mandocello,” I felt like that Maxell guy in my chair.  Substituting a popular $1,000 phono preamplifier and playing that cut again (with the $10,000 Lyra Olympos), it became flat and uninvolving, completely lacking any depth.  I moved on to a few of my favorite Elvis Costello records, Squeeze, XTC and The Sinceros before calling it a night with “Christmas with the Chipmunks.”  Damn, even that sounded good.

Should you install a Superline/SuperCap2 into your system, I guarantee the phono stage will no longer be the weak link in your system. It will not bring back the parts of your marginal recordings that suffer from compression, but it will extract every bit of music your turntable, tonearm and cartridge are capable of delivering.

With the average records sounding fantastic, the fantastic records sound dreamy.  When listening to Ella Fitzgerald on the “Ella Sings the Cole Porter Catalog” box set, she was in the room, six feet in front of my listening chair. In a completely different vein, the LP version of The Beastie Boys’ The Mix Up was a true psychedelic event.  Though a little crunchy on the extreme high end, this record is a giant, surreal soundscape, with bongos, synthesizers and crunchy guitars floating all over the place, with big, thumping bass lines running in and out of the music.  Again, on a lesser analog setup, it just sounded flat and CD-like, but through the Superline/SuperCap2, I was amazed at how much information lurked on this disc.

Super squared

I’ve owned a Naim CD555 for nearly two years with no diminishment in enjoyment whatsoever.  It’s looking as if another pair of Naim boxes are in my immediate future, and I’m anticipating the same result with the Superline and SuperCap2.

My biggest expectation for a five-figure component is that it should take me somewhere that I’ve never been.  The world of the Superline/SuperCap2 is one of those places, and I always have a hard time leaving it and coming back to reality.  When I was proofing this article, Microsoft Word wanted to keep changing Superline to Superfine.  Maybe the ghost in the machine had a point.


Turntables                   Continuum Criterion w/Copperhead Tonearm, TK Acustic Raven Two w/SME 309 and SME iV.Vi tonearms, Spiral Groove SG-2 w/TriPlanar vii

Cartridges                    Dynavector 17D3 and XV-1s, Lyra Skala and Olympos, MoFi 3.5C, Sumiko Blackbird

Tonearm Cables          Furutech

Preamplifiers               Conrad-Johnson ACT2/series 2, Nagra PL-L, BAT VK-32SE

Power Amplifiers       BAT VK-55SE, Conrad-Johnson Premier 350, Nagra PSA, Naim SuperNait (integrated)

Speakers                      Harbeth Monitor 40.1, MartinLogan CLX w/Descent i subwoofers, Verity Audio Sarastro II

Power                          Running Springs Dmitri and Jaco Power Line Conditioners, RSA Mongoose Power cords, Shunyata Anaconda Vx power cords

Interconnects              Shunyata Antares, Cardas Golden Reference

Speaker Cables            Shunyata Orion

Accessories                 Furutech DeMag, Shunyata Dark Field Elevators

Fantastic Value From Clearaudio:

full tabelIf you pose the question, “What turntable should I buy for $1,500?” on an internet forum, have your hazmat suit on and be prepared to be bombarded with insults and advice.

You’ll get suggestions from all over the audio spectrum; new, used, and modded this or that. Of course, everyone knows what’s best for you and God forbid that you question any of the self-proclaimed experts should you choose not to take their advice.

All spirited debate aside, two of the top choices seem to be the Rega P5 and the VPI Scout. While I must admit my bias goes more towards the Rega than the Scout , I’ve even tried the highly modded Technics SL-1200 with good results and currently have a vintage Denon direct-drive table sitting on top of one of my equipment racks that’s spinning records rather nicely, so I’d like to think I’m not too closed minded.

However, the $1,500 price point is probably the hottest part of the turntable spectrum, because it represents a healthy jump up from a strictly budget turntable; by the time you add a decent phono cartridge in the $500 – $1,500 range and a similarly priced phono preamplifier, you’ve invested a substantial amount of change to support your vinyl habit. But you will get a huge jump in performance from the budget LP spinners as well. For many, this is the sweet spot where many will stay and for good reason.

I submit a new guest to the party – the Clearaudio Concept. Priced at $1,400 without cartridge, the Concept brings a lot of Clearaudio’s engineering excellence to the table at a price that most audiophiles can afford. To sweeten the pot, Clearaudio dealers are offering a package price when you purchase the table with the Concept MM cartridge for an additional $100, or step up to the Concept MC for $2,000. These are the only two cartridges that ship from the factory preinstalled, however your friendly neighborhood Clearaudio dealer is offering a 20% discount on any Clearaudio cartridge purchased with the table.

As the Clearaudio Maestro Wood MM cartridge was already in my reference fleet of cartridges, it made perfect sense to investigate here rather than with the bottom of Clearaudio’s cartridge range. For those unfamiliar, the Maestro Wood is Clearaudio’s top moving magnet cartridge that has an MSRP of $1,000. Definitely at the top of the price range for an MM cartridge, but remember, you won’t need to have a Moving Coil preamplifier or other step-up device, so the Maestro is indeed a bargain.

Speed is easily switched between 33, 45 and 78 r.p.m. with the selector switch on the left side of the table. While you will probably want a different cartridge to accommodate your 78 collection, the Concept could easily be pressed into service as a “78 only” table at minimal cost, if you have a large collection. Definitely another plus.

Top shelf construction

The Concept is a belt drive table, featuring a DC motor that is powered by a wall wart power supply. The platter is made of the same “POM” material that is used on their Innovation tables, albeit not as thick as the Innovation platter. The tonearm looks stunningly familiar to the Schroeder arms that also use a magnetic bearing in the place of a traditional bearing. This is the debut for a new series of magnetic bearing tonearms that will begin to be featured on some of their other turntables in 2011. If this is the entry level model, I can’t wait to listen to the models further up the range.

cartIf you buy the Concept with one of the cartridge options, it will arrive with the cartridge installed and optimized at the factory, so all you will need to do is install the counterweight and set the tracking force. Be sure to hold the tonearm with one hand while installing the threaded counterweight, as it fits very snugly and could damage the arm otherwise.

The factory VTA and anti-skate settings worked perfectly for the Maestro, and setting tracking force was a snap with the Clearaudio Weight Watcher scale. A quick check of the speed with Clearaudio’s Speed Light confirmed that everything was perfect. This is another table, like the Rega’s that will have you spinning records in about 10 minutes.

The sound

The Concept has a very neutral overall sound, with a weight and openness that I’ve yet to experience at this price point. I’ve used the Maestro Wood on a number of different tables at various price points and it is one of my favorite MM carts, offering a high level of detail and punch, without being harsh.

Listening to Madeleine Peyroux’ latest release, Bare Bones on MoFi, you’ll notice that this record, like her others have somewhat of a loose, natural, whumpy, almost underdamped sound in the lower registers. Where the Scout tends to overdamp the bass and the P3 doesn’t have quite as much bass there, the Concept comes through with enough weight to reproduce this accurately. I was as impressed with the quantity as well as the quality and definition of bass that this table was able to extract from the grooves.

It’s rare that a table at this price point has enough low-level detail to really define the hall characteristics of the recording, but again the Concept passed with flying colors. Extended listening to Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall on Classic Records, or Cream’s 2005 Royal Albert Hall performance opened up a level of three-dimensional sound that I didn’t expect.

Close up 2During a moment of temporary madness, the Maestro was swapped out for Clearaudio’s $5,500 DaVinci MC cartridge, a master of detail retrieval. Granted, the small but mighty Concept did not offer as big a presentation as it did when mounted to the Clearaudio Innovation we reviewed a while back, but it wasn’t bad. If you are a real vinyl fanatic, I don’t think this table would be out of it’s league with your favorite cartridge in the $1,000 – $2,000 range if you care to take it that far, so this is definitely a component you won’t easily outgrow.

Extra credit

For those of you in the audience that can’t resist the urge to tweak your gear, here’s an easy upgrade for the Concept, take it off the grid! After the first peek at that inexpensive wall wart, I suspected that there was room for improvement with this table. A quick trip to Radio Shack confirmed my findings; making a custom cable for my Red Wine Audio Black Lightning power supply and running the Concept on pure DC made a marked upgrade to the sound.

Not quite convinced to drop another $700? Grab a pair of MN-918 6V lantern batteries from Batteries Plus ( and wire them in series for 12VDC. The middle post of the plug going to the table should be positive, which you can easily verify with a voltmeter. If you don’t have a voltmeter, you’ll know it’s wrong if the table spins backwards, so don’t put a stylus down on the record until you confirm the direction.

The first track played for comparison was “Day Dream” from Allen Toussaint’s The Bright Mississippi. Immediately after switching from AC to battery, the music comes alive with more texture and low-level resolution. Toussaint’s’ piano went from being constrained inside the space of the speakers to being about two feet beyond the speaker boundaries, with the other instruments having a better delineated space. I had similar luck with solo vocals and any other recordings having a lot of low level, airy passages. If you find yourself wanting to take the Concept to 11, this is an easy, no fuss upgrade. While you’re at it, pick up Clearaudio’s Concept clamp; this too wrings a bit more performance out of the table, especially with slightly warped records and is only an additional $100.


Whether you power the Clearaudio Concept with the standard issue power supply or take it a step forward with pure DC power, I feel this table is the new benchmark in its price class. It combines simple setup with stunning good looks and performance to match. We are happy to award the Clearaudio Concept one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2010.

ExValue Award09
Manufacturer’s Information (US distribution)


Preamplifier: McIntosh C500
Power Amplifier: McIntosh MC1.2kw monoblocks
Speakers: B&W 805D with JLAudio Gotham subwoofer
Cable: Cardas Clear

Pass Labs XP-25

The secret, in other words, is out. Vinyl ain’t going nowhere. It’s here to stay. As a result, not just LP manufacturers, but audio companies are going into overdrive to produce goods to satisfy a small albeit growing market. One such company is Pass Labs.

Its eponymous name derives from fabled designer Nelson Pass, and it’s now producing a phonostage called the XP-25. Does the latter sound good? No. It sounds stellar. For $10,000, it should sound excellent. But the XP-25 represents a sonic breakthrough at that price level. Its combination of refinement and vanishingly low noise floor make it a winner.

When International Record Store Day came and went in April, it attracted a good deal of attention in the mainstream media. 

The New York Times, for example, devoted a piece to the resurgence of turntables. It was even written in a respectful fashion rather than suggesting a bunch of weirdoes is clinging to an obsolete contraption from the past (though, even if people were, it wouldn’t necessarily be cause for shame).

Massive Dynamic

To test the XP-25, I ran it extensively with my Continuum Caliburn turntable, which I’ve owned for almost five years, and my new reference cartridge, the Lyra Atlas, which claims an amazing ability to separate instrumental lines and possesses superb dynamics. It served as a great platform to assess the XP-25’s performance. Pass has recently issued a number of new products, including a megawatt $85,000 amplifier called Xs-300 that looks as though it has arc-welding capabilities. The XP-25, by contrast, is not in that price category. Nor does it appear particularly prepossessing. It comes in two fairly utilitarian-looking boxes. The first houses a sophisticated power supply; the second, the phonostage itself. The units are connected via a single computer cable, thin and extremely flexible.

The XP-25 is a fully balanced design with both balanced and unbalanced outputs. If you own two turntables, then you’re all set with the XP-25, which boasts two single-ended inputs. The XP-25 features three levels of gain: 53, 66, and 76dB. I opted for 66, which should prove more than ample for most systems, unless you’re trying to blow your preamplifier to kingdom come. It also has a mute switch, a rumble filter, and separate knobs adjustments for capacitive loading of cartridges. All in all, a no-nonsense unit with just enough functionality to please most audiophiles.

If silence is golden, the XP-25 has definite bullion-like qualities. For one thing, it doesn’t produce hiss or buzz. The black backgrounds are sensational. The lack of grit or noise allows the ear to relax on what amounts to a sonic pillow. There’s no hunching of the shoulders waiting for an aggressive treble transient to hit here, the kind that makes you wonder whether if it wouldn’t be saner just to listen to the car radio rather than trying to dial in a high-end system.

Indeed, the XP-25 creates a blissful experience. Yup, it has plenty of pop and slam. But that’s not really what the unit is about. Rather, it’s about tranquility and nuance. Instruments just seem more present, to pop out in space more vividly when the backdrop is jet-black, as it is with the XP-25. The Pass is clearly a champion in the no-noise department. Via a Persuasions LP, I am particularly struck by the sense of space between the singers—it’s possible to hear feet shuffling and other tiny auditory cues that enhance the sense of sonic realism.

Sure, it’s a little hi-fi when you play gospel records in such a manner, but it sure can impress the heck out of your friends and neighbors, and it’s good to have some fun with the system. This hobby is most emphatically not supposed to be about a bunch of audiophiles pretending to be white-coated lab technicians sitting in front of their stereos. Let it be, as the Beatles said.

Strength in Details

Does the lack of noise also add a degree of finesse? To an extent. I listened very closely at a fairly low-volume setting to an Arkiv LP of Vivaldi’s Lute Concertos and Trios. The XP-25’s silence allows a particularly fine rendering in the slow movements, and where the tinkling of the harpsichord behind the lute and violin is barely audible, each note is clearly and finely rendered. So the Pass is very good at low-level detail retrieval.

Does the lack of tubes mean that its sound, as audiophiles are wont to say, is too “solid-state”? No. Intriguingly, the XP-25 sounds more tubey than some tubed units. Consider the recent remaster of Shelby Lynne’s Just a Little Lovin’. On the cut “Anyone Who Had A Heart,” her voice is smoother and more seductive than through some tubed units I have heard. How Pass pulls off this feat is an interesting question. Capacitors or wire or circuit design? I presume Pass would answer “all of the above.” Whatever the technical response, the XP-25 definitely does not fall into the lean or astringent camp. Quite the contrary.

The smoothness of the XP-25 comes across most clearly on a wonderful remastering of trumpet great Lee Morgan’s The Procrastinator [Music Matters]. On “Rio,” which has a bossa-nova feel, I’m simply bowled over by the degree of finesse, filigree of detail, sheen of the cymbals. It made me realize once more what a terrible loss Morgan’s early death, at the hands of his aggrieved common law wife, who shot him in February 1972 at the East Village nightclub Slugs, remains.

Top of the Heap
Despite its prowess, the XP-25 faces stiff competition. No, not at $10k. At that price level, it becomes a matter of taste and preference. As stated above, I’m hard-pressed to think of a phonostage that will surpass the XP-25’s performance in its price region. Sure, move up into nosebleed territory and you can get more. For more money. My own Ypsilon phonostage takes up the performance one more notch in terms of dimensionality and sinuous musical lines. But it also costs more than twice as much. For anyone owning a megabuck phonostage, the XP-25 is likely to give pause. Is it really necessary to spend more? Will there be a quantum leap in performance above the Pass? Nope.

Given the state of the hobby, the XP-25 represents a good value. It comes near the bleeding edge in performance, but its price—expensive by any reasonable measure—is not stratospheric, at least by current standards. Another plus is that, unlike some more exotic equipment, the Pass exudes reliability. Its build quality seems rock-solid. It’s difficult to imagine anything going wrong with it. The model exudes the appearance of a piece of equipment that does nothing but sit there and play and play.

Anyone in the market for a high-end phonostage should consider auditioning the XP-25. You may find yourself most impressed by what it does not do. I am.

-Jacob Heilbrunn

Additional Comments

Pass is certainly popular here at TONEAudio. Contributor Lawrence Devoe also uses the XP-25 in his reference system, and I will be keeping the XP-25 after it returns from Mr. Heilbrunn. I concur with Heilbrunn that there are still a few more molecules of analog performance to be mined, but nothing else wraps ease of use, versatility, and overall high performance into one package like the XP-25.

While the XP-25’s performance is commensurate with the sticker price, analog enthusiasts that own turntables with multiple tonearms and/or removable headshells, and who are often prone to switching cartridges, will be in heaven. All the adjustments are right upfront and easy to read, making fine-tuning a snap.

Auditioning the XP-25 with about a dozen different cartridges from the meager Shure M97 all the way up to the Lyra Atlas is a treat. Nothing threw this phonostage a curveball it couldn’t hit. Turn it on and forget about it. It reaches full bloom after about three days of being continuously powered up. Those worried about their carbon footprint, rest assured: At .15/kwh, the XP-25 costs about $2.50 per month to leave on. In these days of $100 monthly cable bills, it’s a small price to pay for sonic bliss.

– Jeff Dorgay

The Pass Labs XP-25 Phonostage

MSRP: $10,600


Now that it costs about $75 to gas up your car, a $199 phono preamplifier is a real bargain, especially one that digitizes your vinyl collection via the onboard USB connection..

If that isn’t enough, the NAD PP 3i even has a line input so that you can digitize your cassette collection (and 8-tracks). The PP 3i comes with Mac/PC compatible AlpineSoft’s VinylStudio Lite software or it can be downloaded with a quick visit to the NAD website , allowing you to save WAV files of your favorite albums; that’s another review for another day.

The PP 3i is powered by an included 24-volt wall wart and is always on. It only draws a couple of watts from the power line, so those worried about being green can sleep easily, knowing that leaving the PP 3i on 24/7 won’t cause glacial meltdown. Setup is straightforward, with no switches or added ephemera. You just power it up, plug in your turntable, and roll.

Begin Your Vinyl Journey

If you are just dipping your toe into the waters of analog, the PP 3i is a great place to begin building your budget analog front end. The PP 3i has inputs for MM and MC cartridges, surprising given this price. While there are only a handful of budget MC cartridges on the market, the NAD’s match with Denon’s DL-110 ($139) proved amazingly good.

Three budget turntable/cartridge combinations put the PP 3i through its paces: The AudioTechnica AT-LP120 (now discontinued for a new model with a phono preamp/USB link built-in) with Denon DL-110 MC cartridge; the new Rega RP1 turntable with stock Ortofon OM5e MM cartridge; and a freshly refurbished Dual 1219 from Fix My Dual, fitted with a brand-new Grado Red cartridge. A pair of Audio Art IC-3 interconnects ($110) transferred the signal to the Croft pre and power amplifier combination, both played through the latest Klipsch Heresy III loudspeakers.

What Does $199 Get You?

Amazingly, a lot more than I expected.  While we won’t be having a detailed discussion about finesse, air and extension, this little box did a very respectable job at getting the analog essence to the speakers. The onboard phonostage in the Croft preamp was still miles better than the little NAD, so I did what any self-respecting slacker would, and lowered my standards.

Swapping the Croft amp and preamp for a few vintage 70s receivers revealed that the NAD outperformed a couple (the Pioneer SX -424 and 535), was on par with another (Harmon Kardon 330), and fell a bit short of what was on board with the Marantz 2230. Honestly, in the day where four- and even five-figure cartridges are more commonplace than one might think, just the fact that this thing even plays music for $199 is pretty impressive.

Excels With Digital Transfers

While you might get a little bit more soundstage depth with something like the Bellari VP130, it costs more, is a lot noisier, and it won’t digitize your vinyl. Even if you don’t use the PP 3i to play music in the context of a budget hi-fi system, which it does well, its real strength is its ability to capture some of your favorite LPs for enjoyment in your car or on your iPod. So shell out another 30 bucks (or half a tank of gas) for the full version of VinylStudio and get to work.

And this is the real strength of the PP 3i, folks. If you are a true vinyl enthusiast, you will obviously end up going for much more, but ripping a stack of your favorite LPs to your iTunes library couldn’t be easier. VinylStudio makes it painless to chop your tracks up into album format and add metadata. Surprisingly, less-than-audiophile-quality records transferred to iTunes in the Apple Lossless format sounded as good if not a little better than ripping their CD counterparts, at least on a budget system.

The fun didn’t stop there. Digitizing some of my favorite hip-hop treasures from cassette yielded results that were as equally as good as the vinyl rips. Not only is Cash Money’s Where’s the Party At? now available in my iTunes library, I’m revisiting K-Tel’s Super Hits of 75 from my 8-track collection, too. Plug your 8-track deck into the high-level input and connect the PP 3i to your laptop via USB, and you are in business.

You Need It

No matter the degree of your vinyl obsession, I suggest buying the NAD PP 3i. It’s a perfect entry-level phonostage with benefits for the neophyte, and it works well to digitize some of your analog rarities. Plus, it comes in handy should your megabucks phonostage have to make a return to the factory for repairs. Some music is always better than none.

-Jeff Dorgay

Burmester 100 Phono: Perfect Blend of Analog and Digital

It’s been a long time since Burmester has produced a phono stage.

Their last model, the 838, was produced in the 80’s.  However, with vinyl making such a comeback, Dieter Burmester felt the time was right to build a phono stage that was worthy of his current Reference Line components.  And in typical Burmester fashion, it addresses every aspect of the analog domain – it can even be ordered with a studio quality ADC (analog to digital converter) on board, so that any vinyl enthusiast migrating to the high quality digital world has all of their bases covered.

Occupying the same amount of rack space as my reference Burmester 011 preamplifier, the sleek casework and mirror finished front panel makes for a perfect aesthetic match. When viewed under studio conditions on a bright white background, you might think the Burmester gear “too shiny,” but when it is in place in your listening room, it mirrors your environment and disappears – a pleasing aesthetic illusion.

Your final configuration determines the price: The 100 Phono outfitted with two phono preamp modules, (sans the ADC and Burmester’s Burlink interface card) has an MSRP of $22,995.  The base model with one phono card and no ADC or Burlink specs out at $16,995. This probably isn’t going to be your first phono stage, but it could very well be  the last one you will need to purchase – thanks both to Burmester’s legendary build quality and their commitment to product upgrades.  Like other products in the Burmester range, the 100 will never become obsolete.  Think of it as an investment in your vinyl future.

Ultimate flexibility

The 100 can be configured to your specification with your choice of one or two inputs.  Either input can be designated as MM (moving magnet) or MC (moving coil), but once the choice has been made, the 100 must be sent back to your dealer for one of the inputs to be changed.  The MM gain can be adjusted in six steps from 37 db to 52 db and the MC stage (also six steps) from 57 db to 73 db, so even the lowest output cartridges can be accommodated.   Capacitance can be adjusted on the MM side from 68 pf to 400 pf and MC input loading has six options:  33, 75, 220, 390, 1000 and 47k ohms.  MC purists may be put off at the odd choices, but I had no problem using cartridges that I would normally load at 100 ohms with the 75-ohm setting or the 390-ohm setting for cartridges that I would use 500 ohms on another phono preamplifier.

The subsonic filter worked well with a few older, more warped records that have not had a session with the Furutech flattener yet and I was unable to hear any difference in low frequency output.  If the wide range of gain settings still isn’t enough, the 100 has the ability to boost the output by an additional 6db, so there should never be a situation where the 100 Phono does not possess enough gain.

Burmester’s “auto adjust” feature, when used with the supplied test record, will make up for channel imbalance in your phono cartridge. It compares the left and right channel signals, adjusting the level between channels to .2db, able to make the compensation up to 6db, though I can’t imagine a premium phono cartridge having this much channel error.  The only thing missing is a mono switch.


The Model 100 sounded slightly flat out of the box compared to my other Burmester components that have been powered up for over a year now, but because there are no capacitors in the signal path, there is no long drawn out break in with this preamplifier.  It opens up dramatically after a few days of constant play, and after it’s been on for about a week, you’re 100% there.  If you don’t have 12 hours a day to spin records, I highly suggest a Hagerman Technologies Reverse-RIAA between your CD player and the 100.  Leave it on repeat 24 hours a day for a few days to speed up the process. If you are one of the audiophiles that pooh-poohs component break in/stabilization, play your favorite record on the 100 straight out of the box and then again after a few days of burn in and you will be stunned at the improvement.

All controls are easily available on the front panel and clearly marked, so finding the proper loading and gain settings for your cartridge couldn’t be easier.  If you have multiple turntable/cartridge owners will be instantly at ease with this flexibility that few other phono stages match.

For those incorporating the 100 into a non-Burmester system, there is a phase reversal switch that works with the RCA outputs as well as the balanced XLR outputs.  This is particularly important because Burmester uses pin 3 for signal positive and 2 negative, while most other manufacturers do just the opposite.  A quick flip of the switch keeps everything in phase.

Burmester feels that keeping the signal path balanced all the way through, so the 100 only has balanced inputs.  This will require cable retermination or using the supplied XLR to RCA adaptors.  Considering the additional benefit to running a phono cartridge balanced, I would highly suggest having your tonearm cable terminated for balanced operation.  I used a Cardas Clear Phono cable and the Burmester Silver Balanced Phono Cable ($1,595) The Burmester cable was perhaps a bit too revealing for my taste, but again like any other cable, this is a tone control that needs to be fitted to your taste.

The Sound

Having used Burmester amplification as my reference for almost two years now, I’ve become very familiar with the “Burmester sound” or perhaps lack of it.  A year ago, I proclaimed the 911 mk. 3 power amplifier “The best power amplifier I’ve ever heard” and I still feel that way.  Dieter Burmester has managed to design and build electronics that bridges the gap between solid-state and vacuum tubes, offering the known advantages of both with the disadvantages of neither.

Burmester electronics have always offered a tonal richness that is usually associated with vacuum tubes, yet has an equal helping of dynamic contrast and weight that normally can only be achieved with the best solid-state gear.  If you are an analog lover, it’s much like the difference between hearing a master tape and a great pressing of your favorite record – the tonality has not been altered, but there is an ease, an extra level of naturalness that the record doesn’t have. If you haven’t heard the master tape you don’t know what you are missing, yet once you have, the difference is easy to discern. This is the ease in which Burmester electronics present the music.

Listening to the current Chris Bellman remaster of Van Halen II brought the first major strength of the model 100 to the front – impact.  This recording now has a lot more punch, and some serious low-end energy and the model 100 was able to capture every bit of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar harmonics.   It was also much easier to hear the differences between Eddie Van Halen and Michael Anthony singing harmonies on “Women In Love.”  Most excellent.

Classical and ambient music lovers will appreciate the subtlety of the subsonic filter.  When auditioning the vinyl edition of Brian Eno’s Small Craft on a Milk Sea, which features incredibly low synthesizer tones, I was able to play this record considerably louder than I could with the subsonic filter out – yet it never felt like there was any less bass energy on the record.  Granted, this is something you probably won’t need often, but a nice feature to have available. In combination with the GamuT S9 speakers and a pair of Burmester 911 mk. 3 amplifiers, I was able to achieve sound pressure levels that you would expect to hear in a club without strain – and without a touch of acoustic feedback.

High frequencies – sublime.  Again, when listening to your favorite acoustic music, the speakers just melt into the room and allow you to forget about the gear.  Spinning at least half a dozen of the latest Blue Note remasters from Music Matters Jazz I was always taken back at how natural cymbals and drum heads were sounding; always with perfect attack and smooth decay.  The true sign of an exceptional piece of gear, the 100 did not favor any particular type of music.

A few things always stand out with the Burmester experience beyond perfect tonality; ultra low noise, massive weight and lightning quick dynamics.  The 100 stays true to the rest of my Burmester gear.  Spinning the latest ORG pressing of Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns and their latest remake of Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes revealed even more detail than I was used to with these two perfect pressings. This ultra quiet background always made for huge dynamic swings on records that had the scale, but also revealed a stunning amount of low-level detail as well. The 100 is one of those rare additions to your system that will offer a further look into recordings you thought you knew intimately.

This realism is further enhanced by the 100’s ability to start and stop instantly.  It exhibits lightning fast response during the attack phase of a musical transient, but exhibits no overhang, stopping instantly as well.  This contributes to the 100’s complete lack of fatigue when listening for long periods of time.

A few quick comparisons

To keep the playing field level, I captured some tracks at 24/192 files with my Nagra LB pro digital recorder, as I do with the other phono stages I’ve used in the last year.  This offered an  for an indirect comparison to the ARC REF Phono 2 and the Boulder 1008 to the 100 Phono.  While this does not reveal 100% of what each of the respective phono stages can do, it’s a great way to compare phono stages past, without relying on memory alone.  When comparing the high res digital samples of Hissing of Summer Lawns, it confirmed what I suspected: The Boulder offered slightly more bass grunt, and my ARC REF Phono 2 had slightly less than the Burmester. When comparing the REF to the Burmester in real time, the Burmester was definitely an order of magnitude quieter – quite possibly the quietest I’ve ever heard.

The order was reversed when listening for that image depth; here the vacuum tubes in the ARC offered a bit larger musical image with the 100 seeming to make the room a bit smaller, with the Boulder now in last place. The 100 exceeded the other two in terms of dynamic contrast and the lowest noise floor. Considering adjustability, ease of use and the thought of never having to search for vacuum tubes, makes the 100 the big winner in my book.  Keep in mind that the order of magnitude we are discussing here is very small – indeed much of these differences could be minimized by cartridge choice.

When listening to Andrew Bird’s 2005 release Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs, I was consistently impressed by the low level detail and clarity presented. If you value a wide soundstage where images are painted in a very specific place across that sonic landscape, the Burmester is at the top of this category as well.  While I haven’t had the privilege of listening to all of the top $30k – $60k phono stages yet, the Model 100 is at the top of my list in regards to everything else I’ve heard in the 10-25k range.  And we still haven’t discussed the ADC…

The deciding factor in choosing the 100 over something else up in the stratosphere of phono stages will boil down to the sound you prefer and synergy with the rest of your components.  Of course if you have an all Burmester system, just write the check, it doesn’t get any better or any easier.

And now for something completely digital

If you’ve been curious about high quality digital capture and are either thinking about digitizing some of your favorite LP’s for a music server or just archival purposes, the extra $2,995 spent on the ADC module is a bargain.  Capturing files via USB and my MacBook Pro was fairly straightforward, (as I’ve been doing my fair share of this with other tools lately) though the instructions are fairly cryptic.  Those completely new to digital capture will probably be lost, so insist that your dealer give you a good run through on this part of the process.

All digital captures taken with the 100 feature 24-bit resolution, with a choice of 48khz, 96khz or 192khz sample rates.  Obviously the 24/192 files were of the highest quality, but the 29/96 files were not far behind and the 48 khz files were probably the most impressive, because they still offered excellent playback.  Even using the Burmester 088 CD player as a DAC, the difference between these and the original vinyl was minimal.

Though my Nagra LB digital recorder is easier to use and more user friendly than the Burmester, the Burmester offers a significant jump in recording quality. If you have ever thought about adding this functionality to your system, the Burmester does a fantastic job. Unfortunately, you will have to transfer your files somewhere and transcode to 16/44.1, should you want to burn any of these digital files to a CD.  Again, I would have liked to see this as an option in the ADC, so as to not have to perform yet another option in the digital domain.


If you only require one phono input and do not possess an all Burmester system, the 100 Phono is probably a bit on the high side of the price spectrum, but it becomes more reasonable (at least as reasonable as a $20,000 + phono stage can be…) as you add the second input and even more so if you make the ADC part of the bargain.

Nervous audiophiles that swap gear gear fairly often may not appreciate what makes the Burmester components such a great long-term value.  They are built with the precision of a Porsche engine and placed inside casework that is fitting of the best Swiss watches.  If you are someone that desires high quality audio equipment that you will live with for years to come, the Burmester 100 Phono will sound as great in 20 years as it does today.  And that, on many levels is its highest value.

The Burmester 100 Phono

MSRP:  $16,995 – $22,995 (depending on configuration)

Manufacturers Information:


Turntables                        Spiral Groove SG-2 w/Triplanar, AVID Acutus Reference SP w/SME V, AVID Volvere SP w/SME 309 and Rega P9/RB1000

Cartridges                        Dynavector XV-1s, Koetsu Urushi Blue, Grado Statement 1, Lyra Skala, SoundSmith Sussurro Paua

Preamplifier                      Burmester 011, McIntosh C500

Amplifiers                      Burmester 911mk. 3 monoblocks, McIntosh MC 1.2kw monoblocks

Speakers                         GamuT S9

Jaco Pastorius – S/T

Spinning Jaco Pastorius at 45RPM rules.

Originally produced in 1976, arguably when records pressed at Columbia were at their sonic worst, this record now finds its volatile tracks split onto a pair of LPs. What a difference.

Released at the beginning of the instrumentalist’s tenure with Weather Report, the record includes heavy hitters Lenny White, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter, to name a few. The mix is not straight-ahead jazz, but it’s not fully locked into fusion, either. Some pieces sound like they could have been culled from the outtakes of Hancock’s Blow Up sessions. Beginning with the only cover tune on the list – Miles Davis’ “Donna Lee,”  Pastorius takes the lead on bass as Don Alias is his sole accompaniment on congas.  The congas, which sound horribly flat on the original, come alive on this 45 r.p.m. masterpiece, floating around the middle of the soundstage, setting the tone for what lies in store on the rest of the record.

Track four, “Continuum” is much more spacey and free form, the foundation of the sound Pastorius goes on to create with Weather Report, with loose drumming and gentle Fender Rhoads riffs in the background.  While this record contains a handful of stylistic changes, Pastorius’ mastery of the bass guitar is consistent throughout.

Bernie Grundman takes the production helm here and fully utilizes his lifetime of jazz-related experience to give this masterpiece the attention it deserves. Pastorius’ bass is finely depicted, his parts effortlessly gliding through the soundstage. Hancock’s piano soars, liberated from the sonic grunge of the original. My speakers can barely contain this record!

Note: To naysayers claiming today’s remasters lack the vitality of the original recordings, grab this record now and await pleasant discoveries.

Click here to purchase this album at Music Direct.

Denon DL-103R

In a world of five-figure phono cartridges, a serious audio aficionado might pass on the Denon DL-103R because it’s too inexpensive. Wrong decision.

They’d be missing out on one of the high-end’s best bargains. A decent moving-coil cartridge for $379? Heck, a decent cartridge for $379? Yes and yes. If you love analog, the DL-103R is a cartridge you should not be without. First introduced for broadcast use in the early 60s, it brought a new level of detail to analog playback.

The DL-103R has always used a spherical stylus and boasts a relatively low output of .25mv. It’s also undergone constant refinement over the years, with the current model featuring 6N copper coils.

Simple Setup

Unlike some others in the Denon line, the DL-103R is a low-compliance cartridge, which makes it easier to implement in most of today’s tonearms. The conical stylus profile aids with the DL-103R’s easy setup; it’s not at all fussy. While the .25mv output didn’t pose a problem for any of the phono cartridges I had on hand, double check that your phonostage has at least 60db of gain—a little more won’t hurt. DecWare’s newest step-up transformer proved a perfect match for the Denon, should you not want to add another box with a power cord. Just be sure to tell DecWare what cartridge you are using so the company can optimize the transformer for the 103. And per Denon’s spec sheet, 100 ohms proved the optimum loading point for a conventional moving-coil preamplifier.

A quick listen with the Rega RP-1 resulted in an amazing budget analog setup that wasn’t crazy money. Stepping up to the P3-24 offered greater resolution across the tonal spectrum, and more bass weight. However, I did most critical listening via the Triplanar VII mated to the new AVID Volvere SP. And no, this cartridge was not the least bit embarrassed by an $11,000 table/arm combination.

A Touch Too Much

With virtually every bit of new vinyl being pressed from digital masters, most LPs are too hot in the upper registers and sound rather CD-like. If you’ve just scored a new turntable, and listening to some of your favorite recordings on LP leaves you a little bit cold, this cartridge is the answer. The DL-103R possesses a tonal balance that’s ever so slightly on the warm/romantic side, giving everything you spin a little extra bump of tonal richness.

Granted, the cartridge didn’t have enough richness to overcome the inherent brightness of the new 12” maxi single of C-Low Green’s “F**k You!,” but it went a long way at making the hit song much more listenable. But it worked wonders on the Twilight Singers’ Dynamite Steps (reviewed by editor Bob Gendron, last issue). The record is the perfect example of an album comprised of brilliant music with a bit too much ProTools in the final mix. Play it back with the SoundSmith Sussurro Paua cartridge—which reveals way too much detail for this particular record—and you will be running for the Tylenol bottle; it’s sure to give you a headache. Yet the warm midrange magic that the DL-103 brings to the sonic picture tames the beast and allows actual engagement.

With so many classic albums from the 60s and 70s being re-pressed—albeit rarely from the original analog tapes—the “new vinyl sound” isn’t always warm and magic like it was in the 60s. Moreover, many such records were knocked out with little care invested in the original production. So, as much as you might think everything wine and roses from analog’s early days, the dirty truth is that a lot of these records need a little help—and the Denon DL-103R is just the cartridge to provide assistance. Recently remastered pressings of VanDerGraaf Generator’s The Aerosol Grey Machine and the Tangerine Zoo’s Outside Looking In are both older albums that, while pressed on vinyl, retain a decidedly digital edge. The DL-103R also made a number of my favorite 70s MoFi records more enjoyable and my Nautilus pressings listenable.

Posh Performance

The biggest surprise came when using the DL-103R with the Rega P9 or AVID Volvere. I wasn’t prepared for how much performance was lurking! A more stable platform allowed the DL-103R to show off its much more solid bass performance and imaging abilities. The AVID/Triplanar combination extracted the maximum from the cartridge, throwing a large soundfield well beyond my speaker boundaries. When using this ‘table in System Two (C-J tube electronics, B&W 805D speakers), I easily fooled some of my audiophile cronies into thinking that a much more expensive cartridge was at work.


“Forgiving” is the word that best describes the DL-103R. It won’t retrieve that last bit of minute detail from meticulously recorded albums; that will cost you $3–$10k. But, what it will do is give average records in your collection a new lease on life. The Denon DL-103R is one of the few components I’ve experienced that truly serves two masters. In more modest turntables (Rega P3, SL1200, etc.), it goes a long way at making up for the shortcomings of low-budget records. Yet it also performs incredibly well in fairly expensive turntables.

While the best pressings in the analog domain seemingly join the endangered species list on a daily basis, there are still plenty of acceptable LPs to be had in the $3-$6 range—a perfect place to build a music collection without breaking the bank. Whether you use the Denon DL-103R as a primary or secondary cartridge, I guarantee you will enjoy it.

Denon DL-103R


Turntables                  AVID Volvere SE/SME 309, AVID Volvere SE/TriPlanar, Rega P9/RB1000

Phonostage               Audio Research PH8

Preamplifier              Conrad-Johnson PV-12 (upgraded to current status)

Power Amplifier       Conrad-Johnson MV-50 (upgraded to current status)

Speakers                     B&W 802 Diamond

Cable                           Cardas Clear

Adding the HRS Platform to the AMG V-12 Turntable

We’ve been living with the AMG V-12 turntable for some time now, and it sounds as exquisite as it looks. If you are looking for a turntable that is devoid of bling, that you can set up, forget it and just enjoy your record collection, it’s tough to do better than the V-12.

Exquisitely machined in every sense, this table is truly a work of fine art.  Garth Leerer, the president of Musical Surroundings feels that “With a table as high performance as the AMG, what you place it on will impact the ultimate performance.”

The AMG manual suggests placing the table on a granite slab for best results, so what better way to go than the current MX3-1921-AMGV12 platform from Harmonic Resolution Systems designed specifically for the AMG?  Machined from billet aircraft aluminum and incorporating a polished black granite surface, this platform is is load matched specifically to the weight of the AMG. It is priced at $2,650.

After listening to the AMG for a few weeks without the HRS, getting it under a proper platform made for a substantial jump in performance.  Having just played a few familiar tracks and then slipping the base underneath, it was evident that the upper bass tightened up and there was a larger spatial perspective on the music.  To make sure I wasn’t second guessing myself, I recorded the three before and after tracks on my Revox B-77 at 15 i.p.s. to see if I’d actually hear that difference, side by side.  Even on tape, it was still there, and at high volume I noticed the woofer cones on the GamuT S9’s did not have as much random movement (indicating acoustic feedback) providing a visual confirmation that the HRS platform was indeed getting rid of unwanted vibration.

Watch for our full review of the AMG soon, in the Analogaholic section.

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.

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