AMG V12 Turntable

Being an enthusiast of great industrial and mechanical design, I hold objects that perform as well as they look in the highest esteem.  I confess to becoming an admirer of the AMG V12 the second I saw pictures of it.  When I saw the V12 in person, had I been sitting on an analysts couch, performing a word-association drill, Leica would have been the first word that came to mind.  Imagine, those of you who own or have owned a Leica (or an older 500-series mechanical Hasselblad), that the camera maker decided to enter the turntable business and bring its level of machining expertise to turntable design.

But craftsmanship from a brand like Leica goes so far beyond simple aesthetics.  How would a turntable manufacturer translate the damped feel of a Leica focusing mechanism, or the positive engagement of a Ferrari gearshift, or the vault-like sound that a Rolls Royce door makes to the language of turntable design?  Germany’s AMG (for Analog Manufaktur Germany; no relation to the Mercedes-Benz design branch by the same initials) puts the same level of artistry into its V12 turntable.  Its design allows users to operate the capacitance-controlled power and speed switches and feel the effortlessness of the tonearm, while the uniformity of its machined and anodized surfaces provide a visual package as stunning as the turntable’s performance,

At $16,500, a cost which includes the wooden base and 12-inch AMG tonearm, the V12 achieves price parity with its peers from AVID, Clearaudio, SME and others.  During a conversation with AMG designer and principal Werner Röschlau at the Munich High-End back in May, I learned of the high level of refinement that the V12 offers and that this is not really his first attempt at building a turntable.  Röschlau, who is an engineer by trade, did high-precision machine work for a few top turntable manufacturers for over a decade.  Along with his own design expertise, Röschlau applied what he learned working for those manufacturers to the V12.

This turntable is the epitome of simplicity in look and operation.  Röschlau tells me that every aspect of the tables’ design revolves around simplicity, functionality and longevity.  “I truly hope that these turntables outlive me,” he says with a smile.

Sharpen Your Skills

The V12 offers an amazing combination of weight, stability and delicacy.  The SME arms that I use on a number of tables feel thick and clunky compared to the V12 arm (though the former are easier to adjust at first).  Again, the comparison to a Leica comes to mind with the V12, as I reflect on the turntable’s small, lightweight, minimalist controls that make perfect sense once you get used to them.

It’s often said that people who are masters of their craft make things look deceptively easy.  Sitting at home watching Sebastian Vettel win the F1 championship, you think, “How hard can it be? I can drive a car.”  I was thinking the same thing, as Garth Leerer, the US importer for Musical Surroundings, fine-tuned this table.

But this tonearm does not invite constant fiddling like a Tri-Planar does; the V12 arm is perfect for someone who sees turntable setup as something you do once, rather than for someone who sees it as an ongoing sport.  AMG includes a full set of allen-head screwdrivers for every one of the V12’s adjustments, though the instruction manual falls woefully short in terms of helping the uninitiated—there are no pictures.  If you haven’t set up your fair share of tonearms, this may not be the best place to begin your analog-setup journey.

The manual does warn you to use a light touch when making all adjustments.  The screws are all tiny: .65-, 1.5- and 2-mm allen-head screws that disappear into the casework, further contributing to the ultra-clean design.  But excess torque will destroy the subtle handiwork, so proceed with extreme care.

Another tip for those of you adding the V12 to your system:  Level the plinth before you attach the platter, as one of the three-adjustment screws is under the platter and cannot be accessed once you’ve fully assembled the table.  You should also be sure that the V12 is on a very solid surface, as the weight of this table will sink into any wooden rack shelves you might have.

Adding the optional HRS platform made specifically for the V12 boosts performance even further, with better low-level detail and transient slam, but the upgraded platform is not necessary—the V12 is enjoyable delivered from the factory as is.  But Leerer mentions that he feels the sound of any turntable can be improved by better isolation, such as that offered by the HRS platform, which offers a similar performance increase when I pair it with my fully suspended AVID Volvere SP turntable.  The HRS platform is a $2,500 upgrade that is well worth the investment.

Though the V12 requires a steady and patient hand to optimize it, the end result is more than worth the effort.  And if you subscribe to the philosophy of form following function, there may be no better example of record-spinning art than the V12.  Even the belt-drive mechanism is handily hidden beneath the platter—the mechanism slips on easily if you use the enclosed spiked wooden tool according to the manual.  (The turntable manual is much better than the tonearm manual, and it’s well illustrated.).  Röschlau makes it a point to mention that even this step, while appearing a style move, “Keeps the belt out of the environment and free of dust and UV rays.”

Recalibrate Your Senses

The V12 sounds as good as it looks, perhaps even better.  Immediately upon power up, the V12 feels solid and elegant—this is a serious record-playing machine.  The glowing red speed buttons turn to green with a mere touch.  And the V12 can accommodate 78RPM playback, for those with legacy collections.

We can argue about the merits and shortcomings of a 12-inch tonearm versus a shorter tonearm, but the main argument for a longer arm is minimized tracing distortion.  Here, the V12 succeeds brilliantly by utilizing an incredibly stiff yet lightweight tonearm wand that has an effective mass of only 12.9 grams.

A non-suspended design, the V12 table utilizes a massive CNC-machined plinth and an adjustable, high-mass aluminum “pod” pre-drilled for the tonearm mounting.  This removable pod uses a bayonet mount and is geared towards the analog enthusiast wishing to explore multiple tonearm and cartridge options. The finely gradated scale, where the base of the pod meets the plinth, makes it easy to perform the necessary adjustments for other tonearms with slightly different spindle-to-pivot distances.

Listening begins with a well-broken-in Lyra Kleos that has spent enough time on the AVID Volvere SP/SME V and the VPI Classic tables to be a familiar starting point for my review of the V12.  The AMG is considerably more expensive than the VPI and still almost a third more than the AVID/SME combination, and the presentation is markedly different.  Immediately, there is an increase in resolution from top to bottom, as well as a decrease in distortion.  A handful of albums from the “chronic-inner-groove-distortion” bin track through much easier than before.

Camper Van Beethoven’s Key Lime Pie just happens to be at the top of this list.  A record that has always felt fairly grainy and etched on top plays now tracks clean.  The inner cut on side one, “Light From a Cake,” used to have a more gravely feel to the vocals, usually causing me to prematurely end the side, but now it sounds smooth, with the drums greatly improved and the violin fluid, where this experience used to be torturous.

Investigating other problematic tracks reveals the same thing: an overall continuity and sonic integrity, with no sign of drawbacks.  Thanks to the Furutech’s incredibly handy disc flattener, there are no more warped records in my collection, so I can’t comment on the longer tonearm’s ability to track highly warped records.

Time Flies

Now that I’m comfortable with the sound of the V12, exploring different cartridges is in order.  Next stop is the Sumiko Palo Santos, which has been favorably reviewed here, and offers a similar tonal balance to the Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum.  Slightly rich tonally, this combination provides excellent extension and a somewhat warm rendition of the lower frequencies.

The AMG tonearm transforms the Palo Santos cartridge.  Sounding almost too warm and a little tubby with the SME 312 tonearm (also 12 inches), the Palo Santos snaps to life on the AMG, now with more definition in the lower registers.  Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic Street Survivors, via the recent MoFi Silver Label release, proves enlightening, with the multiple layers of guitars now having more bite than before; yet, the overall presentation retains the smoothness that is the signature of the V12.

The more time I spend with the V12, the more the palette it paints feels like open reel tape.  Herbie Hancock’s masterpiece, Empyrean Isles, unfolds just as it did when I heard the master tape during the Music Matters remastering session, with the presence of each of the four virtuosos retaining distinctly separate spaces and with the musicians’ complex improvisations intact.  The V12 delivers percussion and cymbals that are rich with attack and decay, but that strike a perfect balance of timbre and tone.

Diva Approved

Of course, the female voice is the litmus test for so many audiophiles, so a thorough exploration again reveals the extremely low distortion this configuration is capable of.  Now, having moved to the Clearaudio Goldfinger cartridge, the bar is raised considerably.  Anyone doubting that this table can carry what is arguably one of the world’s finest (and, at $15,000, most expensive) cartridges is selling the AMG table short.

Marianne Faithfull’s take on the Rolling Stones’ classic “As Tears Go By,” from her 1987 record Strange Weather, is sublime, with the V12 extracting every bit of her addiction-scarred voice, and with Bill Frisell’s guitar hiding in the background, wandering in and out of the mix.  Faithfull’s voice is tough to capture, but the V12 gets every bit of grit out of the vinyl, highlighting the differences between the original pressing and the ORG 45RPM remaster.

Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez’s rendition of Aria from ‘La Wally’ illustrates how well the AMG/Goldfinger combination paints the striking sustain of the solo voice in an operatic setting.  Much like being called on to reproduce the violin, the combination demands tonal purity and a wide dynamic range, or else the illusion is lost.  Fernandez’s voice feels as if it is floating in front of me, even on the most dramatic passages.  For those unfamiliar with this piece, it is featured on the soundtrack of the ’80s cult-classic film, Diva.

Let’s Review

After living with the AMG V12 since mid June, I’m as smitten with it as the day I first unboxed it—not always an easy feat in the wacky and rapidly evolving world of high-end audio.  It’s often too easy for the charm that captures you in a dealer or hi-fi show demo to fade all too quickly after the excitement of the purchase wears off.  A cursory look at the online buying-and-selling community Audiogon will reveal this to be the case with so much gear.

I’m happy to say that this has not happened with the V12—hence I’ve purchased the review sample to make it a permanent part of our reference system.   There is still more information to be culled from your LP collection, but it’s going to take a lot more money to get there, especially if you’ve paired your V12 with a flagship cartridge like the Clearaudio Goldfinger, Lyra Atlas or something comparable.

The AMG V12 is such an excellent value, in terms of performance for the price, meticulous build quality and timeless style, that we award it our Analog Product of the Year award.  -Jeff Dorgay

The AMG V12 Turntable

MSRP: $16,500 (includes wooden base and 12-inch AMG tonearm)

Please click here for the AMG Factory site

Please click here for Sierra Sound, the US Distributor of AMG


Phono Cartridge Lyra Kleos    Sumiko Palo Santos    Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement
Phonostage Audio Research REF Phono 2SE    Simaudio Moon 810LP
Preamplifier Audio Research REF 5SE    Robert Koda K-10
Power Amplifier Pass Labs XA200.5 monoblocks
Speakers GamuT S9    Sonus faber Aida
Cable Cardas Clear

AVID Acutus Reference SP – UPDATE

I’ve been using the AVID Acutus Reference SP for about four years now and that’s a mighty long time in the world of hifi reviewing, where things can be a revolving door. Yet with all of the interesting turntables I’ve had the pleasure of using, the Acutus Reference SP remains my personal favorite.

It’s easy to exhaust one’s adjective gland, getting all excited about this shiny thing or that, in the course of a short review. But when you live with a turntable for a number of years and are still raving, that’s a big deal. When you spend enough money on a turntable to buy a nice used Porsche, said turntable should be just like that Porsche: something you look forward to using every day. The Acutus certainly passes this test with ease.

The performance is world class, and much like the Porsche 911, you can buy fancier models from Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin (with MUCH higher price tags) but at the end of the day, none of them will really get around the race track any faster than a 911, and the 911 will reward you further by not being the least bit fussy doing it. This is a big part of the magic that the Acutus, and all AVID turntables offer.

Like the 911 or Knoll’s Barcelona chair, the Acutus also strikes a perfect balance of being well appointed and finished without being blingy or trendy. Personally, I enjoy the look of the table as much as I did the day I took it out of the box and never get tired of it. It is a classic bit of mechanical engineering that would be equally at home in the Louvre as it is on my equipment rack.

I must also confess that as much as I love analog, I hate fiddling with turntables. I am only an average setup guy on my best day and lean heavily on a few of my expert friends in the industry to double check my work, optimizing my setups when I am doing a critical product review. The Acutus is easy to set up and stays set up. This is as much a blessing to a reviewer that needs a consistent reference as it is to the consumer that wants to listen to music, not be a setup guru. However, if that kind of thing floats your boat, I do have a couple of LP-12s sitting around collecting dust I might interest you in…

All of this would be pointless if the sound wasn’t so damn good. Back when I wrote the original Acutus review, I was using a Koetsu Urushi Blue as my main cartridge. Since then, the Lyra Atlas, the Clearaudio Goldfinger and now the Koetsu Onyx Platinum all have graced the Acutus, and all have excelled there. This table is up to whatever cartridge and phono stage you can pair it with. Again, in the Acutus’ tenure, it has been paired with a number of lofty phono stages, costing nearly three times as much as the table. The price has gone up a bit in four years from $20k to $26k these days, but compared to a lot of tables costing a lot more, I still feel the Acutus is a steal for the price asked.

Everyone has a personal preference when it comes to sound, so it’s tough to call something “the best.” However if you want a table that has a big, weighty, dynamic, yet open sound, the AVID Acutus Reference SP might be the best turntable to suit your needs. It remains mine. I highly suggest you audition one at your earliest convenience.

VPI Classic Two Turntable

Back in Issue 46, I was enamored enough with VPI’s Classic One turntable to give it one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2012.  Even more, I purchased the review sample to make it a permanent reference, and after two years, the Classic One is my go to table, when I just want to hang out and listen to records without fuss. I enjoy it so much; it’s the only table in my home system.

Due to increases in raw materials cost, VPI has had to raise the price of the Classic One from $2,695 to $2,995, yet it remains a stunning value – offering build quality and sheer musicality that has few, if any peers at it’s price.  After two years of daily listening, the Classic One, and now the Classic Two feel more like a “greatest hits of analog” product, combining the virtues of a couple of my favorite turntables into one easy to use and easy to set up package. The sheer weight of its presentation reminds me of an idler wheel Garrard or a Thorens TD-124, without the rumble and noise issues. The Classic 2s overall warmth is highly reminiscent of a mid 80s LP-12, without a heavy dose of OCD to keep it running.

The Classic Two’s overall aesthetic is no nonsense. With a simple, basic black plinth surrounded by either a black oak or walnut frame, and perched upon miniature versions of their HRX turntable’s feet, it is devoid of accouterments. The Classic Two eliminates all pretense and gets down to business playing records, with every penny invested in design and build quality. This is a table you will be able to leave your kids without worry.

Inside the box is everything you need to get your Classic Two up and playing records right now. A classic Shure balance beam tracking force gauge and cartridge alignment protractor saves time and money, not to mention gets you about 95% of the way to perfect performance. For most, the enclosed tools will make you more than happy. Maniacal audiophiles willing to invest in a more precise tracking force scale and alignment protractor will be able to take the Classic Two to an even higher level of analog clarity.

An adjustable VTA collar on the tonearm is what makes the Classic Two a Two. The Classic One has a fixed adjustment for setting VTA, while the Two lets you adjust VTA on the fly, like the rest of the tables higher up the VPI range. Though some swear by this, I’m still not one to set VTA on the fly. But what is exceptionally handy is the ability to use the fine vernier adjustment to not only set, but also easily re-set VTA adjustments. Those with multiple tonearm wands can now switch between cartridges with total ease and consistency. That’s the magic of the Classic Two and the reason you want to pony up the extra thousand dollars.

I suggest music lovers that stick with one cartridge until it is spent and don’t fiddle with their turntables settings will be just as well served by the Classic One, and maybe spending that extra on a better cartridge, VPI’s SDS motor controller, or one of their outstanding record cleaning machines, if you don’t already have one. While some claim the Classic One sounds better because of its fixed VTA adjustment (possibly a touch more rigidity in the tonearm tower/bearing assembly) a side-by-side comparison of a Classic One and Classic Two with identical cartridges did not reveal an audible difference.

For a full description of the Classic One’s sound, click here. But to summarize, both the Classic One and Two produce a big, weighty, full-bodied sound. Utilizing VPIs JMW-10.5i tonearm wand with copper internal wiring. Those seeking even more performance should ask their VPI dealer about upgrading the table to the 10.5i armwand with Nordost Valhalla internal wiring.

Small details aside, the VPI Classic Two is one of the finest turntables available for $3,995. As with the Classic One, we are proud to award it one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2015.

– Jeff Dorgay

Rega RP10 Turntable

Our publisher has been a Rega fan since the fateful day in the mid-’80s when we happened by our local dealer (Audio Emporium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin) to find them opening a shipment of Planar 3 turntables.  As they lifted a bright, fluorescent green table out, the sales guy quipped, “What idiot would buy a turntable in this color?”  Little did he know that’s been publisher Dorgay’s favorite color since age 6.  He solemnly replied, “I’m that idiot!” and we took that little British table back to his listening room and were subsequently blown away, being Technics SL-1200 guys at that moment in time, thinking there couldn’t possibly be anything better than direct drive.

Words like pace and timing weren’t even part of our vocabulary back then, but there was a ton of inner detail coming through those Magnepan MGII speakers that wasn’t there the day before, and to this day, both of us have always owned at least one Rega turntable.  For the record, my current reference is a P9 with Apheta cartridge, and it has served me well for some time now.

Evolution no. 10

Someone once said that an elephant is only a mouse built to military specifications, and on one level the same could be said for the P9 – you could think of it as a fully geeked-out P3.  The platter, drive mechanism, tonearm and power supply are all highly evolved versions of the basic Rega turntable.  For those of you that aren’t familiar, the tonearm on the earlier P3 and P9 shared the same basic casting, and now the new RP10 uses a highly refined version of the new casting for the RP3 (and is secured with the same red tape Rega has used for decades), yet the new RB2000 is completely handmade and finished to the highest of tolerances, as was the RB1000.

According to Rega, the RB2000 arm “is designed to have a minimum of mechanical joints while using the stiffest materials possible in all areas.”  Like its predecessor, the bearings are hand fitted and of highest quality, all handpicked for tolerance before insertion into the arm.

A new twist on the Rega platform, beginning with the RP3, is the mechanical brace: magnesium in the RP10, going between the tonearm mount and the turntable bearing, assuring maximum rigidity between these critical areas, while taking advantage of the new, skeletal plinth (further refined from the RP8 design) having seven times less mass than the original Planar 3.

An ex-automotive engineer, Rega principal Roy Gandy has always taken the advantage that less mass means more energy transferred from the record groove to the stylus tip, an opposite philosophy of the “more mass is better” approach embraced by some other manufacturers.  Gandy’s approach has always worked well, but in the past, the P3 and variations have always been accused of being somewhat lightweight in the lower register.  The former flagship P9 has always featured the liveliness that their tables have always been known for, with additional heft in the low frequencies.  Combined with a set-and-forget ethos, there’s no wonder the P9 has won the hearts (and ears) of so many music lovers that just want a fabulous turntable without the setup anxiety.

The race is on

So as much as we wanted this to be a standalone review, the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue – and on our Facebook inbox – has been, “How does the RP10 stack up to the P9?”  As the title of this review suggests, it is an evolutionary move.  Listening to the P9 and RP10 side by side easily shows the additional resolution present in the new table.

A speed check was the first test on our list, and utilizing the Feickert iPad app showed the RP10 to be dead-on for both 33 and 45 rpm speeds.  It’s still somewhat of an urban legend that Rega tables run “a bit fast” to provide a zippier sound.  In our experience, this just hasn’t been the case in the last 15 years or so, and the RP10 keeps them batting a thousand.  So, if you’ve had any internet-related anxiety about the speed of the RP10, forget about it.

Ease as always

Should you opt for the Apheta MC cartridge, which comes pre-installed (at least for US customers), it’s a winner on two counts.  The Sound Organisation, Rega’s US importer, sells the two as a package for $6,495, saving you almost a thousand bucks in the process – and they install the cartridge for you.  Even though this is super easy, because the Apheta features Rega’s three-bolt fastening, and as all Rega tables come from the factory optimized for correct VTA, the RP10 is possibly the only no-fuss, no-muss premium turntable.  All you need to do is set the tracking force to 1.75 grams and fiddle a little bit with the anti-skate if you feel so inclined.  If it takes you more than five minutes to play records on an RP10, you are overthinking it.

If the Apheta is not your bag, rest assured that there are a number of other great cartridges available that will provide excellent synergy with this table.  Here at TONE, we’ve used everything from the ZU Denon 103 cartridge all the way up to the $10,000 Lyra Atlas cartridge on both the P9 and RP10 with fantastic results.  You can read the Apheta review here[1] to get more of a feel for this cartridge, but for those not wanting to dig back, here’s a short synopsis:  The Apheta is a very fast, neutral cartridge with a lot of HF energy.  If you don’t have an MC phonostage capable of going down to somewhere between 25 and 50 ohms, the Apheta will make a poor showing and sound somewhat shrill.  Load it correctly and you will be rewarded with clean, detailed sound.

The P9 and the new RP10 are awesome for music lovers who want great sound without a fuss.  While I’ve listened to a lot of megabuck tables at the TONE studio, $5,000 is my sweet spot – and let’s be clear: I do not consider this the point of analog diminishing returns; however it is all the more I’m comfortable spending on a turntable.  So for me, personally, the RP10 gives me enough of a glimpse into the price-no-object tables for comfort.  Considering Rega has only raised the price $500 over the cost of the P9 speaks volumes for their manufacturing efficiencies.

More listening

As hinted at the beginning of this review, the RP10 does reveal more music throughout the range.  Transients are cleaner, the bass carries a bit more weight, and the high end is even crisper than before.  Regardless of program material chosen, the improvements made feel like going from ISO 200 to ISO 100 on your favorite digital camera (or film for those of you still embracing the medium).

Should you trade up from your trusty P9?  That’s a question only you can answer, and it will probably depend on what your dealer will give you for a trade-in and how wacky you’re feeling with the checkbook.  -Jerold O’Brien

Additional Listening

I’m probably more anxious than most people to finally get my hands on the RP10, as I saw the prototype of this turntable at Roy Gandy’s home about six years ago and it was fantastic back then.  You’ll either love or hate the skeletal design; I love it because it looks so un-Rega, but those of you wanting a more traditional-looking turntable can leave it in its full base.  Me, I’d rather see it in its naked glory and cast a few spotlights on it, letting the shadows fall where they may.

As Mr. O’Brien mentioned, this table, though more radical in design, is definitely evolutionary.  You won’t mistake the sound of the RP10 for an SME or Clearaudio table and that’s a good thing.  Most of the improvements to the tonearm and power supply are not easily seen from the outside, as is the second generation ceramic platter, but Rega tables are always more than the sum of their parts.

In my reference system through the Audio Research REF Phono 2SE, I noticed the same sonic improvements in the RP10/P9 comparison, but what I did notice on a more resolving reference system than Mr. O’Brien’s was that the RP10’s new arm and table design will accommodate an even better cartridge than the P9 could.  Where the Lyra Kleos was about the limit of what I’d mate with the P9, the RP10 could handle the Atlas.  I’m sure most RP10 customers aren’t going to drop $10k on a phono cartridge, but you could, and it can resolve more music than a Kleos will let through.  And that’s part of the magic with the RP10.  It’s a sleeper.

I’ve always enjoyed the Apheta with the P9 and now the RP10, but I found absolute bliss with my Dynavector XV-1s cartridge, offering a slightly warmer overall presentation than the Apheta.  Again, this will be decided by your ultimate sonic preferences and the RP10/Apheta combination is really tough to beat for the money.  Rega has hit a pretty interesting run with the RP10, as there are a lot of great turntables in the $10k–$15k range, as well as in the $2k–$3k range, but this price point is pretty wide open.

We could talk tech for hours, but do we want to?  Put a record on and relax.  Much like my P9, the RP10 has that extra amount of LF weight and drive (torque maybe?) that really makes this table a blast to listen to rock records with.  Going back to Deep Purple’s classic “Smoke on the Water” from their Made in Japan album was incredibly convincing when those famous chords were played.

Extended listening with a wide range of program material reveals a table that gets it right on so many levels.  Mounted on an SRA rack, there were no feedback issues, no matter how loud I played music, so the table’s design is working as it should.

Reflecting on my time with the RP10, I just wonder when Mr. Gandy and his crew will run out of ideas?  They remain fresh as ever, and I can’t believe that after more than 30 years, I’m just as smitten with Rega as I was the day I brought my first one home from the hifi store.  Now, can they just make it in lime green?  I’m happy to give the Rega RP10 one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2014.  -Jeff Dorgay

Rega RP10

MSRP:  $5,495 (without cartridge)  $6,495 with Apheta pre-installed (US Only) (US distributor) (factory)


Phonostage Simaudio MOON 610LP
Preamplifier Coffman Labs G-1A
Power Amplifier Conrad Johnson Premier 350
Speakers Vandersteen 5A
Cable Cardas Clear Light

VPI Classic Two Turntable

VPI’s Classic One set the standard for analog performance at its price a few years ago when introduced and one is still in service at TONEAudio as a reference component, recently revised by Harry Weisfeld to accommodate an Eminent Technologies tonearm.

The Classic Two builds on the success of the Classic One, with the primary difference being the ability to adjust the VTA on the fly while the record is playing, giving the analog enthusiast more control and adjustability than the One does.  Sound quality is very similar, so if you are a more monogamous audiophile who tends to stick with a single setup, the One may be all you need.  But, if you love to change and tweak your system on a constant basis, the Classic Two is the way to spin.  It will make your adjustments much easier to execute.  -Jeff Dorgay

VPI Classic Two Turntable


VPI Classic Direct Drive Turntable

In audio, like in so many other things, the seed of a great idea often sprouts before the technology of the time is able to fully express the concept. The direct-drive turntable is a perfect example. Many know of the legendary Technics SP-10 broadcast turntable, though few have heard one. Those who have will remember the remarkable pitch stability and the rock-solid bass. Today, they are coveted and being rebuilt around modern tonearms and cartridges possessing much more resolution than what was available back in the 1970s and ’80s, and to good result. However, the cost is high and there are a finite number of spare parts—not to mention precious little support. Great as the SP-10 is, owning one today is much like owning a vintage sports car: It’s a ton of fun on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but God forbid you need it repaired in a hurry.

Enter Harry Weisfeld

A visit to the VPI factory in New Jersey with company founder Harry Weisfeld reveals a massive collection of turntables. Weisfeld is particularly well versed in direct-drive models, especially the classics. His collection includes, among others, the Denon DP-80 and JVC TT-101, as well as other Technics tables. “I believe direct drive is the way to go when it’s done correctly,” he says. “I’ve always been a huge fan of the concept, but you can’t get a belt or a pulley perfect, no matter how hard you try. A belt-drive turntable consists of multiple mistakes and you’re always dealing with multiple tolerance errors. Direct drive eliminates these issues.”

Discussing the cost of the new Classic Direct, which is priced at $30,000, Weisfeld reflects on the SP-10. Because of the manufacturing complexity required to produce the SP-10, he says that, if new examples were being built today, they would be fairly comparable in price, even from a company like Technics.

Weisfeld says that the Kenwood L-O7D and Micro Seiki DDX-1000 were the impetuses for making his own direct-drive table, a process that began in earnest in early 2011. One of the engineers at a firm that produces finely machined parts for VPI, as well as military hardware, and who is a known audiophile, started a major discussion with Weisfeld about the “toughest part of a turntable to manufacture.”

The engineer quickly responded that the motor was the toughest challenge, which led to another series of discussions resulting in the design we see here in the Classic Direct, where the platter is actually the main component in the motor. In this case, the motor in the Classic Direct is an AC motor, which Weisfeld prefers over DC motors. He smiles and says, “An AC motor knows where it is, and a DC motor only knows where it was.”

The secret here is that a three-phase motor is used, eliminating the cogging effect that always plagues direct-drive designs. This uneven power delivery results in a slight unsteadiness to the music at worst and a shrinking soundstage at best. These issues are a thing of the past with the Classic Direct, as my listening quickly reveals.

Fortunately for Weisfeld, building the first Classic Direct was a labor of love for the engineers involved—it was strictly a fun project. Reflecting on the nature of the company building the motor, Weisfeld laughs and says, “The reason I won’t tell you who makes the motor for us is not a security reason; they just don’t want to become a supplier for other manufacturers.” He then proceeds to show me all of the measurement data that went into the design, from prototype to final product. “These guys measure everything, and they are thorough.” Case in point: Noise level on the Classic Direct is lower than minus 100 dB—impressive.

Blacker than Black

Initial playback of the Classic Direct at the New York Audio Show this past May was exciting, but the prototype, made using a Classic 3 chassis, didn’t really work aesthetically with the 12-inch tonearm, which Weisfeld felt was essential to the ultimate sound of the table. “So we had to do one more round of plinth design,” he says. “But the drive system was final at this time.”

The proof is in the listening. Forget all the audiophile clichés about inky-black backgrounds. The Classic Direct has a complete absence of background; it’s eerily quiet, like listening to a high-resolution digital file with the life of analog. We start our listening sessions with some vintage classical test pressings from the Classic label, and I’m immediately transfixed. There’s something dramatically different here.

Music simply emerges from the dimly lit room through Weisfeld’s reference speakers, the JBL DD6600 Everests. With dynamic range like few others, the Everests highlight the Classic Direct’s ability to remove itself from the equation and pass the music from the record groove through the speakers without interruption. The Everests sound surprisingly coherent, more like a pair of electrostatic speakers (of which Weisfeld and I are both big fans). I am spellbound by how natural pianos and violins sound in this system.

I’m so taken aback by the cleanliness of the tone that I don’t notice the cartridge mounted to the 12-inch 3D-printed tonearm, which is standard issue with the Classic Direct. It’s a Shure M97, the same one you can buy from Music Direct for $100. Weisfeld smiles again. “It’s my daily driver,” he says. “When I mounted a JICO stylus on the M97, it changed the sound completely, and it tracks like crazy. It saves wear and tear on my Lyra Atlas.”

Fortunately, the unipivot design of the VPI tonearms, with removable arm wands, makes it easy to swap cartridges—for vinyl aficionados with multiple cartridges in their collection. An additional 12-inch 3D-arm wand can be purchased for $3,000, while a standard one machined from aluminum is only $1,500—a perfect match for cartridges on the less-spendy side of the equation.

Getting in the Driver’s Seat

Once I’m acquainted with the Classic Direct, Weisfeld swaps the Shure for his favorite (and mine), the Lyra Atlas. But first we listen to Dave Brubeck’s classic track “Take Five” on tape. Quickly switching back to the Analogue Productions 45-rpm version reveals precious little loss, only in the ultimate dynamics of the vinyl not being able to stretch on the quickest transients as fast as the tape, but the soul of the music on the Classic Direct is incredibly well represented. Timbre and tonality are perfectly captured, along with the airiness of the cymbals and the rock-solid character of the piano. Weisfeld has clearly met his design goals in this respect.

Then, once we move back to the beginning of the journey with the M97, the core values of the music are still intact. Timbre and drive are especially compelling, but now after hearing the tape and the Atlas, there is cloudiness to the overall presentation. Regardless, the Shure sounds far more exciting than I’ve ever heard it before and light years beyond what it sounds like on my Technics SL-1200.

Auditioning a string of familiar rock recordings reveals the same things: a larger soundstage, wider dynamic range and a new sense of being able to peer deeply into the music—all of which are now available with the Classic Direct. The triangle in Joni Mitchell’s “Down to You” not only has an incredibly well defined space, but the decay is breathtaking, and it just seems to hang in the air forever. The rest of Court and Spark, though I’ve heard it countless times, infatuates me as if hearing it for the first time again. That’s what makes a high-dollar component special—and the Classic Direct delivers the goods in every aspect.

Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” blazes through loud and clear. While the Classic Direct’s speed stability doesn’t reveal itself as much when rendering Jimmy Page’s guitars, it speaks volumes with the sheer attack of John Bonham’s drums. They goes from fantastic to truly explosive, and the rest of this recording goes well beyond speaker boundaries, forming a coherent and convincing musical image.

A quick spin of a 45-rpm maxi single of Prince’s “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” reveals the inner detail in this multitracked tune, which I’ve never heard as clearly. And while the Classic Direct’s major strength is tonal purity, its incredibly low noise floor uncloaks treasure in even the most highly processed records. In this case, backing vocals, synthesizer and percussion tracks are all more evident, with their own distinct placement in the soundstage, where they have always seemed somewhat vague. You don’t have to limit your musical taste to acoustic music to really hear what the Classic Direct can bring to your system.

Two Years in the Making

After a year and a half, the design of the Classic Direct was final and all that remained was sorting out the ultimate form factor. While so many of today’s mega tables feature an excess of bling, the Classic Direct keeps it simple and straightforward. Much like the aesthetic of the Eames Lounge Chair, this table is a classic in the ultimate sense of the word, rendered in a form factor you will not tire of.

The platter of the Classic Direct is the rotor, eliminating any errors resulting from motor-shaft coupling and taking advantage of VPI’s inverted bearing as the common support for the rotor and platter. Simplicity combined with 21st-century technology wins the day—and the tolerance between the platter and the rest of the motor is only .001 inches.

This assembly is a sealed unit that weighs approximately 40 pounds and is in separate packaging from the base, requiring that the user merely connect power and gently slide it in with the supplied handle. As the saying goes, there are no user-serviceable parts inside. Weisfeld tells me that this motor is built to outlast the owner, because “we don’t want to have to fix them.” (The motor, that is.)

Historians of the direct-drive system may be quick to comment that this approach has been tried unsuccessfully before, but this time it succeeds brilliantly, hence the engineering time and resulting cost of this table. VPI’s proprietary coil technology forgoes the standard wire-wound stator found in most motors, using slotted copper laminations instead. This allows for higher coil density, in turn giving the Classic Direct tremendous torque, even for a direct-drive design. Yet, it was designed to start rotating very slowly, another aspect of successful motor control.

VPI’s familiar outer-ring clamp is the final piece to the puzzle, and if you think you can get by without it, guess again. The clamp firmly anchors the outer edge of the record to the supplied mat, making sure it contacts the platter fully, eliminating the need for one of those fancy record flatteners. It also minimizes vertical stylus excursion, thus maximizing the soundstage. The rest of the table is straightforward, with 33- and 45-rpm speeds controlled by blue illuminated buttons on the left side of the plinth.

Worthy of the Name and the Price Tag

Record after record reveals the same thing: The VPI Classic Direct is one of the world’s finest turntables. If there is a flaw in its presentation, I am not able to expose it, no matter what kind of music is played.

Crazy as it might sound to the uninitiated, $20,000 to $30,000 is really the sweet spot for what I consider a “destination turntable.” I’ve spent more than my fair share of time with six-figure tables, and much like a Ferrari, they offer a level of performance unattainable by any other means, but they are just so far out of reach to all but the most affluent audio enthusiasts that it’s not even a consideration. The ratio of $150k turntable owners to $150k system owners is tipped well in favor of the latter, so for a certain breed of audiophile, a $30k table is not out of the question, especially if you are trading up from something else.

And I must confess that my experience with this range is healthy, having lived with tables from AVID, Clearaudio, Kronos, SME and VPI, just to name a few. As much fun as it always is to proclaim something a game-changer, running down the path of adjective excess, I’ll keep my description of the VPI Classic Direct, well, direct.

It’s solid and quiet in a way I’ve never experienced, even compared to the mighty Continuum, the silly Onedof and the massive Clearaudio. If pitch stability is something you crave, there’s just something about a direct-drive turntable, even a Technics SL-1200, that grabs you instantly. The Classic Direct just has much more of it, and it’s mated to a world-class tonearm to complete the package.

The presentation of the Classic Direct is remarkably close to that of a master tape on a great open-reel deck, which Weisfeld just happens to have next to his equipment rack for his own comparisons. He smiles. “This truly was my inspiration for the Classic Direct,” he says. “Now a piano sounds like a piano.”

I have purchased products from all over the world—and have been doing so for most my life—but I have to confess some American pride here. We in the United States now have a manufacturer building a turntable that not only competes with the best tables that the world has to offer but that also excels beyond many of them.

This is why we bestow our overall Product of the Year award to the VPI Classic Direct turntable.

– Jeff Dorgay

VPI Classic Direct Drive Turntable

Solidsteel WS-5 Turntable Shelf

Whether you are having issues with a wiggly floor or would like to accommodate another turntable in your listening room, the Solidsteel WS-5 is a great way to get the job done. Its 19.5 x 16.25 inch shelf will work with all but the most humugous turntables and it has a claimed weight capacity of 130 pounds.  Remember to try and get at least one solid bolt into a wall stud and use heavy duty (100 pound) anchors on the other two.  Allen screws combined with tiny cones under the shelf allow for fine tuning shelf height so that your table is perfectly level. -Jeff Dorgay

Solidsteel WS-5 Turntable Shelf

MSRP: $399

Wilson Benesch Full Circle Turntable

You could save up what it would cost to buy yourself a Porsche Cayman S or a two-week holiday in the Bahamas, and still not be able to afford a set of Wilson Benesch’s top-of-the-range Cardinal speakers.  So when the British manufacturer offered its Full Circle turntable up for review, I was initially wondering just how many circles would be on the price tag—surprisingly, not many.  In fact, the Full Circle (complete with the company’s A.C.T. 0.5 tonearm and Ply MC cartridge) turned out to be a relatively low-cost, high-value bundle.  It’s priced at about $4,400 (£2,795).

And, while some decks look like they are all elbows and sharp angles, the Full Circle is all curves—so much so that I half expected it to launch into a chorus of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” once I got it out of the packaging and put it together.  The assembly took about 30 minutes.

The Full Circle follows a lineage chock-full of careful research.  The deck is a direct descendent of the company’s first turntable effort, which it released in 1990 as the first deck to feature carbon-composite structures and which Wilson Benesch soon followed with the world’s first hyperbolic curved tonearm.  To create the current iteration of the table, the company upgraded the motor and dropped the sprung suspension, which it replaced with a combination of compliant rubber and carbon-fiber cantilevers.

In terms of the chassis design, the Full Circle “is constructed of two component parts,” says Craig Milnes, Wilson Benesch’s Design Director.  “The lower part has the motor attached to it.  The upper part is where the vinyl is transcribed and so it has to be isolated from the vibrations of the motor.  The task was to link the two systems but isolate them at the same time.  Between the top sandwich and the bottom sandwich, you have rubber compliant feet that deal with the load frequency coming from the motor.”

A secondary system, says Milnes, tackles the high frequencies, utilizing thin carbon-fiber rods that sit between three aluminum pillars, which are on top of the second sandwich.  A stainless-steel sub-platter features a phosphor-bronze bearing and also serves as the host for the belt.  A piece of felt lies on top of the acrylic platter.

The 0.5 tonearm sits on a carbon-infused steel rod and utilizes an intriguing kinematic bearing system, which is formed by three captive ball bearings, with a fourth bearing dropped into the center to locate the arm.  This system, says Milnes, is superior to a normal ball-race system, because it removes the stiction problems that require a force to change the bearing’s state from stop to go, and also eliminates the unipivot design, which can suffer from excess wear around the bearing tip.  “Even if the kinematic balls wear,” says Milnes, “the rate of change will be the same on every one of the balls and will have no effect on the center of the point of movement.”

But perhaps the most integral feature of the tonearm is its carbon-fiber tube.  While carbon fiber is a popular design material, it is often poorly implemented, according to Milnes.  “Off-the-shelf carbon rods might be stiff, but they’re not damped,” he says.  “To do it correctly, it has to be optimized.”  For the 0.5, doing it correctly entailed creating a one-off tool that enabled the company to produce an arm with a homogeneous, integrated headshell and enhanced dampening by allowing the carbon fiber to flow in a twin-walled, overlapping, double-helix pattern.  “Everything about the tonearm is unique,” says Milnes.  “We went out on a limb to prove that the result was possible.  The headshell has to have different characteristics than the arm.  It requires super stiffness and super damping, but you also want it to flow naturally into the tube so that the energy that flows from the headshell goes into the rest of the tonearm, where it can be absorbed and damped.  This is the stiffest tonearm in the world and it’s the most highly damped tonearm in the world.”

The final part of the Full Circle package is the Ply cartridge, which utilizes a generator from Benz Glider.  Wilson Benesch then adds its own carbon-fiber body.

Sounding Off

There are two reasons to buy a Full Circle: to invest in a new midrange system, or to take the first step in a hi-fi upgrade.  For the latter, I wanted to find out exactly what a Full Circle offers, so I hooked up a Rega RP3 turntable, Rega Brio-R integrated amp and Spendor S3/5R2 speakers with Tellurium Q Blue speaker cables.

Mounting the Full Circle on its pedestal stand (about $770), I played “Tribal Statistics,” from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band 1983 album Somewhere in Afrika.  Attempting to replicate a bare-bones upgrade, I temporarily shunned a phono amp and plugged the Full Circle directly into the Brio-R’s phono section.  I immediately detect a dramatic reduction in distortion, an increase in clarity and an ordered, structured soundstage, while each instrumentalist now has space to maneuver.  The music flows, rather than sounding squeezed out of the speakers.  The bass is not necessarily weightier, but it is full of character and integrated within the mix, while synths have a textural, informative presentation.  The vocals prove to be nuanced and delicate.

I then add the roughly $630 Trichord Dino phono amp to better support the Ply moving-coil cartridge, and the music jumps from very good to spectacular.  The entire soundstage opens up, with the bass roaring from the Full Circle with both mass and authority, while the percussion provides a forceful rhythm that grounds the entire track.  The vocal performance is full and rich, and the midrange is dynamic, offering greater breath and reach.

Turning to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Bewitched,” via Speakers Corner’s reissue of the Rodgers & Hart Songbook, I find the smooth tones of the vocals both clear and free from stress, while the lazy percussion, which normally sits hidden behind the piano, is now visible, adding depth to the mix.  The piano now dances around the soundstage with a syncopated swing, as the bass provides a steady underpinning in contrast to the flighty keys.

So how far can the Full Circle go?  I integrate it with my reference system, replacing the Circle stand with a Decent Audio wall stand (approx. $440).  Starting this time with Fitzgerald, I notice a new layering within her intonation changing the focus of the delivery.  The track’s guitar, which was almost unnoticeable previously, now emerges like a butterfly from a cocoon, providing added depth and complexity to the overall performance.  The piano also has a new grandeur that takes nothing away from its jazz tones but that does give the song added gravitas and weight.  Meanwhile, the bass offers a low-frequency tone and shade that extends the melodic range of the song, with the overall soundstage now showing a new depth and height.

When I move back to Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, the Full Circle almost pins me to the rear wall.  The bass is shatteringly powerful, pushing me to the rear of my chair with its drive, while extending the range of the lower frequencies.  The vocals finally reveal the multi-tracked nature of the recording in clear tones, providing new focus to the delivery.  The upper midrange, supported here by the synth backing and guitar, is now calm and smooth, without a hint of brightness.  Superb instrumental separation also allows the ear to hear each instrument from different angles as each settles into the soundstage.


The Full Circle proves that it is highly tweakable.  For example, I replace the supplied felt mat with an Oyaide BR-12 mat (approx. $140), which opens up the soundstage further, tightens up the bass, reduces the distortion and improves clarity, while adding focus to the overall presentation.

Topping the Full Circle off with an Oyaide STB-MS vinyl stabilizer (approx. $250) gives the music a sharp emphasis and adds to the weight of the lower frequencies, providing much greater stability to the overall presentation.  The whole delivery of the soundstage exudes control and solidity.

Elegantly designed, well made and easy to install, the Wilson Benesch Full Circle gives a typical hi-fi system a confident and commanding suite of lower frequencies, with an airy midrange that oozes detail.  Showing that it also responds well to tweaks and other improvements, the Full Circle will prove an ideal purchase for beginners, audiophiles and hi-fi enthusiasts.  -Paul Rigby

Wilson Benesch Full Circle Turntable

MSRP: Approx. $4,400 (£2,795)


Analog Source Avid Acutus turntable    SME IV tonearm    Benz Glider cartridge
Preamplifier Aesthetix Calypso
Speakers Quad ESL-57 electrostatics with One Thing Audio upgrade
Power IsoTek Super Titan    IsoTek power cords
Cable Tellurium Q Blue and Black

Pro-Ject Essential Turntable

Pick up a TV guide these days in the UK, look in the back, and you’ll almost assuredly be hit by advertisements for USB-outfitted “miracle turntables” that promise to transfer your vinyl to data for iPod, car, or computer use. Plus, you get an independent platform to play treasured wax. Oy vey. These toys give vinyl a bad name by arousing the suspicion that vinyl really is a dinosaur and all these weird types that bang on about sacred grooves must be in the pay of the hi-fi industry. And yet, the jump from poorly constructed rubbish to audiophile fare isn’t far. Witness the $250 Pro-Ject Essential, the cheapest audiophile deck on the market.

Structurally, the plinth is constructed of MDF with semi-isolating rubber feet. The platter is also created from MDF and sits on a reasonably performing, toughly built bearing. And the single tube-pressed unipivot tonearm is superior to the glued-on headshell type. For such a low-cost turntable, manufacturing has been closely monitored.

Be careful during setup, however. Approach the ‘table gently to avoid pulling on the delicate signal leads connected to the unipivot housing. In order to provide a low center of gravity (which should help with LPs suffering from a touch of warping), the counterweight is low slung. An Ortofon OM 3E cartridge completes the main portion of the deck; not surprisingly, an Ortofon 2M Red reportedly transforms the Essential’s performance. It is also possible to swap another OM stylus to upgrade the cartridge at minimal cost; the bodies are identical.

Laurence Armstrong, managing director of Henley Designs, which acts as the UK distributor for Pro-Ject and design partner for the Essential, confirms that “Everything bar the belt, which is bought in, has been machined in the Pro-Ject factory, even the screws that hold it together. The deck has a far eastern economy of scale with European build quality.”  John Paul Lizars, from Sumiko Audio in the US has also jumped on the bandwagon with the Essential, so by the time you read this it will also be available there.

A Curate’s Egg

After unpacking, all you have to do is attach the belt, add the anti-skate weight and the arm weight, place the mat on the deck, plug in everything, and you’re away. You’ll be finished in 15 minutes. The Essential also comes with a dustcover, which I left off to improve overall sound quality during tests.

Because of the low cost, the Essential is a curate’s egg: Design shortcuts yielded a few foibles. First, the belt sits on the outside of the platter and is a bugger to fit. You need full 3D handling to stretch the belt over each pulley and the outer platter. Also, accidental knocks can twang the belt off the platter. Not vastly important, but potentially irritating. Second, the unipivot arm—by its very nature and because of its inherent design—requires gentle handling. If you’re too rough, it will leap out of its housing. Not a big deal during use and again, at most, irritating.

My third criticism is more a window of opportunity than a drawback. The platter mat should, at your earliest convenience, be consigned to the dustbin and replaced. Better feet isolation should also be considered, as should disposing of the lid and associated hinges to reduce distortion. Suffice it to say that the Essential is a tweaker’s dream and will reward low-cost albeit ingenious sonic improvements. Armstrong agrees.

“We’ve found that swapping the platter mat for a leather mat increases the platter mass, improving speed stability,” he says. “Squash balls under the feet on a solid shelf works well as does a trampoline effect under the deck to create a suspended sub-chassis—unipivots really like that.”

An Easy Listen

What you certainly don’t get with the Essential is any great bass—although this may have more to do with the low-cost cartridge. When playing the Human League’s early electronica masterpiece “Being Boiled” from Travelogue, bass control was minimal and bass weight non-existent. But, you do get detail. Pro-Ject certainly made the best trade-off here. Indeed, details, partly the result of using a unipivot arm, are available in spades; vocals oozed personality.

Midrange and treble fared best via organic instruments. Tripping through Neil Young’s On The Beach, cymbals had a surprising amount of lightness and fragility while an acoustic guitar brimmed with texture and a vivid energy that kept the ear involved. What little bass existed tended to live in the crossover between lower midrange and upper bass frequencies. On more rocking tracks, bass guitar possessed a tremendous grip (considering the unit’s price), while lead electric guitar also tracked well. All the instruments were easily delineated, and instrumental separation proved remarkable given the ‘table’s price point.

Spinning “Lush Life” from John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman’s self-titled album, the basic Ortofon cartridge impressively tackled the rigors of the saxophone and notably maintained control of potentially chaotic frequencies all the while portraying the instrument’s requisite energy. Imaging was only decent, yet the soundstage possessed greater body and depth than that of some $500 CD players.

When playing Stevie Wonder’s ‘”I’d Cry” from the original Tamla LP I Was Made To Love Her, I couldn’t believe how much music came forward. Any ingrained pops and clicks were placed in the background, speaking volumes about the deck’s information retrieval—more expensive budget turntables could learn from it.

A Real Steal

Whether you’re looking to get back into vinyl or are approaching the medium for the first time and have a restricted budget, the Pro-ject Essential is highly recommended. For the price, the turntable screams value: It boasts all of the required basic features and, more importantly, provides an arresting and involving playback—a solid foundation for a top-quality budget hi-fi system.  -Paul Rigby

Pro-Ject Essential

€172 (Black)

€195 (Various colours)  $299 US, both finishes


Preamplifier Aesthetix Calypso
Phono Icon PS3
Power Icon MB845 Monoblocks
Speakers Quad ESL-57 (Slightly Modified)
Cables Avid SCT    Avid ASC

Rega RP8 Turntable

Five years ago, when visiting the Rega factory in the UK, I joined a group of Rega dealers to witness something very special at Rega founder Roy Gandy’s house.

A new skeletal plinth design that was supposed to be a step above the flagship P9, featuring a one off, ceramic platter and what appeared to be an RB1000 tonearm.  Needless to say the sound was fantastic and the following day, back at the factory, we saw more.  Gandy and staff were coy, referring to it as a “prototype,” and a “work in progress,” tempering our enthusiasm, telling us that “it could be out in a few months, a few years, or not at all.”  So, I returned to the States empty-handed, but I did learn how to play cricket.

But time flies when your having fun, and we now have the RP8, looking surprisingly like that prototype I saw years ago, but for a few minor changes.  And, on one level the RP8 is a pretty big jump forward for Rega.  They have always championed a low mass plinth design as the path to analog greatness and the website hints that “this is the first of the skeletal plinth designs.”

Featuring a new RB808 tonearm, which looks like a further refinement of the direction taken with the RB303 on the RP6 turntable, introduced last year, and also features new, lower capacitance tonearm cables, that look very audiophile-like in nature. The RP8 has an MSRP of $2,995, however US customers can purchase one with Rega’s $1,800 Apheta MC cartridge attached and set up for $3,995.  A major bargain, if you have the right phono stage.

The hub/subplatter features a machined aluminum cap, extending all the way down so the belts can contact the full surface. Rega claims that this, combined with the new tonearm provides for increased resolution, and the first record auditioned, Herbie Hancock’s Empyrean Isles brings a new perspective on this Blue Note classic, and illustrates a turntable, tonearm and cartridge all working together as a system.

One of the toughest things facing an analog enthusiast is getting this combination correct, so that the optimum trackability, resolution and stereo separation can be achieved.  Freddie Hubbard’s Coronet bleats out of the left channel, completely occupying the left half of the listening room, with the proper height and spatial relationships – is both beguiling and convincing. The drum kit is miked equally hard right, with Hancock on piano, gently floating in the middle, with Ron Carter’s bass keeping the bass on track, yet dissolved into the stereo image.

Quick Comparisons – up and down the range

Utilizing the Audio Research REF Phono 2SE, with two identical inputs and the ability to load both phono cartridges at the 50 ohms required for utmost HF smoothness (and honestly, my ARC SP11 mk.2, with it’s 30 ohm setting is pure bliss with the Apheta moving coil cartridge, but alas only one input) makes it a snap to compare the RP8 to both the RP6 and P9 to see just how much higher the bar has been raised.

The MoFi version of Aimee Mann’s Lost In Space underscores the improvements on two levels.  This densely layered record needs a first rate analog rig to lay bare all the intriguing textures and spatial cues, which the RP8 aces.  Perhaps even more intriguing is the LF performance of the RP8 – it’s very close to that of the P9.  If you haven’t experienced the P9, it’s not like the rest of the Rega range.   It possesses incredible weight and body.  The RP8 has a similar weighty feel, you almost don’t expect this kind of locked in bass response to come from a table that is the opposite of some of todays massive record players.

That machined aluminum subplatter pays another big dividend; much better pitch stability, and consequently revealing more low level detail.  Where Mann’s delicate voice wavers ever so slightly during “Guys Like Me” on the RP6, it is rock solid when switching to the RP8.  This doesn’t mean the RP6 is rubbish, you don’t notice the difference as easily until you play it right next to the RP8, and let’s face it, the RP8 costs twice as much.

The biggest surprise comes in a side-by-side comparison with the P9.  While the $5,000 P9 still has more LF weight and an even dreamier, more defined high end, the RP8 closes the gap tremendously, leaving this reviewer to wonder what Rega has on the horizon with the RP10.  An urge to spin the recent remaster of Devo’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! Illustrates the huge soundstage the Apheta is capable, with synthesizers and special effects everywhere.  Moving up to the P9 offers an even bigger soundfield, yet pace and timing are equally enticing with both decks, yet the P9 takes the lead, with the opening, distorted bass line of “Mongoloid,” offering more grunt and more texture.

Ticking the necessary boxes

It wouldn’t be an audiophile review without some female vocals, eh?  The Low + Dirty Three In the Fishtank 7 LP seemed the perfect place to start, with it’s dreamy, ethereal vocals, fading way off into the distance of the soundstage on the opening track, “I Hear…Goodnight,” with Mimi Parkers gentle brushwork on the drums so faint, it would be lost on a budget rig.  This record also clearly illustrates the ease by which the Rega combo handles the violin – exquisite.

Going up in tempo to Me’Shell Ndegeocello’s Plantation Lullabies proves that the RP8 and Apheta can rock in a major way; Ndegeocello’s thunderous bass riffs command authority with this table and cartridge anchoring her sensuous vocals all the while.

We covered the Apheta in detail in issue 10 at it’s introduction.  In five years, it’s only gone up in price $300 and my opinion hasn’t changed.  This is a fantastic cartridge with a lightnening fast response, but it must be loaded properly or it will sound harsh and thin.  With comparisons to the RP6 and P9 out of the way, I could go back to in-depth listening through the ARC SP-11 mk.2, which has an incredible on board phono stage that just happens to have a loading setting of 30 ohms – perfection for the Apheta.

This allows the cartridge to have maximum dynamics, smoothing out the HF response at the same time.  Keith Richards “You Don’t Move Me,” From his Talk is Cheap album features great acoustic playing by the riff meister that hangs between the speakers.   Richard’s voice has never been his strong suit, yet it is rendered with plenty of body here.

Regardless of the program material chosen, the RP8/Apheta combination delivers the goods. Though you’ll save a few bucks should you choose an Exact 2 cartridge, if you have a phonostage up to the task, the extra $500 for the Apheta upgrade is the smartest $500 you’ll ever spend in the world of analog.

The nitty gritty

For those not familiar with Rega turntables and phono cartridges, they are the ultimate in simplicity, when it comes to setup.  The Apheta cartridge uses three screws instead of the usual two and this provides perfect alignment.  Your RP8 can arrive with the Apheta already installed, so all you need to do is five minutes of basic assembly (fit the belt, the platter and set tracking force/anti skate) Analog bliss is about 15 minutes away, if you’re really poking.

Personally, I love the skeletal plinth and as I have no children or furry creatures to threaten my analog world, I can bask in the RP8s high tech glory.  Those less fortunate, fear not.  The RP8 comes with a traditional plinth and dust cover that will protect it from the environment.  I could not discern any audible advantage or disadvantage to the extra hardware, but congratulate Rega for providing it.  My audiophile buddies were polarized, they either thought the RP8 was really cool, or tried to explain to me how it couldn’t work.

We could discuss techie bits in further detail, but you can read about that here, on Rega’s website.  Suffice to say they all work together brilliantly and the RP8/Apheta combination reveals more music than most in its class, if not all.  Mounting the Apheta on the VPI Classic 1 gives a warmer, slightly more bass heavy presentation, but it does not offer up the resolution that the RP8 does.  It’s like the difference between a Mini Cooper S and my Fiat Abarth.  You either prefer the more nimble ride of the Abarth or the somewhat more posh ride of the Cooper.  There’s no wrong choice.

However, if you want a high performance record player with next to zero fuss required, I can think of no better choice.

My Rega journey began with the Planar 3 in 1982, and somehow over thirty years later, I have the feeling it’s not over.  Roy Gandy and his crew are a clever group, and as long as they keep refining their turntables, there will be new vinyl adventures from this fine British company.  I’m very happy to award the RP8/Apheta combination one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2013.

-Jeff Dorgay

The Rega RP8 Turntable

MSRP:  $2,995   ($3,995 bundled with Rega Apheta MC cartridge) (factory) (US importer)


Cartridge Rega Apheta MC
Phonostage Audio Research REF Phono 2SE
Preamplifier Audio Research REF 5SE, Audio Research SP-11mk. 2
Power Amplifier Octave Jubilee Monoblocks
Speakers Sonus faber Guarneri Evolution
Cables Cardas Clear
Power IsoTek Super Titan
Accessories Furutech DeMag, DeStat, GIK acoustic treatments

AVID Ingenium Turntable

In the world of racing, lighter is better and anything not contributing to getting across the finish line first is deemed useless, but in the world of turntables mass is usually considered an asset.

We’ve seen a proliferation of tables that merely just chunk on the weight – adding massive platters and enormous plinths, (often eschewing real engineering in the process) chroming everything along the way to justify a high price. This has never been the mantra at AVID.

AVID designer Conrad Mas continues to refine his design in the hope of making a table in the highly competitive price range occupied by the Rega RP6, VPI Traveler (and a few others) without compromising the engineering and performance principals that make an AVID an AVID.

AVID has always taken a more intelligent approach, using mass where needed to get the job done along with a highly tuned suspension to extract the maximum amount of information from those delicate grooves.  Their highly successful Diva and Diva IISP turntables use the same W-shaped plinth, derived from the original Acutus design, forming the critical bridge between the tonearm and the turntable bearing, with a simplified elastomer based suspension.  The Ingenium’s MDF platter, bearing, spindle and clamp are directly off the Diva II assembly line; but its plinth uses a simpler, rectangle-shaped part, keeping CNC time to a minimum.  It also allows the user to see the spindle rotate during playback – kind of cool for technology lovers. The elastomers are a different shape than those of the Diva series tables, but made of the same material and to the same tolerance.

This configuration brings AVID performance to a wider range of customers. If AVID’s Volvere turntable is a Lotus Elise, think of the Ingenium as a Caterham 7; distilling the AVID concept as far as it can go, but no further.

Would you like some fries with that?

Setting the tonearm down on War’s “Lowrider” reveals the signature AVID sound – big dynamics and rock solid bass. You can’t have a Diva IISP for $1,350 but you do get a lot more than you bargain for at this price, and the Ingenium succeeds brilliantly. The big question is how to configure your Ingenium.  The table is available without tonearm, drilled for a Pro-Ject Carbon arm for $1,300, 9-inch SME arm for $1,350 and a 12-inch SME for $1,550.  It can also be purchased in a dual arm configuration for $1,950 – the model we have here.  The entry level Ingenium is available with the Pro-Ject arm already installed (and it is a great arm, also featured as standard equipment on the Oracle Paris) and can be ordered with or without the AVID clamp, again an effort at keeping cost to a minimum with performance at maximum.

Mr. Mas and I have gone back and forth about the validity of a dual tonearm setup (he’s against it, I’m for it), so his catering to the true analogaholic and offering this option is highly commendable. I am convinced that this functionality, usually limited to some of the world’s most expensive turntables, is an essential feature to fully enjoy analog, whether you use that second tonearm for a mono cartridge, a budget cartridge for playing rough records, or an alternate tonal balance at the ready.

Spending a ton of cash in the context of a dual arm Ingenium isn’t necessary to reap the benefits.  With so many used SME, Rega and other arms on the market, that second arm is well in reach.  For this review, the SME 309 arm ($2,250 new, usually around $800 on the used market) and the new Ortofon TA-110 ($1,495 new) offer the best of both worlds – both having removable headshells, with the Ortofon using a more universal headshell, compatible with the vintage SME 3009 and the Technics SL-1200 tonearms.  The Ortofon arm is easy to install, streamlining the process for those loving to mix it up with their cartridge collection.  The majority of my listening was done with the Shure V15mxVr, the Ortofon MC Vivo Blue and the Zu Denon 103 – all cartridges in a range of about $400 – $600.

I modified an Ortofon arm adaptor from the Volvere SP, but AVID should have these available shortly as a regular item for the Ingenium.  Should you be as impatient as I am, the threads can be gently drilled clean with the aid of a drill press to keep the holes perpendicular to the board, allowing the threaded screws supplied with the Ingenium to clamp the board down.  This is the opposite of the other AVID turntables.

A joy to listen to

Tracking through the Art of Noise’s Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise? reveals a wide and deep soundstage, with all the minute synth bits and vocal echoes floating all over the room, well beyond the speaker boundaries – the mark of a great turntable. (or hallucinogen) The bass line in “Moments in Love” stays solid, never lacking weight or focus at the expense of blurring the musical information in the rest of the track.

The combination of layered vocals and multi-instrumental talent on Egberto Gismonti and Nana Vasconcelos’ Duas Voices, again highlights how well the AVID/SME combination retrieves inner detail and preserves transient attack.  This album is full of lightning fast acoustic guitar runs and explosive percussion – Vasconcelos’ specialty. The degree of texture present with the bongos here is enlightening, and the rich decay of each guitarist’s hands as they slap against their guitar bodies adds to the dimension of realism that this table offers.

More great guitar licks abound on Ry Cooder’s Into the Purple Valley, with a plethora of layered vocals here too.  This densely packed record is a torture test for low-level detail and tracking ability – if everything isn’t sorted, it just sounds like an AM radio. Another test easily passed by the Ingenium.

Basic functionality

The rock solid bass and image detail can be chalked up, in part to the excellent speed stability of the Ingenium.  The Feickert analog tools reveal the Ingenium spot on in terms of speed and when monitored over time, unwavering.  AVID deviates from the standard practice of most other belt drive turntable manufacturers using a low torque motor to drive the platter, choosing a high torque, high power motor instead – feeling this offers better control over the platter and minimal effect from stylus drag.

The Ingenium starts up with the sheer spin of a direct drive table, at full speed almost immediately. The only odd bit about the Ingenium is the power button; instead of being built into the plinth or in an outboard enclosure, it’s merely a rocker switch incorporated into the AC cord.  Be sure to route the cable accordingly so that it can be easily accessed.  A small sacrifice indeed, for this level of performance.

The basic elastomer suspension works well to isolate the table from the room. Acoustic feedback was nonexistent at high volume, and arbitrary raps near the Ingenium on the equipment rack barely came through the speakers. Not as effective as the suspended AVID tables, but way better than the non suspended tables in my collection.

Fantastic results

At the end of the test, mounting an identical SME 309 tonearm on the AVID Acutus Reference SP table confirms how well the entry level table stacks up against AVID’s finest, with the Zu Denon cartridge affixed to each arm, using the Aesthetix Rhea phonostage as a conduit to my reference system.  The Ingenium provides stellar performance in the context of a Journeyman level system (Electrocompaniet integrated, a pair of KEF LS-50s and the AVID Pellar phonostage), and it is no slouch in my reference system.  Compared to AVID’s top table, the lineage is clearly confirmed.  The Ingenium shares all of the same virtues of the Acutus Reference SP, just in a smaller dose.

True to the AVID design brief, each table up the range consistently reveals more music than the one before it. Having owned or reviewed every AVID table in the range except the Sequel, I can say this with 100% confidence.

Because our test Ingenium is fitted with a tonearm costing nearly twice as much as the table itself, even cursory comparison with the Rega RP6 and VPI Traveler isn’t fair. However, it is to AVID’s credit that this table performs so well with the 309, offering the prudent enthusiast a major glimpse at what high end analog is really all about without spending five figures.  We will get a standard edition Ingenium without clamp and featuring the Pro-Ject arm to investigate further very soon.

Utilizing the second tonearm configuration proves a ton of fun. The Ortofon arm makes it a cinch to go through my collection of cartridges mounted on the standard Ortofon headshells, swapping one for the other at will.  Though slightly retro, the Ortofon SPU is another heavenly match for the Ingenium.  Substituting the Lyra Kleos Mono, normally used on the Thorens TD-124 extracts a great performance from my mono Beatles and Stones records.  Grado, Ortofon and Denon (to name a few great examples) all offer fantastic mono cartridges in the $200 – $300 range, so you can take full advantage of this functionality without going broke, I just happened to have the Kleos on hand.

Even those with a modest collection of mono LP’s, will be surprised at how much more lifelike they sound played back with a proper mono cartridge.  The Shure M97xe also proves a great match for the AVID table/Ortofon tonearm combination and provides a budget alternative as a starter cartridge, it’s excellent for tracking through questionable yard sale finds, or favorites that are warped.  In some instances, the thrift store specials sound better with a low budget cartridge.

This level of performance, convenience and style makes for an award winning product.  We awarded the Ingenium one of our ten Publishers Choice awards for 2012, and feel that this table is at the top of the $2,000 turntable category in every way. But just as in racing, the competition is always in your rear view mirror.  The good news for analog lovers is that we all benefit from this competition.

The AVID Ingenium Turntable

MSRP:  $1,350 – $2,560 (depending on configuration)

Tonearm Ortofon TA-110, SME 309, SME 3009
Cartridge Ortofon Vivo MC Blue, Zu Denon 103, Shure V15mxvr, Ortofon SPU, Grado Master 1
Phonostage AVID Pellar, Decware Zen, Aesthetix Rhea
Amplifier Electrocompaniet ECI 3
Speakers KEF LS50, Dynaudio Confidence C1 II
Cables Cardas Clear
Accessories Furutech DeMag, DeStat, GIK acoustic treatments

The Kronos Turntable

It’s not every day you get to see something new for the first time, and as a reviewer, so much better when said new component is in a system that you are actually familiar with.

The debut of the Kronos turntable in Montreal just happened to be in a room possessing the same dimensions and orientation of my own, built around a system featuring a pair of Sonus faber Stradivari speakers, all powered by Audio Research Reference components.  So much for making the excuse of “needing to hear it in my system!”  Kronos designer Louis Desjardins was even using a Lyra Skala cartridge, one of my current references at the time.  Many others voted the Kronos room best sound of the Montreal show – and it’s reassuring to see multiple critics agree on what constitutes great sound.

I’ve been living with the Kronos turntable for eight months now, so consider this a “long term” review.  It’s easy for reviewers and audiophiles alike to get caught up in the excitement of a product, either at a dealer or in the fever of a show environment.  Clearly everyone was buzzing about the Kronos in Montreal last year, and the other shows the table has been presented.  Desjardins has been strategic, not letting just anyone use his table at shows, keeping the exposure limited to fantastic systems.

Yet after living with the Kronos for the better part of 2012 and having the chance to use it with multiple tonearms and cartridges, my impression is even better than it was when the audition began. Minimizing my results, the SME arms both lend more weight to the LF spectrum, while the Graham is slightly more nimble, ever so slightly more resolving.  However, both are close enough, especially when using the SME V-12, that your choice of cartridge will be the ultimate deciding factor.  And neither proved to be a “wrong” choice.

Double your pleasure

The key aspect of the Kronos table is it’s two platters.  Other manufacturers have produced tables with more than one platter, but Kronos’ variation on the theme is to rotate their second, identical, 30-pound platter in the  opposite direction of the main platter spinning the record.  In essence, it completely cancels any vibration induced by the first.  Mitsubishi licensed a similar technology to Porsche back in the 1980s for the engine in the 944.  This 2.5-liter, straight four-cylinder engine was as smooth as a BMW inline six utilizing a counter rotating shaft opposite the crankshaft to achieve this effect.

Due to the plinth size of the Kronos, this table is better suited to 12-inch tonearms.  Our review began with the SME 312, with guest appearances by the SME V12 and Graham.  The short story here is to buy the best arm you can afford with the Kronos; its astonishingly low noise floor reveals every last molecule of detail the arm is capable of extracting from your cartridge.

Grain gone

Feickert’s PlatterSpeed app reveals 33.33 rpm exactly.  The Kronos also has a pair of LED readouts, monitoring the speed of both platters and it tracked perfectly with the Feickert measurements.  The aluminum top platter has a carbon fiber inlay and no mat is needed.

Initial listening begins with the Sumiko Palo Santos cartridge, the cartridge that has replaced my Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum with no regrets and is a favorite because of its general easygoing character, and synergistic match with SME tonearms.  (Full review here)

The rock solid speed accuracy of the Kronos is immediately noticeable, playing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64. This instrument is tough to get right and on lesser tables devolves into a screechy mess.  The first 30 seconds of this piece right before the orchestra joins in, is so delicate, yet a joy to hear rendered by the Kronos, all of its subtle overtones gracefully intact.  The long synthesizer sustain at the beginning of Triumvirat’s “The Capital of Power” reveals the same thing.  On a budget table, the synth warbles like a cassette that’s been left in the sun too long, yet here an unmistakable richness comes through.

This combination of speed accuracy and the 12-inch tonearm, makes it easy to fool yourself that perhaps you are listening to a reel to reel tape, or a linear tracking arm. The usual crew of analog fans that stop by to check out the latest gear all made similar comments, and even those outside the fringe, commented about “how real” the music sounds played on the Kronos.

The Kronos integrates inner detail with wide dynamic swings.  The only other table in the studio with a 12-inch tonearm is the AMG V-12; so comparing the two is not a direct “apples to apples” comparison.  24/192 digital samples (via the Nagra LB recorder) confirm the benefit of the longer tonearm, yet the Kronos has an unmistakable sonic signature, even when captured to high-resolution digital files.

Tons of texture

On a certain level, the Kronos is not unlike the $150,000 Continuum turntable in its rock solid bass stability and texture resolution.  Auditioning highly familiar LPs with bass heavy grooves instantly unearths just how special this turntable is.  Even the heartbeat at the beginning of Dark Side of the Moon, is more visceral, has more dimension and subtlety than before. The opening bass riff of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused,” utterly fantastic, you can almost feel the grille cloth rattling on John Paul Jones’ bass cabinets.

This is not limited just to the bass.  Acoustic instruments take on more charm via the Kronos too.  Those loving female vocals will be in heaven.  The transition as Betty Davis’ goes from bedroom whisper to bar room growl in “Bar Hoppin” is seamless.   I suppose you could listen to Eva Cassidy, nah. Male vocals are equally exciting.

However, the fine detail that this table exposes is its greatest strength.  Tracking through Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets unearths an abundance of buried treasure, especially on the track “Dead Finks Don’t Talk.”  Re-assessing a cache of densely packed records opens up recordings that felt overly compressed, again proving how much information is really packed in those fine grooves.

I’ve always felt that a great hifi system should expand your music collection, not limit it to a handful of audiophile darlings that always seem to be stuck to the platter.  Much like the AVID Acutus REF SP, the Kronos’ ability to disperse the music buried in the grooves more evenly, makes records that might have been passed off as not worthy of your system much more palatable.  Resolution without fatigue is the essence of the Kronos turntable. Even my awful copy of Boston’s Don’t Look Back sounds pretty darn good.  Imagine what the best pressings in your collection will sound like.  It’s better than that.

All this quiet makes the Kronos a perfect place to test-drive premium phono cartridges.  With the Lyra Titan-I, Atlas and Clearaudio Goldfinger at hand, (and the Nagra LB close by) it was time to up the ante.  All three of these mega dollar cartridges perform flawlessly in concert with the Kronos, though I would suggest the SME V-12, Graham or something equally magnificent.  The 312 is a great way to enjoy the Kronos, and works well with a wide range of cartridges, but if you are going for a cost no object cart, I feel you might be leaving a bit of resolution at the door with the 312.

Get a solid shelf

The Kronos weighs 90 pounds when you remove the parts from the neatly packed, aluminum flight case.  The box was so compact, that when it arrived, we initially thought they forgot to ship something.  High marks to Kronos for shipping their table in such a compact, yet robust case – it’s a definite value add.

With three separate sub plinths, two motors, a motor controller and of course those two 30 pound platters, I expected setup to take all day, yet designer Desjardins had the Kronos ready to roll in under 45 minutes, with the Sumiko cartridge nearly optimized to perfection.  A few test tracks later, it was fully dialed in and we went to lunch.

The Burmester equipment racks in the TONEAudio studio are not the last word in vibration control, but they are overbuilt, supporting heavy gear with ease.  Because of this, they are particularly handy at seeing how well a turntable’s suspension does at filtering out ambient vibration.  Even when pounding on the top shelf, the Kronos stops the vibration from getting through to the speakers – highly impressive.

Utilizing a pair of ultra high quality Swiss DC motors, the Kronos table makes use of a small external power supply connected via two cables. A three-pin cable transmits the DC power, and the other; a four-pin cable transmits data, making it impossible to connect things improperly. One of the many small details that makes the Kronos so special.

Capacitance sensors power the table on and off, and change the speed, so they will never have to be replaced, and the digital readout is amply sized, making it easy to see what you are spinning!  Desjardins claims a one-year interval on lubricating the pulleys and five years on the main bearings, keeping maintenance to a minimum.

Every aspect of the Kronos turntable feels over built, with fit and finish equally excellent for what was turntable number two in the eventual production run of 250 units.  As Desjardins wrapped his visit this spring, he had already sold 50 tables worldwide since its official introduction in January of 2012 at the Consumer Electronics Show. It will be exciting to see just what he’s got in store for 2013.

In the light of other tables from AVID, Clearaudio and SME to name a few, the Kronos is polished and up to task.  I award the Kronos one of our nine Publishers Choice awards for 2012 – it remains as enjoyable to listen to as the day it arrived. Here’s to Louis Desjardins’ continued growth and success.

The Kronos Turntable (limited to 250 units)

MSRP: $28,000


Phonostage ARC REF Phono 2, Vitus Audio MPP-201
Power Amplifier ARC REF 150
Preamplifier ARC REF 5SE
Speakers GamuT S9, Sonus faber Aida
Cables Cardas Clear
Accessories Furutech DeMag, DeStat, GIK acoustic treatments

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

First US Review: The Rega RP3

Roy Gandy, the founder of Rega Research, proceeds with new ideas and new products at his own pace. Two years ago, Gandy had a prototype table in his listening room that looked as if it could have been a replacement for the P9 turntable, the top end of Rega’s range. But with an impish grin, Gandy quickly pointed out that it was only an “engineering exercise” and that the concept could either make it into production in months, not at all, or “be incorporated somewhere else in the range.”

And now, we have the RP3. While the RP1 came to market as a replacement for the relatively recent P1, the P3 model that the RP3 replaces has been evolving for more than 30 years. Beginning its product life as the Planar 3 back in 1978, the P3 is not only the ‘table that put Rega on the map in the US but the one that gave the company the widest brand identity. It’s tough to find a veteran vinyl enthusiast that isn’t familiar with the P3.

So it isn’t at all surprising to see that, just weeks after its release, the $895 RP3 creating its fair share of buzz. From a technical standpoint, Rega upgraded a number of areas: The main bearing, tonearm, and plinth. (The 24-volt motor has not changed; it is the same motor found in the current P3-24 model.) What’s more, the company enacted the improvements while holding the line on the price. Fence sitters should grab an RP3 sooner than later. Its price already increased in the UK, and given the unpredictability of currency variations, there’s no telling how long the “introductory pricing” will last. Rega’s US importer, Steve Daniels mentioned that this is only for the US market and that it was his choice to keep the price down in order to build excitement for the new model.

Expecting a major overhaul? Move on. At Rega, it’s evolution not revolution, so current P3 owners need not worry that their current investment is worthless. Those that have an older ‘table lacking the 24-volt motor (P3, P3-2000, Planar 3, P2, and P25) can purchase an upgrade kit for $225. The new motor is better in every way—quieter and more balanced, translating into less rumble and a lower noise floor. The best reason for upgrading? The new motor allows you to add the TT-PSU power supply to the ‘table, and boasts the ability to change platter speed at the touch of a button (instead of removing the platter and moving the belt on the pulley) and further refinement of speed accuracy.

While Rega claims that the RP3 uses “virtually the same motor” as the P7 and P9, there is some variation on the theme. Higher-range models utilize more sophisticated power supplies, and the P9 uses a dual-drive belt system. This method follows Rega’s approach to tonearm design, where top-line RB 700 and RB 1000 arms start as the same casting but get machined, balanced, and assembled to increasingly higher standards. It’s one reason why Rega products offer such consistently high value; the firm doesn’t reinvent the wheel with every model.

On the new design, Gandy’s automotive engineering background instantly becomes apparent. He believes excess mass is detrimental to performance, and his ‘tables always champion low mass rather than a high mass approach that tends to go in and out of fashion. The RP3 advances this strategy, with a lighter-mass plinth than the P3-24. A careful look at the tonearm mounting reveals the new “double brace” that Rega incorporated. The machined part allows for increased stiffness between the tonearm and turntable bearing—perhaps the most critical area for structural rigidity. This is the key component in the RP3, and contributes to both the lack of midrange smear and generous soundstage width.

Apples to Apples

With a P3-24/TT-PSU already on hand as a reference ‘table, a direct comparison between it and the RP3 became painless courtesy of the two-input Audio Research REF Phono 2 preamplifier. Both ‘tables had a brand-new Rega Exact MM cartridge ($595) and were precisely set to 1.75g via the Clearaudio Weight Watcher digital scale. A quick check of turntable speed via test record and multimeter confirmed that both ‘tables were spot on at 33.3RPM. The REF Phono 2’s dual inputs were both identically configured for gain and loading, and thanks to a few sequential records from Mobile Fidelity, a direct comparison was only seconds away.

When using the Exact with the new RB303 tonearm, the plastic washer required for the third mounting screw is no longer necessary, a luxury that provides an even more secure mechanical connection between cartridge and tonearm. The three-screw mounting arrangement makes it much easier to get cartridge alignment right. It’s a shame more manufacturers don’t take advantage of this configuration.  For those wanting the ultimate convenience the RP3 can be ordered with the Elys 2 cartridge pre-installed for $1,095 or the Exact for $1,390.

The Comparo

Staff member Jerold O’Brien was enlisted to preside over the turntable connections and provide comic relief. To avoid any pre-conceived bias, he did not tell me what turntable was playing at any given time. He merely started both records, letting me switch between the two via the REF Phono 2 remote and take notes. It only took a few choice cuts to decide on “Input 2,” which ended up being the RP3. O’Brien arrived at the same conclusion a day later when he returned to check my progress.

Rega turntables have always had a fast, lively sound that some have found slightly thin. The RP3 offers a robust improvement in bass weight over the prior P3-24. While listening to favorites from Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Deadmau5, I noticed a firmer low end and additional texture. The new ‘table offered superior pace and bolder bass lines.

The RP3 also claims the edge in HF detail and freedom from grain. The P3-24 never sounded grainy before, but when listening alongside the RP3, the difference was clear. The gap widened when I added the TT-PSU external power supply to the equation.  The decrease in noise floor and increase in low-level detail allowed the RP3 to take advantage of the Exact cartridge to a degree that the P3-24 could not. Listening to Godley & Creme’s L revealed a density that’s always eluded me on ‘tables in the RP3’s price range. Much like a Frank Zappa composition, various layers of overdubbed information are present on the record, and while this characteristic won’t reveal tonality, it does reveal resolution. The RP3 kept the pace intact on “Sandwiches of You,” a particularly tough track that features spastic vibes, numerous vocal layers, and fitful drumming. Where the P3-24 becomes somewhat vague at the peak of such activity, the RP3 presents the layers sorted. Again, adding the TT-PSU paid considerable dividends.

The new RB303 tonearm is another major factor in the new ‘table’s increased clarity and resolution. While the two arms look similar, a rigorous examination of the pivot area reveals the new arm to be beefier than its predecessor. Combining the latter aspect with careful attention to mass distribution and improved bearings further explains the additional detail I experienced—particularly with acoustic music. When comparing nearly identical pressings of Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die, sax and flute solos possessed more body with the new ‘table, regardless of what pressing I spun.

Almost as telling as its performance with music, the RP3 handled the occasional pop and tick much more efficiently. Whereas such sporadic bits of noise had a certain amount of duration and overhang on the P3-24, the new ‘table quickly disposed of the annoying components. The resultantly improved transient attack gave drums a refreshing vitality, whether it was the processed Roland Space Echo solo during Peter Criss’ “100 Thousand Years” from Kiss’ Alive! or the pristine rhythms of Art Blakey’s “Elephant Walk” from Orgy in Rhythm.

For those fearing the REF Phono 2 too upscale for a pair of $900 turntables, the difference between the RP3 and P3-24 is still easily discernable when listening through the Croft Micro 25/Series 7 combination we reviewed earlier this year, via a pair of recently restored JBL L-100s. To make the test even tougher, the highly un-audiophile speakers were connected to the Croft combo via 16-gauge Radio Shack lamp cord.

A New Benchmark

With so much chatter about high-resolution digital files and new $1,000-and-under DACs introduced on what feels like a monthly basis, it’s refreshing to see this much dedication spent on an equally priced turntable. The RP3 stands as one of the best price/performance ‘tables on the market today. If you can add the Exact and TT-PSU to your budget, all the better. But if not now, they certainly make for a great upgrade path as you go further down the road. Enthusiastically recommended.

Rega RP3

MSRP:  $895, TT-PSU $375, Exact Cartridge $595

Manufacturer Information (US) (UK)

Consonance XBB Turntable:

It’s a great time to be a vinyl enthusiast. Despite all the excitement over five- and six-figure turntables, many audiophiles are not spending that kind of dough on record players. There are a lot of music lovers exploring vinyl for the first time and getting their feet wet with a $300 to $500 table-and-cartridge combination, but if you really want a stronger dose of analog magic (and remember, digital keeps getting better all the time), you need to spend some more money.

How much money you ask? I’ve always felt that about $1,500 to $2,500 is an excellent plateau for a turntable and phono-cartridge combination. If you can increase your budget to this range, you’ll get a much more substantial analog experience than an entry-level table has to offer without heading off to never-never land. Of course, this number is not in stone, but this is where I’ve always felt you can really enjoy the subtleties that make analog fantastic. For the time being, I’m assuming that you already have a phono stage built into your preamplifier or have a suitable outboard phono stage already on hand. If not, budget about another $1,000 here and you will be well rewarded.

If you can afford to make this kind of investment in an analog front end, there are a plethora of choices when shopping for a new turntable. There are some bargains to be found on the web occasionally, but more often than not, used-turntable transactions end up with a frown instead of a smile because precious few people take the necessary care to pack a turntable so that it reaches its destination in one piece. So for now, let’s talk new.

The competition

There are some great tables in the $1,000 to $2,000 range from Rega, VPI, Pro-ject and a few others, not to mention the outstanding Clearaudio Concept we reviewed just recently. Add one more to your list: the Consonance XBB is the real deal, and it takes a different approach than the others in its immediate price range, making it very intriguing.

Ian and Rachel at Grant Fidelity have been importing some great gear from China over the past few years combining high performance with some very reasonable prices, and their customer service has been exemplary. We just reviewed their Shugyuang Premium EL-34 tubes last issue and they are fantastic. And well-worth mentioning, their customer service is second to none. So I was very excited to receive their latest turntable, which has an MSRP of $1,465 with the standard nine-inch tonearm. For an additional $210, you can add a 12-inch arm tube that will require configuring the turntables’ base differently so you can achieve the proper spindle-to-pivot distance required for the 12-inch tonearm.


The XBB is a plinth-less design that goes together quickly. Once you remove the metal bars that make up the base and lower the one-inch-thick acrylic platter onto the bearing surface, the only remaining step is to attach the unipivot arm and dial it in with your favorite cartridge. And what a cool tonearm it is! The long, carbon-fiber shaft is somewhat reminiscent of the one featured on the Well Tempered Arm, with a quick disconnect so that additional arm tubes can be easily substituted. Once exposed, the main bearing can be filled with the supplied oil to damp its movement.

The Consonance arm uses a threaded tube that allows you to set the VTA easily for any cartridge, which is a rarity at this price point. Once you snug down the two round washers on top and below the arm mount, there is a 4mm Allen bolt in the turntable base to snug the tube the rest of the way. Fail to take this last step and low bass will suffer.

The other side of the tonearm connector has a short pair of unshielded leads that connect to a pair of RCA jacks, allowing you the flexibility of choosing your own phono interconnect. While convenient in theory, this was my only complaint with the table. With these just hanging loosely from the tonearm mount, I see this as an area that could be problematic for someone who accesses this on a regular basis, changing cables. You could very easily bump the counterweight and send the tonearm bouncing across a record. Set-it-and-forget-it types will be fine, and in all fairness, I’d still rather see this arrangement than have such a good turntable be handicapped by a mediocre tonearm cable that is hardwired in place.

When unpacking the Consonance turntable for the first time, be careful not to misplace the belt; it is a very fine, monofilament material (much like fishing line) wrapped around a tiny paper bobbin. It does not stretch at all. So again, caution is the word when installing it.

Cartridges and setup

Once assembled, a quick speed check with the Acoustic Sounds test record and my digital multimeter revealed that all was well. The 1000 Hz track played at exactly 1,000 Hz right out of the box.

The Consonance arrives sans cartridge, but I did try a range of cartridges in the $400-$1,000 range, settling on the Clearaudio Maestro Wood MM. I was able to achieve excellent performance with the Lyra Dorian as well, but staying with a moving-magnet design really kept with the ethos of not getting too carried away with the checkbook on this setup. If you already have a MC preamplifier, a great MC cart in the $1,000 to $2,000 range will not embarrass this table.

Cartridge setup is straightforward, but if you’ve never used a unipivot arm before, the “floppiness” at the pivot point is somewhat unnerving until you get accustomed to it. When setting the azimuth, it’s critical to have the half-moon shaped counterweight perfectly level or you will have some serious channel-balance issues. You will spend a bit of time going back and forth between optimum tracking force and perfect azimuth adjustment, but your cartridge will be much better off for it. Anti-skate is set with a small hanging weight, as is common on many of the Pro-ject arms.

The table was auditioned primarily in my second system, consisting of the McIntosh C500 preamplifier and MC 1.2kw power amplifiers driving a pair of B&W 805D speakers with JL Audio Gotham Subwoofer. Near the end of the review period, it was transferred to my main system to provide direct comparisons with my reference table/cartridge combinations.


I was immediately struck by the openness of the presentation with the Consonance and spent an uncharacteristically long time listening to female vocalists. When listening to K.D. Lang’s All You Can Eat LP, there was a wealth of inner detail that is not normally present to this degree on similarly priced tables. It seems like Consonance and Clearaudio have both raised the bar substantially for turntable performance in the $1,400 range. I noticed the same effect with Fleetwood Mac’s self titled remaster on Mobile Fidelity; as Christine McVie’s voice faded out on “Warm Ways,” there was a longer gradation between the softness in her voice than that delivered by my trusty Technics SL-1200 on input 2. This is indicative of a solid-bearing design, not letting the finest details get lost in the noise floor. And just like the Clearaudio table, the DC motor responds very well to battery power, giving this table even better low-level resolution. But that’s an article for another time.

In fear of mellowing out too much, AC/DC’s 12-inch 45 maxi single of “Let’s Get It Up” was the next selection, and if you are an AC/DC fan, searching one of these out is a must. Although the album on which this track is originally featured (For Those About to Rock) is somewhat compressed, spreading this track out on a full side of vinyl spinning at 45 rpm is a tour de force of rock dynamics, giving you a tremendous insight into what a wall of Marshall amplifiers really sound like. Make no mistake, this table can rock and even though the Consonance is a suspensionless design, it is relatively impervious to acoustic feedback, even at high SPL.

While the battery power will increase the resolution of this table, the parameter that might drive you crazy is making the choice for a mat. The table comes supplied with a 2mm thick, spongy rubber mat. Ian told me that the table’s designer prefers to use the table with no mat, but that was a bit too harsh for my taste. If you have a cartridge possessing a more lush tonal balance, this may be just perfect. Experimentation on the mat is a worthwhile endeavor and will help you fine tune the table to your liking.  For now, the standard issue, Rega felt mat is my favorite and easily removable arm wands make it easy to use multiple phono cartridges.


Add the Consonance XBB to the very short list of fine turntables in the $1,500 to $2,000 range. It offers everything that an analog lover would want (great sound, ease of setup and a tweekable upgrade path) with no downside at a very reasonable price. This one is joining our long-term turntable fleet.

Exclusive-The Rega RP1

RP1-1Rega met the budget turntable challenge in 2006 with their entry-level P1 turntable, offering the budding vinyl enthusiast a way to join the Rega camp with a brand new table and Ortofon OM5e cartridge for only $400. While Rega has always been one of the best values going in turntables, inflation and world currency markets have taken their toll everywhere. I remember purchasing my first Planar 3 turntable (back in 1979, without cartridge) for $389. Those were the days.

The P1 was a strong seller, though the table did draw criticism for its MDF platter, which did not yield the best wow and flutter specs. Many P1 owners spent an additional $65 and quickly upgraded to the glass platter that used to come on the older versions of the P2, with a definite improvement.

Rega founder Roy Gandy is a mechanical engineer to the core and is always looking for a way to improve his products. When I visited the Rega factory last summer and again this spring, Gandy made it a point to tell me how much thought goes into his entry-level turntable. (Though he wasn’t spilling the beans about the RP1 in March…) “Every fifty cents that you spend at this price point is a challenge, and it’s always a great exercise to see just how much performance can be incorporated into the final design.”

Enter the RP1 four years later than the introduction of P1 and with only a $50 increase in MSRP; this table is a massive improvement. In all aspects the RP1 is now on par with the P2, but more about that as we continue… Now I know why Roy Gandy’s Acura NSX has a heavy layer of dust on it, he’s been spending a lot of late nights in the lab.

Keeping it simple

Rega has always stood for simplicity, but in recent years, they’ve added some stylish finishes to their turntable range, especially the P3 models that are available in a rainbow of colors. For the RP1, they stripped it to the bone, and have three finishes available; white, grey and platinum, which looks like white with just a tinge of grey mixed in.

There is no external power supply like the P3-24, which allows the turntable speed to be changed at the push of a button. If you want to spin 45’s, you’ll have to take the platter off and move the belt manually to the other groove on the pulley, just like in the old days. The new RB101 tonearm uses a three point mounting platform, just like the rest of the Rega tonearm range, and utilizes composite materials as in the RB301 arm.
Unbox and go… almost

There’s no easier turntable on Earth to set up than the RP1. It comes with the cartridge already mounted. Breaking out the Clearaudio test record and portable strobe showed the speed to be spot on at 33 r.p.m. The OM5e has a tracking force range of 1.5-2.0 grams with a suggested tracking force of 1.75 grams. If you slide the counterweight all the way up to the ridge at the back of the tonearm, you will have a tracking force of 1.8 grams. Bias/antiskate was left at the factory setting of just over one gram and I was spinning my first record in about five minutes. This is the perfect table for vinyl newcomers; anyone can set it up.

In my hurry to start spinning records I did notice some inner groove distortion on the first few records I played. Checking the cartridge setup with MoFi’s Geo Disc revealed that the alignment was indeed off a tiny bit. I’ll chalk that up to being bounced around on a variety of carriers between the UK and my doorstep. However, a quick adjustment was all it took to put things right and five minutes later I was back to Neil Young.

The sound and some comparisons

Having owned every turntable Rega has produced so far except for the P7, the lineage was apparent as I played the first track. The RP1 has a substantial helping of the “Rega Sound”, with speedy attack, and a clean midrange. I had saved some 24/96 digital samples of playback from the P1 (courtesy of my Nagra LB digital recorder) and there was no mistake that the RP1 is a major step up. Listening to samples of both turntables playing selections from The Netherlands Wind Ensemble’s Beethoven Wind Music, the dramatic reduction in wow and flutter in the new table was instantly apparent. Flute and oboe had a woodier, more solid texture to them. In case you don’t have a copy of this record around, a more accessible selection would be Jethro Tull’s “Song for Jeffrey” from their Living In The Past album. You should be able to draw the same conclusion with Ian Anderson’s flute playing.

RP1-3The combination of an improved platter and bearing are a big hit on the RP1. Listening to samples from both tables on the MoFi edition of Genesis’ Trick of the Tail had the RP1 again trumping the P1 in bass weight on “Squonk” and HF definition and delicacy on the title track. Cymbals definitely had a smoother decay on the RP1 as well.

Borrowing a friend’s P2 with an identical OM5e installed, allowed for a real-time comparison. The ARC REF Phono 2’s identical inputs, gain and loading could be set identically for both tables allowing a rapid switch between them, minimizing aural memory losses. I was also able to compare the RP1 with the standard platter and the glass platter of the P2. Since Rega is discontinuing the P1 and the P2 in favor of the RP1, feeling that it provides comparable performance to the P2, I must concur with their findings. Even on my reference system, featuring a $12,000 Audio Research REF Phono 2, these two tables are too close in performance to hear a difference with the supplied cartridge. I think that speaks volumes for the performance of the new RP1.

Rega has done a lot of work on their new phenolic resin platter and again, this is a success. Repeated swaps between it and a standard Rega glass platter were impossible to define, so even though your brain might be telling you that the plastic platter can’t work, it does. The familiar felt turntable mat that has been with Rega turntables since the beginning is present and accounted for on the RP1, though I suspect the new platter’s textured surface provides a better mat to platter interface than the old glass platter did on the P2 and P3.

Numerous comparisons between the new platter and the glass platter on the RP1 was inconclusive; you can spend the extra dough on a glass platter thinking you are getting an “upgrade” but I couldn’t hear it. The only area that the P2 bested the RP1 slightly was when I swapped the OM5e for the (almost $400) Denon DL-103R moving coil cartridge. I suspect this was due to the RB-251 tonearm on the P2’s tighter production tolerances than the arm on the RP1. Using a $400 cartridge with a $450 turntable may be negating the “budget” concept of the RP1 though. And remember, I was hearing a miniscule difference on a six-figure reference system.

Substituting the new Croft Micro 25 preamplifier and Series 7 amplifier currently in for review ($1,395 ea.) and a pair of the KEF XQ20 speakers ($1,995 pr.) for my reference system made for a more realistic showing of the RP1. I also spent a fair amount of time with the RP1 plugged into my Marantz 2275 receiver and JBL L-100 speakers with excellent results. In both of these systems, the difference in sound quality between the RP1 and the P2, with identical cartridges was non-existent. Those looking for a great table on a budget can feel very confident with the capabilities of the RP1. And the handful of RP1 owners that will feel the need to upgrade, spending a few extra hundred dollars on a more resolving cartridge will also be justified, the table is that good.

After extended listening sessions in three very different levels of systems, the RP1 definitely delivers a solid helping of analog magic. When comparing the Rega to the sound of the OPPO 83SE digital player, the Rega table definitely had the edge over digital playback, sounding much more open and natural.
A great place to start your analog journey

While plenty of budding audiophiles will argue to the ends of the Earth over the merit of the RP1 versus a few other contenders that are similarly priced, the fact is that the RP1 offers solid performance, excellent value and is a great place to start listening to vinyl. Remember, while the others are discussing minutiae, you could be spinning records, and isn’t that what it’s all about?

The Rega RP1
MSRP: $449 (UK) (US)


Croft Micro 25 preamplifier, Series 7 amplifier, KEF XQ 20 speakers, Running Springs Haley
AudioQuest Columbia interconnect and speaker cables

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 never been a VPI fan, though I’ve owned a few), 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