2012 Recommended Components Turntables, Tonearms, Cartridges, etc.

Turntables

A+

Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn: $149,995 with tonearm and stand ✩
“Part New Jersey diner, part Wurlitzer jukebox,” the 160-lb Caliburn is the brainchild of Mark Doehmann, whose clever, purposeful design is based on rigorous scientific methodology using finite-element analysis computer programs. While the only serious competition for the Caliburn is the Rockport System III Sirius, MF decided, “The Caliburn beat the Rockport’s overall performance by a considerable margin,” adding an “emotional majesty” that made the Rockport seem analytical. “Better than sex!” cried Mikey’s wife. The ultrarigid Castellon stand, made of chromed, aircraft-grade aluminum, costs $25k on its own (pheww). Stereophile’s 2006 “Analog Source Component” and “Overall Product of the Year.” (Vol.29 No.1, Vol.31 No.3 Read Review Online)

A

Audiostone Pythagoras: $77,140 without tonearm
Designed to be incorporated into Audiostone’s granite-shelved Apeiron stand, the Pythagoras has a thick platter of granite driven by a three-phase, synchronous motor, and includes touch-sensitive speed controls and an integrated calibration system. The system’s shelf is allowed to vibrate at its fundamental frequency, while the other components of the Apeiron stand are tuned to vibrate inharmoniously, thus, in theory, canceling inherent noise. With its complementary tangential-tracking HiFiction Thales AV tonearm, the Pythagoras offered extremely solid bottom-end extension and clean, precise instrumental attacks, but lacked the top-to-bottom seamlessness of the Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn, felt Mikey. (Vol.33 No.9)

Ayre/dps: $9250 without tonearm
In Willi Bauer’s handsome dps, an aluminum plinth houses three shallow PVC cups, filled with elastomer buttons, that act as supporting springs for the rest of the turntable. The body is a laminate of six separate sheets: two layers of lossy damping material sandwiched by three sheets of Baltic birch plywood and topped with a layer of cork; the platter is acrylic. Bauer prevents energy storage by combining a resistive bearing with a high-torque AC synchronous motor, this powered by a three-phase power supply custom-made by Ayre Acoustics. Though it lacked the bottom-end heft of AD’s Thorens TD-124, the dps showed unsurpassed pitch stability and revelatory soundstaging abilities. “A striking, innovative success,” Art enthused. dps tonearm adds $3500. (Vol.33 No.4 Read Review Online)

Brinkmann Balance: $24,700 ✩
The ready-to-play Brinkmann Balance is a plinthless ‘table with an attractive, low-profile base available in a variety of sizes and configured for specified tonearm masses. Its high-tech feet are designed to effectively isolate the supporting base from horizontally and vertically induced vibrations, and its platter’s speed can run at precisely 33.3 and 45rpm. Combined “deep, tight, articulate” bass performance with “the lightest, airiest, purest” soundstages to breathe new life into MF’s favorite LPs, adding “greater holography of imaging but without etch.” With the exception of the Rockport System III Sirius, the Brinkmann combo was the best turntable system Mikey had ever heard. Brinkmann 12.1 tonearm adds $7500, Brinkmann EMT-ti cartridge adds $4300. (Vol.28 No.5; Vol.35 No.4)

Brinkmann Bardo: $7990 without tonearm
The Bardo is a direct-drive, suspensionless turntable with an eight-pole, speed-controlled motor. It has a vinyl platter mat, a polished granite base, and the superbly designed and machined spindle and bearing used in Brinkmann’s more expensive Oasis, La Grange, and Balance models. Fit’n’finish were outstanding, and setup was quick and simple. Though it lacked the rich, deep bass of Brinkmann’s more expensive ‘tables, the Bardo “produced superbly well-organized sound with clean, sharp attacks, reasonably strong sustain, and pronounced decay, all against a jet-black backdrop,” said Mikey. Optional precision-ground crystal platter mat and screw-down record clamp add $1500; optional Balance power supply adds $1490. (Vol.34 No.5 Read Review Online)

Dr. Feickert Blackbird: $7995 without tonearm
Easy to set up and use, the Blackbird is a mass-loaded design that can simultaneously accommodate two tonearms, each mounted on a precision-machined armboard of polyoxymethalene copolymer (POM-C). A thick slab of thermally treated MDF is sandwiched between two aluminum plates to form the Blackbird’s attractive plinth, which in turn supports the 9-lb POM-C platter and houses the proprietary motor controller. The Blackbird traded bottom-end extension for rhythmic clarity, producing an overall sound that was open, uncolored, and slightly lean, said MF. Though “a likable product,” the Blackbird “would be far more attractive and easier to recommend if it sold for $1000 less,” he decided. (Vol.34 No.9)

Linn Sondek LP12, with Lingo power supply: $4620+, depending on finish and options ✩
Compared with Linn’s Valhalla, the Lingo-equipped Sondek minimizes the LP12’s propensity toward a slightly fat midbass, subjectively extending the low frequencies by another octave. The Lingo upgrade alone costs $1550. The Trampolin suspension reduces the effect of the support. Cirkus bearing/subchassis, fitted as standard, costs $645 including labor as an upgrade kit, and further extends and tightens the ‘table’s bass, leading to a borderline Class A rating, according to MC, JA, AD, and LG (as long as a good support is used, adds MC). “A deeper, more profound silence,” enthuses WP over the Cirkus mod, adding that what stunned him was “the extent to which surface noise receded into insignificance.” MF agreed: “Everything its fans say about it is true: It can carry a tune, it’s well-paced, and it has impressive bass extension and supple, believable bass transients.” Superbly low measured rumble and excellent speed stability reinforce the feeling of maximum musical involvement offered by this classic belt-drive turntable. Good isolation from shock and vibration. While the felt mat doesn’t offer the greatest degree of vibration suppression within the vinyl disc, what absorption it does offer is uniform with frequency. The Lingo’d Linn was “a big-sounding, wildly dynamic, faultlessly tuneful player that held me utterly rapt,” said AD. In direct comparison, the Lingo-Ekos combination sounded more dynamic than the Naim Armageddon-Aro combo, AD added. “The Naim Armageddon was easy to listen to. The Linn Lingo was hard to ignore.” The Keel one-piece subchassis, tonearm board, and Linn-specific tonearm mounting collar ($3250) maintained the sonic character of AD’s LP12 while adding size, richness, and detail. “To the person who understands what the player is all about, this very expensive upgrade could border on being essential,” said Art, who feels that high Class B is the appropriate rating. Effects of the Trampolin base ($250) were not as pronounced. Despite flirtations with other decks, JA remains true to the basic design he has used now for more than a quarter century. Version with internal Valhalla power supply costs $2275–$2350, gives Class C sound; with the Basik power supply it costs $2070. The Radikal, Linn’s 2010-vintage upgrade for the LP12 ($4250), combines a DC motor with an outboard switch-mode power supply and control unit. Housed in a shell of machined acetal and aluminum, the motor includes neodymium magnets, precious-metal brushes, and a rotor design said to virtually eliminate electromagnetic interference and magnetic cogging. While it maintained the LP12’s natural warmth and superb musical flow, the Radikal presented music with greater force, momentum, and clarity, for a more satisfying and altogether easier listening experience, said AD, leading to a revised Class A rating. (Vol.7 No.2, Vol.13 No.3, Valhalla; Vol.14 No.1, Vol.16 No.12, Vol.17 No.5, Vol.19 No.2, Vol.26 No.11, Vol.28 No.2 Read Review Online; Vol.30 No.10 Read Review Online; Vol.34 No.6 Read Review Online)

Oracle Delphi Mk.VI: $13,400, as reviewed
“Among the best-looking turntables ever made,” the latest incarnation of the Oracle Delphi exhibits flawless fit and finish, and includes Oracle’s Turbo power supply and a dedicated power cord. The Delphi’s aluminum subchassis has been made thicker and heavier for improved resonance control, and its spindle-bearing screws have been improved for greater accuracy and tighter tolerances. In addition, the Delphi now employs a Micro Vibration spring-suspended subchassis said to offset any lateral and/or vertical microdisplacements while isolating the turntable from footfalls. Matched with the Lyra Helikon SL phono cartridge, the Delphi produced fast transients, a supple midrange, and deep, focused bass. “A formidable contender in and well beyond its price class,” said MF. (Vol.33 No.3 Read Review Online)

SME 20/12: $24,500, with tonearm
“Among the best-built turntables in the world,” the SME 20/12 is a tank-like machine weighing more than 75 lbs. It has an oversized 14.3-lb platter, and a 17.6-lb aluminum-alloy subchassis secured by ten O-rings for each of four suspension towers and will take 12" arms. Its three-phase, eight-pole motor uses an electronic controller to achieve precise speeds of 33.3, 45, and 78rpm. Though it lacked the bottom-end weight and macrodynamic range of even more expensive turntables, and had a slightly dry, analytical sound, the SME offered a very low noise floor and stable image specificity, said MF. Price without tonearm is $21,000. (Vol.32 No.5 Read Review Online)

Spiral Groove SG2: $15,000
Well built, simple to set up, and bulletproof in operation, the SG2 is designed by Allen Perkins and represents an evolution of design and production capabilities from his RPM turntables. Though similar in appearance to the RPMs, the Spiral Groove uses a five-layer chassis—two thin layers of damping material separated by three aluminum plates—and a thick, anti-vibration platter comprising layers of aluminum, an impregnated phenolic, vinyl, and graphite. The bearing assembly has been optimized to eliminate radial movement and prevent stray magnetic fields from interacting with the cartridge. The SG2’s dramatic timing, authoritative midrange, and superb resolution of detail worked to present music with an urgency and wave-like drive, said BD. Through the SG2, “[a recording] became a performance,” he enthused. (Vol.33 No.6 Read Review Online)

VPI HR-X: $12,000, with tonearm ✩
Harry Weisfeld’s efforts to produce the ultimate TNT turntable include a plinth of acrylic-aluminum-acrylic laminate, an inverted bearing assembly, the addition of a perimeter clamping ring, and replacement of the outboard motor and flywheel with a single unit. Simpler, smaller, more luxuriously appointed, and better built than the TNT, the HR-X also eliminates the TNT’s pervasive warmth and softened dynamic transients, to offer a much more neutral overall presentation. BD: “The HR-X struck me as a stable, inert, and nearly neutral platform that simply supports a cartridge and lets it do its job.” Price includes VPI’s JMW-12.6 tonearm (see “Tonearms”). (Vol.29 No.5 Read Review Online)

VPI Super Scoutmaster Reference Rim Drive: $8200
The Super Scoutmaster Reference Rim-Drive combines the Scoutmaster’s Super Platter with the Super Scoutmaster’s Mini-TNT Stabilizer feet, and uses a rim-drive motor system based on the HR-X’s dual-motor/flywheel module. It comes equipped with a JMW-10.5i Memorial tonearm fitted with Nordost Valhalla wire. The sound was “fantastic,” with impressive bottom-octave heft and slightly warm high frequencies. “The Super Scoutmaster Reference Rim-Drive is one of the best values of the true high-end turntables now available,” said MF. (Vol.32 No.2)

B

Artemis Labs SA-1: $8300
Designed in Germany by Frank Schröder and made in the US, the Artemis Labs SA-1 is built around a dense, compact plinth comprising a layer of ebony sandwiched between two layers of bamboo. It has a 15-lb platter of aircraft-grade aluminum alloy and an outboard motor controller designed to compensate for load changes due to varying LP modulations. Though it lacked the forceful attack and tightly focused images of other comparably priced turntables, the SA-1 was “among the least congested, and most open-sounding, airy, and tuneful turntables I’ve ever reviewed—at any price,” said MF. (Vol.32 No.10)

Avid Diva II SP: $3995
The well-built Avid Diva II SP has a tungsten-carbide/sapphire ball and inverted stainless-steel bearing affixed to the hub of a three-legged chassis of cast aluminum. Instead of the spring suspensions found in more expensive Avid models, the Diva II SP uses a three-layer elastomer system that includes a “tailored Sorbothane compound” incorporated into each of the support legs. Upgrades over the stock Diva II include a 14-lb machined-aluminum platter and a DSP-based voltage-synthesizing outboard power supply. Though it had a generally cool, detached sound with a slightly lean midrange, the Diva II SP produced fast attacks, long decays, tuneful bass, and rock-solid, three-dimensional images. “Combined with the SME 309 tonearm ($2000), I’m not sure what’s better, or even as good, for $6000,” said MF. (Vol.34 No.1)

Hanns T-30: $5200
Made in Hong Kong, the Hanns T-30 is a two-speed, belt-driven turntable with two AC synchronous motors, two tonearm mounts, an outboard power supply, and a massive platter. To dissipate unwanted vibrations, the Hanns plinth is a sandwich of thin aluminum plates and thick acrylic sheets supported by three sturdy support modules, each incorporating an assembly of powerful rare-earth magnets and a rounded metal foot. “Supremely immune to footfalls,” the T-30 produced a “consistently big sound” with “exceptional bass weight” and a good sense of momentum, but lacked the clarity and timing of AD’s reference Thorens TD-124 Mk.II. “Not quite a shoo-in, but very much worth a close look and listen,” decided Art. (Vol.33 No.2 Read Review Online)

Kuzma Stabi SD: $6405, as reviewed ✩
The latest Stabi SD ‘table provides the added convenience of being able to accommodate two Kuzma Stogi S tonearms. “The sound of this little pipe bomb is spatially rock solid,” praised MF. (Vol.31 No.7)

Music Hall MMF 9.1: $2195 ✩ $$$
The MMF 9.1 includes a pre-mounted Goldring Eroica LX low-output moving-coil cartridge and a much-improved carbon-fiber tonearm. Like the MMF 9, the 9.1 is built on a triple-layered MDF plinth interfaced Sorbothane pucks, and has an electronically regulated outboard motor. Mikey noted “great detail, a stable, solid, generous three-dimensional soundstage, and coherent tonal and harmonic palettes.” Care should be taken to avoid knocking the tonearm against the “dangerous” U-shaped armrest. Price includes tonearm and cartridge. (Vol.31 No.7)

Oracle Paris: $5000, as reviewed
The newest turntable from Canada’s Oracle Audio Technologies is finished in a stunning high-gloss red lacquer and uses a carbon-fiber tonearm based on Pro-Ject’s 9cc. To both minimize the effects of harmful vibrations and allow for easy, accurate leveling, the platter and tonearm have been cleverly isolated from the turntable’s subchassis, plinth, and AC synchronous drive motor. Oracle’s Micro Vibration Silicone Damping Device, a tonearm-damping system comprising a stationary trough and silicone bath, further reduces vibrations. Setup was simple. Though it wasn’t as quiet as AD’s reference Garrard 301 and lacked that player’s tonal color and texture, the Paris performed especially well with up-tempo rock music, exhibiting good timing, a punchy low end, and clean highs. Price includes tonearm and moving-coil cartridge; base price for turntable is $3150. (Vol.34 No.10 Read Review Online)

Rega RP3: $895 $$$
Though similar in appearance to Rega’s P3-24, the RP3 uses Rega’s new RB303 tonearm and a completely redesigned plinth. The RB303 has a more rigid armtube, a revised three-point cartridge mount, and a new headshell, counterweight, and bearing assembly. The plinth now incorporates a flat, 4mm brace of superhard phenolic resin that couples the tonearm mount to the bearing assembly, both atop and below the plinth, to reduce mass and increase rigidity. Compared to the P3-24, the RP3 sounded leaner and cleaner, with a tighter and better-controlled bottom end, said MF. “The RP3 is a plug’n’play package that’s beautifully built, well engineered, and sounds wonderful,” he concluded. Price includes Elys 2 moving-magnet cartridge; base price for turntable with tonearm is $895. Optional Belt Drive: $59; Rega TT PSU: $375 (Vol.34 No.12)

Thorens TD 309 Tri-Balance: $1849.95
The distinctive-looking TD 309 Tri-Balance is available in red or black and comes equipped with an Audio-Technica AT95E cartridge. Unlike Thorens’s classic line of suspended-subchassis turntables, the TD 309 has a nonsuspended subchassis and a shield-shaped chassis of machined MDF carried on a three-point, compressed-spring suspension. A low-noise, 12V DC motor, crowned pulley, and flat belt are used to drive the precision-machined aluminum subplatter. Azimuth, vertical tracking angle, and antiskating force are all easily adjustable. With the stock Audio-Technica cartridge, the TD 309 had a lean, fast sound, with a clean midrange, sharp transients, and well-developed soundstage. “Thorens has packed this interesting turntable with good ideas, a host of useful features, and generous degrees of adjustability,” said MF. Price is for “basic colors”; for red and other colors add $50. (Vol.34 No.2)

VPI Classic 3: $6000
Like earlier Classic models, VPI’s most recent design is easy to set up, relatively compact (22" W by 10" H by 16" D), and uses a motor that has been integrated into its plinth. Refinements over earlier models include a more massive, better-damped plinth structure, newly designed feet, and an 18-lb damped aluminum platter. Though the Classic 3 wasn’t as quiet as MF’s much more expensive Continuum Caliburn and couldn’t match the rich midrange of Dr. Feickert’s Blackbird, the VPI had a clean, fast, lively sound marked by masterful attacks, outstanding microdynamics, and lifelike textures. “One of today’s great values in analog audio,” concluded Mikey. “I don’t hear how you can go wrong buying one.” Price includes the new JMW-Classic tonearm. See “Tonearms.” (Vol.34 No.10 Read Review Online)

C

Clearaudio Concept: $1400 with tonearm
The sleek, stylish Concept is a plug’n’play, belt-driven turntable with a decoupled DC motor and integral Clearaudio Verify tonearm, available with either the Concept MC moving-coil cartridge (add $800) or Concept MM moving-magnet cartridge (add $200). Though its attack transients were soft and its deep-bass extension limited, the Concept produced black backgrounds, solid and three-dimensional images, and a clean, smooth midrange. “Exceptionally attractive, easy to set up and use, and better built than its price would suggest,” concluded MF. “High Class C” says EL. (Vol.34 No.6 Read Review Online)

Rega RP1: $445 $$$
The plug’n’play RP1 (for Rega Planar One) replaces Rega’s popular P1. Nearly identical to the earlier model in size and shape, the RP1 uses an Ortofon OM5e moving-magnet cartridge, but trades the P1’s MDF platter for one of phenolic resin and adds Rega’s new, solidly built RB101 tonearm. Additionally, the P1’s drab gray finish is exchanged for the RP1’s choice of White, Cool Gray, or Titanium. Compared to the P1, the RP1 delivered more drive, better focus, and was the more confident, purposeful, and authoritative player. “Rega’s RP1 looks good, is easy to set up, and plays records like it means it,” said SM. AD shared SM’s enthusiasm: “It’s not just that I can’t imagine $445 buying more happiness; I can’t imagine so modest an investment in money and effort buying more music.” The RP1 Performance Pack Upgrade was easy to install and resulted in a bigger soundstage, deeper silences, and greater resolution of low-level detail, said SM. “A no-brainer,” agreed AD. (Vol.34 Nos.2, 4, & 5 Read Review Online)

D

Music Hall USB-1: $249
The two-speed, belt-driven USB-1 bears a striking resemblance to the iconic Technics SL-1200 turntable. It comes equipped with an aluminum platter and felt platter mat, an S-shaped tonearm with detachable headshell, a serviceable Audio-Technica AT3600L moving-magnet phono cartridge, antiskating and pitch controls, and a thick dustcover. The USB-1 had a slower, darker, less rhythmically assured sound than the Rega RP-1, but produced eerily quiet backgrounds and solid stereo imaging. SM partnered the USB-1 with the Audioengine 5 powered speakers for “a stripped-down, badass, bitchin’ little system.” Converting vinyl to WAV files via the USB-1’s built-in phono preamp, USB output, and Audacity software was a simple but tedious process. (Vol.34 No.5 Read Review Online)

Pro-Ject Debut III: $369–$399 ✩ $$$
Every aspect of earlier Debuts is taken a step up in the Debut III, which comes equipped with a Pro-Ject 8.6 tonearm and Ortofon OM-5E MM cartridge. It offered surprisingly quiet backgrounds, along with impressive image stability and dynamics. Its slightly loose bass was tightened considerably by the addition of the Speed Box Mk.II ($119), which allows for electronic switching between 331⁄3 and 45rpm. “The inexpensive Debut III suddenly had swagger,” said MF. “The combo is laughably good.” Version with USB data output costs $499 and adds a moving-magnet–only version of Pro-Ject’s Phono Box II USB phono preamp. For digitizing LPs, Sumiko recommends the Audacity recording software, which can be downloaded for free at http://audacity.sourceforge.net. The Debut III USB “makes pleasing-sounding recordings and also serves as a fine entry-level audiophile turntable,” said MF. “An easy recommendation.” BJR agrees: Though it lacked ultimate dynamics and low-level resolution, the Debut III provided an open, natural sound across the audioband, with exceptional tonal balance and a forceful tunefulness. “The Debut III would be an excellent first turntable to suck an incipient if not quite budding audiophile into the hobby.” Custom colors add $30. (Vol.29 No.7, Vol.31 No.5, Vol.33 No.2 Read Review Online)

Deletions

Rega Planar 3-24 discontinued; S.A.P. Tempo not auditioned in a long time.

Tonearms

A

Brinkmann 10.5: $6300 ✩
A Breuer-like gimbaled-bearing design that features an armtube described by the designer as a “high-speed, double-concentric, ceramic-plated, self-damping transmission device.” JI uses a Brinkmann arm on his Oracle with great success. (Vol.28 No.5)

Continuum Audio Labs Cobra: $16,995 ✩
The Cobra’s odd shape—it’s wider and higher in the middle—is designed to make the center of the arm as stiff and free of resonances as possible. The Cobra also includes original and ingenious methods for azimuth stabilization and adjustment. “The Caliburn-Cobra produced the most convincing, believable, solid, and alive sound picture I’ve heard,” said MF. Though its tonal balance was similar to that of the Kuzma 4Point, the Cobra sounded less energetic and less natural, decided MF. (Vol.29 Nos.1 & 6, Vol.34 No.10 Read Review Online)

EMT 997: $5295 ✩
The banana-shaped EMT 997 tonearm employs a fixed-pivot, high-mass design and has a detachable headshell. Its effective length of 307mm (12") works to minimize tracking-angle error and distortion. Though it sacrificed timbral neutrality, imparting well-recorded vocals with some “mid-to-upper-mid bumps and dips,” the 997 impressed Art with its ability to convey the inherent tension of recorded music. “The EMT 997 was the least wimpy, least wispy tonearm I’ve ever heard,” he said. If willing to invest the time and effort necessary for proper setup and installation, the user will be rewarded with “an almost indescribably great deal of pleasure,” AD added. (Vol.31 Nos.7 & 9 Read Review Online)

Graham Engineering Phantom II B-44: $4900 ✩
Designed to be a drop-in replacement for the Graham 1.5 and its successors, the original Phantom used much of the original tonearm’s technology and design but is bigger and more massive, and features Graham’s Magneglide system, which acts to laterally stabilize the arm at the pivot point and give it the feel of a traditional gimbaled arm while providing an easy means of adjusting both azimuth angle and antiskating force. The Phantom combined technical expertise with emotional intensity, delivering “lightning strikes of deep, fast, ultratight bass” and “a greater expression of bloom and air, with no loss of detail or control.” Compared to the Caliburn Cobra, the Mk.I Phantom was a bit less airy and effusive, slightly more reserved and grounded. The Mk.II Phantom has a titanium armtube and, compared to the original B-44, offers greater adjustability of vertical tracking angle and compatibility with a wider variety of cartridges, and has improved internal wiring, as well as an upgraded Magneglide system for lower arm mass and increased stability. The results: “major improvements in speed, air, high-frequency extension, and detail,” said MF. Price is for 9" version; 10" version (not yet auditioned) costs $5150. Gold trim adds $300. (Vol.28 No.9, Vol.29 No.1, Mk.I, Vol.32 No.10, Mk.II Read Review Online)

HiFiction Thales AV: $12,500
In this unique design, a two-piece mechanism comprising a long horizontal arm and a shorter vertical arm are attached to the back of the headshell by a pair of precision sapphire bearings. As the entire tonearm moves in an arc across the record, the headshell pivots precisely to maintain groove tangency. The Thales produced open, airy highs, deep lows, stable stereo imaging and soundstaging, and ultraclean transients and sibilants, said MF. Requires careful setup. (Vol.33 No.10 Read Review Online)

Kuzma 4Point: $6500
Designed by Franc Kuzma, this brilliant pivoted tonearm takes its name from its four-point bearing system: Four carefully arranged points contact four cups, permitting the arm to move in both the vertical and lateral planes while avoiding the chatter of gimbaled bearings and the instability of unipivot designs. It has an effective length of 11", a pivot-to-spindle distance of 10.3", an overhang of 0.6", an effective mass of 0.4oz, and a total weight of 3.63 lbs. Its removable headshell made swapping cartridges painless, while adjustment of VTF, VTA, antiskating, and azimuth were all relatively simple. With its outstanding immediacy, transparency, and overall coherence, the 4Point consistently exceeded Mikey’s expectations. Compared to the combo of Continuum Cobra arm and Ortofon A90 cartridge, the 4Point with Lyra Titan i offered greater timbral, textural, and image solidity, said MF. “I’m in love,” he concluded. Compared with the Continuum Audio Labs Cobra, the Kuzma sounded more natural and more energetic. “The Kuzma 4Point may be the finest tonearm out there, period,” said MF. Also offered with regular phono cables/no RCA box for $5800. (Vol.34 Nos.9 & 10 Read Review Online)

Linn Ekos SE: $4950 ✩
Outwardly identical to the original Ekos in all but color, the Ekos SE is machined from a titanium tube in an effort to smooth out resonant peaks, while its stainless-steel main pillar and bearing cradle work to maintain perfect bearing adjustment in the face of temperature extremes and user abuse. The “beautifully finished” SE comes packaged with a selection of tools, a Linn T-Kable interconnect, and a new iteration of Linn’s cable clamp. With its strong, tight bass and solid aural images, the Ekos SE produced a “cleaner, more dramatic, and more enjoyable” listening experience, said AD. “Other, more exotic arms may give better results in some settings, but I can’t think of a more consistent—and consistently recommendable—tonearm. It’s a Martin D-28, a BMW 3-series, a bottle of Bombay Sapphire: It will please any sane, reasonable person,” he sums up. (Vol.30 No.10 Read Review Online)

SME 312S: $4000
The 312S is a 12" tonearm with a tapered armtube made of pressure die-cast magnesium for strength, rigidity, and low mass. With fit’n’finish to match the no-nonsense precision of SME’s 20/12 turntable, the 312S includes a secure sliding-track overhang-adjustment mechanism, a spring-loaded VTA post, and a silicone-filled damping trough with adjustable paddle. SME has produced “a tonearm that has all of the 12" arm’s theoretical advantages and none of its disadvantages,” MF said. (Vol.32 No.5 Read Review Online)

Spiral Groove Centroid: $6000
The Centroid is a fluid-damped unipivot design that gives the user fine adjustment of all relevant parameters. It was extremely quiet, with stunning resolution and clarity, and had an uncanny ability to reproduce the tonal and dynamic elements of deep bass notes. “The Centroid tonearm may be the best tonearm I’ve heard. It is not leaving my listening room,” declared BD. (Vol.33 No.6 Read Review Online)

Thomas Schick 12" Tonearm: $1675 $$$
Made in Germany by Thomas Schick and imported by Oswaldsmillaudio, the Schick 12" tonearm is intended to combine the greater-than-average length and mass of certain vintage models with the high-quality bearings of modern arms. It offers superb fit and finish, with a clean, spare bearing cradle and a solid pickup-head socket. While its bearings matched the quality of those found in the EMT 997, the Schick lacked the EMT’s spring-actuated downforce and positive tracking force. When the Schick was fastened to AD’s Thorens TD-124, its performance was marred by “an unpleasant low-frequency noise”; but with its armboard securely fastened to a wooden table next to Art’s turntable support, the Schick produced a big, substantial sound with an especially colorful bottom end. “The Schick tonearm has the distinction of being both relatively affordable and a superb performer,” said AD. Careful setup using Keith Howard’s ArmGeometer freeware verified the precision of the Schick’s design. Installed on AD’s Garrard 301 turntable, the Schick tonearm performed flawlessly and exhibited excellent musicality. The arm’s wooden armrest, which AD originally described as “a little rough” in appearance, has been improved and is now “quite pleasant to use and behold.” Art: “The Schick tonearm is an outstanding value and easily the most accessible transcription-length arm on the market.” (Vol.33 Nos.3 & 6; Vol.34 No.10 Read Review Online)

Tri-Planar Mk.VII UII: $5700
This venerable tonearm maker has a new owner (see “Analog Corner,” March 2001). The Mk.VI Ultimate builds on earlier versions, “with a larger-diameter headshell tube, a larger damping trough, and redesigned bearings, featuring handmade hardened and polished needle cones.” Many of the arm’s parts are still made by Papier’s machinist in Maryland. “Right out of the box,” MF said, “it was obvious that the Tri-Planar’s build quality is still topnotch.” But MF still has a beef with the headshell screw slots—“way too wide.” Still, “the Tri-Planar was one of the first...captured-bearing tonearms to offer easily adjustable VTA and azimuth adjustment.” MF: “The sound of the Tri-Planar had not changed appreciably since I last auditioned it: It offered unerring, rock-solid image and soundstage stability. The bass was extended and lithe, and high-frequency transients were cleanly presented. The picture was airy and big....In any case, the Tri-Planar’s ability to resolve low-level detail was superb, and its tonal balance and frequency extension were exemplary.” Price includes 1m cable/RCA plug termination or 10" wire to RCA-jack junction box. BD’s reference tonearm as of 2009; he got great results with the Tri-Planar on a Spiral Groove SG-2 turntable. The Tri-Planar Precision Mk.VII sounded vivid and solid on the Spiral Groove SG2, with rich tonal colors and textures, but was never overly euphonic, said BD. (Vol.18 No.2, Vol.21 No.3, earlier versions; Vol.24 No.7, Mk.VI Ultimate; Vol.33 No.6, Mk.VII Read Review Online)

VPI Classic-JMW: $2600
An upgraded version of VPI’s JMW Memorial 10.5i, the Classic-JMW, included with VPI’s Classic 3 turntable, uses a new stainless-steel armtube, a stronger, more massive bearing platform, and a more rigid base mount. Though lateral instability remained a problem, any adverse effects were inaudible, said Mikey. (Vol.34 No.10 Read Review Online)

VPI JMW-12.6: $2400 ✩ $$$
Unipivot tonearm features vestigial antiskating, which disconcerted MF. Nonetheless, he enthused over its lush midrange, ultra-smooth top end, and rock-solid imaging and soundstaging: “Subjectively, it seemed to have lower distortion than any other pivoted arm I’ve heard, but part of that might be the result of its smooooth frequency balance. Inner detail was outstanding.” However, he added of the original 12.5 version, “I think there’s a slight midbass exaggeration that may be part of the spreading warmth above this range, and which gives this arm its inviting midrange.” BD says of the 12" version, “lowers the original’s already low distortion. The background is blacker and the arm seems to float an infinite well of inner and low-level details. The tonal balance is more neutral, but combined with the TNT III or IV, is still warm and inviting.” With the 12.5, Harry Weisfeld made small but important modifications to the 12" JMW that resulted in heightened rigidity, a reduced center of mass, and improved damping. What BD found most impressive was the “obvious-once-you-see-it” touch of the small V-groove machined into the top of the headshell. This allows the user to more easily gauge headshell tilt while setting azimuth. “Neat!” MF adds: “Luxurious midrange, low distortion, and ease of setup and use make this a very attractive arm if your ‘table can handle the length.” Additional arm assemblies cost $400. (Vol.20 No.1, Vol.24 No.12, Vol.25 No.3; See BD’s review of the VPI HR-X in Vol.29 No.5 Read Review Online)

B

Brinkmann 9.6: $3990
Brinkmann’s 9.6 has an effective length of 248mm, an effective mass of 12gm, and permits adjustment of VTA, SRA, VTF, and antiskating. It includes the same headshell, armtube, mounting socket, and cueing device found in Brinkmann’s longer, more expensive 10.5 and 12.1 arms, but trades their traditional fixed-gimbal bearings for a more cost-effective, unipivot-like design. Compared to the massive Kuzma 4Point, the 9.6 lacked high-frequency refinement, midrange warmth, and low-frequency impact, said MF. “The 9.6 tonearm is a very well-made, basic design, but at $3990 it faces stiff competition for not that much more money,” he concluded. (Vol.34 No.5 Read Review Online)

Rega RB303: $495 $$$
Latest version of Rega’s classic tonearm. See the Rega RP3 entry in “Turntables.” (Vol.34 No.12)

VPI JMW-9: $900 ✩
The newest and shortest of Harry Weisfeld’s JMW tonearm line, the JMW-9 comes standard with the Aries Scout turntable. (AD enthused about the combination’s sound.) It uses a reverse-missionary bearing with a hardened tungsten-carbide point and a machined and hardened-steel set-screw for a cup. A quick-connect plug makes for easy removal and easy cartridge swapping, but as with all Harry Weisfeld designs, there is no antiskating mechanism. MF auditioned the 9" version of the JMW Memorial tonearm with VPI’s Scoutmaster turntable. Unlike the original JMW Memorial, the 9" arm’s main bearing is directly grounded to the plinth and the stabilizing ring surrounding the arm’s bearing housing is fixed. The lack of a damping well results in a “Parkinson’s-like trembling of the JMW when you use the finger lift or lower the arm via the cueing mechanism,” which MF found disconcerting. Nevertheless, the arm appeared to be extremely stable: “The taut, focused, remarkably coherent performance of this ‘table-arm combo is testament to a fundamentally solid, well-grounded system that deals effectively with energy created at the stylus/groove interface.” Some disagreement between AD and MF over the overall rating, but Class B seems appropriate. (Vol.26 No.2, Vol.27 No.9 Read Review Online)

Editor’s Note: There are currently no Class C or D tonearms listed.

Deletions

Rega RB301 discontinued.

Phono Cartridges

A

Benz-Micro LP S: $5000
Weighing a relatively heavy 16.4gm and with an open-construction body of aged ebony on a brass frame, the LP S moving-coil cartridge is ideal for use in tonearms of medium to high mass. Its generating system includes a 0.28mm-diameter cantilever of solid boron; a nude, mirror-polished, line-contact stylus; and a square plate-coil system of jewel-grade ruby. The LP S offered smooth treble, a supple bottom end, and “profoundly well-developed instrumental textures,” for a sound that leaned toward romance, said MF. It lacked, however, the tightly drawn images, sharp transients, and exceptional transparency of the Ortofon MC A90. (Vol.32 No.12)

Brinkmann Pi: $2699
The Pi moving-coil cartridge uses a motor built to Brinkmann’s specifications by Benz-Micro, includes a Micro-Ridge stylus, and has a body of machined aluminum designed to control the dissipation of resonant energy. Though its tonal balance was slightly lean, the Pi’s overall frequency extension and tracking ability were impressive, said MF. “The Pi cartridge strikes me as very competitive at and above its price,” he concluded. (Vol.34 No.5 Read Review Online)

EMT TSD 15: $1950 $$$
The EMT TSD 15 is an A-style pickup head weighing just over 17.5gm and available with either EMT’s proprietary diamond-shaped output-pin pattern or the more common SME square pattern. It has a high impedance of 24 ohms, a high output of 1.05mV, and a moderate recommended downforce of 2.5gm. The EMT’s overall sound was open, clear, and transparent, with above-average presence, body, and color, and an outstanding sense of momentum and flow. “A fine all-arounder, combining starkly honest music-making with the sorts of refined sonic attributes most audiophiles cherish,” said Art. Examining the EMT with a microscope revealed its distinctly small, sharp, spherical tip, which, AD conjectured, may be the reason for the stylus’s exceptionally low groove noise. For special systems only, as it is a complete pickup head, not just a cartridge. (Vol.34 Nos.5 & 9 Read Review Online)

EMT OFD 65: $1850 ✩
Expressly designed for playing 78s, the moving-coil OFD 65 has a recommended downforce of 9gm and a spherical stylus tip. Its aluminum-alloy headshell has a built-in magnifying loupe at one end and an SME-style four-pin plug at the other. While Art’s small collection of 78s lacked the sonic presence of the best modern recordings, the OFD 65 conveyed “an extraordinary kind of musical presence.” Despite a backcurrent of shellac hash, the overall sound was “extremely dramatic, with clean peaks and a superior sense of scale.” For special systems only, as it is a complete pickup head, not just a cartridge. (Vol.31 No.9 Read Review Online)

Haniwa Audio System HCTR01: $5000
Designed in Japan by Tetsuo Kubo and built by Y. Matsudaira of My Sonic Lab, the beautifully made HCTR01 moving-coil cartridge has a super-low internal impedance of 0.8 ohm and can track at an astonishingly low 0.6–1.0gm when used with Haniwa’s HEQA01 Phono Equalizer. It uses a boron cantilever and a line-contact stylus assembly. While it lacked midrange warmth and texture, the Haniwa produced “a fully extended, ultraclean, remarkably transparent sound,” said MF. Sold direct from Kubotek USA with a money-back guarantee. (Vol.34 No.11)

Koetsu Coralstone Platinum Mono: $15,000
The outrageously expensive Coralstone Platinum Mono has a platinum magnet system, silver-plated copper wiring, and a proprietary stylus shape. It combined “sensational” image specificity and three-dimensionality, even in mono, with “an uncanny physicality and weight” across the entire frequency spectrum. MF: “There’s no excuse for the price, except the sound. So get over it.” (Vol.32 No.5)

Lyra Titan: $5995 ✩
The Titan’s body is machined from a single piece of titanium alloy to minimize standing waves, internal reflections, and resonances. Two symmetrical disc magnets create a symmetrical magnetic field that is said to eliminate distortions common to conventional pole-piece designs. MF: “The Titan is the least ‘mechanical’-sounding Lyra I’ve heard, and one of the most lyrical and liquid-sounding cartridges I’ve heard from anyone at any price. And it delivered that musical ease without sounding dull or closed-in....[Its] dynamics, soundstaging, depth, detail resolution, bass definition, and all other parameters of cartridge performance were the state of the art or close enough....The Lyra Titan seemed to sail through the grooves, ignoring or minimizing wear, scratches, and other defects, while retrieving and delivering a level of musical nuance that set it apart from any other cartridge I’ve heard.” BD seconds the Class A rating. Current i version one of MF’s references. (Vol.26 No.6, Vol.30 No.3)

Miyajima Kansui: $3600
Like the Miyajima Shilabe, the Kansui uses a cross-ring motor design, weighs 10.4gm, has an internal impedance of 16 ohms, is fitted with a Shibata stylus, and has a curvaceous body of African Blackwood. Because it has a higher compliance, however, the Kansui can track at a significantly lower tracking force for greater speed and resolution. Though it lacked the Haniwa HCTR01’s resolution of spatial information, the Shilabe offered a meatier and more intimate sound, with forceful bass, rich textures, and solid images, said MF. (Vol.34 No.11)

Miyajima Shilabe: $2995
The Shilabe is a low-output (0.23mV), low-compliance design with an unusually high recommended tracking force of 2.5–3.2gm. Its Shibata stylus is attached to a large-diameter, old-fashioned–looking cantilever. Like Miyajima’s Premium Mono, the Shilabe uses a patented “cross-ring” construction that centers the generator’s fulcrum within the coil. Though it lacked the soundstaging and imaging of the Shun Mook Signature, the Shilabe had a sound that was “full-bodied, deep, and extremely well-defined,” and offered “superbly coherent transient and harmonic presentation from top to bottom,” said MF. AD also enjoyed the Shilabe’s “consistently present, colorful, and downright chunky” sound. “It was the closest I’ve heard a stereo cartridge come to delivering the meat, the force, the sheer solidity of mono,” he said. (Vol.32 No.9, Vol.33 No.10 Read Review Online)

My Sonic Lab Eminent EX: $7600
The Eminent EX features an ultralow internal impedance of 1 ohm and a relatively high output of 0.4mV. It weighs 9.5gm, has a semi–line-contact stylus, and is designed to track at a vertical tracking force of 1.9–2.2gm. The Eminent EX sacrificed resolution of detail, speed, and snap in favor of a more “groove-friendly, real-world performance,” said Mikey. It combined deep, powerful bass with rich mids and refined highs that, while lacking air and sparkle, made bright recordings sound ideal. “Among the finest, most skillfully balanced cartridges I’ve heard,” concluded MF. (Vol.33 No.6)

Ortofon Xpression: $5399
A unique blend of new and old technologies, the Xpression derives from Ortofon’s cutting-edge MC A90, but is designed as a drop-in replacement for any G-style pickup head. It uses a Replicant 100 stylus, has a recommended downforce of 2.6gm, an impedance of 4 ohms, and a low 0.3mV output. Compared to AD’s original Ortofon SPU, the Xpression sounded just as solid, colorful, and forceful, but was more detailed, open, tactile, and revealing of nuance and technique. “The difference was real: Love my older Ortofon though I do, the Xpression was clearly more dramatic, with no penalty in texture or color,” said Art. (Vol.35 No.2 Read Review Online)

Ortofon MC A90: $4200
Ortofon’s “revolutionary” MC A90 moving-coil cartridge is built up of layer on layer of laser-fused microparticles, in a process called Selective Laser Melting, resulting in a dense but lightweight and nonresonant structure. Like Ortofon’s Windfeld, the MC A90 uses the Wide Range Damping system, said to produce ideal damping throughout and beyond the audioband, and has a Replicant 100 diamond stylus and a boron cantilever. The MC A90 offered a clean, tight sound with “unsurpassed rhythmic swagger, dynamic exuberance, transparency, and three-dimensionality.” Not a cartridge for those looking for a “lush” sound, Mikey warned: “It’s very literal.” (Vol.32 No.11)

Ortofon SPU Collector’s Box: $13,999
Limited to 100 sets, this elegant wooden box contains G-style versions of Ortofon’s SPU Classic, SPU Gold Reference, SPU 85 Urushi, and SPU 90th Anniversary. The low-impedance, low-output Classic is built into a headshell of aluminum-magnesium alloy, with a gray plastic belly pan. It has a spherical stylus tip, a very low-compliance suspension, and a recommended stylus pressure of 4gm. The SPU Gold Reference uses the same headshell but has a slightly higher impedance, a moderately higher compliance, a recommended downforce of 3gm, and uses Ortofon’s proprietary Replicant 100 hyper-elliptical stylus profile. The SPU 85 Urushi marries a low-compliance SPU motor to a solid wood headshell finished in a lacquer made from the urushi tree. It has slightly higher-impedance coils than the Classic, and its recommended downforce is 3.5gm. Finally, the low-impedance, low-compliance SPU 90th Anniversary, reviewed by AD in April 2009, has an elliptical stylus and tracks at 3.5gm. Of the four, the SPU Classic had the most natural sense of musical flow; the Gold Reference was the airiest and provided the most accomplished stereo imaging; the SPU 85 Urushi was the most expressive, colorful, and textured; and the 90th Anniversary was the best overall tracker and had the most refined sound, with fast bass and tightly drawn images. “These Ortofons provide four different views of a very large and complex truth,” said AD. (Vol.32 No.4, Vol.34 No.4 Read Review Online)

Ortofon SPU Synergy A: $1799 ✩
The Synergy A represents the final run of Ortofon’s A-style pickup heads. It has an elliptical stylus tip and a body made from Ortofon’s recently developed wood-and-resin mix. Recommended tracking force is 2.5–3.5gm, and output is rated at 0.5mV. Compared to Ortofon’s SPU Classic A, the Synergy A was more extended in the bass and treble, with a better sense of scale. “$1850 for any cartridge this good would be reasonable; for the last of a historic breed, the SPU Synergy A is a bargain,” said Art, but notes that this pickup head is for “special uses only.” (Vol.32 No.2, Vol.34 No.4 Read Review Online)

Soundsmith SG-200 Strain Gauge: $6499.95
The SG-200 is a strain-gauge phono cartridge with six choices of interchangeable styli and a dedicated power supply and preamplifier. Two bright-blue tubular LEDs run vertically through the metal body’s horizontal slats, giving the cartridge a unique look. Also unlike most cartridges, the SG-200 provides controls for setting vertical tracking angle and azimuth. Though it could sound somewhat cool and lacking in physicality, with a lean midrange and stingy sustain, the SG-200 produced incredibly clean, fast top-to-bottom transient attack, deep bass, airy highs, and spectacular transparency. “The SG-200 is a unique game-changing product,” said MF. Price includes two SGS-5 styli; add $100 for the SGS-6, a nude line-contact stylus with a ruby cantilever. (Vol.34 No.3 Read Review Online)

Soundsmith Sussurro: $4499.95
Designed and built in the US by Soundsmith’s Peter Ledermann, the Sussurro is a low-output (0.3mV), low-mass (8.79gm), moving-iron cartridge intended to be used with an MC phono stage that can provide 60dB of gain. It has a wood body, a ruby cantilever, and a line-contact diamond stylus; its unique construction allows for adjustment of azimuth, vertical tracking angle, and stylus rake angle, all from the cartridge body. Though it lacked some resolution and detail, the Sussurro was an exceptionally quiet and smooth tracker, and offered a slightly warm and lush overall sound, said MF. The Sussurro’s stylus’s severe profile mandates precise settings of overhang, zenith angle, and especially SRA and VTA. (Vol.35 No.3)

Soundsmith The Voice: $1899.95
The top of the Soundsmith line, hand-built by Peter Ledermann, is available in a mount of acrylic ($1899.95) or ebony ($2199.95). Like Soundsmith’s SMMC1, The Voice has a nude Optimized Contour line-contact stylus, but lowers the mass of the moving-iron structure for faster response. Compared to the SMMC1, The Voice was “cleaner, smoother, more transparent, and seemingly free of peaks and valleys in the frequency response,” said Mikey. “For romance, go elsewhere; for honesty, consider the Soundsmiths.” (Vol.32 No.11 Read Review Online)

Soundsmith SMMC1: $849.99 ✩ $$$
The SMMC1 is a low-output moving-iron cartridge compatible with MM inputs, with a one-piece ruby cantilever and nude line-contact diamond stylus. While the SMMC1 couldn’t match the detail retrieval of higher-priced MC cartridges, its “big, vibrant, well-formed images” and exceptional rejection of surface noise resulted in an overall sound that was “smooth yet bold, rhythmically nimble, and free of edge and etch without being limp or soft,” said Mikey. The SMMC1 demands careful setup, and its high compliance requires special attention to tonearm matching. Available in medium- and high-compliance versions, also in true dual-coil mono version. Aida version in ebony adds $150. (Vol.31 No.4 Read Review Online)

Sumiko Reference Palo Santos Presentation: $3999
The Palo Santos Presentation moving-coil cartridge has an open-construction body of tuned wood; a boron cantilever, a suspension of synthetic rubber, and an ultra-low-mass Vital PH diamond stylus. Compared to the Benz-Micro LP S, the Palo Santos Presentation sounded “brasher,” with a shallower soundstage, leaner midbass, and sharper transients. “Its overall sound—smooth, sweet, but still sunny, and nicely detailed—makes it a great choice for the music lover with eclectic tastes who wants to bridge the gap between analytical and romantic sound,” said MF. (Vol.32 No.12)

ZYX R-1000 Sigma 2-X: $11,990
The R-1000 Sigma 2-X has a MicroRidge stylus of solid diamond, a square cantilever of natural diamond, and uses what ZYX calls a Real Stereo generator system, in which the coils, armature, front and rear yokes, pole-piece, and output pins have all been cryogenically treated. While its tonal balance leaned toward the warm side of neutral, with a slightly polite top end and a slightly loose bottom, the ZYX produced clean, focused transients and a richly flowing midrange. “The R-1000 Sigma 2-X is one of the most effortless and natural-sounding cartridges I’ve yet encountered,” said MF. (Vol.33 No.8)

B

Benz-Micro ACE SL: $900 $$$
The ACE SL moving-coil cartridge outputs 0.4mV and has a 0.28mm cantilever of solid boron and a nude, mirror-polished, line-contact stylus. Based on the pure-iron cross-coil generator system of Benz-Micro’s upscale Glider, the hand-built ACE series uses a cost-saving aluminum frame and acrylic body. Though it couldn’t match the dynamics and bass extension of more expensive cartridges, “the ACE SL’s tracing and tracking were impressive by any standard,” said MF. It produced solid images within a wide soundstage, offered an “astonishing” amount of inner detail, and had an overall sound that was “somewhat polite.” MF: “The Benz-Micro ACE SL is easy to recommend.” (Vol.32 No.6)

Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood: $950 ✩ $$$
BJR couldn’t come up with even one criticism of this wooden-bodied version of the excellent Aurum Beta S. It shares that cartridge’s transparency, midrange naturalness, extended treble and bass definition, and dynamics, but adds an additional layer of detail resolution, sweetness, and subtle low level articulation, BJR decided that the Virtuoso Wood might be the affordable cartridge for lovers of jazz, classical, and rock music. “The performance of the Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood was so ear-opening that I recommend that anyone thinking of spending up to $2500 on a moving-coil cartridge consider buying the [$950] Wood instead.” (Vol.25 No.12 Read Review Online)

Goldring Legacy: $1295
The low-output (0.25mV) Legacy is a moving-coil design with a lightweight, low-resonance magnesium body and a low-mass, fine-line Vital stylus. Mounted in MF’s Graham Phantom 2 tonearm, the Legacy was a superb and quiet tracker capable of delivering loads of detail. Though it lacked the midrange richness of more expensive cartridges, the Legacy managed to sound smooth and relaxed, never etched or analytical. Requires a great deal of attention in setup to achieve the best results, and must be used with a high-quality phono preamp or step-up transformer, advised MF. Goldring recommends a resistive load of 100 ohms and a tracking force of 1.75gm. (Vol.33 No.11)

Lyra Kleos: $2995
Billed as a replacement for Lyra’s classic Helikon, the moving-coil Kleos uses an Ogura boron cantilever fitted with a low-mass line-contact stylus, and includes Lyra’s New Angle alignment system. Compared to the Helikon, the Kleos had a warmer sound, with greater delicacy and detail. While it lacked the resolution and dynamics of Lyra’s Titan, something that just keeps it from Class A, the Kleos combined a neutral tonal balance with airy highs, a rich midrange, well-controlled lows, a wide soundstage, and solid, three-dimensional images. “Highly recommended, and without reservation,” said MF. (Vol.34 No.1)

Lyra Delos: $1650
The Delos, machined from a solid billet of aluminum, has a Namiki MicroRidge line-contact stylus and a solid-boron cantilever. Like other Lyras, the Delos uses a yokeless, neodymium-disc direct-magnet system, and its generator is integral to its body for better mechanical grounding and energy transfer. The Delos managed the attack and detail of Lyra’s Helikon while adding a richer, meatier sustain; and while it lacked the depth and weight of more expensive cartridges, the Delos offered an uncolored, transparent midrange. “Lyra’s new Delos is a high-value cartridge,” concluded MF. (Vol.33 No.8)

Miyajima Labs Premium BE Mono: $1260
With its ebony body and pure-diamond conical stylus, the Premium Be Mono weighs 10.8gm, has a recommended tracking force of 3.5gm and an internal impedance of 6 ohms, and outputs 0.9mV. It produced “big, pure, meaty, midband mono physicality, and remarkable depth of soundstage,” said MF. “The Premium BE Mono is my favorite mono cartridge at any price.” (Vol.33 No.11)

Miyajima Labs Premium Mono: $1050
The Premium Mono monophonic cartridge uses Noriyuki Miyajima’s “cross-ring method,” whereby the cantilever’s fulcrum is centered precisely within the former on which the coil is wound. Recommended downforce is 3.5gm. In addition to its “near-total rejection of surface noise,” the Premium Mono provided a forceful sound with “fine impact” and an “excellent sense of scale,” said AD. “A staggering good value, but for special systems only.” (Vol.32 No.8 Read Review Online)

Ortofon 2M Black: $699
Partnered with the budget-priced Audio-Technica AT-PEQ3 phono preamp, the “ridiculously good” Ortofon 2M Black produced a bright, open sound with “surprising heft and slam.” Because its Shibata stylus is sensitive to rake angle, the 2M Black should be used only with tonearms that permit adjustment of VTA and SRA, Mikey advised. (Vol.32 No.12)

Shelter 7000: $3395
Shelter’s replacement for the 901, the 7000 is a low-output (0.5mV), medium-compliance moving-coil design with a nude, elliptical diamond stylus. It weighs 11gm, has a DC resistance of 9 ohms, and tracks at between 1.4 and 2gm. Shelter recommends pairing the 7000 with a step-up transformer providing a loading of 10–30 ohms. A new, rigid body and a series of internal upgrades highlight the 7000’s improvements over the 901. “The 7000 traded some transient speed and detail for its smooth, graceful, slightly soft demeanor” and produced “generously sized images on a slightly crowded soundstage,” said MF. (Vol.32 No.9)

Transfiguration Phoenix: $4250
The 0.4mV-output, moving-coil Phoenix uses the yokeless, double-ring magnet technology found in more expensive Transfiguration cartridges, and marries an antiresonant body of solid aluminum to a low-mass Ogura PA stylus fitted to a boron cantilever. The Phoenix traded the pleasant romanticism of the Benz-Micro ACE SL for transient certitude and greater dynamic scaling, said MF. Those who prefer a lush sound may find the Phoenix overly analytical, however. Current production uses a heavier gauge of wire on coil with fewer windings and coil core material from the Orpheus L. (Vol.32 No.6)

Transfiguration Axia: $2450
Transfiguration’s entry-level cartridge is housed in a resonance-controlled body of machined aluminum. It has a boron cantilever, an Ogura diamond stylus, a specified output of 0.4mV, and a recommended tracking force of 2.0gm. Compared to Transfiguration’s far more expensive Orpheus L, the Axia lacked spatial and textural complexity, harmonic resolution, and frequency extension, but produced clean, precise attacks and solid, well-focused images. “The Transfiguration Axia is easy to recommend at its price,” said MF. Current production uses a heavier gauge of wire on coil with fewer windings. (Vol.34 No.5)

Zu Audio DL-103: $439 ✩ $$$
Zu improves on Denon’s original design by trading the DL-103’s plastic body for one built of 6061 “aircraft” aluminum and then binding the magnet, base, and pole piece with a ferrous-based epoxy. This consistently colorful-, well-textured–, engaging-sounding cartridge built on the Denon’s sense of impact while taming its forward presentation. AD: “The Zu doesn’t just slay giants: It rips their beating heart from their chests, shows it to them, finishes them off, then chases their souls and drags them down to hell. Recommended.” (Vol.30 Nos.10 & 12 Read Review Online)

C

Denon DL-103: $229 ✩ $$$
In production since 1962, the DL-103 is a “resolutely old-fashioned” cartridge with a two-piece plastic body. It uses a two-piece aluminum cantilever to drive a cross-shaped armature wound with several turns of fine-gauge copper magnet wire. Its square-shank nude diamond stylus is ground to a spherical tip. Though the Denon offered excellent bass depth and impact with an overall exciting and “pleasantly forward” presentation, its high-frequency response peak made bright recordings sound “a bit more forward than ideal.” Nonetheless, AD deemed it “a superb cartridge and a remarkable buy.” Compared to Denon’s new DL-A100 100th Anniversary moving-coil phono cartridge, AD’s old DL-103 was tubbier in the bass, but just as dynamic and dramatic. Performance with a stock spherical stylus tip squeaks into low Class B, he adds, saying that “apart from various Miyajimas and the always-recommendable Miyabi 47, it’s hard for me to think of another standard (non-pickup-head) type of cartridge that has this much impact and drama.” (Vol.3 No.9, Vol.30 Nos.10 & 12, Vol.34 No.12 Read Review Online)

Nagaoka MP-500: $599
The MP-500 has a samarium-cobalt magnet, a permalloy shield casing, a SuperFineline line-contact stylus, and a low-mass boron cantilever. When used with the Thorens TD 309 turntable, the Nagaoka had a slightly forward, somewhat cool overall sound, but outclassed the TD 309’s stock Audio-Technica AT95E in terms of image solidity, detail resolution, and bass extension, said MF. (Vol.34 No.2)

Rega Elys 2: $295 $$$
See the RP3 entry in “Turntables.” Subtract $95 when purchased with that turntable. (Vol.31 No.7, Vol.34 No.12 Read Review Online)

D

Audio-Technica AT95E: $59
When used with the Thorens TD 309 turntable, the Audio-Technica AT95E produced large, exuberant images, but lacked the solidity, detail resolution, macrodynamics, and bass extension of the more expensive Nagaoka MP-500, said MF. (Vol.34 No.2)

K

Miyajima Labs Kansui.

Deletions

Miyabi Mono, Transfiguration Orpheus L, no longer available; Koetsu Urushi Vermillion, Ortofon Windfeld, Shun Mook not auditioned in too long a time.

Phono Accessories & Record Cleaners

Allnic Audio SpeedNic: $399
The SpeedNic is a strobing platter-speed checker for 33.33, 45, and 78rpm discs. It uses a gooseneck LED lamp powered by three C batteries and a metal disc that doubles as a record weight. Expensive, but works as advertised, said MF. (Vol.34 No.12)

AcousTech The Big Record Brush: $36.95
This large-handled brush has soft bristles of both natural hairs and conductive synthetic fibers, and makes dusting LPs nearly foolproof. The 5.5"-wide bristle area easily spans the width of any LP’s grooved area. Version with ground wire ($46.95) does “a pretty effective job of dissipating static electricity,” Mikey said. (Vol.31 No.9)

Audio Intelligent record-cleaning fluids ✩
MF: “The AI fluids are reasonably priced, easy to apply and (especially) to spread, clean extremely well, and leave no audible residue.” Prices are for 16-oz bottles: Enzymatic Formula, $25; alcohol-free Premium Archivist Formula, $25; Super Cleaning Formula with research-grade isopropanol, $25; Ultra-Pure Water (claimed to be 50 times purer than distilled water), $16. Distributed by Missouri-based Osage Audio Products, LLC. (Vol.30 No.12)

Benz/Aesthetix MC Demagnetizer: $199 ✩
Battery-powered, reasonably priced, seems to do the job as well as any of them, decided MF. (Vol.25 No.7)

Clearaudio Outer Limit Turntable Ring: $1350 ✩
Heavy, stainless-steel ring acts as a speed-stabilizing flywheel, damps the record, and flattens outer-groove warps. However, MF cautioned, its weight means that you can use it only with turntables with massive platters and/or very powerful motors. MF also noted that a centering template would be a happy addition to the package. The Outer Limit was “a pain to center.” Nonetheless, it “blackened backgrounds, solidified images, and made them ‘pop’ in three dimensions.” (Vol.24 No.10)

DB Systems DBP-10 protractor: $49 ✩
Fiddly but accurate guide for setting cartridge tangency. JA’s preferred alignment protractor. The DBP-10 can be used to gauge alignment accuracy at any point or points between 44 and 153mm from the record spindle. “A hell of a bargain,” said AD. (Vol.33 No.6 Read Review Online)

DB Systems DBP-6MC resistive loading kit: $46 ✩
This resistive loading kit is based on a pair of flexible Y-adapters, each having two phono sockets at one end and a single phono plug at the other. It comes with five pairs of color-coded resistive plugs (10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 ohms), as well as a pair of empty plugs into which an alternate resistor value can be soldered. “An ancient but eminently useful thing to have,” said AD. (Vol.32 No.8 Read Review Online)

DIGIstrobo strobe platter speed checker: $160 ✩
The DIGIstrobo is a laser-based device for checking the rotational speed of turntables. Resembling a RadioShack SPL meter, the quartz-crystal–based DIGIstrobo, powered by three AAA batteries, records the speed of a turntable’s most recent revolution, as well as the slowest and fastest revolutions taken during the measurement period. Getting an accurate speed reading requires that the DIGIstrobo be held utterly still, cautioned Mikey. For this reason, he found the DIGIstrobo’s readings inconsistent, and would have preferred that the device be equipped with a tripod. (Vol.31 No.9)

Furutech deMag record demagnetizer: $2225 ✩
“Who knew?!?” Like the Acoustic Revive RL-30 Mk.3, the deMag removed glare and enriched the midband of edgy-sounding LPs. Users should make sure the Furutech’s uncovered surface is clean before putting freshly scrubbed vinyl on it, warned MF. (Vol.29 No.10)

Goldenote Kymyas Hi End LP Treatment: $75 ✩
This LP treatment is composed of a cleaning fluid and a restorative polymer coating that’s claimed to “cure” scratched LPs for up to six months. Though records were made “far more musically palatable,” the scratches were still present and annoying, and, even after long drying periods, MF found that a single play left a large ball of Goldenote’s polymer coating on the stylus. “If you have irreplaceable scratched records that you treasure, use this expensive stuff carefully and transfer the music to CD-R,” he advised. (Vol.29 No.6)

K-A-B SpeedStrobe Digital Phonograph Speed Readout: $109.95 ✩
Easy-to-use strobe disc simplifies precision adjustment of turntable speeds from 331⁄3 to all of the variations on “78.” “It’s just fantastic,” effused J-10. “It looks cool, and it’s a snap to perfectly set the speed.” (Vol.19 No.2)

Keith Monks Audio Works Mk.VII Omni record-cleaning machine: $5995
The late Keith Monks’s son, Jonathan, has taken over production of this venerable classic, moving manufacturing to a dedicated facility on the Isle of Wight and expanding the line to include new models, new platter mats, new cleaning brushes, and specially formulated cleaning fluids. With its solid idler-driven platter, refined cabinetry, and improved internal wiring, the new machine outclasses the old. After cleaning a record, AD noted clearer instrumental voices and greater low-level detail. The Omni was “so easy to use—so pleasant to use—that the prospect of cleaning LPs became a happy one.” Price is for white finish; English oak adds $300. (Vol.32 No.5 Read Review Online)

Kerry Audio Design F2 Titanium tonearm counterweight: $129 ✩
Titanium replacement counterweight for Rega tonearms. Machined with three sets of thin contact rails that ride on the Rega arm’s counterweight stub. The sonic improvement was “amazing,” thought MF; he found the F2 gave better bass response, greater low-frequency extension and control, and an improved sense of overall weight and tonal richness. (Vol.26 No.5)

LAST Power Cleaner for LPs: $44/3⁄4-oz bottle, with applicators ✩
This small bottle of Freon-free cleaner is enough to treat 75 LPs. JE found just three drops sufficient to remove dirt, dust, and grime from garage-sale records, though he discovered that a subsequent wash with his VPI HW-17 was still required to reduce groove noise to acceptable levels. “A worthwhile companion to LAST’s wonderful Record Preservative.” (Vol.17 No.5)

LAST Record Preservative, with applicators: $50/2-oz bottle ✩
Significantly improves the sound of even new records, and is claimed to make them last longer. “I unhesitatingly recommend LAST Record Preservative,” said Mikey, whose records sound as quiet now as they did when he first started using the treatment, over 25 years ago. AD is not a fan, however, though he does admit that LAST, if used correctly, does no harm. $148.50/8oz, $246/16oz. (Vol.5 No.3, Vol.30 No.10)

LAST STYLAST Stylus Treatment: $36/1/4-oz bottle ✩
Stylus treatment designed to reduce friction between groove and phono cartridge. Some manufacturers caution against it, claiming it migrates up the cantilever and attracts dust, thus clogging the armature. One reader suggests applying treatment to brush rather than stylus, which would reduce the possibility of over-applying. MF has found STYLAST effective, but expresses concern over possible cartridge damage. (Vol.18 No.12)

Lyra SPT: $45/5ml bottle ✩
Includes a small, wedge-shaped applicator with which MF brushed a drop of this fluid carefully, back to front, along the stylus. Don’t get any on the cantilever, he warned, and wait 10 seconds before playing a record. Pricey fluid said to lubricate the stylus, to improve S/N ratio and trackability, and to last for one side’s playing time. Mikey thinks he noted a slight sound-softening effect, but wouldn’t bet the farm on it. (Vol.23 No.11)

Merrill G.E.M. Dandy Hydraulic Record Cleaner: $149 ✩
Designed to sit in a sink, the “rudimentary but ingenious” G.E.M. Dandy is an inexpensive manual record-cleaning rig that uses a proprietary cleaning solution comprising a degreasing detergent and an alcohol-based carrier, followed by a tap-water rinse. Made mostly of PVC tubing, the Dandy has a vertically mounted clamping mechanism that permits easy rotation of the secured LP. Also included are a faucet-coupling adaptor, a protractor, and a length of clear plastic tubing with a pressurized water nozzle. “Until you get the hang of it,” Mikey warned, “the G.E.M. Dandy can make a mess.” Despite his best efforts, water invariably seeped into the Dandy’s protective cups to wet the outside edges of record labels. However, the Dandy proved “terrific” for cleaning water-damaged and crudded-up records, MF concluded. (Vol.31 No.9)

Milty Zerostat 3: $100 ✩
“The gold standard of static-discharge devices,” the ZeroStat is a gun-shaped gadget with two heavy-duty piezo-electric crystals and a patented compression trigger. Slowly squeezing and releasing the trigger produces a neutral static condition, thus removing static cling from record surfaces. Said to be good for at least 10,000 squeeze cycles. (Vol.30 No.10)

Musical Surroundings Fozgometer: $250
The Fozgometer allows its user to easily check phono cartridge channel separation and crosstalk. (It uses a log-ratio detector developed by Jim Fosgate for the steering-logic circuits of surround processors.) Housed in an aluminum case, it runs on a 9V alkaline battery and has an On/Off switch, left and right RCA input jacks, an analog signal meter, and three LEDs labeled Left, Center, and Right. “Well made, really easy to use, and accurate,” said Mikey. “The Fozgometer gets my highest recommendation!” However, while the Fozgometer provides useful measurements for cartridges with similar channel-separation numbers, it can lead to unusual and undesirable results with cartridges that have high levels of interchannel crosstalk disparity, cautioned MF. (Vol.33 Nos.5 & 11)

Nitty Gritty 2.5Fi-XP LP cleaning machine: $1025
Nitty Gritty’s latest record-cleaning machine adds the convenience of two separate fluid chambers and hand pumps for quicker, easier cleaning sessions, and has a new venting system that allows the machine’s motor to run cooler for longer periods of time. Like other Nitty Gritty machines, the 2.5Fi-XP forgoes a platter in favor of a round, label-sized disc, making the Nitty Gritty more compact than most other record-cleaning machines. The 2.5Fi-XP managed to quickly and thoroughly clean and dry very dirty LPs. “Two wet thumbs up!” said Mikey. (Vol.34 No.5)

Nitty Gritty Mini Pro 2 record-cleaning machine: $1345 ✩
Nitty Gritty 2.5Fi Vacuum record-cleaning machine: $935 ✩
Nitty Gritty 1.5Fi record-cleaning machine: $859 ✩
The Mini Pro is a semiautomatic machine that cleans both disc sides simultaneously. The 1.5 is identical to the 2.5 but substitutes black-vinyl woodgrain for the latter’s genuine oak side panels. Instead of a vacuuming “tonearm,” as on the professional Keith Monks machine, the NG cleaner uses a vacuum slot, with the record cleaned by fixed, chassis-mounted “lips.” Gunk-laden fluid is vacuumed off. Cleaning is efficient and as good as Nitty Gritty’s Pro, at a significantly lower price, though it takes twice as long, cleaning each side of an LP in turn. Don’t smear the schmutz from one record to another, MF warned; he suggests manual pre-cleaning of records for best results. While the vacuum-cleaning Nitty Gritty does a job on dusty albums nearly equivalent to that of the similarly priced VPI HW-16.5, CG felt that the VPI’s hard-bristled brush did better with really dirty LPs than did NG’s velvet one. He found the effect of both was to produce a less colored, more detailed midband sound from LPs, as well as provide the expected reduction in surface noise. (Vol.8 No.1, Mini Pro; Vol.7 No.5, Vol.8 No.1, Vol.23 No.6, 2.5Fi; Vol.17 No.5, 1.5Fi.)

Octave Audio/Schopper modifications for Thorens TD 124 ✩
Replacement parts for vintage Thorens TD 124 turntables are manufactured in Switzerland by Schopper A.G. and sold in the US by Octave Audio. A new drive belt ($35), new rubber “mushrooms” for isolating the player from its plinth ($60/set of four), and a fresh bottle of Thorens oil ($25) got AD’s turntable up and running. However, the biggest improvements to the 124’s performance came from new rubber grommets for isolating the motor from its surroundings ($50/set of six) and Schopper’s platter-bearing rebuild kit ($90), complete with new gasket, thrust plate, and bolts. The Schopper mods “created a record player that could compete with virtually anything I’ve heard in terms of treble openness and clarity, midrange detail, and bass extension,” said Art. (Vol.31 No.5 Read Review Online)

Okki Nokki record cleaner: $599
Made in Germany by Audio Classics and newly imported into the US by Sumiko, the sleek, attractive Okki Nokki record cleaner is available in black or white, and comes with a 50ml squirt bottle of record-cleaning concentrate, a small goat-hair brush, and a 13'-long power cord. While its motor was extremely quiet and its vacuum extremely effective, the Okki Nokki was more difficult to use than the similarly priced VPI HW-16.5, and SM was disappointed by the Okki Nokki’s too-small spindle and poorly threaded record clamp. Available accessories: RCD Dust Cover, $79; RCB Fluid Brush (wood) for dry cleaning, $15; RCB-G Fluid Brush (goat hair) for wet cleaning, $25; RCS Replacement Strip Brush Set for vacuum tube, $15; RCF Cleaning Fluid Concentrate (makes 1 liter), $12; RCT 12", 10", or 7" Aluminum vacuum tube, $50. Dust cover adds $50. (Vol.34 No.3 Read Review Online)

OMA slate turntable plinth: from $2000
These custom-made plinths for Thorens, Garrard, Rek-O-Kut, and Technics turntables are made by Oswald’s Mill Audio from blue-gray slate from Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Clean, handsome, and substantial, AD’s review sample measured 24" wide by 21" deep by 2" thick, weighed about 80 lbs, and included a detachable and adjustable armboard. Used with Art’s favorite Thorens TD-124, the OMA plinth provided greater bass extension and power, improved detail retrieval, and reduced noise. “Buying a superb plinth such as the OMA seems an easily made move of reasonable value,” decided Art. (Vol.33 No.9 Read Review Online)

Onzow Zero Dust: $69 ✩
“A circular mound of semi-gelatinous goop in a box, onto which you gently lower your stylus,” said MF. Use is simple: “After a few seconds, you lift the stylus, and it’s as clean and residue-free as the proverbial whistle....Upside: no potentially dangerous brushing, and no fluids. Downside: if you like to leave your platter spinning, you’ll have to stop it each time, or find another steady surface upon which to perform the operation.” (Vol.25 No.3)

ORB phono accessories: $350–$480
The Sakura handheld static-discharge eliminator ($350) is a variant of the Furutech deStat SNH-2, and the SFM-2 stylus-force gauge ($480) and CRE-2 Cartridge Exciter ($399) are variants of similar products from Air Tight. While pricey, the ORB Phono Accessoriesare beautifully made and work well, said Mikey. Available directly from www.twinaudiovideo.com. (Vol.33 No.12)

Rega cartridge torque wrench: $245 ✩
Expensive, but a must, MF felt, “for serious analog addicts and professional installers.” Agreed, sez ST, but “for God’s sake be careful with this thing, especially with the new Grado wooden-bodied cartridges...best used with very strong-bodied cartridges—such as Rega’s.” (Vol.19 No.11)

Rek-O-Kut Stylus Force Gauge: $24 ✩
The Rek-O-Kut Stylus Force Gauge is a big, easy-to-use balance beam that comes with a total of 5.75gm in plastic weights, for use in various combinations. For cartridges designed to play at downforces of 3.5gm or more, the Rek-O-Kut is “a good, cheap solution,” said AD. (Vol.32 No.2 Read Review Online)

Soundsmith EZ-Mount screws: $29.95
Soundsmith’s sets of knurled screws, designed to fit most brands of tapped cartridge, made installing cartridges much easier, said Mikey. Each set includes pairs of 10mm-long screws made of four different materials—nylon (1.04gm/pair), aluminum (2.06gm/pair), stainless steel (5.80gm/pair), and brass (6.24gm/pair)—so that users can easily match a tonearm’s effective mass to a cartridge’s compliance. (Vol.33 No.12)

Spin Clean Record Washing System: $79.95 $$$
Package includes a plastic vat, two brushes, two rollers, a 4-oz bottle of concentrated cleaning fluid, and washable drying cloths. Three sets of slots allow cleaning of 7", 10", and 12" records. Two velvet-like brushes clean both sides of a record simultaneously as the user rotates the record within the appropriate slot. Though “not nearly as convenient or as efficacious as a vacuum cleaning system,” the Spin Clean Record Washing System “got the job done,” said Mikey. Spin Clean claims a single vat of fluid can clean up to 50 records, but MF suggests refreshing the vat more often. A 16-oz bottle of fluid costs $20; a package of five drying cloths costs $10. (Vol.33 No.2)

Sutherland Timeline: $400
The Timeline is a device for testing a turntable’s accuracy of speed. Housed in a solid disc of aluminum and Delrin that fits over the platter spindle, the Timeline uses eight laser-projected timing marks with a claimed accuracy within two parts per million. “Unless your wall has hash marks, there’s a bit of subjectivity involved, and at $400 the Timeline isn’t cheap,” said MF. “Indispensable,” said BD, who used the Timeline to measure, set, and monitor the speeds of his Spiral Groove SG-2 and VPI HR-X turntables. (Vol.33 Nos.3 & 12 Read Review Online)

The Disc Doctor’s Miracle Record Cleaner: $25.00/pint plus $7.15 S&H ✩
The Disc Doctor’s Stylus Cleaner: $26.50/17ml plus $3.50 S&H

Chemist Duane Goldman, the Disc Doctor, claims that his Stylus Cleaner—a mixture of sub-micron filtered water and separately sub-micron filtered +99.5% 1-propanol alcohol—leaves no residue on the stylus or cantilever. Comes with a stiff brush for the first wet cleaning of the stylus. After that, the good Doctor recommends a natural-bristle artist’s brush that’s been cut down at an angle or been given a crew cut, as Mikey put it. Quart of fluid, $37.75/$8.65 S&H; half gallon, $60.00/$10.00 S&H; size A for LP brushes, $42.95/pair/$4.25 S&H; size B for 45s, $30.50/pair; replacement pads for brushes, $14.95/4; QuickWash solution, quart, $25; half gallon, $41. (Vol.20 No.3, Vol.23 No.11, Vol.24 No.7)

TTWeights Audio RCM (Record Cleaning Machine) clamp: $64.95
Beautifully crafted clamp specifically intended for VPI record-cleaning machines. (Vol.32 No.5)

Vinyl Flat LP Flattener: $79.95
Add $59.95 for pouch. See “The Entry Level” in the April 2012 issue.

VPI HW-27 Typhoon record-cleaning machine: $2200 ✩
The Typhoon is smaller, quieter, and more attractive than earlier VPI record-cleaning machines, “with the look and feel of a turntable.” Its vacuum pump, twice as powerful as that used in the HW-17, proved capable of drying an LP in a single rapid revolution. “The Typhoon is a clean, efficient record-cleaning machine that’s almost fun to use,” said MF. (Vol.30 No.5)

VPI HW-17 record-cleaning machine: $1300 ✩
VPI HW-16.5 record-cleaning machine: $550 ✩
Clearly an industrial-quality machine of reassuring quality, the VPI ‘17 cleans one side at a time, semiautomatically, and is slower than the Nitty Gritty. “Best I’ve used,” says LA. Latest version has a heavier-duty vacuum system. The ‘16.5 is a manually operated version with a noisier motor. Adjusts automatically to thickness of record; gets hot quickly. Of the HW-17F, MF says, “Fast, convenient, beautifully constructed, and can be used indefinitely without overheating. The fan version of the 17 is well worth the extra money for those post–garage-sale/record-convention analog orgies when only cleaning the whole pile will do.” “The 17F is probably the best record-cleaning machine available,” MF concluded; “a true workhorse.” (Vol.8 No.1, Vol.19 No.6, Vol.23 No.6, HW-17F; Vol.5 Nos.7 & 9, original HW-16; Vol.17 No.5, Vol.19 No.6, HW-16.5.)

VPI VTA adjuster for Rega tonearm: $150 ✩
“Seems to maintain the desired rigidity while allowing for about a full inch of vertical adjustability. It’s nicely machined from aluminum and has a sturdy mounting collar.” Its only downside, reported MF, is that it won’t fit into a standard Rega opening. Drill it out yourself or send your armboard to VPI. (Vol.23 No.6)

Wally Phono Tools ✩
Makes cartridge installation in these do-it-yourself days, fast, easy, and ultra-reliable, says MF. Custom laser-cut WallyTractor is indispensable. Other tools for VTA, antiskating, and azimuth are merely supremely useful. “My job has been 100 times easier since Wally came on the scene,” sums up the Analog Guru. A new WallyTractor is now available for tonearms whose effective length is unknown or that have a limited range of cartridge adjustment. AD found its tracking-angle alignment guides easy to use and interpret. (Vol.25 No.5, Vol.28 No.12; Vol.30 No.10)

WallyTools WallyTractor Universal protractor: $250 ✩
Wally Malewicz’s new universal protractor is precision-cut to his specs and has 13 laser-cut arcs to accommodate tonearms from over a dozen different manufacturers. “I love using the WallyTractor,” said MF. “When I’m finished, I know the stylus is where it belongs anywhere in its travel across the record surface.” (Vol.30 No.10)

Phono Preamps/Moving-Coil Step-up Devices

A+

Boulder 2008: $36,000 ✩
Despite everything else he had ever heard or reviewed, MF could never have been prepared for what the 2008 offered. He was taken to a higher level: “What the 2008 delivered was the music’s meaning....It was like analog on acid. Every note, every musical gesture became the most important, most profound note ever struck—until the next one....The 2008 gripped, mesmerized, suspended time, and communicated profoundly.” The sound, MF raved on, was “faultless in every area of performance: soundstaging, imaging, dynamics, harmonics, frequency extension, solidity, ‘bloom’—you name it.” MF had no complaints: “As with the Continuum Caliburn turntable, the 2008 belongs in Class A+—the single most impressive electronic audio component I’ve heard.” Compared with the one-third-the-price 1008, the 2008 did sacrifice a little of the 1008’s midrange richness for better bass control and greater top-end extension, said MF. (Vol.25 No.7, Vol.33 No.7 Read Review Online)

Vitus Audio MP-P201 Masterpiece: $60,000
The massive, two-box MP-P201 Masterpiece Series Phono Preamp includes switchable, independently configurable balanced and single-ended inputs and a single balanced output. Available are a choice of four dealer-installed modules for resistive loading, each including 16 different resistances. The MP-P201’s dynamic presentation was “nothing short of ridiculous”; its bass extension, control, and weight were “granitic”; speed, transparency, three-dimensionality, frequency extension, rhythmic ability, and musical grip were unsurpassed. “You need to hear it,” gushed MF. JA’s measurements revealed excellent channel matching and almost zero RIAA error, but nothing to indicate why Mikey was so taken by the Vitus’s sound. (Vol.33 Nos.7 & 9 Read Review Online)

Ypsilon VPS-100: $26,000
Made in Greece, the moving-magnet VPS-100 is beautifully built and housed in a substantial aluminum case. Joining the Boulder in Class A+, it uses a 6CA4 rectifier tube and choke filter, while RIAA is accomplished passively with zero feedback using a transformer-based LCR network. All internal wiring is done by hand, point to point. While it couldn’t quite match the bottom-octave punch, definition, and extension of the Pass Labs XP-25, the Ypsilon produced a more transparent, silky, airy overall sound, said MF. “It produced an absolutely intoxicating blend of stupefyingly extended high frequencies, resolution, clarity, and transient precision, along with tight, deep, nimble, nonmechanical bass, and an ideally rich midrange,” said MF and has since purchased the review sample. (Vol.32 No.8, Vol.34 No.3)

A

Abbingdon Music Research PH-77 Reference: $11,995
The AMR PH-77 Reference Phono Class Equaliser is a true dual-mono design with unprecedented, microprocessor-controlled features and seemingly limitless flexibility, including 22 phono-equalization curves in addition to RIAA, eight gain settings, and 32 loading options each for MM and MC cartridges. Also included is a 24-bit/96kHz A/D converter, accessible via a rear-panel USB port. Though it lacked the dynamic expression of the Boulder 1008, the PH-77 was “a sweet, tonally well-balanced, quiet performer that produced a large, authoritative sonic picture packed with honest detail,” said MF. Though in most ways the PH-77 was a solid performer on the test bench, JA would like to have seen a greater high-frequency overload margin for its moving-coil modes. (Vol.33 Nos.7 & 11 Read Review Online)

Allnic Audio H-3000V: $13,900
This gorgeous, two-box design from Korea features rectification by 5AR4 tubes, and uses two pairs of NOS E810F pentode tubes for the gain stages, plus pairs of 7233 and 6485 voltage-regulator tubes, for a total of eight tubes in the main chassis. Unusually versatile, the H-3000V provides two sets of moving-magnet and moving-coil inputs, a front-panel polarity switch, several gain options, and a wide variety of pre-RIAA curves. The fully balanced, class-A circuit uses no negative feedback. The H-3000V excelled at textural production and musical flow, but lacked definition, transparency, and transient refinement, producing a slightly soft, loose overall sound, said MF. (Vol.34 No.3)

ASR Basis Exclusive 2X: $9100 ✩
The battery-powered Exclusive is made of two complete, fully balanced stereo phono preamplifiers on a single chassis, entirely independent except for a shared, switchable output—a major convenience for audiophiles with more than one turntable or with two tonearms mounted on a single ‘table. The amplifier section is housed in an acrylic chassis, while the power supply is housed in a steel chassis with an acrylic faceplate. It MF listed the original Exclusive’s strong suits: “rhythmic snap; among the deepest, cleanest, most dynamic bass; and midrange and high-frequency transparency and clarity without etch, grain, or brightness.” Revised 2007 edition operates at slightly higher voltages, and remains one of the top phono preamps in Mikey’s experience. The 2010 edition offered outstanding transparency, speed, rhythmic snap, and wide dynamics, but lacked midrange warmth, said MF. Multiple gain choices and loading options make the Basis Exclusive 2010 one of the most adjustable phono preamps available, but at this price point it faces stiff competition in terms of sound quality. (Vol.26 No.10, Vol.30 No.2, Vol.34 No.11 Read Review Online)

AudioValve Sunilda: $5199
The tubed Sunilda offers two independently configurable single-ended inputs selectable for MM or MC and adjustable for resistive and capacitive loading. The dual-mono circuit uses pairs of 6922 and 12AX7 tubes in a three-stage configuration; high-quality parts are used throughout and signal paths are kept short, all but eliminating any point-to-point wiring. The Sunilda sacrificed bass extension and slam for “well-saturated harmonic colors and three-dimensionality,” said MF. “The AudioValve Sunilda is one of the most enjoyably balanced tube-based phono preamps I’ve heard.” (Vol.32 No.12)

Auditorium 23 Hommage T1: $4995 ✩
Over twice the size and weight of the less expensive Standard transformer, the Hommage T1, designed as a companion to Auditorium 23’s Solovox loudspeaker, is a statement product. It has a textured-paint finish, attractive white-oak endcaps, and input and output resistances of 3 and 2530 ohms, respectively. The Hommage T1 shared the Standard’s excellent timing, flow, and overall drama, but produced a much larger soundstage; and while the Audio Note AN-S8 was slightly richer, the Hommage T1 proved more exciting, said AD. Pairing the Hommage T1 with an EMT OFD 25 mono pickup head resulted in unsurpassed musical and emotional impact, he noted. The Hommage T1 provided more timbral color, more shimmer, and a larger overall sound than did Bob Sattin’s CineMag device, found AD. (Vol.30 No.10, Vol.32 No.8, Vol.33 No.6 Read Review Online)

Boulder Amplifiers 1008: $12,000
The impeccably built 1008 is a fully balanced, dual-mono design with XLR inputs and outputs. In addition to RIAA, the 1008 includes the Decca, Columbia, and EMI curves for LPs released before 1954, and DIP switches mounted on the Boulder’s personality cards select between MM and MC cartridges. It had a slightly soft overall sound, with a bloomy midrange and a forgiving top end, but was capable of producing massive dynamic swings, said MF. “Superb measured performance” and “a standard of construction that is to die for,” praised JA. (Vol.33 No.7 Read Review Online)

Channel D Seta Model L: $3799
Designed to take full advantage of Pure Vinyl’s digital RIAA correction, the beautifully built Seta Model L includes balanced and single-ended inputs, balanced unequalized outputs, variable gain, and a built-in, rechargeable battery power supply. Recordings made using the Seta Model L’s optional RIAA-equalized outputs were “models of clarity, definition, tonal accuracy, detail resolution, and spatial coherence,” said MF. “There is no doubt that the Seta Model L has been superbly engineered,” praised JA. Internal RIAA compensation module adds $999. (Vol.33 No.8 Read Review Online)

EAR 324: $6095 ✩
“A serious and downright scary assault on the state of the art of phono amplification,” the solid-state EAR 324 features both MC and MM inputs, with switchable input impedances. While the 324 offers many choices of inputs and settings with provisions for accommodating many different phono cartridges, it had no outstanding sonic signature of its own. AD found the EAR’s overall performance to be tight and rhythmically correct without sounding mechanical. Its presentation was “organic, as distinct from artificial,” with “a consistently, pleasingly great sense of flow and ease on LP after LP.” However, JA found that the EAR’s circuit had virtually no headroom in the low bass. The 324 emphasized the leading edges of transients for excellent clarity and coherence without brightness or edge, said Mikey. “As a reliable reference, an all-around quiet and neutral performer, and an ‘I’m done’ product, the EAR 324 is still easy to recommend,” he concluded. (Vol.27 No.7, Vol.34 No.9 Read Review Online)

EAR MC4: $2295 ✩ $$$
The EAR MC4 transformer allows its user to choose among four input impedances: 3, 6, 12, and 40 ohms. Though the EAR lacked a bit of drama, it was “every bit as colorful, tactile, informative, and involving” as the much more expensive Auditorium 23 Hommage. “It was a delight,” said Art, “not only being able to switch transformer primaries in a matter of seconds with no apparent degradation, but to do so while maintaining that level of musical quality.” (Vol.31 No.9 Read Review Online)

Esoteric E-03: $6500
The rugged, beautifully made E-03 has two sets of single-ended, chassis-mounted RCA inputs for use with moving-coil or moving-magnet cartridges. Two front-panel input knobs provide options for resistive/capacitive loading and offer a DeMag setting for demagnetizing MC cartridges and outboard step-up transformers. Inside, the E-03’s “dual split design” keeps magnetic leakage from contaminating the signal path. Though its midrange lacked some body and color, the E-03 combined airy highs, supple and well-controlled lows, pristine transients, and solid images for an overall sound that was “compelling and unforgettable,” said MF. However, he cautioned: “Its wideband, uncolored honesty may not appeal to some.” (Vol.33 No.12)

Haniwa Audio System HEQA01: $5000
The nicely made HEQA01 has moving-magnet and moving-coil inputs and a built-in degausser. It uses electromagnetic damping to permit cartridge tracking as low as 0.6–1.0gm. When used with Haniwa’s HCTR01 MC cartridge, the HEQA01 produced a fast, clean sound with exceptional transparency, spaciousness, and three-dimensionality, but lacked some midrange warmth, said MF. Sold direct from Kubotek USA with a money-back guarantee. (Vol.34 No.11)

Lamm LP2 Deluxe: $7590 ✩
A “super-quiet” dual-mono vacuum-tube phono stage featuring switchable moving-magnet and moving-coil inputs. MF: “Bass extension, control, and definition were startlingly good....Subtle dynamic scaling was on a par with the Boulder and notably superior to the Connoisseur....Subtle string textures, reeds, and female voices were positively thrilling, and the size and weight of the entire picture...was particularly impressive. Add that to snap-you-back-in-your-seat dynamics and authoritative decay, and the Lamm became one of a handful of the finest phono sections I’ve ever heard.” Compared to the phono section of AD’s Shindo Masseto, the Lamm LP2 Deluxe had a “more neutral” sound, “with instrumental and vocal timbres sounding clean and right —yet not mechanical or overly dry.” (Vol.25 No.12, Vol.32 No.9 Read Review Online)

Nagra BPS: $2495
The tiny, lightweight, battery-powered BPS is loosely based on Nagra’s more expensive VPS, but uses bipolar transistors instead of tubes. It provides 51dB gain in MM mode and 62dB in MC. With its “upfront transient speed, clarity, and focus,” the BPS was “a more neutral, accurate phono preamp than the lush, romantic VPS,” said Mikey. Overall, the BPS sacrificed sustain and richness for attack and rhythm. Compared to the Audio Research PH7, the BPS was “lean, fast, tight, and clean,” lacking delicacy and harmonic complexity. MF: “If your system needs an injection of excitement, the BPS is guaranteed to do just that.” While the BPS sounded good plugged into the AC, it sounded better when powered by its own 9V battery, added FK, who bought the review sample. (Vol.32 Nos.6, 8, & 10 Read Review Online)

Parasound Halo JC 3: $2350 $$$
The Halo JC 3 is a true dual-mono design with a large R-core transformer power supply. Construction quality is first rate, top-shelf parts are used throughout, and the stout, heavy chassis is beautifully finished. In the JC 3, designer John Curl favored purity over adjustability, offering minimal loading options: 100 ohms or 47k ohms for moving-coil cartridges and 47k ohms for moving-magnet cartridges. Its fully direct-coupled RIAA equalization circuit is based on the circuit used in Curl’s famed Vendetta Research SCP-2, while the JC 3’s output stage is a true dual-differential, balanced design. In addition, the JC 3 has a built-in AC line conditioner, and its power supplies are modeled after those found in the extremely quiet JC 2 line stage. Though it lacked the dynamics and transparency of either the Pass Labs XP-25 or Ypsilon VPS-100, the JC 3 combined superb musical grip and control with a timbrally and texturally ideal midrange. “The JC 3 represents the best current value in a phono preamp that I know of,” said MF. Though it lacked the Sutherland 20/20’s tonal richness and punchy sense of pace and drive, the Halo JC 3 produced a detail-rich sound with tight, extended lows, a clean midrange, and carefully drawn images on a huge, open soundstage. “If your tastes run to purity, clarity, neutrality, and detail, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better phono stage for anywhere near $2350,” BD concluded, recommending a Class A rating. The JC 3 sounded remarkably similar to BJR’s reference, the Vendetta SCP-2, but lacked some high-frequency purity and ambience recovery. JA noted superb measured performance. (Vol.34 Nos.3 & 10; Vol.35 No.2 Read Review Online)

Pass Labs XP-25: $10,600
This two-chassis, moving-coil/moving-magnet design offers two inputs and has front-panel controls for several options of gain, capacitive loading, and resistive loading. It uses Pass’s XP-20 power supply, which comprises low-noise transformers, RC filtering, and capacitive multipliers. The XP-25’s first gain stage uses low-noise transistors and a controlled open-loop gain, while its circuit employs new low-noise, thin-film, surface-mount resistors. The XP-25 produced deep bass, explosive dynamics, and good three-dimensionality, but lacked the Ypsilon VPS-100’s top-end air, transparency, and transient speed, said MF. (Vol.34 No.3)

Sutherland Engineering Phono Block: $10,000/pair
The Phono Block is a stripped-down, optimized, no-compromise design made of two completely separate but identical monophonic units. Each Phono Block itself comprises two heavily shielded, individual subchassis, one for the power supply and one for the audio stage, linked by the front and rear panels. The Phono Block offers one pair of inputs, two parallel pairs of outputs, a choice of three grounding schemes, and a built-in white-noise generator. Plug-in cards allow the user to select loading and gain. Like Sutherland’s battery-powered designs, the Phono Block had an uncanny ease and purity but a more realistic and energetic sense of timing and pace, and created a larger, more enveloping soundstage, said BD. JA noted superb measured performance. (Vol.35 No.1 Read Review Online)

Sutherland Engineering 20/20: $2200
The single-chassis, solid-state, dual-mono 20/20 shares a family resemblance with Sutherland’s earlier models, the PhD and Direct Line Stage, but with slimmer, more graceful proportions. Circuit-board jumpers are used to set gain and loading, and the circuit boards themselves are lavishly executed, with top-quality components employed throughout. Unlike earlier Sutherland designs, which employed a bank of D cells for battery power, the 20/20 uses two inexpensive, outboard power supplies mated to several stages of low-pass RC filtering. The 20/20 combined the power, control, and vivid tonal colors of the Direct Line Stage with the transparency, resolution, and detail of the PhD. “It’s simple and easy to use, gorgeous to behold, beautifully built, and an absolutely superb sonic performer,” raved BD. (Vol.34 No.2 Read Review Online)

Ypsilon MC10: $2800
The MC10 transformer produces 20dB of gain and is intended for use with cartridges having an output range of 0.4–0.6mV. Its custom double-coil transformers are shielded with mu-metal and potted in 10mm-thick enclosures coated with soft iron-nickel. Though it lacked the “shimmering clarity” of the TruLife Audio Reikon, the Ypsilon MC10 produced an “exceptionally expansive and deep” soundstage with solid, dimensional, life-size images, said MF. (Vol.32 No.8)

B

Auditorium 23 Standard: $995 ✩ $$$
Designed and voiced for use with Denon’s DL-103, the Auditorium 23 Standard uses two sealed trannies in a nondescript aluminum case, and offers input and output resistances of 7.8 and 505 ohms, respectively. With Denon, Zu, EMT, and Benz cartridges, the sound was “dramatic without being brash, and consistently full-bodied and colorful,” said AD. The Auditorium was “slightly coarser” than the Audio Note AN-S8, lacking some sweetness and color, but “a bargain” nevertheless, AD sums up. (Vol.30 No.10 Read Review Online)

Bob’s Devices CineMag: $650 $$$
Designed and made by Bob Sattin in North Carolina, the CineMag step-up transformer is built into a rugged little cast-alloy box, with a toggle switch for gain selection and another for grounding. It uses a pair of CineMag 3440 transformers, switchable between low- and high-gain settings. Build quality was excellent, with all electrical joints made using an American Beauty resistive soldering station. Compared to the built-in step-up in AD’s Shindo Masseto preamplifier, the CineMag was more colorful and punchy, with better timbral distinctions between instruments, approaching the performance of the much more expensive Auditorium 23 Hommage T1. “Nothing less than wonderful,” Art said. (Vol.33 No.6 Read Review Online)

EAR 834P: $1895 economy model; $2595 deluxe model ✩
Tim de Paravicini–designed, three-tube (12AX7) MM stage that also offers, for MC use, a pair of step-up transformers (3–50 ohms). MF: “The 834’s sound was absolutely gorgeous in the midband, with a touch of ‘golden glow,’ and an overall spaciousness and enticing musical wholeness....The 834P’s bottom-end delivery was well-extended though a bit loose, if only slightly so....[Its] high-frequency extension and transient performance perfectly balanced its bottom: not sharp and etched...but not soft or overly romantic....A slightly sharp, fast-sounding cartridge should really get this thing singing.” Compared to the GSP Audio Era Gold Mk.V, BJR found that the EAR 834P exhibited more detail, air, delicacy, and body in the midrange, with more detailed and extended highs, but with rounder, slower bass performance. ST is a long-time owner of the 834 and loves it. Add $700 for chrome Deluxe version. (Vol.20 No.7, Vol.26 No.8, Vol.28 No.1 Read Review Online)

Einstein Audio The Little Big Phono: $3900
This three-piece, dual-mono, single-ended, moving-coil-only phono preamp was designed to approach the sound quality of Einstein Audio’s more expensive The Turntable’s Choice. Though it lacked the Choice’s frequency extension and impact, the Little Big Phono produced dead-silent backgrounds, vivid three-dimensionality, and outstanding tonal color. “A no-brainer,” raved MF. (Vol.34 No.1)

Leben RS-30EQ: $2695
Designed to match Leben’s CS300 integrated amp, the robustly built CS-30EQ has a decidedly old-fashioned look, with wood side panels and a gold-toned faceplate. It incorporates a pair of common dual-triode tubes for phono gain, but uses a CR-type equalization circuit rather than the more traditional negative-feedback type. A specially made “orient-core” power transformer is employed to minimize hum and noise. Combined with the CS300, the CS-30EQ delivered a rich, punchy, nuanced sound, said AD, who feels it a high value. “A pleasure to look at, a pleasure to use, and delightful to hear,” he concluded. JA was bothered by the CS-30EQ’s very high output impedance, however, which restricts the CS-30EQ’s compatibility with preamps. (Vol.34 No.11 Read Review Online)

Lehmannaudio Black Cube Decade: $2500 ✩
The Black Cube Decade is an MM/MC design with an outboard power supply, rumble filter switch, and selectable gain. It improved on the Vacuum State JLTi PhonoPre’s excellent detail retrieval while retaining the Bel Canto e.One Phono3’s dynamic thrust. In addition, it matched the Bel Canto’s bass dynamics, but added greater subtlety and textural resolution. The Lehmann’s overall sound was slightly warm, with overly smooth vocal sibilants, but microdynamics and low-level detail retrieval were superb, said MF. (Vol.31 No.12)

Lejonklou Slipsik5.1: $1595
Made in Sweden and housed in a simple black-anodized aluminum box, the moving-magnet–only Slipski5.1 is nearly identical to the less expensive Kinki3, but provides 41dB gain and a fixed loading of 47k ohms/68pF. It produced a smooth, midrange-rich sound with plenty of detail, long decays, and clean attacks, said MF. “It may be the finest-sounding MM-only phono preamp I’ve heard,” he concluded. (Vol.34 No.10)

Lejonklou Kinki3: $895
Made in Sweden and housed in a simple aluminum box, the moving-magnet–only Kinki3 provides 40dB gain and a fixed loading of 47k ohms/80pF. Like Lejonklou’s more expensive Slipski5.1, the Kinki produced a smooth, midrange-rich sound with excellent microdynamics and an expansive soundstage, but lacked the Slipski’s coherence and sophistication, said MF. (Vol.34 No.10)

LFD Phonostage LE: $1295 $$$
Phonostage LE Special: $1795
Minimalist in design and appearance, the LFD Phonostage LE combines 28 resistors, 24 capacitors, 4 regulators, 2 epoxy diodes, 2 op-amps, and 1 transformer in a pleasant-looking chassis of extruded aluminum. It has a fixed input impedance of 47k ohms and can be configured to provide appropriate gain for moving-magnet (39dB) or moving-coil (53dB) cartridges. Despite its modest design and price, the LFD was “a sonically refined, musically involving, downright fun piece of gear,” with a nice sense of touch, good weight and impact, and beautifully rich timbral colors, said AD. Upgraded with multistrand PC-OCC input wiring, multidiameter silver output wiring, taller viscoelastic isolation feet, and a larger power transformer, the Phonostage LE Special ($1795) offered greater nuance, touch, detail, and scale for a more compelling listening experience, felt Art. “The measured performance of both versions was first-class,” said JA. (Vol.34 No.6 Read Review Online)

Liberty Audio B2B-1: $1749
Made in the US, the all-FET, class-A B2B-1 comes in a heavy-duty aluminum chassis with a handsome black-anodized faceplate. In addition to its chassis-mounted RCA input and output jacks, the B2B-1 provides single input and output XLR jacks for use as a fully differential mono phono preamp. Jumpers offer five choices of resistive loading and two choices of gain. Though it lacked the Lejonklou Slipski’s midrange richness, the B2B-1 produced an extremely quiet, authoritative, ultradynamic sound with deep bass, clean transients, fast attacks, and precise images. “It’s a mini Boulder 1008,” Mikey praised. Sold factory-direct with a two-week return policy. (Vol.34 No.10)

Rogue Audio Ares: $1995
Made in the US, this beautifully built, all-tube design uses pairs of 12AX7 and 12AU7 tubes, has CineMag step-up transformers for low-output moving-coil cartridges, and provides 27 DIP switches for three levels of gain (MM/high-output MC, 0.5–1.0mV; MC, less than 0.5mV) and capacitive loading options. Matched with the Shure V15VxMR MM cartridge, the Ares produced a fully developed, harmonically rich, and three-dimensional aural picture, said MF. Through its MC input, the Ares had a fast, dynamic, slightly dark overall sound, with a slightly thin mid- and high treble. “That Rogue can offer this beauty for only $1995 makes you wonder what some of the other manufacturers are smoking,” marveled Mikey. (Vol.34 No.9)

Silvercore One-to-Ten phono step-up transformer: $630 $$$
Designed and manufactured in Germany, the Silvercore One-to-Ten step-up transformer is packaged in an attractive lidded box of pulpy gray fiber and is built into a substantial case of polished stainless steel. It contains a stereo pair of toroidal transformers, wound from copper wire on proprietary amorphous cores, with a primary-coil impedance of 100 ohms. Inserted between the EMT TSD 15 pickup head and the 47k ohm phono inputs of AD’s Shindo Masseto preamplifier, the One-to-Ten sounded “forceful and dramatic, yet colorful and sweet,” with excellent dynamic nuances and a rich, lovely overall tone, he said. (Vol.34 No.5 Read Review Online)

Simaudio Moon 310LP: $1900
The Moon 310LP moving-magnet/moving-coil phono preamp is a fully balanced, discrete design with internal jumpers for selecting gain, resistive and capacitive loading, and equalization curves. Though its break-in time was long, the Moon 310LP offered vivid three-dimensionality, extended dynamics, precise attacks, and lengthy decays. Adding the Moon 320S outboard power supply ($1399) tightened musical events but hardened the presence region. “Simaudio’s 310LP is one of the best analog values I know of,” said MF. (Vol.34 No.1)

Soundsmith MCP2: $699.95 $$$
Similar in appearance to the Soundsmith MMP3, the MCP2 offers 62dB gain and continuously variable loading from 10 to 5k ohms. It had a smooth, well-balanced overall sound with a slightly warm midrange, a moderately deep soundstage, and fair bass extension. Mikey found that the MCP2’s overall smoothness made long listening sessions easy, but turning the volume up too far resulted in excessive glare. Compared with the far more expensive Ypsilon VPS-100, the MCP2 exhibited a tendency toward brightness and electronic haze, said MF. (Vol.34 No.10, Vol.35 No.3)

Sutherland Engineering The Hubble: $3800
The battery-powered Hubble is a pure dual-mono design with two identical circuit boards. Like previous Sutherland designs, the Hubble uses 16 alkaline D-cell batteries instead of a mains-driven power supply. High-value storage capacitors help maintain low power-supply impedance, ensuring consistent sonic performance throughout the life of a set of batteries; Sutherland claims that one set of batteries will provide 1000 hours of service. Four options of gain and six of loading are contained on plug-in cards, while two blank cards offer user-customizable load impedances. Though it had a somewhat reticent top end and produced overdamped sustain—hence the Class B rating—the Hubble excelled at “instrumental body and textures,” said MF. BD might demur, however, given his Class A rating for the Sutherland 20/20. (Vol.33 No.2)

Vacuum State JLTi MK3i: $1695
The diminutive, Swiss-made JLTi PhonoPre offers MM and MC compatibility and loading via resistor-fitted RCA plugs. Though its instrumental images were slightly blurred and dynamics were only modest, the JLTi produced a warm, rich sound with impressive low-level detail. Adding the outboard power supply ($950) resulted in tighter rhythmic grip. “The Vacuum State JLTi PhonoPre is among the best values currently available in MM/MC phono preamps,” said MF. 2011 price decrease makes it even more of a value. (Vol.31 No.12)

Vad Lyd MD12 MK3: $2000
Made in Denmark, the extremely versatile Vad Lyd MD12 Mk.3 is “an analog archivist’s dream tool,” said MF. It offers single-ended inputs and outputs configurable for moving-magnet or moving-coil operation, two sets of balanced XLR outputs, equalization curves for standard LPs as well as 78rpm discs, an 80Hz low-pass filter, front-panel volume and balance controls, and a front-panel headphone jack. While the Vad Lyd allowed MF to finally play his old Edison discs, its sound lacked dynamics, detail, precision, and body. “I’d consider the Vad Lyd only if I needed the versatility,” he concluded. (Vol.34 No.10)

C

Bellari MT502 transformer: $499
Housed in Bellari’s familiar powder-coated red chassis, the MT502 step-up transformer features hand-wound coils, gold-plated inputs and outputs, two choices (9.12 and 12.4 ohms) of input impedance, and a ground lift. The MT502 produced a quiet background, sharp transients, and taut, fast, well-defined bass, said MF. A perfect match to Bellari’s VP130 moving-magnet phono preamp. (Vol.33 No.11)

Channel D Seta Nano: $1599
Designed to take advantage of Pure Vinyl’s digital RIAA correction, the Seta Nano includes balanced and single-ended inputs, a balanced unequalized output, a single-ended RIAA output, and a wall-wart power supply. The Nano was limited by its “somewhat metallic and slightly tinny” high frequencies, said Mikey. For use with Channel D’s Pure Vinyl LP-ripping program, MF and JA preferred the Seta Model L phono preamplifier. (Vol.33 No.8 Read Review Online)

K&K Audio Basic MC Phono Step-Up transformer: $325 ✩ $$$
The K&K trannie is built into an aluminum-alloy box with a black powder-coat finish, with rhodium-plated Cardas connectors and silver hookup wire from DH Labs. It uses Lundahl’s amorphous-core LL9206 shielded transformers. Its primaries are tapped for three different gain configurations (14, 20, and 26dB), and it has respective input and output resistances of 2.5 and 720 ohms. While the K&K couldn’t match the performance of other, more expensive trannies, it was “perfectly tuneful” and offered “good timing and a fine, natural sense of note-to-note flow,” said AD. Its sound was “dynamic as all hell,” he added, with an impressively clean and richly textured midrange. “Very high Class C,” he sums up. Price is for kit; fully assembled version costs $335. (Vol.30 Nos.9 & 10 Read Review Online)

PTE MMMC-R: $1595
Made in the US, this MM/MC phono preamp is housed in an attractive wooden case and contains a full complement of gain and loading options selected via DIP switches. In moving-coil mode the PTE produced compact, well-focused images, an expansive soundstage, and very good macrodynamics. In moving-magnet mode, however, the PTE sounded “flat, cardboard, and glary,” said MF. Changes in production to the MMMC’s MM section are said to improve its sound. JA’s measurements of a current production sample showed that the MMMC offers superb behavior via both its MC and MM inputs. (Vol.34 No.10, Vol.35 No.2 Read Review Online)

Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline F-117 The Nighthawk: $795
The Emmeline F-117 The Nighthawk is an unusually compact (4.4" W by 0.8" H by 4.25" D, 0.8 lb), battery-powered moving-magnet/moving-coil phono stage with small front-panel knobs for gain settings and loading options. Properly charged, its lithium-ion battery will play eight hours a day for nearly a week. Though not as detailed, dimensional, or dynamic as the TDL Technology 4041, the F-117’s overall sound was smoother, more liquid, and somewhat more relaxed, with a warmer midrange and cleaner highs. “Its sound quality is about right for the price,” decided a slightly disappointed MF. (Vol.34 No.1)

Soundsmith MMP3: $399.95
The modest MMP3 provides 43dB gain, comes in a nicely machined aluminum case, and is powered by a 24V wall wart. It produced very quiet backgrounds and reasonably good dynamics, but its bass extension and punch were only okay, its imaging was slightly diffuse, and its sound suffered overall from a slight metallic haze. “It’s what you can expect for $400,” said MF. “If that’s what you can afford, the MMP3 at least gets the job done quietly and cleanly.” (Vol.34 No.10)

TDL Technology 4041: $586
“Homely, but well-made, versatile, and thoughtfully designed,” per MF, the TDL 4041 is a rack-mountable version of the company’s 404A moving-magnet/moving-coil phono preamp, intended to drive a computer soundcard’s line input. It offers internal DIP switches for selecting cartridge loading and gain, has a switchable rumble filter, and can be powered by batteries or a wall-wart power supply. Though it lacked top-end air and clarity, the 4041 produced a warm midrange and deep bass, and was surprisingly well detailed, dimensional, and free of gross colorations. MF: “The TDL 4041 would be a great starter phono preamp for someone wanting to add vinyl playback to a budget system while keeping open all cartridge options.” (Vol.34 No.1)

D

NAD PP 3i: $200 $$$
The simple, small (5.3" W by 1.7" H by 1.6" D) PP 3i has circuitry identical to that of NAD’s PP 2 phono stage, but adds a line input and a 16-bit, bus-powered A/D converter with USB interface for digitizing LPs via a Mac or PC, and includes user-friendly VinylLite software. Used as a standard phono preamp, the PP 3i was neutral, delicate, and resolving, with a rich midrange, fast transients, and strong senses of coherence, pacing, and rhythmic consistency, said BJR. Digitized files maintained the original LPs’ harmonic and dynamic signatures, but sacrificed a bit of air, richness, and warmth. “The PP 3i has no meaningful flaws,” said BJR. “A superb value,” agreed JA. (Vol.33 No.4 Read Review Online)

NAD PP 2i: $170 ✩ $$$
NAD improved their “pleasant-sounding” PP 1 by adding greater gain and MC compatibility, increasing parts quality with metal-film resistors and film-type capacitors, and upping the power-supply voltage from 15 to 24V. “Somewhat dry, less than generous on harmonic overtones, and lacking overall complexity and dynamic subtlety, the PP 2i still managed to get the fundamentals remarkably correct,” said MF. (Vol.27 No.10; see BJR’s review of the PP 3 USB in Vol.33 No.10)

Parasound ZPhono•USB: $349
The half-width, rack-mountable Zphono•USB shares its simple, no-nonsense appearance with all of Parasound’s Z models. It has two line-level inputs, a headphone jack, a rumble filter, a mono switch, a USB output for recording music to a computer, and a front-panel gain control to monitor and adjust the analog audio level. Options for moving-magnet and moving-coil loading are selected via a rear-panel switch. SM: “The Parasound Zphono•USB distinguished itself as a confident, authoritative performer with an impressively tight and certain grip on the music, and one that produced the greatest drama, scale, and sheer power I’ve heard in my listening room.” (Vol.35 No.3 Read Review Online)

No Class Distinction

Rek-O-Kut Re-Equalizer mono record-specific equalizer: $369 ✩
Built into a small metal box attached to a rack-width panel of black aluminum, the Rek-O-Kut Re-Equalizer is designed to work with the gain and EQ of an existing phono preamp, making it “perhaps the least expensive and simplest of all 78rpm-specific equalizers on the market,” said AD. Included in the owner’s manual are several pages of thorough EQ recommendations for various labels and two pages of helpful tips on record labels and matrix numbers. Though it added a very slight veiling to the sound, the Re-Equalizer proved effective, useful, and fun. (Vol.32 No.1 Read Review Online)

K

Musical Fidelity V-LPS Mk.II, Aesthetix Io Signature.

Deletions

Audia Flight Phono no longer available in the US; Musical Fidelity V-LPS replaced by new version not yet reviewed; Manley Steelhead, Naim Superline, Pro-Ject Phono Box and Phono Box II USB, TruLife Audio Reikon, Whest Audio whestTWO, all not auditioned in a long time.

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COMMENTS
Martin Osborne's picture

I understand that this is part of 'what you do', but thanks for bringing this altogther in one place - a lot of work has gone into it and I for one appreciate it. 

 

 

JItterjaber's picture

Making your product recommendations available to the digital generation will certainly help more people see your publication.  Thanks for trying to keep current!

www.hifiqc.com

Ajani's picture

This is a really good move! I know a lot of online users have been hoping and waiting for the recommended components to be released on the website. 

smittyman's picture

I've always appreciated how much content Stereophile makes available on this site.  I also always figured that Recommended Components was something that was held off the website to give us some incentive to purchase the magazine in either paper or on line form so I was really pleased to see this added.

soulful.terrain's picture

 

 This is great!  Thanks to all the staff for putting this valuable info together for us neophytes like myself. ;-)

Timbo in Oz's picture

One of the problems of the 'buy it yourself' approach to audio a Magazine is stuck with is that the path of modifying upgrading used gear gets short shrift, let alone doing it yourself. Those parts of the high-end are off the radar here.

This partciularly applies to FM antennas. The best results from FM stereo can only result from pointing a directional antenna with gain at the desired station. One sure way to get such results is an external directional antenna up high. This ensures that the FM front end will be in (i) full limiting and (ii) that there is minimal multi-path on the signal.

Few indoor antennas are really good at either (i) or (ii), unless your lucky and close to a desired staion or two. Just one type is capable of doing both, but you can't buy one. This best indoor FM antenna is the wire rhombic with sides approaching 3 metres long (or exceeding). The gain is high because each element equals the desired wavelength and becasue it is also a highly directional antenna. The cost in money is very low, 14 to 20 meters of twin ribbon, some resistors and a balun to feed coax to your radio.

When made from 300 ohm twin ribbon (the same stuff used for T folded dipole antennas) it will have twice the already high gain. Don't worry you are most unlikely to overalaod your FM front-end.

You can hide it on a suitable room's ceiling or under a large rug. A suitable room is the largest one which has a long diagonal pointing in the right direction - ie at most of your desired stations. Note also that the acceptance angle of a rhombic can be adjusted in and out a couple of ways, see the article referenced below.

The article about them and how to make one was published in the now defunct magazine 'Audio' and is available at the Audio Asylum's FAQ section, near the bottom of the listings.

If you can drive a good tuner into full limiting with a strong low multipath signal and have even one station that broadcasts live acoustic simply miked concerts, you have a true high-end source.

Tim Bailey

 

 

 

JohnnyR's picture

Cable reccomendations without a single measurement, just "oh it sounds just dandy" approach. How lame.This is useless.

Glotz's picture

This subjective review resource has around for decades, in print form.  You are the 4,895,235th 'listener' that thinks he knows more than these guys...

Bwahahahahahhaahhaahahhah!  Yeah, really.

Tim Lim's picture

Dear Stereophile,

This report is indeed welcome but may I ask how are the different classes differentiated? What are the criteria for any model to be included in their respective class? I don't see this guide anywhere.

Regards,

Tim

earlnightshade's picture

Total new guy here, but a quick question about the rating of the Peachtree Dac it.  To confirm I'm understanding correctly, is it considered so poor quality it gets a letter grade of "K"?  As in not even worthy of an "F"?

 

Thanks

smittyman's picture

They haven't reviewed it yet.  It is not several grades below an F

nleksan's picture

Okay, so sound quality is as subjective as the music itself, I get that.

But seriously, you include the ATH-M50's and ATH-AD700's (good headphones, don't get me wrong), but not the SR225/SR325 from Grado?  What about the absolutely SUBLIME RS1i or its little-brother the RS2i?  The PS1000's?

I own all of the above, and for studio work I favor the RS1i's above anything else, especially Sennheiser, as monitors don't have to be PAINFULLY Flat to listen to, they just have to be accurate to the source while able to replicate other sources, which the RS1i's/RS2i's/PS1000's do with aplomb!  The dynamic design and solid-mahogany cups make the music sound much more "alive", and the editing/mixing sessions sound identical to the recording sessions; this is in contrast to many others that neuter the sound to the point that it just goes flat.

I realize I am here spouting off my opinion, but as I am pretty sure that's like 87% at least of the job description for being an "audiophile", so I'm okay with it ;)

I just hate to see TRULY deserving headphones get passed over because they don't have the same "prestige" as Bowers&Wilkins or the like, nor the brand recognition of Sennheiser (who are, by the way, on track to becoming the BOSE of the headphone world.... I'll give them 5 years).  I challenge anyone to spend ~20hrs with a pair of Grado SR325's (NOT the SR325i's, but the original Mahogany ones), the RS1i's/RS2i's, the PS1000's, or even the SR225's (again, NOT the SR225i's), a strong headphone amp (everyone has their favorites, but I find that these do best with a good amount of overhead), and the best source material you can get, ideally a very high-end system with DVD-Audio quality sound or better (don't even think about any kind of lossy compression, because you WILL hear every "off" sound).  Heck, I get fantastic results with simply plugging any of the aforementioned 'cans directly into the headphone port on my HT|Omega Claro Halo XT sound card in my very high end workstation/overclocking rig (who says you can't mix business and pleasure??)...
I will admit that every pair of Grado's that I've owned has needed some break-in time, with as little as 40 hours for some SR80i's to ~120hrs for the SR225/SR325 cans to really shine (RS1i's = 75-80hrs, RS2i's = 70-75hrs, PS1000's = 90hrs), but I do my "break-in" a bit differently than most: I set up everything through my computer, including DAC/amp/etc running off an M-Audio card, and I have a specific playlist I use for breaking them in that consists of 125-175x ~3:30 to ~11:15 long Audio Tracks (full, uncompressed recordings and masters; the 125 songs take up about 3.7GB of space! yes, about 30MB per track, at 192Khz/48bit "RAW") of varying types/genres set in "loop" for the first playthrough and then "looping random" after that, and the volume automatically adjusts based on elapsed time.  For those who wonder, I use: Sigur Ros, Pink Floyd, OK GO, Led Zeppelin, Bowie, Florence & the Machine, Grateful Dead, Incubus, Jay-Z, Jose Gonzalez, Pete Yorn, (recently added) Trent Reznor & Karen O's "Immigrant Song" cover from Girl w Dragon Tattoo, K'Naan, Manfred Mann, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Metallica ("One"), Norman Greenbaum, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Scala ("Blower's Daughter"), Shwayze, Sufjan Stevens, RUSH, Tegan&Sara, Tom Petty, The Roots, Them Crooked Vultures, and a bunch more; as you can see, it's a mix of male and female vocalists, every instrument under the sun, all types of music, and so forth (quite eclectic).  BUT IT WORKS!
I PROMISE YOU that if you properly break-in any pair of Grado's, they will become one of your favorite listening headphones, if not your number one.  Having tried everything from the bird-poop-looking iPod iEarbuds (kill me please) to most of the consumer-level stuff (Sony MDR's are Amazing for the price, Beats by Dre are absolute junk and I've left stuff in the porcelain chamber with more musicality than that overpriced BS), to headphones that cost more than many peoples' cars and proclaim to be "hand-assembled by a team of naked supermodels over the course of 123 days with all work done only under a half-crescent moon while Mars and Jupiter align, emparting magical sonic characteristics into the hand-carved African rare wood covers and plated with Rhinocerous poop, well known for its excellent bass enhancement"... Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not THAT much.  YET I KEEP COMING BACK TO THE GRADO'S!!!

JadenKrosis's picture

This product recieved rave reviews in Stereophile. It scored well in comparisons and has even become JA`s go to device for USB audio playback.

Without going into too much detail of Micheal Lavorgnas` review I`m quite sure I`m safe to say he liked it very much also. 

Is it possible this product was overlooked amid all the shock and awe created by the Dragonfly?  (not that there`d be anything wrong with that, I want one too!!!)

John Atkinson's picture

Quote:
Is it possible this product was overlooked amid all the shock and awe created by the Dragonfly?

The Halide was reviewed in August 2012, after this "Recommended Components" was prepared. It will be included in the next update, due in April.

The Halide was also included in the Collector's Edition of Recommended Components, available from newsstands and form the shop on this site: http://ssl.blueearth.net/primedia/home.php

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JadenKrosis's picture

Thank you John and I look forwards to reading that April issue.

bmilwee's picture

In your October 2011 issue, the VPI classic 3 gets an A rating, but here it seems to have been demoted to a B.   Tthe Rega RP3 is class B here, but in the anniversary edition it gets a C rating.  Which is correct?

John Atkinson's picture

Yes, sometimes as the result of further experience of the product or of competitive products, sometimes because the initial rating is provisional, for a product that is reviewed in the same issue as the updated list. But whenever a rating has changed, it is the most recent rating that reflects our current opinion of the product.

In the case of the VPI Classic 3, it has been reinstated in Class A in the listing that will appear in the April 2013 issue.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

shp's picture

I have been a binge reader of stereophile ever since high school when my first job was in a high end stereo shop (Threshold amps, KEF 104.2's).  

My brother is an architect and my colleague an electrical engineer.  They both deride the idea that giant audiophile cables make a difference noting that the wire that delivers electricity to the house and through the walls is only this big.

Not having the budget to try an assortment of (sometimes very expensive) cables I've kept mine pretty modest.  But I will concede they can sound different.  

But I am a little confused that Stereophile has ratings for digital data connects without any measurements. 

Digital cables either deliver bit-perfect data streams or they don't. And their accuracy should be reported even if Stereophile also wants to report the sonic affect of any digital distortion.

If I spent a lot of money on a music server, DAC, amplification and speakers, the last thing I want is the cable altering the bits. 

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