Basis Audio Ovation turntable Page 3
The vibrational garbage a turntable can communicate to a stylus can compromise a host of sonic parameters: pitch stability, soundstaging, imaging, detail resolution, and dynamics. What immediately caught my attention were improvements in soundstage transparency, midrange clarity, and image palpability. What I was not prepared for was the magnitude of these gains. Switching as I did from my long-term reference—the ravishing Australian Aura 'table—led me to expect, at the most, subtle differences in interpretation with perhaps no clear overall winner. Boy, was I wrong.
The Ovation was consistently able to imbue the soundstage with an incredible feel for the original recording space. First, it was easier to see far into the hall. The feeling of having to strain through layers of fog in order to make out the back wall of the hall vanished, as if the midday sun had punched a hole through the morning mist. The noise floor of the reproduction was lowered. This meant that it was easier to delineate musical phrases as they decayed into the background of the hall. Image outlines put on weight to the point of becoming deliciously palpable. In essence, the sense of being there was heightened.
Good recordings sounded better, great recordings sounded awesome. Spatial resolution of massed voices was exemplary. Through the Sound-Lab A-1 ESLs partnered by the Fourier Sans Pareil OTL amps, the soundstage edged closer to concert-hall realism. The chorus on both Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla (Philips 420 955-1) and Laudate! (Proprius PROP7800) materialized within the soundstage like never before. Both the impression of the whole and of individual voices standing out and then blending into the fabric of the music was rendered precisely yet effortlessly. It was because the lower midrange was fleshed out with such startling clarity—ie, superb pitch stability and articulation of orchestral fundamentals—that these recordings projected such a potent "you are there" feeling.
This cleaner window on the midrange served to increase the immediacy of the music. The dramatic fire and tension of the performance, the music's mood and soul, were communicated more urgently. Take a listen to Belafonte at Carnegie Hall (RCA LSO-6006). This sort of music is impossible to sit on the fence about: you love it or you hate it. I love it. Through the Ovation I discovered this familiar recording afresh. The interplay between Belafonte and the audience felt more real. There's a tender moment when Belafonte freezes up during a transition between songs (this is not on the CD). The audience's empathy was readily felt. I said "felt" rather than "sounded" more real because the rapport between audience and performer felt more human and involving. Whatever the magic of the original moment, I was able to reach out and feel it in a more believable manner—as though my entire psyche had been transported to the scene.
While we're eavesdropping at Carnegie Hall, I should mention the Weavers (Reunion at Carnegie Hall—1963, Analogue Productions APF005). The soundstage depth perspective on this reissue was never better, nor were Ronnie Gilbert's upper registers ever rendered more cleanly or sweetly.
In general, female voice was catered to in a most appropriate manner. Joni Mitchell's in-your-face image perspective on Blue (Reprise MS 2038)—a consequence of the position of the vocal mike—was stunningly suspended in space, her every phrase caressed oh-so-right.
I received a vinyl test pressing of Lesley (ViTaL 011) just after setting up the Basis. I therefore could try a vinyl-based Lesley Test, comparing the CD and LP sounds.
Wow! Viva analog! The LP was head and shoulders above the CD in its ability to preserve the urgency and tension of the original performance. Remember, I had been there in the studio and in VTL's Mastering Room; the LP brought back a flood of half-forgotten aural memories of the magic of the moment. The LP carved out a more believable soundstage with a much better depth perspective. Lesley's timbre was more correct, and low-level detail was easier to resolve. It was clear that the Ovation and the rest of the phono system were re-creating a much more convincing illusion of the live event in the studio.
"What about the bass?" I sense some of you beginning to wonder. "Where are your priorities, DO? Are you ever going to talk about macho audiophile stuff?" Well, bass lines were nothing short of sensational: tight, punchy, and dynamic. However, I think that it's a mistake to talk about bass reproduction out of context. With all due respect to test records and drum solos, my criterion for good bass is being able to resolve it in the context of an orchestral recording. Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra, with Fritz Reiner at the helm of the CSO (RCA LSC-2609), provides such a test, with double basses, bass drums, timpani, and organ pedal massed together in the "Dawn" Prologue. If there's a bass problem at the front end (or anywhere in the chain, for that matter), you'll hear about it on this recording. The Ovation went for the gold and got it, exceeding all of my previous references for bass control and pitch definition.
The Ovation's bass excellence is due in part to its open construction, which dispenses with the traditional turntable base. Too often the suspension is hidden from view inside an enclosed base. This is like having a megaphone under the platter; it's the turntable equivalent of a Helmholtz resonator. The characteristic box resonances may be excited by structure-borne vibrational energy or via acoustic feedback. These resonances then feed back to the arm/cartridge, coloring the reproduction. Every box-based turntable I've lived with could be characterized as having a colored, higher-Q bass range.
The Basis Ovation's combination of a high-mass platform with a superb suspension and a precision drive system is an engineering triumph. Just as significant is the old-fashioned quality with which the design has been executed.
But beyond the technical details lies a remarkable level of performance. In concert with the Graham Model 1.5 arm and the Symphonic-Line RG-8 Gold cartridge, the Ovation pushed the boundaries of my system to new heights. I never had it so good. The Ovation deserves a standing one.
Footnote 4: I very much wanted to evaluate the Ovation with the Graham arm and the Symphonic-Line RG-8 Gold cartridge. In that way, the only change in my phono front end would be the turntable, in perfect accordance with the first law of audio reviewing: "Thou shalt change only one variable at a time." That's why I went the extra mile to resolve these compatibility issues.