Listening #126 Page 2
Reinders says that, at any given time, he has approximately 10 original heavy-platter Lencos in stock, ready to be transformed into Solid9s and Solid12s. That said, the customer who wants a PTP Audio turntable can get a 200 discount by supplying his or her own Lenco. "I scan the secondhand pages every day," Reinders says. "Many thousand Lencos were made: They're still plentiful here in Holland."
Earlier this year, PTP Audio sent me a review sample of the Solid12 (about $3500, including shipping from Amsterdam). It came in the standard black finish (other colors are available), and with an armboard drilled for my Thomas Schick tonearm, which Reinders says is a popular choice among PTP customers. After removing the Solid12 from its packing, the first thing I did was to check the critical distance between the centers of the arm-mount hole and the platter spindle: to achieve correct (Baerwald) alignment with a nonadjustable pickup head, that dimension must be 304.75mm. The Solid12 was absolutely spot on. Already, I was impressed.
Setup was simple and straightforward. PTP Audio supplies with each Solid turntable a set of three isolation feet, each comprising a small alloy pedestal, a somewhat larger alloy base, and, captured between the two, a steel ball. The expansive Corian plinth is meant to simply perch on the tops of those feeteasy enough to accomplish. Beyond that, all I had to do was fasten the Schick tonearm's mounting collar to the armboard (PTP supplies sufficiently long machine screws and nuts), fit the arm with pickup head to the collar, install and adjust the counterweight, and slide the platter and platter mat into place. Easy peasy.
With my stock Ortofon SPU-A pickup head in place, driving my Auditorium 23 phono transformer (SPU version), I cued up a record with which I'm thoroughly familiar: the Tony Rice Unit's Manzanita (Rounder RR 0092), which remains one of the most enduring touchstones of modern bluegrass music. From the first notes of "Old Train," it was apparent that the Solid12 was cut from the same musical and sonic cloth as my beloved Garrard 301 and Thorens TD 124. The combination of PTP turntable, Schick arm, and Ortofon SPU delivered everything I need from this record: punch, drive, force, color, richness, and pure emotional and visceral involvement. Ricky Skaggs's fiddle lines had musical purposehe wasn't just screwing around!and the Solid12 communicated the extra whipcrack force that singer Rice puts behind certain words (such as think, in the last verse). It was, in a word, wonderful.
Revelation followed revelation throughout my first afternoon with the Solid12. With von Karajan's 1962 recording, with the Berlin Philharmonic, of Beethoven's Symphony 4, from the conductor's first complete set of Beethoven symphonies (Deutsche Grammophon/Speakers Corner SKL 101/8), note attacks from the string players, the horn section, and even the woodwinds were portrayed with the same kind of sheer sonic force and drive that, via most contemporary record players, one can hope to hear only from percussion instruments, if even them. And actual drums, as on a great new reissue of Monk's Dream, by the Thelonious Monk Quartet (Columbia/Impex CS 8765), were explosively dramatic and, again, believably forceful. Just as important, throughout those and other performances, the Solid12 allowed the music its natural, believable, human-sounding sense of momentum and flow: Records sounded engaging and, where appropriate, exciting. That's the most important thing I ask of any piece of playback gear, and it's something that's especially crucial with a turntable: If the liveliness and energy and impact in a recording can't be uncovered at that stage, there's little point in bothering with the others.
Musical drive and momentum weren't the only hookahs in this coffee shop. The Solid12 had an agreeable and altogether believable tonal balance, and while my heavy-plinthed Garrard 301 remains the king of sheer bass power in this house, the Solid12 was nonetheless satisfying. Yes, I trotted out my current favorite test track for bass: "Polly Comes Home," from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's Raising Sand (LP, Rounder 11661-9075-1): the combination of bass drum and string bass sounded appropriately hair-raising. At the other end of the spectrum, the Solid12 entirely avoided the sort of bright, crunchy sound produced by lesser and altogether more perturbable record players: It and the Schick remained sonically poised and musically purposeful with all recordings, of even the loudest and most densely arranged pieces.
My respect, if not my empathy, endures for the listener whose sonic and musical priorities differ from mine, and to whom the Solid12 may be less a saber of all that is right and holy in domestic playback and more a blunt tool of irrelevance. Stereo imaging was given moderate respect by the combination of Solid12 'table and Schick arm, but no more: I heard and enjoyed fine spatial presence of solo voices and instruments, combined with imaging precision that was downright good enough. Spatial subtleties, howeverdistinctions among the positions of various instruments on a crowded stage, or the recovery of sonic cues that might have helped me discern the size of the roomwere glossed over, as compared with today's most exhaustively engineered high-end turntables.
Note also that certain conveniences were in short supply. It took a while to develop a feel for using the Solid12's speed-change knob, which must be loosened just so if adjustments are to be made, yet must otherwise be screwed down tight: a disconnect between elegant design and awkward execution that seems endemic to all Lencos (and is no fault of Reinders's). Speaking of speed, the Solid12 lacks the ability to spin its platter at 78rpm: My favorite records by Hank Williams, Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Moriz Rosenthal, and Siegfried Wagner went unenjoyed for a few weeks. Although I admired its appearance and the enduring suppleness of its rubber compound, I never warmed to the original Lenco platter mat: Because it isn't undercut in the manner of most other mats, the Lenco added an extra layer of difficulty to the flipping and removing of 12" records. Finally, although this has nothing to do with ease of use, I was unimpressed with the quality of the original Lenco platter, which exhibited a bit more run-out errorseen as a slight, cyclic rising and falling of mat, record, and tonearmthan I care to see in a perfectionist-quality player.
Nits picked and set aside, the essential musical rightness and the sheer availability and affordability of PTP Audio's Solid12 can't be overstated. If you want to know what the idler-wheel fuss is all about, this may be the easiest and most affordable way to find out: For approximately $3500, Peter Reinders can supply you with the kind of musical and sonic performance that, until now, was available only to collectors and rebuilders of vintage gear, or those with enough money to engage their services. Apart from the need to add your own tonearmwhich, thanks to Reinders's fine engineering, is relatively easy and reliably precisethis is as close to a plug-and-play idler-wheel turntable as you're likely to find in 2013.
As someone who writes about domestic audio for a living, my mantra must be: Music playback that is convincing, involving, and realistic can be accomplished by means of a variety of different technologies. Good amplifiers can be push-pull or single-ended, and can have tubes or transistors, circuit boards or tag boards. Good speakers can be dynamic or electrostatic, with cones or panels or horns, with permanent magnets or field coils or constant-charge diaphragms. Good turntables can be made with idler wheels or belts or nothing at all, and be lightweight or massive, with weak or powerful motors . . .
But, as always, it comes down to one's priorities as a listener, and the manner in which one ranks the many distinct qualities that characterize the real sound of music. If musical drive is at the top of your list, I know of only one way to successfully get it, and this is that sort of player.