Listening #75 Page 2
Eventually, Qvortrup and Audio Note bought the Voyd operation from Adams, who now works for Hewlett-Packard in the UK. Today, the three-motor approach lives on in Audio Note's flagship turntable, the TT3 Reference, a $60,000 beast that drives its Lexan platter with so much torque that Qvortrup says it's the equivalent of a half-ton's worth of inertia.
But before the TT3 Reference, there was the Audio Note TT3 Super: a Voyd in all but name. (Qvortrup now refers to it as a "Half-Reference.") The TT3 Super has been out of production for 10 years; those in existence now command royal sumsif they come up for sale at alland loyal followers. Luckily for me, Peter Qvortrup recently arranged for one of those followers to loan me a TT3 Super for a time, for the simple fun of it. I don't think the word "fun" half covers it.
But first, I'll describe the hardware itself. Though of proportions similar to those of a Linn or a Rega, the TT3 Super is a good deal larger: Its laminated top plate, to which the three motors are mounted, measures a generous 14" by 18", and the solid ash frame adds another 1.5" in all directions. The subchassis itself is a simple hollow beam milled from a chunk of acrylic and suspended on three fairly high-Q springs. Those, however, are not fastened to the top plate, but to the hardwood frame itself, by means of metal L-brackets of varying length. The subchassis also supports a main bearing, of coursesimilar to that used in the Thorens TD-124, except that the platter rests on a tapered spindle rather than being bolted to a flangeand a small, removable tonearm board, apparently made from the same laminate as the top plate itself.
The three Papst aussenlaufer motors are fitted with custom-made thrust bearingswhich appear to be adjustable, presumably in the interest of minimizing noiseand all are connected to a single phasing circuit, which itself leads to a DIN socket on the back of the frame. From there, a slender umbilical cord leads to the outboard split-phase power supply, which produces and amplifies the sinewave to which all three motors must lock, with a choice of 33 or 45rpm platter speeds.
Setting up the TT3 Super was remarkably easy, partly because my loaner came complete with tonearm and cartridgeAudio Note's AN-1S and Io Gold, respectively, the latter of which I alternated with some cartridges of my ownand partly because the somewhat roomier-than-average plinth made it easy for me to understand and adjust the suspension. The only real challenge was in fitting the belt around three stubby motor pulleys and the inner rim machined from the underside of the platterwith the platter installed, of course! Joan Crawford be damned: Only a metal coat hanger would do.
Confronted as I was with both a turntable and tonearm with which I was unfamiliar, I could only guess at the contribution made by each to the sound. That said, I'm comfortable in suggesting that the TT3 Super itself brought to my favorite records the same powerful momentum I've heard from my Thorens turntablesand precious few others. To hear it was to agree with Leonard Bernstein's famous observation that good music is inevitable (although I know he meant it somewhat differently). While it served all styles with the same apparent musical sureness, the TT3 Super proved itself on recordings of classical music for solo piano: always a stumbling block, inasmuch as even the best recorded performances can blend with the wallpaper if not played back well. The Audio Note made Sviatoslav Richter sound as supernatural as expected, but also breathed life into Rudolf Serkin's Beethoven, simply by making it at once more physical and more organic.
Come to think of it, the TT3 Super brought to my vinyl some of the qualities that my Thorens brings to shellacs: Too bad the Audio Note doesn't offer 78rpm operationalthough Peter Qvortrup says that the new TT3 Reference certainly will. (For $60,000, it certainly should!) Appropriate, I suppose, that records that themselves required considerable physical force to be made should require the same to be played back.
I asked the inevitable question: Will Audio Note ever go back to making three-motor turntables that record lovers of humbler means can afford? "We have plans to make smaller ones," Qvortrup said, "but there are hundreds of motor manufacturers out there, and we haven't found one yet who can give us what we're looking for. But the intention is essentially to do what we've done on the big one. One of the problems with the Voyd is that the center of the drive system and the center of the suspension are not the same. We've solved that for the new one."
As to the idea of a modern manufacturer having to compete with the past, Qvortrup is unfazed. "If you look back to the '80s and see what you could buy a Quad II or a Leak Stereo 20 forwell, they're worth a bloody fortune now, but they were worthless back then. Same with the Voyd. It was not really appreciated at its time, but it's attaining nearly a cult status today."
Meanwhile, the influence of the Thorens TD-124, Garrard 301, and other classic European turntables is not going unheard on these shores.
Driving on the rims
Harry Weisfeld and I approach conversation the way egg-eating snakes approach a meal: Instead of calling each other on the phone every few weeks, the president of VPI Industries and I have approximately two marathon conversations per year, with months in between to digest all that was said.
Perhaps uniquely among American audio manufacturers, Weisfeld understands and appreciates the classic audio products of the past. Dahlquist, Marantz, Advent, McIntosh, Quad, and Ampex aren't just names to himthey're among the products he owns and listens to virtually every day.
"And Empire," Weisfeld reminds me, "and Rek-O-Kut. I have, at last count, nine Empires and five Rek-O-Kut [turntables]. At least five! Probably more." I hear a noise in the background that may or may not be Weisfeld bumping up against a Rek-O-Kut Rondine he's forgotten he has.
When I ask him to put into words what's so special about those vintage turntables, Harry's response is immediate: "I hear them doing something that nothing else does, and it's called dynamics: Those old turntables go from zero signal to full signal in no timeeffortlessly. Effortlessly! And the sound is colossal!" Yes, he really speaks in italics, and he really uses the word colossal without irony, God love him.
"What do they all have in common? Torque. The belt-drive Rek-O-Kut had that super Papst motor, and the Empire had the sort of motor you'd expect to see on a washing machine! The thing is over 5" across and 6" deep!"
But Weisfeld knows there's more to it than just motor size. And he's no stranger to alternative platter-drive arrangements, having pioneered idler pulleys and, now, exterior rim-drive pulleys as upgrades for some models in his turntable line. Quite successfully, I might add.
So Harry Weisfeld, who is not at all doctrinaire in his approach to designing record players, and who isn't a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to rethinking parts and materials in an effort to make a better product, has been busy. I'm not sure when the VPI Classic, as his next turntable is tentatively named, will be a commercial reality, and as far as its appearance is concerned, I have only his verbal description to go by. But he's promised a review loaner when it's ready (footnote 3). And I suspect it will have been worth the wait.
Footnote 3: Michael Fremer previewed the rim-drive VPI turntable in his February 2009 "Analog Corner" column.Ed.