Luxman PD-171 record player
Much ink has been spilled, and rightly so, on the topic of the LP's recent and apparently durable resurrection as a playback medium. The corpse may not be quite as lively after death as before, but it is nonetheless arguably more Lazarus than Lavoisier (the latter having managed nothing more than to wink at the crowd following his time on the guillotineas he boasted, in life, that he would do).
I am no less set in my ways. After 15 years of owning and loving a Linn LP12 turntable, and thereafter hearing the unsubtle improvement in musical drive and force offered by such vintage players as the Thorens TD 124 and the Garrard 301, I switched to the latter, a crime for which I am still being beheaded on at least one of the Flat Earth sites. Quelle horreur.
The technical difference: Where the LP12 and its ilk apply to the platter a very small amount of driving torque, the Thorenses and Garrards and EMTs and Lencos of the world have at their hearts far more powerful electric motorsthings that could purée carrots if they had tothat transmit their rotational power through sturdy and stretchless idler wheels. Given the expensive tooling required to effect their comparatively complex drive and speed-change mechanisms, idler wheels are no more likely than candy cigarettes to reappear on the modern market. That said, one can't help noting a small trend among contemporary manufacturers who are finding sonic success with larger motors, heavier platters, and more robust drive electronics than we've seen in past yearsamong them the august Luxman Corporation, whose recent PD-171 combines a turntable and tonearm in one reasonably compact and unambiguously easy package for $6400.
Central to the Luxman PD-171and responsible for a considerable portion of the player's 51 lbsis a 15mm-thick solid-alloy top plate that measures 380mm deep by 500mm wide. This structure is drilled for the tonearm mounting collet and main bearing flange, with additional openings for the motor pulley and various control knobs. The plate is also machined with a large circular groove, in which rides the platter's lower rim; the aesthetic effect is not unlike that of the Thorens TD 124, whose own platter is also partly hidden from view.
The Luxman's 11-lb alloy platter is entirely solid, save for a thick bottom rim that accounts for about 15% of its total height. The underside of that rim is decorated with strobe markings for 331/3 and 45rpmalso in the manner of the Thorensand the center bore is machined with a Jacob's taper, to match that of the chunky bearing spindle. The oil-bath bearing wellyet another part that betrays an unambiguous Thorens influenceis machined from brass and measures 30mm in diameter and 65mm in length, from the bottom of its thrust plate to the top of its mounting flange.
The alloy top plate sits above an identically sized plinth made of hardwood and sheet steel, the surfaces of the latter finished in textured black paint. There's a thin layer of damping material between plinth and plate, with additional vibration control provided by four apparently complex isolation feet, threaded into alloy pillars that are themselves rigidly fastened to the plate's underside. These height-adjustable feet seem to exhibit different degrees of complianceand thus, one presumes, isolation frequenciesin their horizontal and vertical planes of movement.
The Luxman's drive system is centered around an AC motor that provides greater-than-average apparent torque for a contemporary belt-driven turntable, even if it isn't nearly as powerful as the ones used in those sainted Thorenses and Garrards of yore. Of perhaps equal importance is the PD-171's electronic motor-drive system, in which an AC signal is created by a digital circuit and boosted with a reportedly "high-output" onboard amplifier, the generous heatsinks of which can be glimpsed inside the moderately impenetrable plinth. Fine-tuning controls are provided for both running speeds, which the user monitors by viewing, through a small window at the front of the top plate, a mirror reflection of the strobe-lit platter markingsjust like the you-know-what 124. Power is delivered to the platter by means of a wider-than-average synthetic belt, from a motor pulley of convex profile, machined from aluminum alloy.
The tonearm, made by Jelco, appears to be a variant of their SA-250, an S-shaped arm with a removable magnesium headshell and a sturdy mounting collet that allows easy height adjustment over a range of 22mm, which ought to be enough for anyone. The ball-and-race bearings are said to have their vertical and horizontal centers of rotation on the same plane, and the arm incorporates a spring-type antiskating mechanism calibrated for up to 3gm of tracking force. Said force is set statically, with a calibrated two-piece counterweight, and the tonearm has an effective length of 9" (229mm), an overhang of 15mm, and an offset angle of 22°. Incidentally, although I decided against removing the Jelco arm during the Luxman's time in my home, it appeared that its mounting collet coincides with the "Linn standard," meaning that the owner of a PD-171 could, if he or she wished, swap in any of a number of other tonearm brands, including Pro-Ject, Clearaudio, Revolver, Zeta, and, of course, Linn.
Some miscellany: A robust clear-plastic dustcover, hinged for your pleasure, is also provided. Both the tonearm signal cable and AC cord can be easily disconnected and, if desired, replaced with upmarket versions of same. (I did not.) The thick rubber record mat, unrepentantly gray, is simply the finest and best-sounding mat I've used. (I tried it on my Garrard 301, whose stock mat was shamed in the comparison.) And one of the nicest touches of all is a slender, columnar LED "light pole," mounted near 7 o'clock on the platter, for use as a cueing aid; the pole can be rotated or, if desired, removed entirely (the electrical connection is an RCA jack), in which case it is replaced with a small plastic plug (included).