Oracle Delphi turntable TJN & Delphi Mk.IV part IV
In any event, I felt I had a pretty good handle on the Delphi Mk.IV at this pointwhile remembering the realities observed in the previous paragraph. However, I still wanted to see how it compared with at least one other highly rated turntable. My first choice was the SOTA Cosmos, but unfortunately a new, Illinois-manufactured sample of that superb turntable had not yet arrived for an update to my Vol.13 No.7 review. The VPI HW19 Mk.IV with its new, heavier, TNT-like platter and updated line conditioner is directly price-competitive with the Oracle when the latter is used with its optional Turbo power supply; unfortunately, all the pieces of the VPI were not yet on hand for evaluation.
But when I glanced across the Stereophile listening room at DO's equipment rack and espied the Australian Aura turntable with Graham tonearm in tow, I had an answer. A second Graham tonearm was in-house, awaiting my chance for a look-see-feel-hear. The Graham arm is a delight when it comes to changing cartridges; with one of them mounted on the Oracle, and the other on the Aura, it would be a simple matter to set up each cartridge to be used in separate Graham arm wands, tweak each cartridge in turn in each arm for tracking weight, azimuth, and VTA (overhang having been taken care of in mounting each cartridge in the wand), then switch back and forth between the turntables, using exactly the same cartridge and arm to make the comparison. Two SME V arm-cables were on hand, and one was used in each Graham arm.
Certain assumptions had to be made to keep the timing of the comparison reasonable. First, that the arm cables, each made from the same-type van den Hul cable, but manufactured at different times, were sonically identical. Second, that the VTA, even though set with some care, was close enough to avoid sonic differences due to small disparities in level. And third, that both Graham tonearmsidentical except for the color (silver on the Oracle, gold on the Aura) were sonically the same.
But first it was time to get a feel for the sound of the Oracle with the Graham arm in place. I elected to start with the Dynavector cartridge, since I was quite familiar with it, and since it was the cartridge which I had been using most heavily with the SME V on the Oracle. My initial impressions were mixed. The combination was very detailed, clean, and tracked like a champ. But it was more than a bit lean-sounding after the SME. I actually had to check to make certain that DO had not left the Apogee tweeter setting on "high" after his last session (footnote 4). No, they were set to normal. Was it merely a case of getting accustomed to the tighter, clearer midbass of the Graham after becoming used to the sound of the SME (which never, I must repeat, struck me as being unnaturally lush or full on the Oracle, especially with the Dynavector)? Or was it the Threshold S/550e amplifier which I had substituted into the system, sneaking an advanced listen for my long-delayed comparison of that amp with the same company's big monoblocks?
I do know that when I returned to the system after a couple weeks' hiatus for a short vacation followed by summer CES, my reaction was a mite more favorable. Whether it was a case of a fading memory of the sound of the system with the SME V, or the substitution of the Threshold SA/12e amplifiers, or a more fortunate choice of program material, I don't knowI suspect a mixture of the three (a more thorough comparison of the amplifiers is plannedstay tuned). But I do know that I was now more favorably impressed by the turntable/arm/cartridge combination. It remained open, detailed, and somewhat analytic in sound, from its tight low end to its sparkling top. I still would recommend caution when inserting this mix into a system already well endowed with either bright or clinical qualities, but I can't deny its crystalline clarity.
There was another cartridge on hand, presently set up on Dick Olsher's Graham on the Aura turntable. I hesitated (for a half-second) to use it; the thought of alternating it between the two Graham arms, with the attendant potential risks (even with its stylus guard firmly in place), was daunting: it was the ca $4000 Koetsu Pro IV. But Koetsu's reputation for rich-sounding yet irresistibly compelling cartridges was too much to resist, even if it did cost almost as much as the Graham arm and Oracle Delphi Mk.IV combined. I elected to use both the Koetsu and the Dynavector for my turntable comparisons, since they promised to be (and were) noticeably different in sound.
There was one additional difference in setup between the Oracle and the Aura turntables. Since two identical turntable stands were not available, the Aura was left on its SimplyPhysics Isostand and the Oracle was placed on an older Arcici Lead Balloon. The latter was slightly modified in setup. It was spiked to the floor and its lead bars were placed across its bottom supports for stability. On top, medium-sized SimplyPhysics Tonecones were screwed into its threaded inserts, points-up (by a pure coincidence the thread sizes were a match), a padded shelf from an Arcici Superstructure II was placed on the points, and the Oracle was set on top. (Most of the previous listening to the Oracle was with the latter on an Arcici Superstructurea I, not a IIwhich seemed to work well, although the Superstructures are not specifically built as turntable stands.)
After determining that I preferred to load the Koetsu with the Rowland's 185 ohm setting (finding both 60 ohm and 47k ohm loads either dryer, brighter, or both), the face-off was ready to begin. The combination of the Koetsu on the Oracle with the Graham arm proved to be stunning. It had a noticeably solid, substantial quality with a "thereness" to the midrange which could be striking on the right program material. But despite what was definitely a fuller sound than the Dynavector, it still displayed a significant degree of tight clarity through the low end and could in no way be classified (negatively) as sounding either lush or fat.
Boiling Point (Toshiba LF-95009), one of the sonically better of the old Toshiba direct-to-disc jazz recordings (and musically far better than tolerable as well), was detailed, without tizz or etching. The image was tight, its perspective very slightly forward, yet palpable rather than pushy. My notes refer to a slight warmth, yet quickly add that I wouldn't make anything out of it except to note that the sound was very definitely not leaned-out. The saxophone's blat and presence were startling, with a natural weight and fullness. The low end was deep and full, if perhaps less crisp and tight than that of the Dynavector. The overall sound on this and other recordings seemed to combine a balance of strengths: the bass as just noted, presence without excess forwardness, appropriate weight, and detailed yet unexaggerated highs.
Next the Koetsu was swapped into the Graham arm on the Aura turntable. Using a test record, the Aura's speed was tweaked to match that of the Oracle, which had been set by means of Oracle's strobe-disc. I should note here that the Oracle had slightly better speed stability as measured by the JVC test disc. A 1kHz signal varied by ±1Hz on the Oracle (some of which was likely in the measuring system or the test record itself), while the Aura was ±2.5Hz.
I noted with the Aura a slightly softer quality to the attacks, while at the same time the highs seemed slightly harder and less airy than they had with the Oracle. The low end was marginally warmer. Returning to the Oracle (flip-flopping back and forth between turntables took about a minute) revealed it to have a cooler, more lively, more see-through sound. It by no means lacked natural body, however. While I can understand that some would prefer the added fullness of the Aura (and the differences were by no means extreme), I definitely felt the Oracle's balance to be the more accurate. On Spanish Golden Age Music for Trumpet & Organ (Nonesuch 71415-1), a superb recording of trumpet and Spanish organ (the latter having its own dramatic trumpet pipes) marred only by an occasional slight fuzz in the trumpet sound, the Aura sounded slightly deadened next to the Oracle. The latter's high-frequency detailing was better-resolved; its reproduction of the organ's high pipes' reedy buzz would knock you out of your chair. In contrast, the Aura was a trace weightierthose same high pipes were backed by a somewhat more solid foundation from those further downand slightly sweeter on top. But it sacrificed transparency to provide that advantage.
The Dynavector was next up, and when its turn finally came it was inserted first into the Aura, on the theory that the Aura's contribution to the system's balance (or at least what it appeared to be up to this point) would better match the Dynavector's tendency to be a bit lean and analytical, especially in the Graham arm. I wasn't wrong: Detailing was now counterbalanced by a pleasingbut not overdonesense of body. Much switching back and forth indicated that the sound of the Graham/Dynavector on the Oracle was a trace thinner, yet with more detail and sparkle. The Aura was less forward and taut. The soundstage was somewhat bigger than with the Oracle, but the overall presentation was looser and less tightly controlled. I gradually came to prefer the sound of the Oracle here also, while noting that, on many less than well-balanced recordings, the Dynavector sounded more "pleasant" on the Aura. But on the very best recordings the Oracle had a liveliness (in the positive sense) which the Aura could not quite match. My notes on Tropic Affair (Reference Recordings RR-31) with the Aura/Graham/Dynavector combination make a passing reference to "elevator music," and while that characterization definitely exaggerates the impression, it sounded determinedly more like a high-end recording, and system, with the Oracle.
The Aura is (or wasits US availability is apparently limited to remaining dealer stock, as it is no longer distributed by TARA Labs) a very good turntable and, at its last advertised price, considerably more expensive than the Oracle. Nevertheless, I preferred the latter.
Using a variety of arms and cartridges, my general impression of the sound of the Oracle Delphi Mk.IV is that it is detailed, tight, quick, and has excellent clarity with a definite tendency to resist sounding in any way veiled, thick, or heavy. Or perhaps I should say that it permits the best arm/cartridge combinations to sound this way. As I've already said, it's very difficult to precisely pin down the a turntable's "sound"which is probably why a vocal contingent of the mass press insists that there is no such thing. But no matter how you look at iteither that the Oracle is an excellent-sounding turntable or that it does nothing to prevent a fine arm and cartridge from sounding first-ratethe conclusion has to be the same: The Oracle Delphi Mk.IV is a winner.
"Done," said the dentist, his tone indicating success.
"Goo," I answered in my best numb-tongued fashion, "Hoo mush?"
"How about an Oracle, a Graham, and a Koetsu?" he countered.
Dental work is getting out of control.Thomas J. Norton
Footnote 4: I prefer the Stages on "normal," with the drapes behind them nearly open. Dick Olsher closes the drapes and sets the Apogee tweeters on "high."