Stereophile's Products of 2013 Joint Analog Components of the Year

Joint Analog Components of the Year

Spiral Groove SG1.1 turntable with Centroid tonearm ($31,000; reviewed by Michael Fremer, November 2012, Vol.35 No.11)

VPI Industries Traveler turntable and tonearm ($1399; reviewed by Stephen Mejias, November 2012, Vol.35 No.11 Review)

Another tie—this time between two components separated by almost 3000 miles and nearly $30,000. Yow! The flagship Spiral Groove SG1.1 was designed by Allen Perkins in Berkeley, California. The entry-level VPI Traveler was designed by father-son duo Harry and Mat Weisfeld, in Cliffwood, New Jersey. While the former aims to be the last turntable you'll ever want or need, the latter is meant to introduce a wider, younger audience to true high-fidelity sound. With 16 total votes apiece, these two outstanding 'tables distinguished themselves from a worthy bunch of contenders.

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Released at the New York Audio & AV Show in April 2012, VPI's Traveler is a tribute to Sheila Weisfeld, matriarch of the Weisfeld family, who passed away in December 2011. Mat Weisfeld came up with the concept and physical design; Harry Weisfeld brought it to life. I had the pleasure of reviewing the Traveler. It uses an AC synchronous motor built directly into a rigid, compact chassis of Delrin and aluminum; a machined aluminum platter damped with a stainless-steel disc; a high-quality bearing assembly capable of driving a 20-lb platter; and a dedicated, 10"-long, spring-loaded tonearm with a double-gimbal bearing for movement in the horizontal and vertical planes. I was bowled over by the sound, which was uncommonly smooth, coherent, and dynamic—to this day, the best I've heard from any turntable at home. I wish everyone could enjoy this level of sound; now, thanks to VPI, more people can.

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I've heard Spiral Groove's SG1.1 only at shows and in shops, but I have no doubt that it's worth every cent. In fact, even at $31,000, it seems a bargain. Built to almost impossibly precise specifications and with an intense attention to detail, the 75-lb SG1.1 is a dense, split-plinth design with an onboard AC synchronous motor belt-driving a 22-lb platter of graphite, vinyl, and phenolic. While the SG1.1's clever tonearm-mounting system simplifies the installation of almost any arm, Spiral Groove's complementary Centroid tonearm is designed for optimal system stability. Michael Fremer: "The engineering brilliance, machining excellence, build quality, remarkable compactness, ease of setup and use, and engaging sound make the SG1.1 turntable and Centroid tonearm landmark products."

Runners-up: (in alphabetical order)

AMG Viella 12 turntable with 12J2 tonearm ($16,500; reviewed by Michael Fremer, August 2013, Vol.36 No.8)
Ortofon MC Anna phono cartridge ($8499; reviewed by Michael Fremer, May 2013, Vol.36 No.5)
Simaudio Moon Evolution 810LP phono preamplifier ($12,000; reviewed by Michael Fremer, December 2012, Vol.35 No.12)
Sutherland Engineering Insight phono preamplifier ($1400; reviewed by Michael Fremer, August 2013, Vol.36 No.8)
TechDAS Air Force One turntable ($79,500; reviewed by Michael Fremer, April 2013, Vol.36 No.4)
Zesto Audio Andros PS1 phono preamplifier ($4300; reviewed by Michael Fremer, March 2013, Vol.36 No.3)

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COMMENTS
anthony.aaron47's picture

As a refugee from high-end audio (my former spouse got custody of our system), I'd like to offer a counterpoint to what is offered here.

A competing audio site recently (October 24, 2013) reviewed a pair of Omega Super 3T Single-Driver monitors and a Dared 2A3C integrated amplifier.

Based on that review, and some phone conversations with the owner of Omega Speakers and the US Importer for Dared, I purchased a pair of Omega Super 3S speakers (the flagship of the Omega Super 3 series) and the Dared 2A3C SET integrated amplifier, plus Kimber Kable 4PR 8' cables. Total cost, less than $2k.

Thie sound of this system is magical -- even without being fully broken in yet -- and it just keeps getting better as the listening hours pass. The sublime sound of each component is dependent -- and revealing of -- the other. Neither operates in a vacuum. The speakers offer a wide and layered sound stage, fine detail when it's in the recording, and depth down to 38 Hz. The amplifier is dead silent -- and at 8 wpc is well able to push the sound out to these magnificent 4.5" full-range drivers.

This is a sublime system -- and, even though I've had a system that I considered excellent at 7 or 8 times the price -- I'll take this one any day.

bwright's picture

I have to comment on your review of the KEF LS50, as I have listened to these speakers at length.  

The bass is incredible for an enclosure of this size.  It is smooth and expansive.  The midrange is gorgeous and clear, and the air and space that this speaker lends to all recordings is superb.  In those areas, it far surpassed the other models I recently auditioned in the $5000 range.

But given the reviews, it was the aluminum tweeters that left me scratching my head.  On certain tracks, the treble was sharply etched, and had the same harsh and 'ringing' character that 90% of the metal tweeters I have heard typically exhibit.  

On occasion, you will find metal tweeters executed beautifully - Vivid loudspeakers are a notable example.  But in my experience, they are the exception to the rule.

I realize human hearing can be subjective.  Maybe it's just me.  Or it was the recordings or components used.  But that wasn't the case with other models I listened to, and with the exact same amplification and source.

In the areas mentioned, this speaker was truly incredible, and a remarkable achievement.  If your system is a bit more forgiving than most, then you'll love them. 

JohnJ's picture

I just want to give John Atkinson thumbs up for giving "awards"/saluting year awards to the two low budget speakers KEF LS50 and Pioneer SP-BS22-LR :  Great !!

I also want to thank him for his enormous amount of component measuring during many years: I have learnt a lot on where great hi-fi can be found from his conclusions of the measurements: For instance that Benchmark Media and Bryston make excellent measuring gear for a low/sensible amount of money while in contrast DartZeel and Edge are bad value for money.

 

John Atkinson's picture

JohnJ wrote:
I also want to thank him for his enormous amount of component measuring during many years: I have learnt a lot on where great hi-fi can be found from his conclusions of the measurement...

Thanks very much. This aspect of the magazine is very much a labor of love on my part.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

 

bwright's picture

I'll now humbly revise my comments above.  I returned to the dealer who had originally arranged my auditions with the LS50.  They mentioned that I had been one of the first to listen to this particular set of speakers.  Since that point, they had been auditioned numerous times, and could now be considered fully broken in.  

I figured it was worth investigating, and set up the speakers with the same CD, source, cables and amplification.  Indeed, the hardness in the treble noted previously had completely disappeared.

This taught me an important lesson, and made me wonder how many other components I had written off in a similar way.  But one thing I did realize - the Stereophile award was spot on, and the LS50 is an incredible value.  The presence and warmth they add to vocals is stunning.  And if your desktop is big enough, these could be the ultimate computer audio speakers.

derekseto's picture

Hi, I have an 18 year old Denon UDRA-90 component system and the speaker surrounds are badly damaged. I'm looking for replacement speakers with a limited budget. I was considering the KEF Q100s until I saw your review of the Pioneer B22. While I do prefer the looks of the KEFs, the price of the BS22 is too attractive to ignore. The Denon's amp says its 8 ohm while the Pioneers speakers are 6 ohm. Would they work together? Would you recommend the Q100s or the B22s? Thanks for any opinion.

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