I saw it coming back in 1996. That was when Rega introduced their full-bore assault on the state of the art of record replay, the Planar 9 turntable. The P9 was and is a superb product, but because it sells for $3900—more than five times the price of the company's bread-and-butter model, the venerable Rega Planar 3—its introduction created an enormous price gap. And that's not to mention all the numbers between 3 and 9 that have languished for so long: How could you not expect Rega to fill in the blanks with Planars 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8?
Long before the Swedes at Ikea did it, the singular Scotsman Ivor Tiefenbrun began giving his products funny-sounding names. For some reason positively phobic about the letter c, he banned its use in any of those names. Someone once told me his real last name is Tiefencrun, but since it wouldn't sound any different with a k, he settled for a b. "I could have been Ivor Tiefendrun, or Tiefenfrun, or Tiefengrun, for that matter," he's quoted as having said once while krunching a krakker.
Turntables are intrinsically cool. Maybe it's that I am of the pre-CD generation, for which the acquisition of one's first really good turntable marked an audiophile's coming of age. Just as turntable technology has progressed to such awe-inspiring pieces as the SME 30/2 and Rockport Technologies Sirius III, less stratospherically priced 'tables now offer levels of performance that, if not revelatory, show why so many audiophiles (including yours truly) continue to love their LPs with something just short of fanaticism.
Dense, compact, and built to run O-rings around the competition, SME's flagship turntable makes every other design I've encountered—with the possible exception of Rockport's System III Sirius—look almost homemade. I don't mean to insult the many fine, well-engineered designs out there, but I've seen nothing else to compare with SME's tank-like approach to spinning a record. Comparing the Model 30/2 to a tank isn't exactly fair: the machining is done to higher than mil-spec tolerances. I don't think anyone else building turntables today is capable of this level of construction quality, never mind design ingenuity and fit'n'finish.
Oh, I talk a good game when it comes to the whole music-lover-vs-audiophile thing. But I admit that when it comes to record players, I'm just another hardware junkie. I love turntables and tonearms for more than the musical enjoyment they give me. Turntables and tonearms are my favorite toys.
I'm a tinkerer. From homemade audio isolation and room-treatment products to a local area network (LAN) connecting my Macintosh laptops, I'm always building or modifying something. One of my latest projects is a combination of parts swaps and custom-machined bits to better adapt the ergonomics of my exotic Italian Bimota motorcycle to my distinctly un-Italian 6'3" frame. But regardless of what I'm into, I can't resist the urge to tinker.
Andy Payor hurls a briefcase full of engineering and scientific mumbo-jumbo at in an attempt to justify the $73,750 price of the latest and greatest edition of his Rockport Technologies turntable, but really—isn't this all-air-driven design a case of analog overkill? After all, defining a turntable's job seems rather easy: rotate the record at an exact and constant speed, and, for a linear tracker, put the stylus in play across the record surface so that it maintains precise tangency to a radius described across the groove surface. By definition, a pivoted arm can't do that, so the goal there is to minimize the deviation. That's basically it. Right?
As it did for so many other designers and manufacturers of specialty audio gear, the current occupation of Basis owner/designer A.J. Conti began as a hobby and personal quest. A longtime audiophile and home-based dealer of brands like Krell and Quicksilver, Conti decided to build his own "killer" turntable using a fluid-damped suspension.
"I've got the world on a string, sitting on the rainbow Got the string around my finger, what a life, Mama, I'm in love. Life's a beautiful thing, as long as I hold the string I'd be a silly so-and-so if I should ever let you go."—Ted Koehler
I literally dropped everything when Rega's new Planar 25 turntable arrived a few weeks ago. I'd heard the 'table compared with the Planar 3 at designer Roy Gandy's house when I visited Rega last fall—see "Analog Corner" in the January '99 Stereophile—and was anxious to audition it in my own system and tell you what I heard.
"Hello, I'd like to apply for a Federal Grant? For what? Oh, to design and build a new, high-tech, very expensive turntable. What's that? It plays records. Yes, that kind of turntable. Of course they still make records. Why? How much time do you have? Oh, I forgot—you're a federal employee, you have all day! Well, I didn't mean to insult you. It was a joke....No, I'm serious about the turntable. You do? What kind of music? When are they from? RCA Record Club? Classical Music? 1950s and '60s? Yes. I'll give you $5 each. I know it's generous, but... How much money do I want for the grant? Coupla hundred thousand dollars. No, our turntables will never be used to play Marilyn Manson records—Marilyn doesn't do vinyl. It's in the mail? Thank you. I'll come get the LPs tonight."
The La Luce turntable's elegant form usually stops audiophiles dead in their tracks. Then comes a long, low "Wow." I'm hardly immune myself. And that's not even considering the sound, which has always been wonderful, as it was in the Joseph Audio/Cardas room at CES '98.
"My original goal was simply to design a better turntable than the Linn because at that time in the UK, Ivor Tiefenbrun was the man—he was the patron saint and all that. And all the hi-fi mags were full of Linns. He did for turntables, in a way, what Mark Levinson (the man) did for amplifiers."