Robert Deutsch Upgrades His Record Player

For some time now, I've been thinking that my record player was due for an upgrade. My Linn LP12 turntable and Ittok LVII tonearm are about 25 years old, and my AudioQuest AQ7000nsx cartridge is going on 15. During that time, my listening has become increasingly dominated by CDs, but I am not yet ready to give up on LPs. Updating my LP12—for which I have Linn's Lingo power supply but no other upgrades—would involve installing the Keel subchassis, for $3250—for which price I could get another maker's new, current-design turntable and still have the LP12 to sell. The Linn Ittok can't be upgraded, and its replacement, the Ekos SE, costs $4950—out of my range. AudioQuest no longer makes cartridges. Examining my AQ7000nsx's stylus under a microscope showed no visible wear, and there was no obvious audible problem that could be traced to the cartridge's suspension, but age must be having some sort of effect. Taking all these factors into account, I decided to replace my entire phono front end.

In my quest to select a high-quality, high-value set of phono source components, I read reviews, and consulted with my Stereophile colleagues as well as others in the industry. I was particularly intrigued by Herb Reichert's very favorable comments, in his May 2015 column, on the German Acoustic Signature WOW XL turntable and TA-1000 tonearm, and by Art Dudley's review, in the September 2015 issue, of Acoustic Signature's Triple X 'table, used with that same arm—although the Triple X's price ($5995) and weight (121 lbs) put me off. I was also impressed with the approach to cartridge design taken by Soundsmith's Peter Ledermann, described in reports by Michael Fremer and Art Dudley. The system I finally chose comprised Acoustic Signature's WOW XXL turntable ($3195) and TA-1000 tonearm ($1595, footnote 1), and a Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC cartridge ($1499.95, footnote 2).

I would be remiss if I didn't mention another recent change in my vinyl playback: purchase of an Audiodesksysteme Gläss Vinyl Cleaner, the ultrasonic record cleaner already owned by several Stereophile colleagues, who all rave about it. I have to agree with them. Most of my records were purchased new, and you won't find a fingerprint on any of them, but in every comparison I've done, after cleaning with the Vinyl Cleaner there was more detail: The record simply sounded . . . cleaner.

Through the years I've owned four turntables, six tonearms, and eleven cartridges. I'm not a complete novice when it comes to turntable setup, but I prefer to leave this task to an expert. Asking around, the name that kept coming up was Michael Tang, who serves as turntable-setup consultant at Audio Excellence, in Vaughan, Ontario, one of the top audio stores in the Toronto area (where I live), and whose company, Michael Tang Audio, is the Canadian importer of Feastrex speakers and other audiophile goodies (footnote 3). Tang made several trips to my home, bringing with him various tools and test LPs and infinite patience. He first tweaked the setup of my Linn LP12, Ittok LVII, and AudioQuest AQ7000nsx, then set up the WOW XXL, TA-1000, and Zephyr MIMC.

Tang installed the new arm and cartridge, set their overhang, antiskating, and vertical tracking force (VTF), and did preliminary settings of stylus rake angle (SRA), vertical tracking angle (VTA), and azimuth, leaving the final setting of those last three parameters until after the cartridge had been used for at least 50 hours. In a brief listen, the sound seemed okay, but it soon became apparent that something was wrong. The left-channel intermittently dropped out, and, with the volume turned up to a normal level but with no record playing, I heard a crackling noise from the speakers when I moved the tonearm through the arc it would trace across an LP side. We checked the connections, swapped the left and right phono cables, etc., and eventually traced the problem to the tonearm wiring.

Fidelis AV, Acoustic Signature's US importer, asked the manufacturer to dispatch another sample of the TA-1000, which they promptly did; this one worked perfectly. Tang set the new arm's overhang, VTF, SRA/VTA, and azimuth, and I embarked on a series of marathon listening sessions to fill the 50-hour break-in period. Tang returned and tweaked the setup; the result was a wider soundstage and a more even tonal balance. (When first set up, the new rig had sounded on the bright side.)

Acoustic Signature WOW XXL turntable
Acoustic Signature's turntable line currently comprises 12 models, ranging from the entry-level WOW ($1995 with Rega Research RB-202 tonearm) to the Invictus ($104,995 without arm). The WOW XL ($2235 without arm), which Herb Reichert reviewed—see "Gramophone Dreams" elsewhere in this issue—is one up from the WOW, and the WOW XXL ($3195 without arm) is one up from that. The WOW XXL differs from the XL in having a heavier platter (16.3 vs 14.1 lbs) and including AS's patented Silencer technology: eight brass cylinders inserted in the platter. (See Art Dudley's description of this in his review of the Triple X in September 2015.) Acoustic Signature's test data show that the Silencers considerably reduce resonances in the platter.

Eagle-eyed readers may notice in my photo of the review sample that its plinth identifies it not as an XXL but as an XL. I questioned designer Gunther Frohnhöfer about this—had they sent the wrong model?—and was told that since the XXL is simply an XL upgraded with a Silencer platter and the AC-1 power supply, they'd decided not to change the model indication on the plinth.

The inclusion of the upgraded AC-1 power supply is important. In his review of the Triple X, Art Dudley found that the 'table sounded significantly better when used with the AC-1 rather than its standard wall-wart supply. Presumably, the AC-1 effects a similar improvement with the XXL. (The AC-1 was the only power supply provided; I couldn't do a comparison.) Also, in a special arrangement between Acoustic Signature and Fidelis AV, the AC-1 is included as standard kit for all AS turntables sold in the US, with the exceptions of the very top models (which have even more advanced supplies) and the entry-level WOW. Although the XXL's platter is about 2 lbs heavier than the XL's—which one might expect to bring benefits in rotational speed stability—it's not as heavy as the Triple X's 24.2-lb platter. The differences in their weights are reflected in these platters' startup times: Art noted that the interval between pressing the Triple X's On button and the moment when the 331/3 rpm LED stopped flashing—thus indicating that the correct speed has been reached—was nearly half a minute. For the XXL, the startup time was about 17 seconds.

The XXL's power supply permits fine tuning of the platter speed via two buttons at the back of the plinth, but there was no need to change it from the factory setting: The Dr. Feickert Analogue Test Record and Adjust+ Pro software indicated that the playback test frequency was within 0.006% at 331/3 rpm, and within 0.002% at 45rpm—more than close enough for jazz!

In his review of the Triple X, Art complained about the soft-touch pushbuttons that turn the motor on and off and permit selection of 331?3 or 45rpm: Both often required multiple presses. I didn't have this problem with the XXL, whose buttons are not soft-touch. They needed to be firmly—maybe too firmly—pressed, then held down about a second. That done, they worked every time.

Acoustic Signature TA-1000 tonearm
The TA-1000 tonearm is available in three lengths: 9", 10", and 12". Art had the 12" version, Herb and I the 9". The standard tonearm cable is of 99.9999%-pure copper, with no disconnects between the cartridge contacts at one end and the RCA phono plugs at the other. Alternatively, and at no extra cost, the TA-1000 is available with a five-pin DIN connector under the arm's base, to which you connect the DIN-to-RCA phono cable of your choice. The first sample of the TA-1000 I received—the one with the faulty internal wiring—had the continuous cable; for the replacement, I requested one with the DIN connector. It came with a 1.2m-long DIN-to-RCA cable made by Zavfino1877. Checking Zavfino's website, I learned that they offer a wide variety of audio accessories, including five different phono cables. The one included with the TA-1000 was their least expensive model, the Cove ($75). It seemed well-made for the price, and, in casual listening, sounded okay.

Footnote 1: Acoustic Signature: AS-Distribution GmbH, Ulmer Strasse 123, D-73037 Göppingen, Germany. Tel: (49) (0)7161-3898135. Fax: (49) (0)7161-3898137. Web: US distributor: Fidelis AV, 460 Amherst Street (Route 101A), Nashua, NH 03063. Tel: (603) 880-4434. Fax: (603) 880-4433. Web:

Footnote 2: The Soundsmith, 8 John Walsh Blvd., Suite 417, Peekskill, NY 10566. Tel: (800) 942-8009, (914) 739-2885. Fax: (914) 739-5204. Web:

Footnote 3: Click here and here.

Boogieman1's picture

Dear Sir,
I enjoy your writing very much - all of your pieces are very well written. However, a big question remains after reading this article: how did you go about selecting the turntable? There are so many brands out there - vpi, clearaudio, rega, avid, sme, spiral groove, oracle, basis, kuzma.....

Add combinations of tonearms and cartridges, and one can go completely crazy just thinking about all the possibilities, let alone listening to all the combinations.

So how do you recommend one select a turntable?
Thank you

Robert Deutsch's picture

Thank you for the comment on my writing.
You're right: selecting a turntable is not an easy task. There are lots of 'tables out there, and there is hardly ever an opportunity to compare the sound of different turntables in stores with everything else in the system kept as a constant. In the absence of personal experience, turntable selection is a bit of a guessing game, albeit an educated one. Prior to my experience with Acoustic Signature, I have not reviewed any turntables myself, so, in selecting a new turntable, I had to rely largely on the opinion of others, including reviews in Stereophile (and, yes, even other magazines/webzines). It was actually Herb Reichert's writeup of the WOW XL that first piqued my interest, and, talking to some people in the industry, including Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith, helped me to zero in on Acoustic Signature as offering high quality and high value. And, I figured, if the XL is good, the XXL is likely to be better. There were some other turntables that I was considering, and I can't say whether the one I chose was the best, but it's certainly an excellent turntable, especially with the various tweaks I described.
As for a general recommendation on how to select a turntable--well, I don't think there's a formula that will guarantee you'll choose the right one. An obvious first step is to make a tentative decision on how much money you're willing to spend--keeping in mind that if you're also buying a tonearm and a cartridge, there may be tradeoffs in allocating parts of your budget to various components. By all means read reviews--but don't expect them to make the decision for you. Go to local audio stores, and talk to them about turntable recommendations. (Just don't expect them to be completely impartial in any negative comments about products they don't carry.) Go to regional audio shows, where you're likely to see products you may not be familiar with, but which should be considered. Try to get a demo.
And once you have your new turntable setup, stop reading about other turntables and just listen to the music!

billdevaux's picture

Dear Robert,
I am very interested in your opinion of the Soundsmith cartridge but what really got my attention was your mention of using plugin resistors in some of your listening tests with it. I'd like to know if you felt they degraded the sound in any way? I'm curious because I'm thinking about using plugin capacitance adjusters (from DBSystems) to match capacitance on MM cartridges. Many good MM phono stages lack the ability to match preamp and cartridge capacitances.


Bill Devaux

Robert Deutsch's picture

The plug-in resistors did not degrade the sound in any way (except for the one that represented a mismatch). However, this conclusion should not be generalized to the use of other plug-in resistors/capacitors with other phono stages/cartridges. The CAT preamp has paralleled phono inputs, so there is no external device involved.
But, now that I think of it, years ago I had a preamp that had no built in provision for plug-in resistors/capacitors, and I remember using RCA Y-connectors for capacitors. I never checked whether the Y-connector itself caused any sonic degradation, but the appropriate capacitive loading improved the sound.

helomech's picture


I enjoyed reading your article. I recently purchased a Wow XL and awaiting its arrival.

I also ordered the Acoustic Signature tonearm and opted for the DIN connector.

Can you tell me if the Cove cable that came with your tonearm has a 90 degree or straight connector at the table end? The Zavfino site displays both types. I would imagine the straight connector might have clearance issues on the Wow. This information would be of great help because I'd like to make my own 1/2 meter cable before my Wow arrives.

Many thanks.