Acoustic Signature Montana NEO turntable

You may be moving to Montana. Acoustic Signature is not an overnight sensation, nor are its turntables driven by dental floss. If you're not a Frank Zappa fan, you probably have no idea what any of that means, so please Google it. I'll wait till you get back.

The German company is headquartered in picturesque Süssen not far from Stuttgart, one of the country's automobile capitals. Porsche and Mercedes-Benz are headquartered there. It has been around for 25 years, specializing in exquisitely machined, high-mass, nonsuspended turntable designs, manufactured in-house. With companies moving to electric cars, you can be sure that, should the company need any, there's no shortage of superskilled machinists in the picturesque valley known as the "Stuttgart Cauldron."

The Acoustic Signature turntable line has expanded over the years, bottom to top, from moderately priced high-performance turntables some can afford to luxury models only a few can afford. There's also a lineup of similarly priced tonearms. The company has long manufactured reasonably priced turntables—at least by high-performance standards—but none that fall into the "budget" category.

A few months before the pandemic shut down the world, I visited the tidy, well-organized factory. The company's loading dock/recycling area is cleaner than some factories I've been in. I came away mightily impressed by the operation, which includes state-of-the-art CNC machinery and cosmetic metal-lapping surface-finishing devices, all operated by a talented team of engineers, technicians, and skilled craftspeople. I saw engineers designing A-S's next product generation using the latest CAD software. The 21 employees work in the kind of well-organized factory you'd expect to find in Germany.

Also on the premises is a showroom/listening room sure to wow international distributors and members of the press. All the company's products are on display and can be auditioned. After the visit, I concluded that Acoustic Signature—a company that offers a 15-year warranty on all of its products—is one of the companies most likely to still be around in 15 years to honor that warranty. If you can take the factory tour here, you'll also see LEGO bricks used most ingeniously.

More recently, Acoustic Signature launched an updated product lineup under the NEO umbrella, with turntable prices starting at $4595 for the Maximus NEO. Add the least costly arm in the line, the $2295 TA-1000 NEO, and you're looking at $6890 for the company's base offering. In other words, the company cedes the low-end market to others while reaching for the heights with a top tonearm price of $29,995 for the TA-9000 NEO and a top turntable price of $189,995 for the Invictus NEO.

The Acoustic Signature Ascona I reviewed some years ago—a stalwart on our Recommended Components list before it "aged out"—has been replaced in the A-S lineup by the $48,995 Ascona NEO.

I found the original Ascona overdamped to the point of sounding kind of dead, and that's what I reported. To his credit, Founder and Chief Engineer Gunther Frohnhöfer went back, made some modifications, and released a much more alive- and open-sounding Mk2 edition. That's one of the reasons I admire and respect him, unlike some other manufacturers who respond to criticism by pouting, screaming, or refusing to ever again provide products for review.


The Montana NEO and the $17,995 TA-7000 NEO tonearm
The Montana NEO ($30,995) is a new model; it was shown to me two years ago during that factory visit I made in preparation for the product launch and this review, but of course the pandemic interrupted both. The Montana is in the middle of Acoustic Signature's eight-turntable line, with three models priced higher and four priced lower. The TA-7000 NEO ($17,995) is second from the top of the five-tonearm lineup.

Montana is a compact, ingeniously designed, superbly machined, precision-built turntable that puts belts and motors out of sight and touch, leaving visible only the spinning platter, the tonearm, and the outboard power supply that connects to the plinth via red and blue Ethernet-type cables. While the appearance is that of a classic "four-poster," the approximately 17" × 17" × 2.5", constrained-layer damped, 55lb aluminum-alloy chassis sits on three hefty, knurled, height-adjustable, gel-damped feet, bringing the chassis height to approximately 4".


The 12.2"-diameter, anodized-aluminum platter is festooned with 24 of Acoustic Signature's polished-brass, vibration-absorbing "silencers," which may look like buttons or wafers but in fact run the full depth of the platter; the platter adds 24lb to the assemblage's weight and 3" to its height. That's 79lb concentrated in a relatively small footprint. The efficacy of those silencers is detailed in measurements found on the company's website.

In addition to the constrained layer–damped chassis and brass silencers, A-S innovated another vibration-canceling system it calls Automatic Vibration Control (AVC), which combines hardware and software to control the Montana's three 24-pole, two-coil AC motors.

Conventional wisdom (mine) says that, compared to a single motor drive, three motors equals three times the noise and vibration produced by a single motor, exacerbated because motors, pulleys, and belts are manufactured to tolerances too high to produce 100%-synced performance. A-S counters by acknowledging the motor-to-motor production tolerance problem: "Unfortunately all AC synchronous motors show production-related tolerances that prevent the poles and coils from being positioned one hundred percent correctly—a key reason for unwanted vibrations. In order to effectively minimize or even avoid these, all production tolerances must be compensated by other means."


"Other means" means AVC. Acoustic Signature avers that AVC measures those distortions in real time and adjusts intra-motor phase shifts to cancel them out. In A-S's words, these measures "ensure a drastic reduction of the vibrations." Can't do that with just one motor, and can't do it as well with just two. The Montana incorporates level-3 AVC, the company's most sophisticated, which in addition to the software-based correction includes specially selected and paired motors. The speed (33.3rpm and 45rpm) is adjustable via the outboard motor controller.

Putting it together
Efficiently and logically packed, the Montana can be unpacked and assembled by one person with relative ease—at least if you're at all experienced doing this, can follow good instructions, and are not a wimp. (You can be elderly, at least as defined by time.)

Once the chassis is in place, you remove a series of small bolts securing a top plate. Under that you'll see the three motors and the bearing opening; into that, you insert the massive subplatter/spindle-bearing assembly. The latter is diamond coated (Dura Turn Diamond Bearing, acronym DTD). A trio of precision-ground, small-diameter belts go around the motor pulleys and subplatter in a specified order, with each belt going around two motor pulleys. The job is made easier by full-color instructions (although the belts of course are black). Replace and bolt the cover plate, and you won't need to see or touch belts or pulleys for many years, and the belts will not get fouled by dirt, dust, or oily fingers.

Next, you carefully lower the platter onto the subplatter, making sure it doesn't drop in place. Put the thin leather mat in place and arrange it so that the silencers line up with the mat's holes. Level the chassis, and you're ready to install the tonearm.


The TA-7000 NEO tonearm
Two arms up to 12" long can be fitted to the Montana, which feature a pair of sliding, integrated arm mounts. Going from the standard 9" to the 12" mount requires loosening a pair of chassis-mounted set screws on the underside and then sliding out the mount to the extended position. Simple.

A-S supplies an armboard cut for your arm of choice as part of the purchase price. The second rear mount comes as a solid disc that the company will replace (for a fee) with an armboard cut to accommodate your chosen arm's mounting system.


A-S supplies the TA-7000 NEO with either an SME or Rega-type mount. The supplied SME mount is the familiar oval opening into which is bolted a cylindrical collar, set to the correct pivot-to-spindle distance, which accepts the arm's pillar. The TA-7000 is available in 9" and 12" versions. A-S supplied the 9" model, which conforms to the standard Rega geometry: 222mm pivot-to-spindle distance and 239.3mm effective length.

Locking and unlocking the collar-fixing screw and manually raising or lowering the pillar, which is unmarked for height, sets VTA/SRA. It's basic but super-rigid and the machining tolerances feel extremely precise: The pillar goes, in a hair-turn of the grub screw, from rock-solid secure to dropping like a pound and a half rock, so it pays to be cautious. (The extremely detailed, well-written manual says, "Be aware, that when opening the VTA locking screw, the arm might fall down." "Might"? Like London Bridge, it will!)

Azimuth can be adjusted by loosening a locking screw in the bearing collar and rotating the arm-tube—but again there are no reference marks, which makes repeatable settings difficult.

Made by AS-Distribution GmbH
US distributor: Rutherford Audio
14 Inverness Drive East, Unit G-108, Englewood, CO 80112
(888) 279-6765

Oldsoul's picture

While I never owned one of their tables, I have seen a few in the wild and have always admired them. I have never owned a belt-driven table for that matter, but I promised myself that someday if I ever need to replace my current turntables, I would take a hard consideration of Acoustic Signature. Of course at that time their lowest priced table was around $3400 with arm. Not bad at all for what you get!
Of course, that model is long discontinued (but likely still giving great service to owners) and as with everything now the prices is also long from $3400 for the "lowest model". All the models at least to me are pleasing to eye as well.
So while I don't foresee myself ever able to own one now, their "lowest priced" model I see as nearly the same as their high $50k model in craftsmanship, quality and performance. There is nothing shoddy about any products from this company it seems.
My current tables are from the early 70s and 80s respectively and all direct drive. The early 70s tables are built like brick chicken houses, you have to hit them with at least two hand grenades to do any real damage it seems. So while I don't have choice of tone arm and whatever, they are deadly accurate at speed and can be dialed in just as close as the higher-end arms and such. (Although I admit that in the area of SRA, WallyTools would be required).So while needing to replace my tables may be an unlikely event (unless someone does toss real hand grenades at them) I would still look at the Acoustic Signature tables first.

volvic's picture

This turntable oozes quality and means business. If I had the cash, I would put it on my short list along with the Nagra. Great review.

Anton's picture

If it weren't for Stereophile and its Analog Planet satellite, I would have no awareness of this new range of ultra-turntables.

I don't know if that's a good thing, or a bad thing! :-D

Indydan's picture

This "turntable" is a monstrosity and is gross. If vinyl needs this kind of contraption to sound decent, then it isn't a viable format.

It's time for Fremer to stop gaslighting audiophiles!

Michael Fremer's picture

And you get a foolish answer. You hit the jackpot: foolish question and answer! Congratulations! Vinyl can sound "decent" on a less costly turntable but it sounds better on a better one. MQA works too. So you are the gaslighter here...

Indydan's picture

So Fremer is not only a vinyl gaslighter, but a shill for MQA. Hey Fremer, I suggest you educate yourself with the following, before you continue making a fool of yourself:

ok's picture

..sound fine nowadays and are actually preferable to some hi-end monsters that mostly expose the weaknesses and limitations of the medium. Turntables have considerably evolved, vinyl per se not so.

windansea's picture

mid-level gear might be the sweet spot for enjoyable listening. At the high end, the limitations of any recording are exposed, not just with vinyl. Critical listening is not so fun. At the extreme end of audiophilia, the high prices warrant high expectations, which is a recipe for disappointment.

Michael Fremer's picture

Tastes delicious.

Anton's picture

I thought dental floss jokes in a turntable review would be related to Forsell, but I get you, man!

I'll be going to Montana, soon.