2015 Recommended Components Fall Edition Turntables, Tonearms, Cartridges, etc.


Editor's Note: We strongly recommend those interested in LP playback visit our sister website, www.AnalogPlanet.com, which is edited by Michael Fremer.


Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn: $200,000 with tonearm and stand ★
"Part New Jersey diner, part Wurlitzer jukebox," the 160-lb Caliburn is the brainchild of Mark Doehmann, whose clever, purposeful design is based on rigorous scientific methodology using finite-element analysis computer programs. While the only serious competition for the Caliburn is the Rockport System III Sirius, MF decided, "The Caliburn beat the Rockport's overall performance by a considerable margin," adding an "emotional majesty" that made the Rockport seem analytical. "Better than sex!" cried Mikey's wife, though compared to the Onedof turntable, while the Caliburn offered greater dynamics, transparency, and impact, it sounded slightly ragged and less stable, said MF. The ultrarigid Castellon stand, made of chromed, aircraft-grade aluminum, costs $25k on its own (pheww). Stereophile's 2006 "Analog Source Component" and "Overall Product of the Year." (Vol.29 No.1, Vol.31 No.3, Vol.35 No.7 WWW)

VPI Classic Direct turntable: $30,000 including tonearm
A brand-new, US-made direct-drive turntable—in the 21st Century? Believe it. For VPI's Classic Direct, designer Harry Weisfeld selected a $4000 (his cost) Thin Gap motor, servo-controlled by a custom-designed active-feedback loop, which he combined with an 18-lb platter machined from a single billet of aluminum. The platter and drive system (combined weight: 27 lbs) are snugged into an aluminum-and-MDF plinth measuring 23.5" wide by 17.5" deep. To this, Weisfeld has mated a version of his tried-and-true JMW unipivot tonearm updated in both mechanical design and materials choice, this one a seamless resin creation whose existence would not have been possible even five years ago. Referring to his longtime reference 'table-arm combination, MF observed that "the Classic Direct with its JMW Memorial 3D-printed 12" tonearm comes as close to the [Continuum] Caliburn's sound as has any turntable, and for less than one-fifth the price." Quibbles: MF wondered if even greater performance could be had with a more sophisticated plinth, and lacked enthusiasm for the model's peripheral platter clamp. (Vol.37 Nos. 5 & 6 WWW)


AMG Viella 12: $17,500 as reviewed
Made in Germany, the Viella 12 is a belt-drive turntable with an ellipsoidal plinth of aircraft-grade aluminum; a two-piece black-anodized aluminum platter; a two-pulse, low-speed, 24V DC motor, acoustically decoupled from the plinth by five mounts of rubber and metal; and a 12" tonearm with a unique, dual-pivot, vertical bearing system. Setup was simple. Used with a Lyra Atlas cartridge, the Viella 12 produced a rich, detailed midrange; nimble, well-controlled bass; and smooth, clean highs, said MF. "An incredible value," he decided. Reviewed with AMG 12J2 12" tonearm and Cherry wood skirt. Add $500 for piano black lacquer skirt. Price without skirt is $15,000. (Vol.36 No.8)

Ayre/dps: $9250 without tonearm ★
In Willi Bauer's handsome dps, an aluminum plinth houses three shallow PVC cups, filled with elastomer buttons, that act as supporting springs for the rest of the turntable. The body is a laminate of six separate sheets: two layers of lossy damping material sandwiched by three sheets of Baltic birch plywood and topped with a layer of cork; the platter is acrylic. Bauer prevents energy storage by combining a resistive bearing with a high-torque AC synchronous motor, this powered by a three-phase power supply custom-made by Ayre Acoustics. Though it lacked the bottom-end heft of AD's Thorens TD-124, the dps showed unsurpassed pitch stability and revelatory soundstaging abilities. "A striking, innovative success," Art enthused. dps tonearm adds $3500. (Vol.33 No.4 WWW)

Brinkmann Balance: $23,700 ★
The ready-to-play Brinkmann Balance is a plinthless 'table with an attractive, low-profile base available in a variety of sizes and configured for specified tonearm masses. Its high-tech feet are designed to effectively isolate the supporting base from horizontally and vertically induced vibrations, and its platter's speed can run at precisely 33.3 and 45rpm. Combined "deep, tight, articulate" bass performance with "the lightest, airiest, purest" soundstages to breathe new life into MF's favorite LPs, adding "greater holography of imaging but without etch." Recent upgrades include a new motor and new power-supply electronics. Adding Brinkmann's optional RöNt tubed power supply ($4300) produced cleaner, better-articulated mid- and high-frequency transients, said MF. "The Brinkmann Balance remains one of a handful of the finest turntables being made today." Brinkmann 12.1 tonearm adds $7500, Brinkmann EMT-ti cartridge adds $4300. (Vol.28 No.5; Vol.35 No.4 WWW)

Brinkmann Spyder: $14,000 and up without tonearm
Offered as a replacement for Brinkmann's previous next-to-best turntable, the La Grange, the company's Spyder is a belt-drive turntable with a somewhat modular design, built around a small aluminum stand that holds the same heated platter bearing used in Brinkmann's top model, the Balance. The stand can accommodate up to four of the Spyder's massive aluminum tonearm bases (one base is included; extras are $3000 each), and a similarly massive outboard pod contains Brinkmann's own AC motor, the Sinus. A solid-state power supply for the motor comes standard; a tubed supply, the RöNt II, is a $4300 option. Partnered with Brinkmann's new 12.1 tonearm, the "slightly warm"–sounding Brinkmann Spyder lacked the very last word in weight and drive, but impressed MF with its "authoritative dynamics, an especially strong sense of musical flow, and backgrounds so 'black' that I often thought I'd selected the wrong input when .ˇ.ˇ. I unmuted the preamp." MF concluded that the combination of "innovative, flexible, upgradable design, quality manufacturing, careful attention to small but important details—and outstanding sound—make the Brinkmann Spyder with 12.1 tonearm easy to recommend." (Vol.38 No.5)

Brinkmann Bardo: $9490 without tonearm ★
The Bardo is a direct-drive, suspensionless turntable with an eight-pole, speed-controlled motor. It has a vinyl platter mat, a polished granite base, and the superbly designed and machined spindle and bearing used in Brinkmann's more expensive Oasis, La Grange, and Balance models. Fit'n'finish were outstanding, and setup was quick and simple. Though it lacked the rich, deep bass of Brinkmann's more expensive 'tables, the Bardo "produced superbly well-organized sound with clean, sharp attacks, reasonably strong sustain, and pronounced decay, all against a jet-black backdrop," said Mikey. Precision-ground crystal platter mat and screw-down record clamp now included in price; optional Balance power supply adds $1490. (Vol.34 No.5 WWW)

Linn Sondek LP12: $4320–$22,390 ★
The Linn Sondek LP12 has, since 1972, literally grown into its role as one of the most popular high-end turntables: Linn has devised and offered for their belt-drive, suspended-subchassis flagship all manner of upgrades, ranging in complexity from improved fasteners to entirely new motors, power supplies, and subchassis systems; commendably, all have been retrofittable. Some standouts: The Lingo power-supply mod of 1990 minimizes the LP12's propensity toward a slightly fat midbass and subjectively "adds an octave of low-bass extension," according to JA—who, despite flirtations with other decks, remains true to the basic design he has used now for almost four decades. The Keel one-piece subchassis, tonearm board, and Linn-specific tonearm mounting collar of 2006 makes "an unambiguous improvement in the LP12's performance," according to AD, with sound "both bigger and richer [in detail]." And, in 2011, AD installed the Linn Radikal mod—a DC motor with an outboard switch-mode power supply and control unit—and said that it adds "more force, more momentum, and a little more sheer grip on the notes." These and other upgrades remain available individually, but LP12 pricing appears, at present, limited to complete turntable-tonearm-cartridge packages. The least expensive of those—the Majik LP12—fits the 'table with the standard subchassis, wood-composite armboard, and AC synchronous motor, and adds the onboard Majik LP12 single-speed power supply, a push-on 45Rpm adapter hub for the motor pulley, a Pro-Ject 9cc tonearm, and a Linn Adikt moving-magnet cartridge, for $4320. Although we have auditioned many of Linn's current upgrades, we have not done so in the combinations offered in that and other packages, and at least one LP12-specific product—the mid-level Kore subchassis/armboard—has not yet been submitted for review. That said, our experience leads us to expect high Class-B performance—superbly low measured rumble, excellent speed stability, and very good musical involvement—from an entry-level LP12, while previous incarnations of the full-monty LP12 have delivered true Class-A sound. (Vol.7 No.2, Vol.13 No.3, Vol.14 No.1, Vol.16 No.12, Vol.17 No.5, Vol.19 No.2, Vol.26 No.11, Vol.28 No.2, Vol.30 No.10, Vol.34 No.6 WWW)

Onedof turntable: $200,000 as reviewed
The audacious Onedof (One Degree of Freedom) turntable comprises three towers, one each for the motor, the tonearm, and the massive platter bearing, the last also serving as the platter's pedestal. The self-centering bearing system has no points of solid contact and generates virtually no heat. To ensure that an LP rests flatly against the platter, the Onedof employs a massive central weight and a gold-plated platter ring. Compared to Mikey's Continuum Caliburn, the Onedof sounded smoother, silkier, and less mechanical, but lacked dynamic expression, transparency, and impact, which keeps it from Class A+. "I'd take a new Rega RP6 for roughly 1/100th the price," snorts ST. Sold factory direct to order only. (Vol.35 No.7)

Palmer 2.5: $8990 in Baltic Birch without tonearm
As with the designs of the late Tom Fletcher, of Nottingham Analogue, the British-built Palmer Audio 2.5 mates a massive (21 lbs) aluminum-alloy platter with an AC motor so tiny and low in torque that merely pushing the On/Off button on its outboard power supply won't set the platter spinning: The user must start it by hand. A hefty platter bearing and a similarly hefty, cantilevered, rotatable arm-mount complete the picture. Installation, though not too daunting, is not helped by disappointing documentation. Used with the Audio Origami PU7 tonearm, with which one often sees it paired, the Palmer Audio 2.5 impressed MF with its "attractive, velvety midband," "black backgrounds," and "serenity and smooth musical flow." Especially where the PU7 is the intended partner, prospective owners are urged by MF to consider cartridges that, in other settings, might be considered on the lean side of neutral. Note that a special version of the 2.5, the Palmer Audio 2.5-12, is available for use with 12" tonearms. (Vol.37 No.11)

Pear Audio Blue Kid Thomas: $7995 with Cornet 2 tonearm
From Pear Audio Analogue's Blue line of products comes the Slovenian-made Kid Thomas turntable, with its chunky wooden plinth, massive platter, and very low-torque DC motor: characteristics that betray no small influence from the products of the late Tom Fletcher, founder of Nottingham Analogue. (Those qualities also put the Kid Thomas in the same file folder as the Palmer 2.5, although Pear Audio has the distinction of having received Fletcher's direct input and guidance.) Variations on the theme include: the Kid Thomas's double-layer plinth; thick, elastic damping rings on the platter's outer edge; and the user's ability (for an additional $1995) to upgrade from the standard wall wart to an external power supply made by Martin Bastin, a specialist in same. Fitted with Pear Audio's Cornet 2 tonearm, the Kid Thomas exhibited "a rich, expansive midrange and a smooth, neutral tonal balance," according to MF. "[E]ven if a bit overprominent, that midrange was something special, with black backgrounds and tape-like musical flow and drive." (Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

SME 20/12A (includes/312S tonearm): $18,599; SME 20/12 (no tonearm): $15,599 ★
"Among the best-built turntables in the world," the SME 20/12 is a tank-like machine weighing more than 75 lbs. It has an oversized 14.3-lb platter, and a 17.6-lb aluminum-alloy subchassis secured by ten O-rings for each of four suspension towers and will take 12" arms. Its three-phase, eight-pole motor uses an electronic controller to achieve precise speeds of 33.3, 45, and 78rpm. Though it lacked the bottom-end weight and macrodynamic range of even more expensive turntables, and had a slightly dry, analytical sound, the SME offered a very low noise floor and stable image specificity, said MF. Price without tonearm is $18,500. (Vol.32 No.5 WWW)

Sperling-Audio L-1: $35,950 without tonearm
With a total weight of about 110 lbs—the platter alone weighs 60 lbs—the unabashedly beefy L-1 turntable from Sperling-Audio, of Welver, Germany, is built on a V-shaped plinth, both strokes of which contain an armboard incorporating a pair of eccentrically arranged circular plates: lockable, lavishly calibrated, and adjustable for a wide range of spindle-to-tonearm-pivot distances. The plinth is layered—aluminum plates alternate with the customer's choice of slate, wood, or two different polymers—and supports a massive, inverted ball bearing for the aluminum-alloy platter, the latter driven by a low-voltage DC motor and a Mylar-tape belt. The record is supported on the massive platter by eight wedge-shaped "exserts" that prevent contact between vinyl and aluminum; MF questioned this element of the design, and enlisted various record weights and an intermediary record mat as a workaround. In addition to praising the L-1's "exquisite machining and plating," MF described the combination of Sperling-Audio turntable and Kuzma 4Point tonearm as offering "solid, stable imaging, clean and precise transient response, and the dynamic slam and authority managed by only the best turntables." (Vol.38 No.8)

Spiral Groove SG2: $15,000 without tonearm ★
Well built, simple to set up, and bulletproof in operation, the SG2 is designed by Allen Perkins and represents an evolution of design and production capabilities from his RPM turntables. Though similar in appearance to the RPMs, the Spiral Groove uses a five-layer chassis—two thin layers of damping material separated by three aluminum plates—and a thick, anti-vibration platter comprising layers of aluminum, an impregnated phenolic, vinyl, and graphite. The bearing assembly has been optimized to eliminate radial movement and prevent stray magnetic fields from interacting with the cartridge. The SG2's dramatic timing, authoritative midrange, and superb resolution of detail worked to present music with an urgency and wave-like drive, said BD. Through the SG2, "[a recording] became a performance," he enthused. (Vol.33 No.6 WWW)

Spiral Groove SG1.1: $25,000 without tonearm ★
The 75-lb SG1.1 is a remarkably dense, belt-driven, split-plinth design with an onboard AC synchronous motor driving a 22-lb platter of graphite, vinyl, and phenolic. While the SG1.1's clever tonearm-mounting system allows for simple installation of most any arm, Spiral Groove's complementary Centroid tonearm is designed for optimal system stability. Build quality was superb. Possibly the quietest turntable-tonearm combo in Mikey's experience, the SG1.1-Centroid matched black backgrounds with delicate highs, natural attacks and decays, and rock-solid bass. (Vol.35 No.11)

TechDAS Air Force One: $105,000
"A visually stunning technological tour de force," the 174-lb Air Force One has a three-layer-damped aluminum chassis, a forge-processed stainless-steel platter, and a massive AC synchronous motor controlled by an outboard dual-50W amplifier. The platter uses an air bearing; LPs are held to the platter with vacuum suction. The review sample was equipped with a Graham Engineering Phantom II Supreme tonearm. Though it didn't sound as smooth as the Continuum Caliburn or the Onedof One Degree of Freedom, the Air Force One was sensational in terms of harmonics, space, texture, and microdynamics, said Mikey. "The TechDAS Air Force One was a sonic masterpiece," he concluded. (Vol.36 No.4)

Thales TTT-Compact: $13,200
Designed and built in Switzerland by former watchmaker Micha Huber, the elegant TTT-Compact measures approximately 18" W by 3.5" H by 12" D and hides its belt and built-in motor under its 14-lb damped platter. The drive system comprises a small-diameter belt driving a grooved subplatter positioned very close to the triple-phase DC motor. A massive circular tonearm-mounting platform with integrated RCA-jack module locks securely to the main chassis via six hex-head screws. Setup was simple, but required great care to avoid damaging the exposed tonearm wires. Partnered with the matching Simplicity tonearm, the TTT-Compact produced a slightly bright overall sound, with rock-solid images, ultraclean transients, a neutral midrange, and rhythmically taut bass, said MF. A new version of the partnering tonearm, the Simplicity II ($9200), replaces the original's ruby bearings with microball bearings, and its armtubes are more precisely tuned and damped. As MF wrote, "The Simplicity II performed flawlessly. Its bearing system was perfectly behaved, and seemed frictionless." MF also observed that the brightness of which he'd complained in his first review "had disappeared." (Vol.37 Nos. 1 & 12)

VPI HRX: $12,000, with tonearm ★
Harry Weisfeld's efforts to produce the ultimate TNT turntable include a plinth of acrylic-aluminum-acrylic laminate, an inverted bearing assembly, the addition of a perimeter clamping ring, and replacement of the outboard motor and flywheel with a single unit. Simpler, smaller, more luxuriously appointed, and better built than the TNT, the HR-X also eliminates the TNT's pervasive warmth and softened dynamic transients, to offer a much more neutral overall presentation. BD: "The HR-X struck me as a stable, inert, and nearly neutral platform that simply supports a cartridge and lets it do its job." Price includes VPI's JMW-12.7 tonearm (see "Tonearms"). (Vol.29 No.5 WWW)

VPI Super Scoutmaster Reference Rim Drive: $10,000 ★
The Super Scoutmaster Reference Rim-Drive combines the Scoutmaster's Super Platter with the Super Scoutmaster's Mini-TNT Stabilizer feet, and uses a rim-drive motor system based on the HR-X's dual-motor/flywheel module. It comes equipped with a JMW-10.5i Memorial tonearm fitted with Nordost Valhalla wire. The sound was "fantastic," with impressive bottom-octave heft and slightly warm high frequencies. "The Super Scoutmaster Reference Rim-Drive is one of the best values of the true high-end turntables now available," said MF. (Vol.32 No.2)

VPI Classic Signature: $6000 with tonearm ★
Like earlier Classic models, VPI's most recent design, called the Classic at the time of review, is easy to set up, relatively compact (22" W by 10" H by 16" D), and uses a motor that has been integrated into its plinth. Refinements over earlier models include a more massive, better-damped plinth structure, newly designed feet, and an 18-lb damped aluminum platter. Though the Classic 3 wasn't as quiet as MF's much more expensive Continuum Caliburn and couldn't match the rich midrange of Dr. Feickert's Blackbird, the VPI had a clean, fast, lively sound marked by masterful attacks, outstanding microdynamics, and lifelike textures. "One of today's great values in analog audio," concluded Mikey. "I don't hear how you can go wrong buying one." Borderline Class A. Price includes the new JMW-Classic tonearm. See "Tonearms." (Vol.34 No.10 WWW)

Wave Kinetics NVS Reference: $45,000
Made in a California factory that specializes in microrobotics, the NVS Reference is superbly built and has a dramatic physical appearance: A large sculpted pod forms a central pillar and holds the motor—a custom DC design governed by a "laboratory-grade" commercial servo-controller with an active, ultrasonic feedback loop that produces a claimed speed accuracy of 1 part per million. Atop the motor is the NVS's 30-lb platter, which comprises three slabs of aluminum interleaved with two slabs of a mass-loaded white polymer. The turntable's platform is machined from billets of solid aluminum and includes a proprietary vibration-damping material. Compared to the Continuum Caliburn, the NVS Reference had similar bass extension and control, but offered slightly drier textures, muted attacks, and less dimensional images, said MF. "A top-shelf turntable that's easy to recommend," he concluded. (Vol.35 No.10)


Clearaudio Ovation: $6500 with tonearm
Using technology found in Clearaudio's more expensive Innovation series, the elegant-looking, belt-driven, three-speed Ovation measures 16.5" W by 6" H by 14" D and weighs 34 lbs. It uses a decoupled DC motor and has a resonance optimized chassis of Panzerholz and machined aluminum, a 1.5"-thick polyoxymethylene platter, and self-adjusting speed control. More nuanced and resolving than Clearaudio's entry-level Concept, the Ovation had a smooth, cohesive, and organic overall sound that combined sweet highs, a warm midrange, and taut bass, said EL. Compared to EL's Bel Canto digital front-end, the Ovation offered greater midbass body, but lacked some image depth and bass extension. Price without tonearm is $5000. (Vol.35 No.10 WWW)

Luxman PD-171: $6400 with tonearm
The retro-styled PD-171 is a two-speed, belt-driven turntable with an AC synchronous motor and a 9", S-shaped tonearm made by Jelco. Central to the turntable, and largely responsible for its 51 lbs, is a 15mm-thick solid-alloy top plate that supports an 11-lb platter and sits above a plinth made of hardwood and sheet steel. Separating plate from plinth is a thin layer of damping material; additional vibration control is provided by four adjustable feet. Fine-tuning controls are provided for both running speeds; a slender, columnar LED light pole acts as a cueing aid; and a robust, clear-plastic dustcover is included. Setup was straightforward. Exceptionally forgiving of poorly recorded and very worn LPs, the Luxman sounded slightly warm overall, with a sweet top end, rich midrange, and reasonably satisfying bass, said AD. (Vol.36 No.11 WWW)

Oracle Paris: $3750 with Paris tonearm ★
The newest turntable from Canada's Oracle Audio Technologies is finished in a stunning high-gloss red lacquer and uses a carbon-fiber tonearm based on Pro-Ject's 9cc. To both minimize the effects of harmful vibrations and allow for easy, accurate leveling, the platter and tonearm have been cleverly isolated from the turntable's subchassis, plinth, and AC synchronous drive motor. Oracle's Micro Vibration Silicone Damping Device, a tonearm-damping system comprising a stationary trough and silicone bath, further reduces vibrations. Setup was simple. Though it wasn't as quiet as AD's reference Garrard 301 and lacked that player's tonal color and texture, the Paris performed especially well with up-tempo rock music, exhibiting good timing, a punchy low end, and clean highs. Price includes tonearm and moving-coil cartridge; base price for turntable is $3150. (Vol.34 No.10 WWW)

Pear Audio Blue Kid Howard: $4995 with Cornet 2 tonearm
Built in Slovenia, the Blue Kid Howard turntable and its partnering tonearm, the Cornet 2, were designed by the late Tom Fletcher, the influences of whose Nottingham Analogue products are very much apparent: At the center of the Kid Howard is a substantial aluminum platter, belt-driven by a motor of such low torque that the user must physically nudge it into motion, while the Cornet 2 is a captured-unipivot design, most of whose structure elements are machined from acetal. Despite offering less touch and force than AD's Garrard 301 turntable, which is old enough to collect Social Security checks, the Kid Howard impressed him by producing a soundfield that was "engagingly, involvingly big," and by allowing stringed instruments in particular to sound beautifully lush: the Kid Howard "was like a window opened on a great, rolling field of tone and texture," he wrote. In addition to criticizing the "wobbledy-clunk" feel of the Cornet 2 tonearm, AD cautioned that this "ever-so-slightly unbright" combination will perform best in systems that are amenable to slightly soft trebles. (Vol.38 No.7 WWW)

PTP Audio Solid12: $3300
Made in the Netherlands by Peter Reinders, the Solid12 has a heavy Corian plinth and uses several reconditioned components from original heavy-platter, idler-wheel Lencos: motors (along with their suspension cradles and wiring blocks), platters, platter bearings, platter mats, idler wheels, and idler-support mechanisms. Setup was simple and straightforward. Combined with AD's Schick tonearm and Ortofon SPU cartridge, the Solid12 delivered punch, drive, force, color, richness, and pure emotional and visceral involvement. "The essential musical rightness and the sheer availability and affordability of PTP Audio's Solid12 can't be overstated. If you want to know what the idler-wheel fuss is all about, this may be the easiest and most affordable way to find out," AD concluded. Price includes shipping from Amsterdam. (Vol.36 No.6 WWW)

Rega RP8: $2995 with tonearm
A highly evolved embodiment of Rega's philosophy of low mass and high rigidity, the RP8 uses a new low-mass, precision-engineered RB808 tonearm and a "skeletal" frame made from Rega's own version of Zotek, an ultrarigid polyolefin foam. As in the RP3 and RP6, a stress beam links the tonearm to the platter hub, increasing structural rigidity while reducing internal resonances and external vibrations. A newly designed glass platter is heavier at its perimeter, exponentially increasing the platter's flywheel effect and maximizing energy efficiency. Setup was quick and simple. Though it ran slightly fast, the RP8 produced a powerful, dramatic, coherent overall sound with solid, well-defined images; clean, articulated bass; exceptional resolution of detail; and outstanding dynamics, said MF. "Rega's new turntable-tonearm combo is the most exciting and truly revolutionary turntable to be introduced in quite some time," he concluded. If purchased with the Apheta 2 MC cartridge preinstalled, the RP8 costs $4195, a savings of $695. (Vol.36 No.11)

Well Tempered Amadeus Mk.II: $2850 including tonearm
The Chinese-made Amadeus Mk.II more or less replaces the US-made Well Tempered Record Player, long an AD favorite. Compared with that earlier 'table-arm combination, the Amadeus Mk.II uses a less complex platter bearing that uses light oil instead of thick silicone; a flat-profile platter with foam mat instead of a concave platter with threaded spindle clamp; an onboard low-torque motor instead of a more powerful outboard motor; a drive thread instead of a drive belt; and a thinner plinth, without the damping layer of yore. Changes evinced in the new Symmetrex tonearm include the elimination of adjustability for overhang and offset angle, and the switch from a purpose-made damping paddle to a bisected golf ball. Notwithstanding those changes, Well Tempered's second-least-expensive record player has, according to AD, "a musically involving sound—good timing, very good momentum and flow—combined with the sorts of spatial accomplishments and lack of obvious colorations that I associate with more traditional high-end audio products." (Vol.37 No.8 WWW)


Clearaudio Concept: $1400 with tonearm $$$ ★
The sleek, stylish Concept is a plug'n'play, belt-driven turntable with a decoupled DC motor and integral Clearaudio Verify tonearm, available with either the Concept MC moving-coil cartridge (add $800) or Concept MM moving-magnet cartridge (add $200). Though its attack transients were soft and its deep-bass extension limited, the Concept produced black backgrounds, solid and three-dimensional images, and a clean, smooth midrange. "Exceptionally attractive, easy to set up and use, and better built than its price would suggest," concluded MF. "High Class C" says EL.With Clearaudio's standard Concept moving-magnet cartridge in place, EL noted a slightly opaque, closed-in treble, but was nevertheless impressed by the Concept's fleshy, detailed midrange and rich upper bass. Switching to the Concept MC cartridge resulted in even greater midrange detail and palpability, and a sweeter, more extended treble, he said. (Vol.34 No.6, Vol.35 No.8 WWW)

Music Hall Ikura: $1195
Designed in the US and manufactured in the Czech Republic, the Music Hall Ikura is a two-speed, belt-drive turntable that comes packaged with a 9" tonearm and bundled with an Ortofon 2M Blue MM cartridge (the latter a $236 value when bought separately). The Ikura's simple and distinctly attractive exterior—according to BJR, even the dustcover is "sexy"—conceals a clever two-plinth design, with motor and electronics fastened to the bottom structure and the platter bearing and tonearm fastened to the top, with rubber cones in between. A pre-lubricated, stainless-steel ball bearing with a Teflon sleeve, a platter machined from MDF, and a DC motor are also featured. The aluminum tonearm has Swiss-made ABEC 7 (that's good) stainless-steel bearings, adjustable VTA, and a falling-weight antiskating mechanism. Cartridge alignment and arm height are set at the factory, although future adjustments, tools and instructions for which are included, can be easily made. In his listening, BJR discovered high-frequency performance that was "impressive for a $1200 turntable" and bass performance that was "even more impressive." On the downside, he found that the Ikura–2M Blue combo could be flustered by unusually demanding passages. (Vol.37 No.12 WWW)

Pioneer PLX-1000: $699 including tonearm $$$
To those who deny the musicality of direct-drive platters and the servos they rode in on, HR says: Bunk. "Forget analog vs digital or tubes vs solid-state; the most pervasive and poorly considered belief of all is that only belt-drive turntables are worthy of audiophile consideration." From there, HR praises this successor to the popular but discontinued Technics SL-1200MK2: the Pioneer PLX-1000 direct-drive turntable with integrated tonearm. "Belts can't touch the PLX-1000's excitement, naturally formed detail, and clearly expressed forward momentum," he wrote. "This new Pioneer also showcases the complex tonal character and elegant structures of classical music better than any affordable belt-drive I've experienced." As HR hears it, the PLX-1000, whose motor has more than twice the torque of its famous forebear, "is not only a worthy successor to the legendary Technics SL-1200MK2, it is a serious contender for the best audiophile-grade turntable for less than $2000. Unabashedly recommended." After a round of second-thoughtfulness, plus trials with an even greater array of partnering cartridges—including the affordable Shure SC35C ($75)—HR encouraged the bravest and most technically adept owners to check the tonearms of their PLX-1000 turntables for excessively loose bearings. Otherwise, "I could live the rest of my music-loving, record-collecting life" with the Pioneer player. (Vol.38 Nos. 3 & 7 WWW)

Rega RP3: $1095 $$$
Though similar in appearance to Rega's P3-24, the RP3 uses Rega's new RB303 tonearm and a completely redesigned plinth. The RB303 has a more rigid armtube, a revised three-point cartridge mount, and a new headshell, counterweight, and bearing assembly. The plinth now incorporates a flat, 4mm brace of superhard phenolic resin that couples the tonearm mount to the bearing assembly, both atop and below the plinth, to reduce mass and increase rigidity. Compared to the P3-24, the RP3 sounded leaner and cleaner, with a tighter and better-controlled bottom end, said MF. "The RP3 is a plug'n'play package that's beautifully built, well engineered, and sounds wonderful," he concluded. Compared to the VPI Traveler, the RP3 consistently produced faster transients and more aggressive, precise imaging for an overall sound that was snappy and exciting, but lacked the Traveler's liquidity, bottom-end control, and rhythmic stability, said SM. Price includes Elys 2 moving-magnet cartridge; base price for turntable with tonearm is $895. Optional Drive Belt: $59; Rega TT PSU: $395 (Vol.34 No.12, Vol.35 No.11)

VPI Traveler: $1499 $$$
The first VPI product codeveloped by Harry Weisfeld and his son Mathew, the Traveler is designed for easy setup and meant to appeal to a younger generation of music lovers. 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 horizontal and vertical movement. The Traveler combined delicate highs, a clean midrange, outstanding low-end control, and awesomely silent backgrounds with an overall ease and fluidity that SM found intoxicating. Compared to the Rega RP3, the Traveler lacked transient speed and precision but offered greater clarity, presence, and rhythmic authority. MF says high Class C. Running changes since SM's first review include sturdier tonearm bearings, a repositioned motor, a better platter mat, and cosmetic refinements; the last, according to SM, have left the current-production Traveler "easily more attractive than the original." Available finishes include black, red, white, or blue. (Vol.35 No.11, Vol.37 No.5 WWW)

VPI Nomad: $995 $$$
Equal parts entry-level audiophile component and perfectionist-quality lifestyle product, the VPI Nomad bundles a wood-plattered, belt-drive turntable and 10" gimbaled tonearm with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge and an onboard phono preamplifier designed specifically around the former—plus an onboard headphone amp. BJR was impressed with the Nomad's apparent durability and the plug-and-play ease with which it went from carton to system, with no painstaking adjustments required. Even more impressive was the player's performance: BJR praised the Nomad's "rich, voluptuous, uncolored midrange," and heard "superb" transient articulation and "an impressive amount of inner detail for so inexpensive an analog rig." One comparison test prompted BJR to declare: "that VPI's phono stage held its own against a $500 phono stage designed by one of the industry's top electronics designers is pretty impressive, given that the VPI's stage is included as part of a turntable package costing only $995." A word of caution regarding the Nomad's headphone amp: "It had much more gain than most pairs of headphones need. I found it all too easy to overdrive my 'phones." (Vol.38 No.2 WWW)


Music Hall USB-1: $249 ★
The two-speed, belt-driven USB-1 bears a striking resemblance to the iconic Technics SL-1200 turntable. It comes equipped with an aluminum platter and felt platter mat, an S-shaped tonearm with detachable headshell, a serviceable Audio-Technica AT3600L moving-magnet phono cartridge, antiskating and pitch controls, and a thick dustcover. The USB-1 had a slower, darker, less rhythmically assured sound than the Rega RP-1, but produced eerily quiet backgrounds and solid stereo imaging. SM partnered the USB-1 with the Audioengine 5 powered speakers for "a stripped-down, badass, bitchin' little system." Converting vinyl to WAV files via the USB-1's built-in phono preamp, USB output, and Audacity software was a simple but tedious process. (Vol.34 No.5 WWW)

Rega RP1: $445 $$$ ★
The plug'n'play RP1 (for Rega Planar One) replaces Rega's popular P1. Nearly identical to the earlier model in size and shape, the RP1 uses an Ortofon OM5e moving-magnet cartridge, but trades the P1's MDF platter for one of phenolic resin and adds Rega's new, solidly built RB101 tonearm. Additionally, the P1's drab gray finish is exchanged for the RP1's choice of White, Cool Gray, or Titanium. Compared to the P1, the RP1 delivered more drive, better focus, and was the more confident, purposeful, and authoritative player. "Rega's RP1 looks good, is easy to set up, and plays records like it means it," said SM. AD shared SM's enthusiasm: "It's not just that I can't imagine $445 buying more happiness; I can't imagine so modest an investment in money and effort buying more music." The RP1 Performance Pack Upgrade was easy to install and resulted in a bigger soundstage, deeper silences, and greater resolution of low-level detail, said SM. "A no-brainer," agreed AD. (Vol.34 Nos.2, 4, & 5 WWW)


Origin Live Resolution Mk3.

Dr. Feickert Blackbird not auditioned in a long time.



AMG 12J2: $4500
12" tonearm with dual-pivot, vertical bearing system. See MF's review of the AMG Viella 12 turntable. (Vol.36 No.8)

AMG 9W2: $3500 $$$
The German-made 9W2 tonearm from turntable specialists AMG combines a traditional horizontal bearing with a vertical bearing that is, per AD, unique in its field: "an upright pair of 0.4mm spring-steel wires that are perfectly straight when the tonearm tube is balanced, yet flex in tandem and yield to the armtube's mass when the counterweight is moved closer to the twin fulcrums." The result, he reports, is a near-ideal combination of zero play and absence of friction. VTA and azimuth are easily adjusted, and a magnetic antiskating mechanism is included. Used on his Linn LP12—for which the 9W2 was apparently designed—the 9W2 was, said AD, "the first Linn-friendly arm I've heard that has made me stop sobbing about the demise of the Naim Aro: a considerable feat." Also with reference to his past favorite tonearms, AD added: "None surpasses the 9W2 in sheer build quality." (Vol.37 No.10 WWW)

Brinkmann 12.1: $7500
More than just a Brinkmann 10.5 tonearm with a longer armtube (its effective length is, you guessed it, 12.1"), the 12.1 incorporates mechanical refinements that, according to Brinkmann, endow it with greater torsional stability and greater immunity to resonances. Crafted from aluminum and stainless steel, it uses precision ball bearings for both vertical and lateral movement, and is available with either flying signal leads or a captured output cable of the usual sort. MF felt the Brinkmann 12.1, when compared with the Kuzma 4Point tonearm, had somewhat less slam but was lighter on its feet—and, with classical and jazz, is perhaps the better choice. And MF loved the 12.1's "lusciously velvet midrange." (Vol.38 No.5)

Brinkmann 10.5: $6300 ★
A Breuer-like gimbaled-bearing design that features an armtube described by the designer as a "high-speed, double-concentric, ceramic-plated, self-damping transmission device." JI uses a Brinkmann arm on his Oracle with great success. (Vol.28 No.5)

Continuum Audio Labs Cobra: $22,500 ★
The Cobra's odd shape—it's wider and higher in the middle—is designed to make the center of the arm as stiff and free of resonances as possible. The Cobra also includes original and ingenious methods for azimuth stabilization and adjustment. "The Caliburn-Cobra produced the most convincing, believable, solid, and alive sound picture I've heard," said MF. Though its tonal balance was similar to that of the Kuzma 4Point, the Cobra sounded less energetic and less natural, decided MF. (Vol.29 Nos.1 & 6, Vol.34 No.10, Vol.35 No.7 WWW)

Durand Tonearms Telos: $25,500 ★
The beautiful Telos, Durand's top model, is a 12", medium-mass tonearm made of a superbly sculpted and finished piece of wood. It comes in an attachÇ-style wooden case and includes a full set of high-quality setup tools and accessories: LED flashlight, loupe, pivot-to-spindle-distance gauge, and alignment gauge. The "constrained unipivot" design provides relatively easy azimuth adjustment and uses a Swiss-made point of nonmagnetic stainless steel and a sapphire cup. With the Lyra Atlas cartridge mounted in its headshell, the Durand Telos sounded "addictively glorious," with outstanding harmonic richness and a relaxed sense of musical flow. Though bass response was well textured and relatively well controlled, the Telos lacked some bottom-octave solidity and punch, decided MF. (Vol.35 No.10)

EMT 997: $5250
The banana-shaped EMT 997 tonearm is a fixed-pivot, high-mass design that is supplied without a headshell. (Use with old-style pickup heads is presumed, although the 997 is compatible with conventional detachable headshells.) Its effective length of 307mm (12") works to minimize tracking-angle error and distortion. Though it sacrificed timbral neutrality, imbuing well-recorded voices with "some mid-to-upper-mid bumps and dips," the 997 impressed AD with its ability to convey the inherent tension of recorded music. "The EMT 997 was the least wimpy, least wispy tonearm I've ever heard," he said. If willing to invest the time and effort necessary for proper installation and setup, the user will be rewarded with "an almost indescribably great deal of pleasure," AD added. Current-production samples of the EMT 997 incorporate a bearing housing machined from brass rather than stamped from aluminum alloy, and a better finish for the armtube. AD found the bearings of the new version to have less play than those of its predecessor, the sonic and musical consequence being "a surprising if subtle increase in musical drive." That unexpected refinement of an already Class A tonearm prompted the 997's promotion to Class A+ status, of which AD said, "the EMT remains the best-sounding tonearm I have used .ˇ.ˇ. and the best-built arm I have owned." (Vol.31 Nos. 7 & 9, Vol.38 No.7, WWW)

Ikeda IT-407CR1: $6500
Imported from Japan by Beauty of Sound, the IT-407 is a remarkable, high-mass 12" tonearm: "a beautifully rounded construction of polished chrome and stainless steel that appears to be at once both new and old," said AD. It offers several setup and adjustment features, including: spring-actuated dynamic tracking force; a calibrated and adjustable falling-weight antiskating mechanism; an adjustable lift/lower platform, mated to Ikeda's trademark spherical cueing knob; a headshell that's easily adjustable for overhang, offset angle, and azimuth; and an adjustable arm pillar. The Ikeda excelled at minimizing groove noise and produced a big, round sound with a freedom from harshness and overall sonic poise that served every record Art played. "The Japanese arm sounded every bit as beautiful as it looks," he summed up. (Vol.36 No.8 WWW)

Kuzma 4Point: $6675 ★
Designed by Franc Kuzma, this brilliant pivoted tonearm takes its name from its four-point bearing system: Four carefully arranged points contact four cups, permitting the arm to move in both the vertical and lateral planes while avoiding the chatter of gimbaled bearings and the instability of unipivot designs. It has an effective length of 11", a pivot-to-spindle distance of 10.3", an overhang of 0.6", an effective mass of 0.4oz, and a total weight of 3.63 lbs. Its removable headshell made swapping cartridges painless, while adjustment of VTF, VTA, antiskating, and azimuth were all relatively simple. With its outstanding immediacy, transparency, and overall coherence, the 4Point consistently exceeded Mikey's expectations. Compared to the combo of Continuum Cobra arm and Ortofon A90 cartridge, the 4Point with Lyra Titan i offered greater timbral, textural, and image solidity, said MF. "I'm in love," he concluded. Compared with the Continuum Audio Labs Cobra, the Kuzma sounded more natural and more energetic. "The Kuzma 4Point may be the finest tonearm out there, period," said MF. The Kuzma matched the Graham Phantom II Supreme's detail retrieval and neutrality but offered greater speed and coherence, said MF. Also offered with regular phono cables/no RCA box for $6375. (Vol.34 Nos.9 & 10, Vol.35 No.7 WWW)

Linn Ekos SE: $4950 ★
Outwardly identical to the original Ekos in all but color, the Ekos SE is machined from a titanium tube in an effort to smooth out resonant peaks, while its stainless-steel main pillar and bearing cradle work to maintain perfect bearing adjustment in the face of temperature extremes and user abuse. The "beautifully finished" SE comes packaged with a selection of tools, a Linn T-Kable interconnect, and a new iteration of Linn's cable clamp. With its strong, tight bass and solid aural images, the Ekos SE produced a "cleaner, more dramatic, and more enjoyable" listening experience, said AD. "Other, more exotic arms may give better results in some settings, but I can't think of a more consistent—and consistently recommendable—tonearm. It's a Martin D-28, a BMW 3-series, a bottle of Bombay Sapphire: It will please any sane, reasonable person," he sums up. (Vol.30 No.10 WWW)

Pear Audio Analogue Cornet 2: $2195
Designed by the late Tom Fletcher, of Nottingham Analogue, and descended from his popular Space Arm, the Slovenian-made Cornet 2 is a unipivot tonearm with a carbon-fiber armtube, said fibers being arranged longitudinally, according to the manufacturer. The Cornet 2's headshell, made of an unspecified material and bereft of a finger lift, is aligned straight with the armtube itself, though its mounting-bolt slots offer provisions for offsetting the cartridge. A falling-weight antiskating mechanism is provided, and an effective mass of 12.5gm and an effective length of 239mm are specified. MF found the Cornet 2's instructions lacking, and noted that, although "every parameter of the Cornet 2 is adjustable, a few are not easily set—the usual trade-off in a moderately priced arm." According to MF, when used with the similarly Fletcher-designed Pear Audio Analogue Kid Thomas turntable, the Cornet 2 contributed to a "smooth, refined sound" that many will find appealing. Moreover, compared to his experiences with earlier Fletcher-designed arms, MF suspected that "the Cornet 2 is faster, leaner, and better focused, despite the many similarities of construction." (Vol.38 No.1)

SME 312S: $3099 ★
The 312S is a 12" tonearm with a tapered armtube made of pressure die-cast magnesium for strength, rigidity, and low mass. With fit'n'finish to match the no-nonsense precision of SME's 20/12 turntable, the 312S includes a secure sliding-track overhang-adjustment mechanism, a spring-loaded VTA post, and a silicone-filled damping trough with adjustable paddle. SME has produced "a tonearm that has all of the 12" arm's theoretical advantages and none of its disadvantages," MF said. (Vol.32 No.5 WWW)

Spiral Groove Centroid: $6000 ★
The Centroid is a fluid-damped unipivot design that gives the user fine adjustment of all relevant parameters. It was extremely quiet, with stunning resolution and clarity, and had an uncanny ability to reproduce the tonal and dynamic elements of deep bass notes. "The Centroid tonearm may be the best tonearm I've heard. It is not leaving my listening room," declared BD. The Spiral Groove SG1.1-Centroid turntable-tonearm combo offered black backgrounds, rock-solid bass, natural tone color, and outstanding detail retrieval, said Mikey. A universal version with standard arm mount is also now available. (Vol.33 No.6 WWW, Vol.35 No.11)

Swedish Analogue Technologies tonearm: $28,000
With an armtube made of carbon-fiber laminates—not the same as the woven fiber used in making most such things—and a massive, stainless-steel bearing yoke, Swedish Audio Technologies' 9" tonearm impressed MF from the moment he first clapped eyes on a prototype: "An SME V on steroids, I thought." The SAT's detachable headshell is made from some 40 plies of carbon fiber, and its bearings are large-diameter pivots of tungsten-carbide resting on sapphire V-jewels, with user-adjustable pre-loading. The SAT arm's statically applied downforce and filament-and-falling-weight antiskating mechanism are both uncalibrated. MF's verdict: "With the very first record I played .ˇ.ˇ. it was immediately obvious to me that the SAT was easily, and by a wide margin, the finest, non-sounding tonearm I have ever not heard." MF wants to rate this as a Class A+ tonearm. (Vol.38 No.7 WWW)

Thomas Schick 12" Tonearm: 1260 Euros plus shipping $$$ ★
Made in Germany and as of 2015 distributed direct by its manufacturer, the Thomas Schick 12" tonearm is intended to combine the greater-than-average length and mass of certain vintage models with the high-quality bearings of modern arms. It offers superb fit and finish, with a clean, spare bearing cradle and a smoothly solid pickup-head socket. Though lacking the spring-loaded downforce and other refinements of the EMT 997—and, thus, some measure of the more expensive arm's performance—the Schick is characterized by a big, clean, substantial sound, with an especially colorful bottom end: "a superb performer," per AD, who also verified the correctness of the Schick's geometry with Keith Howard's ArmGeometer freeware. According to Art, "The Schick tonearm is an outstanding value and easily the most accessible transcription-length arm on the market." Thomas Schick has now added to his line a proprietary headshell (€249) machined from resin-soaked "technical" graphite, with a mass (15.2gm) that makes it more suitable than most for use with cartridges of low to moderate compliance. AD bought the new headshell for himself and reported that, compared to his wooden Yamamoto headshell, the Schick offered "far tighter, cleaner bass." He was also impressed with how "cartridges mounted in the Schick suffer less breakup during heavily modulated passages." (Vol.33 Nos. 3 & 6, Vol.34 No.10, Vol.37 No.11 WWW)

VPI JMW Memorial 3D-printed 12" tonearm: $3000
The JMW Classic 3D 12" tonearm is identical to the JMW Classic Signature of the same length—with one big difference: This unipivot's removable armwand is made, on a 3D printer, of an epoxy-like resin said to impede the transfer of vibrations. MF was very impressed with the new model's smooth, transparent, well-balanced sound, likening it in those regards to his reference Continuum Cobra tonearm, and declaring the Classic 3D the logical upgrade for present owners of the JMW Memorial arm: "It's not that the metal JMW arm is so bad—it's that the 3D-printed version is so good." AD, who has set up a JMW Classic 3D for friend Sasha Matson, reports being very impressed with the new arm's level of finish. (Vol.37 No.6 WWW)

VPI JMW-12.7: $1700 $$$ ★
Unipivot tonearm features vestigial antiskating, which disconcerted MF. Nonetheless, he enthused over its lush midrange, ultra-smooth top end, and rock-solid imaging and soundstaging: "Subjectively, it seemed to have lower distortion than any other pivoted arm I've heard, but part of that might be the result of its smooooth frequency balance. Inner detail was outstanding." However, he added of the original 12.5 version, "I think there's a slight midbass exaggeration that may be part of the spreading warmth above this range, and which gives this arm its inviting midrange." BD says of the 12" version, "lowers the original's already low distortion. The background is blacker and the arm seems to float an infinite well of inner and low-level details. The tonal balance is more neutral, but combined with the TNT III or IV, is still warm and inviting." With the 12.5, Harry Weisfeld made small but important modifications to the 12" JMW that resulted in heightened rigidity, a reduced center of mass, and improved damping. What BD found most impressive was the "obvious-once-you-see-it" touch of the small V-groove machined into the top of the headshell. This allows the user to more easily gauge headshell tilt while setting azimuth. "Neat!" MF adds: "Luxurious midrange, low distortion, and ease of setup and use make this a very attractive arm if your 'table can handle the length." More recently, in addition to a streamlined model name, VPI's first transcription-length tonearm has come in for some mechanical refinements. Its unipivot bearing, and the jeweled cup within its bearing housing, have been improved. A weighted collar has been added to the counterweight, and can be rotated asymmetrically for azimuth adjustment. "Most important," according to MF, "[its] cantilevered platform has been made far more massive and sturdy." Additionally, an antiskating mechanism is now available, though not without the manufacturer's antipathy. Additional arm assemblies cost $600. (Vol.20 No.1, Vol.24 No.12, Vol.25 No.3, Vol.37 No.5; see BD's review of the VPI HR-X in Vol.29 No.5 WWW)

VPI Classic-JMW: $1600 ★
An upgraded version of VPI's JMW Memorial 10.5i, the Classic-JMW, included with VPI's Classic 3 turntable, uses a new stainless-steel armtube, a stronger, more massive bearing platform, and a more rigid base mount. Though lateral instability remained a problem, any adverse effects were inaudible, said Mikey. (Vol.34 No.10 WWW)


Abis TA1L: $1875
From the same Japanese firm that makes the heartily recommended 9" SA-1 tonearm comes the Abis TA1L, the L standing for long—as in 12". The TA1L has an S-shaped aluminum armtube, and its removable aluminum headshell is anodized black. Cup-and-point bearings are used for vertical movement, while the horizontal bearing is a traditional ball-and-race sort; AD found all bearings to be free of both friction and excess play. A spring-actuated antiskating device is fitted, while downforce is applied statically. The effective length is 325mm, and while the effective mass is not specified, the arm seems appropriate for use with medium- to low-compliance cartridges and pickup heads—an impression borne out in AD's listening tests: "The Abis tonearm allowed the Miyajima [Premium BE Mono II] . . . to shine as a detail-retrieval champ of the first order," although he heard less bass weight than desired. AD also noted an inaccuracy in the TA1L's installation jig, advising prospective users: "Just remember that it may require an extra bit of attention in setting up." (Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

Audio Origami PU7: $3000
Based on the Syrinx PU2 tonearm of the 1980s—a product that BJR, AD, and other Stereophile contributors have owned and loved—the Audio Origami PU7, from Scotland, is a pivoting arm with a gimbaled ball-race bearing. The PU7 seems better finished than its forebear, though creature comforts are thin on the ground: Adjustments of VTF and VTA depend on the user loosening one or more grub screws and repositioning uncalibrated parts, and antiskating is a simple thread and falling weight—but, as MF points out, the design "emphasizes rigidity over convenience." Used with the Palmer Audio 2.5 turntable, the PU7 contributed a notably velvety sound with a bottom end that was "well controlled and extended," said MF, who cautioned that "images were of less-than-pinpoint accuracy and somewhat larger than life." But the PU7 distinguished itself as "a fine tracker, and feels as if it has bearings of .ˇ.ˇ. extremely high quality. Physically and sonically, it's a lot of tonearm for $3000, though I think its tube needs better internal damping." (Vol.37 No.10)

Clearaudio Clarify: $1600 ★
A perfect partner for Clearaudio's Ovation turntable, the Clarify has a machined aluminum headshell with azimuth adjustment, a carbon-fiber armtube, a magnetic bearing, and a low-center-of-gravity counterweight with an integral mechanism for adjusting VTF. It uses Clearaudio's proprietary Direct Wire, a five-conductor configuration of copper with Teflon insulation, implemented as a direct run from the cartridge clips to a 1.2m tonearm cable terminated with RCA plugs. The Ovation-Clarify combo had a resolving, nuanced, musical sound, said EL. See listing for Clearaudio Ovation in "Turntables." (Vol.35 No.10 WWW)

Ortofon TA-210: $1994 ★
The 12" TA-210 is a pivoting tonearm with traditional gimbaled bearings for lateral and vertical movement, and a curved, damped aluminum-alloy armtube. Versatile and user-friendly, it comes with a removable cable, a plug-in headshell for use with standard-mount phono cartridges, and a simple, accurate installation jig. Compared to the EMT 997 and Schick Tonearm, the Ortofon lacked some scale, presence, and impact, but sounded consistently smooth, serene, and uncolored, with no apparent stressing on dynamic peaks, said AD. "A wise choice for a newcomer to the world of vintage-style phonography," he concluded. (Vol.35 No.10 WWW)

Rega RB303: $595 $$$ ★
Latest version of Rega's classic tonearm. See the Rega RP3 entry in "Turntables." (Vol.34 No.12)

Sperling-Audio TA-1: $9750
Available with a 10" or a 12" armtube—the price is the same in either case—the German-made Sperling-Audio TA-1 is a hanging-unipivot tonearm whose pivot point is magnetically damped. The armtube, of metal and wood, has threaded weights for adjusting azimuth, and coarse and fine degrees of vertical tracking force; provisions for applying antiskating bias are not included. MF found the TA-1's overhang-adjustment regimen somewhat trying, and criticized the arm's many adjustment screws for being unlockable and thus possibly prone to resonating—problems that paled, in his view, in comparison to the lack of any provision to lock the armtube in place when not in use. When MF used the TA-1 with Sperling-Audio's L-1 turntable, he described the arm as having a sound of its own: "pleasing and intoxicating—a low-Q, low-amplitude character that subtly accentuated the lower midbass, adding a pleasing warmth .ˇ.ˇ. without becoming obtrusive." (Vol.38 No.8)

ViV Lab Rigid Float: $4390–$4990
The Viv Laboratory Rigid Float is a radically different tonearm: a design that combats tonearm skating forces and their distortions not with the application of antiskating—which the designer abhors—but by eliminating from his arm the headshell offset that, in tandem with the friction of the stylus in the groove, causes skating in the first place. Consequently, like the RS Laboratory arm before it, the Rigid Float's geometry eschews overhang in favor of underhang, the cartridge-alignment implications of which concerned MF—who also scratched his head over the nonrigidity of the ViV arm's turntable mounting arrangement and consequent less-than-optimal height-adjustment provisions. But MF was impressed with its unconventional bearing—"the pivot floats on a dark, magnetic, light-viscosity, ferrofluid-like oil that you inject into . . . the front of the pivot housing"—and, in the end, was wowed by the Rigid Float's "gloriously smooth" midrange and "meaty, full-bodied" bass: "If you love to the exclusion of most everything else the romantic, vintage, midrangey sound that some people insist is 'music,' the ViV Laboratory Rigid Float is made for you." (Vol.37 No.8)

VPI JMW-9: $1000 ★
The shortest of Harry Weisfeld's JMW tonearm line, the JMW-9 comes standard with the Aries Scout turntable. (AD enthused about the combination's sound.) It uses a reverse-missionary bearing with a hardened tungsten-carbide point and a machined and hardened-steel set-screw for a cup. A quick-connect plug makes for easy removal and easy cartridge swapping, but as with all Harry Weisfeld designs, there is no antiskating mechanism. MF auditioned the 9" version of the JMW Memorial tonearm with VPI's Scoutmaster turntable. Unlike the original JMW Memorial, the 9" arm's main bearing is directly grounded to the plinth and the stabilizing ring surrounding the arm's bearing housing is fixed. The lack of a damping well results in a "Parkinson's-like trembling of the JMW when you use the finger lift or lower the arm via the cueing mechanism," which MF found disconcerting. Nevertheless, the arm appeared to be extremely stable: "The taut, focused, remarkably coherent performance of this 'table-arm combo is testament to a fundamentally solid, well-grounded system that deals effectively with energy created at the stylus/groove interface." Some disagreement between AD and MF over the overall rating, but Class B seems appropriate. (Vol.26 No.2, Vol.27 No.9 WWW)

Editor's Note: There are currently no Class C or D tonearms listed.


Origin Illustrious 3C, Abis SA1.2 and '1.2B.

Tri-Planar Mk.VII UII not auditioned in a long time.

Phono Cartridges


Air-Tight PC-1 Magnum Opus: $15,000
See MF's review in this issue.

Brinkmann Pi: $2700 $$$ ★
The Pi moving-coil cartridge uses a motor built to Brinkmann's specifications by Benz-Micro, includes a Micro-Ridge stylus, and has a body of machined aluminum designed to control the dissipation of resonant energy. Though its tonal balance was slightly lean, the Pi's overall frequency extension and tracking ability were impressive, said MF. "The Pi cartridge strikes me as very competitive at and above its price," he concluded. (Vol.34 No.5 WWW)

Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement: $15,000 ★
The audacious Goldfinger Statement has a diamond embedded in the front panel of its 14K-gold body, and features EMF shielding and a resonance-damping, gold-fingered top plate. It uses 12 magnets, a 24K-gold coil assembly, and a boron cantilever with a Micro HD stylus. The unusual specs include a high weight of 17gm and a high output of 0.9mV; tracking force is 2.8gm. Though it lacked ultimate soundstage width, the Goldfinger Statement produced a "generous, voluminous midrange" and had outstanding dynamics, bottom-end extension and authority, and transient speed and clarity, said MF. (Vol.35 No.9)

EMT TSD 15: $1950 $$$ ★
The EMT TSD 15 is an A-style pickup head weighing just over 17.5gm and available with either EMT's proprietary diamond-shaped output-pin pattern or the more common SME square pattern. It has a high impedance of 24 ohms, a high output of 1.05mV, and a moderate recommended downforce of 2.5gm. The EMT's overall sound was open, clear, and transparent, with above-average presence, body, and color, and an outstanding sense of momentum and flow. "A fine all-arounder, combining starkly honest music-making with the sorts of refined sonic attributes most audiophiles cherish," said Art. Examining the EMT with a microscope revealed its distinctly small, sharp, spherical tip, which, AD conjectured, may be the reason for the stylus's exceptionally low groove noise. For special systems only, as it is a complete pickup head, not just a cartridge. (Vol.34 Nos.5 & 9 WWW)

Fuuga: $8950
See MF's review in this issue.

Haniwa Audio System HCTR01: $5000 ★
Designed in Japan by Tetsuo Kubo and built by Y. Matsudaira of My Sonic Lab, the beautifully made HCTR01 moving-coil cartridge has a super-low internal impedance of 0.8 ohm and can track at an astonishingly low 0.6–1.0gm when used with Haniwa's HEQA01 Phono Equalizer. It uses a boron cantilever and a line-contact stylus assembly. While it lacked midrange warmth and texture, the Haniwa produced "a fully extended, ultraclean, remarkably transparent sound," said MF. Sold direct from Kubotek USA with a money-back guarantee. (Vol.34 No.11)

Ikeda Sound Labs Kai: $8500
The top model of a five-cartridge line, the Kai is made in Japan by Ikeda Sound Labs, a company created by Fidelity Research founder Isamu Ikeda. The Kai is a low-output (0.19mV) MC design whose boron cantilever sports a Micro-Ridge stylus. Its alumite body is topped with a plate of titanium, resulting in a highish mass of 11.5gm—which goes hand in hand with a level of suspension compliance that MF described as "appropriately low." Using the low-impedance (2.5 ohms) Kai with his Ypsilon MC26-L transformer, MF enjoyed "explosive dynamic swings" and "an unmistakably deep, wide, and tall soundstage." He also praised the cartridge's "electrostatic-like transparency" and "fast and clean transients," while noting that the Kai's tonal balance "pushed toward the cool." Use with a high-mass tonearm is recommended. (Vol.38 No.6)

Kiseki Purpleheart (N.S.): $3299
Following an absence from the market of nearly a quarter century, Kiseki's handmade MC cartridges are back, manifested in two separate lines: New Old Style (NOS), built in 2010–2011 using a mix of old and new parts, and New Style (NS), which are new in every way. The Purpleheart NS is among the latter, and features a metal mounting plate with tapped holes and a solid-boron cantilever with an elliptical stylus. Specs include a 42-ohm internal resistance, 0.48mV output, and a recommended VTF of 2.46gm, in accordance with the Kiseki's moderate compliance. In MF's system, the Purpleheart NS produced "rich, supple sound with a tube-like tonality and musical flow," albeit with "less-than-full expression of macrodynamics." All in all, MF found the Kiseki to be "a physical and sonic beauty. [It] offers a sophisticated sound well beyond what you'd expect at its $3299 price." (Vol.38 No.3)

Lyra Atlas: $9500
With its off-center motor-retaining screw and asymmetrical design, Lyra's new top model represents designer Jonathan Carr's latest ideas on minimizing resonances. It has a body machined from a solid billet of aluminum, a diamond-coated boron cantilever, and a nude diamond stylus. The Atlas combined the Titan i's detail and transient speed with the Kleos's warmth and smoothness, said MF. "The Lyra Atlas is a complete success." (Vol.35 No.5 WWW)

Lyra Etna: $6995
Like Lyra's flagship, the Atlas, the Etna is machined from a solid billet of titanium and has a high-efficiency, X-shaped former and coil arrangement; a yokeless dual-magnet system; a cantilever rod of diamond-coated boron; and a Lyra-designed, line-contact stylus with varying radii. It weighs 9.2gm, has an optimum VTF of 1.72gm, and its recommended resistive load is between 104 and 887 ohms. As in all Lyra designs, the motor is built into the cartridge's body via a wire suspension held in place by a tiny screw. Compared to the Atlas, the Etna lacked dynamic drive and spatial resolution, but produced a harmonically rich, full-bodied, ultradetailed, and natural sound, said MF. "One of the most neutral- yet enticing-sounding cartridges I've heard, it's also one I can recommend for any system and for any sonic or musical taste," he concluded. (Vol.37 No.3 WWW)

Miyajima Labs Madake: $5895
As MF observed, "For all intents and purposes, the Madake is a Miyajima Kansui fitted with a mostly bamboo cantilever"—madake being the Japanese word for bamboo, and mostly referring to the fact that there's some aluminum in there, too. Compared to Miyajima's previous designs, this wood-bodied, low-output, moderately low-compliance stereo MC cartridge surprised MF by being a "faster performer that manages to considerably extend the top end without making it sound thin or bright." He concluded: "[If you] can afford it, you'll definitely want to add the Madake to your arsenal." (Vol.37 No.12)

Miyajima Labs Kansui: $3600 ★
Like the Miyajima Shilabe, the Kansui uses a cross-ring motor design, weighs 10.4gm, has an internal impedance of 16 ohms, is fitted with a Shibata stylus, and has a curvaceous body of African Blackwood. Because it has a higher compliance, however, the Kansui can track at a significantly lower tracking force for greater speed and resolution. Though it lacked the Haniwa HCTR01's resolution of spatial information, the Kansui offered a meatier and more intimate sound, with forceful bass, rich textures, and solid images, said MF. (Vol.34 No.11)

Miyajima Labs Shilabe: $2995 ★
The Shilabe is a low-output (0.23mV), low-compliance design with an unusually high recommended tracking force of 2.5–3.2gm. Its Shibata stylus is attached to a large-diameter, old-fashioned–looking cantilever. Like Miyajima's Premium Mono, the Shilabe uses a patented "cross-ring" construction that centers the generator's fulcrum within the coil. Though it lacked the soundstaging and imaging of the Shun Mook Signature, the Shilabe had a sound that was "full-bodied, deep, and extremely well-defined," and offered "superbly coherent transient and harmonic presentation from top to bottom," said MF. AD also enjoyed the Shilabe's "consistently present, colorful, and downright chunky" sound. "It was the closest I've heard a stereo cartridge come to delivering the meat, the force, the sheer solidity of mono," he said. (Vol.32 No.9, Vol.33 No.10 WWW)

Miyajima Labs Zero Mono: $1995
The Zero Mono cartridge has an output of 0.4mV, making it compatible with a wide range of moving-coil phono preamps. Compared to Miyajima Lab's Premium BE, the Zero produced a similarly big, rich, meaty sound, but offered improvements in image focus, clarity, transient detail, and bass control, said MF. "If you treasure your mono albums, get a Zero. It's infinitely better than any other mono cartridge I've heard," he summed up. (Vol.36 No.3)

Ortofon Anna: $8924
Named after Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, Ortofon's new flagship moving-coil cartridge uses a high-efficiency magnet system for improved dynamics and impulse linearity over earlier Ortofon designs. It has a curved titanium body, a boron cantilever, and a nude Replicant stylus. Its low (0.2mV) output means it should be used with only the quietest phono preamps capable of considerable gain; an appropriate step-up transformer should provide the best results. Compared with the Lyra Atlas, the Anna sounded slightly warm and lacked bottom-end tightness and impact, but was more texturally refined, said MF. (Vol.36 No.5)

Ortofon MC A95: $6500
Ortofon's MC A95 retains the radical shape of its predecessor, the limited-edition MC A90, but now powdered titanium takes the place of stainless steel in its Selective Laser Melting (SLM)–formed body, a refinement for which the manufacturer claims better self-damping. That and other refinements add up to a level of performance that coaxed from MF this observation: "the A95 is the A90 on testosterone." The low-output (0.2mV) A95, whose specs indicate a slightly lower compliance than that of its predecessor, earned from MF praise for "wider dynamics [than the A90]—particularly in the bottom octaves—and a generally richer, more fully fleshed-out sound." He concluded: "the Ortofon MC A95 definitely improves on the MC A90's well-deserved reputation [as] one of the world's best-sounding phono cartridges." In a Follow-Up, MF found that the A95 had less "dynamic authority and just plain slam" than the Ikeda Sound Labs Kai, but distinguished itself with greater "tonal and textural expression." (Vol.38 Nos. 5 & 6)

Ortofon Xpression: $5669 ★
A unique blend of new and old technologies, the Xpression derives from Ortofon's cutting-edge MC A90, but is designed as a drop-in replacement for any G-style pickup head. It uses a Replicant 100 stylus, has a recommended downforce of 2.6gm, an impedance of 4 ohms, and a low 0.3mV output. Compared to AD's original Ortofon SPU, the Xpression sounded just as solid, colorful, and forceful, but was more detailed, open, tactile, and revealing of nuance and technique. "The difference was real: Love my older Ortofon though I do, the Xpression was clearly more dramatic, with no penalty in texture or color," said Art. (Vol.35 No.2 WWW)

Ortofon 95th Anniversary SPU: $3400
Derived from Ortofon's SPU 90th Anniversary pickup head of 2008, the new SPU 95th Anniversary adds a few refinements, including a change from stainless steel to titanium for the internal frame—still manufactured via selective laser melting (SLM)—and an increase in magnet strength. Recommended tracking force is 3gm for the low-compliance SPU 95th Anniversary; the stylus profile is elliptical, the output 0.3mV. AD enjoyed his time with the new SPU: "It's a well-behaved, notably modern pickup that is quiet and imperturbable in the groove . . . yet it is also, identifiably, an SPU, with [a] solid sound and fine sense of drive." Recommended for use in tonearms of highish mass. (Vol.37 No.12 WWW)

Soundsmith SG-200 Strain Gauge Mk.IV: $8590 ★
The SG-200 is a strain-gauge phono cartridge with six choices of interchangeable styli and a dedicated power supply and preamplifier. Two bright-blue tubular LEDs run vertically through the metal body's horizontal slats, giving the cartridge a unique look. Also unlike most cartridges, the SG-200 provides controls for setting vertical tracking angle and azimuth. Though it could sound somewhat cool and lacking in physicality, with a lean midrange and stingy sustain, the SG-200 produced incredibly clean, fast top-to-bottom transient attack, deep bass, airy highs, and spectacular transparency. "The SG-200 is a unique game-changing product," said MF. Price includes two SGS-5 styli; add $100 for the SGS-6, a nude line-contact stylus with a ruby cantilever. (Vol.34 No.3 WWW)

Soundsmith Sussurro: $4800 ★
Designed and built in the US by Soundsmith's Peter Ledermann, the Sussurro is a low-output (0.3mV), low-mass (8.79gm), moving-iron cartridge intended to be used with an MC phono stage that can provide 60dB of gain. It has a wood body, a ruby cantilever, and a line-contact diamond stylus; its unique construction allows for adjustment of azimuth, vertical tracking angle, and stylus rake angle, all from the cartridge body. Though it lacked some resolution and detail, the Sussurro was an exceptionally quiet and smooth tracker, and offered a slightly warm and lush overall sound, said MF. The Sussurro's stylus's severe profile mandates precise settings of overhang, zenith angle, and especially SRA and VTA. (Vol.35 No.3)

Stein Music Aventurin 6 MK2: $6495
Based on a Benz LP-S motor with a solid-boron cantilever and a micro-ridge stylus, the Aventurin 6 Mk.2 has a boxy, open-bottomed body made of layers of mahogany and carbon fiber. Its moderate weight of 11.5gm makes it an ideal match for tonearms of medium to high mass. Though it lacked the full-bodied sound of the more expensive Lyra Anna, the Aventurin was fast, clean, and natural, with a well-extended treble, solid bass, and rich midrange, said MF. (Vol.36 No.10)

Transfiguration Proteus: $6000
For their new flagship MC cartridge, Transfiguration returned to the double-ring-magnet construction of earlier models, adding silver-wire coils with so few windings that an internal resistance of just 1 ohm is claimed. Nevertheless, output is specified as 0.2mV at 3.54cm/s (using the industry's standard of 5cm/s, the Proteus's output is actually closer to 0.28mV). The Proteus sports a PA-profile stylus at the end of its boron cantilever, and the moderate-compliance motor is said to perform well at a VTF of 2gm. Based on his experience with earlier Transfigurations—models known more for "getting out of the way" than for trying to make a "beautiful sound"—MF had high expectations; even so, he wasn't prepared for what he heard: "Even before [it] had a chance to fully break in and develop, what I was hearing put it up there with the best, most musically involving cartridges I've heard at any price." As for value, MF described the Proteus as "expensive, but not stupidly so," the latter sobriquet being something he reserves for cartridges that sell for $10,000 and up. (Vol.37 No.10)


Clearaudio Maestro V2 Ebony: $1200
The ebony-bodied V2 is the most expensive moving-magnet cartridge in Clearaudio's line—and, quite possibly, the costliest MM cartridge period. In common with other MMs, the Maestro V2 has relatively high output (3.6mV), with concomitantly highish coil impedance and inductance; unlike other MMs, it isn't an especially high-compliance design—its tracking-force range is 1.8–2.6gm—and its Micro HD stylus and boron cantilever are not user replaceable. According to MF, the Maestro V2 "didn't have the speed or the high-frequency extension of a good moving-coil," but it offered a great combination of "midrange richness, openness, and detail," and it "tracked and traced well" every record MF threw at it. Figuratively. (Vol.38 No.4)

DS Audio DS-W1: $8500
Price includes phono preamp/power supply. Unlike the well-documented if seldom-seen ELP laser turntable, which re-creates a music signal by bouncing light off the modulations of a record groove, the DS-W1 is an optical phono cartridge that uses the vibrations of a traditional playback stylus—in this case, a Shibata at the end of a boron cantilever—to modulate the otherwise steady output of an LED, aimed at a photosensitive plate: Because the stylus and cantilever are called on to move far less mass, the benefits are said by some to include less record wear and more faithful replication of the vinyl-encoded analog wave. In this regard, the DS-W1 is the direct descendent of the similarly seldom-seen Toshiba C-100P cartridge of the 1970s—and, indeed, the C-100P's developer assisted with the design of the DS-W1, which MF described as "a major breakthrough" capable of "revelatory transparency and spatial clarity." But MF's experiences with the DS-W1 were troubled by a consistent and "distractingly overemphasized bass"—a flaw that he attributed to the DS-W1's accompanying electronics, leading to the Class B rating. MF's verdict: "worth an audition—especially if DS Audio can upgrade their electronics and fix the bass problem." (Vol.38 No.9)

Lyra Kleos: $2995 ★
Billed as a replacement for Lyra's classic Helikon, the moving-coil Kleos uses an Ogura boron cantilever fitted with a low-mass line-contact stylus, and includes Lyra's New Angle alignment system. Compared to the Helikon, the Kleos had a warmer sound, with greater delicacy and detail. While it lacked the resolution and dynamics of Lyra's Titan, something that just keeps it from Class A, the Kleos combined a neutral tonal balance with airy highs, a rich midrange, well-controlled lows, a wide soundstage, and solid, three-dimensional images. "Highly recommended, and without reservation," said MF. (Vol.34 No.1)

Miyajima Labs Takumi: $1850
Like Miyajima's more expensive Shilabe, the Takumi has a body of sculpted African rosewood and uses the company's "cross-ring" motor assembly. Compared to the Shilabe, the Takumi has a slightly lower output (0.2 vs 0.23mV), a more forgiving stylus profile (elliptical vs Shibata), and is slightly lighter (9 vs 10.4gm), with a lower recommended tracking force (2.5 vs 3.2gm). Sonically, however, the Takumi more closely resembled its more expensive sibling, with a meaty and full-bodied sound that was only slightly less detailed, said MF. (Vol.36 No.10)

Miyajima Labs Premium BE Mono: $1260 $$$ ★
With its ebony body and pure-diamond conical stylus, the Premium Be Mono weighs 10.8gm, has a recommended tracking force of 3.5gm and an internal impedance of 6 ohms, and outputs 0.9mV. It produced "big, pure, meaty, midband mono physicality, and remarkable depth of soundstage," said MF, who feels Class A would be a more accurate rating. "The Premium BE Mono is my favorite mono cartridge at any price." The Premium Mono BE sounded "chunky, colorful, forceful, and fun," said AD, who recommends Class B (High Value). Also available as part of Robyatt Audio's Ultimate Mono Record Playing System ($3000), with the Robyatt Audio Mono transformer and Tektron Italia Mono phono preamp. (Vol.33 No.11, Vol.35 No.6 WWW)

Miyajima Labs Premium Mono: $1050 ★
The Premium Mono monophonic cartridge uses Noriyuki Miyajima's "cross-ring method," whereby the cantilever's fulcrum is centered precisely within the former on which the coil is wound. Recommended downforce is 3.5gm. In addition to its "near-total rejection of surface noise," the Premium Mono provided a forceful sound with "fine impact" and an "excellent sense of scale," said AD. "A staggering good value, but for special systems only." (Vol.32 No.8 WWW)

Miyajima Labs Spirit Mono: $850
Like all Miyajima cartridges, the Spirit Mono uses a proprietary "cross-coil" motor, the fulcrum of which is optimized for linear dynamic performance; like all of the company's mono cartridges, this one has a single coil and an 18µm-radius spherical stylus tip—and is unresponsive to vertical groove modulations. In short, the Spirit Mono is true mono. According to HR, the low-compliance, moderate-output (0.7mV) Spirit Mono "had a very seductive way of making records sound full-bodied and tangible. Images of musicians were realistically scaled, and there was always a noticeable sense of space." The Spirit Mono is also available with a 76µm stylus for 78rpm records, or in a version called the Spirit Mono High, with an output of 3.7mV. (Vol.37 No.10 WWW)

Ortofon CG 25DI mono pickup head: $902 $$$
The oldest product design from the second-oldest audio manufacturer on Earth (Quad gets the nod for having lasted even longer), Ortofon's CG 25DI pickup head is a single-coil monophonic MC motor of high output (1.5mV) and low compliance (the recommended downforce is 4gm). Its spherical stylus is made with a full 25µm radius—hence the model designation—thus restricting the CG 25DI's use to records mastered with a true mono cutter head. As AD observed, "This is among the hallowed few cartridges that really communicate everything that's special about 1950s and '60s mono LPs from the likes of Verve, Prestige, Clef, [and] Columbia." With its three-figure price, the CG 25DI also offers exceptionally high value. (Vol.38 No.4 WWW)

Ortofon 2M Black: $755 ★
Partnered with the budget-priced Audio-Technica AT-PEQ3 phono preamp, the "ridiculously good" Ortofon 2M Black produced a bright, open sound with "surprising heft and slam." Because its Shibata stylus is sensitive to rake angle, the 2M Black should be used only with tonearms that permit adjustment of VTA and SRA, Mikey advised. (Vol.32 No.12)

Soundsmith Carmen: $799.95
The ebony-bodied Carmen, a moving-iron design, offers medium compliance (22µm/mN) and high output (2.2mV) and features a nude elliptical stylus at the end of its aluminum cantilever. HR found the Carmen to be "conspicuously chameleon-like" in his system, exhibiting a different character with each different tonearm, turntable, and phono preamplifier he used it with. He especially enjoyed the Carmen when it was partnered with his vintage Thorens TD 124 turntable and SME 3009II tonearm, enjoying the combination's "sparkle and dynamics." Quoth HR: "It was like the sun reappearing from behind a cloud." (Vol.38 No.6 WWW)

Zu Audio DL-103: $439 $$$ ★
Zu improves on Denon's original design by trading the DL-103's plastic body for one built of 6061 "aircraft" aluminum and then binding the magnet, base, and pole piece with a ferrous-based epoxy. This consistently colorful-, well-textured–, engaging-sounding cartridge built on the Denon's sense of impact while taming its forward presentation. AD: "The Zu doesn't just slay giants: It rips their beating heart from their chests, shows it to them, finishes them off, then chases their souls and drags them down to hell. Recommended." One of HR's references. (Vol.30 Nos.10 & 12 WWW)


Denon DL-103R: $379 $$$ ★
In production since 1962, the DL-103 is a "resolutely old-fashioned" cartridge with a two-piece plastic body. It uses a two-piece aluminum cantilever to drive a cross-shaped armature wound with several turns of fine-gauge copper magnet wire. Its square-shank nude diamond stylus is ground to a spherical tip. Though the Denon offered excellent bass depth and impact with an overall exciting and "pleasantly forward" presentation, its high-frequency response peak made bright recordings sound "a bit more forward than ideal." Nonetheless, AD deemed it "a superb cartridge and a remarkable buy." Compared to Denon's new DL-A100 100th Anniversary moving-coil phono cartridge, AD's old DL-103 was tubbier in the bass, but just as dynamic and dramatic. Performance with the a stock spherical stylus tip squeaks into low Class B, he adds, saying that "apart from various Miyajimas and the always-recommendable Miyabi 47, it's hard for me to think of another standard (non-pickup-head) type of cartridge that has this much impact and drama. (Vol.3 No.9, Vol.30 Nos.10 & 12, Vol.34 No.12 WWW)

Dynavector DV 10X5: $550 $$$ ★
Besides subtle changes in magnet material and coil-winding techniques, the latest iteration of Dynavector's classic moving-coil design has threaded mounting holes for simple installation and alignment. It weighs 7.3gm, has an output of 2.5mV, and uses an elliptical stylus tip and aluminum cantilever. Recommended load impedance is anything greater than 1000 ohms; recommended tracking force is 1.8–2.2gm. Thanks to the Dynavector's clarity, immediacy, and presence, "music was consistently more dramatic and involving, while never sounding unnecessarily harsh, aggressive, or forward," said SM. One of ST's favorite cartridges. AD: "This colorful, well-balanced, chunky-sounding cartridge played music extremely well, with a bonus of very fine stereo imaging....More money can buy more drama, impact, scale, and transparency....But the Dynavector 10X5 should give you most of what I think you need at a bargain price." (Vol.26 No.10 WWW; Vol.35 No.11 WWW)

Grado Prestige ME+: $150
The polycarbonate-bodied Prestige ME+ Mono has an elliptical stylus at the end of the company's trademark four-piece (telescoping) aluminum cantilever. Although not a single-coil cartridge, its design is true mono inasmuch as the coils are physically oriented to respond to only lateral modulations. Output is a healthy 5mV, the recommended load is 47k ohms, and recommended VTF is 1.5–2gm. HR found the Grado to be great at suppressing surface noise; more important, on records ranging from solo gut-string guitar to opera, the Prestige ME+ Mono proved to be musically insightful and consistently rewarding: "The Grado's boldly cinematic sound triggered all the aesthetic emotion I required." HR has, in fact, purchased the Grado for use as his daily driver. (Vol.37 No.12 WWW)

Nagaoka MP-500: $699 ★
The MP-500 has a samarium-cobalt magnet, a permalloy shield casing, a SuperFineline line-contact stylus, and a low-mass boron cantilever. When used with the Thorens TD 309 turntable, the Nagaoka had a slightly forward, somewhat cool overall sound, but outclassed the TD 309's stock Audio-Technica AT95E in terms of image solidity, detail resolution, and bass extension, said MF. (Vol.34 No.2)

Ortofon 2M Blue: $236 $$$
Affordable moving-magnet cartridge with user-replaceable elliptical diamond stylus. With the Blue mounted in a Music Hall Ikura turntable and arm, BJR found that "the transients and bloom of the string quartet were reproduced with no trace of coloration or smear." Superb transient articulation and dynamics. "Competes with cartridges at double its price. Also an excellent match for both the Music Hall Ikura and VPI Nomad turntables," he adds. (Vol.37 No.12 WWW)

Rega Elys 2: $295 $$$ ★
See the RP3 entry in "Turntables." Price is $200 when purchased with that turntable. (Vol.31 No.7, Vol.34 No.12 WWW)

Shure SC35C: $75 $$$
Very affordable, DJ-heritage moving-magnet cartridge that HR found worked superbly well on the Pioneer PLX-1000 turntable. (Vol.38 No.7 WWW)


Audio-Technica AT95E: $74 ★
When used with the Thorens TD 309 turntable, the Audio-Technica AT95E produced large, exuberant images, but lacked the solidity, detail resolution, macrodynamics, and bass extension of the more expensive Nagaoka MP-500, said MF. (Vol.34 No.2)

Ortofon 2M Red: $99 $$$
The least expensive of Ortofon's 2M moving-magnet cartridges (the series name is shorthand for MM), the Red offers a 5.5mV output, a replaceable elliptical stylus, highish compliance, a recommended tracking force of 1.8gm, and a square-front body with threaded mounting holes, for ease of installation. SM declared the 2M Red's dynamic range "vastly wider" than that of the less expensive Ortofon OM 5E, and praised the new cartridge's clean, fast, grainless sound. SM's verdict: "If you're looking for a high-value cartridge . . . the 2M Red is an excellent place to start." Borderline Class C. (Vol.37 No.5, Vol.38 No.2 WWW)

Goldring Legacy not auditioned in a long time.

Phono Preamps/Moving-Coil Step-up Devices


Auditorium 23 Hommage T1 & Hommage T2: both $4995 ★
Over twice the size and weight of the less expensive Standard transformer, the Class A Hommage T1, designed as a companion to Auditorium 23's Solovox loudspeaker, is a statement product. It has a textured-paint finish, attractive white-oak endcaps, and input and output resistances of 3 and 2530 ohms, respectively. The Hommage T1 shared the Standard's excellent timing, flow, and overall drama, but produced a much larger soundstage; and while the Audio Note AN-S8 was slightly richer, the Hommage T1 proved more exciting, said AD. Pairing the Hommage T1 with an EMT OFD 25 mono pickup head resulted in unsurpassed musical and emotional impact, he noted. The Hommage T1 provided more timbral color, more shimmer, and a larger overall sound than did Bob Sattin's CineMag 3440A device, found AD. Outwardly identical to the T1, the Hommage T2 takes the same uber-perfectionist approach and applies it to EMT's high-output, high-impedance cartridges and pickup heads: the TSD 15, the OFD 25, and so forth. Unusually for a transformer designed around such motors, the Hommage T2 has a high turns ratio, and consequently very high gain; it shouldn't work -- yet it does, brilliantly. The combination of the Hommage T2 and an EMT OFD 25 delivers the most dramatically impactful, tonally vivid phono playback ever heard by AD, who adds, "The T2 is so good, it's sick!" (Vol.30 No.10, Vol.32 No.8, Vol.33 No.6 WWW)

Ypsilon VPS-100: $26,000 ★
Made in Greece, the moving-magnet VPS-100 is beautifully built and housed in a substantial aluminum case. It uses a 6CA4 rectifier tube and choke filter, while RIAA is accomplished passively with zero feedback using a transformer-based LCR network. All internal wiring is done by hand, point to point. While it couldn't quite match the bottom-octave punch, definition, and extension of the Pass Labs XP-25, the Ypsilon produced a more transparent, silky, airy overall sound, said MF. "It produced an absolutely intoxicating blend of stupefyingly extended high frequencies, resolution, clarity, and transient precision, along with tight, deep, nimble, nonmechanical bass, and an ideally rich midrange," said MF and has since purchased the review sample. (Vol.32 No.8, Vol.34 No.3)


B.M.C. Audio Phono MCCI: $4190
The Phono MCCI moving-coil phono preamp uses a current-injection input and has a fully balanced, single-ended, class-A output stage. High-quality parts include 10 ultralow-noise transistors, balanced-current capacitors, inductance-free polystyrene capacitors, thin-film metal resistors, gold-plated printed circuit boards, and a shield of copper-plated iron. Internal jumpers allow the user to select among three levels of gain, standard or Neumann RIAA, a subsonic filter, and various bass settings. Though it lacked some bass control, the MCCI produced "liquidity and harmonic richness along with warmth, speed, drive, three-dimensionality, and pitch-black backgrounds," said Mikey. "B.M.C.'s Phono MCCI is exceptional, and easily among the best MC phono preamps available today at any price," he concluded. On the test bench, the MCCI exhibited low noise and low distortion. (Vol.36 Nos.6 & 9 WWW)

Boulder 1008: $13,000 ★
The impeccably built 1008 is a fully balanced, dual-mono design with XLR inputs and outputs. In addition to RIAA, the 1008 includes the Decca, Columbia, and EMI curves for LPs released before 1954, and DIP switches mounted on the Boulder's personality cards select between MM and MC cartridges. It had a slightly soft overall sound, with a bloomy midrange and a forgiving top end, but was capable of producing massive dynamic swings, said MF. "Superb measured performance" and "a standard of construction that is to die for," praised JA. (Vol.33 No.7 WWW)

Channel D Seta Model L: $3799 ★
Designed to take full advantage of Pure Vinyl's digital RIAA correction, the beautifully built Seta Model L includes balanced and single-ended inputs, balanced unequalized outputs, variable gain, and a built-in, rechargeable battery power supply. Recordings made using the Seta Model L's optional RIAA-equalized outputs were "models of clarity, definition, tonal accuracy, detail resolution, and spatial coherence," said MF. "There is no doubt that the Seta Model L has been superbly engineered," praised JA. Compared to the Liberty B2B-1, the Seta Model L lacked some midbass energy, but did a better job of preserving recorded ambience, said JA, who also admired the Channel D's superb measured performance. Optional internal RIAA compensation module adds $1199. (Vol.33 No.8; Vol.36 No.12 WWW)

Dynamic Sounds Associates Phono II: $13,500
The Phono II is a versatile, full-function phono preamp with: three XLR/RCA MM/MC inputs, each independently adjustable for resistive or capacitive loading via front-panel buttons; six loading choices; four gain levels (40, 50, 60, and 66dB); and front-panel buttons for selecting mono playback, inverting polarity, activating a high-pass filter, and adjusting azimuth. Four all-FET gain stages use internal feedback, with passive RIAA equalization; the dual-mono design uses no global feedback and no step-up transformers. Connecting, configuring, and using the Phono II was a simple pleasure. The overall sound was extremely fast and transparent, with crystalline highs, clean attack transients, and a full bottom end, said Mikey. However, while the Phono II was generally quiet, it produced some odd mechanical noises when partnered with certain cartridges. The "odd mechanical noises (produced) when partnered with certain cartridges," which last time relegated the DSA to Class B, turned out to be motor induction leakage that a running modification has remedied—hence this thus well-deserved kick upstairs to Class A. (Vol.36 No.10)

Hagerman Audio Labs Trumpet Reference: $7200
Hagerman's beautifully built, top-of-the-line phono preamp uses four each 12AX7 and 12AU7 dual-triode tubes in a class-A, zero-feedback design. It employs choke-regulated power supplies; DC heaters; passive split RIAA equalization; and a balanced, JFET-based, moving-coil input stage. Six front-panel pushbuttons allow the user to choose among four choices of EQ (AES, Decca/EMI, RIAA, Columbia/NAB), stereo or mono playback, MM or MC input, polarity, two options of MC gain, and eight options of MC loading. Though it lacked some bass definition and dynamic impact, the Trumpet produced a relaxed, graceful sound, with an excellent sense of space, a rich midrange, and generous sustain, said Mikey. (Vol.37 No.2)

Haniwa Audio System HEQA01: $5000 ★
The nicely made HEQA01 has moving-magnet and moving-coil inputs and a built-in degausser. It uses electromagnetic damping to permit cartridge tracking as low as 0.6–1.0gm. When used with Haniwa's HCTR01 MC cartridge, the HEQA01 produced a fast, clean sound with exceptional transparency, spaciousness, and three-dimensionality, but lacked some midrange warmth, said MF. Sold direct from Kubotek USA with a money-back guarantee. (Vol.34 No.11)

Kondo GE-1: $10,000
Made in Japan, the GE-1 is a moving-magnet (34dB of gain) phono preamplifier with separate, switchable input pairs for two phono cartridges. It uses three Electro-Harmonix 6072 dual-triode tubes, which provide a two-stage, zero-feedback gain circuit, and a cathode-follower final stage for low output impedance. Like Kondo's matching Overture integrated amplifier, the GE-1 uses high-quality parts throughout, including silver wiring, handmade capacitors, bespoke resistors, a solid-copper ground plate, and a tuned chassis made from a combination of steel, brass, and aluminum. Though it was leaner and less boldly colorful than AD's Shindo Masseto, the GE-1 sounded more open and modern, with a pleasantly extended top end and exceptional senses of scale and drive. (Vol.36 No.11 WWW)

Lamm Industries LP 2.1 Deluxe: $8990
The LP2.1 Deluxe—the adjective refers to this version's upgraded power supply, polystyrene bypass caps, and 20.5-lb damping panel—is a single-box stereo phono preamp with tube rectification and pairs of Russian-made 6C3P and 6C45P-E triode tubes for the signal path. The dual-mono design has separate, switchable RCA-jack inputs for MM and MC cartridges, the latter of which address a pair of Jensen 1:10 step-up transformers for additional gain. Controls are minimal, with no provisions for varying the 400-ohm load of the MC inputs—although, as MF observed, that figure is "a good compromise for cartridges with internal impedances of about 40 ohms or less." MF found the "smooth-sounding, well-detailed" LP2.1 to be remarkably free from noise—even quieter than some solid-state phono preamps—and observed that "the sound of MCs through the LP2.1's transformers was impressively fast, detailed, open, dynamic, and resolving—all without added glare, grain, or etch." At the same time, he was even more impressed when preceding the Lamm's MM stage with the Ypsilon MC-10L step-up transformer ($6000), which "seriously upped the sound quality along with the price." Still, MF considers LP2.1 Deluxe "fully competitive with anything at or near that price." (Vol.38 No.3)

Lehmann Decade: $2099
AD tends to prefer the sound, with an MC phono pickup, of a phono preamplifier plus an MC step-up transformer—yet was pleasantly surprised when he replaced both with the Lehmannaudio Decade. This two-chassis, solid-state phono stage offers adjustable input impedance and gain—the latter up to 66dB, for very low-output cartridges—and a switchable soft-rolloff filter. When substituted for both the CineMag Sky 30 transformer and the phono section of his Shindo Masseto preamplifier, the Decade presented AD with exceptional clarity, believable colors and textures, and "satisfying" force: "Yes, the Lehmannaudio preamp could be made even more explicitly forceful with the addition of a good transformer. . . . Considered on its own, the Lehmannaudio is easily the most impactful solid-state phono preamplifier I've ever experienced." (Vol.37 No.5 WWW)

Michael Fehlauer Monophonic Variable EQ Phonostage: $1500 $$$
Designed and made in Germany by mono enthusiast Michael Fehlauer, the Monophonic is a single-channel, solid-state phono preamp with user-selectable gain for moving-coil, high-output moving-coil, and moving-magnet cartridges. Rather than using traditional switches, the Monophonic's equalization settings are arrived at with two stepless, continuously variable potentiometers, thus offering far greater potential for fine tuning and ease of use. Included is a list of suggested settings for the EQ schemes of various record labels, including the modern RIAA standard. The sound was "stunningly clear, yet very colorful and well textured," and Fehlauer's suggested EQ settings were almost always dead on, said Art. "The Monophonic didn't just sound good: It was fun. And it made my record collection seem even bigger than it is by making it even more listenable than it was." (Vol.36 No.12 WWW)

Nagra BPS: $2200 ★
The tiny, lightweight, battery-powered BPS is loosely based on Nagra's more expensive VPS, but uses bipolar transistors instead of tubes. It provides 51dB gain in MM mode and 62dB in MC. With its "upfront transient speed, clarity, and focus," the BPS was "a more neutral, accurate phono preamp than the lush, romantic VPS," said Mikey. Overall, the BPS sacrificed sustain and richness for attack and rhythm. Compared to the Audio Research PH7, the BPS was "lean, fast, tight, and clean," lacking delicacy and harmonic complexity. MF: "If your system needs an injection of excitement, the BPS is guaranteed to do just that." While the BPS sounded good plugged into the AC, it sounded better when powered by its own 9V battery, added FK, who bought the review sample. (Vol.32 Nos.6, 8, & 10 WWW)

Parasound Halo JC 3+: $2995 $$$ ★
The Halo JC 3 is a true dual-mono design with a large R-core transformer power supply. Construction quality is first rate, top-shelf parts are used throughout, and the stout, heavy chassis is beautifully finished. In the JC 3, designer John Curl favored purity over adjustability, offering minimal loading options: 100 ohms or 47k ohms for moving-coil cartridges and 47k ohms for moving-magnet cartridges. Its fully direct-coupled RIAA equalization circuit is based on the circuit used in Curl's famed Vendetta Research SCP-2, while the JC 3's output stage is a true dual-differential, balanced design. In addition, the JC 3 has a built-in AC line conditioner, and its power supplies are modeled after those found in the extremely quiet JC 2 line stage. Though it lacked the dynamics and transparency of either the Pass Labs XP-25 or Ypsilon VPS-100, the JC 3 combined superb musical grip and control with a timbrally and texturally ideal midrange. "The JC 3 represents the best current value in a phono preamp that I know of," said MF. Though it lacked the Sutherland 20/20's tonal richness and punchy sense of pace and drive, the Halo JC 3 produced a detail-rich sound with tight, extended lows, a clean midrange, and carefully drawn images on a huge, open soundstage. "If your tastes run to purity, clarity, neutrality, and detail, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better phono stage for anywhere near $2350," BD concluded, recommending a Class A rating. The JC 3 sounded remarkably similar to BJR's reference, the Vendetta SCP-2, but lacked some high-frequency purity and ambience recovery. JA noted superb measured performance. Plus version adds variable cartridge loading for the MC input. (Vol.34 Nos.3 & 10; Vol.35 No.2 WWW)

Pass Labs XP-25: $10,600 ★
This two-chassis, moving-coil/moving-magnet design offers two inputs and has front-panel controls for several options of gain, capacitive loading, and resistive loading. It uses Pass's XP-20 power supply, which comprises low-noise transformers, RC filtering, and capacitive multipliers. The XP-25's first gain stage uses low-noise transistors and a controlled open-loop gain, while its circuit employs new low-noise, thin-film, surface-mount resistors. The XP-25 produced deep bass, explosive dynamics, and good three-dimensionality, but lacked the Ypsilon VPS-100's top-end air, transparency, and transient speed, said MF. (Vol.34 No.3)

PBN Olympia PX-1: $22,000
Although MF wasn't impressed with the styling of this American-made two-box phono pre—okay, he called it "butt-ugly"—he found a lot to love in its musical performance. Designed and made by Peter B. Noerbaek, the Olympia PXi is a fully balanced, dual-differential pre using cascoded JFETS in its first gain stage and a complementary MOSFET source-follower in its output stage. Gain is switchable between 60 and 70dB, and the user can select among six different resistive loads, ranging from 50 ohms to 47k ohms; input and output jacks are XLR only. As for the Olympia PXi's sound, the prospective owner is advised: "Strap yourself in!" MF elaborated: "The grip the PBN had on the music, from top to bottom of the spectrum, was immediately obvious and almost physically demanding to experience—but in a relaxed and very pleasing way. Dynamics were limitless. The terms bass extension and bass control took on new meanings." For all that, MF wrote, "the PBN was also able to express instrumental liquidity and textural subtlety." (Vol.37 No.9)

Phasemation EA-1000: $15,000
The Japanese-made EA-1000 is built into separate left- and right-channel cases of copper-plated steel adorned with thick, brushed-aluminum faceplates. The first selector knob on each allows the choice between RIAA stereo and three mono curves—Columbia, Decca ffrr, and an "all-purpose 78rpm" curve—while additional controls adjust MC impedance and gain and select among three inputs: two MC, one MM. The single-ended, hybrid EA-1000 uses three dual-triode tubes per channel, and its hefty outboard power supply is built around a 5U4G rectifier tube. In addition to praising its very quiet performance, MF noted the EA-1000's "textural delicacy and detail" and its knack for delivering "rich, saturated harmonic colors." Through the Phasemation, he said, "music was finely and delicately drawn, sounding sweet but not cloying, feathery but not smotheringly soft." MF cautioned fans of large-scale music that, through the EA-1000, "the bottommost frequencies were somewhat less than fully realized." (Vol.37 No.9)

Rogers High Fidelity PA-1A: $7400
Roger Gibboni's first phono preamplifier uses three tubes per channel for MM cartridges, and adds to its MC inputs a pair of internal step-up transformers. (Even more gain can be had, albeit at a slight cost in noise, by substituting for the PA-1A's 12AU7 tubes a spare pair of 12AX7 tubes, also supplied.) Capacitive and resistive loading are user adjustable, and a mute switch is included. Build quality is, as MF wrote, "impressive by any standard," and tube life is expected to be in the neighborhood of 10,000 hours. MF praised the PA-1A's "glorious, mesmerizingly rich midrange, and the overall drive and musical flow for which tubed phono preamps are renowned," while noting "the less-than-taut-and-punchy bottom end for which they're also known." MF also discovered in the Rogers phono pre some susceptibility to hum with both MM and MC cartridges, necessitating care with cable choice and physical placement. His verdict: "If you listen mostly to acoustic jazz and/or classical music, the Rogers PA-1A, paired with a cartridge that's fast, open, and extended on top, could be your ticket to long-term satisfaction." (Vol.37 No.12)

Simaudio Moon Evolution 810LP: $13,000
The first phono preamp in Simaudio's Moon Evolution line of cost-no-object designs, the fully balanced, dual-mono 810LP is a beautifully built, rigid component weighing 40 lbs and measuring 18.75" W by 4" H by 16.81" D. Its four-layer circuit board uses a five-point, gel-based, floating suspension system derived from the Moon Evolution 850P preamplifier, while the power supply features a high-quality toroidal transformer and multiple filtering and voltage-regulation stages. DIP switches on the bottom panel provide unprecedented configurability: 64 impedance loads, from 12.1 ohms to 47k ohms; 16 capacitance settings, from 0 to 1120pF; 16 gain settings, from 40 to 70dB; and RIAA or IEC equalization. The 810LP had a cool, dry overall sound with exceptional transparency, clean transients, muscular macrodynamics, and delicate microdynamics, but lacked harmonic richness, soundstage size, and top-end air, said MF. Can be upgraded with Simaudio's Moon Evolution 820S power supply ($8000). (Vol.35 No.12, Vol.37 No.11, 820S WWW)

Sutherland Engineering Phono Block: $10,000/pair ★
The Phono Block is a stripped-down, optimized, no-compromise design made of two completely separate but identical monophonic units. Each Phono Block itself comprises two heavily shielded, individual subchassis, one for the power supply and one for the audio stage, linked by the front and rear panels. The Phono Block offers one pair of inputs, two parallel pairs of outputs, a choice of three grounding schemes, and a built-in white-noise generator. Plug-in cards allow the user to select loading and gain. Like Sutherland's battery-powered designs, the Phono Block had an uncanny ease and purity but a more realistic and energetic sense of timing and pace, and created a larger, more enveloping soundstage, said BD. JA noted superb measured performance. (Vol.35 No.1 WWW)

Thrax Orpheus: $21,500
Made in Bulgaria, the Orpheus is a vacuum-tube phono stage that uses a low-noise D3a pentode tube wired as a triode for both moving-magnet gain and to feed its constant-impedance RIAA section. The equalized signal feeds a Russian triode tube to provide the necessary output gain, loaded by a Hashimoto isolation transformer; the additional gain required by moving-coil cartridges is provided by an amorphous-core Lundahl 1931 transformer with 1:8 and 1:16 selectable primaries. The Orpheus has three switchable inputs—two RCA and one XLR, the latter for use balanced cartridges/tonearms. Though it lacked some top-end extension and low-end impact, the Thrax produced a rich overall sound with a well-controlled bottom and fully fleshed-out midrange, said MF. (Vol.36 No.12)

Ypsilon Electronics MC26-L step-up transformer: $6200
Because MF is not a gear slut, he does not own a selection of current-amplification phono preamplifiers—both by his own admission. For now, that vacuum has been filled by the loan of the Ypsilon MC26-L step-up transformer, the model number of which derives from the transformer's 26x turns ratio. According to MF, the MC26-L is "designed for use with very-low-impedance cartridges," provides 28.3dB of gain, and presents cartridges with a load of 70 ohms. (Vol.38 No.6)

Ypsilon MC10 & MC16: $2800 ★
The MC10 transformer produces 20dB of gain and is intended for use with cartridges having an output range of 0.4–0.6mV. Its custom double-coil transformers are shielded with mu-metal and potted in 10mm-thick enclosures coated with soft iron-nickel. Though it lacked the "shimmering clarity" of the TruLife Audio Reikon, the Ypsilon MC10 produced an "exceptionally expansive and deep" soundstage with solid, dimensional, life-size images, said MF. The MC16 step-up transformer sounds identical to Ypsilon's MC10 but adds 4dB of gain. Compared to the Music First step-up trannie, the MC16 sounded more open, transparent, extended, and three-dimensional, said MF. (Vol.32 No.8, Vol.35 No.6)

Zesto Audio Andros 1.2: $4700
Made in the US, the Zesto Andros PS1.2 is a dual-mono tubed phono preamplifier with built-in step-up transformer and eight loading options. Its curvaceous, retro-modern exterior doesn't allow for front-panel controls, but the rear panel is clean, spacious, and logical. Separate moving-magnet and moving-coil inputs permit the simultaneous connection of two tonearms. The Zesto had an addictive, warm overall sound, with plenty of detail, impact, and grace, said MF. "It's among the more enjoyable and satisfying phono preamplifiers I've auditioned at any price," he concluded. (Vol.36 No.3)


Auditorium 23 Standard: $995 $$$ ★
Designed and voiced for use with Denon's DL-103, the Auditorium 23 Standard uses two sealed trannies in a nondescript aluminum case, and offers input and output resistances of 7.8 and 505 ohms, respectively. With Denon, Zu, EMT, and Benz cartridges, the sound was "dramatic without being brash, and consistently full-bodied and colorful," said AD. The Auditorium was "slightly coarser" than the Audio Note AN-S8, lacking some sweetness and color, but "a bargain" nevertheless, AD sums up. (Vol.30 No.10 WWW)

Blue Horizon Ideas ProFono: $1299
See HR's review in this issue.

Bob's Devices CineMag 1131: $1195 ★
Designed and made by Bob Sattin in North Carolina, the original CineMag step-up transformer is built into a rugged little cast-alloy box, with a toggle switch for gain selection and another for grounding. It uses a pair of CineMag 3440 transformers, switchable between low- and high-gain settings. Build quality was excellent, with all electrical joints made using an American Beauty resistive soldering station. Compared to the built-in step-up in AD's Shindo Masseto preamplifier, the CineMag was more colorful and punchy, with better timbral distinctions between instruments, approaching the performance of the much more expensive Auditorium 23 Hommage T1. "Nothing less than wonderful," Art said. CineMag 1131 phono transformer is switchable between high and moderately low gains (turns ratios of 1:40 and 1:20, respectively), and features gold-plated connectors, and a ground-lift switch. Compared to the internal Lundahl transformers in AD's Shindo preamplifier, the CineMag 1131 offered greater impact, immediacy, and emotional intensity; compared to the Silvercore One-to-Ten transformer, the CineMag sounded "just as dynamic and punchy, but was also a little bit richer and far, far bigger," he said. The 1131 is borderline Class A. (Vol.33 No.6, Vol.35 No.5 WWW)

EAR 834P: $1895 economy model; $2595 deluxe model ★
Tim de Paravicini–designed, three-tube (12AX7) MM stage that also offers, for MC use, a pair of step-up transformers (3–50 ohms). MF: "The 834's sound was absolutely gorgeous in the midband, with a touch of 'golden glow,' and an overall spaciousness and enticing musical wholeness....The 834P's bottom-end delivery was well-extended though a bit loose, if only slightly so....[Its] high-frequency extension and transient performance perfectly balanced its bottom: not sharp and etched...but not soft or overly romantic....A slightly sharp, fast-sounding cartridge should really get this thing singing." Compared to the GSP Audio Era Gold Mk.V, BJR found that the EAR 834P exhibited more detail, air, delicacy, and body in the midrange, with more detailed and extended highs, but with rounder, slower bass performance. ST is a long-time owner of the 834 and loves it. Add $700 for chrome Deluxe version. (Vol.20 No.7, Vol.26 No.8, Vol.28 No.1 WWW)

Graham Slee Reflex M: $1240 ★
Like Graham Slee's previous designs, the lightweight Reflex M is housed in a small aluminum case and is powered by an outboard 24V DC power supply. RIAA equalization is applied actively with the negative feedback loop. There are no loading options. Compared to the Graham Slee Era Gold Mk.V, the Reflex M offered superior image solidity, transparency, and top-end extension, said MF. (Vol.35 No.6)

Leben RS-30EQ: $2695
Designed to match Leben's CS300 integrated amp, the robustly built CS-30EQ has a decidedly old-fashioned look, with wood side panels and a gold-toned faceplate. It incorporates a pair of common dual-triode tubes for phono gain, but uses a CR-type equalization circuit rather than the more traditional negative-feedback type. A specially made "orient-core" power transformer is employed to minimize hum and noise. Combined with the CS300, the CS-30EQ delivered a rich, punchy, nuanced sound, said AD, who feels it a high value. "A pleasure to look at, a pleasure to use, and delightful to hear," he concluded. JA was bothered by the CS-30EQ's very high output impedance, however, which restricts the CS-30EQ's compatibility with preamps. (Vol.34 No.11 WWW)

Leema Acoustics Essentials: $749
See AD's review in this issue.

LFD Phonostage LE: $1295 $$$ ★
Phonostage LE Special: $1795 ★

Minimalist in design and appearance, the LFD Phonostage LE combines 28 resistors, 24 capacitors, 4 regulators, 2 epitaxial diodes, 2 op-amps, and 1 transformer in a pleasant-looking chassis of extruded aluminum. It has a fixed input impedance of 47k ohms and can be configured to provide appropriate gain for moving-magnet (39dB) or moving-coil (53dB) cartridges. Despite its modest design and price, the LFD was "a sonically refined, musically involving, downright fun piece of gear," with a nice sense of touch, good weight and impact, and beautifully rich timbral colors, said AD. Upgraded with multistrand PC-OCC input wiring, multidiameter silver output wiring, taller viscoelastic isolation feet, and a larger power transformer, the Phonostage LE Special ($1895) offered greater nuance, touch, detail, and scale for a more compelling listening experience, felt Art. "The measured performance of both versions was first-class," said JA. (Vol.34 No.6 WWW)

Liberty Audio B2B-1: $1749 ★
Made in the US, the all-FET, class-A B2B-1 comes in a heavy-duty aluminum chassis with a handsome black-anodized faceplate. In addition to its chassis-mounted RCA input and output jacks, the B2B-1 provides single input and output XLR jacks for use as a fully differential mono phono preamp. Jumpers offer five choices of resistive loading and two choices of gain. Though it lacked the Lejonklou Slipski's midrange richness, the B2B-1 produced an extremely quiet, authoritative, ultradynamic sound with deep bass, clean transients, fast attacks, and precise images. "It's a mini Boulder 1008," Mikey praised. The B2B-1 is one of the best-measuring phono preamps in JA's experience. "Nice. Very nice," he said. Sold factory-direct with a two-week return policy. (Vol.34 No.10; Vol.35 No.6 WWW)

Manley Chinook: $2400 ★
Made in the US, the Chinook is a one-box, tube-and-FET-cascode, MM/MC phono preamp. A pair of dual-triode 6922 tubes produces the gain, while a second, direct-coupled pair drives the output. Resistive and capacitive loading are selectable via rear-panel DIP switches. Though it lacked the slam and intensity of Manley's much more expensive Steelhead, the Chinook had a subtly warm overall sound, with clean transient attacks, generous sustain and decay, reasonably taut bass, and good soundstaging and imaging, said MF. (Vol.35 No.8)

Music First Audio Step-Up Transformer: $3100 ★
The impeccably built Music First comes in an attractive aluminum case and uses Stevens & Billington TX103 nickel-core transformers. Three turns-ratio options (1:5, 1:10, and 1:20) and six loading options (10k, 20k, 30k, 40k, 80k ohms, and Open Circuit) are selectable via Swiss-made ELNA silver-contact rotary switches; internal connections are made with 0.6mm single-strand, silver- and Teflon-coated wire. Compared to the Ypsilon MC16, the Music First lacked transparency, top-end extension, and transient snap, said MF. (Vol.35 No.6)

Musical Fidelity M1ViNL: $1199 ★
Based on circuitry used in Musical Fidelity's more expensive kW phono stage, the versatile M1ViNL has front-panel pushbuttons that allow the user to choose between MM and MC inputs, eight capacitance settings, 10 loading options, and RIAA or IEC equalization. Compared to Manley's Chinook, the M1ViNL's sound was somewhat dry and slightly dark but inviting overall, with clean, fast attacks; solid, three-dimensional images; well-extended bass; and a rich, warm midrange. MF summed up: "Musical Fidelity's M1ViNL is as easy to recommend as it is to listen to." (Vol.35 No.9)

NVO SPA-II: $7000
Imported from Cyprus by Sounds of Silence, the SPA-II is an all-tube, MC/MM phono preamp with a simple aluminum chassis. It has no step-up transformers, but provides 62dB of gain; MC loading is done with RCA or XLR plugs fitted with resistors. The SPA-II ran very warm but was exceptionally quiet; it produced sweet highs, a warm midrange, and well-controlled, full-bodied bass, said MF. (Vol.36 No.7)

PTE MMMC-R: $1595 ★
Made in the US, this MM/MC phono preamp is housed in an attractive wooden case and contains a full complement of gain and loading options selected via DIP switches. In moving-coil mode the PTE produced compact, well-focused images, an expansive soundstage, and very good macrodynamics. In moving-magnet mode, however, the PTE sounded "flat, cardboard, and glary," said MF. Changes in production to the MMMC's MM section are said to improve its sound. JA's measurements of a current production sample showed that the MMMC offers superb behavior via both its MC and MM inputs. Current production has increased power-supply voltage and uses active RIAA equalization and low-tolerance film capacitors. While the original version sounded "flat, cardboardy, and glary" in MM mode, the revised version offered "tube-like richness and warmth," said MF, hence the promotion to Class B. (Vol.34 No.10, Vol.35 Nos.2 & 6 WWW)

Robyatt Audio Mono: $675
Simple inside and out, the True Mono SUT step-up transformer is made to Robyatt's specifications by AK Audio of Brooklyn, New York, and comprises just a single transformer and some bits of wire and connectors in a clean copper case. Fit and finish were rough. The True Mono SUT worked well with every mono cartridge AD had on hand and exhibited a "tremendous sense of scale and cavernously deep bass response." Also available as part of Robyatt Audio's Ultimate Mono Record Playing System ($3000), with the Miyajima laboratory Premium Mono BE phono cartridge and Tektron Italia Mono phono preamp. (Vol.35 No.6 WWW)

Soundsmith MCP2: $999.95 $$$ ★
Similar in appearance to the Soundsmith MMP3, the MCP2 offers 62dB gain and continuously variable loading from 10 to 5k ohms. It had a smooth, well-balanced overall sound with a slightly warm midrange, a moderately deep soundstage, and fair bass extension. Mikey found that the MCP2's overall smoothness made long listening sessions easy, but turning the volume up too far resulted in excessive glare. Compared with the far more expensive Ypsilon VPS-100, the MCP2 exhibited a tendency toward brightness and electronic haze, said MF. (Vol.34 No.10, Vol.35 No.3)

Sutherland Insight: $1400 $$$
The dual-mono, AC-powered Insight has a case of cold-rolled steel with a powder coat of baked-on epoxy and uses Wima polypropylene-film capacitors, Dale/Vishay metal-film resistors, and gold-plated RCA and internal jumper jacks. Gain and loading options are adjustable. Compared with the Musical Fidelity M1ViNYL, the Insight offered greater dynamic thrust and slightly more transparency but lacked midrange warmth, said MF. "The Insight is easy to recommend," he said. This phono pre lacks the drive and impact of the best units I've heard, and is also slightly short on texture, but it's wonderfully quiet and pure-sounding, with a nice sense of flow, sums up AD. He advises owners of early-production units to call the factory to determine if their Insights are in need of an upgrade: an IC replacement that most users will be able to perform themselves without difficulty. (Vol.36 No.8, Vol.37 No.10 WWW)


Lehmann Audio Black Cube Statement: $449 $$$
The bearer of Lehmannaudio's loftiest product name is in fact their least expensive phono preamplifier: a solid-state device built into a single (not counting the wall wart) and decidedly nonfancy aluminum box. The 1.75" by 4" by 4.25" Statement offers the user a choice of four gain settings (31, 41, 51, or 61dB) and three input-impedance selections (100, 1k, and 47k ohms), the latter supplemented with open slots on its circuit board into which the user can insert the loading resistors of his or her choice. SM was won over by the Statement's dynamic and rather bold, forward sound, especially when compared with his reference, the more reticent NAD PP-3. Above all, SM was impressed by the Statement's high value: "At $449, it strikes me as a bargain . . . dynamic and robust, with a great sense of space." (Vol.37 No.5 WWW)

Musical Fidelity V90-LPS: $229 $$$
Musical Fidelity's new V90 line of small (6.6" by 4" by 1.8"), affordable, Taiwanese-built electronics includes the V90-LPS phono preamplifier, offering two separate pairs of inputs—one for MM (47k ohm impedance), another for MC (100 ohm impedance)—selectable by means of a pushbutton toggle. ST, who insists that, "For jazz, analog is superior to digital," tried the V90-LPS in place of his tried-and-true EAR 834P phono stage. His verdict: "Good enough and then some. It's detailed, sweet, and dynamic, and flexible enough to accommodate almost any MM or MC cartridge." (Vol.37 No.4)

Schiit Mani: $129 $$$
See HR's review in this issue.

Soundsmith MMP3: $649.95 ★
The modest MMP3 provides 43dB gain, comes in a nicely machined aluminum case, and is powered by a 24V wall wart. It produced very quiet backgrounds and reasonably good dynamics, but bass extension and punch were only okay, its imaging was slightly diffuse, and its sound suffered overall from a slight metallic haze. "It's what you can expect for $400 [price when reviewed]," said MF. "If that's what you can afford, the MMP3 at least gets the job done quietly and cleanly." HR opined that, with his Ortofon and Grado cartridges, the MMP3 "leaned a little toward soft and dark, and a lot toward invisible." (Vol.34 No.10, Vol.38 No.6 WWW)

Tektron Italia Mono: $1350 ★
Made in Italy exclusively for Robyatt Audio, the Mono Phono phono preamplifier is housed in a wood-frame box with a solid-copper top that doubles as a ground plane. The Tektron's power supply uses an onboard mains transformer with an EZ80 full-wave rectifier tube for the rail voltage and a silicon rectifier bridge for the heater voltages. Gain is supplied by a pair of 12AX7 dual-triode tubes, which share the signal path with a passive RIAA filter. Fit and finish were excellent. The sound was "workmanlike," with a slightly bright tonal balance, decent musical flow, and a nice sense of presence, said AD. Also available as part of Robyatt Audio's Ultimate Mono Record Playing System ($3000), with the Miyajima laboratory Premium Mono BE phono cartridge and Robyatt Audio True Mono SUT step-up transformer. (Vol.35 No.6 WWW)


Bozak Madisson CLK-PH2: $19.95 $$$
Small, dark, and distant: That's how SM described the sound of this small, dark, Taiwanese phono preamplifier, available for sale through the mail-order megalodon of your choice. So what do you want for 20 bucks (plus shipping): to live forever? For that kind of money, SM says, the Bozak Madisson CLK-PH2 is "totally recommended." Extra points for performing humlessly without an external power supply; bonus point for having the courage to add, at least phonetically, the word click to the name of a phono product. (Vol.37 No.5 WWW)

NAD PP4: $199 $$$ ★
The simple, small (5.3" W by 1.7" H by 1.6" D) PP 3i has circuitry identical to that of NAD's PP 2 phono stage, but adds a line input and a 16-bit, bus-powered A/D converter with USB interface for digitizing LPs via a Mac or PC, and includes user-friendly VinylLite software. Used as a standard phono preamp, the PP 3i was neutral, delicate, and resolving, with a rich midrange, fast transients, and strong senses of coherence, pacing, and rhythmic consistency, said BJR. Digitized files maintained the original LPs' harmonic and dynamic signatures, but sacrificed a bit of air, richness, and warmth. "The PP 3i has no meaningful flaws," said BJR. "A superb value," agreed JA. current version is called the PP4—same circuitry but now has a level control and an automatic power-down feature. (Vol.33 No.4 WWW)

No Class Distinction

Rek-O-Kut Re-Equalizer II mono record-specific equalizer: $369 ★
Built into a small metal box attached to a rack-width panel of black aluminum, the Rek-O-Kut Re-Equalizer is designed to work with the gain and EQ of an existing phono preamp, making it "perhaps the least expensive and simplest of all 78rpm-specific equalizers on the market," said AD. Included in the owner's manual are several pages of thorough EQ recommendations for various labels and two pages of helpful tips on record labels and matrix numbers. Though it added a very slight veiling to the sound, the Re-Equalizer proved effective, useful, and fun. (Vol.32 No.1 WWW)

Sentec EQ11: $2500
The Sentec EQ11 is a four-tube phono stage that provides an input impedance of 45k ohms, approximately 30dB of gain, and RIAA phono equalization. What set the EQ11 apart from other such MM-appropriate preamps are five additional, switch-selectable EQ curves for the most common types of vintage record, including those for early Columbia LPs and Decca (and other) 78s. The Sentec's raison d'être, per HR: "If you start buying a lot of collectible old records pressed before 1965, you'll certainly notice that the music on some labels sounds a lot better than the music on others. The purpose of the Sentec EQ11 is to make many of those differences go away." HR said the Sentec EQ11, used with the Miyajima Spirit Mono cartridge, "can show you a lot of what you still haven't heard from your old records. This combo .ˇ.ˇ. not only makes the records of the past sound good, it makes them sound the way your brain knows they're supposed to sound." Note that the EQ11's gain and input impedance won't suit the majority of MC cartridges, for which an outboard step-up transformer is suggested. While photographing the EQ11, JA hoisted it onto his test bench and found that, despite some minor differences in gain, the shapes of the various EQ curves were consistent from channel to channel—and correlated with HR's observations. The THD+noise percentage was extremely low, and harmonic distortion was "fairly low and almost entirely second harmonic in nature," although intermodulation distortion was higher than expected. His verdict: "Despite its modest appearance and wall-wart power supply, Sentec's EQ11 offers respectable measured performance to accompany its flexibility of equalization." (Vol.37 Nos. 10 & 12 WWW)


Sutherland Duo.

Boulder 2008 discontinued; Trinity Electronic Design Phono not currently available in the US; Bellari MT502 transformer, Rogue Audio Ares, Simaudio Moon 310LP, Vitus Audio MP-P201 Masterpiece, all not auditioned in a long time.

Phono Accessories & Record Cleaners

AcousTech The Big Record Brush: $36.95 ★
This large-handled brush has soft bristles of both natural hairs and conductive synthetic fibers, and makes dusting LPs nearly foolproof. The 5.5"-wide bristle area easily spans the width of any LP's grooved area. Version with ground wire ($52.95) does "a pretty effective job of dissipating static electricity," Mikey said. (Vol.31 No.9)

Acoustical Systems SMARTractor: $650
The SMARTractor is a semicircle of mirrored plastic with five single-point alignment grids: Löfgren A/Baerwald IEC, Löfgren A/Baerwald DIN, Löfgren B/IEC, Löfgren B/DIN, and UNI-DIN. A sixth position, labeled UNI-P2S, specifies pivot-to-spindle distance. Each alignment option has its own tiny dimple into which the stylus must fit for the alignment to be perfect. Three pop-in adapters (7.1, 7.15, and 7.2mm thick) ensure a secure fit with a variety of spindles. A sophisticated sighting and magnification system allow the user to precisely set parallax and zenith angle. Though very expensive, the SMARTractor was "the easiest and most accurate alignment device I've used," said Mikey. (Vol.37 No.2)

Aesthetix MC Demagnetizer: $199 ★
Battery-powered, reasonably priced, seems to do the job as well as any of them, decided MF. (Vol.25 No.7)

Allnic Audio SpeedNic: $399
The SpeedNic is a strobing platter-speed checker for 33.33, 45, and 78rpm discs. It uses a gooseneck LED lamp powered by three C batteries and a metal disc that doubles as a record weight. Expensive, but works as advertised, said MF. (Vol.34 No.12)

Audio Additives digital stylus-force gauge: $79.99
The Audio Additives comes in a nice black box and includes two AAA batteries and a 5gm calibration weight. It has an easy-to-read touchscreen display, a nonmagnetic case, and accurately measures a cartridge's vertical tracking force down to 0.001gm. Precise and a pleasure to use, said SM. (Vol.35 No.11 WWW)

Audio Desk System Vinyl Cleaner: $3995
(The fully-automatic Audio Desk uses ultrasound and cavitation to clean records, much as an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner does for jewels. The entire cleaning and drying process is completely silent and takes about six minutes. A 20ml bottle of Audio Desk's alcohol-free, biodegradable concentrate ($19.95) will clean at least 50 records, and the microfiber cleaning barrels ($99.95 each) are good for 500 to 1000 cleaning cycles. "The Audio Desk Systeme was the most effective, easy-to-use record-cleaning machine I've ever tried," said MF. He bought the review sample. FK was stunned. The Audio Desk not only thoroughly cleaned his LPs, it significantly improved their sound, revealing nuances long locked in the grooves. "If your stereo system cost tens of thousands of dollars and you play a lot of vinyl, you need to check this thing out," he said.AD squinted at the lack of adjustable feet—the Vinyl Cleaner must be kept level during operation—but was otherwise gobsmacked: "If there exists a more effective, easy, reliable, and utterly transformative way of cleaning LPs, I have yet to hear it." He added: "I regret that I can't afford a Vinyl Cleaner, but I do not consider Audiodesksysteme's price of $4450 regrettable in and of itself. [The] Vinyl Cleaner's build quality, like its effectiveness, is beyond reproach." (Vol.35 No.6, Vol.36 No.9, Vol.38 No.3 WWW)

Audio Intelligent record-cleaning fluids ★
MF: "The AI fluids are reasonably priced, easy to apply and (especially) to spread, clean extremely well, and leave no audible residue." "Simple, effective, and distributed by kind people," said SM. Prices are for 16-oz bottles: Enzymatic Formula, $25; alcohol-free Premium Archivist Formula, $25; Super Cleaning Formula with research-grade isopropanol, $25; Ultra-Pure Water (claimed to be 50 times purer than distilled water), $16. Distributed by Missouri-based Osage Audio Products, LLC. (Vol.30 No.12, Vol.35 No.4 WWW)

Clearaudio Outer Limit Turntable Ring: $1350 ★
Heavy, stainless-steel ring acts as a speed-stabilizing flywheel, damps the record, and flattens outer-groove warps. However, MF cautioned, its weight means that you can use it only with turntables with massive platters and/or very powerful motors. MF also noted that a centering template would be a happy addition to the package. The Outer Limit was "a pain to center." Nonetheless, it "blackened backgrounds, solidified images, and made them 'pop' in three dimensions." (Vol.24 No.10)

DB Systems DBP-10 protractor: $49 ★
Fiddly but accurate guide for setting cartridge tangency. JA's preferred alignment protractor. The DBP-10 can be used to gauge alignment accuracy at any point or points between 44 and 153mm from the record spindle. "A hell of a bargain," said AD. (Vol.33 No.6 WWW)

DB Systems DBP-6MC resistive loading kit: $49 ★
This resistive loading kit is based on a pair of flexible Y-adapters, each having two phono sockets at one end and a single phono plug at the other. It comes with five pairs of color-coded resistive plugs (10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 ohms), as well as a pair of empty plugs into which an alternate resistor value can be soldered. "An ancient but eminently useful thing to have," said AD. (Vol.32 No.8 WWW)

K-A-B SpeedStrobe Digital Phonograph Speed Readout: $109.95 ★
Easy-to-use strobe disc simplifies precision adjustment of turntable speeds from 331/3 to all of the variations on "78." "It's just fantastic," effused J-10. "It looks cool, and it's a snap to perfectly set the speed." (Vol.19 No.2)

Keith Monks Audio Works Mk.VII Omni record-cleaning machine: $6995 ★
The late Keith Monks's son, Jonathan, has taken over production of this venerable classic, moving manufacturing to a dedicated facility on the Isle of Wight and expanding the line to include new models, new platter mats, new cleaning brushes, and specially formulated cleaning fluids. With its solid idler-driven platter, refined cabinetry, and improved internal wiring, the new machine outclasses the old. After cleaning a record, AD noted clearer instrumental voices and greater low-level detail. The Omni was "so easy to use—so pleasant to use—that the prospect of cleaning LPs became a happy one." English oak finish now standard. (Vol.32 No.5 WWW)

Keith Monks DiscOvery One record cleaning machine: $2495 $$$
The discOveryOne is both the newest and the least expensive record-cleaning machine from the company that created the genre. The new machine has at its core an off-the-shelf direct-drive record player, the tonearm of which is modified to accommodate both a fluid-evacuation system and a means of delivering and refreshing the nylon thread used to cushion the vacuum nozzle. Money is also saved by eliminating the automated fluid-dispensing system of older, more expensive Keith Monks machines, though that can be retrofitted to a discOveryOne for $700. AD observed that the new machine's vacuum-drying function was slower than that of its predecessors, but no less effective—and surprisingly quiet. He quibbled with some construction details and was puzzled that the stripped-down machine was actually larger than its stablemates, but nonetheless declared the discOveryOne "an accessory of notably high value—and notable worth." (Vol.37 No.4 WWW)

Kerry Audio Design F2 Titanium tonearm counterweight: $129 ★
Titanium replacement counterweight for Rega tonearms. Machined with three sets of thin contact rails that ride on the Rega arm's counterweight stub. The sonic improvement was "amazing," thought MF; he found the F2 gave better bass response, greater low-frequency extension and control, and an improved sense of overall weight and tonal richness. (Vol.26 No.5)

LAST Power Cleaner for LPs: $44/¾-oz bottle, with applicators ★
This small bottle of Freon-free cleaner is enough to treat 75 LPs. JE found just three drops sufficient to remove dirt, dust, and grime from garage-sale records, though he discovered that a subsequent wash with his VPI HW-17 was still required to reduce groove noise to acceptable levels. "A worthwhile companion to LAST's wonderful Record Preservative." (Vol.17 No.5)

"LAST Record Preservative, with applicators: $50/2-oz bottle ★" "Significantly improves the sound of even new records, and is claimed to make them last longer. "I unhesitatingly recommend LAST Record Preservative," said Mikey, whose records sound as quiet now as they did when he first started using the treatment, over 25 years ago. AD is not a fan, however, though he does admit that LAST, if used correctly, does no harm. $185/8oz, $350/16oz. (Vol.5 No.3, Vol.30 No.10)

LAST STYLAST Stylus Treatment: $36/¼-oz bottle ★
Stylus treatment designed to reduce friction between groove and phono cartridge. Some manufacturers caution against it, claiming it migrates up the cantilever and attracts dust, thus clogging the armature. One reader suggests applying treatment to brush rather than stylus, which would reduce the possibility of over-applying. MF has found STYLAST effective, but expresses concern over possible cartridge damage. (Vol.18 No.12)

Lyra SPT: $50/5ml bottle ★
Includes a small, wedge-shaped applicator with which MF brushed a drop of this fluid carefully, back to front, along the stylus. Don't get any on the cantilever, he warned, and wait 10 seconds before playing a record. Pricey fluid said to lubricate the stylus, to improve S/N ratio and trackability, and to last for one side's playing time. Mikey thinks he noted a slight sound-softening effect, but wouldn't bet the farm on it. (Vol.23 No.11)

Merrill G.E.M. Dandy Hydraulic Record Cleaner: $149 ★
Designed to sit in a sink, the "rudimentary but ingenious" G.E.M. Dandy is an inexpensive manual record-cleaning rig that uses a proprietary cleaning solution comprising a degreasing detergent and an alcohol-based carrier, followed by a tap-water rinse. Made mostly of PVC tubing, the Dandy has a vertically mounted clamping mechanism that permits easy rotation of the secured LP. Also included are a faucet-coupling adaptor, a protractor, and a length of clear plastic tubing with a pressurized water nozzle. "Until you get the hang of it," Mikey warned, "the G.E.M. Dandy can make a mess." Despite his best efforts, water invariably seeped into the Dandy's protective cups to wet the outside edges of record labels. However, the Dandy proved "terrific" for cleaning water-damaged and crudded-up records, MF concluded. (Vol.31 No.9)

Milty Zerostat 3: $100 ★
"The gold standard of static-discharge devices," the ZeroStat is a gun-shaped gadget with two heavy-duty piezo-electric crystals and a patented compression trigger. Slowly squeezing and releasing the trigger produces a neutral static condition, thus removing static cling from record surfaces. Said to be good for at least 10,000 squeeze cycles. SM uses the Zerostat religiously: "Wouldn't want to live without it," he declares. (Vol.30 No.10, Vol.35 No.5 WWW)

Mobile Fidelity Geo-Disc alignment tool: $49.99
The size and shape of an LP, with a spindle hole at its center and clear instructions printed right on its surface, MoFi's Geo-Disc is a simple and affordable cartridge-alignment tool. Using the Geo-Disc to install cartridges on the VPI Traveler and various Rega 'tables, SM easily and consistently achieved accurate alignment. Diehard analog hobbyists will still want the versatility of more complex tools, such as the DB Systems DBP-10, but "the Geo-Disc is the only alignment protractor most vinyl enthusiasts will ever need," said SM. (Vol.35 No.11 WWW)

Musical Surroundings Fozgometer: $300
The Fozgometer allows its user to easily check phono cartridge channel separation and crosstalk. (It uses a log-ratio detector developed by Jim Fosgate for the steering-logic circuits of surround processors.) Housed in an aluminum case, it runs on a 9V alkaline battery and has an On/Off switch, left and right RCA input jacks, an analog signal meter, and three LEDs labeled Left, Center, and Right. "Well made, really easy to use, and accurate," said Mikey. "The Fozgometer gets my highest recommendation!" However, while the Fozgometer provides useful measurements for cartridges with similar channel-separation numbers, it can lead to unusual and undesirable results with cartridges that have high levels of interchannel crosstalk disparity, cautioned MF. (Vol.33 Nos.5 & 11)

Nitty Gritty 2.5Fi-XP LP cleaning machine: $1115
Nitty Gritty's latest record-cleaning machine adds the convenience of two separate fluid chambers and hand pumps for quicker, easier cleaning sessions, and has a new venting system that allows the machine's motor to run cooler for longer periods of time. Like other Nitty Gritty machines, the 2.5Fi-XP forgoes a platter in favor of a round, label-sized disc, making the Nitty Gritty more compact than most other record-cleaning machines. The 2.5Fi-XP managed to quickly and thoroughly clean and dry very dirty LPs. "Two wet thumbs up!" said Mikey. (Vol.34 No.5)

Nitty Gritty Mini Pro 2 record-cleaning machine: $1459 ★
Nitty Gritty 2.5Fi Vacuum record-cleaning machine: $1015 ★
Nitty Gritty 1.5Fi record-cleaning machine: $935 ★

The Mini Pro is a semiautomatic machine that cleans both disc sides simultaneously. The 1.5 is identical to the 2.5 but substitutes black-vinyl woodgrain for the latter's genuine oak side panels. Instead of a vacuuming "tonearm," as on the professional Keith Monks machine, the NG cleaner uses a vacuum slot, with the record cleaned by fixed, chassis-mounted "lips." Gunk-laden fluid is vacuumed off. Cleaning is efficient and as good as Nitty Gritty's Pro, at a significantly lower price, though it takes twice as long, cleaning each side of an LP in turn. Don't smear the schmutz from one record to another, MF warned; he suggests manual pre-cleaning of records for best results. While the vacuum-cleaning Nitty Gritty does a job on dusty albums nearly equivalent to that of the similarly priced VPI HW-16.5, CG felt that the VPI's hard-bristled brush did better with really dirty LPs than did NG's velvet one. He found the effect of both was to produce a less colored, more detailed midband sound from LPs, as well as provide the expected reduction in surface noise. (Vol.8 No.1, Mini Pro; Vol.7 No.5, Vol.8 No.1, Vol.23 No.6, 2.5Fi; Vol.17 No.5, 1.5Fi)

Onzow Zero Dust: $69 ★
"A circular mound of semi-gelatinous goop in a box, onto which you gently lower your stylus," said MF. Use is simple: "After a few seconds, you lift the stylus, and it's as clean and residue-free as the proverbial whistle....Upside: no potentially dangerous brushing, and no fluids. Downside: if you like to leave your platter spinning, you'll have to stop it each time, or find another steady surface upon which to perform the operation." (Vol.25 No.3)

ORB phono accessories: $350–$480 ★
The Sakura handheld static-discharge eliminator ($350) is a variant of the Furutech deStat SNH-2, and the SFM-2 stylus-force gauge ($480) and CRE-2 Cartridge Exciter ($399) are variants of similar products from Air Tight. While pricey, the ORB Phono Accessoriesare beautifully made and work well, said Mikey. Available directly from www.twinaudiovideo.com. (Vol.33 No.12)

Rega R808 2mm spacer: $39
This simple stainless-steel spacer allows owners of Rega tonearms to adjust the height of their arms to accommodate non-Rega cartridges. Fidgety but worth the hassle, says SM. With the spacer in place and Dynavector's DV 10X5 moving-coil cartridge mounted on his Rega P3-24, SM heard improved clarity, impact, immediacy, and soundstage depth. (Vol.35 No.11 WWW)

Rek-O-Kut Stylus Force Gauge: $24 ★
The Rek-O-Kut Stylus Force Gauge is a big, easy-to-use balance beam that comes with a total of 5.75gm in plastic weights, for use in various combinations. For cartridges designed to play at downforces of 3.5gm or more, the Rek-O-Kut is "a good, cheap solution," said AD. (Vol.32 No.2 WWW)

Shure SFG-2 stylus-force gauge: $40
Shure's classic balance-beam stylus-force gauge is simple to use and accurately measures a cartridge's vertical tracking force between 0.5 and 3.0gm. At less than half the price of the Audio Additives, the Shure is a great little tool, but the AA is easier to use, more precise, and provides an extra measure of comfort, said SM. (Vol.35 No.11 WWW)

Soundsmith EZ-Mount screws: $39.95 ★
Soundsmith's sets of knurled screws, designed to fit most brands of tapped cartridge, made installing cartridges much easier, said Mikey. Each set includes pairs of 10mm-long screws made of four different materials—nylon (1.04gm/pair), aluminum (2.06gm/pair), stainless steel (5.80gm/pair), and brass (6.24gm/pair)—so that users can easily match a tonearm's effective mass to a cartridge's compliance. (Vol.33 No.12)

Spin Clean Record Washing System: $79.95 $$$ ★
Package includes a plastic vat, two brushes, two rollers, a 4-oz bottle of concentrated cleaning fluid, and washable drying cloths. Three sets of slots allow cleaning of 7", 10", and 12" records. Two velvet-like brushes clean both sides of a record simultaneously as the user rotates the record within the appropriate slot. Though "not nearly as convenient or as efficacious as a vacuum cleaning system," the Spin Clean Record Washing System "got the job done," said Mikey. Spin Clean claims a single vat of fluid can clean up to 50 records, but MF suggests refreshing the vat more often. A 16-oz bottle of fluid costs $20; a package of five drying cloths costs $14.99. (Vol.33 No.2)

Sutherland Timeline: $400 ★
The Timeline is a device for testing a turntable's accuracy of speed. Housed in a solid disc of aluminum and Delrin that fits over the platter spindle, the Timeline uses eight laser-projected timing marks with a claimed accuracy within two parts per million. "Unless your wall has hash marks, there's a bit of subjectivity involved, and at $400 the Timeline isn't cheap," said MF. "Indispensable," said BD, who used the Timeline to measure, set, and monitor the speeds of his Spiral Groove SG-2 and VPI HR-X turntables. (Vol.33 Nos.3 & 12 WWW)

Synergistic Research PHT: $199/two
As MF described it, the PHT is "a very tiny, tweezer-ready HFT designed to be placed atop a phono cartridge." In MF's system, the PHT "produced an ear-popping, Cinerama-like, wraparound soundstage, and an overall sound even less tethered to the speaker positions." (Vol.38 No.2)

The Disc Doctor's Miracle Record Cleaner: $27.00/pint plus $7.15 S&H ★
The Disc Doctor's Stylus Cleaner: $28.00/17ml plus $3.80 S&H

Chemist Duane Goldman, the Disc Doctor, claims that his Stylus Cleaner—a mixture of sub-micron filtered water and separately sub-micron filtered +99.5% 1-propanol alcohol—leaves no residue on the stylus or cantilever. Comes with a stiff brush for the first wet cleaning of the stylus. After that, the good Doctor recommends a natural-bristle artist's brush that's been cut down at an angle or been given a crew cut, as Mikey put it. Quart of fluid, $40.75/$8.65 S&H; half gallon, $64.75/$10.00 S&H; size A for LP brushes, $44.95/pair/$4.55 S&H; size B for 45s, $31.95/pair; replacement pads for brushes, $16.50/4; QuickWash solution, quart, $27; half gallon, $44.25. (Vol.20 No.3, Vol.23 No.11, Vol.24 No.7)

Vinyl Flat LP Flattener: $119.95
Made in the US, the Vinyl Flat uses pressure, heat, and time to repair warped and dished LPs. The basic package contains two Groovy Rings (LP-sized sheets of black plastic), two heavy metal plates, a few pieces of hardware, a nice storage case, and a table of heating times and cooling cycles. The optional Groovy Pouch ($79.95) is a soft, specially made enclosure that uses carbon-fiber heating elements to surround the Vinyl Flat with gentle, even heat. Using his oven or the Groovy Pouch, SM was able to successfully flatten even severely warped and dished LPs, but cautions: "Be sure that your oven's temperature is properly calibrated before baking your precious LPs." (Vol.35 Nos.4 & 5 WWW)

VPI HW-17 record-cleaning machine: $1800 ★
VPI HW-16.5 record-cleaning machine: $650 ★

Clearly an industrial-quality machine of reassuring quality, the VPI '17 cleans one side at a time, semiautomatically, and is slower than the Nitty Gritty. "Best I've used," says LA. Latest version has a heavier-duty vacuum system. The '16.5 is a manually operated version with a noisier motor. Adjusts automatically to thickness of record; gets hot quickly. Of the HW-17F, MF says, "Fast, convenient, beautifully constructed, and can be used indefinitely without overheating. The fan version of the 17 is well worth the extra money for those post–garage-sale/record-convention analog orgies when only cleaning the whole pile will do." "The 17F is probably the best record-cleaning machine available," MF concluded; "a true workhorse." (Vol.8 No.1, Vol.19 No.6, Vol.23 No.6, HW-17F; Vol.5 Nos.7 & 9, original HW-16; Vol.17 No.5, Vol.19 No.6, HW-16.5)

VPI HW-27 Typhoon record-cleaning machine: $2500 ★
The Typhoon is smaller, quieter, and more attractive than earlier VPI record-cleaning machines, "with the look and feel of a turntable." Its vacuum pump, twice as powerful as that used in the HW-17, proved capable of drying an LP in a single rapid revolution. "The Typhoon is a clean, efficient record-cleaning machine that's almost fun to use," said MF. (Vol.30 No.5)

VPI VTA adjuster for Rega tonearm: $150 ★
"Seems to maintain the desired rigidity while allowing for about a full inch of vertical adjustability. It's nicely machined from aluminum and has a sturdy mounting collar." Its only downside, reported MF, is that it won't fit into a standard Rega opening. Drill it out yourself or send your armboard to VPI. (Vol.23 No.6)

Furutech DeMag record demagnetizer replaced by new model.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Is meant to summon 1960s LP album covers - the record company banners on them. Of course the "stereophile" logo is of a different style, but still a nice touch if I'm correct.

Venere 2's picture

Too funny to see the 1499$ KEF LS50 still in Class A with the Magico Q5 at 65 000$

That is one of a good handful of aberrations. Stereophile gets a lot of things right. But when they don't, they really don't!

z24069's picture

Under Disc Players, Transports, etc...there are some fine choices in all the categories and they all definitely belong on the list IMHO.

HOWEVER, you've completely left Esoteric products off the list; this begs the question as to how at least one of the myriad SOTA products (1box as well as multi-box) from Esoteric including the K-01x, K-03x, P-02/D-02, P-1/D-1s/etc...cannot be found on this list.

Their products did receive nominations from TAS and Stereophile for best-of categories for many years and have been bettered in terms of sound quality in more recent product releases; it leaves one wondering how they could be conspicuous by their complete absence from this year's and last year's lists???

John Atkinson's picture
z24069 wrote:
it leaves one wondering how they could be conspicuous by their complete absence from this year's and last year's lists???

This is because we haven't reviewed any Esoteric products for a couple of years. (I favorably reviewed the D-07 D/A processor in 2011 - see www.stereophile.com/content/esoteric-d-07-da-processor.) The company has gone through major changes in its management and distribution and we are waiting for things to settle down before investing our resources in a review.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

z24069's picture


Thank you for the reply...there has been high praise on various forums for K01, K01X, K03X, P1/D1, P2/D2 and C02/C02X products from them. It is true with the buy of Esoteric away from Teac and Onkyo/Integra now providing support and sales things have changed and a number of us had to dig a bit to get contacts at the new company for everything from sales to support. It may be time to review them again however as the level of playback achieved by the P1/D1, P2/D2 and K01X is nothing short of stunning, certainly in line with many products that did make the list over the last couple of years. If you are interested in those contacts or talking directly with some Esoteric owners of multi-generations including the current ones, please let me know and I'll get you in touch.... There are other brands and products missing as well (check out Legacy "V" and "Aeris" for example) and the industry has grown,...perhaps the 500 number as a cut-off should be revisited and raised!

z24069's picture

BTW...if there is a way to reach you via email, I'd be happy to pass on the contacts that some of us have found work for getting in touch with the Sales and Support side of the new Esoteric and to talk about some great music that is currently spinning....Have a great weekend!

yuvalg9's picture


1. In the CD players category, I think you should have mentioned the Naim CD5si and the Cyrus CD i. Both are great value for money.

2. In the Turntables category, I think you should have mentioned at least one of the Pro-Ject models. Pro-Ject is, as you may know, the largest TT Manufacturer in the world.

3. GoldenEar's Triton 5 under the "K" category? Maybe I misunderstood what the "K" category is?