Analog Corner #256: Acoustic Signature Ascona Mk.2 turntable, TA-9000 tonearm

I recently posted to's YouTube channel a video that compares VPI's Prime turntable and JMW 3D-printed tonearm ($3995) with Continuum Audio Labs' Caliburn turntable (ca $150,000 with arm and stand, discontinued) fitted with the Swedish Analog Technologies arm ($28,000). Both played "Braziljah," a snazzy track from the New Zion Trio's latest album, Sunshine Seas (LP, RareNoise RNR065LP), featuring guest Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista.

The Prime was fitted with a Lyra Helikon SL cartridge (ca $2500, discontinued), driving a reasonably priced phono preamplifier: the Audio Alchemy PPA-1 ($1795, currently under review for AnalogPlanet). Accompanying the Continuum Caliburn and SAT arm were Audio-Technica's AT-ART1000 cartridge ($5000), and Ypsilon's MC-16L step-up transformer ($6200) and VPS-100 Silver phono preamplifier ($65,000)—total cost, more than I paid for my first house, in 1992.

In terms of the great disparities in cost and sound quality, the comparison was absurd. My point was to show how much good sound could be gotten from a high-performance turntable at a relatively modest price. But even through YouTube's audio compression, it was clear to all that the big rig sounded far better—some commenters were astonished—but also that the Prime system produced really sweet, very pleasing sound.

However, one YouTube commenter insisted that, had the same cartridge been used in both tonearms, the easily audible sonic differences would have evaporated. How do you argue with someone so dogmatic?

Easy! A while back, I posted on YouTube a video of the Andrew Hill tune "Laverne," from jazz pianist Frank Kimbrough's Meantime (Newvelle NV 001LP), played on the Kuzma combo of Stabi M turntable and 4Point 14" tonearm (footnote 1) with the Lyra Atlas cartridge, driving Audio Tekne's very rich-sounding TEA-8695 PCS tubed phono preamp (footnote 2). More recently, I posted another video of the same cut, this time played with Acoustic Signature's Ascona Mk.2 turntable and TA-9000 tonearm, fitted with the same Lyra Atlas. I used the Ypsilon electronics because the Audio Tekne had been returned to the manufacturer, yet comparing the two recordings clearly indicates that the newer video has sound that's richer and fuller in the midrange. This didn't at all surprise me—the Kuzma combo of Stabi M turntable and 4Point arm was noticeably lean in the midrange, and sounded so even with the lush Audio Tekne phono preamp.

On the other hand, the Kuzma combo had a tightly focused, well-extended bottom-end response, most of which survived its trip through the Audio Tekne's lushness, while the Acoustic Signature combo made the bottom end more lean and somewhat softer, even though it had the benefit of the Ypsilon's far punchier bottom end. Turntables—and, of course, tonearms—do "sound"!

Acoustic Signature Ascona Mk.2 turntable
Acoustic Signature's Ascona Mk.2 turntable ($32,995, footnote 3), which is exquisitely machined from aluminum, is massive yet surprisingly compact. Ingeniously designed by Gunther Frohnhöfer, its tasteful bling also makes it one of today's more visually attractive platter spinners.

The Ascona's unique design features a main chassis in the shape of an equilateral triangle, near each apex of which is a European-made AC synchronous motor encased in its own aluminum pedestal, and driven by a digitally derived signal from Acoustic Signature's new AlphaDIG motor-drive electronics, which the company describes as "State of the Art."

Three massive, circular receptacles attached to the top of the lower chassis accept the upper chassis' three domed, cylindrical threaded brass feet, each having a cross-piece that fits into a slot machined into the lower-chassis receptacle. This locks the feet in place so that the upper chassis can be leveled by turning the knob at each apex. Ingenious and well thought out.

The upper chassis holds Acoustic Signature's signature hand-tuned, low-clearance bearing, with sintered bronze sleeves—said to be self-lubricating—and a Tidorfolon thrust plate. Between the bottom of the hardened-steel bearing shaft and the Tidorfolon plate is a tungsten-carbide ball.

The rim of the large-diameter, one-piece aluminum subplatter comes within a few millimeters of each of the three motor pulleys. An elastomer drive belt loops around the rim and pulleys to produce a large contact area—and enough torque to get the Ascona Mk.2's massive platter (its weight is not specified) up to speed relatively quickly. The subplatter's shape incorporates an unusually tall and wide cone, precision-machined to mate with the platter, which is fabricated from what Acoustic Signature describes as a soft alloy, its lower surface coated with a resonance-damping material. The sturdy design and execution of the Ascona Mk.2 is a showcase of machining excellence.

L–R: The underside of the Ascona's upper chassis; outer and inner armtubes for the TA-9000; the Ascona's lower chassis.

Thirty small brass cylinders, called Silencers, are arrayed around the 13.8" platter's lower periphery; these plus 24 larger Silencers embedded in the platter's record-bearing surface are claimed to eliminate airborne and coupled acoustic energy from the LP being played. The Silencers protrude slightly from the platter surface. Acoustic Signature supplies a thin mat made of a rubbery/leathery material, with holes cut in it that match the tops of the Silencers, though the result is still not a flat surface. According to AS's importer, Fidelis Music Systems, this arrangement produces the most neutral tonal balance, but I don't understand the rationale for it—I think a tight coupling of record to mat to platter is always a good idea.

The 'table can accommodate up to three tonearms on thick aluminum mounting plates that slide in and out of slots in the chassis, to set the pivot-to-spindle distance; those plates are then locked in place by tightening pairs of bolts. Accessing the bolts to loosen, slide, and tighten them requires sliding the Ascona to the edge of the surface on which it's installed. It's not the most convenient system, but it's eminently doable.

Despite its relatively small dimensions of 26.5" (673mm) wide × 8.4" (214mm) high × 19.3" (489mm) deep, the Ascona Mk.2 weighs an incredible 176lb (79.8kg)! But thanks to its modular design, hoisting its various parts atop my HRS stand proved not at all difficult. The $32,995 price, while high, seems reasonable, given the build quality. This is a substantial turntable, and its design intricacies and machining set the bar high.

For an additional $4995, you can add an all-new, three-layer Invictus platter made of a sandwich of aluminum and brass, also incorporating a total of 54 Silencers. This platter comes standard on Acoustic Signature's flagship turntable, the six-motor Invictus ($150,000). Acoustic Signature's position is that if you're spending $32,995 on a turntable, you can easily spend another $4995 for the better platter. One was supplied for this review.

Acoustic Signature TA-9000 tonearm
Acoustic Signature's top tonearm model is available in lengths of 9" or 12"; I chose the 9" version of this very handsome design ($17,995). The arm pivots, horizontally and vertically, on preloaded precision ball bearings produced in the US by Timken and adjusted in-house by a bearing specialist.

Much of the arm's cost is due to its innovative armtube. Gunther Frohnhöfer claims that you can go "stiff and light" with carbon fiber, with the disadvantage of undamped resonances within the audioband, or opt for die-cast aluminum or magnesium tubes, which are relatively stiff, but heavy and also not well damped. Frohnhöfer's solution to the problem of producing a lightweight, extremely stiff, well-damped armtube was to use two concentric aluminum tubes, both with conical exteriors. The tubes are bound together with more than 700 branch-like connecting pads, arranged in a spiral around the inner tube—an incredibly complex construction.

The relationship between the inner and outer tubes of the TA-9000

Vertical tracking angle (VTA) and stylus rake angle (SRA) are adjustable on a very rudimentary level: loosen a clamping screw in the arm base and, unless you hold it up, the arm pillar drops; you can raise or lower the pillar by hand, then hold it in place as you retighten the screw. You can use a ruler to determine a reference height and work from there, or use a marking pen to put lines on the post, but for $17,995 you might expect an arrangement something like the one used in SME's V or the SAT arm, which supports the arm with a vertical screw that can be turned to raise or lower the arm before tightening the clamping screw. The headshell can be rotated for azimuth adjustment by loosening and retightening its own clamping screw.

Other features include: compatibility with SME arm mounts; continuous, pure silver internal wiring terminated with a straight, five-pin DIN connector; and a threaded counterweight stub and brass counterweight. The review sample came with an AudioQuest DIN-to-RCA phono cable.

Footnote 1: See my review of the Kuzmas in the November 2016 "Analog Corner."

Footnote 2: See my review of the Audio Tekne in the November 2016 "Analog Corner."

Footnote 3: Acoustic Signature, AS-Distribution GmbH, Ulmer Strasse 123, D-73037 Göppingen, Germany. Tel: (49) (0)7161-3898135. Fax: (49) (0)7161-3898137. Web: US distributor: Fidelis Music Systems, 460 Amherst Street (Route 101A), Nashua, NH 03063. Tel: (603) 880-4434. Fax: (603) 880-4433. Web:


Doctor Fine's picture

I hope the manufacturer moves forward with their design and makes it perform at a level that supports its price point. Then we all benefit. Good job as usual guys!

Meanwhile, I thought reviewers like you were supposed to be bought off by manufacturers? What will happen now that you were less than all in on this particular product? Will social welfare counselors have been notified to comfort all the afflicted upon request? Ha!

Ortofan's picture

... supposedly improved "Neo" versions of both the turntable and tonearm.
If nothing else, they've raised the prices for both items by about 50%.
The combo now sells for almost $80K.
For that amount of money, you could also opt for an SME Model 60 or an Esoteric Grandioso T1.

Glotz's picture

And the Maximus Neo looks to smash all comers at the $5k price point. Really great reviews by trusted resources across the net.

Top of my list bar none. AS is doing things that really impress. Plasma coated bearing, all-aluminum billeted .1mm toleranced chassis, others.

I liked MT's visit of their facilities a few months back during the Munich show. I do not see VPI nor Clearaudio doing the same level of precision and performance for the money. Others may dismiss them out of hand, but that would be mistake.

johnnythunder1's picture

he has never read a review for a component and posted a comment that simply states " That sound likes an interesting product. I'd like to own that." He has to offer a contrarian product at a cheaper price point or engineering alternative. Or question x, y or z about the reviewers methods. But it makes sense, a different comment of his had him pining for the glory days of the 1970s like when empresario Rudolph Bing was running the Met Opera. Truly a man of the people and the present. Yes, those were the days when Brooklyn had the Dodgers too.

Glotz's picture

Being a Luddite has to involve intelligence and rationale for the 'why' of one's rigidity. Just assuming the product sucks or it's too expensive is precisely the trap.

More often than not, they are covering up for inadequacies of their system, their lack of knowledge or their lack of an open mind.

Implying an contrarian product is better is also a lie as a result of dismissing everything as it feigns knowledge and authority- especially since they really don't know much at all... They haven't listened to it or experienced it.

Glossing over or ignoring aspects of any argument to 'win' on a few of their own points is also reprehensible. To not directly respond to others' valid points is to admit they're wrong about their own convictions.

Back it up respectfully and get respect in return.

Ortofan's picture

... was had MF asked Gunther Frohnhöfer how and why this combination of turntable and tonearm ended up with a price tag comparable to that of a Mercedes GLE SUV.

At least we do also get a review of some Acoustic Signature products whose prices don't rival those of new motor vehicles.

Some prefer to discuss the equipment under review, while others would rather post about their umbrage with other post(er)s.

Glotz's picture

There's a lot to read here as well as the AS website. Perhaps understand what automation does in a multibillion dollar company vs. a small cottage industry. I think you would see comparisons between the two are poor at best.

It is in fact even more ironic you would know expensive automobiles and they luxury they bring and not appreciate this industry for the bespoke research and technology they invent and bring to bear. Not sure why you look at the vehicle industry as justified and the audio industry as not justified (in high prices). State of the art costs money, no matter the industry.

I take a great deal of umbrage with posters that really don't care about this industry, nor the reviewers, nor the magazine itself. Through distrust and implied misinformation, they ruin our fine hobby and past-time. Instead of relegating oneself to purchasing reasonably priced gear, they decry the existence of higher priced gear because they can't afford it.

Ortofan's picture

... an $80K+ price tag, you - as a patron of high-end audio equipment manufacturers - have recently purchased?

Likewise, would you indicate at what price point a turntable and tonearm qualify as "high-end" components?

Despite being accused of not caring about the reviewers or this magazine, I have been buying copies of Stereophile for the past 40 years. How about you?

Glotz's picture

Because I approach this hobby with an open mind, I have heard many very expensive turntables (& systems) in a variety of environs and time frames. Ad hominem attacks of my experience show anti-socialism and contempt.

No, you don't care about the reviewers of this magazine, as you really have nothing appreciative nor respectful to say to reviewers. I haven't seen it ever.

Ironically, that does come off as very contemptible for a 'fan' of the magazine of 40 years. I've been reading Stereophile for 40 years, as well as music lover and audiophile since the early 80's. It's about what and how you share your opinions. It is an art for sure. You have nice points to make, but you do it in an insulting way. Michael had some great insights here.

Trust the reviewers once in a while. Over 40 years, I certainly have. How about you??

Ortofan's picture

... " heard many very expensive turntables", but, given your expressed concern for the wellbeing of manufacturers of high-end audio products, which $80K+ turntable and tonearm have you yourself purchased?

Again, on your personal scale, what price point determines whether or not a turntable and tonearm is deemed to be "high-end"?

Glotz's picture

You first.

You're the wind-up toy, not me.

Never said anything about the well-being of whatever the hell you are talking about...

Ortofan's picture

... all hat and no cattle, you are.

Glotz's picture

No one cares what you're demanding... or what you're thinking.

Your childish arguments are time wasters for everyone.

It's so funny- Fremer would've probably said you're just a sad, angry old man getting madder about how other people spend their money.

What a petty existence!

Ortofan's picture

... a complete and utter lack of familiarity with what MF has posted.

Both HR and JVS have quoted my "thinking" in their reviews.
Can you make the same claim for anything you have posted here?

Glotz's picture

Do you need validation that way? It would explain your haughty nature.

Ortofan's picture

... others, if not yourself, that your prior assertion is baseless.

Glotz's picture

You've reached for validation several times here in prior paragraphs. You also frequently cast aspersions to manufacturer and writer alike.

Ortofan's picture

... criticism regarding the products, their manufacturers, the reviews and/or their authors, or are we only ever supposed to be cheerleaders?

When did you become the forum censor?

Glotz's picture

And ill-informed criticism. You just suggested that $5K and a $100K speaker should sound alike, especially not having heard the other speaker.

You are quite foolish and your criticisms suspect.

Ortofan's picture

... discuss turntables.
Now, you're including speakers?

Do you deem anything that doesn't align with your particular beliefs and opinions to be "misplaced", "ill-informed", "foolish" and "suspect"?

Glotz's picture

More nonsequiturs and bs. Keep twisting your way out of this...

Anton's picture

...if so, there goes your proof.

All apologies, but that is one ugly piece of kit.

Not disparaging potential performance, only its physiognomy!

Glotz's picture

I secretly want the Tornado Neo, but know I will never be able to afford that.. lol. That, to me, reminiscent of the SAT table that MF reviewed. Man, I want one!

ok's picture reminds me of a charcoal iron. I don't mind electronics, but I demand speakers and turntables to look like ones.

Ortofan's picture

... as the "classic design" aesthetic of their Double X Neo model:

David Harper's picture

They imagine that, for instance, turntables have "sound quality". And that a tt that costs $100K MUST sound better than one that costs $300 dollars. It just has to. Because it costs so much. This is the fallacy of high end audio. Price trumps common sense.

ChrisS's picture

Look, common sense for $55!

You can buy 5 of these and still be under $300!

Ya don't need speakers, ya don't need an amp...

Ya don't need anything more!

Whad'ya waiting for?

David Harper's picture

Just say when and where. Please. Just say when and where.
Anywhere you say. Anytime you say. If you're man enough.

ChrisS's picture

You won't be able to handle my stereo!!

Glotz's picture

It just trumps your common sense.

And wow, you're threatening more people in an online space, like a pure digital coward. Big talk coming from a little man.

I wonder if he's strong enough to carry that big ol' phonograph case around..?

David Harper's picture

I said just say when and where. I think you're the coward. In fact I know you are. One more time; just say when and where.

ChrisS's picture

Glotz's picture

You intentionally started a new thread to avoid me... lol.

Mano a mano on the shore of Greenland on the last ice core... with bolas made of $50,000 interconnects and Stillpoints Ultra 5's as weights!

LMAO.. online tough guys.