AnalogueWorks Zero turntable

My main task is to describe an audio component's basic character. How was it made? How did it fit into my system? How effectively did it deliver musical performances? My goal is to create stories that generate sounds and images in your mind—stories that will allow you to imagine how the component might perform in your system.

I can hear the moans from all you objectivist guys: Please, Herb, spare us your purple prose.

But guys! Our full appreciation of music, art, and perfectionist audio depends entirely on our ability to imagine. The most practical measure of any hi-fi component's usefulness, hence its value, is to listen to diverse recordings and notice how they grip (or don't) our attention, how they stir our moods and provoke our imagination.

My purple prose, John Atkinson's measurements, the best recordings—all are completely useless if we can't imagine what they describe. And nowhere is this more true than in the realm of high-quality record players.

If accuracy of speed, wow and flutter, etc. were the only record-spinning realities, every audiophile would own a Japanese direct-drive and that would be it. But, fortunately, scores of sophisticated turntables are being manufactured all over the globe, each a representation of the unique engineering and aesthetic viewpoints of its designer, and each presenting recordings of music in its own distinctive manner.

Don't believe me? Then watch the extraordinary video by Michael Fremer in which he compares his Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn turntable and Swedish Analog Technologies tonearm with Technics' new SL-1200G. It clearly demonstrates how differently two high-quality turntables, with different types of drive system but the same cartridge and phono stage, can play the same LP.

That said, I will now attempt the impossible: to keep my purple prose to a minimum while describing the unique sound character and essential value of a brand-new, moderately priced turntable: the AnalogueWorks Zero ($1595 with blank armboard).

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Motor axioms
I'd been using the Palmer Audio 2.5 turntable (footnote 1) for a while when, in October 2016, I encountered the AnalogueWorks Zero at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I said to Paul Manos of High Fidelity Services, AnalogueWorks' US distributor, "Look! A baby Palmer!" He did not smile. I asked, "Do you have to spin the platter with your hand to get it going?" Then he smiled, and answered in the affirmative. I told Manos that I was a slow learner, and that the Palmer 2.5 was only now, belatedly, teaching me the lessons of the old Nottingham Analogue worldview.

When I first read about Nottingham Analogue Studio, I learned that its founder, the late Tom Fletcher, believed that, to reduce noise, it's best to use a heavy platter driven, via a soft belt, by a motor so low in torque that when you switch it on, the platter's weight stalls the motor. You give the platter a push with your hand, and its mass and momentum take over. All the motor does is feed a little speed-stabilizing energy into the rotating mass.

I laughed at this ridiculous concept. I believed that Fletcher's idea was flat-Earth fiction fed to gullible audiophiles, and that my much-less-expensive, high-torque, direct- and rim-drive turntables were far superior pieces of modern engineering. I thought belt drives were rinky-dink, and that any basement DIY guy could build one.

Years later, when I finally listened to a Nottingham Spacedeck and the Fletcher-designed Ace-Space tonearm, the fictions I'd both created and accepted dominated my perceptions. I remember shrugging my shoulders and thinking, No slam, too precious sounding, and definitely overpriced! (In 2005, for example, the Spacedeck retailed for $1800 without a tonearm.)

But now, direct daily experience of implementations of Fletcher's ideas has opened my mind about how the motor's torque, the drive system, and the platter's mass affect the character of a turntable's sound. After listening at length to Fletcher-inspired turntables manufactured by Palmer Audio, Pear Audio—and now the AnalogueWorks Zero, designed by Tim Chorlton—I'm finally appreciating the unique "black" quietude, subtly described midrange, and pure, grainless highs that can be heard when a low-torque motor is harnessed to a high-mass platter.

Description
The British-made AnalogueWorks Zero turntable looks and feels no-frills basic, like a classic 1958 MGA motorcar: its plinth is a slice of birch-ply laminate 18.4" wide by 0.94" thick by 14.5" deep and pierced by three holes. The platter's bearing well of leaded bronze goes through the center hole, the tonearm pillar through another, and the diameter of the freestanding, cylindrical motor pod is only 0.157" less than that of the third hole, which the pod must fill without touching the plinth. The motor is crowned by a stepped double pulley: one wheel each for 331/3 and 45rpm. The motor pod is connected, via a captive cable, to an outboard supply called the Black Eye, designed by British power-supply specialist Martin Bastin. I was disappointed to see that this supply doesn't have a speed-adjustment pot.

The Zero's AC synchronous motor drives a substantial (10.8 lbs) aluminum platter via a silicone belt. Wrapped around the top edge of the platter is a second, thicker belt, the purpose of which, I assume, is to mechanically reduce platter ringing. The plinth and platter, but not the motor, sit on three height-adjustable, compound-polymer isolation feet.

My review sample came with a 9", gimbal-bearinged SA-750 tonearm (available with the Zero for a package price of $2095), made in Japan by Jelco Ichikawa Jewels. It features a removable, SME-mount headshell with adjustable azimuth. Using one of its two provided counterweights (one heavy, one light), the arm can accommodate cartridges weighing 5 to 24gm. On the top of the SA-750's horizontal bearing is an adjustable, oil-filled damping pot that can be used to tune the arm's motional response when used with higher-compliance cartridges. The antiskating bias is set with a rotary spring control.

Setup
Setting up the Zero is easy—I've done it now at least five times. Start by putting the plinth-tonearm assembly exactly where you want it and, on that surface, mark the position of the motor cutout. Place the motor pod on that spot and lower the plinth over it, making sure that pod and plinth never come into contact with each other. Connect the captive motor lead to the power supply. At this point I recommend that you switch on the motor, and feel the top of the plinth with your hand—or listen to it through a stethoscope—for motor vibrations. Adjust the pod's position until the plinth is completely still and silent. If that never quite happens, it means that vibrations are being transmitted through the surface that both plinth and pod are sitting on. You may need some sort of isolation platform.

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Put two drops of the supplied lubricant on the platter-bearing spindle—one on the tip, the other on the shaft—and lower the shaft into the bearing well. Loop the longer, thinner belt around the lower motor pulley and the lower platter groove, then the shorter, fatter belt in the platter's topmost groove.

I've always believed that the four mechanical and eight soldered connections associated with detachable headshells must represent a sonic compromise—but my years spent with Abis, Fidelity Research, and SME tonearms suggest that this may be difficult to prove or even hear. But I've since discovered that the cartridge/headshell interface is a much more important junction. Where and how the cartridge is attached to the tonearm is highly critical: how tight or loose I make the cartridge fastening screws can make big changes in the sound, especially with plastic-bodied cartridges. As a general rule, I tighten the screws evenly, but not too much—just enough to hold the cartridge in place.

Listening . . .
. . . with the Zu Denon DL-103: Wise audiophiles endeavor to match a loudspeaker's size and dynamic air-moving capabilities to the room's acoustic. Likewise, a phono cartridge's dynamic compliance must dance well with the tonearm's effective mass. Mismatches can result in transient slurring, audible resonances, and mistracking—which is exactly what the Denon DL-103 as modified by Zu Audio ($399), a popular moving-coil cartridge with low compliance (5x10–6cm/dyne) and high mass (14gm), did in the Jelco SA-750 tonearm, which has low-to-medium effective mass. Measured with Shure's An Audio Obstacle Course: Era IV test record (LP, Shure Brothers TTR115), arm resonance was mild, and centered at 9Hz—both good signs—but the Zu Denon didn't sound as clear or as descriptive as I know it is. In fact, it mistracked so badly on the Shure test record that I quickly replaced it with another moderately priced MC: the Hana by Excel EL, which is much lighter (5gm) and of higher compliance (10x10–6cm/dyne).

. . . with the Hana by Excel EL: What a difference a few cm/dyne can make. The noon sun was bright. I had the low-output Hana EL ($475) driving the Tavish Design Adagio phono preamplifier ($1690) feeding PrimaLuna's ProLogue Premium line-level preamplifier ($2199) and stereo amplifier ($2199) driving Falcon Acoustics' LS3/5a speakers ($2995/pair); Konrad Ruhland and the Munich Capella Antiqua were performing Chants Grégoriens pour le Temps de Noël (Gregorian Chants for Christmastime; LP, Harmonia Mundi HM 5112). It was the sort of perfect, glowing, introspective, tubed analog moment that can happen only with a high-pedigree record player.



Footnote 1: See Michael Fremer's review of the Palmer 2.5 in "Analog Corner" in the November 2014 issue.
COMPANY INFO
AnalogueWorks
US distributor: High Fidelity Services
2 Keith Way, Suite 4
Hingham, MA 02043
(781) 987-3434
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COMMENTS
tonykaz's picture

I never realized.

Jelco have multiple versions of the same arm, I would've explored them all had I known but I didn't, I simply bought the MMT by the crate full, probably selling 3 per day for $250 ( I think ), I loved the MMT.

Initially we were offering Turntables with the Linn Basik, the various SME arms, Dynavector 501, Fidelity Research Arm, Linn Ittok, Grace Arms.

Then we ( I ) discovered the Sumiko MMT Arm which became our Super Arm. Phew

My Esoteric Audio was a Vinyl shop, we specialized in Turntables and Arms and Moving Coil Carts. Sales Reps knew that we would buy anything they had to offer ( and plenty of it ). We had a Front & Center Turntable Set-up bench which included all the gear needed to properly set-up a Player, even a Tektronix Scope. We went far beyond the simple stuff Fremer does in his little clinic show & tell ( he's an amateur ).

I suspect your Zero sample needed a "proper" & careful tune up before submitting to critical ears. Still, solid plinth tables are doubtful.

So, whats so compelling about this Zero? Consider a person could buy a used VPI with nice arm for $2,000!!!

However, once again, HR's prose makes reading a TT review interesting, it takes me back to my old days of troubleshooting problems out of record playback systems.

Thanks for the memories.

Tony in Michigan

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