AnalogueWorks Zero turntable Page 2

If your DAC can deliver 10th-century plainchant with more luminous melodic air or tone-perfect sacredness than this modest analog rig, please write and tell me about it, because I have never experienced any digital that could. It's why I invest my cookie-jar money in black discs. It's why I raved about the Hana EL cartridge and its alnico magnets.

I sat, eyes closed, strongly affected by nothing other than the truth of the tones I was experiencing. The choir is revealed as a mass of individual voices, each one unique in sound and position.

The best thing about reviewing audio components is that I occasionally stumble on happy combinations of gear and get to tell you about them. The Hana-Jelco-AnalogueWorks Zero was definitely one of those. I'd forgotten how naturally vibrant the Hana EL could sound, and I'd never realized how much fine-wine flavor the workhorse Jelco arm could transmit. Bass was not supertight or powerful, but the midrange was delicately rendered, and the highs were smooth and natural.

Long ago, I owned a Sumiko MMT tonearm, manufactured by Jelco. I liked how it looked and how it felt in my hand, but thought it sounded weak and indecisive; small-scale information seem distant and blurry. But with the Jelco SA-750 arm in the AnalogueWorks Zero, I experienced a quiet, handsome authority, with fine details and the most conspicuous forward momentum. The Chants de Noël felt whole and easy flowing, and almost nothing seemed lost. The sound felt like the very definition of analog. What I heard caused me to admire the bearings in the Zero and the Jelco. Had their quality been anything less than top-notch, this sense of precision and wholeness could never have occurred.

I played this record again on my reference Palmer 2.5 turntable ($8995) with Audio Origami PU7 tonearm ($3000) and EMT TSD 75 MC cartridge ($2095) (footnote 2). Instantly, I heard a deeper, darker, quieter space. Grain and spatial ambiguity were reduced, detail increased. Musical progressions flowed more forcefully. Voices sounded more real and pure.

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When I then returned to the Hana-Jelco-Zero, the same recording seemed softer, more reverberant. Musical progressions still flowed extremely well, but less forcefully. Voices were less separated. But the factors of Zen-like harmony and beauty had not been reduced at all.

. . . with the Ortofon 2M Black: I suspected that the Jelco SA-750 would be extra-happy with high-compliance, moving-magnet cartridges. I was right. Ortofon's 2M Black looked stealthy in the Jelco's headshell, and tracked perfectly. Unfortunately, I'm losing my affection for its buttoned-down ways. The Black plays with calm sophistication, and its Shibata stylus recovers heaps of information, but I need more slam, more shoot-'em-up dancing and car theft. Most of all, I need Claudio Arrau's concert grand to sound big and captivatingly colorful as he plays Debussy's Préludes (3 LPs, Philips 6768 357)—he did with the Hana EL, as he always does with the Roksan Corus Silver and Soundsmith Carmen.

. . . with the Soundsmith Carmen: A friend was visiting. I'd just installed the Soundsmith Carmen moving-iron cartridge ($799) in the Jelco-Zero, but hadn't yet listened to it. For my birthday, my friend's twin daughters had given me Alison Krauss's Windy City (LP, Capitol B002539401), and I put it on for background music as we talked. It sounded annoyingly distorted, so I took it off. When he left, I put on Mel Tormé's Live at the Crescendo Club (LP, Affinity AFFD 100), which I use to adjust a cartridge's vertical tracking angle (VTA) and stylus rake angle (SRA). That Soundsmith Carmen MI had never sounded better! I concluded that the Krauss album sucked.

Until the next morning, when I tried it again. Yes, it's an overproduced, overcompressed pop record—but what soulful performances of such interesting songs, totally in the tradition of Willie Nelson and Tammy Wynette. The record wasn't distorting; it was smooth and fluid, and moved like a young horse. In hindsight, I think it just took me two tries to make peace with the sound of that record.

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The Soundsmith Carmen, Jelco arm, and AnalogueWorks Zero turntable went on to play every disc with what I can describe only as a well-drawn, richly textured just-rightness. Liquid and highly listenable.

. . . with the Roksan Corus Silver: The Roksan Corus Silver ($1000) is among my all-time favorite MM groove tracers. The Jelco and AnalogueWorks Zero liked it too. While the MC Hana EL outslammed and outdanced it, the Roksan tracked like a Shure (that's good!), and earned its props with natural timbres and captivating textures. On the Zero, the Corus Silver made Sun Ra's voice seem fleshy and lippy and quite real, about a foot from the microphone, on Gilles Peterson Presents Sun Ra and His Arkestra: "To Those of Earth and Other Worlds" (2 LPs, Strut 125). Transparency was extraordinary. An excellent combination.

Comparisons
As mentioned above, the Palmer 2.5 was considerably quieter, more forceful, and better organized than the AnalogueWorks Zero. In like measures, the Zero was quieter, more detailed, and better sorted than either the Rega Planar 3 or the VPI Scout Jr.. Music via the Zero felt more whole and refined than with either of those popular decks. The Zero's beguiling focus and quietude made the Planar 3 sound brash, the Scout Jr. inattentive.

The Zero ran about as silently as my Linn LP12, but delivered a noticeably different quality of silence. With the Zero, empty spaces in the music seemed deeper and darker—and emptier. The AnalogueWorks Zero played records in a slightly more relaxed manner than the Linn. In contrast, the Linn delivers complex choral and classical works with an order and precision the Zero never achieved.

Strangely, while the AnalogueWorks Zero ran a touch slow (see figs. 1 & 2), and my review samples of the Rega Planar 3 and Technics SL-1200GRE respectively were a touch fast and spot on, all three record players were equally distinguished at boogie, forward momentum, and dance. Interestingly, the Zero displayed its own uniquely unhurried, understated brand of forward momentum that never once seemed dull or puritanical—just relaxed.

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Fig.1 (left) AnalogueWorks Zero, speed stability (raw frequency yellow; low-pass filtered frequency green).

Fig.2 (right) AnalogueWorks Zero, speed stability data.

Every record player that passes through my bunker must compete in a contest of midranges with the Roksan Radius 7 turntable ($2500) and Nima tonearm ($1100). From the upper bass through the mid-treble, it's a tough contest: the Radius 7 and Nima deliver super-exquisite textures, luminosity, and truth of timbre. I find the Roksan-Nima's midrange more attractive than that of any other 'table and arm I've used. This comparison exposed the AnalogueWorks Zero and Jelco SA-750's most recognizable shortcoming: an ever-so-slightly vacant midrange that, whenever I noticed it, forced me to peer into its depths in search of more tangible bits of wood, metal, and flesh. However, I suspect that this slight lack of midrange presence was caused by the Jelco arm, not the Zero turntable.

Conclusions
As a basic turntable without tonearm, the AnalogueWorks Zero is a simple bit of elegant engineering that reproduced every record in a fundamentally truthful, exceptionally quiet, grainless, and highly involving way. It was a joy to use, and made late nights in the bunker extra magical.

The Jelco SA-750 tonearm exceeded my modest expectations for it, especially with higher-compliance cartridges and in its top octaves. It was well mannered and descriptive, with good detail, accurate imaging, and big soundstages. The Jelco's main weaknesses were a shortage of midrange life and bass authority. But it costs only ca $500, it retains its value at resale, and the Zero's blank-armboard option lets you choose from or upgrade to vast realms of tonearm exotica.

For under $2000, I can't imagine a better basic turntable. The AnalogueWorks Zero delivers Class B sound at a low Class C price. Highly recommended.



Footnote 2: See "Follow-Up" elsewhere in this issue.
COMPANY INFO
AnalogueWorks
US distributor: High Fidelity Services
2 Keith Way, Suite 4
Hingham, MA 02043
(781) 987-3434
ARTICLE CONTENTS

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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