Basis Debut Mk.V turntable Page 2

Playing off-center records on the Cosmos resulted in arm displacement sufficient to set the suspended plinth swaying like a porch glider, though the movement was barely perceptible. When I mentioned this phenomenon to Conti, he countered that platter-pulley eccentricities in 'tables machined to lower tolerances than the Debut would cause greater speed problems—even if the physical distance between the motor pulley and platter remained fixed. I convinced him to measure the deviation from true round of the Simon Yorke's platter and pulley, and though the numbers were impressively low in absolute terms, they were considerably greater than the Debut's.

Final setup and use
Turning the tops of the Basis Debut Mk.V's towers raises and lowers the plinth in each corner without affecting spring tension. To level the platter, you begin with the plinth centered vertically in the tower cutouts, then adjust the corners until you've centered the bubble of a spirit level placed on the platter in the approximate path of the stylus. Slip on the belt, plug in the motor, and, once you've affixed and set up your tonearm, you're ready to play tunes. The entire setup, not including cartridge alignment, can be done in less than an hour.

I did much of my listening using the Graham 2.0 unipivot arm, which required an acrylic mounting collar to raise it enough to allow sufficient VTA adjustability. I used a number of familiar cartridges: the Parnassus D.C.t, Grado Statement, Crown Jewel SE, EMT TU-2, and one unfamiliar one, the Transfiguration Temper Supreme (currently under review). I auditioned the Debut in both my old listening room and my new one, using the Audio Physic Virgo and Sonus Faber Amati Homage loudspeakers.

The sound of luxury
During the more than two months it took to get my new listening room sorted out, I listened to no other turntable but the Debut Mk.V. It ran precisely at 331/3 and 45rpm without outboard power supply—a tribute to its precision machining.

Without immediate reference to my Simon Yorke 'table, I was impressed by the Debut's freedom from "mechanicalness" and its overall balance and control, which seemed to simply let the music pass through without coloring or compressing the sound in any easily identifiable manner. The Debut "floated" a big, three-dimensional soundstage of well-defined images against a sonically "black" backdrop. This is what you expect from an expensive turntable, and the Debut did not disappoint.

The Debut's sound was anything but bright or edgy, leading me to conclude either that the old SOTA's inferior sound was due to other factors, or that sound quality due to the Debut's extraordinary accuracy of machining was compensating for any speed instability caused by plinth displacement.

After months of listening to hundreds of familiar records, I found the tonal balance of the Debut to be as dead-neutral as I've heard from a turntable. Bass was well defined and controlled, but I felt that low-frequency extension was not quite as deep or powerful as what my sonic memory told me I was used to from my reference Yorke. Still, overall bass performance was among the most satisfying I've experienced, and certainly better than that of the TNT Mk.3 I reviewed three years ago (Stereophile, November 1996). While the Debut's extension wasn't as deep or as powerful as the TNT's, its overall control, focus, texture, and "tunefulness" of bass were clearly better. (Harry Weisfeld has made several improvements to the TNT, including a new bearing/plinth interface which, he claims, solves the focus and pace problems.)

Moving up to the midrange, I found the Debut to have plusher, airier, more liquid mids than the Yorke. Though the Debut's rendering of solo violins and voices was gossamerlike when appropriate, the 'table could also be full-bodied and firmly fleshed out. The Debut imposed less of its own character on the midrange than any turntable I've heard, with the exception of the far more expensive Rockport Capella I reviewed many years ago for another magazine.

The Debut delivered a fine balance of detailed, delicate, yet naturally smooth highs, which on good recordings sounded neither etched nor soft. This is the area where, in my experience, great analog performance at almost any price stomps all over the best 16-bit/44.1kHz digital.

Did the Debut have any weak suits? I heard two that continually gnawed at the edges of my great listening pleasure. The biggest consistent problem I heard was a lack of tight image focus and solidity compared to what I remembered getting from the Yorke. The other was, despite the absolutely "black" sonic backgrounds the Debut provided—blacker than the Yorke's—I found I couldn't "see" into the picture as well as I could with the Yorke. It sounded like a combination of lack of focus and the sensation of haze-inducing stored energy being released.

The big showdown
Two weeks before sitting down to write this review, I chose a dozen discs to use in a direct shootout between the Basis and the Yorke: Classic's 45rpm version of Belafonte At Carnegie Hall; Pomp & Pipes, a Reference Recordings potboiler from 1994; Conjure, an American Clavé recording from 1984 featuring Taj Mahal, Olu Dara, David Murray, Allen Toussaint, Arto Lindsay, Steve Swallow, and many other musical luminaries; Classic Records' reissue of Red Rodney: 1957; an original "six-eye" pressing of Duke Ellington's Piano in the Background; an original RCA Living Stereo pressing of the Heifetz/Munch recording of Beethoven's Violin Concerto; Nojima Plays Ravel, another Reference Recordings LP, from back in 1989; Classic's Ray Charles/Cleo Laine Porgy and Bess reissue; an original British Immediate pressing of the Small Faces' Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake; a German pressing of the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour in true stereo; a lacquer of Who's Next; DCC Compact Classic's reissue of a 1958 Everest recording of Appalachian Spring; and Analogue Productions' essential issue of Janis Ian's Breaking Silence.

In two day-long marathon sessions, I listened to tracks from each disc on the Debut using the Graham/Transfiguration Temper Supreme combo. Then I moved the Graham to the Yorke and, thanks to the Wally VTA device, was able to precisely duplicate the VTA setting. I then listened to the same tracks again. To avoid an extra variable, I ran both 'tables off wall power instead of using the VPI SDS or the Walker motor drive. Finally, I moved the Graham arm back to the Debut and listened one last time. All volume levels were precisely matched throughout.

First, these are both great turntables. They delivered uncolored, dynamic, rhythmically lithe and fundamentally correct renditions of what was pressed into the record grooves. But there were differences.

The deep-bass wallop on the Small Faces and Beatles albums went deeper and was rendered with greater solidity and authority through the Yorke, but the differences were only slight. Both offered superb control and "slam," and both presented the textural and tonal character of the bass as only a great turntable can.

The Debut easily bettered the Yorke's performance in terms of presenting jet-"black" backgrounds behind the music...but then, so had the TNT. Despite that, the Yorke allowed me to hear farther into the sonic backdrop, and offered marginally better image solidity, three-dimensionality, and overall focus. There was more "there" in Harry Belafonte's voice, and the live recording had a greater sense of ultimate transparency.

On the Heifetz recording, both 'tables delivered an astonishingly present yet silky-smooth rendering of the solo violin between the speakers, but here I could understand how one man's focus might be another's edginess, one man's "detail" another's "unnatural etch."

The amazingly present sound of Red Rodney's trumpet on "Stella By Starlight," while convincing with both turntables, struck me as slightly more open and less colored from the Debut—though, again, not as well focused. Tommy Flanagan's not particularly well-recorded center-stage piano had more body and better focus through the Yorke.

Throughout these intense listening sessions, while the balance tipped back and forth in certain areas, overall there were three clear-cut if minor differences: image focus and edge definition, bass extension, and transparency and resolution of low-level details. The Yorke offered marginally superior bass extension and greater overall transparency and resolution of inner detail. While the Debut delivered "blacker" backgrounds, the Yorke consistently sounded more transparent and rendered low-level detail with greater clarity.

One example from a disc I didn't use in the final comparison was Mobile Fidelity's 200gm edition of the Bee Gees' amazingly well-recorded Trafalgar. On "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," there's a "lonely" trumpet mixed to sound way in the backdrop behind and to the left of the left speaker. (I like the Bee Gees. Sue me.) Through the Yorke, the trumpet was "there" in 3D space. It wasn't as far back through the Debut, and was enveloped in a bit of haze.

The issue of image focus and edge definition is somewhat thornier; depending on the rest of your system, you might prefer either 'table. The Yorke's image focus was clearly sharper, but if your system develops too much edge elsewhere, you might find it unrelenting and overly detailed compared to the Debut, which might sound more natural, relaxed, and less "hi-fi."

These were the same issues I dealt with when deciding whether to jettison the TNT Mk.3 in favor of the Yorke. The Yorke won out because of its far superior bass extension, solidity, and rhythmic authority. It was a much closer call between the Yorke and the Debut.

The Basis Debut Mk.V is clearly among a handful of the world's great turntables, and is well worth the asking price, both for its build quality and sonic performance. It is smartly designed and well built, reasonably compact, and comes complete with a very sophisticated suspension system that is both rugged and easy to set up. A stethoscope search demonstrated complete isolation of both motor noise and external vibrations from the main plinth. What's more, the Debut's machining tolerances are probably closer than in any of the like-priced competition. In my experience, the Debut's only competition in terms of build quality comes from the far more expensive Rockport line.

I could easily live happily ever after in the analog domain with the Debut Mk.V. But I wonder what it might sound like with a plinth and/or platter made of some material other than acrylic...