Gramophone Dreams #3 Page 2

Not to mention that the M44-7 is so strong in its presentation that it upstaged any hope of my getting to know the PLX-1000 and how it might perform in a more intimate context. Imagine trying to get friendly with a sexy French film star. You don't ask her if she wants to come home and play Xbox. Instead, you smile in French and say, Avez-vous lu Simone de Beauvoir? Then take her to New York's Bouley restaurant and order some Château Cheval Blanc (1961?). I had to apply similar maneuvers to get intimate with the PLX-1000.

I couldn't afford Château Lyra (2010?), but seeking heightened romance and more understated charm, I installed my low-output, low-compliance Zu-modified Denon DL-103 Mk.II cartridge in the PLX-1000. While I was at it, I gave the Pioneer's arm bearings a quick check and discovered they were way loose. Turntable guru Mike Trei was in the house, so I let him do the honors; in short order we fine-tuned and triple-checked the bearings on the Pioneer, on my SME 3009, and on my VPI Traveler.

Just for fun, we played Steve Guttenberg's original pressing, bought in 1965, of Beatles for Sale (LP, Parlophone PCS 3062) on the belt-drive VPI Traveler ($1199) with an Ortofon 2M Black cartridge ($799), and on the Pioneer PLX-1000 with the Zu DL-103 ($519). Normally, the Ortofon, with its sensitive nude Shibata stylus, is a very refined, uncolored, low-distortion cartridge; and normally, the Zu DL-103, with its conical stylus, is a looser, more colorful, but more generalized-sounding cartridge. Today, those roles were reversed. Bass through the Traveler was slightly woolly and puffy, while bass through the Pioneer felt controlled, tuneful, and detailed. (I'm certain much of this difference can be attributed to the Pioneer's superior vibration isolation on my extremely rigid equipment rack.) The VPI's midrange sounded more recessed and dark than the brighter, more focused sound of the PLX-1000. During this comparison, the VPI had the most refined and enjoyable top octaves while the Pioneer the most realistic bottom octaves. Overall, the Pioneer's eager, smiling handshake made the VPI seem a little shy and dutiful.

Comparing past to present
Next, we replaced the VPI with Mike Trei's like-new Technics SL-1200MK2 and played a bunch of records using only the Zu Denon cartridge and the excellent Schiit Audio Mani phono stage ($129), designed by Mike Moffat. Out of curiosity, we used Dr. Feickert Analogue's Adjust+ test record and iPhone app to measure the speed accuracy of the SL-1200M2 and PLX-1000. Both 'tables performed better than their published specifications.

With every LP, I thought the vintage Technics presented music with a more colorful and exciting midrange energy. The best words I can think of to describe the SL-1200's midrange are bubbly and Champagne-colored! In contrast, the Pioneer's midrange was distinctly seltzer colored, but more transparent and detailed. The Technics's soundstage was wider and higher, but the Pioneer's soundstage was deeper and better articulated. The PLX-1000 sounded less resonant, more damped, and better controlled, and instrumental timbres were slightly lean to spot-on. Comparing these two record players was starting to remind me of those old tubes-vs-solid-state clichés. Until I got this wild idea.

I took the thicker Technics platter mat and put it on the Pioneer's platter, and the thinner Pioneer mat on the Technics. You won't believe what happened. That champagne midrange moved over from the Technics to the Pioneer, and a tighter, more damped sound emerged from the Technics.

The song on Beatles for Sale that I always gravitate to is Ringo's cover of Carl Perkins's "Honey Don't." Ringo is my favorite Beatle. His songs always have a simple, rock-a-bye swing, and "Honey Don't" is one of the best-ever "pace, timing, foot-tapping, fist-pumping, boogie-factor" tracks. Everyone present agreed: "Honey Don't" moved and bopped better on the Technics. But after I swapped mats, it bopped better on the Pioneer. It seems that a big part of that legendary SL-1200 midrange energy was generated by the mat/record interface—not the turntable.

Mike had also brought along a Herbie's Way Excellent mat of rubbery foam. It made the PLX-1000's sound a tiny bit softer, quieter, and more sophisticated. With the Herbie mat, the PLX-1000 played classical and vintage jazz records with a seductive, easygoing manner. The top five octaves became sweeter and more relaxed—more like the VPI Traveler, which also has a rubber mat.

When the Beatles first appeared, I thought they were for dorks and nerdy girls. But when a kind someone loaned me the new The Beatles in Mono (14 LPs, Apple 6337971). I had no choice but to use the $699 Pioneer PLX-1000 equipped with the $2800 Miyabi Mono cartridge to play every disc all the way through. Man oh man, what a fun time that was! These dorky recordings took me right back to my checkered past and put me in my black Chevelle—smoking reefer and drinking Boone's Farm with my pimple-faced, kleptomaniac girlfriend. Simultaneously, I began to finally recognize how beautiful and sophisticated these compositions are. This well-crafted boxed set is one of the few LP reissues I can proudly recommend.

After tripping with Lucy down Penny Lane, I installed the Soundsmith Carmen moving-iron cartridge ($799.95) and matching MMP3 phono stage ($649.95) and returned to my Béla Bartók obsession. Almost instantly, I became hypnotized by Pinchas Zukerman playing Bartók's Violin Concerto, with Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic (LP, Columbia Masterworks 35156). This music, composed in 1938, is way more psychedelic than any of those moptop ditties. It is also fiendishly difficult for any record-playing system to navigate. I was shocked. The Pioneer PLX-1000 with Soundsmith cartridge sorted out every note, every startling dynamic swing, every weighty slam, every shift in sonority, better than I had ever experienced in my current Bed-Stuy monk's cell. This Bartók record forced me to drink full cups of Pioneer (and Soundsmith) Kool-Aid. Right now, I'm listening to Zukerman's virtuosity bow its way through that first movement (Allegro non troppo), and I'm sitting limp, stunned, and slack-jawed. How can a so-called DJ 'table be sorting out this type of ultrachromatic sophistication?

Alone again
When my buddies left, the first thing I discovered was: When a group of audio aficionados such as I and Mike and Steve Guttenberg start comparing this component to that and listening in that judgmental audiophile way, the results are only marginally valid. The best way for me to evaluate audio gear is to listen long and lovingly—until I get the itch to change something. Even though I keep doing it, I believe that listening critically to how something "sounds" is a nonmusical act that, in terms of "Will this component make me happy?," is nearly always irrelevant. Seeking to avoid that irrelevance, I tried to forget about the PLX-1000 and just enjoy playing records—until I got restless and began wondering how the brand-new Pioneer would compare with my ancient (idler drive) Thorens TD 124.

Right now, I wish I could say something like, "The Pioneer was good, but not quite as good as my reference TD 124." But I can't. Both 'tables actively disarmed my critical facilities and let me focus on the music—which is the main reason I like them. My expertly restored Thorens was obviously noisier than the Pioneer, but even so, it seemed less noticeable in the reproduction chain than the PLX-1000. Meanwhile, the Pioneer added an extra clear octave each of bass and treble that made every record sound richer, more open, and alive. The Pioneer's added frequency extension let me look deeper into musical soundscapes. The Thorens plays jazz sax and solo piano with edifying aplomb, while the Pioneer played orchestral strings and kettledrums with disarming authority. And so on and so on . . .

Speaking in words
I am struggling to find the words to describe one extremely subtle but, I think, important aspect of the Pioneer's musical presentation. Compared to the best belt-drive turntables, the Pioneer PLX-1000 emitted a barely perceptible forced weightiness. I had to listen very carefully to hear this. The effect was like a nervous unsuppleness that pushed ever so lightly against my consciousness while music was playing. I've noticed this forced weightiness with almost every direct-drive turntable—except maybe old Mitchell A. Cotter's B-1, the Victor (JVC) TT-101, and the new VPI. Could this be what those belt-drive fanatics are complaining about?

But wait! Before all you überperceptive rubber-band practitioners get too cocky, I should point out that belt-driven 'tables have their own variant of this subtle phenomenon. To my ears, all but the most elite belt-drives surround the musical flow with an unmistakable, vacuous, hollow, unnaturally relaxed, false emptiness that reminds me of an uncomfortable silence in a romantic conversation. This false emptiness can also feel slightly off the beat.

The beauty of the better rim-drive and idler-drive models is that they possess a more Zen-like forward momentum that avoids both of these colorations.

During those soirée demonstrations back in the firehouse, I would attempt to disable opposing technocentric audiophile belief systems with a simple statement: "Everything sounds like what it is made of." I still believe this declaration.

Yes, people, the Pioneer PLX-1000 plays music like a high-torque direct-drive record-playing machine. That is why I enjoyed it so much. It gave tangible force and soulful energy to pop, R&B, jazz, and electronica. Belts can't touch the PLX-1000's excitement, naturally formed detail, and clearly expressed forward momentum. And who could have imagined? This new Pioneer also showcases the complex tonal character and elegant structures of classical music better than any affordable belt-drive I've experienced. So . . .

That's me you see, standing on my Bed-Stuy stoop, waving my hands and entreating you: "Give up your prejudices! You have nothing to lose but your dried-out ol' rubber bands!" Pioneer's new PLX-1000 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.

volvic's picture

I gave the Pioneer's arm bearings a quick check and discovered they were way loose. Turntable guru Mike Trei was in the house, so I let him do the honors; in short order we fine-tuned and triple-checked the bearings on the Pioneer -

How was this done?

jmsent's picture

complete with a a half gimbal carrier for the horizontal bearing, an outer locknut, and a screw type needle bearing. Loosen the lock nut on the outside, slowly tighten the screw while rocking the arm at the bearing back and forth to feel for play. Tighten until all perceptible play is gone, hold the screw in place with your screwdriver while tightening the outer locknut. Check arm movement for friction. Should move absolutely freely with no binding in vertical and horizontal. If necessary, readjust. This is something we did as routine when repairing Dual TT's back in the '70s. It takes a degree of "mechanical feel" to get it right, but it's not rocket science.

rtrt's picture

Thanks for the description JM.

Ideally i'd like to take a look at some video/pictures showing how to perform this task.

Any pointers to something useful out there on the web?

volvic's picture

Hello JM, just curious if any special tools are needed to loosen the tonearm lock nut.

jmsent's picture

Usually the outer lock nut has a couple slots in it where you can insert the ends of a pair of small needle nose pliers. You turn that counterclockwise. Then you adjust the play with the internal screw which should now be loose. Re-tighten the lock nut with the needle nose while holding the adjustment in place.

volvic's picture

most helpful.

deckeda's picture

Stanton ST-150, Reloop RP-6000/7000/8000, AT-LP1240 ... they share the same "Super OEM" motor and basic design with this Pioneer, if Craigslist is all out of $350 1200's in your area. Of course the devil's in the details.

Origin Live is one of a few companies who make "audiophile" upgrades for the 1200 ... it would be interesting to know if any of these others could also be tweaked.

Especially when review samples arrive with loose tonearm bearings!

And I don't mean for the above to appear snarky. I enjoyed the review, love reading Herb and as a terminally BROKE audiophile it's gratifying to read that a cheaper, "DJ" deck can in some ways outgun a more expensive one. Just need a little more info, is all.

blownsi's picture

I have a fully modded KABUSA Technics 1200 & a stock VPI Traveler (version 2). The VPI is better in every way to my ears.

g.kolbeck's picture

Having grown up using the two red suitcase record players handed down to me from my older twin brothers (it was great, I got two of everything they didn't want!) to play my Monkees and random records (all hand me downs from my two older sisters and oldest brother), I graduated to hand me down Panasonic stereo "systems" that all consisted of an AM/FM receiver with a built in turntable on top and two tiny speakers in some weird 1970's design, (the completely round ones I remember the most) All the systems I had from then on were still just low end junk from Technics,Sony and JVC and I never did get a good set of speakers... at least not anything that sounded as good as my friends JC Penny system! My system today is made up of stuff that was being thrown away. A set of SANYO speakers model SS-540 and a set of Pioneer speakers model CS-99 (these speakers were both out for trash collection when I got them... the Pioneers sat under the Sanyos for ten years before I hooked them up last year to see if they worked... they are still working jut great!) The receiver is a Sony home theater monstrosity model STR-K502P that I have set on two channel stereo flat EQ (no sound field) I don't know what the wattage is, but it seems to be very loud... playing a cd through it using the Pioneer speakers has been a big improvement for me. I have a JVC dubbing cassette deck that is dying from old age (model TD-W354), a Sony CD recorder model RCD-W500C (with only the single recording/playing side working) I actually bought those two items new. Last but not least a mint condition Technics turntable model SL-QD22 (?) given to me when two friends got married and switched over to cd's in the early 90's! They actually gave me two of the exact same model that were pretty much unused, I also use this system to play sound from a VCR machine for concert films. I guess it's time for an upgrade, but this junkyard system has been a big improvement over the red suitcase systems!

David Mansell's picture

I have to agree with Herb Reichert about the misplaced denigration of Japanese direct drive turntables, particularly by the British hi-fi press (nostra maxima culpa, I am a Brit). I started my hi-fi trip in the 70s with a Rega 3 and graduated to a Roksan (I missed out on Linn because of the excessive hype). Then one day I went to audition a Grado cartridge a fellow audiophile was selling (Signature 6, I think) and heard a Garrard 401 for the first time. Sell the Roksan, over to idler drive. Since then have acquired a Garrard 301, a Thorens 124, Thorens 135. Did improvements to the Garrard, new stainless steel thrust bearing for the spindle ; for the Thorens a new thrust bearing for the motor, and so on.
Then a couple of months ago, on a whim, having seen good reports on the Technics direct drives in the hi-fi press, I bought a Denon DP37F on eBay for about £120 all in to see what the fuss was about. Inserted it in the system and was blown away by the improvement over the Garrard, another octave of bass, better transients, better soundstage with stereo. I don't know how much this was down to the direct-drive motor and how much to the "dynamic servo tracer" (is that right?) micro-processor-controlled tone-arm, which will track badly-warped discs that other turntables give up straightaway. All this and it's automated too, just press the button and go. Enough said.

kelven's picture

It is nice to see a budget priced rig receive such high praise.
Unfortunately, the closing paragraph has either a glaring typo, or Herb owns a product I never knew existed: a 30,000 dollar cartridge!?

clydeslyde's picture

I just bought a N.O.S. Citronic PD-2s turntable. The PD-2s is a manual 3-speed direct-drive turntable from England. It was fun opening the carton, assembling the TT, and balancing the tonearm--felt like Christmas morning! It was intended for the British market so the voltage selector switch (located under the platter) will need to be switched to "115" (from "230") and the British 3-prong power cord will need to be replaced for U.S. playback. A Stanton 505 cartridge is pre-installed on the headshell (which I replaced with an Audio Technica DR500LC). There does not seem to be much information on this TT--except that it is popular with DJs in the UK--but I will say that this is an EXCELLENT record player. The PD-2s looks attractive, and feels well-built and fairly solid (it weighs 22 lbs). Curious to know how this turntable compares with the Pioneer PLX-1000 that Herb Reichert reviewed in STEREOPHILE.

Christian Goergen's picture

Dear Mr. Reichert, the Internet pages didn't offer sufficient informations. Do the mentioned alternative styluses fit into the body of the cartridge?
Thanks for your answer (I strongly intend to follow your proposed path to the pioneer-Shure-mani near to nirvana)
Pps: did you use interconnects, that are comparable to the budget of the main components?

Preddy's picture

Hi Herb,

First of all many thanks for this article, helped me a lot in selecting my back-to-analog-music turntable. I got myself PLX1000 and for the moment have Ortofon 2M Blue and Concorde Pro S. As soon as budget available for expansion, will probably get myself the 2M Black. All supported with Yamaha RX-V3800 receiver (yup, I know, not by high standards of Audiophile, but is majestic piece of all-arounder that I need and what my budget could support) and set of 5 off JAMO speakers E6 series.

Am reading your posts almost religiously and really enjoy them. Please keep them coming!

Have one question for you: lot was written about what good turntable systems should do and how they work, but that is only "consequence" part of the story of the vinyl. Meaning: all this turntable systems are trying to replicate the original source signal recorded on the vinyl. but, what is the guarantee that recording device was accurate (while making vinyl) when replicating reality in studio or wherever the recording took place? Hope that the question is clear?

JRCD's picture

There is a store on Ebay that sells wood bodies to improve Shure cartridges, also for Denon and Audio Technica, but the commenting application does not allow me to put the address.
Please do a search on Ebay for 'Exclusive Wooden body for Shure' and you will find it, is very interesting.
In the text you say that it does not support the Shure M44-7 more than one day, for listening at home is better the M44G, it is sweeter.

DougM's picture

In the seventies when we rockers could afford our first good audio system we much preferred the lively, dynamic sound of a good Pioneer or Technics direct drive table with a good MM cartridge (think Shure V15, Stanton 681EEE, Pickering XSV3000, Empire, AT, or my favorites- ADC XLM MKIII and ZLM) to the bland sound of a Dual or AR and MC cart, just as we preferred JBL, Cerwin-Vega, M&K and Klipsch to the bland AR and Allison and similar speakers. It's good to see the rest of the world catching up, as the good loudspeakers today seem to be closer to the sound of the best balanced CVs, JBLs, and the like to the soft east coast sound.

JRCD's picture

A question. The problem with all these record players seems to be the tonearm, it is what most limits their sound quality, To the Technics SL-1200/1210 can be changed, and often does. Is it also possible to change it in the PLX-1000? For example, for something good and economical like a Rega RB220 or an Origin Live Alliance.

SystemShock's picture

Despite Herb's assurances to the contrary, 4.5gm of tracking force *does* make me nervous about record wear and damage. Aren't cheap Crosleys excoriated for having tracking forces in that range, and are complained about as 'record destroyers'?

I hope this comment does not inspire Herb to review and love a Crosley now, LOL. =]


EddyBoy's picture

Herb ET all, In the last 2 months I decided to start playing my LPs again. My old AR The Turntable has speed (motor) , spring , belt issues and to fix it up would be expensive. I decided on new. As a long time subscriber I read the April issue and found Pioneer's PLX-1000 a $$$ Class C. I read the full Gramaphone Dreams and was intrigued I got a 17% off coupon from Musicians Friend and I bit. I also bit on Audio Technica's retrip/replace for my old AT OC/9 and traded it in on a brand new OC/9MLII. Tried to mount it on the new Jelco HS-20 headshell, too heavy. Needed sub weight. Sub weight threads didn't bite. Pioneer said send it back. MF took it back & paid for shipping, but couldn't guarantee a new one for perhaps 3 weeks. Have a Guitar Center in the Twin Cities they had a new one and matched my MF price. Brought new one home mounted OC/9II/HS-20 turn on switch hear a turn on spike then it settles into a hum in my left channel. Replace my Audio Quest cables from TT to also new Van Alstine Vision Q (a great Phono Pre BTW) and into my Adcom GFP-750 with new wires that came with PLX-1000, and some other non directional wires (at Frank Van Alstine's suggestion) same issue. Wrote Pioneer again. They said PLX01000 #2 was defective with ground hum, exchange it. Which I did. Took new one home set it up, pluggted in the OC/9II/Jelco to the tone arm. Turn on hear the spike and then the hum. I also have an brand new old Adcom High Out put Cross Coil. I mounted in the stock Pioneer Headshell which I used during the OC/9 trade. It hums too. reversed RCAs on back of PLX-1000 now the right speaker hums not the left. Hum is the same with ground wire securely attach or off. Tried 3 different AC plugs...same spike & hum. Bypassed my Adcom line conditioner direct into wall plug...same spike & hum. Tried a three to two prong grey ground lifter (a handy device us professional musicians often rely on to take the hum out of our PAs) ...same spike & hum. The left speaker is 4 or 5 inches away from the PLX-1000 but when I reversed the RCAs the hum totally went to the right KEF Reference 3.2. I spent 35 years selling hifi including being the national sales rep for a fetus called Boulder Amplifiers in the mid 1980s. I've sold & and installed thousands of Turntables and cartridges into Hifi systems of many price ranges sans the absolutely insain jewelers systems often reviewed in Stereophile. So I am no idot when it comes to these things. San the hum the PLX-1000/OC/9II/Van Alstine Vision Q etc, can actually put musicians in my living room. And being a life long musician including now making my living thus, I know what real musicians making real music sounds like especially when someone isn't humming in the back ground. Herb you don't mention any turnon spike or hum problems in your review or follow up. It's not what I've read much about online, though the guy from Pioneer DJ has indicated that this was not intended as an Audiophile product and DJs aren't all that concerned about hum that could never bee heard. He gave me a suggestion of raising the tone arm height 3mm because that worked for an owner of a PLX-500 with the same issue. I really wan to keep this thing because it is a real value, but only if it's humming isn't masking the fine detail and resolution. Herb..anybody...any thoughts or insights? Please.

EddyBoy's picture

FYI, I just replaced my brand new PLX-1000 with my old AR The Turntable with my Adcom Cross Coil mounted & hooked up in my system. Absolutely NO turn on spike and positively no hum in either the left or right speaker. Even with the volume turned way louder than on my PLX-1000. So it has to be the PLX-1000 turntable humming from the left channel this is very illuminating and disappointing. I am relieved and bummed. Is there a fix for this? I am thinking it's poor internal grounding, and maybe we're picking up the lights buzzing. Is there any hope? Do I try another PLX-1000 or move on & chalk it up to a bit of a waste of time, but not a waste of money because I can return it for full credit to Guitar Center?