Listening #163 Page 2

Finally, in order to keep the Garrard's power cord from fouling against the plinth—possibly transmitting vibrations or, at worst, restricting the movement of the 301's spring-suspended motor—Woodsong supplies a relatively light-gauge, three-conductor wiring harness to go from the turntable's AC terminal block to an IEC socket on the rear edge of the plinth. The installation procedure: Attach harness to turntable; insert turntable in plinth while carefully feeding wires toward an opening on the plinth's rear edge; fish wires through opening and fasten wire lugs to socket contacts; fasten socket in place. On my sample, the wires proved just short enough to render the penultimate step tricky but not impossible; that said, Harban suggests that all future production plinths will get slightly longer harnesses.

So I changed plinths: I removed my EMT 997 tonearm from its custom-made armboard—also an articulating type, this one machined from bronze—and transferred it to one of the Woodsong armboards. Then I unbolted my Garrard 301 from my homemade plinth and transferred it to the Woodsong, noting, in the process, the latter's more precise fit. (I blame my tools.) The aforementioned wiring-harness challenge, not to mention the need to unsolder and resolder the EMT's flying signal leads, conspired to push the changeover time past the one-hour mark; that said, the adjustable armboards made it easy to dial in the precise spindle-to-pivot distance, thus freeing me from getting bogged down with another half-hour's worth of cartridge alignment.

Soon I was listening to the same records I'd played earlier that day, before the swap, and wondering at the reasons for all the differences I now heard. The sound had been cleaned up and clarified—not to an extraordinary degree, but enough that there could be no doubting the Woodsong's positive influence—and the frequency range extended further toward the lowest bass and highest treble. Somewhat more noticeably, the entire soundfield was now more distant than before. Musically, there was more punch—dynamic peaks had more force and impact—but there was a little less melodic flow, a little less ease. The sound sound was more impressive, and the musical sound was at least as good, overall: I was still excited, still enchanted, but now for different reasons.

A few specifics: It was easier to hear the piano in the recording by Malcolm Sargent (yes, him again) and the London Symphony Orchestra of Prokofiev's Symphony 5 (LP, Everest/Classic SDBR 3034). In the first movement, the contrabassoon sounded meatier, heavier; and in the second, virtually every instrument, from flutes to timpani, made known its presence—and the sense of human effort behind its sound—to a greater degree. At the other end of the musical spectrum, Phil Ochs's solo voice-and-guitar recording of his remarkable and disturbing "When in Rome," from Tape from California (LP, A&M SP4148), was even more effective with the new plinth in place. Subtle changes in tempo and intensity in Ochs's bare-bones guitar playing took on greater significance, and his vibrato-rich singing style was portrayed with fine force and feeling.

What could account for these distinctions? Better one should ask what couldn't—a question that points to the many variables between one turntable installation and another. A record player is piece of hardware that combines the characteristics of a seismograph with those of an electron microscope—the latter especially in terms of the scale of the stored information being played—and that, like it or not, behaves in a manner similar to a musical instrument. In moving my motor unit from plinth to plinth, I changed the record-playing system's size, mass, density, materials distribution, cooling capabilities, and physical relationship with its surroundings. It's also safe to assume that, despite my best efforts, there were minute differences in tonearm height and pickup overhang between the two installations. And as long as we're flirting with despair, let's acknowledge that there were surely differences in ambient temperature, humidity, air pressure, RF interference, AC voltage, blood sugar, and mood.

Four point five
Consider what happened just a few days ago, at a time when some or another reviewing chore forced me to move the Garrard from its rightful place on my Box Furniture equipment rack—the same structure that supports my phono transformer, preamplifier, and power amplifiers—to a separate, smaller Box rack nearby. Without expecting a great deal, I played a record on that Woodsong Garrard, and within seconds was mildly surprised to hear that the relocation had made it sound better: the opposite of what I expected. I stopped what I was doing, moved the Garrard back to the main rack, and confirmed my first impression: With the Woodsong plinth, my 301 sounded better when it sat on a different support from the rest of the system.

I wondered if this had to do with the Woodsong's Track Audio feet—which, after all, appear to be designed with isolation rather than coupling in mind. And I wondered if swapping out the Track feet for something simpler and more conventional would make the plinth more amenable to my primary Box Furniture rack.

As with the recent excavations cosponsored by the Richard III Society of Leicester, UK (footnote 3), my hunch paid off: Leaving the Woodsong Garrard on my primary rack while replacing its isolation feet with three simple Ayre Acoustics Myrtle Blocks wrought the hoped-for change, along with three curious additional ones: the player's sense of musical flow was now every bit as good as I'd ever heard from my 301, yet at the same time the sound was slightly smaller, even more spatially distant, and quieter. One of those changes responded well to adjustments of my preamp's volume control.

After that, and for just a little while, it was an all-Stereophile evening, and not just because I work here. I had read, in a recent piece by Herb Reichert, his paean to the French-German pianist Samson Francois (1924–1970), whose playing I'd never heard. Herb's description of Francois's approach to Chopin sounded so far up my alley that I didn't want to waste time and money on CDs or downloads: only LPs would do, preferably mono. I turned to the British vintage-LP specialist Sophia Singer, whom I profiled in my April 2016 column, and she sold me a mono copy of his 1962 recording of Chopin's 24 Preludes (LP, UK Columbia 33CX 1877). I'm listening to it now. Francois's Chopin is astonishing in its combination of beauty—at times it's almost flowery—and raw physicality. Via the Woodsong Garrard, this record is amazing. Before too long, I'll revert to my own plinth—its seams need caulking, the whole thing needs finishing—and hear how the Francois Chopin, and everything else, compares.

But before I set aside the matter of plinths for another couple of years (weeks?), let me return to one quality of Woodsong plinths that deserves emphasis: Prices for the company's Garrard plinths start at $1900. For that matter, prices for Woodsong's plinth for the Linn LP12 start at $1000.

I have now made from scratch a total of four turntable plinths: one each for the Garrard 301, Thorens TD 124, and Rek-O-Kut Rondine, and one utter failure. (I can't even remember what turntable the last one was aimed at, but its destiny was the fireplace.) I know what kind of work goes into even the most basic examples (eg, mine) of these things, and I know how much it costs to buy decent-quality plywood and, especially, really good veneers—and how much time it takes to even find such materials. There is no false modesty in my saying that my work exhibits roughly (haw) one-tenthj the quality of Chris Harban's—and if my best friend asked me to make him a plinth, I'd balk at doing it for as little as $1000. He'd have to be sick, or unemployed, or something.

I'm thoroughly impressed by the Woodsong plinth—even now, I think I have yet to grasp its full measure—and I'm astonished at how little it costs, considering what has gone into it and all of the quality music sound it brings. As consumer products go, this is one of the easiest recommendations I've ever made.

Footnote 3: Those with interests in phonography and British History will be intrigued to know that Richard III's current tomb rests on a plinth of Kilkenny marble.

heman__'s picture

Samson is indeed, a fantastic pianist. Track down his recording of Gaspard de la nuit - it is truly like no other.

tonykaz's picture

I've had buying an LP12 on my mind all day. I'll have to get over to Overture in Ann Arbor to see one of these creations.

Nice post, Mr.Dudley!, this fella says he's made over a thousand of these plinths, hmm., I would've been selling them back in my Esoteric Audio Salon days ( 1985ish ), I did offer and sell all the various woods LINN offered back then ( maybe 5 different woods ) none were as nice as this man's work. I suppose I'll start looking for a nice Ittok/Asak as well.

Tony in Michigan

ps. My favorite arm was the Sumiko MMT, I had a large collection of Koetsu as well, all mounted on head shells, ready to play ( and sell ). I miss those days. I wonder if Woodsong would make a Record Mat? ( two sided, different woods on each side )

monetschemist's picture

... for another very well-crafted article on something other than "downloads for the masses".

Box Furniture, Woodsong, ... wonderful.

I have an early VPI Classic, with the somewhat clumsy veneer on the angled corners. I have fantasized for a few years that Woodsong will make a new Classic base that looks as good as the rest of the turntable.