Naim ARO tonearm & Armageddon turntable power supply Page 3

I did convince Laura Atkinson to loan me her Valhalla'd Linn LP12/Ittok rig for comparison, to which I mounted a second SHO. For the LP12/Valhalla/Ittok/SHO vs LP12/Armageddon/ARO/SHO comparisons, I set the tables up side by side on The Shelf by Black Diamond Racing, supported by German Physics cones, and feeding Gold Aero's dB phono section, which in turn supplied signal to Stax's SRM-T1S—the tubed amplifier/driver for their superb Omega headphones, which I also used. Later, I took the LP12/Armageddon/ARO/SHO rig over to JA's, where we compared it to his LP12/Lingo/Cirkus/Trampolin/Ekos/Arkiv front-end. Both 'tables fed into VAC-In-the-Boxes, which in turn fed into his Mark Levinson No.38S/AudioQuest Lapis x2/Levinson No.333/Cardas Cross/Totem Mani-2 system. We matched gain on the two sources to within 0.1dB at 1kHz.

One from column A, one from column B...
I must assert vigorously that comparing the Naim modded LP12 to a stock Valhalla'd one only reinforced my profound respect for the basic design. Many evenings were spent switching back and forth between the two units as I struggled to chart meaningful differences between the two. Finding differences was not difficult; for one thing, the Armageddon consistently sounded livelier, with more detail and extension in the upper frequencies. Surely, I would think, this has to be the best I've ever heard this disc sound. Then I'd play the same disc on the stock Linn and find that, although the Linn's pace seemed slower and more deliberate, it afforded a harmonic richness, not to say lushness, to the midrange that was also quite appealing. Does the brushwork on cymbals and snare-drums on my favorite jazz discs sound more vivid and alive, through the Armageddon/ARO-equipped Linn? Well then, the stock model's articulation and unforced precision in the very middle also snaps my bungee cord.

As I continued to listen and compare, however, I found that I consistently preferred the Armageddon/ARO combo for the involving pacing and sense of extension—and air (and how!)—that it brought to the party. This is not, I hasten to add, a relentlessly up sensation that, like certain animated acquaintances, begins to pall as the novelty wears off. The differences in pace and rhythm that identify one musician so definitively from another were thrown into sharpest contrast through the Naimed deck.

Low-level details—such as ambience or massed air of the recording venue—came through with greater variety when using the Armageddon and the ARO. The Valhalla/Ittok combo is no slouch when it comes to this either, but I heard the defining details more frequently with the modded rig. I commented to Chris West that I had, in a sense, fallen in love all over again with the standard LP12 while comparing the two models. "Oh certainly," he enthused. "Making these products is essentially an act of love—everyone at Naim uses them. These are refinements—they do not turn it into a totally different animal."

If I'd gone no further, I would have bought both products without a hesitation. But why should that surprise me? Good as the LP12 was, I knew there was room for improvement—heck, Linn themselves have admitted as much by offering their own improved power supply and tonearm. What would comparing the Naim products to JA's Class A full-blown Linn rig reveal?

Wes & John's big adventure
As it turned out, I transported Casey from Texas more easily than I obtained an evening appointment with JA for the comparison. The man's always working, and finding a time for us to work on this review took a back seat to the daily press of deadlines et al. Finally, after four cancellations, the turntable and I gained access to John's sanctum sanctorum. I'm not sure what he expected to hear, but I was certainly shocked by the outcome. The two tables could not have sounded more different from one another!

The first track we listened to was Sarah Vaughan's "When Your Lover Is Gone" from How Long Has This Been Going On (Pablo PACD 2310-821-2). The track, a conversation between Sassy and drummer Louis Bellson, is Vaughan at her most expressive—she's singing fairly low in her register, blending notes, eliding beats, scatting over the head—and Bellson is right with her for the whole ride, matching her nuance for nuance with exuberantly communicative brushwork. We listened first through the Armageddon/ARO rig. Bellson played with snap and sizzle—the piece fairly crackled with energy and high feelings.

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