Oracle Delphi Mk.VI Second Generation turntable

The stats are impressive: Quebec's Oracle Audio Technologies, formerly Trans Audio (footnote 1), has been in business for 37 years, during which they've sold nearly 11,000 Oracle Delphi turntables. That's not bad for a perfectionist turntable—and especially not bad for a perfectionist turntable whose first and most estimable competitor, the Linn Sondek LP12, was well established by the time of the Delphi's debut, in 1979.

And yet . . . one might also say that the LP12, having created the market for high-end turntables, plowed the road for the Delphi. True though that may be, there's no mistaking the skill with which Oracle distinguished their premier product as no mere me-too turntable, but a distinct alternative. Where Linn decreed that a felt mat was the only way to support a record, Oracle provided an elastomer mat and a clamp. Where Linn touted AC synchronous motors, Oracle's first export models had servo-controlled DC motors. And where the LP12 looked conservative, even dowdy, the Delphi was, well . . . sexy. One wonders how many Oracle Delphis were sold simply by putting a sample in the shop window.

Where did all that sexy come from? Polished aluminum and clear acrylic, that's where. Trans Audio's founder and chief designer, Marcel Riendeau, elected not to hide the subchassis of his suspended-subchassis turntable, but rather to shape it with an eye to both form and function. The resulting subchassis outline—pods of varying length extending from an amorphous center—was strikingly modern, combining style with seriousness of purpose: art in the service of the (audio) revolution.

The five splayed pods of that aluminum subchassis were: three suspension points, one tonearm board, and one bubble level, the last thoughtfully included to aid setup. The suspension points—aluminum rings about 2" in diameter—were lowered onto spring-loaded towers, themselves fastened to a one-piece clear acrylic plinth measuring 14.5" by 19" by ¾" thick. Acrylic was also chosen for the tonearm board, centered within a somewhat larger aluminum ring that was closer than the suspension points to the center of the subchassis. At that center point was a bearing that supported a one-piece aluminum platter, around whose perimeter ran a thick rubber damping ring. A DC motor drove the platter's integral hub by means of a flat neoprene belt, and pushbuttons near the plinth's front edge offered the choice between 331/3 and 45rpm. The platter mat was made of soft Sorbothane elastomer, and a low-mass aluminum record clamp 3.5" in diameter held the LP in intimate contact with the mat by being screwed down onto the threaded spindle. Also supplied was a washer of tapered thickness, intended to be placed under the label areas of records whose outer edges are otherwise reluctant to contact the mat.

But all of that is so 1979: A few things have changed since then—many put into effect by co-managing director Jacques Riendeau, who took the place of brother Marcel when the latter left the company to pursue a different career. The clear acrylic plinth remains, as does the petroglyph-shaped aluminum subchassis and the basic suspension design. But the motor changed from DC to AC. The soft Sorbothane mat gave way to a hard mat made of vinyl-like polymer. The separate 331/3 and 45rpm power switches were redesigned, and the suspension-spring towers got decorative caps. (Now they're sexy, too.) The one-piece acrylic armboard was replaced with a two-layer aluminum board. The platter bearing was redesigned so that the position of its shaft is now determined by six adjustable, hard-polymer setscrews—perhaps inspired by the bearing design of the original Well Tempered Turntable.

And within the last five years alone, Oracle created for the Delphi a suspension-damping system—three height-adjustable fingers on the underside of the subchassis dip into three small tubs filled with silicone—and a new outboard power supply, the Turbo. (For the Oracle Delphi, an outboard supply, whether a wall wart or a more sophisticated design, converts household AC to 27V DC, while onboard circuitry converts the DC to 16V AC, with separate crystals for the two running speeds. The platter's speed of rotation can be fine-tuned with separate 331/3 and 45rpm trim pots on the turntable's rear edge.)

During its commercial lifespan, the Oracle Delphi has progressed from Mk.I to Mk.VI status (footnote 2). Now, as of late 2015, we have the Delphi Mk.VI Second Generation ($9750—or $16,500 when paired with the Oracle SME tonearm), which offers:

• An improved version of the Turbo power supply, claimed to produce cleaner DC. (The Mk.VI Second Generation is available with a plain wall wart for $8950; the Turbo can be bought separately for $1150.)

• Improved onboard drive electronics, for which a 15% increase in motor torque is claimed.

• A urethane coating for the platter-bearing well, intended to damp vibrational noise.

• A two-piece platter: The outer platter now sits on a smaller-diameter subplatter whose outer edge is in contact with the flat rubber drive belt. This two-piece arrangement offers the possibility of less overall vibrational energy, given that one element in a two-element platter tends to damp the other. Of even greater significance is the improvement in the quality of life this enhancement represents to the person installing an Oracle Delphi or replacing its drive belt: It's easier to loop a rubber belt around a small-diameter subplatter than around a hub recessed into the underside of a one-piece platter. Far easier (footnote 3).

A word about the Oracle SME tonearm ($6750), with which the Delphi is so often paired, and with which my review sample of the Mk.VI Second Generation was bundled. This is, essentially, a standard SME V with monocrystal silver wiring—which Riendeau specially orders from SME's factory in Sussex, England. Since the SME V's introduction 30 years ago, enough ink has been spilled on the technology behind its design that there's little sense in me dribbling anymore; brief thoughts on its ease of setup and its sound can be found below.

Installation and setup
My review samples of the Oracle turntable and Oracle SME tonearm were installed and adjusted by Jacques Riendeau. As he worked, I watched closely so that I might know what to do when it came time to swap out arms and, ultimately, dismantle and pack the player for shipping. The Oracle turntable, like others before and since—most notably the Linn LP12—is best viewed as a kit: Its design requires that it be packed and shipped in pieces, and that those pieces be assembled with care. Taking into consideration all three major components—turntable, tonearm, cartridge—I estimate that setup took about four hours from carton to music, although Riendeau's efforts to pause every so often and explain his actions may, in fairness, have accounted for at least an hour of that.

I don't see much need to describe, step by painstaking step, that setup procedure—other than to give some idea of the Oracle Delphi's degree of adjustability (high) and to convey the levels of ingenuity and build quality applied to making it so (also high). Of particular interest are the color coding of the Delphi's suspension springs—denoting a different degree of compliance for each of three support points—and the two-piece aluminum armboard. Of the latter, the topmost layer is the arm-mount surface itself, while the bottom layer serves as a clamping ring; the result is an extremely rigid coupling of armboard to subchassis that nonetheless permits infinite rotational adjustment when slightly loosened.

At the risk of jumping the gun on my listening comments, I'll describe here the effectiveness of Oracle's adjustable suspension-damping scheme. As Jacques Riendeau came to the end of his ministrations, he said he wanted to begin by listening to the Delphi without its suspension damping, and asked for a decent-quality recording of simple music: no audiophile spectaculars (not that I keep such things on hand). I selected "New Chance Blues" and "Green Light on the Southern," from Norman Blake and Tony Rice's Blake & Rice (LP, Rounder 0233); the former is a duet for mandolin and guitar, while the latter is a solo vocal by Blake, accompanied by two guitars; I believe M. Riendeau enjoyed both selections.

Footnote 1: In the interest of readability, this narrative oversmooths a bumpy chronology.

Footnote 2: Reviewed by Michael Fremer in March 2010.

Footnote 3: Compared to earlier Delphis, only the Voyd—a superb, British-built turntable that in the late 1980s enjoyed a too-brief moment in the sun—was more difficult to install in this regard.

Oracle Audio Technologies
6136 Boulevard Bertrand Fabi, Suite 101
Sherbrooke, Quebec J1N 2P3
(819) 864-0480

spacehound's picture

Sometimes I wish CDs and computer audio had never been invented.

Only then could I justify such a beautiful thing to myself.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

O, how lovely! Acrylic and stainless steel, flashy & pretty, but the least absorbent material. Is that an SME II or III? Why not a V?

BogdanR's picture

... not stainless steel.

BogdanR's picture

I own an upgraded Mk3 Delphi with a Turbo power supply and an old Alphason HR 100. Nothing creepy or Christmasy about it. There are people out there with unipivot arms on suspended decks. Much scarier, especially in use.
There are many "unfortunate" combinations possible on a Delphi, linear tracking arms leaning (all puns intended) perhaps toward the end of the scale. Why the Alphason or Infinity reference then? Perhaps they cannot protest, that's why...
As a Stereophile reviewer, especially one into vintage stuff, you might find one of those ridiculously old arms holding their weight (all puns intended again) rather well even compared to the exotic stuff on the market today. Try one of those old Alphasons, who knows, it might turn to be just like Christmas...