Recommended Components: 2019 Fall Edition Turntables, Tonearms, Cartridges, etc



VPI Classic Direct turntable: $30,000 including tonearm ★
A brand-new, US-made direct-drive turntable—in the 21st Century? Believe it. For VPI's Classic Direct, designer Harry Weisfeld selected a $4000 (his cost) Thin Gap motor, servo-controlled by a custom-designed active-feedback loop, which he combined with an 18-lb platter machined from a single billet of aluminum. The platter and drive system (combined weight: 27 lb) are snugged into an aluminum-and-MDF plinth measuring 23.5" wide by 17.5" deep. To this, Weisfeld has mated a version of his tried-and-true JMW unipivot tonearm updated in both mechanical design and materials choice, this one a seamless resin creation whose existence would not have been possible even five years ago. Referring to his longtime reference 'table-arm combination, MF observed that "the Classic Direct with its JMW Memorial 3D-printed 12" tonearm comes as close to the [Continuum] Caliburn's sound as has any turntable, and for less than one-fifth the price." Quibbles: MF wondered if even greater performance could be had with a more sophisticated plinth, and lacked enthusiasm for the model's peripheral platter clamp. (Vol.37 Nos. 5 & 6 WWW)


Acoustic Signature Ascona Mk.2: $36,997
At the heart of the "massive yet surprisingly compact" Ascona Mk.2 belt-drive turntable are separate upper and lower chassis, both machined from aluminum; the lower chassis is home to three electronically controlled AC motors, while the upper holds an adjustable tonearm support, a platter bearing with a Tidorfolon thrust plate, and an appropriately massive platter fitted with 30 brass damping cylinders: Acoustic Signature's signature Silencers. After using the Ascona Mk.2 with his SAT tonearm and with the 9" version of Acoustic Signature's own TA-9000 arm, MF found the turntable to be "pleasingly rich in the midrange and delicately drawn in terms of attack, sustain, and decay" of notes. MF concluded that the "ingeniously designed, superbly machined and constructed" Ascona Mk.2 distinguished itself by excelling "where music lives—in the midrange," although its overall performance was "on the polite side." In 2017, Acoustic Signature applied to the Ascona Mk.2 some refinements that MF described as "audible, measurable, and significant," and which the company offers free of charge to those who've already purchased the earlier version. In particular, the interface between the upper and lower chassis has been upgraded to a magnetic-repulsion system that "floats" the former, for greater isolation, and the single drive belt has been replaced by three belts, each of a different Shore hardness. The results, per Mikey, are greater speed consistency and "far more substantial" bass. (Vol.39 No.12, Vol.40 No.7)

AMG Giro G9: $10,000 with tonearm
The Giro G9 is an AMG Giro turntable bundled with the same company's 9W2 tonearm (see elsewhere in Recommended Components). The turntable comprises a 1.75"-thick Delrin platter whose bearing is mounted on a circular aluminum plinth, itself 1.5" thick. The Swiss-made AC motor is electronically controlled, with switch-selectable speeds of 331/3 and 45rpm. That motor isn't outwardly visible—at first glance, the Giro might be mistaken for a direct-drive turntable—but is hidden underneath, driving the platter from a point inside its rim by means of a thin rubber belt. According to HR, the "Apollonian" Giro G9 was "completely adept at recovering and sorting out complex music"; he praised in particular its "detailed" and "well articulated" bass. Herb recommends avoiding lean, analytical-sounding cartridges, including AMG's own Teatro—his best results with the Giro G9 were with the notably colorful EMT TSD 75—and advises the user to consider upgrading the AMG player with a third-party isolation base. (Vol.40 No.10 WWW)

Bergmann Galder: $26,800; $35,700 with Odin tonearm
New from Bergmann Audio, a Danish company known for using air bearings not only in their tonearms but also their platters, is the Galder turntable, which breaks with Bergmann tradition in two ways: Its 26-lb, belt-driven, air-bearing platter is machined from aluminum rather than acrylic, and the Galder can be bought without a Bergmann linear-tracking tonearm. Indeed, this turntable can support up to four tonearms, either pivoting or tangential-tracking. As reviewed, the 84-lb, nearly 19"-wide Galder includes a vacuum record hold-down system; for an additional $8900, it comes bundled with the Bergmann Odin air-bearing tangential-tracking tonearm. (Separately, the Odin costs $12,900, including its own air pump; the package savings are made possible in part because the same pump that pressurizes the Galder's platter bearing and vacuum clamp also pressurizes the tonearm.) A speed-adjustable DC motor allows two speeds: 331/3 and 45rpm. MF praised the Galder's degree of acoustic isolation, and the ease of use of its vacuum hold-down system; more to the point, the combination of Galder turntable and Odin tonearm impressed MF with is fine bass control and extension—better than Mikey expected, based on previous air-bearing experiences—and its reproduction of space, though somewhat diffuse, offered an enjoyably wide stage populated with stable, well-focused images. (Vol.41 No.7)

Brinkmann Balance: $25,990 without tonearm. 12.1 tonearm: $6290 ★
The ready-to-play Brinkmann Balance is a plinthless 'table with an attractive, low-profile base available in a variety of sizes and configured for specified tonearm masses. Its high-tech feet are designed to effectively isolate the supporting base from horizontally and vertically induced vibrations, and its platter's speed can run at precisely 33.3 and 45rpm. The Balance combined "deep, tight, articulate" bass performance with "the lightest, airiest, purest" soundstages to breathe new life into MF's favorite LPs, adding "greater holography of imaging but without etch." Recent upgrades include a new motor and new power-supply electronics. Adding Brinkmann's optional RöNt tubed power supply ($4490) produced cleaner, better-articulated mid- and high-frequency transients, said MF. "The Brinkmann Balance remains one of a handful of the finest turntables being made today." We haven't auditioned it in a long time, but special pleading from Mikey keeps it listed: "A superb product that has stood the test of time." Brinkmann 12.1 tonearm adds $6290, Brinkmann EMT-ti cartridge adds $4300. The 12.1 tonearm incorporates mechanical refinements that, according to Brinkmann, endow it with greater torsional stability and greater immunity to resonances. Crafted from aluminum and stainless steel, it uses precision ball bearings for both vertical and lateral movement, and is available with either flying signal leads or a captured output cable of the usual sort. MF felt the Brinkmann 12.1, when compared with the Kuzma 4Point tonearm, had somewhat less slam but was lighter on its feet—and, with classical and jazz, is perhaps the better choice. And MF loved the 12.1's "lusciously velvet midrange." (Vol.38 No.5) (Vol.28 No.5; Vol.35 No.4 Vol.38 No.5 WWW)

Brinkmann Bardo: $8990 without tonearm ★
The Bardo is a direct-drive, suspensionless turntable with an eight-pole, speed-controlled motor. It has a vinyl platter mat, a polished granite base, and the superbly designed and machined spindle and bearing used in Brinkmann's more expensive Oasis, La Grange, and Balance models. Fit'n'finish were outstanding, and setup was quick and simple. Though it lacked the rich, deep bass of Brinkmann's more expensive 'tables, the Bardo "produced superbly well-organized sound with clean, sharp attacks, reasonably strong sustain, and pronounced decay, all against a jet-black backdrop," said Mikey. Precision-ground crystal platter mat and screw-down record clamp now included in price; optional Balance power supply adds $1490. (Vol.34 No.5 WWW)

Brinkmann Spyder: $14,990 and up without tonearm
Offered as a replacement for Brinkmann's previous next-to-best turntable, the La Grange, the company's Spyder is a belt-drive turntable with a somewhat modular design, built around a small aluminum stand that holds the same heated platter bearing used in Brinkmann's top model, the Balance. The stand can accommodate up to four of the Spyder's massive aluminum tonearm bases (one base is included; extras are $3000 each), and a similarly massive outboard pod contains Brinkmann's own AC motor, the Sinus. A solid-state power supply for the motor comes standard; a tubed supply, the RöNt II, is a $4300 option. Partnered with Brinkmann's new 12.1 tonearm, the "slightly warm"–sounding Brinkmann Spyder lacked the very last word in weight and drive, but impressed MF with its "authoritative dynamics, an especially strong sense of musical flow, and backgrounds so 'black' that I often thought I'd selected the wrong input when . . . I unmuted the preamp." MF concluded that the combination of "innovative, flexible, upgradable design, quality manufacturing, careful attention to small but important details—and outstanding sound—make the Brinkmann Spyder with 12.1 tonearm easy to recommend." (Vol.38 No.5)

Kuzma Stabi M with 4Point 14 Inch tonearm: $28,220 and up
In contrast with other Kuzma turntables, the plinth of the Stabi M exists as two separate components: a massive aluminum frame and a no less massive aluminum inner platform, the latter elastically isolated from the former. The large, high-torque DC motor is contained within a brass housing, the three-piece platter combines two aluminum discs with an acrylic damping plate, and the swappable armboard is "one of the thickest, most massive aluminum armboards" ever seen by MF, who reviewed the 132-lb Stabi M (it costs $19,225 on its own) with the Kuzma 4Point 14 Inch tonearm ($8995$10,270, depending on wiring options). Mikey observed that "the Stabi M's freedom from obvious colorations was very good, bass control and extension were exceptionally good, and macrodynamics were very, very good. Want slam? You got it!" But he felt that the colossal Kuzma combo "exhibited less bloom and ease of musical expression" compared with more expensive players of his acquaintance. (Vol.39 No.11)

Kuzma Stabi R: $8595 without tonearm
According to its designer, Franc Kuzma, the new Stabi R is essentially a scaled-down version of his upmarket Stabi M: same 8kg belt-driven platter, same two-speed (33.3 and 45rpm) DC power supply, and same high-torque DC drive motor. The heavyweight (66lb in its most basic version) Stabi R is also available with a wood frame that adds $910 to the price (and another 13lb), and can be used with up to four tonearms (additional armboards are extra-cost options). Used with a Kuzma 4Point 11 tonearm ($6675 as supplied), the Stabi R wowed KM—whose reference turntable is the less expensive Kuzma Stabi S—with "its ability to communicate force at lower volumes, a kind of tranquil power." Is the Stabi R worth four times the price of the Stabi S? According to KM, "Yes. No other turntable has created its level of stability, presence, resolution, and sheer physicality—not in my system." (Vol.42 No.7)

Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101.3: $8995
In a design that, according to AD, "effectively splits the difference between the solid-plinth and suspended-subchassis approaches," codesigners George Merrill and Robert Williams have created a belt-drive turntable with a distinctive plinth: By sandwiching a thick layer of rubber between upper and lower layers of hard phenolic, then using gaps in the phenolic to ensure that the platter bearing, tonearm board, and isolation feet make contact only with the rubber substrate, the R.E.A.L. 101.3's plinth cleverly resists both loss of musical detail and contamination from unwanted vibrations, be they airborne, structure-borne, or generated by the record-playing system itself. Also featured: a physically damped AC motor; an outsize platter machined from polyoxymethylene; an outboard power supply with fine-tuning for speed and a built-in strobe for monitoring the speed on the platter it's tucked under; easily interchanged tonearm boards, made from layers of acrylic and Delrin, that can accommodate arms of virtually any length (the boards for longer arms cost more); and two record clamps—one a traditional spindle clamp machined from brass, the other a bronze rim clamp. Used with his EMT 997 tonearm and after a few days of running in the motor and main bearing, the Merrill-Williams 'table impressed AD as "never [sounding] less than colorful, impactful, present, and at least reasonably big"; he declared it "a pleasant surprise and an easy recommendation." In the minus column were the rim clamp and the name, which Art thought was a bit goofy for such a seriously good product. (Vol.41 No.8 WWW)

Oracle Delphi Mk.VI Classic: $9945 without tonearm; turbo supply adds $1030
In 2010, MF described the Oracle Delphi—which had just made the leap to Mk.VI status—as being "among the best-looking turntables ever made." The Delphi's aluminum subchassis had been made thicker and heavier for improved resonance control, and its spindle-bearing screws had been improved for greater accuracy and tighter tolerances. In addition, the Delphi Mk.VI featured a Micro Vibration spring-suspended subchassis claimed to offset any lateral and/or vertical microdisplacements while isolating the turntable from footfalls. Matched with the Lyra Helikon SL phono cartridge, the Delphi produced fast transients, a supple midrange, and deep, focused bass. "A formidable contender in and well beyond its price class," said MF. In 2015, Oracle took the Mk.VI Delphi to Second Generation status, occasioned by improved onboard drive electronics (for higher motor torque), a vibration-damping urethane sleeve for the platter bearing, a two-piece platter, and improvements in its optional Turbo power supply. (The Turbo adds $850 to the price, or can be separately purchased for $1150.) AD found the latest Delphi to be a fine all-arounder, with good timing and momentum, if not quite the same level of drive as experienced with idler-drive players: "I won't be leaving my [Garrard 301 or Thorens TD 124] by the curb any time soon, but the Oracle Delphi Mk.VI Second Generation entertained me and fulfilled me in a way that most things don't." Oracle-SME tonearm costs $6420. (Vol.33 No.3, Vol.39 No.2 WWW)

Palmer Audio 2.5: $8990 in Baltic Birch without tonearm ★
As in the designs of the late Tom Fletcher, of Nottingham Analogue, the British-built Palmer Audio 2.5 mates a massive (21 lb) aluminum-alloy platter with an AC motor so tiny and so low in torque that merely pushing the on/off button on its outboard power supply won't set the platter spinning: The user must start it by hand. A hefty platter bearing and a similarly hefty, cantilevered, rotatable arm mount complete the picture. Installation, though not too daunting, is not helped by disappointing documentation. Used with the Audio Origami PU7 tonearm (with which it's often paired), the Palmer Audio 2.5 impressed MF with its "attractive, velvety midband," "black backgrounds," and "serenity and smooth musical flow." Especially where the PU7 is the intended partner, prospective owners are urged by MF to consider cartridges that, in other settings, might be considered on the lean side of neutral. Note that a special version of the 2.5, the Palmer Audio 2.5-12, is available especially for use with 12" tonearms. HR tried the PalmerAudio Origami combo in 2017 and was won over, observing of the Palmer 2.5 that a "constant sense of a silent, invisible force was [its] core virtue," and ultimately buying the review samples. Later that year he enjoyed pairing the Palmer turntable and Audio Origami arm with the comparatively "analytical" AMG Teatro cartridge (see elsewhere in Recommended Components). (Vol.37 No.11, Vol.40 Nos.7 & 10)

Pear Audio Blue Kid Thomas: $5995 ★
From Pear Audio Analogue's Blue line of products comes the Slovenian-made Kid Thomas turntable, with its chunky wooden plinth, massive platter, and very low-torque DC motor: characteristics that betray no small influence from the products of the late Tom Fletcher, founder of Nottingham Analogue. (Those qualities also put the Kid Thomas in the same file folder as the Palmer 2.5, although Pear Audio has the distinction of having received Fletcher's direct input and guidance.) Variations on the theme include: the Kid Thomas's double-layer plinth; thick, elastic damping rings on the platter's outer edge; and the user's ability (for an additional $1995) to upgrade from the standard wall wart to an external power supply made by Martin Bastin, a specialist in same. Fitted with Pear Audio's Cornet 2 tonearm, the Kid Thomas exhibited "a rich, expansive midrange and a smooth, neutral tonal balance," according to MF. "[E]ven if a bit overprominent, that midrange was something special, with black backgrounds and tape-like musical flow and drive." (Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

PTP Audio Solid12: €2950 plus shipping $$$ ★
Made in the Netherlands by Peter Reinders, the Solid12 has a heavy Corian plinth and uses reconditioned components from original heavy-platter, idler-wheel Lenco turntables: motors (along with their suspension cradles and wiring blocks), platters, platter bearings, platter mats, idler wheels, and idler-support mechanisms. Combined with a Schick tonearm and Ortofon SPU cartridge, the Solid12 delivered punch, drive, force, color, richness, and pure emotional and visceral involvement. "The essential musical rightness and the sheer availability and affordability of PTP Audio's Solid12 can't be overstated. If you want to know what the idler-wheel fuss is all about, this may be the easiest and most affordable way to find out," AD concluded. In 2015, PTP introduced their proprietary Solid Bearing, a €300 retrofittable option that also impressed AD, who feels strongly that the Solid12 is a perennially recommendable product. (Vintage-savvy audiophiles can consider this Class A.) (Vol.36 No.6, Vol.38, No.12, WWW)

Reed Muse 3C: $20,000
The question of belt vs friction drive is addressed by the distinctively styled Reed Muse 3C, which can be ordered in either mode—or, for an upcharge, in a version in which the user can switch between the two, albeit not on the fly. In friction-drive mode, two DC motors, each topped with pliant rollers, make contact with and drive an aluminum-alloy hub on which sits the 9-lb Delrin platter; in belt-drive mode, the two rollers are replaced with pulleys, and the user installs a belt and flips a toggle switch concealed under the platter. Also included are two generously sized armboards (12" tonearms are accommodated with ease), a digitally controlled system for leveling the turntable, and a stroboscopic speed-monitoring system built into the 3C's large, cylindrical, aluminum-alloy platter housing. Used with a Reed 3P tonearm and a Grado Lineage Epoch cartridge, the friction-drive Muse 3C impressed MF as "a most agreeable-and enjoyable-sounding record player" with "great drive and authoritative speed stability." In belt-drive mode, the 3C had a more appealing way with textures and spatial relationships, but its softer, less taut bass "soon had me returning to the friction rollers." (Vol.40 No.11)

Rega Research RP10: $5495 (including tonearm)
Currently the top model in Rega's turntable line—rumors of the forthcoming five-figure Rega Naiad abound—the RP10 is unflinching in its adherence to the company's long-held ideas about phonography: its plinth, made of layers of hard phenolic resin sandwiching a core of polyolefin foam, is very light and very rigid; its platter is diamond-cut, for perfect accuracy and flatness, from a heavily compressed ceramic-oxide powder; for speed stability and low noise, its 24V AC motor is crystal-controlled by an outboard power supply; and its integral tonearm, Rega's RB2000, appears to offer a better-than-ever combination of rigidity, controlled distribution of resonances, and low bearing friction. The platter mat is white wool, the twin drive belts are a white rubber-like polymer, and the three-bolt cartridge-mounting scheme of the RB2000's headshell guarantees adherence to a quasi-Stevenson (as opposed to Baerwald et al) cartridge-alignment scheme when used with a Rega cartridge. Azimuth is nonadjustable, and arm height is adjustable only by means of shimming the arm where it fastens to the RP10's plinth. Within a few hours of listening, it was clear to MF that "the Rega RP10 competes with turntables costing well into five figures, especially in terms of detail retrieval, low coloration, and total lack of mechanical artifacts." His verdict: "the RP10 is Rega Research's best turntable to date." (Vol.41 No.2)

SME 20/12A (includes 312S tonearm): $25,690; SME 20/12 (no tonearm): $22,500 ★
"Among the best-built turntables in the world," the SME 20/12 is a tank-like machine weighing more than 75 lb. It has an oversized 14.3-lb platter, and a 17.6-lb aluminum-alloy subchassis secured by ten O-rings from each of four suspension towers and will take 12" arms. Its three-phase, eight-pole motor uses an electronic controller to achieve precise speeds of 33.3, 45, and 78rpm. Though it lacked the bottom-end weight and macrodynamic range of even more expensive turntables, and had a slightly dry, analytical sound, the SME offered a very low noise floor and stable image specificity, said MF. (Vol.32 No.5 WWW)

SME Model 15: $10,900 (no tonearm)
e their previous "budget" turntable, the Model 10, SME's Model 15 cuts corners—literally, as it's built on a circular plinth. The key difference is that the Model 15 is also built with a circular subchassis, making it the most affordable SME turntable to use the brand's trademark suspension system. The model 15's 10-lb platter has the same diamond-turned record-support surface as the costlier SMEs, and the microprocessor-based outboard controller for its Hall-effect motor is fine-tunable for speed—and provides 78rpm, for shellacophiles. Our review sample of the Model 15 was bundled with SME's 309 SPD tonearm—the $9299 package is called the SME Model 15A—and it impressed MF as "a canny distillation of the company's core values of manufacturing and sound." Noting the brand's reputation for "somewhat overdamped and thick" sound, MF observed that, while the combo "wasn't the last word in bottom-end extension and grip, its bass performance was nimbler, and its top end airier" than with costlier SME turntables. He concluded: "I rate this combo a complete success." (Vol.39 No.1)

Technics SL-1000R: $17,999Technics SP-10R motor unit: $10,000
In 2018, Technics did something that had seemed unthinkable even five years earlier: They tooled up to make a brand-new, hand-built-in-Japan version of their flagship direct-drive turntable. The SP-10R motor unit is built around a brand-new double-coil, twin-rotor, coreless direct-drive motor, topped with a 17.5-lb brass-and-aluminum platter controlled by an outboard switching power supply, and built into a metal chassis that allows drop-in replacement of older SP-10s in existing plinths. The SP-10R is also available with a newly designed plinth and tonearm, comprising a complete player sold as the Technics SL-1000R ($20,000); the new arm, fixed to an armboard at the usual 2 o'clock position, can't be swapped out for other makes/models, but the user can add up to two auxiliary armboards. MF praised the SL-1000R, noting that its "accuracy and stability of speed helped produce precise but not overly sharp transients that helped contribute to a complete absence of listening fatigue." He also described the player's sound as "serenity-inducing . . . and refreshingly non-mechanical," although he noted that the SL-1000R "did not produce the 'blackest' backgrounds behind the music," and that the bottom end was "not as explosive, muscular, or grippy" as with other players. (Vol.41 No.11)

VPI Avenger Reference: $20,000. including FatBoy tonearm
The heavy (85 lb) Avenger Reference is built on a plinth made from layers of acrylic and aluminum, shaped with three outriggers fitted with massive steel corner posts, themselves supported by aluminum cones resting on Delrin/ball-bearing isolation bases. A cantilevered aluminum armboard clamps to the tops of those corner posts—the Avenger Reference can simultaneously accommodate up to three tonearms—and the platter is rim-driven by an idler wheel that is itself belt-driven by two AC synchronous motors. The idler drives a lower platter that's precision-machined from aluminum; that platter propels, by means of magnetic drive, a similar upper platter—a thin gap is maintained between the two. The Avenger Reference is fitted with VPI's Fatboy tonearm, a 12" unipivot with a 3D-printed polymer armtube. (Additional Fatboys are available for $6000 for the complete tonearm, $4000 for a spare armtube only.) Despite isolation feet that "provided little actual isolation," Mikey found that the Avenger Reference "fulfilled the promise of rim drive's benefits minus the noise and rumble." He noted the 'table's "excellent speed stability and consistency," and praised the combo for producing "'black' backgrounds." (Vol.41 No.12)

VPI Classic Signature: $6000 with JMW 3D tonearm ★
Like earlier Classic models, VPI's most recent design, called the Classic at the time of review, is easy to set up, relatively compact (22" W by 10" H by 16" D), and uses a motor that has been integrated into its plinth. Refinements over earlier models include a more massive, better-damped plinth structure, newly designed feet, and an 18-lb damped aluminum platter. Though the Classic Sig wasn't as quiet as MF's much more expensive Continuum Caliburn and couldn't match the rich midrange of Dr. Feickert's Blackbird, the VPI had a clean, fast, lively sound marked by masterful attacks, outstanding microdynamics, and lifelike textures. "One of today's great values in analog audio," concluded Mikey. "I don't hear how you can go wrong buying one." Borderline Class A. Price includes the new JMW-Classic tonearm. See "Tonearms." (Vol.34 No.10 WWW)

VPI HRX: $15,000, with tonearm ★
Harry Weisfeld's efforts to produce the ultimate TNT turntable include a plinth of acrylic-aluminum-acrylic laminate, an inverted bearing assembly, the addition of a perimeter clamping ring, and replacement of the outboard motor and flywheel with a single unit. Simpler, smaller, more luxuriously appointed, and better built than the TNT, the HR-X also eliminates the TNT's pervasive warmth and softened dynamic transients, to offer a much more neutral overall presentation. BD: "The HR-X struck me as a stable, inert, and nearly neutral platform that simply supports a cartridge and lets it do its job." Price includes VPI's JMW-12.7 tonearm (see "Tonearms"). (Vol.29 No.5 WWW)


Analogueworks TT-Zero: $1695 (with blank armboard)
If the importance of a product can be gauged by the number of people who reproduce it, then the original Spacedeck turntable, designed by Tom Fletcher and manufactured by Nottingham Analogue, must be the most important turntable of the past 30-odd years. The most recent company to design and manufacture its take on the Spacedeck formula—in which a heavy platter is driven by a motor of such low torque that the user must physically nudge the platter to start it spinning—is AnalogueWorks, a British company whose entry-level Zero turntable, supplied with a Jelco SA-750 tonearm (price is $2095 with tonearm), impressed HR. The Zero is built on a birch-ply plinth, and has a low-torque AC motor topped with a stepped pulley with separate grooves for 331/3 and 45rpm, and an aluminum platter whose bronze bearing appears especially well engineered. Used with a variety of cartridges, the Zero and SA-750 delighted Herb with their "uniquely unhurried, understated brand of forward momentum" and grainless trebles. The combo's greatest shortcoming: "an ever-so-slightly vacant midrange that . . . forced me to peer into its depths in search of more tangible bits of wood, metal, and flesh." HR's verdict: "Class B sound at a low Class C price." (Vol.40 No.7 WWW)

Dr. Feickert Blackbird: $6995
The standard Feickert Blackbird is a belt-driven turntable in which a Delrin platter is propelled by two (!) high-torque AC motors, with provisions for mounting two tonearms. Its plinth is an aluminum-MDF-aluminum sandwich done up in a black Nextel finish. As reviewed by HR, fitted with Jelco's knife-bearing TK-850L tonearm and optional DIN-to-RCA cable, and upgraded with eight inertia-enhancing brass platter weights and a glossy wood finish ($9345 total), the Blackbird ingratiated itself in no time: "I admired the Dr. Feickert Analogue Blackbird the minute I set it up. After a couple of weeks, I was ready to propose marriage." As Herb describes it, "bass through the Feickert-Jelco combo was tighter and more vigorous" than with his AMG G9 player (see elsewhere in "Recommended Components"), and compared to even his Linn LP12, the Blackbird impressed him by re-creating musical momentum in a way that was "noticeably more visceral." (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

G.E.M. Dandy PolyTable: $1795 (with Jelco TS-5505 arm)
A decidedly low-mass design, George Merrill's PolyTable turntable has a one-piece, more or less round plinth made of a hard polymer. Its platter and subplatter are machined from the same material, the former topped with a rubber-cork compound mat. Fastened to the plinth are three tall, adjustable feet, an oil-bath bearing for the platter spindle, and a tonearm board—which, in MF's review sample, was occupied by a Jelco SA-750D arm with a 9" effective length, supplied with a decent-quality AudioQuest phono cable. (The PolyTable can also be had with a Jelco SA-250D 9" arm for $1495, or a Jelco SA-750E arm for $1895.) In use, the PolyTable ran about 0.3% fast—a variable-speed motor controller, offered by GEM Dandy for $690, was not used for our review—but exhibited good speed stability. Sonically, the PolyTable offered "less-than-full bass extension" that was, in MF's view, "more than made up for by its snappy, rhythmically engaging pace and flow" and "soundstaging abilities [that] were remarkable for a turntable of any price." (Vol.39 No.8)

Haniwa Player/HTAM01 Arm: $15,000
See MF''s review in this issue.

HiFiction Thales Slim Turntable: $6750
From the Swiss watchmaker-turned-audio craftsman Micha Huber comes the Thales TTT Slim II belt-drive turntable, which mates a DC motor—powered by a battery that charges itself when you're not looking—and a 7.7lb aluminum platter with an attractively compact yet surprisingly heavy plinth. Combined with the Thales Simplicity II pivoting, tangential-tracking tonearm ($9450, or bundled with the TTT Slim II for $14,180), the Thales turntable lacked the last word in idler-drive-style impact, but it satisfied with its superb momentum and flow and its very good tactile qualities—not to mention is ease of setup and notably high build quality. (Vol.42 No.8)

Linn Sondek LP12: $2630 for turntable only ★
Since 1972, Linn has devised and offered for their belt-drive, suspended-subchassis flagship all manner of upgrades; commendably, all have been retrofittable. Some standouts: The Lingo power-supply mod of 1990 minimizes the LP12's propensity toward a slightly fat midbass and subjectively "adds an octave of low-bass extension," according to JA. The Keel one-piece subchassis, tonearm board, and Linn-specific tonearm-mounting collar of 2006 makes "an unambiguous improvement in the LP12's performance," according to AD. And the Linn Radikal mod—a DC motor with an outboard switch-mode power supply—impressed Mr. D with "more force, more momentum, and a little more sheer grip on the notes." At present, the least expensive LP12 package is the Majik LP12 ($4320): standard subchassis, wood-composite armboard, single-speed power supply, Pro-Ject 9cc tonearm, and a Linn Adikt moving-magnet cartridge. Experience leads us to expect high Class B performance—superbly low measured rumble, excellent speed stability, and very good musical involvement—from an entry-level LP12, while previous incarnations of the full-monty LP12 have delivered true Class A sound. (Vol.7 No.2, Vol.13 No.3, Vol.14 No.1, Vol.16 No.12, Vol.17 No.5, Vol.19 No.2, Vol.26 No.11, Vol.28 No.2, Vol.30 No.10, Vol.34 No.6, Vol.39 No.6 WWW)

MoFi Electronics UltraDeck: $1999 with tonearm
Decades after the first Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab record comes the first MoFi record player—the UltraDeck turntable with Ultra tonearm, both made in the US and created with design input from Spiral Groove's Allen Perkins. The UltraDeck's sturdy plinth comprises three aluminum plates bonded to the top of an MDF core, and its belt-driven platter—machined from Delrin and weighing 6.8 lb—rides on an inverted bearing. Four height-adjustable feet, designed in collaboration with Harmonic Resolution Systems (HRS), support the plinth. The Ultra tonearm has a 10" aluminum armtube, Cardas wiring, and a gimbaled bearing. According to HR, the UltraDeck, when used with MoFi's top-of-the-line moving-magnet cartridge, the MasterTracker (a $2198 package; the MasterTracker is sold separately for $699), didn't provide the "deep 'black' backgrounds or enormous sound spaces" of the considerably more expensive AMG Giro G9 player, "but it did present me with an infectious, easy-flowing, liquid vitality." According to Herb, the MoFi combo "had stronger energy, achieved bigger dynamic swings, and was more detailed than comparatively priced 'tables from VPI and Rega." (Vol.41 No.2 WWW)

Music Hall MMF-7.3: $1595 w/Ortofon 2M Bronze cartridge
The Music Hall MMF-7.3—which trades the AC motor of its predecessor, the MMF-7.1, for a DC motor—mates a double-plinth, belt-drive, acrylic-platter turntable with a carbon-fiber version of Pro-Ject's 9.1 tonearm. The MMF-7.3 is bundled with an Ortofon 2M Bronze MM cartridge for $1595, or can be had without cartridge for $1395. KM, who also tried the MMF-7.3 with a Goldring Elite MC cartridge, found that combo to be "a spatial king: I'd always assumed that my smallish listening space prevented spatial rendering of this caliber; the MH-Goldring tag team slapped me upside the head. Wake up!" KM's conclusion: "If I were of a mind to spend my C-notes on a turntable in this price range, the Music Hall MMF-7.3 would be at the top of my money-grubbing list." (Vol.39 No.9 WWW)

PBN Audio GrooveMaster Vintage Direct PBN-DP6: $8500
In PBN Audio's Vintage Direct line of turntables, the key components of classic Denon direct-drive turntables—the motor, platter, circuit board, and speed-sensing head—are refurbished as needed and fitted to newly designed mounting plates and plinths. That plinth is made from three layers of hardwood (different species are available) with special attention paid to grain orientation, and fitted with stainless-steel trim caps and feet and the customer's tonearm of choice (a 9.5" Jelco is standard). The PBN-DP6, which uses Denon DP-6000 components, impressed MF with its "drop-dead-gorgeous" plinth and fine sound; used with a Lyra Etna cartridge, the PBN "produced the kind of smooth, open, well-articulated, effortless, stable reproduction of music that can easily convert almost anyone." (Vol.39 No.6)

Pear Audio Blue Kid Howard: $4995 with Cornet 2 tonearm ★
Built in Slovenia, the Blue Kid Howard turntable and its partnering tonearm, the Cornet 2, were designed by the late Tom Fletcher, the influences of whose Nottingham Analogue products are very much apparent: At the center of the Kid Howard is a substantial aluminum platter, belt-driven by a motor of such low torque that the user must physically nudge it into motion, while the Cornet 2 is a captured-unipivot design, most of whose structure elements are machined from acetal. Despite offering less touch and force than AD's Garrard 301 turntable, which is old enough to collect Social Security checks, the Kid Howard impressed him by producing a soundfield that was "engagingly, involvingly big," and by allowing stringed instruments in particular to sound beautifully lush: the Kid Howard "was like a window opened on a great, rolling field of tone and texture," he wrote. In addition to criticizing the "wobbledy-clunk" feel of the Cornet 2 tonearm, AD cautioned that this "ever-so-slightly unbright" combination will perform best in systems that are amenable to slightly soft trebles. (Vol.38 No.7 WWW)

Roksan Radius 7: $3500 with Nima tonearm
Designed by Touraj Moghaddam and descended from Roksan's groundbreaking Xerxes turntable, the Radius 7 is intended as a more affordable player with which to "measure the groove with respect to time," as the company puts it. To that end, the Radius 7 eschews a suspended subchassis in favor of a rigid Perspex platform, and its acrylic platter is driven by a compliantly mounted AC synchronous motor topped with an aluminum pulley and offering switch-selectable speeds of 331/3 and 45rpm. Coupled with Roksan's Nima unipivot tonearm, the Radius 7 impressed HR, who delighted in the way it let his records sound: "Wow and flutter? Insignificant—and piano tone was exceptional in both texture and color." Herb concluded by noting that the Radius 7's "richly toned midrange and deep, deep bass were highly seductive. Its grainless highs were never anything but refined." Roksan Corus Silver cartridge adds $500. (Vol.39 No.10 WWW)

Soulines Kubrick DCX: $4500 without tonearm
The Soulines Kubrick DCX, made in Serbia, lacks a plinth in the usual sense, being supported by a skeletal aluminum chassis with height-adjustable feet at the ends of three propeller-bladelike pods. Two more pods contain a low-torque DC motor and a tonearm support with interchangeable armboards, three of which are supplied: for Linn/Jelco-style mounts, SME-style mounts, and Rega arms. At the center of the chassis is a brass-and-steel inverted bearing that supports an acrylic platter so beautifully machined that AD could not tell, at a glance, whether it was spinning or still. AD used his review sample of the Kubrick DCX with his own Rega RB300 tonearm and Denon DL-103 cartridge—setup was "a breeze," he said—and slaughtered several hundred words expressing his shock that a turntable that lacks a high-torque motor, a heavy platter, and a patina of nicotine and mold could have such a good sense of scale, "great" momentum and flow, and "better than average" bass weight and impact. His conclusion: "this is one of the very best non-vintage turntables I've heard outside of the enormously expensive Döhmann Helix 1." (Vol.40 No.7 WWW)

TechDAS Air Force V: $19,500 w/o tonearm
Though not a "budget" turntable in the accepted sense, that descriptor applies when considering the Air Force V in the context of its stablemates: According to MF, this most recent TechDAS turntable offers "all the important features, impressive build quality, and clever engineering for which TechDAS is known. Said features include an air-bearing platter and vacuum record clamping alongside an inboard AC motor, a robust machined-aluminum chassis, and fittings for mounting up to four tonearms. (Additional armboards are extra-cost options). Used with the latest B-44 MkIII version of the Graham Engineering Phantom tonearm, the SAT CF1-09, and the Thales Statement arm, the Air Force V provided Mikey with internote silences that were "stupidly quiet," plus "sharp and cleanly drawn" transients and "snappy and satisfying rhythm'n'pacing," although the V missed the generous expression of room sound associated with the more expensive TechDAS models. (Vol.42 No.9 WWW)

VPI Player: $1500 $$$ ★
Equal parts entry-level audiophile component and perfectionist-quality lifestyle product, the VPI Player (originally called the Nomad) bundles a wood-plattered, belt-drive turntable and 10" gimbaled tonearm with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge and an onboard phono preamplifier designed specifically around the former—plus an onboard headphone amp. BJR was impressed with the Nomad's apparent durability and the plug-and-play ease with which it went from carton to system, with no painstaking adjustments required. Even more impressive was the player's performance: BJR praised the Nomad's "rich, voluptuous, uncolored midrange," and heard "superb" transient articulation and "an impressive amount of inner detail for so inexpensive an analog rig." One comparison test prompted BJR to declare: "that VPI's phono stage held its own against a $500 phono stage designed by one of the industry's top electronics designers is pretty impressive, given that the VPI's stage is included as part of a turntable package costing only $995." A word of caution regarding the Nomad's headphone amp: "It had much more gain than most pairs of headphones need. I found it all too easy to overdrive my 'phones." (Vol.38 No.2 WWW)

VPI Prime Scout: $2199
When the history of domestic audio is written, the late 2010s will be remembered as a time of reinvigoration for VPI, a recent example of which is Prime Scout: a belt-drive turntable with a solid plinth, an aluminum platter, and an outboard AC motor, bundled with the company's JMW 9 unipivot turntable. A Delrin clamp for the platter and a thread-and-weight antiskating mechanism for the arm—the latter a bit of a departure for VPI—are also included, as are an easy-to-use cartridge-alignment jig and an electronic downforce gauge. AD thought the platter clamp added an unwelcome touch of fussiness to the sound, but was otherwise impressed with the Prime Scout, praising its talents for preserving sonic colors, communicating musical drive, and "throwing a remarkably big, spacious, convincingly detailed soundstage" when playing records so inscribed. Art's measurements, such as they were, revealed that the Prime Scout ran a little fast, and exhibited more wow than his 1950s idler-wheel Garrard, although wow was not excessive in absolute terms: wow! As AD said at the end, "As they say in New Jersey, what's not to like?" (Vol.40 No.10 WWW)


Rega Planar 3: $1145 with RB330 arm and pre-installed Elys 2 MM cartridge
Forty years after introducing the original Planar 3, Rega has dusted off that model name and applied it to a comprehensively redesigned package that includes a new tonearm (the Rega RB330), a new 24V motor, and a newly re-engineered if outwardly similar plinth that incorporates the "metalized phenolic" tonearm-to-platter-bearing top brace that characterizes Rega's higher-end turntable models. In examining the new Planar 3, HR noted that his review sample did indeed run a bit fast, and he wondered whether some measure of the "'pacey,' boogie-down Rega sound" has to do with a combination of that and a microscopic "doubling" effect from the player's lively plinth. That said, Herb wrote, "For me, the best record-playing system is the one that most vigorously directs my attention toward the humans behind the music. . . . Rega's new Planar 3 is exceptional at doing just that." Price includes Elys 2 moving-magnet cartridge; base price for turntable with tonearm is $945. Optional Drive Belt (in Floridian-retiree white): $59. (Vol.34 No.12, Vol.35 No.11, Vol.40 No.2 WWW)

Sony PS-HX500 USB: $499.99 w/tonearm and MM cartridge
The Sony PS-HX500 is a USB turntable comprising: a belt-driven platter of lightweight aluminum alloy; a proprietary aluminum-alloy tonearm with an 8.7" effective length; an OEM moving-magnet cartridge; and an onboard MM phono preamp and A/D converter, the last capable of creating files of up to 24-bit/192kHz (PCM) or 5.6MHz (DSD). Described by MF as easy to set up, the Sony package exhibited disappointing speed accuracy and stability (although the latter proved inaudible, "even on sustained notes"), but its tonearm "was particularly well behaved." MF also praised the overall sound of the Sony package, writing that the "midrange was rich and full, and the upper frequencies were smooth and also well extended, with clean, precise transients." His conclusion: "the PS-HX500 reinforced the notion that, even at so low a price, a properly designed turntable can do some attractive analog things that no digital system at any price has yet managed." (Vol.39 No.8 WWW)

VPI Scout Jr.: $1600 with tonearm and cartridge
"The Scout Jr. record player offers, at a reasonable price, the ability to play now." Thus spoke HR of the US-made belt-drive Scout Jr., a relatively basic turntable that comes bundled with a gimbal-bearing tonearm of stainless steel and an Ortofon 2M Red moving-magnet cartridge. Junior's 1.25"-thick MDF plinth is reinforced with steel, and its 1"-thick platter is machined from aluminum. An outboard motor topped with a plastic pulley snugs into a recess on the plinth's left side. From the start—and it was an easy start, since the Scout Jr. is shipped with its cartridge installed and aligned—HR was impressed that the VPI squeezed from the budget Ortofon 2M Red far better sound than he'd ever heard. As the days went by, he came to appreciate the VPI's "American organic-ness," and the manner in which its "slight darkness and seductively quiet spaciousness" set it apart from other players in this price range. Quoth HR: "It made LP playback seem less mechanical and more sophisticated." NB: The Scout Jr. is easily upgradable—for a price, the buyer can select from a choice of better tonearms, bigger platters, more effective isolation feet, and myriad phono cartridges—and replaces the VPI Traveler, which was not. (Vol.39 No.2 WWW)


Rega Planar 1: $475 $$$
The plug'n'play RP1 (for Rega Planar One) replaces Rega's popular P1. Nearly identical to the earlier model in size and shape, the RP1 uses an Ortofon OM5e moving-magnet cartridge, but trades the P1's MDF platter for one of phenolic resin and adds Rega's new, solidly built RB101 tonearm. Additionally, the P1's drab gray finish is exchanged for the RP1's choice of White, Cool Gray, or Titanium. Compared to the P1, the RP1 delivered more drive, better focus, and was the more confident, purposeful, and authoritative player. "Rega's RP1 looks good, is easy to set up, and plays records like it means it," said SM. AD shared SM's enthusiasm: "It's not just that I can't imagine $445 buying more happiness; I can't imagine so modest an investment in money and effort buying more music." The RP1 Performance Pack Upgrade was easy to install and resulted in a bigger soundstage, deeper silences, and greater resolution of low-level detail, said SM. "A no-brainer," agreed AD. (Vol.34 Nos.2, 4, & 5 WWW)

Audio Union Dohmann Helix 1 discontinued. TechDAS Air Force Two and III, replaced by newer models not yet reviewed (limited stock still available). Pioneer PLX-1000, Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird, Acoustic Signature Wow XL and XXL, not auditioned in a long time.



Swedish Analog Technologies CF1-09: $53,600
In 2018, after selling 70 of his original Swedish Analog Technologies Tonearms, designer Marc Gomez discontinued it and replaced it with two new tonearms. The more expensive, the CF1-09, is now the company's flagship. The CF1-09's tapered, hand-lapped, "naked"-carbon-fiber armtube has an effective length of 9" and incorporates a number of parts machined from solid stainless steel—including a new vertical bearing yoke that's far more massive than that of the original SAT arm and makes the CF1-09 too heavy for turntables with spring-suspended subchassis—and its newly designed hardened bearings exhibit far tighter tolerances. For $53,000, you can instead have the new 12"-long CF1-12 (which works out to $1666/inch for the additional length). Mikey tried the CF1-12 in place of the Schröder CB arm on the OMA SP10 Plinth System, and praised the SAT's "more explosive," "warmer," and "fuller" sound. (Vol.41 No.11, Vol.42 No.2)


Acoustic Signature TA-9000: $23,500
The key to the TA-9000's performance—and its remarkable price—is an armtube design in which concentric structures of aluminum alloy are joined by a very complex spiral arrangement of more than 700 connecting limbs. The pivoted TA-9000 also offers high-precision, hand-adjusted ball bearings, an SME-compatible mount, and a headshell that's adjustable for azimuth in the usual manner (loosen clamp, rotate headshell, tighten clamp), though MF was disappointed that this expensive tonearm offers no more than a "rudimentary" height adjustment. Used with Acoustic Signature's Ascona Mk.2 turntable, the 9" TA-9000 (it's also available in a 12" version) presented MF with "a smooth sound with a rich midrange, great detail, and great resolution," though it wasn't the last word in bottom-end extension and control. MF also opined that "the arm's mass is too low to work well with modern, low-compliance MC cartridges." Subsequent to his review, the TA-9000 was improved: the internal structure of the once-lively armtube was redesigned, the bearing housing was made more rigid, the aluminum headshell was replaced with one machined from titanium, and the arm pillar is now raised and lowered with what MF describes as "an ingenious gear system." MF reports better measured behavior from the TA-9000, with resonances "visibly and audibly" within the ideal window of 812Hz. Acoustic Signature offers these upgrades without charge to owners of the original TA-9000. (Vol.39 No.12, Vol.40 No.7)

AMG 9W2: $3500 ★
The German-made 9W2 tonearm from turntable specialists AMG combines a traditional horizontal bearing with a vertical bearing that is, according to AD, unique in its field: "an upright pair of 0.4mm spring-steel wires that are perfectly straight when the tonearm tube is balanced, yet flex in tandem and yield to the armtube's mass when the counterweight is moved closer to the twin fulcrums." The result, he reports, is a near-ideal combination of zero play and absence of friction. VTA and azimuth are easily adjusted, and a magnetic antiskating mechanism is included. AD found the 9W2, when used on his Linn LP12—for which it was apparently designed—to be "the first Linn-friendly arm I've heard that has made me stop sobbing about the demise of the Naim Aro: a considerable feat." Also with reference to his past favorite tonearms, AD added: "None surpasses the 9W2 in sheer build quality." HR enjoyed the 9W2 as part of AMG's Giro G9 record player, and said of the arm's vertical bearing, "to my reckoning, this is a simple and supremely effective innovation." (Vol.37 No.10, Vol.40 No.10 WWW)

Audio Origami PU7: $3000 ★
Based on the Syrinx PU2 tonearm of the 1980s—a product that BJR, AD, and other Stereophile contributors have owned and loved—the Audio Origami PU7 from Scotland is a pivoting arm with a gimbaled ball-race bearing. The PU7 seems better finished than its forebear, although creature comforts are thin on the ground—adjustments of VTF and VTA depend on the user loosening one or more grub screws and repositioning uncalibrated parts, and antiskating is a simple thread and falling weight—but, as MF pointed out, the design "emphasizes rigidity over convenience." Used with the Palmer Audio 2.5 turntable, the PU7 contributed to a notably velvety sound with a bottom end that was "well controlled and extended," according to MF, who cautioned that "images were of less-than-pinpoint accuracy and somewhat larger than life." But the PU7 distinguished itself as "a fine tracker, and feels as if it has bearings of . . . extremely high quality. Physically and sonically, it's a lot of tonearm for $3000, though I think its tube needs better internal damping." In 2017, HR was impressed by the combination of PU7 and Palmer 2.5 turntable, ultimately purchasing the review samples. (Vol.37 No.10, Vol.40 No.10 WWW)

Audio-Creative GrooveMaster II Titanium: 1524 Euros
The GrooveMaster II, designed and made by Audio-Creative, a Dutch manufacturer-distributor-retailer, isn't the first contemporary tonearm claimed to offer vintage-arm charm at a bargain price, but according to AD, it may be the best. Shaped like the classic EMT 997 "banana" tonearm but lacking that arm's offset bearing, lateral-balance outrigger weight, and dynamic downforce, the GrooveMaster II is a 12" arm primarily intended for use with Ortofon SPUs and other vintage-vibe pickup heads. Its effective mass is a higher-than-average 22gm—ideal for those pickup heads and other typically low-compliance cartridges—and a calibrated (if opaquely) magnetic antiskating device is provided. For an extra €220, the GrooveMaster II's aluminum armtube can be swapped out for one made of titanium (this adds to the arm's effective mass); another €175 gets you an SME-style sliding tonearm mount that makes installation and setup a good deal easier. Used with AD's vintage Thorens TD 124 turntable and an Ortofon SPU #1S pickup head, the standard GrooveMaster II allowed recordings so endowed to sound "sonically magnificent and emotionally powerful." As for the titanium version—Audio-Creative sent samples of both—AD noted that the differences "all fell in the heavier armtube's favor," with deeper and more forceful bass and "firmer note attacks." He concluded by noting the very good value offered by both GrooveMasters: "enthusiastically recommended." (Vol.41 No.2 WWW)

Bergmann Odin: $12,900
The Bergmann Odin is an air-bearing, linear-tracking tonearm in the mold of the Eminent Technology Tonearm 2, of the late 1980s. But where the sliding portion of the older arm was a longish aluminum tube—the arm's effective mass was thus greater in the horizontal than vertical plane—the armtube of the Odin is attached to a 3"-long sleeve of comparatively low mass, which rides along an "airtube" that's held rigid at both ends and whose level is adjustable. (Bergmann claims for the Odin an effective mass of 14gm.) Also adjustable are VTA/SRA and overhang; Bergmann suggests that the Odin is azimuth-adjustable, but that wasn't so on the review sample provided to MF, a former owner of the ET Tonearm 2 and now a bit of a linear-tracking skeptic. The Bergmann combination of Odin tonearm and Galder turntable (see "Turntables") "perform way above their total price," MF concluded. Air pump included. (Vol.41 No.7)

Brinkmann 10.5: $5990 ★
A Breuer-like gimbaled-bearing design that features an armtube described by the designer as a "high-speed, double-concentric, ceramic-plated, self-damping transmission device." JI uses a Brinkmann arm on his Oracle with great success. (Vol.28 No.5)

Brinkmann 12.1: $6290 ★
More than just a Brinkmann 10.5 tonearm with a longer armtube (its effective length is, you guessed it, 12.1"), the 12.1 incorporates mechanical refinements that, according to Brinkmann, endow it with greater torsional stability and greater immunity to resonances. Crafted from aluminum and stainless steel, it uses precision ball bearings for both vertical and lateral movement, and is available with either flying signal leads or a captured output cable of the usual sort. MF felt the Brinkmann 12.1, when compared with the Kuzma 4Point tonearm, had somewhat less slam but was lighter on its feet—and, with classical and jazz, is perhaps the better choice. And MF loved the 12.1's "lusciously velvet midrange." (Vol.38 No.5)

EMT 997: $5995 ★
The banana-shaped EMT 997 tonearm is a fixed-pivot, high-mass design that is supplied without a headshell. (Use with old-style pickup heads is presumed, although the 997 is compatible with conventional detachable headshells.) Its effective length of 307mm (12") works to minimize tracking-angle error and distortion. Though it sacrificed timbral neutrality, imbuing well-recorded voices with "some mid-to-upper-mid bumps and dips," the 997 impressed AD with its ability to convey the inherent tension of recorded music. "The EMT 997 was the least wimpy, least wispy tonearm I've ever heard," he said. If willing to invest the time and effort necessary for proper installation and setup, the user will be rewarded with "an almost indescribably great deal of pleasure," AD added. Current-production samples of the EMT 997 incorporate a bearing housing machined from brass rather than stamped from aluminum alloy, and a better finish for the armtube. AD found the bearings of the new version to have less play than those of its predecessor, the sonic and musical consequence being "a surprising if subtle increase in musical drive." That unexpected refinement of an already Class A tonearm prompted the 997's promotion to Class A+ status, of which AD said, "the EMT remains the best-sounding tonearm I have used . . . and the best-built arm I have owned." (Vol.31 Nos. 7 & 9, Vol.38 No.7, WWW)

Graham Engineering Phantom III: $7500 (10 inch length)
A less expensive alternative to the Graham Phantom Elite, the new Phantom III improves on its predecessor, the Phantom II, with a titanium arm wand, a more massive bearing housing, and, inside that housing, wiring that's claimed to produce less physical resistance as the arm moves. A new counterweight permits a wider range of cartridge weights, and Graham's patented Magneglide stabilization system has been further improved. After using it with a TechDAS Air Force III turntable, which Graham distributes, MF wrote that "it was immediately clear that the Phantom III's bass reproduction was far more robust and controlled than that of the Phantom II Supreme that I owned." The Phantom III's price drops to $5000 when bundled with the Air Force III. (Vol.41 No.1)

Klaudio KD-ARM-AG12: $11,999.99 (for 12" arm)
Our Mikey, whose enthusiasm for tangential-tracking tonearms is less than infinite—rest assured, he's tried them all—was nonetheless impressed with the ingenuity of the Klaudio KD-ARM-AG12, a pivoted tangential tracker. The Klaudio arm maintains tangency to the groove via two distinct mechanisms: the articulation of its headshell relative to its twin carbon-fiber arm beams, and an evidently cam-actuated mechanism whereby the entire tonearm, bearings and all, slides nearer to or farther from the record spindle as the arm swings across the record. Stylus position is set with an alignment jig and confirmed with a very cool Laser Tangent Tool (both are included). MF praised the KD-ARM-AG12 as "mechanically ingenious, superbly built," but also noted that this "super-complex assemblage of hinged and sliding parts" has a "wobbly" lifting and lowering mechanism that resulted in imprecise cueing, and that its sound, though "generally neutral," exhibited "a lack of bass punch and dynamic slam." (Vol.42 No.1)

Kuzma 4Point: $3995 AND UP
Designed by Franc Kuzma and available in 9, 11, and 14” versions, this tonearm takes its name from its four-point bearing system: Four carefully arranged points contact four cups, permitting the arm to move in both the vertical and lateral planes while avoiding the chatter of gimbaled bearings and the instability of unipivot designs. A removable headshell makes swapping cartridges painless, while adjustment of VTF, VTA, antiskating, and azimuth are relatively simple. With its outstanding immediacy, transparency, and overall coherence, the 4Point consistently exceeded Mikey’s expectations. Compared to the combo of Continuum Cobra arm and Ortofon A90 cartridge, the 4Point with Lyra Titan i offered greater timbral, textural, and image solidity, said MF. Compared with the Cobra, the Kuzma sounded more natural and energetic. “The Kuzma 4Point may be the finest tonearm out there, period,” said MF. The Kuzma matched the Graham Phantom II Supreme’s detail retrieval and neutrality but offered greater speed and coherence, said MF. As reported in the July 2019 Stereophile, KM’s review sample of the Kuzma Stabi R turntable came with a 4Point 11 ($6675 as supplied), which proved “eminently and easily adjustable.” Also offered with regular phono cables/no RCA box for $6375. (Vol.34 Nos.9 & 10, Vol.35 No.7, Vol.39 No.3, Vol.39 No.11, Vol.41, No.6, Vol.42, No.7, WWW)

Linn Ekos SE: $4950 ★
Outwardly identical to the original Ekos in all but color, the Ekos SE is machined from a titanium tube in an effort to smooth out resonant peaks, while its stainless-steel main pillar and bearing cradle work to maintain perfect bearing adjustment in the face of temperature extremes and user abuse. The "beautifully finished" SE comes packaged with a selection of tools, a Linn T-Kable interconnect, and a new iteration of Linn's cable clamp. With its strong, tight bass and solid aural images, the Ekos SE produced a "cleaner, more dramatic, and more enjoyable" listening experience, said AD. "Other, more exotic arms may give better results in some settings, but I can't think of a more consistent—and consistently recommendable—tonearm. It's a Martin D-28, a BMW 3-series, a bottle of Bombay Sapphire: It will please any sane, reasonable person," he sums up. (Vol.30 No.10 WWW)

Mørch DP-8: $4995
The long-lived tonearm line from Denmark's Mørch (rhymes with work) has its current apotheosis in the DP-8, a pivoting tonearm whose interchangeable armtubes allow a choice between 9" and 12" versions, and among armtubes pre-weighted to provide effective masses of 4, 7, 8, or 14gm. The DP-8, which uses a ball bearing for horizontal and a pair of sapphire bearings for vertical motion, is designed as an anisotropic tonearm, which presents the cartridge with different effective-mass characteristics in the horizontal and vertical planes—especially needed, per Mørch, to keep horizontal-only low-frequency information from displacing the entire arm along with the cartridge's cantilever while still allowing vertical freedom of movement. Indeed, when he used it with a George Warren turntable, MF found that the DP-8 produced "iron-fisted bass that regularly surprised me with its weight and authority." Gold plating is available for an additional charge. (Vol.39 No.4)

Pear Audio Blue Cornet 2 Tonearm: $2295
Designed by the late Tom Fletcher, of Nottingham Analogue, and descended from his popular Space Arm, the Slovenian-made Cornet 2 is a unipivot tonearm with a carbon-fiber armtube, said fibers being arranged longitudinally, according to the manufacturer. The Cornet 2's headshell, made of an unspecified material and bereft of a finger lift, is aligned straight with the armtube itself, though its mounting-bolt slots offer provisions for offsetting the cartridge. A falling-weight antiskating mechanism is provided, and an effective mass of 12.5gm and an effective length of 239mm are specified. MF found the Cornet 2's instructions lacking, and noted that, although "every parameter of the Cornet 2 is adjustable, a few are not easily set—the usual trade-off in a moderately priced arm." According to MF, when used with the similarly Fletcher-designed Pear Audio Analogue Kid Thomas turntable, the Cornet 2 contributed to a "smooth, refined sound" that many will find appealing. Moreover, compared to his experiences with earlier Fletcher-designed arms, MF suspected that "the Cornet 2 is faster, leaner, and better focused, despite the many similarities of construction." (Vol.38 No.1 Vol.38 No.7)

Phantom Elite: $13,500 (for 9" arm)
Outwardly similar to the standard Graham Phantom tonearm, the Phantom Elite is said to be made from more costly materials, and incorporates new Litz wiring, a refined alignment gauge, and a thicker, more rigid version of the Phantom's removable, damped titanium armtube. (The latter is available in three sizes, for effective lengths of 9", 10", and 12".) Retained from the original Phantom is Graham's patented Magneglide system, in which magnets are used to stabilize the arm's inverted-unipivot bearing. MF observed that, when used with the TechDAS Air Force Two turntable, the Phantom Elite had good texture, but not the same degree of weight as the more expensive Swedish Audio Technologies arm. Like Graham's standard Phantom, the Phantom Elite is available with a circular or an SME-style arm mount; MF suggests that the latter makes it easier to adjust spindle-to-pivot distance. (Vol.38 No.11)

Reed 3P: $5500 (9.5" version)
Available in 9.5", 10.5", and 12" lengths, the Lithuanian-made Reed 3P is a pivoting tonearm with a single-point horizontal bearing and a two-point vertical bearing. (The product name derives from the total of three points.) The armtube is wood, with various species available, each with its own look and resonant characteristics; the rest of the arm, including the headshell, is machined from alloy. Horizontal stability is provided by a system of magnets, as is the 3P's antiskating force, although MF noted that the latter lacks calibration or instructions; far more user-friendly is the 3P's on-the-fly azimuth adjustment. MF enjoyed installing and using his Brazilwood sample, and described its overall tonal balance as "neutral to a bit sweet, particularly in the midrange." He concluded: "The Reed 3P tonearm is impressively designed, engineered, and manufactured." (Vol.39 No.4)

Schick 12" Tonearm: $1995 ★
Made in Germany and now distributed by Mofi Distribution, the Thomas Schick 12" tonearm is intended to combine the greater-than-average length and mass of certain vintage models with the high-quality bearings of modern arms. It offers superb fit and finish, with a clean, spare bearing cradle and a smoothly solid pickup-head socket. Though lacking the spring-loaded downforce and other refinements of the EMT 997—and, thus, some measure of the more expensive arm's performance—the Schick is characterized by a big, clean, substantial sound, with an especially colorful bottom end: "a superb performer," per AD, who also verified the correctness of the Schick's geometry with Keith Howard's ArmGeometer freeware. According to Art, "The Schick tonearm is an outstanding value and easily the most accessible transcription-length arm on the market." Thomas Schick has now added to his line a proprietary headshell ($299) machined from resin-soaked "technical" graphite, with a mass (15.2gm) that makes it more suitable than most for use with cartridges of low to moderate compliance. AD bought the new headshell for himself and reported that, compared to his wooden Yamamoto headshell, the Schick offered "far tighter, cleaner bass." He was also impressed with how "cartridges mounted in the Schick suffer less breakup during heavily modulated passages." (Vol.33 Nos. 3 & 6, Vol.34 No.10, Vol.37 No.11 WWW)

Schröder Captive Bearing (CB) tonearm: $5,500
See MF's review of the Audio Union Döhmann Helix 1 turntable in Vol.40 No.3.

SME 309: $3000
A recent addition to SME's 300 series of tonearms, the nominally 9" (effective length: 232.2mm) 309 SPD features a magnesium armtube with internal constrained-layer damping, coupled with a removable cast-magnesium headshell that's claimed not to compromise overall arm rigidity; effective mass is specified as 9.5gm. Steel bearing shafts and precision ball-and-race bearings are used in both planes of motion. Antiskating force is applied with a calibrated filament-and-spring mechanism, and overhang is adjusted by means of the sliding-track mount that typifies most contemporary SMEs. Aside from noting the potentially harmful break that its headshell disconnect puts in the way of the signal—and criticizing the extent to which the headshell's contact pins cut into the cartridge-mounting area—MF praised the 309 SPD as offering good value: "If there's a better-made tonearm for $1900 . . . or one that even comes close, I've yet to encounter it." Also available bundled with the SME Model 15 turntable, a $9299 package called the SME Model 15A. (Vol.39 No.1)

SME 312S: $4800 ★
The 312S is a 12" tonearm with a tapered armtube made of pressure die-cast magnesium for strength, rigidity, and low mass. With fit'n'finish to match the no-nonsense precision of SME's 20/12 turntable, the 312S includes a secure sliding-track overhang-adjustment mechanism, a spring-loaded VTA post, and a silicone-filled damping trough with adjustable paddle. SME has produced "a tonearm that has all of the 12" arm's theoretical advantages and none of its disadvantages," MF said. (Vol.32 No.5 WWW)

Sorane SA-1.2: $1900 $$$ ★
The Japan-made Sorane (originally called Abis) SA-1.2 is a high-mass 9" tonearm that began life as the Abis SA-1, famous for impressing AD and for having been withdrawn from an earlier edition of "Recommended Components"—by its importer!—while undergoing revision. The new SA-1.2 reflects a number of refinements: improved bearings, greater effective length (9.4" vs 9"), and slightly higher offset angle. The arm's basics remain: a precision-milled armtube of rectangular cross section, static downforce, and a removable headshell for easy cartridge changes. When he used the revised SA-1.2—also an HR favorite—with the perennially recommendable Denon DL-103 cartridge, the low compliance of which is well suited to such a high-mass arm, AD found it capable of pulling from his records "tremendous amounts of touch and force and impact." The SA-1.2 was so good, he declared, that it made his Thorens TD 124 sound more like his Garrard 301. (This, he suggests, is good.) Speaking of which, AD cautions that, to make the Abis more compatible with the unusually low-slung platter of the TD 124, the user must make one or two adjustments. His conclusion: "I'd put the combination of Abis SA-1.2 and Denon DL-103 up against all but their priciest competitors." (Vol.37 No.3, Vol.38 No.11, Vol.39 No.4 WWW)

Spiral Groove Centroid: $6000 ★
The Centroid is a fluid-damped unipivot design that gives the user fine adjustment of all relevant parameters. It was extremely quiet, with stunning resolution and clarity, and had an uncanny ability to reproduce the tonal and dynamic elements of deep bass notes. "The Centroid tonearm may be the best tonearm I've heard. It is not leaving my listening room," declared BD. The Spiral Groove SG1.1-Centroid turntable-tonearm combo offered black backgrounds, rock-solid bass, natural tone color, and outstanding detail retrieval, said Mikey. A universal version with standard arm mount is also now available. (Vol.33 No.6 WWW, Vol.35 No.11)

Swedish Analog Technologies LM-09: $24,400
Engineer Marc Gomez has replaced his original Swedish Analog Technologies Tonearm with two new tonearms, one slightly less expensive, the other considerably more so. The former is the LM-09, which retains the original model's basic design elements—tungsten-carbide bearings with user-adjustable pre-loading, and a 9" armtube made of carbon-fiber laminates—while offering lower overall mass by means of an aluminum rather than a stainless-steel bearing yoke. The new SAT arm also has more robust bearings and a stiffer armtube, and its detachable headshell has been redesigned to provide more rigid coupling and smoother rotational action, the latter for more precise setting of azimuth. The new LM-09 is a drop-in replacement for the original SAT arm; MF compared them and heard "faster, cleaner, and better resolved" reproduction. For $29,000, SAT offers a 12" version, the LM-12, although designer Gomez still suggests that, all else being equal, 9" arms offer superior performance. (Vol.41 No.10)

Thales Simplicity II Tonearm: $9450
The Simplicity II occupies the middle of Thales's three-tonearm range, surpassed by the more refined Thales Statement, yet the Simplicity II shares the same basic design: It's a pivoting tangential-tracking tonearm, with two slender, elegant armtubes; a split counterweight; a ball-bearing-loaded, articulated cartridge-mounting platform; and a Cardanic main bearing. AD was taken with the Simplicity II's performance—characterized by superb momentum and flow and very good tactile qualities—as well as its ease of use (especially apparent in Thales's ingenious cartridge-alignment jig). Above all, the Simplicity II's build quality impressed AD, who called it "the most well-made tonearm" he has used. It works especially well with the vintage Thorens TD 124 turntable—a must-hear combination, Art sez—as well as Thales's own TTT Slim II ($6750, or bundled with the Simplicity II for $14,180). (Vol.42 No.8)

Thales Statement: $21,090
Micha Huber, a former watchmaker and the chief designer at the Swiss manufacturing firm Thales, has spent nearly 20 years perfecting the concept of a pivoting rather than straight-line tangential-tracking tonearm. The Statement in his magnum opus. Earlier Thales arms used an articulated auxiliary arm, in addition to the main armtube, to continually adjust the headshell's tangency to the record groove; the Statement is "more elegant," with its slender, two-tube arm structure, encapsulated cardanic main bearing, and a headshell articulated by means of micro ball bearings. MF praised the Statement's construction quality—"if you didn't know [it] was designed by a watchmaker, you might have guessed it anyway"—and praised its image stability, bottom-end power and grip, and "solid, well-articulated [note] attacks and convincing sustains." (Vol.42 No.5)

VPI JMW Memorial 3D-printed 12" tonearm: $2500 ★
The JMW Classic 3D 12" tonearm is identical to the JMW Classic Signature of the same length—with one big difference: This unipivot's removable armwand is made, on a 3D printer, of an epoxy-like resin said to impede the transfer of vibrations. MF was very impressed with the new model's smooth, transparent, well-balanced sound, likening it in those regards to his reference Continuum Cobra tonearm, and declaring the Classic 3D the logical upgrade for present owners of the JMW Memorial arm: "It's not that the metal JMW arm is so bad—it's that the 3D-printed version is so good." AD, who has set up a JMW Classic 3D for friend Sasha Matson, reports being very impressed with the new arm's level of finish. (Vol.37 No.6 WWW)

VPI JMW-12.7: $1700 $$$ ★
This unipivot tonearm features vestigial antiskating, which disconcerted MF. Nonetheless, he enthused over its lush midrange, ultra-smooth top end, and rock-solid imaging and soundstaging: "Subjectively, it seemed to have lower distortion than any other pivoted arm I've heard, but part of that might be the result of its smooooth frequency balance. Inner detail was outstanding." However, he added of the original 12.5 version, "I think there's a slight midbass exaggeration that may be part of the spreading warmth above this range, and which gives this arm its inviting midrange." BD says of the 12" version, "lowers the original's already low distortion. The background is blacker and the arm seems to float an infinite well of inner and low-level details. The tonal balance is more neutral, but combined with the TNT III or IV, is still warm and inviting." With the 12.5, Harry Weisfeld made small but important modifications to the 12" JMW that resulted in heightened rigidity, a reduced center of mass, and improved damping. What BD found most impressive was the "obvious-once-you-see-it" touch of the small V-groove machined into the top of the headshell. This allows the user to more easily gauge headshell tilt while setting azimuth. "Neat!" MF adds: "Luxurious midrange, low distortion, and ease of setup and use make this a very attractive arm if your 'table can handle the length." More recently, in addition to a streamlined model name, VPI's first transcription-length tonearm has come in for some mechanical refinements. Its unipivot bearing, and the jeweled cup within its bearing housing, have been improved. A weighted collar has been added to the counterweight, and can be rotated asymmetrically for azimuth adjustment. "Most important," according to MF, "[its] cantilevered platform has been made far more massive and sturdy." Additionally, an antiskating mechanism is now available, though not without the manufacturer's antipathy. Additional arm assemblies cost $600. (Vol.20 No.1, Vol.24 No.12, Vol.25 No.3, Vol.37 No.5; see BD's review of the VPI HR-X in Vol.29 No.5 WWW)


Ortofon TA-210: $1994
The 12" TA-210 is a pivoting tonearm with traditional gimbaled bearings for lateral and vertical movement, and a curved, damped aluminum-alloy armtube. Versatile and user-friendly, it comes with a removable cable, a plug-in headshell for use with standard-mount phono cartridges, and a simple, accurate installation jig. Compared to the EMT 997 and Schick Tonearm, the Ortofon lacked some scale, presence, and impact, but sounded consistently smooth, serene, and uncolored, with no apparent stressing on dynamic peaks, said AD. "A wise choice for a newcomer to the world of vintage-style phonography," he concluded. (Vol.35 No.10 WWW)

Rega RB330: $595 $$$
Current version of Rega's classic tonearm. See the Rega Planar 3 entry in "Turntables" and "Gramophone Dreams" in Vol.40 No.2 WWW.

SME M2-9: $2100
With its nontapered stainless-steel armtube and its detachable, azimuth-adjustable headshell of magnesium, the new M2-9 is a visual departure from SME's enduringly successful Series V tonearm. On the other hand, in keeping with SME tradition are the M2-9's distinctively shaped mounting base, which enables stylus-overhang adjustment by altering the pivot-to-spindle distance, and what HR describes as the arm's "first-quality gimbal bearings." When used in place of the stock tonearm on HR's trusty Technics SL-1200Mk.2 turntable, the M2-9 improved stereo imaging "by about 60%." HR: "Never-before-heard microdynamics became a delicious feast, and macrodynamics became something to prepare for!" (Vol.39 Nos.4 & 6 WWW)

Sorane TA1L: $1900
From the same Japanese firm that makes the heartily recommended 9" SA-1.2 tonearm comes the Sorane TA1L, the L standing for long—as in 12". The Sorane (orginally Abis) TA1L has an S-shaped aluminum armtube, and its removable aluminum headshell is anodized black. Cup-and-point bearings are used for vertical movement, while the horizontal bearing is a traditional ball-and-race sort; AD found all bearings to be free of both friction and excess play. A spring-actuated antiskating device is fitted, while downforce is applied statically. The effective length is 325mm, and while the effective mass is not specified, the arm seems appropriate for use with medium-to low-compliance cartridges and pickup heads—an impression borne out in AD's listening tests: "The Abis tonearm allowed the Miyajima [Premium BE Mono II] . . . to shine as a detail-retrieval champ of the first order," although he heard less bass weight than desired. AD also noted an inaccuracy in the TA1L's installation jig, advising prospective users: "Just remember that it may require an extra bit of attention in setting up." (Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

Sorane ZA-12: $2500 $$$
To view the Sorane ZA-12 is to think: Why hasn't anyone thought of this before? Viewed from above, from its bearing housing forward, the ZA-12 is a single, long, continuous rectangle of aluminum, unbroken by even a headshell: Two slots for cartridge-mount bolts are machined at the specified offset angle (16.5°), and a slender finger lift is screwed in place. On the underside of this chunky aluminum beam—Sorane doesn't specify an effective mass, but the ZA-12 is clearly a high-mass arm suitable for only low-compliance cartridges—are channels for the signal wires. Point-and-cup bearings provide vertical movement, with ball-and race bearings in the lateral plane; all feel both frictionless and robust. AD tried the Sorane with three different cartridges and found the sound consistently and pleasantly vivid, detailed, impactful, and forward. His conclusion: a "high-value tonearm" that "made music like crazy." (Vol.42 No.2 WWW)

The Wand Plus: $1800 for the 12" version
The Wand Plus, imported from New Zealand, is a missionary-style unipivot with a 7/8"-diameter carbon-fiber tube: both thicker and lighter in weight than the average aluminum tube, yet apparently no less rigid. AD sampled the 12" version of the Wand Plus ($1800)—also available are 9.5" ($1400) and 10.3" ($1600) versions—and praised its ability to play music with fine color, texture, presence, scale, and musical timing, noting that he was "honestly shocked at how utterly, amazingly good it sounded" and adding that "the combination of Denon DL-103 [cartridge] and 12" Wand Plus proved a relatively low-cost giant killer." AD cautions that, in its installation and adjustment, the Wand Plus is fussier than average and is best suited for users who are either comfortable with such or are fortunate to have very good dealers. (Vol.42 No.5 WWW)

VPI JMW 9: $1000 $$$
The shortest tonearm in VPI's JMW line, the JMW 9 uses a reverse-missionary unipivot bearing with a hardened tungsten-carbide point and a machined and hardened-steel setscrew for a cup. A quick-connect plug makes for easy removal and easy cartridge swapping. MF auditioned the 9" version of the JMW tonearm with VPI's Scoutmaster turntable. Unlike the original JMW Memorial, the 9" arm's main bearing is directly grounded to the plinth and the stabilizing ring surrounding the arm's bearing housing is fixed. The lack of a damping well results in a "Parkinson's-like trembling of the JMW when you use the finger lift or lower the arm via the cueing mechanism," which MF found disconcerting. Nevertheless, the arm appeared to be extremely stable: "The taut, focused, remarkably coherent performance of this 'table-arm combo is testament to a fundamentally solid, well-grounded system that deals effectively with energy created at the stylus/groove interface." In 2017, AD enjoyed the JMW 9—now endowed with a thread-and-falling-weight antiskating mechanism—as part of VPI's Prime Scout record player. There exists some disagreement between AD and MF over the overall rating, but Class B seems appropriate. (Vol.26 No.2, Vol.27 No.9, Vol.40 No.10 WWW)

Editor's Note: There are currently no Class C or D tonearms listed.

Audio-Creative Groovemaster II discontinued in preferred form. Sperling-Audio TA-1, Pear Audio Blue Cornet II, not auditioned in a long time.

Phono Cartridges


Air Tight PC-1 coda: $8500
Manufactured for Air Tight by Yoshio Matsudaira of My Sonic Lab, the PC-1 coda MC cartridge has a very low impedance of 1.7 ohms and an output of 0.5mV, the latter higher than the moving-coil norm. Its body is made from an alloy of aluminum, magnesium, and silicon, plated first in nickel and then in chrome. Compliance specs aren't supplied for the 12.7gm PC-1 coda, but the tracking-force range is given as 2-2.2g; MF found the lower number insufficient and declared the cartridge's tracking capabilities only "moderately good" at best. Yet the PC-1 coda impressed him as "masterfully voiced, low-coloration cartridge that worked well with all musical genres." (Vol.42 No.4)

Audio Musikraft Denon 103 in Bronze: $2179 as auditioned. $$$
Incorrectly classified Class B in this month's print issue; should be listed in Class A. See AD's review in this issue.

Audio Technica ART-1000: $4999
Audio-Technica describes their new flagship, the moving-coil AT-ART1000, as a Direct Power System design: its coils are attached to the front of its cantilever, directly above the stylus, and not to the inside end of the cantilever, as in most MCs. Thus does the AT-ART1000 carry the torch first lit by the coveted Neumann DST 62 pickup of 1962—and thus does it ensure that every deflection of the playback stylus result in a proportional change in signal amplitude, theoretically resulting in the lowest possible degree of compression among all phono cartridges. Sure enough, from the low-output AT-ART1000 (0.2mV) MF heard "microdynamic expression [that] was absolutely phenomenal: small shifts of emphasis in the strumming and drumming were clearly delineated." Mikey also praised the A-T as "one of the most tonally neutral cartridges I've heard," concluding that, "If you can afford it, you need it!" In the May 2018 Stereophile, AD added his thoughts to our coverage of the AT-ART1000, compelled as he was by his own experiences with another Neumann-inspired cartridge, the Tzar DST (see elsewhere in this edition of "Recommended Components"). After using the Audio-Technica to play his favorite LP of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, he wrote, "I expected a better sense of touch from the strings, and that I heard. What I hadn't expected was how much better a sense of [the clarinetist's] breathing and tonguing techniques the A-T now provided. Legato phrases were more so—something as easy to enjoy as to hear." His conclusion: "one of that small handful of pickups I'd care to live with." (Vol.39 No.10, Vol.41 No.5 WWW)

DS Audio Master 1: $20,000 with equalizer
The Master 1 is the top model in DS Audio's line of three optical cartridges—transducers that use the vibrations of a phonograph needle to modulate the otherwise steady output of an LED, rather than generate an electrical signal from scratch (sorry)—and replaces the DS-W1, which MF reviewed in the September 2015 Stereophile. Because the vast majority of phono stages are designed to cope with signals produced by velocity-sensitive cartridges, the amplitude-sensitive Master 1 requires a very different sort of stage, and so a dedicated equalizer is included in its not-inconsiderable price. In his review of the DS-W1, Mikey had wondered if the "distractingly overemphasized bass" he heard was attributable to a flaw in that product's equalizer; that guess became a near certainty when he tried the Master 1 with its all-new equalizer: the latter offers three different output curves, and one offered enjoyably flat, unboosted bass. The verdict: "In the Master 1, DS Audio has fulfilled the promise of the original DS-W1." Pertinent specs: The Master 1 weighs 8.1gm, sports a MicroRidge stylus on a sapphire cantilever, and requires a downforce of 1.61.8gm. (Vol.41 No.10)

EMT TSD 15: $1950 $$$ ★
The EMT TSD 15 is an A-style pickup head weighing just over 17.5gm and available with either EMT's proprietary diamond-shaped output-pin pattern or the more common SME square pattern. It has a high impedance of 24 ohms, a high output of 1.05mV, and a moderate recommended downforce of 2.5gm. The EMT's overall sound was open, clear, and transparent, with above-average presence, body, and color, and an outstanding sense of momentum and flow. "A fine all-arounder, combining starkly honest music-making with the sorts of refined sonic attributes most audiophiles cherish," said Art. Examining the EMT with a microscope revealed its distinctly small, sharp, spherical tip, which, AD conjectured, may be the reason for the stylus's exceptionally low groove noise. For special systems only, as it is a complete pickup head, not just a cartridge. (Vol.34 Nos.5 & 9 WWW)

EMT TSD 75SFL: $2150
The TSD 75 SFL—its name refers to both its maker's 75th anniversary, celebrated in 2016, and its Super Fine Line stylus profile—is based on EMT's TSD motor of 1965: a high-output (1.0mV), high-impedance (24 ohm) moving-coil pickup that exhibits medium-low compliance. (The recommended downforce is 2.5gm.) The TSD 75 SFL is supplied not as an interchangeable pickup head—the TSD 15's most common guise—but as a standard-mount cartridge, with bolt holes spaced 0.5" apart, on center. According to HR, who considered the AMG 9W2 tonearm its ideal mate, the EMT cartridge "was faster than lightning, punched like a boxer, and sang like a siren. Its tone was a little pale, but it excelled at rhythm and texture [and] pointed out melodies better than any cartridge I know." (Vol.41 No.4 WWW)

Etsuro Erushi Cobalt Blue: $5400
Etsuro Urushi's Cobalt Blue moving-coil cartridge—the least expensive of its three models—features scantly wound coils, a samarium-cobalt magnet with soft-iron flux-director pieces, and a sapphire-pipe cantilever fitted with a Microline stylus, all in a Duralumin body covered with blue Urushi lacquer. Specs include an impedance of 3 ohms, output of 0.25mV, and a weight of 8.1gm. HR got the best from the Cobalt Blue by pairing with the 1:10 version of the EMIA Phono step-up transformer, writing that, during the time it was in his system, "I never once took the Cobalt Blue's beguiling occupy-the-room presentation for granted. Every day it pleased me. Every day I thought, this cartridge could compete with any cartridge at any price." HR's closing thoughts: "I could dream away my sunset years listening only with the Etsuro Urushi Cobalt Blue: It does everything I desire." (Vol.42 No.8 WWW)

Gold Note Tuscany Gold: $7900
Described by MF as "a highly sophisticated, low-output moving-coil cartridge," the Tuscany Gold boasts a boron cantilever tipped with an Adamant-Namiki MicroRidge stylus. In an interesting twist, the cartridge's coil formers are integral to the titanium pipe in which the boron cantilever is inserted. Compliance is moderately low, and the recommended tracking-force range is 1.82.1gm. MF described the Tuscany Gold's sound as "firmly in the zone of tonal neutrality," and praised its imaging and soundstaging as "what you hope for from an [$7900] cartridge." (Vol.40 No.2)

Grado Labs Lineage Epoch mono: $12,000
Based on the original, stereo version of Grado's Lineage Epoch (see elsewhere in "Recommended Components"), the Epoch Mono is a moving-iron cartridge built into a bulky body carved from cocobolo, a dense tonewood. Although equipped with the usual two pairs of output pins, the Epoch Mono has only one pair of coils (the stereo version has two pairs), configured to respond to only the horizontal modulations of a single-channel groove. Those coils are wound from 24K gold wire; other precious substances in evidence are the Epoch Mono's diamond stylus and sapphire cantilever, the latter a first for a Grado cartridge. It tracks at between 1.5 and 1.9gm and wants to see a load of 47k ohms—and a healthy amount of quiet gain. That seen to, per Mikey, the Epoch Mono "beat every other mono cartridge I've heard in terms of effortlessness, harmonic transparency, and . . . harmonic expressiveness," and its "dynamic expressiveness was also unmatched." (Vol.42 No.3)

Grado Labs Lineage Epoch: $12,000
The sole member of Grado's new Lineage series, the Epoch now stands as the 65-year-old company's top model. Like all Grado cartridges, the Epoch is a moving-iron design with a cantilever that pivots at its innermost end—there is no fulcrum in the usual sense. But in a first for Grado, the Epoch's cantilever is a solid rod of sapphire instead of a telescoping assemblage of aluminum-alloy tubes and rods. The Epoch's body is machined from the tonewood cocobolo, its stylus is hyperelliptical, and its coils are wound from annealed wire of solid 24K gold. Specs include a downforce range of 1.51.9gm, and the output is 1.0mV. In his listening tests, MF found the Grado Epoch to deliver a wide, deep soundstage, full-bodied but well-controlled bass, natural-sounding vocal sibilants, and a lack of tracking noise: the Epoch "glided silently and smoothly through the groove like no other cartridge I've heard." Mikey also heard from the Epoch "a harmonic and textural richness laid on without too thick a coating of aural honey," though he observed that "you can get better overall dynamic slam and greater bass dynamics . . . from a few other cartridges." (Vol.40 No.12)

Haniwa HCTR-CO: $10,000
See MF''s review in this issue.

Ikeda 9Gss: $10,500
Produced in a limited edition of 200 units, the 24K-goldplated Ikeda 9GSS is a moderately low-output (0.3mV) moving-coil cartridge with a nonetheless very low impedance (2.5 ohms)—a combination made possible by an efficient generator built around a neodymium magnet. Also featured are a boron cantilever fitted with a nude, square-shank, line-contact stylus and, under that 5µm coating of gold, a two-piece body with a titanium top plate. According to MF, familiar recordings sounded "sweet and easy" via the 9GSS, but, compared with other top-shelf cartridges, the Ikeda's dynamic gradations were "less distinctive," its backgrounds "not as jet-'black.'" Mikey's conclusion: "The Ikeda was very good, but it simply was not in the $10,500 league." (Vol.42 No.1)

Kiseki Purpleheart (NS): $3499 ★
Following an absence from the market of nearly a quarter century, Kiseki's handmade MC cartridges are back, manifested in two separate lines: New Old Style (NOS), built in 20102011 using a mix of old and new parts, and New Style (NS), which are new in every way. The Purpleheart NS is among the latter, and features a metal mounting plate with tapped holes and a solid-boron cantilever with an elliptical stylus. Specs include a 42-ohm internal resistance, 0.48mV output, and a recommended VTF of 2.46gm, in accordance with the Kiseki's moderate compliance. In MF's system, the Purpleheart NS produced "rich, supple sound with a tube-like tonality and musical flow," albeit with "less-than-full expression of macrodynamics." All in all, MF found the Kiseki to be "a physical and sonic beauty. [It] offers a sophisticated sound well beyond what you'd expect at its $3299 price." (Vol.38 No.3)

Koetsu Onyx Platinum: $9995
As AD noted in the December 2018 issue, "To compare the specifications of Koetsu's 15 different models is to glimpse little in the way of variety: all Koetsu cartridges have the same recommended ranges of VTF and load impedance; all of their platinum-magnet cartridges have the same 0.3mV output, while all their samarium-cobalt–magnet cartridges output 0.4mV." That said, it turns out the Onyx Platinum's nominal mineral was the first nonwood, nonmetal material used in a Koetsu cartridge—and its nominal element went on to be used for the magnets in all of the company's top-end cartridges. Whether that makes the Onyx Platinum the pivotal model in Koetsu's line is anyone's guess—but AD was smitten by its abilities to let music sound colorful, forceful, well textured, and downright human when called for. (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum: $7495
Designed by Fumihiko Sugano, son of Koetsu founder Yoshiaki Sugano, the Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum exhibits moderately low output (0.3mV), moderately low resistance (5 ohms), expects a downforce of 1.82.0gm, and is priced more or less in the very middle of Koetsu's product line. Writing of his time with the Rosewood Signature Platinum, HR wrote that "this Koetsu, with its lacquered rosewood body, silver-plated copper coils, quadrahedral stylus profile, boron cantilever, and platinum magnet, gave me a sixth-row seat for [a] long-cherished recording." When Herb loaded it with 100 ohms, "the result was an exceedingly rich and unaffected sound," and the Koetsu "seemed engineered to do nothing but hold my attention—my pleasurable fascination—as it showed me the art behind the music." (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

Kuzma CAR-50: $5895Kuzma CAR-60: $12,995
The first cartridges from Kuzma are the moving-coil CAR-50 and CAR-60, both of which have a chunky machined-aluminum body with a brass coupling plate machined with three pairs of threaded mounting holes; the CAR-50's MicroRidge stylus is fitted to a sapphire cantilever, while the CAR-60's cantilever is made of diamond. MF observed that the sounds of the two models "[both] sounded smooth without ever sounding soft—smooth like skating on ice." That smoothness, MF wrote, "prevented percussive transients on top and bottom from developing excitement-generating bite and textural grip." Mikey admitted to regarding the CAR-50 as "bland" and noted that the far more expensive CAR-60 "lacked the slam or bass grip . . . to do rock'n'roll justice." One issue later, Mikey reported that the Kuzma-recommended load of >100 ohms for both CARs was intended by the manufacturer to read <100 ohms, and put his earlier remarks into perspective, noting that "my 'excitement' is someone else's ear-bleed," and reminding the reader that the CAR-60 in particular offers "what you should expect [for over $10,000]" in terms of bottom-end extension and resolution of low-level detail. (Vol.41 Nos. 3 & 4)

Lyra Atlas SL Mono: $12,995
The Atlas SL Mono is a special-order, low-output (0.24mV) version of the Atlas that's claimed to be "true mono." Its coil former is a magnetically permeable square plate oriented parallel and square to the record's surface—rather than at 45° and 45°, for reading a stereo groove—and the coils are wound to generate a signal when the stylus moves laterally, not vertically. There are two electrically separate mono coils, one atop the other, each supplying two of the cartridge's total of four output pins, and thus sending identical signals to the phono preamp's two channels. This arrangement is useful in stereo systems, to avoid the ground loops and hum that often result when a single coil is connected to one channel of a two-channel preamp. According to MF, the Atlas SL Mono's "tonal neutrality and, especially, its transparency are truly exceptional." (Vol.41 No.6)

Lyra Atlas SL: $12,995
It's a Lyra tradition that the company often follows up their standard cartridges with low-output versions of same; so it goes with the Atlas SL, whose low output is accomplished with fewer turns of wire, resulting in less moving mass, lower internal impedance, and, presumably, faster response. At 0.25mV, the Atlas SL's output is about half that of the standard Atlas (0.56mV). And in comparison to the standard version's 4.2 ohm impedance, the Atlas SL exhibits an ultralow 1.52 ohms, requiring the user to consider adjusting the input impedance of his or her phono preamp. For the Atlas SL and Lyra's new Etna SL (see elsewhere in this section), MF found that the halving of windings "didn't produce proportional differences in sound, though both performed at the expected higher levels of resolution of inner detail and, especially, microdynamics." (Vol.39 No.7 WWW)

Lyra Atlas: $11,995 ★
With its off-center motor-retaining screw and asymmetrical design, Lyra's new top model represents designer Jonathan Carr's latest ideas on minimizing resonances. It has a body machined from a solid billet of aluminum, a diamond-coated boron cantilever, and a nude diamond stylus. The Atlas combined the Titan i's detail and transient speed with the Kleos's warmth and smoothness, said MF. "The Lyra Atlas is a complete success." (Vol.35 No.5 WWW)

Lyra Etna SL: $9995
A low-output version of Lyra's well-regarded Etna MC phono cartridge (see Lyra Atlas SL elsewhere in this section), the Etna SL is wound with fewer turns of wire, resulting in lower internal impedance and lower moving mass—both of which are presumed to contribute to faster response and perhaps even better tracking. Other Lyra SL cartridges have impressed MF with subtly improved sound, appreciation of which requires a very good, very noise-free phono stage. Of the Etna SL in particular, MF wrote: "For whatever reason . . . the differences between the sounds of the Etna and the Etna SL were far greater than between [the similarly different versions of the Lyra Atlas]." He concluded: "Right now, I'm thinking the Etna SL is [Lyra designer] Jonathan Carr's best work yet." (Vol.39 No.7 WWW)

Lyra Etna: $8995 ★
Like Lyra's flagship, the Atlas, the Etna is machined from a solid billet of titanium and has a high-efficiency, X-shaped former and coil arrangement; a yokeless dual-magnet system; a cantilever rod of diamond-coated boron; and a Lyra-designed, line-contact stylus with varying radii. It weighs 9.2gm, has an optimum VTF of 1.72gm, and its recommended resistive load is between 104 and 887 ohms. As in all Lyra designs, the motor is built into the cartridge's body via a wire suspension held in place by a tiny screw. Compared to the Atlas, the Etna lacked dynamic drive and spatial resolution, but produced a harmonically rich, full-bodied, ultradetailed, and natural sound, said MF. "One of the most neutral-yet enticing-sounding cartridges I've heard, it's also one I can recommend for any system and for any sonic or musical taste," he concluded. (Vol.37 No.3 WWW)

Miyajima Labs Infinity mono: $3350
Miyajima makes no fewer than five single-channel cartridges. The most expensive, the Infinity Mono, can be ordered with either a 0.7 mil or a 1.0 mil stylus attached to its aluminum cantilever. Carved from African blackwood and fitted with a robust magnet, the Infinity Mono is big and, at 14.8gm, more than a bit heavy. Specs include a 0.4mV output and a recommended downforce of 34gm (Mikey had good results at 3.5gm). Of the Miyajima monos Mikey has heard, the Infinity Mono struck him as "the line's fastest and most linear and neutral sounding." (Vol.42 No.3)

Miyajima Labs Madake Snakewood: $7500
Like the Miyajima Madake moving-coil cartridge (see elsewhere in this edition of "Recommended Components"), the Madake Snakewood has a cantilever made in part from a strain of bamboo that grows only in the mountains surrounding Kyoto, Japan. Unlike the Madake, the body of which is carved from African blackwood, the Madake Snakewood's body is made of—get ready for it—snakewood, a substance so difficult to carve that it takes months to produce a single usable body. The Madake Snakewood has an output of 0.23mV, a suggested downforce of 2.5gm, and a low-compliance suspension. Describing the Snakewood as "a meth-infused Madake," MF praised its "faster, cleaner, leaner" sound, and opined that the Snakewood has "a more neutral midrange . . . and a faster, cleaner bottom end" than one usually associates with Miyajima cartridges, and that the Madake Snakewood performed well "with every kind of music." (Vol.41 No.4)

Miyajima Labs Madake: $5895 ★
As MF observed, "For all intents and purposes, the Madake is a Miyajima Kansui fitted with a mostly bamboo cantilever"—madake being the Japanese word for bamboo, and mostly referring to the fact that there's aluminum in there, too. It’s not just any bamboo: it’s a special kind, grown only in the mountains around Kyoto. Compared to Miyajima's previous designs, this wood-bodied, low-output, moderately low-compliance stereo MC cartridge surprised MF by being a "faster performer that manages to considerably extend the top end without making it sound thin or bright. [A]t the same time it somewhat reins in the midrange riches that make [Miyajima’s] Shilabe sound so attractive to some but pleasingly colored to others. The Madake nips and tucks some of the Shilabe’s lower-midband-to-midband meatiness and transplants it to the fast, extended upper octaves. The result is the most neutral-sounding Miyajima cartridge to date.” He concluded: "[If you] can afford it, you'll definitely want to add the Madake to your arsenal." (Vol.37 No.12)

Miyajima Labs Saboten: $2475
Setting aside matters of performance and appearance, the most distinctive thing about the Miyajima Saboten moving-coil cartridge is its cactus-spine cantilever (saboten is the Japanese word for cactus), the business end of which is capped with an aluminum ferrule fitted with an elliptical stylus. Points of note include a lower-than-average output of 0.18mV, a higher-than-expected-for-that-kind-of-output impedance of 15 ohms, and Miyajima's trademark cross-ring motor, tuned for a medium-compliance suspension. Given that the cross-ring motor doesn't require a taut tie-back wire of the usual sort, Miyajima is freer than most to experiment with nonmetallic cantilevers—and, as HR wrote, "[t]hat little sprig of cactus . . . could be why higher female voices sounded so pure and naturally toned." Herb also praised the Saboten's "grainless, liquid transparency, its unique sense of intimacy, and its decidedly tactile focus on vibrating acoustic surfaces. All of it drew me in and held me close to the music." (Vol.41 No.4 WWW)

Miyajima Saboten L: $4875
A low-compliance version of Miyajima's distinctive Saboten cartridge (see elsewhere in this edition of "Recommended Components"), the Saboten L also features a slightly higher output—0.23 vs 0.18mV—and is built into a body made from Cameroonian ebony instead of lignum vitae. Used in AD's high-mass (and thus low-compliance-cartridge–friendly) EMT 997 tonearm, the Saboten L impressed him with its good color, touch, and sheer substance. Art added that the Saboten L "was the rare stereo pickup that sounded good, if not quite mono-pickup good, on mono LPs." His conclusion: "this beautiful-sounding product embodies everything that's special about this brand." (Vol.41 No.6 WWW)

My Sonic Lab Ultra Eminent Ex: $6995
Notably, the titanium-bodied Ultra Eminent Ex moving-coil cartridge mates an output level that's only moderately low (0.3mV) with an exceptionally low internal resistance (0.6 ohm). It does so thanks to the discovery by its maker, Yoshio Matsudaira, of a new magnetic material that allowed him to use fewer turns of coil wire—yielding lower moving mass, and the potential for greater detail retrieval—while maintaining a healthy output level. Recommended tracking force is 2gm. As HR wrote, "what struck me was how much the Ultra Eminent Ex's presentation sounded like analog tape," adding that the cartridge "excavated so much microlevel information that it seemed to reach some perceptual limit where recorded detail . . . begins to materialize into the person, instrument, or environment the information represents," and in doing so sounded "less mechanical than any other MC I've experienced." (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

Ortofon Century: $12,000
Designed in honor of Ortofon's 100th anniversary by Leif Johannsen, the company's chief officer of technology and acoustics, the limited-edition MC Century is offered as the finest Ortofon cartridge to date. Its titanium body, made using selective laser melting (SLM), conceals a motor whose armature-damping system is claimed to provide "complete elimination of unwanted resonance." That motor also contains a diamond cantilever fitted with a "nude" Ortofon Replicant 100 stylus tip and a magnet system made in part with an iron-cobalt alloy. Specs include a low (0.2mV) output, a 6 ohm internal resistance, and a recommended vertical tracking force of 2.4gm. As one might expect from any pricey cartridge, the MC Century's sound was found by MF to be "free of any mechanical artifacts, bright edges, or etch," and its bottom end was tighter than that of the hallowed Ortofon MC Anna yet no less voluptuous. The MC Century also "delivered solidly three-dimensional images" and "tracked vocal sibilants as well as any cartridge" that Mikey has heard, leading him to conclude, "I can't imagine how Leif Johannsen can ever top it." Supply limited to remaining stock. (Vol.41 No.9)

Ortofon MC Anna Diamond: $10,499
Ortofon's MC Anna phono cartridge, introduced in 2013, apparently remains a popular choice for analog perfectionists who can afford its $8924 price, but it has now been joined in the line by a newer, more expensive variant, the MC Anna Diamond, into which has downtrickled the diamond cantilever of the company's limited-edition MC Century cartridge. In the MC Anna Diamond, the business end of that cantilever is fitted with Ortofon's Replicant 100 stylus, said to be the closest of any playback stylus to the lacquer-cutting stylus. Additionally, the new cartridge features a specially tuned suspension, an SLM-formed titanium body, and a nonmagnetic armature; specs include an output of 0.2mV, an internal impedance of 6 ohms, a weight of 16gm, and a recommended 2.4gm downforce. Used in his SAT CF1-09 tonearm, the Anna MC Diamond rewarded MF with sound that was "joltingly fast, clean, and transparent, yet with solidity, weight, and body." (Vol.42 No.9)

Ortofon MC Windfeld Ti: $4390
Derived from the first Windfeld model—which was designed by Ortofon's head of R&D, Leif Johannsen, and named for his predecessor in that position, Per Windfeld—the new Windfeld Ti MC cartridge differs from the original in its use of a titanium body core that flares at the top to form its mounting platform, which is drilled and tapped for cartridge bolts of the usual sort. (The Windfeld Ti's outer body is made of stainless steel.) The Ti's armature is also less magnetic than the first Windfeld's: a windfall (sorry) of the new cartridge's more sophisticated magnet structure. Other pertinent specs include an output of 0.2mV, an internal impedance of 7 ohms, and a specially polished, nude Replicant 100 stylus tip. According to MF, the Windfeld Ti, with which he used a vertical tracking force of 2.3gm, "retained all of the sweetness and lushness of the original Windfeld." He added that "no one will be disappointed by the Windfeld Ti's reproduction of space." Mikey's conclusion: "$4390 buys you a piece of the highest echelon of cartridge performance for thousands fewer bucks." (Vol.40 No.8)

Ortofon MC Xpression: $5669
A unique blend of new and old technologies, the Xpression derives from Ortofon's cutting-edge MC A90, but is designed as a drop-in replacement for any G-style pickup head. It uses a Replicant 100 stylus, has a recommended downforce of 2.6gm, an impedance of 4 ohms, and a low (0.3mV) output. Compared to AD's original Ortofon SPU, the Xpression sounded just as solid, colorful, and forceful, but was more detailed, open, tactile, and revealing of nuance and technique. "The difference was real: Love my older Ortofon though I do, the Xpression was clearly more dramatic, with no penalty in texture or color," said Art. Not long after AD's review, JCA tried an Xpression with his combination of vintage Thorens TD 124 turntable and Schick 12" tonearm; for various reasons—at the time he felt it "cost way too much for what it was"—he set it aside, returning to it only recently. Improvements, in the interim, to his system and a better listening room left JCA "better prepared to hear and describe" the Xpression, which he now believes is "clearly and significantly better" than his own Ortofon 90th Anniversary SPU, with "less SPU-ish coloration" and "none of the attenuation of high frequencies that I [hear] from classic SPUs, but no extra tizz, either." (Vol.35 No.2, Vol.41 No.9 WWW)

Ortofon SPU Century: $5000
One of three limited-edition cartridge models produced in celebration of Ortofon's 100th anniversary, the SPU Century is a G-style (52mm from mounting collet to stylus tip) pickup head containing an updated version of Ortofon's classic low-compliance SPU motor. The upper portion of its shell is made, via Selective Laser Melting (SLM), from aluminum, while its fancifully shaped "belly pan" is machined from Danish beechwood treated with polymer. The SPU Century follows tradition with its low (0.2mV) output and high (4gm) recommended downforce, but departs from it in having a Shibata rather than a spherical stylus tip. (The cantilever remains resolutely short and aluminum.) As AD noted, even without being run in, the out-of-the-box SPU Century sounded "dynamic, colorful, forceful, well-textured but never harsh, and thoroughly engaging." From there it got only better, impressing AD as "the most vintage-sounding—the most SPU-sounding—of the modern SPUs that I've heard." (Vol.42 No.3 WWW)

Ortofon SPU Wood A: $1699
Earlier this century, fans of Ortofon's SPU pickups were saddened when the company ceased building their historically long-lived A-style SPUs: the stubby, squarish ones in which the distance from stylus tip to mounting socket is a relatively short 30mm—this in contrast to the longer, sleeker, G-style pickup heads, which endure. Yet 2018 saw the first new A-style model in over a decade, the descriptively named SPU Wood A. Built into a hardwood shell with an urushi lacquer finish, the Wood A has an internal impedance of 2.4 ohms, an output of 0.18mV, and a short aluminum cantilever fitted with a spherical stylus; recommended downforce is 4gm. AD wrote that the Wood A sounded "tactile, dynamic, meaty, and colorful, with a great sense of scale," and that it "excelled at conveying instrumental and vocal textures." The SPU Wood A offers tremendous bang for the buck. (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

TechDAS TDC01 Ti: $12,500
Created for the Japanese turntable specialists TechDAS by Yoshio Matsudaira of My Sonic Lab—he has also made cartridges for Air Tight, Haniwa, and others—the titanium-encased TDC01 Ti is notably heavy at 17gm, notably pricey at $16,000, and combines a low internal impedance of 1.4 ohms with a surprisingly high output of 0.45mV. Also notably, TechDAS recommends for the TDC01 Ti a higher-than-expected load impedance of 100200 ohms—something that MF sidestepped by directing its output to the current-gain inputs of his CH Precision P1/X1 phono preamp. Used thus, the TechDAS cartridge rewarded Mikey with "an authoritarian dynamic slam" not generally associated with its designer, coupled with the more typical "sheen of Matsudaira's house sound—a pleasing smoothness that made strings sing [and] revealed buttery textures in women's voices." Build quality, MF noted, was "as high as you'd expect for that kind of money." (Vol.41 No.4)

Tedeska DST201ua: 5600 Euros (approx $6370)
Made in Berlin by musician Hyun Lee, the Tedeska DST201UA is a hand-built moving-coil cartridge encased in a hardwood body to which shellac has been applied using a traditional French polish technique. Its copper-wire coils are wound on an air-core former, bathed in the flux lines of a samarium-cobalt magnet; a line-contact stylus is fitted to the business end of its boron cantilever. Specs include an output of 0.3mV and an impedance of 18 ohms: a curious combination, as the latter seems much higher than the former would lead one to expect. Recommended downforce is 2gm. With the Tedeska in his system, MF expressed some disappointment that macrodynamics were less than fully expressed—"I wanted more oomph"—but praised the DST201UA as "a well-balanced, high-performance cartridge that bridges the gap between being too soft and too analytical." (Vol.42 No.1)

Top Wing Suzaku (Red Sparrow): $16,500
Described by its manufacturer as employing "coreless straight-flux" technology, the Suzaku moving-magnet cartridge has a very low output (0.2mV), a moderate internal impedance (12.3 ohms at 1kHz), and a downforce range of 1.75–2gm, and is said to be non-sensitive to load capacitance. Because it's an MM design, the Suzaku's stylus is factory-replaceable for a mere 19% of the cartridge's total retail price; unfortunately, because that price is over $16k, a new stylus will nevertheless cost $3135: more than the price of many Class A phono cartridges. MF's first review sample of the Top Wing Suzaku, which performed disappointingly, turned out to be defective; a second sample impressed Mikey with its "smooth, airy, velvety, and vivid" sound, "with a particularly rich midrange that I wanted to sink my ears into." (Vol.42 No.5)

Tzar DST: $10,000
Whereas most moving-coil cartridges have their stylus at one end of a cantilever and their coils at the other, the Tzar DST—like the vintage Neumann DST 62 upon which it's modeled—says to hell with the formers and has its coils glued right to the cantilever, just behind the stylus. The theoretical result is less dynamic compression than with traditional MC designs—and that's precisely what AD heard: "The Tzar DST is the most incredibly tactile, forceful, and altogether open-throttled pickup I've ever tried." Its compliance, though unspecified, was observed to be very low—recommended downforce is 3.2 to 4gm—and its output is a mere 0.25mV. In the August 2019 issue, AD wrote of his experiences with another, more recent sample, reporting the same impressive physicality and attention-commanding musicality, plus a finer level of finish. Finally, a product that answers the question "Is there a place in the market for a $10,000 Siberian-made phono cartridge?" with a resounding Yes. (Vol.39 No.1, Vol.42 No.8 WWW)


AMG Teatro: $2750
Although AMG is headquartered in Germany, their Teatro moving-coil cartridge is a true international effort. Its two-piece titanium body is made in the US, where it's machined and treated with a Tiodize Type III coating that gives the Teatro its distinctive green finish. The Teatro's generator, which has separate coil assemblies for each channel—as opposed to having both channels' coils wound on a common former—is made in Japan. Its magnets are neodymium, its cantilever is boron, and its soft-alloy yoke contains cobalt and iron, just like your favorite multivitamins. Also notable are the Teatro's 0.4mV output, 12-ohm internal resistance, line-contact stylus, and machined-aluminum stylus guard—"the best, easiest-to-use stylus guard ever to protect a needle," said HR, who found that the somewhat "analytical" Teatro was the perfect mate for the relatively lush-sounding pairing of Palmer 2.5 turntable and Audio Origami PU7 tonearm: that combination "was sounding as if its yin and yang were balanced just right." (Vol.40 No.10 WWW)

Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 in Aluminum: $1359 $$$
Montreal-based MusiKraft offers precision-machined metal cartridge shells as accessories for Denon's classic DL-103 cartridge—a favorite of AD, KM, HR, and others. Prices start at $579 for a clear-anodized aluminum shell in which a new DL-103 has been installed—or brave users with steady hands can buy just the aluminum shell for $229 and fit their own darn Denon. In either case, the MusiKraft shell is pre-drilled with five sets of tapped mounting holes, making cartridge mounting and alignment easier than ever, and fitted with tiny, interchangeable wooden panels that give the cartridge a jaunty look and may or may not affect its sound. (Dozens of species of wood are available, and the panels can be removed/exchanged/refitted in the field, so to speak.) AD borrowed a MusiKraft polished lithium-aluminum shell (model S-AlLi103-PO) with side panels of South American ipe wood and a pre-installed Denon DL-103—a total retail value of $739—and was impressed all to hell and back: the MusiKraft version lacked "the slight treble glare" associated with his stock DL-103, and provided "pitches and pitch relationships [that] were steadily, solidly right," and "vocal textures and tones with real meat and color." His verdict: "a fine value." (Vol.40 No.8 WWW)

Dynavector DV-20X2L: $1150 $$$
HR's search for a phono cartridge that would "dance on the roadhouse bar or burn rubber in the parking lot" led him to the Dynavector DV-20X2L, a low-output (0.3mV; a higher-output version, the DV20X2H, is available), medium-high-compliance moving-coil cartridge with a MicroRidge stylus. Says Herb, "I loved it right away—the DV-20X2L was everything the [Ortofon] 2M Black was not: fast, clear as water, and expressive." His conclusion: "[I]t became my new budget reference phono cartridge." (Vol.39 No.6 WWW)

EMT HSD 006: $1595
Subsequent to moving their phono-cartridge division from Germany to Switzerland, EMT introduced the new entry-level HSD 006, built into a semi-open aircraft-aluminum body with threaded mounting holes. Inside is a version of EMT's classic TSD-series motor, characterized by high impedance (24 ohms) and output (1.05mV), with an alnico magnet and an aluminum cantilever to which is fitted a Super Fine Line stylus. Recommended downforce is 2.4gm. In AD's system, the HSD 006 sounded "like a TSD 15, but a little more modern. All of the old model's strengths are here, but with an increase in detail." The HSD 006 impressed AD as "more spatially accomplished, and perhaps a little more tactile" than the TSD 15, and suggested that, when partnered with the right tonearm and phono stage, "it will sing." (Vol.42 No.12 WWW)

Hana EL MC: $475 $$$
Commissioned by Sibatech Inc. and manufactured by Excel Sound, both of Japan, the Hana EL is a low-output (0.5mV) moving-coil cartridge built with alnico magnets and fitted with an aluminum cantilever and elliptical stylus. (A higher-output version, the Hana EH, is available for the same price but has not yet been tested.) Compliance is medium to medium-low—and thus well suited to the SME M2-9 tonearm used by HR, who declared that "the EL's basic sonic character was highly musical and exceptionally nonmechanical." (Vol.39 No.8 WWW)

Hana ML Moving Coil: $1200 $$$
Forget that the new Hana ML is the costliest Hana so far: This low-output (0.4mV) moving-coil cartridge is nevertheless priced lower than the perfectionist-audio average. The Hana ML boasts a Delrin body topped with a brass cap, the latter with threaded inserts for the mounting bolts; an aluminum pipe cantilever; an Alnico magnet; and a nude Microline stylus. Specs include a lowish compliance, a weight of 9.5gm, and an impedance of 8 ohms. HR heard from the ML a tendency to smooth out those natural textures that more expensive cartridges are paid to excavate, but it was also capable of letting music sound "brilliant and conspicuously in the room." HR loved the Hana's "beguiling, tubelike sound," but he noted that it "could not out-rock or out-reggae the Zu/Denon [DL-103]." His conclusion: "a stunning-sounding, artfully engineered phono invention that loves all music, and a fantastic bargain." (Vol.42 No.8 WWW)

Hana SL Mono: $750
Like the standard Hana SL, the Hana SL Mono is a low-output (0.5mV), highish-impedance (30 ohms) moving-coil cartridge with an alnico magnet, an aluminum cantilever, and a nude Shibata stylus. That last spec surprised HR, most of whose favorite mono pickups have spherical styli—yet during an afternoon of playing 45s, he was won over by the SL Mono's "unprecedented ability to hear everything that had never before been exposed by my spherical-tipped cartridges. Single after single, the Hana SL Mono made sound that was decidedly present, punchy, finely detailed, and liquid." Unlike those cartridges regarded by purists as true mono pickups—such as EMT's discontinued OFD models—the Hana SL Mono does exhibit vertical compliance, and the output signal appears on both its pairs of output pins. (Vol.41 No.10 WWW)

Hana SL: $750
Herb Reichert wrote about the Hana SL almost immediately after reviewing a slew of $5000+ cartridges, and observed that switching to the $750 Hana "did not feel like a depressing step down." At the business end of the Hana's aluminum cantilever is a Shibata stylus—cause, HR says, for the user to give "more-than-usual care" to cartridge alignment and downforce and antiskating settings—and deep in the Hana SL's plastic-bodied heart is an alnico magnet, to which Herb attributes the cartridge's timbral realism and ability to make "singers and instruments sound denser and more real." Pertinent specs include a low (0.5mV) output, a recommended downforce of 2gm, and a recommended load impedance of over 200 ohms. Like its stablemate, the Hana SL Mono, this moving-coil cartridge impressed Herb with its "naturally supple viscosity and glowing vivid tone." (Vol.41 No.10 WWW)

Ikeda Sound Labs 9mono MC: $4400
Said by Ikeda to have been developed from the ground up as a mono rather than a stereo cartridge, the 9mono nonetheless incorporates two coils—both oriented vertically, to respond only to horizontal groove modulations—in an effort to prevent hum problems when used with stereo electronics. The 9mono has a double-wall duralumin cantilever, an elliptical stylus, an aluminum body, and a rather low (2 ohms) impedance; output is also low (0.22mV), as is compliance—although the recommended tracking force is a moderate 1.8gm. The 9mono impressed MF with its "smooth, burnished overall sound" and transient performance that was "on the smooth and polite side," though he also noted its "impressive transparency" and "especially fine rendering of stage depth." (Vol.39 No.6)

Jasmine Turtle: $799 $$$
The made-in-China Jasmine Audio Turtle moving-coil cartridge sports a Fritz Geiger FG2 line-contact stylus and what HR describes as "the most beautiful body—of blue and white porcelain—I have ever laid eyes on." The lowish-output (0.6mV) Turtle is heavier than average (14.5gm), and thus may require a heavier-than-average tonearm counterweight; HR used it with the Sorane SA-1.2 and that arm's auxiliary weight and declared the Jasmine Audio cartridge capable of making "big, pristine, hyperclear, supersaturated images, and a soundstage that felt like the Matrix revealed." His conclusion: "At $699, it delivered a giant portion of what those cartridges I can't afford might give me." (Vol.39 No.4 WWW)

Koetsu Rosewood Mono: $3495
Nominally, the Koetsu Rosewood Mono has nothing up its sleeve: It is, indeed, a Koetsu Rosewood cartridge—an enduringly popular moving-coil model and surely among the very first wood-bodied cartridges to cross our path—and it is, indeed, intended for use only with monophonic records. (Whether it contains a true single-channel motor or a stereo motor strapped for mono, MF doesn't know: Koetsu did not provide specifications.) Extrapolating from the more common stereo Koetsu Rosewoods, MF estimates the Mono's output as 0.4mV, its internal impedance as 5 ohms, and its tracking-force range as 1.82gm. Under the Rosewood Mono's stylus, the recent mono reissue of Duke Ellington's Masterpieces by Ellington was "in full bloom," according to Mikey, "if somewhat at the expense of bass attack and transient bite." His conclusion: the Koetsu Rosewood Mono is a good choice "if your system needs a bit of softening of transients." (Vol.41 No.3)

Koetsu Rosewood Standard: $3495
Among moving-coil cartridges that bear the Koetsu brand—products as reliably boxy in shape as they are exotic in the materials used for their bodies—the Rosewood Standard is among the most affordable. Mounted inside its rosewood housing is a motor built with samarium-cobalt magnets, 99.9999%-pure copper coils, and a boron cantilever, to which is bonded a stylus with a hyperelliptical tip. Specs for the Rosewood Standard include an output of 0.45mV, an impedance of 5 ohms, and a recommended downforce of 1.82gm. After using Koetsu in his system, HR praised the Rosewood Standard's tight imaging and "slam-dance excitement," while noting that "[m]ost impressive was how the Koetsu exposed extremely subtle, almost subliminal instrumental textures . . . while making nearly imperceptible changes in those instruments' tonalities seem beautiful and important." (Vol.41 No.4 WWW)

London Maroon: $995 $$$
With its spherical stylus, the Maroon is the least expensive of the British-built London cartridges: Deccas in all but name, and all featuring the same Deccades-old (sorry) "positive-scanning" design in which the stylus is fastened directly to the generator mechanism. Basic specs include high output (5mV), moderate downforce (1.82gm), and lateral and vertical resonant frequencies sufficiently different from each other as to make tonearm selection slightly trickier than usual; AD wondered if the Rega RB300 might be the best match he's heard so far. He also praised the Maroon for having "a point of view: It stressed detail, presence, touch, and texture." AD described the Maroon as having an "illuminated" midrange and a "dry and tight" bass range. But his most lavish praise was for the Maroon's forcefulness: in his view, compared to the exceptionally dynamic Maroon, "most moving-coil cartridges . . . sound compressed." (Vol.38 No.12 WWW)

MoFi Electronics MasterTracker: $799 $$$
MoFi's best moving-magnet cartridge, the MasterTracker is built in Japan using a US-made body machined from aluminum for optimal resonance control. Its twin magnets, reportedly the lightest ones in MoFi's MM line, are aligned in a V formation parallel to the walls of a stereo groove, and its tapered aluminum cantilever is fitted with a Micro-line stylus. Pertinent specs include an output of 3.0mV and a downforce range of 1.82.2gm. After using the MasterTracker with MoFi's UltraDeck record player, HR wrote that he had "never ever experienced such vitality and sharp focus from an MM cartridge," and that, "more surprisingly, this sharp focus did not come from lean, dry, or overdamped sound. The MasterTracker was simply getting all of the energy off the record." (Vol.41 No.2 WWW)

MuTech Kanda: $4500
Like the Transfiguration Temper before it, the MuTech RM-Kanda Hayabusa moving-coil cartridge uses a yokeless system in which a mu-metal coil former is precisely positioned within a powerful neodymium ring magnet. The proximity of coil to magnet and the coil's position at the magnet's center is claimed to produce a uniformity of magnetic flux field—and, in MF's words, "more linear frequency response and greater spatial coherence." That this low-impedance (1.5 ohm) cartridge outputs a relatively healthy output (0.45mV) is further evidence of its magnetic efficiency. Other specs include a boron cantilever, a semi-line-contact stylus, and a recommended downforce of 1.82.0gm. In Mikey's system, the RM-Kanda Hayabusa was "more linear and honest than flashy or wow-inducing," and its top-to-bottom response featured "well-controlled, unbloated bass, a smooth, full-bodied midrange, and satisfying top-end extension and air." (Vol.42 No.3)

Ortofon CG 25DI mono pickup head: $902 $$$ ★
The oldest product design from the second-oldest audio manufacturer on Earth (Quad gets the nod for having lasted even longer), Ortofon's CG 25DI pickup head is a single-coil monophonic MC motor of high output (1.5mV) and low compliance (the recommended downforce is 4gm). Its spherical stylus is made with a full 25µm radius—hence the model designation—thus restricting the CG 25DI's use to records mastered with a true mono cutter head. As AD observed, "This is among the hallowed few cartridges that really communicate everything that's special about 1950s and '60s mono LPs from the likes of Verve, Prestige, Clef, [and] Columbia." With its three-figure price, the CG 25DI also offers exceptionally high value. (Vol.38 No.4 WWW)

Ortofon SPU #1E: $659 $$$Ortofon SPU #1S: $599 $$$
Although Ortofon's SPU series of pickup heads—phono cartridges, typically moving-coils, that are built into their own headshells—is surely the longest-running cartridge line in the history of audio, they never attracted the attention of MF, who admits not being "a fan of [the design's] old-school, SME-type" locking collet, and who is also put off by the typical SPU's high mass and high recommended tracking force. That changed in spring 2016, when Ortofon introduced the low-priced SPU #1S and SPU #1E, respectively fitted with spherical and elliptical styli. In all other respects, they're identical: 0.18mV output, 4gm recommended tracking force, 30gm weight. MF received review samples of both and declared, after his first spin with the #1E, "I immediately, and much to my surprise, got what the SPU cult is all about." When he switched to the spherical-tipped #1S, MF wrote, "Yes, much detail was missing, but also gone were artifacts of mechanical playback, replaced by a luxuriously smooth sound and exceptionally 'black' backgrounds. I began to understand the appeal of spherical styli." Writing in the December 2016 Stereophile, AD preferred the spherical-tipped version—"[it's] every inch an SPU"—but by a smaller margin than he expected. His verdict: "both of these new SPUs offer exceptional value for the money, and either would make an excellent starting point for the shopper who's curious about vintage gear." (Vol.39 Nos. 9 & 12 WWW)

Rega Research Aphelion: $4995
Like Rega's previous flagship cartridge, the Apheta, which endures in the line, their new Aphelion is a moving-coil that dispenses with suspension dampers and a tie wire. The Aphelion's output is 0.35mV, its internal impedance is 10 ohms, and its recommended downforce range is 1.752.0gm. Used with Rega's flagship RP10 turntable and companion RB2000 tonearm (see elsewhere in Recommended Components), the Aphelion provided a quality of playback that was "seat-of-the-pants exciting," but was also lacking in warmth. It was "too lean, too fast, just plain too much," according to MF. (Vol.41 No.2)

Triangle ART Apollo MC: $8000
Despite specifications virtually identical to those of their $3999 Zeus cartridge—0.3mV output, 2gm recommended tracking force, Micro-Ridge stylus, and boron cantilever—Triangle Art's upmarket Apollo impressed MF as sounding "sharper and faster" than its more forgiving stablemate. Whether or not this had to do with the Apollo's onyx body, as contrasted with the aluminum alloy of the Zeus, is anyone's guess, but MF suggests pairing the "spectacular without being too hi-fi" Apollo with a phono preamp that's "on the warm side." (Vol.39 No.5)

Zu DL-103 Mk.2: $499–$1099 $$$
The Zu/DL-103 Mk.2 cartridge replaces the original Zu Audio DL-103 (see Stereophile's October 2007 issue), itself the first modification of the classic Denon DL-103 to achieve widespread recognition and commercial success. For the Mk.II version, the basic formula remains—Zu strips away the Denon's plastic housing and repackages its motor and output-pin block in a precision-machined aluminum body—but here the body has been reshaped to make better contact with the motor and better resist the buildup of sound-sullying resonances. Also new are an improved epoxy for holding the motor in place, and a body shape that permits the use of the Denon cartridge's original stylus guard. The Zu DL-103 Mk.II is available in three versions, the differences between them determined by the tolerances Zu observes while hand-selecting stock Denon cartridges: Grade 1 ($599), Grade 2 ($699), and Grade 2 Premium ($999). AD, who regarded the original Zu Audio/Denon DL-103 as a giant-slayer of Homeric proportions, thought the Grade 2 Premium Zu DL-103 Mk.II went even further, offering fine musical timing and "an ocean of tone." (Vol.41 No.4 WWW)


Denon DL-103: $299 $$$ ★
In production since 1962, the DL-103 is a resolutely old-fashioned cartridge with a two-piece plastic body. Its two-piece aluminum cantilever drives a cross-shaped armature wound with several turns of fine-gauge copper magnet wire. Its nude, square-shank diamond stylus is ground to a spherical tip. Though the Denon offered excellent bass depth and impact, with an overall exciting and "pleasantly forward" sound, its high-frequency response peak made bright recordings "a bit more forward than ideal." Nonetheless, AD deemed it "a superb cartridge and a remarkable buy." Compared to Denon's new DL-A100 100th Anniversary moving-coil phono cartridge, AD's old DL-103 was tubbier in the bass, but just as dynamic and dramatic. Performance with the stock spherical stylus tip squeaks into low Class B, he adds, saying that, "apart from various Miyajimas and the always-recommendable Miyabi 47, it's hard for me to think of another standard (non-pickup-head) type of cartridge that has this much impact and drama." KM's go-to cartridge. Borderline Class B. (Vol.3 No.9, Vol.30 Nos. 10 & 12, Vol.34 No.12, Vol.39 No.9 WWW)

Dynavector DV 10X5: $750 $$$ ★
Besides subtle changes in magnet material and coil-winding techniques, the latest iteration of Dynavector's classic moving-coil design has threaded mounting holes for simple installation and alignment. It weighs 7.3gm, has an output of 2.5mV, and uses an elliptical stylus tip and aluminum cantilever. Recommended load impedance is anything greater than 1000 ohms; recommended tracking force is 1.82.2gm. Thanks to the Dynavector's clarity, immediacy, and presence, "music was consistently more dramatic and involving, while never sounding unnecessarily harsh, aggressive, or forward," said SM. One of ST's favorite cartridges. AD: "This colorful, well-balanced, chunky-sounding cartridge played music extremely well, with a bonus of very fine stereo imaging....More money can buy more drama, impact, scale, and transparency....But the Dynavector 10X5 should give you most of what I think you need at a bargain price." (Vol.26 No.10 WWW; Vol.35 No.11 WWW)

Ortofon 2M Black: $755 ★
Partnered with the budget-priced Audio-Technica AT-PEQ3 phono preamp, the "ridiculously good" Ortofon 2M Black produced a bright, open sound with "surprising heft and slam." Because its Shibata stylus is sensitive to rake angle, the 2M Black should be used only with tonearms that permit adjustment of VTA and SRA, Mikey advised. (Vol.32 No.12)

Ortofon 2M Blue: $236 $$$ ★
Affordable moving-magnet cartridge with user-replaceable elliptical diamond stylus. With the Blue mounted in a Music Hall Ikura turntable and arm, BJR found that "the transients and bloom of the string quartet were reproduced with no trace of coloration or smear." Superb transient articulation and dynamics. "Competes with cartridges at double its price. Also an excellent match for both the Music Hall Ikura and VPI Nomad turntables," he adds. (Vol.37 No.12 WWW)

Rega Elys 2: $295 $$$ ★
See the Planar 3 entry in "Turntables." Price is $200 when purchased with that turntable. HR is not a fan, however. (Vol.31 No.7, Vol.34 No.12, Vol.40 No.2 WWW)


Audio-Technica AT95E: $49 $$$ ★
When used with the Thorens TD 309 turntable, the Audio-Technica AT95E produced large, exuberant images, but lacked the solidity, detail resolution, macrodynamics, and bass extension of the more expensive Nagaoka MP-500, said MF. (Vol.34 No.2)

Ortofon 2M Red: $99 $$$ ★
The least expensive of Ortofon's 2M moving-magnet cartridges (the series name is shorthand for MM), the Red offers a 5.5mV output, a replaceable elliptical stylus, highish compliance, a recommended tracking force of 1.8gm, and a square-front body with threaded mounting holes, for ease of installation. SM declared the 2M Red's dynamic range "vastly wider" than that of the less expensive Ortofon OM 5E, and praised the new cartridge's clean, fast, grainless sound. SM's verdict: "If you're looking for a high-value cartridge . . . the 2M Red is an excellent place to start." Borderline Class C. (Vol.37 No.5, Vol.38 No.2 WWW)

Goldring Elite MC, Transfiguration Proteus, discontinued. Soundsmith Hyperion Mk.II, Carmen Mk. II, and Zephyr MIMC Star, Van den Hul Colibri Signature Signature Stradivarius, replaced by new models not yet auditioned. Miyajima Labs Mandake, Grado Prestige ME+, not auditioned in a long time.

Phono Preamplifiers


Auditorium 23 Hommage T1 & Hommage T2: both $4995 ★
Over twice the size and weight of the less expensive Standard transformer, the Class A+ Hommage T1, designed as a companion to Auditorium 23's Solovox loudspeaker, is a statement product. It has a textured-paint finish, attractive white-oak endcaps, and input and output resistances of 3 and 2530 ohms, respectively. The Hommage T1 shared the Standard's excellent timing, flow, and overall drama, but produced a much larger soundstage; and while the Audio Note AN-S8 was slightly richer, the Hommage T1 proved more exciting, said AD. Pairing the Hommage T1 with an EMT OFD 25 mono pickup head resulted in unsurpassed musical and emotional impact, he noted. The Hommage T1 provided more timbral color, more shimmer, and a larger overall sound than did Bob Sattin's CineMag 3440A device, found AD. Outwardly identical to the T1, the Hommage T2 takes the same uber-perfectionist approach and applies it to EMT's high-output, high-impedance cartridges and pickup heads: the TSD 15, the OFD 25, and so forth. Unusually for a transformer designed around such motors, the Hommage T2 has a high turns ratio, and consequently very high gain; it shouldn't work—yet it does, brilliantly. The combination of the Hommage T2 and an EMT OFD 25 delivers the most dramatically impactful, tonally vivid phono playback ever heard by AD, who adds, "The T2 is so good, it's sick!" (Vol.30 No.10, Vol.32 No.8, Vol.33 No.6 WWW)

CH Precision P1: $31,000–$89,000
Built with a sleek aluminum-alloy case with no screws visible on any of its surfaces, the Swiss-made CH Precision P1 is no less sophisticated inside. This solid-state phono preamplifier offers multiple inputs, two of which address current-amplification circuits—an approach that, according to MF, produces "the best signal/noise ratios" and does not require cartridge loading to achieve flat response. That said, for use with its voltage-amplification inputs, the P1 offers a menu-driven "wizard" that analyzes the entire record-playing system, and calculates and applies the optimal load. Beyond that, as MF points out, the user can manually test the P1's entire loading range of 20 ohms to 100k ohms, selectable in 500 steps: "load fetishists, knock yourselves out!" Used with its optional X1 outboard power supply ($17,000), the P1 provided Mikey with tonal neutrality and an ultra-low noise floor: "Some products have me up all night, pulling out record after record; some don't. The P1 did, and gave me an exciting and fully pleasurable sonic ride every time." In the June 2017 Stereophile, MF refocused his attention on the X1 power supply, observing that, "with the X1 off, the P1's image solidity and pile-driver–like rhythmic certainty . . . were somewhat diminished"—and noted that he'd purchased the CH Precision combo for his own enjoyment. In August 2018, MF wrote about his experiences with a double P1/X1 combo—something that seems to have been done by more than one hobbyist of immodest means. Thus connected, these four high-tech boxes know what has happened and behave accordingly—but while "the four-box version was even more dynamic" and possessed of "a more relaxed and supple midrange," Mikey could not countenance a $96,000 phono preamp. (Vol.40 Nos. 4 & 6, Vol.41 No.8)

Ypsilon VPS-100: $26,000 ★
Made in Greece, the moving-magnet VPS-100 is beautifully built and housed in a substantial aluminum case. It uses a 6CA4 rectifier tube and choke filter, while RIAA is accomplished passively with zero feedback using a transformer-based LCR network. All internal wiring is done by hand, point to point. While it couldn't quite match the bottom-octave punch, definition, and extension of the Pass Labs XP-25, the Ypsilon produced a more transparent, silky, airy overall sound, said MF. "It produced an absolutely intoxicating blend of stupefyingly extended high frequencies, resolution, clarity, and transient precision, along with tight, deep, nimble, nonmechanical bass, and an ideally rich midrange," said MF, who has since purchased the review sample. (Vol.32 No.8, Vol.34 No.3)


Audio Research REF Phono 3: $15,000
Intended as a replacement for their Reference Phono 2SE, Audio Research's Reference Phono 3 is a hybrid tubed/solid-state phono preamp that offers two independently configurable inputs with various gain and loading options, all of which can be stored in its memory. It has a FET input stage and uses a total of six 6H30 dual-triode tubes in the signal path, plus an additional 6H30 and a 6550WE tube for power-supply regulation. The Reference Phono 3 treated MF to "an embarrassment of tonal riches, with silky, textured delicacy emerging from 'black' backgrounds"—and that was fresh out of the box! Mikey's conclusion: "If $14,000 is within your budget, the Reference Phono 3 is a must-listen." (Vol.40 No.1)

Bob's Devices Sky 40 transformer: $1250 $$$
The Sky 40 is a stereo step-up transformer with a turns ratio (ie, the ratio of the number of turns of wire in its primary coil to the number of turns in its secondary coil, which determines the phono transformer's gain) of 1:40, making it a potentially apt mate for many low-output, low-internal-resistance MC cartridges. If you're reading this, there's an awfully good chance you own such a cartridge, in which case Bob's Devices wants you to know that the CineMag transformers in the Sky 40 are the 1131, a completely new design; and AD wants you to know that the Sky 40, used with his Shindo-rebuilt Ortofon SPU, made his favorite music sound "huge and detailed," and ultimately distinguished itself as "a giant-slayer of a step-up transformer," and something that "may be the product you've been waiting for." (Vol.40 No.3 WWW)

Channel D Lino C 2.0: $2499
The Channel D Lino C 2.0 is a current-mode phono preamp, and as such is intended for use with cartridges that combine low output and, especially, low internal impedance. This battery-powered solid-state design comes with a wall-wart for charging, which takes place automatically; once the Lino C detects a signal, the charger is electrically disconnected and the preamp itself is galvanically isolated. Inputs are balanced (XLR) only, thus forcing the user of a non-balanced tonearm-output cable to buy and add an adaptor cable, but both balanced and single-ended (RCA) outputs are supplied, as well as internal DIP switches for adjusting gain. MF praised this phono preamp's "drop-dead, noise-free backgrounds and lack of obvious colorations," observing that the $2499 Lino C "operates way above its pay grade," (Vol.42 No.6)

Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems Momentum Phonostage: $28,000
Like the same company's line-level Momentum Preamplifier, the Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems Momentum Phonostage is supplied with audio circuitry in one enclosure, for which a uniquely shaped power-regulation component acts as a cradle/base. (The Phonostage actually goes one better and isolates the mains transformer in a remote enclosure of its own.) With two MC inputs and two MM inputs, all of which offer a choice between RCA and XLR jacks—although its outputs are XLR-only—the Phonostage provides a wide range of electronically selectable options for gain and resistive and capacitive loading, plus four alternate de-emphasis curves in addition to the usual RIAA. MF described the Momentum Phonostage as having "a relaxed, almost tube-like richness in the midband, without sacrificing the transient clarity, detail, speed, and . . . transparency I expect from a top-shelf solid-state design." He concluded that the D'Agostino is "the most enticing solid-state phono preamp I've reviewed." (Vol.40 No.2)

Doshi Audio V3.0 Phono Stage: $17,995
In this latest version of Nick Doshi's hybrid Phono Stage, tubes, J-FETs, and step-down transformers are used to produce 72dB for its single MC input. (The V3.0 also has two 50dB-gain MM inputs.) With either the Doshi's front-panel controls or its remote handset (included), the user can select from a total of 512 cartridge loadings. Built into a "handsome" stainless-steel enclosure with a Corian top plate, the V3.0 Phono Stage is powered by a "large, massive" outboard supply, connected to the main unit via an umbilical. According to MF, "the Doshi's star quality was its ability to unravel upper-octave information and reproduce it with finely dialed-in transient clarity and speed, all free of edginess, etch, or grain." Its midrange didn't match the magic of certain other high-priced phono preamps, but given a rich-sounding, super-low-output cartridge such as the Ortofon MC Century, the Doshi provided "a taut, fast, exciting, well-detailed ride on every kind of music." (Vol.42 No.2)

EMIA Phono step-up transformer: $2400 (with copper wire)
Dave Slagle, whose radically rebuilt Quad ESL loudspeakers have astounded more than a few listeners, winds his own step-up transformers and sells them under the brand name EMIA—a collaborative design and manufacturing effort with Jeffrey Jackson, who specializes in tube amplification and horn loudspeakers. The EMIA Phono transformer, which is housed in a steel box with solid walnut top and bottom plates, is unpotted, and has a fairly large core with 80% nickel content. In addition to one pair each of RCA input and output jacks—multiple primary coils aren't available—the EMIA Phono has a third pair of jacks, wired in parallel with the primary and intended for use with resistive plugs (supplied), for cartridges that might need such things. The EMIA is available with copper or silver windings; AD spent some quality time with a copper-wire version wound with a 15:1 ratio, for use with his EMT TSD 15 and Denon DL-103 cartridges. He described the EMIA as offering "an immense sense of drive" with his EMT, as well as "texture and tone in spades. In buckets. In tanker holds." All in all, AD found the EMIA to sound "clean, clear, rich, detailed, and, above all, musically exciting—all for approximately half the price of the deservedly well-regarded Hommage T2," the latter transformer being his longtime reference. (Vol.40 No.8 WWW)

Lamm Industries LP 2.1 Deluxe: $10,990 ★
The LP2.1 Deluxe—the adjective refers to this version's upgraded power supply, polystyrene bypass caps, and 20.5-lb damping panel—is a single-box stereo phono preamp with tube rectification and pairs of Russian-made 6C3P and 6C45P-E triode tubes for the signal path. The dual-mono design has separate, switchable RCA-jack inputs for MM and MC cartridges, the latter of which address a pair of Jensen 1:10 step-up transformers for additional gain. Controls are minimal, with no provisions for varying the 400-ohm load of the MC inputs—although, as MF observed, that figure is "a good compromise for cartridges with internal impedances of about 40 ohms or less." MF found the "smooth-sounding, well-detailed" LP2.1 to be remarkably free from noise—even quieter than some solid-state phono preamps—and observed that "the sound of MCs through the LP2.1's transformers was impressively fast, detailed, open, dynamic, and resolving—all without added glare, grain, or etch." At the same time, he was even more impressed when preceding the Lamm's MM stage with the Ypsilon MC-10L step-up transformer ($6000), which "seriously upped the sound quality along with the price." Still, MF considers LP2.1 Deluxe "fully competitive with anything at or near that price." (Vol.38 No.3)

Luxman EQ-500: $6495
Before he'd played a single note through the EQ-500—even before he'd plugged it into a wall outlet—this phono preamp had impressed AD by offering virtually every feature he'd ever wanted from such a product, and at least one he'd never imagined: adjustable gain, adjustable resistive loading, adjustable capacitive loading, switchable scratch filters and rumble filters, a mono switch, a phase switch, a very unexpected built-in cartridge demagnetizer . . . everything except a video camera for backing it out of the driveway. Best of all, the EQ-500, which uses a mix of ECC82 and ECC83 small-signal tubes plus an EZ81 rectifier tube, sounded wonderful to AD, who observed that "the textures of the close-miked violin, cellos, and double bass in [the Electric Light Orchestra's] "Queen of the Hours" were almost overwhelming—a very pleasant overdose." Art's conclusion: "If your budget can stretch this far, the Luxman EQ-500 is a must-hear." (Vol.39 No.5 WWW)

My Sonic Lab Stage 1030 transformer: $5250
Designed and built by Yoshio Matsudaira of My Sonic Lab, the Stage 1030 is that company's top-of-the-line phono transformer, and is designed for the My Sonic Lab Ultra Eminent Ex moving-coil cartridge (or any other MC with an internal resistance of 15 ohms). The Stage 1030 has only a single switch—to allow the user to float the primary's signal ground with respect to chassis ground (the secondary is always floated)—and one pair each of rhodium-plated input and output jacks. Gain is 26dB. HR tried the Stage 1030 with his review sample of the Ultra Eminent Ex, and wrote that one LP in particular sounded "so immediate and forceful that it startled me." Herb concluded: "Real life is never grainy. Neither is the sound of my records through My Sonic Lab's Ultra Eminent Ex . . . and Stage 1030 step-up transformer." (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

Nagra BPS: $2459 ★
The tiny, lightweight, battery-powered BPS is loosely based on Nagra's more expensive VPS, but uses bipolar transistors instead of tubes. It provides 51dB gain in MM mode and 62dB in MC. With its "upfront transient speed, clarity, and focus," the BPS was "a more neutral, accurate phono preamp than the lush, romantic VPS," said Mikey. Overall, the BPS sacrificed sustain and richness for attack and rhythm. Compared to the Audio Research PH7, the BPS was "lean, fast, tight, and clean," lacking delicacy and harmonic complexity. MF: "If your system needs an injection of excitement, the BPS is guaranteed to do just that." While the BPS sounded good plugged into the AC, it sounded better when powered by its own 9V battery, added FK, who bought the review sample. (Vol.32 Nos.6, 8, & 10 WWW)

Parasound Halo JC 3+: $2995 $$$ ★
The Halo JC 3 is a true dual-mono design with a large R-core transformer power supply. Construction quality is first rate, top-shelf parts are used throughout, and the stout, heavy case is beautifully finished. Designer John Curl favored purity over adjustability, offering minimal loading options: 100 ohms or 47k ohms for moving-coil cartridges and 47k ohms for moving-magnet cartridges. Its fully direct-coupled RIAA equalization circuit is based on the circuit used in Curl's famed Vendetta Research SCP-2, while the JC 3's output stage is a true dual-differential, balanced design. In addition, the JC 3 has a built-in AC line conditioner, and its power supplies are modeled after those found in the extremely quiet Halo JC 2 line stage. Though it lacked the dynamics and transparency of either Pass Labs' XP-25 or Ypsilon's VPS-100, the JC 3 combined superb musical grip and control with a timbrally and texturally ideal midrange. "The JC 3 represents the best current value in a phono preamp that I know of," said MF. Though it also lacked the Sutherland 20/20's tonal richness and punchy sense of pace and drive, the Halo JC 3 produced a detail-rich sound with tight, extended lows, a clean midrange, and carefully drawn images on a huge, open soundstage. "If your tastes run to purity, clarity, neutrality, and detail, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better phono stage for anywhere near $2350," concluded BD, who recommended a Class A rating. The JC 3 sounded remarkably similar to BJR's reference, the Vendetta SCP-2, but lacked some high-frequency purity and ambience recovery. JA noted superb measured performance. Of the Halo JC 3+, which adds variable cartridge loading for the MC input, HR wrote: "The John Curl–designed Halo JC 3+ is the best commercially available phono preamplifier I've used—period." (Vol.34 Nos. 3 & 10, Vol.35 No.2, Vol.39 No.6 WWW)

Shindo Aurieges Equalizer Amplifier: $7895 ★
Not to be confused with Shindo's Aurieges or Aurieges-L preamplifiers—the former line plus phono, the latter line only—the curiously named Aurieges Equalizer Amplifier is Shindo's only standalone phono stage. The Aurieges is supplied in two boxes of identical size: a tube-rectified power supply and the preamp itself, which contains two pairs of NOS dual-triode tubes. (Its 6072 tubes are now pricey and hard to find.) The Shindo has separate inputs for stereo and mono cartridges, both preceded by custom Lundahl step-up transformers; a stereo/mono rotary switch is provided on the front panel, alongside a similar switch for selecting among RIAA, Columbia, and "78" equalization curves, the last apparently an average of various extant curves from the 78rpm era. Comparing it with the phono section of his Shindo Masseto preamplifier, AD found that the Aurieges had "even greater temporal realism," and was characterized overall by a sound that was "chunky, solid, and colorful—but mostly chunky." AD also found that the Shindo's Columbia setting improved the sound of some early LPs on that label; that and the "78" setting were also useful in taming various shellac discs in his collection. In a Follow-Up, occasioned in part by AD's use of the Shindo in his review of the April Music Aura Note V2 all-in-one digital source/integrated amplifier (see elsewhere in this issue's "Recommended Components"), JA described measurements in which he observed mixed results: "[The Shindo's] very low levels of distortion and extraordinarily high overload margins must be set against its nonflat RIAA response, its high level of flicker noise, and its high output impedance at low frequencies, which will make system optimization tricky." (Vol.38 No.11, Vol.39 No.5 WWW)

Sutherland Engineering Duo: $4000
Unlike most two-box phono preamplifiers, which have audio circuitry in one enclosure and power-supply components in the other, the Sutherland Duo is a dual-mono design, each enclosure housing a single channel's audio circuitry and complete power supply. (The Duo's two halves are even shipped in separate cartons.) Construction details include steel casework and thick circuit boards, the latter to prevent unwanted capacitance, and loading and gain are adjustable by means of internal jumpers. Input and output connectors are limited to RCA jacks, reflecting the Duo's single-ended design, and AC cords are not supplied, reflecting designer Ron Sutherland's conviction that most consumers interested in an expensive phono pre have already made their own choice of power cord. In describing the Duo's sound, BD pointed to its ability to reveal the "primal purity of instruments' timbres and the natural, effortless feel of the performers." He mentioned also that "the Duos' low end was as extended as my listening room would support," and praised their dynamics as "representative of what I hear at a live performance, if less spectacular than those from [other] preamps." JA's measurements revealed the Duo to be "a superbly quiet, superbly linear, superbly accurate phono preamplifier." (Vol.40 No.9 WWW)

Sutherland Little Loco: $3800
See BD's review in this issue.

TruLife Audio Xactive Argo: $31,000
TruLife's Xactive Argo uses two pairs of dual-triode signal tubes to produce 44dB of gain for its MM inputs and 68dB of gain for its MC input, the two pairs of jacks being switch-selectable. Although housed in a single box, the Argo is fully dual-mono all the way back to its tube-rectified power supply, which is built with twin mains transformers. MF was no less impressed with the Argo than with TruLife's earlier Reikon (Stereophile, November 2008), observing that the new model "produced the best kind of tubed phono-preamp sound: quiet, silky-smooth, and extended on top, with enticing musical flow and richly drawn instrumental timbres. . . . From top to bottom, the Argo reproduced musical textures with uncanny grace and precision." (Vol.39 No.11)

van den Hul The Grail: $9750
Like other perfectionist-quality phono preamps that have impressed MF, van den Hul's The Grail is a current-amplification rather than voltage-amplification device, and thus is distinctly well suited to phono cartridges of very low impedance and inductance. (Note that vdH refers to this product not as a current amplifier but as an "automatic adapting input stage"; as we say in upstate New York, same difference . . . ) The Grail is a two-box design—one's the preamp, the other the power supply—with separate RCA input jacks for MM and MC cartridges and one pair of single-ended RCA output jacks. A gain of 56, 64, or 73dB can be selected via DIP switches; loading jacks (also RCAs) are provided for those who wish to alter The Grail's load characteristics by adding resistors or capacitors in parallel with the default load of 47k ohms, 50pF. According to MF, "The Grail produced spectacular results"—and not just with vdH's own Colibri XGW Stradivarius Signature cartridge. That said, it was with that cartridge that The Grail impressed Mikey with "the 'blackest' backgrounds, out of which sprang startlingly delicate yet believably solid three-dimensional images." (Vol.41 No.8)

Ypsilon Electronics MC26-L: $6600
Because MF is not a gear slut, he does not own a selection of current-amplification phono preamplifiers—both by his own admission. For now, that vacuum has been filled by the loan of the Ypsilon MC26-L step-up transformer, the model number of which derives from the transformer's 26x turns ratio. According to MF, the MC26-L is "designed for use with very-low-impedance cartridges," provides 28.3dB of gain, and presents cartridges with a load of 70 ohms. (Vol.38 No.6)

Ypsilon MC10 & MC16: $3300 ★
The MC10 transformer produces 20dB of gain and is intended for use with cartridges having an output range of 0.40.6mV. Its custom double-coil transformers are shielded with mu-metal and potted in 10mm-thick enclosures coated with soft iron-nickel. Though it lacked the "shimmering clarity" of the TruLife Audio Reikon, the Ypsilon MC10 produced an "exceptionally expansive and deep" soundstage with solid, dimensional, life-size images, said MF. The MC16 step-up transformer sounds identical to Ypsilon's MC10 but adds 4dB of gain. Compared to the Music First step-up trannie, the MC16 sounded more open, transparent, extended, and three-dimensional, said MF. (Vol.32 No.8, Vol.35 No.6)

Zesto Andros Allasso step-up transformer: $2995
With its multiple switch-selectable primary taps and its ten switch-selectable input impedances, Zesto's Andros Allasso (the last word is Greek for transform) is surely one of the most flexible step-up transformers we've seen. And its inclusion of a front-panel mono switch—this doesn't blend the two channels together but rather selects only a single channel for amplification—means the Andros Allasso can be used with virtually any MC cartridge you can throw at it, pardon the figure of speech. MF heard from the Zesto a slight softening of note attacks and blurring of textures, but only in comparison with far more expensive/less flexible step-up devices. His verdict: "a smartly designed, reasonably priced piece of analog kit!" (Vol.42 No.4)

Zesto Audio Andros Téssera: $12,000
The two-box Andros Téssera tubed phono preamp derives from Zesto Audio's former top-model phono preamp, the Andros 1.2 (itself formerly the PSI), with circuitry inspired by designs first described during the FDR administration, in the RCA Radiotron Designer's Handbook. The Andros Téssera has provisions for three MM gain settings, three MC gain settings, and 12 switch-selectable MC loading options. (MM capacitance is fixed at 220pF.) It can accommodate up to four different tonearms, as long as two are fitted with MM cartridges and the other two with MCs, and uses six dual-triode tubes; MC gain is supplied by internal step-up transformers, from Jensen. Audio-signal transformers also play a role in the Andros Téssera's output stage, bringing output impedance down to a sensible 150 ohms. In MF's estimation, the Andros Téssera "traded bottom-end authority and grippy bass for the fully developed textures and sonorous midrange that even the best solid-state designs somewhat lose track of," adding that jazz and classical music "thrived in the Andros Téssera's hands"; rock fared less well. (Vol.40 No.7 WWW)


Audio Creative Mediator 40 Step-Up Transformer: €368 $$$
Here's another high-end step-up transformer built into a $10 off-the-shelf aluminum box—but this time it's okay: The price of the Mediator 40 is just over $400, which is little more than what you'd have to pay for the unit's Haufe transformers, let alone its gold-plated input and output jacks (RCAs), its ground-lift switch, and its high-quality build. With a turns ratio of 1:40, the Mediator 40 has just the right amount of gain for an Ortofon SPU or similar low-output moving-coil cartridge; used with his Shindo-modified SPU, the Audio-Creative SUT impressed AD with its excellent scale, force, and vivid portrayal of instrumental colors: "a top-shelf trannie at a crazy-low price," he said. The Mediator 40 would be Class B+ if there were such a thing: A few very expensive transformers outdistance it, but none embarrass it. (Vol.42 No.6)

Auditorium 23 Standard: $995 $$$ ★
Designed and voiced for use with Denon's DL-103, the Auditorium 23 Standard uses two sealed trannies in a nondescript aluminum case, and offers input and output resistances of 7.8 and 505 ohms, respectively. With Denon, Zu, EMT, and Benz cartridges, the sound was "dramatic without being brash, and consistently full-bodied and colorful," said AD. The Auditorium 23 was "slightly coarser" than the Audio Note AN-S8, lacking some sweetness and color, but "a bargain" nevertheless, AD sums up. (Vol.30 No.10 WWW)

Dynavector SUP-200: $2650
Designed primarily for Dynavector's own moving-coil cartridges but usable with any MC with a minimum output of 0.1mV, the SUP-200 is a single-secondary transformer that provides 26dB of gain. Its chunky enclosure is made of aluminum, its rear panel fitted with a ground lug and two pairs of rhodium-plated jacks. In HR's system, used with Dynavector's own DV20X2L low-output (0.3mV) cartridge and P75 Mk.3 active phono preamp, the latter set for MM (40dB) gain, the SUP-200 "made the entire sound feel naturally corporeal. It added power and smoothness" and brought "tonal and dynamic strength" to the music. Borderline Class A. (Vol.39 No.6 WWW)

Grandinote Celio: $8750
This one-box phono preamp, roughly shoebox-shaped and -sized, is a two-stage solid-state design that uses bipolar transistors for gain—switchable between 45 and 66dB—and buffering. Made in Italy, the Celio is housed within a clamshell steel case, the rear panel of which contains the gain switch, as well as dual-mono DIP switches for selecting load impedance. Also on the rear panel are an XLR input and an XLR output: Unusually, the Celio can be configured as a mono phono preamp, in which case it has balanced throughput. In AD's system, the Celio exhibited good musical timing and decent force and impact. AD also praised it for allowing instruments and voices a realistic sense of wholeness, and for reproducing music with color—but not gross colorations. A fine phono preamp, albeit one that does not offer terribly high value for the money. (Vol.42 No.3 WWW)

Haniwa HEQ A03-CI: $12,000
See MF''s review in this issue.

Heed Audio Quasar: $1200
This solid-state, dual-mono phono preamp, supplied in two chassis—one for the audio circuitry, one for the power supply—has separate RCA input jacks for MC and MM cartridges, and separate output jacks, also RCAs, for low and high output levels. (Low Out is recommended for older amps, High Out for more modern designs.) User-accessible internal jumpers allow fine-tuning of gain and input impedance, and the Quasar's very good user's manual contains suggested settings for a number of different cartridges. Used in his tube-friendly system, with his Denon DL-103 cartridge, the Quasar struck KM as sounding "neither hard nor, worse, tube-cliché syrupy or soft." He noted that the Quasar's resolution of subtle detail was good enough that he could "easily hear the differences" between recording venues used for various classic Blue Note LPs. But for hobbyists who prefer having a step-up transformer between their MC cartridges and their phono preamp, the Heed is not an ideal choice: After measuring the Quasar, JA praised its considerable flexibility but noted the lower-than-specified input impedance in many of its various settings, and concluded that this phono stage will perform its best only with MC cartridges connected directly to its MC inputs. (Vol.40 No.12 WWW)

LKV Research Veros One: $6500
"Hutchins is all about minimizing noise," wrote MF of LKV Research's Bill Hutchins, who designs and builds the solid-state Veros One phono preamp in North Conway, New Hampshire. The two-box Veros One—one enclosure for the power supply, another for the preamp proper—is appropriate for both MM and MC cartridges, and provides 10 different loading options, selectable via a dual-mono pair of multipole switches on its rear panel. Also provided are three different gain settings and a dual-mono pair of front-panel knobs offering a choice between RIAA and what LKV describes as a "warmer, tube-like" curve called he calls Contour. The Vero One's A-weighted signal/noise ratio is a high 75dB, and its sound, according to Mikey, was "transparent, three-dimensional, and spatially stable," with "inky-black backgrounds." He also noted that "more weight can be had" from other phono preamps, albeit for more money. (Vol.39 No.5)

Lounge Audio LCR Mk.III: $300 $$$Lounge Audio Copla: $275 $$$
The solid-state LCR Mk.III is named for the type of circuit chosen for its RIAA equalization stage: a zero-feedback inductor-capacitor-resistor (L-C-R) circuit. That stage is constructed with discrete components—remarkable for a US-made product selling for only $300—and combined with class-A–biased op-amps for a total gain of 40dB. Power is supplied by an 18V wall wart. HR has logged literally hundreds of hours with his LCR Mk.III review sample, both on its own for use with MM cartridges, and, for MC cartridges, in tandem with Lounge Audio's Copla, a JFET-powered step-up device that does the same job as a phono transformer, only electronically. In both setups, the Lounge rewarded HR with "full-bodied, accurately toned" sound, and enough emotional impact that a favorite Doc Watson song had him weeping. Referring to the $26,000, Class A–rated Ypsilon VPS-100, HR wrote: "Could the Ypsilon make me cry 86.7 times easier? I doubt it." (Vol.41 No.2 WWW)

ModWright PH 150: $7900
The two-box PH 150 offers six distinct gain settings, from 45 to 72dB, all selectable by means of controls on its front panel. On the same panel are two six-position selector switches—one each for capacitive and resistive loading—plus Mono and Power switches, and a Mute position on its MM/MC selector. Separate sets of inputs on the PH 150's rear panel allow the user to run two different turntables and/or tonearms. Gain is provided by a combination of tubes, FETs, and Lundahl step-up transformers. Output transformers, also Lundahls, convey the signal to the rest of the user's system; interestingly, it is by means of their multiple secondary windings that the gain range is adjusted. MF praised the ModWright phono pre for its "tight, muscular, and very well extended" bass range and its "pristine, super-clean" trebles, and delighted in its "expansive soundstage with well-focused images of generous size." His verdict: The "impeccably designed and built" ModWright PH 150 combines "the qualities of sound preferred by tube lovers with the convenience and configuration features loved by all vinyl fans." (Vol.39 No.7)

Music First Audio MC Step Up 632 step-up transformer: $715 $$$
Designed and made in Hastings, Great Britain, by Jonathan Billington (of Stevens & Billington transformers fame), the MC Step Up 632 is Music First Audio's entry-level step-up device. Though the 632 lacks the multiple, switch-selectable secondaries of the company's more expensive offerings, it has the advantage of being orderable in any impedance ratio—and, hence, any gain level—the customer chooses. AD selected as his review sample a 632 wound with a 1:5 ratio, whose low gain suited his high-output EMT TSD 15 pickup. He was impressed with the transformer's "great, clear beauty," describing it as "delicately nuanced . . . in terms of communicating timbral colors." Although the MFA 632 didn't have the scale, impact, or boldness of Auditorium 23's far more expensive Hommage transformers, AD concluded that it was "an exceptionally fine value" and "an easy recommendation." (Vol.40 No.4 WWW)

Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista Vinyl: $3799
The latest in a longish line of Musical Fidelity products that use, as amplification devices, Nuvistors—miniature vacuum tubes so rugged they seldom if ever need replacing, and so reliable they're more often soldered into circuits than plugged into sockets—the new Nu-Vista Vinyl phono preamp offers five inputs, all of which can be configured, by means of front-panel pushbuttons, with a great many options of load impedance, load capacitance, and gain. The Nu-Vista Vinyl has both unbalanced (RCA) and balanced (XLR) outputs, and each input has its own separate power supply. In MF's system, the Nu-Vista Vinyl "exuded a combination of velvety delicacy, top-to-bottom coherence, and 'black' backgrounds that produced immediate and long-term listening satisfaction." But he added that driving the Vinyl with a smooth-sounding cartridge "might produce oversmooth results." High Class B, he summed up. (Vol.42 No.3)

Musical Surroundings Phonomena II+: $750
Made in California, this most recent version of Musical Surroundings' Phonomena is a solid-state stage that uses discrete transistors in place of lowly op-amps; among other things, this gave designer Michael Yee the ability to base his RIAA stage on active, as opposed to passive, filtering. Creature comforts include settings for 14 different gains and 17 load impedances, all selectable with DIP switches. With its standard wall-wart power supply, the Phonomena II+ provided HR with sound that was "sweet, natural, rhythmic, and dead quiet." Herb noted "unusually deep" soundstages, "good [but] not exceptional" force and momentum, and bass that was "strong and detailed." Use of Musical Surroundings' optional Linear Charging Power Supply ($650) brought more consistently good sound to the treble range and allowed "voices, violins, and electric guitars [to sound] more vibrant and lifelike," and more corporeal overall. Herb's conclusion: "my new reference phono stage." (Vol.41 No.10 WWW)

Sentec EQ11: $2500 ★
The Sentec EQ11 is a four-tube phono stage that provides an input impedance of 45k ohms, approximately 30dB of gain, and RIAA phono equalization. What set the EQ11 apart from other such MM-appropriate preamps are five additional, switch-selectable EQ curves for the most common types of vintage record, including those for early Columbia LPs and Decca (and other) 78s. The Sentec's raison d'être, per HR: "If you start buying a lot of collectible old records pressed before 1965, you'll certainly notice that the music on some labels sounds a lot better than the music on others. The purpose of the Sentec EQ11 is to make many of those differences go away." HR said the Sentec EQ11, used with the Miyajima Spirit Mono cartridge, "can show you a lot of what you still haven't heard from your old records. This combo . . . not only makes the records of the past sound good, it makes them sound the way your brain knows they're supposed to sound." Note that the EQ11's gain and input impedance won't suit the majority of MC cartridges, for which an outboard step-up transformer is suggested. While photographing the EQ11, JA hoisted it onto his test bench and found that, despite some minor differences in gain, the shapes of the various EQ curves were consistent from channel to channel—and correlated with HR's observations. The THD+noise percentage was extremely low, and harmonic distortion was "fairly low and almost entirely second harmonic in nature," although intermodulation distortion was higher than expected. His verdict: "Despite its modest appearance and wall-wart power supply, Sentec's EQ11 offers respectable measured performance to accompany its flexibility of equalization." (Vol.37 Nos. 10 & 12 WWW)

Tavish Design Adagio: $1890
Among the handmade electronics offered by Westchester County, New York–based Tavish Design is the Adagio phono preamp, a two-box design with audio circuitry in one enclosure and a power supply in the other. The Adagio's gain and EQ circuitry—the latter a mix of active and passive—is implemented with a total of six small-signal tubes, while power-supply rectification and regulation are solid-state. Switch-selectable inputs for moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges add to the product's flexibility, as do separate six-position rotary switches for adjusting load resistance and capacitance. MM inputs offer 44dB of gain, MC inputs 64dB, the extra 20dB provided by a stereo pair of Jensen step-up transformers. AD found the Adagio's MM circuit to be "beautifully, prettily clear, in a pleasantly liquid sort of way," with "exceptional" detail and openness. The MC circuitry was also impressive, especially with a Shindo-rebuilt Ortofon SPU cartridge, although the Jensen transformers appeared not to provide the same sense of drama, force, and bass weight as (far more expensive) outboard transformers. Still, as AD observed, "the comparatively inexpensive Tavish Adagio punched above its weight." In his Follow-Up in the March 2018 Stereophile, HR wrote that the Adagio is "a cool, quiet, neutral-sounding phono preamplifier, and it's a joy to use: I know of no better for under $3000." (Vol.39 No.6, Vol.41 No.3 WWW)

VPI Voyager: $2499
With two independently configurable inputs, switch-selectable gain settings (42dB for MM, 62dB for MC), and switch-selectable resistive and capacitive loading, the Voyager is nothing if not versatile. The two-stage, single-ended Voyager is all-solid-state, using JFETs for active RIAA equalization. According to MF, the Voyager sounded "wide-open on top, clean and transparent in the midrange, and reasonably well extended and nimble on the bottom." On the other hand, as Mikey noted, if you prefer a rich, warm sound, the Voyager didn't provide it—but it did combine well with such warmish-sounding cartridges as the Kiseki Purple Heart, which happens to be a favorite of VPI's founder, Harry Weisfeld. So there you go. (Vol.42 No.6)


Schiit Mani: $129 $$$
Made in the US, the very affordable Schiit Mani was designed by Theta Audio founder Mike Moffat. Powered by a 16V wall wart, the Mani is built around a pair of op-amps, and provides user-adjustable DIP switches for gain and loading, with settings to suit moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges. In HR's system, the Mani "threw a wide, deep, detailed soundstage that tended to get shadowy as it reached its outer limits." HR felt that the Mani's slight tendency toward darkness didn't suit such cartridges as the Soundsmith Carmen; far better matches were the Grado ME+ Mono, the Shure SC35C, and, especially, HR's Zu Denon DL-103. (Vol.38 No.10, Vol.41 No.2 WWW)

Soundsmith MMP3 Mk.II: $799.95 ★
The modest MMP3 provides 43dB gain, comes in a nicely machined aluminum case, and is powered by a 24V wall wart. It produced very quiet backgrounds and reasonably good dynamics, but bass extension and punch were only okay, its imaging was slightly diffuse, and its sound suffered overall from a slight metallic haze. "It's what you can expect for $400 [price when reviewed]," said MF. "If that's what you can afford, the MMP3 at least gets the job done quietly and cleanly." HR opined that, with his Ortofon and Grado cartridges, the MMP3 "leaned a little toward soft and dark, and a lot toward invisible." (Vol.34 No.10, Vol.38 No.6 WWW)


Rek-O-Kut Re-Equalizer II mono record-specific equalizer: $329 ★
Built into a small metal box attached to a rack-width panel of black aluminum, the Rek-O-Kut Re-Equalizer is designed to work with the gain and EQ of an existing phono preamp, making it "perhaps the least expensive and simplest of all 78rpm-specific equalizers on the market," said AD. Included in the owner's manual are several pages of thorough EQ recommendations for various labels and two pages of helpful tips on record labels and matrix numbers. Though it added a very slight veiling to the sound, the Re-Equalizer proved effective, useful, and fun. (Vol.32 No.1 WWW)


Excel Sound ET-U50 MC Step-up Transformer

Audio Tekne TEA-8695 PCS, no longer sold in the US. EAR 834P, discontinued. Bob's Devices Cinemag, no longer available in form reviewed. Sutherland Phono Block, replaced with new model not yet reviewed. Soundsmith MMP3 Mk.II, Parasound Halo JC2, not auditioned in a long time.

Phono Accessories

AcousTech The Big Record Brush: $36.95
This large-handled brush has soft bristles of both natural hairs and conductive synthetic fibers, and makes dusting LPs nearly foolproof. The 5.5"-wide bristle area easily spans the width of any LP's grooved area. Version with ground wire ($52.99) does "a pretty effective job of dissipating static electricity," Mikey said. (Vol.31 No.9)

Acoustical Systems Arche 5D headshell: $695
Another sign of the analog revival: perfectionist-quality cartridge headshells, once common—remember the Orsonics shell of the 1980s?—are repopulating the Earth, a key example being the German-made Acoustical Systems Arché. Precision-machined from aluminum and steel and available in various finishes, the Arché offers adjustable vertical tracking angle and azimuth, and taken together, its two adjustments for overhang—one at the headshell plug, the other by means of the Arché's movable platform-within-a-platform—offer a wider range of adjustment than most other headshells. AD also noted that the slightly heavier-than-average Arché is a better match for the low-compliance cartridges he favors. Expensive, but nonetheless highly recommendable. (Vol.41 No.5 WWW)

Acoustical Systems Smartractor alignment protractor: $599
As close to a "universal" phono-alignment protractor as one is likely to find, the Acoustical Systems Smartractor, which resembles a draftsman's beam compass, can be used with any conventional tonearm with an unambiguous pivot center. It offers the user a choice of four traditional alignment schemes—ie, ones distilled from the work of Erik Löfgren, who more or less invented the two-point alignment schemes used by the vast majority of manufacturers and hobbyists—and one brand-new one, developed by Acoustical Systems' Dietrich Brakemeier, called UNI-DIN. AD praised the "ergonomically friendly" Smartractor as "exceptionally well made" and "a breeze to use," and expressed a preference for its Löfgren A DIN alignment scheme, although he intends to experiment further with UNI-DIN. (Vol.37 No.2. Vol.41 No.11 WWW)

Aesthetix MC Demagnetizer: $230
Battery-powered, reasonably priced, seems to do the job as well as any of them, decided MF. (Vol.25 No.7)

Audio Additives digital stylus-force gauge: $49.99
The Audio Additives comes in a nice black box and includes two AAA batteries and a 5gm calibration weight. It has an easy-to-read touchscreen display, a nonmagnetic case, and accurately measures a cartridge's vertical tracking force down to 0.001gm. Precise and a pleasure to use, said SM. (Vol.35 No.11 WWW)

Audio Intelligent Enzymatic Formula: $25Alcohol-Free Premium Archivist's Formula: $25Super Cleaning Formula: $25Ultra-pure water: $16
MF: "The AI fluids are reasonably priced, easy to apply and (especially) to spread, clean extremely well, and leave no audible residue." "Simple, effective, and distributed by kind people," said SM. Prices are for 16-oz bottles: Enzymatic Formula, $25; alcohol-free Premium Archivist Formula, $25; Super Cleaning Formula with research-grade isopropanol, $25; Ultra-Pure Water (claimed to be 50 times purer than distilled water), $16. Distributed by Missouri-based Osage Audio Products, LLC. (Vol.30 No.12, Vol.35 No.4 WWW)

Audiodesksysteme Gläss Vinyl Cleaner Pro: $4499
The fully automatic Vinyl Cleaner uses ultrasound-induced cavitation to clean records, much as an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner does for jewels. The entire cleaning and drying process is relatively quiet and takes about six minutes. A 20ml bottle of Audiodesksysteme's alcohol-free, biodegradable concentrate ($19.95) will clean at least 50 LPs, and the microfiber cleaning barrels ($99.95/four) are good for 500 to 1000 cleaning cycles. "The Audiodesksysteme was the most effective, easy-to-use cleaning machine I've tried," said MF, who bought the review sample. FK was stunned: The Vinyl Cleaner not only thoroughly cleaned his LPs, it significantly improved their sound, revealing nuances long hidden in the grooves. "If your stereo system cost tens of thousands of dollars and you play a lot of vinyl, you need to check this thing out," he said. AD said, "If there exists a more effective, easy, reliable, and utterly transformative way of cleaning LPs, I have yet to hear it. . . . [The] Vinyl Cleaner's build quality, like its effectiveness, is beyond reproach." He then bought his review sample. In 2015, Audiodesksysteme's US distributor, Ultra Systems, introduced two accessories: the A-Ring adapters allow 7" and 10" records to be washed in the Vinyl Cleaner ($125 for the two-Ring set). AD's verdict: "The A-Rings are not a perfect solution, but they did the job effectively and without too much fuss." In 2016, the Vinyl Cleaner was replaced by the Vinyl Cleaner Pro, which offers an extra drying cycle, and boasts an upgraded fluid pump and other refinements—and a reduction in price, from $4450 to $4199. (Vol.35 No.6, Vol.36 No.9, Vol.38 No.3, Vol.39 No.1, Vol.40 No.4 WWW)

Audiosilente idler wheel mod for Garrard 301–401 turntable: $105 plus shipping $$$
For owners of classic Garrard 301 and 401 turntables, AudioSilente's newly designed and manufactured idler wheel is a well-advised and perhaps even mandatory purchase. Reportedly the result of a yearlong development effort that included a long study of the correct density of rubber required for the application, the AudioSilente is an aluminum-alloy wheel to which is bonded a rubber ring of square cross section—this in contrast to the original Garrard idler, whose smaller metal hub is more or less encased within a larger rubber wheel. A slender steel rod is press-fitted through the center of the idler to form the upper and lower axles, with rounded tips and polished surfaces. The contact area of the AudioSilente idler is 4.6mm thick—precisely the same as in the original idler. AD tried the AudioSilente idler on his own 301 and discovered slight improvements, both audible and measurable, compared to his good-condition original idler. All in all, as either an upgrade or a replacement for a worn or damaged original, the distinctly affordable AudioSilente idler wheel is an excellent value, and highly recommended. (Vol.41 No.7 WWW)

Buddha Bearing for Garrard 301: $1375
The Buddha Bearing, which is manufactured in Thailand, goes where no other Garrard 301/401 bearing of AD's acquaintance has gone before: It has neither bearing liners nor a thrust ball nor a thrust pad in the usual sense. Instead it is a very thick (19mm) polished spindle running in a round-bottomed and concomitantly robust well, the bore of which is just big enough for it and a bit of oil—and that's all. There are too many aftermarket Garrard bearings, most unheard by AD or anyone he knows well, to say that any one of them is the best, and the condition of the original bearings in the field spans too wide a spectrum to make a comparison that's reliably meaningful for most 301/401 owners; that being said, the "amazingly well made" Buddha Bearing is the best AD has tried. (Vol.42 No.9)

Clearaudio Outer Limit Turntable Ring: $1350
Heavy, stainless-steel ring acts as a speed-stabilizing flywheel, damps the record, and flattens outer-groove warps. However, MF cautioned, its weight means that you can use it only with turntables with massive platters and/or very powerful motors. MF also noted that a centering template would be a happy addition to the package. The Outer Limit was "a pain to center." Nonetheless, it "blackened backgrounds, solidified images, and made them 'pop' in three dimensions." (Vol.24 No.10)

DB Systems DBP-10 protractor: $49
Fiddly but accurate guide for setting cartridge tangency. JA's preferred alignment protractor. The DBP-10 can be used to gauge alignment accuracy at any point or points between 44 and 153mm from the record spindle. "A hell of a bargain," said AD. (Vol.33 No.6 WWW)

DB Systems DBP-6MC resistive loading kit: $49
This resistive loading kit is based on a pair of flexible Y-adapters, each having two phono sockets at one end and a single phono plug at the other. It comes with five pairs of color-coded resistive plugs (10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 ohms), as well as a pair of empty plugs into which an alternate resistor value can be soldered. "An ancient but eminently useful thing to have," said AD. (Vol.32 No.8 WWW)

K-A-B SpeedStrobe Digital Phonograph Speed Readout: $109.95
Easy-to-use strobe disc simplifies precision adjustment of turntable speeds from 331/3 to all of the variations on "78." "It's just fantastic," effused J-10. "It looks cool, and it's a snap to perfectly set the speed." (Vol.19 No.2)

Keith Monks Audio Works Mk.VII Omni record-cleaning machine: $6995
The late Keith Monks's son, Jonathan, has taken over production of this venerable classic, moving manufacturing to a dedicated facility on the Isle of Wight and expanding the line to include new models, new platter mats, new cleaning brushes, and specially formulated cleaning fluids. With its solid idler-driven platter, refined cabinetry, and improved internal wiring, the new machine outclasses the old. After cleaning a record, AD noted clearer instrumental voices and greater low-level detail. The Omni was "so easy to use—so pleasant to use—that the prospect of cleaning LPs became a happy one." English oak finish now standard. (Vol.32 No.5 WWW)

Keith Monks DiscOvery One Redux: $3495
The discOveryOne is both the newest and the least expensive record-cleaning machine from the company that created the genre. The new machine has at its core an off-the-shelf direct-drive record player, the tonearm of which is modified to accommodate both a fluid-evacuation system and a means of delivering and refreshing the nylon thread used to cushion the vacuum nozzle. Money is also saved by eliminating the automated fluid-dispensing system of older, more expensive Keith Monks machines, though that can be retrofitted to a discOveryOne for $700. AD observed that the new machine's vacuum-drying function was slower than that of its predecessors, but no less effective—and surprisingly quiet. He quibbled with some construction details and was puzzled that the stripped-down machine was actually larger than its stablemates, but nonetheless declared the discOveryOne "an accessory of notably high value—and notable worth." (Vol.37 No.4 WWW)

Kerry Audio Design F2 Titanium tonearm counterweight: $129
Titanium replacement counterweight for Rega tonearms. Machined with three sets of thin contact rails that ride on the Rega arm's counterweight stub. The sonic improvement was "amazing," thought MF; he found the F2 gave better bass response, greater low-frequency extension and control, and an improved sense of overall weight and tonal richness. (Vol.26 No.5)

Kirmuss KA-RC-1: $870 $$$
Charles Kirmuss bases his KA-RC-1 record-cleaning machine on a standard-issue Chinese-made cavitation (ultrasonic bath) cleaner, adding to it an original-design record-spinning apparatus that MF found to be "very good." The Kirmuss cleaning regimen requires each record to undergo multiple ultrasonic baths, alternated with multiple scrubbings with a goat-hair applicator brush and a reportedly anti-fungal surfactant, followed with a manual drying with a microfiber cloth; a "polishing" with a parastatic brush; and another, lighter round with the surfactant and goat-hair brush. MF found the Kirmuss approach worthwhile for records requiring a full restoration and considered the KA-RC-1 "reasonably priced," but he's sticking with his Audiodesksysteme and Loricraft machines for routine cleaning. (Vol.42 No.6)

LAST Power Cleaner for LPs: $49/¾-oz bottle, with applicators
This small bottle of Freon-free cleaner is enough to treat 75 LPs. JE found just three drops sufficient to remove dirt, dust, and grime from garage-sale records, though he discovered that a subsequent wash with his VPI HW-17 was still required to reduce groove noise to acceptable levels. "A worthwhile companion to LAST's wonderful Record Preservative." (Vol.17 No.5)

LAST Record Preservative, with applicators: $55/2-oz bottle
Significantly improves the sound of even new records, and is claimed to make them last longer. "I unhesitatingly recommend LAST Record Preservative," said Mikey, whose records sound as quiet now as they did when he first started using the treatment, over 25 years ago. AD is not a fan, however, though he does admit that LAST, if used correctly, does no harm. $185/8oz, $350/16oz. (Vol.5 No.3, Vol.30 No.10)

LAST STYLAST Stylus Treatment: $40/¼-oz bottle
Stylus treatment designed to reduce friction between groove and phono cartridge. Some manufacturers caution against it, claiming it migrates up the cantilever and attracts dust, thus clogging the armature. One reader suggests applying treatment to brush rather than stylus, which would reduce the possibility of over-applying. MF has found STYLAST effective, but expresses concern over possible cartridge damage. (Vol.18 No.12)

Little Fwend tonearm lifter: $249
From Norway comes the Little Fwend, an automatic tonearm lifter in the tradition of the fondly remembered Audio-Technica AT-6006 Safety Raiser: a damped, spring-loaded cueing platform that lies in wait for a tonearm to pass overhead and trip its trigger—an event timed to occur when the stylus is done playing an LP side and has entered the lead-out area. AD described the Little Fwend as "one of the most well-conceived, well-packaged, well-made audio accessories I've encountered." (But AD erred in saying that the Little Fwend is distributed in the US by Music Direct: the company is actually MoFi Distribution.) Recently upgraded with a Scotch Restickable Dot mount as a nonresidue alternative for people concerned about the finish of their turntable plinths (seems you can't spell analog without anal). (Vol.40 No.2 WWW)

Lyra SPT: $60/1.5ml bottle
Includes a small, wedge-shaped applicator with which MF brushed a drop of this fluid carefully, back to front, along the stylus. Don't get any on the cantilever, he warned, and wait 10 seconds before playing a record. Pricey fluid said to lubricate the stylus, to improve S/N ratio and trackability, and to last for one side's playing time. Mikey thinks he noted a slight sound-softening effect, but wouldn't bet the farm on it. (Vol.23 No.11)

Merrill G.E.M. Dandy Hydraulic Record Cleaner: $169
Designed to sit in a sink, the "rudimentary but ingenious" G.E.M. Dandy is an inexpensive manual record-cleaning rig that uses a proprietary cleaning solution comprising a degreasing detergent and an alcohol-based carrier, followed by a tap-water rinse. Made mostly of PVC tubing, the Dandy has a vertically mounted clamping mechanism that permits easy rotation of the secured LP. Also included are a faucet-coupling adaptor, a protractor, and a length of clear plastic tubing with a pressurized water nozzle. "Until you get the hang of it," Mikey warned, "the G.E.M. Dandy can make a mess." Despite his best efforts, water invariably seeped into the Dandy's protective cups to wet the outside edges of record labels. However, the Dandy proved "terrific" for cleaning water-damaged and crudded-up records, MF concluded. (Vol.31 No.9)

Milty Zerostat 3: $125
"The gold standard of static-discharge devices," the ZeroStat is a gun-shaped gadget with two heavy-duty piezo-electric crystals and a patented compression trigger. Slowly squeezing and releasing the trigger produces a neutral static condition, thus removing static cling from record surfaces. Said to be good for at least 10,000 squeeze cycles. SM uses the Zerostat religiously: "Wouldn't want to live without it," he declares. (Vol.30 No.10, Vol.35 No.5 WWW)

Mobile Fidelity Geo-Disc cartridge alignment tool: $49.99
The size and shape of an LP, with a spindle hole at its center and clear instructions printed right on its surface, MoFi's Geo-Disc is a simple and affordable cartridge-alignment tool. Using the Geo-Disc to install cartridges on the VPI Traveler and various Rega 'tables, SM easily and consistently achieved accurate alignment. Diehard analog hobbyists will still want the versatility of more complex tools, such as the DB Systems DBP-10, but "the Geo-Disc is the only alignment protractor most vinyl enthusiasts will ever need," said SM. (Vol.35 No.11 WWW)

Musical Surroundings Fozgometer: $300
The Fozgometer allows its user to easily check phono cartridge channel separation and crosstalk. (It uses a log-ratio detector developed by Jim Fosgate for the steering-logic circuits of surround processors.) Housed in an aluminum case, it runs on a 9V alkaline battery and has an On/Off switch, left and right RCA input jacks, an analog signal meter, and three LEDs labeled Left, Center, and Right. "Well made, really easy to use, and accurate," said Mikey. "The Fozgometer gets my highest recommendation!" However, while the Fozgometer provides useful measurements for cartridges with similar channel-separation numbers, it can lead to unusual and undesirable results with cartridges that have high levels of interchannel crosstalk disparity, cautioned MF. (Vol.33 Nos.5 & 11)

OMA iron plinth for Technics SP10: $9750
Perhaps spurred by the success accorded Technics' recent SP-10R turntable (see elsewhere in "Recommended Components"), Oswalds Mill Audio has designed for that and earlier Technics motor units their SP10 Plinth System, which combines a base unit made of hypoeutectic iron—said to combine high mass with exceptional rigidity and vibration-damping properties—with a removable armboard of torrefied ash, the latter adaptable to tonearms ranging from 9" to 12" and longer. The SP10 is large (26.125." wide by 4.125" high by 20.125" deep) and very heavy (110 lb without turntable), and is available in clear or black powder finishes; the price has yet to be determined, but is expected to be under $10,000—ie, less than the SP-10R itself. Writing of his experiences with the SP-10R and Schröder CB tonearm mounted in the OMA Plinth System, MF described an "austere" sound that was "rhythmically taut and, overall, 'together' from top to bottom," with music pouring forth from "the 'blackest' backdrops," leading him to praise this pricey plinth as "one super energy sink." (Vol.42 No.2)

Onzow Zero Dust stylus cleaner: $39.99
"A circular mound of semi-gelatinous goop in a box, onto which you gently lower your stylus," said MF. Use is simple: "After a few seconds, you lift the stylus, and it's as clean and residue-free as the proverbial whistle....Upside: no potentially dangerous brushing, and no fluids. Downside: if you like to leave your platter spinning, you'll have to stop it each time, or find another steady surface upon which to perform the operation." (Vol.25 No.3)

ORB phono accessories: $350–$480
The Sakura handheld static-discharge eliminator ($350) is a variant of the Furutech deStat SNH-2, and the SFM-2 stylus-force gauge ($480) and CRE-2 Cartridge Exciter ($399) are variants of similar products from Air Tight. While pricey, the ORB Phono Accessories are beautifully made and work well, said Mikey. Available directly from (Vol.33 No.12)

Rega R808 2mm spacer: $39
This simple stainless-steel spacer allows owners of Rega tonearms to adjust the height of their arms to accommodate non-Rega cartridges. Fidgety but worth the hassle, says SM. With the spacer in place and Dynavector's DV 10X5 moving-coil cartridge mounted on his Rega P3-24, SM heard improved clarity, impact, immediacy, and soundstage depth. (Vol.35 No.11 WWW)

Rek-O-Kut Stylus Force Gauge: $21
The Rek-O-Kut Stylus Force Gauge is a big, easy-to-use balance beam that comes with a total of 5.75gm in plastic weights, for use in various combinations. For cartridges designed to play at downforces of 3.5gm or more, the Rek-O-Kut is "a good, cheap solution," said AD. (Vol.32 No.2 WWW)

Soundsmith EZ-Mount screws: $39.95
Soundsmith's sets of knurled screws, designed to fit most brands of tapped cartridge, made installing cartridges much easier, said Mikey. Each set includes pairs of 10mm-long screws made of four different materials—nylon (1.04gm/pair), aluminum (2.06gm/pair), stainless steel (5.80gm/pair), and brass (6.24gm/pair)—so that users can easily match a tonearm's effective mass to a cartridge's compliance. (Vol.33 No.12)

Spin Clean Record Washing System: $79.99 $$$
Package includes a plastic vat, two brushes, two rollers, a 4-oz bottle of concentrated cleaning fluid, and washable drying cloths. Three sets of slots allow cleaning of 7", 10", and 12" records. Two velvet-like brushes clean both sides of a record simultaneously as the user rotates the record within the appropriate slot. Though "not nearly as convenient or as efficacious as a vacuum cleaning system," the Spin Clean Record Washing System "got the job done," said Mikey. Spin Clean claims a single vat of fluid can clean up to 50 records, but MF suggests refreshing the vat more often. A 16-oz bottle of fluid costs $19.99; a package of five drying cloths costs $19.99. (Vol.33 No.2)

Synergistic Research PHT: $199/pair
What's smaller than the head of an M2.5 socket-head bolt, comes in four different colors, and is purported to make any phono cartridge sound better? The Synergistic Research PHT—short for PHono Transducer, and pronounced by its manufacturer as pot. This tiny tweak, the innards of which are a trade secret, is meant to be applied to an exposed portion of the top of an installed phono cartridge or, where that's not feasible, to the top surface of the headshell. All manner of sonic enhancements are claimed, and indeed, RD came away from his PHT experience saying that "soundstages were deeper and wider, aural images more precise, dynamics more startling." Different colors of PHT are said by Synergistic to represent different "strains" (geddit?); RD liked the black one best. His conclusion: "$199/pair for the PHTs, with money-back guarantee, is well worth it." (Vol.38 Nos. 2 & 12, Vol.39 No.10 WWW)

Vinyl Flat LP Flattener: $139.95 shipped CONUS
Made in the US, the Vinyl Flat uses pressure, heat, and time to repair warped and dished LPs. The basic package contains two Groovy Rings (LP-sized sheets of black plastic), two heavy metal plates, a few pieces of hardware, a nice storage case, and a table of heating times and cooling cycles. The optional Groovy Pouch ($79.95) is a soft, specially made enclosure that uses carbon-fiber heating elements to surround the Vinyl Flat with gentle, even heat. Using his oven or the Groovy Pouch, SM was able to successfully flatten even severely warped and dished LPs, but cautions: "Be sure that your oven's temperature is properly calibrated before baking your precious LPs." (Vol.35 Nos.4 & 5 WWW)

VPI HW-16.5 record-cleaning machine: $700
VPI has discontinued their HW-17 and HW-27 ("Typhoon") record-cleaning machines. Back to basics. (Vol.17 No.5, Vol.19 No.6)

Woodsong Audio Eddy-Brake Disc: $200
In his sad belief that the number of Stereophile readers who own a Garrard 30¼01 motor unit might reach beyond the low two digits, AD proclaims the benefits of replacing that turntable's original eddy-brake disc—which by now is surely beat to hell—with this beautifully machined replacement from plinth specialist Woodsong Audio. The Woodsong disc is machined more accurately, from better-quality alloy, and is fitted with a better-fitting hub. And its installation on AD's own 301, which went smoothly enough, resulted in measurably better speed stability. Really, now: What's not to like? (Vol.39 No.3 WWW)

Woodsong Audio plinth for the Garrard 301: $1900+
According to AD, "a good plinth can enhance nearly every aspect of a turntable's performance," and the Woodsong Audio plinth for the Garrard 301 motor unit is a very good plinth indeed. Designed and made in Idaho by woodworker-machinist Chris Harban, the Woodsong plinth is crafted from Baltic-birch plywood, Panzerholz, and manmade slate, and its internal surfaces are shaped in such a way as to leave very little room between plinth and the turntable's below-deck working bits. The consumer can choose a plinth with one or two articulated armboards, and can select from several veneers and finishes, "ranging from the merely pretty to the stunning." AD was very impressed by the Woodsong's appearance, the convenience and precision of its arm-mount provisions, and, above all, its contributions to the sound of his own Garrard 301: "this is one of the easiest recommendations I've ever made." (Vol.39 No.7 WWW)

Allnic Audio SpeedNic, VPI HW-17, HW-27 Typhoon record-cleaning machines and VPI VTA adjuster for Rega tonearm not auditioned in a long time.

Charles E Flynn's picture

From :

Class K

"Keep your eye on this product." Class K is for components that we have not reviewed (or have not finished testing), but that we have reason to believe may be excellent performers. We are not actually recommending these components, only suggesting you give them a listen. Though the report has yet to be published in certain cases, the reviewer and editor sometimes feel confident enough that the reviewer's opinion is sufficiently well formed to include what otherwise would be an entry in one of the other classes, marked (NR).

Enrique Marlborough's picture

Could you add the year of entry to these lists.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

It's there.

prerich45's picture

When did the Pulsars go up from $7k/7.7k to $9k?!!!!!!!!! That's a huge increase!!!!!!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The new Pulsar2 Graphene are $9k :-) ..........

brians's picture

I always found it really odd that Stereophile never links the recommended component to its referenced review(s). Really odd, and kind of charming.

AaronGarrett's picture

Are the headphones pictured Sennheiser 800s? Is this a secret recommendation since they aren't on the list?

stereoGoodness's picture

How in the world can the TotalDac still be listed as a Class A+ digital processor? The device's proponent on the Stereophile staff was Michael Lavorgna, who has since been let go by the magazine.

The TotalDac was never properly reviewed by Stereophile, likely because the device's creator knew that it would measure horrendously. Audio Science Review confirmed its terrible engineering, and TotalDac is now closely associated with how audiophilia can go badly wrong.

John Atkinson's picture
stereoGoodness wrote:
The TotalDac was never properly reviewed by Stereophile, likely because the device's creator knew that it would measure horrendously.

I don't routinely measure the products reviewed in the magazine's columns, but in hindsight I wish I had have done so with the Total DAC. Even so, back in the day I spent a very pleasant afternoon listening to Michael Lavorgna's system with this DAC.

stereoGoodness wrote:
Audio Science Review confirmed its terrible engineering, and TotalDac is now closely associated with how audiophilia can go badly wrong.

Oh my!

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Ne casse pas le verre :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'We (at, Stereophile) choose truth over facts' :-) .........

JRT's picture

"TotalDAC" was a wrong-headed approach in engineering, is grossly overpriced for its performance, is grossly over-hyped in its niche market, and it objectively measures very much worse than lower priced DACs. It is a poor solution, and represents poor value.

However, I also think that there is another larger consideration in this that was missed.
No small of number of people like the sound, people who critically listen to their system and to changes in their system.

So a key take-away is that "TotalDAC" provides a good example of the importance of better perceptual weighting in objective measurements. The simple fact that so many seem to like the sound of this "TotalDAC" regardless that it measures so poorly shows that a large body of critical listeners are highly tolerant of its imperfections that show up clearly in objective measurements.

Note that Amir Majidimehr gave it a bad review because of poor objective measurements resulting from poor choices in engineering, but he did not find the resulting sound highly objectionable in his listening tests. Similarly, John Atkinson and Michael Lavorgna were not displeased with the sound in Lavorgna's system. And there seems to be many others.

Since so many critical listeners are highly tolerant of the imperfections of "TotalDAC", and since there are many inexpensive DACs that outperform it, I would suggest that the DACs should receive a rather low weighting in budget allocation. The opportunity cost on this expensive DAC is far too high, could be better spent in something that matters very much more in perceptual weighting such as loudspeakers, a bespoke low frequency (sub-Schroeder) subsystem, improvements in room acoustics, etc.

JRT's picture

Wasting budget resources on expensive esoteric cable assemblies brings little if any performance improvement, and in comparison to moderate cost well engineered solutions the esoteric cable assembles can sometimes degrade system performance.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Regarding sound quality ........ See Stereophile review and measurements of BorderPatrol DAC SE $995 to $1,850 ........ Somewhat similar suboptimal measurements as the TotalDAC ....... Costs lot less ....... Several reviewers liked that BorderPatrol DAC's sound :-) ........

JRT's picture

You get a good DAC and also a good headphone amplifier, plus can be utilized for making objective measurements.

Maybe add an inexpensive 2x2 AES/EBU Dante bridge such as the one at the following link.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The Chord Mojo ($570, reviewed by Stereophile) and the Chord Hugo2 ($2,695, reviewed by Hi-Fi News), also are, good quality DACs and headphone amplifiers :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Benchmark DAC3 HGC ($2,199, reviewed by Stereophile, Class-A+) is a DAC, pre-amp and headphone amp :-) ...........

JRT's picture

Those lack AD converters.

Seems like a lot of money to spend for simple DA conversion and an output buffer to drive headphones.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

How many Stereophile readers use/want a AD converter? :-) .........

Benchmark also sells a headphone amp/ pre-amp HPA-4 ($3,000, reviewed by Hi-Fi News) :-) ..........

JRT's picture

For one example group, I suspect some need AD converters to capture the output of their phono preamp to FLAC files.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

How many Stereophile readers want/use AD converters? ......... may be 5% to 10% .......... Which means 90% to 95% Stereophile readers don't want/use and are not interested in AD converters :-) ..........

Stereophile reviewed Ayre Acoustics QA-9 AD converter ....... I think JA1 and MF still sometimes use that Ayre AD converter :-) ........

Stereophile has also reviewed USB output turntables from Sony and Music Hall, which obviously have built-in AD converters :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW ....... Don't post any comments about AD converters on AnalogPlanet ....... Stereophile readers are more tolerant people :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Seems like MF is currently using one of the Lynx Hilo AD/DA converters ......... Some of these Lynx products are available at Sweetwater ........ May be JA1 could review one of these AD/DA converters currently available :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Benchmark also sells just a DAC ..... DAC3-B for $1,699 :-) ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

There are other less expensive DA converters/headphone amps ........ Pro-Ject Pre-Box S2 ($399, reviewed by Stereophile), AudioQuest DragonFly Black and Red ($99 and $199, reviewed by Stereophile) and DragonFly Cobalt ($299, Stereophile review may be forthcoming) :-) ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Schiit Audio makes several headphone-amps/DACs, from $99 to $499 :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The new iBasso DC01 and DC02, DAC/headphone-amps $75 to $79 :-) ..........

Charles E Flynn's picture

You are now officially on your own when it comes to the purchase of a table radio.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Get a Naim Mu-so2 or Qb2 ....... EISA award winner .......Kinda table radio ....... See, S&V review on their website :-) .........

listentomusic's picture

does someone know why is simaudio 340i is gone from the was there is last 2-3 lists

Jim Austin's picture

By long tradition and with some exceptions, components are removed from the list when they have not been auditioned for more than 3 years. The tradition arose from print, and the limited space it allows; this practice could be relaxed online, but then we would have two different lists. (The exceptions, usually, are cases in which a Stereophile reviewer has continuing experience with the product, as when it is part of a reviewing system, and so can continue to vouch for it.)

Jim Austin, Editor

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Jim Austin is the perfect reviewer for the new Revel Performa top-model, F328BE ($15,000/pair), and compare them to the Revel Ultima Salon2 :-) ............