Recommended Components 2021 Edition Turntables

Turntables

A+

SAT XD-1: €150,000 without tonearm
This extraordinary and extraordinarily expensive Swedish turntable begins life as a Technics SP-10R direct-drive motor system, which is stripped down to a handful of essential components, reimagined, reengineered, and rebuilt to much higher mechanical standards. Marc Gomez focused on isolation from external disturbances, speed stability, rigidity, and vacuum hold-down. There are "pods" for two armboards. The platter's top layer is made from a "proprietary advanced technical polymer infused with carbon-fiber micro powder and UHM carbon nanotubes." The XD1's price includes a custom, low-profile, Minus K–based "negative stiffness" isolation platform, and the control electronics are housed in an outboard chassis machined from a single block of aluminum that sits on 10Hz-and-up isolation feet. The result, with SAT's CF1-9Ti tonearm, was better than with MF's long-term reference turntable, the Continuum Caliburn: "With the SAT 'table, every drum and bass element was in its place for the first time—ever. They were smaller, deeper, far more powerful, and controlled; the attack, sustain, and decay occurred on time. This allowed previously overwhelmed, blurred, and buried instruments to emerge in a clarified mix that produced greater musical excitement and zero listening fatigue." MF concluded that the SAT XD1 with the CF1-09Ti tonearm (€76,000 when purchased with the turntable) was the best-sounding, best-engineered, best-built turntable he's had in his system to date. (Vol.43 No.12 WWW)

TechDAS Air Force One Premium: $162,000 w/titanium upper platter
The standard version of the TechDAS Air Force One turntable was awarded an A+ and sat atop these ratings for six years. Now MF has auditioned the Premium version of same, which betters the original AFO with a motorized air pump and automatic, continuous pressure-monitoring system for its air-suspension mechanism. MF's review sample also featured an optional titanium upper platter. (Without the latter, the AFO Premium sells for $145,000.) Auditioned with a Graham Engineering Elite tonearm, the AFO Premium impressed MF with "its ultraquiet backgrounds, the generosity of its presentation of instrumental sustain and decay, its neutral spectral balance, and [its] dynamic presentation . . . . It's as much reliable test instrument as supreme carrier of unassuming musical pleasure." (Vol.43 No.2)

A

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 33.3 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)

AMG Viella Forte Engraved: $25,000 without arm, $32,000 with 12JT tonearm
This massive turntable features an outboard, crystal-controlled power supply and a black-anodized aluminum two-piece platter that weighs almost 31lb and has a weighted rim (producing a flywheel effect), a gently convex, inlaid-PVC top surface, and a decoupled spindle. The plinth weighs 50.7lb! According to MF, who auditioned the Forte Engraved with AMG's 12JT tonearm (see "Tonearms") and an Ortofon Anna Diamond cartridge, what makes this turntable so appealing is its midrange presentation, "which, though ever so slightly thick, is highly resolved and includes complete freedom from overhang." He added that "the very bottom, too, while not the most fully extended, is completely free of muddy hangover." He concluded that the Viella Forte "is among the best values in ‘top tier' turntables. Its build quality and engineering make it worthy of placement in that category even if the sonic performance is a notch below the absolute best." "Engraved" because of the elegant scrollwork on the plinth's surface; the nonengraved version costs $2000 less. (Vol.43 No.9 WWW)

Bergmann Galder Turntable and Vacuum hold down: $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 26lb, 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 84lb, 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: 33.3 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 its 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 ★
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.28 No.5; Vol.35 No.4 Vol.38 No.5 WWW)

Döhmann Audio Helix One Mk2: $49,000
Compared with the original Helix, which MF reviewed in Vol.40 No.3, the Helix One Mk2 has been redesigned, and it now incorporates Döhmann's Minus K negative-stiffness isolation base. The outboard power supply is now installed in the "PowerBase" that the massive turntable chassis rests on. The review sample was supplied with the Thrax-manufactured Schröder CB 9" arm ($5500). The Mk2's speed measurements were "somewhat disappointing" compared to the original Helix One's, but MF didn't notice any issues in his auditioning. While the Helix One Mk2 didn't sound as smooth as the TechDAS Air Force One, MF found that "This turntable exudes complete authority and control, and never leaves you feeling that there's more to be extracted from the grooves . . . or that anything is being withheld dynamically, spatially, or in terms of detail resolution." Price is for black-anodized finish; it's $55,600 in plated nickel and titanium. (Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

Garrard 301: $23,500 (plus freight) w/arm and plinth
Since 2011, when he began using a 1957 Garrard 301 as his reference turntable, AD has been looking for a way to sneak that product among this magazine's Recommended Components. The Cadence Group, which owns SME, Spendor, and other British brands, has provided a means to do just that: In 2018, they added Garrard to their holdings, and in 2019 they reintroduced the 301 to the market. Samples available now comprise a mix of new, NOS, and reconditioned parts, but the company says that proportion will change as they tool up to make new components. Less than ideally, Garrard will sell a 301 only with their own plinth and with an SME M2-12R tonearm; fortunately, according to AD, that arm is itself recommendable. But the sound's the thing, and in that regard, AD feels that Edmund W. Mortimer's timeless high-torque turntable design remains the surest way to retrieve all of the touch, force, color, and momentum locked in the groove. (Vol.42 No.12 WWW)

J.Sikora Initial: $8995 without tonearm
The least expensive in this Polish manufacturer's line, the belt-drive Initial comes with a standalone power supply/controller and either a blank arm mount or a mount predrilled for Kuzma, Jelco, Ortofon, Origin Live, or SME tonearms. Price as reviewed was $11,053 with a glass platter mat ($259), a two-piece record weight ($799), and a Jelco TL-850M tonearm (though Jelco announced in May 2020 that it was ceasing production). The plinth is aluminum, the platter Delrin, and the DC motor is sourced from Pabst. With a Grado Aeon3 phono cartridge, the J.Sikora sounded conspicuously unmechanical, unnervingly dark, superquiet, noticeably dynamic, and unbelievably microdetailed, wrote HR. "But, he added, "it also—strangely—sounded like nothing I'd heard before." After trying several different cartridges, HR decided that "J.Sikora's Initial gave me what I consider to be a majority portion of what the Porsche-Maserati turntables do at a Cadillac-Oldsmobile price." (Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

Kuzma Stabi R: $7465 (w/o armboard), $8670 provisioned for at least one arm.
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 WWW)

Palmer Audio 2.5i: $11,895 in Baltic Birch without tonearm ★
Cherry finish: $11,495

As in the designs of the late Tom Fletcher of Nottingham Analogue, the British-built Palmer Audio 2.5 mates a massive (21lb) 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)

Reed Muse 1C: $15,000 (with friction drive and black finish)
This dramatic- and attractive-looking Lithuanian-made turntable features a thin leather/suede platter mat and a two-motor drive system. An aluminum subplatter, machined with a tapered hub, is driven by two opposing phase-locked–loop DC motors that turn at slightly different speeds; the two motor pulleys are fitted with rubber/elastomer drive wheels of slightly different diameters. (A belt-drive option is available.) "Tapping anywhere on the plinth produced the tiniest of ‘tinks,' with no low-frequency component and no overhanging sound," according to MF. Reed's 5T tonearm (see "Tonearms") and an Ortofon MC Century cartridge "extracted musical fun from every record I played, plus a sense of ease and relaxation." (Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

Reed Muse 3C TT: $21,750
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 9lb 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 Planar 10: $5695 (w/o cartridge)
Save for their ca-$45,000 Naiad, the newly revised Planar 10 represents the pinnacle of Rega's high-tech and extremely well-thought-out minimalism. Its skeletal plinth is machined from a super-rigid laminate in which a lightweight polyurethane foam core is a key element, supported by three elastomer footers. The diamond-cut ceramic platter rests on a machined-aluminum subplatter, with upper and lower ceramic braces between the platter bearing and the tonearm mount, the latter home to a Rega RB3000 arm. A 24V, low-vibration synchronous motor is individually tuned to its outboard drive electronics; this propels the platter via two drive belts that are precision-molded from a very high-tech polymer. MF found the sound of the new P10 to be "fast, tight, well-defined, tuneful, and exciting on the bottom," adding that "anyone who thinks a lightweight 'table can't produce deep, tuneful, and well-sculpted bass should listen to the P10." Apheta3 cartridge adds $1000; Aphelion2 cartridge adds $4000. (Vol.43 No.3 WWW)

SME 20/12A (includes 312S tonearm): $26,900
"Among the best-built turntables in the world," the SME 20/12 is a tank-like machine weighing more than 75lb. It has an oversized 14.3lb platter, and a 17.6lb aluminum-alloy subchassis secured by 10 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 Synergy: $23,900 with Series IV tonearm
In December of 2019, SME announced that they would no longer offer tonearms as standalone items and would instead sell them only when bundled with SME turntables; in retrospect, that sheds light on the May 2018 introduction of the Synergy, SME's first-ever integrated record player. The Synergy combines a newly designed and relatively high-mass belt-drive turntable—one whose vibration-isolation scheme eschews the O-ring suspension used in previous SME models—with a magnesium-tube tonearm, an Ortofon Windfeld Ti MC cartridge, and a built-in Nagra phono preamplifier. The Synergy offers 33.3, 45, and 78rpm, all microfine-adjustable via the 'table's outboard power supply. Setting up the Synergy is relatively easy, as one might expect from an expensive turnkey player, but the "the Synergy is not exactly 'plug'n'play,'" according to MF, who also praised the "soundstage three-dimensionality" and "complete freedom from mechanical artifacts" of this "very competent and fine SME player." (Vol.42 No.11)

Technics SL-1000R: $18,999
Technics SP-10R motor unit: $10,999

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 17.5lb 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)

Technics SP10R with OMA iron plinth: $22,000
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 (110lb 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)

VPI Avenger Reference: $20,500 including FatBoy tonearm
The heavy (85lb) 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 HW-40 Anniversary Edition including Gimbal Fatboy tonearm: $15,000 $$$
A lot has happened since VPI introduced its $30,000 Classic Direct direct-drive turntable, the high price of which was determined in part by its high-tech ThinGap motor, which reportedly cost the manufacturer $4000 apiece. Based on that turntable's success, VPI has found themselves able to cut costs by ordering a lot of those motors—to which they now apply their own in house-designed drive electronics as well as a completely reworked bearing, subplatter, and platter. The result, according to MF, is a turntable that's "better in every way . . . than the Classic Direct." And while he didn't consider the HW-40's gimbal-bearing JMW-12 Gimbal Fatboy tonearm the equal of his reference SAT arm, MF said that, given the package's $15,000 price, the "very good arm is almost a freebie." (Going forward, the HW-40 will be available without an arm and with an interchangeable armboard.) MF noted the HW-40's "rock-solid musical drive," "exceptional transparency and retrieval of low-level detail," and "deep, powerful bass" and concluded that, "in terms of design, execution, and value, it's the best VPI turntable yet." (Vol.43 No.1 WWW)

B

AVM Rotation R 2.3: $4500 (w/ tonearm)
Hi-fi enthusiasts who already own one or more components from the German company AVM might do well to consider the Rotation R 2.3, a similarly styled belt-drive record player manufactured by Pro-Ject. In addition to its aesthetic consistency with AVM's electronics—most apparent in its sleek aluminum "cover frame" and the blue-LED illumination of its recessed acrylic platter—the Rotation offers an inboard DC motor, permanently lubricated bronze platter bearing, and a gimbaled tonearm with an "impressively massive" bearing yoke and a sliding–single-bolt headshell for good cartridge adjustability. MF observed "excellent speed consistency" and a "well enough controlled" bottom end, and although he heard a slight softening of transients, Mikey noted that "the R 2.3 produced a pleasingly uncolored sound" overall. (Vol.42 No.12 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)

Haniwa Player w/HTAM01 Arm: $15,000
The Player, which is made for Haniwa by the German manufacturer Transrotor, is a compact but massive belt-drive design with a heavy aluminum platter topped with a butyl rubber Oyaide mat. Its companion tonearm is billed by Haniwa as their HTAM01 model, but MF recognized it as the ViV Laboratory Rigid Float tonearm, which he wrote about in the August 2014 Stereophile. The Haniwa/ViV tonearm is an odd duck, designed so that a cartridge mounted therein exhibits underhang instead of overhang, and with zero offset angle. MF praised the player's ease of setup and high quality of construction and finish, but noted that, contrary to the claims made for it by Haniwa, it is not optimized for use with low-internal-impedance cartridges and their companion current amplification phono preamps, and he dismissed the HTAM01 for design solutions that are "misguided and demonstrably ineffective." (Vol.42 No.10 WWW)

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)

Mark Levinson No.5105: $6000, $7000 withOrtofon Quintet Black
See MF's review elsewhere in this issue.

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 6.8lb—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)

Schiit Audio Sol: $799 with tonearm and Audio-Technica cartridge
Built in America and selling for $799 with an Audio-Technica AT-VM95EN cartridge—$119 when sold separately; a Grado Opus3 cartridge adds $156—the belt-drive Sol features an outboard AC synchronous motor, a solid metal plinth and platter, and an 11" carbon-fiber, unipivot tonearm. (Additional unipivot arms cost about $200.) Setting up the Schiit for KM, Sound & Vision magazine's Michael Trei found that the tonearm was "very jiggly and sensitive," and KM warned that the cueing lever was undamped. But once the turntable's set-up was optimized, KM wrote, "the Sol greeted me with a large-scale, complex soundstage, excellent attack, surprising sustain and decay, and depth-charge dynamics. While the [Audio-Technica/Sol] pairing gave up a few degrees of warmth, image solidity, richness and refinement, it played with excellent transparency and touch." (Vol.44 No.3 WWW)

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 its ease of setup and notably high build quality. (Vol.42 No.8 WWW)

C

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO: $499 with tonearm & cartridge $$$
This bargain-priced, belt-drive turntable comes complete with a carbon-fiber tonearm, a Sumiko Rainier moving magnet cartridge ($150 when sold separately), and a shielded, directional phono cable. The 3.75lb steel platter is damped along its outer edge with a strip of thermoplastic elastomer. AH found that the review sample, like Rega turntables, ran slightly fast, but also felt it didn't release notes "with quite the screen-door-hitting-them-on-the-ass urgency of the [Rega] Planar 3 (which costs nearly twice as much without a cartridge)." He also found that the Pro-Ject and its cartridge made surface noise more intrusive than many other record players he'd heard. However, AH summed up his time with this turntable by saying "If there's a design parameter more crucial than a hi-fi component's ability to hold our attention and enable us to feel things, I don't know what it is. The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO does this consistently, emphatically, at an attainable price." (Vol.44 No.3 WWW)

Rega Planar 3 with Elys 2 cartridge in black, white or, red: $1145 ★
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)

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)

D

Rega Planar 1 with Carbon cartridge: $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)

Deletions
TechDAS Air Force V, replaced by newer model not yet reviewed. AMG 9W2, Analogueworks TT-Zero, PTP Solid, SME 15, VPI Player, VPI Prime Scout, not auditioned in a long time.

COMMENTS
grymiephone's picture

The Linton Heritage is not an audiophile speaker, and I will stop there, it's hard to find music it plays well

Glotz's picture

And it sounded fantastic with 'entry'-level Hegel components.

Everyone is different, and especially when one levels generalist comments.

grymiephone's picture

I had a response with more details but it was deleted.

Glotz's picture

Sorry man. I think the site had some issues a week back as well. Anything that was edited sometimes got deleted.

grymiephone's picture

Oh, well. for what's it's worth:
I tested the Linton with 5 other speakers. When I ordered it, the sales person said: be warned, it's NOT an audiophile speaker. And it didn't compare well. I wanted to love them but my 23 year old Celestions had more image and punch than the Lintons. I am sure they can sound good in a different system

MatthewT's picture

I agree with the "not an audiophile speaker" remark. I wish we could know what Art Dudley thought of them. I love them, FWIW.

Glotz's picture

I appreciate both of your insights here.

It helps me come closer to the truth. Or that's not right- The perceptions of each person lend us insights into how each person feels in their system.

I know a lot of times it's hard to speak to one's system for fear of others being critical.

Nonetheless, it does tell me what possible variances there are. I thought the double Linton's were impressive, if expensive. The dealer had them in a pseudo-d'appolito configuration, with the top speakers upside down and on top of the bottom pair.

liguorid42's picture

I agree everyone's opinion of what he or she likes is valid, and an opinion that you shouldn't like something because it's not an audiophile product is invalid. That being said, if you're a wine connoisseur you wouldn't necessarily make a buying decision on a pricey Cabernet based on the opinion of someone whose beverage of choice is Mountain Dew. And "not an audiophile speaker" can just mean your favorite reviewer has not made the sign of the cross before it, and is pretty useless without some description of what you perceive its sonic flaws to be.

Glotz's picture

I think all stereo products can have a home, but you are right it's all about context.

I was impressed with the Denton's midrange, but perhaps that's not fair given I was listening to the collective output of 2 pairs of speakers working in tandem.

mememe2's picture

PLease put this in the "useless phrases" section of your mag. Can we have good pace but lack timing -no. can we have good rhythm but lack pace - no. Can we have good timing but lack rhythm - no. This description seems to be aimed at audio prats (in the original meaning of the word).

Charles E Flynn's picture

"captures the emotion"

liguorid42's picture

Back when founding father Gordon Holt started Stereophile he tried to develop a lexicon to describe how things actually sounded--things like "liquid", "transparent", "grainy", "warm"--as opposed to how things emotionally affected him personally. Theoretically you could go to a hi fi emporium, listen to KLH Nines driven by Audio Research electronics and hear for yourself what he meant. Though he did open the door with his "goosebump test". These days terms such as you describe have made subjective audio reviewing so subjective as not to be very useful to anyone else.

Charles E Flynn's picture

Thanks for your reply.

I have always wondered how one could determine that a playback chain captured the emotion of the performers when the only evidence we have about their emotions is what is provided by the playback chain.

The reproduced sound may convey or provoke emotion, but whether what it conveys is what the performer felt is something we can never determine on the basis of only the reproduced sound.

liguorid42's picture

..in the Firesign Theater album said, "That's metapheesically absurd, mun, how can I know what you hear?"

Heck, you can't know if what you're feeling is the same as what the performer is feeling even at a live performance. Not even close would be my guess. What I'm feeling when I play the piano in private is very different from when I get conned into playing for someone. What the composer felt when setting the notes to the page, different still. I doubt a loudspeaker, let alone a piece of loudspeaker cable, has anything to do with any of this.

George Tn's picture

the Schiit Sol made it on to the list in such a high spot for its price. I've been rooting for that product and it's finally being seen for how great it is.

PTG's picture

Yup.. So happy to see Sol finally get some recognition. SOL had a very rough launch but they owned up to it and made it right ! I would love to get one but am worried about how much tinkering is needed to make it right.. Still thinking about it.... It LOOKS amazing !!!

georgehifi's picture

Same for the Aegir, a A20w Class-A stereo in Class-A Stereophile. I can only think of one similar that could/would do that, and that's the mighty 20w Mark Levison ML2 monoblocks.
https://i.pinimg.com/736x/d6/6a/cc/d66acc2c1d4fa7ea17f5a9bb9345e912.jpg

Cheers George

Glotz's picture

Yes, these components are great to see classified, but it's one person's ranking for a component. The classes also cut a large swath in performance of any one category- and within each class.

That being said, I do think the Sol is pretty-well-reviewed for the money and if my rig broke suddenly... I'd get this one to tie me over.

PTG's picture

Did I miss it or was Bluesound family of products (Node2i, Vault2i ??) totally dropped off the RC2021 list ? If yes, I wonder why...

Jim Austin's picture

On previous lists, when several Bluesound products were listed together, we put them under "Complete Audio Systems." We dropped most of them simply because they haven't been auditioned in years--indeed, no Stereophile reviewer ever tried a gen-2 version of any of the products except the Node2i, which I bought a few months back and use daily. Dropping products that haven't been auditioned in a long time is longstanding RecComp policy.

With only the Node2i on the list, it no longer makes sense to list it under Complete Audio Systems; it should be moved to Digital Processors. But I overlooked that fact when preparing the 2021 edition.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

C_Hoefer's picture

I just navigated to this page intending to point out the error in location of the Bluesound Node 2i - glad to see you already caught it! It belongs in digital players.
--CH

prerich45's picture

I'd like to see some of the other offerings tested by Stereophile. The Gustard dacs have measured well by another site. I've actually purchased one to see how it fairs to my ears - as I've already seen its numbers. SMSL,Gustard, and Topping are making some possible world beaters, it would be interesting to see this publication put them on the bench.

Fstein's picture

Lirpasound announces $79 amplifier, states previous price of $159,000 a joke no reasonable person would believe

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