Recommended Components: Fall 2017 Edition Turntables, Tonearms, Cartridges, etc

Turntables

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TechDAS Air Force One: $105,000 plus tonearm ★
"A visually stunning technological tour de force," the 174-lb Air Force One has a three-laFyer chassis of damped aluminum, a forge-processed stainless-steel platter, and a massive AC synchronous motor controlled by an outboard dual-50W amplifier. The platter uses an air bearing; LPs are held to the platter with vacuum suction. The review sample was equipped with a Graham Engineering Phantom II Supreme tonearm. Though it didn't sound as smooth as the Continuum Caliburn or the Onedof One Degree of Freedom, the Air Force One was sensational in terms of harmonics, space, texture, and microdynamics, said Mikey, who concluded: "The TechDAS Air Force One was a sonic masterpiece." After noting, in Vol.38 No.11, that the less expensive Air Force Two nipped at the One's heels rather more fiercely than expected, MF borrowed a second sample of the latter and noted "far less of the mechanical sound" that had checked his enthusiasm for the first sample—and he enthused over the One's new titanium-platter option (ca $5000). (Vol.36 No.4, Vol.39 No.4)

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 lbs) 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)

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Acoustic Signature Ascona Mk.2: $33,995
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
See HR's review in this issue.

Audio Union Döhmann Helix 1: $40,300
Designed by Mark Döhmann, who headed the design team at Continuum Audio and now works under the auspices of Bulgaria-based Audio Union, the belt-drive Döhmann Helix 1 was intended to achieve the same goals as the well-regarded Continuum Caliburn turntable, but at a far lower cost. Incorporating a CNC-machined aluminum-alloy plinth that itself weighs 100 lbs, the Helix 1 also makes use of a Negative Stiffness isolation platform, a high-torque motor with a software-based control system, a 30-lb metal-and-thermoplastic platter with a permanently installed damping mat, and a screw-on record clamp (a retrofittable vacuum hold-down system is in the works). The CB features a carbon-fiber armtube and ultralow-friction hybrid ceramic bearings that include internal magnetic damping of horizontal motion. MF praised the Schröder CB tonearm as a "strong performer for $4000, or even more," and also evaluated the Helix 1 turntable with his reference SAT tonearm—an experience that led him to declare that "the Helix lets the music erupt (as I wrote about the Caliburn 11 years ago)." Mikey concluded: "Had I installed the Helix 1 in the same 2005 system that provided the context for the Continuum, I'd have written about it what I felt about the Caliburn: 'no turntable in my experience comes close to its sonic performance and you are guaranteed to hear your favorite demo LPs, indeed all of your LPs, as you've never before heard them.'" (Vol.40 No.3)

Brinkmann Balance: $22,000 ★
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 ($4300) 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." Brinkmann 12.1 tonearm adds $7500, Brinkmann EMT-ti cartridge adds $4300. (Vol.28 No.5; Vol.35 No.4 WWW)

Brinkmann Bardo: $7000 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: $12,000 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)

Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird: $10,995
While it isn't the first commercial turntable with a three-motor drive system—that would be the original Voyd, of 1987—the Feickert Firebird is probably the first such product whose motors are synchronized by means of a custom phase-locked loop (PLL) feedback circuit. Nor is that the Firebird's only claim to fame: Dr. Christian Feickert's top-of-the-line turntable also boasts a newly redesigned inverted platter bearing, a 13-lb platter made of polyoxymethylene (aka POM, and said to have characteristics similar to those of vinyl itself) embedded with eight solid-brass damping cylinders, and provisions for two tonearms up to 12" in length. Reviewed by MF with his own 11" Kuzma 4Point tonearm, the Firebird provided "a sensation of gliding smoothness and a sophistication of leading-edge transients. It avoided rough, hard edges as well as oversmoothed transients, but it definitely leaned toward the latter." His conclusion: "I greatly enjoyed my months of listening with it." (Vol.39 No.3)

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)

Oracle Delphi Mk.VI Second Generation: $8300 without tonearm; turbo supply adds $850
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 $800 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 2.5: $8990 in Baltic Birch without tonearm
As with the designs of the late Tom Fletcher, of Nottingham Analogue, the British-built Palmer Audio 2.5 mates a massive (21 lbs) aluminum-alloy platter with an AC motor so tiny and low in torque that merely pushing the on/off button on its outboard power supply won't set the platter to spinning: The user must start it by hand. Completing the picture are a hefty platter bearing and a similarly hefty, rotatable arm-mount. Installation, though not too daunting, isn't 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 when the PU7 is the intended partner, MF urges prospective owners 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, Palmer's 2.5-12, is available especially for use with 12" tonearms. HR tried the Palmer-Origami combo in 2017 and was won over, observing of the 2.5 that a "constant sense of a silent, invisible force was [its] core virtue." He bought the review sample. Price in cherry finish is $9890. (Vol.37 No.11, Vol.40 No.7 WWW)

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: €2750 plus shipping ★
Made in the Netherlands by Peter Reinders, the Solid12 has a heavy Corian plinth and uses several reconditioned components from original heavy-platter, idler-wheel Lencos: motors (along with their suspension cradles and wiring blocks), platters, platter bearings, platter mats, idler wheels, and idler-support mechanisms. Setup was simple and straightforward. Combined with AD's Thomas 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 €250 retrofittable option that replaces the reconditioned original Lenco bearing supplied as standard. AD revisited the PTP by borrowing a Solid12 equipped with both the new Solid Bearing and an optional set of SSC isolation feet (€150), again pressing into service his own Schick tonearm; he was surprised to hear not just a minor improvement, but an elevation of the Solid12's core strengths of believable touch and force, to a point where the player was competitive with his Garrard 301 rig. His conclusion: "I'd be delighted to live with one of these." The improved Solid12 is as close to a turnkey idler-drive 'table as we're likely to see: ideal for vintage-savvy, non-DIY audiophiles. (Vol.36 No.6, Vol.38 No.12, WWW)

SME 20/12A (includes 312S tonearm): $23,990; SME 20/12 (no tonearm): $19,995 ★
"Among the best-built turntables in the world," the SME 20/12 is a tank-like machine weighing more than 75 lbs. 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: $8495 (no tonearm)
Like 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)

Sperling-Audio L-1: $35,950 without tonearm
With a total weight of about 110 lbs—the platter alone weighs 60 lbs—the unabashedly beefy L-1 turntable from Sperling-Audio, of Welver, Germany, is built on a V-shaped plinth, both strokes of which contain an armboard incorporating a pair of eccentrically arranged circular plates: lockable, lavishly calibrated, and adjustable for a wide range of spindle-to-tonearm-pivot distances. The plinth is layered—aluminum plates alternate with the customer's choice of slate, wood, or two different polymers—and supports a massive, inverted ball bearing for the aluminum-alloy platter, the latter driven by a low-voltage DC motor and a Mylar-tape belt. The record is supported on the massive platter by eight wedge-shaped "exserts" that prevent contact between vinyl and aluminum; MF questioned this element of the design, and enlisted various record weights and an intermediary record mat as a workaround. In addition to praising the L-1's "exquisite machining and plating," MF described the combination of Sperling-Audio turntable and Kuzma 4Point tonearm as offering "solid, stable imaging, clean and precise transient response, and the dynamic slam and authority managed by only the best turntables." (Vol.38 No.8)

TechDAS Air Force Two: $55,000
The Air Force Two retains most of the design distinctions and features of TechDAS's flagship model, the Air Force One ($105,000): air bearing, outboard AC motor, air-suspension supports, vacuum record hold-down, massive plinth and platter. But the last two elements are less massive than in the One—the Two's total weight is 103.4 lbs vs the One's 173.8 lbs—and the Two boasts a simpler plinth. In his tests, MF found the Air Force Two to offer excellent speed stability, immunity to extraneous disturbances, and a degree of quietness that "helped deliver generous decays into aural blackness." MF also praised the Two's "sensational image stability and solidity," and its all-around talent for coaxing him into staying up "way too late" listening to records: "I loved the TechDAS Air Force Two. It's among the very finest turntables that I've reviewed, at any price." (Vol.38 No.11)

VPI HRX: $14,000, 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)

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)

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Acoustic Signature Triple X: $5795
Situated squarely in the middle of Acoustic Signature's turntable range, the Triple X sits on a very heavy plinth—76 lbs without platter—built up of layers of MDF, aluminum, and steel. The platter adds another 24 lbs and is machined from aluminum to a thickness of 1.95"; an 11"-diameter area of its underside is recessed and filled with a lossy damping sheet. The bearing is a 0.475"-diameter spindle with a captured thrust ball, running inside an aluminum brass bearing well fitted with a pair of bronze sleeves; the thrust pad is made of a reportedly durable polymer called Tidorfolon—something of an Acoustic Signature calling card. The motor is AC synchronous and evidently of low torque; speed-control electronics are built into the Triple X's plinth. In AD's system, when used with a 12" sample of AS's TA-1000 tonearm, the Triple X "distinguished itself with excellent clarity and poise, very good temporal performance, and acceptably good touch, impact, and color, presented with a good if not great sense of scale but better than average spatial qualities." (AD considered the 'table's AC-1 accessory outboard power supply mandatory; once a $250 option, the AC-1 is now described by Acoustic Signature's US distributor as standard equipment.) AD's conclusion: "Anyone considering the purchase of a more expensive high-mass turntable owes it to himself/herself to audition the Acoustic Signature Triple X before spending money on something else." (Vol.38 No.9 WWW)

Acoustic Signature WOW XXL: $3195
Imagine an Acoustic Signature WOW XL turntable (see above) with a platter that's both 2 lbs heavier and fitted with eight of AS's vibration-damping "Silencers": that's the WOW XXL. Compared with RD's Linn LP12 record player, the combination of WOW XXL and Acoustic Signature TA-1000 tonearm produced greater dynamics and detail, greater vitality in the sounds of brass instruments, and more convincing reproduction of space. RD preferred the sound of the AS player when he used it with a 2mm-thick sample of the demurely named Herbie's Way Excellent II turntable mat ($59.99) and a Harmonic Resolutions ADL record weight ($220). (Vol.39 No.2 WWW)

Acoustic Signature WOW XL: $2395
Described by HR as "the lowest-priced high-quality turntable I know of that can be purchased with a blank armboard," the Acoustic Signature WOW XL is built on a beveled MDF plinth to which is bonded a 7/16"-thick aluminum top plate. The XL's 14-lb aluminum platter is damped on its underside with a lossy material and is belt-driven by an AC synchronous motor; at the center of it all is a version of AS's Tidorfolon-bottomed bearing that uses a rounded-off spindle instead of a captured ball. Used with a 9" Acoustic Signature TA-1000 tonearm (see below), the WOW XL impressed HR by playing "every recording I chose with balanced force, vivid color, and suave precision." He added that, although the WOW XL lacked the strong bass and rhythmic aplomb of other turntables, its "perfect accuracy of speed showcased the finer complexities of Bach and Bartók." (Vol.39 No.2 WWW)

Analogueworks Zero: $1595 (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 3313 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)

G.E.M. Dandy PolyTable: $1695 (with Jelco SA-750D 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)

Linn Sondek LP12: $2630 for turntable only
The Linn Sondek LP12 has, since 1972, literally grown into its role as one of the most popular high-end turntables: Linn has devised and offered for their belt-drive, suspended-subchassis flagship all manner of upgrades, ranging in complexity from improved fasteners to entirely new motors, power supplies, and subchassis systems; 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—who, despite flirtations with other decks, remains true to the basic design he has used for four decades. 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, in 2011, when AD installed the Linn Radikal mod—a DC motor with an outboard switch-mode power supply—he said that it adds "more force, more momentum, and a little more sheer grip on the notes." These and other upgrades remain available individually, but LP12 pricing appears, at present, limited to complete turntable-tonearm-cartridge packages. The least expensive of these, the Majik LP12, fits the 'table with the standard subchassis, wood-composite armboard, and AC synchronous motor, and adds the onboard Majik LP12 single-speed power supply, a push-on 45rpm adapter hub for the motor pulley, a Pro-Ject 9cc tonearm, and a Linn Adikt moving-magnet cartridge, for $4320. Although we have auditioned many of Linn's current upgrades, we have not done so in the combinations offered in that and other packages. That said, 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. As HR writes of his '80s-era LP12 with Valhalla power-supply board, "the LP12 is an established benchmark for audiophile-quality LP playback." (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)

Luxman PD-171: $6995 with tonearm ★
The retro-styled PD-171 is a two-speed, belt-driven turntable with an AC synchronous motor and a 9", S-shaped tonearm made by Jelco. Central to the turntable, and largely responsible for its 51 lbs, is a 15mm-thick solid-alloy top plate that supports an 11-lb platter and sits above a plinth made of hardwood and sheet steel. Separating plate from plinth is a thin layer of damping material; additional vibration control is provided by four adjustable feet. Fine-tuning controls are provided for both running speeds; a slender, columnar LED light pole acts as a cueing aid; and a robust, clear-plastic dustcover is included. Setup was straightforward. Exceptionally forgiving of poorly recorded and very worn LPs, the Luxman sounded slightly warm overall, with a sweet top end, rich midrange, and reasonably satisfying bass, said AD. (Vol.36 No.11 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)

Rega RP8: $2995 with tonearm ★
A highly evolved embodiment of Rega's philosophy of low mass and high rigidity, the RP8 uses a new low-mass, precision-engineered RB808 tonearm and a "skeletal" frame made from Rega's own version of Zotek, an ultrarigid polyolefin foam. As in the RP3 and RP6, a stress beam links the tonearm to the platter hub, increasing structural rigidity while reducing internal resonances and external vibrations. A newly designed glass platter is heavier at its perimeter, exponentially increasing the platter's flywheel effect and maximizing energy efficiency. Setup was quick and simple. Though it ran slightly fast, the RP8 produced a powerful, dramatic, coherent overall sound with solid, well-defined images; clean, articulated bass; exceptional resolution of detail; and outstanding dynamics, said MF. "Rega's new turntable-tonearm combo is the most exciting and truly revolutionary turntable to be introduced in quite some time," he concluded. If purchased with the Apheta 2 MC cartridge preinstalled, the RP8 costs $4195, a savings of $695. (Vol.36 No.11)

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: $4000 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-blade–like 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)

VPI Prime Scout: $2200
See AD's review in this issue.

Well Tempered Amadeus Mk.II: $2850 including tonearm ★
The Chinese-made Amadeus Mk.II more or less replaces the US-made Well Tempered Record Player, long an AD favorite. Compared with that earlier 'table-arm combination, the Amadeus Mk.II uses a less complex platter bearing that uses light oil instead of thick silicone; a flat-profile platter with foam mat instead of a concave platter with threaded spindle clamp; an onboard low-torque motor instead of a more powerful outboard motor; a drive thread instead of a drive belt; and a thinner plinth, without the damping layer of yore. Changes evinced in the new Symmetrex tonearm include the elimination of adjustability for overhang and offset angle, and the switch from a purpose-made damping paddle to a bisected golf ball. Notwithstanding those changes, Well Tempered's second-least-expensive record player has, according to AD, "a musically involving sound—good timing, very good momentum and flow—combined with the sorts of spatial accomplishments and lack of obvious colorations that I associate with more traditional high-end audio products." (Vol.37 No.8 WWW)

C

Music Hall Ikura: $1195
Designed in the US and manufactured in the Czech Republic, the Music Hall Ikura is a two-speed, belt-drive turntable that comes packaged with a 9" tonearm and bundled with an Ortofon 2M Blue MM cartridge (the latter a $236 value when bought separately). The Ikura's simple and distinctly attractive exterior—according to BJR, even the dustcover is "sexy"—conceals a clever two-plinth design, with motor and electronics fastened to the bottom structure and the platter bearing and tonearm fastened to the top, with rubber cones in between. A pre-lubricated, stainless-steel ball bearing with a Teflon sleeve, a platter machined from MDF, and a DC motor are also featured. The aluminum tonearm has Swiss-made ABEC 7 (that's good) stainless-steel bearings, adjustable VTA, and a falling-weight antiskating mechanism. Cartridge alignment and arm height are set at the factory, although future adjustments, tools and instructions for which are included, can be easily made. In his listening, BJR discovered high-frequency performance that was "impressive for a $1200 turntable" and bass performance that was "even more impressive." On the downside, he found that the Ikura–2M Blue combo could be flustered by unusually demanding passages. (Vol.37 No.12 WWW)

Pioneer PLX-1000: $699 including tonearm $$$
To those who deny the musicality of direct-drive platters and the servos they rode in on, HR says: Bunk. "Forget analog vs digital or tubes vs solid-state; the most pervasive and poorly considered belief of all is that only belt-drive turntables are worthy of audiophile consideration." From there, HR praises this successor to the popular but discontinued Technics SL-1200 Mk.2: the Pioneer PLX-1000 direct-drive turntable with integrated tonearm. "Belts can't touch the PLX-1000's excitement, naturally formed detail, and clearly expressed forward momentum," he wrote. "This new Pioneer also showcases the complex tonal character and elegant structures of classical music better than any affordable belt-drive I've experienced." As HR hears it, the PLX-1000, whose motor has more than twice the torque of its famous forebear, "is not only a worthy successor to the legendary Technics SL-1200MK2, it is a serious contender for the best audiophile-grade turntable for less than $2000. Unabashedly recommended." After a round of second-thoughtfulness, plus trials with an even greater array of partnering cartridges—including the affordable Shure SC35C ($75)—HR encouraged the bravest and most technically adept owners to check the tonearms of their PLX-1000 turntables for excessively loose bearings. Otherwise, "I could live the rest of my music-loving, record-collecting life" with the Pioneer player. (Vol.38 Nos. 3 & 7 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: $599.99 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)

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)

D

Rega RP1: $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)

Tonearms

A

Abis SA-1.2: $1775 $$$ ★
The Japan-made 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)

Acoustic Signature TA-9000: $17,995
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 8–12Hz. 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, per 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. Used on his Linn LP12—for which the 9W2 was apparently designed—the 9W2 was, said AD, "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." (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, though 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 points out, the design "emphasizes rigidity over convenience." Used with the Palmer Audio 2.5 turntable, the PU7 contributed a notably velvety sound with a bottom end that was "well controlled and extended," said 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." (Vol.37 No.10, Vol.40 No.10)

Brinkmann 10.5: $5490 ★
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: $5890
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: $5500 ★
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)

Kuzma 4Point: $6675 ★ and 4Point 14": $8995
Designed by Franc Kuzma, this brilliant pivoted 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. It has an effective length of 11", a pivot-to-spindle distance of 10.3", an overhang of 0.6", an effective mass of 0.4oz, and a total weight of 3.63 lbs. Its removable headshell made swapping cartridges painless, while adjustment of VTF, VTA, antiskating, and azimuth were all 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. "I'm in love," he concluded. Compared with the Continuum Audio Labs Cobra, the Kuzma sounded more natural and more 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. Also offered with regular phono cables/no RCA box for $6375. (Vol.34 Nos.9 & 10, Vol.35 No.7, Vol.39 No.3 WWW, Vol.39 No.11)

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)

Phantom Elite: $12,000 (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: $5000 (9" 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)

SAT Pickup Arm: $32,000
With an armtube made of carbon-fiber laminates—not the same as the woven fiber used in making most such things—and a massive, stainless-steel bearing yoke, Swedish Audio Technologies' 9" tonearm impressed MF from the moment he first clapped eyes on a prototype: "An SME V on steroids, I thought." The SAT's detachable headshell is made from some 40 plies of carbon fiber, and its bearings are large-diameter pivots of tungsten-carbide resting on sapphire V-jewels, with user-adjustable pre-loading. The SAT arm's statically applied downforce and filament-and-falling-weight antiskating mechanism are both uncalibrated. MF's verdict: "With the very first record I played . . . it was immediately obvious to me that the SAT was easily, and by a wide margin, the finest, non-sounding tonearm I have ever not heard." MF wants to rate this as a Class A+ tonearm. (Vol.38 No.7 WWW)

Schick 12" Tonearm: €1499 plus shipping $$$ ★
Made in Germany and now distributed direct by its manufacturer, 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 (€249) 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)

SME 312S: $3995 ★
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)

SME 309 SPD: $2549
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)

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)

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)

B

Abis TA1L: $1875
From the same Japanese firm that makes the heartily recommended 9" SA-1.2 tonearm comes the Abis TA1L, the L standing for long—as in 12". The 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)

Acoustic Signature TA-1000: $1595
This medium-mass, 9" tonearm—also available in 10" ($1795) and 12" ($1995) versions—has gimbaled bearings, static downforce, and an armwand comprising inner and outer layers of carbon fiber. The simple rotating-block aluminum headshell allows easy adjustment of overhang and offset angle, and azimuth can be adjusted—though not on the fly—by means of the three bolts that fasten the TA-1000's armwand to the bearing assembly. HR had good results when using the TA-1000 with his review sample of Acoustic Signature's WOW XL turntable and a wide variety of cartridges. RD, who has now purchased a TA-1000 (plus an Acoustic Signature WOW XXL turntable), wrote that the arm "impressed as precision-made machinery, with outstanding fit and finish." He also noted that by buying the arm with a DIN connector instead of a hardwired cable—the price is the same, either way—he was able to improve its sound quality with cable upgrades. AD tried the 12" TA-1000; his only complaint was of "noticeably high" residual friction in the arm's vertical bearings, a problem described by the US distributor as limited to only the earliest samples of the arm. But he enthused over what he described as "one of the finest brand-specific alignment gauges ever supplied with a tonearm." (Vol.38 No.9, Vol.39 No.2 WWW)

Audio Origami UniArm: $2495
Although heavier overall than the Naim Aro, and with a bearing assembly at once functionally simpler and stylistically more ornate, Audio Origami's new UniArm has much in common with the sadly discontinued Aro, itself a tonearm that AD regards with a wistfulness most people reserve for deceased pets. The UniArm is a missionary-style unipivot (as far as we know, the industry has yet to produce a variant that qualifies as doggy-style) with a plug-and-socket disconnect for the signal wires that permits the swapping out of armtubes (and thus cartridges), and a thread-and-falling-weight antiskating mechanism. The UniArm is available with the buyer's choice of Linn- or Rega-spec geometries and arm mounts. Used with AD's trusty old Linn LP12 turntable, the UniArm impressed him with "rich timbral colors [and] no-less-rich textures"—along with excellent musical timing, momentum, and pull. AD also credited the UniArm with offering "better value for the dollar than did the Aro in its later years." High Class B, he sums up. (Vol.40 No.2 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.

SME M2-9: $1849
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-1200MK2 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)

Sperling-Audio TA-1: $9750
Available with a 10" or a 12" armtube—the price is the same in either case—the German-made Sperling-Audio TA-1 is a hanging-unipivot tonearm whose pivot point is magnetically damped. The armtube, of metal and wood, has threaded weights for adjusting azimuth, and coarse and fine degrees of vertical tracking force; provisions for applying antiskating bias are not included. MF found the TA-1's overhang-adjustment regimen somewhat trying, and criticized the arm's many adjustment screws for being unlockable and thus possibly prone to resonating—problems that paled, in his view, in comparison to the lack of any provision to lock the armtube in place when not in use. When MF used the TA-1 with Sperling-Audio's L-1 turntable, he described the arm as having a sound of its own: "pleasing and intoxicating—a low-Q, low-amplitude character that subtly accentuated the lower midbass, adding a pleasing warmth . . . without becoming obtrusive." (Vol.38 No.8)

ViV Lab Rigid Float: $4390–$4990
The Viv Laboratory Rigid Float is a radically different tonearm: a design that combats tonearm skating forces and their distortions not with the application of antiskating—which the designer abhors—but by eliminating from his arm the headshell offset that, in tandem with the friction of the stylus in the groove, causes skating in the first place. Consequently, like the RS Laboratory arm before it, the Rigid Float's geometry eschews overhang in favor of underhang, the cartridge-alignment implications of which concerned MF—who also scratched his head over the nonrigidity of the ViV arm's turntable mounting arrangement and consequent less-than-optimal height-adjustment provisions. But MF was impressed with its unconventional bearing—"the pivot floats on a dark, magnetic, light-viscosity, ferrofluid-like oil that you inject into . . . the front of the pivot housing"—and, in the end, was wowed by the Rigid Float's "gloriously smooth" midrange and "meaty, full-bodied" bass: "If you love to the exclusion of most everything else the romantic, vintage, midrangey sound that some people insist is 'music,' the ViV Laboratory Rigid Float is made for you." (Vol.37 No.8)

VPI JMW-9: $1000 ★
The shortest of Harry Weisfeld's JMW tonearm line, the JMW-9 comes standard with the Aries Scout turntable. (AD enthused about the combination's sound.) It uses a reverse-missionary bearing with a hardened tungsten-carbide point and a machined and hardened-steel set-screw for a cup. A quick-connect plug makes for easy removal and easy cartridge swapping, but as with all Harry Weisfeld designs, there is no antiskating mechanism. MF auditioned the 9" version of the JMW Memorial 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." Some disagreement between AD and MF over the overall rating, but Class B seems appropriate. (Vol.26 No.2, Vol.27 No.9 WWW; see AD's Prime Scout review in this issue.)

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

K

AMG W2 Turbo, Swissonor TA10.

Phono Cartridges

A

Air Tight Opus: $15,000
"What accounts for a price that many would describe as outrageous?" MF posed that question while reviewing the Air Tight PC-1 Magnum Opus cartridge, which combines the normally incompatible qualities of very low impedance (1.4 ohms) with a generous (for a nominally low-output moving-coil cartridge) output of 0.45mV. Whether or not because of those qualities, the lowish-compliance PC-1 Magnum Opus dazzled Mikey by producing "an adrenaline rush of dynamic energy." He singled out for praise its "ultrafast and detailed" top end. In the end, MF answered his own question: "Air Tight's PC-1 Magnum Opus cartridge justifies its price." (Vol.38 No.10)

AMG Teatro: $2750
See HR's review in this issue.

Audio-Technica AT-ART1000: $4999
Audio-Technica describes their new flagship, the moving-coil AT-ART1000, as a Direct Power System design: its moving coils are attached to the front of its cantilever, directly above the stylus—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 results in a proportional change in signal amplitude, theoretically resulting in the lowest possible degree of compression of all phono cartridges. Sure enough, MF observed from the low-output (0.2mV) AT-ART1000 "microdynamic expression [that] was absolutely phenomenal: small shifts of emphasis in the strumming and drumming were clearly delineated." Mikey also praised the AT as "one of the most tonally neutral cartridges I've heard," concluding that, "If you can afford it, you need it!" (Vol.39 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)

Fuuga: $8950
The creators of the Fuuga—its name is Japanese for "elegance with flair"—were inspired by the classic Miyabi cartridges designed and built by Haruo Takeda, now retired. The low-compliance Fuuga retains the semicylindrical body of the best-known Miyabi models, but exchanges their trademark alnico magnets for neodymium types. Output and impedance are both low—respectively, 0.35mV and 2.5 ohms—and the hyperelliptical stylus tracks at 2.0–2.2gm. MF praised the Fuuga's neutral tonal balance, lack of harshness/hardness, and "startling macrodynamic slam." His conclusion: "The Fuuga is, without a doubt, among the handful of highest-performing, most-enjoyable cartridges I have heard." (Vol.38 No.10)

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 1.8–2.1gm. 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)

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)

Ikeda Sound Labs Kai: $8500
The top model of a five-cartridge line, the Kai is made in Japan by Ikeda Sound Labs, a company created by Fidelity Research founder Isamu Ikeda. The Kai is a low-output (0.19mV) MC design whose boron cantilever sports a Micro-Ridge stylus. Its alumite body is topped with a plate of titanium, resulting in a highish mass of 11.5gm—which goes hand in hand with a level of suspension compliance that MF described as "appropriately low." Using the low-impedance (2.5 ohms) Kai with his Ypsilon MC26-L transformer, MF enjoyed "explosive dynamic swings" and "an unmistakably deep, wide, and tall soundstage." He also praised the cartridge's "electrostatic-like transparency" and "fast and clean transients," while noting that the Kai's tonal balance "pushed toward the cool." Use with a high-mass tonearm is recommended. (Vol.38 No.6)

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 2010–2011 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)

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 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 some aluminum in there, too. 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." He concluded: "[If you] can afford it, you'll definitely want to add the Madake to your arsenal." (Vol.37 No.12)

Miyajima Labs Zero Mono: $1995 ★
The Zero Mono cartridge has an output of 0.4mV, making it compatible with a wide range of moving-coil phono preamps. Compared to Miyajima Lab's Premium BE, the Zero produced a similarly big, rich, meaty sound, but offered improvements in image focus, clarity, transient detail, and bass control, said MF. "If you treasure your mono albums, get a Zero. It's infinitely better than any other mono cartridge I've heard," he summed up. (Vol.36 No.3)

Ortofon Anna: $8924 ★
Named after Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, Ortofon's new flagship moving-coil cartridge uses a high-efficiency magnet system for improved dynamics and impulse linearity over earlier Ortofon designs. It has a curved titanium body, a boron cantilever, and a nude Replicant stylus. Its low (0.2mV) output means it should be used with only the quietest phono preamps capable of considerable gain; an appropriate step-up transformer should provide the best results. Compared with the Lyra Atlas, the Anna sounded slightly warm and lacked bottom-end tightness and impact, but was more texturally refined, said MF. (Vol.36 No.5)

Ortofon MC A95: $6499
Ortofon's MC A95 retains the radical shape of its predecessor, the limited-edition MC A90, but now powdered titanium takes the place of stainless steel in its Selective Laser Melting (SLM)–formed body, a refinement for which the manufacturer claims better self-damping. That and other refinements add up to a level of performance that coaxed from MF this observation: "the A95 is the A90 on testosterone." The low-output (0.2mV) A95, whose specs indicate a slightly lower compliance than that of its predecessor, earned from MF praise for "wider dynamics [than the A90]—particularly in the bottom octaves—and a generally richer, more fully fleshed-out sound." He concluded: "the Ortofon MC A95 definitely improves on the MC A90's well-deserved reputation [as] one of the world's best-sounding phono cartridges." In a Follow-Up, MF found that the A95 had less "dynamic authority and just plain slam" than the Ikeda Sound Labs Kai, but distinguished itself with greater "tonal and textural expression." (Vol.38 Nos. 5 & 6)

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)

Soundsmith SG-200 Strain Gauge Mk.IV: $8590 ★
The SG-200 is a strain-gauge phono cartridge with six choices of interchangeable styli and a dedicated power supply and preamplifier. Two bright-blue tubular LEDs run vertically through the metal body's horizontal slats, giving the cartridge a unique look. Also unlike most cartridges, the SG-200 provides controls for setting vertical tracking angle and azimuth. Though it could sound somewhat cool and lacking in physicality, with a lean midrange and stingy sustain, the SG-200 produced incredibly clean, fast top-to-bottom transient attack, deep bass, airy highs, and spectacular transparency. "The SG-200 is a unique game-changing product," said MF. Price includes two SGS-5 styli; add $100 for the SGS-6, a nude line-contact stylus with a ruby cantilever. (Vol.34 No.3 WWW)

Transfiguration Proteus: $6000 ★
For their new flagship MC cartridge, Transfiguration returned to the double-ring-magnet construction of earlier models, adding silver-wire coils with so few windings that an internal resistance of just 1 ohm is claimed. Nevertheless, output is specified as 0.2mV at 3.54cm/s (using the industry's standard of 5cm/s, the Proteus's output is actually closer to 0.28mV). The Proteus sports a PA-profile stylus at the end of its boron cantilever, and the moderate-compliance motor is said to perform well at a VTF of 2gm. Based on his experience with earlier Transfigurations—models known more for "getting out of the way" than for trying to make a "beautiful sound"—MF had high expectations; even so, he wasn't prepared for what he heard: "Even before [it] had a chance to fully break in and develop, what I was hearing put it up there with the best, most musically involving cartridges I've heard at any price." As for value, MF described the Proteus as "expensive, but not stupidly so," the latter sobriquet being something he reserves for cartridges that sell for $10,000 and up. (Vol.37 No.10)

Tzar DST: $10,000
Whereas most moving-coil cartridges have their stylus at one end of a cantilever, and their coils, wound on tiny coil formers, at the other, the Tzar DST—like the vintage Neumann DST 62 cartridge on which it's modeled—says to hell with the formers: Its coils are glued right to the cantilever, just behind the stylus. The theoretic result is far less dynamic compression than with traditional MC designs—and reduced compression is precisely what AD heard from the Tzar: "The Tzar DST is the most incredibly tactile, forceful, and altogether open-throttled pickup I've ever tried." He added that the Tzar "allowed strings to sound sweet and utterly huge, with extraordinarily good, snappy, vibrant note attacks." Created under the direction of tonearm designer Frank Schröder, the Tzar DST differs from the Neumann in its use of an aluminum body and a carbon-fiber cantilever. Its compliance, though unspecified, was observed by AD to be very low—recommended downforce is 3.2–4gm—and its output is a mere 0.25mV. (Schröder recommends pairing it with a step-up transformer of moderately high inductance; AD had best results with a borrowed NOS Neumann Bv33.) Finally, a product that answers the question "Is there a place in the market for a $10,000, Siberia-made phono cartridge?" with a resounding Yes. (Vol.39 No.1 WWW)

B

Clearaudio Maestro V2 Ebony: $1200
The ebony-bodied V2 is the most expensive moving-magnet cartridge in Clearaudio's line—and, quite possibly, the costliest MM cartridge period. In common with other MMs, the Maestro V2 has relatively high output (3.6mV), with concomitantly highish coil impedance and inductance; unlike other MMs, it isn't an especially high-compliance design—its tracking-force range is 1.8–2.6gm—and its Micro HD stylus and boron cantilever are not user replaceable. According to MF, the Maestro V2 "didn't have the speed or the high-frequency extension of a good moving-coil," but it offered a great combination of "midrange richness, openness, and detail," and it "tracked and traced well" every record MF threw at it. Figuratively. (Vol.38 No.4)

DS Audio DS-W1: $8500
Price includes phono preamp/power supply. Unlike the well-documented if seldom-seen ELP laser turntable, which re-creates a music signal by bouncing light off the modulations of a record groove, the DS-W1 is an optical phono cartridge that uses the vibrations of a traditional playback stylus—in this case, a Shibata at the end of a boron cantilever—to modulate the otherwise steady output of an LED, aimed at a photosensitive plate: Because the stylus and cantilever are called on to move far less mass, the benefits are said by some to include less record wear and more faithful replication of the vinyl-encoded analog wave. In this regard, the DS-W1 is the direct descendent of the similarly seldom-seen Toshiba C-100P cartridge of the 1970s—and, indeed, the C-100P's developer assisted with the design of the DS-W1, which MF described as "a major breakthrough" capable of "revelatory transparency and spatial clarity." But MF's experiences with the DS-W1 were troubled by a consistent and "distractingly overemphasized bass"—a flaw that he attributed to the DS-W1's accompanying electronics, leading to the Class B rating. MF's verdict: "worth an audition—especially if DS Audio can upgrade their electronics and fix the bass problem." (Vol.38 No.9)

Dynavector DV-20X2L: $995 $$$
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)

Goldring Elite MC: $995
NR, but see KM's Music Hall review in Vol.39 No.9.

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)

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 Abis 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)

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 (1.8–2gm), 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)

Miyajima Labs Spirit Mono: $895 ★
Like all Miyajima cartridges, the Spirit Mono uses a proprietary "cross-coil" motor, the fulcrum of which is optimized for linear dynamic performance; like all of the company's mono cartridges, this one has a single coil and an 18µm-radius spherical stylus tip—and is unresponsive to vertical groove modulations. In short, the Spirit Mono is true mono. According to HR, the low-compliance, moderate-output (0.7mV) Spirit Mono "had a very seductive way of making records sound full-bodied and tangible. Images of musicians were realistically scaled, and there was always a noticeable sense of space." The Spirit Mono is also available with a 76µm stylus for 78rpm records, or in a version called the Spirit Mono High, with an output of 3.7mV. (Vol.37 No.10 WWW)

MusiKraft Denon DL-103: $579 and up $$$
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)

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)

Soundsmith Carmen Mk.II: $9995
The ebony-bodied Carmen, a moving-iron design, offers medium compliance (22µm/mN) and high output (2.2mV) and features a nude elliptical stylus at the end of its aluminum cantilever. HR found the Carmen to be "conspicuously chameleon-like" in his system, exhibiting a different character with each different tonearm, turntable, and phono preamplifier he used it with. He especially enjoyed the Carmen when it was partnered with his vintage Thorens TD 124 turntable and SME 3009II tonearm, enjoying the combination's "sparkle and dynamics." Quoth HR: "It was like the sun reappearing from behind a cloud." (Vol.38 No.6 WWW)

Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC Star: $1999
The low-output, fixed-coil Zephyr MIMC—the second half of its name reminds the buyer that this moving-iron (MI) cartridge is ideal for use with phono preamps tailored for moving-coil (MC) cartridges—is fitted with a line-contact stylus, and has a recommended downforce of 1.8–2.2gm. According to RD, the Zephyr MIMC—which is descended from the considerably more expensive Soundsmith Sussurro—offers "high performance at an affordable price." RD also notes that, when used with his Convergent Audio Technology SL-1 Renaissance Black Path Edition Thurn und Taxis line-plus-phono preamplifier, the Zephyr MIMC performed best into a load of 1333 ohms. AD is weirded out by the fact that, when one sums the resistors required for both the left and right channels, the total is 2666 ohms. (Vol.39 No.2 WWW)

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 Audio DL-103: $439 $$$ ★
Zu improves on Denon's original design by trading the DL-103's plastic body for one built of 6061 "aircraft" aluminum and then binding the magnet, base, and pole piece with a ferrous-based epoxy. This consistently colorful, well-textured, engaging-sounding cartridge built on the Denon's sense of impact while taming its forward presentation. AD: "The Zu doesn't just slay giants: It rips their beating heart from their chests, shows it to them, finishes them off, then chases their souls and drags them down to hell. Recommended." One of HR's references. (Vol.30 Nos.10 & 12 WWW)

C

Denon DL-103: $379 $$$ ★
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: $650 $$$ ★
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 1.8–2.2gm. 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)

Grado Prestige ME+: $150
The polycarbonate-bodied Prestige ME+ Mono has an elliptical stylus at the end of the company's trademark four-piece (telescoping) aluminum cantilever. Although not a single-coil cartridge, its design is true mono inasmuch as the coils are physically oriented to respond to only lateral modulations. Output is a healthy 5mV, the recommended load is 47k ohms, and recommended VTF is 1.5–2gm. HR found the Grado to be great at suppressing surface noise; more important, on records ranging from solo gut-string guitar to opera, the Prestige ME+ Mono proved to be musically insightful and consistently rewarding: "The Grado's boldly cinematic sound triggered all the aesthetic emotion I required." HR has, in fact, purchased the Grado for use as his daily driver. (Vol.37 No.12 WWW)

Nagaoka MP-500: $699 ★
The MP-500 has a samarium-cobalt magnet, a permalloy shield casing, a SuperFineline line-contact stylus, and a low-mass boron cantilever. When used with the Thorens TD 309 turntable, the Nagaoka had a slightly forward, somewhat cool overall sound, but outclassed the TD 309's stock Audio-Technica AT95E in terms of image solidity, detail resolution, and bass extension, said MF. (Vol.34 No.2)

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)

Shure SC35C: $59 $$$
Very affordable, DJ-heritage moving-magnet cartridge that HR found worked superbly well on the Pioneer PLX-1000 turntable. MF demurs. (Vol.38 No.7 WWW)

D

Audio-Technica AT95E: $74 ★
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)

Deletions
Ortofon 95th Anniversary SPU, van den Hul Crimson XGW MC, no longer available; Brinkmann Pi, Lyra Kleos, Miyajima Labs Premium Be Mono, Miyajima Labs Takumi, Soundsmith Sussurro Mk.II, all not auditioned in a long time.

Phono Preamps/Moving-Coil Step-up Devices

A+

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
Built into 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 pre offers multiple inputs, two of which address current-amplification circuits—an approach that, per 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, then calculates and applies the optimal load. Beyond that, as MF points out, users can manually test the P1's entire loading range of 20 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." He purchased the CH Precision combo for his own enjoyment. (Vol.40 Nos. 4 & 6)

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)

A

Audio Research REF Phono 3: $14,000
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)

Audio Tekne TEA-8695 PCS: $48,000
In Audio Tekne's 100-lb TEA-8695 PCS, 12 signal tubes and one rectifier tube are concealed amid a dense forest of Permalloy-core inductors and transformers, two of the latter being the step-up transformers that first greet the input signal in this MC-only design. MF praised the Audio Tekne for having "the most gorgeous, cleanly laid-out point-to-point wiring." More to the point, he praised the TEA-8695 PCS for its "massive but well-controlled bass," "superrich mids," and "smooth yet well-extended highs," adding that the Audio Tekne "had dynamic slam to spare"—while noting his frustration with its opaque instruction manual. (Vol.39 No.11)

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 represent 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 Seta Model L: $3799 ★
Designed to take full advantage of Pure Vinyl's digital RIAA correction, the beautifully built Seta Model L includes balanced and single-ended inputs, balanced unequalized outputs, variable gain, and a built-in, rechargeable battery power supply. Recordings made using the Seta Model L's optional RIAA-equalized outputs were "models of clarity, definition, tonal accuracy, detail resolution, and spatial coherence," said MF. "There is no doubt that the Seta Model L has been superbly engineered," praised JA. Compared to the Liberty B2B-1, the Seta Model L lacked some midbass energy, but did a better job of preserving recorded ambience, said JA, who also admired the Channel D's superb measured performance. Optional internal RIAA compensation module adds $1199. (Vol.33 No.8; Vol.36 No.12 WWW)

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)

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 top and bottom plates of solid walnut, 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: $9190
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)

Lehmann Decade: $2099 $$$ ★
AD tends to prefer the sound, with an MC phono pickup, of a phono preamplifier plus an MC step-up transformer—yet was pleasantly surprised when he replaced both with the Lehmannaudio Decade. This two-chassis, solid-state phono stage offers adjustable input impedance and gain—the latter up to 66dB, for very low-output cartridges—and a switchable soft-rolloff filter. When substituted for both the CineMag Sky 30 transformer and the phono section of his Shindo Masseto preamplifier, the Decade presented AD with exceptional clarity, believable colors and textures, and "satisfying" force: "Yes, the Lehmannaudio preamp could be made even more explicitly forceful with the addition of a good transformer. . . . Considered on its own, the Lehmannaudio is easily the most impactful solid-state phono preamplifier I've ever experienced." (Vol.37 No.5 WWW)

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)

Moon by Simaudio 810LP: $13,000 ★
The first phono preamp in Simaudio's Moon line of cost-no-object designs, the fully balanced, dual-mono 810LP is a beautifully built, rigid component weighing 40 lbs and measuring 18.75" W by 4" H by 16.8" D. Its four-layer circuit board uses a five-point, gel-based, floating suspension system derived from the Moon 850P preamplifier, while the power supply features a high-quality toroidal transformer and multiple filtering and voltage-regulation stages. DIP switches on the bottom panel provide unprecedented configurability: 64 impedance loads, from 12.1 ohms to 47k ohms; 16 capacitance settings, from 0 to 1120pF; 16 gain settings, from 40 to 70dB; and RIAA or IEC equalization. The 810LP had a cool, dry overall sound with exceptional transparency, clean transients, muscular macrodynamics, and delicate microdynamics, but lacked harmonic richness, soundstage size, and top-end air, said MF. Can be upgraded with Simaudio's Moon 820S power supply ($8000). (Vol.35 No.12, Vol.37 No.11, 820S 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)

PBN Audio Olympia PXi: $22,000 ★
Although MF wasn't impressed with the styling of this American-made two-box phono pre—okay, he called it "butt-ugly"—he found a lot to love in its musical performance. Designed and made by Peter B. Noerbaek, the Olympia PXi is a fully balanced, dual-differential pre using cascoded JFETs in its first gain stage and a complementary MOSFET source-follower in its output stage. Gain is switchable between 60 and 70dB, and the user can select among six different resistive loads, ranging from 50 ohms to 47k ohms; input and output jacks are XLR only. As for the Olympia PXi's sound, the prospective owner is advised: "Strap yourself in!" MF elaborated: "The grip the PBN had on the music, from top to bottom of the spectrum, was immediately obvious and almost physically demanding to experience—but in a relaxed and very pleasing way. Dynamics were limitless. The terms bass extension and bass control took on new meanings." For all that, MF wrote, "the PBN was also able to express instrumental liquidity and textural subtlety." (Vol.37 No.9)

Phasemation EA-1000: $15,000 ★
The Japanese-made EA-1000 is built into separate left- and right-channel cases of copper-plated steel adorned with thick, brushed-aluminum faceplates. The first selector knob on each allows the choice between RIAA stereo and three mono curves—Columbia, Decca ffrr, and an "all-purpose 78rpm" curve—while additional controls adjust MC impedance and gain and select among three inputs: two MC, one MM. The single-ended, hybrid EA-1000 uses three dual-triode tubes per channel, and its hefty outboard power supply is built around a 5U4G rectifier tube. In addition to praising its very quiet performance, MF noted the EA-1000's "textural delicacy and detail" and its knack for delivering "rich, saturated harmonic colors." Through the Phasemation, he said, "music was finely and delicately drawn, sounding sweet but not cloying, feathery but not smotheringly soft." MF cautioned fans of large-scale music that, through the EA-1000, "the bottommost frequencies were somewhat less than fully realized." (Vol.37 No.9)

Rogers High Fidelity PA-1A: $7300
Roger Gibboni's first phono preamplifier uses three tubes per channel for MM cartridges, and adds to its MC inputs a pair of internal step-up transformers. (Even more gain can be had, albeit at a slight cost in noise, by substituting for the PA-1A's 12AU7 tubes a spare pair of 12AX7 tubes, also supplied.) Capacitive and resistive loading are user adjustable, and a mute switch is included. Build quality is, as MF wrote, "impressive by any standard," and tube life is expected to be in the neighborhood of 10,000 hours. MF praised the PA-1A's "glorious, mesmerizingly rich midrange, and the overall drive and musical flow for which tubed phono preamps are renowned," while noting "the less-than-taut-and-punchy bottom end for which they're also known." MF also discovered in the Rogers phono pre some susceptibility to hum with both MM and MC cartridges, necessitating care with cable choice and physical placement. His verdict: "If you listen mostly to acoustic jazz and/or classical music, the Rogers PA-1A, paired with a cartridge that's fast, open, and extended on top, could be your ticket to long-term satisfaction." (Vol.37 No.12)

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 Phono Block: $10,000/pair ★
The Phono Block is a stripped-down, optimized, no-compromise design made of two completely separate but identical monophonic units. Each Phono Block itself comprises two heavily shielded, individual subchassis, one for the power supply and one for the audio stage, linked by the front and rear panels. The Phono Block offers one pair of inputs, two parallel pairs of outputs, a choice of three grounding schemes, and a built-in white-noise generator. Plug-in cards allow the user to select loading and gain. Like Sutherland's battery-powered designs, the Phono Block had an uncanny ease and purity but a more realistic and energetic sense of timing and pace, and created a larger, more enveloping soundstage, said BD. JA noted superb measured performance. (Vol.35 No.1 WWW)

Sutherland Engineering Duo: $4000/pair
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)

TruLife Audio Xactive Argo: $17,500
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)

Viva Audio Fono MC: $15,900
Described by MF as "by far the most expensive 12AX7-based MC phono preamp I've heard," the Italian-made Fono MC also impressed Mikey as "the best sounding—or, at least, the lushest, the best-controlled, the most extended, and the least bloomy on the bottom end. It was also incredibly quiet, with enough gain (60dB) for MC cartridges of relatively low output." That surplus of gain comes courtesy of the Fono MC's custom-wound step-up transformers, which reside in one of the Viva preamp's two large, stylishly curved enclosures. (That one is for the gain and equalization; the Viva's slightly larger, heavier enclosure contains the tube-regulated power supply.) MF's conclusion: "If you listen mostly or exclusively to classical and/or jazz and can spend $15,900 on a phono preamp, the Fono should be on your very short list." (Vol.39 No.3)

Ypsilon Electronics MC26-L: $6200
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: $2800 ★
The MC10 transformer produces 20dB of gain and is intended for use with cartridges having an output range of 0.4–0.6mV. 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 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)

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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)

Blue Horizon Ideas ProFono: $895
The British-made Profono offers user-selectable gain for moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges, and is supplied with three pairs of resistor-loaded RCA plugs, useful for changing the standard 47k ohm input load to values of 100, 470, or 100 ohms. (Plugs with custom values are available without charge to the unit's original owner.) HR noted the Profono's clarity and articulation—"[It] presented music with neoclassical precision," he declared—and that it made the Soundsmith Carmen cartridge sound "enjoyably more alive and sunny" than Soundsmith's own MMP3 phono preamp. Use with bright-sounding cartridges discouraged. (Vol.38 No.10 WWW)

Bob's Devices CineMag 1131: $1195 ★
Designed and made by Bob Sattin, the original CineMag step-up transformer is built into a rugged little cast-alloy box, with a toggle switch for gain selection and another for grounding. It uses a pair of CineMag transformers, switchable between low- and high-gain settings. Build quality was excellent, with all electrical joints made using an American Beauty resistive soldering station. Compared to the built-in step-up in AD's Shindo Masseto preamplifier, the CineMag was more colorful and punchy, with better timbral distinctions between instruments, approaching the performance of the much more expensive Auditorium 23 Hommage T1. "Nothing less than wonderful," Art said. CineMag 1131 phono transformer is switchable between high and moderately low gains (turns ratios of 1:40 and 1:20, respectively), and features gold-plated connectors, and a ground-lift switch. Compared to the internal Lundahl transformers in AD's Shindo preamplifier, the CineMag 1131 offered greater impact, immediacy, and emotional intensity; compared to the Silvercore One-to-Ten transformer, the CineMag sounded "just as dynamic and punchy, but was also a little bit richer and far, far bigger," he said. The 1131 is borderline Class A. (Vol.33 No.6, Vol.35 No.5 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)

EAR 834P: $1895 economy model; $2595 deluxe model ★
Tim de Paravicini–designed, three-tube (12AX7) MM stage that also offers, for MC use, a pair of step-up transformers (3–50 ohms). MF: "The 834's sound was absolutely gorgeous in the midband, with a touch of 'golden glow,' and an overall spaciousness and enticing musical wholeness....The 834P's bottom-end delivery was well-extended though a bit loose, if only slightly so....[Its] high-frequency extension and transient performance perfectly balanced its bottom: not sharp and etched...but not soft or overly romantic....A slightly sharp, fast-sounding cartridge should really get this thing singing." Compared to the GSP Audio Era Gold Mk.V, BJR found that the EAR 834P exhibited more detail, air, delicacy, and body in the midrange, with more detailed and extended highs, but with rounder, slower bass performance. ST is a long-time owner of the 834 and loves it. JCA has also been using one for years. Add $700 for chrome Deluxe version. (Vol.20 No.7, Vol.26 No.8, Vol.28 No.1 WWW)

LFD Phonostage LE: $1295 $$$ ★
Phonostage LE Special: $1795 ★

Minimalist in design and appearance, the LFD Phonostage LE combines 28 resistors, 24 capacitors, 4 regulators, 2 epitaxial diodes, 2 op-amps, and 1 transformer in a pleasant-looking chassis of extruded aluminum. It has a fixed input impedance of 47k ohms and can be configured to provide appropriate gain for moving-magnet (39dB) or moving-coil (53dB) cartridges. Despite its modest design and price, the LFD was "a sonically refined, musically involving, downright fun piece of gear," with a nice sense of touch, good weight and impact, and beautifully rich timbral colors, said AD. Upgraded with multistrand PC-OCC input wiring, multidiameter silver output wiring, taller viscoelastic isolation feet, and a larger power transformer, the Phonostage LE Special ($1895) offered greater nuance, touch, detail, and scale for a more compelling listening experience, felt Art. "The measured performance of both versions was first-class," said JA. (Vol.34 No.6 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)

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)

Soundsmith MCP2 Mk.II: $1199 $$$ ★
Similar in appearance to the Soundsmith MMP3, the MCP2 offers 62dB gain and continuously variable loading from 10 to 5k ohms. It had a smooth, well-balanced overall sound with a slightly warm midrange, a moderately deep soundstage, and fair bass extension. Mikey found that the MCP2's overall smoothness made long listening sessions easy, but turning the volume up too far resulted in excessive glare. Compared with the far more expensive Ypsilon VPS-100, the MCP2 exhibited a tendency toward brightness and electronic haze, said MF. (Vol.34 No.10, Vol.35 No.3)

Sutherland Insight: $1400 $$$ ★
The dual-mono, AC-powered Insight has a case of cold-rolled steel with a powder coat of baked-on epoxy and uses Wima polypropylene-film capacitors, Dale/Vishay metal-film resistors, and gold-plated RCA and internal jumper jacks. Gain and loading options are adjustable. Compared with the Musical Fidelity M1ViNYL, the Insight offered greater dynamic thrust and slightly more transparency but lacked midrange warmth, said MF. "The Insight is easy to recommend," he said. This phono pre lacks the drive and impact of the best units I've heard, and is also slightly short on texture, but it's wonderfully quiet and pure-sounding, with a nice sense of flow, sums up AD. He advises owners of early-production units to call the factory to determine if their Insights are in need of an upgrade: an IC replacement that most users will be able to perform themselves without difficulty. (Vol.36 No.8, Vol.37 No.10 WWW)

Tavish Design Adagio: $1690
Among the handmade electronics offered by Tavish Design, based in Westchester County, New York, is the Adagio phono preamp, a two-box design with the audio circuitry in one enclosure and the power supply in the other. The Adagio's gain and EQ circuits—the latter a mix of active and passive—are implemented with a total of six small-signal vacuum 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 senses 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." (Vol.39 No.6 WWW)

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Lehmann Audio Black Cube Statement: $449 $$$ ★
The bearer of Lehmannaudio's loftiest product name is in fact their least expensive phono preamplifier: a solid-state device built into a single (not counting the wall wart) and decidedly nonfancy aluminum box. The 1.75" by 4" by 4.25" Statement offers the user a choice of four gain settings (31, 41, 51, or 61dB) and three input-impedance selections (100, 1k, and 47k ohms), the latter supplemented with open slots on its circuit board into which the user can insert the loading resistors of his or her choice. SM was won over by the Statement's dynamic and rather bold, forward sound, especially when compared with his reference, the more reticent NAD PP-3. Above all, SM was impressed by the Statement's high value: "At $449, it strikes me as a bargain . . . dynamic and robust, with a great sense of space." (Vol.37 No.5 WWW)

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 WWW)

Soundsmith MMP3 Mk.II: $649.95 ★
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)

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Bozak Madisson CLK-PH2: $19.95 $$$ !s
Small, dark, and distant: That's how SM described the sound of this small, dark, Taiwanese phono preamplifier, available for sale through the mail-order megalodon of your choice. So what do you want for 20 bucks (plus shipping): to live forever? For that kind of money, SM says, the Bozak Madisson CLK-PH2 is "totally recommended." Extra points for performing humlessly without an external power supply; bonus point for having the courage to add, at least phonetically, the word click to the name of a phono product. (Vol.37 No.5 WWW)

No Class Distinction

Rek-O-Kut Re-Equalizer II mono record-specific equalizer: $349 ★ "
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)

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)

Deletions
Leema Acoustics Essentials, Michael Fehlauer Monophonic Variable EQ Phonostage no longer available; Music First Audio Classic MC Step-Up replaced by new version; Dynamic Sounds Associates Phono II, Hagerman Audio Labs Trumpet Reference, Manley Chinook, Musical Fidelity V90-LPS, Robyatt Audio Mono, Tektron Italia Mono, all not auditioned in a long time.

Phono Accessories & Record Cleaners

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 SMARTractor: $650 ★
The SMARTractor is a semicircle of mirrored plastic with five single-point alignment grids: Löfgren A/Baerwald IEC, Löfgren A/Baerwald DIN, Löfgren B/IEC, Löfgren B/DIN, and UNI-DIN. A sixth position, labeled UNI-P2S, specifies pivot-to-spindle distance. Each alignment option has its own tiny dimple into which the stylus must fit for the alignment to be perfect. Three pop-in adapters (7.1, 7.15, and 7.2mm thick) ensure a secure fit with a variety of spindles. A sophisticated sighting and magnification system allow the user to precisely set parallax and zenith angle. Though very expensive, the SMARTractor was "the easiest and most accurate alignment device I've used," said Mikey. (Vol.37 No.2)

Aesthetix MC Demagnetizer: $199 ★
Battery-powered, reasonably priced, seems to do the job as well as any of them, decided MF. (Vol.25 No.7)

Allnic Audio SpeedNic: $399
The SpeedNic is a strobing platter-speed checker for 33.33, 45, and 78rpm discs. It uses a gooseneck LED lamp powered by three C batteries and a metal disc that doubles as a record weight. Expensive, but works as advertised, said MF. (Vol.34 No.12)

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 record-cleaning fluids ★
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: $4199
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)

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 record cleaning machine: $2495 $$$
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)

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: $100 ★
"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 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)

Onzow Zero Dust: $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 www.twinaudiovideo.com. (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: $24 ★
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)

Shure SFG-2 stylus-force gauge: $40
Shure's classic balance-beam stylus-force gauge is simple to use and accurately measures a cartridge's vertical tracking force between 0.5 and 3.0gm. At less than half the price of the Audio Additives, the Shure is a great little tool, but the AA is easier to use, more precise, and provides an extra measure of comfort, said SM. (Vol.35 No.11 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: $79.95 $$$ ★
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)

Sutherland Timeline: $400 ★
The Timeline is a device for testing a turntable's accuracy of speed. Housed in a solid disc of aluminum and Delrin that fits over the platter spindle, the Timeline uses eight laser-projected timing marks with a claimed accuracy within two parts per million. "Unless your wall has hash marks, there's a bit of subjectivity involved, and at $400 the Timeline isn't cheap," said MF. "Indispensable," said BD, who used the Timeline to measure, set, and monitor the speeds of his Spiral Groove SG-2 and VPI HR-X turntables. (Vol.33 Nos.3 & 12 WWW)

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-17 record-cleaning machine: $1800 ★
VPI HW-16.5 record-cleaning machine: $700 ★

Clearly an industrial-quality machine of reassuring quality, the VPI '17 cleans one side at a time, semiautomatically, and is slower than the Nitty Gritty. "Best I've used," says LA. Latest version has a heavier-duty vacuum system. The '16.5 is a manually operated version with a noisier motor. Adjusts automatically to thickness of record; gets hot quickly. Of the HW-17F, MF says, "Fast, convenient, beautifully constructed, and can be used indefinitely without overheating. The fan version of the 17 is well worth the extra money for those post–garage-sale/record-convention analog orgies when only cleaning the whole pile will do." "The 17F is probably the best record-cleaning machine available," MF concluded; "a true workhorse." (Vol.8 No.1, Vol.19 No.6, Vol.23 No.6, HW-17F; Vol.5 Nos.7 & 9, original HW-16; Vol.17 No.5, Vol.19 No.6, HW-16.5)

VPI HW-27 Typhoon record-cleaning machine: $2500 ★
The Typhoon is smaller, quieter, and more attractive than earlier VPI record-cleaning machines, "with the look and feel of a turntable." Its vacuum pump, twice as powerful as that used in the HW-17, proved capable of drying an LP in a single rapid revolution. "The Typhoon is a clean, efficient record-cleaning machine that's almost fun to use," said MF. (Vol.30 No.5)

VPI VTA adjuster for Rega tonearm: $150 ★
"Seems to maintain the desired rigidity while allowing for about a full inch of vertical adjustability. It's nicely machined from aluminum and has a sturdy mounting collar." Its only downside, reported MF, is that it won't fit into a standard Rega opening. Drill it out yourself or send your armboard to VPI. (Vol.23 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)

Deletions
Nitty Gritty Mini Pro 2, 2.5Fi-XP, 2.5Fi, 1.5Fi record-cleaning machines no longer available.

COMMENTS
tonykaz's picture

Does anyone own any of these Recommended pieces?

If so,

Can you tell us about it?

Tony in Michigan

ps. I own the Sennheisers which are Superb *

chrisstu's picture

I did head to head comparisons versus Berkley, EMM, Ayre....for me in my system the Bricasti beat the Ayre and Berkley and tied with the EMM for far less money. Their support has been OUTSTANDING as well. I had an issue with one channel and they took it back and performed upgrades on it to make up for the inconvenience. As other new upgrades come out they are great about retrofitting to the latest. Great sounding device. Great support.

SpinMark3313's picture

VPI Classic Signature with SDS power box, SoundSmith MIMC (OK, not the "star" edition), EAR 834P phono pre. In all a lovely, lovely set-up - fast, musical, extended, glorious mid-range. I am officially off the analog upgrade train except for some possible upgrades to the EAR in the future (some vintage Telefunken tubes have already taken it to a whole new level).
Once you figure it out and get a few of the right tools, the VPI 3D arm is not that difficult to set up and the on-the-fly adjustable SRA is terrific.
Interestingly, the Classic Signature drew my attention due to years of mostly good VPI coverage in Stereophile, the EAR came by dealer recommendation and audition, and the SoundSmith was a shot in the dark based on my intrigue with the moving iron concept, and the speed of the "moving coil" version. Turned out to be a wonderful combination...

Briandrumzilla's picture

I know you guys hate digital but surely the Sony Play Station 1 has not been reviewed in a long time. It has been on the recommended list for what seems like forever. Other components are deleted after a few years. Get over it. Your precious analog won.

DougM's picture

It would be much easier to read the reviews of recommended components if there were links to them in the recommended listings, rather than having to scroll through past reviews to find them.

Tempo's picture

I thought the Pono Player was discontinued last Spring. It seems to be still available through some retailers, but shouldn't the company's decision to change directions at least be mentioned?

woodford's picture

there's a typo in the price, or at least an extra digit. it's not a $10k cart.

ivayvr's picture

I noticed that the price of NAD D3020 is still shown as $ 499. For the last two years or slightly longer, the actual price for the D3020 was $ 399.99.
At the same time, we were duly notified about the price drop for the very next entry, PS Audio Sprout to $ 499. That is creating a false impression that they cost the same.

syj's picture

"For the DragonFly Black, output voltage has now dropped from 1.8 to 1.2V, but in the DragonFly Red—which also has the distinction of an ESS Sabre 9016 DAC chip with 64-bit digital volume control—output voltage is bumped up to a healthy 2.1V, which AQ suggests better suits it to drive difficult headphone loads."

I think the DAC chip in the Dragon Red is ESS Sabre 9018 (9016 is in the Black).

Also, IMHO, the iFi Nano DSD LE is far far better than the Dragon Red
in terms of sound quality via the Amplifier (with Foobar2000 as the
source). I have both of them. So good that I bought another iFi Nano LE

to use with my other system. The problem of the Nano LE is that the
USB port isn't really secure when I accidentally move or touch the USB
chord it may stop playing. This happens with both units with either USB2.0 or USB3.0 cables.

ednazarko's picture

One of my Dragonflies found another home after I heard an iFi Micro-iDSD black version. Bit of a price difference there, but having recently heard the Nano DSD black version, I was hard pressed to find a lot of difference between it and the Micro-iDSD. the other Dragonfly was shooed from my travel desktop system by the Meridian Explorer 2. No contest.

icorem's picture

Compared the list to the last one + deletions and there is no trace to the Vivid Audio g3.

GustavoS's picture

How come that ATC SCM 19, "the only speaker most people will ever need. Well done. Highly recommended" in the March Recommended Component Lists, is delisted in the new edition! Being so spectacular, was it impossible to ask for a new pair?

John Atkinson's picture
GustavoS wrote:
How come that ATC SCM 19, "the only speaker most people will ever need. Well done. Highly recommended" in the March Recommended Component Lists, is delisted in the new edition!

As it say in the introduction to the listing, if we haven't had continued experience with a product more than 3 years after the review was published, it is deleted. John Marks reviewed the SCM19 in June 2014, hence its removal.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

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