Recommended Components: Fall 2020 Edition Turntables, Tonearms, Cartridges, etc.

Turntables

A+

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

A

AMG Giro G9: $10,000 with tonearm
The Giro G9 is an AMG Giro turntable bundled with the same company's 9W2 tonearm (see elsewhere in Recommended Components). The turntable comprises a 1.75"-thick Delrin platter whose bearing is mounted on a circular aluminum plinth, itself 1.5" thick. The Swiss-made AC motor is electronically controlled, with switch-selectable speeds of 33.3 and 45rpm. That motor isn't outwardly visible—at first glance, the Giro might be mistaken for a direct-drive turntable—but is hidden underneath, driving the platter from a point inside its rim by means of a thin rubber belt. According to HR, the "Apollonian" Giro G9 was "completely adept at recovering and sorting out complex music"; he praised in particular its "detailed" and "well articulated" bass. Herb recommends avoiding lean, analytical-sounding cartridges, including AMG's own Teatro—his best results with the Giro G9 were with the notably colorful EMT TSD 75—and advises the user to consider upgrading the AMG player with a third-party isolation base. (Vol.40 No.10 WWW)

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

Bergmann Galder Turntable and Vacuum hold down: $26,800; $35,700 with Odin tonearm
New from Bergmann Audio, a Danish company known for using air bearings not only in their tonearms but also their platters, is the Galder turntable, which breaks with Bergmann tradition in two ways: Its 26lb, belt-driven, air-bearing platter is machined from aluminum rather than acrylic, and the Galder can be bought without a Bergmann linear-tracking tonearm. Indeed, this turntable can support up to four tonearms, either pivoting or tangential-tracking. As reviewed, the 84lb, nearly 19"-wide Galder includes a vacuum record hold-down system; for an additional $8900, it comes bundled with the Bergmann Odin air-bearing tangential-tracking tonearm. (Separately, the Odin costs $12,900, including its own air pump; the package savings are made possible in part because the same pump that pressurizes the Galder's platter bearing and vacuum clamp also pressurizes the tonearm.) A speed-adjustable DC motor allows two speeds: 33.3 and 45rpm. MF praised the Galder's degree of acoustic isolation, and the ease of use of its vacuum hold-down system; more to the point, the combination of Galder turntable and Odin tonearm impressed MF with is fine bass control and extension—better than Mikey expected, based on previous air-bearing experiences—and its reproduction of space, though somewhat diffuse, offered an enjoyably wide stage populated with stable, well-focused images. (Vol.41 No.7)

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

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

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

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

Kuzma Stabi R: $8670 and up without tonearm
According to its designer, Franc Kuzma, the new Stabi R is essentially a scaled-down version of his upmarket Stabi M: same 8kg belt-driven platter, same two-speed (33.3 and 45rpm) DC power supply, and same high-torque DC drive motor. The heavyweight (66lb in its most basic version) Stabi R is also available with a wood frame that adds $910 to the price (and another 13lb), and can be used with up to four tonearms (additional armboards are extra-cost options). Used with a Kuzma 4Point 11 tonearm ($6675 as supplied), the Stabi R wowed KM—whose reference turntable is the less expensive Kuzma Stabi S—with "its ability to communicate force at lower volumes, a kind of tranquil power." Is the Stabi R worth four times the price of the Stabi S? According to KM, "Yes. No other turntable has created its level of stability, presence, resolution, and sheer physicality—not in my system." (Vol.42 No.7 WWW)

Palmer Audio 2.5i: $11,895 in Baltic Birch without tonearm ★ Cherry finish: $11,495
As in the designs of the late Tom Fletcher of Nottingham Analogue, the British-built Palmer Audio 2.5 mates a massive (21lb) aluminum-alloy platter with an AC motor so tiny and so low in torque that merely pushing the on/off button on its outboard power supply won't set the platter spinning: The user must start it by hand. A hefty platter bearing and a similarly hefty, cantilevered, rotatable arm mount complete the picture. Installation, though not too daunting, is not helped by disappointing documentation. Used with the Audio Origami PU7 tonearm (with which it's often paired), the Palmer Audio 2.5 impressed MF with its "attractive, velvety midband," "black backgrounds," and "serenity and smooth musical flow." Especially where the PU7 is the intended partner, prospective owners are urged by MF to consider cartridges that, in other settings, might be considered on the lean side of neutral. Note that a special version of the 2.5, the Palmer Audio 2.5-12, is available especially for use with 12" tonearms. HR tried the PalmerAudio Origami combo in 2017 and was won over, observing of the Palmer 2.5 that a "constant sense of a silent, invisible force was [its] core virtue," and ultimately buying the review samples. Later that year he enjoyed pairing the Palmer turntable and Audio Origami arm with the comparatively "analytical" AMG Teatro cartridge (see elsewhere in Recommended Components). (Vol.37 No.11, Vol.40 Nos.7 & 10)

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

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

Reed Muse 3C TT: $21,500
The question of belt vs friction drive is addressed by the distinctively styled Reed Muse 3C, which can be ordered in either mode—or, for an upcharge, in a version in which the user can switch between the two, albeit not on the fly. In friction-drive mode, two DC motors, each topped with pliant rollers, make contact with and drive an aluminum-alloy hub on which sits the 9lb Delrin platter; in belt-drive mode, the two rollers are replaced with pulleys, and the user installs a belt and flips a toggle switch concealed under the platter. Also included are two generously sized armboards (12" tonearms are accommodated with ease), a digitally controlled system for leveling the turntable, and a stroboscopic speed-monitoring system built into the 3C's large, cylindrical, aluminum-alloy platter housing. Used with a Reed 3P tonearm and a Grado Lineage Epoch cartridge, the friction-drive Muse 3C impressed MF as "a most agreeable- and enjoyable-sounding record player" with "great drive and authoritative speed stability." In belt-drive mode, the 3C had a more appealing way with textures and spatial relationships, but its softer, less taut bass "soon had me returning to the friction rollers." (Vol.40 No.11)

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

SME 20/12A (includes 312S tonearm): $25,900 SME 20/12 (no tonearm): $23,900 ★
"Among the best-built turntables in the world," the SME 20/12 is a tank-like machine weighing more than 75lb. It has an oversized 14.3lb platter, and a 17.6lb aluminum-alloy subchassis secured by 10 O-rings from each of four suspension towers and will take 12" arms. Its three-phase, eight-pole motor uses an electronic controller to achieve precise speeds of 33.3, 45, and 78rpm. Though it lacked the bottom-end weight and macrodynamic range of even more expensive turntables, and had a slightly dry, analytical sound, the SME offered a very low noise floor and stable image specificity, said MF. (Vol.32 No.5 WWW)

SME Model 15 with 309 tonearm: $13,900 ★
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 10lb 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)

SME Synergy: $22,995 with Series IV tonearm
In December of 2019, SME announced that they would no longer offer tonearms as standalone items and would instead sell them only when bundled with SME turntables; in retrospect, that sheds light on the May 2018 introduction of the Synergy, SME's first-ever integrated record player. The Synergy combines a newly designed and relatively high-mass belt-drive turntable—one whose vibration-isolation scheme eschews the O-ring suspension used in previous SME models—with a magnesium-tube tonearm, an Ortofon Windfeld Ti MC cartridge, and a built-in Nagra phono preamplifier. The Synergy offers 33.3, 45, and 78rpm, all microfine-adjustable via the 'table's outboard power supply. Setting up the Synergy is relatively easy, as one might expect from an expensive turnkey player, but the "the Synergy is not exactly 'plug'n'play,'" according to MF, who also praised the "soundstage three-dimensionality" and "complete freedom from mechanical artifacts" of this "very competent and fine SME player." (Vol.42 No.11)

TechDAS Air Force V: $19,500 w/o tonearm With Phantom III Tonearm: $24,500
Though not a "budget" turntable in the accepted sense, that descriptor applies when considering the Air Force V in the context of its stablemates: According to MF, this most recent TechDAS turntable offers "all the important features, impressive build quality, and clever engineering for which TechDAS is known. Said features include an air-bearing platter and vacuum record clamping alongside an inboard AC motor, a robust machined-aluminum chassis, and fittings for mounting up to four tonearms. (Additional armboards are extra-cost options). Used with the latest B-44 MkIII version of the Graham Engineering Phantom tonearm, the SAT CF1-09, and the Thales Statement arm, the Air Force V provided Mikey with internote silences that were "stupidly quiet," plus "sharp and cleanly drawn" transients and "snappy and satisfying rhythm'n'pacing," although the V missed the generous expression of room sound associated with the more expensive TechDAS models. (Vol.42 No.9 WWW)

Technics SL-1000R: $18,999 Technics SP-10R motor unit: $10,999
In 2018, Technics did something that had seemed unthinkable even five years earlier: They tooled up to make a brand-new, hand-built-in-Japan version of their flagship direct-drive turntable. The SP-10R motor unit is built around a brand-new double-coil, twin-rotor, coreless direct-drive motor, topped with a 17.5lb brass-and-aluminum platter controlled by an outboard switching power supply, and built into a metal chassis that allows drop-in replacement of older SP-10s in existing plinths. The SP-10R is also available with a newly designed plinth and tonearm, comprising a complete player sold as the Technics SL-1000R ($20,000); the new arm, fixed to an armboard at the usual 2 o'clock position, can't be swapped out for other makes/models, but the user can add up to two auxiliary armboards. MF praised the SL-1000R, noting that its "accuracy and stability of speed helped produce precise but not overly sharp transients that helped contribute to a complete absence of listening fatigue." He also described the player's sound as "serenity-inducing . . . and refreshingly non-mechanical," although he noted that the SL-1000R "did not produce the 'blackest' backgrounds behind the music," and that the bottom end was "not as explosive, muscular, or grippy" as with other players. (Vol.41 No.11)

Technics SP10R with OMA iron plinth: $22,000
Perhaps spurred by the success accorded Technics' recent SP-10R turntable (see elsewhere in "Recommended Components"), Oswalds Mill Audio has designed for that and earlier Technics motor units their SP10 Plinth System, which combines a base unit made of hypoeutectic iron—said to combine high mass with exceptional rigidity and vibration-damping properties—with a removable armboard of torrefied ash, the latter adaptable to tonearms ranging from 9" to 12" and longer. The SP10 is large (26.125" wide by 4.125" high by 20.125" deep) and very heavy (110lb without turntable), and is available in clear or black powder finishes; the price has yet to be determined, but is expected to be under $10,000—ie, less than the SP-10R itself. Writing of his experiences with the SP-10R and Schröder CB tonearm mounted in the OMA Plinth System, MF described an "austere" sound that was "rhythmically taut and, overall, 'together' from top to bottom," with music pouring forth from "the 'blackest' backdrops," leading him to praise this pricey plinth as "one super energy sink." (Vol.42 No.2)

VPI Avenger Reference: $20,500 including FatBoy tonearm
The heavy (85lb) Avenger Reference is built on a plinth made from layers of acrylic and aluminum, shaped with three outriggers fitted with massive steel corner posts, themselves supported by aluminum cones resting on Delrin/ball-bearing isolation bases. A cantilevered aluminum armboard clamps to the tops of those corner posts—the Avenger Reference can simultaneously accommodate up to three tonearms—and the platter is rim-driven by an idler wheel that is itself belt-driven by two AC synchronous motors. The idler drives a lower platter that's precision-machined from aluminum; that platter propels, by means of magnetic drive, a similar upper platter—a thin gap is maintained between the two. The Avenger Reference is fitted with VPI's Fatboy tonearm, a 12" unipivot with a 3D-printed polymer armtube. (Additional Fatboys are available for $6000 for the complete tonearm, $4000 for a spare armtube only.) Despite isolation feet that "provided little actual isolation," Mikey found that the Avenger Reference "fulfilled the promise of rim drive's benefits minus the noise and rumble." He noted the 'table's "excellent speed stability and consistency," and praised the combo for producing "'black' backgrounds." (Vol.41 No.12)

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

B

Analogueworks TT-Zero: $1695 (with blank armboard)
If the importance of a product can be gauged by the number of people who reproduce it, then the original Spacedeck turntable, designed by Tom Fletcher and manufactured by Nottingham Analogue, must be the most important turntable of the past 30-odd years. The most recent company to design and manufacture its take on the Spacedeck formula—in which a heavy platter is driven by a motor of such low torque that the user must physically nudge the platter to start it spinning—is AnalogueWorks, a British company whose entry-level Zero turntable, supplied with a Jelco SA-750 tonearm (price is $2095 with tonearm), impressed HR. The Zero is built on a birch-ply plinth and has a low-torque AC motor topped with a stepped pulley with separate grooves for 33.3 and 45rpm, and an aluminum platter whose bronze bearing appears especially well engineered. Used with a variety of cartridges, the Zero and SA-750 delighted Herb with their "uniquely unhurried, understated brand of forward momentum" and grainless trebles. The combo's greatest shortcoming: "an ever-so-slightly vacant midrange that . . . forced me to peer into its depths in search of more tangible bits of wood, metal, and flesh." HR's verdict: "Class B sound at a low Class C price." (Vol.40 No.7 WWW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VPI Prime Scout: $2500
When the history of domestic audio is written, the late 2010s will be remembered as a time of reinvigoration for VPI, a recent example of which is Prime Scout: a belt-drive turntable with a solid plinth, an aluminum platter, and an outboard AC motor, bundled with the company's JMW 9 unipivot turntable. A Delrin clamp for the platter and a thread-and-weight antiskating mechanism for the arm—the latter a bit of a departure for VPI—are also included, as are an easy-to-use cartridge-alignment jig and an electronic downforce gauge. AD thought the platter clamp added an unwelcome touch of fussiness to the sound, but was otherwise impressed with the Prime Scout, praising its talents for preserving sonic colors, communicating musical drive, and "throwing a remarkably big, spacious, convincingly detailed soundstage" when playing records so inscribed. Art's measurements, such as they were, revealed that the Prime Scout ran a little fast, and exhibited more wow than his 1950s idler-wheel Garrard, although wow was not excessive in absolute terms: wow! As AD said at the end, "As they say in New Jersey, what's not to like?" (Vol.40 No.10 WWW)

C

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

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

D

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

Deletions
Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101.3, replaced by new version not yet reviewed. Acoustic Signature Ascona Mk.2, Analogueworks TT-Zero, Brinkmann Bardo, Pear Audio Blue Kid Thomas, VPI HRX not auditioned in a long time.

Tonearms

A+

SAT CF1-09: €48,000 SAT CF1-12: €50,000
In 2018, after selling 70 of his original Swedish Analog Technologies Tonearms, designer Marc Gomez discontinued it and replaced it with two new tonearms. The more expensive, the CF1-09, is now the company's flagship. The CF1-09's tapered, hand-lapped, "naked"-carbon-fiber armtube has an effective length of 9" and incorporates a number of parts machined from solid stainless steel—including a new vertical bearing yoke that's far more massive than that of the original SAT arm and makes the CF1-09 too heavy for turntables with spring-suspended subchassis—and its newly designed hardened bearings exhibit far tighter tolerances. Also available is the 12" CF1-12. Mikey tried the CF1-12 in place of the Schröder CB arm on the OMA SP10 Plinth System, and praised the SAT's "more explosive," "warmer," and "fuller" sound. (Vol.41 No.11, Vol.42 No.2)

A

Acoustic Signature TA-9000: $23,995
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 812Hz. Acoustic Signature offers these upgrades without charge to owners of the original TA-9000. (Vol.39 No.12, Vol.40 No.7)

AMG 12JT: $8500
This tonearm features a unique, dual-pivot horizontal bearing system (for vertical movement) and a vertical bearing (for horizontal movement) that uses a hardened tool-steel axle with top and bottom micro ball bearings. The antiskating mechanism uses a pair of adjustable magnets that can be moved closer to or farther away from an opposing ring magnet, and azimuth is adjusted with a knurled knob. See MF's review of the AMG Viella Forte Engraved turntable ("Turntables"). (Vol.43 No.9 WWW)

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

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

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

Bergmann Odin Tonearm System: $13,400
The Bergmann Odin is an air-bearing, linear-tracking tonearm in the mold of the Eminent Technology Tonearm 2, of the late 1980s. But where the sliding portion of the older arm was a longish aluminum tube—the arm's effective mass was thus greater in the horizontal than vertical plane—the armtube of the Odin is attached to a 3"-long sleeve of comparatively low mass, which rides along an "airtube" that's held rigid at both ends and whose level is adjustable. (Bergmann claims for the Odin an effective mass of 14gm.) Also adjustable are VTA/SRA and overhang; Bergmann suggests that the Odin is azimuth-adjustable, but that wasn't so on the review sample provided to MF, a former owner of the ET Tonearm 2 and now a bit of a linear-tracking skeptic. The Bergmann combination of Odin tonearm and Galder turntable (see Turntables) "perform way above their total price," MF concluded. Air pump included. (Vol.41 No.7)

Brinkmann 10.5: $5990 ★ Brinkmann 12.1: $6290 ★
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. 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, Vol.28 No.5)

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

Graham Engineering Phantom Elite 9": $13,000–$14,000 depending on length. ★
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)

Graham Engineering Phantom III: $7900 (10 inch length)
A less expensive alternative to the Graham Phantom Elite, the new Phantom III improves on its predecessor, the Phantom II, with a titanium arm wand, a more massive bearing housing, and, inside that housing, wiring that's claimed to produce less physical resistance as the arm moves. A new counterweight permits a wider range of cartridge weights, and Graham's patented Magneglide stabilization system has been further improved. After using it with a TechDAS Air Force III turntable, which Graham distributes, MF wrote that "it was immediately clear that the Phantom III's bass reproduction was far more robust and controlled than that of the Phantom II Supreme that I owned." The Phantom III's price drops to $5000 when bundled with the Air Force III. (Vol.41 No.1)

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

Kuzma 4Point: $4470 and up
Designed by Franc Kuzma and available in 9", 11", and 14" versions, this tonearm takes its name from its four-point bearing system: Four carefully arranged points contact four cups, permitting the arm to move in both the vertical and lateral planes while avoiding the chatter of gimbaled bearings and the instability of unipivot designs. A removable headshell makes swapping cartridges painless, while adjustment of VTF, VTA, antiskating, and azimuth are relatively simple. With its outstanding immediacy, transparency, and overall coherence, the 4Point consistently exceeded Mikey's expectations. Compared to the combo of Continuum Cobra arm and Ortofon A90 cartridge, the 4Point with Lyra Titan i offered greater timbral, textural, and image solidity, said MF. Compared with the Cobra, the Kuzma sounded more natural and energetic. "The Kuzma 4Point may be the finest tonearm out there, period," said MF. The Kuzma matched the Graham Phantom II Supreme's detail retrieval and neutrality but offered greater speed and coherence, said MF. As reported in the July 2019 Stereophile, KM's review sample of the Kuzma Stabi R turntable came with a 4Point 11" ($6675 as supplied), which proved "eminently and easily adjustable." Also offered with regular phono cables/no RCA box for $6375. (Vol.34 Nos.9 & 10, Vol.35 No.7, Vol.39 No.3, Vol.39 No.11, Vol.41 No.6, Vol.42 No.7, WWW)

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

Reed 5T: $21,500
This pivoted tonearm has a unique design that uses a servo-controlled, battery-powered motor and a laser to enable it to track tangentially and also to address antiskating. Compared to pivoted tonearms, the 5T's smaller moment of inertia allows for better tracking. Care must be taken when cueing cartridges with the Reed arm, as moving too fast will disable the servo mechanism. The 5T, mounted on the Reed Muse 1c turntable and fitted with an Ortofon MC Century cartridge, sounded "wonderful," said MF, and "excelled in soundstage stability and expansiveness, all across the record surface." (Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

SAT LM-09: €25,000
Engineer Marc Gomez has replaced his original Swedish Analog Technologies Tonearm with two new tonearms, one slightly less expensive, the other considerably more so. The former is the LM-09, which retains the original model's basic design elements—tungsten-carbide bearings with user-adjustable pre-loading, and a 9" armtube made of carbon-fiber laminates—while offering lower overall mass by means of an aluminum rather than a stainless-steel bearing yoke. The new SAT arm also has more robust bearings and a stiffer armtube, and its detachable headshell has been redesigned to provide more rigid coupling and smoother rotational action, the latter for more precise setting of azimuth. The new LM-09 is a drop-in replacement for the original SAT arm; MF compared them and heard "faster, cleaner, and better resolved" reproduction. For $29,000, SAT offers a 12" version, the LM-12, although designer Gomez still suggests that, all else being equal, 9" arms offer superior performance. (Vol.41 No.10)

Schick 12" Tonearm: $1995 ★
Made in Germany and now distributed in the United States by Mofi Distribution, the Thomas Schick 12" tonearm is intended to combine the greater-than-average length and mass of certain vintage models with the high-quality bearings of modern arms. It offers superb fit and finish, with a clean, spare bearing cradle and a smoothly solid pickup-head socket. Though lacking the spring-loaded downforce and other refinements of the EMT 997—and, thus, some measure of the more expensive arm's performance—the Schick is characterized by a big, clean, substantial sound, with an especially colorful bottom end: "a superb performer," per AD, who also verified the correctness of the Schick's geometry with Keith Howard's ArmGeometer freeware. According to Art, "The Schick tonearm is an outstanding value and easily the most accessible transcription-length arm on the market." Thomas Schick has now added to his line a proprietary headshell ($295) 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." Now with balanced cable. (Vol.33 .Nos.3 & 6, Vol.34 No.10, Vol.37 No.11 WWW)

Schröder Captive Bearing (CB) tonearm: $5500 (9" version)
See MF's reviews of the Döhmann Helix One Mk2 turntable, which uses this arm with the carbon fiber armtube. The 11" version costs $6000. (Vol.40 No.3 WWW & Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

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

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

Thales Statement: $20,250 to $23,630 (depending on coating)
Micha Huber, a former watchmaker and the chief designer at the Swiss manufacturing firm Thales, has spent nearly 20 years perfecting the concept of a pivoting rather than straight-line tangential-tracking tonearm. The Statement is his magnum opus. Earlier Thales arms used an articulated auxiliary arm, in addition to the main armtube, to continually adjust the headshell's tangency to the record groove; the Statement is "more elegant," with its slender, two-tube arm structure, encapsulated cardanic main bearing, and a headshell articulated by means of micro ball bearings. MF praised the Statement's construction quality—"if you didn't know [it] was designed by a watchmaker, you might have guessed it anyway"—and praised its image stability, bottom-end power and grip, and "solid, well-articulated [note] attacks and convincing sustains." (Vol.42 No.5)

B

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

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

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

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

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

Deletions
SME 309, SME 3125, Spiral Groove Centroid, no longer available.

Phono Cartridges

A

Air Tight PC-1 Coda: $9500
Manufactured for Air Tight by Yoshio Matsudaira of My Sonic Lab, the PC-1 Coda MC cartridge has a very low impedance of 1.7 ohms and an output of 0.5mV, the latter higher than the moving-coil norm. Its body is made from an alloy of aluminum, magnesium, and silicon, plated first in nickel and then in chrome. Compliance specs aren't supplied for the 12.7gm PC-1 Coda, but the tracking-force range is given as 2-2.2g; MF found the lower number insufficient and declared the cartridge's tracking capabilities only "moderately good" at best. Yet the PC-1 Coda impressed him as a "masterfully voiced, low-coloration cartridge that worked well with all musical genres." (Vol.42 No.4)

Audio MusiKraft DL-103: $1499–$2759 ★
MusiKraft started business making precision-machined metal shells for the classic Denon DL-103 cartridge, but soon found themselves selling shells with stock DL-103s installed, and shell-only sales ended in late 2019. These "First Series" products are sold direct only, and are distinct from the company's Nitro Series products, which use modified Denon cartridges, and which we have not auditioned. The MusiKraft shell is machined in such a way that its two pieces, when assembled, tightly clamp the Denon cartridge's top plate; each shell is pre-drilled with five sets of tapped mounting holes, thus making cartridge mounting and alignment easier than ever. Prices start at $1499 for a clear-anodized aluminum shell in which a new Denon DL-103 has been installed. A MusiKraft Denon with a polished aluminum-lithium shell ($1689) impressed AD all to hell and back: The MusiKraft lacked "the slight treble glare" associated with his stock Denon 103, and provided "pitches and pitch relationships [that] were steadily, solidly right," and "vocal textures and tones with real meat and color." In 2019, MusiKraft introduced a bronze shell ($1959 with DL-103); whether or not because the higher-mass material is more suited to the low-compliance 103, the new version impressed AD with an even more nuanced, impactful sound. Even in light of a recent price increase, AD felt the MusiKraft combinations of high-tech shells and stock DL-103 cartridges offer very good value. (Vol.40 No.8, Vol.42 No.10 WWW)

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

DS Audio Master 1: $20,000 with equalizer
The Master 1 is the top model in DS Audio's line of three optical cartridges—transducers that use the vibrations of a phonograph needle to modulate the otherwise steady output of an LED, rather than generate an electrical signal from scratch (sorry)—and replaces the DS-W1, which MF reviewed in the September 2015 Stereophile. Because the vast majority of phono stages are designed to cope with signals produced by velocity-sensitive cartridges, the amplitude-sensitive Master 1 requires a very different sort of stage, and so a dedicated equalizer is included in its not-inconsiderable price. In his review of the DS-W1, Mikey had wondered if the "distractingly overemphasized bass" he heard was attributable to a flaw in that product's equalizer; that guess became a near certainty when he tried the Master 1 with its all-new equalizer: the latter offers three different output curves, and one offered enjoyably flat, unboosted bass. The verdict: "In the Master 1, DS Audio has fulfilled the promise of the original DS-W1." Pertinent specs: The Master 1 weighs 8.1gm, sports a MicroRidge stylus on a sapphire cantilever, and requires a downforce of 1.6–1.8gm. (Vol.41 No.10)

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

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

Etsuro Erushi Cobalt Blue: $5500
Etsuro Urushi's Cobalt Blue moving-coil cartridge—the least expensive of its three models—features scantly wound coils, a samarium-cobalt magnet with soft-iron flux-director pieces, and a sapphire-pipe cantilever fitted with a Microline stylus, all in a Duralumin body covered with blue Urushi lacquer. Specs include an impedance of 3 ohms, output of 0.25mV, and a weight of 8.1gm. HR got the best from the Cobalt Blue by pairing it with the 1:10 version of the EMIA Phono step-up transformer, writing that during the time it was in his system, "I never once took the Cobalt Blue's beguiling occupy-the-room presentation for granted. Every day it pleased me. Every day I thought, This cartridge could compete with any cartridge at any price." HR's closing thoughts: "I could dream away my sunset years listening only with the Etsuro Urushi Cobalt Blue: It does everything I desire." "Analog is sensuous and tactile by nature, as is the character of the Etsuro Urushi Cobalt Blue," he subsequently wrote. (Vol.42 No.8, Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

Fuuga: $9275
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—0.35mV and 2.5 ohms, respectively—and the hyperelliptical stylus tracks at 2.0–2.2gm. In his original review, 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." In a follow-up, MF concluded that "Its spectral balance is as neutral as that of any transducer I've experienced, and its transient performance satisfies on every musical genre and maintains its consistency from bottom to top." (Vol.38 No.10, Vol.43 No.9 WWW)

Grado Epoch3: $12,000
Mikey wrote that the original Epoch, a moving-iron design with a sapphire cantilever that pivoted at its innermost end and a body machined from the tonewood cocobolo, "glided silently and smoothly through the groove like no other cartridge I've heard." He also heard from the Epoch "a harmonic and textural richness laid on without too thick a coating of aural honey." The Epoch3 includes a newly developed four-step shielding technique that, according to Grado, "allows for the isolation of the wire turns in the four coils." MF found that the Epoch3 was similar in character to the original (and measured and tracked equally well), but "gets a better grip on everything, particularly in the bass and midbass, and is better focused." (Vol.40 No.12, original Epoch; Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

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

Grado Lineage Series Aeon3: $6000
This low-output (1mV) moving-iron cartridge is housed in a broad cocobolo-wood body that, according to John Grado, allows more of the cartridge's 12gm mass to be balanced around the stylus point, stabilizing the motions of the cantilever. HR was surprised that when the Aeon3 was mounted on the J.Sikora Initial turntable, it out-Koetsu-ed the psychedelic Koetsu Rosewood Signature. "The Koetsu sounded slightly brighter, punchier, and sprightlier—but not more full-power dynamic than the Aeon3," he wrote, though he felt that the Grado was less corporeal than the Koetsu in the upper registers. After comparing the Aeon3 with other cartridges, both on the Initial and on the Dr. Feickert Blackbird turntable, HR decided that the Grado appeared to be "uncovering new, previously buried deposits of recorded microdata. That trait alone is making LPs extra-engaging and more pleasurable," he concluded. (Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

Haniwa HCTR-CO: $10,000
A new cartridge with the same model number, this moving-coil cartridge tracked everything cleanly at 1.2gm downforce, found MF. Used with the HCVC01 passive current-to-voltage converter (see "Phono Preamplifiers"), its presentation was on the cool side, though MF noted that "warm records did not lose their warmth altogether. The bottom end on everything I played, while not as prominent and rich-sounding as I've heard it, was taut, well-defined, and all there." He described the combination's presentation as "superfast, clean, transparent, and transient-precise" with excellent rhythm'n'pacing. (Vol.42 No.10, Vol.43 No.7 WWW)

Kiseki Purpleheart (NS): $3199 ★
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)

Koetsu Onyx Platinum: $10,995
As AD noted in the December 2018 issue, "To compare the specifications of Koetsu's 15 different models is to glimpse little in the way of variety: all Koetsu cartridges have the same recommended ranges of VTF and load impedance; all of their platinum-magnet cartridges have the same 0.3mV output, while all their samarium-cobalt magnet cartridges output 0.4mV." That said, it turns out the Onyx Platinum's nominal mineral was the first nonwood, nonmetal material used in a Koetsu cartridge—and its nominal element went on to be used for the magnets in all of the company's top-end cartridges. Whether that makes the Onyx Platinum the pivotal model in Koetsu's line is anyone's guess—but AD was smitten by its abilities to let music sound colorful, forceful, well textured, and downright human when called for. (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum: $8495
Designed by Fumihiko Sugano, son of Koetsu founder Yoshiaki Sugano, the Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum exhibits moderately low output (0.3mV), moderately low resistance (5 ohms), expects a downforce of 1.8?2.0gm, and is priced more or less in the very middle of Koetsu's product line. Writing of his time with the Rosewood Signature Platinum, HR wrote that "this Koetsu, with its lacquered rosewood body, silver-plated copper coils, quadrahedral stylus profile, boron cantilever, and platinum magnet, gave me a sixth-row seat for [a] long-cherished recording." When Herb loaded it with 100 ohms, "the result was an exceedingly rich and unaffected sound," and the Koetsu "seemed engineered to do nothing but hold my attention—my pleasurable fascination—as it showed me the art behind the music." (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

Kuzma CAR-50: $6195 Kuzma CAR-60: $13,950
The first cartridges from Kuzma are the moving-coil CAR-50 and CAR-60, both of which have a chunky machined-aluminum body with a brass coupling plate machined with three pairs of threaded mounting holes; the CAR-50's MicroRidge stylus is fitted to a sapphire cantilever, while the CAR-60's cantilever is made of diamond. MF observed that the sounds of the two models "[both] sounded smooth without ever sounding soft—smooth like skating on ice." That smoothness, MF wrote, "prevented percussive transients on top and bottom from developing excitement-generating bite and textural grip." Mikey admitted to regarding the CAR-50 as "bland" and noted that the far more expensive CAR-60 "lacked the slam or bass grip . . . to do rock'n'roll justice." One issue later, Mikey reported that the Kuzma-recommended load of >100 ohms for both CARs was intended by the manufacturer to read <100 ohms, and put his earlier remarks into perspective, noting that "my 'excitement' is someone else's ear-bleed," and reminding the reader that the CAR-60 in particular offers "what you should expect [for over $10,000]" in terms of bottom-end extension and resolution of low-level detail. (Vol.41 Nos.3 & 4)

Lyra Atlas SL λ Lambda: $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 this most recent version of 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. Upon auditioning the new λ Lambda version, in which "the tapered dampers of the original cartridges are separated into flat, elastomer damping discs, while an additional support 'pillow' has been added to serve as the cantilever preload element," MF wrote that it "sounds like an entirely new cartridge," possessing a "quality of top-to-bottom, luxurious textural suppleness, sustain, timbral generosity, and midband warmth, while losing none of the speed, slam, and detail retrieval for which the Atlas SL (and the brand in general) is best known." (Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

Miyajima Labs Destiny: $7500
As with other Miyajima models, the Destiny is a "cross-ring" MC design that places the cantilever's suspension dampers in front of the coil former: Thus is the motor's fulcrum positioned for maximal dynamic swings as compared with other designs. Other specs include an African blackwood body, a 16 ohm internal impedance, output of 0.23mV, a recommended downforce of 2.5gm, and a line-contact stylus that's nude-mounted in a metal ferrule, itself bonded to a tapered-bamboo cantilever. In addition to praising the Destiny's build quality—azimuth and SRA were both spot-on—MF reveled in the new cartridge's sonic presentation, which "takes the [Miyajima] Snakewood's speed and detail, backs it off slightly, returns some of the early [Miyajimas'] bottom-end richness and weight, and makes everything bigger and bolder, yet well-proportioned." His conclusion: "the Destiny is for now Miyajima Labs' best performing cartridge." (Vol.42 No.12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ortofon MC A Mono: $4999
The MC A Mono ($4999) is an Ortofon A95 moving-coil cartridge (reviewed in May and June 2015) with the cross-coil armature rotated 45° and wound only on the lateral axis so that it only reads horizontal (mono) groove modulations. It retains the stereo version's boron cantilever and Replicant 100 stylus profile. While MF still heard a few pops and ticks when listening to a mono album that had suffered from some "wear crackle," he found that the "wear crackle" was gone. "Not just diminished: gone," he wrote, adding that while the stereo A95's smooth, even, spectrally balanced persona was also evident, "standing behind that was the stability and black backdrop that only a true mono cartridge can provide." He described the MC A Mono as producing a more intense and forward picture (though neither cool nor bright) than the Miyajimas or the Grado Epoch3, concluding "It's one to consider if mono rock albums are in your mix, but not if you want more romance—in your phono cartridge, that is." (Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

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

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

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

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

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

TechDAS TDC01 Ti: $12,500
Created for the Japanese turntable specialists TechDAS by Yoshio Matsudaira of My Sonic Lab—he has also made cartridges for Air Tight, Haniwa, and others—the titanium-encased TDC01 Ti is notably heavy at 17gm, notably pricey at $16,000, and combines a low internal impedance of 1.4 ohms with a surprisingly high output of 0.45mV. Also notably, TechDAS recommends for the TDC01 Ti a higher-than-expected load impedance of 100?200 ohms—something that MF sidestepped by directing its output to the current-gain inputs of his CH Precision P1/X1 phono preamp. Used thus, the TechDAS cartridge rewarded Mikey with "an authoritarian dynamic slam" not generally associated with its designer, coupled with the more typical "sheen of Matsudaira's house sound—a pleasing smoothness that made strings sing [and] revealed buttery textures in women's voices." Build quality, MF noted, was "as high as you'd expect for that kind of money." (Vol.41 No.4)

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

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

Tzar DST: $10,000
Tzar DST (wood-bodied): $11,000

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 theoretical 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.) AD asked, "Is there a place in the market for a $10,000, Siberia-made phono cartridge?" The Tzar DST answers with a resounding Yes. In a follow-up, MF echoed AD's praise for the original Tzar and said about the wood-bodied version, which also has a brass top plate, that it produced "all of the aluminum-bodied version's weight and 'straight from the groove to your body and brain' musical communication, but it lightened the heaviness somewhat, with some rounding and airiness where the original was angular and literal." (Vol.39 No.1, Vol.43 No.9, WWW)

B

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

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

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

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

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

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

Koetsu Rosewood Mono: $4495
Nominally, the Koetsu Rosewood Mono has nothing up its sleeve: It is, indeed, a Koetsu Rosewood cartridge—an enduringly popular moving-coil model and surely among the very first wood-bodied cartridges to cross our path—and it is, indeed, intended for use only with monophonic records. (Whether it contains a true single-channel motor or a stereo motor strapped for mono, MF doesn't know: Koetsu did not provide specifications.) Extrapolating from the more common stereo Koetsu Rosewoods, MF estimates the Mono's output as 0.4mV, its internal impedance as 5 ohms, and its tracking-force range as 1.8?2gm. Under the Rosewood Mono's stylus, the recent mono reissue of Duke Ellington's Masterpieces by Ellington was "in full bloom," according to Mikey, "if somewhat at the expense of bass attack and transient bite." His conclusion: the Koetsu Rosewood Mono is a good choice "if your system needs a bit of softening of transients." (Vol.41 No.3)

Koetsu Rosewood Standard: $3995
Among moving-coil cartridges that bear the Koetsu brand—products as reliably boxy in shape as they are exotic in the materials used for their bodies—the Rosewood Standard is among the most affordable. Mounted inside its rosewood housing is a motor built with samarium-cobalt magnets, 99.9999%-pure copper coils, and a boron cantilever, to which is bonded a stylus with a hyperelliptical tip. Specs for the Rosewood Standard include an output of 0.45mV, an impedance of 5 ohms, and a recommended downforce of 1.8–2gm. After using Koetsu in his system, HR praised the Rosewood Standard's tight imaging and "slam-dance excitement," while noting that "[m]ost impressive was how the Koetsu exposed extremely subtle, almost subliminal instrumental textures . . . while making nearly imperceptible changes in those instruments' tonalities seem beautiful and important." (Vol.41 No.4 WWW)

London Maroon: $995 $$$ ★
With its spherical stylus, the Maroon is the least expensive of the British-built London cartridges: Deccas in all but name, and all featuring the same Deccades-old (sorry) "positive-scanning" design in which the stylus is fastened directly to the generator mechanism. Basic specs include high output (5mV), moderate downforce (1.8–2gm), 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)

MoFi Electronics MasterTracker: $799 $$$
MoFi's best moving-magnet cartridge, the MasterTracker is built in Japan using a US-made body machined from aluminum for optimal resonance control. Its twin magnets, reportedly the lightest ones in MoFi's MM line, are aligned in a V formation parallel to the walls of a stereo groove, and its tapered aluminum cantilever is fitted with a Micro-line stylus. Pertinent specs include an output of 3.0mV and a downforce range of 1.8–2.2gm. After using the MasterTracker with MoFi's UltraDeck record player, HR wrote that he had "never ever experienced such vitality and sharp focus from an MM cartridge," and that, "more surprisingly, this sharp focus did not come from lean, dry, or overdamped sound. The MasterTracker was simply getting all of the energy off the record." (Vol.41 No.2 WWW)

MuTech Kanda: $4500
Like the Transfiguration Temper before it, the MuTech RM-Kanda Hayabusa moving-coil cartridge uses a yokeless system in which a mu-metal coil former is precisely positioned within a powerful neodymium ring magnet. The proximity of coil to magnet and the coil's position at the magnet's center is claimed to produce a uniformity of magnetic flux field—and, in MF's words, "more linear frequency response and greater spatial coherence." That this low-impedance (1.5 ohm) cartridge outputs a relatively healthy output (0.45mV) is further evidence of its magnetic efficiency. Other specs include a boron cantilever, a semi-line-contact stylus, and a recommended downforce of 1.8–2.0gm. In Mikey's system, the RM-Kanda Hayabusa was "more linear and honest than flashy or wow-inducing," and its top-to-bottom response featured "well-controlled, unbloated bass, a smooth, full-bodied midrange, and satisfying top-end extension and air." (Vol.42 No.3)

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

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

Rega Aphelion 2 MC cartridge: $4995
Like Rega's previous flagship cartridge, the Apheta, which endures in the line, their new Aphelion is a moving-coil that dispenses with suspension dampers and a tie wire. The Aphelion's output is 0.35mV, its internal impedance is 10 ohms, and its recommended downforce range is 1.75–2.0gm. Used with Rega's flagship RP10 turntable and companion RB2000 tonearm (see elsewhere in Recommended Components), the Aphelion provided a quality of playback that was "seat-of-the-pants exciting," but was also lacking in warmth. It was "too lean, too fast, just plain too much," according to MF. (Vol.41 No.2)

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

C

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

Dynavector DV 10X5: $750 $$$ ★
Besides subtle changes in magnet material and coil-winding techniques, the latest iteration of Dynavector's classic moving-coil design has threaded mounting holes for simple installation and alignment. It weighs 7.3gm, has an output of 2.5mV, and uses an elliptical stylus tip and aluminum cantilever. Recommended load impedance is anything greater than 1000 ohms; recommended tracking force is 1.8–2.2gm. 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)

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 MM cartridge: $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)

D

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
Ikeda 9Gss, Ortofon MC Century, no longer available. Audio-Technica AT95E, Lyra Atlas, Atlas SL, Atlas Mono, Etna, Etna SL replaced by new versions not yet reviewed. Gold Note Tuscany Gold, not auditioned in a long time.

Phono Preamplifiers

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)

Boulder 2108: $52,000
When he reviewed Boulder's flagship 2008 phono preamplifier in 2002, MF concluded that "it's hard to believe that, for some time to come, any [phono preamp] will equal or surpass the monumental performance of Boulder's 2008." Almost two decades later, the new two-box flagship replaces the 2008's three power supplies with four: left, right, logic, and an independent standby supply. The through-hole components and boards have been replaced by surface-mount equivalents, and the circuitry features proprietary, house-made, "phono-specific," 993S and 995S discretely implemented "op-amp" modules. There are now three equalization choices, as well as switchable high-pass filters at 10Hz and 20Hz. Gain is adjustable. With the MC input, the default loading impedance is 100 ohms, though resistors can be added to provide impedances from 50 ohms to 1000 ohms in 25 ohm increments. When set to MC, the third input offers a 1k ohm impedance. The MM input's loading is also adjusted with resistors, from 1k ohm to 10k ohms, while the third input set to MM offers the usual 47k ohms. And the sound? "The 2108 produces both a sense of soaring exultation in the upper registers and gritty drama in the lowest one," enthused MF, adding "Boulder detractors who think their products are too analytical, sounding dry and bleached, ought to give the 2108 a listen." He concluded that the 2108 "is very musical, plus, like the original 2008, it is granite-like in the best possible sense." (Vol.43 Nos.8 & 10 WWW)

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

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

A

Channel D Lino C 2.0: $2699
The Channel D Lino C 2.0 is a current-mode phono preamp and as such is intended for use with cartridges that combine low output and, especially, low internal impedance. This battery-powered, solid-state design comes with a wall wart for charging, which takes place automatically; once the Lino C detects a signal, the charger is electrically disconnected and the preamp itself is galvanically isolated. Inputs are balanced (XLR) only, requiring the user of a nonbalanced tonearm-output cable to buy and add an adaptor, but both balanced and single-ended (RCA) outputs are supplied, and there are DIP switches inside for adjusting gain. MF praised this phono preamp's "drop-dead, noise-free backgrounds and lack of obvious colorations," observing that the $2499 Lino C "operates way above its pay grade." JCA also noted that the Lino was extremely quiet, and, compared with the current-mode Sutherland Loco, the Lino "seemed subjectively brighter—but not bright—which led to more sparkle on high piano notes." In a follow-up, JA noted impressive measured performance including superbly accurate RIAA equalization. He noted that the Lino C 2.0 offered vanishingly low harmonic distortion before the onset of clipping, as well as extremely low levels of intermodulation distortion. (Vol.42 No.6; Vol.43 Nos.2 & 4 WWW)

Channel D Seta Model L: $3799
Designed to take full advantage of the Pure Vinyl app'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," wrote 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. He subsequently purchased the review sample. An optional internal RIAA compensation module adds $1199. (Vol.33 No.8, Vol.36 No.12, Vol.43 No.11 WWW)

Consolidated Audio "Monster Can": $5700
The review sample of this 1:20 step-up transformer featured a low-inductance Nano Crystalline core wound with 99.99% silver wire. (Versions are also available with a mu-metal core and copper windings, with 1:10 and 1:15 turns ratios.) MF found that the Monster Can produced "open, transparent, supple, rich sound," concluding "While hardly inexpensive, the $5700 Consolidated SUT strikes me as a good deal, especially if you want silver wire." (Vol.43 No.8 WWW)

EMIA Phono step-up transformer, with copper wire: $2700
Dave Slagle, whose radically rebuilt Quad ESL loudspeakers have astounded more than a few listeners, winds his own step-up transformers and sells them under the brand name EMIA—a collaborative design and manufacturing effort with Jeffrey Jackson, who specializes in tube amplification and horn loudspeakers. The EMIA Phono transformer, which is housed in a steel box with solid walnut top and bottom plates, is unpotted, and has a fairly large core with 80% nickel content. In addition to one pair each of RCA input and output jacks—multiple primary coils aren't available—the EMIA Phono has a third pair of jacks, wired in parallel with the primary and intended for use with resistive plugs (supplied), for cartridges that might need such things. The EMIA is available with copper or silver windings; AD spent some quality time with a copper-wire version wound with a 15:1 ratio, for use with his EMT TSD 15 and Denon DL-103 cartridges. He described the EMIA as offering "an immense sense of drive" with his EMT, as well as "texture and tone in spades. In buckets. In tanker holds." All in all, AD found the EMIA to sound "clean, clear, rich, detailed, and, above all, musically exciting—all for approximately half the price of the deservedly well-regarded Hommage T2," the latter transformer being his longtime reference. (Vol.40 No.8 WWW)

Haniwa HCVC01: $6000
Featuring a pair of XLR inputs, a pair of RCA outputs, and a ground connection, this passive current-to-voltage converter is analogous to a step-up transformer. It is intended to feed a moving-magnet phono preamplifier that can handle its maximum output of 10mV. Used with Haniwa's HCTR-CO phono cartridge, the HCVX01 produced an excellent level of transparency "and (especially) timbral neutrality," noted MF, adding that "the presentation did veer toward cool." (Vol.43 No.7 WWW)

Lamm Industries LP2.1 Deluxe: $13,390 ★
The LP2.1 Deluxe—the adjective refers to this version's upgraded power supply, polystyrene bypass caps, and 20.5lb damping panel—is a single-box stereo phono preamp with tube rectification and pairs of Russian-made 6C3P and 6C45P-E triode tubes for the signal path. The dual-mono design has separate, switchable RCA-jack inputs for MM and MC cartridges, the latter of which address a pair of Jensen 1:10 step-up transformers for additional gain. Controls are minimal, with no provisions for varying the 400-ohm load of the MC inputs—although, as MF observed, that figure is "a good compromise for cartridges with internal impedances of about 40 ohms or less." MF found the "smooth-sounding, well-detailed" LP2.1 to be remarkably free from noise—even quieter than some solid-state phono preamps—and observed that "the sound of MCs through the LP2.1's transformers was impressively fast, detailed, open, dynamic, and resolving—all without added glare, grain, or etch." At the same time, he was even more impressed when preceding the Lamm's MM stage with the Ypsilon MC-10L step-up transformer ($6000), which "seriously upped the sound quality along with the price." Still, MF considers LP2.1 Deluxe "fully competitive with anything at or near that price." (Vol.38 No.3)

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

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

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)

PS Audio Stellar Phono: $2499 $$$
PS Audio's Stellar Phono offers separate pairs of (RCA) input jacks for MM and MC cartridges and a choice of single-ended and balanced outputs. Also on tap are three gain settings each for MM and MC and a choice of five loading settings for MC cartridges: four with preset values and a fifth that enables a pair of potentiometers to dial in custom settings between 1 ohm and 1k ohms; all other user controls except for the unit's power switch are addressed via the Stellar's remote handset. While noting that the PS Audio was "extremely sensitive" to grounding and outside interference, MF observed that "the midrange on this preamp is as open, uncongested, transparent, and revealing as that of any phono preamp I've heard at any price." Reporting from his test bench, JA wrote that the Stellar Phono is "among the quietest phono preamps" he has encountered, though he felt best results will be had via the lowest practical gain setting. (Vol.43 No.1 WWW)

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

Sutherland Engineering Little Loco: $3800
Although phono preamps that work on the current-amplification (as opposed to voltage-amplification) principle still account for a small minority of the market, that technology took a step forward in 2019 with the Sutherland Engineering Little Loco, itself a less expensive version of the company's recent Phono Loco. The Little Loco, a solid-state phono pre with 46dB of gain, is designed for moving-coil cartridges only, and even then not every make or model of cartridge will lock in with it. But at its best in Brian Damkroger's system, the "trivially easy to use" Little Loco provided "a completely new amount and level of detail," and on the test bench it coaxed JA into declaring, "This is a very linear circuit." Keep in mind that, as with all other current-amplification phono preamps, only cartridges with very low internal impedance are suitable, and one's phono cable must be ungrounded and fitted with XLR plugs or adaptors. (Vol.42 No.10 WWW)

Sutherland Engineering Phono Loco: $8200
The imperative use as directed no longer applies solely to big pharma: In recent years it has become key to the enjoyment of that newest hi-fi category, the current-amplification phono preamp, which shines with moving-coil cartridges of very low internal impedance yet fails with all others. So it is with the Phono Loco, the dearer of two current-amplification models from Sutherland Engineering. Like the more affordable Sutherland Little Loco ($3800), the Phono Loco offers user-adjustable gain; the more expensive model differs in its use of higher-quality parts and a more robust power supply. The Phono Loco rewarded MF with "finely focused . . . solidly three-dimensional images" and a good sense of immediacy. Timbral performance was "overall on the warm side," although MF described note sustains as "stingy" resulting in "a dry quality." JCA also spent time with the Phono Loco, echoing MF's thoughts on its "extremely quiet" performance and enjoyably "corporeal" images. (Vol.42 No.12, Vol.43 No.2 WWW)

Van den Hul The Grail SE+: $21,500
Designed by German engineer Jürgen Ultee, The Grail SE+ is a "super deluxe" upgraded version of the $7950 The Grail phono preamp that MF reviewed in August 2018. It offers two current-mode MC inputs, one of which has both balanced and single-ended jacks, and a single MM input. Internal switches allow MC gain to be adjusted to 56, 64, 70, or 73dB; MM gains are all 23dB lower. MF felt that its larger, more robust power supply gave The Grail SE+ greater dynamic "slam" and drive and a tighter, more robust bottom end than the standard Grail. The SE+ was also considerably "faster": stiffer and better controlled in the midrange. "The Grail SE+ is a quiet, timbrally neutral, transparent, get-out-of-the-way-and-let-the-music-through phono preamp. It produces effortless, wide dynamic swings and seemingly full, flat frequency response," Mikey concluded. (Vol.43 No.5 WWW)

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

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

Ypsilon MC10 & MC16: $3300 ★
The MC10 transformer produces 20dB of gain and is intended for use with cartridges having an output range of 0.4–0.6mV. 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 Andros Allasso step-up transformer: $2995 ★
With its multiple switch-selectable primary taps and its 10 switch-selectable input impedances, Zesto's Andros Allasso (the last word is Greek for transform) is surely one of the most flexible step-up transformers we've seen. And its inclusion of a front-panel mono switch—this doesn't blend the two channels together but rather selects only a single channel for amplification—means the Andros Allasso can be used with virtually any MC cartridge you can throw at it, pardon the figure of speech. MF heard from the Zesto a slight softening of note attacks and blurring of textures, but only in comparison with far more expensive/less flexible step-up devices. His verdict: "a smartly designed, reasonably priced piece of analog kit!" (Vol.42 No.4)

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

B

Audio-Creative Mediator 40 Step-Up Transformer: €739 $$$
Here's another high-end step-up transformer built into a $10 off-the-shelf aluminum box—but this time it's okay: The price of the Mediator 40 is just over $400, which is little more than what you'd have to pay for the unit's Haufe transformers, let alone its gold-plated input and output jacks (RCAs), its ground-lift switch, and its high-quality build. With a turns ratio of 1:40, the Mediator 40 has just the right amount of gain for an Ortofon SPU or similar low-output moving-coil cartridge; used with his Shindo-modified SPU, the Audio-Creative SUT impressed AD with its excellent scale, force, and vivid portrayal of instrumental colors: "a top-shelf trannie at a crazy-low price," he said. The Mediator 40 would be Class B+ if there were such a thing: A few very expensive transformers outdistance it, but none embarrass it. (Vol.42 No.6 WWW)

Auditorium 23 103: $995 $$$ ★
Designed and voiced for use with Denon's DL-103, this Auditorium 23 SUT uses two sealed transformers 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. There is also a version for Ortofon cartridges, currently in use by JCA. (Vol.30 No.10 WWW)

Boulder 508: $5000
Machined from a solid aluminum billet and "finished to look and feel as luxurious" as its much more expensive stablemate, the Boulder 2108 ($52,000), the single-box 508 is low on user controls: On the front panel are an on/off switch and a mute button, and around back is a switch for selecting between MM and MC cartridges—and that's it. Inputs and outputs are balanced (XLR) only, and input impedance is fixed at 47k ohms for MM and 100 ohms for MC. Used with Ortofon's low-output Anna D moving-coil cartridge, the Boulder rewarded MF with performance that was "essentially colorless in the best sense of the word." The 508 offered good size/scale and dynamic slam, although those qualities were less in evidence than with MF's far more expensive reference phono preamps. Mikey's conclusion: "The more I listened to the 508, the more I appreciated its subtle balance of . . . strengths with only minor acts of omission." (Vol.42 No.11)

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

Haniwa HEQ A03-CI: $12,000
As with the company's HCTR-CO phono cartridge, the Haniwa HEQ-A03-C1 phono preamp is regarded by designer Tetsuo Kubo as a part of a complete record-playing system, the purchase of which saves the buyer a few thousand dollars compared to the prices of the individually purchased components therein. The HEQ-A03-C1 is a current-amplification device, intended to yield best results with cartridges with very low internal impedance—which also implies very low output voltage. As with other examples of the breed, the Haniwa offers no user controls other than its power switch—resistive loading. selectable or not, plays no role in current amplification—and balanced-only inputs. The Haniwa's uniqueness is perhaps its Waveform Recovery Circuit, although the company declines to describe its precise function. Used with the Haniwa cartridge, tonearm, and turntable, the HEQ-A03-C1 produced a "darker, richer, and far drier" sound than MF's reference front end, with a powerful and full-sounding (if less well controlled) bottom end. (Vol.42 No.10)

Heed Audio Quasar: $1300
This solid-state, dual-mono phono preamp, supplied in two chassis—one for the audio circuitry, one for the power supply—has separate RCA input jacks for MC and MM cartridges, and separate output jacks, also RCAs, for low and high output levels. (Low Out is recommended for older amps, High Out for more modern designs.) User-accessible internal jumpers allow fine-tuning of gain and input impedance, and the Quasar's very good user's manual contains suggested settings for a number of different cartridges. Used in his tube-friendly system, with his Denon DL-103 cartridge, the Quasar struck KM as sounding "neither hard nor, worse, tube-cliché syrupy or soft." He noted that the Quasar's resolution of subtle detail was good enough that he could "easily hear the differences" between recording venues used for various classic Blue Note LPs. But for hobbyists who prefer having a step-up transformer between their MC cartridges and their phono preamp, the Heed is not an ideal choice: After measuring the Quasar, JA praised its considerable flexibility but noted the lower-than-specified input impedance in many of its various settings, and concluded that this phono stage will perform its best only with MC cartridges connected directly to its MC inputs. (Vol.40 No.12 WWW)

Lounge Audio LCR Mk.III: $340 $$$ Lounge Audio Copla: $310 $$$
The solid-state LCR Mk.III is named for the type of circuit chosen for its RIAA equalization stage: a zero-feedback inductor-capacitor-resistor (L-C-R) circuit. That stage is constructed with discrete components—remarkable for a US-made product selling for only $340—and combined with class-Abiased op-amps for a total gain of 40dB. Power is supplied by an 18V wall wart. HR has logged literally hundreds of hours with his LCR Mk.III review sample, both on its own for use with MM cartridges, and, for MC cartridges, in tandem with Lounge Audio's Copla, a JFET-powered step-up device that does the same job as a phono transformer, only electronically. In both setups, the Lounge rewarded HR with "full-bodied, accurately toned" sound, and enough emotional impact that a favorite Doc Watson song had him weeping. Referring to the $26,000, Class Arated Ypsilon VPS-100, HR wrote: "Could the Ypsilon make me cry 86.7 times easier? I doubt it." (Vol.41 No.2 WWW)

Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista Vinyl: $3490
The latest in a longish line of Musical Fidelity products that use, as amplification devices, Nuvistors—miniature vacuum tubes so rugged they seldom if ever need replacing, and so reliable they're more often soldered into circuits than plugged into sockets—the new Nu-Vista Vinyl phono preamp offers five inputs, all of which can be configured, by means of front-panel pushbuttons, with a great many options of load impedance, load capacitance, and gain. The Nu-Vista Vinyl has both unbalanced (RCA) and balanced (XLR) outputs, and each input has its own separate power supply. In MF's system, the Nu-Vista Vinyl "exuded a combination of velvety delicacy, top-to-bottom coherence, and 'black' backgrounds that produced immediate and long-term listening satisfaction." But he added that driving the Vinyl with a smooth-sounding cartridge "might produce oversmooth results." High CLass B, he summed up. (Vol.42 No.3)

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

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

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

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

C

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

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

Deletions
Nagra BPS, discontinued. Doshi Phono replaced by new version not yet reviewed. D'Agostino Momentum Phono, EAR Acute Classic, Luxman EQ-500, Music First Audio MC Step Up 632, not auditioned in a long time.

Phono Accessories

AcousTech The Big Record Brush: $36.95 With grounding wire: $52.95
This large-handled brush has soft bristles of both natural hairs and conductive synthetic fibers, and makes dusting LPs nearly foolproof. The 5.5"-wide bristle area easily spans the width of any LP's grooved area. Version with ground wire ($52.99) does "a pretty effective job of dissipating static electricity," Mikey said. (Vol.31 No.9)

Acoustical Systems Arche 5D headshell, Regular: $695
Acoustical Systems Arche 5D headshell, Lite: $750
Acoustical Systems Arche 5D headshell, Ultralite: $899

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

Acoustical Systems Smartractor alignment protractor: $649
XL version: $649

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

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

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

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

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

Audiosilente idler wheel mod for Garrard 301–401 turntable: $110 plus shipping $$$
For owners of classic Garrard 301 and 401 turntables, AudioSilente's newly designed and manufactured idler wheel is a well-advised and perhaps even mandatory purchase. Reportedly the result of a yearlong development effort that included a long study of the correct density of rubber required for the application, the AudioSilente is an aluminum-alloy wheel to which is bonded a rubber ring of square cross section—this in contrast to the original Garrard idler, whose smaller metal hub is more or less encased within a larger rubber wheel. A slender steel rod is press-fitted through the center of the idler to form the upper and lower axles, with rounded tips and polished surfaces. The contact area of the AudioSilente idler is 4.6mm thick—precisely the same as in the original idler. AD tried the AudioSilente idler on his own 301 and discovered slight improvements, both audible and measurable, compared to his good-condition original idler. All in all, as either an upgrade or a replacement for a worn or damaged original, the distinctly affordable AudioSilente idler wheel is an excellent value, and highly recommended. (Vol.41 No.7 WWW)

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)

DS Audio Vinyl Ionizer-001: $1795
Put this wall-wart–powered "watchdog" near your turntable—within 2"—and it will reduce static electricity in the area, wrote MF. Expensive, but the unit's half-life is approximately 10,000 hours, or almost 3 hours per day for 10 years. (Vol.43 No.7)

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

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

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

Kirmuss KA-RC-1: $970 $$$
Charles Kirmuss bases his KA-RC-1 record-cleaning machine on a standard-issue Chinese-made cavitation (ultrasonic bath) cleaner, adding to it an original-design record-spinning apparatus that MF found to be "very good." The Kirmuss cleaning regimen requires each record to undergo multiple ultrasonic baths, alternated with multiple scrubbings with a goat-hair applicator brush and a reportedly anti-fungal surfactant, followed with a manual drying with a microfiber cloth; a "polishing" with a parastatic brush; and another, lighter round with the surfactant and goat-hair brush. MF found the Kirmuss approach worthwhile for records requiring a full restoration and considered the KA-RC-1 "reasonably priced," but he's sticking with his Audiodesksysteme and Loricraft machines for routine cleaning. (Vol.42 No.6)

LAST Power Cleaner for LPs: $49 per 3/4-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 per 1/4-oz bottle
Stylus treatment designed to reduce friction between groove and phono cartridge. Some manufacturers caution against it, claiming it migrates up the cantilever and attracts dust, thus clogging the armature. One reader suggests applying treatment to brush rather than stylus, which would reduce the possibility of over-applying. MF has found STYLAST effective, but expresses concern over possible cartridge damage. (Vol.18 No.12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rega RB808 spacer, 2mm: $39
This simple stainless-steel spacer allows owners of Rega tonearms to adjust the height of their arms to accommodate non-Rega cartridges. Fidgety but worth the hassle, says SM. With the spacer in place and Dynavector's DV 10X5 moving-coil cartridge mounted on his Rega P3-24, SM heard improved clarity, impact, immediacy, and soundstage depth. (Vol.35 No.11 WWW)

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

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

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

StylusTimer: $19.95
This inexpensive gadget keeps track of stylus playing time in hours. Press Start when you lower the pickup on to the LP and Stop at the end of the side. (Vol.43 No.9)

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

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

VPI HW-16.5 record-cleaning machine: $800
VPI has discontinued their HW-17 and HW-27 ("Typhoon") record-cleaning machines. Back to basics. (Vol.17 No.5, Vol.19 No.6)

WallyTractor Universal: $395
This redesigned, circular version of the original wedge-shaped WallyTractor (no longer available) still offers engraved Baerwald and Löfgren arcs and parallel lines that indicate the radii where the tracking error is zero. However, there are now two sets of each: one for older IEC-conforming LPs and the other for post-1990 discs, which have a significant increase in innermost groove radius. MF's only criticism: "I wish the bottom surface was a little more grippy." (Vol.43 No.9 WWW)

Woodsong Audio Eddy-Brake Disc: $140
In his sad belief that the number of Stereophile readers who own a Garrard 301 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)

COMMENTS
partain's picture

I can't stand it !
Please review the new & improved KEF LS50s.
The things I've read are titillating , to say the least.

John Atkinson's picture
partain wrote:
Please review the new & improved KEF LS50s.

There is a pair of the new KEF LS50 Meta on its way to me.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Link's picture

Awesome, looking forward to the review. Wireless or passive? Just curious what to expect. Thanks.

John Atkinson's picture
Link wrote:
Awesome, looking forward to the review. Wireless or passive?

Passive.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

rk11's picture

Auditioned the KEF R3s, Polk Legend L200s and the KEF LS 50 Metas a few days ago with 5 tracks of my choosing and thus far my rank ordering of these speakers is as noted. Personally, I found the Metas a bit bright and their bass response was the most lacking - not surprising given the size of the speaker cabinet. Never been a fan of the Polk speakers till the Legend series. The 200s were every bit as good as the R3s EXCEPT in the vocals. I am sure that JA's review will be under a much better controlled environment.

Shangri-La's picture

In the written review, the Ares II was preferred over the Chord Qutest. Yet the Qutest is rated Class A and Ares II is Class B. Interesting...

LinearTracker's picture

BD gave the Duo an “A” rating and deservedly so, but I am listening to the new Duo with the linear power supply and believe it to be a game changer.
I hope to see an update soon.

Link's picture

I have been able to compare the BRXs to a true class A speaker in my system, and I do now agree with the class B rating. Thanks again for the great reviews.

Glotz's picture

with explanation...

Link's picture

Comparisons having been done, the BRXs are nothing to shake a 1M interconnect at. Although they are not quite up there in terms of transparency, detail, and air - they sure do get the timbre, neutrality, and imaging right.

thyname's picture

You butchered the name of T+A MP 3100 HV. Please fix it. There is no such thing as “ T+A MD 3001 HD SACD/CD player: $21,000”

Robin Landseadel's picture

The "A" rated Sennheiser HD 650 headphones have been reissued at a lower price [with a couple of changes that don't affect the sound] as the Drop HD 6XX. Drop is an online only operation, sells for $220 + shipping & tax. It's one of the cheapskate audio high points of the season along with Topping Headphone amps and DACS.

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