Recommended Components Fall 2021 Edition Turntables

Turntables

A+

OMA K3: $363,000 including power supply and K3 tonearm
See Michael Fremer's review in this month's Analog Corner. (Vol.44 No.10)

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

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

TechDAS Air Force Zero: $450,000 (basic version)
TechDAS founder Hideaki Nishikawa's ultimate analog statement, the Air Force Zero is limited to a production run of just 40 units. Weighing 725.5lb with its ultraheavy main subchassis assembly, it combines rebuilt, new-old-stock, high-torque Papst motors driving multiple massive platters with a customized air-bearing spindle and flywheel. LPs are held in place with a vacuum hold-down system. Using SAT and Graham tonearms and his reference phono cartridges from Lyra and X-quisite, MF found that the Zero "let through each cartridge's timbral and dynamic character while imparting its own unique and immediately recognizable weight, sledgehammer 'slam,' ultragenerous sustain and decay, and the blackest backgrounds I've heard a turntable produce. … no other turntable, or none that I've yet reviewed, so effectively sinks unwanted and extraneous noise while passing the musical goods with effortless ease, often in the most subtle and nuanced ways." (Vol.44 No.9 WWW)

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

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

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

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

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

J.Sikora Initial: $9495 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 Papst. 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." Crystal glass mat is now included. (Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

Kuzma Stabi R w/one arm wing: $8150
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)

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

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

SME Synergy: $25,900 with Series IV tonearm
In December of 2019, SME announced that they would no longer offer tonearms as standalone items and would instead sell them only when bundled with SME turntables; in retrospect, that sheds light on the May 2018 introduction of the Synergy, SME's first-ever integrated record player. The Synergy combines a newly designed and relatively high-mass belt-drive turntable—one whose vibration-isolation scheme eschews the O-ring suspension used in previous SME models—with a magnesium-tube tonearm, an Ortofon Windfeld Ti MC cartridge, and a built-in Nagra phono preamplifier. The Synergy offers 33.3, 45, and 78rpm, all microfine-adjustable via the 'table's outboard power supply. Setting up the Synergy is relatively easy, as one might expect from an expensive turnkey player, but the "the Synergy is not exactly 'plug'n'play,'" according to MF, who also praised the "soundstage three-dimensionality" and "complete freedom from mechanical artifacts" of this "very competent and fine SME player." (Vol.42 No.11)

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

Technics SP10R with OMA iron plinth: $22,000
Perhaps spurred by the success accorded Technics's 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 WWW)

Thorens TD 124 DD: $11,499 w/TP 124 tonearm
The original TD 124 turntable from Swiss manufacturer Thorens, with its innovative drive mechanism that utilized both a belt and an idler wheel, was introduced in 1957. It became a classic and examples in good condition are much sought after. The current Thorens company, owned by former Denon manager and ELAC CEO Gunter Kürten, is based in Germany. Rather than manufacture an authentic reproduction of the 1957 TD 124, the TD 124 DD, available in a limited run of 500 units, is intended to maintain as much of the original as possible while updating its function in key areas. The biggest change is the use of a 12-pole direct drive motor. The TP 124 tonearm is also new. It features an internally damped aluminum armtube with a heavy brass counterweight to balance the 30gm weight of the Ortofon SPU 124 cartridge used by KM in his auditioning. (A second, lighter counterweight is included, along with a headshell, for use with more typical cartridges.) KM liked what he heard: The TD 124 DD "excelled at rhythmic punch and dynamics, producing music with vigor and drive. The 'table's low noisefloor made for stark dynamic contrasts as music burst from the subtlest ppp to the boldest fff." His conclusion? "The designers' most heretical move—replacing the original 124's peculiar drive system, which resulted in a turntable with fluidity and, well, drive—with direct drive has achieved an even more propulsive sound, with a somewhat larger soundstage and better dynamics." (Vol.44 No.8 WWW)

VPI Avenger Reference: $24,000 including Gimbal 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 WWW)

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

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AVM Rotation R 2.3: $4995 (with tonearm)
Hi-fi enthusiasts who already own one or more components from German company AVM might do well to consider the Rotation R 2.3, a similarly styled belt-drive record player manufactured by Pro-Ject. In addition to its aesthetic consistency with AVM's electronics—most apparent in its sleek aluminum "cover frame" and the blue-LED illumination of its recessed acrylic platter—the Rotation offers an inboard DC motor, permanently lubricated bronze platter bearing, and a gimbaled tonearm with an "impressively massive" bearing yoke and a sliding-single-bolt headshell for good cartridge adjustability. MF observed "excellent speed consistency" and a "well enough controlled" bottom end, and although he heard a slight softening of transients, Mikey noted that "the R 2.3 produced a pleasingly uncolored sound" overall. (Vol.42 No.12 WWW)

Clearaudio Concept Active Wood: $3700 w/Satisfy Black tonearm & Concept MM cartridge; $4600 w/Satisfy Carbon Fiber tonearm & Concept MC cartridge
Nonsuspended, belt-drive turntable from Germany that is available in two versions with different tonearms and cartridges. Both versions include an integral MM/MC phono preamplifier, which can be bypassed, and a headphone output. KM auditioned both versions. The pricier Active Wood with the Satisfy CF tonearm and the Concept MC cartridge sounded "clear, dynamic, rhythmic, and transparent; the combo excelled at playing black discs with detail and quiet backgrounds, with a large soundstage populated with well-sized images," he wrote. He found that what the less-expensive version gave up in transparency, refinement, and focus, "it gained in richness, warmth, and relaxation." Though he felt the Clearaudio's internal phono pre was outclassed by the tubed Tavish phono stage, it still "sounded quite good overall: palpable, solid, and upfront." KM's overall conclusion: "Its first-rate build quality and sound, and its ease of setup and versatility, make the Clearaudio Active Wood a solid choice for both turntable purists and enthusiasts." (Vol.44 No.6 WWW)

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

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

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

Mark Levinson No5105: $6000; $7000 with Ortofon Quintet Black phono cartridge
Designed in collaboration with and sourced from a German manufacturer, this elegant-looking, high-mass (75lb), belt-drive turntable comes complete with a 10" tonearm that features a rigid, glossy, carbon-fiber tube. Michael Fremer found the No5105 easy to set up and use and, with a fast, detailed cartridge like the Ortofon Quintet Black, it produced sound that was rich, relaxed, generous, and typical of higher mass, damped-style turntables. (Vol.44 No.4 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)

SME Model 6: $8995 w/SME M2-9 tonearm
SME's least expensive turntable uses an outboard power supply and a chassis CNC-machined from what the company says is a "unique polymer high-density resin material," claimed to have "superb resonance absorption." It sits on four elastomer feet made from a vibration-absorbing compound, but as these aren't height-adjustable, the user needs to make sure the turntable support is level. The belt-driven, 4lb platter appears to be machined from Delrin. The M2-9 tonearm—an MF favorite—can accommodate cartridges weighing 5–12gm, and azimuth, VTA, and SRA are all adjustable. As with all SME turntables, there's no dustcover. While MF didn't like the screw-down three-piece record clamp, he appreciated how the Model 6 performed with Ortofon Cadenza Black and 2M Black LVB phono cartridges. "The more I used it, the more I enjoyed its open, airy sound and its solid bottom end," he concluded. (Vol.44 No.5 WWW)

Thales Slim II Turntable: $6750
From 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)

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Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO: $599 with tonearm & cartridge $$$
This bargain-priced, belt-drive turntable comes complete with a carbon-fiber tonearm, a Sumiko Rainier moving magnet cartridge ($150 when sold separately), and a shielded, directional phono cable. The 3.75lb steel platter is damped along its outer edge with a strip of thermoplastic elastomer. AH found that the review sample, like Rega turntables, ran slightly fast, but also felt it didn't release notes "with quite the screen-door-hitting-them-on-the-ass urgency of the [Rega] Planar 3 (which costs nearly twice as much without a cartridge)." He also found that the Pro-Ject and its cartridge made surface noise more intrusive than many other record players he'd heard. However, AH summed up his time with this turntable by saying "If there's a design parameter more crucial than a hi-fi component's ability to hold our attention and enable us to feel things, I don't know what it is. The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO does this consistently, emphatically, at an attainable price." (Vol.44 No.3 WWW)

Rega Planar 3 with Elys 2 cartridge in black, white, or red: $1245 ★
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)

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Rega Planar 1 with Carbon cartridge: $525 $$$ ★
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
Schiit Sol, VPI Scout Jr., discontinued. AMG Giro G9, Brinkmann Balance, Palmer Audio 2.5I, Reed Muse, SME 20/12A, not auditioned in a long time.

COMMENTS
MatthewT's picture

Not much for me here, being a vintage gear fan first. Please bring back the entry-level column, there is a lot of gear at that price-point worth getting reviewed.

Anton's picture

Budgetwise, I think I would be most like a "Double A" audiophile.

Same with me and wine.

I do admit to seeing some of the top end prices for either wine or Hi Fi and thinking that there are people who have checkbooks that are 'better' than their palates/ears.

Like JA1 described in the past...there are already parts of my own hobby that are beyond my budgetary event horizon.

_

If we did have audiophile classes, from minor leagues to major league, I wonder what the price points for each step would be.

MatthewT's picture

Lets me play every now and then in the Majors. Nothing depreciates faster than audio gear. I have to admit being somewhat happy at seeing a dartZeel break while listening to it, while my beloved Sansui keeps making music.

Anton's picture

I like showing gear in the reviews to my wife and asking her to guess the price.

When I saw the OMA turntable in the latest issue, I guessed 15,000 dollars. When she saw it, she guessed 12,000 dollars, and we've been playing this game for 25 years!

Next, I asked her if I were able to purchase it for 90% off retail, would she let me. She said, "Only I promised to flip it immediately."

Then, she threw me a bone and said, "You could buy it and keep it for the 12,000 dollars that I guessed."

I'd need a 97.5% discount to have a chance at it. And even that would be wildly extravagant. I'm happy with life, this is just for scale.

tonykaz's picture

Above the PS Audio level is the world of Status & Ego. !

Which has me wondering if Stereophile is a Status & Ego type publication ? Is this a Robb Report mag that belongs on the coffee tables of private Jet Airports ? ( I've never seen it there )

Does an Anodized Red $200,000 Amplifier belong on the Front Cover of a magazine like ours ? None of us will ever have any chance to experience Velvet Rope Gear so why are we bothering with it? It being better is probably one person's opinion ( and that person probably doesn't have to buy it or own it ).

Reviews of these $100,000 +++++ pieces are man-speaking to us how our gear is deficient and unworthy, we are reading Hubris & gas lighting.

There is a World of $1,000 bottles of Wine, $25,000 Rolex Watches, Super pricy First Class Seats on UAL Flights and Political Leaders that are wealthy from insider trading. We shouldn't be reading about those things here.

Ours is like the world of our modest Canadian, revealing a new form of music discovery and writing one of Stereophile's most insightful pieces of literature about it. ( nice writing Mr. Robert S.)( is that the door bell? )

Tony in Venice Florida

rschryer's picture

Thanks, Tony

tonykaz's picture

Annnnndddd :

Thank You to the Editor that gave you the Word Budget and turned you loose.

Stereophile keeps raising the Bar !!!

Tony in Venice Florida

Anton's picture

Where on Maslow's Pryamid is a half million dollar record player?

I'm curious to see....misguided 'esteem?'

I prefer to use Swanson's Pyramid....

https://external-preview.redd.it/5cDe4MZ9E0ZfvcS10kmAUd2ynTkp6b3wfU-fYsxyNfg.png?width=960&crop=smart&auto=webp&s=be478d54ccedc0bd3a8ea8428e368fe10ed78c60

(Second from bottom left.)

tonykaz's picture

A most expensive record player would service the Ego needs of someone needing to establish themselves as the very Top of Analog Audio's Caste System.

The widely recognised Top Level Analog Format has been Tape.

I grew up in a Performing Arts household, my mother was an Operatic Performer and one of my older brothers was a Horn Player for our local Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

So, from my point of view, no Analog Audio System has ever come close to performing like a Live Audio Performance from a listening distance position.

Super pricy Audio Gear is about Status & Ego !!! ( I hear that Bob Carver still laughs at this stuff )

Tony in Venice Florida

tonykaz's picture

Yes, Brilliant Observation! ,

of which, of-course, I completely agree .

Proving the old maxim: when two people agree on something - only one is doing the thinking.

Now that I'm living in the Deep South, Swansons Pyramid is where I'm slowly migrating to. Hmm.

Y'all have a Grate Day

Tony in Venice Florida

ravello's picture

The introduction to recommended loudspeakers states that "Candidates for inclusion in this class [i.e. Class A, limited LF extension] must still reach down to at least 40Hz, below the lowest notes of the four-string double-bass and bass guitar." The Falcon LS3/5a, for example, most certainly does not reach down to 40 Hz, unless you define "reach" to include a -10 or -15 or even lower dB point, which cannot be construed as useful bass etension. This is probably true for several other speakers listed in this category. So what is happening? What is the thinking behind this inconcistency?

smileday's picture

Perhaps about -7 dB at 40Hz in this room. Fig. 6, https://www.stereophile.com/content/bbc-ls35a-loudspeaker-harbeth-measurements

It might be -3 dB at 40Hz in a broadcast van, the intended usage at the design stage.

tonykaz's picture

...performance level for all Great Transducers?

It was the very loudspeaker that brought me and my English partner into the Audio Business. ( back in the early 1980s ) -- ( my business partner and I begged Raymond Cooke for this design to import to USA - he said NO! )

Isn't it still a "Reference" for comparison ? , doesn't any new design have to match or exceed it's super high levels of performance?

This little device and a well matched sub builds an outstanding Desert Island System.

But, it's still outstanding without the Sub.

It may not be Full Range but it well earned a Lifetime Class A+ transducer system rating. ( four Decades + )

Tony in Venice Florida

Ortofan's picture

... like antique furniture, but the KEF LS50 Meta is a much more highly evolved successor.

tonykaz's picture

I'm sure that I agree with you.

I seem to have a deeeeeeeep seated feeling that the LS3/5a is the grandfather of High End music Gear.

Even during the 1980s, my little shop : Esoteric Audio in Farmington Frills, Mi. stocked most of the small mini-monitors including the LS3/5a, Linn Kann, ProAc Tablette, Spica TC50, Quad ESL63 and the whole range of other hopefuls. Performance wise, the ProAc Tablettes were the musical leaders, the Quads were the Sales leaders, the Spica was the Reviewer Favourite . We had them all on permanant comparison using a VPI player, Koetsu Rosewood, Electrocompaniet Electronics and MIT Music Hose cable interfaces. It was an exciting adventure for any and all customers to take part in the ongoing comparisons. People bought scads of 'all' of those small speakers types.

With great or outstanding supporting gear, the LS3/5a can Scale up to amazing levels of music reproduction.

Tony in Venice Florida

ravello's picture

@ smileday: With due respect, the link you posted is not to the current Falcon "Gold Badge" reviewed in 2021, which I was talking about, and which is about 12 dB down at 40 Hz (ref. 1 KHz) in JA's listening room on the evidence of Fig. 6 and Fig. 8 (red trace). This, as I was saying, cannot and should not be construed as useful bass extension at 40 Hz, so listing this speaker as "Class A, limited LF extension" is misleading (to say the least) in light of Stereophile's own stated criteria for inclusion in this category. Perhaps Editor Mr. Austin would like to take the stand on this. Furthermore, most of us don't listen to music in a broadcast van. Mind you, I am not saying that these are not truly great speakers. Indeed, I used to own the Harbeth P3ESR, which I found as nearly flawless as I suspect is possible in a loudspeaker, except for bass extension and volume (SPL) capability -- admittedly an inevitable design constraint given the size of the midbass driver, the size of the cabinet, and the benign impedance. This is why I eventually replaced them with a pair of the Harbeth C7 (40th Anniversary), which turned out to be game-over speakers in my small, 12 sqm study. Perfectly solid bass to 40 Hz and possibly below.

TowerOfPower's picture

It's surprising to not see a single Soundsmith cartridge on this list. Would like to know why.

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