Recommended Components Fall 2023 Edition Turntables



J.Sikora Reference: $47,000 w/o tonearm
This Polish company's top-of-the-line turntable is a nonsuspended, high-mass design, weighing 253lb. The dynamically and statically balanced platter alone weighs 40lb! Drive is with four square belts spun by four Papst DC motors. MF found that the plinth was immune to knuckle raps and motor start-up noises and wrote that the Reference was very quiet. He decided that this J.Sikora 'table had been superbly tuned to extract deep, well-controlled bass free of overhang or excess. The measured speed accuracy was impressive, as was its isolation from the outside world. Using J.Sikora's own KV12 VTA tonearm ($8995) as well as SAT and Kuzma tonearms, MF couldn't find fault with any aspect of the Reference's sonic performance or its machining and physical presentation. He summed up: "For those willing to make the expenditure, add the J.Sikora Reference to the list of great mass-loaded turntables at this price." (Vol.45 No.7 WWW)

OMA K3: $363,000 including power supply and Schröder SLM tonearm
MF described this idiosyncratically styled, massive, and very expensive turntable as looking "somewhat like the Guggenheim Museum topped by a heliport and a construction crane." Even so, he was impressed by its performance, with the 11.1" "aluminum girder" Schröder tonearm fitted with Ortofon Anna D, Lyra Etna l Lambda SL, and Lyra Atlas l Lambda SL phono cartridges. He described the K3's sound as "fast, clean, detailed, highly resolving, super-transparent, effortlessly dynamic, and capable of producing unparalleled transient precision and depth-charge-deep bass 'wallop' that's fully extended yet totally free from overhang." He concluded, "As with any truly great audio product, regardless of price, the OMA K3 turntable speaks with a singular voice." Offers 33 1/3, 45, and 78rpm speeds. Dedicated stand costs $40,000. (Vol.44 No.10 WWW)

SAT XD1: €180,000 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)

SME Model 60: $71,900–$85,900 w/tonearm
This suspended, mass-loaded, belt-driven, flagship turntable comes preinstalled with SME's Series VA tonearm, which is not available separately. The Model 60's price depends on the finish: a honeycomb finish adds $7000; a diamond-polished finish adds $14,000. Offers 33 1/3 and 45 speeds only. "Intense dynamics and tight, powerful bass extension have long been hallmarks of SME turntables, and the Model 60 pushes that reputation even further," wrote MT, adding that the Model 60 "also offers a sense of ease and effortlessness." He summed up the Model 60 by writing "This turntable is capable of extracting an astonishing amount of music from the record groove. It should be considered the new real-world reference against which other turntables can be judged." On Paul Miller's test bench, the turntable's sintered bronze bearing, with its oil-damped ball, was so precisely machined and polished that both through-groove and through-bearing rumble were truly state-of-the-art. The tonearm, which has a cast-magnesium-alloy armtube, featured a "freedom from complex resonance, and general clutter [that] was quite remarkable," concluded PM. (Vol.46 No.8 WWW)

TechDAS Air Force Zero: $550,000 (as reviewed w/Tungsten platter); $500,000 w/Titanium platter
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 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)


Acoustic Signature Montana NEO: $33,995 w/o tonearm
Non-suspended, mass-loaded, triple–belt-driven turntable with a constrained-layer–damped, 55lb aluminum-alloy chassis sitting on height-adjustable, gel-damped feet. The outboard power supply features a vibration-canceling system that combines hardware and software to control the three 24-pole, two-coil AC motors. Offers 33 1/3 and 45rpm speeds. With the Montana NEO fitted with Acoustic Signature's TA-7000 NEO 9" tonearm—see "Tonearms"—and an Ortofon A95 phono cartridge, MF found that with a 1980 orchestral LP, the timbral, spatial, and dynamic presentation was "warm and inviting and intensely three-dimensional." He added that the "well-damped but not overdamped, fully controlled, supremely well-focused, rock-solid stable presentation produced a memorable 3D picture." This was similar, he noted, to his impression of the A95's sonic character; changing to an AudioQuest Etna Lambda 𝜆 SL produced "a more generous, rich, full midrange and midbass, a presentation that added spatial context and richness to vocals and acoustic instruments." MF summed up the Montana NEO/TA-7000 NEO combo as "a neutral and revealing carrier." (Vol.45 No.1 WWW)

AMG Giro MK II: $8500 without tonearm
Significantly upgraded compared with the original Giro that HR favorably reviewed in 2017, the MK II features a thicker, 40% heavier platter, which gives it a substantial increase in mass and rotational inertia, hence improved speed stability. Drive for 33 1/3 and 45 is still via belt from a DC motor, with a switch-mode supply supplied as standard. (An outboard linear power supply is available as an optional upgrade for $1200.) Tonearm is still AMG's 9W2—see Tonearms—with its wiring terminated in a DIN socket. The Giro doesn't come with a standard tonearm cable; rather, AMG offers four levels made for them by Cardas: the Basic ($300), Standard ($600), Reference ($1500), and Turbo ($2250). The review sample came with the Reference cable. MT found setting up the Giro straightforward but noted that as the turntable doesn't offer any isolation, care needs to be taken choosing where and on what to place it. Using a Benz SLR Gullwing phono cartridge, MT commented on the excellent retrieval of recorded detail offered by the AMG "without muddling the sound or glossing over details." He was also impressed by the player's speed stability, commenting that with a close-miked piano recording the Giro was "able to combine tonal richness with the solidity you get from piano chords when there's no insecurity or waffling about pitch." (Vol.45 No.12 WWW)

AMG Viella Forte Engraved: $27,000 without arm, $34,000 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)

Clearaudio Reference Jubilee: $30,000 incl. tonearm
A belt-drive design that uses a POM main platter sitting on a stainless steel subplatter flywheel, the boomerang-shaped Jubilee features a patented Ceramic Magnetic Bearing and a Panzerholz plinth. An updated 9" Clearaudio Universal tonearm is included in the price and features a carbon fiber armtube. Also included in the price are Clearaudio's 1.6lb Statement Clamp, 1.5lb Outer Limit peripheral clamp and locator rim, and Professional Power 24V DC power supply. KM found that the turntable ran about 0.3% fast. He wrote that the Reference Jubilee's sound combined vivid detail retrieval, forceful dynamics, a delicate, refined top end, and a translucent midrange. Levels of resolution, clarity, transparency, and trueness-to-source left him vinyl-shocked and thinking, "So that's what's on this recording?" He added that the Reference Jubilee, Universal Tonearm, and Jubilee MC cartridge "combined staggering detail, energy, and forward-flow allied to a 3D stage that was large, deep, and transparent. The music it made was profound and life-affirming." (Vol.45 No.7 WWW)

Döhmann Audio Helix One Mk2: $53,000
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)

J.Sikora Initial: $9995 w/o 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: $11,139 and up depending on options
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)

Linn Klimax LP12: $30,970 incl. tonearm, MC phono cartridge, phono stage and power supply
The fully loaded review sample was fitted with the Karousel bearing, a NASA-grade Keel subchassis ($3705), and the optional fluted plinth ($220). Also included were Linn's Ekstatik moving coil cartridge ($7150), Ekos Super Evolution (SE) tonearm ($5645), the machined-chassis version of the Radikal motor controller/power supply, and the Urika phono stage ($10,400 for both). HR found that the Klimax LP12 was dramatically better-sounding than his vintage Sondek. It offered "conspicuously quiet (deep black) backgrounds" and tempo, focus, and immediacy that were "near-laboratory quality." His conclusion was that the Linn Klimax record player "looks like a piece of heirloom furniture, is built to a very high standard of fit'n'finish, and is eternally upgradeable. Its substantial dealer base makes it easily and expertly serviceable in a way few other turntable brands can match. These facts alone make the Klimax worth its price." (Vol.45 No.6 WWW)

Luxman PD-151 Mark II: $5695 incl. tonearm
This new version of a classic three-speed, belt-drive turntable from Luxman impressed MT with its speed stability: wow & flutter were both just 0.02%. This is achieved with a DC motor fed from a "sophisticated" pulse-width modulation power supply. Although there isn't a suspension, when MT held a stethoscope against the top plate adjacent to the motor, he couldn't tell whether the motor was on or off: "It's that quiet." An optional dustcover adds $795 to the price. The LTA-309 tonearm features knife-edge bearings and a H4 bayonet-mount universal headshell, and is sourced from Japanese manufacturer SAEC. MT used an Ortofon Cadenza Blue and Luxman's own LMC-5 for his auditioning, and commented that with the Luxman cartridge a track from Willy DeVille's solo album "sounded tonally vivid and three-dimensional with a soundstage that was wide and deep but tidy." He found that while the PD-151 couldn't quite match the tautness and bottom-end slam of the "vastly more expensive" SME Model 30/2A, it more than held its own in most other areas. (Vol.46 No.3 WWW)

Pure Fidelity Harmony: $9995 including the Encounter Mark 4 Orgin Live Tonearm
This Canadian turntable's price includes the Conductor power supply, SS-10 Record Isolator clamp, three IsoAcoustics GAIA IV feet, and Origin Live Encounter tonearm. (This dual-pivot arm was reviewed by MF in July 2004.) The review sample's premium Quilted Maple finish adds $500. The 2", Ultra MDF plinth sits on a 19lb isolation platform formed from aluminum alloy and is said to be virtually resonance-free and completely neutral in sound. KM found that the Harmony fitted with the Origin Live tonearm and Pure Fidelity's Stratos phono cartridge "took me on a joy ride, exuding all the liveliness and pace, rhythm, and timing of any well-made low-mass 'table but with a neutral tonal balance and a vice-like low-end grip." KM's conclusion: "The Pure Fidelity Harmony brings a beautiful sonic signature to vinyl but with enough transparency to reveal the unique personality of each LP . . . The Pure Fidelity Harmony is one of the finest analog playback machines I've heard, worth every penny of its $9995 asking price." (Vol.45 No.12 WWW)

Reed Muse 1C: $16,750 (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)

Technics SL-1200G: $4299.95 incl. tonearm, available in black or silver
Derived from Technics's limited-edition SL-1200GAE, the three-speed, direct-drive SL-1200G bears little resemblance to the original '1200 from the 1970s that had come to be a DJ favorite. It is an entirely new design "created for audiophiles." The original SL-1200's tonearm—"easily the chintziest thing about that turntable," said AH—has been reimagined, with a new armtube made of cold-drawn magnesium. The arm's gimbal bearings revealed zero wiggle or twist, noted AH, who also found that the turntable rotated at exactly 33 1/3rpm with just 0.014% wow & flutter. AH installed a Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua cartridge in the tonearm's detachable headshell and started listening. "In stock form, it sounded solid, agile, and impressively neutral, but also noticeably smaller, grayer, and more mechanical—with shorter note decay—than my Garrard 301/Schick/Box Furniture Co. record player," he wrote. After replacing the stock mat with a Trans-Fi Reso-Mat, "the Technics produced a far larger soundfield, with obviously greater resolution and instrument separation and less apparent noise." Replacing the stock headshell with either the DS Audio HE-001 or Schick graphite headshells improved tracking with the Dynavector "and lent the music more solidity and color." AH then switched the turntable's torque control from automatic to manual and reduced the torque by about a third of a revolution. "The turntable sounded mostly the same," he noted, "but its somewhat mechanical, uptight character was nearly gone; now the music flowed and shimmied more convincingly. I also heard improved sustain and decay." Overall, he could think of few turntables that offer as much value as the SL-1200G, adding that the quality of its engineering and execution "makes typical audiophile products look slightly homemade." (Vol.45 No.12 WWW)

Thorens TD 124 DD: $11,999 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)

TW-Acustic Raven GT2: $12,500
AH described this German belt-drive turntable as "sternly functional . . . Everything about the 'table, which weighs 75lb and is made almost entirely of raven-black aluminum appears thought out . . . The GT2 is so precisely machined that lowering the very heavy composite-and-bronze platter onto the upward-facing bearing shaft takes not seconds but minutes." It took him several weeks to zero-in on the Raven FT's sonic character: the "'table did everything so well that I struggled to describe its sound. No single area of performance stood out or seemed overlooked," he wrote. Overall, "on record after record, the German deck was able to excavate spatial and instrumental detail, and imbue recordings with depth and dimension, as well as any I've heard." AH also noted that, unlike other belt-drive turntables, the Raven GT2 had a "nimble" way with rhythm and timing. (Vol.46 No.7 WWW)

VPI Avenger Direct: $36,000 with tonearm
The review sample of this American turntable came with the 12" gimbaled version of the FatBoy tonearm ($4500 when purchased separately), the aluminum JMW Full VTA Base ($1500 separately), a direct drive assembly/motor, a machined aluminum platter, a vented chassis, a stainless steel Periphery Ring Clamp ($1300 separately), three air-suspension Feet ($3450 separately), a VPI-branded alignment jig ($75 separately), a poly-weave platter mat, and one Signature record weight ($185 separately). With the Avenger/FatBoy combo fitted with an Ortofon Verismo MC cartridge and playing Henry Mancini's "The Days of Wine and Roses" (from Our Man in Hollywood), KM wrote that the Avenger Direct "mined all the musical detail, dimensionality, ambience, and opulence of the Mancini recording, but more importantly, it mined its emotions." KM didn't go into specifics regarding the player's sonic character, writing instead that "I can't help feeling it's cheap to reduce the VPI's performance to separate traits when its great strength is its presentation of such a unified, stirring whole." His conclusion? "I don't know what deed this Avenger is meant to avenge, but its place in the pantheon of great turntables is secure." (Vol.46 No.6 WWW)


Clearaudio Concept AiR Active Wood: $4200 w/Satisfy Black tonearm & Concept MM cartridge; $5100 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, standard: $7495
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)

Linn Sondek LP12: $3060 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: $7500; with Ortofon Quintet Black phono cartridge $8500
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: $2499 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)

Music Hall Stealth: $1649
This three-speed, direct-drive deck comes fitted with an Ortofon 2M Blue phono cartridge. HR wrote that what he noticed most with the Stealth and 2M Blue was the "high level of tone correctness." HR was also impressed by the tonearm, which he described as exceeding his expectations. "During use, it felt precise and well-sorted. Its bearings felt just-right tight, and its arm-lift mechanism served me with...ease and assurance," he wrote. Using Denon's classic DL-103—see "Phono Cartridges" —he found that the Stealth played his 45s more enjoyably than the Feickert Blackbird or the Linn LP12 Valhalla. His conclusion? "I can think of no record player under $2000 that I'd rather use. Or recommend." (Vol.45 No.10 WWW)

PTP Audio Solid9: $4650 as tested
The Solid9 ($2950 in basic form) is a restored, hot-rodded, replinthed Lenco idler drive design built in The Netherlands. A long, gently tapered, horizontally positioned motor shaft drives the bottom of the 8.8lb platter via a skinny, spring-tensioned vertical idler wheel. The Solid9 comes with a completely rebuilt Lenco motor and a restored drive mechanism attached to two thick, stainless steel plates that are flush-mounted in a Corian plinth. HR wrote that to his subconscious mind, "idler drive feels more solidly connected to the music's forward momentum than direct drive does." HR auditioned the Solid9 with PTP's optional outboard Audio Power Controller ($1100), the Solid Bearing upgrade ($350), the optional SCC height-adjustable feet ($250), a Sorane SA-1 tonearm, and a Denon DL-103 phono cartridge. This record playing system never distracted him from what was happening in the music, he concluded: "That's as high praise as I can give." (Vol.46 No.6 WWW)

SME Model 6: $8795 w/SME M2-9 tonearm
SME Model 6 Classic: $9795 w/SME M2-9-R 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. The Classic version substitutes the M2-9-R for the straight-pipe M2-9 provided with the original Model 6, which has a curved stainless steel pipe terminating in SME's familiar locking collet. (A headshell is provided, as well as an extra counterweight that can be threaded onto the arm's rear shaft if needed.) (Vol.44 No.5, Vol.45 No.4 WWW)

Vertere DG-1S: $4899—$6999 with tonearm, depending on options.
See Michael Trei's review in this issue's Spin Doctor column. (Vol.46 No.10 WWW)


Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO: $599 with tonearm (US Version comes with a Sumiko Rainier 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)

Pro-Ject Debut PRO: $999 incl. tonearm & Sumiko Ranier Cartridge
Based on Pro-Ject's Debut Carbon EVO turntable, the belt-drive, non-suspended Debut PRO improves on earlier Pro-Ject models with CNC-milled aluminum parts, an upgraded bearing and tonearm with a hybrid aluminum–carbon fiber armtube, and what KM described as "a few more subtle but still beneficial upgrades." The price includes a Sumiko Oyster Rainier moving magnet cartridge. KM described the Debut PRO's presentation as featuring fast transients, strong dynamics, and crisp highs. "The Debut PRO is a lively, fun, exhilarating turntable; it makes records—or rather music from records—jump, boogie, and sing...I was consistently surprised at the Debut PRO's ability to relay gobs of detail in a natural, compelling manner." KM's conclusion? "This ca $1000, handsome-but-unassuming record player proved to me what a manufacturer with decades of experience and expertise can do when designing an analog machine to a price point. The Debut PRO bowled me over with its dynamics, detail, soundstaging, spatial depth, and scale, especially with the more expensive [Sumiko] Wellfleet cartridge. The Debut PRO made the most of every style of music I put to it." (Vol.45 No.1 WWW)

Rega Planar 3 with Elys 2 cartridge in black, white, or red: $1395 ★
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)


Rega Planar 1 with Carbon cartridge: $595 $$$ ★
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)

AVM Rotation R2.3, Do?hmann Audio Helix One Mk2, Haniwa Player, Rega Planar 10, SME Garrard 301, TechDAS Air Force One Premium, not reviewed in a long time.

creativepart's picture

Does Stereophile ever question the validity of this twice a year list? Perhaps it really helps with newsstand sales, but I've come to dread it's release twice a year. First, there are the stupidly priced A+ turntables all reviewed by one staffer that's been gone for quite some time. The entire A+ section will go away with "not tested in a long time" and rightly so.

Some items are ranked by full reviews with testing and others are just columnists saying - highly recommended - at the end of their monthly column. And those items are many times totally out of the mainstream of the product marketplace.

And, while price doesn't indicate quality, it is so jarring to see $500 products achieve the exact same ranking (A or B usually) along side $15,000 products.

I'd love to see you folks test more of the items people are buying in fairly large numbers everyday... even though they don't have the same 5 popular distribution partners or those that advertise in the magazine. No, I'm not saying it's pay to play. But MoFi Distributing buys a lot of ads, it's friends with staffers and routinely gets their products reviewed. It's not payola, but it is a symbiotic relationship.

I'd recommend you scrap the listing and retool the whole thing - and put some thought into how and why you test the products you test.

tenorman's picture

Very objective , well written and fair . You’ve made some great suggestions . Thank you

HeadScratcher's picture

I too recommend scrapping the current format for a complete retooling of a listing that isn't so time lapse convoluted...

Glotz's picture

Creativepart is mincing words to that they fail to commit to... They are saying it's pay to play in no uncertain terms and views their listings with mistrust. To imply MoFi has a friendly relationship is complete conjecture and Stereophile does not make nor position themselves as a symbiotic relationship with any manufacturer or distributor. If they get their product reviewed, it's because a reviewer saw or heard their product at a show, and anything else is implied BS. Rather, they hate MoFi for their lack of transparency about their debacle on digital masters, and want to see any association of Stereophile's behalf as condemnation of their own lack of transparency and veracity. That implication stinks like jaded political pundits grasping for correlated facts.

What CP is also implying directly is that he or she would like validation of their mainstream products purchased to be favorably reviewed (so they can feel good about their purchases of gear). It's generally opposed to what Stereophile does and any long term reader or subscriber would know that as gospel and the very reason the magazine exists on one level- to provide a review of one person's experience with a hard to find or less-investigated piece of gear. It is easy to find, learn and buy any mainstream piece of gear. I do think that should change a bit.

What is important is for Stereophile to review these mainstream audio products and compare against their audiophile offerings and EXPLAIN why they are different and (if) superior. That would be bring in more readers if the descriptions of well known products (vs. audiophile products) could be compared and contrasted well enough. This acts to bring real-world reference points to levels of sound quality that more non-audio dudes would understand.

I do not think this magazine is as good at comparisons (though understandable) as they used to be in the 80's and 90's (less HR and JA). Manufacturers don't like comparisons to their products because often the context is misunderstood by readers. Yes, almost all products in any category are vastly improved and the 80's performance points were much more obvious to hear and report about as negative or positive. Technology marching forward has changed that and leveled the playing field drastically. The fundamental design approaches of audiophile companies still focus on sound rather than ergonomics or functionality.

What should happen is to NOT name the product under comparison in the review but only use price as an indicator of quality vs. price in any comparison. That way readers can understand the product from a price perspective and not feel they have a field day crapping on the product that they 'KNEW was audiophile garbage'.

Side note- Other than subscribers, no reader should be allowed to make comments on this or the other sister websites. By way of omission of the subscribed investment, we will be able to separate the dross from water. I'm pretty sure there are a lot of other websites that do this outright, but I get that Stereophile wants to increase it's readership. Perhaps, this is actually a better way to do it. Require subscriptions for posting comments here and there (AP).

Jazzlistener's picture

high when you wrote this? Talk about verbal diarrhea. Creativepart made some good points. Although I do personally enjoy the Recommended Components feature, I too find it questionable (e.g. the Rega P3 makes it into Class C but none of their higher end tables can crack Class A? Pluh-ease. What I would really love to see is more system recommendations in Stereophile like in some of the British Hi-Fi mags, and at different price points.

Glotz's picture

But I was pissed a bit. Implied collusion ruffles my s***.

Great recommend on the system point you bring up. That should be a regular feature if they can create very different systems for each 'type' of listener. From there they could build on hybrids of system types involving tubes and solid-state, etc.

These rankings are just one reviewer judging a component in relation to their system. The Benchmark reviews come to mind- Certain people loved them, others not. There's massive nuance there and goes to the heart of preference thing- accuracy to source vs. myfi, vs. 'the absolute sound'.

They all need to fit somewhere into the classes here. It may be a hodge-podge like it is, but whatever. It just is.

The Belles vs. McCormack amp comparison from Sam Tellig (2000) comes to mind as well. The pursuit of accuracy vs. warmth and obscuration of detail lent the McCormack the nod and the higher rating for ST in Class A and the Belles to Class B. Same realm of performance and price (in my listening as well) but they don't share a rating. In more ways and in my lighter balanced system (at the time), I preferred the Belles.

I think dollar amounts do have play a part here as sometimes there are positives that 'overweigh' the subtractions to placement a certain class and could serve one particular group of listeners as a justification for a higher cost or greater perceived value.

Expensive modern tube power amps are a great examples. To get to a greater level of measurement and subjective performance to that of solid state one has to spend sometimes thousands more. The classes do need adjustments for a positive listening value like 'superb depth', even though there may be subtractions for other weaknesses.

I look at the classes as just a rough guide. I doubt that the Project DAC reviewed as Class A a few years back could compete with the top dollar DAC's like dCS, but I haven't heard the Project. I would think there is enough areas of merit to make Class A, but probably not as many facets of performance as the dCS or other pricey DACs.

Anton's picture

One of those turntable must surely be A++, no?

And some of that 'A' gear must really be 'A-.'

I think we should switch to the Moody's rating system...

Or, perhaps the Robert Parker 100 point scale.

Glotz's picture


RobertSlavin's picture

First let me say I heard the Raidho D2-1 speakers several years ago and was very impressed.

However, given how uneven the measured frequency response of the Raidho TD3.8 was in the Stereophile measurements, I question whether it should have even qualified for Class E if it were sold for $700. Instead, we find it recommended at Class A+ for $117,000.

It is generally acknowledged that there is a strong correlation between even measured frequency response and generally perceived speaker quality.

I realize that to get in A+ just one reviewer has to think that way. But it does raise my eyebrow.


Scintilla's picture

Despite my recent foaming-of-the-mouth and throwings-under-the-bus here, I do think there is value in the list each year. I have used Stereophile reviews and the list to both narrow my choices and to purchase goods based on a long-standing relationship with a reviewers words. Fremer might think me a random hater but I used his reviews to pick both a phono preamp, and a tonearm. I trusted my own ears to pick other parts of my system before glowing reviews appeared here. Assembling a modern, high-quality audio system is made much more difficult by the sheer number of products available, companies and general noise on the Internets. In the 80's we could go to a hifi salon and listen to products like the Robertson 4010 with some Soundlab A1's (made my neck hair stand up) and find Celestions with omni subs paired with Bedini or BEL amps. In this age, having a curated list to help people at least find products to seek is more valuable than ever. What it comes down to is whether you trust the ears that made the choices. And I do not trust all the new reviewers and neither should you. They haven't earned it yet.

Glotz's picture

Haven't you given a reason why you can't trust them?

Specifically why.

Scintilla's picture

Because they can't actually hear differences. I only trust Kal, JA1 and nobody else; maybe Herb; maybe but he's one of those I just write for pleasure guys. So why trust them? Because the rest of the new writers, including JA2 have not proved themselves over time. It's one thing to have a good review when many people agree. Why is JVS reveiwing the highest-end equipment like J10 did? WTAF does he really know about that gear other than his association with the magazine? Not much, actually. He's an amateur listener no more skilled than me. At least Fremer proved himself as a real arbiter of sound quality. I may not agree with his choices for equipment, but the man proved his prowess as a listener. Not so with the rest of these newbies. They can be indignant all they want to be but until they have a record of salient, quality reviews, they are nobodies... And this is Stereophile's big fail.

Glotz's picture

I wasn't trolling you- You didn't give reasons until now.

I thought these reviewers had enough experience at shows, with their own multi-thousand dollar systems and constantly refining their own craft by interviewing and working with manufacturers.

It would seem strange that a manufacturer or distributor installed-system would be anything less than successful playback, as they don't leave until they are satisfied. They certainly have the respect of manufacturers, dealers and distributors when I see them talk together at shows. (And if collusion ruled those relationships, we would see a different dynamic here.)

MF's system is real close in many ways to JVS' so what is the culprit?

Is it your perception of measurements don't match JVS' experiences? Or is that HR has a more observable scientific method by way of comparisons of gear that seems more transparent? Or the way either communicates their observations?

It just may be about the type of subjective tests that reviewers are performing that fails to bring one type of measurement to be audible. Classical music omits a ton of performance areas for review parameters. The component review may be really for classical lovers. I certainly don't read anymore into it if he isn't remarking on other music.

Yet I do see JA defending JVS' experiences in his measurements section in last month's Infigo review. No one seems to ever acknowledge or comment on those reasonable defenses- ever.

Thank you for your explanation no matter what.

ChrisS's picture

...from mine?

No problem!

creativepart's picture

I went to pains to explain I wasn't claiming payola. And, I'm still not. I'm saying that products with distributors are granted more reviews due to attendance at shows, relationships with editors, and just increased personal contact. Companies expect their distributors to represent their brand for them and to advertise their brand for them. And, that's what they do.

Reviewed products end up on the Stereophile Recommended Products list because of this greater exposure to Stereophile writers and editors.

When someone from a small equipment company calls an editor their call will not be answered as readily as a call from that nice rep you met at the Munich show and shared a beer with last year. It's how the business works.

And, everyone should know when a product is getting a review in a future issue the Ad Dept is made aware and sales people call to suggest an ad be placed in that same issue. It's not pay to play because the ad sale has nothing to do with the product review being printed. But companies recognize synergy when they see it.

Add to this that most reviewers seem to be in Urban areas that have the traditional HiFi Shop. Where the rest of the country only has internet forums and online reviews to audition various products.

My entire point is... the list is tilted, skewed toward bigger budget, higher priced gear that is professionally represented and that is not necessarily representative of the broader equipment marketplace, and what mainstream audiophiles are buying.

Jazzlistener's picture

“My entire point is... the list is tilted, skewed toward bigger budget, higher priced gear that is professionally represented and that is not necessarily representative of the broader equipment marketplace, and what mainstream audiophiles are buying.”

I do not begrudge any company that does a good job marketing itself, attending shows, building a presence in the industry, etc. That’s a lot of hard work and investment. There is a boutique speaker company in my home town that makes outstanding speakers, but the owner has steadfastly refused to show them off at shows, market them properly, or work with dealers. The result has been failure to grow his company or draw attention to his speakers. That’s on him. Stereophile is only one of myriad sources on the Internet where audio enthusiasts can find reviews on gear. Many other reviewers cover mainstream products. In fact, if you’re interested in a product you’d be hard pressed not to find a reasonably to excellent credible review on it.

ChrisS's picture

Does no one know how to do that anymore?


Jean-Benoit's picture

It seems like an obvious thing to include, or else the reader is left to "manually" go looking for reviews of every component that piques his/her curiosity. Seems like a wholly unnecessary hassle for what is otherwise a really useful list.

CG's picture

Good suggestion!

I tried to search for the review of the Ayre VX-8. No luck, link or no.

John Atkinson's picture
CG wrote:
I tried to search for the review of the Ayre VX-8. No luck, link or no.

This review will be posted to the website on Friday. The other reviews in the new (October) issue will be posted over the next 10 days. (Stereophile gives priority to print subscribers.)

John Atkinson
Technical Editor/part-time web monkey

CG's picture

Ahh! Coming attractions, as they say. Fair enough, all around.

ChrisS's picture

The review for the EX is online...The new one should come up soon!

ednazarko's picture

Always stunned by how many people are compelled to tell the world at length how outraged they are about something online they don't like. Maybe insufficient joy in their lives? A lack of purpose? Afflicted with oppositional defiant disorder? I don't know. But if you think online comparison rankings of audio gear are a fruitless exercise, why read them? If you didn't read them, how can you have much of a useful opinion? Expressing outrage about something you refuse to read is mostly chest pounding and declaring superiority over the fools filling the world.

Don't like the comparison reviews? Really, just move on. Less rage hormones in your blood will extend your life span. Or raise money, buy the company, and show us your better ideas in action.

I enjoy reading through these comparison ratings. Don't agree with some, do agree with others. I've found over time that there are reviewers whose ears and preferences seem to match up with mine and others who don't. (In these twice yearly ratings, and in the ongoing reviews published.) These cyclical ratings and the ongoing reviews have been quite useful for me in trying and buying gear when living in a location that limits my ability to hear a lot of gear for myself.

Right now massively enjoying listening to Kingfish Live in London on my Okto stereo DAC, which I'd never have heard of without the review here, and would have never bought other than the reviewers were ones who's opinions and ears have matched with mine in the past, along with the wildly excellent measured performance. Through an old Anthem integrated that was well reviewed way long ago... and through B&W 702 speakers that got mixed reviews, but in the mix there were specifics that told me that they'd work well with my other components and in the large studio listening space I had. (And that I definitely needed the smattering of sound panels on the walls behind and to the side.)

Just because something pleases you not, or strikes you as ignorant and wasteful consumption of bits on the internet, doesn't mean that others don't find value and useful insights. Save your time and your cortisol and ignore the stuff you think it dumb. Life is short. Spend it well.

Glotz's picture


creativepart's picture

No anger, no stress on this end. Simply making suggestions in hopes of improving this twice a year feature (of the printed magazine). If you read anger and vitriol in phrases in my post like "I'd love to see you folks..." then it's not me that's overreacting.

If you like the listings as they are, then great. No one is stopping you. Me, I think they could be more meaningful than they are currently. But that's just me.

pinkfloyd4ever's picture

It would be really helpful if you posted a link to the full review of each of these products in this list

Jau's picture

In delections from their latest Recommended Components they relate to the Devialet Expert 140 Pro and say that it has been replaced by a new model which has not been tested. However, the Expert 140 Pro continues to appear on the Devialet website and there is no new model to replace it. (?)

Firemike's picture

Maybe a quick visit to Funk & Wagnall's might be in order to refresh ourselves of what a review and recommendation is. If a consumer wants to spend $10 or $20,000 on a widget, consider a review as gospel, or only an opinion, isn't that their prerogative? If a person prefers the sound of pink colored audio equipment made from crystals and walnuts from "Big HI FI" that has no scientific or measurable reasoning behind it, who are we to judge? Akin to politics and religion, each person votes with their ears and ultimately, wallet. Not every opposing view is a conspiracy which require's a need to question other's intentions. A review is nothing more than one person's opinion. Aren't we in this hobby to listen and enjoy music - not hyper analyze equipment, materials, and the evil empires that provide it? Somehow fellow hobbyist's have survived all of these years in life - many of them very successfully - without our subjective criticism. Yes, I get it. As a subscriber you have input into how you would prefer to see things done. Maybe a letter to the editor could be a consideration.

moukie's picture

Really surprised NOT to see Bryston 4B3 14B3 or 28B3 in the recommended amps and that is like every year

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