Robert Deutsch Upgrades His Record Player Page 2

The TA-1000 permits adjustment of VTA/SRA and azimuth—important adjustments, especially when using a cartridge fitted with a line-contact stylus, as is the Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC (see sidebar). Adjusting azimuth involves loosening and then tightening three screws that hold the armtube in the bearing housing. Michael Tang, doing the setup for me, at first expressed concern about the difficulty of adjusting azimuth in this manner, but afterward told me that it had actually been quite easy. He used the Dr. Feickert record and software to adjust the azimuth to produce equal left–right and right–left crosstalk. Art noted that his review sample of the TA-1000 had higher-than-optimal vertical bearing friction, but this was not a problem with my sample. (Bill Henk of importer Fidelis AV told me that the vertical-bearing problem that Art identified was restricted to early samples of the 12" version.)

The TA-1000 impressed as precision-made machinery, with outstanding fit and finish, as did the WOW XXL. In use, it felt somewhat delicate, with a finger lift that was quite short (less than ½"), thin, and slippery. My hands are fairly small; even so, I had to concentrate on gripping the lift carefully if I didn't want it to slip from my fingers.

Cables, Mats, & Weights
After the 50 hours of break-in—during which I assiduously avoided forming an opinion—the combination of Acoustic Signature WOW XXL and TA-1000 with Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC impressed me with its dynamics and powerful bass. However, the sound was a little rough around the edges, lacking some finesse and being more forward than ideal. Given that I was listening to a new turntable, tonearm, and cartridge, I couldn't say which of these components, individually or in combination, was responsible for what I heard. But I had the feeling that this combo of phono gear was capable of better sound than was evident from this stock configuration.

The most obvious area to address was the choice of phono cable. The fact that Acoustic Signature had included only a $75 "basic" cable made me think that they expect people to buy a better one. After all, what's the point of having the option of choosing your own phono cable unless you take advantage of the opportunity?

The cables I use in the rest of my system (interconnects, speaker cables, power cords) are all Nordost Valhalla 2, so it made sense for me to try the Valhalla 2 phono cable, which is too stiff for my Linn's suspension. At $4799.99, the Valhalla 2 costs more than most people are willing to spend for a phono cable, but its use could perhaps effectively eliminate that cable as a limiting factor in the performance of the system. (I suppose that Nordost's Odin 2 phono cable might be even better (footnote 4), but I have a real problem with its price: $11,999.99.)

In any case, substituting the Valhalla 2 for the stock cable resulted in a major improvement: I heard greater finesse and subtlety of instrumental textures, and the somewhat gritty quality in the upper midrange and low treble effectively disappeared. I have difficulty recommending to prospective buyers of the TA-1000 the purchase of a phono cable that costs almost three times as much as the tonearm itself, but I think the price imbalance is largely a reflection of the TA-1000 being underpriced. I definitely recommend going for something better than AS's stock cable. I've had good results with Nordost's original Frey phono cable on my Linn Ittok LVII; its successor, the Frey 2 ($839.99), might be a somewhat reasonably priced alternative to the Valhalla 2.

But while the Nordost Valhalla 2 phono cable made a big difference, I thought I could coax even better performance from this phono system, so I turned my attention to the platter mat.

The XXL is provided with a leather mat that has circular cutouts to accommodate the Silencers, which stand very slightly (less than 1mm) proud of the platter's surface. Yes, other mats can be used. I tried Linn's felt mat and the Ringmat, both of which I quite like on the Linn, but preferred the Acoustic Signature's standard mat to either of those. On the Internet I found some very favorable references to the intriguingly named Herbie's Way Excellent II Turntable Mat. Made of "finely textured, open-cell silicone foam," it's claimed to have "unsurpassed vibration-absorbing characteristics." Among those endorsing Herbie's mat is the Cable Company's Robert Stein, who in the past has steered me toward effective tweaks; he sent me a sample of the Way Excellent II mat of the appropriate size. (The mat is available with slightly varied diameters, to match different turntables, and thicknesses that are the same as a 'table's original mat, so that the SRA and VTA can remain unchanged.)

The performance of Herbie's mat was, well, way excellent. Compared to the WOW XXL's standard mat, I heard no change in the tonal balance, and especially no dulling of the highs (which I would not want, and which is often the result of using a soft mat), but there was better differentiation of instruments on the soundstage. The mat is priced from $59.99 (the 2.0mm-thick model I used) to $104.95 (7.2mm thick)—more than reasonable for the improvement provided.

Photos of Acoustic Signature turntables often show them with record weights, but the WOW XXL was not provided with one. I tried several popular weights; the effects were variable, some changing the sound but not necessarily improving it. My favorite weight, the Harmonic Resolution Systems ADL (for Analog Disk Light—$220), did improve the sound, the bass especially acquiring greater clarity. The ADL weighs 315gm; I thought the extra mass might increase the platter's startup time, but the effect was negligible—perhaps a second.

With the Nordost Valhalla 2 tonearm cable, Herbie's Way Excellent II mat, and HRS ADL record weight in place, the WOW XXL, TA-1000, and Zephyr MIMC came into their own—and how! I was, as the heading of Richard Lehnert's thought-provoking "As We See It" in the November 2015 issue puts it, starting over again for the first time, and it seemed appropriate to begin by playing the audiophile recordings that were popular when I first got interested in audio—records I hadn't played in years. Ones that I think of with particular fondness are the direct-to-disc offerings from Sheffield Lab, especially Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues, Volume III (LP, Sheffield Lab 10001). But before playing this LP on the Acoustic Signature–Soundsmith system, I played it on my Linn-based system.

And it sounded . . . pleasant. Mayorga's arrangement of Bernstein's "America" is brilliant in how it translates this very theatrical piece into a pop jazz idiom without losing the theatrical feel. Through the Linn-based system, the phrases punctuated by trumpets had a relaxed feel—nothing to make me sit up and take notice. Through the AS-Soundsmith system the effect was quite different: much more dynamic, with more detail. Trumpets had more vitality, and more of the brassy timbre the instrument has in person. The soundstage was wide and deep, with good differentiation of instruments. The entry of Mayorga's harpsichord midway through the track was better focused in space, with greater clarity. Similarly, the sound of the timpani was more clearly articulated, with less overhang than through the Linn-based system. These impressions were confirmed when I played "normal" LPs—such as the soundtrack album for the film Oklahoma! (LP, Capitol WAO 595), probably the first record I ever bought. It's mono, of course, and has its share of clicks and pops, but is quite listenable for all that. Listening to it through the AS-Soundsmith system, I found myself, as Richard Lehnert might put it, moved as well as delighted.

The Bottom Line
Built to a high standard, and offered at prices that, in an audiophile context, can be called moderate, Acoustic Signature's WOW XXL turntable and TA-1000 tonearm perform in a way that shows a thorough understanding of the needs of vinyl playback. Furthermore, their sound can be improved through the use of ancillaries (better phono cable and platter mat, use of a suitable record weight). They're well matched by the Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC cartridge, which also offers high performance at a moderate price. For audiophiles who have progressed past the entry level and aspire to the highest standards at prices that are still affordable, these are outstanding choices.—Robert Deutsch

Footnote 4: See Sasha Matson's report from the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest on a comparison between VPI's standard tonearm cable and the Odin 2.

Boogieman1's picture

Dear Sir,
I enjoy your writing very much - all of your pieces are very well written. However, a big question remains after reading this article: how did you go about selecting the turntable? There are so many brands out there - vpi, clearaudio, rega, avid, sme, spiral groove, oracle, basis, kuzma.....

Add combinations of tonearms and cartridges, and one can go completely crazy just thinking about all the possibilities, let alone listening to all the combinations.

So how do you recommend one select a turntable?
Thank you

Robert Deutsch's picture

Thank you for the comment on my writing.
You're right: selecting a turntable is not an easy task. There are lots of 'tables out there, and there is hardly ever an opportunity to compare the sound of different turntables in stores with everything else in the system kept as a constant. In the absence of personal experience, turntable selection is a bit of a guessing game, albeit an educated one. Prior to my experience with Acoustic Signature, I have not reviewed any turntables myself, so, in selecting a new turntable, I had to rely largely on the opinion of others, including reviews in Stereophile (and, yes, even other magazines/webzines). It was actually Herb Reichert's writeup of the WOW XL that first piqued my interest, and, talking to some people in the industry, including Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith, helped me to zero in on Acoustic Signature as offering high quality and high value. And, I figured, if the XL is good, the XXL is likely to be better. There were some other turntables that I was considering, and I can't say whether the one I chose was the best, but it's certainly an excellent turntable, especially with the various tweaks I described.
As for a general recommendation on how to select a turntable--well, I don't think there's a formula that will guarantee you'll choose the right one. An obvious first step is to make a tentative decision on how much money you're willing to spend--keeping in mind that if you're also buying a tonearm and a cartridge, there may be tradeoffs in allocating parts of your budget to various components. By all means read reviews--but don't expect them to make the decision for you. Go to local audio stores, and talk to them about turntable recommendations. (Just don't expect them to be completely impartial in any negative comments about products they don't carry.) Go to regional audio shows, where you're likely to see products you may not be familiar with, but which should be considered. Try to get a demo.
And once you have your new turntable setup, stop reading about other turntables and just listen to the music!

billdevaux's picture

Dear Robert,
I am very interested in your opinion of the Soundsmith cartridge but what really got my attention was your mention of using plugin resistors in some of your listening tests with it. I'd like to know if you felt they degraded the sound in any way? I'm curious because I'm thinking about using plugin capacitance adjusters (from DBSystems) to match capacitance on MM cartridges. Many good MM phono stages lack the ability to match preamp and cartridge capacitances.


Bill Devaux

Robert Deutsch's picture

The plug-in resistors did not degrade the sound in any way (except for the one that represented a mismatch). However, this conclusion should not be generalized to the use of other plug-in resistors/capacitors with other phono stages/cartridges. The CAT preamp has paralleled phono inputs, so there is no external device involved.
But, now that I think of it, years ago I had a preamp that had no built in provision for plug-in resistors/capacitors, and I remember using RCA Y-connectors for capacitors. I never checked whether the Y-connector itself caused any sonic degradation, but the appropriate capacitive loading improved the sound.

helomech's picture


I enjoyed reading your article. I recently purchased a Wow XL and awaiting its arrival.

I also ordered the Acoustic Signature tonearm and opted for the DIN connector.

Can you tell me if the Cove cable that came with your tonearm has a 90 degree or straight connector at the table end? The Zavfino site displays both types. I would imagine the straight connector might have clearance issues on the Wow. This information would be of great help because I'd like to make my own 1/2 meter cable before my Wow arrives.

Many thanks.