Schiit Audio Sol turntable FollowUp June 2021

Ken Micallef returned to the Schiit Sol in June 2021 (Vol.44 No.6):

Before the ink had dried on my review of the Schiit Audio Sol turntable (footnote 1), Stereophile la Jefa Jim Austin asked me to write a follow-up review on that feature-packed, $799 analog machine. This wasn't going to be the typical, try-it-with-similar-components assessment; I did that last time, evaluating the Sol with the included cartridges, the Schiit Ragnarok 2 integrated, and the Klipsch RP-600M loudspeakers.

But with all its adjustability, it's clear that the Sol isn't your average entry-level 'table. In his manufacturer's comment, Schiit cofounder Mike Moffat wrote that the tonearm "is absolutely suitable for the finest of cartridges"—a remarkable claim considering that you can buy a spare arm for about $200. Taking note of the Sol's apparent ambitiousness, I wanted to see how well the Sol would perform when mated with better cartridges—and preamps and so on—equipment not often paired with an $800 turntable.

To briefly summarize the Sol's high-value options: interchangeable, 11" carbon fiber, unipivot tonearm; Audio-Technica AT-VM95EN cartridge (included); aluminum-alloy diecast platter; external asynchronous motor; fully adjustable VTA, azimuth, antiskate, arm height, and platter height.

Equipment used this time to critique the Sol: Denon DL-103 and Hana ML moving coil cartridges; Tavish Design Adagio Vacuum Tube phono stage; Shindo Laboratory Allegro preamp and Haut-Brion power amp; Klipsch Forte III floorstanding speakers; Shindo interconnects and AudioQuest Castle Rock speaker cables.

Before listening to the Sol with my reference ancillaries, I was curious if I could upgrade the turntable's performance on its own terms. I thought I could better the gummy-feeling, cork-and-rubber–composite mat that comes stock. I tried two mats sold by Music Hall: the Aztec Blue ($88.99) and Mooo Mats. Both are made from cork. The Aztec Blue is a three-layer cork mat that grips the platter while isolating the record. "This lowers record vibration and reduces acoustic feedback," the website says. The sadly discontinued Mooo Mat is thicker, one side cork, the other side—I'm not making this up—cow fur.

I also tried the Spec AP-UD1, which is literally a lacquer of the sort used to make records. Manufactured in Nagano Prefecture, Japan, the AP-UD1 is sandblasted twice then covered in a vinyl-like surface.

I used the Audio-Technica AT-VM95EN cartridge, the base preinstalled Sol cartridge. The AT cart is a good all-rounder, and for my money more coherent and cleaner than the Grado Opus3 MM cart Schiit offers as an upgrade. I judged the three mats playing John Coltrane's "Bakai," from his 1957 mono debut, John Coltrane (LP, Prestige 7105). Joined by trumpeter Johnnie Splawn, baritone saxophonist Sahib Shihab, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath, "Bakai" is an Afro-Cuban workout.

When Trane enters to solo, it's like a blast furnace combusting hot air, his mulelike tone and rapid delivery of notes scorching. What had been a loose cocktail party is now a two-fisted brawl, but somehow beautiful. With the Sol mat, Trane's tenor was large and dead center in a soundstage reproduced with good detail and depth.

The Aztec Blue mat cleared away congestion that I had not been aware of, allowing in more air, better front-to-back layering of instruments, and enhanced transient snap. There was a diminution of upright bass weight, but the lower frequencies were clearer and better sorted. Trane's tenor sounded more natural, the production on the record more refined.

Where the Aztec widened the mono center-fill area with superior clarity, the Moo scrunched them together again. Tootie Heath's ride cymbal sounded more constricted, but Red Garland's piano tone improved.

At $350, the Spec AP-UD1 bested all the others. I wouldn't have thought a hard black disc that feels and looks like a grooveless record would improve the sound of the Sol more than a conventional squishy mat, but it did, and not by a little. Clarity increased twofold, as did the depth and width of the soundstage. I could hear deeper into the mix resulting in what sounded like more resonance and tone from the upper cavity of the acoustic bass; superior resolution of the ride cymbal in both its transient "ping" and the resonance of cymbal body; more distinct and precise location of the instruments in space; improved microdynamic retrieval; and a more natural and organic presentation. Instruments sounded cleaner, less gritty and confused.

Compared to my reference Kuzma Stabi R turntable and 11" Kuzma 4Point arm, it would be easy to say what the Sol didn't do. What surprised me is how much it did do and how well it did it compared to my $15k analog front end.

I pulled out one of my test discs for bass reproduction: Kraftwerk's Tour De France (two-LP, Kling Klang 50999 6 99593 1 8). This is a fantastic set of engrossing electronic rhythms and rich-sounding synthesizers in mini epics of drama, scale, color, and atmosphere. Like driving a Merida Reacto V4 road bike through country highways while wearing ZMF Vérité Closed headphones, Tour De France is a travelogue in sound.

Staying with the Audio-Technica cartridge mounted on the Sol's 11" tonearm, listening through my reference gear, the combination resolved Tour De France with pinpoint imaging, excellent layering, and a generally tactile, clean, forceful presentation. As noted in the original review, the Sol possesses first-rate rhythmic prowess and energy, especially with this cartridge.

I played an array of vinyl to assay different parameters of the Sol's ability to reproduce music in my reference environment. The Sol acquitted itself well with John Coltrane's Black Pearls (LP, Prestige PR 7316), providing solid acoustic bass and cymbal weight, good imaging, and stellar dynamics and texture on one of Trane's "sheets of sound" solos. Pianists Alfons and Aloys Kontarsky's 1977 performance of Bartók's Sonate für 2 Klaviere und Schlagzeug (LP, Deutsche Grammophon 2530 964A) delivered fast transients and superb imaging; various percussion instruments surprised with their speedy delivery and rock-solid positioning. British electronic duo Plaid's The Digging Remedy (Warp Records WARPLP277) proved even more low-frequency capable than Kraftwerk, the little AT cart and the Sol producing room-filling, head-throbbing, submarine-synth bass lines.

Playing keyboardist Don Grolnick's reggae-funk, four-over-three, swooning "Pointing at the Moon" from 1985's Hearts and Numbers (Hip Pocket Records HP106), Steve Jordan's bass drum was tight and well defined via the Forte's big woofers; Will Lee's electric bass pumped warmly in dank, staccato notes; Jeff Mironov's guitar seared cleanly and grain free; Michael Brecker's tenor saxophone roamed up and down the frequency range, snorting hot air in the nether regions and blowing shrill, free-jazz blasts above. A $799 turntable with an inexpensive MM cart was knocking me down—a hot, hard punch to the gut.

But: The Audio-Technica cart's tonal palette was constricted, its delivery congested, its sonics somewhat thin compared to my reference. The AT is superb for the money, but I wanted to hear what the Sol could do with better cartridges.

First, I mounted a Denon DL-103 MC cart on an extra Sol arm—ease of arm swapping is one of the Sol's joys—switched inputs, and adjusted loading on the Tavish Design Adagio phono preamplifier.

The fun continued. Along with the Grolnick disc, I listened to Alfons and Aloys Kontarsky's Bartók LP and John Coltrane's Black Pearls to gauge the Sol through my Shindo and Klipsch separates.

The step up from Audio-Technica MM to Denon MC was large: improved dynamics and tone, lower-end heft, and meat-on-the-bones richness and body. Playing the brothers Kontarsky's Bartók LP with the DL-103 was like adding extra red sauce to my scungilli. There was more depth to the soundstage and more richness to the piano and percussion. Whereas before, the record's xylophone strikes were pinpoint, direct, and small, with the Denon the center-positioned xylophone gained body, with better sustain and rounder, fuller notes. Snare drum gained heft, and I could more easily detect the almost subliminal bass drum strikes positioned lower left on the soundstage. The Sol allowed the Denon's character to come through, changing the experience for the better in every way.

All the instruments in Grolnick's "Pointing at the Moon" grew deeper and richer with the Sol/Denon combo, with enhanced weight and attack. There was also more nuance—longer sustain on Steve Jordan's toms and bass drum and warmer tone and weight from Will Lee's bass.

The soundstage on Coltrane's Black Pearls was deeper and fuller with the Denon on the Sol, with improved sustain and detail from all the instruments. When Coltrane's solo in the title track hits the joint running, improved microdynamics and air through the tenor made me feel closer to the recording and closer to the man himself, which is my ultimate goal in all of this hi-fi–voodoo search for the holy audio grail. Now I could almost hear Coltrane thinking between notes and feel his chest heave as he snorted and belched those sheets of slurred 32nd notes.

The sonic distance between the Denon DL-103 MC and the Hana ML MC was less pronounced but still noticeable (footnote 2). The Hana seemed to light up the treble, supercharging Coltrane's keening tone and pointed attack, making his saxophone sound even more alive and tactile, more what I imagine he sounded like in a club, sitting at a table right up front. There was more force and resonance and big-hearted, hard-headed tone. Art Taylor's ride cymbal became more brilliant, Paul Chambers's bass tone rounder.

While the Hana ML attached to the Sol made some instruments sound richer and fuller, it made the pianos on Alfons and Aloys Kontarsky's version of Bartók's Sonate für 2 Klaviere und Schlagzeug sound harder, with more severe note attacks. The ML pushed treble notes forward while lending instruments more body and low-end substance. Texture and dynamics improved, as heard in the previously mentioned xylophone strikes. Where the Denon added weight, tone, and humanity, the Hana ML was more forceful and purposeful but also a little pushy up top.

I believe this to be the true nature of the Hana ML. The Denon DL-103 is a classic cartridge because it plays with such top-to-bottom musicality, for an entry-level price. The Hana is more resolving, potent, and visceral than the Denon—less laid-back—but perhaps a little forward in the treble. The Sol easily and assuredly revealed the differences in the cartridges.

Though less solid-sounding and tonally and texturally generous than my 18-times-as-expensive Kuzma Stabi R turntable and 4Point tonearm, the Schiit Audio Sol need offer no apologies. The Sol revealed the nature of every mat and cart put on it. It's a time-measuring machine and a truth-teller. Plus, it's as dynamic as "all get out," as we still say down south whenever I go avisiting. Schiit infused the Sol with soul—and value, joined to adjustability and transparency otherwise unheard of at its $799 price. Schiit is still the Schiit.—Ken Micallef

Footnote 1: The Schiit Sol with tonearm and Audio-Technica AT-VM95EN cartridge costs $799.

Footnote 2: MSRP for the Hana ML is $1299, or about $500 more than the Schiit Sol turntable including tonearm and A-T cartridge.

Schiit Audio
22508 Market St.
Newhall, CA 91321
(323) 230-0079

tonykaz's picture

I was gonna bitch a little because the darn thing doesn't have switchable headschells but geeze an entire Arm for $200 seems like 1980 pricing, doesn't it? So, have a few Arm & Cartridge combinations.

Is it possible that the Schiit guys could build a solid Mechanical Device ?, I'm hoping a follow-up series of commentary about how this machine handles one of the beautiful MC transducers that Mr.Moffat suggests it's capable of scaling-up to.

Thinking mechaniclly, those LINN people came up with a dam nice design build right from the very beginning even though they had the little AR turntable to copy and improve. What did Schiit Copy and Improve ?

This device has me thinking that our Stoddard & Moffat team are a later day version of the brilliant workings of LINN-NAIM. Now they might just present their own versions of the KANN,SARA & ISOBARAK line of tri-amped Loudspeakers.

I've known these guys for 10 years, their Ideology has never been a veneer. I've been delighted with every piece of Schiit gear I purchased .

Tony in a opened-up Venice Florida

ps. I'm not buying one of these players, my future is shirt pocket.

CG's picture

Nice review, but, ummm...

dclark2171's picture

I watched the Schiit set-up video on youtube when the TT was first released. For people like myself, who do not like to fiddle with such, looked too complicated to set up than it should have been. I'm sure the setup is much better now (I believe the setup video was for beta users at the time). If I were a "tinkerer" I'd probably be attracted to this.

Old Audiophile's picture

I've always had an aversion to turntables with (even heavy) outboard motors that had to be positioned in the right spot during set-up. My fear (maybe illogical?) was/is that, over time, vibration or belt tensile strength could have an effect, however small, on that "right spot" and, hence, speed accuracy. Seems this would be especially important with a tonearm like this one. I assume some kind of adhesive could be used to anchor an outboard motor but why chance marring a nice rack or surface? I understand the advantage(s) of decoupling the motor but this can be achieved without an outboard, no? Physics was never my strong suit. So, is this just one of my irrational, illogical phobias?

Glotz's picture

Yes. The Analog Planet did a speed test on this TT. It is negligible.

One should always replace their belts once a year.

I have a trick for outboard motors that allows me to replace the belt once every two or three years. If you 'remove' the belt when it is not being played, by pulling the belt off the pulley and letting the belt rest completely on the platter sides when not in play, it drastically reduces the large angle 'sit-time' of the belt in the 'pulled' position.

A belt stretches less when it's closer to it's original shape!

Generally, it takes a great deal of isolation effort to mate/mount a motor housing system onto/into a TT effectively. Connected vibration of all related parts is substantial. It takes even greater effort to isolate now more 'intimately-related' parts.

Stand-alone motors also suffer from their connection to the support (and to the rest of the table). Many mfgs. do improve their products by continually addressing the isolation of their outboard motor housings. VPI is an excellent example in the Prime 21.

Ortofan's picture

... a split-plinth design to isolate the motor from the tonearm and platter while keeping everything together as one unit.

It also includes electronic speed change, a dustcover and an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. Adding the optional acrylic platter brings the price up to about the same as the that of the Sol.

jagwap's picture

But 1.5 minutes? That is not long. Many factors are involved beyond the baring, but Roksan managed > 40 minutes 25 years ago with an aluminium platter.

Old Audiophile's picture

Glotz, certainly no offense taken! And, yes, that is a nice trick with the belt. I've been doing that for years with my TTs. Also, I couldn't agree more with dclark2171! Too much fussin' & tweakin' for my tastes. However, I have to say this is certainly an interesting TT, especially that tonearm. I would love to have the opportunity to hear it sometime. If I were inclined, I'd be the type to set it up properly on something rock solid, stop tweaking, approach that tonearm with caution and just enjoy the music. Stay safe, everybody!

Glotz's picture

It does look like it takes some additional attention without a doubt. Michael Fremer also spoke to that caveat in his Analog Planet review.

If my current 'table took a dirt nap and I was without extra spending cash, I would certainly get this table (after listening to several Rega and Project tables too, lol)!

And since I've bought the solid-sounding Schiit Modius for streaming, I do note that there will surely be a 15% restocking fee applied to returns.

Without ruffling anyone's feathers, that alone may be cause for concern.
Perhaps all mechanically-complicated products (many moving parts/sub assemblies) from online / mail order manufacturers could have prospective customers suffer from 'restocking-fee' fear. It would give me pause for sure- unless there were excellent reviews here (and there) easing my trepidation.

Still, it's inherent tweakiness coupled with a restocking fee makes me glad you and Clark brought this up! It is important for customers to know.

Glotz's picture

The company is expanding to Texas! And... This one of the FUNNIEST ADS I HAVE EVER SEEN! (See the latest Stereophile ad for Schiit.)

"Stop Laughing" indeed!

Darrylizer's picture

The Sol is no longer made unfortunately. Supply chain problems, etc. have done it in. Maybe it will return some day.