Spin Doctor #5: Vertere DG-1S record player & Playing 7" Records the Right Way

I have found that turntable designers typically fall into one of two camps. First are what I call the obsessive machinists. These are the people with impressive manufacturing chops and a sharp eye for fine detail and precision. For them, making a better turntable usually involves taking what we already know and simply doing it better.

Whether it's a thicker chassis, more powerful motor, more precise bearing, more effective isolation system, or something else, the emphasis is always on stepping things up a notch or two, rather than reinventing the wheel. This obsession can result in some impressive 'tables—some of the most impressive in the world, with awesome attention to detail. But are they the best sounding?

The other camp is what I call the deep thinkers. They approach the task of playing a record from a theoretical perspective and leverage their knowledge of physics to come up with fresh and innovative designs. The results may look unconventional, or even odd at first glance, but when such lateral thinking clicks, it can really push the boundaries of what's possible.

The real killer combo is when both of these traits are present in the same person, which is how I think of Vertere CEO and designer Touraj Moghaddam. In the early 1980s, when he was studying for his doctorate in mechanical engineering at the prestigious Imperial College London, he became obsessed with making his own hi-fi system sound better. At a time when three-point, spring-suspended turntables like the Linn Sondek LP12 ruled conventional thinking on turntable design, he went back to basic principles to create something better.

The results were impressive, and in 1985 he founded Roksan Engineering and launched the Xerxes (footnote 1). The Sondek LP12 remained the dominant force on the UK high-end turntable market, but the Xerxes soon cracked that stranglehold, gaining favor with retailers, consumers, and even the fickle British hi-fi press of the day. The Xerxes's combination of fresh thinking and high-precision manufacturing—both camps, together—led to a 'table many found demonstrably better, even (or especially) in the performance area where the LP12 excelled: what's known as PRaT, for pace, rhythm, and timing. Today, 38 years after its debut, the Xerxes is still being manufactured. (So is the Sondek LP12.)

Some 20 years later, seeking a fresh start, Moghaddam left Roksan to start Vertere Acoustics. You might expect Moghaddam to dive straight into pushing the record-playing envelope even further, but Vertere actually began life as a cable manufacturer, reflecting what Moghaddam felt was the weakest link in the audio chain of that time. It wasn't until 2013 that Vertere made a big splash by launching its first record-playing product, the original version of the Reference tonearm. Its eye-watering $35,000 price tag attracted a lot of attention (footnote 2).

At Vertere, the Reference Tonearm was soon joined by the RG-1 Reference Groove turntable, which itself was followed by the SG-1 Standard Groove, MG-1 Magic Groove, and eventually the DG-1 Dynamic Groove turntables, each another step toward affordability.

The Vertere DG-1S Dynamic Groove turntable
Vertere's most recent step is the DG-1 Dynamic Groove, which was recently upgraded to DG-1S status (footnote 3). Three preconfigured packages are available with varying combinations of cartridges and accessories, priced from $4899 to $6999. The review model came with the top Sabre package, which includes the Sabre moving magnet cartridge, Redline interconnect cables, Techno Mat platter mat, three Iso Paw footers, plus an electronic stylus pressure gauge. An additional option is the Challenger DC power supply ($675), which can be used in place of the DG-1S's standard wall wart. I didn't have the Challenger DC, so I used the standard wall wart throughout this review. The DG-1S is built in the UK. Its two-year warranty is automatically extended to five years upon product registration.

The mechanical design of the DG-1S follows the lead set by more costly Vertere turntables and Moghaddam's designs for Roksan before that. A multilayered construction approach using compliant rubber devices isolates the main plinth, which supports the motor, from a separate island set into the plinth that supports the platter and tonearm. The 24-pole synchronous motor is compliantly mounted to maintain even tension on both sides of the motor pulley. It is driven by a two-speed control circuit mounted inside the plinth. That plinth is a three-layer sandwich of black or white acrylic playing the bread role; the cheese is a clear center layer that can be illuminated internally by a white LED. Looks pretty.

The main platter bearing comes assembled and pre-oiled, with a dire warning to never pull the spindle out, which would disturb the oil film. The platter itself is a thin, 3lb alloy disc with a cork-and-rubber damping layer on the bottom and a top surface designed to interface directly with a record. A clever touch is how the lines printed on the platter surface function as an alignment protractor during cartridge installation. A clear, round cross-section silicone drive belt sits in a groove around the perimeter of the platter, eliminating the need for a subplatter.

The most eye-catching feature of the DG-1S is the Groove Runner S tonearm with its wide, flat profile and unique bearing structure. The flat shape is reminiscent of the E.A.T. E-Flat turntable or, for those of us with longer memories, the Tesla-built NAD 5120 from the 1980s. A key difference is that, as with the plinth, the arm uses a multilayered sandwich construction for stiffness and damping while also providing a neat way to route the cartridge wiring using a long, flexible PCB instead of more conventional stranded wires.

The unusual shape is not the only striking feature of the Groove Runner S. The arm's bearings are also very different, using twisted bundles of nylon thread under tension instead of more conventional rotating balls. Moghaddam realized that traditional ball bearings are designed for continuous rotation in the same direction, like a rolling wheel, while a tonearm only rotates by about 45 degrees at a time in the horizontal direction and even less vertically. Under real-world conditions, a tonearm has to reverse directions every 1.8 seconds due to imperfect record centering and less-than-perfect flatness. Just watch a cartridge playing a record, and you'll see it constantly bobbing and weaving from side to side and up and down like Ali fighting Frazier as it follows the record's moving groove. Under such conditions, a ball bearing will suffer stiction every time its motion reverses directions, while the Groove Runner S's thread bearings are stiction free.

Setting up the DG-1S Dynamic Groove: The DG-1S arrives mostly assembled, but a few tasks need to be completed to get it ready to play. If you're the kind of person who sees a printed manual and thinks it would make a fine birdcage liner, a series of short videos is available on YouTube to take you through the following steps.

First, remove the big, chunky transit screw that holds the main plinth and sub-plinth together. This frees up the rubber isolators that decouple the arm and platter island from the main chassis and motor. Next, lower the platter onto the main bearing and install the belt around the platter and motor pulley. The DG-1 is supported on three feet; rotate to adjust for perfect level. Now connect the tonearm's output to your system with the pair of RCA jacks and the grounding terminal around back, and connect the power supply—the wall wart or the upgrade if you have it—to the DC power socket.

The tonearm comes mostly set up out of the box, with the Sabre cartridge installed and aligned, but you'll need to attach the counterweight, which hangs under the arm on the rear. The instructions give you a starting point for positioning the weight, which you then adjust using the supplied stylus force gauge to measure. A small sliding weight on the front part of the arm allows you to fine-tune the tracking force once you're close.

With a new, fresh-from-the-box DG-1S record player, this is all you need to do to start playing music. But don't think the tonearm has limited adjustability: The arm allows you to adjust all the key parameters, including VTA/SRA, azimuth, overhang, zenith, and antiskate, which you'll want to do if you roll your own cartridge.

Operating the DG-1S is simple. Just press a button to start the motor then give it another push to toggle between 33 1/3 and 45rpm. To stop the motor, hold the button down for a couple of seconds. In contrast to tonearms that use a clip to secure the arm when not in use, the Groove Runner S has a screw-in locking pin, which you remove and store in a hole next to the armrest when you want to play a record.

While its design is quite different than either, in use this arm feels like a cross between a unipivot and the Well Tempered silicone-bath design, with a fair amount of give and springiness in the bearing, but side-to-side rolling is well-controlled in contrast to many unipivots.

I deal with cartridges destroyed by housekeepers every week, so I was happy to see that the DG-1S comes with a retro smoked brown dust cover to keep meddling fingers away.

The Sabre moving magnet cartridge follows the well-established formula of upgrading a well-established cartridge generator with a customized mount. For the Sabre, Vertere uses a machined-aluminum body, which secures the generator using four carefully torqued screws instead of the more common, less-precise method of gluing it in place. Vertere says that this approach delivers better mechanical coupling and better resonance control. The rest of the cartridge is conventional. The cantilever is aluminum. The stylus is elliptical. Less conventional is the use of an AlNiCo magnet.

Footnote 1: I was sufficiently impressed by the original Xerxes that I ended up working for Roksan for a couple of years in the early 1990s. However, I've had no connection to Roksan or Moghaddam for more than three decades and have never been connected with Vertere.

Footnote 2: This was before collective sticker shock was numbed by, eg, Marc Gomez's Swedish Analog Technologies (SAT) tonearm.

Footnote 3: Vertere Acoustics, 5 Oliver Business Park, Oliver Rd., London NW10 7JB, UK. Web: Vertereacoustics.com. US distributor: Rutherford Audio, 14 Inverness Dr. East, Unit G-108, Englewood, CO 80112. Tel: (888) 279-6765. Email: info@rutherfordaudio.com. Web: rutherfordaudio.com.

PaulMG's picture

Indeed, the Xerxes was a most innovative design-approach! However I always wonder why the most innovative approach found in the design of the laser-turntable (today manufactured and sold by ELP Corp., Japan) wasn’t preferred by hard-core audiophiles? Maybe the majority of vinyl-aficionados prefer to tinker and to tweak and to roll cartridges and to permanently “calibrate” their turntable instead of listening most relaxed to the music?

supamark's picture

That TG 7" impressed me more than the turntable! I've always preferred their later projects (especially Coil) but I'm kinda gobsmacked that:
1. they released a 7" single
2. you not only have a copy, but put it in Stereophile

The pre-Cupid & Psyche Scritti Politti single was also a surprise. Most of mine are 80's new wave and post-punk. Sadly, I can't set my 'table up for them (it's a Rega)... though maybe my 35 year old Thorens TD-316/V-15 type V can be turned into a 7" player.

Mark Phillips,
Contributor, Soundstage! Network

cgh's picture

The guy that got me into audio.... I was a kid, it was the 80's, he had these big six foot tall Beveridge electrostatic speakers that were tweaked by Dalquist. Listening to Hamburger Lady and Hit by a Rock in the wee hours of the morning. Formative.

Glotz's picture

I was scared shitless.. lol.


Not for use in public, but auditioning is fine.

Anton's picture

If you really wanna have some fun, cue up both songs on your computer and play them simultaneously.

It works great.

Revolution 9 is about the length of two Hamburger Ladies.

Seriously, give it a try.

Glotz's picture

Lol.. Strange coincidence- Back in the late 80's I did a mash up of Rev 9 with Elenor Rigby and a little of She Said... mixed over Public Enemy's Bring the Noise (with Malcolm X's speech bites).

I did it for a U of Minn class for a friend who had to come up with a created song of his own.. lol. He got an A!

I shoulda stuck with that... sigh.

Glotz's picture

connected to Rev 9! More engaging material with more going on!

LOVE it. Kudos!