Spiral Groove SG2 turntable Page 2

There are way too many refinements to list, but they add up to higher performance and, not surprisingly, price. Where the RPM-1 cost about $5000, the SG2 will set you back $15,000. Much of the higher cost is accounted for in the more precise machining and assembly operations. The original SOTA 'tables appeared to have been built to a price point; RPMs were a big improvement, I felt, built of components produced to spec by a competent machine shop. The shop that produces Spiral Groove components—the seventh to try—specializes in high-precision aerospace components and tools for microsurgery. "They love doing it," Perkins told me; "they view it as something new, and an interesting challenge."

Use and Listening
My SG2 came with an armboard pre-drilled for the Tri-Planar tonearm I'd be using—see Sidebar—so setup was a simple five-minute operation. The Tri-Planar protractor also made mounting and aligning the Lyra Titan i cartridge easy, so in no time I was ready to go. The SG2 was set up on my Finite Elemente stand and plugged into a system consisting of a Sutherland PhD phono stage, Placette Active line stage, VTL MB-750 Signature monoblock amplifiers, and Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia II loudspeakers. I used Stereovox signal and speaker cables for most of my listening, and Audience power-conditioning and delivery gear throughout. In addition to the Titan i, I also used the vastly different Grado Signature Reference cartridge. In cases where I wanted to isolate what the Spiral Groove–Tri-Planar setup was doing, I compared its sound to that of my reference VPI HR-X turntable and arm by swapping cartridges and conducting back-to-back listening sessions.

I'd been living on a pretty steady diet of downloads, iPods, and CDs at the time, and was totally unprepared for what I heard when the needle dropped into the groove of that very first LP. The music, "Accidents Will Happen," from Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (Columbia JC 35709), spilled out of the speakers, bloomed, and completely took over my listening room. My first thought was that the instruments and voices had popped from two dimensions to three, like some sort of foldout book, and the detail and tonal palette had gone from sepia to Technicolor.

The performance had a totally different feel from the CD. The precision and impact of transients, as in Steve Nieve's chiming piano riffs in "Oliver's Army," gave the music an urgency and wave-like drive that was beyond some tipping point, and felt closer to live music than to the digital version. Even on slower, more introspective tracks, each note evolved and ended in a way that had me unconsciously leaning forward in anticipation of the next one. An example from that first listening session was "Death of an Unpopular Poet," from Jimmy Buffet's A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean (Dunhill DSX-50150). Steve Goodman's acoustic guitar flourishes were obvious exclamation points in the piece's rhythm, but even the delicate celesta notes deep in the mix had the same urgency and impulsion.

The SG2's timing and pace were especially dramatic on recordings of acoustic instruments played in a natural space. I listened to Artur Rubinstein's performance, with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto 2, on both LP and CD (RCA Living Stereo LSC-2068). The sound of the digital version was lovely, but through the SG setup, it became a performance. I was in Chicago's Orchestra Hall with the performers, breathing the air and feeling the excitement. The SG2's uncanny temporal precision and solidity locked me in to the music's timing and swept me along as it unfolded. Even after weeks of listening, long after I'd been thoroughly recalibrated to the sound of LPs, I remained a little awestruck by the SG2's energy. Each time I cued up a record, even at the end of a long listening session, the first passages would always catch me a little off guard, in the way a live performance will.

Back-to-back comparisons with other front ends, both analog and digital, highlighted the strengths of the SG2-Tri-Planar setup. In one, I listened to the Reiner-Chicago performance of Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole (RCA Living Stereo LSC-2183) through several digital and analog combinations. I began by listening to the recording on three different CDs: the RCA reissue and two discs I'd burned from the LP, one using the SG2-Tri-Planar-Lyra setup, the other using my VPI HR-X fitted with the Grado Signature Reference. The performances differed in their tonal balance and resolution of detail, but all were lovely and had a similar feel.

I next played the LP, beginning with the VPI-Grado rig, and immediately heard a dramatic difference: detail, vivid tonal colors, and the energy of a live performance were brought into my room, as well as the performance space itself. Musicians and stage became more tangible and three-dimensional, and instead of hearing cues and mentally reconstructing the space, I could feel the ambience.

Staying with the VPI HR-X 'table but replacing the Grado cartridge with the Lyra Titan i brought about a number of changes. The Titan i shifted the tonal balance upward and made instruments' timbres more lean, particularly from the midrange down. It also extended and opened up the stage, and focused more sharply on individual sections and performers. Even my perspective changed, from mid-hall to front and center. Switching cartridges had definitely changed a lot of things, but the one thing that absolutely hadn't changed was the performance's pace and timing.

For the next sessions, I replaced the VPI HR-X with Spiral Groove SG2 and Tri-Planar, first fitted with the Lyra Titan i. This made another significant change, though of a different sort than when I'd changed cartridges. Switching from the VPI to the Spiral Groove retained everything the former had brought to the performance while noticeably upping the intensity. Now, with the lights out, the tension just before the opening passage gave me goose bumps and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up—just as happens at a live performance. With the SG2 in the system, I started slightly at each note as the strings descended through the slow opening passage of Rapsodie espagnole. Images were more sharply focused than with the HR-X, and popped out of the background to an even greater extent. The biggest difference between the turntables, though, was that with the Spiral Groove the music seemed to pull me into its current, lock me there, and sweep me along with the flow.

These comparisons also confirmed what I'd suspected about the Spiral Groove's tonal characteristics. I couldn't attribute any particular anomalies or tonal balance to the SG2—or to the HR-X, for that matter—but they did give my system slightly different tonal flavors. The differences were smaller than that between the Lyra and Grado cartridges, but the VPI-fed system had a consistently deeper and more powerful bottom end. Bass drums, and prominent rock or jazz bass lines, commanded a little more of my attention with the VPI, and seemed to have warmer, richer timbres. Conversely, the Spiral Groove sounded more authoritative in the midrange and lower treble. Women's voices, brass, violas and violins, and most rock-guitar leads stood out more with the SG2.

Spiral Groove
1516 Fifth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 559-2050