Spotheim La Luce turntable and SpJ tonearm Page 3

There follows in the manual a discussion of the different thicknesses of vinyl from various labels and how best to compensate for them, and a treatise—far too detailed to go into here—on shifting between the Baerwald and Löfgren overhang values. Suffice it to say that I've never before seen the engineering bases of turntable setup explained so thoroughly. The math is clearly laid out, and the precise adjustments to compensate for the adjustments are explicated to the nines. Competence, elegance, and forethought drip from every plane of La Luce.

Installation completed, I stepped back and admired the handiwork. The 'table isn't huge, occupying a modest area of 12" by 16" and standing 11" in height on the supporting pucks—exclusive of the motor, of course. The sand-filled Big Rock 1 and Air Mass 2 add another 7" of height, bringing the whole thing up to a perfect level for easy access on top of the 32" PolyCrystal stand.

Ah, what a lovely turntable. Let's start with the French group Air's new release, Moon Safari (Source 8 44978 11). I've been enjoying the resurgence of French pop recently, listening to both CD and LP versions of this and their previous release, Premier Symptomes (Source 8 94287 66). I noticed immediately the utter sense of clarity, detail, and quietness of the presentation. Out of a beautifully natural, airy, silent, yet somehow organic soundstage, there burst forth a rainbow of tonal colors that captivated my mind and soul. Focus was exemplary and was, no doubt, responsible for a supremely high-order sense of body and palpability. The Utopias were gone from the room, disappearing so perfectly that I was never aware of their presence.

Dynamics were extraordinary, both in the micro and macro senses, much enhanced by the utter transparency that is the La Luce's nature. Listening deep into the soundstage via the YBA 6 Chassis preamplifier—a transparency king if there ever was one—proved incredibly enjoyable and involving. Speed stability was very sure, enhancing a sense of real musicality. The entire bass range was stunning with power and impact, at all times fast, transparent, and pitch-differentiated to a fare-thee-well. The midrange, while not as innately bloomy as the Forsell, was as rich and harmonic as any recording and cartridge might deliver.

The highs...In the treble range, I was most struck by the speed and rise time of the music. Man, it was fast. This quickness of initial transient fully explicated the upper midrange and above with not a trace of hash, brightness, or etching. As you'd imagine, female voices were beautifully served by La Luce. Listening to more jazzy Trip-Hop, I spun Morcheeba's new album, Big Calm (Zen 107LP). While I was blown away by the totally awesome bass, I found myself captivated by the richness and detail in lead singer Skye Edwards' voice. There was a delicacy and a sense of micro-level, finely formed sound that had me leaning into the lyrics. It was fascinating, sexy, and seductive, like the soft velvet kiss of moist lips. The speed, timing, and utter detail seemed perfection itself, my inflamed imagination lingering for a moment in total amazement and admiration at side's end.

I don't think I've ever heard Ellington's "Moon Maiden," from The Intimate Ellington (Pablo 2310-787), sound quite so luscious, wonderful, and communicative. Every word was perfectly enunciated, each throaty little chuckle and murmur hung like magic in the air, and the celeste was glamorous, ringing with shimmer and tonal color. Switching to "Malletoba Spank" on Ellington's Jazz Party (Columbia CS 8127, original six-eye and Classic's reissue) had me rolling along, feet stompin', utterly absorbed by the high-energy beat. The huge, enveloping soundstage was captivating, every element precisely placed and illuminated, very layered and palpable, utterly detached from the Utopias. Depth was remarkable; I've never heard it so deep, layered, and palpable before.

Ravel's Rapsodie Espagnole (Mercury Living Presence/Classic SR90313) illustrated beautifully how well the Spotheim 'table hung on to separate musical lines, keeping them individually sorted out and aloft—and how it perfectly integrated them into the size-of-life soundstage spread out before the listener. However, hearing with such clarity and transparency down into the noise floor also meant that any and all imperfections in the vinyl also came through: tape hiss, clicks'n'pops, and any other grunge was launched right into my face. I'd have to say that, overall, the Forsell is kinder and gentler to imperfectly recorded material.

But this in no way impeded my enjoyment of music via La Luce, even on equalized-to-death pop nightmares. A few random notes: "The sound of the Ravel is totally remarkable, perfectly delineated, the timpani powerful and meaningful, horns lovely and burnished—those bells are driving me crazy, they sound so beautiful."

When I optimized the Nagra PL-P's throughput by trimming the input and output potentiometers for the best signal/noise ratio, and cranked the volume for Kathleen (she likes it that way), the majestic sweep of the music was wholly available to me. Small, precisely repeatable rotations of the VTA micrometer snapped everything into stunning focus while rendering an even greater sense of palpability. Both the thunderous and the finely turned were all beautifully rendered by La Luce. Very satisfying.

I dusted off another Classic Records reissue, Gounoud's Faust Suite paired with Bizet's effervescent Carmen Suite (LSC-2449), and seem to have spent some time musing about sudden impact. Notes: "Vivid, that's another key word for La Luce. There's a world of difference between impact and IMPACT, and this La Luce has the latter in spades. And it carries over into small-scale dynamics as well. Faust is truly impressive—walloping impact followed by sweet strings and mellow horns—and it all works. One experiences a strong acoustic sense from a large concert hall during live performances, and there's a kinship between that remembered experience and the presentation in our system at this moment."

La Luce, light and sound
As you've gathered, I love this turntable. Slowly adjusting the smoothly operating, highly polished micrometers while changing VTA and overhang was a sensualist's delight. Small, incremental improvements can be dialed in, rewarding the tweaker with utterly wonderful sound. But La Luce is not by nature a tweaky device; once set up, it proved a stable and easy-to-use platform for enjoying vinyl at the very highest level imaginable. Even for me.

How many of these will be sold? Not many. Then why...? Because it's art. Because it's sculpture. Because I respect craft, beauty, and engineering elegance. Because La Luce turns on my sorry middle-aged ass.

How does it stack up against the Forsell air-bearing wonder? It's like this: From the looks standpoint, La Luce makes the Forsell gear look a bit stodgy, and that might matter for some. No one who saw and heard La Luce while it was here managed to remain blasé or nonchalant—it always inspired awe and admiration. As a centerpiece that you and your significant other can be proud of, it has no equal in the audio world.

The sound of La Luce was more compelling, vivid, and dynamic than the Forsell Air Force One's—more like the Nagra PL-P. The Forsell remains more seductive and bloomy—more like the YBA 6 Chassis, to some extent. The Forsell is a hair less transparent and quick, if at the same time more richly harmonic. While La Luce's midrange could seduce and inveigle, it didn't do so to the same extent as the Forsell. But La Luce's sparkling, pellucid, articulate sound was as inviting in its own way as the Forsell's bloom and musicality. Perhaps the Forsell's bottom end speaks with slightly more authority than the La Luce's, but it's all a matter of taste and perspective.

Was there anything I didn't like about it? Nit-picker that I am, all I can come up with is that, in direct comparisons with the Forsell, it slightly emphasized clicks and pops.

Nevertheless, if you're an audiophile who can afford the best, give George Cardas a call. It's been my privilege to have La Luce in our system. It always gave everything of itself to honor the music. You can't ask for more than that.

Judith Spotheim-Koreneef
Not currently distributed in the US (2006)