The Music Goes Round & Round

"Turntable Wars" was the phrase used by Anthony H. Cordesman to head his review of the Oracle, SOTA, and VPI turntables in Vol.9 No.4. To judge from the reaction of the manufacturers at CES to this innocent phraseology, you would have thought that Stereophile had been warmongering, rather than publishing what were actually pretty positive opinions of the products concerned. So enraged was Jacques Riendeau of Oracle, and concerned that the record be put straight, that he insisted on a "right to reply" to AHC's review; as it happened, Ivor Tiefenbrun and Charlie Brennan of Linn (right in photograph, footnote 1), and SOTA's Rodney Herman (center in photo, footnote 2), also wanted to contribute to the debate, so a small crowd of illuminati gathered in Room 417 of the Americana Congress to commit opinions to tape. I held the microphone and clicked the shutter; Larry Archibald (left in photo) was there to lend the proceedings a businesslike air.

As with all round-table discussions involving several vocal participants, the discussion rapidly became unstructured, and also went on far too long for publication "as is." Ninety minutes of heated discussion would fill a whole issue of Stereophile, and would ramble more than a little. With apologies, therefore, to those taking part, and with assurances to readers that we have not changed emphases or meanings, we have of necessity left out much of what was said.

To be honest, after rereading AHC's report a number of times, we failed to see what was bothering the assembled worthies; it seemed on the face of things to be a workmanlike and readable sample of the reviewer's craft. But what had particularly seemed to bother Jacques Riendeau of Oracle was AHC's dismissal of the Linn LP12: "I don't think [it] belongs in this category, regardless of price."—John Atkinson

Jacques Riendau: I thought it was very unfair. The way the review came out, it made it sound like Oracle, VPI, and SOTA were in a great Italian restaurant, and all the other turntables were in MacDonalds. When Rodney makes the SOTA, when I make the Oracle, and when Ivor builds the Linn turntable, we stand for a lot more than that kind of comparison where you are made to look big or bad or mean or great. I am glad to be put on this plateau, in this Italian restaurant, but for the other products to appear bad makes me feel bad because it's not like that at all. A Linn is a great product; it does a lot of great things, it does other things not so great. So does the Oracle, so does the SOTA. So do Ford, so do Chrysler, so do GM.

Rodney Herman: Although AHC pushed the boat out in the right direction, had he taken both his feet off the quay side and jumped in we would have a much more positive, all round more universal review. It reflected the fact that there are a lot of turntables out there that have come of age in that they've achieved satisfactory performance levels to meet anybody's taste. The title was a misnomer, as "Turntable Wars" is very much a press concept. We have all been the target of the gratuitous comment in various publications; what happened here was that without the Linn or the Pink Triangle being reviewed, there were judgments passed on them. That has always been a big bone of contention . . . We all have valid products as far as our customers are concerned, and what we want is for customers, when they read a review, to be turned on rather than turned off.

Riendau: The nice thing he said in this review was "Don't take my word for it, these are great products and you should go out and experience them for yourself, at least look at them and listen to them." But the way he wrote the review, the way it was said was very seriously biased against a lot of the other things that he said later.

A point which rapidly emerged was that a review doesn't reflect the real world in that it doesn't take the dealer into account. What may be the "best" turntable in the artificial review situation may not be the best purchase if there is no dealer nearby who stocks it.

Herman: The "best" dealer is the local dealer. If a person in California, for example, buys a turntable from a dealer in Florida, he won't necessarily have someone to support him. Even replacing a belt becomes a problem. If the products are worthy enough for that person, whatever his choice is, he is going to be better served by the local dealer with the local product. Each of us thinks our own product is the best, but that's of no consequence—it's what the customer wants from those products that counts. About half a dozen turntable manufacturers present a level of performance that could be argued by anyone of those owners to be better than anything else he's heard. The customer should feel good about that choice, and if he can find a local dealer who can give him the satisfaction of knowing he's supported with either one of our three products, or one of another three manufacturer's products, then that becomes a more valid criterion than a review that says "This one is good, therefore all the others are bad."

Footnote 1: In 2004 Charlie Brennan became managing director of Arcam.

Footnote 2: Later to join Monster Cable.