Turntable Reviews

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Michael Trei  |  Apr 30, 2024  |  3 comments
"I think both moving coil and moving magnet cartridges are terrible." That's what legendary Canadian audio designer Ed Meitner told me when I asked about the pioneering transimpedance current drive phono stage he created for his Meitner PA6 preamp some 40 years ago.

Meitner has been designing innovative hi-fi gear for the pro and consumer audio markets for more than 50 years, but for most of the last 30, he has been best known for his work with high-resolution digital audio and DSD recording. Despite this focus on digital—and despite that comment about the two leading phono cartridge technologies—deep in his heart, Ed still loves analog and has fond memories of the Kenwood optical cartridges from the 1970s, which I discussed in last month's Spin Doctor column. So when Ed read that a company in Japan called DS Audio was bringing back an improved version of the optical cartridge using modern materials, he contacted designer Tetsuaki Aoyagi to learn more.

Michael Trei  |  Jun 05, 2024  |  10 comments
I sometimes joke about how audio designers create products that resemble themselves, not just in how they look, but also in the design approach used, and especially the way they sound. So, we have tall, cool, pragmatic Scandinavians making gear like the lean, elegant Børresen loudspeakers, while the Italians build luscious curvy equipment endowed with natural wood and leather, like Sonus Faber speakers and Unison Research amplifiers. Continuing this blatant stereotyping, we have Acoustic Signature founder Gunther Frohnhöfer, a stout German known for creating precision-built turntables that are as solid-looking as he is.

When I visited the Acoustic Signature factory in 2023, I watched as they hewed massive slabs of aluminum into beautiful, heavyweight turntables. This approach is the opposite of the lightweight-but-rigid philosophy embraced by Rega, and while the resulting performance has different strengths, I would argue that it is at least equally valid. As with Rega, Acoustic Signature products have a purposeful simplicity, in a way that would allow a nonaudiophile to instantly recognize what their function is.

Michael Trei  |  Sep 21, 2023  |  7 comments
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.

Michael Trei  |  Oct 27, 2023  |  6 comments
When I think about landmark years in the history of British hi-fi, 1973 sticks out. Three companies got their start in the first half of that year that went on to become cornerstones of the British audio scene: Linn Products, Naim Audio, and Rega Research. That means they're all celebrating their 50th anniversaries in 2023.
Michael Trei  |  Jan 04, 2024  |  4 comments
Photo by Himanshu Ratnaka

In prior screeds, I have discussed the category of turntable designers I like to call deep thinkers, who twist their brains to come up with fresh thinking about how to approach the task of playing a vinyl record. If there is a poster boy for deep thinkers, it's got to be Simon Brown.

Brown is based on the South Island of New Zealand. I'm thinking that being in such a far-flung part of the world must have given his head plenty of space to get creative. First, in 2011 he created The Wand tonearm, a striking unipivot design that features a fat carbon-fiber armtube nearly 1" in diameter (below). Art Dudley wrote about The Wand in 2019, and I highly recommend that you read his thoughts, especially about his struggles to set up The Wand.

Brian Damkroger  |  Jun 14, 2010  |  1 comments
Photograph: TONEAudio Magazine

High-end audio exists at the intersection of art and science. Either discipline can produce a good product, but it takes both to create the very best. The Sonic Frontiers gear I auditioned many years ago, for example, was technically sound, nicely built, and sounded good—just never as sublime as products from, say, Audio Research or VTL. On the other hand, an experienced, insightful designer such as Quicksilver's Michael Sanders can create wonderful products from humble circuits and parts, but be ultimately limited by the underlying technology. But when brilliant design, uncompromised execution, long experience, and artistry all come together, the results can be staggering.

Jonathan Scull  |  Aug 06, 2006  |  First Published: Oct 06, 1998  |  0 comments
The La Luce turntable's elegant form usually stops audiophiles dead in their tracks. Then comes a long, low "Wow." I'm hardly immune myself. And that's not even considering the sound, which has always been wonderful, as it was in the Joseph Audio/Cardas room at CES '98.
Michael Fremer  |  Aug 20, 2019  |  42 comments
Unless a truly budget-priced Air Force model is in the works, the TechDAS turntable lineup now seems complete: The recently introduced Air Force Zero ($450,000) is at the top, and the "affordable" Air Force V ($19,500) is at the bottom. The Air Force One, Two, and III turntables, all available in both standard and Premium versions, sit in the costly middle.

There's no Air Force IV because in East Asia that number is considered bad luck—which also explains why Japanese golfers shout "Six!" when someone hooks a shot into an adjacent fairway (joke alert).

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 27, 2021  |  93 comments
The Air Force Zero turntable is very large for a turntable, but it is not as large as a house. At $450,000 for the base model, it does, however, cost as much as many houses and more than many others (footnote 1).

This observation will set off howling among some audio enthusiasts of a sort that never happens in the wine world, for instance, where well-heeled oenophiles routinely spend large sums for a short-lived thrill.

Ken Micallef  |  Mar 21, 2024  |  16 comments
In the early 1980s, I worked in a pop band playing AM radio hits, grooving behind my Yamaha drums and Zildjian cymbals as sweat drenched my body and my ears rang. We danced. We pranced. My shiny silk jumpsuit led upwards to a 2"-high afro, which women ran fingers through in hopes of finding contraband smokes ... Then overnight, everything changed.

At the beginning of the previous decade, Technics had released the SP-10, the first direct drive turntable. That was followed in short order by the SL-1100. Clive Campbell, aka Jamaican-American DJ Kool Herc, pioneered the simultaneous use of two Technics SL-1100s, initially at his sister's birthday party in the Bronx, inspiring "block parties" (rigging streetlamps for power) and hip-hop culture. Kool Herc isolated drumbeats from records by James Brown (with drummers Clyde Stubblefield and John "Jabo" Starks) and the Incredible Bongo Band (powered by master studio drummer Jim Gordon), among others, creating "breaks" for heated dance-floor partying. Soon, Lace Taylor (aka Afrika Bambaataa) and Grandmaster Flash (The Message) took Kool Herc's inventions into the mainstream, and hip-hop went global.

Alex Halberstadt  |  Nov 23, 2022  |  22 comments
People tend to believe that things are what they appear to be. This turned out to be the case in 2016, when Panasonic introduced the limited-edition Technics SL-1200GAE turntable. It appeared almost identical to an SL-1200—arguably the best-selling and most loved record player series of all time, discontinued in 2010 after more than 30 years—but it cost a whopping $4000. The similar model designation didn't help stem the griping that Panasonic had made a "fancy" version of their legendary DJ turntable at six times the price of the original.
Stephen Mejias  |  Apr 24, 2014  |  0 comments
What I failed to make absolutely clear in my April column is that I really, truly, thoroughly enjoyed all three USB DAC–headphone amps that I auditioned: the Audioengine D3 ($189), the AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 ($149), and the Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS ($199). Each offered a slightly different perspective on the music, but none could be accused of closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge, dumping several feet of snow on top of our car, or doing anything especially wrong.
Ken Micallef  |  Jul 28, 2021  |  9 comments
In 1957, Switzerland-based Thorens introduced the TD 124 turntable, a record player destined to become a classic. (TD is an initialism for tourne disque, French for turntable.)

A Thorens brochure from that same year itemized the TD 124's "11 main elements that result in 41 advantages." It noted the turntable's "strongly ribbed, solid chassis, crafted in cast aluminum," and its two-part platter including a "flywheel [subplatter], crafted in stabilized cast iron, [which] possesses excellent characteristics for the magnetic shielding of the drive system, as well as great inertia." Continuing, it lauded the TD 124's "main bearing, fitted with a 14mm spindle made of hardened, mirror-polished steel," its braking system, leveling dials, surface-mounted spirit level, and four "mushroom-shaped, rubber dampers [that] guarantee smooth suspension in a built-in frame as well as decoupling from the base."

J. Gordon Holt  |  Jul 11, 2019  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1966  |  18 comments
This is an integrated arm-and-turntable unit using single-belt drive from a stepped motor pulley to an inside platter (under the main one), and having a three-point suspension similar to that in the AR turntable for isolation from acoustic feedback and floorborne vibrations. Speed change is accomplished by a two-pronged "fork" which, actuated by the speed selector knob, throws the belt from one step of the motor pulley to the other. The motor is a special synchronous type that is actually two motors in a single case. Their speed is determined by the frequency of the AC supply, so there is no speed adjustment.
John Atkinson  |  May 24, 2021  |  First Published: Jun 01, 2021  |  1 comments
The June 2021 issue of Stereophile included followup reviews of two recommended components, both which deserved further investigation of what they had to offer: the dCS Bartók D/A processor and the Schiit Audio Sol turntable.

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