Turntable Reviews

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Alex Halberstadt  |  May 22, 2024  |  5 comments
Photo by Michael Stephens

Last May, during a visit to High End Munich, I was ushered into an exhibitor's room with much ceremony. Other showgoers had been shooed out so that I, a reviewer at an important magazine, could listen to the hi-fi undisturbed. The room featured obelisk-shaped "statement" speakers, monoblocks with enough tubes to light a cafeteria, and a wedding cake–sized turntable, all connected with python-thick cables. All of it cost as much as a starter house in coastal Connecticut.

The room's proprietor asked me to choose from a small stack of LPs. I went for Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else, a wonderful Miles Davis record in all but name. I know it as well as any other piece of recorded music. When the system began to play, it was doing all the audiophile things expected of an expensive hi-fi. But while I recognized the notes, I struggled to recognize the music. Something was clearly, obviously amiss. The rhythmic emphases and stresses that convey music's meaning and emotion were landing in the wrong places.

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.

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.

Ken Micallef  |  Feb 22, 2024  |  2 comments
Though the hotel halls of Capital Audiofest 2023 were not as busy as some exhibitors might have hoped, the event's listening rooms were filled to the brim with choice equipment, practically overflowing. One piece that captured my attention was a turntable that embodies thoughtful design and contemporary Italian style: the Gold Note Mediterraneo X ($12,999). This elegant turntable combines traditional materials with touch-friendly digital technology in arresting fashion.

An exploration of the artistry and expertise behind the Mediterraneo X is a journey through Italian craftsmanship.

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.

Herb Reichert  |  Dec 05, 2023  |  13 comments
My adoptive mother, Lily Mae, was a retired businesswoman and former fashion model turned stay-at-home mom and artist-painter with famously good taste in everything. She raised me to have good manners, an "active awareness of color and texture," and "an eye for form." She expected me to critique her paintings, her decorating, and her wardrobe, urging me constantly to develop "good taste in everything."

In Lil's world, a perfect day was for me to skip school and go with her clothes shopping at Marshall Field's, where it was my job to sit in a plush chair offering comments about which outfits had the best fabrics and best "complimented her form." She always said "form is bones" and fashion is about "how fabrics hang on people's bones."

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  |  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  |  Jul 20, 2023  |  7 comments
Creating a new flagship model is never an easy task for an audio company. A good designer will have already incorporated all his or her best ideas into the prior flagship. For a follow-up, you typically get a scaled-up version of what came before, incorporating the kind of improvements a bigger budget will allow.

SME's history is well-documented. The company started out, in 1946, as an engineering company for hire. In 1959, after a few years supplying parts for the scale modeling and various other high-tech industries, company founder Alastair Robertson-Aikman wanted a better tonearm for his personal use. He leveraged the capabilities of his small engineering company to create what eventually became the legendary 3009 and 3012 tonearms. The reputation of the new arms spread quickly, and from the mid-1960s through the 1970s, SME dominated the high-end tonearm market. SME's corporate slogan was The Best Pick-Up Arm in the World, and few people at the time would have challenged that claim.

Alex Halberstadt  |  Jul 06, 2023  |  8 comments
"New York is an ugly city, a dirty city," John Steinbeck wrote in 1953. "But there is one thing about it—once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough." Decades later, the novelist's insight about this appalling, incomparable city still feels true. New Yorkers love to complain about the summers, with their wafting miasma of hot garbage and urine; about the superannuated subway system, which only sometimes resembles a psilocybin trip gone really wrong; about the purgatorial agony of finding an apartment; about the affronts of existing shoulder-to-shoulder with the stupendously rich. . .

What I'm getting around to saying is that easily the best part of living here is the people. One of them is Jeffrey Catalano, who has been a drummer, painter, DJ, and construction worker and today runs a hi-fi business, High Water Sound, from a loft in a former sail-making factory on Water Street in Manhattan's financial district.

Ken Micallef  |  Jun 01, 2023  |  6 comments
Founded in 1978, VPI Industries appears to be one of the most successful turntable manufacturers in the world—certainly in the US. The New Jersey–based company sells turntables, tonearms, cartridges, record clamps, plinths, record cleaning machines, and a phono preamp. But that's not all. The company offers VPI-branded pillows, candles, mugs, stickers, T-shirts, and a tell-all company history, 40 Years on the Record.

And talk about turntables! From the entry-level $1499 Cliffwood to the top-of-the-line $104,000 Vanquish (found under the website's "VPI Luxury" page, accompanied by the adage, "Settle for Nothing but Extravagant"), VPI is clearly and rightfully proud of its analog achievements.

Herb Reichert  |  May 31, 2023  |  22 comments
I wish that all who love LP playback as much as I do could hear a Thorens TD 124 or Garrard 301 or EMT 930 in their systems, but those products are subject to the vagaries of supply and demand: They are rare and pricey.—Art Dudley
Michael Trei  |  Feb 24, 2023  |  1 comments
Luxman occupies an unusual place in the hi-fi world. While many of the brands chasing ultimate performance will battle it out in the bleeding-edge design stakes, Luxman makes what I like to call luxury equipment. Everything they produce is beautiful, not just to the ear, but also to the eye and hand. Their design aesthetic keeps one foot firmly planted in the style of classic audio equipment from decades past—for example, many of their amplifiers have tone controls and big power meters, features reminiscent of topflight gear from 40 years ago—while the other foot is up to date with the latest technology...

The PD-151 MkII record player ($5695) is an excellent example.

Michael Trei  |  Nov 29, 2022  |  42 comments
Three decades ago, I had a boss who insisted I drive a Mercedes-Benz as a company car. Tough gig, you might be thinking, but there was solid reasoning behind this extravagance: He wanted the people representing his company to look successful, so it was three-pointed star cars for all, at a time when a Mercedes was more exclusive than it is today.
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.

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