Tag Archives: Analog Sources

Rega Planar 10 Turntable

My love for Rega turntables goes back a long way. In 1980, when I was looking to upgrade my Thorens TD160 turntable, a good friend and audio buddy provided me with a recommendation: “You should check out this new company, Rega. I hear it is doing really good things. 

Shortly thereafter, I purchased the original Rega Planar 3, and, as low-tracking-force cartridges were then the rage, put the new SME Series III tonearm on it. If memory serves, I used a Frank Van Alstine-modified Sonus Gold cartridge. I took the rig over to another audio buddy, who was then using the Kenwood KD-500 granite turntable and Infinity Black Widow tonearm, which, at the time, comprised one of the “hot” turntable setups recommended by TAS’ founder, Harry Pearson. 

Much to our mutual surprise, the Rega Planar 3 blew the Kenwood into the weeds. We did multiple comparisons that evening, back and forth, with our best reference LPs played on both decks. Every single time, the Rega sounded better, hands down. My friend went out the next week and bought a Linn Sondek LP12, which he owns to this day. And I kept my Planar 3 for the next 30 years, using it exclusively as my music source during the years when my involvement with high-end audio waxed and waned. In 1987, I put a Grace Ruby on the SME, and then in 2009, Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith re-tipped the Grace with one of his ruby-cantilevered styli, which took the cartridge to another level. Eventually, I passed my Planar 3 on to my brother-in-law as a Christmas gift when his ’table died.

PL10 RB3000 bias housing detail 

When I got seriously back into high-end audio in 2010, and was looking for a newer turntable, my Linn-owning friend offered me his like-new SME V tonearm for a great price (the SME wasn’t a good match for his Linn), and I bought a Michell Gyro SE turntable for it. About a year later, I snagged a very lightly used Koetsu Urushi Vermilion moving-coil cartridge. This setup became my reference (the Vermilion has since been re-tipped and fully re-built by Koetsu), but I never forgot how much I enjoyed Rega turntables, and in 2012, bought a lightly used Rega P5 with external power supply from a friend. I put a Sumiko Pearwood Celebration II cartridge on it, and was surprised at how good it sounded, performing way above its price point. The P5 had excellent detail and resolution, and had a punchy, energetic quality with real drive. It really “kicked out the jams,” great for rock, 80s New Wave, and blues. For 20% of the cost, I estimate the P5 performed at 80% of the level of my reference setup. That’s an excellent value proposition and, in my opinion, the P5 is still a great ’table, even today. 

Cut to the present. The better part of a decade has passed, and time and turntable development have not stood still. While Rega still advocates using light, stiff, low-mass plinths coupled to tonearms of superior engineering, since the legendary P9 it has been extending the classic Rega ethos with new designs that utilize innovative materials and manufacturing technologies. 

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Pro-Ject Announces New Debut Pro Turntable

The following is a press release issued by Sumiko and Pro-Ject.

MAPLE GROVE, MN (July 15, 2021) – Sumiko and Pro-Ject USA are proud to announce the new Debut PRO Turntable from Pro-Ject Audio Systems. The original Pro-Ject 1 and its successor, the Debut series, revolutionized the music listening experience while reinvigorating a passion for analog playback – a turning point for the industry. Pro-Ject continues to satisfy music lovers and vinyl enthusiasts with continued innovation in performance and value that bring the joy of stereo hi-fi to life in your own home.

The Debut PRO extends the tradition of the Debut collection with a new striking design, featuring a satin black and brushed-nickel color scheme that emphasizes the strengths of the technologies within the turntable. Tracking performance is enhanced by an all new 8.6” tonearm that features a one-piece carbon fiber wrapped aluminum arm tube for excellent rigidity and reduction of harmful resonances. A heavy-duty, nickel-plated machined aluminum bearing block ensures the tight tolerance tonearm bearings move freely, allowing the tonearm to track precisely across the entire surface of the record. The Debut PRO also features a die-cast aluminum platter with integrated TPE damping, resulting in the perfect combination of mass and low internal resonance.

New to the Debut series, the tonearm height and azimuth are both adjustable, allowing for the use of a wide range of cartridges. The critically acclaimed Sumiko Rainier phono cartridge is included with the Debut PRO and has been mounted by our experts and precision-aligned at the factory. Height adjustable leveling feet with integrated resonance damping, electronic speed selection, a detachable acrylic dust cover and a premium semi-symmetrical phono cable (Connect It E) round out the Debut PRO’s robust feature set.

Like all Pro-Ject Audio Systems turntables, the special-edition Debut PRO is hand crafted in Europe and will be available in the US in limited quantities at select Pro-Ject dealers beginning in August 2021, with a suggested retail price of $899 USD.

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Wilson Benesch Introduces GMT ONE SYSTEM Turntable

The following is a press release issued by Wilson Benesch.

July 2021 – Wilson Benesch was founded in 1989 following two-years of research and development. In 1990 the company unveiled its first product, the Wilson Benesch Turntable. The Wilson Benesch Turntable became recognised as a landmark design that introduced a number of novel technologies, including carbon fibre composite structures that had not only not been seen in a high end audio product before, but indeed were seldom seen in consumer products at all in 1990. The carbon fibre / nomex core sub-chassis was developed in collaboration with Derbyshire based engineer, Neil Humpston. Humpston had worked on numerous challenging projects including the Rolls Royce RB211 carbon fibre fan blades. The final chassis design for the turntable emerged out of exhaustive where all the parameters of the design were trialed and measured. This important groundwork would pave the way for a much better understanding of exactly how carbon fibre functions. Audio applications have complex requirements beyond specific stiffness and cores are equally complex. Of all the core materials, Nomex was found to be clearly superior in all aspects of performance. 

The Wilson Benesch turntable was discontinued after the Papst motor was made obsolete. But the technology that had been developed and the expertise that now existed in the company, coupled with the growing number of collaborative partners in fields of engineering excellence allowed Wilson Benesch to forge a strong ethos and unique position as the pioneers and leaders in carbon fibre composite technologies within high end audio. 

In 1992, Wilson Benesch unveiled its first loudspeaker the ‘Advanced Composite Technology or ‘A.C.T.’ One. Like the Wilson Benesch Turntable, the A.C.T. One was received with considerable critical acclaim from the press, industry professionals and customers. Today, three decades on from their launch, the Wilson Benesch Turntable and the A.C.T. One loudspeaker are regarded as designs which set a new benchmark within the market, timeless classics.

Through the 1990s Wilson Benesch continued to invest in analogue technology development and subsequently released its second of only two turntables designs. The Full Circle introduced the carbon fibre unidirectional ‘U.D.’ cantilever suspension system. Amongst a number of key benefits structurally, the Full Circle also delivered a solution to unstudied or new analogue enthusiasts who had little to no previous experience of setting up and maintaining a high-end turntable and was a direct answer to the ease of the digital compact disc that was threatening the very existence of vinyl at the time.

In 2010, Wilson Benesch submitted a proposal to Her Majesty’s government in a competitive grant scheme and was awarded ‘SMART’ Research funding of £150,000 for a project that the company referred to as ‘The Mondrian Project’. It was a very ambitious project which would prove to be a step too far. However, the seeds were planted that would continue to develop over the next decade. 

During this decade Wilson Benesch continued to fund cutting edge technological development. Through painstaking trial and error and iterative design, completely original ideas emerged as the analogue system defined itself through new components for the motor the tonearm, and numerous sub-assemblies. The development of these sub-systems required a completely new approach that was greatly influenced by new manufacturing technologies that were then emerging in additive manufacturing. New collaborative partners were identified at Sheffield University and the AMRC (Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre) to enable these conceptual models to be refined and optimised in time frames that would have been inconceivable with conventional manufacturing technologies. 

At the close of 2020 Wilson Benesch brought together a Consortium which successfully won £327,000 of Innovate U.K. funding. The Consortium is comprised of Sheffield Hallam University – Dr F. Al-Naemi, Dr J. Travis and Professor G. Cockerham. These scientists have enabled the most nuanced and sophisticated modelling to be accomplished using state of the art 3D software and have been critical to the success of the project. And a second highly innovative SME, CAAS Audio, which is also based in South Yorkshire and is driven by the proven world class expertise of Dr C. Broomfield and N. Broomfield. Since winning this important funding the consortium has gone on to pioneer a completely new and completely novel motor and dedicated poly-phase motor power supply system that is equally innovative.

It is widely recognised that at the heart of all turntables is the motor drive and its power supply. It is also broadly accepted that to-date every turntable ever produced has suffered from one compromise or another in terms of how it is driven. The Omega Drive as a key part of the GMT® System simply concludes this unending search. The Omega Drive is completely novel and is a patent applied for system that also has multiple design registrations. It has been developed from a clean sheet for one single purpose. It isn’t an off the shelf system that has been adapted to the role. It is without exception, unlike anything seen before. Every aspect is unique and as a whole, is the subject of both a patent application and many design registrations. 

All the GMT® systems will be manufactured and assembled in house within the very same building within which the product was designed and developed. This applies to the electronic systems that will be supplied by the developer Dr Broomfield and Neil Broomfield of CAAS Audio. Of course, the quality of the outcome is only as good as the measurements. The classic measuring systems used to date for measuring speed and speed fluctuations was found to be inadequate for the task and a novel new system based upon a high resolution pico-encoder was developed. The resolution was critical to the iterative design approach. The result is a truly unique, State-of-the-Art, control & drive system that delivers unprecedented levels of precision and immeasurable speed fluctuations. Poly-phase drive signals are synthesised by a sophisticated microprocessor controlled DAC module with absolute control over each and every critical variable, to ensure the ultimate performance. The control software and algorithms were also developed in tandem with CAAS Audio. These advanced systems monitor the drive technologies in real time, while pure analogue, linear amplifiers handle the transfer of the synthesised signals. These bespoke, high precision systems combine to guarantee the lowest possible levels of distortion and absolute accuracy in the motor drive system.

The GMT® System has been designed to meet the needs of the archivist. Its primary goal is to preserve valuable recordings and minimise the impact of transcription. To achieve this, the GMT® System provides unprecedented levels of control. For the first time, it is possible for each and every parameter to be controlled to extremely high levels of precision to achieve the ultimate and virtually flawless transcription of the micro groove. Significantly, these transcription parameters for the motor and the tonearm can be dialed in remotely to unprecedented levels of accuracy. No other product in the world can approach this level of accuracy, control or reliability. As such the GMT® System sets the new benchmark from which all other analogue replay systems will be judged by. 

AVAILABILITY: Wilson Benesch are reviewing opportunities to present GMT® ONE SYSTEM Turntable to the public for its official launch. Possibilities for a January 2022 public launch are being explored and full details will be released via our website, social media and newsletter as details become available.

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Sota Cosmos Eclipse Upgrade

My turntable occupies a unique place in my audio life. It’s a Sota Cosmos that I acquired, barely used, in the mid-1990s, and it’s the oldest piece of gear that I own. The Cosmos and I have been through a lot over the years—witnessed and weathered some major shifts in audio, from the adoption of the CD, the subsequent collapse of analog, the home theater scare of the 90s, the surge of high-resolution digital-streaming services, crumbling CD sales, and then (surprise!) the upswing of analog and return of vinyl and LP playback. Through it all my Cosmos has been a workhorse, stalwart and untemperamental. Thanks to Sota’s faithful factory support, there have been a few upgrades along the way (the last one in 2011), but these refreshes were little more than tweaks around the performance edges. While I remained aware of today’s flourishing selection of fine turntables, nothing else offered the superb isolation and vacuum hold-down features that define the Cosmos. And as a personal aside, Cosmos and I had our rituals; I knew its quirks and had a feel for its mechanics. I could place a record on its platter, clamp it down and cue up the first track in the dark. As silly as this sounds, we’d forged a bond that I think only owners of turntables and LP playback understand. 

At the same time I was also developing an awareness that, performance-wise, my Cosmos had lost a step compared to similarly priced rigs. As with an aging athlete, the years may have taken their toll. Its reflexes didn’t seem as sharp, its sound as open or articulate. For the first time, I’d actually begun to contemplate selling the Cosmos. Before making such a big decision, I consulted the Sota website and discovered the largest single upgrade that Sota has ever offered for Cosmos owners—known as the Total Eclipse Package (TEP). It’s based around a new three-phase-motor/electronics/speed-control package, and a magnetic-levitation platter assembly, both already standard on the current Cosmos. I was informed that my older model could be retrofitted. Tempted, I pondered the next step. Was it worth it?

Sota: A Very Brief Summary

The original Sota Sapphire debuted in 1981. It was designed by the (alas) late David Fletcher, and was named for Fletcher’s innovative sapphire thrustplate and inverted bearing. Widely praised in the audio press, it was at the time considered the only legitimate, U.S.-manufactured, high-end turntable on the market. Shortly thereafter, Fletcher and his associate Rodney Herman went on to develop the first fully successful vacuum-holddown platter, which was available in the upscale Star Sapphire. Sporting a four-point hanging-spring suspension, a massive subchassis, and a damped aluminum platter, its class-leading acoustic/mechanical isolation remains to this day pretty much as Fletcher designed it. 

The Cosmos was introduced a few short years later and was the most advanced Sota available. It featured a 22-pound, one-inch-thick, single-piece, aircraft-grade-aluminum (with acrylic) subchassis, plus an optional, five-layer, acrylic/aluminum/lead armboard cross-drilled and weight-balanced to the user’s tonearm of choice. Early Cosmos versions like mine sported a cabinet material called Fountainhead, made by Nevamar. Mine lacked a drive-belt access cover, but this inconvenience was remedied on later models. Today’s Sota brings together an array of products and services, including three series of turntables—Statement, Heritage, and entry-level Urban, with turntable/tonearm packages like the Moonbeam IV beginning at $1250. (I urge readers interested in diving a bit deeper into Sota’s backstory to read Paul Seydor’s superb reviews of the Sota Cosmos Series III [Issue 145], and Sapphire Series V [Issue 210].)

The Upgrade Package

In various conversations with Sota co-owners Donna Bodinet and Christan Griego, I learned that development of the Total Eclipse package began with the idea of addressing its pre-millennium analog electronics, which they viewed as lagging behind the current state of the art in precision and stability. Shortly thereafter, in 2018, they secured a license with Bill Carlin of Phoenix Engineering for a new drive-control system—the microprocessor-controlled Condor PSU and the Road Runner Tachometer (see Andre Jennings review in 2016). It operates via a small magnet placed on the underside of the platter, which, as it spins, is read by a magnetic sensor placed on the plinth. The controller measures and displays the speed of the platter, and continuously adjusts the designated platter speed to within ±.005rpm. According to Sota, these methodical adjustments “fight the effects of thermal drift without creating sudden, audible changes in speed. The Roadrunner also logs the hours of time the platter has spent spinning, which is useful for stylus maintenance, among other things.” 

Partnering with the controller is a new, three-phase, brushless DC motor, which utilizes bearings on the top and bottom of the motor. It replaced my early-generation and vibration-prone Cosmos stepper motor. Significantly, and in a major shift, the new motor had to be relocated from the floating subchassis and onto the cabinet.  Griego explained Sota’s reasoning, “All motors produce some sort of vibration at the speeds we need. Even minimal vibration can transmit through a subchassis along with the armboard and platter. The tuned suspension keeps vibration from entering the sub-chassis. The decision to relocate the motor from the subchassis to the cabinet was entirely about removing every aspect of vibration that could possibly be there.”

 

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Sumiko announces Celebration 40 and Blue Point cartridges

The following is a press release from Sumiko.

 

The Brand Debuts the Blue Point No. 3 High/ Low Output, Celebration 40 And RS78 RPM Stylus

MAPLE GROVE, MN (June 17, 2021) – Sumiko is excited to announce the launch of three new phono cartridges and one new stylus, extending the company’s high-end audio collection with audiophile-grade enhancements for any new or existing turntable system.

The Blue Point No. 3 High and Blue Point No. 3 Low phono cartridges replace the venerable Blue Point No. 2. Featuring a similar low-internal vibration body and mounting block as the recently updated moving magnet (MM) line, the Blue Point No. 3 is able to separate the cartridge’s generator from mechanical vibration more effectively than ever before. The result is an affordable moving coil (MC) design that produces unparalleled detail and stereo separation. Both models benefit from a new shell design and a smoothly bevelled front fascia that allows for excellent visibility of the stylus tip when mounting. The Blue Point No.3 High continues Sumiko’s history of affordable, high performance MC cartridges designs that are compatible with any MM phono stage. The Blue Point No.3 Low is Sumiko’s most accessible low output moving coil cartridge, serving as the perfect companion to most high-performance, affordable phono stages.

The new limited-edition Celebration 40 phono cartridge is revealed in honor of Sumiko’s fortieth anniversary and is the latest refinement of the award-winning Pearwood Celebration II. Celebration 40 now implements the same solid, ultra-low-mass 75μm x 2.5μm Microridge stylus as our flagship Palo Santos Presentation. Adding the Microridge stylus is revelatory when it comes to micro detail and spatiality as it uniquely holds the groove unyieldingly, impeccably tracking and portraying music clarity. The gorgeous plumwood body accurately embodies the spirit of the Celebration design, lending an invitation of euphoria to the listening experience.

Sumiko’s first 78 RPM stylus, the RS78 stylus is a true treat for vintage recording enthusiasts. This stylus grants listeners the ability to spin classic 10” 78 RPM records without damaging the record’s physical properties. The RS78 can be installed on the Rainier, Olympia, and Moonstone Moving Magnet cartridges, and allows owners of these fantastic cartridges to easily play back 78 RPM shellac recordings safely and with great care.

With the news of these introductions, Sumiko will also be discontinuing a few vintage favourites including the Blue Point No. 2, Blue Point Special EVO III and Blackbird High/ Low Output phono cartridges. The new products will be available for purchase through authorized Sumiko dealers, find your local distributor by visiting sumikophonocartridges.com.

PRODUCT PRICING:

• Blue Point No. 3 High / Low Phono Cartridges: $499 USD (each)
• Celebration 40 Phono Cartridge: $2799 USD
• RS78 Stylus: $129 USD

ABOUT SUMIKO

For nearly 40 years, SUMIKO has brought the finest high-end audio products to North America from around the globe. From its humble beginnings as a phono cartridge importer, Sumiko has carefully selected like-minded partners and now distributes Pro-Ject, Sonus faber, Rotel Electronics, Sumiko Phono Cartridges and Bassocontinuo audio racks to assemble a complete reference-quality premium audio system. Sumiko is a proud member of the McIntosh Group, where progress and tradition are not mutually exclusive concepts, but rather a synergistic sum of parts which exceed their individual identities.

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SteinMusic Pi Carbon Signature Record Mat

I can’t tell you how many different record mats I’ve tried over the last four or five decades. They’ve come and gone with the regularity of seasons. Some have been sticky; some have been stiff; some have been thin; some have been fat; some have been as springy as balls of dough; and some have been as hard as unripened plums. All of them have claimed to provide an improved (i.e., lower noise and jitter) interface between LP and platter. And all of them have made a sonic difference—not enough of a difference, however, to earn an enduring place in my system (or my memory). As the old saw has it, different isn’t necessarily better; more often than not, it’s just different. 

Holger Stein’s Pi Carbon Signature record mat is an exception. Not only is it different; it is also better—at least it is if you’re looking for a closer semblance of the absolute sound. If you’re looking for spotlit detail, then it won’t be for you. (And neither will anything else from SteinMusic.)

However, before I get to Pi Carbon Signature sonics, let me tell you what it is: It is a $650 sheet of paper is what it is. (I’m going to start a new paragraph now to give you time to pick up a pen and begin writing that angry letter.) 

Of course, it’s not “ordinary” paper. If it were, you could pull a page from TAS (or if you wanted something more prosciutto-like, a page from Stereophile), punch a spindle-sized hole in it, and slap it on your turntable. No, this paper is hand-made in Japan from the same trees (usually mulberry and fig) that tapa cloth is made from. After being dried on wood, the tapa paper is sent to SteinMusic in Mülheim, Germany, where it is impregnated with SteinMusic Maestro Lacquer—“a varnish made out of the most precious natural resins in a unique composition, optimized for perfect resonance control.”

Though it consists of varnished paper and some sort of carbon additive, the Pi Carbon Signature is not as thin and light as you might imagine. It’s got some substance to it, though not enough substance (unless it’s fastened down to the platter via the little tabs of tape on its rear side) to keep it from occasionally sticking to the backs of your records. Which means that, now and then, you may have to peel the Pi from the LP and resituate it on your record player before playing Side B. This is, admittedly, a pain. But, with the Pi Carbon Signature, it is part of the price of doing business. The other part—the good part—is the effect this mat has on the presentation.

Since I started using the SteinMusic Pi, I’ve been searching for a way to explain how this sheet of paper changes sonics. Perhaps it would be best to do this is by analogy. 

Think of the sound of a recording on which musicians were taped in sound booths via individual mics; then think of the sound of a recording on which the musicians were taped ensemble in an actual hall, studio, or club via a Blumlein pair or a trio of omnis. The instruments in the separately miked sound-booth setup may seem more individuated and distinct, but the sense of organicism—of ensemble music-making in a large, shared acoustic space, (highlighted in the Blumlein or spaced-omni setups)—will be greatly reduced or nonexistant. 

It is this realistic and sonically attractive “organicism” that the Pi Carbon Signature adds to each and every LP, no matter how it was recorded. This more organic presentation is something the Pi shares with almost all SteinMusic tweaks, including its H2Plus Boxes, Stones, Stars, and Suns room treatments. The inexplicability of this more organic effect is something else the Pi shares with Holger Stein’s doo-dads. 

How a piece of varnished Japanese paper can consistently improve the sound of a vinyl record riding atop it is beyond me. All I can tell you is that it does—that the very thing that makes many LPs sound like LPs, like mosaics made of individually recorded bits and pieces, is replaced by something that makes those bits and pieces seem more like interrelated parts of a sonic whole.

This organic effect is not without a downside. As I said earlier, if you’re listening for highlighted details (and, to a certain extent, a vast soundstage), the more “continuous,” more compact, less analytical sound of the Pi Carbon Signature may not be your sheet of Japanese paper. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a closer approximation of the real thing—looking for analog playback that is very much more like tape playback—then $650 doesn’t seem too much to spend. 

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Ortofon MC Anna Diamond moving coil cartridge Review

Introduction

At the beginning of July, 2020, I shipped my three-year-old Lyra Atlas SL to the US importer to take advantage of a program that allowed owners to have their existing Lyra cartridge upgraded to Lyra’s new lambda technology. At the time I was hoping that the rebuild of my cartridge would take 8-12 weeks. Unfortunately, this proved to be highly optimistic. I decided at that point that it would be nice to own a second cartridge as a spare; however, I wanted whatever I purchased to be of reference quality appropriate to my system. The review that follows focuses on my listening sessions with that cartridge, the Ortofon MC Anna Diamond.

 

Nuts and Bolts

The MC Anna Diamond is unique in that it uses a diamond cantilever, which is strong, light and highly resistant to bending, flexing and torsional modes, in combination with Ortofon’s proprietary Replicant 100 stylus, which has an extraordinarily large contact surface that provides superb tracing accuracy. The housing and the body of the cartridge are made by using a laser to selectively melt titanium to build the body. The bottom cover assembly is constructed from a thermo-plastic elastomer, claimed to provide additional damping properties. As a result, the Anna is relatively heavy at 16 grams but also relatively non-resonant. Select parts of the magnet system are formed from high performance iron-cobalt alloy, which is used in conjunction with an armature damping system that helps to eliminate unwanted resonance. The output at 0.2 mv is quite low and requires either a high gain/low noise phono stage or an outboard step-up transformer. The Anna requires about 100 hours of playing for proper break-in and peak performance. Note that the cartridge never sounds bad but becomes more open and detailed and better able to recreate space as it breaks in. The emphasis here is on using cutting edge technology to recreate the music as accurately as possible.

Listening

All listening for this review was accomplished after the Anna had been run-in for 100+ hours. As usual, the notes are indexed by the particular musical selection in chronological order of listening.

U2, Joshua Tree (Japanese pressing, Polystar, R28D-2066). This Eno/Lanois production seems designed to impart a haze of mystery to the aural experience. By now the production is three decades

old. So, when we listen, there is always the danger that we’ll hear gimmickry that might not have been evident at the time. Ideally, the product of the time will have been done with a quality that can withstand the scrutiny of increasingly resolving gear, and our gear today will be more “musically” resolving than it is ruthlessly resolving.

From past experience, I had some concern that the Anna would lean toward the “ruthless” category. Happily, that concern was dashed almost from the moment the stylus hit the grooves of Joshua Tree. First, the energy of the performance was absolutely gripping from start to finish. We played it fairly loud, of course. I was sweating bullets before it was over.

And, yes, the music did seem to resolve itself out of a mysterious pool of ambiance, but it resolved with exceptional clarity. The soundstage, artificial though it no doubt was, spread across the space between the speakers and beyond, such that the speakers disappeared. The placement of the images was pinpoint except when it seemed designed not to be, and the difference was clear.

Bono’s voice was a marvel of clarity. I understood all of the lyrics (I think!) and could hear all of the nuance. And yet there was a warmth to the edge of Bono’s voice that I don’t often hear— a warmth amid the detail, which gave me a shiver of recognition from the warmth of a really human voice. I would not call the presentation warm, but it was not cold or clinical, just neutral. All in all, it was a very satisfying experience.

Anita O’Day, Anita (Verve MGV-2000). This 1957 mono production afforded an opportunity to see how the Anna would handle a classic of the mid-20th century. I believe this was O’Day’s second session for Verve. The engineers put her voice up front in such a way that you don’t miss a thing. You’re in a small club, in the second or third row, and you’re dealing with a singer with great personality and nuance, and, yes, she does sing just a bit flat occasionally, but with terrific style and expression.

As with the best mono, it doesn’t really seem like mono. The soundstage was quite wide. With this pressing, there was an occasional edgy sibilant, but the Anna didn’t make a big deal of it. Indeed, I rarely was aware of the fact that the recording was only slightly younger than I am. It just seemed like really good listening, well worth searching out.

Steely Dan, Gaucho (Japanese pressing, MCA Recordings, VIM-6243). This has for many years been a standby test record that I hadn’t heard in a while until a friend pulled it out to hear “Babylon Sisters” as a test on his own recently altered system. That offered me the opportunity to size it up against a Koetsu in a somewhat more darkly configured system. After a certain point it all depends upon what you want. The Anna gives you great top end air, and I love it — the background voices in “Hey Nineteen” simply reach out from upper space and tickle your ears in the most sensual way. I’ll follow wherever they lead me . . . except I’m too old for this.

Again, as with the U2, the energy is terrific, very present. It’s not that the bass drum is punching my lower intestines the way it did at the Sarah McLaughlin concert I almost had to vacate some years ago. It’s just that the timing is so perfect. The bass is utterly in sync with the drums, and the rest follows from there. And as with the U2, I would not call the presentation “warm.” That’s for my friend’s Koetsu/vintage conrad-johnson system. Koetsus, by the way, in fairness, earn their fan base. I don’t consider myself inclined toward the clinical. Maybe others would. If they did, they need to hear Gaucho on my system.

Mendelssohn, Scotch Symphony (Maag, ORG 106, re-issue of London CS6191). ORG generally does a great job with their reissues of some of the masterpieces of the Decca/London classical catalog in 45 rpm format. In particular, you can enjoy these recordings without strain in the loud spots. The sound tends to be slightly less silky than some of the originals can be, but not as bright as some of the legendary Blueback versions.

In this case, the Anna allows some real magic to happen with the space and the air. The soundstage is huge. The placement is about what you would expect close-in in a concert hall and so is the top end, which is open and fresh. Best of all, there is not the least bit of clotting or edginess in the loud moments. The different lines play out with utmost clarity. Peter Maag’s control at the podium is fully reflected in the results.

This feels very close to the experience of a live concert, with all the crackle and snap of the excitement in the air.

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Acoustic Research The AR Turntable (Commentary)

My esteemed colleague David Blumenstein at Dagogo found it interesting that I have been using my Acoustic Research “The AR turntable” combined with a Sumiko Premier MMT tonearm for longer than the 36 years I have been married. He asked me to write about my experience with this turntable.

The turntable was purchased brand new from GNP Audio in Pasadena in November 1983. They had a fine young turntable technician named Brooks Berdan who mounted a Sumiko Premier MMT (Jelco sourced) tonearm, making the turntable more compatible with a variety of low-compliance phono cartridges, such as the Talisman moving coil cartridge line.

I used the turntable for about 20 years when the motor started making a really noisy grinding sound. I heard this was a common problem with AR turntable motors. Something had to be done, so I inquired about replacing the motor, which, including installation, would run several hundred dollars if I was fortunate enough to buy the right motor. I also contemplated buying a brand new turntable. I had actually narrowed down the choice to either a VPI Scout with JMW Memorial tonearm or a Clearaudio Champion Level 1 with a Rega tonearm. I could purchase either one for under $1,500. But I had four kids getting ready to start college and so my priorities were elsewhere.

The internet provided me with another solution: lubricating the motor with sewing machine oil. My wife shops a lot at Jo Ann’s and they carry sewing machine oil. However, I was self-conscious about one of my neighbors from Simi Valley seeing me in the store. I decided to bring my teenage daughter along and I would just say I was there shopping for her. I found Singer sewing machine oil and with the coupon discount the price came to $1.59.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing, so I just poured what seemed like a lot of oil down the motor bearing well and hoped for the best. When I turned the turntable on, I was afraid of either a big puff of smoke or a large puddle of oil underneath. The turntable started rotating and to my pleasant surprise the loud grinding noise started to disappear. A $1.59 sewing machine oil completely fixed the problem.

I now oil the motor bearings at least once a year. I also use a liberal amount of oil on the sub-platter bearings at the same time. I replace the belt maybe every 5 years. This has kept my AR turntable running smoothly and the bearings and motor are dead quiet after all of these years despite the extensive use I give the table. I will admit that as much as I like this turntable, I have not been 100% loyal to it. I have had an office relationship with a Goldring turntable for 13 years. Even in my home, I have enjoyed my Thorens TD-147 turntable and found it to be the equivalent of the AR, especially when combined with the Grado Prestige Silver phono cartridge. So unlike with my wife, whom I have been loyal to for the past 36 years, I have fooled around with a number of other turntables.

My favorite phono cartridge with AR turntable has been the Hana EH. I also really enjoyed the Grado Platinum phono cartridge, which is interesting because, unlike the Hana, this is a fairly high-compliance cartridge. The Sumiko Talisman S and Talisman A low-output moving coils were my first foray with this turntable and they were also favorites.

Unfortunately, you now have to go to the used market to buy this turntable. There are also the even more refined AR ES-1 and the AR ETL-1, which are improved versions of The AR Turntable that I have. I honestly feel that any of these turntables when properly running would satisfy anyone looking for this type of belt drive turntable. There are other turntables based on the Acoustic Research turntable that not only cost a lot more but seem to require a lifetime of spending thousands of dollars on improvements. Using a blind test, I doubt if most people would deem that worth the additional cost or effort.

There is risk in buying the Acoustic Research The AR turntable and the more upscale ES-1 or ETL-1. These turntables are well over 30 years old and they may not have been properly maintained. Replacement parts are limited and expensive. Also, you may need a competent technician to balance the springs or replace the motor.

The other option would be to purchase one of the many fine turntables now available for under $2,000. The Pro-Ject X1 turntable with Sumiko Olympia phono cartridge that I reviewed last month would be a great example. If this seems like a lot of money, I will say that if you enjoy listening to records everyday like I do, a quality turntable enhances the pleasure. When you figure how many computers, laptops, cell phones, and other tech products you have purchased over the years and then had to replace because they became obsolete. A $1,000 turntable purchase that can last a lifetime is a pretty good investment.

This quarantine may not be ending for a while, so why not hunker down with a new turntable and listen to some records? This will make the quarantine more bearable.

 

 

Copy editor: Dan Rubin

 

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Linn Krane tonearm for Majik LP12 gets shipping date

 The following is a press release from Linn.

 

Announced in September, the new Krane tonearm for Linn Majik LP12 has been given a shipping date of 23rd November. From this date, all new Majik LP12 turntables will ship with the new higher performance arm fitted as standard.

The new Krane tonearm boosts the performance of Linn’s entry level vinyl source in line with the recent Majik DSM enhancements and, in combination with the new Karousel bearing, offers even better value while giving vinyl lovers a chance to experience the iconic LP12 in an affordable package.

Developed in partnership with renowned manufacturer, Clearaudio, the new higher performance arm has been designed for Linn effective length and offset angle to ensure complete congruity with all Linn cartridges and other related LP12 components and accessories.

The static-balanced design is hand assembled with high quality, precision aluminium and stainless steel components and features a polished Tungsten and Sapphire vertical bearing with dual ceramic horizontal bearing assembly, both of which are long-lasting and provide very low friction/rotational mass.

Krane has a range of adjustments making it easy to set up, including a laser etched scale for accurate and repeatable VTA adjustment, azimuth adjustment combined with a fixed offset angle to ensure perfect alignment of the cartridge and stylus, and an adjustable headshell design to ensure effective length is absolutely precise for proper cartridge alignment and performance.

The two-piece CNC Aluminium headshell, featuring the distinctive Linn 3-point design, makes it a perfect match for Linn’s Adikt Moving Magnet cartridge. However, the easily adjustable design means that Krane is also compatible with all Linn cartridges plus most 3rd party offerings.

Gilad Tiefenbrun, Linn Managing Director, said, ‘We’re delighted to give Majik LP12 a further boost in performance with the addition of the new Krane tonearm. Retrieving even more detail from the record, the improved tonearm delivers even better sound quality and will bring vinyl lovers closer to the music that moves them. The dual improvements of Krane and the Karousel bearing ensure that no other entry level turntable comes close to the value and performance of Majik LP12.

 

Pricing & availability

Krane tonearm is available as part of a full Majik LP12 turntable order and can be heard at Linn Specialists worldwide. All Linn Specialists offer socially distanced demonstrations and are ready to welcome you safely into their store but please contact in advance as local restrictions may be in place.

Majik LP12 with Karousel bearing, Krane tonearm and standard wood finish is $4,995 ex. tax.

Majik LP12 with a special finish is $5,424ex. tax.

Krane tonearm will be made available as an upgrade for existing Majik LP12 owners in 2021.

 

Krane tonearm – technical details

Krane features:

  • Designed & built to Linn geometry and effective length
  • Static-balanced design with dual ceramic bearing assembly for longevity and low friction & rotational mass
  • Anti-skating control via an easily accessible magnetic mechanism on the side of the tonearm
  • Various adjustments for easy, accurate set-up
  • 3-point headshell for correct Linn alignment geometry and compatibility with all Linn cartridges and most third-party designs
  • 5-Pin DIN cable connection for use with Linn T-Kable
  • Linn designed arm collar to fit Majik and Kore sub-chassis
  • Supplied with a cartridge weighting scale

 

Krane Specifications:

  • Effective Length – 229 mm
  • Overhang – 18 mm
  • Offset Angle – 24°
  • Pivot to Spindle distance – 211 mm

 

About Linn

Linn designs and makes the world’s best music systems.

We have just one goal in mind: to bring you ever closer to the music you love, for you to feel every note and experience your music with a clarity and power unlike anything you’ve ever heard.

Every Linn system is precision engineered just outside Glasgow and signed with pride by the person who made it.

In a world of planned obsolescence, we do the opposite. Our hardware is modular, our software upgradeable, our eyes firmly on the future.

We believe that music makes life better, and we know that our systems make music sound better.

 

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DS Audio Grand Master System launches

The following is a press release from Musical Surroundings, U.S. importer of DS Audio.

Introducing the Grand Master system: DS Audio’s flagship optical cartridge and phono stage/equalizer.


DS Audio, the pioneers of optical phono cartridges, elevates the sound of vinyl playback with their new Grand Master system. This pure analog playback system combines a new “dual mono” cartridge design featuring 50% lower weight moving parts and a massive 2 chassis phono stage weighing over 100 lbs.

DS Audio Grand Master System – $60,000 
The system includes an optical phono cartridge and a dual chassis phono stage/equalizer.

DS Audio Grand Master Cartridge – $15,000 
Optical phono cartridge only. This can be used with any DS Audio phono stage/equalizer.

DS Audio Grand Master Phono Stage/Equalizer – $45,000
Dual chassis phono stage/equalizer only. This can be used with any DS Audio optical phono cartridge.

 

DS Audio’s flagship optical phono cartridge, engineered to bring analog sound to another level.   


The new Grand Master optical cartridge is optimized by implementing a new independent (dual mono) LED and photo-detector arrangement for the left and right channels. The cartridge output voltage has greatly increased from 40 mV to 70 mV, significantly more than traditional phono cartridges. With this dramatic increase in output, DS Audio’s excellent signal to noise ratio has been furthered improved, resulting in an even lower noise floor and greater musical clarity. The new design of the Grand Master generator further reduces crosstalk, greatly improving left and right channel separation, specifically above 10 kHz.

Over 50% reduction in moving mass


With the implementation of dual mono LEDs, a new larger shading plate was engineered using 99.9% pure beryllium for optimal positioning and agility.

DS Audio succeeded in reducing the weight of this shading plate by more than 50%, from 1.56 mg to 0.74 mg. This is less than 1/10th of the moving mass compared to the former/coil assembly found in a typical MC (moving coil) cartridge.

This further improves key advantages of DS Audio’s optical cartridge technology, enhancing track-ability, reducing resonance, and minimizing record wear.

Diamond cantilever with Micro-ridge stylus, ultra-rigid body design, and improved internal wiring.


A first for DS Audio, the Grand Master cartridge combines a diamond cantilever with a micro-ridge stylus. The cartridge body has been structurally designed to promote maximum rigidity. The Grand Master utilizes new internal wiring, 1.6 times thicker than used in previous generation cartridges, for greater signal flow from the dual-mono generator.

Cartridge specifications:

Output: 70mV or greater (at cartridge output)
Channel separation: 27dB or greater
Tracking force: 2.0 – 2.2 grams (2.1 recommended)
Cantilever: Diamond
Stylus: Micro Ridge
Weight: 7.7 grams
Body material: Super Duralumin
Cantilever interface material: Stainless steel

DS Audio’s flagship 2 chassis optical phono stage/equalizer – it sounds like 100 lbs.


The DS Audio Grand Master phono stage features 2 massive chassis, weighing together over 100lbs. Separating the dual mono audio circuitry from the power supply chassis, which houses 3 independent supplies, provides unmatched dynamic realism.

The Grand Master audio chassis incorporates discrete design and meticulous layout, with both special film capacitors and non-induction winding resistors custom-built to DS Audio’s specifications. The phono stage/equalizer offers both single-ended RCA and balanced XLR outputs and a total of 6 selectable low-frequency cut-off points allowing the Grand Master to work seamlessly with any hi-fi system.

Inside the power supply chassis, large copper bus bars connect a total of three transformers, each with a capacity 1.5 times greater than found in our Master 1 equalizer. Independent transformers are dedicated to the left and right channels, with the third handling the power to the optical cartridge.

The significantly more robust power supply design includes a massive 2.34 million microfarads of electrolytic capacitance within the equalizer and 2.97 million microfarads within the power supply, enabling superior reproduction of ultralow frequencies and dynamic range.

DS Audio’s technology allows unmatched performance and flexibility


The Grand Master cartridge and phono stage are compatible with all DS Audio’s optical cartridges and equalizers providing many choices and upgrades for the ultimate in pure analog vinyl enjoyment.

  

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