Avid Diva Ii (£1000 Without Arm)

Designed, machined and assembled in the UK, the mkII Diva represents a wealth of high-value engineering

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It was a brave move going into business making record players in the mid 1990s when LPs were already relegated to niche status. As Avid’s founder and chief designer Conrad Mas is wont to point out: ‘My friends and family thought I was bonkers.’
   Conrad’s bravery, coupled with his belief that there was still a market for high-end record players that were immaculately finished and built to last, has proved well founded. From humble beginnings Avid has grown to become an internationally recognised brand name among vinyl enthusiasts. Today the company’s home is a 15,000 square feet factory in Cambridgeshire with CNC milling tools and lathes that make it entirely self-sufficient, manufacturing all parts in-house.

With a range of turntables, from the flagship Acutus Reference with its massive, 10kg mirror-finished platter (£10950), through the Sequel, Volvere and ‘entry’ Diva models, Avid now exports to some 30 countries. In fact the Diva was first designed at the request of Avid’s Japanese distributor in order to hit a specific price point. Now dubbed Diva II it was remodelled during 2008 to better match the rest of Avid’s range and keep the price below £1000, the escalating cost of materials making the original Diva no longer viable.
   As our photographs and captions describe the construction of the Diva II far better than words alone, I need only point out that the substantial motor is in fact an entirely separate unit. It’s an eminently sensible solution for preventing motor noise entering the turntable’s chassis but, as highlighted in Paul Miller’s Lab Report, positioning of the motor and correct tension of the drive belt is critical for best performance and speed accuracy. Whatever you do, it’s critical to ensure the motor housing does not touch the recessed cutout within the Diva’s subchassis, if noise is not to be directly injected into the structure. Avid makes an isolation platform with Sorbothane feet priced at £190 which not only affords additional vibration isolation for the Diva II but also means you can move the deck without having to set it up again.
   The motor is driven from a separate power supply with a rotary on/off switch on the fascia which is satisfying to use, the pleasure factor enhanced by the rapid start-up of the platter. The substantial record clamp comes from Avid’s more expensive Volvere and Sequel models and is also a joy to use on a daily basis. As with all skeletal decks it’s going to be difficult to keep dust at bay and you’re going to want one of Avid’s acrylic covers – either the Flat cover (£70) which clamps onto the platter, or the Full cover (£350).

Of course, when listening to a turntable one is hearing the marriage of a turntable, arm and cartridge combination. For customers on a tight budget Avid supplies the Jelco SA-250ST arm from Japan (£480) and chose to deliver our review deck fitted with a DNM/Reson Aciore MC cartridge (£360). All listening was done with the player on the top shelf of my Townshend Seismic Sink Stand in order to minimise vibration. I also used a Graham Slee Fanfare MC phono stage which proved an ideal companion.
   Auditioning began with the LPO’s performance of ‘A Sussex Overture’ from the two LP set Arnold Overtures [Reference Recordings RR-48]. An audiophile favourite since its release in 1992, this half-speed master is a sharply-lit recording from Watford Town Hall. While lacking a little of the bass ‘wallop’ that I’m accustomed to (from a Townshend Rock Reference which, like Avid’s biggest decks, costs many times the price!) the Diva II sounded bold and eager. Brass and percussion were crisp and highly vivid, the overall character of this (familiar) recording remaining broadly intact.
   Initial impressions of the Diva II’s explicit and vivid character were maintained when listening to the LP Castalia by jazz trumpeter Mark Isham [Virgin V2513]. I’ve been enjoying this album for 20 years thanks to the explosive playing of my favourite drum and bass partnership: Terry Bozzio and Patrick O’Hearn. Again, I missed the low-end ‘rumblings’ that I know are present on the recording when O’Hearn allows open bass strings to reverberate and Bozzio assaults his kit like no other since the passing of Keith Moon. But to complain about the lack of very low bass would be churlish, given that the Diva II costs £1000 and as such is designed to be partnered with modest amplification and loudspeakers. The Revel Ultima Studio 2 floorstanding speakers I’m currently, er, revelling in at home require something like Avid’s flagship Acutus to fully do them justice. The absence of very low bass would not be missed in a more modest system.

As I plundered my record collection it became obvious that this combination of Diva II/Jelco/Reson Aciore is a highly competent and most enjoyable package. On checking the setup with Ortofon’s Pick Up Test Record [Ortofon 0002] the cartridge sailed through all the 315Hz vertical tracking ability tests and managed all but the highest (80µm) lateral tracking tests too, which is excellent for a moving coil. Music tracks on this test LP are from the Swedish Opus 3 audiophile label, the track ‘Moppin and Boppin’ by the Peoria Jazzband highlighting the Diva’s strong transient attack and great imaging, with the clarinet forward of the stage and the drum kit further back – just as it should be.

While the Diva II might be Avid’s cheapest turntable it nevertheless feels like it will last a lifetime. Build quality is reassuringly solid and finish is first rate. Sound quality is best described as explicit and up-beat, the combination we enjoyed with modest Jelco arm and Reson Aciore MC cartridge representing a really excellent value package at £1840 in total.


Originally published in the January 2009 issue