Turntables, Arms & Cartridges

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Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 01, 2021
hfnoutstandingMark Levinson's second turntable, the No5105, has been designed to be a painless, all-in-one, 'turnkey' affair – but does it still tick all the high-end boxes?

Like that 'difficult second album', any sequel to the Mark Levinson No515 [HFN Oct '17] has to live up to a heady precedent. At £5799 less cartridge, or £6499 with Ortofon's Quintet Black S MC pick-up installed, the No5105 sells for just over half the price of the No515. While the inclusion of the cartridge does not save any money – certainly not always the case when buying a package – it does remove any set-up worries by being factory-fitted.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 26, 2021
hfnoutstandingLaunched in 1999, the original Debut turntable set the bar for starter vinyl packages. Twenty-one years later and the 'Carbon EVO' raises it to pole-vault standards...

Deck/arm/cartridge/dustcover: check. Price £449: check. A choice of nine finishes including wood veneer, or gloss or satin colours: check. Everything included in the package readying it for connection to a phono stage: check. That list tells you Pro-Ject's best-seller remains, after two decades, the go-to 'turnkey' record deck for newcomers (or seasoned audiophiles on a budget). The basic recipe is unchanged but refined, which is why it has sold over 1,000,000 units. Rest assured, however, that this latest incarnation, the Debut Carbon EVO, is far more than a merely cosmetic upgrade.

Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 11, 2021
hfncommendedFrom Japan comes an exquisitely finished flagship MC cartridge that's cooking on gas when it comes to serving up full-flavoured sound. Is value for money on the menu too?

By naming the flagship MC in its Hana pick-up range the Umami Red, Japanese cartridge maker Excel Sound has played a clever stroke. Glance at the £3399 cartridge's exquisitely lacquered body and there are no prizes for guessing why the name includes the word 'Red'. But 'Umami'? In Japanese, 'umami' is one of five tastes, along with sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness. It has been variously translated as 'delicious' and 'savoury', but umami is said to be quite difficult to detect on its own. Rather, it combines with other flavours to give a result that's far greater than the sum of all parts.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 11, 2020
hfnoutstandingSynonymous with top-end turntables for two decades, AVID has extended its 'Very Interesting Design' portfolio to include MC pick-ups. Here's its open-bodied flagship

Irrespective of having installed what must be thousands of cartridges in my life, AVID's Reference Ruby moving-coil brought me out in a cold sweat. The top model in a trio that also includes the £4000 Boron and the £2000 Ionic, its £6000 sticker price, allied to a completely exposed cantilever, reminded me of the first cartridge I ever destroyed. The irony was not lost on me: that honour goes to the Dynavector 23R, the first-ever cartridge with a ruby cantilever. But unlike AVID's ruby rod, it was also one of the shortest at just 2.3mm.

Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 03, 2020
hfnoutstandingOne of the oldest and most revered names in vinyl's history is back, refreshed and under new ownership, and with a deck that mixes modern materials with classic design cues

How many audiophiles ten years ago would have thought that come 2020 you would be able to buy a brand new Leak amplifier and a pair of Wharfedale Linton speakers? Not many, I'd bet. And it's now possible to front a system comprising these components with a belt-drive, suspended subchassis turntable made by Thorens, and one with 'TD160' in its name. It seems the onward march of 'retro' is unstoppable!

Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 05, 2020
hfnoutstandingThe front-end to Yamaha's 'Gigantic and Tremendous' 5000 series is not a digital player or DAC but a turntable, and one whose controversial arm harks back to the '80s

And then there were four... We enjoyed the Yamaha NS-5000 loudspeakers [HFN Jun '17] and were bowled over by the C-5000 preamplifier and M-5000 power amp [HFN Aug '20]. Now we have the source with which Yamaha has chosen to front its flagship 5000 series. Not only is it a return to high-end turntable manufacturing for the company, it also sees the reappearance of what is possibly the greatest model number prefix ever, the 'GT' standing for 'Gigantic and Tremendous'!

Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 19, 2020
hfnoutstandingInspired by the flagship Acutus turntable, and bucking the trend for unsuspended decks with socially-distanced motors, the Volvere SP also comes with a familiar tonearm

Given that pretty much every component AVID has ever offered is still in production, it's clear company owner Conrad Mas does not chop and change designs on a whim. So it's no surprise that when it comes to turntables AVID has largely stuck with the thinking behind its very first deck, the Acutus, which was launched in 1999.

Review: Tim Jarman, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 25, 2020
hfnvintageDesigned to be worthy of the company's flagship Beolab 5000 system, this late '60s turntable was the last conventional deck to top the B&O range. How does it sound?

The argument for building a system using components from different manufacturers because 'no company is good at everything' is a good one – up to a point. Conversely, the Japanese heavyweights such as Sony, Technics and JVC were once able to put together a fairly convincing complete package, as could Philips (on a good day!).

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 04, 2020
hfnoutstandingAn air-bearing turntable and a parallel-tracking, air-bearing tonearm in a single, easy-to-use package for under £7000? Devotees of both will love the Holbo Airbearing

Every product type has its following, however focused. I am sure, for example, that there are devotees of hybrid amps with tube front-ends and solid-state output stages just as, among the niches in LP playback, audiophiles are tempted by air-bearing turntables and parallel-tracking tonearms. Made in Slovenia by Bostjan Holc, the Holbo Airbearing combines those two, and does so for an almost-inexplicable £6500.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 13, 2020
hfnoutstandingDespite shedding all 'non-essential cosmetic adornments' EAT's B-Sharp still cuts a dash in the world of plug-and-play turntable solutions. Does it sound as slick as it looks?

Conditioning has, I believe, led the cynics among us to assume that 'plug 'n' play' is a sexy euphemism for 'lowest common denominator' or 'user-friendly-enough for anyone to appreciate'. After all, this is what freed normal souls from going crazy with pre-USB computer peripherals. Today, it welcomes newcomers to vinyl, referring almost exclusively, in a hi-fi context, to turnkey turntable/arm/cartridge packages, because every other audio source has always been plug 'n' play.

Review: Jonathan Gorse, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 22, 2020
hfnoutstandingWith nearly a half century of MC experience under its corporate belt, Sumiko knows how to optimise pick-up performance: enter the Pearwood, an MC that tracks like an MM

Since it was founded in 1972 by noted audio designer David Fletcher, the US-based Sumiko Corporation has been making some of the world's most desirable pick-ups at its production facility in Japan. What's more, not only has it become one of the leading agents for audio equipment in North America but its UK presence has recently been boosted by distributor Henley Audio.

Review: Tim Jarman, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 10, 2020
hfnvintageA mid '80s deck designed to boost vinyl replay at a time when the convenience of CD was making all the news. Did it succeed, and how does it compare today?

The products we usually seek to feature in our Vintage Review pages are those that were among the first to introduce a new format, function, level of performance or design theme. However, this month our subject is the Technics SL-J33 turntable of 1986, one of the last in a series that had a footprint the size of an LP sleeve, which began with the SL-10 [HFN Apr '19].

Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 17, 2020
hfnoutstandingSupplied with or without a partnering MM cartridge, this new 'entry-level' deck to the Vertere range comes equipped with a re-imagining of the archetypal flat tonearm

In a world of plug 'n' play convenience, having to manually configure a piece of equipment before it can be used is felt by some to be far too great a barrier to enjoyment. And perhaps in no area of hi-fi is this truer than vinyl replay. I know of many people who have consciously shied away from exploring the ol' black stuff because they believe it to be 'just too much hard work'. So any manufacturer able to help eliminate any of the perceived faff and complexity that comes with putting together and setting up a turntable – not to mention its arm – is onto a winner.

Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 26, 2020
hfncommendedNestling in the foothills of the Swabian Jura, southern Germany, the tiny municipality of Altdorf is home to some very big turntables from the boutique Acoustic Solid brand

Weighing 22kg, with a good deal of this mass being platter, the Wood Round MPX is the latest turntable from German company Acoustic Solid and fits neatly into its seven-strong 'Classic Line', sitting above the Classic Wood but below the Wood Referenz. The deck's appearance, with its three pillars, echoes the company's top 'Aluminium Line' models and also differentiates it from the rectangular decks that make up the rest of the Classic Line.

Review: Tim Jarman, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 12, 2020
hfnvintageIt was a deck designed to keep vinyl replay relevant in a market attracted to the convenience of CD. Did it succeed and, more importantly, how does it sound today?

One challenge faced by those designing hi-fi in the high-tech 1980s was how to re-package the LP in a way that would ensure it remained of interest to consumers in a future that was clearly going digital. Released in late 1979, the Technics SL-10 turntable [HFN Apr '19], with its parallel tracking, optical position sensing and slick packaging was one of the first components to address this issue seriously.

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