The 2013 Consumer Electronics Show: Robert Harley on Analog

Posted by: Robert Harley at 9:09 am, January 17th, 2013

Last year’s CES brought us a slew of new turntables, many of them priced below $3000. Although there were some moderately priced turntables and cartridges introduced at this year’s show, CES 2013 was notable for the launch of a few ultra-exotic ’tables and arms.

I’ll start with the affordable offerings. Pro-Ject, which introduced many new models last year, announced upgrades to its existing and extensive line of entry-level and affordable record players. For example, the $299 Essential player now comes with a gimbaled tonearm instead of a unipivot design, along with a couple of other small improvements. The price remains unchanged. The $699 Xpression III Classic has now been fitted with an improved one-piece carbon-fiber arm and integral headshell. The Expression III Classic comes with a Sumiko Pearl cartridge and VTA adjustment has been added. Pro-Ject’s only new offering is the Signature 10, a slightly scaled-down version of the Signature 12 statement ’table shown at last year’s CES. The Signature 10 features a magnetic bearing and sells for $8000 with tonearm. Pro-Ject also introduced the $499 Phonobox DS phonostage. What distinguishes the Phonobox DS from other similarly priced phonostages is the nifty front-panel display that shows gain and loading settings.

Avid turntables of England, imported by Music Direct, launched a new affordable line called Ingenium. The line brings some of the company’s upper-end design techniques to more moderate price points. For example, the sapphire platter bearing from the more upscale Diva II has been retained in the Ingenium, along with a chassis machined from 2.5"-thick solid aluminum. An optional clamping system, again from the more expensive Diva II, is available. The ’table is unusual in that there’s no chassis as such, but rather a minimalist cross-like aluminum structure that supports three feet beneath and the platter on top. The basic package comes with a Pro-Ject carbon-fiber tonearm at $2300. Options include fittings for 9" or 12" SME arms, or even a twin-arm mounting. The Ingenium is a significant design departure in that it lacks a traditional plinth; the approach here is to implement a smaller, but more solid, support structure.

Clearaudio, through its U.S. Distributor Musical Surroundings, debuted the Performance DC ’table and arm. The turntable features a high-mass aluminum and MDF sandwich plinth, interchangeable armboards, Clearaudio’s Ceramic Magnetic Bearing (CMB), and a Verify carbon-fiber tonearm with magnetic bearing. The Performance DC looked like a lot of turntable for $3000.

Clearaudio also introduced four new cartridges, priced from $400 to $1200. The $400 Performer V2 Ebony incorporates a new ebony wood body along with more powerful magnets for greater output (3.6mV). The $600 Artist V2 Ebony and $900 Virtuoso V2 Ebony both feature aluminum cantilevers and elliptical styli. The top-of-the-line Maestro V2 Ebony ($1200) offers a boron cantilever and Micro HD diamond stylus.

New York retailer and importer Audio Arts showed a turntable from a company I had not heard of called Holborne. The Swiss company’s Analog 2 Mk.II turntable features a separate motor controller and, unusually, a belt made from an old cassette tape. The tape’s properties are reportedly ideal for a turntable belt. Price: $7495 plus $3475 for the tonearm.

Basis Audio has been quietly working on a new arm that reportedly greatly exceeds the performance of the Vector 4. The new arm is so upgraded that it doesn’t bear the Vector name, but instead is called the Super Arm 9. The new design is built from exotic metal alloys that, when combined in the components that comprise the arm, have minimal resonance. The new armwand is reportedly 14 times stiffer than that of the Vector. The Super Arm 9 also benefits from new internal wiring. Price: $14,000. I’m scheduled to get one on my Inspiration; watch for a full comparison with the Vector 4 in an upcoming issue.

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