As was the case last year, at the 2012 Newport Beach audio show analog and vinyl dominated the exhibitions. Even though I saw little gear that is new, it was the rare room that didn’t play vinyl, while more than a few played only vinyl. The most interesting, impressive, and inventive record playing component I saw is unquestionably the Kronos turntable ($28k sans arm). A concern some have with suspended turntables—the Kronos has a tuned four point hanging suspension (a la SOTAs)—is that the rotation of the platter can cause the floating subchassis to move in the same direction. If the actual sonic/performance significance of this remains a matter of debate, Kronos’ solution qualifies as original to the point of unique: a second platter, identical in size and weight to the main platter but positioned on its own plinth directly below, spins in the opposite direction at the same speed, the untoward effects of one platter thus effectively cancelled out by the equal yet opposing effects of the other—classic Newtonian physics. Boasting gorgeous good styling, superb fit and finish, and fitted with a Graham Phantom II Supreme arm ($5.5k plus, depending on armwand), the Kronos—with a Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement pickup ($15k), Audio Research REF 2 SE phonostage ($12k), VAC electronics, and Scaena speakers—was making beautiful music, notable for the stability of the image, remarkable detail and articulation, and considerable size and power.
Revelation Audio featured Luxman’s PD 171 ($4.5k), this venerable company’s first turntable in 28 years (imported by On a Higher Note). With a handsome wooden base offsetting a 5/8 inch solid-aluminum plinth (the unit weighing an impressive 50 pounds), a fixed bearing S shaped tonearm with detachable headshell, and a precision 32 bit MICON signal generator for speed accuracy, the design, looks, and features are very much in Luxman’s tradition of retro style, redolent of late sixties and early seventies audio gear. Outfitted with a Brinkman Pi MC pickup ($2.7k) running through the new Luxman L-550Ax Class A integrated amp (an update of the L 550 I reviewed so enthusiastically several years ago) and Vivid B 1 speakers, the setup made for some of the show’s smoothest, most listenable reproduction.
In the Lotus Group’s room the Hanns T 60 turntable ($7.8k, review forthcoming) was both imposing and exceptionally handsome in its new all black finish (a $1k up charge). With a Duran Talea II arm (see below) and an Ortofon Windfeld ($3750) feeding an Esoteric E 03 phonostage ($5.5k), SMC (as in the redoubtable Steve McCormack) Audio’s new VRE 1C linestage, Eosteric A03 Class A 60 watt stereo amps, and Lotus’s own G2 speakers, the reproduction was exceptionally transparent, lifelike, involving, all without sacrificing an overall neutrality and tonal naturalness that are far too typical a penalty with physically large and “big sounding” loudspeakers (which can also sound positively assaultive to my ears).
Speaking of the Durand arms, the designer, Joel Durand, brings an unusual background to audio, being a Professor of Music at the University of Washington, where he teaches composition and is Associate Director of the School of Music. Costing $8.5k, the Talea II is unusual, being one of the rare arms made from wood and—unique so far as I am aware—offering adjustable azimuth during play (ditto VTA). Garth Lereer’s Musical Surroundings was showing its striking AMG Viella V12 integrated turntable ($16.4k), with oval shaped plinth in wood surround. Unusual for a contemporary table, it offers 78rpm in addition to the standard 33 and 45. The 12 inch arm has a dual bearing assembly claimed to allow for fine azimuth adjustment while eliminating play, and VTA can also be adjusted during play. The room was too crowded for listening when I was there.
Last year and now this, Gene Rubin Audio’s room was a respite of calm and relaxation amid the Sturm und Drang of most of the rest of the show, an oasis where you could sit back and enjoy music as it was meant to be experienced. The handsome Palmer 2.5 turntable ($7.5k), fitted with an Audio Origami Arm ($3.5k) and a Dynavector XX2 moving coil pickup ($1.95k), going through an LFD LE IV Signature Integrated Amplifier driving either Harbeth Compact 7 3ES or the brand-new Monitor 30.1 Domestic speakers, produced a marvelously musical sound that one just didn’t want to stop hearing.