McIntosh and Thorens introduced high-performance ’tables that match their respective electronics. The McIntosh MT10 ($9000 with arm and MC cartridge) uses a magnetic bearing and is set up at the factory, and the beautiful Thorens TD 550 ($12,925) is a suspended design with an Ortofon arm and balanced and unbalanced jacks. It can accommodate 9-, 10-, or 12-inch arms. Thorens also showed its impressive new TD 160 HD ($2899 with arm) with its progressively dampened, suspended subchassis.
To sum up, more companies used analog front-ends to highlight their products this year. In addition to the new releases, the VPI HR-X and TNT-6, SME 20/12 and 20/2, Basis Audio 2800 Signature and Debut Signature, Grand Prix Monaco, TWAcustic Raven AC, among others, were spinning away. It was quite an analog fest!
While many analog rigs sported Tri-planar Mk VII, Graham Phantom B-44, JMW-12.7, Basis Vector Model 4, SME V, or SME 312S tonearms, several new high-performance arms were introduced that may challenge them. Linear tracking fans should love Clearaudio’s new TQ-1 arm ($9500). Mimicking the Statement arm, the wheels are enclosed in a glass tube and the arm seems to glide effortlessly across the table. Thorens, actively re-establishing itself on these shores, announced a new arm, the TP 125 Special Edition (~$10,000) designed by DaVinci Audio Labs that appears to be derived from DaVinci’s Grandezza arm that some regard as the best in the world.
Kuzma introduced its 4Point tonearm (~$7300), offering an ultra-high-performance pivoted alternative to its AirLine tonearm. Both were mounted on the Stabi XL 4 turntable on VTA towers offering easy and repeatable VTA adjustments. The 4PT has a unique horizontal and vertical bearing configuration, is effectively an 11" arm but fits on a cutout for 9" arms, and offers bi-wiring to enable the use of two different phonostages.
Musical Surroundings was showing two versions of the Helius Omega tonearm ($3500 standard; $5000 deluxe). The Omega’s counterweight is on the same plane as the stylus, to improve stability and efficiency, and its large bearing housing improves motion control. An Omega, Clearaudio Anniversary table, and Stradiveri cartridge combination had amazing transient speed and clarity without blurring.
While several top-shelf analog rigs used Koetsu, Air Tight, Clearaudio, and Dynavector cartridges, a number of new carts debuted at CES and T.H.E. Show. Benz Micro was particularly active, introducing a new series of phono cartridges—the “S Class” incorporating lower mass coils, improved suspensions and materials, and upgraded styli. There are S Class versions of Benz’s popular Wood Body ($1500), Glider ($1000), and Ace ($700) cartridges. The new LP S ($5000) uses a brass frame, Ebony body, and “evolved ruby square plate generator” to reduce vibrations and control resonance as well as improve dynamics, bass extension, and resolution, and the new “open air” SLR gullwing ($2500) is derived from the LP S, with a frame machined from brass, and a generator similar to the Benz Ruby. Both the LP S and SLR gullwing have an output of .35mV.
Sumiko continues to improve its venerable Celebration cartridge line. The Pearwood Celebration II ($2000) uses an improved cartridge body and an ultra low-mass stylus. The company also showed an unnamed yet quicker, quieter, and more resolved cartridge with a body of Pao Ferro (~$3500), a wood that offers more detail than Rosewood. It uses an Alnico magnet and an enhanced generator and was mated with the wonderful SME 20/12 turntable, Audio Research electronics, and the new Vienna Acoustics “The Music” loudspeakers to produce a very wide soundstage, with excellent focus, transient speed, and coherence.
Oracle Audio was using its new Thalia cartridge ($1500) with its Delphi Mk V turntable, turbo power supply, and Oracle/ SME 345 tonearm. The Talia is a high-output (2.5mV) moving coil with an ebony wood body. With its warmer tonal balance, it seems like the perfect complement for the Delphi table.
Soundsmith has new versions (high and medium compliance) of its moving-magnet Voice cartridge ($2200) with sapwood ebony bodies. The high-compliance version should be great in low-mass arms. Soundsmith’s Strain Gauge cartridge (starting at $6000) has a new suspension for improved resolution, imaging, and clarity. Its immediacy, timbre, and transparency make me want to try it.
One of the most significant phonostages is also one of the least expensive. Pro-ject’s Phono Box II USB ($179) can accommodate both moving-coil and moving-magnet cartridges yet it also has an A/D converter and a USB output, and your computer recognizes it as a soundcard. Its performance is said to be somewhat better than the internal unit in the Debut III USB turntable. Musical Surroundings introduced a new version of its popular low-cost phonostage, the Phonomena II ($600), which is based on the SuperNova and Nova circuits and offers mc/mm switching and loading adjustability.