One of the frustrations of the latter-day analog age is the skyrocketing costs of turntables, even when playing the vinyl LP is now the rage in some parts of the world—check out turntable sales in eastern Europe. The frustration for this writer is that, given both the politics of reviewing and those celestial costs, it is well-nigh impossible for me to hear all of the serious contenders in order to put some sort of context or ranking to their individual excellences. So some must remain mysteries. It’s okay for a given reviewer, say Michael Fremer of Stereophile, to say that Australia’s Continuum is the best in the world, but really, how can anyone buttress or butt heads with that assessment? And really, why pay $100,000 for a turntable when the long playing record, at least in this part of the globe, is no longer the predominant playback medium? Indeed, you might ask, why pay the $82,000 being asked for this table from Britain, which comes sans arm and cartridge, but happily we suppose, with the arm mount. (We used, in its evaluation, the Graham Phantom and our reference, the superb DynaVector XV-1S. Cost: $8500.)
There is a detailed story behind the ’table, and the mechanical wiz who worked on getting it workable, one Martin Easton, of the old country, which we will tell in the more elaborate review to come. But a few tidbits, sufficient one hopes unto the day. The table, constructed out of Blue Pearl, a form of granite, weights 300 pounds, and its platter a hefty 26. It is driven by a separate Maxim motor, and its platter floats on opposing magnets, though it is belt driven through its three speeds. Its importer, Bruce Fethering of Acoustic Dreams, says its speed is accurate with 0.001 per cent, thanks to a digital speed regulator which sends out its code 15,000 times per revolution. Hmm.
Thus far, there have been a few glitches, upon which we shall report on the day. What does it sound like? Well, it is by far the smoothest sound of any table in my experience, with a bottom end that, unlike the last Clearaudio Everest’s, is deep and extended, like that of one of the Joule OTL amps (specifically, the Grand Marquis and the Destiny), great tube bass, not transistorized sound as was the Clearaudio’s. In this sense, the Blue Pearl has an overall character different from and superior to the EAR Disc Master’s: It sounds like there’s more there there, with the Blue Pearl.
EAR Disc Master Magnetic Drive
I have been debating whether or not to give this remarkable product a richly deserved Golden Ear. Why not? The near hen’s teeth scarcity of units in the United States—would you believe there are just five? Additionally, the review sample I have on hand has given us no end of grief because of a slipping belt that is not an easy fix. But these are, I am going to assume, the sorts of problems that can and will be cured. Otherwise, and you have my word on this, I’ll get back to you with a (lack of ) progress report. Oh yes, the price of the table has risen to $17,500, up from, in the importer’s words, “$16,000 before the price increases for the entire line that took place in January, thanks to greater manufacturing costs and the plummeting value of the dollar.”
The strength of the design lies in the complete absence of turntable motor noise, a situation I likened, analogistically, to being in a car that rides above the surface of the highway. Yes, you might hear turntable noise if your LPs were poorly mastered, but on the best discs, the silences allow one to hear far more deeply into the bottom octave where greater dynamics and weight are to be found. In this sense, hearing a magnetically driven table might be likened to the complete absence of lowfrequency generated motor noise common to every CD (but of course, without the glories of analog sound). Further experience with the table, particularly in comparison with the mightily expensive British Blue Pearl, reveals a distinct sonic personality, light at the very bottom and far from ice-cream rich and smooth.
Graham Phantom B-44
Bob Graham has been at the forefront of unipivoted arm design for many a year, and this time he has got it exactly right.2 Earlier Graham models, much admired by the high-definition “precision” school of sound (those who want to hear every detail in the recording, even at the expense of the music itself ), sounded too tight, too white, and too dry on top, with not a little bit of chatter. I never got the sense of a relaxed sound, which is what the real thing has in spades. But with the Phantom, he has designed an arm whose presence I cannot hear in the highest resolution systems. The fine adjustments here really do help you zero in on optimum performances with the widest imaginable possible range of moving-coil designs. Price: $4300. grahamengineering. com (see Editors’ Choice, Issue 165, along with Wayne Garcia’s review this issue)