(This post is meant to accompany my review of the AAS Gabriel/Da Vinci turntable and Da Vinci Grandeeza tonearm, to be published in Issue 191 of TAS.)
The first things you’re going to need—trust me—is at least one and preferably two able-bodied assistants. This turntable and the mounting pillars are heavvv-y! Just getting them out of their shipping crates and onto a stand is a chore. Once they’re out, the rest is relatively straightforward, which is a good thing because Da Vinci’s “instruction manual” currently consists of two Xeroxed pages, one of which has a diagram of the arm and the other a diagram of the turntable. This is great if you want to start your child on the road to ruin early by giving him a hi-fi coloring book, but next to useless if you’re looking for some guidance on how to assemble the ’table and arm.
Happily, assembling the ’table is a snap. You screw those three massive feet onto the bottom of the plinth first, then (with the help of two other guys) situate the plinth on a suitable stand, allowing for a substantial distance between it and the motor and arm pillars. Next, you apply a few drops of oil (supplied) to the top of the vertical bearing inset into the floor of the plinth, then (with some help again) pick up the massive platter (which has a tight-fitting bearing-sleeve at its center) and lower it directly down onto the vertical bearing. (Watch your fingers as this is a very tight fit!) The platter won’t go all the way down (to sit on the tip of the bearing)—it isn’t supposed to. The force of magnetic repulsion will create an air gap between the top of the bearing sleeve and the top of the vertical bearing (which doesn’t so much act as a bearing but as an axle or spindle around which the table turns). When you press on the top of the platter you should feel some spring because of this air gap. Da Vinci is now providing a leather turntable mat to go atop the platter. (I haven’t tried it yet; I’ve been using a felt one.) There is also some talk about a record clamp, although using clamps like my stand-by the Walker or Audio Tekne’s utlra-expensive carbon-fiber one have not improved the sound in my opinion—only changed it.
After attaching three more Da Vinci feet to the motor pillar, you will set it about nine to nine-and-a-half inches from the plinth (measured from the motor’s pulley to the edge of the platter), then run the belt around the pulley and around the circumference of the platter. (The distance between motor and plinth depends on the length of the belt you’re using. Da Vinci has a longer one and a shorter one; my instructions apply to the longer one.) The belt should—and is intended to—fit very loosely, with plenty of play in it if you give it a bit of a tug with a fingertip. The motor controller has dials on it to set rotational speed for both 33.3 and 45 rpm. Once set, the speed stays stable.
The tonearm mount (supplied) is easily bolted to the pre-drilled top of the tonearm pillar, and the pillar of the tonearm itself slips easily into the mount. There is a high-quality cinch-bolt that runs through the bass of the mount which must be tightened (using supplied Allen wrenches) to fix the arm in place. As I mentioned in the review, the arm-pillar is intended to be set somewhere in the first third of its travel; above that the arm may not be fully stable. This means that you have a relatively narrow amount of play for setting VTA. Happily, you can adjust the height of the adjustable feet on the bottom of the arm pillar to get a little more VTA (if that’s what you want). In practice, I haven’t had to do this, provided that the stand that the table/arm/motor is sitting on is itself level. Next attach the cartridge to the arm’s cartridge holder. (The Da Vinci Grandeeza comes hardwired from the tonearm leads to its own Da Vinci interconnects, which can be ordered in appropriate lengths.) Once the arm is attached to the pillar and the cartridge to the arm, you’re going to set overhang using the supplied Feichert protractor and dedicated plastic template (made specifically for the Da Vinci Grandeeza). Because little on the arm or its mount is adjustable, you’re going to have to move the entire arm pillar forward and back to get things just so. (It’s not as tough as it may sound, although it can be a bit tedious.)
Aside from setting VTF and any tweaks to VTA (which require loosening the cinch-bolts at the base and physically lifting or lowering the arm. (Although Da Vinci does include a built-in adjustable stanchion that will hold the arm at the height you started from and can be screwed up or down for lifting and lowering the arm when adjusting VTA, I preferred to do this by hand. If you do use the adjustable stanchion, be sure to retighten the arm-pillar cinch bolts and retract the stanchion before playing records.)
As for appropriate cartridges, I haven’t had a problem with any moving-coil provided it is sufficiently massive. The Goldfinger v2, the Air Tight PC-1 Supreme, and Da Vinci’s own superb “Grandeeza” mc have all functioned beautifully. For the utmost in transparency, I would go with the Grandeeza or PC-1 Supreme; for slightly richer tone colors, the Goldfinger v2.
Finally a word on the sheer beauty of these objects (in their Ferrari red finish), which is considerable. There are a lot of pretty ’tables and arms in this world, the Da Vincis may be the prettiest.