Are we witnessing a quiet revolution in turntable design? Are we seeing significant advances in musical performance that result not from new technology or materials but from a recasting of relative priorities? Or, to put it slightly more contentious terms, has speed stability re-emerged at the top of the turntable performance heap for the first time since the LP12 read the last rights over the quartz locked, direct drive turntable? Of course, direct drive has made its own comeback in the form of the Grand Prix Audio Monaco, with other companies also pursuing the approach, but the rejuvenation of idler drive and renewed interest in multi motor systems also mine the same rich vein of musical communication. To date these evolutions have tended to be confined to the upper echelons of the market, but evidence is emerging that, if anything, they might be even more important with more affordable designs: enter Exhibit Two…
Stuart Michell’s SRM turntables* first appeared in these pages when JMH reviewed the original Arezzo model, along with the Arezzo Kinetic and Arezzo Ultra upgrade options, back in Issue 58. He was so impressed that he’s still using the Ultra version of the ‘table. Now comes the Arezzo Reference, a flagship model that whilst clearly a linear evolution of the earlier and more affordable versions, is actually an entirely separate design rather than an extension of them. Which means that the upgrade path ends with the Ultra, so the step up to the Reference involves a whole new deck. Having said that, as flagships go, the Arezzo Reference is surprisingly affordable – all the more so when you take in the material content.
* Please note that there’s no connection, familial or technological, with the long-established Michell Engineering of GyroDec fame.
Echoing the layered dissipation design of the other Arezzos, the Reference shares the basic structure of the Ultra. This involves a two-tier isolation base, with soft polymer pucks separating the layers and separating them from the outside world. On this stands a spike-decoupled plinth, supporting the motor and flywheel assembly (the latter still something of a rarity in the UK, although common in both Germany and the US). Top layer, comprises a sub-chassis again separated from the motor plinth on polymer pucks, which supports the main bearing and tonearm. In the case of the Reference, the four layers are all cut from black acrylic, adding a pleasingly sculptural quality to their curves and angled projections. Chromed metal work on the cones and discs that interface between the layers adds contrast and a subtle touch of elegance. Atop the lot sits the nicely profiled, opaque platter, machined from engineering polymer and decoupled from the main bearing shaft. The platter is instead supported by the acrylic sub-platter and located by a rubber bush around the record spindle, itself also decoupled from the bearing shaft proper. Talking of bearings, the long, standing shaft of the Reference bearing runs between widely spaced phospor-bronze bushes, sited to break up the main resonance, which is further damped by the oil bath bearing design, fully filled with a special, high-tech oil.
The almost obsessive decoupling extends further still, to encompass the tonearm. Only available in Rega mount at present (although other cuts will become available), the arm is bolted through a sandwich of Acrylic, neoprene and silicon rubber above and below the sub-chassis. This locates the tonearm by clamping it in place, but oversized holes in the sub-chassis prevent any direct contact between it and the arm or its mounting hardware, even though there’s no chance of the arm shifting. The arm-cable is carefully tied back to the sub-chassis, again to prevent any short-circuiting of the decoupling layers.
The drive system itself is closely related to the one used on the Ultra (a single square section belt driving the flywheel, with four similar belts driving the sub platter) but in this case the motor is a low-voltage synchronous design, fed from a massive external power supply. Housed in a matching acrylic case, complete with spikes and decoupling platform (of course) this is no fancy-Dan electronic supply. Instead it relies on good old-fashioned brute force, containing a pair of large toroidal transformers to isolate the motor from the worst vagaries of the AC supply. The lack of electronics also means that shifting to 45rpm necessitates lifting the platter and moving the belt onto a bigger pulley – well, I did say “old-fashioned”!