Should azimuth tweaking be required, as was the case with the Shelter 7000 cartridge I used, another surprise awaits. Unlike tonearms whose headshells are made of one piece with the arm tube, the Ace-Space 294 provides a milled aluminum headshell that is coupled to its carbon-fiber arm tube via a tight but handadjustable press fitting. To fine-tune azimuth, users grasp the arm tube in one hand and the headshell in the other, then carefully rotate the headshell into the desired position. On paper this might sound somewhat imprecise, but in practice it works like a charm. This arm pays huge sonic dividends for those who take the time to get azimuth and vertical tracking angle properly dialed in. Though it takes a fair amount of trial and error to reach an optimal setup, the good news is that the Ace-Space 294 makes the effects of even minor adjustments easy to assess, so that when you reach the sonic “promised land” you’ll know it. And once that happens, here’s what you can expect.
First, on good recordings, the Nottingham produces soundstages of exceptional depth, width, and overall three-dimensionality— arguably the turntable’s greatest strength. I put on the Von Karajan/ Berlin recording of Stravinsky’s Apollon Musagète [Deutsche Grammophon] and was dumbstruck by the way the ’table captured the sheer size and physical stage presence of the Berlin Philharmonic. The Nottingham let me hear how individual orchestra sections interacted with one another and—especially—with the hall, conveying a sense of the orchestra as a living, breathing organism. This is not one of those polite turntables that presents soundstages in miniature; on the contrary, the aptly named Space 294 sounds appropriately big and full-bodied, always letting you hear and appreciate the acoustics of the recording venue.
Second, the Nottingham produces rock-solid images that are consistently stable and tightly focused. On “Missile Blues” from the Wes Montgomery Trio’s eponymous album [Riverside, Analogue Productions reissue, 45rpm], I was floored by the vivid illusion that Montgomery’s sweet-sounding guitar amp was located only a few feet away and directly across the room from my listening chair. The illusion was further enhanced when, as Montgomery emphasized certain notes and phrases, I was able to hear the acoustic sound of his picking and fingering noises as separate and distinct from the amplified sound of the guitar. A thousand and one small sonic details have to come together in unison to produce images this believable, and the Nottingham captures them effortlessly.
Finally, the Nottingham delivers a carefully balanced combination of resolution and detail on the one hand, and natural warmth on the other. Tom Fletcher is on record as saying that “our (Nottingham’s) turntables are generally on the warm side of neutral,” though I think his statement is somewhat misleading. If we use the sound of live music as our standard, then I would argue the Space 294/Ace-Space 294 sound is truly neutral, where many “definition-driven” products sound colder, brighter, and more clinical than the real thing. Let me provide a concrete example to illustrate the point. As I write this paragraph, I am listening to the Michael Tilson Thomas/Boston recording of Debussy’s Images pour Orchestre [Deutsche Grammophon]. Many analog systems capture the basic beauty of this recording yet impart a cold, steely quality over the top of the strings, which spoils the effect I believe Debussy was after. But the Notthingham is different; though very detailed in its overall presentation, it nails the rich, almost buttery-smooth quality of the Boston strings in a way that brings the entire composition alive and lets it sing.
If I might borrow Jonathan Valin’s helpful “truth vs. beauty” distinction, I would say the Space 294/Ace-Space 294 combo deliver sonic truths aplenty (more than many analog systems can), but that it is, at heart, a machine whose primary purpose is revealing the beauty of well-recorded music. That works for me. TAS