The test of time. Whatever you say about a thing, if it’s been around for decades and still going strong, it just has to be good. The Canadian Oracle Delphi turntable is a perfect example of this maxim; the first Delphi decks appeared in 1979: before CD was launched; when Gary Numan was in Tubeway Army, both Cheap Trick and Bob Dylan were at the Budokan; and the nearest thing to a laptop was a sleeping cat. Like most audio devices that have been around for a few decades, there have been some significant changes to that original Oracle design – the Delphi is now in its sixth iteration – but the underlying design remains fundamentally unchanged.
The fundamentally unchanged part is a wholly good thing. The deck practically defines ‘timeless styling’. It looked amazing 30 years ago, it looks just as amazing today. Perhaps more so; the level of fit and finish of those polyester-coated alloy surfaces was rare in the 1980s, and almost unheard of today. Buy it, install it and people – real people, not just audiophiles – will coo over it, with many a nod of approval.
The changes are subtle, but significant, and unfortunately that tends to limit the options for upgrades for previous models. The subchassis and arm base have been made more substantial, it’s moved from a DC motor to an AC one (with an external power supply which can be hidden… the deck is controlled by two very clever alloy stalks – marked ‘33’ and ‘45’ – that illuminate when pressed). The bearing was changed in the last version to a nylon contact bearing, but the setscrews and thrust pad in this bearing have been redesigned with new materials to ensure a lower noise bearing over a wider range of temperatures.
But perhaps the really big change is the Micro Vibration Stabilizer System (MVSS), which are three silicone-filled dashpots sited near the suspension towers, which damp the free springs in the towers by means of a screw wound into the silicone. These are adjustable to suit the choice of arm, cartridge, room size, equipment support, taste, temperature… practically any parameter you care to think of. But the result is the same. Perhaps the best way to think of this is a set of infinitely adjustable shock absorbers on a car; you adjust them to get the best possible performance, then leave them be, rather than obsessively adjust them to suit different needs. I found about two and three-quarter turns on each dashpot worked well (Oracle suggests anything from two to three and a quarter turns of the screw in the goo will do). You find there’s a point where the sound just falls into perfect balance; quarter turn less and the sound is too soft, a quarter too much and it begins to sharpen up even legato instruments. The Goldilocks point is easy to identify though.
You’ve got to admire engineers that decide ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough, and make their own instead. It engenders and creates an ingenuity that makes smart solutions for seemingly intractable problems, like the clever bit of bent wire that makes fitting a belt to a ‘difficult’ platter a piece of cake. That policy extends right down to the optional lid hinges. These are tall, adjustable blocks of aluminium the size of elegant cigarette lighters (remember, this harks back to the day when it was still OK to discuss cigarette lighters without fear of becoming a pariah). The standard hinges wouldn’t sustain the optional folded clear Perspex lid without having to include less attractive front supporting uprights, so these custom-built hinges allow the lid to seemingly float over the turntable. It’s an elegant solution, albeit a more expensive one, and gives the deck that kind of thoroughbred engineering elegance that is so rare today.
It’s perhaps why – when it comes to tonearms – there is a long-standing mutual respect going on between Oracle and our own engineering centre of excellence, SME. The default choice of arm for the Delphi VI is an SME, but uniquely, it’s a special ‘345’ version using the armtube of the SME V with the yoke of the SME IV and branded in Oracle livery. I used a V with a Lyra Delos for the most part. It’s a happy balance with the deck.
Although I’ve had relatively little exposure to Oracle decks over the years, those I’ve heard have always been good sounding. Perhaps, it must be said, a little too good sounding, straying into ‘nice and polite’ territory. All of which makes the Mk VI such a pleasure to play with, because for whatever reason – OK, it’s those three little dashpots – the deck has managed to lose that leading-edge softening that helped make some of the previous Delphi models sound a bit ‘soft’, while retaining that sophisticated and fundamentally neutral presentation that always kept you coming back for more.