Actually playing a record adds swinging the trough into place to the whole procedure, but it’s remarkable how natural this quickly becomes. It also allows you to listen with and without front-end damping: suffice to say, it’s a salutary demonstration and one which once undertaken will have you using the trough every time you play a record, which helps explain why most of the Rock turntables ever sold are still in use today, and any that crop up on the secondhand market are snapped up, often for more than their originally asking price.
Music played on the Rock V is characterized by its incredibly low noise floor and a sense of calm stability. The carefully sculpted phrases and heavily shaped notes of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’, their stretched and contorted length laid over the chuggy insistence of that infectious bass line thrive on the ‘table’s easy, unforced sense of space and timing. The measured pace of the track and the slow, elongated delivery of the vocals can easily lag if they’re allowed to, but the lock-step quality of the Rock’s low-frequencies keeps the rhythmic momentum and signature clear and precise, perfect foundation for the beautifully resolved reverb and effortlessly separated backing harmonies.
It’s no one-pace wonder either. ‘Heart Shaped World’ runs it through the gears, its rhythmic hesitations and changes of pace, together with its fast-fingered, undulating bass line demonstrates the sure-footed solidity this deck instils in music’s nether regions. Even the life and energy of the kick-step tempo of ‘Heart Full Of Soul’ is encompassed with ease. If you are worried that “damped” means “dead” – don’t be. The uncluttered transparency of the Rock V’s lower registers keeps things clear and perfectly placed, its low noise floor delivering the dynamic goods, both in terms of nuance and absolute dynamic range.
Okay, so we’ve dealt with that: There’s nothing slow or lifeless about the Rock’s reproduction. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. There’s a naturalness to recordings that is quite uncanny and which seems to push the system into the background, allowing you to concentrate on the performers. It’s a quality that’s especially apparent on less than wonderful recordings, where the deck’s poise and control seem to iron out some of the disc’s worst excesses without stamping on the music. Playing a recent repressing of Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush, a record marred by splashy upper-mids that infect the singer’s nasal drawl, the Rock cleans up the hash and renders Young’s voice both more pleasant and more accurate, a neat trick indeed if you can do it…
Much of the listening was conducted with the Wilson Duette/ WATCH Dog combination reviewed elsewhere in this issue, both with and without the sub. It was an interesting match, as it underlined the extent to which the cleanliness of the turntable’s lower register opened out the Duette’s mid-band, improving separation, placement, the shape and duration of notes as well as their harmonic structure in much the same way as the sub-woofer does. Likewise, the stability of the platform provided by the tonearm allowed the Lyra Skala to deliver greater resolution and detail to go along with its customary presence and dynamic contrast. This was never more apparent than in the flourishes and decaying arpeggios so often used by acoustic guitarists to close a song. The turntable’s grasp of each note’s tail, its shape and duration, the growing space between it and the leading edge of the next note, was held with such poise and delicately textured definition that it becomes a tiny, poignant microcosm in itself, with its own accent and emotional slant, the perfect parting shot; just as it should be.
This ability to separate and preserve micro-dynamic information and the temporal terrain of the music translates just as effectively to largescale works. The Reiner/Chicago Lt. Kije is reproduced with a beautifully tangible acoustic and a stability to the placement of instruments that escapes all but the best (and often the heaviest) ‘tables. Individual separation and tonality is again superb, as is the portrayal of Reiner’s masterful control over pace and tempo. The orchestral climaxes are kept in rein, never tumbling out of the speakers or stepping forward in the stage, although here the more fulsome lower end of a deck like the TNT delivers a greater sense of physical presence and explosive power. That’s a call you’ll need to make for yourself, trading definition and separation against the sheer gusto that comes with the VPI. Likewise, although there’s plenty of air around instruments the Rock has less obvious high frequency energy than other ‘tables. In part that’s a function of the cleanliness it brings to upper registers, rather like the apparently subdued performance of a diamond tweeter. But there’s also a lack of extension and resolution of absolute detail, especially when it comes to the shimmer and rattle of beaded cymbals, the crisp snap of wood blocks or the upper harmonics of violin. I’d point a finger at the Rega bearing assembly and arm-base, having heard a similar loss of detail with Rega’s own arms, but that is just supposition on my part. The loss is subtle enough to be pleasant rather than debilitating and again contributes to the Rock’s forgiving way with less than perfect discs.