I already tested Stabi S turntable with Stogi S tonearm and Dynavector D17III cartridge before. The review was published in „Audio” magazine. I really liked this Slovenian-Japanese system. In fact I loved it so much that for some time I seriously consider purchasing it – it was so unpretentious, so brilliant in its simplicity, that the only other turntables I could think of I enjoyed listening to even more were the very expensive ones of Simon York). Finally I didn't purchase this system out of very prosaic reason – lack of space to put it in. Maybe one day I will though.
This test was carried out together with a tonearm made specifically for this table (or the other way around – I don't recall now). On May the 6th this year a news came that Franc Kuzma, the owner of Kuzma Ltd., designed and built a new Stogi S 12 tonearm. The name speaks for itself – it must be a 12” Stogi S, right? Well, not exactly – it is a unipivot, but much longer than the previous one, and this time it has a detachable headshell. I would say the changes are significant. There are two versions of this new tonearm available – a classic one with mounting distance of 300 mm and a version with VTA adjustment mechanism. The latter is made in such a way that allows mounting a 12” tonearm with 212 mm mounting distance, which is exactly the mounting distance of 9” tonearms. It means in fact that this new tonearm could be installed on (almost) any turntable. And it is definitely worth a try as I think this arm is much better than “standard” Stoga S. I would even dare to say that it comes dangerously close to the level of performance of Stoga Reference 313 VTA (HERE), but I won't say that – it would be “politically correct”, would it? (But I know what I know!)
As I already mention I had reviewed a basic version of this turntable before. So this time I asked for a better power supply (this one used to be delivered with Reference turntable, which nowadays has a newer version of PS) and a base. The latter is simply a board with notched surface. It is quite useful as the turntable itself doesn't offer any possibility of leveling it and as you all know a perfect level is a critical issue for any turntable. When using this additional base you can level it by using rubber pads. Why aren't there some nice adjustable cones installed? I truly have no idea!!
Previously I received this turntable already with Dynavector cartridge which composed a very nice, inexpensive but highly enjoyable system. This time I wanted to test turntable and tonearm only so I used my own Miyajima Shilabe cartridge and (for comparison) Denon DL-103 (see HERE and HERE) as I used to do for the last 10 years. Nota bene - Mr Noriyuki Miyajima is about to finish a special version of his new making – Kansui cartridge – just for me.
Let's add that Stabi S is available in brass or black color, and depending on version one could mount one or two tonearms on it.
We've tested so far:
- Kuzma Reference + Stogi Reference 313 VTA, test HERE
Records used during the test (selection):
- Alan Taylor, In The Groove, Stockfisch, SFR 357.8007.1, DMM Series, 180 g LP.
- Alison Moyet, Love Letters, CBS, Moyet T5, Maxi-SP LP.
- Brian Eno, Craft On A Milk Sea, Warp Records, WARPCDD207, 2 x 180 g LP + 2 x CD + 24/44,1 WAV; review HERE .
- Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Study In Brown, EmArcy/Universal Music Japan, UCJU-9072, 200 g LP.
- Dead Can Dance, Into The Labyrinth, 4AD/Mobile Fidelity, 140 g LP; review HERE .
- Dead Can Dance, Spiritchaser, 4AD/Mobile Fidelity, 140 g LP; review HERE .
- Depeche Mode, It’s Called A Heart – Extended, Mute, Bong 9, Maxi-SP LP.
- Depeche Mode, Sounds Of The Universe, Mute, STUMM300, 2 x 180 g LP; review HERE .
- Enya, Watermark, Warner Communications Company, 243875-1, LP.
- Frank Sinatra, The Voice, Columbia/Speakers Corner, CL 743, Quiex SV-P, 180 g LP.
- Gerry Mulligan&Thelonious Monk, Mulligan meets Monk, Riverside/Analogue Productions, 1106, 2 x 180 g, 45 rpm LP.
- Jean-Michel Jarre, Zoolook, Dreyfus Disques /Polydor Canada, Jar 5, LP.
- Kankawa, Organist, T-TOC Records, UMVD-0001-0004, Ultimate Master Vinyl, 4 x 45 rpm 180 g LP + CD-RIIα + 24/192 WAV; review HERE .
- Led Zeppelin, Mothership, Atlantic Records, R1 34470, 4 x 180 g LP.
- Mikołaj Bugajak, Strange Sounds and Inconceivable Deeds, Nowe Nagrania 001, 45 rpm LP+CD+WAV 24/44,1; review HERE .
- The Alan Parsons Project, The Complete Audio Guide To The Alan Parsons Project, Arista, SP 140, 8 x LP Box.
- The Doors, Limited Edition Vinyl Box, Warner Brothers/Rhino, 7 x 180 g LP.
- Wes Montgomery&Wynton Kelly Trio, Smokin’ at The Half Note, Verve/Universal Music Japan, UCJU-9083, 200 g LP.
- Yazoo, Upstairs At Eric’s, Mute/Jugoton, ULP 1042, LP.
Some day one of my friends (true vinyl fan – owner of one of the old models of Linn with Koetsu) dropped in, sat on the couch and asked me to play whatever record on Kuzma, as he never had had an opportunity to listen to this particular system before. I was just opening a new Mothership box with selection of Led Zeppelin pieces so I played Whole Lotta Love. He listened for 30 seconds and concluded that he already “new it all”. He knew it was not a suspended table.
Yes, Kuzma system with Miyajima cartridge is a non-suspended table. And yes – you could easily tell that. But from my point of view it was its advantage. Not because this particular solution was in general an advantage as e.g. SME 20/3 and Avid Acutus Reference, so two (out of three) in my opinion best turntables I had ever listened to in my room were suspended ones. But on the other hand the best of the best on my personal list of fantastic turntables was a mass-loader - Transrotor Argos. I could also mention SME 30, Walker Audio turntable, or Continuum Audio Labs system, but I haven't heard those in my own room (and out of these I only listened to the SME in controlled environment – please see HERE). Anyway Kuzma is not a suspended design, it is a mass-loader (sort off) and one can tell by listening to it. And that's a good thing.
Kuzma's system is incredibly stable and I mean on many levels. If there is any wow and flutter – I can't hear that. And I tried especially by listening to many recordings of piano – that's the easiest way to find those – but I just lost some time. Of course listening was a great pleasure but I could find any wow and flutter and that's what I meant by a “waste of time”. It is the piano that shows full potential of Kuzma system – the way of presentation of each element of sound was carefully and wisely chosen. Bass goes very deep and is very well controlled. The top end is strong with no trace of softening or rounding of edges (as many suspended turntables often do). The soundstage is huge. For the midrange I've reserved a separate paragraph.
Now I want to explain why listening to Kuzma with Shilabe cartridge was so comfortable. There was nothing that could irritate listener, distract his attention from music and it didn't matter what kind of music I played, and what's even more important – it didn't matter how good the particular pressing was, or how good was the mastering, or how many signs of hard usage the record showed – none of these things mattered.
It was not a first time I encountered such situation. It was similar with Transrotor (but only with Argos) the top of the line Avids. And with few very good, though inexpensive turntable like e.g. Pro-Ject RPM-1.3 Red. Those decks delivered an effect I called a “positive homogenization”. My definition of ‘homogenization’ here says that it's a process that results in delivering a very homogenous, grainless, relaxed sound. On one hand it has its downsides as it means lesser resolution and less details. But on the other I prefer homogenous sound rather than great resolution but without proper coherence.
The other “type” of turntables is represented by decks like above mentioned two and Kuzma. Surely these come from totally different price levels as Avid and Transrotor cost much, much more. But if we forget about price and compare just the way these turntables create the sound we would find them quite similar.
Let's discuss this „homogenous sound” and „indifference” towards different quality pressings that Kuzma shows. This ‘indifference’ is in quotation marks again because what I mean with it is not that this turntable “doesn't care” what is the quality of a pressing. Just on contrary – it is always easy to tell how good the recording is, the pressing, if the records is clean or not, whether VTA is set correctly, etc, etc. It is always perfectly clear but it doesn't take away the pleasure of listening to the music as all these information are given as complementary ones – you realize all that but you can still enjoy listening session – that's a feature of most best turntables I know. The worst possible thing an audio device could do is to force music lover to quit on his favorite recordings because these are not perfect and his new system doesn't allow him to forget about it even for one second. Kuzma will inform you about all flaws but in the same time it will find a way to present it in enjoyable, coherent form. During my test it never happened that I finished listening to any record before its end because of its poor quality. And with many other turntables, including SME 20/3, it happened from time to time. With Kuzma every record can be „enjoyable”.
Let me give you an example: I own some records issued before 1989, meaning before anybody who could afford it could buy foreign issues in our country. Most of these records come from Jugoton label but contain recordings of West-European bands. For some reason Yugoslavia had no problems acquiring licenses for any recordings they wanted to issue. I have for example first four records of Depeche Mode and some of Yazoo. Of course after 1989 I replaces most Depeche Mode for better reissues, but I still have and use those of Yazoo. Having Kuzma at my disposal I decided to listen to Upstairs At Eric’s. Its sound is quit flat, dynamics is weak and most of treble was “lost in translation”. Back it the days it didn't really bother me, but in recent years I couldn't listen to it anymore. Kuzma allowed me to enjoy the whole record again, and I listened to my favorite pieces - Only You and Don’t Go - more then once. Yes, I realize I shall finally buy a better issue of this record but with Kuzma I really enjoyed even the one I had.
Kuzma's sound is namely well balanced. I can't point out weaker and stronger parts of range. Or maybe there is more truth in statement that nothing I heard really bothered me because we all know that if you want to you can always find something to point out, right? But I'm mentioning it right now not because it is the end of this text and I have to conclude it with some weakness of this turntable, but because I want to discuss midrange a bit.
My friend (Linn owner mentioned at the beginning) pointed out first of all a very distinct, powerful attack phase, and lack of something he called “airbag” that he was used to just before any strike or beat – that is something characteristic for suspended turntables. I think he liked the midrange though. You see, most of mass-loaders offer a bit “dead” sound lacking energy. It is like this huge mass dissipated the energy of the sound somehow. On the other hand thanks to great precision (of attack and decay) such designs offer both bass and treble better extended. This lack of energy manifests itself best in the midrange.
Kuzma's vocals presentation is what makes it so different from most of turntable regardless their design and regardless their price. I was almost shocked with the presentation of Frank Sinatra's The Voice with old recordings now reissued by Columbia, in their Classic Records series (Quiex SV-P vinyl). Big, rich vocal. Different in each song as these came from different recoding sessions from different years. But always involving, swinging – simply a great „crooner”.
And in my opinion this turntable did not emphasize midrange. To verify tonal balance of this system (Kuzma + Miyajima) I compared some recordings on vinyl with same ones in digital form. A digital player offers quite reliable reference (better or worse but reliable). I found out that this turntable was capable to differentiate recordings very well, clearly showing how well sound engineers did their job, or guys from mastering, and so on. For example: vocals on Vinyl Box (7 LP) by The Doors were presented closer to the listener than from Japanese CDs even though same digital master tapes were used for both issues. Right after that I listened to new Dead Can Dance remasters that showed exactly the opposite situation - CD version included clearly emphasized vocals. And so on, and so on. Each time it was clear that what I heard was a choice of somebody responsible for particular issue and not a flaw of the recording.
Franc Kuzma's turntable is a real “high-fidelity” device that is also capable of deliver a lot of enjoyment to its owner. I have to admit that when I had it here for as test I did not listen to a CD player at all, using during this time only a handy HiFiMAN HM-602 player. Not because I suddenly stopped appreciate my fabulous Ancient Audio Lektor Air or because it sounded worse than Kuzma – no! It's just that the Slovenian turntable delivered all that I love so much about analogue – dynamic, rich, very “live” sound, and simply music was the most important part of presentation.
And I loved to use it as a source of signal for my headphone setup with amazing Leben CS-300 X (S) [Custom Version] as an amplifier and HiFiMAN's HE-500 headphones that I just had received for a review (these offer much higher efficiency than HE-4 and HE-6). I loved this sound – it was bit darker than with Avalon Transcendent loudspeakers, but the presentation was even deeper, more intimate.
I mentioned listening with headphones intentionally – everybody who tried to use a turntable as a source of signal for headphones realizes that (apart from the sound itself) there are two biggest problems: hum, and grove noise. The former was a real problem in my system – hum was quite significant whether I connected the ground wire to phonostage or not (I used my reliable RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC) – it was higher with ground cable connected. Finally I found a solution (accidentally). Hum was gone as soon as I used some scotch tape to attach ground cable to a … metal part of SCART plug (connecting Arcam's DVD Player with TV set, which is connected with interconnects with preamplifier. To find your solution you will have to experiment on your own but don't limit yourself to the obvious solutions only. Final result might be spectacular – Kuzma Stabi S with Stogi S 12 VTA tonearm is one of the most quiet turntables I know.
The other story is with grove noise and these small cracks you can almost always hear when listening to a turntable. I was unable to get rid of these completely although I managed to decrease it by some margin by using Harmonix TU-800EX Improved Version matte. I will tell you about it bit more in a moment. But the grove noise was audible anyway and some cracks too. What's important is that these were audible but not interfering with music. It is some kind of phenomenon that I observe when using high-end devices – the better design the more “aside” are all those non-musical elements – listener is aware of them but they don't interfere with musical experience. Kuzma wasn't able to separate those non-musical elements so well as the best turntables I know, but it did it well enough to keep listening enjoyable.
It is a feature connected to this turntable's design and this is what (I think) my friend (owner of Linn) meant when commenting on Kuzma's sound. That's a feature of suspended turntables – there is much less noise and cracks audible – these are masked somehow. Massloaders usually show them very clearly and the point is to show them by “aside”, not interfering with music itself. Kuzma dealt with it quite well.
This is the only turntable I consider buying already for a second time – the only circumstance that doesn't allow me to do so it the constant lack of space to put it in.
I promised to tell you bit more about the Harmonix matte. It is called „Tunning LP Matte” and that's how I treated it. It modifies sound significantly but at the beginning it is not easy to tell whether this is a good or a bad modification. It is easier to tell what change and if this change contributed to whole system's character or not.
Japanese matte make the treble more quiet – at least that's the impression. Surely less grove noise is audible. General impression is that the whole presentation gets more quiet. After a longer listening session I took the matte off and then realized that what really got quieter was the background that became darker, smoother. And even though the matte slightly decreased dynamics (on Kuzma! - no experience with other turntables) the perfect background, lesser distortion and so on convinced me to use it during the whole test. Once I listened with it on I couldn't go on without it. It is not cheap so whether or not it is worth buying you need to decide by yourself but each vinyl fan should give it a try.
Stabi S 12 VTA
The design of Project Kuzma Stabi S is brilliant in its simplicity. Stabi is an abbreviation for ‘stability’, which seems to be the most important feature of a turntable (or at least its base) in Franc Kuzma's book. “Stogi” on the other hand means in Slovenian “rigid” which is a very important feature for tonearm.
There is no conventional plinth or base but instead two interlocking massive solid brass rods connected in T formation which gives the frame high rigidity and resistance to vibration. The main bearing is placed a joint of these two rods. The are three rubber rings placed on rods and this is the only decoupling from the base so placing of this turntable is a key matter. It is important also because there is no leveling mechanism of any sort. During this test I used a base delivered by Distributor. The arm's pivot point is sited in an oil well, which enables extremely low friction and bearing vibration. The aluminum platter weights 4 kg, which is not too much, and it can be replaced (as an option customer needs to pay for) for a heavier one. Basic version of this turntable weights roughly 13 kg. The bearing is of highly polished, fine grain carbon steel with a one point contact, while the bearing sleeve is of a resin/textile material which has excellent damping and non-resonant properties. With a mat on top and rubber insert underneath, the platter provides a stable non-resonant platform for records. Additionally manufacturer delivers a brass clamp (made by SME) that really improves the quality of the sound.
The motor is housed independently in its own brass biscuit to dampen internal vibrations. A ground, quite short flat belt provides drive from the motor pulley to the sub platter. With the standard version of this turntable to change the speed you need to take off the platter and remove belt from one pulley and place it on the other. The additional power supply I used for this test allows electronic change of speed.
Stogi S 12 VTA
Stogi S 12 VTA tonearm is an another developmental version of this product. The first Stogi arm was designed at the very beginning of Kuzma's brand existence – its early version was described by Martin Colloms in 1985. Tested model is a unipivot. Arm's aluminum tube has a length of 12” and the diameter is the same all way long. The counterweight is fixed below the pivot point of the arm – it's COG seems to be placed even lower than stylus tip. There are three counterweights used to adjust tracking force – two bigger ones and one smaller. Two bigger ones were enough with Miyajima cartridge. Kuzma used interesting solution for anti-skating. It is a thin line with a weight but it is fixed in a pulley which eliminates and resonances of this line. For internal wiring designer chose to use Cardas wire - a one continuous piece from head shell to high quality gold plated, copper Eichmann plugs. The complex VTA mechanism looks exactly the same as the one used for Stogi Reference 313 VTA, which is really something, if true.
Harmonix TU-800EXi Improved Version
Matte is called: “Tuning Record Matte TU-800EXi Improved Version”. It consists of two discs stuck together – the upper one looks like made of highly compressed paper with company's logo extruded on it and some small pits placed in concentric way. The lower part seems to be made of something like bakelite.
・ width: 29,3cm
・ thickness: 3 mm
・ weight: 210 g
・ color: black, gold or silver
Kuzma: RCM s.c.
RCM s. c.
ul. Matejki 4
phone.: (32) 206-40-16 | (32) 201-40-96
fax: (32) 253-71-88
Harmonix: Moje Audio
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phone./fax: (71) 336 52 67
mobile: 606 276 001 | 790 425 142