Turntable + Tonearm
PTP Audio SOLID9
here are certain inventions, technologies and design ideas that should have disappeared long ago, and yet stubbornly cling to existence. They are only preserved and cherished by people who see some kind of value in them, which seems to be lacking in newer inventions, technologies and design ideas. That is the case with full range drivers and speakers that employ them. The EVA speakers that we reviewed last month should not exist, their production in the second decade of the 21st century is a pure anachronism (see the review HERE). The same is true of vacuum tubes, the active components that should have been wiped out decades ago from the map of audio world by transistors, or semiconductors in general. And what about the vinyl disc? The same story. None of that happened, though.
I think that with the start of the new millennium this trend has intensified, and old technologies and audio equipment have recently garnered somewhat of a cult following. This applies not only to be part of the sound reproduction, but also for its recording. As we read on the album cover of Kitty, Daisy & Lewis, an English band comprising the siblings of the Durham family:
We took a year to record and mix this album in our back room. Over a period of time we collected a lot of ribbon microphones, tape recorders and ancient sound equipment and eventually built a workable studio inspired by Sun studios in Memphis and Chess studios in Chicago along with the makeshift chaos of Joe Meek’s studio in the Holloway Road in London. Our main objective was to capture the energy of our live gigs
A single glance at their list of sound equipment, including the Ampex 300 and 350 as well as the M3 stereo and mono tape recorders, ribbon microphones from Marconi, RCA and others, is enough to understand that this is all for real, not some kind of a joke. The lacquer discs for their vinyl albums are cut in the same room and on the same old Presto 8DG cutter. But this is not everything. Sunday Best, the label run by the Durhams, uses such prepared recordings to release not only classic 33 1/3 rpm stereo LPs, but also 33 1/3 rpm mono discs (which are cut from a separately prepared master) and even 78 rpm mono discs! It is with the latter in mind that they actually started their company. Their second album is available in the form of eight 10-inch 78 rpm discs and costs a staggering 100 British pounds. The fact that it is a real album, which comes with all band members’ autographs, does not make its horrendous price any less shocking.
PTP Audio, Peter Reinders’s company, was started for the very same reasons. Peter came to the conclusion that one of the audio technologies from the past, which was celebrating its triumphs in the 1950s and 1960s, namely the idler drive in which the platter is driven by the motor through an auxiliary idler pulley, has certain advantages that both the belt drive and direct drive systems are lacking. The idea behind the idler drive is simple: you take a powerful motor with a long shaft, which drives the platter by means of an auxiliary pulley (the “idler”) pressed to the motor shaft and the platter. The pulley can be pressed to the platter edge horizontally (from the inside or outside), or vertically, from the bottom of the platter. The first method can be found in the Thorens TD 124 and Garrard 301 turntables. Both these designs are currently highly valued and used by prominent audio journalists, like Art Dudley (see my interview with Art HERE). There are also companies that specialize in their restoration, such as Swissonor from Switzerland, which often features in “High Fidelity” reports from the High End show in Munich (you can find our last 2014 report HERE) . A kind of "imprimatur" for the idler drive is a completely new design from only a few years ago, the VPI Rim Drive & Classic Aluminum Platter, in which heavy aluminum platter is driven by a flywheel. The latter in turn is belt driven. A "hybrid" of sorts. And the newest addition to this "family" is the Simone Lucchetti Audiosilente Blackstone turntable from Italy, a classic "idler" showcased at the High End 2014 in Munich.
Coming back to Thorens, there are two excellent books dedicated to it: Gerhard Weichler’s Thorens. The fascination of a Living Legend and Swiss Precision by Joachim Bung, whose subtitle The Story of the Thorens TD 124 and Other Classic Turntables introduces the subject of this review.
Founded in 1946 in Burgdorf, a small town near Bern which is considered the Swiss capital (Switzerland officially does not have the capital), it was the result of Fritz Laeng’s fascination with audio components to reproduce sound. By the end of the 1950s the company offered two turntable models, one of which, the L 60, featured the idler drive. The special design of the drive system, with a conical shaped motor shaft allowed for a stepless speed regulation. The first turntable that was included into the hi-fi category was the L 70 from 1960. However, the model that became most successful was the L 75 from 1967. A heavy platter, idler drive and large motor were the basic distinguishing features of this design.
In the introduction section I have mentioned the company Closer Acoustic and its Eva speakers that employ the Supravox 215 Signature Bicone full range driver (made in France). It just so happens that the owner, Mr. Jacek Grodecki, is also an avid enthusiast of restored Lenco turntables (his blog can be found HERE). A whole community with its own culture grew around this brand, which is reflected by the blog titled "Lenco Heaven". Its part is also Peter Reinders, whose first ever turntable was a Lenco machine. He joined the movement in 2005 when he built his first turntable based on the original Lenco mechanism. In order to improve it, in 2006 he designed the PTP, i.e. Peter's Top Plate, a massive plate that could form a base or a chassis to mount other mechanical components. The plate is laser cut of 4 mm stainless steel. The motor and the platter bearing are mounted to two separate parts of the PTP plate. This was how PTP Audio was born. The following years brought new versions of the plate. The currently available models are the PTP4 and PTP5.
Peter did not stopped at that stage. Persuaded by his friends and acquaintances, he built a complete PTP turntable. The two models that followed were the Solid9 and Solid12, designed for 9-inch and 12-inch tonearms, respectively. They are based on Lenco turntables’ components from the 1960s and 1970s, combined with modern materials and precision manufacturing technologies. The older parts include the motor, idler, platter bearing, the platter itself and platter mat. The modern additions are the base and tonearm. To manufacture the base Peter uses Corian, a material known in interior design industry. It is easily machinable and has very good mechanical properties. It can be finished in any color and contributes to a considerable weight of the whole turntable: 20 kg, of which the platter weighs 4 kg.
The arm can be ordered but the review unit came equipped with a great looking arm from the British company Audiomods of the Series Five. It was designed as a modification of the Rega 303 arm, with additional holes to lower the weight and featuring new ceramic bearings. New parts also included a clamp and a mechanism allowing precise VTA adjustment on the fly. Its repeatability is outstanding, and it uses a micrometer scale for readout.
Peter Reinders himself.
The Lenco L78 table from 1970s.
"Phase One”, the first prototype made by Peter.
Albums auditioned during this review
The Japanese quarterly “Stereo Sound”, which I have been buying for years now, looks like a book when put in the shelf. A pretty solid book, I should add. Printed on art paper, partly in full color and partly in black-and-white, it has a status comparable to the Bible in the country of the samurai. Its editors are a kind of "priests" or perhaps even demigods. I am writing all this with due respect and without any malicious intention or jealousy. The magazine that has been in print for well over 40 years covers all the most expensive audio products it receives for a review before the world even learns about them, and also lots of budget products. An important part of it are music reviews, including audiophile releases, and a reference guide for music collectors. However, the most important are perhaps the descriptions of readers’ audio systems and – from time to time – of the magazine editors. The latter featured in the next-to-last "summer" issue No. 191.
I have already written this elsewhere: I do not know Japanese, which I sincerely regret. Fortunately, there are English translations available of the reviews from this quarterly. But, to be honest, it is not them that are most important. The most significant are actually the photographs published alongside the reviews. They are a kind of keyhole through which the Western man, unfamiliar with the language, can peek at the habits and passions of music lovers and audiophiles from the country that is so mysterious and exotic to us, Chopin’s compatriots. Each of the presented systems is distinct and unique. They share a few common features that are recognizable to me. On the one hand, they show extreme modernity and uncompromising pursuit of the goal using the latest, most expensive and technologically advanced products. On the other hand, we can see an almost fanatical devotion to the artifacts from the past, technologies that triumphed in the 1950s and 1960s, and often, as in the case of horn speakers, go even further back.
It is therefore not difficult to see systems pitted next to each other, one fronted by an ultra-modern audio file player with an outboard master clock, and the other by turntables, often classic European models. Fans of the latter have a special habit, which is repeated as a kind of leitmotif: in a box, not far from the turntable, we can see removable headshells, mostly from SME, with mounted cartridges. Often there are even a dozen of them, each one dedicated to a different group of recordings, pressings and releases.
But I never felt so close to the people who are the role model for me in many areas, as I did when I was listening to the Solid9 turntable. Firstly, I dealt with an idler drive design - a technology that has been kept alive by a group of enthusiasts that want to preserve some of its advantages, at the expense of other things where other technologies are superior. In Japan, this type of anachronism is characteristic for people who are aware of both the possibilities and limitations of modern audio, and who consciously consider their choices.
The described changes were not made for the sake of change. Actually, based on experience and predictions, I try to limit the number of variables in the review. The more time I spend on exploration, changes and fine-tuning, the less time I have to listen to the music. Because there is more good music than I can listen to in my whole lifetime, it would be a pity to waste time on something that further reduces its amount. Of course, without falling into exaggeration, because it takes some effort for the music to sound as good as possible. But still. This time, swapping the cartridges caused changes directly to the very fabric of music. The Dutch turntable with a Swiss heart and English arm invites the user to such introspection. To listen to the next discs with curiosity and excitement. It is not ideal - it's "idlear" instead :). Firstly, there is no ideal audio component and, secondly, there are turntables from a similar price range that do certain things differently, and some of them even better. At the same time, it is a turntable that turns the choices, which helped this set saw the light of day, into a virtue.
Its sound is full and dense. It was to be expected, because that is usually the sound of non-decoupled turntables with a large motor. That is also, as far as I can recall from various audio shows and auditions, the sound of idler drive designs. What came as a surprise to me was the intensity of both the fullness and density. 'Authority' is probably the most appropriate word to describe this relationship. Vinyl discs played back on this international combination had power and confidence that was inherent to the presentation. Disc after disc, music kind after music kind, production after production, pressing after pressing, and the effect remained the same: solid music presentation, embracing the listener.
It is difficult to indicate what kind of tonality is characteristic of this set – the turntable with the arm. Each cartridge sounded slightly different, in a way that was characteristic of itself, not of the turntable. The Shilabe was darker and more velvety, the Kansui more open and the ZERO was warmest of them all. The DL-103 had its tonal balance based on the lower bass and dense midrange and the 'SA' version on the midrange.
The Solid9 creates just something like that. It is hard to say whether it lowers the tonality, because combined with any of the above cartridges it did not really showed an emphasized bottom end. At the same time, however, we are aware of that foundation; the sound is free and smooth due to the fact that it has something to lean on, instead of "drifting" passively and just making an impression that it knows the direction in which it flows. Here, we have a focused energy; I would even go as far as to say self-awareness.
Although I have so far been concentrated on the bass, there are no less interesting things that are happening at the other edge of the frequency range. Since it is a very balanced sound, the last thing I could say is that it withdraws the treble. And yet the top end is served up sparingly and deliberately. While in the midrange we have clarity, openness and dynamics, the treble seems to somehow keep up with it, rather than set the whole direction. Actually, I did not particularly mind it. This was the consequence of a specifically-shaped sound, i.e. a dense midrange and well-defined, deep bass. I did not expect it to be as rich in complex harmonics as the aforementioned Air Force One or the Thales TTC-Compact. I simply assumed that it would be that kind of sound and was sticking to it.
The differences between classic, belt-driven turntables and the one under today’s review lie primarily in differently emphasized various sonic aspects. Although they may seem apparently minor, it is actually they that organize the sound. It is difficult to speak in Solid9’s case about various music planes. This is not the kind of resolving sound that is capable of separating the surface noise, pops and crackle from the registered music event. They all arrive together and at the same time. Neither does it have such an insight into the texture of the sound as high-end belt-driven turntables do. It will be, however, very difficult to find a classic turntable that sounds so authoritative and has such a fantastic bass without contouring, i.e. hardening it, which I do not like and which we get, in turn, in many direct-drive turntables.
The Solid9 equipped with the Audiomods Series Five arm is a special proposal. Not because it sounds weird or different from the norm. In this case, it is easy to say that this is the right kind of sound. There is certain organizing quality to it, and hence good rhythm. While it would be hard to talk about specific coloration, its sound may be perceived as somewhat warm and set lower than usual.
This is a perfect set for the music lovers who do not want to look any further. Equip it with any of the aforementioned cartridges and you will be in for an amazing musical spectacle. If someone thought that the idler drive introduced “audible” distortion to the sound, they should think again. And they would do best to listen to the Solid9 in order to get rid of yet another stereotype. Stereotypes come from somewhere, but they cannot dictate to us what we should think.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the Tacet label is the work and love of Andreas Spreer. Founding it in 1989 in Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, this music producer and sound engineer had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve and of the methods by which he should do it. His pearls in the crown are the two series: Tacet Real Surround Sound digital series and analog, vinyl discs. This time we talk about the latest vinyl release, a few words are due about the analog signal chain. Mr. Spreer is a true analog fanatic. Hence, he makes his recordings, and his frequent guests include Wojciech Rajski and Polish Chamber Philharmonic, on carefully restored reel-to-reel tape recorders. He also uses tube equipment, and some recordings are "Tube Only" projects. In the case of the reviewed album, part of the audio chain was tube-based, as indicated by the appropriate logo on the cover. The recording was made in 2012 using several microphones, including the tube Neumann U 47. The record was made in Half-Speed Mastering technology.
The record comes in a gatefold cover, with a commentary in the center and two photographs – one of the band and the other of the master disc cutter head. The white center label on the disc is very tidy, with well-chosen typography. The recording and production was handled by Andreas Spreer.
On the photograph featuring the band and Mr. Spreer standing next to it, you can only see the two main microphones, the Neumann U 47. However, from the description we learn that there had been many more microphones. If I did not know that, it would have been hard to find it out. The sound is in fact very smooth and continuous, without any phase problems or soundstage irregularity. The sound is dense and somewhat "tubey" in the sense that it lacks aggressiveness and roughness. Its distinctive characteristic is smoothness. The soundstage is very natural, both in its breadth and depth. You can hear that the microphones had been close to the performers, and this is the only way to find out that the multi-microphone technique had been used. It is a very direct sound in which the room acoustics plays a rather minor albeit clear role. Dynamics is outstanding. You can thoroughly examine your cartridges in this regard. I am sure that some of them have a poorer tracking performance which will result in a slight distortion. The latter is, however, not the record’s problem but rather the cartridge’s. The record is very good, very nicely played and equally well recorded.
Sound quality: 10/10
In this type of design, i.e. relatively simple, the devil is in the details, especially in the precision of manufacturing and assembly. The Solid9 looks very – well – solid. Its 400 x 500 x 50 mm base is made of Corian. The material has been invented by the French company DuPont, which also gave us Teflon, and is mostly used in the production of tops and work surfaces with high durability and abrasion resistance. In audio, it is used because of its very good mechanical properties, especially its vibration damping quality. The base of the turntable under review has been finished in black; there is also a choice of white finish included in the basic price. Any colors are available, although you will have to pay extra for it.
The base sports cutouts for the mechanical components. The large motor from the original Lenco turntable (on three springs) and the main platter bearing, also original, are mounted to two separate PTP plates. The latter are laser-cut from a 4 mm steel sheet. The idler pulley between the motor shaft and the platter spindle is secured on a long, quite flexible wire. The 4 kg platter is made of polished aluminum. Its top surface features a mat made of aluminum and rubber, which also comes from the original Lenco. The turntable rests on three height-adjustable feet, two in the front and one in the back.
The turntable came equipped with the Audiomods Series Five tonearm. It is based on the Rega RB 303 arm design, from which the arm tube has been taken, made of magnesium alloy cast. Its weight has been reduced by drilling various diameter holes along the entire length of the tube. The tube is suspended on ceramic bearings, mounted in solid, steel clamps. The manufacturer has equipped the arm with a precise VTA mechanism. It uses a graduated vertical micrometer screw. After setting the VTA the arm must be fixed in place with a smaller, horizontal pin. The latter is not particularly convenient to use because it is located very close to the handle of the lift arm. Internal wiring uses multi-stranded silver wires that go straight outside the chassis without any connectors, thus creating a 0.9 m long interconnect. Each of the parts I have mentioned can be purchased separately as upgrades to one’s Audiomods tonearm.
- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE
- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4
- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One