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Well Tempered Lab

Price (when reviewed): 41 990 PLN




Provided for test by AUDIO ATELIER


translation Marek Dyba
images Wojciech Pacuła

No 219

August 1, 2022

‘Das Wohltemperierte Klavier’ (Well-tuned harpsichord) - a two-volume collection of two cycles of 24 preludes and fugues by Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 846-893) for keyboard instrument. The "evenly tuned" translation is also used, because this is what Bach wanted to do with the instrument, which would give wider possibilities. Nowadays it is also translated as "well tempered". The name of the company Well Tempered Lab would indicate a "properly tuned" laboratory, implicitly - audio.

N AN INTERVIEW GIVEN IN 1987 TO J. Gordon Holt, founder of Stereophile magazine, founder and CEO of WELL TEMPERED LAB, William H. Firebaugh said that he started manufacturing turntables because he thought it was a simple matter: "It's a platter, a bearing , belt, motor, etc. " (more HERE). As he recalls, the preparation of the prototype took him "only a moment". The problem was, it didn't sound right. After three dozen more prototypes, it dawned on him that he cannot follow the solutions others are reaching for. Thus the "Separation" of Well Tempered Lab from the main stream started.

Own solutions, absolutely unusual for audio, can be found in all his designs. I say "his" because in his nineties and despite the help of Mike Thomson and Ken Higinbottom, Bill Firebaugh is still the chief designer. Among the already mentioned solutions, the most prominent features include the unusual main bearing (platter), a self-designed arm, and a method of decoupling vibrations in the base.

We took a look at them for the first time when we tested the cheapest AMADEUS Jr., but they are present in all his designs, also in the top model Royal 400. No wonder that the design of the tested turntable located in the price list just below the top "royal" turntable, the AMADEUS 254 GT, is based on them.

Amadeus 254 GT

The AMADEUS 254 GT IS A LARGE, excellently made turntable. All Well Tempered Lab products are made by the Chinese company OPERA AUDIO. And because Opera Audio is one of the best manufacturers of turntables, CD players and amplifiers in Asia, equipped with specialized, modern machines and tools, we get exactly that - a nicely, simply, and a very well-made product.

⸜ THE BASE The tested turntable is, as I say, quite big. It measures 195 x 480 x 412 mm (W x H x D), although it weighs a moderate 15.5 kg. The dimensions of the base are taken from the length of the arm it features - 10.5”; and it is the distance from tonearm’s pivot to the spindle in the main bearing, amounting to 254 mm, that was included in the name of this model. It is a thread driven design without a decoupled sub-chassis, with a uni-pivot arm of a proprietary design called the Symmetrex LTD.

The turntable is not too heavy, as I say, because vibration damping - according to the designer - is to be performed with a smaller mass, but in various materials and, in addition, with a lossy element. Let me explain. Looking at the Amadeus 254 GT, we see a turntable with a classic, non-decoupled base, standing on an anti-vibration platform. In fact, it is a two-piece platform with turntable components mounted on it.

Both flat elements are made of pine plywood to which an aluminum plate is glued - to the lower one from the bottom, and to the upper one from the top. This creates stiff, well-damped elements. The more interesting is what happens between them - and there are four squash balls, the hallmark of another American company, GINKO AUDIO.

The latter offers anti-vibration platforms that use this widely available, having excellent mechanical properties, and additionally a precisely made, element. Audio producers rarely can afford such precision and such good materials. Squash, however, is a sport in which there is a lot of money, giving manufacturers completely different possibilities. The whole rests on four feet with halves of smaller balls.

⸜ PLATTER A 3.5 kg platter is made of acrylic. It has a larger diameter than usual, 325 cm (13”), so larger than the record itself. This is to improve the dynamic properties - the larger diameter helps to obtain better uniformity of rotation speed. The set includes a cork mat that is placed on the platter. It has a diameter of ø 12”, so the record can be easily removed from the platter. The main bearing is Bill Firebaugh's pride.

The axis is in contact with it at two points rather than at one point, which gives it exceptional stability. From the top you can see not a round hole, but a triangular one. It was cut in a Teflon plate - the bottom of the bearing is made of the same material, on which a pointed pin made of hardened steel is supported. The axle thus touches the bearing at only three points. This solution is called Zero Clearance. 5 mm of oil supplied by the manufacturer is poured into the bearing.

⸜ MOTOR A 12 V DC asynchronous motor was used to drive the platter. In order to slightly dampen its vibrations, it was screwed to a small aluminum plate, and the one - in the cut-out - to the plywood. The motor plate is not in contact with the aluminum plate which stiffens the base. The torque is transferred from the motor to the platter by means of a 0.004 ”thick polyester string.

The motor is electronically controlled from an external power supply called CTRL. We will use it to change the rotational speed - 33.1 / 3 and 45 rpm - and its rotation on. On the back panel there are additional outputs for powering a phono stage, etc. The power supply is connected with the turntable using a cable terminated at the power supply side with a nice screw-on plug, and at the turntable side with a classic, gold-plated one.

⸜ TONEARM Also the tonearm used in the tested turntable is a proprietary design of the Well Tempered Lab company. It is called the Symmetrex LTD and has, as we said, an effective length of 10.5”. It is unusual for two reasons. One is the fulcrum. It is a uni-pivot arm, supported not from below, but from above. The second one is the use a golf ball dipped in oil.

We already talked about it during the test of the Amadeus Jr. model, but let's repeat the most important facts. Bill Firebaugh, in describing his design philosophy, refers to a research report, published in 1977 by - this way we go back to the beginning - the Danish company Bruel and Company, entitled The Audible Effects of Mechanical Resonances in Turntables. Brüel & Kjær (Sound and Vibration Measurement A/S) is known, among other things, for its excellent microphones (also measuring ones). Established in 1942, it specialized for a long time in vibration measurements and this is where many of the most important inventions for this field were developed.

In the cited document, Bruel and Kjær analyzed high-end turntables to determine the importance of their resonances. The conclusion states that the arms should have the lowest effective mass as possible and should be mechanically damped with a factor (Q) of 0.5 to eliminate side-band distortion due to mechanical instability. This material was widely echoed in the audio world and the era of light tonearms has been with us ever since.

After about 50 prototypes were made, an arm suspended from the top on a thread was developed, in which the tube is attached to a golf ball and the latter immersed in sticky oil. The whole thing looks a bit like a swing or a crane. As with the feet, the designer says here that golf balls are the latest technical development and that they are made with exceptional precision. The arm tube is made of soft aluminum and damped with "specially selected" sand. At its end there is a fixed headshell, angled at 19 °.

On the other side of the tube, one inserts a counterweight, which consists of two separate discs with different weight. Such an arrangement is to facilitate the balance of the arm. The weights must be operated in such a way that the greatest possible weight is as close to the support point as possible. The arm model used in the tested turntable differs from that shown in the two cheapest turntables from this manufacturer. It is more solid and heavier - the ball is covered with an aluminum element. The arm also features an oil-damped lift for raising and lowering it.

The signal is transferred through cables that come out of the arm from the top, about 20 mm behind the fulcrum. They are terminated with a Lem plug, which is plugged into a socket screwed to a solid aluminum module. On the back there are two sets of outputs, a balanced one with XLR sockets, and an unbalanced one with RCA sockets; next to them you will find a ground clamp.


⸤ HOW WE LISTENED The AMADEUS 254 turntable was tested in the HIGH FIDELITY reference system. It was placed on the top shelf made of carbon fiber, of the Finite Elemente Pagode Edition MkII rack. The VTF was set by the distributor, I checked it only with the REGA ATLAS scale, I also used the DS Audio ST-50, an element for cleaning the stylus.

During the tests, I used the MIYAJIMA AUDIO LAB DESTINY cartridge. The signal was amplified in the RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC phono preamplifier, to which the signal was sent via RCA Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0 Absolute interconnects, and then with the Crystal Cable Absolute Dream to the line preamplifier. The grounding from the turntable to the preamplifier was carried out with a separate cable - Luna Cables Orange.

˻ Recordings used for the test | a selection

⸜ CLIFFORD JORDAN, Hello, Hank Jones, Eastworld ‎EWLF-98003, „Direct Cut” LP (1978).
⸜ TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO, Misty for Direct Cutting, Somethin' Cool SCLP-1055, 45 rpm, 180 g LP (2021).
⸜ ELVIS, Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis, RCA/Music On Vinyl MOVLP1052, „40th Anniversary Legacy Edition”, 4 x180 g LP (1974/2014).
⸜ PARTICIA BARBER, Café Blue , Premonition/IMPEX RECORDS IMP-6035-1, S1TEP 2 x 180 g LP, 45 RPM (1994/2020).
⸜ OLD BETSY, The Sound Of Big Ben Webster, STS Digital STS 6111129, 180 g LP (2013).
⸜ DOMINIC MILLER, Fourth Wall, Q-rious Music/Rutis Music QRM 114-2, 2 x 180 g LP (2010).
⸜ JOHN COLTRANE Crescent, Impulse! B003378301 A/B, Test Press LP (1964/2021).


I DON'T KNOW IF YOU PAY attention to the fact that the records recorded in the "direct-cut" technique, i.e. directly on the varnish, omitting the recording medium (tape, hard disk), are on the one hand perfect, and on the other hand they are flawed, which probably cannot be eliminated. It is not easy to find the latter because a person is stunned by the dynamics, resolution, purity and the incredible energy transfer this technique offers. Once heard, it remains with us forever.

I am talking about something that could be called "underproduction" of recordings. On the one hand, we are happy when the recording has the character of a document, i.e. it was recorded from start to finish without changes, but on the other hand, we forget that the largest labels and the most important recordings were heavily edited. This is one thing. But there is also another one, namely the lack of mastering. Because the "direct cutting" recording requires live mixing and such a signal is recorded. With a classic recording, there is one more stage - mastering.

The tested turntable did not hesitate to show it. The excellent album by CLIFFORD JORDAN entitled Hello, Hank Jones, released in 1978 by the Japanese Eastworld label, had everything I was talking about, plus a fantastic, low bass - of course the bass from the range covered by the double bass and the big drum (kick drum). And there was also a perfect "silence" BEHIND the music.

The sound of this turntable can be described as warm, although the last thing that would come to my mind is "warm". The difference is that with the Amadeus 254 we get a naturally warm sound, i.e. devoid of annoying mechanical artifacts from the recording. This is why, while listening to music with it, you may want to turn it up and up, because we want to hear even more, be even closer to the performer, and we do not feel any discomfort. And the latter one comes almost always from unnatural coloration of the sound. Here, with the WellTempered Lab turntable, there are none.

This was confirmed when listening to another, recently recorded "direct cutting" album, namely Misty by TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO, a version from 2021, recorded in Tokyo's King Sekiguchidai Studio with Toshio Osumi on drums and Hiroshi Kagawa on double bass. The signal is clearly lower on it, which makes the dynamics higher. The "mastering during the mix" was also better dealt with, because the sound is saturated and full. Details and subtleties are not dominant here, although the energy is excellent.

The Amadeus 254 showed this album in a completely different way than Jordan's. On the one hand, I had a similar dynamics presentation, but on the other hand, the tonality and imaging were completely different. Which means that the turntable, although it seems to sound warm, perfectly differentiates the material. Moreover, it puts music in front of noises and crackles. These distortions, which we have learned to live with, but which are distortions nevertheless, are much less present with it than with many other turntables. Only very expensive, very heavy and mechanically complex designs react to the signal in a similar way.

The movie Elvis directed by Baz Luhrmann with Austin Butler in the lead role is now coming to theaters. Without even knowing it I reached for the four-disc album, a recording of the "King’s" concert, Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis, which he gave in Memphis in 1974. The material released in 2014 by Music On Vinyl includes a newly mixed and mastered sound. This recording is not sonically outstanding, besides, the mix and mastering were done digitally, so it is an "analog", but only half-analog (recording: A → mix: D → master: D → release: A.

Well, it's ELVIS, isn't it? A turntable from New Zealand, designed by an American, made in China, combined with a Japanese cartridge and a Polish phono preamplifier, played the Dutch release in a very nice way. It was still a fairly bright sound - that's why I don't listen to this album very often - but it was a coherent, meaningful sound at the same time. The foreground was shown quite close to me, but it did not cross the line connecting the speakers. The bass was nicely filled, although it was not too strong or very low here. The bass line opening Fever on the other side of the first disc made an absolute musical sense, it was nice and was the basis of the whole song.

However, something that I noticed and commented initially on the first two albums seems more important to me, namely the transfer of musical energy, which is absolutely above average with this turntable. However, this is a non-imposing transfer. The music with the Amadeus 254 seems a bit distanced from ours, a bit calmed down - what a paradox! After some time we realize that THIS is a natural presentation and that most other designs deliver it in an artificial/false way.

I am talking about it because on the one hand, Elvis sounded in an extremely pleasant way, despite the quite clear nature of the production and pressing, but on the other hand it had an unprecedented ease in presenting subsequent songs. It was perfectly audible that he was a "stage animal" and that he felt great performing for the crowd, establishing instant communication with it. Which would confirm his roots - he started at festivals, mainly in the countryside, where he performed various kinds of standards, mainly country.

All this and much more were recreated by the tested turntable lightly and casually. Perhaps this is, what the apparent lack of involvement of this design in "creating" the event, may be an obstacle for some music lovers. So it's worth trying other cartridges, correcting this aspect a bit, but - I'm 99% convinced of it - it doesn't make much sense. And I am sure about that. Because the sound offered by this source has advantages that many music lovers are looking for and cannot find. And on top of them is the ease with which the music comes to us and the absolute lack of fatigue in listening to it, even in long sessions.

The downside is that we won't get a super-precise sound image with it, it's not the case. Even with the perfect test pressing of JOHN COLTRANE's Crescent, prepared for the last year’s release, the sound was spread in perspective and made a whole. It is obvious that the instruments had a clear body, sounded clear and had a well-differentiated timbre and size, with this class of products it is "a given, self-evident". But there was also no "laser" cutting from the background and „enforcing” information on a listener.

And yet the sources are shown far, far to the back of the stage and - if necessary - wide. Although it is not a type of turntable offering a panorama, like from the cinema. The focus is rather on the events in front of us, a bit like during a live event. The sound is slightly internally "tense", that is, there is no absolute effortlessness known from the most expensive turntables. It's just part of what I was talking about, i.e. painting with long brush strokes, not the viewer assembling small dots from Impressionist paintings.


AMADEUS 254 EXPANDS what we have heard before with the Amadeus Jr. It presents music in a full, dense, naturally warm way. It has great bass extension and strong treble, although the latter is rather sweet than open. It perfectly connects layers, focusing our attention on what is happening on the axis. Energy transfer is immediate with it, although it is perceived differently than with, say, TechDAS AIR FORCE ONE or KUZMA STABI R.

The sound in the turntable, which we are testing this time, does not reach us with a „leading edge”, but with "saturation". It will let you listen to music for hours without any fatigue. Although it will not offer the highest precision, and resolution, but we get some and we loose some - that’s how it works. It is important that both noises and crackles are negligible with it, and if they are present, they are excluded outside the brackets of the music, you can hear them to some extent "separately", which perfectly emphasizes the depth of the music itself. This is a beautiful turntable with a beautiful sound.

Technical specifications (acc. to the manufacturer)

Type: turntable thread driven, non-suspended
Speeds: 33 1/3, 45 RPM.
Tonearm: Symmetrex LTD, 10.5”
Drive: polyester thread belt, 12V DC isolated motor
Speed control: electronic
Platter: 325 mm, acrylic, cork mat
Platter’s weight: 3.5 kg
Main bearing: Zero Clearance, Teflon
Output: RCA, XLR
Dimensions: 195 x 480 x 412 mm (W x H x D)
Weight: 15.5 kg


Reference system 2022

1) Loudspeakers: HARBETH M40.1 |REVIEW|
2) Line preamplifier: AYON AUDIO Spheris III Linestage |REVIEW|
3) Super Audio CD Player: AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF Edition No. 01/50 |REVIEW|
4) Stands (loudspeakers): ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom) |ABOUT|
5) Power amplifier: SOULUTION 710
6) Loudspeaker filter: SPEC REAL-SOUND PROCESSOR RSP-AZ9EX (prototype) |REVIEW|
7) Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|


Analog interconnect SACD Player - Line preamplifier: SILTECH Triple Crown (1 m) |ABOUT|
Analog interconnect Line preamplifier - Power amplifier: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RCA-1.0 Absolute-FM (1 m) |REVIEW|
Speaker cable: SILTECH Triple Crown (2.5 m) |ABOUT|

AC Power

Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - SACD Player: SILTECH Triple Crown
Power (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Line preamplifier - ACOUSTIC REVIVE
Power Reference Triple-C (2 m) |REVIEW|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Power amplifier - ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Power Receptacle - Mains Power Distribution Block: ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power Receptacle: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE |REVIEW|
Anti-vibration platform under Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE: Asura QUALITY RECOVERY SYSTEM Level 1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RPC-1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RAS-14 Triple-C |REVIEW|
Passive filter EMI/RFI: VERICTUM Block |REVIEW|


Speaker stands: ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom)
Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|
Anti-vibration platforms: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RAF-48H |ARTICLE|

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Phono preamplifier: Phono cartridges: Tonearm (12"): Reed 3P |REVIEW|

Clamp: PATHE WINGS Titanium PW-Ti 770 | Limited Edition

Record mats:


Headphone amplifier: AYON AUDIO HA-3 |REVIEW|

Headphones: Headphone Cables: Forza AudioWorks NOIR HYBRID HPC