[ Home | Staff & Contacts | HiFi Playground | Listening tests | DIY & Tweakings | Music & Books ]

Loth-x Aida turntable + Hadcock 224 unipivot arm

[Italian version]

Product: Aida Turntable
Manufacturer: Loth-x - Singapore
Cost: approx. 5000 Euro/$ (3150 UKP)

Product: Hadcock 224 unipivot tonearm
Manufacturer: Hadcock - UK
Cost: approx. 870 Euro/$ (550 UKP)
Reviewer: Geoff Husband
Reviewed: December, 2001

Author's Note

In order to understand this review it is essential that you visit the "methodology" page that outlines how the test was done.


[Loth-X Aida turntable]So now for the third in the series of turntable tests - the Loth-x Aida. Loth-x are a company from which I've had a couple of products on test in the past, the mighty Polaris horns being good enough to dip deep into the family coffers and actually buy for my own use - so I was expecting great things.
It is also a turntable that at the time I planned the review costs considerably more than the Michell Orbe or Recovery. I'd arranged for a Dynavector DV507 arm to be supplied to go with it. It's the arm Loth-x use in their publicity photos (see photo) and its sheer originality made the combination a mouth watering prospect. Duly the 507 arrived and two weeks later the French distributor and I staggered up the front steps of my house carrying the Aida in its box - all 45 kgs of it!

But "there's many a slip twixt cup and lip" and on unpacking the turntable I realised the wrong armboard had been sent - an SME instead of a Dynavector.


The schedule for these tests is desperately tight so what to do? True I could use my own SME IV but this would preclude the kind of "back-to-back" comparison which is the essence of the tests. So a frantic phone call to Mr Len Gregory. As well as building the "Music Maker" he also distributes the Hadcock range of arms which are supplied with an SME base. Four days later postie delivered a small package containing the top-of-the-range Hadcock 224 - the man is a saint...

Another surprise!!!

When I booked in the Aida I knew it was very expensive, more than the Recovery and over twice the cost of the Orbe. When it arrived my immediate impression was that a) I could see why it was so expensive and b) could any turntable justify that sort of cost. When the review period was over I had no reason to doubt my first impression on a).
However to put a "value" on the turntable vis a vis sound quality was more tricky. After the review was complete I learnt the Aida's price had been dropped by 30% making it comfortably cheaper than the Recovery and 50% more than the Orbe. As you can imagine this 'moving of the goalposts' made my conclusions alter somewhat...

Turntable construction

Turntables come in all shapes and sizes, the Aida leaves you in no doubt that it is at the top of the pile both in terms of material value and cost... If hi-fi is bought by the pound, then the Aida easily justifies its cost coming in at nearly 100...

It's a "solid plinth" design, but that hardly does the turntable and its design philosophy justice. The plinth itself is a massive triangular slab of cast acrylic over two inches thick. The armboard a massive heavy stainless steel casting. The DC motor unit housed in a massive (again!) stainless-steel/chrome, stand-alone unit that fits in a hole in the plinth rather like the Orbe.
The main bearing isn't attached rigidly to the plinth, rather its housing is balanced on three points on the plinth, then a heavy stainless-steel counterweight is slung underneath it. I've not seen anything like it - it's a major piece of engineering on its own. Likewise the armboard sits on spikes onto the plinth.
In each case these points sit not directly on the plinth but on decoupled inserts. And here the philosophy of the turntable begins to become evident. It works by a combination of mass and decoupling. The 3, adjustable decoupled stainless-steel feet sit on discs, which in turn are made of two pieces of stainless steel decoupled from each other. And so it goes on, right up to the three-inch thick clear acrylic platter, which is built in two halves, the upper sitting on three sorbothane pads and thence to the lower half.
The bearing is as good as you'd expect and takes the form of a ball at the bottom of a shaft. In total there are 27 separate layers of decoupling - the end result being that if you set a stylus on a static record, then turn the amp up and tap the plinth all you get is a sore knuckle rather than the ringing chassis and springs of the Orbe.

As already mentioned the motor is a DC type driving the platter via a stretchy rubber belt around its circumference rather like the Orbe. The power supply is, amazingly, a 'wall wart' type which goes to a control unit which comprises a small box with two speed control knobs on the front. These regulate the speed, 33 and 45 rpm, using the supplied strobe disc, but it all looks rather cheap and crude compared to the VC supply of the Orbe which requires no adjustment because of its feedback loop.
No doubt it all works OK but it still looks oddly out of place compared to the cost-no-object turntable. The turntable is designed to be left turning at all times and so the on/off switch is on the back of the control unit.
There are good reasons for this but personally I couldn't bring myself to drop irreplaceable records onto a hard platter and watch them slip and slide up to speed - then screwing the clamp on while it turns is also tricky. The belt itself has a mould line which causes it to 'hunt' up and down the pully. Subsituting the Orbe belt cured this.


Turntables used to split roughly into the 'Classic' wood plinth, typified by the LP12, Roksan, VPI etc and the metal and acrylic boys from Michell and Oracle. Nowadays the latter category has spawned ever more extravagant designs some of which look frankly ludicrous.
The Aida manages to stay on the tasteful side of 'over-the-top' - just, but opinions vary. In the right setting it's a stunner... The turntable also has a mysterious attribute. My house is very dusty - open fires, old soft furnishings, small children etc - and both my valve amps and Orbe require constant attention from a duster, in my case a ladies make-up brush (until Kate finds out...). The Aida just didn't seem to attract dust in the same way - weird...

THAT tonearm...

Well it was a late substitution, hardly the first choice, but needs must...

It's a classic unipivot. The first unipivot I've had in the house and it's spindly appearance - all chromed armtube and counterweights, skeletal headshell and exposed wiring - looked rather 'Heath Robinson' compared to the camera chrome and machined elegance of the 507 nestling (unused) in it's box.
It's also a typically 'old school' British product, in that odd patches of glue were visible here and there, the box was as basic as they come, the instructions a photocopied sheet including a mix of metric and imperial measurements (like this review) and it had the look of final year student's engineering project (a very good one mind...).
But these things work two ways, and the Hadcock has 30 years of development behind it, a classic look, an engaging simplicity and a price tag 1/4 of the flash US unipivots that came in on its coattails. It all slotted together beautifully and seemed glitch free from the off. I even began to like it's chromed finish. Finally it has the endorsement of Len Gregory as THE arm for the Music Maker cartridge... I won't go into more detail as a full review is planned - see postscript...

Stage one

Bolting up the two Music Makers and plugging in the GramAmp2's I started the task of listening to the two set-ups back-to-back.

In this case the apparent level was much the same, the Aida/224 didn't pull off the amazing trick of making the Music Maker sound louder like the Recovery did. But there was a naturalness and fluidity that made the Orbe/SME sound mechanical. Keb Mo's Guitar sounded suitably forceful without becoming edgy.
Bass was tuneful and tight, perhaps not reaching down as low as the SME but fast and punchy. Once again here was an arm that made the SME sound a little 'dirty' with a high compliance cartridge like the Music Maker. Round one to the Aida, though in a different way to the Recovery which had majored on dynamics.

Stage two

The gloves come off and the SME has the Dynavector XV-1 bolted to it. Fired through the Dynavector step-up and into the Audion Valve stage (total cost circa £5,500) the Orbe squares up to the Aida, still sporting the 224 and Music Maker through the GramAmp2 (total cost circa £1200).

And boy did they sound different...

The Orbe/SME/Dynavector sounded huge and powerful, filling the room with sound. The Aida/224/Music Maker seeming more at ease, gentle even, but giving nothing away in terms of detail or soundstaging. Where the former majored on bass power and warmth the Aida won you over with it's subtlety and openness.

At this juncture enter Christophe Cabasse who arrived with a his new 'Baltic' prototypes. This is a satellite/sub system (@£6000) using a new version of Cabasses triple concentric driver. As one of the few companies in the world doing remotely original things with dynamic drivers I'm always interested in what they come up with.

Though I was flattered by Christophe's attention I'm sure he was more interested in hearing the prototypes through my 'British' valve system and my 'British' room rather than my 'golden ears'... The interesting thing was that with the Baltic the Aida/224/Music Maker was a street ahead of the Orbe.
In fact we had problems room matching the Orbes 'big' bass sound. The Aida combo on the other hand sounded natural and unforced. It's easy to see this as a 'laid back' sound, but this is not the case. Where the music demanded it the Aida delivered speed and dynamics with ease, it just made the Orbe sound bombastic and overblown.

From the moment we chose the Aida over the Orbe the 'source' received little attention, we just got on with getting the speakers right. Detail retrieval was absolutely top notch, the "he's" on Madonna's 'Till Death do us Part' being all there. Putting on Jemiroquai's 'Deeper Underground' the square wave character of the bass line rattled our fillings - this needs speed as well as depth.
After a couple of hours of this Christophe and I started dragging out odd recordings (including one VERY interesting bootleg of Prince from Christophe) and just listening to music - always a good sign... Remember here the Music Maker (£500) was going into a GramAmp2 (£100) and thence to a line input of the Audion Pre. The Dynavector (£2500) on the Orbe went through it's dedicated step-up (£1500) and into the all valve phono-stage of the Audion.

After the session was over and I'd enlisted Christophe into hauling the Polaris back into situ I was left with an evening alone and wondering. As always there's a sense of loss when something really good leaves the house (and the Baltics were GOOD) until my ear becomes tuned into my own system and it's own abilities (nothing I've had here does voices like the Polaris).
Swapping turntables - flick of a switch - showed the warmth and power of the Orbe much better suited to the Polaris than the Cabasse's. But still the Aida brought forth a natural flow and effortlessness that was hard to fault. Here we had two superb front ends, though in this case their character was completely different. Whereas the Recovery sounded like the Orbe but better, (the VC power supply making the Orbe much closer) the Aida took another route to the art of reproduction.

I know what you are all thinking "it's two different arm/cartridge set-ups stupid!" and of course you're right. But I'd had the cartridge at least on both turntables and that 'natural' flowing character remained with the Aida. Putting on the Sheffield Labs version of Harry James 'King James' emphasised the differences. The Orbe producng a massive soundstage of weight and substance.
The Cymbals having shape and form, the bass underpinning everything. With the Aida the piece became more of a coherant whole. True the cymbals in direct comparison could sound a bit thin and the bass a subtext to the story but the whole thing hung together so effortlessly that anything else seemed over the top. Back to back the two front ends traded a little soundstage width (Orbe) for depth (Aida) but in both cases the confines of the room were breached. That said, the Orbe still did 'Menace' - Princes 'Batman', 'Mars', the soundtrack of Godzilla - with more conviction.

So time to bolt the XX-2 onto the Hadcock. Len had supplied two armtubes so it was pretty straightforward. The result was very interested - the Aida took on most of the qualities, both good and bad, of the Orbe/Dynavector.
Though close the Aida still had a lovely flow and naturalness to trade with the depth and warmth of the Orbe, but it was tough to separate them otherwise.

My feeling is that the Aida sounded more different with the two cartridges than did either the Orbe or the Recovery. I'm not quite sure why this is, perhaps both arm and turntable allow more of the cartridges character to come across?
The arm despite its spindly appearance seemed to have no problems at all with the moving coil even with the lowest bass notes.

Stage Three

And so the Orbe gets unplugged and I play with Aida for two weeks.

The result? I listened to a hell of a lot of music. Sometimes in this 'job' I just get tired of records and sit and read in silence (I've no TV like any self-respecting audiophile). With the Aida I could listen for hours on end, and to all sorts of records. Reading with music playing was possible because nothing jarred or shook you from your page - the Orbe doesn't do this, often it jolts you out of your reverie with the impact from a piece.
This cuts both ways, sometimes I missed the 'oh my god!' aspect of Orbe, but not often, and you could always 'tune into' the music if you wanted. During this period I found myself using the Music Maker out of preference, it was a close call but the combination was so gentle and unflappable. It did tend to move me slightly in what type of music I played, I dusted off my old jazz collection and had great fun with female vocal etc. To be honest if I was really keen I'd be tempted to buy another complete arm top for the Hadcock, which would enable cartridge swaps as easy as changing a record.

And so to the marks...




Beauty tt/arm


I'm a sucker for acrylic, but the arm doesn't match the SME

Fit and Finish tt/arm


The turntable is just superb, the arm has meccano elements:-)

Engineering tt/arm


There's just so MUCH engineering...

Compatibility tt/arm


The turntable will take most arms, heavy, long whatever. The arm was surprisingly good with MC's

Speed Stability


much like a QC Orbe, slight audible wow



in LP12 league



Tricky - it's far from undynamic, it just does it in a different way

Stage Width


A high standard - beyond the speakers

Stage Depth



Bass Depth



Bass control/speed


Uncoloured, fast and punchy

Detail retrieval


Midrange clarity


Very clear and open

Treble extension


High standard

Treble Quality


Slightly thinner compared to the Orbe

Overall colouration


Just seems to leave the music to speak for itself



'Miss you' factor


The ability of the Aida sneaks up on you...


The Aida is expensive. When I told friends the cost they just laughed and wondered at the madness of audiophiles (they do the same with the cheaper Orbe though). All except one - my uncle. He's a lecturer in engineering and he said straight away "yea I can see why". He also explained to me that precision machines are generally left switched on at all times so they stay stable. Mind you his stereo cost £200 20 years ago and is knackered.
BUT when I asked people the relative cost of the three turntables I had here all put the Aida comfortably as the most expensive. Up until now that was the case, but the latest price reduction has put its price inbetween the Orbe and Recovery.

Looking at the marking scheme alone the Aida beats the Orbe - just. Though it doesn't trample (or in some cases match) the Orbe in terms of dynamics, soundstaging, detail, timing etc it does provide a natural and unforced presentation of real music. Often this implies that something is missing but nothing could be further from the truth.
In essence here we have a turntable that goes out of its way to neither add nor subtract from the music. It's a sound that will be sorely missed from my system - Dial in stunning looks and a level of engineering most tables can't match and it's price seems justified. I'm not generally giving value judgements in these reviews, but it's still a lot of turntable for the money...

As for the rest of the package Hadcock/Music Maker combination proved a very fortuitous "substitute", matching beautifully with the Aida. I know I've an interest in the Music Maker, as Len Gregory has lent two for these tests and without his help I'd be sunk, but honest to God they're starting to make me rethink the whole 'battleship arm and hideously expensive MC scenario' and the treadmill of rebuild costs it entails...
Interestingly Loth-x are about to bring out a unipivot of their own which I will be testing - if it is as good as the Hadcock then it deserves to succeed.


Though these reviews are going well they are leaving more and more questions unanswered. Primarily "what is the relative effect of arm and cartridge?" I'm determined to nail this down so the next turntable to arrive is the Kuzma, and I've asked for the version that will take two arms.
Thus equipped I plan to put the arms supplied against each other, back to back, on the same turntable - again with an A/B switch facility. It will delay the turntable reviews by a month but then you all want to know the truth don't you?


After reading this test I hope it is evident that without the following companies this series of reviews would have been impossible - thanks from me to them:-)

Michell engineering - http://www.Michell-Engineering.co.uk

'The Cartridge Man' - http://www.thecartridgeman.com

Graham Slee - http://www.gspaudio.co.uk/

Clearlight - http://www.clearlight-audio.de

AudioNote UK - http://www.audionote.co.uk

Dynavector Japan - http://www.dynavector.co.jp

Systems used

  • Vinyl: Michell Orbe SME IV/Dynavector XV-1, XX-2, Music Maker (x2)

  • Phono stages: GramAmp2 (x2), Trichord Dino.

  • Preamp: Audion Premier2

  • Power amp: Audion ETPP EL34 Monoblocks. Loth-x ANT 300b SE Integrated.

  • Cables: FFRC and Sonic Link speaker cables. DIY silver interconnects. Audionote silver interconnects.

  • Speakers: IPLS3mtl's, Loth-x Polaris.

    Test records used... - Killers

© Copyright 2001 Geoff Husband - http://www.tnt-audio.com

[ Home | Staff & Contacts | HiFi Playground | Listening tests | DIY & Tweakings | Music & Books ]