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Audiomeca Romance turntable + Romeo Arm

[Italian version]

Products: Romance Turntable, Romeo Arm
Manufacturer: Audiomeca - France
Cost, approx: 2127 Euro/$
Reviewer: Geoff Husband
Reviewed: April, 2002

[Audiomeca Romance]Authors Note

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


I never throw old hi-fi mags away. They act as a long term reference and help me with readers questions about obsolete hi-fi - anyway the magazine that started this article is a February 1993 issue of Hi-Fi Choice which asked the question "Can records outperform CDs?" Forgive me if I suppress a smile here - gosh! Imagine how bad all those CD players were, after all, each year their replacements have been 'vastly improved' on the previous model so the cumulative effect over 9 years must mean that if the mags were right the CD players in the comparison must have been practically unlistenable...

Enough cheap cynicism... The point is that one of the eight turntables on test was the Audiomeca Romance/Romeo. At the time the combination cost about £1600 (2700e) and so I thought that allowing for inflation (seemingly high in the vinyl world...) I'd be looking at a price around 3700e, so at the bottom of price range for the turntable series (the 'spoiler' Kuzma excepted) - ideal.

In the ensuing 9 years Audiomeca have embraced the silver disc and produce some amazing and expensive CD players, but the Romance looked so good, and was so unusual that I wanted it for my turntable series. So after contacting the founder, Pierre Lurne, I discovered that not only was the table still in production, along with its matching arm, but that the man's enthusiasm for vinyl was undiminished by his years in the digital world. But there was a surprise. In the 9 years the turntable had remained unchanged, but the price was now 2127e (£1275), this for the turntable and arm! By coincidence this is almost exactly the British price asked for the Kuzma pairing tested last month - not what I had planned...

He agreed to send the table and a couple of weeks later a surprisingly light box was gently prised from the gorilla that passed as a delivery man, and I opened the box...


And what came out of the box was gorgeous. The turntable itself is very unusual, Pierre Lurne designed it 13 years ago to be so simple that a CD fan could put it all together in five minutes, and so it proved. The base is formed by four pods, two close together at the back, one containing the power supply, the other two at the front are well spaced apart, and are filled with a special foam sponge that forms the suspension system. These are joined by metacrylate tubes - see picture. This you put on the turntable support.

[Audiomeca chassis]You then lift out the immaculately polished, black metacrylate slab, already with the arm base, motor and main bearing fitted, which forms the 'sub-chassis'. The motor is mounted direct to it in the top left-hand corner. This chassis just drops onto the base, threaded rods going into the front suspension pods and a spike on the rear locating into position between the rear pods. The two threaded rods at the front are turned to level the table.

The platter is another 30mm thick slab of metacrylate, again immaculately polished, this rests on a single upward pointing bearing at the centre of gravity to give a true one-point inverted bearing. Rocking is controlled by a single sleeve. Then two screws on the motor housing are undone to allow it's own suspension to take over.

This takes 5 minutes total :-)

The arm mount is already attached so it only remains to pick the immaculate (again) arm-top out of its polystyrene cradle and drop it onto the upward pointing unipivot. The arm cable is plugged into the arm base, the power cable from the power supply (simple resistor/cap network) in the left rear foot to the motor.

Then to be honest you take as long as normal to fit and adjust the cartridge :-) Two things help though. First the whole thing works with one supplied allen key. Second the arm height is adjustable by undoing a locking allen bolt, then inserting the key into one of the holes in a collar round an arm and screwing the arm gently up or down. This is possible during play, allowing perfect VTA adjustment.

So though it requires a little setting up you have here a high-end turntable that is easier to set up than a Rega P3...

So what else is unusual?

First the turntable. I mentioned the relatively low weight - relative to other expensive tables mind - and please don't imagine it's flimsy in any way, it's just that acrylic weighs less than metal. It is 'semi-suspended'. Rather than three springs allowing a fully floating subchassis, the Romance has foam 'springs' at the front and a spike forms a 'hinge' at the back. In theory this offers less isolation than a true three-point system, but vibrations are supposed to be 'sunk' through the spike and down to the base. The big advantage is that there's none of the side-to-side wobble of a suspended table and set-up, as explained above, is child's play. However placing a stylus onto a stationary record, turning the volume to normal listening level (for me ) and tapping the chassis produced a 'thud, thud' from the speakers, the Orbe sounds more like a gong. So the damping/isolation seems fine.

The main bearing is in the form of a point and needs just a touch of oil on the tip. There is no conventional shaft, just a ring around the bearing to stabilise it and provide only two points of contact.

[Audiomeca Romeo arm]Now the arm. This is a unipivot and is designed using Lurne's purist approach based on the idea of a 'perfect mass', a concept he's championed for over 30 years. This I will skim over for the moment as Pierre Lurne has promised an interview on this, but by having the centre of gravity only just below (and a little ahead to give downforce) the stylus/pivot axis and a straight arm with mass arranged symmetrically around it, the result is that the arm requires the same force to deflect it in any direction. With a low centre of gravity such as with the Kuzma or Hadcock (and many other) arms, when the arm has to rise to clear a warp the centre of gravity must be raised through a much greater arc, thus increasing tracking force at the worse possible moment, it also acts as a pendulum with its own resonance. Likewise with such a 'perfect mass' the arm can be deflected left and right with equal force - important with eccentric records (all of them). In fact in philosophy it's as far from the Kuzma as it is possible to get with a unipivot...

The down side of this is that the arm is unstable in the twisting plane, not at music frequencies, but it does make it odd to cue if you aren't used to it. But Audiomeca have the answer. A small Delrin collar on the bearing prevents the arm from twisting. As this collar doesn't take any load, and is merely a steadying device, its sonic effect is minimal - the result is that the arm feels just like a gimballed arm in use. But once you are used to it, or feeling brave, you can slip the collar off and use the arm as a true unipivot, which has slight sonic benefits. In this mode the arm is balance laterally by taking the (only) allen key and screwing a small weight back or forth in the tube that runs across the arm just in front of the counterweight. It's neat, simple and logical. Lastly the arm cable terminates in two phono sockets on the arm base allowing the user to choose cable. Personally I'd have preferred to see no plug at all, just continuous cable, thus eliminating 8 soldered joints and four pressure contacts, but the market (and dealers) like to sell cable...

I like clever touches that show a thinking person has used the arm prior to marketing it. The Romeo has a beautiful one in that the cord for the antiskate ends in a little pearl-like-bead which just drops into a slot on the antiskate mechanism - much easier than fiddling with the usual microscopic loop, and making removing the arm for cartridge swapping all the easier. On that note remember that alternative armtops can be bought for those who like to use two cartridges... The cueing lever is undamped and once you are used to it you will probably prefer it as it gives so much more control.

Appearance is very personal (as I was told by a disgruntled reader last month) but I think the result stunning, certainly it would catch the eye even if put next to tables like the Orbe, Gyro and Loth-x Aida. More importantly the finish was beyond reasonable criticism. Perhaps this is easier with black acrylic, but the arm too is as perfectly finished as my SME, which is as high a praise as I can give. (Pierre Lurne thought I was being too kind here but I beg to differ, the cost, level and amount of engineering might be less but I personally could not fault the finish).


First a note on motor noise and stability. Because the turntable was so blindingly simple to set up I didn't bother to read the instruction... I omitted to remove the transit bolts from the motor. However listening to silent grooves on my test record gave no motor noise breakthrough so the motor is very smooth. Removing the transit bolts allowed the motor some damped movement, but this decoupling is the 'gilding of the lily'. Speed stability was exceptional, showing the lowest 'drift' and 'wow' of any of the turntables so far tested. All this from a motor lacking any flash power supply...

With the Music Maker bolted onto the arm I got a vertical/horizontal resonance of 10/11Hz. This close result reflects the relatively high centre of balance and the 'perfect' mass, and is more in keeping with a gimballed arm than a low-slung unipivot where more difference is the norm.

Tracking was excellent and warp riding as good as you could hope. However if the Delrin sleeve was removed and the arm used as a true unipivot, bad warps tended to induce a lateral wobble constantly changing the azimuth of the cartridge. It didn't seem to make much difference to the sound quality but was there nevertheless. Related to this (and the cause of the above) was the effect of the thin lead-out wire of the arm tube. Getting this into the best possible position so that it didn't effect azimuth as the arm tracked across the record was an art in itself, and for those that take the plunge and use the arm as a unipivot it will be all part of the 'fun'... For the tests the arm was used as a true unipivot, the differences in sound quality were slight but significant enough to make the slight extra effort worth while and primarily centred a slight widening of soundstage and increased openness - and no I couldn't spot it 'blind'...

Stage One

So to battle and so both Music Makers were bolted up and plugged into the two GramAmps.

I hate this but I'm getting used to it. Once again another arm proved better than the Orbe/SME with the Music Maker. Again the SME sounded ever so slightly gritty in comparison with the Romeo, which was commendably smooth whilst managing to produce a more open result. Bass performance was close but the Orbe pulled ahead in sheer weight and power but the Romance somehow let basslines dance along more effectively.

This extra insight was shown in a delightful moment, when at the end of The Christians, 'One in a Million' there are some notes played on the keyboard each with an abrupt leading edge. With the Romance it sounded like doors being opened into rooms of sound, rather than a human finger playing a key - all very effective.

In case anyone mutters about the more compliant Music Maker (its no V15 though) being unsuited to the SME, remember that the Romeo has an effective mass of 12 grams, more than the SME and so in theory is less well suited.

Stage Two

Now to start playing with cartridges. The XX-2 went on the Romance and the DRT-1 onto the Orbe, once again though the DRT-1 is superior I know both cartridges intimately and can correct for their differences, which are ultimately fairly small.

The result followed much of the pattern of the previous turntable reviews. The Orbe majored on power and slam and size, the Romance beguiled with a lighter more open and faster presentation. On some recording this can swing it in favour of the Orbe. For example Madonna's 'Like a Prayer' has quite a bright, forward mix and the Orbe brought forward a deeper, more powerful and rounded performance. 'Till Death us do Part' had a force that on the Romance was lost, to be replaced by a more open and edgy performance which dragged at least as much detail from the disc but could be a little breathless. Conversely putting 'Ray of Light' on (my nomination for the finest record in the 'thud, thud' category), the Orbe/SME was just too much of a good thing, the 'bass' being thick, lifeless and obtrusive - the Romance on the other hand lifted it out of the mire and did a fair job of making it punchy.

Voices were similarly treated, Nina Simone having a depth and roundness with the Orbe, the Romance bringing out the air and texture.

My 'perfect' disc, the Harry James from 'Sheffield Labs' is a big band in a chapel, cut live and direct to disc. With this the Orbe emphasised the 'big', the Romance the 'chapel'. Both were good but different.

In the end which you might prefer depended very much on the disc being played and certainly the room/system used, but for the Audiomeca to be in the same league at 1/3 the price was a surprise and not a wholly pleasant one for me...

Stage Three

The Romance was set up here for over a month. It doesn't have a dust cover, which in my house is a big no-no, but it also means it was very accessible. Because of this it got used a lot. Now if the deck hadn't been so good I would have gone to the bother of lifting the lid of the Orbe but generally it was the Romance that got played. As so often happens it meant that I got used to the sound and returning to the Orbe gave a definite feeling of 'bloat', that in my system, in my room (ALWAYS remember that) began to irritate me...

Take Aladdinsane for example. I'd always though Bowies early stuff wonderful but the recording pretty grim - dead, lifeless, thick and rolled off. On the Romance it opened right out, 'Time' has a huge left -> right echo and space around the voice, where Bowie sings "You just screeeeeeem with boredom YOU!" the second 'you' is stripped of echo and leaps out at you, I'd never been so aware of it. In fact I began to appreciate what a good job Bowie had done with the production. I sat through 'Watch that Man' four times in a row, once following the vocal, once the bassline, once the pyrotechnics of the piano and finally as a whole - the Romance allowed all this effortlessly, showing not only it's ability to resolve different strands of a piece but also to present them as a coherant whole.

Testing the timing of the deck with Los Lobos' 'Be Still' gave a clue as to why I found the deck so musical - the timing was superb, as good as or even better than any deck I've had here - such things are fundamental to whether music grabs you or not.

Lastly - please don't laugh - I put on a copy of the soundtrack 2001 a Space Odyssey I'd picked up in a junk shop for 50p. I've got this on CD and very flat and uninteresting it is too, but then it's just a cruddy film soundtrack. Putting the LP on was a very different experience, the Vienna Philharmonic spread in front of me and 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' thundered out and made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck (why don't CD's ever do this?), the edge of the brass, the big acoustic the dynamics!

And so to the marks...




Beauty tt/arm


Simple, dramatic but tasteful

Fit and Finish tt/arm


near faultless

Engineering tt/arm


Well made but much simpler in both cases

Compatibility tt/arm


The turntable will take most 9" arms. The arm was as happy with the DRT-1 as the Music Maker

Speed Stability


best so far



best so far



very good but not quite with the Orbe

Stage Width


broad and natural

Stage Depth


Bass Depth



Bass control/speed


fast tuneful and punchy

Detail retrieval


Midrange clarity


So clear and natural

Treble extension


Treble Quality


Cleaner with the Music Maker

Overall colouration


see postscript



different but equally valid depending on system

'Miss you' factor


I could live with it quite happily and at a huge saving


Up until the arrival of the Romance/Romeo my personal recommendation for its price range would have been the Michell Gyro/Origin RB 250 (and no, I've not heard all the alternatives or the latest DC powered Gyro). Now to that I'd have to add the Audiomeca. It seems to me that the compromises Audiomeca have had to make to reach a price point - no lid or box plinth, simple power supply, simple suspension - have all been well chosen and the 'whole exceeds the sum of the parts'.

Not only does it look as good as the Gyro, (the arm is in a different league to the Rega) but it's a lot simpler to use and set up. This means that in many circumstances it will outperform the Gyro simply because it's easier for the owner to set up correctly. Taking it a step further I'd be very tempted to fit the Romeo to a Gyro or Orbe as it is such a good visual match and certainly seems to perform at or near the top level. During the test period I had two 'audiophiles' visit and both preferred the Romance/Romeo (in my system etc) which is both pleasing (for Audiomeca) and worrying (for me)

Oh and lastly - the name. Pierre Lurne told me it was named after someone asked why the Romance had gone from his music system...


- the following takes nothing away from my very high regard for the Audiomeca Romance/Romeo.


Reading this review and others in the series it's starting to become apparent that several turntables are showing up flaws, or at least character, in the Orbe/SME pairing, notably a certain warmth/wooliness/bloat in the mid bass. This has been repeated again and again with four different cartridges and four phono stages.

Quote "it just made the Orbe sound bombastic and overblown" - Aida review

Quote "The bass bloom and overhang, though in isolation seemingly minor, can be seen to be a real achilles heel that muddies bass performance, soundstaging and even midrange performance" - Recovery review

Quote " and returning to the Orbe gave a definite feeling of 'bloat'" - Romance review

So what's going on? The Orbe has received rave reviews wherever it goes. The VC power supply has improved things, but the problem is still there in my system. The SME is billed as the 'Best Tonearm in the World'. Every Orbe owner aspires to a SME 4/5 to go with it and is constantly reminded by pictures in magazines and reviews of how they make the perfect couple, so it must be a fault elsewhere.

Then Len Gregory took a hand. He's been hassling me to put the Hadcock he lent me for the Aida review on to the Orbe. Last week I finally got round to it and used a bodged steel plate with only two screws to cobble it onto the SME plate of the Orbe. The combination was far too light so the suspension didn't bounce but what the hell I was only doing it to keep Len happy.

The result was something that left me reeling. The Orbe opened out, detail flooded out, the bloom was gone, air, atmosphere and sheer magic assailed me. How can this be? What's going on? A spindly 'false' unipivot designed in the '60's wasting the mighty SME? Have I committed heresy? Perhaps, but the Orbe/Hadcock pairing fooled me, and I have to say that from memory it was noticeably superior to the Aida/Hadcock and if the pairing had been the 'reference' the test turntables would have had a much harder time.

So the correct plate for the Hadcock is on its way. I've arranged for 4 other arms to come play too, and another turntable with an SME base and three phono stages. Suddenly the turntable series dives off in another direction. Is the Orbe a great turntable hamstrung by the SME? Is the SME simply too good for the Orbe, or dump too much energy into the 'singalong' chassis? Do we have a mismatch whatever anyone else says? Does the pairing simply rub my system up the wrong way? Or are either, or both, hopelessly overrated?

Watch this space...


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 2002 Geoff Husband - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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