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The Turntable Tests...

[Italian version]

Reviewer: Geoff Husband
Begun: October 2001

"I have a dream..."

If 20 years ago anyone had said that the number of high-end turntables available new to the public would have more than doubled by the year 2000, I think they'd have been thought something of a crank. And yet this is the situation we now find ourselves in. To explain why is difficult... Perhaps a natural conservatism of a section of hi-fi buyers? The attraction to the ritual and beauty that vinyl still has, both in turntables and the LP sleeve itself? A reaction against the shenanigans of format wars in the digital arena? The wide availability of both second-hand and new vinyl? Or perhaps most importantly, the now widespread, if not universal, opinion that the finest sound quality currently available is from the analogue microgroove record?

For whatever reason the buying public is now presented with a wide range of turntables, almost all with high-end pretensions and with prices from a few hundred Euros to perhaps a hundred times that. Like many vinyl fans I became intrigued as to what this cornucopia of vinyl delight offered. Did they all sound different? Was there a price point that once crossed gave you only increasingly exotic mobile sculptures for your money? Do the various entrenched camps - Moving coil vs. moving magnet cartridges, unipivot vs. gimballed arms, suspended vs. solid plinth decks etc have a point or is a good vinyl replay system "good" regardless of the technology used?

From a purely personal point of view I NEEDED to know!

Finding the answer was going to be difficult, very few dealers carry more than one or two turntables at a particular price point. Likewise "paper" magazines and ezines test a turntable at a time, often without a reference and few now concentrate on real high-end tables, preferring the mid-market. When group tests do occur they're the cursory "shop-window" variety.

But I'm a lucky guy - I write for TNT... ;-)

So I started to make enquiries and a few things became immediately apparent. First TNT seems to have gained a lot of clout over the last few years, to the point that virtually every manufacturer approached promised to supply review turntables. Here we're talking very expensive and often fragile pieces of equipment. I made it plain that the tests that I planned were going to put each design through the wringer, with no place to hide - no soft "everything is wonderful" reviewing, and so it took courage to submit gear too...
Second was that the various manufacturers were interested in the results too, often to find out for themselves what worked with what.
Lastly, in order to carry out the test to a worthwhile conclusion I needed a lot of extra equipment. Approaching manufacturers who'd already provided gear in the past for loans produced all I needed. As these firms had already had their "exposure" on TNT, and so had less to gain, their generosity was highly commendable and without them the results would have been much the poorer. They too were very interested in the results of the tests...

So what started out as a personal whim rapidly snowballed into something major - a series of analogue tests like never before. Each taking a month at least and thereafter published on TNT-Audio on a monthly basis. The series appears to be open ended, stretching over the next 12 months at least - mostly concentrating on complete turntable packages but taking in the odd arm and cartridge as well.

With such a responsibility I've taken things seriously and developed a methodology that should really tell me, and you, what each turntable is capable of...

It's taken 8 months to get it all together but starting at the beginning of November look out on TNT for the best turntable tests in the business. First up? The Clearlight Recovery, already here and sounding good, I hope you're as excited as I am:-)

Next week the "Methodology" article will come out, detailing exactly how the tests will be done and the equipment used - Watch this space...!


Just after I wrote this copy someone handed me the results of a little test someone had done - Linn to be exact. On Saturday June 5th they had a CD vs Vinyl day at the Grosvenor House Hotel. During one day 500 people attended and voted, in batches of 40, as to which they preferred after a blind demonstration. These people weren't "typical" in that they were a self-selecting group of people interested in the results and so could be seen as more "critical" and perhaps "educated" listeners than the general public.

Of course this was hardly fair... The two players were from Linn of course. The CD player, the CD12, is at the cutting edge of CD replay and cost twice as much as the vinyl system of LP12/EKOS/ARKIV, a combination well respected but not the last word in vinyl replay, after all it's essentially unchanged since the birth of CD. Add that Linn are much more interested in selling CD players than vinyl and that the £60,000 Linn system used would have been built with that in mind and we have the stage set for a drubbing of the old Sondek...

The result? Almost exactly 65% to 35% in favour of the LP12, not only that the LP12 had a convincing lead regardless of what music sample was used.

Now I wonder what would have happened after the launch of CD if someone had done a similar test with one of the early CD players, and essentially the same vinyl system - then made a big splash with the results? Would CD have ever taken off? Conspiracy theory anyone?

Go on and read the Methodology I'll use for these tests.

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

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