To satisfy a sudden craving for rock ‘n’ roll, I pulled out The White Stripes’ Elephant (a new entrant to TAS Super LP List in Issue 273), an album for which none of the equipment used in the recording process was manufactured more recently than 1963. Naturally, it’s an all-analog affair; no computers or other digital devices were used at any point in its mixing or mastering. In the past, I’ve heard certain cuts on this album sound a bit too rambunctious and ill controlled on other “lesser” (but not necessarily less expensive) ’tables. Some oomph and inner detail have also been lacking. Not here.
“Ball and Biscuit” retained all of its raw ragged edge and swagger, from Jack White’s searing vintage guitar solos to Meg White’s straight-no-chaser drum fills, which came alive in quite lifelike 3-D glory. On Meg’s rendition of “In the Cold, Cold Night” rich details, such as the ambient reverb of the Toe Rag Studios, were clearly portrayed. The organ’s rumbling deep-dive into the low end was rendered with respectable detail—of course the rest of the system (see below) played a key role here as well. This highly engaging presentation drew me in—and allowed this track’s rather sinister atmosphere to cast its spell. Another standout cut was the awkwardly titled “I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother’s Heart.” Jack’s plaintive voice pined away while Meg’s cymbal taps were ever so present and strikingly realistic sounding.
You might be wondering what more you get if you spring for one of Acoustic Signature’s models further up the line, or perhaps for some other worthy ’table in the next price tier. Well, you’d probably get improvements in soundstaging and greater inner detail, which might or might not be worth the extra coin. But what you do get here—that you don’t necessarily get elsewhere at this price point—is impressive three-dimensionality, a sense of bloom, noteworthy neutrality and resolution, and low noise. That’s in addition to the Challenger’s first-rate build-quality (as noted, all parts are machined in-house and assembled by hand). In short, this is an exceedingly great turntable for the money—and arguably one that not only competes with, but in many ways exceeds its pricier competition.
I would recommend the Challenger Mk3 to any analog lover whose budget accommodates its roughly $5k price (depending on tonearm and cartridge choices)—and particularly for audiophiles ready to take that next step from more basic components into the world of reference-level gear.
In spite of the generously long review period, I’m hoping to find a way to hang on to this turntable, which offers no tricks, no gimmicks, just the musical goods. Call it a Challenger that punches way above its weight.
Editor's note: A few of us from TAS visited the Acoustic Signature factory.
Specs & Pricing
Motor: Synchronous, with separate Beta DIG motor controller
Weight: 23kg; 21kg–25kg, depending on extras
Price: $4490 turntable; TA-2000 tonearm, $2495
FIDELIS HOME AUDIO (U.S. Distributor)
460 Amherst St. (Rte 101A)
Nashua, NH 03063
ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT (for this review)
Loudspeakers: Monitor Audio Platinum PL-500 II, Crystal Cable Minissimo Arabesque Diamond Edition
Amplifiers: Air Tight ATM-1S stereo amplifier, Pass Labs XA100.8 monoblocks (pair), Sidharta monoblocks (pair)
Phonostage: Audio Consulting Silver Rock Toroidal
Phonostage preamplifier: Soulution 520
Subwoofer: Crystal Cable Deep Bass Subissimo
Tonearms: Acoustic Signature TA-1000, TA-2000
Cartridge: Air Tight PC-7 cartridge
Power conditioner and power cords: Ansuz
Cables and interconnects: Shunyata Research Venom series
Equipment racks and amplifier stands: Critical Mass Systems Maxxum
Acoustic treatment and accessories: Stein Music Harmonizers (4) and (paper record mat)