Acoustic Signature Invictus Jr. Turntable and TA-9000 Tonearm

Oy, Gestalt!

Equipment report
Acoustic Signature Invictus Jr. Turntable and TA-9000 Tonearm

All this digressing is only meant to illustrate what I think makes Invictus Jr. such a remarkable piece of audio gear: It not only provides markedly higher amounts of information; it also does so with a neutrality—an absence of timbral and temporal overemphasis, coloration, or distortion I attribute to its more effective CLD damping and resonance control—that permits the ear/mind to perceive, collectively, the constituent sonic “parts” of exceptionally well-recorded LPs as lifelike wholes, to “mistake” (at least briefly) recorded for real. 

To illustrate the differences I hear with Jr., consider the sound of St. Vincent’s newest album, MassEducation [Loma Vista], an acoustic version—mainly Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett’s grand piano and Annie Clark’s (i.e., St. Vincent’s) voice, recorded live over two nights in Electric Ladyland Studios in Greenwich Village—of the same songs on St. Vincent’s next-to-last album, the electrified and electrifying Masseduction. 

I’ve listened to MassEducation on four different turntables in my home—and on several others at shows and in other people’s homes—and it has sounded very enjoyably intimate and musical on all, although there is (as I’ve just noted in detail) a difference between sounding enjoyable/musical and sounding like the actual thing. Pitted against even the very best competition—and I have some outstanding turntables and tonearms in-house—the Invictus Jr. simply reveals more information about, say, “Doveman” Bartlett’s touch and pedal work on the grand piano, and does so with far greater clarity than anything else I’ve got. This is not a little difference, folks. It is the difference between sounding “good” or even sounding “great” and sounding “real.”

Of course, a fair amount of this eye-blinking, head-slapping illusion of hearing a real piano (and, with Annie Clark’s singing, a real female voice) is owed to the other components that the Invictus Jr. is being fed by and is feeding its signal to. But in the right chain of reproduction—say the Voxativ 9.87 fed by Zanden’s Classic electronics and wired with Voxativ’s own cables or the Magico M3 fed by Constellation, Soulution, or ARC electronics and wired with Synergistic Research or Crystal Cable—the illusion of hearing a real piano is so profound that you could almost literally draw a diagram of how a piano’s keys and pedals work, both mechanically and sonically, on the basis of what you’re hearing, and write a detailed essay about how Doveman Bartlett’s touch on keys and pedals with fingers and feet vary the prominence and expressiveness of his accompaniment (and the effects that accompaniment have on the emotional weight of the words being sung). Via the Air Tight Opus 1 or the Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridges, the Invictus Jr. retrieves such an abundance of information, delivered with such profound neutrality, that the piano and the way it works and is being played are not just present sonically but very nearly physically. 

Now I should note that a piano recorded close up is not the same sonic entity as an un-mic’d piano heard at a greater distance. Closely mic’d recordings generally pick up more “mechanical” detail than our ears do when we’re sitting in a recital hall. (Having literally just heard the immortal Leon Fleisher playing Bach, Mozart, and Chopin in concert, I can avow that from where I was sitting in Werner Hall his Steinway concert grand did not sound like Bartlett’s piano in Electric Ladyland Studio.) The point here being that “recorded realism” is almost always a bit different than “concert-hall realism.” And yet, allowing for the microphones and their placement and the differences in venues, when a component is still able to deliver the recorded “parts” it is reproducing in a way that allows for the ear/mind’s magical gestalt shift or regrouping of those parts into a realistic whole, it is doing something extraordinary. Indeed, being fooled momentarily by a stereophonic illusion while still hearing the differences between mic’d and purely acoustic, between recital hall and recording studio, just means you’re not only experiencing the gestalt shift that generates the illusion of the absolute sound; you’re also hearing the way a venue and a recording technique augments or diminishes the purely acoustic sound of instruments (i.e., you’re also hearing what I’ve called “fidelity to sources”).

Lest you think the Invictus Jr.’s magic act is restricted to one closely mic’d recording, let me assure you that is not the case. Its amazingly abundant recovery, and uncannily neutral delivery, of sonic information can make virtually any instrument or combo of instruments on very-well-recorded LPs sound “there.” From Gene Ammons’ sax on Boss Tenor [Prestige] to Chet Baker’s whispery tenor (or counter-tenor) on Chet Baker Sings [Blue Note] to David Abel’s Guarnerius and Julie Steinberg’s Hamburg Steinway D on the Debussy Sonata [Wilson Audiophile] to Belafonte and his terrific horn section on Belafonte at Carnegie Hall [Analogue Productions], to The Band’s Richard Manuel’s vocal and piano on “The Shape I’m In,” the Invictus Jr. is able to gestalt-shift you into an alternate universe where recorded artists sound “real,” and do so without losing a great turntable’s ability to tell you how well or poorly an LP was recorded.

I have any number of terrific record players in-house at the moment—some of which are in the process of being significantly upgraded—and have heard any number of others at trade shows. Without disparaging any of them, I can honestly say that, as of this writing, I haven’t heard another that is higher in resolution or more neutral in the delivery of timbral, temporal, spatial, and dynamic details than Invictus Jr. 

The word is thrown around too freely in this business, but to my ear Invictus Jr. with the TA-9000 tonearm is Gunther Frohnhoefer’s masterpiece—certainly the best turntable/tonearm Acoustic Signature has made and certainly one of the best analog source components you can buy. If you purchased Sr. in part because of my TAS review, well, you still have a great source component—no question. But, to be completely frank, you don’t have Jr.

Specs & Pricing

Acoustic Signature Invictus Jr. Turntable

Type: Unsuspended, belt-driven turntable
Dimensions: 526mm x 262mm x 526mm
Weight: 90kg (power supply, 4kg)
Price: $84,999

Acoustic Signature TA-9000 Tonearm

Type: 3D-printed, gimbal tonearm with Timken aerospace bearings
Size: 9", 12"
Price: $22,000

FIDELIS (U.S. Distributor)
460 Amherst St. (Route 101A)
Nashua, NH 03063
(603) 880-4434

JV’s Reference System

Loudspeakers: MBL 101 X-treme, Magico M3, Voxativ 9.87, Avantgarde Acoustic Zero 1, MartinLogan CLX, Magnepan 1.7
Subwoofers: JL Audio Gotham (pair), Magico QSub 15 (pair)
Linestage preamplifiers: Soulution 725, Constellation Audio Altair II, Siltech SAGA System C1, Air Tight ATE-2001 Reference, MBL 6010 D, Aavik Acoustics C-300
Phonostage preamplifiers: Soulution 755, Walker Proscenium V, Constellation Audio Perseus
Power amplifiers: Soulution 711, Constellation Audio Hercules II Stereo, MBL 9008 A, Aavik Acoustics M-300, Siltech SAGA System V1/P1, Odyssey Audio Stratos, Voxativ Integrated 805 
Analog sources: Acoustic Signature Invictus Jr./TA-9000, Clearaudio Master Innovation/TT-1, Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Mk V, TW Acustic Black Night/TW Raven 10.5, AMG Viella 12
Tape deck: United Home Audio Ultimate 1 OPS 
Phono cartridges: Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement, Air Tight Opus 1, Ortofon MC Anna, Ortofon MC A90
Digital sources: MSB Reference DAC, Berkeley Alpha DAC 2 
Cables and interconnects: Crystal Cable Ultimate Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power cords: Crystal Cable Ultimate Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power conditioners: AudioQuest Niagara 5000 (two), Synergistic Research Galileo UEF
Support systems: Critical Mass Systems MAXXUM and QXK equipment racks and amp stands
Room treatments: Stein Music H2 Harmonizer system, Synergistic Research UEF Acoustic Panels/Atmosphere XL4/UEF Acoustic Dot system, Synergistic Research ART system, Shakti Hallographs (6), Zanden Acoustic panels, A/V Room Services Metu acoustic panels and traps, ASC Tube Traps
Accessories: Symposium Isis and Ultra equipment platforms, Symposium Rollerblocks and Fat Padz, Walker Prologue Reference equipment and amp stands, Walker Valid Points and Resonance Control discs, Clearaudio Double Matrix Professional Sonic record cleaner, Synergistic Research RED Quantum fuses, HiFi-Tuning silver/gold fuses