Da Vinci Audio Labs' AAS Gabriel/Da Vinci MK II Turntable with Da Vinci Grand Reference Tonearm Grandezza

Da Vinci Audio Labs AAS Gabriel
Da Vinci Audio Labs' AAS Gabriel/Da Vinci  MK II Turntable with Da Vinci Grand Reference Tonearm Grandezza

Almost every time we do an Analog Buyer’s Guide we feature a picture of the AAS Gabriel/Da Vinci turntable on the “cover.” The reason should be obvious to anyone with eyes: It’s among the most beautiful hi-fi components in the world. Happily, in this case beauty is more than skin-deep, for the latest iteration of this design gem is also one of the best turntables and tonearms in the world. I’ll be reviewing Da Vinci’s Mk II ’table (a Mk II tonearm is also in the works) in our upcoming Analog Issue of TAS, so consider this a preview.<o p="">

A good deal has changed between the “original” and Mk II versions of the AAS/Gabriel turntable, and, judging from the sonic results, every change has been for the better. Among other things, I’m told that the center of gravity of the massive base, into which the equally massive platter fits, has been recalculated; the constrained-layer materials of which the base is made are new and the way they are joined together is more precise; and the spindle of the magnetic bearing, fixed to the inside bottom of the base and on top of which the platter floats, is completely new. Likewise, the magnetic ring embedded in the bottom of the platter has been redesigned; the platter itself now uses specially fabricated copper cylinders inlaid into dense aluminum alloy; and the whole she-bang has been optimized for a superior flywheel effect. Additionally, Da Vinci’s massive, expensive, constrained-layer feet use new bronze vertical bearings.<o p="">

Those of you who’ve read my review of the “original” Gabriel/Da Vinci (reprinted in our 2011 Guide to Vinyl Playback, p. 50, downloadable for free at http://media.avguide.com/vinyl_buyers_guide_2011.pdf) will recall that I thought the Swiss ’table and arm set new standards of transparency and low-level resolution in vinyl playback, extending dynamic range on the p-to-pppp side in the same way that the great Walker Black Diamond record player extended dynamic range on the f-to-ffff side of the dynamic spectrum. Indeed, I compared the Da Vinci to the MartinLogan CLXes—those models of delicacy and detail at low levels—and the Walker to MBL X-Tremes—those dynamic dynamos at loud levels.<o p="">

Since then both turntables, the Walker and the Da Vinci, have been improved mightily and, ironically, both have extended their dynamic reach into the other’s “territory.” The Walker Black Diamond Mk II now has much of the delicacy and resolution at low levels of the Da Vinci, while the Da Vinci now has much of the clout of the Walker at higher volumes. In other words, both record players now encompass more of the dynamic range of real music, greatly reducing the differences between them (although there are still differences) and greatly lowering the “character” (which is to say, the characteristic colorations) of each.<o p="">

As you will have gathered from what I just wrote, the big news about the Gabriel Mk II is dynamics. And, brother, is this news good! As has been the case with speakers and electronics I’ve recently reviewed, noise, which was already very low in this magnetic-bearing, belt-driven ’table, is now audibly lower. As a result, details, both musical and engineering-related, are clearer than ever. (This honey is a sonic vacuum cleaner when it comes to transparency to sources.) But where before the original Da Vinci couldn’t bring quite the same energy to timbres at loud levels that it did at softer ones, the Da Vinci Mk II has phenomenal transient response, bespeaking overall cleaner, clearer, faster, less colored, wider-ranging, higher-fidelity response. Provided that you have speakers capable of reproducing transients clearly (such as the Magico Q5s) and electronics that are equally transparent (such as those from Technical Brain), you will be amazed by the incredibly lifelike way the Da Vinci front end sorts out violinst Gidon Kremer’s different types of pizzicatos or hangs onto the pitches and harmonics of pianist Andrei Gavrilov’s thunderous sforzandos throughout the Schnittke Second Sonata [EMI]. If, like me, you used to think that digital owned dynamic range, once you hear plucked strings or sharply struck timps through the Da Vinci Mk II you will think differently. The thing isn’t just faster and more clearly focused than analog usually sounds; it’s also more complete. For instance, with percussion instruments the Da Vinci Mk II doesn’t just give you the thwack of the mallet on the drumhead followed by a phasey blur of tone color; it gives you the trampoline-like rebound of the calfskin, along with the resonant tone of the copper bowl. And it give you these things with a clarity that lets you better understand how the instrument itself works and how it is being played.<o p="">

As I tried to say in my Technical Brain review, when a source, a speaker, or a piece of electronics gets timing right—the sequence of events, fine and coarse, that go into the sounding of a note—it also gets spatiality right. You not only hear what’s happening more clearly; you “see” each instrument and performer imaged more clearly. For fidelity-to-mastertapes and absolute sound listeners, this is a huge advantage, like having not just a window on the orchestra but also a window on the individual performers and on the score. The music is easier to take in, the performance easier to appreciate, the orchestration or instrumentation easier to “decode.” When such neutrality, resolution, and transparency are joined, as they are in the Da Vinci Mk II, to unstinting energy at very low levels and very loud ones, you get (with the best sources) a leap in fidelity and realism.<o p="">

I will have more to say about the Da Vinci Mk II—about its low noise, its transparency to sources, its superb bass, its overall realism—in my upcoming review. But for the nonce, suffice it to say that, in combination with the superb 12" Da Vinci Grand Reference Grandezza tonearm, this is one of the two highest-fidelity record players I’ve heard. (The other is the Walker Black Diamond Mk II.) Though the Da Vinci costs a lot of money ($66,900 for the ’table, motor, and one tonearm base in Aston-Martin Black Onyx finish, plus another $12,070 for the tonearm), if you have a lot of money, an eye for beauty, an ear for lifelike sound, and a large record collection, you owe it to yourself to audition this gorgeous Swiss masterpiece.