To cut immediately to the chase, when used with the AAS Gabriel/DaVinciAudio Labs Mk II turntable and the Goldfinger Statement cartridge, the DaVinci Master’s Reference Virtu tonearm is the most realistic-sounding pivoted tonearm I’ve yet heard in my system. It seems to combine most (not all) of the robust, lifelike tone color, three-dimensionality, powerful bass, and wall-to-wall soundstaging of a great straight-line tracker like the Walker Black Diamond III with the exceptional low-level resolution, transient speed, and much (not all) of the precise image focus of an exemplary pivoted ’arm like the Kuzma 4Point, making for a set of sonic virtues that is unique in my experience—and uniquely appealing.
To be honest, this is not at all what I expected from the Virtu.
Indeed, when I first heard that DaVinciAudio Labs’ Peter Brem planned to replace his terrific Grandezza tonearm with a “more fully adjustable” design I was skeptical. Part of the reason for the Grandezza’s sonic excellence was the very fact that it wasn’t highly adjustable. A simple, elegant, beautifully made, twelve-inch tube of tonewood and various alloys mounted in a gimbaled ruby bearing, the Grandezza came with none of the extra doo-dads that add functionality, but also add complexity and resonant mass to other great tonearms. All you could adjust on the Grandezza was tracking force and vertical tracking angle (and the latter adjustment, which involved decoupling and then raising or lowering the entire arm pillar by hand, was too crude and cumbersome to encourage record-by-record VTA adjustments).
The Master’s Reference Virtu, on the other hand, not only allows for very precise, repeatable VTA/SRA adjustments (by means of a scaled, decoupled, spring-loaded mechanism built into the arm mount), it also permits azimuth adjustment, armtube exchange to better match the tonearm to the weight and compliance of specific cartridges (this fillip won’t be available until next year), and easy cartridge installation via a detachable SME-type headshell. The only adjustment not available on the Virtu is anti-skating, but since many, if not most, of today’s tonearm manufacturers recommend that anti-skating be set at zero, Peter Brem saw no reason to include a device that no one would use and the effects of which he himself dislikes.
However, the means to greater and more precise adjustability (and thereby fuller and more exact setup of cartridges) is not the only thing that has changed on the Master’s Reference Virtu. Indeed, it would be hard to point to something on this tonearm that hasn’t been significantly improved.
First and foremost, there is the bearing. As noted, the Grandezza used a very-high-end gimbaled ruby bearing; though also gimbaled, the Virtu uses something substantially different. At a glance, the bearing’s gimbal structure looks like it is being held together by four screws—one on the top of the gimbal, one on its bottom, and one on either side. However, each screw is actually securing a unique assembly of parts, comprising a radial bearing—consisting of a sapphire bushing and a hand- polished steel bearing pin—and a magnetic axial bearing (see the illustration).