Like many high-end enthusiasts I gaze awestruck and envious at analog rigs the likes of TechDas, Continuum, Basis, Walker, Clearaudio. I do. It’s easy to be held in thrall with the moon-shot technology the engineers have thrown at these audacious vinyl-music machines, and the nosebleed price points they command. But let’s return to Planet Earth for a moment and recall that looks can also be deceiving and that performance is not always predicated on the number of zeros after the dollar sign. Case in point: the Volare from Dr. Feickert Analogue (DFA). Of classic good looks and prosaic dimension, Volare is a belt-driven, manually operated turntable. No kooky tricks or gizmos beyond forthright engineering and execution. And at $3495, pricing that’s well grounded.
Volare is best thought of as a downsized version of the good Doctor’s flagship Firebird. It’s a non-suspension design that includes a heavy, well-balanced aluminum platter coupled with a high-torque motor. Its chassis topology focuses on “high mass in the center of a bearing chosen for its stiffness and low friction.” Fairly conventional stuff. Conveniently the armboard is a quick-swap mechanism and fits Rega armboard cutouts. There is an optional SME adapter and an LP12 armboard, as well.
Fit and finish of this German-built turntable are excellent. The standard black and silver base is certainly handsome enough, but for those who want to dress it up a bit, upgrades include a Delrin platter ($250) and a wood-veneer plinth ($250). Operationally, Volare is a snap to use. Push-button speed (33, 45, and 78rpm) and speed-adjustment controls reside in the lower left corner of the base. Simply select the speed to set the platter spinning and press the button again to stop. The motor isn’t “high torque” in name only, either. The giveaway is whether you can apply reasonable force with a carbon record brush and stall the platter. Volare passed this test with flying colors, pulling like a locomotive. Equipped with aluminum footers and short adjustable spikes, it’s easy to level and fine-tune.
Mofi Distribution delivered the Volare as a complete package, which included a 9.5-inch OriginLive Silver MK3A tonearm and MoFi Master Tracker cartridge ($799). The tonearm is a traditional pivoted design consisting of a single-piece aircraft-alloy tube with special stub for improved counterweight rigidity. It uses high-grade internal Litz wiring. The package includes a phono interconnect with RCA plugs. The easy access cueing lever is light to the touch and very precise. The Master Tracker cartridge is a 47k-ohm moving-magnet design in an aluminum body. It uses a Micro-Line diamond stylus and outputs an ample 3mV. Its V-Twin dual-magnet motor employs two low-mass magnets aligned in a “V” formation parallel with the record grooves, a layout that mirrors the trajectory of the cutting head. Suggested tracking force is 1.8–2.2 grams. (As a side note I was impressed with the Master Tracker. It tracked cleanly, and traversed difficult passages laden with deep bass and large-scale dynamics with aplomb. Compared with my own mm reference, the Clearaudio Charisma, it’s not as flush with harmonic ripeness and is a little cooler on top, but it’s a very musical effort for far less than half the cost.)
My impressions of Volare are based on this system bundle—that is, turntable, tonearm, and cartridge. There are a lot of variables for mixing and matching in the LP playback world, but as delivered this rig represents a sensible threesome with price points that are complementary and realistic. No one can tell you not to put a $5k cartridge on a sub-$4k turntable, but it may not be the most effective solution.
Setup was a cinch using the enclosed alignment card. Setting stylus overhang and tracking force was routine. Vertical tracking angle (VTA) settings for the OriginLive Silver ’arm called for a bit more dexterity, requiring the user to slacken the clamping nut beneath the ’table first, then adjust the height ring atop the armboard to the desired arm-tube height, using the alignment-gauge card as a guide. Once that checks out, the clamping nut may need to be re-tensioned. Unlike on-the-fly VTA adjustments that can be fully dialed in above the armboard (generally on more expensive turntables), this process was a little awkward. However, unless you’re constantly swapping out cartridges it’s not something you’ll spend a lot of time doing.
For my listening sessions, I used the Pass Labs XP-17 phono- stage ($4300, review forthcoming). Frankly it’s hard to imagine better results than what I got from this synergistic pairing. I’ve said repeatedly that turntables are (or should be) the neutral staging ground for everything that follows from the interface of the groove and stylus. Not only is speed stability a must but the entire assembly needs to be immune to internal and external forces, both mechanical and acoustic, allowing no resonances into the vinyl and stylus by way of chassis, plinth, and motor.
In performance Volare operated silently, with virtually zero motor noise at startup. The platter got up to speed swiftly. Winds of War and Peace, the Dave Wilson produced and Doug Sax-mastered recording, is a demonstration disc that has few peers. When you drop the stylus into the first groove of “Olympic Fanfare,” it’s like igniting a rocket on a launch pad. Pitch and image stability were solid, clean, and immovably fixed. Except for the analog tape noise of this vintage recording, the ensemble pauses and ambient silences were seriously quiet. The theme from The Cowboys soundtrack was a little dry on trumpet blasts, but there was terrific skin-sound and texture off the snare drum rolls. The loudest dynamic peaks were impressive, and mistracking was never an issue.