Electrocompaniet may have started out with a clean sheet on the turntable, but when it comes to the choice of tonearm, the company turned to the tried and trusted 10”, oil-damped Jelco SA-750EB arm. Early reports also suggested the ECG-1 was to be bundled with a SoundSmith moving iron cartridge, but this seems to have been dropped from the final specification. This is both a good and a bad thing – good, because at this level most users will want to specify their own cartridge and will usually have the provision to install it, but bad because a SoundSmith moving iron is an almost perfect partner (I used it with Origin Live’s Aladdin cartridge from the same parentage, as well as a more meaty and historic Ortofon MC7500 to see what it was capable of). Fortunately, the arm is good for a wide range of cartridges, with masses between 4g and 12g.
Set-up is quick and easy, for a turntable. The feet are not level adjustable, though, and the turntable works best with a level, light, rigid, and vibration-free surface (a dedicated wall shelf is ideal).
It’s important to separate the ECG-1 from Electrocompaniet products, because the deck shouldn’t just be thought of as ‘the turntable for Electrocompaniet users’ but as a fine record player in its own right. However, Electrocompaniet also has a distinct family sound, and the ECG-1 is clearly a member of that family. There’s an unforced, easy, effortless sound common to many products in the range, and the ECG-1 follows that path, too. Never brash, the ECG-1 stresses the tonal beauty of a recording rather than leading edges. It’s more about musical and emotive insights rather than barefaced detail retrieval. If the performance is full of energy, it will portray that energy, but the ECG-1 is not a turntable that imposes its own ‘zing’ to the replay process.
This tonal (and timbral) integrity comes shining through with albums like Beck’s Sea Change album [Mobile Fidelity], where it’s all about the emotional content of the (mostly acoustic) music; but it also does surprisingly well with ‘Living For The City’ on Stevie Wonder’s legendary Innervisions [Tamla/Motown], because the ECG-1 deals with the lyrics, not just the rhythm. The rhythmic aspects of the album are still there, because the album would collapse without its driving sense of rhythm, and there is no sense of Stevie Wonder suffering a funkectomy (that came later in his career). Rather than stress the precision of the beat and that precision alone, the ECG-1 takes a more holistic view of the music. Those who define audio by ‘pace, rhythm, and timing’ will probably dismiss the ECG-1 as a result, but there are a lot of people who prefer a more complete picture, and one not dominated by one or two aspects of performance.
The ECG-1’s other great strength is spatial consistency. The soundstage cut into the groove is reproduced with tremendous accuracy. Whether it’s a close-knit jazz combo playing together on a small stage, or a full orchestra playing in a large auditorium, the ECG-1 is adept at scaling the soundstage presented to the amplifier up or down accordingly. Unless it’s on the recording, there’s no sense of 30m tall singers, stretched pianos, or tiny guitars. A lot of this comes from the ECG-1’s natural and unforced dynamic properties (it’s extremely good at portraying those ‘microdynamic’ sounds within a larger sound-field, such as the triangle playing in the overture to the Pirates of Penzance [Decca]) and from surprisingly good image solidity: instruments are rooted in their positions in the mix, unless the engineer is experimenting with the pan pot.
There’s a common theme emerging here, and one that holds well through the rest of the Electrocompaniet range: what the ECG-1 does is let you hear what went on in the studio. Not in a eviscerating manner (this isn’t the kind of turntable that makes you want to write to an engineer and question their choice of microphones); it simply lets you into the studio and the control room.
I dislike reviews that reference another product, but in this case I can’t help be sonically reminded of turntables like the Michell Gyro Dec. Both turntables have a sense of effortlessness about the performance; not ‘unable to shift out of low gear’ but instead the kind of audio presentation that doesn’t draw attention to itself, and just keeps on playing music happily for year upon year. This is, I suspect, one of the great strengths of the ECG-1: it’s not a player for those with Restless Ear Syndrome for whom any turntable is just a passing acquaintance. This is a turntable for keeps.