The best time in an audiophile’s life must be when he or she discovers a truly great product that doesn’t completely ruin the budget. It’s like the car enthusiast who dreams of owning a Bugatti, but buys a Camaro to get the biggest bang for his buck. A supercharger provides the added power and thrill factor in an economical way, and brings him that much closer to the supercars. High-end stereo components are much the same. We all want the state of the art, but few of us can afford it. But when we take our time, we can find those truly exceptional products that catapult our systems to the next level. While it’s not the end-all in turntables, the Funk Firm Flamenca will have you dancing with joy for under $1500 ($900 sans F6 tonearm).
Two Threads Are Better Than None
The Funk Firm Flamenca is now shipping with the brand- new F6 “pickup arm,” which is a thread-bearing tonearm— probably something most people have never seen. Whereas most tonearms use an actual bearing of some design or another, the F6’s arm tube is suspended from two polymer threads that look like a thick fishing line. This design gives the impression that the ’arm is almost floating on air, and the ’arm sounds like it, too. Even though Arthur Khoubesserian of Funk Firm prefers the term “pickup arm” because his tonearms have no tone, the F6 definitely has a feeling to it. It’s almost as if you can hear its weightlessness, a certain ethereal air and lithe gracefulness, when listening to the Flamenca and F6 together. Because I also had the Funk Firm FXR-II on hand, it was easy to A/B the two ’arms. I actually preferred the sound of the F6 to that of the FXR-II, even though the FXR-II costs $2400. I’m not sure if the thread- bearing design of the F6 is inherently better, but I preferred it.
Even though I liked the sound of the F6, I definitely did not like the setup. A thread-bearing tonearm is a delicate and tricky beast. Because the entire arm tube is suspended by two threads, the magnetic anti-skate found on most turntables in this price range is out of the question. So instead of weights or magnets for anti-skate, the F6 uses the tension placed on the threads. Atop the housing from which the threads are suspended is an anti-skate dial, which is highly sensitive and requires only minute pressure to apply the correct force. This is where things get tricky. It would be very easy to turn the knob one way or the other just a little too much and pop—there goes the thread. One of the other issues with this type of design is that as you adjust the anti-skate, you also change VTA. Even though the added torque only lifts and lowers the ’arm slightly, VTA is also altered, which means you have to re-adjust the ’arm’s VTA, which, in turn, may effect anti-skate! This constant tweaking of the tonearm can be pretty tedious, and it took several hours to get things just right. In the long run I was rewarded with great sound, but if you are looking for a ’table that is basically plug ’n’ play, this might not be the one for you (at least with this particular tonearm).
The Flamenca plinth and platter will be familiar to fans of British turntables. The platter is solid glass, and the plinth is a low- mass design. The platter is driven by a servo-controlled DC motor, which has both 33 and 45rpm selections, and two tiny screw ad- justments to set that perfect speed. The motor makes a very slight ticking noise, but this is inaudible during playback.
On to tricky set-up step number two. Funk Firm has eschewed the classic rubber belt in favor of a thread—yes, an actual thread—that is doubled and fits snugly around the platter and the motor wheel. Fitting the thread onto the platter can be very tricky, indeed. So tricky, in fact, that Funk Firm offered a prize at the 2014 Audio World hi-fi show in Brighton, UK, to those who could successfully fit the thread onto the platter. Now, it only took me a few tries to actually get the thread on, but this isn’t your typical rubber belt. It’s going to be a little frustrating for some people to attach it. Theoretically, this thread belt should have fewer problems with stretching, which means better long-term speed stability than rubber. Better to have something that’s difficult at first and lasts a long time, than something easy that eventually stretches.