Sometimes an image just doesn’t do justice to a subject. Although the Transrotor Orion Reference FMD is extremely camera-friendly, an actual look at this turntable will reveal more elegance and beauty than any photo can.
The first thing that will strike you is the way light reacts with the polished clear acrylic and mirror-finished, hand-polished aluminum used in the external construction of the $30,000 Transrotor, creating a visual delight of reflected colors near and around the ’table. The second thing you’ll notice is the true three-dimensional footprint of the German-built Orion Reference FMD. Most turntables (some impressively so) have a wide footprint to accommodate the platter, motor, and tonearm mount. However, height is typically between 20 and 40 percent of the length or depth of the ’table—and not much of a standout feature. With a 52cm length, a 52cm depth, and a 34cm height, the Transrotor Orion FMD’s height is nearly 60 percent of its footprint. I’ve seen other ’tables with decent three-dimensional proportions, but none with the visual appeal or the massive vertical look of the Orion Reference FMD’s drive system and platter.
As the old saying goes, “Beauty is sometimes only skin deep.” With the Orion Reference FMD, however, beauty extends to the engineering of the drive system. As I will describe below, the Orion Reference is a bottom-up design. This three-motor, fully isolated, dual-bearing ’table—called Free Magnetic Drive (FMD)—powered by a Transrotor Konstant KM-3 motor controller, is more than the analog equivalent of a “trophy wife.”
Usually the motor (or motors) of most belt-drive ’tables are either housed in external pods or tucked into the ’table’s chassis, with an exposed pulley for the drive belt. The Orion Reference FMD takes a different path, locating three motors in a circular housing made of aluminum that, when completely assembled, is approximately the height of the 80mm platter that hovers beside it. The motors are encased in this aluminum housing, sectioned 33.3 degrees apart. Each motor has three grooved pulleys for the belts. Machined into the center of this same circular aluminum motor chassis is the housing for (what U.S. distributor, Arturo Manzano of Axiss Audio, calls) the Inverted Hydro Dynamic oil-fed bearing. The bearing housing has a reservoir for the bearing oil that is supplied in a measured syringe. Once filled with oil, the upper portion of the bearing is set in place. Operationally, when the drive is in motion, oil is pumped and circulated around the bearing to keep the whole assembly lubricated. At the top of the bearing is a three-grooved pulley. The drive belt for each motor is set in this grooved pulley and in the matching grooves of the bearing pulleys. Once all three belts are installed, each motor has a belt-connection between itself and the corresponding bearing-pulley groove. A machined aluminum flywheel cover/cap is installed over the entire bearing, completing the lower part of the FMD module. This flywheel cover/cap, which rotates with the bearing, contains ten very strong neodymium magnets in a circular arrangement near the center of the top cover. This full assembly forms the foundational heart of the drive system and never touches the rest of the ’table.
Supported by three pillared aluminum towers, a 50mm-thick, concave-edged, triangular acrylic baseplate sits above the lower portion of the FMD drive. The outer housing of a second Inverted Hydro Dynamic oil-fed bearing is located in the center of this acrylic baseplate. This bearing is also equipped with ten neodymium magnets that line up directly above the lower FMD module when assembled. These two magnetically coupled bearings are vertically aligned and adjusted to have a 3mm air gap, where there is no physical contact between them. The embedded magnets have stainless steel caps (above the lower bearing and below the upper) to help focus the magnetic field and provide shielding at the same time.
An 80mm aluminum platter, with grooved rings machined into the top and bottom, sits atop the bearing. In a recessed area of the platter, a 10mm acrylic mat cushions the record while it is playing. Connected to the three pillared aluminum support towers, above the triangular acrylic base are two C-shaped clear acrylic baseplates separated by approximately 1.2". The top C-shaped baseplate has provisions for up to two tonearm mounts.
The Transrotor Orion Reference FMD provided for review was mated with the Transrotor TR 5009 tonearm. The TR 5009 is specially sourced from longtime tonearm maker SME. Although the external look of the TR 5009 bears some resemblance to the SME 309, the precision bearings and internal wiring have more in common with the SME Series V family, according to Transrotor’s Dirk Räke. If for some reason a different ’arm is desired, Transrotor can fit the Orion Reference FMD with any tonearm because the C-shape ’arm mount can be drilled and/or extended to accommodate any ’arm (even a 12" one).
Although the above description might make the assembly of the ’table seem complicated, that wasn’t the case. The Orion Reference FMD arrived in two large, well-packed, triple-walled boxes. One box contained the three-tiered (triangular and C-shaped) acrylic bases with pillars attached. The other box contained all of the bearing, motor, and controller items. Putting the ’table together was pretty straightforward.