Over the last thirty years—a period covering the introduction of the compact disc, its replacement of vinyl as the dominant home-listening medium, and, for all we know now, the beginning of its demise—Franc Kuzma’s company has acquired an enviable reputation for manufacturing outstanding recordplaying systems. You have only to look at his latest, the Stabi M ($19,225), particularly when outfitted with the company’s 4Point tonearm ($6675), to know this is a setup that means serious business. When it comes to aesthetics—black on black in black, all metal in a baked-on matte finish—there’s absolutely no obeisance to domesticity; the look is strictly industrial, form following function, which also determines materials. The biggest departure from Kuzma’s previous turntables of the last several years—all open-chassis designs, including several built on a unique base made from thick brass tubing in a T configuration—is its appearance. By his own admission, for this new model Kuzma drew upon the most classical of all turntable platforms, a rectangular chassis enclosing a subchassis, complete with hinged dust cover, because he missed having an attached dust cover (so do I—see sidebar). “Drew upon” is the operative phrase here, for the M is clearly a 21st century machine when it comes to engineering and thinking.
First, size. This thing is big, particularly with its very roomy dust cover. Second, it’s heavy—brutally heavy. I made the mistake of moving it myself from one surface to another and back again, for which rashness I paid dearly in the form of a seriously strained left shoulder muscle that was excruciatingly painful for a day. One-hundred-and-thirty-five pounds may not seem heavy, but a lot of it is concentrated in the platter, which in effect lopsides the weight to the left. Mass—that is, bulk—and rigidity are the buzzwords of the M: thick slabs of aluminum for the outer and inner chassis, with just enough elasticity between to allow for judicious damping without compromising rigidity. According to Kuzma’s description, “The top aluminum plate under the platter has an elastically under-hung main frame and motor system below which is insulated from the outer main turntable’s structure via four big elastic dampers, allowing for fine horizontal leveling of the platter and tonearm.” Additional leveling is provided by the three podlike feet that support the whole structure (the correct procedure here is to level the outer chassis using the pods, then trim in the level with knobs on the plinth). In an arrangement I’ve never seen before, while the feet look like pods, there are actually spikes inside the pods for increased stability, but the spikes don’t directly contact the surface the M is placed on.
The platter is a sandwich structure of two slabs of 40mm-thick aluminum separated by a layer of acrylic for additional damping, while the mat is a proprietary material that has some give, thus providing more damping. Kuzma supplies a washer to go over the spindle; the diameter of the mat itself is slightly under that of an LP so that when clamped, the entire surface of the record itself is flattened into intimate contact with the mat. It is the best mat/clamping arrangement I’ve used since the last SME I reviewed, which is to say as good as it gets this side of vacuum hold-down.
The trend in recent years is toward low-torque motors because they are claimed to transmit less vibration via the subchassis or the belt to the platter. Whatever its putative advantages—I can truthfully say I’ve never been aware of any sonic motor-to-platter vibration issue in any belt-drive turntable in my experience—low torque can be a real annoyance in day-to-day use. Some designs even require a push to get the platter up to speed at all or in a reasonable period of time. By contrast, the M’s DC motor is so powerful that, in combination with the unique, relatively stiff polymer blue belt (designed so as not to twist), it gets the massive platter up to stable speed in two seconds, almost unheard of in a belt-drive. The vibration issue is addressed through a combination of special motor housing and damping. An LED on the outboard power supply reads the speed (33 or 45), and offers speed adjustments, though once the speed was dialed in, it never drifted. For installations where the power supply is placed low or out of the sight, speed selection and on/off are duplicated on the front chassis of the turntable. A novel frisson is a small remote handset that allows the stylus to be cued on the stationary record and the motor to be started from the listening spot. Kuzma likes to get himself seated and relaxed before commencing play.
Though Kuzma has long been known for his radial tonearms, the 4Point ($6675, with Crystal Cable silver/gold phono cable) is his first pivotal design, and once again can boast some innovative thinking, paramountly in what appears to be a unique bearing configuration of four points, hence the moniker. Kuzma again: “Two points (which are similar to a unipivot bearing) allow and control vertical movements of the tonearm. The other set of two pointed bearings allows and controls horizontal (lateral) movements of the tonearm. All four points of the bearing have minimal friction and zero-play in all planes of movement.” The ’arm has an effective length of eleven inches; the tube is tapered and made from a solid rod of aluminum; at the pivot end stands a VTA tower, which permits adjustment during play, and a double-counterweight system that sets tracking force while ensuring the counterweights stay as close to the pivot as possible. Unusual for state-of-the-art arms these days is a detachable headshell; but the Kuzma’s is unlike any others, featuring a hexagonal locking system that is claimed to offer as rigid an energy path for draining away platter resonances as a non-detachable one joined by the typical glue and set-screw. There’s also a provision for precise azimuth adjustment and both vertical and horizontal damping troughs, which are easily defeatable (a paddle is easily lowered into or lifted out of the fluid by turning a set screw). Kuzma prefers no damping.
I cannot comment on the ease of setup because it was done by the importer, Scot Markwell of Elite Audio Video distribution (Scot was Harry Pearson’s set-up man for many years). I did watch and help him—the weight of the platter alone makes it a two-man job. There was nothing that struck me as unusually complicated or difficult, however, if you’re willing to follow directions and work slowly. But keep in mind my warning about lifting this thing: site the outer chassis where you plan to use the turntable, and then start on the inner chassis, the platter, etc. Also, you will need an exceptionally strong, solid, sturdy stand, cabinet, table, or platform that has 24 inches of depth because of the way the dust cover angles back when it is lifted to full height (i.e., it’s hinged across the bottom, not on the sides).