All around, then, a traditional-looking setup that is packed with an effective combination of tried-and-true and fresh thinking. Before I get to the sound, I must mention one oddity: For all the considerable mass of this setup, it was surprisingly microphonic in the sense that with the volume advanced—in fairness, considerably advanced—firm taps on the bass and plinth were readily audible through the speakers, though, again in fairness, they were sharp and extremely well damped (i.e., with no effective decay). Kuzma’s argument is that sharp impulses like this or equivalent disturbances are not really relevant to assessing a turntable’s effectiveness at damping or isolating the ’table from music when that music is played loud, even in the very low bass frequencies, and measures to protect against vibrations by introducing absorptive material or filtering springs compromise rigidity and introduce other problems. (I do not agree with this when it comes to well designed and competently implemented sprung or hanging suspensions.) It is certainly true that sharp impulses like tapping or rapping the chassis are not the sort of thing that is normal, and if your environment is full of them, you should probably be listening to music somewhere else. And it is also true that throughout the entire review period I heard nothing untoward in the reproduction that I could attribute to microphony. Moreover, once a record was clamped down to the platter mat, knuckle rapping the surface of the LP produced only the dullest sound, which is a far more relevant test of good damping.
As for the sound, well, this has been one of the more frustrating, even difficult reviews I’ve had to write in quite a while, though in a good way. In the several weeks I spent with the Kuzma, I did a lot of listening and with the greatest pleasure, but I took almost no notes. Every time I lowered the Car 40 pickup (see sidebar) into the groove, the presentation sounded so unobtrusively and unostentatiously pleasing that I soon abandoned notes and forgot completely about my reviewing chores. It was all about the music. Like all big turntables in my experience, this one does size superlatively. Two examples: The Liszt Rhapsody that opens side two of Stokowski’s Rhapsodies album, with its stunningly registered bottom-end slam, was spread across the front of the room in a wholly persuasive simulacrum of an orchestra. When the brass come in just before the recapitulation, they emerge from the rear of the stage as they should, yet sound out with tremendous clarity, richness, and impact. Dynamic range is sensational. Sometimes big turntables can also be a little too relaxed as it were, but the way the Kuzma handled the companion Ionesco—Stokowski at his most ferociously energetic—certainly puts paid to that notion. That elusive sense of timing—what the Brits like to call “pace”—is present in spades, yet there is nothing of an excessively etched character or the kind of articulation that calls draw attention to itself.
The setup is equally adept at solo instruments or smaller ensembles. An old recording I hadn’t listened to in some time is Paul Badura-Skoda’s set of the last five Beethoven piano sonatas played on a period pianoforte. Here it was if the instrument materialized in the room, centered between the two loudspeakers, set back a bit, and uncannily real sounding.
The Kuzma combination also renders space extremely well. Kings’s College Choir’s A Procession with Carols for Advent Sunday (Argo) begins very softly with the organ introit as the choir is heard in the distance. This next is crucial: The choir should originate deep within the left side of the spectrum, but their sound shouldn’t be confined there. As they move forward you should hear their sound project across the soundfield and into the right channel, an effect that should be continuous. It’s not until they move into the stalls (“A Spotless Rose”) that you hear them balanced between the two channels. The Kuzma rendered all this about as persuasively as I’ve ever heard it, and the impression of being transported to a real space in which a live music event is taking place was quite extraordinary. Here was stereo in its root sense of solid, not, as is so often the case, especially with early stereo, a left, center, and right that appear more or less as a stitched-together panorama. The choir’s movements were so seamlessly tracked that it seems to me obvious there’s not much getting through to perturb the presentation. There are transparency and detail enough that you can occasionally pick out an enthusiastic member of the congregation in the hymns, and always the congregation sounds like a collection of individual voices, not an undifferentiated mass.
Coloration is very low and the impression of musical authority and naturalism is very high, whether it is familiar voices— Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Schwarzkopf—or instrumentalists—Sonny Rollins, Regis Pasquier, Miles Davis. With a truly realistic recording such as the Yale Quartet playing Beethoven’s Op. 132, it is as if the record-playing chain simply disappears and the four players are in the room.
Criticisms? There is perhaps evidence of a certain frisson, let’s call it, of liveliness that I don’t recall from, say, the über-neutral SMEs, and the Basis models I’m familiar with have more of a sense of scalpel-like precision, and both may have a bit more ultimate background blackness, but in terms of overall performance the Kuzma is certainly and easily in their class. It also boasts something else that’s a little more difficult to define: there’s an LP-to LP, day-by-day ergonomic rightness about this that allowed me to forget about the physical task of playing records. Another way of putting this is to say that it makes the physical task of playing records so unobtrusive as to be second nature, every button and knob in the right place, everything working exactly as it’s supposed to, so that when the stylus is cued down all your attention goes straight to the music. Regular readers of mine will know that when it comes to vinyl, I like set-’em-up-and-forget-’em designs. This describes the Kuzma Stabi M/4Point/CAR 40 to a T: a magnificent contemporary updating of traditional vinyl engineering and design that will bring you years of musical enjoyment, an instrument so soundly and solidly built and—dare I say?—so timelessly designed that I expect your grandchildren will still be enjoying it and happy you bequeathed it to them. That is, if you’ve done your proper duty as a curmudgeon and gotten them good and hooked on the pleasures of vinyl, whatever new-fangled technology they may be listening to by then.
SPECS & PRICING
Kuzma Stabi M turntable
Speed: 33, 45
Dimensions: 25.5" x 11" x 19.5"
Weight: 135 lbs. (with ’arm)
Kuzma 4Point tonearm
Type: Pivoted, 4-point, horizontal and vertical
Effective length: 11"
Effective mass: 14 grams
CAR moving-coil phono pickup
Frequency response: 10Hz- 40kHz
Tracking force: 2 grams
Internal impedance: 6 ohms
Weight: 7 grams
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