There’s much to be said for a product that precisely defines its purpose and then proceeds to fulfill it to near perfection. The British designer Jon Palmer set out to make a high-end turntable that would be essentially plug-and-play without serious compromise in performance at a price that, though far from inexpensive, is by no means unreasonable in the world of high-end audio. The result is the Palmer 2.5 turntable, the domestic price $7995. Allow me to anticipate my conclusions by saying that in my judgment, Palmer has not only realized his brief, but made a turntable that I have no hesitation calling sonically, aesthetically, and functionally one of the most satisfying I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. It’s a design I could happily close up shop with tomorrow and enjoy thereafter without a moment’s regret or thought for something else.
Imported by Fidelis Audio, which also imports Harbeth loudspeakers, the Palmer’s domestic distribution is limited, yet in the two years or so since its introduction here, it has attracted a loyal and enthusiastic following. This is the kind of product around which cults form, yet, fortunately, it is almost completely lacking in the peculiarities, oddities, and idiosyncrasies both functionally and sonically that cult objects typically display. I happen to know about the Palmer because for at least two years now some of the nicest sounds I’ve heard at the Newport Audio Shows came from a system with the 2.5 as the principal source.
This was Fidelis’ own room, shared with Gene Rubin Audio, a Southern California high-end dealer based in Ventura. In the thirty years I’ve known Gene, I’ve come across few more righteous vinyl enthusiasts than he or one who chooses what he sells more carefully. In fact, the review sample was a loaner from Gene himself, and came supplied with an Audio Origami PU7 tonearm (see sidebar). This pairing is sold as an unusually attractive synergy that nevertheless remains consistent with Palmer’s goal of high performance and ease of setup and operation. (Palmer also supplies correctly cut boards for virtually every available tonearm, which makes mounting an ’arm of choice easy—after that, how difficult any given arm is to fit and adjust a pickup into is of course something beyond Palmer’s control.) At $10,990, the package (excluding phono pickup) happens to land in a very competitive category, with strong models from the likes of Basis, SME, SOTA, Hanss, and some others. This new tag team proved themselves fully up to the competition.
There isn’t much that’s innovative in the 2.5 (or the Origami arm), just a number of tried-and-true principles implemented with great care and precision. This should hardly come as a surprise. Vinyl is a mature technology and I doubt there are many—if any— breakthroughs as such to be had. I am often struck by how endlessly ingenious designers are in coming up with new configurations, new materials, and new styling, but as the preacher would have it, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Palmer has paid close attention to how every aspect of the design interacts with other aspects (see sidebar interview).
The drive system is belt, speed change accomplished by moving the belt on the pulley; there is an outboard power supply with an on/off switch and a rotary knob for speed control. The on/off switch is on the rear of the power supply while the rotary pitch-control is on the front. This seems to me reversed: Once speed is set—a strobe disc is supplied, though the user must produce a strobe—there’s no need to do it again (it remained spot-on during the evaluation). Putting the knob on the rear would keep meddling fingers away, not to mention children: My six-year-old, who is fearless when it comes to the equipment, can’t resist pushing a button or turning a knob.
The very heavy platter requires an assist by hand to get up to speed, this because the motor is very low torque (the better to keep motor vibration from transmitting itself to the stylus/groove interface). For what it may be worth, I don’t particularly find this an annoyance—indeed, even rather enjoy the interaction—but it may bother some people. However, it doesn’t take very long for the highly polished rim of the platter to become smudged by fingerprints (there is the option of a black platter, though I don’t know if a matte finish is available on the silver). A record weight is supplied.
If plug-and-play is what you’re after, then a tuned suspension must be eschewed in favor of a fixed plinth/base. My regular readers will know I have strong feelings about that, suspension-filtering being the most effective way to isolate a turntable from structural feedback. But I’m hardly a zealot about it, and I’ve given high praise to products in the past that address the issue in other ways (e.g., models by Bergmann, Rega, SME, and Pro-Ject). I deposited the Palmer on the built-in shelf I use for all my equipment and I’m happy to report that I heard no hint of feedback.
Since the review sample was on loan from a dealer and the evaluation period limited, I installed an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze pickup for two reasons. First, I’ve been listening to it for a good while now and its sound is thus what is in my head at the moment. Second, and more important, although, as I reported in Issue 231, the Bronze is well within the bounds of tonal neutrality, it does have a subtly different spectral balance from a dead neutral pickup like the Windfeld: warmer, more romantic, and colorful. These are by no means gross characteristics and they certainly don’t falsify the reproduction, but Ortofon wanted to market a pickup that would be particularly suitable for classical music, traditional jazz, vocal and instrumental music of all kinds. If the Palmer could reproduce that tailored sound accurately, then by definition it is a platform of high neutrality.