The Spiral Groove also demonstrated excellent soundstaging on an album that Jerry Gladstein, the publisher of the late and lamented FI magazine, bequeathed to me a couple years ago when I visited him in New York. (It’s hard to know what’s more impressive—his choice LP collection or his wall of signed photos of great artists ranging from Ferruccio Busoni to Vladimir Horowitz.) The album is called The Delectable Elly Ameling, (incidentally, I’m not sure you could get away with a title like that in our current age) and features the Dutch soprano singing, among other works, Bach’s aria “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen,” one of the great showpieces not just for voice but also trumpet; here, played exemplarily by the late French virtuoso Maurice André. The Spiral Groove effortlessly distinguished between voice, orchestra, and trumpet—allowing you to hear André’s horn back in the far right corner. Also particularly enjoyable was the SG1.2’s rhythmic solidity. The 16th notes popping out of André’s piccolo trumpet never wavered even as Ameling’s voice soared into the ether. No smearing, no bloat, no nothing, just the unvarnished recording. In this regard, I should note that Dan D’Agostino’s new solid-state phonostage also made a distinguished contribution. You really had the sense of hearing not just the music but also the venue in which it was performed. To me this greatly enhances the sense that you aren’t simply listening to a sterile reproduction but, rather, hearing the real thing.
Low noise also manifested itself on an old mono LP from Riverside called Jawbreakers. Yes, I remain a fan of monos; you might even call me a monomaniac. I love the image solidity and the amazing sense of presence that monos often deliver. On the song “Four” by Miles Davis it was a treat to listen to Harry Edison and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. The Spiral Groove once again displayed rock-solid rhythm and captured Edison’s insistent glissando runs with great accuracy, ditto the jaunty piano playing of Hugh Lawson, which was somewhat reminiscent of what was once known as Earl Hines’ “trumpet” style. But I think what really got me was the clarity of Clarence Johnston’s drums—the swish of the cymbals was so refined and enticing.
What about the nether regions? Here is where the rubber meets the road, or, to put it more precisely, the stylus hits the groove. For my money, where a lot of very good turntables start to falter is in the bass region. I don’t think the SG1.2 has the muscularity, the depth-charge explosiveness of the very biggest turntables like the Caliburn. But I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. I was most favorably impressed by the lower-octave alacrity and decisiveness that the Spiral Groove offered. Take the famous Epic album from 1960, One Foot in the Gutter, featuring Clark Terry, Curtis Fuller, Horace Parlan, and several other jazz greats. Listening to my splendid reissue by Classic records, I was frankly blown away by the fidelity of the bass on the “One Foot in the Gutter” track leading off the album. Peck Morrison’s notes practically flew out of the Wilson Audio WAMM loudspeakers (reviewed in this issue) with transfixing snap; you could also hear the shading of the note, almost the angle at which his fingers were plucking the strings. Something similar occurred on an Art Farmer album I recently procured called To Duke with Love that appeared on the Inner City label in 1975. Tonality was spot-on—Farmer’s flugelhorn sounded questioning and breathy. And on “In a Sentimental Mood,” Sam Jones’ bass emerged right at the outset with real force and propulsion—there’s a groaning quality to some of the notes early on. This is enhanced by the Spiral Groove setup’s ability to deliver an achingly lingering sense of a note’s decay.
One byproduct of the vinyl renaissance is that there’s an awful lot of turntables to choose from that reside in the high-performance but not nosebleed section of the hobby, ranging from Continuum’s Obsidian to many models from AMG to Acoustic Signature. What I really like about the Spiral Groove is that in this case good things come in small packages. Unless you have a really big room, there can be something slightly oppressive about installing big hunks of equipment in your listening space.
If you want to up the musical ante, you can go to something like the Swedish Analog Technologies tonearm made by Marc Gomez, but the tariff is also commensurately higher. In my view, the Spiral Groove SG1.2 is a formidable ’table that truly delivers the musical goods. It is even a—dare I say it?—groovy performer.
Specs & Pricing
Motor: Low-voltage, high-torque AC-synchronous
Dimensions: 18.5" x 4.5" x 15"
Weight: Approx. 80 lbs.
Price: $30,000 without tonearm; $36,000 with Centroid tonearm
2606 Ninth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710