Elsewhere in this issue I discuss the best source component I’ve ever heard—the united Home Audio UHA-HQ Phase 11 tape deck. I’m about to discuss the second best.
As a lot of you already know, the Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond phonograph has been my reference for a decade. Over that span, Lloyd Walker and his colleague Fred law have steadily and consistently improved their record player with updates to the ’arm (which was changed several years ago from the original carbon-fiber tube to the current diamond- hard ceramic one—thus the name “Black Diamond”), the high- pressure/low-flow “captured” tonearm air-bearing (which now has eight jets in a quad-vent arrangement), the air supply to ’table and feet (now tunable via a separate metered filtration box), the construction of the air-bearing feet (now much more reliably effective in operation), the record clamp, the motor belt, the damping fluid, etc. What has remained the same is the basic design of the Walker, which still comprises a linear-tracking air-bearing tonearm, a massive air-bearing platter, and much-improved, as noted, air-bearing feet—all sitting on a butcher-block stand (called the Prologue Platform), which itself sits on a layer of sorbothane. Brass-encircled lead pucks are still distributed to damp resonances on key spots of the Prologue, the stand that cradles the outboard motor in an adjustable carriage (to set belt tension), and the ultra-precise outboard motor-controller.
Before I start the review, I want to make a point that I’ve made many times before, only this time I’m going to make it in a different way.
Most of you have never heard a properly set-up Walker turntable, and that is both the pity and the problem. Because you haven’t heard a Walker turntable, you are easily propagandized by reviewers and manufacturers (who haven’t heard it either) about, oh, the alleged “springiness” of air-bearings (which somehow, mysteriously, still find their way under CD/SACD lathes, electron microscopes, and other mechanisms that people wouldn’t otherwise slap on top of empty cardboard boxes), and the supposed advantages of (uni-) pivoted tonearms in comparison to linear-tracking ones. As a result, I can talk—and will again in a paragraph or two—until my face is blue about the inherent superiority of well-designed linear-tracking tonearms, which have zero (0.0000%) tracking error, over pivoted ones, which do have substantial tracking error. I can also point to the inherent superiority of spinning a massive platter on a film of air rather than on a conventional bearing grinding against a thrust- plate. But most readers take one look at the Walker’s list price (now $105k, although that figure is, I believe, highly negotiable— for which contact Walker Audio), read what other experts write about the superiority of uni-pivot ’arms and acrylic platters, and conclude that I’m just hyping something exotic and expensive that has been loaned to me for a long time in order to keep it an even longer time in my system.
I could, of course, point you for corroboration to the folks on my listening panel, who have heard the Walker in every iteration and at considerable length. To Andre Jennings, who has not only auditioned every turntable and tonearm and cartridge out there but has hands-on experience setting every one of them up (correctly). To our Music Editor Mark Lehman, who knows a hawk from a handsaw when it comes to the sound of music, live and recorded. But...unless and until you actually hear the thing for yourself—or grant the possibility that I don’t extol pricey stuff simply because it’s pricey or because it’s on loan, short-term or long—I’m whistling in the wind.
None of this is going to stop me from whistling again, BTW. But before I put my lips together and blow, let’s talk about what has changed. In addition to the aforementioned improvements to the air supplies and record clamp, the Proscenium Black Diamond V incorporates Lloyd’s latest discovery—a specially- treated, fine-grained crystalline material, employed at strategic locations on the turntable, motor, and motor controller, that is said to “reduce static build-up and cancel the effect of EMI, RFI, and microwaves, thereby dramatically reducing the noise floor and preventing distortion from ambient electrical noise being introduced into a system’s electronic components.” To put this without the sauce, Lloyd glues little black crystals to the tonearm headshell, the underside of the platter, the air bearing, the motor, and the motor controller.
Walker’s crystal treatment is one of those things that is far better heard than explained, especially since, in this case, I can’t explain it. Lord knows this isn’t the first time I’ve heard an inexplicable tweak affect a sound system; nor is it the first time that crystals or crystalline substances have showed up in my listening room (or my bladder). The trouble with sprinkling “fairy dust” on your stereo system, as I learned long ago, is that there is no sure way to correlate the powers of that particular kind of dust with the difference you’re hearing, since other kinds of dust will also change the sound just as significantly and in many of the same ways. All this is to say that everything makes a difference in a stereo system and a listening room. Move a stack of books or a pile of record that has been sitting on the floor by your speakers for ages, and (if you’re as attuned to the room and the system as I am) you’ll hear a difference.
However, what you won’t hear with most tweaks of the magical kind is an unmistakable improvement. Here you will. This doesn’t mean that I think Lloyd’s crystals are “canceling the effect of EMI, RFI, and microwaves” (especially since I can still hear RF at very loud levels). But they are affecting the noise floor and, consequently, dynamic range. They are also affecting timbre and texture, the resolution of which is more lifelike.
Here are the advantages of the Walker Black Diamond Mk V—not just over its previous iteration but over any turntable/tonearm I’ve heard in my system or elsewhere.