For the past ten years I’ve been using Lloyd Walker’s record player—with air-bearing linear-tracking tonearm, massive air-bearing platter, and air-suspension feet—as my reference. Other excellent ’tables have come and gone; only the Walker has stayed. The reason for this is simple: The Walker is the best linear-tracking record player I’ve heard.
Comes now a brand-new Walker—the Black Diamond Mk II, with improvements in just about every regard, including tonearm wiring, the jetting of the arm-bearing housing, the functioning of pumps and hoses. The price has gone up to $57k (which includes a visit from Lloyd Walker and his partner Fred Law to set the Walker up), but the sonic results are worth the added expense, IMO. You’re not going to find a superior analog playback device—or, at least, I haven’t heard one (and I’ve heard just about all of them in my system, in other people’s systems, and at trade shows).
Although it doesn’t look dramatically different than the Black Diamond, the Mark II sounds better and tracks better, thanks, I think, to octuple venting of the arm-bearing housing, which smooths out air flow and eliminates “dead spots” in the bearing’s travel. The arm itself remains a sonic gem, fashioned from some secret ceramic/metallic material that is so stiff (20 times stiffer than carbon fiber) and hard that it takes diamond-tipped drills to saw out the tiny holes through which the tonearm wires are routed from inside the arm to the RCA plugs at the back of the ’table. The wire itself is now doubled up and braided in a way that has knocked RFI down to levels I couldn’t approach with older Walkers.
Although I’ve only had the Black Diamond Mk II for a few days, its sonic superiority to previous iterations of this classic record player is apparent—and was apparent from the first listen. Noise is lower, tracking better, resolution higher. Indeed, the thing functions so smoothly, easily, and quietly now that I no longer feel the need to damp the cartridge (although viscous damping can still be applied) to tame the rising upper midrange and treble of most moving coils. With Da Vinci’s superb Grandezza moving coil—a wonderful match with the Walker Black Diamond tonearm—the sound is utterly transparent. You will not miss a thing at this first critical step in the chain of high fidelity, and since you don’t miss a thing here, if the rest of your system is up to it, you don’t miss a thing in the listening, either.
Despite its plethora of detail and astonishing dynamic sock, the Black Diamond Mk II is not a cool or analytical sounding record player—Walkers have never been that. With anything but the worst recordings (and even then with some of these), it is always sweet and listenable and just plain realistic (or as realistic as the record allows). And it is every bit as good with mono discs as it is with stereo LPs.
I will have more to say about the Walker Black Diamond Mk II in the near future.