Acoustic Signature Invictus Jr. Turntable and TA-9000 Tonearm

Oy, Gestalt!

Equipment report
Acoustic Signature Invictus Jr. Turntable and TA-9000 Tonearm

About three years ago I reviewed what was then the best record player I’d heard—the $105k Acoustic Signature Invictus. As I wrote at the time, this 315-pound, FEA-engineered, CNC-milled, six-motor, dual-belt-driven, 2.6-foot-wide by 2.4-foot-deep, vaguely Mayan-looking objet du son from Gunther Frohnhoefer of Germany was not only the largest record player I’d ever come across; it was also the most versatile (accepting up to four tonearms), the easiest to set up (once you and an army of your pals had lifted it onto an extremely sturdy stand), and, most importantly, the quietest. Seemingly immune to external noise because of its enormous, constrained-layer-damped mass, you simply couldn’t make the Invictus feed back vibration, even by pounding on it with both fists while it was playing a record. It was also seemingly immune to what Robert Harley calls “self-noise”—the resonances of its constituent parts, both individually and as a system. 

The Invictus’ unparalleled resistance to feedback (and feed-forward) extended to its $22k TA-9000 tonearm, an engineering marvel built up millimeter by millimeter via a selective-laser-melting process that takes 23 hours of processing on a 12-million-euro SLM machine. The internal structure of the TA-9000—a network of tiny tree-like “branches” that connects its inner tube to its outer one—channels vibrational energy like a grounding wire channels RF, making the 9000 more sonically inert than anything else I’ve heard in a pivoted tonearm.

There were many other noise-cancelling strategies used in the Invictus—its six motors ran so smoothly that you could not tell, by touch, whether they were “on” or “off,” and its Timken aerospace-grade tonearm bearings were virtually jitter-free. The net result of all this quiet was a smoothness, power, and solidity that I’d only before heard via reel-to-reel tape machines. “The Invictus,” said I, was “detailed yet not aggressively so, quick on transients but never spitty or analytical, smooth but with no loss of pace or dynamic excitement, dense in timbre but not dark, neutral without being sterile, transparent without being colorless.” In short, the Invictus made records sound like mastertapes (or dubs of same).

The chief problem with the Invictus was never sonic; it was ergonomic. Almost everyone with the means to purchase it loved the way it sounded, but was stopped short by the amount of space required to house it. To help resolve this issue, roughly two years ago Frohnhoefer and his design team began planning for a new version of Invictus. In addition to downsizing the beast, the Acoustic Signature team had fresh design ideas about both ’table and ’arm. After all, the original was created five years ago, and a lot has changed technologically in the past five years. Using more sophisticated computer programs, CAD analysis, and CLD (constrained-layer-damping) technology, the AS team aimed to build a sonically improved turntable of much smaller size and lower (though still substantial) weight.

Of course, there had to be some trade-offs in making Invictus into Invictus Jr. For instance, while the smaller ’table still uses AS’s hand-adjusted, self-lubricating Tidofloron turntable bearing (with zero slack), it runs on four motors rather than Sr.’s six. And though scarcely insubstantial, Jr. has shed about a hundred and seventeen pounds (going from a Sumo-wrestler-like 315 to a cruiserweight 198, and from a picnic-blanket-size 6.24 square feet to a large dinner-napkin 2.9). 

The parts of Jr. are smaller, improved versions of much the same “building-blocks” found in Sr.—an elaborately milled, 31-pound, aluminum subchassis/plinth, optimized for stiffness and low vibration and equipped with “floating” magnetic feet; a milled-aluminum, 126-pound main chassis, with underhung motor, cone bearing housing, four pulleys, and four tonearm mounts (one at each corner), that sits atop the plinth and magnetic feet; a 42-pound, bronze-and-aluminum-sandwich, constrained-layer- damped platter embedded with 54 of Acoustic Signature’s proprietary brass “silencers” (more CLD devices), which slips over the motor’s Tidofloron-bearing housing after belts have been attached to the motor’s pulleys; and an improved version (with internal, 3D-printed tweaks) of the CAD-designed TA-9000 tonearm, machined via SLM from a single piece of aluminum and then fitted with those astronautical-grade horizontal and vertical Timken bearings. Power to the motor is suppled via redesigned outboard digital electronics, though all controls (on/off, rotational speed) are accessed via pushbuttons on the turntable’s main chassis.

 In theory, assembly of Jr.’s constituent parts is relatively simple—one building block is simply set atop the other. In practice, however, the individual parts are heavy enough to require considerable manpower to manipulate, especially when the height of a suitable stand is taken into consideration. (Acoustic Signature makes a pricey, dedicated stand of its own.) I should note that AS has added an ergonomic improvement to Jr.’s ’arm mount. Whereas you had to completely remove the tonearm from the mount to plug in/out the supplied silver-wire DIN tonearm cable on Sr., you do not have to do so with Jr., which has an opening built into the bottom of the mount that makes plugging the cable in and out a snap.