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AMG Giro Turntable, 9W2 ‘Arm, and Teatro Moving-Coil Cartridge

In October 2012 my old pal and colleague Jonathan Valin waxed enthusiastically in these pages about AMG’s Viella 12 turntable and companion 12J2 tonearm, the first product releases from Bavaria’s Analog Manufaktur Germany.

Jon titled his review “A Statement Product For The Rest of Us,” and explained in his usual meticulous fashion how this relatively affordable record-playing combo (roughly $16k, give or take various cosmetic options), at the time the least expensive playback components in his annoyingly green-with-envy-inducing reference system—there, I finally got that off my chest!—was consistently able to make the finest recordings, as he simply put it, sound “real.”

Having worked with Mr. V for some 20-plus years now, when he makes that sort of statement I, for one, pay attention.

And so, when our Editor-in-Chief Robert Harley floated the idea of me reviewing AMG’s less pricey follow-up ’table, the Giro, with its own 9W2 ’arm ($10,000 for the package), who was I to refuse?

For those who may need a brief refresher on the company’s history, AMG was founded by a mechanical and aeronautical engineer, machinist, Lufthansa pilot, and audio buff named Werner Roeschlau, who one day decided to open his own state-of-the-art machining plant north of Munich. Before releasing designs under its own banner, AMG manufactured precision parts for other audio manufacturers, using the firm’s extensive array of CAD and CNC machines, along with “classic analog” tools such as lathes and drill presses.

AMG’s original factory was pretty small, especially given the scope of the firm’s ambition. So last year it opened a new and much larger facility, designed and built from the ground up, that allows for expanded growth and production capabilities as well as the ability to increase R&D. (A most impressive slideshow of the new space can be viewed on AMG’s website.) And in what is certainly another important step in AMG’s evolution, after many years spent working closely with his father, Julian Lorenzi was recently elevated to the role of AMG’s Managing Director. And it is Lorenzi who realized Roeschlau’s original vision of the Giro that I’m writing about today.

An elegantly simple and unusually interesting looking rig, the Giro consists of a circular plinth that, like the platter, has been CNC-machined from aircraft-grade aluminum. Similarities to the Viella include a slightly scaled down version of that model’s platter bearing—“a hydrodynamically lubricated radial 16mm axle with PFTE thrust pad and integral flywheel”—and the same high-mass stainless-steel pulley of the V12, coupled to a precision Swiss-made DC motor. The belt-driven one-piece POM platter features the decoupled spindle design of the Viella turntable and the same threaded reflex clamp.

The electronically controlled speed selection choices reside at the right side of the plinth, a pair of touch-sensitive lighted pads that glow red or green depending on the speed one has selected. Again, this is an elegantly simple solution that I mostly appreciated. I say “mostly” because, just like the iPhone’s sometimes pesky HOME button, the Giro’s controls do not always respond to one’s first fingertip touch, and I found myself sometimes needing to hold my digit in place for a few seconds before the speed changed, or when stopping the motor between side changes.

 

In and of itself this may not be a big deal, but this and one other operational quirk (which I’ll get to shortly) made my wife—who has plenty of experience using the gear in our house—shy away from playing records on the Giro.

Based on AMG’s 12J2 (as in 12″) arm found in the Viella, the Giro’s 9W2 is a 9″ unit (scaled to the Giro’s smaller footprint) that employs the same dual-pivot bearing design of the 12J2. AMG describes this unusual bearing as being akin to helicopter rotors, which use large spring-steel wires to keep their rotors precisely aligned. When scaled way down to Barbie doll size for use in a tonearm, the pair of steel wires used here allows for fine azimuth adjustment “while eliminating bearing play. The horizontal axle is a hardened tool-steel needle roller bearing.” As with the ’table itself, the sleek black ’arm tube is machined from aircraft-grade aluminum that’s been anodized to reduce resonance, and the 9W2 is internally wired with the same multi-stranded high-purity copper found in the 12J2. Magnetic anti-skating, and the ability to adjust VTA during play, round out the design—the latter is made easier via a built-in bubble level, a touch I’d happily see employed in more tonearm designs.

Finally, before we get to the way the thing actually sounds, the $2750 Teatro moving-coil cartridge ($2200 if bought with the turntable/’arm) “represents the cumulative work of the AMG design team and an international group of manufacturers.” A two-piece titanium body is said to provide outstanding rigidity with scant weight, and the shape was conceived to “minimize resonance and reflected energy.” The Teatro’s coils are wound with Ohno cast mono-crystal high-purity oxygen-free copper wire; neodymium magnets are employed, and the solid boron cantilever is fitted with a line-contact stylus.

Here is another example where the notion of spouse-friendliness is unlikely to apply to the Giro, at least as configured for this review. The reason being that I found the Teatro to be unusually sensitive to dust accumulation on the stylus’ tip. Now, it is possible that my environment was a cause here, though I’ve never experienced this before, but on a few occasions if even the tiniest dust bunny formed around the stylus the cartridge would rather alarmingly scoot across the grooves to the run-out vinyl. Yikes! The first time this occurred I double-checked all ’arm settings to be sure they were correct (they were, and the ’table was set up by a Musical Surroundings employee), and thereafter became even more hyper-diligent about stylus hygiene. But unfortunately, this incident made my wife even less inclined to play LPs on the Giro.

I mentioned above Jonathan Valin’s impression that the Viella sounds “real.” And of course, by that I take him—and his sonic descriptions—as meaning that that design sounds less artificial, less hi-fi-ish, and more like the absolute sound, than do most other ’tables.

It’s also the case, I would suggest, that what sounds “real” is not a fixed notion—like those ridiculous 100-point wine score cards—but something more variable, on a sliding scale. And I would hope that most of the gear selected as worthy of being written about in these pages offers some glimmer of what authentic live music sounds like, even if it’s but a fleeting illusion. The trick is how frequently and for how long can a component pull off this illusionist’s feat?

One thing that helps tremendously with this magic trick, and I would say the one area in which today’s finest components continue to excel, is a low noise floor. And the Giro does indeed have a very low noise floor, attributable to the stability and precision of the design.

Not only does the lack of groove noise allow the Giro to reveal with remarkable ease the nuanced tones, textures, and subtle dynamic shading of the guitar strums, violin trills and pizzicato plucks, and various percussive blips and bops that emerge at the start of Gerhard’s Libra, Gemini, Leo [Decca], but it does so with a notable sense of precision placement in which the instruments emerge from the stage with a natural sense of layered depth, air, and bloom that brings them a thrilling sense of life.

 

Switching to solo piano, one of the trickiest instruments to convincingly reproduce, I marveled at the gorgeous richness of percussive tone colors, combined with a creamy, lilting musical flow on the poet Moravec’s mono Connoisseur Society recording of Debussy’s Children’s Corner. Here, the Giro rig really conveys the weight, size, and body of his concert grand, as well, tellingly, as the ambience surrounding individual notes and chords and the way the sound lingers, ghost-like, in the air. Sometimes the music feels so present that we feel transported to a recording a session, and this was the case here.

Not long before my deadline for this review, my wife Sher and I were unexpectedly rocketed into another world by a performance given by our boys in the local band known as the San Francisco Symphony. Their Music Director of some 20-plus years now, Michael Tilson Thomas, is rather famously associated with the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, whose Symphony No. 1 as well as the Adagio movement from his unfinished Tenth Symphony, were to be performed that evening.

As it goes we’ve heard MTT and the gang play Mahler—and especially the First—many times before, yet on this night something truly special was in the air.

From the awakening forest murmurs and rather insistent “bird calls” that introduce the piece, to the brief, dance-like second movement, then the dark-toned “Frère Jacques”-themed funeral march that unexpectedly morphs into a kind of woozy, Chagall-painted klezmer waltz, until the mind-bendingly explosive finale, the orchestra played like gods—so in sync with each other and with MTT that the wildest ebbs and flows, lightning-strike dynamic and rhythmic contrasts, and perfect combination of poetry and precision made for a riveting experience from start to finish.

Man, that’s one unusually special gift to receive from a live performance, let alone from a stereo system. Yet what choice did I have than to subsequently play the same group’s recording of the Mahler No. 1 from the SFO’s own Mahler Project [SFS Media] on vinyl?

Now, their recorded performance is very fine, one of the best of the set—if not as riveting as the one we’d just attended—and the engineering is also quite fine, nicely conveying the sound of the orchestra in its home, Davies Hall. Yet if we double-back to Valin’s notion of “real,” I gotta say that the Giro setup did not disappoint. That is not, of course, to say that it was a replica of the real experience, but as the reproduction of a large symphony orchestra goes, it was nevertheless pretty damn impressive.

Again, the ability to reach down into the grooves and allow the music to emerge from a noise-free place played a critical role. I noted again a pretty convincing sense of space as the strings, winds, and brass “awaken.” (Another benefit of this clarity and lack of noise is that it allows us to play back orchestral music at concert-like levels without having to turn up our systems to volumes that are louder than natural.) Indeed, the way the first movement unfolded, and kept building, was a remarkably accurate rendition of at least the dynamic scale—if not the volume (as in sheer size and air movement)—of what we’d recently experienced at Davies Hall. Impressive.

Switching to a martini and cigarettes mood, MoFi’s mastering of Sinatra at the Sands jumped out of the gate as soon as the Count Basie band let rip with “Come Fly with Me.” The intensity and sheer fun of the music making was tangible, and Sinatra’s cocky, don’t-you-wish-you-were-me attitude pulsed with the appropriate sense of swagger and life.

When compared with my reference Rega RP10 the Giro is richer and warmer sounding, has a slightly quieter noise floor, a bit more weight and power at the bottom end, as well as a bit more dynamic oomph. The Rega is a bit more nimble, every bit as airy and detailed. Both ’tables are deeply satisfying musically and emotionally, and I’d suggest that one’s preference would be based more on a matter of personal taste than qualitative superiority. 

Of course, at just over $12k for the entire Giro/9W2/Teatro package one should expect this level of design excellence and musicality. And like fine wine, high-end audio has never been an inexpensive indulgence. Yet it’s also true that prices for the very best of both worlds have never been higher.

At the end of the day, my quibbles with a few user details aside, whether I was playing Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies [Classic/Reprise], Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball [Nonesuch], Milstein’s solo Bach, you name it, really, the Giro setup provided deep levels of musical pleasure, and yes, enough illusionary “realness” to, every now and again, make me forget about the gear and immerse myself in the beauty of the music.

Specs & Pricing

Giro Turntable
Type: Belt drive, unsuspended turntable with integral ’arm
Tonearm: AMG 9W2, 9-inch
Dimensions: 12.5″ x 17″ x 6″
Weight: 24.5 lbs.
Price: $9990

Teatro Phono Cartridge
Output voltage: 0.4mV (1kHz @ 5cm/sec.)
Stylus shape: Line contact
Internal impedance: 12 ohms
Loading range: 120Ω–47kΩ, (120–500Ω optimal range)
Weight: 10.95 grams
Compliance: Static: 35 x 10-6 cm/dyne; dynamic: 18 x 10-6 cm/dyne
Tracking force: 1.8–2.2 grams (2.0 optimal)
Price: $2200 (when bought with the Giro/9W2)

MUSICAL SURROUNDINGS (U.S. Distributor)
5662 Shattuck Avenue
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 547-5006
musicalsurroundings.com

AMG (Analog Manufaktur Germany) 
Gewerbepark A 7
92364 Deining, Germany 
amg-turntables.com

By Wayne Garcia

Although I’ve been a wine merchant for the past decade, my career in audio was triggered at age 12 when I heard the Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! blasting from my future brother-in-law’s giant home-built horn speakers. The sound certainly wasn’t sophisticated, but, man, it sure was exciting.

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