Brinkmann Audio Taurus
$15,990 ($20,990 package includes 10.5 tonearm; $21,990 package includes 12.1 tonearm)
Reviewer AM has had some experience with other big, fancy, expensive turntables. Can he definitively tell you that any of them is better than the Taurus? No, he cannot. Can he say that the Taurus is the best turntable you can buy at any price? Come on. You know the answer to that. Of course, he can’t. But the direct-drive Brinkmann manages to combine love and appreciation in a way that few can, and it’s a clear step above the finest $10k–$20k ’tables he’s heard, fully justifying its status as a reference. It’s one of the few products he’s reviewed about which he has no reservations.
AMG Viella 12
$16,000 without wood skirt ($17,500 with cherry skirt; $18,000 with black lacquer skirt; includes AMG12J2 tonearm, a $4500 value)
The beautifully machined Analog Manufaktur Germany Viella 12 is that relative rarity—a truly first-rate and original audio component that, while by no means cheap, is still within the financial reach of folks who aren’t made of money. The V12 may not (in fact, it does not) give you everything that a $100k+ Walker or Acoustic Signature Invictus gives you, but what it does supply on select recordings—the extended sense that you are in the actual presence of real performers in a real space—is more than enough to justify the rave review JV gave it. A great turntable.
Technics, long the dominant manufacturer of direct-drive turntables, has now returned to its original area of renown with the SL-1000R. And it’s a beauty. Simple in design but sophisticated in execution, the SL-1000R provides the virtues of direct-drive without its former drawbacks. There is no discernible noise transmitted from the motor to the platter. Instead, the SL-1000R has remarkable fidelity on transients, stopping and starting musical passages on a dime. This precision allows vocals, not to mention acoustic instruments, to come through with excellent tonal accuracy. This simple and elegant turntable makes a strong case for the virtues of direct drive.
Pear Audio Blue Odar
$19,000 (with Cornet 3 12″ tonearm)
The Odar is the latest and most fully evolved version of the turntable ideas involved in previous Pear Blue designs, involving a heavy platter belt-driven by a very low-torque motor (you need to start the platter by hand), and very careful control of resonant energy. The sound is what REG regards as ideal—very silent in background with unconstrained perceived dynamics, very solid, detailed but without any hint of exaggeration by resonances in the upper frequencies or motor-induced platter vibrations. Forget any misguided idea sometimes expressed that this type of sound is too subdued. What it actually is is correct—and superbly musical in the best sense. A turntable at the outer limits of the possible, without a stratospheric price. (Electronic external power supply with choice of 33 or 45 rpm, but no fine speed adjustment).
J.Sikora Standard Max
A turntable that is as visually appealing as it is sonically. Few, if any, ’tables in this price range can boast this level of precision machining, which extends to everything from the platter to the weighty damping puck. The result is superlative sound. With the proprietary Sikora tonearm, the ’table delivers effortless and snappy vinyl playback. It also produces a soundstage and bass that are particularly winning on orchestral pieces. Its wealth of impressive attributes mean that the Standard Max cannot be deemed anything other than a top contender.
VPI Avenger Reference
$20,000 (includes JMW or Gimbal Fatboy 12-3D tonearm)
VPI makes some great and highly affordable turntables like the Prime Scout, which costs $2200 complete with a good VPI tonearm. The Avenger clearly outperforms the Scout, but you pay a lot to get these improvements. Since its whole purpose is to do as little to the sound as possible, the ’table is a bit hard to assess. It is one thing to talk about subtle colorations; it is another to talk about a subtle lack of them. A high-end sandbox that lets the user experiment with any configuration he likes—ranging from multiple ‘arms of any length, to different types of motors and feet—the Avenger Reference is a truly versatile and great-sounding choice for those who can also afford (or already own) a top cartridge and phonostage.
Basis Audio 2200 Signature with Vector 4 Tonearm
$20,260 (with Calibrator Base, Isolation system, reflex clamp)
Designed by A.J. Conti, the 2200/Vector 4 setup redefines for PS what is possible in vinyl playback. In every area and aspect of performance, this Basis combination outperforms all other turntable/’arm setups (this includes several costing multiples its price). Design, engineering, and precision in machining approach a standard of perfection surpassed by none and equaled by virtually none. WG, in his follow-up report after purchasing a 2200/Vector 4, wrote “I must report that never in my almost four decades as an audiophile have I lived with a record player like this one—so across-the-board uncolored, transparent, coherent, and seemingly responsive to whatever frequency and dynamic range, ambient, tonal, space, air, and other microscopic information may be pressed into vinyl grooves.”
Kuzma Stabi M
Built like a battleship—black on black in black, all metal in a baked-on matte finish—the Kuzma’s Stabi M turntable looks strictly industrial. Brutally heavy, thick slabs of aluminum form the outer and inner chassis, with just enough elasticity between to allow for judicious damping without compromising rigidity. The sound is superbly neutral, with very quiet backgrounds, and like all large heavy turntables in PS’ experience it soundstages with exceptional stability and solidity. There’s also a difficult-to-define sense of liveliness about the sonics that is addictive. All in all, a superior platform for your vinyl treasures.
TW Acustic Raven AC-3
The three-motor Raven AC-3 is an unsuspended ’table of relatively low mass made from very high-quality materials, including spectacular bits of copper. Every part of this black beauty has been machined to the highest possible tolerances; every aspect of its design tested and retested by measurement and by ear. The result of all this labor and ingenuity is a ’table that reproduces the duration of notes—from starting transient through lingering decay—more completely than any other.
This ingenious turntable with counter-rotating platters is Kronos Audio’s way of offering the lion’s share of the sonic advantage that its more-expensive PRO brings to the party at a more cost-effective price. Reviewer GW was supremely impressed, saying that the implementation of the dual-platter, contra-rotational concept is the single most significant development in turntable design in decades. With the Sparta, records he’d been listening to for decades were given new dimension, increased focus, enhanced clarity, and more credible tonality. He bought the review sample.
SME Model 20/3A
$24,700 (includes Series V tonearm)
This improvement upon the middle model in SME’s lineup now brings it so close to the flagship 30/3 that it’s doubtful their performances can be reliably distinguished on even the highest‑resolution setups. Stability, control, and neutrality triangulate the virtues of this and every other SME setup, with an extraordinary impression of foundation plus a deep, deep background blackness that very few competitors can approach, let alone surpass. Built like all SMEs to the highest standards, this setup will last a lifetime.
JR Transrotor Orion
A beautiful piece of audio art designed around a Free Magnetic Drive system that is as quiet as they come, the Orion Reference FMD does an admirable job of isolating the platter from any anomalies generated by the drive system. The sonic result provides a very low noise platform that allows music to erupt from the darkest of backgrounds.
Basis Audio 2800 Signature
$25,245 (includes vacuum system)
Built to an amazing degree of mechanical precision, the Basis 2800 Signature is nothing short of revelatory in its ability to seemingly disappear from the playback chain. This ’table imposes no discernable colorations on the music, allowing a deeper and more immediate connection with your LPs.
VPI Classic Direct Drive
$30,000 (with VPI 12″ 3D tonearm)
Reviewer AHC called this direct-drive turntable with 3D-printed epoxy tonearm from old hand Harry Weisfeld a “real analog breakthrough.” On disc after disc, the sound and the resulting illusion of realism were extraordinary. “It has been a long time,” AHC concluded, “since I found a turntable that made so much difference in improving sound quality. The VPI Classic Direct is a platform for the best analog sound I know of.”
TechDAS Air Force Three Premium
As the “Three” suggests, this ’table is the third progeny of TechDAS, with the mighty Air Force One, reviewed by Paul Seydor in Issue 254, at the head of the line, both in sonics and price. The belt-drive Air Force Three Premium is a different customer. It offers a tremendous amount in a small package, ranging from vacuum hold-down to an air-bearing platter. It was evident from the very first needle drop that the Air Force Three Premium possesses a remarkably continuous sound. This makes for an extremely non-fatiguing presentation, one that will have you pulling out album after album, not in a search for the last detail contained in the grooves but for the lovely—reviewer JHb called it “holistic”—sound.
SME Model 30/2A
$44,900 (includes Series V tonearm)
Mounted with the SME Series V ’arm, the 30/2A impressed PS with its tonal neutrality, pitch accuracy, resolution, transparency, rhythmic grip, ambience, low coloration, and soundstaging. He concluded that its specialness “lies in three related areas of sonic performance: background silence, dynamics, and that elusive impression of liveliness that persuades you the music has come alive in your living room.”
TW Acustic Black Knight with TW Raven 10.5 Tonearm
$48,000 ($42,500 turntable only)
Thomas Woschnick’s massive, beautifully designed and finished, statement turntable with outboard motor and separate power supply delivers all the ravishing timbral beauty of TW’s less-expensive AC-3, while adding a transient liveliness, rhythmic pace, and resolution of low-level detail that make for a more complete and realistic sonic presentation. Equipped with Woschnick’s own 10.5 ’arm ($5500), the Black Knight competes at or near the same exalted level as the Acoustic Signature Invictus and the still superb Walker Black Diamond Mk V.
Acoustic Signature Ascona MKII NEO
This high-tech, high-mass turntable from German engineer Gunther Frohnhoefer took 15 years to bring to fruition. Built like a Magico loudspeaker of damped, satin-finished, CNC-milled aircraft aluminum (with brass “silencers” seamlessly fitted into holes drilled and line-bored into its massive platter), the near-200-pound Ascona effortlessly reproduces the lowest-level timbres, textures, and spatial cues, as well as the most thunderous dynamics, uniting the toe-tapping “pace” of a lighter ’table with the authority of a heavyweight.
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