There’s much to be said for a product that precisely defines its purpose and then proceeds to fulfill it to near perfection. The British designer Jon Palmer set out to make a high-end turntable that would be essentially plug-and-play without serious compromise in performance at a price that, though far from inexpensive, is by no means unreasonable in the world of high-end audio. The result is the Palmer 2.5 turntable, the domestic price $7995. Allow me to anticipate my conclusions by saying that in my judgment, Palmer has not only realized his brief, but made a turntable that I have no hesitation calling sonically, aesthetically, and functionally one of the most satisfying I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. It’s a design I could happily close up shop with tomorrow and enjoy thereafter without a moment’s regret or thought for something else.
Imported by Fidelis Audio, which also imports Harbeth loudspeakers, the Palmer’s domestic distribution is limited, yet in the two years or so since its introduction here, it has attracted a loyal and enthusiastic following. This is the kind of product around which cults form, yet, fortunately, it is almost completely lacking in the peculiarities, oddities, and idiosyncrasies both functionally and sonically that cult objects typically display. I happen to know about the Palmer because for at least two years now some of the nicest sounds I’ve heard at the Newport Audio Shows came from a system with the 2.5 as the principal source.
This was Fidelis’ own room, shared with Gene Rubin Audio, a Southern California high-end dealer based in Ventura. In the thirty years I’ve known Gene, I’ve come across few more righteous vinyl enthusiasts than he or one who chooses what he sells more carefully. In fact, the review sample was a loaner from Gene himself, and came supplied with an Audio Origami PU7 tonearm (see sidebar). This pairing is sold as an unusually attractive synergy that nevertheless remains consistent with Palmer’s goal of high performance and ease of setup and operation. (Palmer also supplies correctly cut boards for virtually every available tonearm, which makes mounting an ’arm of choice easy—after that, how difficult any given arm is to fit and adjust a pickup into is of course something beyond Palmer’s control.) At $10,990, the package (excluding phono pickup) happens to land in a very competitive category, with strong models from the likes of Basis, SME, SOTA, Hanss, and some others. This new tag team proved themselves fully up to the competition.
There isn’t much that’s innovative in the 2.5 (or the Origami arm), just a number of tried-and-true principles implemented with great care and precision. This should hardly come as a surprise. Vinyl is a mature technology and I doubt there are many—if any— breakthroughs as such to be had. I am often struck by how endlessly ingenious designers are in coming up with new configurations, new materials, and new styling, but as the preacher would have it, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Palmer has paid close attention to how every aspect of the design interacts with other aspects (see sidebar interview).
The drive system is belt, speed change accomplished by moving the belt on the pulley; there is an outboard power supply with an on/off switch and a rotary knob for speed control. The on/off switch is on the rear of the power supply while the rotary pitch-control is on the front. This seems to me reversed: Once speed is set—a strobe disc is supplied, though the user must produce a strobe—there’s no need to do it again (it remained spot-on during the evaluation). Putting the knob on the rear would keep meddling fingers away, not to mention children: My six-year-old, who is fearless when it comes to the equipment, can’t resist pushing a button or turning a knob.
The very heavy platter requires an assist by hand to get up to speed, this because the motor is very low torque (the better to keep motor vibration from transmitting itself to the stylus/groove interface). For what it may be worth, I don’t particularly find this an annoyance—indeed, even rather enjoy the interaction—but it may bother some people. However, it doesn’t take very long for the highly polished rim of the platter to become smudged by fingerprints (there is the option of a black platter, though I don’t know if a matte finish is available on the silver). A record weight is supplied.
If plug-and-play is what you’re after, then a tuned suspension must be eschewed in favor of a fixed plinth/base. My regular readers will know I have strong feelings about that, suspension-filtering being the most effective way to isolate a turntable from structural feedback. But I’m hardly a zealot about it, and I’ve given high praise to products in the past that address the issue in other ways (e.g., models by Bergmann, Rega, SME, and Pro-Ject). I deposited the Palmer on the built-in shelf I use for all my equipment and I’m happy to report that I heard no hint of feedback.
Since the review sample was on loan from a dealer and the evaluation period limited, I installed an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze pickup for two reasons. First, I’ve been listening to it for a good while now and its sound is thus what is in my head at the moment. Second, and more important, although, as I reported in Issue 231, the Bronze is well within the bounds of tonal neutrality, it does have a subtly different spectral balance from a dead neutral pickup like the Windfeld: warmer, more romantic, and colorful. These are by no means gross characteristics and they certainly don’t falsify the reproduction, but Ortofon wanted to market a pickup that would be particularly suitable for classical music, traditional jazz, vocal and instrumental music of all kinds. If the Palmer could reproduce that tailored sound accurately, then by definition it is a platform of high neutrality.
It did. But I’d go one step further and say that there was an additional synergy: The Cadenza Bronze in the Origami on the Palmer 2.5 made for one of the most irresistibly addictive vinyl setups in my experience. I never tired of listening to it, always wanted more, and was continually rewarded with involving, natural reproduction. Source permitting, of course—but unless a recording is simply atrocious, rarely was the reproduction ever stressful, so much in control, so unperturbed was this combination in negotiating anything sent its way. Tracking was outstanding, surface noise and all the other detritus of vinyl well suppressed, and the background blackness fully competitive even with some SME models I’ve tested. Whatever Palmer was up to here, in the 2.5 he translated it into listening experiences of beauty, precision, clarity, and power.
My longstanding Carmen (Bernstein/DG) was as big, bold, and blazingly colorful as it should be, the brashness of the recording ever so slightly, and welcomely, ameliorated, which is exactly one of the house specialties of the Bronze. When it comes to sound-staging, this recording replicates the experience of a really good opera house that few can match, and the Palmer & Co. represented it that way. On Stokowski’s Rhapsody album, the Hungarian had gloriously dimensional, thrusting, and detailed bass, superbly controlled with extraordinary resolution. The companion Rumanian Rhapsody was rhythmically dazzling, and, like the Hungarian, essayed with spectacular dynamic crunch and slam.
In conjunction with a review of Colin Davis: The Philips Years, I pulled out his magnificent Messiah from the late sixties. More than ever this is one of the great recordings and great interpretations: big-boned, generous of tone and utterance, and almost voluptuous in its color and texture—unlike Bach, Handel was a hedonist, and even when reduced forces are used, he should sound that way. He is also among the most dramatic of composers, as the “Surely” chorus here demonstrates, Davis’s tempo ideally balancing urgency with just enough drag to give the idea of bearing our grief’s expressive weight. The Palmer/Origami/Bronze setup brought this recording thrillingly to life in my listening room. Likewise, Mehta’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, on Decca with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, truly a sonic spectacular because the opening 32Hz organ pedal is actually on the recording, lived up to its reputation here, the pedal point filling the room with scary power (thanks in no small part to a new REL subwoofer, review forthcoming). I was initially concentrating on big stuff with deep bass just to reassure myself that all was right in the way of low noise and freedom from feedback despite the lack of suspension. Nothing to worry about (though every environment presents a different collection of problems).
Another great performance, which again revealed the imaging capabilities of the Palmer, is Bernstein’s Beethoven Opus 131 with the full complement of the Vienna Philharmonic strings. There’s a lovely moment when a motif is passed from first violin to second, then viola and finally cello, left to right across a seamless soundstage, which was reproduced to holographic perfection. A different sort of soundstaging is represented by Impex’s new reissue of Monk’s Dream, which is extremely vivid and listenable—“Bright Mississippi” certainly gets the toes tapping. But the recording is close up and dry with the standard left/center/right miking so prevalent in its era. Yet with this setup the performers don’t sound as if each is coming from its own black space discontinuous from the others. From more or less the same vintage is Ellington’s Piano in the Foreground, where the piano was reproduced . . . well, in the foreground—with startlingly reach-out-and-touch-it presence!
To check detail and resolution, I often turn to Graceland— an original vinyl pressing. The big reverberative opening was dispatched with stunning power and inner detail. The complex lines and textures (“lasers in the jungle”) are splendidly clarified without being picked apart, and the individualities of the instruments, including the computer-generated ones, are distinct and easily recognizable (even if you don’t know what they are). Rhythmically the 2.5 is certainly as ship-shape as anyone could desire, yet it never exhibits that excessive articulation some turntables do. On “Homeless,” it nails the crucial distinction between space and volume, while in “Under African Skies” Linda Ronstadt’s voice is at once distinctive yet perfectly blended. I can truthfully say I’ve never enjoyed this album more. I made a note here: “I wonder if the secret to the success of this turntable is that it’s a fundamentally simple and practical design that has been executed to the nines in each of its aspects.”
This is one turntable that I cannot recommend highly enough, especially for those in search of a set-it-up-and-forget-it record-playing component that at the same time allows for a very fine degree of precision in adjustment and very high performance. I wish I had more time to try it with other arms—I’d especially like to hear it with a Graham Phantom—but in saying that, I have no wish to suggest I was in any way dissatisfied with the combination as loaned.
And one final point before I sign off: I really love the classic aesthetics of the Palmer, the clean, simple lines, the reasonable size (you can lift it without fear of hernia), and most especially the use of wood. I can’t tell you how tired I am of intricate space-age designs made from gleaming glass and polished metals and acrylics that look fabulous when they first come out of the box, then get dusty, smudged, and scratched and require more time to clean than a Viking stove (with far greater risk of damaging something). I am reminded of Thoreau at Walden finding three pieces of limestone that struck his fancy. He brought them home and placed them on his desk. When a few days later he discovered to his horror that he had to dust them, he reckoned their decorative value wasn’t worth the effort and tossed them out. The Palmer looks as good as it sounds, requires almost zero maintenance, and with an all-wood plinth, doesn’t show dust, is easy to clean, and its soft, warm, glowing beauty will look as good in ten years as it does now. That’s my kind of pulchritude.
SPECS & PRICING
Drive system: Belt
Speeds: 33, 45
Dimensions: 18.9″ x 13.8″
Weight: 44 lbs.
Price: $7995 ($10,990 with Audio Origami PU7 tonearm)
Fidelis A/V (U.S. Distributor)
460 Amherst St.,
Nashua, NH 03063
(603) 880-HIFI (4434)