Reviewing this Little John turntable and Cornet 2 tonearm ensemble from Pear Audio Analogue was for me an exercise in déjà vu, for which there’s a clear basis in reality. In conception, construction, and appearance the pairing recalls the Nottingham Analogue Interspace Jr. turntable/Ace Interspace Arm combination that I reviewed in these pages ten years ago. Nottingham Analogue is a British company founded by Tom Fletcher, a man who started building turntable parts as a teenager. Over the course of some forty years his company sold tens of thousands of turntables. Illness—from the cancer that would eventually take his life in 2010—forced Fletcher to sell Nottingham. Long before then, however, he had established himself as an analog guru whose products acquired a sizable and steadfast following that persists to this day. When the Well Tempered Turntable that Pear Audio’s Peter Mezek represented became unavailable, he sought out Fletcher and soon was born the Pear Audio Analogue “Blue” line of record-playing components (named, it is said, after Mezek’s dog, of whom Fletcher was fond). Mezek and his domestic importer, Michael Vamos of Audio Skies, claim that Pear’s are the only true evolution of Fletcher’s work, but at least three other companies (including Nottingham) market or have marketed Fletcher-designed turntables. Although the cosmetics are different and there are changes in parts, materials, and aspects of implementation and construction methods, the Little John and Cornet 2 strike me as essentially a rebadged, updated, and mostly improved Interspace Jr. and Ace.
At the heart of Fletcher’s thinking about turntables are two concepts: low-torque motors in combination with heavy platters and a proper “marriage of materials” to ensure what he calls “perfect phasing.” The former is the easier to explain: The lower the torque of the motor, the smaller and less powerful it needs to be, thus the less it vibrates and the less said vibration is passed along to the stylus-groove interface. A heavy platter can be better damped to absorb or otherwise suppress vinyl resonances and, owing to inertia, is more stable and less susceptible to speed fluctuations (all other things being equal). Trouble is, a low-torque motor isn’t strong enough to bring a heavy platter up to speed, so Fletcher’s novel solution has the end user supply an assist by starting the platter spinning by hand. Once up to speed, remarkably little torque is required to keep it at speed. As I reported in my Nottingham review, I never tired of this little exercise and it amused me again with the Little John. A caveat, though: Don’t be afraid to put a little vigor into the start-up spin. An overshot platter will quickly settle back down to the correct speed, but an undershot one may never get there.
When we turn to the notion of “perfect phasing” the explanations by Fletcher and/or his disciples start to get a little fuzzy. Here is the Pear Audio website: “Matching materials able to control resonance naturally and that are sonically in phase . . . [create] a turntable in sonic harmony…no frequency is overly diminished or amplified. No frequency is overly damped or allowed to sustain. Every bit of energy is carefully managed across the spectrum, from the motor itself, through the tonearm and in the stylus as it is driven by the grooves on the record.” And finally, “Each material, on its own, might be common and unremarkable, but the way materials perform together, to maintain the proper phase of energy throughout the system, is how the magic begins.” As prose this is so vague, even vaporous as to suggest mystique mongering or cult building; as explanation it’s so imprecise as to render impossible any sort of informed commentary or judgment on Fletcher’s theories. In fairness, these statements were not written by Fletcher himself, though they quote from and do not betray the sense of things he said in interviews and other public forums. But since he isn’t around to clarify or defend himself, and the proof anyhow is in the listening, it behooves me to move on to the gear itself and its performance.
Product Description and Features
Priced at $2995, the Little John is the entry level of a line of five turntables in the Pear Audio Blue line. It’s the only one with a base/plinth made from engineered wood; in this it differs from the Nottingham Interface Jr., which was MDF, and also from the four Pear Audio models above it, which use a special wood, said to have been discovered by Fletcher after a long search (the company will not divulge the name of the wood—more mystique mongering?). It’s a two-layered plinth, with a selection of attractive finishes. A pair of grooves in the rim of the weighty metal platter are for the belt and a thick rubber band for additional damping. A foam platter mat is supplied, something I applaud, by the way, inasmuch as I’ve never cared for the sound of any turntable that places the LP directly on a metal platter (whatever putative improvements there might be in bass and transient response are more than negated by the unpleasant edginess of the sound). There is no clamp or record weight, as Fletcher felt these bring no improvement to his designs. Three adjustable, rubber-tipped feet serve triple duty as support, leveling, and some isolation. The small outboard motor with power supply and pulley is placed under the plinth on the same surface as the turntable; the turntable is then placed over the motor, its cylindrical housing and pulley guided through an opening in the plinth and positioned so as not to touch the perimeter of the cut-out. Once done it makes for a trim, elegant package. There is no on/off switch; instead, when you stop the platter (by hand), the motor remains on (if you touch it you can feel it still vibrating) but incapable of rotating the platter until you initiate the spin. Speed change (33 and 45) is available by repositioning the belt. There is no provision for speed adjustment, but a check with a strobe disc revealed it was spot-on (and a few rechecks throughout the review period revealed no drift). Optional accessories include a dust cover (kudos for that!), substitute feet with sharp tips, and an outboard power supply ($1995) that enables speed adjustment and obviates the need for repositioning the belt when changing speeds. I evaluated the stock unit.
Pear Audio offers two tonearms: the Cornet 1 at $1495 and the Cornet 2 at $2495. You get a $500 break on either ’arm when purchased with any Pear Audio turntable, the combination as reviewed coming in at $2995. Rather unprepossessing in appearance, the Cornet 2 is a unipviot with some unique features, not all of them salutary (more on this in a moment). The issues unipivots have of maintaining azimuth across the record are here addressed, according to the Pear Audio website, “with a special material, developed with viscosity properties, that does not flow and does not require ‘settling time.’” U.S. distributor Michael Vamos of Audio Skies says that “This is not a traditional unipivot. Rather, the arm’s range of azimuth is limited to nearly vertical by a roller bearing on the unipivot shaft and a pair of metal bars around which it rotates.” The tube is made from carbon fibers that run the length as opposed to being wrapped around it, the claim being this “greatly increases the strength, resonance control, and rigidity of the arm.” Apart from a stylus force gauge (balance is static), everything necessary for installing a phono pickup, including alignment protractor, is supplied. Like the Nottingham’s, the instructions here are hardly models of clarity, but anyone with a modicum of experience should have no difficulty getting it set up and running, save for the issues I’m about to detail in the next two paragraphs.
There are three really irritating carryovers from the Interspace Ace ’arm which are no less irritating in the Cornet. One of them is the lack of a finger lift, which I really hate. Fortunately, the Cornet’s cueing, like the Ace’s, is dead-on; better still, as we go to press the importer Michael Vamos informs me that he will provide a fingerlift free for the asking to any purchaser who desires one. I happen to have a spare fingerlift, and I used it with absolutely no discernable sonic penalties. As for the other two, I’ll just quote from my Nottingham review, substituting the current names: “Inexcusably stupid, however, is the absence of any means of securing the arm when not in use. Admittedly, Pear Audio flanks the cueing platform with posts that prevent the arm from swinging too far in either direction (though they’re hardly foolproof); but if the cueing platform isn’t in the up position, the stylus could still be damaged. And relocating this setup requires lifting it and walking very carefully, otherwise the arm bounces around like a ping-pong ball. It gets worse: there is an antiskating mechanism but not a single word anywhere in the ‘instructions’ about how to set correct values. A bit of Internet research informed me Pear Audio suggests setting it by ear. Yes, of course, I too use my ears to set antiskating, but only to trim it in, not to find the correct ballpark setting in the first place, which is the job of the engineers to establish consistent with arm geometry, bearings, tracking force, etc.”