There is more. First, for what my experience may be worth, I wound up positioning the antiskating mechanism more or less in its center position and had no mistracking. This worked with my pickups, but that doesn’t mean it will with yours. If uncertain, use a good test record or else defeat it entirely, since better too little or none at all than even slightly too much. But to this I must add that according to Vamos, the Cornet’s antiskating mechanism is unique inasmuch as it will compensate for the way the force varies, as it always does, across the record. I have no way of verifying that this works as claimed, but its implementation does look different from any others in my experience and, as noted, once set, no mistracking occurred on even my most difficult records. Second, the instructions actually recommend using a twist-tie if you need to move the turntable; but surely nobody at Pear Audio can possibly believe there is a sonic penalty for a tonearm post? Third, one thing that was really frustrating about the Nottingham ’arm is that its cables were so extremely sensitive to hum pickup that I was unable to find any cable position or routing path that completely eliminated it. I’m happy to report that the Cornet 2 completely scotches this problem, even with volume control flat out. Fourth, for a nominal fee Pear Audio will custom-drill armboards for almost any tonearm, but most users, I suspect, will opt for one of the Cornets. Fletcher believed—and I tend to concur—that ideally an ’arm and turntable should be designed as a unit.
For the listening evaluations I used mostly my reference Ortofon Windfeld, a very neutral pickup, and for a short while an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze, similar but with a slightly more romantic sound. Despite the fact that the Windfeld costs almost as much as the whole Pear Audio setup and the Bronze almost as much as the ’arm, the Cornet 2 proved perfectly capable of handling either pickup.
The first record I cued down—Jacintha’s Fire and Rain (Groove Note)—brought a smile to my face and that in a nutshell pretty much describes my experience with the Little John/Cornet 2. If I had to search for an adjective or complex of adjectives to describe it a little more precisely, I’d call it extremely pleasing: a bit warm without being mushy; rounded and dimensional without being soft or fuzzy; very smooth, even sweet yet not lacking in profile or enough stringency if the source calls for it; natural, easeful, unforced, and musical against a background of black velvet (record surfaces permitting). The overriding impression of a very organic presentation that keeps attention focused on the music rather than on reproduction per se, such that for the first few weeks I was too entertained to bother taking notes. This impression was sustained through a variety of sources: the vinyl reissues of Bernstein’s Vienna Beethoven set (DG) and first Mahler cycle (Sony), Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West (Acoustic Sounds), Sinatra’s Songs for Young Lovers (Capitol original, noisy surfaces but pretty sound), Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Dream (Acoustic Sounds), Lyn Stanley’s fabulous new London Calling (see my review elsewhere in this issue), and too many more to list.
When I donned my reviewer’s cap and slipped into analytical mode, I found the Little John/Cornet 2 navigated itself well through most of the usual audiophile categories with pretty high colors. Vividly recorded voices—like the aforementioned Jacintha, Doris Day in Hooray for Hollywood, Ella Fitzgerald in Let No Man Write My Epitaph, any Lyn Stanley release on vinyl, the singers on Joel Cohen’s Sing We Noel—are brought forth with a tactile sense of presence, and the same applies to instruments, whether soloists such as Robert Sherman’s Chopin’s Last Waltz, Regis Pasquier’s Bach sonatas, Ali Akbar Kahn’s Morning and Evening Ragas (Connoisseur Society original—why doesn’t somebody bring out a vinyl reissue of this musically and sonically glorious album?), the duets and other ensembles on Sasha Matson’s Tight Lines (Stereophile), Webster and Edison on Ben and Sweets (Groove Note reissue), and du Pré and Barenboim on the Beethoven cello sonatas (Vintage EMI). Soundstaging on big stuff like the Bernstein Carmen or the Solti Ring stretches across a fairly wide panorama and exhibits real depth if it exists in the recording. Imaging is precise with an overall impression of solidity that is, well, really solid, e.g., the disposition of star vis-à-vis supporting musicians in the opening of the Belafonte at Carnegie Hall discs (Acoustic Sounds reissue) or the ensemble wandering in at the beginning of The Christmas Revels (Revels Records), the leader calling everyone to attention while banging on a what sounds like a tin pot with a metal spoon. You can close your eyes and easily visualize the event.
I’ve already alluded to the background quietness of this combination, especially if your records are well cared for and clean, all the more remarkable since the plinth is very microphonic. Tap it, even lightly, and you hear through it the system, but as a sharp thump that is gone immediately with no lingering resonance. If your records are not so clean, then the way it handles the usual assortment of ticks, clicks, and pops is good without being outstanding. When it comes to resolution, this setup is as detailed as I desire, but if you’re the sort who has to hear every breath intake, hiccup, or chair squeak in the back row, then you might want to look elsewhere.
So far so good, indeed, pretty wonderful in fact. However, there is a definite character to the sound of this setup, and it derives from what appears to be going on at the extremes of the frequency range. Regular readers of mine will know that rising top ends are not to my taste—if anything, I prefer a mild slope to even a little rise. Compared to my reference setup with the same pickups and to other setups I’ve had long experience with, the Little John/Cornet sounds to me as if the high frequencies are being rolled off, pulled down, or otherwise diminished just a little too much. Meanwhile, the bottom-end reach of the bass is good enough, but it is definitely on the warm, even plummy side.