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Pear Blue Audio Odar Turntable and Cornet 3 12″ Tonearm

Pear Blue Audio Odar Turntable and Cornet 3 12″ Tonearm

This one is different. Different and better. The different part is easy: Put on a record, listen to it with the same cartridge you listened to it with on some other turntable, and hear the difference. People who have written about Pear Blue turntables before noticed the difference, all right. The trouble is that sometimes they did not understand why the difference they heard—the less edgy, “softer” sound that they all commented on—was better, as, indeed, it is. This is one of the best turntables in sight.

But that is just how it is with turntable reviewing, and for that matter a lot of other things in audio. Not knowing what ought to happen is a problem. People are pretty acute about hearing differences. And why not? All you have to do is listen. But knowing what is right, aye, there’s the rub, as Shakespeare would say. 

Audio reviewing has come to adopt the convention that “good sound” is a Gestalt thing, a unity that is intuitively recognizable without any information on what ought to happen, without information about how things ought to sound, without any basis, theoretical or via comparison example, but just by intuition of some unspecified kind. The idea is that if you listen to two things that sound different, then the fact that you can hear they are different will somehow translate into knowing which one is right, which is better in some sense.

The trouble is that this is not true. It is true about some things, usually rather gross things. There are things that do sound bad intrinsically, without reference to any precise standard and without any definite comparisons being available. A typical example is a gross level of distortion. A clipping amplifier or a mis-tracking cartridge are identifiably bad. But once one gets out of the realm of such gross things, it becomes harder to tell. People may claim that they just know. But such claims need to be investigated.

This is especially true about turntables. There, the problem arises acutely, precisely because vinyl playback tends to work so very well when done rather simply. A simple belt-drive like the classic AR with its basic tonearm and an inexpensive moving-magnet cartridge already produces a sound that is very close to a live mike feed, if you play, say, a direct-cut lacquer of the mike feed. Such satisfactory results by simple means means the way onward and upward is not clear, although there is a way. 

I realize that people become impatient sometimes with long theoretical discursions, so let me pause here to point out that my extremely positive view of the Odar, which I shall explain at perhaps more length than everyone will want, is not a private sonic eccentricity. The Odar has been greeted with great enthusiasm at shows since its introduction—including by TASers. I know, shows are only shows, but in some ways a comparison of many turntables in a short time can be revealing, too. A show is in some way close to being a simultaneous comparison of a lot of different turntables, averaging over other variables of rooms, speakers, cartridges, etc.

Keeping in mind that I am not riding a personal hobby horse, let me return to my description of why it is that (in my view) the sound of the Odar is what the sound of a turntable should be.

What should a turntable actually do? The first thing to understand is that there is a there there.

The sound corresponding to the shape of the groove is a definite thing. The trouble is that the very act of playing the record causes errors. For instance, to be moved by the record the stylus must exert force on the record, and by Newton’s Third Law, the stylus exerting force on the record causes it to vibrate. This is not just a theory. If one plays a “silent” groove while a second stylus is playing a music groove, the sound of the music will be detected in the silent groove. And, of course, this energy in the record is also picked up by the music-playback stylus, too. This adds to the playback signal something that should not be there. (This is one reason why people are fascinated with optical playback—no spurious energy put into the record to bounce around and come back to annoy.)

A second source of signal you do not want is that the record does not rotate at a truly constant speed. Driving the record inevitably puts some vibrational energy into the platter and hence into the vinyl. This adds noise of a peculiar kind—some sort of analog analog of jitter. 

Of course, people have been worrying about the variation of speed forever—ever since they began to reproduce sound by cutting signal into objects that rotated for playback. But the worry was concentrated on speed variations that were perceived as pitch instability, either slow (“wow”) or fast (“flutter”). They worried about this, but, except for Nakamichi, they did not worry enough. Wow from off-centeredness of the record itself almost always dominates the pitch picture. (cf. e.g., the remarks of Gunther Frohnhöfer of Acoustic Signature in his interview with JV in Issue 264). And as it happens, getting wow down far enough for the (rare) centered record was not all that hard, historically. The AR of the mid-1960s claimed to have wow below threshold and pretty much did. But once they get a “spec” going, audio people tend to pursue it to an extreme. And people (most people) are still worrying about speed stability, whether it is going to be comparable to the off-centeredness issue or not. (If people really cared completely about vinyl, they would make new versions of the Nakamichi disc-centering mechanisms. But, of course, one can also hope for records with perfectly centered spindle holes.)

However, there is another aspect of speed stability that is operating in a different and very significant way that cannot be dealt with in the records themselves. This is the “jitter” phenomenon I remarked on just now. Think for a moment about what happens when one vibrates the speed of the platter—that is, when one induces sudden small variations of speed—small but fast-changing. You won’t hear this as pitch change. It is too fast most likely to be perceived even as a kind of ultra-rapid vibrato.

So, what does it do? What it will do, in effect, is to add to the signal what would happen if the record were not rotating but, rather, were jerking back and forth. In other words, it will make noise. And where is noise going to be the worse? Where the ear is most sensitive (which is around 3–4kHz). This is where the vinyl-vibration noise will be most audible, as well. The total effect is a kind of edgy noise that is most bothersome where the ear is most sensitive. It follows that the better a turntable is, the more quiet and non-aggressive it will sound. 

As it happens, this is true about audio in general. Low-distortion electronics also sound non-aggressive within a given bandwidth. Because many high-frequency transducers are badly behaved at the top end or out-of-band, broader bandwidth can make things sound nastier, even if the electronic device is low in distortion, But, overall, less aggressive and less nasty are better. And this is especially true of turntables.

Note in this context that frequency response in the usual sense (in anything but the low bass) is not directly affected by turntable/tonearm combinations. The idea that a turntable could reduce sharpness of transients by being slowed down by the stylus pulling on the record at a fast transient is obviously completely implausible, especially for a turntable with a massive platter. The change in angular momentum is the magnitude of the torque impulse—torque times time (analogous to the change in linear momentum being the force times time). A fast transient would have to exert enormous force on a massive rotating platter to have any substantive effect on angular momentum at all—a force far greater than occurs or is possible.

This brings us to the next point. How does one arrange for something to rotate with a truly constant angular speed? The answer is to have a very massive object (or more precisely an object with a large moment of inertia) acted upon by essentially no torque. The angular momentum will not change if the torque is zero and will change very little if the torque is very low. This is basic physics.

This is, of course, familiar in daily life. The regularity of the rotation of the Earth is so great that for a long time the unit of time, the second, was defined to be 1/86,400th of a mean solar day. Why is the Earth’s rotation so regular? Because it has a huge moment of interia, and the torques exerted on it by, say, people running and broad-jumping or driving cars and so on are so small. Only tidal forces change its speed of rotation over time—but that is over geologic time scales.

This is the underlying idea of the Odar. It has a massive platter but a very low torque motor. Some torque must be applied; otherwise, friction forces would gradually bring it to a stop. But the torque is minimal—just enough to keep it going.

And so, you have to start the turntable going by hand—give it a good spin, and it will soon settle into the correct speed. And it will stay there, with minimal vibrational torque applied. Voila, silent background and absence of nastiness.

One-dimensional thinking would suggest that this is somehow a shift in tonal balance. Some reviewers have made the almost fantastic suggestion that Pear Blue products lack high frequencies or that they should be used with a cartridge with a particularly lively top end. Of course, any loss of highs is not what is really going on. High-frequency response is determined by the cartridge, and a turntable/arm combination cannot subtract from it. Any sense of “softer” sound is not a loss of highs—it is a loss of nastiness.

Other Aspects

There are other things that count about turntables, and those have been dealt with very well, also. First, one needs damping of the vinyl to suck out the energy inserted into the record by the stylus. This is done well here—bang on the record (on the edge!) with a hard object as it plays, and almost nothing comes out of the speakers except a dull thud. Noise from vibrations of the vinyl induced by the stylus in the crucial region of maximum hearing sensitivity will be minimal.

The Odar is not suspended, but it does have a very effective isolation system, involving a platform underneath with rubber feet and further isolation of the main unit from the platform. The usual test of putting the stylus down on a stationary record and turning up the volume shows good resistance to acoustic feedback. I suppose one could go even further by using additional vibration isolation under the sub-platform, but that seems uncalled for. Incidentally, I might mention that if you want to play a record very loudly with a subwoofer, you would be well advised to put any turntable in a room that is isolated acoustically and structurally from the listening area. (I have the turntable on a brick fireplace—no structural vibration transmitted from vibration of the floor.)

In short, the usual aspects of turntable performance are done well. But the thing that puts the Odar in the very top echelon is in another direction: the quiet and the purity arising from control of resonant energy and from the absence of speed “jitter.” 

How It Sounds

I hope that the foregoing was clear and convincing enough that in some sense you already know how the Odar sounds: wonderful. Clean, silent, pure, highly resolved from lack of background noise and, withal, highly dynamic for the same reason. Transient sounds come out of nowhere and vanish as rapidly as they should.

A manifestation of the overall purity is that empty space sounds empty. Noise tends to spread out spatially, so getting rid of spurious noise from playback not only makes the sound as such purer but also cleans it up in space. This is a large effect, and it is important musically. As Ernest Ansermet pointed out in the early days of stereo, the spatial separation makes it easier to hear musical lines that should be separated as actually separate.

In single-channel mono, the music itself masks noise. But in stereo, noise spreads out while instruments do not as such. The whole “stage” is suffused with texture that should not be there. Getting rid of this is a significant improvement.

Of course, recordings themselves can contain spatially spurious signals. A multi-miked, multi-track recording mixed to stereo has the whole of its space filled with stuff that should not be there. Only simple “purist” miking has any chance of working right, as I suppose we have all known forever, though the world has often ignored this. At least here, with the Odar, you can get spatial purity as it is available on the recording. The Odar/Cornet combination present clean space as well as a clean signal in terms of direct instrumental sound.

I am reminded of the sound of the Well-Tempered turntable/arm combination from years gone by, which is a good thing to be reminded of. And it is perhaps not really a coincidence. Pear Blue designer Peter Mezek, some years before he began his association with Tom Fletcher and later started his own company, represented Well Tempered in Eastern Europe. But the Odar/Cornet does the things I have been describing even better, partly perhaps because the massive platter smooths out micro-speed variations even more than the Well-Tempered, which had a light driving force via a plastic-thread belt but not a particularly massive platter.

It is worth noting in this connection that the Well-Tempered, which was itself an extraordinarily good turntable/arm combination, was reacted to in some quarters where the rigidity maniacs lived at the time with the same objections that have plagued the Pear Audio Blue designs: that it was too smooth and, in effect, too quiet and too pure sounding, I thought then and think now that this was nonsense. A turntable/arm combination cannot be too smooth. But wrong ideas in audio die slowly if they die at all, and this problem of thinking that roughness and nasty distortion is realism never goes away. Some people are disconcerted by the departure of nastiness from the sonic picture. (It might also be that subconsciously reviewers are disturbed by things that do not need yes-and-then-no reviewing, that are all one way, so to speak. If one wants to get rid of excess edge, removing it is always to the good, but reviewing can generate a subconscious wish to have something to review that makes the reviewing a forever-continuing thing.)

A Musical Example

It is traditional, almost de rigeur, to include specific examples of how particular recordings sounded compared to the averaged-out version of how they sounded before. This sort of thing is ultimately irrelevant here (and largely elsewhere). The Pear Blue combination reproduces what is there in the most positive sense. But not in the usual audiophile negative sense of “this is accurate so go on and suffer.” Just the opposite: Accuracy here means that the nasty effects of speed jitter and micro-resonances are eliminated so everything sounds as good as it has any right to, as good in the musical sense as it possibly can. But let me, at least, tip my hat to the tradition with one musical example, namely Georges Kisselhoff’s recording (with Mireille Landmann) on Columbia Masterwork 79308 of Handel’s Rinaldo, performed by La Grande Ecurie et La Chambre du Roy, Jean Claude Malgoire conducting. (TAS readers with long memories will recall the high esteem in which HP held the Kisselhoff Sarastro recording Verite du Clavecin from 1977, reissued in 2012.)

I am fond of Rinaldo, and I have been listening to this recording for years. (I first encountered it long ago when a friend of mine played it for me to demonstrate his then new Sonab speakers, ancestors of the current Larsen line: vita brevis, audio longa). With the Pear Blue combination, this recording was even more beautiful than heretofore. The music emerged with exquisite purity from a background devoid of noise artifacts; the voices were properly liquid but at the same time highly intelligible; and the dynamic moments (there are some!) had “jump factor” in abundance. One had the real feeling of hearing the Kisselhoff mastertape or even the live feed. Entrancing is the word.

The music itself enthralled. But after the fact, one realized that the stripping away of artifacts in the Pear Blue presentation made possible the perception of the recording venue in a most striking way. 

Stereo, even miked at its best, does not quite present to the ear/brain complete spatial information. But the brain is adept at reconstructing reality from fragmentary evidence. Suitable microphone setups can be interpreted by the brain to give an impression of spatial reality, even quite a detailed impression, as long as the information is presented in pure form, as it surely was here. It was a wonderful experience—I had intended to listen only briefly to get a sonic impression, but I ended up listening to the whole opera.

The Past And The Present

The LP record is approaching 75 years old, and the stereo LP as a commercial reality 65. It has been working well all along. As already noted, it is something that works better than one might expect by even simple means—a “technology” that works better than it has any apparent right to. But for all the initial success of the process, progress has happened, even if it has not always been steady. With the advent of digital, which for all its initial problems is devoid of certain resonances that are hard to get rid of in vinyl playback, these very issues have received much attention in recent decades. (HP was fond of pointing this out—that progress in one medium would stimulate progress in another.) In a sense, in its background silence and control of resonances the Pear Blue combination is like the best sects of digital without any of the electronic artifacts and strange band-limiting effects of digital in the literal sense. It is approaching the best of both worlds, the naturalness in every sense of analog vinyl with the background silence and non-resonant purity of the live mike feed (which digital promised but did not deliver).

As such, this vinyl playback is approaching very nearly the virtues of the third man in the room, reel-to-reel tape playback, with the advantage of a vastly greater storehouse of playable material than tape has ever offered or is likely to offer. To get vinyl playback this close to the virtues of mastertapes is obviously something desirable, given how much vinyl exists to be played!

The Pear Blue combination is the culmination of many years of work by Peter Mezek extending and further developing the ideas initially developed by the late Tom Fletcher, with whom Mezek worked closely. Many refinements and matters of detail, which were sonically critical, have been incorporated after very careful investigations and listening tests. The Odar/Cornet combination is a refined, polished product, not anything like a rough version of general good ideas, though the ideas are good, indeed.

I was impressed from the start, but I took my time. I wanted to be sure that the Pear Blue combination was as good as it seemed to be in early listening and that no hidden problems would appear. This review has been a long time in preparation. But in the fact, the more I listened, the more I found that within the (excellent) characteristics of the cartridge (I was using a Grado Statement 3), I was hearing what was actually on the records, with the artifacts usual in vinyl playback truly stripped away. I suppose no mechanical device can be perfect, but at a certain point the limitations can be the source material itself and only them, and this was to my ears what was happening here to a most unusual extent.

The Big Picture

The whole trouble with review by listening, especially if one reviews the same type of product repeatedly, is that one can tend to form a sonic picture of source material that can become a de facto standard, and to regard deviations from the picture, which is really only an average of past listenings, as deviations from how things should sound, so that a new product is evaluated compared to how everything has sounded before. The effect of this can be that one ceases to be open to real improvements. One is stuck with small variations of the status quo; if something appears which is fundamentally better, it is possible to fail to recognize the superiority of the new viewpoint. This happened with the Well-Tempered—the rigidity crew just could not take in that a system in which the cartridge was not mounted rigidly could work better than the “clunk” arms (as I called them) that tried to force everything into not moving. Similarly, people reacted to the Townshend tables—if they reacted to them at all—with their trough-removal of spurious vibration, as too “dead” and non-resonant. Pear Blue, while greeted with wild enthusiasm by some reviewers with real independence of mind and judgment, has on occasion been described as too subdued by those who were used to the grubbiness of one kind or another of usual vinyl playback. (Similar things have happened historically with speakers–some people are still, after decades, having trouble understanding how the BBC thin-walled damped cabinets can actually work.)

Don’t you believe it. If the Pear Blue approach sounds too subdued to you, you are just habituated to what is usually wrong with vinyl playback. If you have independent judgment about how things ought to sound and what music actually sounds like, then I think you will share my all but unlimitedly positive impression. And when one thinks that the Odar/Cornet combination is so moderate in price compared to other turntable/tonearm combinations that aspire to the best possible, the Pear Audio Blue Odar/Cornet 3 seems a remarkable bargain, along with being an unquestionable sonic landmark.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Belt-drive turntable with 14″ platter including external ultra-linear power supply for 33.3 and 45rpm, Cornet 3 12″ tonearm (speed-adjustable power supply is available but was not reviewed)
Dimensions: 24.74″ x 8.5″ x 21.25″
Weight (exclusive of power supply): 63 lbs.
Price: $17,500

AUDIO SKIES (North American Distribution)
(310) 975-7099


By Robert E. Greene

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