Investors in U-Turn’s Kickstarter-funded Orbit turntable get more than their money’s worth in this remarkably well-designed record player manufactured in Woburn, Massachusetts.
One can only imagine why the principles chose the name U-turn™, but I’d like to think it means a reversal of direction from the low resolution MP3 digital hell into which a generation or two has been led, back to high resolution vinyl heaven.
Just as moving downhill is easier than going up, scaling down an expensive design is far easier than building upon a modest one.Yet Pro-Ject, which began in1990 with a homely, grey/black Soviet-era Czech Republic-made “people’s ‘table”, has managed quite well to both upgrade its budget offerings and to produce mid-priced ‘tables of distinction.
U.K. based Origin Live has been building its iconoclastic line of turntables and tone arms for decades now and though its American visibility remains relatively low, it has managed to attract a small but enthusiastic and growing consumer fan base .
Imports crowd the $1500 turntable price-point with entries from Rega, Pro-Ject, Music Hall, Clearaudio, JA Michell, Marantz (made by Clearaudio), Acoustic Signature and some others.
Until VPI surprised the turntable world last year with the Traveler, the only American-made ‘table manufactured at this price that I can think of is the SOTA Comet, which comes with an OEM Rega tonearm.
Acoustic Signature designer Gunther Frohnhöfer has been building mass loaded aluminum-based turntables for decades. Back in 2001 I reviewed and really liked a model called the Final Tool. It ended up being purchased by someone I knew and he’s still using it trouble-free all these years later and it still sounds solid.
For a company whose initials stand for “Scale Model Equipment” the massive turntables SME builds are anything but. The company, founded in post WW II England, began as a manufacturer of scale models, then popular in the engineering trade.
SME founder Alastair Robertson-Aikman was an audio hobbyist who one day decided to apply his engineering acumen and put to work the talented designers and machinists in his employ to produce a tone arm for his own use.
The Pro-Ject brand began as vinyl lover's pipe dream. Vienna based audio distributor Heinz Lichtennegger believed as did many of us back in the 1990s, that vinyl was not dead. It just needed a defibrillator in the form of an inexpensive, well-made and reliable turntable.
The two basic turntable design approaches are low mass that quickly evacuates energy and high mass that sinks and damps energy. Both designs seek to avoid reflecting back into the system the considerable energy produced at the stylus/groove interface.
Trends in turntable design shift back and forth over time, each "advance" turning out to be a mostly sideways move. Over its long history, VPI's founder and designer, Harry Weisfeld, has moved the analog goalposts back and forth as he's refined his thinking. His early turntables were mostly standard spring-suspension designs of normal size. By the time Weisfeld produced his fully tricked-out TNT model, which was originally designed to stably hold the heavy moving mass of Eminent Technology's ET2 air-bearing arm, he'd moved to a massive, oversized, sandwiched plinth with isolating feet at the corners. He first used springs and, later, air bladders originally designed to cushion a tractor-trailer's load, and which he'd found in a trucker's supply catalog. Via an O-ring, the TNT's outboard motor drove one of three pulleys that protruded from holes in the plinth, and attached to a T-shaped subchassis that, in turn, drove the other two pulleys via two additional O-rings.
Enticing more music lovers to try vinyl requires a foolproof, plug'n'play solution. Asking a member of the digital generation to install a cartridge in a tonearm and then set up the VTA, SRA, VTF, etc. is asking too much. It's easier to make such a request of someone already bitten by the analog bug, but with turntables, wishing someone beginner's luck will not guarantee success.
I won't debate here how to make a turntable's platter go around. Choose your favorite: belt vs direct drive, idler wheel vs belt, spring-windup vs wind power, whatever. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing to debate. Each of these technologies has its pluses and minuses, but none can produce CD's accuracy of speed and inherent freedom from wow and flutter.
Much has happened in the analog world since I reviewed SME's flagship Model 30/2 turntable for the March 2003 Stereophile (footnote 1). Back then, spending $25,000 on a turntable (without tonearm) was an odd extravagance intended only for those seriously committed to the format, and who already owned large LP collections. Although new LPs were being pressed in growing numbers, the resurgence of vinyl was still spotty, and the long-term prognosis for the old medium remained in question.