The Anvil "Alloy Convertible" Turntable—Motor City Metal Machine Magic!

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.

So you have lightweight plinth designs like those from Rega and Arthur Khoubesserian’s The Funk Firm and heavy ones from I’m sure you can name many.

Platter mass matters too. All other things being equal, higher mass is desirable but cost can be a mitigating factor. So in the budget end of the business we find glass, acrylic and Delrin, all of which can be relatively high mass and inexpensive, and in the higher price brackets metal or sometimes acrylic with cylindrical metal inserts usually placed close to the platter’s outer perimeter to produce a speed-stabilizing “flywheel effect.”

Back in the 1990s I reviewed and then purchased a Simon Yorke S7 turntable that did away with the conventional square plinth and instead sunk the bearing into a massive but compact round base of austenitic (non-magnetic, corrosion resistant) steel and a massive platter fabricated from the same material. Mr. Yorke made his armboard of a lightweight wood laminate, thus “mixing metaphors.”

With its ability to produce deep, very solid bass, authoritative dynamics and black backdrops, S7 remains one of my favorite turntables. The S7 redefined for me the word “punch” but it costs around $10,000.

So when Detroit, Michigan turntable manufacturer Bruce McDougall emailed me the link to his website and I saw a $2200 turntable reminiscent of the S7 (though to be fair, that’s minus a tonearm) I immediately asked if I could review it.

Shortly thereafter two boxes arrived one containing the platter, the other everything else. The packing was strictly amateurish but McDougall explained that he uses an excellent foam fabricator who was backordered at the time and as he wanted to get the turntable to me pronto, he did some makeshift packing. I get it. That said, the instruction manual is better than some by veteran manufacturers.

The Anvil’s base consists of a 25 pound cast iron circular base with an integral removable armboard made of T6 aluminum (T6 is a heat treated, artificially aged, magnesium and silicon aluminum alloy). The base can be fitted with a second armboard for two arm operation at an additional cost of $250-$300 depending upon arm. The Anvil’s price includes one pre-drilled armboard. Additional pre-drilled armboards are priced at between $150 and $200 depending upon the arm (the price differential is based on the machining/drilling complexity).

The bearing housing, threaded on its exterior, fits into a hole in the plinth and is secured with a large nut. Also supplied are four large aluminum/Sorbothane footers with magnetic inserts.

The AC synchronous motor is housed in what appears to be an off the shelf “industrial strength parts box” of folded metal but Mr. McDougall says it, like all of the parts, are sourced locally and made for him. McDougall “bundles” with his ‘table Music Hall’s Cruise Control electronic speed adjustment box. Drive can be via whatever method you choose: rubber O-ring, dental floss, magnetic recording tape or whatever.

McDougall prefers, and he supplied me with, braided surgical silk thread impregnated with bees wax. The motor is fitted with a large flat-sided pulley into which are cut three shallow grooves for the surgical thread, which he said would work best on the lowest of the three.

The 25 pound platter is a casting of a proprietary copper/nickel alloy created by Mr. McDougall. The large diameter sapphire tipped bearing spindle fits into the bearing sleeve after you drop a hardened chrome steel ball bearing into it along with about 14 drops of supplied 20 weight oil (you can use up to 80 weight should you so desire).

The platter/bearing system features dual opposing ring magnets (also custom manufactured locally)—one fits in a circular cutout on the platter bottom and one sits in a cutout on the top of the base— that reduce the weight seen by the thrust pad from more than 25 down to around two pounds.

While the ‘table I reviewed came finished “raw” (it’s a very cool industrial look IMO) you can order yours powder coated in any one of up to 10,000 different colors.

Anvil raw materials

Each ‘table is individually tested for speed accuracy using Dr. Feickert’s iPhone software app (“Platterspeed”) and highly recommended but you’ll need the accompanying 7” test record.

Set Up
The base comes out of the shipping carton with the magnetic feet attached but slippage in transit (at least with mine) required them to be slid into position, which is arbitrary but obviously symmetrically around the base perimeter is best.

The Sorbothane footers are “sticky” so if you need to reposition the base, it’s best to put paper under each and then slide. After dropping in the ball and adding around 14 drops of oil using the supplied dropper you carefully lower the spindle into the sleeve. It will take some time for the bearing to completely bottom out. Then give the platter a spin and it will just keep spinning—longer with 20 weight oil, shorter with heavier oil.

Some turntable manufacturers believe some friction yields better speed consistency but speed measurement results were superb with 20 weight oil.

I had the armboard machined for the Graham Phantom II Supreme, which costs more than twice the ‘table but I wanted to hear just how good it could be.

Using the supplied thread was less than convenient and will require acquired skills. Do yourself a favor and keep the stylus guard in place while you learn how to put the thread in place. In the (likely) event it slips under the platter and gets contaminated with oil, you’ll have to clean it carefully.

McDougall gives good instructions on how to best accomplish this tricky maneuver but until you do it you’ll not know what you’re getting yourself into! Patience is a virtue.

The platter will not spin by itself once you turn on the motor controller so you’ll need to give it a careful spin and be sure to remember there’s a nearly invisible thread between the motor and platter or you’re more than likely to bump into it and knock the thread off the platter rim. I hated when that happened! But over time I trained myself.

Rather than use any of the supplied mats—Delrin, aluminum or the Music Hall cork mat—I used the Merrill-Scillia cork and lead mat that I really liked on the Onedof turntable reviewed in Stereophile and I also tried the Boston Audio graphite mat as well. Use any mat you like, just don’t use soft rubber or Sorbothane! While Sorbothane is an effective damping material under pressure (50 pounds of turntable for instance), when used as a thin mat under no pressure it becomes a spring! Do you want a spring under your record? I don’t.

McDougall also supplies a lightweight aluminum record weight that I used for the initial listen and I was plenty happy with that, but getting the most from the ‘table requires more weight in my opinion and I ended up using the Stillpoints LP1 a 1.5 pound, $495 weight containing five of the company’s devices said to convert vibrational energy into heat. Okay, that’s probably overkill but it was worth the price for what it did!

So configured with mat and weight we’re still talking under $3000, which puts it in the Avid Diva II category. That is a very fine ‘table that I reviewed a few years ago. It comes with an MDF platter not a 25 pound one of cast alloy!

I chose a Helikon SL low output MC into the recently reviewed Musical Fidelity ViNL M1 phono preamp so the combination retailed for around $11,000. Not chump change, obviously, but imagine a modestly priced Rega, Origin Live or Jelco arm on the Anvil and an under $1000 cartridge to start with and your records are still riding in style for around $5000.

Even with the stock record weight, the Anvil produced pitch-black backdrops out of which emerged well-focused three- dimensional images. Rhythm’n’pacing and “punch”, expressed as bass dynamics and tautness were ridiculously good for a turntable costing $2200 but not surprising given the amount of mass the designer was able to provide in both the base and the platter.

The Anvil performed way, way, way beyond its modest price point. Granted that most of the $2000 or so competition includes a tonearm, but still, add a $1000 arm to the $2200 Anvil and I’m confident you’ll retain those qualities that are usually found in far more expensive turntables, particularly the black backdrops and pitch stability.

Mr. McDougall individually tests the speed stability of every turntable he ships using the Feickert software and test record. He measured wow and flutter readings of .01 filtered and .02 unfiltered with very low drift. I obtained the same readings using the same software.

Superb image stability, black backgrounds, rock solid pitch stability, clinically clean, fast transients, a freedom from mechanical colorations, “punch,” unrestrained dynamic expression and especially the ability to tamp down impulse events like pops and clicks are what you pay for in very expensive turntables.

Such ‘tables produce a smoothness and grace along with the retrieval of inner detail and the image and soundstaging three-dimensionality that are immediately obvious and set them apart from budget models.

The Anvil managed to produce all of those sonic riches far in excess of what one should expect for $2200—especially the pitch stability, background quiet, transient clarity and ability to restrain impulse noise.

I’m listening now to The Julian Bream Consort’s recording of An Evening of Elizabethan Music (RCA Soria LDS-2656) and the Anvil’s ability to suppress the occasional pops and clicks on the typically noisy Soria pressing (RCA Soria pressings are consistently noisy compared to less deluxe "Living Stereo" pressings, for reasons I’d love to understand) reminded me of far more expensive turntables.

But more importantly, the ‘table’s rendering of string pluck transients achieved a level of clarity, three dimensionality and overall sophistication rarely found in ‘tables at this price point. The Anvil reminded me of VPI’s Classic 3 (itself a bargain) and the TW-Acoustic Raven 1 but at a much lower price point. This is not really surprising given the amount of mass Anvil manages to offer at such a reasonable price.

The initial set-up with the surgical silk thread can be a hassle and until you get used to it, you’ll probably hit the string and have to go through the initial hassle more than once. I also found that over time the Sorbothane donuts on the bottom of the motor housing deform, especially if you try to nudge the housing’s position to obtain the optimal string tension. This leads to a footer instability that can cause the thread to lose tension and slip off the platter.

That’s the worst I can say about the Anvil. The best is that the combination of Anvil “Alloy Convertible,” Graham Phantom Supreme II, Lyra Helikon SL and Musical Fidelity M1 ViNL phono preamp had me forgetting about what I was listening to and what it cost and just laying back and enjoying the musical performance. Whatever sins the combination might have committed were strictly of omission. I could have cared less about what might or might not have been missing.

Because it’s marketed direct and manufactured in-house the Anvil turntable can be sold at a price significantly below that of a traditionally manufactured and distributed high-performance product. Therefore it’s not surprising that the Anvil can compete easily—especially in terms of dead quiet, black backgrounds— with turntables costing $5000 and perhaps even $10,000 though I have nothing here at that price point with which to compare it. Mr. McDougall has done an excellent job here and this is his first 'table. He told me his goal was to produce a turntable that would produce a truly high-end listening experience at a reasonable price. He's done just that in a cosmetically appealing, compact package (though some may find the parts box motor housing rather spartan.

Highly recommended though with the usual caveats about the potentially limited re-sale value of non-marquee products. That said, given the ultra-reasonable price and the rock-solid build quality I really don’t see how you can go wrong with the “Alloy Convertible” turntable. Detroit is coming back. This market segment, however, didn’t require a government bailout (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

ukiro's picture

Where the article currently says "Original Live", I'm pretty sure you meant Origin Live. Speaking of which, will you be reviewing their arms? I'm very intrigued by them and would love to hear your opinion on the upper range models.

Could you also elaborate on how, in terms of physics, the turntable design (rather than arm/cart) can suppress clicks? I'm not sure I understand how that would work.

Oh, and the second to last paragraph is missing a closing parenthesis.

Michael Fremer's picture

I guess the auto spell fixer kicked in and I didn't notice. Many years ago I reviewed one of their turntables fitted with one of their arms and I really liked it. I will have to procure a newer sample fitted with one of their upper range models.

Click suppression? When an impulse like a pop or a click occurs on a record, if the system is well damped (turntable and tonearm), the energy will be well suppressed. On more "lively" turntables (less well damped or unable to drain the energy), you hear a hollow coloration and pops and clicks tend to sound almost explosive compared to how to sound on better damped 'tables.

That has been my experience....

deckeda's picture

Could you also elaborate on how, in terms of physics, the turntable design (rather than arm/cart) can suppress clicks? I'm not sure I understand how that would work.

Interesting turntable. Independents like McDougall have the freedom to deal with the higher shipping costs that would croak a major manufacturer's bean counter.

Although McDougall hasn't documented his design's progress online the situation reminds me of Trans-Fi Audio's Vic Patacchiola in the UK, who make the Salvation turntable and Terminator arm, two products I'd really like to see get more exposure in the U.S. Again --- interesting designs.

The Alloy Convertable seems like a very nice beta product, and that's no slight. The issue with the Sorbothane feet under the motor could turn a simple, otherwise benign aspect into a big usage problem as described. Dealing with the thread in the platter's groove seems less of a worry by comparison?

I like a bargain; thanks for giving us the heads-up.

anvilturntables's picture


   As Mr. Fremer explained in the first sentence of his review of my product "The two basic turntable design approaches are low mass that quickly evacuates energy and high mass that sinks and damps energy".  The energy is converted to heat. I would further elaborate, however Ukiro might criticize my grammar.

   In response to CEDUP'S criticism of high end turntables in general, and mine in particular. Where did you get the idea that my turntable is a prototype, not finished and has a design flaw? I had a problem with the type of glue I was using on the footers.  Hardly a "design flaw".  Furthermore, my belts do not "drop off" once properly installed.  You are obviously not going to be purchasing a high end table, so why do you care?  To paraphrase Robert Shaw's character in "Jaws",  "You might not mind wasting your time, but I can't have you wasting any of mine"



Michael Fremer's picture

CEDUP cannot read, cannot reason, and is (in technical terms) a douche bag.

ukiro's picture

Don't worry about the grammar police Bruce, I'm sure I make plenty of mistakes too as English isn't even my native language. (Speaking of which, are you selling in the US only at this point? I'm in Sweden.)

Thanks for chipping in on the click suppression issue by the way; I'm still wrapping my head around this since I have always understood it as something that happens only at the point of contact between needle and record, and that once the mechanical event that causes the click has occurred there, it is transformed into an electrical signal before the rest of the turntable can have any say in the matter. That this would then be more or less amplified by the turntable hadn't occurred to me, and still feels counterintuitive.

However, I am well aware that my understanding of these things is rudimentary at best, and I am happy to learn from you guys. That's why I'm here reading, after all.

anvilturntables's picture

  Your question is an excellent one ukiro.  I thought I would have some fun and throw around a little sarcasm.  The stylus groove interface is extremely complex.  In my opinion the most interesting thing regarding vinyl playback is that it works at all!  There are many design approaches to tonearms,cartridges and turntables. Well implemented systems including direct drive, belt drive, idler drive, M/M and M/C cartridges, various tonearms, suspended/unsuspended, etc, all have the potential to sound great.  In the end the designers make their choices and let the market decide.





Willster's picture

I'm still fuzzy on how this works.  It would appear that a click/pop event would be no different than the intended data on the disk from the point of view of the turntable/tonearm interface. So, exactly how does the turntable suppress a click but not suppress musical content?  Suppression, to me, would imply a reduction in dynamic content, among other things.  So why isn't the music dynamically suppressed as well?

anvilturntables's picture

 Well damped systems create a "smaller" impulse event.  When you strike a cymbal with a stick, it rings and rings.  Pinch it with your finger and the ringing stops. Strike it again while holding it and all you hear is a tick.  The undamped cymbal extended and amplified the impulse event. The damped cymbal suppressed it. Same thing with turntable platters and vinyl.

schiele's picture

     No doubt one of the reasons the Anvil performs so well for its price is the designer's selection of inexpensive gray iron for the base. Gray iron is actually a composite of iron and graphite flakes. The impedance mismatch between these two materials dissipates vibration very effectively. Gray iron's damping capacity is literally hundreds of times better than steel or aluminum. Traditionally the material of choice for exhaust manifolds and brake rotors because of its ability to suppress NVH ( noise vibration and harshness) it has lost market share in recent years due to its weight. It is still the best material for precision machine tool bases. It is puzzling that no company before Anvil has been knowledgeable enough to recognize the suitability of this material for turntables. 

anvilturntables's picture

Thank you for observant comments schiele.

Willster's picture

If I'm reading correctly, anvilturntables was attempting to answer my question about noise suppression.  Unfortunately, he didn't answer the question I was asking.  Maybe I wasn't making myself clear enough.  I completely understand how damping works and need no further explanation in this regard.  What I want to know is why damping doesn't damp the music right along with the noise.  Then again, maybe it does.

anvilturntables's picture

The grooves are supposed to be there.  When your record is well damped the system has a better chance of keeping the stylus where it is supposed to be.  The little bumps along the drive are not there for your musical pleasure, and introduce all kinds of chaos. How a system handles this depends on many variables, the behaviour of the platter being one of them.



jgossman's picture

Late to the discussion, but sometimes, depending on how your arm's bias is set, weight, magnetism, combination of weight and fluid damping, you may hear some of this effect by just running your tracking weight a little "heavy".  In my limited experience (I'm only 34!) this isn't as good as a well damped arm for surpressing noise.  But a "heavy" tracking pickup usually runs a little quieter.  On the other hand, heavily damped systems present issues of thier own so your milage may vary.  They can sound darker, over ripe, etc.  If your cartridge is properly aligned and +-5% VTA, you aren't going to wear our your records by upping your tracking force by a gram or so for a little while.  But it's a free way to see of you like a more well damped system.  If you like it, you can look into a more well damped table/arm/cartridge setup.  If you don't you can go right back.

I personally prefer the "Rega way", for lack of a better term.  No suspension, heavy platter, medium arm.  Still smooth and big, but with a fast open presentation. But different strokes for different folks.

anvilturntables's picture

Where might one find a "heavy platter" Rega?