Building budget turntables is a thankless task in a market dominated by the twin giants, Rega and Pro-ject. To survive a product has to offer something different. To survive for any length of time it has to offer something better. Aries Audio attempts exactly that with a pair of decks. The clear and curvaceous Design 1 reviewed here, and the rather more conventional (in appearance at least) Design 2. But there’s much more to the D1 than just a pretty shape, and like all good budget designs it mixes carefully selected parts and materials with a little bit of lateral thinking.
The heart of any ‘table is the platter and drive system and for these the D1 (sensibly) draws heavily on the competition. The glass platter spins freely on a moulded sub-platter and standing bearing of distinctly Rega derivation – a sure way of maintaining quality without busting the parts budget. However, the platter mat is a nicely executed cork design, complete with label recess. The motor is bolted securely to the 25mm thick plinth, close coupled to the sub-platter by a short rubber belt: so far (mat apart) so very Rega. But this is where the D1 starts to diverge from its spiritual mentor (and organ donor). The plinth is cut from a single sheet of clear acrylic, carefully shaped, beautifully polished and with a careful radius on the upper edge that lends a smooth and luxurious feel to it. Which brings us to the feet, and the really clever/simple part of the equation. The plinth is supported on three, freestanding pucks turned from the same 25mm acrylic. These have a course felt pad underneath, just like the scuff pads you stick to the legs of chairs, and a hemispherical rubber nipple on top, providing a mixed compliance energy path and a degree of decoupling in a single, elegant element. The one thing they don’t provide is levelling, but then, you can’t have everything.
The other big difference between this and most of the competition is that the D1 runs from an external power supply, which further isolates the electronics from the stylus/record interface. This is a simple on/off device and speed change still relies on a stepped pulley, but it’s a worthwhile exercise when it comes to sound quality. Tonearm is the Moth Marketing version of the ubiquitous Rega RB250, but equipped with the latest three-screw mounting, derived from the one on the RB1000. Rega claim superior sound from the arrangement, but it does do away with even the rudimentary VTA adjustment available from the various threaded collars on the market; one step forward and two steps back methinks. Arm height is set in this case with a simple triangular plate that looks to be cut from Perspex, and which could usefully have been a little thicker. The D1 arrived with an Ortofon 2M Red moving-magnet cartridge mounted, a good physical match for the Rega arm which retails for around £60, but I also used it with a Dynavector DV 20X, both aligned with the Feickert protractor rather than the rudimentary Rega one-point item (resulting in something like a 2mm difference in overhang).
The Aries Audio D1 is characterized by the calm, stable clarity of its sound. Compared to a Rega P5 it offers a bigger, far deeper and better-defined soundstage with the extra separation, detail and focus that implies. Where the Rega has an appealingly sense of substance and momentum, scoring high on the traditional toe-tap test, switching to the Aries leaves it sounding grey, grainy and congested, the acrylic deck placing more emphasis on the individuals and their contribution, allowing you to see further into the mix, appreciate the power of ensemble and arrangement. But, at the same time it does so without the music losing its sense of purpose or energy. It’s just that now you can hear why its moving forward and what’s driving it.
The D1 works wonders on the grungy morass of Warner’s Neil Young Greatest Hits, bringing a space and delicacy to "After The Goldrush" to complement the direction and unflustered organisation it instils in the meandering excursion of "Down By The River". The contrasting guitar lines are kept separate, supporting and anchoring each other, binding together a track that can all too easily subside into a meaningless jumble. The Aries Audio deck doesn’t just unravel the musical facts, it manages to make sense of them too. Of course, the price you often pay for clarity and separation is a lack of substance or power when the musical density ramps up. Let the stylus run on into "Cowgirl In The Sand" and whilst the slabs of sound that build into the track’s opening aren’t quite as solid and rooted as they are with the Rega ‘table, there’s more texture, a clearer relationship between the stabbed rhythm guitar and the power chords of the lead, a relationship that’s vital as the track climbs into the first verse.
Play the sort of discs that sound good whatever the system and the differences become more academic. So Benny Carter’s Further Definitions is suitably motive on the Rega, more subtle and creatively layered on the D1, the greater range of colour and extra space helping sort out the elegance of the arrangements. But turn to less polished performers and recordings and the added poise and insight of the Aries design comes to the fore, consistently sorting out the densest of mixes without pulling them apart. Add a cartridge of the quality of the DV 20X or a Lyra Dorian and you build still further on those strengths, while the use of the Moth arm allows the option of an Incognito wiring upgrade that I’d certainly consider. But even in basic form this is an impressively communicative and musical performer that will provide an excellent vinyl source, whether as a starter deck or to play second fiddle to digital with an existing record collection. It’s an attractive and capable addition to the market.