Some years back and writing for our US-based sister publication The Absolute Sound I had the opportunity to review the intensely iconoclastic and decidedly British Nottingham Analogue Studios Space 294 turntable and tonearm. Coming upon the turntable/tonearm package at first, I found that almost everything about it seemed to march to the beat of a different drummer. For starters, the Nottingham machine was designed to play 12-inch LPs, yet it sported a massive 14-inch platter said to provide superior stability and a higher level of rotational inertia for greater speed stability than a 12-inch platter would have afforded. Plainly the late Tom Fletcher, who designed all Nottingham products, was not afraid to “think outside the box.”
Next, the table featured an ultra low-torque synchronous motor—one so low in torque, in fact, that it was quite incapable of bringing the platter up to speed from a dead stop. In practice, this meant two things (both of which have given some audiophiles fits). First, users must start the Space 294 by grasping its platter rim and giving it a firm spin; when the record is done, users reverse the process, grasping the spinning platter and gently forcing it to a stop. Second, the turntable has no on/off switch of any kind. Instead, the turntable motor remains powered up at all times; you simply spin the platter when you want it to go, and stop it (using your hands like the calipers of disc braking system) when the record is finished. Why put up with all of this? The simple answer is that Mr. Fletcher believed the best way to prevent motor-induced turntable noise was to use motors that had just enough torque to hold the platter at the desired rotational speed (but not enough to haul the platter up to speed from a stop). Judging by the remarkably quiet backgrounds the 294 affords, Mr. Fletcher may indeed have been on to something.
Third, the table featured a 12-inch (or 294mm, hence the name) mechanically damped unipivot tonearm that, in its way, proved every bit as unorthodox as the 294 turntable did. Thus, the arm featured a carbon fibre armtube with a press fitted, machined aluminium cartridge carrier or headshell. According to Nottingham, the geometry of the arm is such that very little azimuth adjustment is needed with many phono cartridges, but where necessary the only method for adjustment involves grasping the arm tube in one hand and the headshell in the other, then vigourously yet carefully twisting the headshell within the armtube until the desired geometry is achieved. What is more, Fletcher cautioned that fasteners as used throughout the turntable in general, and on the tonearm in particular, were to be cinched firmly, but not too firmly (the notion being that overly tight fasteners would adversely affect the sound). Plainly, Nottingham setup is not for the fainthearted, nor for those lacking in manual dexterity or patience.