It took 41 years for Burmester to make its first turntable, so the 175 had to be something really special. The company showed the world the 175 in prototype form in Munich 2017, with a mind to get the integrated turntable, arm, cartridge, and phono stage system out to interested parties a few months later. Now, just after Munich 2018, it’s finally ready... and it was worth the wait.
Since the reboot of vinyl, there has been an almost undisclosed and undiscussed part of the story; the high-end turnkey turntable replay system. If you are buying a low-cost turntable, you might very well buy a complete system, comprising timetable, arm, cartridge, and phono stage–all in the same box. Clearaudio, Pro-Ject, and Rega have all had successes with turnkey turntables. Once you get beyond a certain price, however, the turnkey system is replaced by a parts bin of different components from different manufacturers. It is then incumbent upon you or your dealer to put together a great sounding turntable.
Burmester is the first high-end brand to challenge this concept head-on with its new 175 model; it won’t be the last, as SME just announced its own turnkey turntable. To some, the very notion of a turnkey turntable is something of an abomination – fine for the lower orders, but not the sort of thing a ‘true audiophile’ would use. Instead, the ‘true audiophile’ way demands a separate turntable, arm, cartridge, and phono stage – chosen by means of a lengthy series of auditions – and either setting up the resultant package yourself or placing it in the hands of an expert.
Scratch the surface in this and you begin to see why this is not the only game in town. First, there’s the whole ‘true audiophile’ fallacy of equivocation. By shifting the goalposts, you can exclude practically anyone from the club. More importantly, some of the concepts of customisation of a turntable system are quite hard to parse today. Those ‘lengthy series of auditions’ are functionally limited by how many components dealers have in their possession, are willing to assemble to demonstrate, or are willing to loan out to even their most trusted customers. Let’s say you are able to put together a good deck, arm, cartridge, and phono stage by listening to three examples of each; that might mean anything from three to 12 separate demonstration turntables to find the best mix. Far better perhaps, to let someone else do the legwork for you?
Then there’s the set-up and installation. Yes, there are experts in the field who specialise in putting together high-performance turntable systems and in the process extract more from vinyl than you ever thought possible – we’ve even interviewed one of them (Stirling Trayle) at length. But it’s also worth noting that there was more than a decade hiatus in significant vinyl sales where those skills were being eroded in both store and listener. Which means a fully turnkey high-end turntable should not be discounted as some kind of soft option. For many, it’s the only way to get good vinyl performance.