Moving over to the Ellington album, on ‘El Gato’, the orchestra builds slow and then thanks to a razor sharp fanfare from trumpeter Cat Anderson and the rest of the horn section, you jump out of your seat. Except in most cases you don’t; the range of this is curtailed and just sounds smooth. Here, it’s as dynamic and exciting as if you were in that Jazz festival 55 years ago.
It’s powerful, almost shockingly so, loud and exciting.
OK, so listening to two albums is not even the beginning of a review of a component this important, but practically everything that followed only served to extend slightly on those first two cuts. And I don’t think that was blind luck; the Kuzma M’s abilities are such that you could take almost any two albums you know well, play them one after another and then have such a profound take on the performance of the deck that you’ll reach for the credit card seconds later. Why? Because not only will you hear near enough everything that was put on the vinyl, the recording defines the parameters of sound (which is how it should be). Or rather, all other things being equal, the recording defines the parameters of the sound – if you have a strongly-flavoured cartridge or phono stage or amps or speakers, naturally that will be the sticking point, but the turntable itself is not going to introduce its own flavours into that mix.
This is most easily resolved listening to soundstaging. If what’s on the vinyl is deep and narrow, the soundstage will be deep and narrow; if it’s wide of the loudspeakers, it will be wide of the loudspeakers. If it’s got some image height, as in those classic Decca SXLs when you feel almost like you are looking down on the musicians from the gods, all served up as it comes. It’s not simply the soundstage, but that part hits you first. Then comes the detail resolution, the delicate articulation of voice and instrument on k.d. lang’s ‘Save Me’ from here 1992 Ingénue LP. And then you begin to listen further into the mix.
An interesting part of this is how it exposes dynamics and microdynamics. It suggests that the whole microdynamics thing is a red herring; when you hear what an unforced dynamic turntable can do, there is no differentiation between macro- and microdynamics, there is just the music. Of course you can hear the squeak of the drum pedal; you can hear it when there’s just a bass drum and a bass line being played, and you can hear it when the whole band fires up. Why would anything be otherwise?
The thing about the Kuzma M is it does what only the best products do; you end up describing aspects of its performance not in a ‘it does this’ or ‘it makes this piece of music sound like that’, but in terms of what other things fail at doing. The best way of describing this is it’s like Franc Kuzma sat down and listened to a cross-section of the best turntables (including a couple of his own designs) and mixed together all of the good bits and ironed out all of the negative parts. And, the rivals aren’t exactly stocked full of negatives. Put it this way, a lot of people listen to something like a top spec Linn or an SME and love it. A few will say, “it’s not for me, because…” and identify a performance characteristic that they don’t like. Usually, when not coloured by something almost ideological, the thing not liked is surprisingly consistent, and is often the same performance aspect liked by those who bought the deck; the Linn’s simplicity of delivery and upper bass richness can also be viewed as over-simplifying the music and glossing over deep bass information, the SME’s even-handed presentation (in the hands of those who love it) can be viewed as boring (by those who don’t). The Kuzma Stabi M is that rare thing, a turntable that doesn’t oversimplify or overstate the music, that doesn’t emphasise one aspect of performance at the expense of others and that simply gets on with the job of resolving music beautifully. Arguably, more beautifully even than the Kuzma XL2 that stands atop it in price.