There’s so much Kuzma DNA in here, it’s difficult to sort out precisely what comes from where, but I think a lot of the Kuzma R springs from the success of the Kuzma M. This huge integrated design has its disadvantages – it’s larger than many equipment supports, it’s so heavy that its only sold in black because light cannot escape from its clutches, and it is too expensive for many audiophiles. With its more pared back aesthetic and ethos, the Kuzma R offers much of what the M also offers, but in a more manageable and attainable package.
So, perhaps it might come as no great shock to find the Kuzma M and R share many common tonal balances. They are not completely tonally identical, however. What is especially good about the R is it’s not simply a stripped-back sounding M, and in many ways might just be a more rounded turntable than its bigger brother, in a manner similar to the way the 4Point 9 is a more rounded, more forgiving design than its bigger brothers. It doesn’t mean the cheaper deck is ‘better’ than the more expensive one, just more forgiving.
Of course, the big thing missing from the Kuzma Stabi M is the elastomer suspension system. That clever system that helps control stray resonance, and yet isn’t a full suspension system like you might find in a Linn or old Pink Triangle. In addition, the Stabi R does feature plastic damping sleeves between the main chassis and each of the feet, and this acts to decouple the turntable from its environment. Nevertheless, the lack of full damped suspension system does make for a less differentiated bass and upper midrange; where the Stabi R can portray a deep bass note, the Stabi M better defines the shape of that bass note. There’s almost no difference in terms of bass depth, but a wealth of difference between the way that bass is delivered to the listener.
Staying in an all Kuzma context, the tonal balance and the extended treble of both decks are very similar, but I think some of the slight forwardness in the upper mids and low treble has gone away to no small extent. OK so in terms of absolute detail resolution, the Stabi R is inferior to the Stabi M. Not by much, and that inferior performance might make the Stabi R the better option, because it makes the sound a little more inviting than the more ‘reference’ sound of the M.
How this plays out is especially noticeable in choral pieces. Fauré’s Requiem [EMI] or Haydn’s Nelson Mass [Vox Turnabout] for example sound as if you can hear every individual voice within the choir on the Stabi M (this is not the case, but it feels like the voices are distinct), and there is almost a tension as you wait for the one bum note that you know some baritone sang. The Stabi R is not quite so unflinching in its midrange performance and that sense of tension is reduced.
That aside, the Stabi R is not too dissimilar from the Stabi M in performance. OK, so it doesn’t have the absolute pitch stability and the kind of motor that can go from zero to 45rpm in a single turn of the platter, but it’s not far off. The pitch stability is not an audible aspect of the performance, but more about just how much torque goes into the Stabi M, and how the Stabi R is not in the same league, even though it gets very close.
Most importantly, what it shares with its bigger brother is that sense of absolute confidence in its own performance. There’s a sense of order to the sound that only seems to come with a high-mass platter being driven by a DC motor with a lot of reserve in the tank. It toes the right balance between expressive and exuberant, and authoritative and dour. The control of the sound isn’t so overpowering as to make the turntable seem oppressive, and yet isn’t so free as to make it wayward. It’s a clever balance shared to a lesser or greater extent with all Kuzma decks, and in the Stabi R, it’s most definitely ‘greater’.
This is best expressed in its handling of dynamic range, which is little short of superb. Not only in the big expressive swings of a Mahler symphony, but in those quiet microdynamic interplays between musicians and the band that audiophiles love so much. I went badly audiophile retro here for a brief interlude, playing those two Propirus recordings every single hi-fi buff from the late 1970s onwards used to buy: Cantate Dominoand Porn at the Jazz Shop. Sorry, Jazz at the Pawn Shop. They were popular for a reason, but – in the latter case especially – the reason wasn’t a musical one. It’s not enough that you realise you are listening more for the drinks clattering in the background than you are to the ‘music’, it’s that you actually come to enjoy that musically bankrupt piece. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to actually ‘like’ Jazz at the Pawn Shop, but the Stabi R gave me new-found respect for the recording process. Given this was one of the remnants from my hi-fi store days, seemingly know it backwards because I must have played it 1,000 times a year for several years, that the Stabi R is delving deeper into the musical information on the disc, and whatever you might think of that recording, the Stabi R’s influence there is significant. That it meant me dusting off a record I haven’t played in almost 30 years shows just how competant the Stabi R really is.
Beyond the Kuzma comparison, the Stabi R does make an excellent turntable package in and of itself. It’s combination of tonal evenness, with the added bonus of a hugely foot-tapping sound and excellent imaging properties make this a deck for the ages. OK, if you want the etched, forward sound that is taking all the credit today, know that the Stabi R comes from a very different place, one that goes for naturalness of sound, and follows the ethos laid down by the late Harry Pearson decades before Kuzma made its first turntable. You feel drawn to well-recorded, unamplified sounds in a natural acoustic, hence the reaching for those ancient Proprius recordings. The Stabi R has the power to shock, as long as your records are up to the task.
The turntable part of the Kuzma Stabi R is a complete package in and of itself, with no need for upgrades. Kuzma does make a record clamp, but even this is not stressed as a ‘must have’ upgrade. Many will prefer that to the seemingly endless array of upgradable subchassis, top-plates, power supplies, feet, and all the add-on options to help ‘sell up’ the basic turntable package produced by some rival brands. The modularity is in the arm wings, outriggers, balconies, and plinth options. Essentially, once you have your requisite number of arms (and let’s be honest, for most people that’s probably some number that is ever so slightly more than 0.9 and ever so slightly less than 2.1 arms), you are basically done.
The point of the Kuzma Stabi R is to make an extremely flexible transcription turntable package, capable of supporting as many tonearms as any enthusiast might ever want, even though I suspect few will venture much past one arm, fewer still will go much beyond two arms, and few (if any) will go with three arms or more. I also think few will take up the plinth option – although wrapping a transcription deck in a tree was a popular choice back in the early 1970s, it was in part because a Garrard or Thorens of the time didn’t have much more than a handful of standoffs to hold it in place, and a nice box made of teak would fit the bill well. Those times are gone however, and the Stabi R in a dedicated plinth does cut an imposing figure on the equipment stand.