While many would say that ours is the age of high resolution digital audio the Munich High-End Show 2013 gave ample evidence that analogue audio and vinyl playback are not only alive and well, but thriving. As always, a number of very serious (and in many cases seriously expensive) turntables and tonearms debuted in Munich, along with associated electronics.
One common theme involves pushing the limits of turntable construction, with ever more massive platter and plinths, superb main bearings, and exotic, ultra high-precision motors and motor control electronics. Another theme involves creation of increasingly exotic tonearms, many whose bearing surfaces feature almost unimaginably tight construction tolerances.
But one interesting development, in at least two cases we can think of, involves renewed interest in the concept of pivoting tangential tracking tonearms (think in terms of the late Garrard Zero-100 tonearm, but executed with true, aerospace grade precision). The point, we think, is that vinyl playback is enjoying a resurgence of enthusiast support as this year’s Munich product releases demonstrate.
We apologise in advance to any manufacturers whose products we may fail to mention here. Munich is a large show so that, perhaps inevitably, some new components may inadvertently be overlooked.
For the sake of simplicity, we present products in alphabetical order, organized by the names of their manufacturers.
Manufacturers covered in this report include: Acoustic Signature, Acoustical Systems, Audio Exklusiv, Bergmann, Clearaudio, Da Vinci, Dr. Feickert Analogue, EAT, Holborne, iFi, JR/Transrotor, and Kronos.
The German analogue specialist introduced two new turntables—the Triple XXX and entry-level Wow, a new clamping weight called the Load, and revised (and improved) version of the firm’s well-liked Challenger turntable. The new Challenger (€3,000) sports an all-new electronic speed control module that tucks neatly beneath the ‘table’s plinth for an elegant appearance.
Acoustical Systems’ Axiom tonearm (€11,800) attracted a great deal of attention, as it promises to be one of the most precisely made gimbal-bearing-equipped tonearms yet made. Featuring an arm wand consisting of a carbon fibre inner tube within an outer titanium tube, with liquid damping material in the gap between, the Axiom leaves no stone unturned in its quest for higher performance. Of particular interest is a head shell made of 1773A aircraft aluminium, a tungsten counterweight, and frictionless magnetic tracking force and antiskating adjustments.
Though perhaps best known for its electrostatic speakers, Audio Exklusiv also offers a robust-looking turntable known simply as the Laufwerk Reference (€5,500). The version displayed at Munich featured a plinth made of Carrera marble.
Bergmann is best known for its air-bearing equipped turntables, all of which are fitted with air-bearing-type radial tracking tonearms. Current models include the Magne (€8,600), the Sindre (€15,000), and the Sleipner (€34,000). For Munich, however, the firm announced that it will now offer a standalone version of the Magne’s radial tracking arm priced at €5,600, thus enabling owners of non-Bergmann ‘tables to try their hands at the tangential-tracking game.
Clearaudio released many new products at Munich that it is impossible for us to do justice to them in the space allotted. Hence, we must content ourselves with touching upon a few key highlights.
One such highlight would be the firm’s new Absolute Phono phonostage system (€9,000 - €9,900, depending on configuration), which essentially features an active tonearm system where part of the phonostage circuitry is housed in the tonearm head shell and part housed in a matching outboard chassis. Benefits are said to include a dramatic reduction in noise, as step-up gain—where needed—is applied directly at the head shell. Clearaudio points out that there is a 10% discount for customers who order the Absolute Phono system in conjunction with Clearaudio turntable/tonearm packages.
Another would be the firm’s flagship, two-chassis Reference Phono phono stage (€15,000), said to be the best Clearaudio knows how to make.
Still another would be the TT-3 tonearm (€3,050), which is the firm’s lowest priced tangential tracking arm to date.
Finally, we were impressed by Clearaudio’s spectacular Double Matrix Professional record cleaning machine (€2,800), which can vacuum-clean both sides of the record at once, while also providing ultrasonic cleaning capabilities.
Many analogue enthusiasts are rightly wowed by Da Vinci’s spectacular AAS Gabriel turntable and matching arm, but at Munich we were pleased to see a somewhat less well known offering from the firm; namely, the In Unison OO8 turntable (€28,000), which is suitable for use with 12-inch tonearms.
Dr. Feickert Analogue
Dr. Christian Feickert, founder of the analogue-oriented company that bears his name, was showing all three of his turntable designs at Munich: the single-motor Woodpecker (starting at €3,990), the two-motor Blackbird (starting at €5,990, and the three-motor Firebird (starting at €9,800). In a brief conversation with Dr. Feickert, we asked about the possibility of there being Dr. Feickert Analogue tonearm in the future. The good doctor smiled enigmatically as replied, “Ask me about this again later in the year.” Stay tuned.
Euro Audio Team (EAT)
Many of us think of EAT as a supplier of ultra high-quality valves and valve-based electronics, but as it turns out the firm has now bridged out to become a maker of fine turntables. The range includes the EAT E-Flat (€3,999), which derives its name from its flat, almost blade-like composite tonearm, the EAT Forte S (starting at €5,370), and the flagship, two-chassis EAT Forte (starting at €14,800 with Ikeda 407 tonearm).
The Swiss firm Holborne showed its DC motor-powered, belt-drive Analog 2 MkII turntable (€6,900), which typically would be bundled with the firm’s Dualpivot MkII tonearm (€2,350). The ‘table is supplied with an external motor control module that provides separate pitch controls for 33, 45, and 78 RPM records.
iFi is, as many Hi-Fi+ readers already know, a spin-off from the British firm Abbingdon Music Research. What words cannot adequately convey, however, is the sheer sonic sophistication of the iFi’s compact and very affordable micro-components. A perfect example would be the firm’s iPhono phono stage (€399), which sounds so good you might think there was digit missing somewhere in the unit’s price tag. But not so; the iPhono is simply that good, thanks—no doubt—to liberal applications of AMR-derived design know-how.
Few manufacturers offer a more extensive range of turntable models than JR/Transrotor, but this fact did not deter the firm from introducing three new models at Munich. These included, in ascending order of price, the Dark Star Silver Shadown (€2,900), the Classic.3 Chrom (€5,625), and the eye-catching Classic.3 Gold (€6,815), so named because of its gleaming gold-plated metal trim.
We also were intrigued by the relatively new, magnetic-drive Fat Bob Reference 80 TMD (€4,600), which is available with an extended armboard suitable for mounting a JR-spec, 12-inch SME 5012 tonearm. The Fat Bob Reference 80 TMD + SME package sells for about €9,500).
The French-Canadian firm Kronos has become famous for its turntable, which sports dual counter-rotating platters, said to cancel out a number of forms of vibration common in typical single-platter turntables. For Munich, though, the central news involved a Kronos designed stand for the turntable, said to simplify set-up and day-to-day use. News flash: In a brief conversation during the show, Kronos revealed that a cost-reduced version of its exotic, dual-platter turntable is now under development.