Even without looking at the name, you know this is German through and through. Just the first look at the turntable convinces you that you are in the presence of Big German Audio of the first water. It’s big, bold and just the right side of sensible. And the arm looks like a magic wand... of course it’s German.
Scheu Analog is a Berlin-based company. Originally started some 20 years ago by Thomas Scheu, the company transferred to his wife Ulla when Thomas passed away in late 2004. He left a legacy of solid turntables, arms and cartridges. Of which Das Laufwerk (Laufwerk is German for ‘drive-mechanism’) turntable is the top of the tree. Well, two tops of the tree; there’s a Laufwerk No 1, which uses two layers of acrylic and stainless steel columns to achieve a high mass design, and the No 2. This abandons the layered design and just goes for inert high mass in the shape of a dirty great triangle of acrylic. It’s not that commonly known outside of the UK, but Scheu has taken this to the logical extreme, the high mass acrylic base becoming a healthy chunk of slate.
It uses an inverted bearing made of extremely hard ball- bearing steel, with a white ceramic ball resting on the top of the spindle. This is identical to the design laid down by Thomas Scheu in the still current Premier turntable. However, the bearing chamber in the Laufwerk has an additional grade of damping and resonance built into the system by mass-loading the bearing chamber with lead shot. Although, because of RoHS, I suspect ‘lead’ is an euphemism for something less intrinsically leaddy.
Scheu considers the Laufwerk Slate a special edition of the No 2 deck and with good reason – the fundamentals are identical, only the mass and material of the chassis differs. However, Ivan at UK distributor Cool Gales thinks the change in material changes the performance significantly enough to warrant it being a standalone turntable in its own right, and as the Scheu decks are hand-built, it’s not a big deal. Whatever the chassis material, the rest of the deck remains functionally identical. It uses the same 80mm thick, 7.5kg acrylic platter (which you can get in both smoked or clear finish), a fully isolated off- board DC motor power supply (Cool Gales recommends a length of fishing line as a belt, although rubberised belts are available), and adjustable feet. It’s very easy to level, thanks in part to an optional £100 record clamp, which also features a spirit level on the top (Linn users need not apply – it’s massy enough to throw off the suspension). The tonearm sits on top of one of the levelling towers, and that means up to three arms can be used at the same time. As standard these come in acrylic, but bronze armboards are special orders.
The Tacco Mk II is at the acme of Scheu arm design. Interestingly, while many companies try to develop a similar line of arms – just adding more as you go up the range – there is almost no common family design between the three Scheu arms, although they are all unipivots. Unlike the Braun-like simplicity of the folded aluminium Classic Mk II or the modern lines of the clear Perspex Cantus, the wooden arm wand of the Tacco Mk II and the tungsten headshell and bearing housing/counterweight/business end of the arm makes it look very traditional. It’s a jewel of an arm. Literally – the bearing tip is ruby and its recess is made of white sapphire. The wand itself is made from thuja cedar or ambiona pine (although other materials are available on request) and is tapered slightly to the cartridge end. The choice of wand material dictates the effective mass of the arm, but as in standard guise it’s around 14g or 16g respectively, the arm is broadly compatible with almost all modern cartridges. It’s a well-thought out arm, as evidenced by the way the arm mount has a hole cut into it to allow the anti-skate weighted line to stay close to the arm itself, instead of hanging out to the side of the arm where it can be moved by accident. This involved some recalculation of the anti-skate mechanics, but makes the arm look less Heath Robinson/Rube Goldberg than similar arrangements on other arms.
The one part of the deck that is sourced outside of Scheu is the cartridge. It’s a Benz. Well, several Benz, rolled into one. The denuded MC Scheu S has the body of a Ruby, with the generator of the top LP, with silver coils and a Namiki micro-ridge stylus tip. It’s a low output design, with an output voltage of just 0.35mV, so it requires either a quiet phono stage with lots of gain, or a step-up.
Arm/cartridge set-up is relatively straight-forward, as you mount the cartridge to a plate that bolts to the arm in place of a headshell, and this allows easy alignment. You will need the appropriate tools (or better yet, the appropriate installer to do it for you) to set alignment, azimuth, VTA, VTF and antiskate, and the design does not lend itself to on-the-fly adjustment of any of these parameters, so it’s best considered a fit and forget device. In fact, that applies to the deck entire; if you are the ‘jump up every three tracks and mess with something’ kind of guy, the Scheu is not for you.
On the other hand, if you are wanting a deck that combines the benefits of some of the big high mass designs, coupled with the fleetness of foot that comes with the sort of turntables the British often favour, the Scheu combination has a lot to offer. At the moment, most turntables tend to either go with the deep, controlled bass and expansive, extended treble of high-mass designs – sometimes at the expense of the midband – with the excellent mid-band and speed of light, suspended designs, with the loss of impact at the frequency extremes. The Scheu does both, and well. This seems to be a trend in European decks at this time, but it makes the turntable sound at once light and airy and powerful and dynamic. An almost perfect combination.
What this means is the deck goes beyond those test records you play to determine performance (one of mine seems to be Sea Change by Beck... I end up playing it early in almost every LP review), but also those records you don’t play so often, because they don’t sound so good. Things like Music for Drumlanrig on CRD, staple diet of the Flat Earth years but sounds thin, reedy and weedy now. The Scheu cannot remix this recording, but it does bring out the vital (especially on this recording) midrange well. Play the same on many high-mass decks and the top-end screeches unnecessarily. This deck brings a sense of order and balance to proceedings.
There are two observations worth making, though. The DC motor is powerful enough to spin up the high-mass platter without causing a fuss, but it’s best if its given some help up front – a judicious push on the platter brings the deck up to speed faster and without what seems like a very short-term speed hunt over than first half a second or so. Also, the cartridge, while good, is not for me. While it has the smoothness of a good Benz, it’s perhaps too satiny and makes the overall performance almost soft-toned. I think this is more a personal choice than a criticism; I am more of a Koetsu admirer than a Koetsu lover, after all, and what some find as ‘richly musical’, I find ‘rose-tinted’. And I’m kind of fully Benz’d to the max with the SLR I use. But if you listen to the full-up Scheu and find it a bit ‘voluptuous’, try it with a different cartridge. But it’s a mark of just how honest the deck and arm are that the cartridge can make that big a difference.
In fact my biggest criticism is my lousy German. I had a whole series of bad puns lined up, based on the concept that ‘Scheu’ rhymes with ‘shoe’ (“... if the Scheu fits” being the most clunky). But it rhymes with ‘boy’, and that gives me next to nothing to work with. Of course, the implications of this are that if most of my criticism is based on not being able to crack a funny about the brand name, you can be pretty damn sure the deck itself is an absolute honey. And this deck certainly fits that description. Puns or not.
The Laufwerk Slate is an excellent deck, the Tacco II arm is an excellent arm, the MC Scheu S is a good+ cartridge, but the whole is even better than the sum of the parts. For myself, I’d probably choose a cartridge with more pep in its step (a top Lyra, for example), if only because both deck and arm are capable of extracting a massive amount of information off the groove, presenting a platform as neutral across the mid and top as it is deep at the bottom. Most of all, it sounds like a high-end deck that accidently shrunk the price tag (and nothing else) in the wash. If you are looking for a lightweight upgrade on a Rega, jog on, but if you are wanting a lot of what the really big and heavy guns in the turntable world, without your bank balance taking a pounding in the process, this should be close to the top of your list.
· Slate chassis with stainless steel adjustable feet/tonearm bases
· Height-adjustable spike-shaped steel feet
· Can support up to three tonearms
· Armboards for various tone arms, available in acrylic, brass or bronze
· Inverted bearing
· 80mm high, 7.5kg acrylic platter
· Electronically regulated DC motor
· Microcontroller with digital 4-Q PI-controller
· Overload protection by integrated speed-dependent current-limitation
· Fine-speed adjustment +-3% for 33 and 45 rpm. for belt, tape or string-drive
Dimensions (WxDxH): 48x42x19cm
Weight: approximately 38kg
· Deck: £6,995
· Scheu Tacco II unipivot arm (see text): £2,295
· MC Scheu S cartridge (see text): £1,495
Tel: (UK only): 0800 043 6710