History is a funny thing. It can be positive – or it can be negative. Generally speaking, saying that you “have history” with someone, isn’t good. Nor is it a fixed or finite truth, famously being written by the victors – victors who more often than not, airbrush the content as well as deciding on their own starting point. Considering just how central the three-point suspended sub-chassis turntable has been to the development of the UK audio experience, its genesis and evolution is at best murky and at worst obscured by the sort of “nothing to see here” smokescreen that any government would be proud of. Ask a Linn-acolyte and Year Zero is marked by the birth of the LP12 – the AR-XA and Thorens TD150 simply ignored, while the Ariston RD11 has been expunged from the record with all the extreme prejudice normally reserved for a Stalinist apparatchik who got a little too good at their job. Likewise, the expression ‘big three’ means different things to different people: for some it consists of the Linn, Pink Triangle, and Roksan, while those with longer memories or more fundamentalist views might include the Logic DM101 in place of the barely suspended Xerxes. But if you really want to go back to the dawn of time – at least UK ‘triple-time’ – then the third player would really be the Dunlop Systemdek, a turntable whose star had arguably already started to wane when the Logic first appeared. Which is, as is so often the case, slightly ironic, as of all the basic models mentioned above, the Systemdek, with its low-slung, low-frequency suspension was arguably the most mechanically stable and forward looking of all…
I’m not sure when ‘history’ becomes ‘heritage’, but somewhere between the demise of the original Systemdek III and the emergence of the current Systemdek 3D models (the Precision reviewed here and the bigger and pricier Reference), that’s what’s happened. Show the 3D Precision to audiophiles of a certain age and they come over all misty eyed, fondly reminiscing about those older Systemdeks (record players they were probably all too quick to dismiss with the impetuosity of youth). Of course, there’s much more to the Systemdek story than just the original Systemdek III, with the more affordable II, and cylindrical IIX enjoying considerable success – the former living on in evolved form in the shape of the various Audio Note turntables. Likewise, the company has passed from father Peter Dunlop to sons Derek and Ramsay with unbroken continuity, and the current designs are clearly the result of all that accumulated knowledge and experience, from the use of a laminated sub-chassis in the Reference to the highly evolved suspension system across the range. Look beneath the solid exterior of the 3D turntables and you quickly discover the strengths inherent in that original DNA, firmly supporting the thoroughly modern feature list.
The heart of any turntable is the main bearing and drive system. Systemdek has embraced current thinking as far as the bearing goes, a massive 20mm shaft supported by opposed magnets, running in a hybrid Teflon sleeve/oil bath arrangement that ensures not just low, but consistent levels of friction and vanishingly low rumble figures. The bearing supports a 50mm thick Delrin platter that is driven peripherally from a separate, free-standing motor pod. But showing that they are not simply following fashion, the large diameter pulley sits atop an AC synchronous motor, driven from a sophisticated external and user adjustable power supply. The bearing is of course supported on a floating sub-chassis, machined from solid aluminium and hanging from three spring assemblies that allow levelling from above – a distinct improvement on previous Systemdek set ups. The substantial depth of the platter mandates a Delrin up-stand beneath the armboard, a mixed material construction that helps inhibit ringing in the sub-chassis. The armboard itself is ovoid in shape, a stylistic feature inherited from earlier Systemdek designs, although in this case, rather than providing real-estate for the arm-rest, it is aligned with the spindle axis, allowing the 3D to accept arms between 9” and 12” in length. The substantial suspended mass combined with the spring extension is responsible for the stable, low-frequency motion of the suspension system, also inherited from and so reminiscent of the original. The Systemdek suspension has a calm, unflustered feel that gives the whole record player a subtle sense of luxury, a quality reinforced by the massive aluminium chassis, stainless steel uprights, and hardware.
Quite apart from its contribution to the dynamic character of the deck, that high suspended mass also makes the 3D precision far more tolerant of arm-mass and off-set, an important consideration if it really is going to match the widest range of tonearms. Partly with that in mind I chose to partner the 3D Precision with the Kuzma 4POINT, an 11” arm that is longer and, at a shade over 2kg in weight, considerably heavier than most arms the Systemdek is likely to be paired with. What it also offers is precise, repeatable adjustment of all cartridge set up parameters, on the fly VTA (itself a test for any suspended deck), and in these days of stratospherically priced tonearms, top-flight performance at a price that borders on the sensible. What’s more, the Kuzma’s sheer drive, musical energy, uninhibited dynamics, clarity and separation are the perfect foil for the Systemdek’s big, stable sound. The pre-cut armboard supplied (I opted for the optional carbon-fibre upgrade) made mounting the arm a doddle, and the combination of adjustable feet on the deck and the easy levelling of the sub-chassis meant that set up was incredibly straightforward – once I’d got my head back into suspended ‘table land and remembered to put a record, the Stillpoints clamp, and the arm in playing position... all before final levelling! Good thing it really was that straightforward! That aside, the Systemdek proved to be refreshingly free of set up foibles. I used it on both Hutter and HRS racks and it seemed effectively impervious to the supporting surface – just so long as that surface was capable of supporting its 45kg weight. Yes – unlike those older three-point suspended designs, the Systemdek 3D has bulked up in line with other high-end audio designs. Its slightly broader footprint might not look that much bigger, but the increase in price has allowed access to a wider range of materials and the result is a deck that remains man portable – but only just. One thing it is worth playing with: belt tension. I found that even quite small changes in the distance between the motor pod and platter had a significant impact on the deck’s sense of focus and transparency. Fortunately it’s an easy (and easily heard) tweak, so getting it right presents no problem.