The Grand Prix Audio Monaco Turntable

Grand Prix Audio Monaco
The Grand Prix Audio Monaco Turntable

Turntable design has seen little real innovation since the 1980s, with development fastening instead on the refinement of existing approaches – refinement that has followed two basic paths: increasing simplicity and increasing mass. Indeed, the vast majority of record players now offered to the public constitute subtle variations on an extremely basic theme; rigidly coupled plinth systems support heavy platters, belt driven from standalone motors. The more you pay the more you get: more belts, more motors, more mass. Okay, so I’m exaggerating slightly, but the only really innovative turntables I’ve seen since the original AR-XA, are the Versa Dynamics 2.0 air-bearing design and its spiritual descendants, the Rockport record players, culminating in the impressive and vastly expensive Sirius III, complete with a dual-axis air-bearing, zero-contact direct-drive system and vacuum platter, all contained in a massive, active air-suspended and constrained layer plinth. No wonder the purchase price was astronomical.

For us mere mortals such exotic creations are largely irrelevant, leaving us with a choice of variations on the belt-driven theme – variations that have, in fairness, achieved a high level of performance, given the inherent shortcomings of the approach. Shortcomings? Well – yes. I’m afraid that given the essential dichotomy at the heart of turntable design, a stretchy belt isn’t exactly a high-tech response. The problem facing any turntable designer is to create a player that revolves at accurate, stable speed and does so quietly (meaning, without excessive mechanical vibration). The trouble is that accurate, stable speed control demands a close coupled drive system and the motor just happens to be the biggest single source of vibration in the unit. Hence the use of belt-drive, which doesn’t just decouple the motor noise, it also helps solve the far thornier issue of real-time variations in speed, through the twin devices of elasticity and slippage. So, far from subtle changes in motor speed are evened out by the belt into less jagged and intrusive variations. Like I said, it may not be sophisticated, but it is surprisingly effective. So much so that it drove off the commercial threat of direct-drive with comparative ease, despite the latter’s clear theoretical benefits. You see, even if you coupled a decent, quiet direct drive motor to a well-engineered bearing (which actually isn’t that difficult) the Achilles heel was the speed control system, which used servos to hunt the correct speed. The end result was arguably a platter that turned constantly too fast or too slow, but most damagingly of all, was constantly changing speed, a subtle distortion the ear detected all too readily. The advantage of a belt drive is that those fluctuations in speed are far more gradual and thus less intrusive.

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