Unlike the SG-1, there is no immediate upgrade pathway in the turntable itself (you can upgrade the SG-1 to RG-1 by replacing the main bearing and platter assembly), but I suspect that might not be a big concern for people who go for the MG-1. The deck shares the same external power supply as used in the bigger designs, and there is an optional dust cover, although not a hinged lid. Touraj has found a way of making a hinged lid that doesn’t interfere with the sound quality, and it even has a support system for the turntable. However, it is still in prototype form and you could buy something in the region of eight MG-1 designs for the same price as this when it comes to market. A larger dust cover designed for the SG-1 and RG-1 also fits.
We won’t spend too long on the SG-1 tonearm, primarily because it would be going over old ground. We reviewed it when we looked at the RG-1 turntable back in Issue 114, and it remains unchanged. To recap, the SG-1 arm uses what Vertere calls a Tri-Point Articulated (TPA) bearing, made up of three silicon nitride balls forming an equilateral triangle below the stainless steel pivot point, all bonded into the aluminium yoke. This supports an underslung counterweight (which is also good for correcting azimuth) on an aluminium outrigger, and a carbon-fibre wrap armtube ending in a bonded machined aluminium alloy headshell. Along the length of the armtube is a fine-tuning weight adjustment that doubles as a resonance control. Anti-skate is through the typical hanging weight system, although there are actually no OEM parts in the SG-1. The arm comes in two basic guises, with standard or handmade wiring, and there is a large range of arm cables.
The new kid in town, however, is the phono stage, called the PHONO-1. This one-input, single output, solid-state MM/MC stage is designed to have maximum flexibility in cartridge loading. It has two sets of DIP switches flanking the shielded central RIAA and preamplifier stages. The input loading sections (made up of two banks of eight switches each) allow for 15 resistance and nine capacitance settings, while the eight-switch bank for gain allows for ten different positions. Having these DIP switches on the main PCB prevents them from being accidentally moved, but it does mean you need to open the top of the case each time you want to adjust the settings. There is also a three-way ground switch at the rear of the PHONO-1. This allows for ‘hard ground’, ‘ground lift’ and ‘soft ground’ and depending on your system, one of these will produce very slightly less hum than the others.
The assemblies for power supply and phono stage, both use gold-plated PCBs chosen for best performance, and the two sections are physically separated and partially shielded from one another in the case itself. The screening can surrounding the RIAA and amplifier stages isolates the cartridge input from the noisier active stages.
“You can use the PHONO-1 with any cartridge!” Said Touraj. I took him at his word, and out came an old Ortofon MC7500 cartridge. This was – how can I put it nicely? – evil. The MC7500 is a fabulous cartridge from the 1990s, but it was virtually a cartridge in search of a phono stage good enough to cope. When it was launched, most were supplied with Ortofon’s own step-up transformer, because it delivered 0.15mV. Say that figure to most phono stage makers and you can see the blood drain from their faces. “That’s not a moving coil,” they say, “that’s a single piece of wire wrapped around a magnet.” They then mumble something that makes them sound like a muted McEnroe. Touraj just smiled and said, “Cool, let’s try it!”
This was a doubly difficult test for Vertere, because the MC7500 is not the kind of cartridge you would normally put on a deck and arm at this level. In 2017 prices, it would be north of about five grand in terms of index-linking and performance. The bigger RG-1 and SG-1 package could more than handle such a task, but could the MG-1, SG-1 and PHONO-1?
Of course it could! The MG-1’s two-compliant, one-rigid isolation system, offset with nine decoupling points may be scaled down from the SG-1, but it has the same basic concept, and returns the same basic performance, just in microcosm. It has the same sense of extremely dynamic, exciting sound, coupled with the same sense of that sound rising out of the darkest of backgrounds. It’s perhaps not quite the ‘sound of no turntable’ (the bigger decks achieve that goal), but the influence on the music is minimal.
The dynamic range on this turntable is phenomenal, bettered only by a few, and two of those in the Vertere range. Play ‘Where Is My Mind’ by The Pixies on their awesome Surfer Rosa LP [4AD] and that quiet-loud-quiet structure that defined many of their songs takes on an edge-of-the-seat quality. You really jump out of your seat when the drums kick in. It’s absolute maximum excitement. Couple this with being in lock-step to the timing, and huge amounts of detail, and it’s hard not to be swept up by the presentation.
The soundstage is impressive, too, with a great sense of presence and lots of room filling detail. My go-to record for testing this is the Decca SXL of the Overture to The Pirates of Penzance, by the D’Oyly Carte and the LSO, and the Vertere doesn’t disappoint. It’s full of foot-stamping energy and entertainment, with an infectious sense of rhythm (again), but the width, depth, and even height of the image is impressive. It presents the music forward of the loudspeakers slightly, which is part of the whole ‘excitement’ thing, and fun too.