If you ask three audiophiles their opinion, you’ll get four answers. When it comes to playing a record, the number of opinions rises exponentially. Take the notion of placing something atop an LP, for example; there are those who are diametrically opposed to putting anything on the record apart from a stylus. Others think some kind of screw-down clamp is a good idea. Yet more just go with mass, although often that weight is made of some kind of material bestowed with almost magical properties. And then there are those who support the high-tech approach, which uses isolators and the like to give a double-whammy of mass without that mass actually touching the record label.
Ansuz does goes down both the isolation and materials path. The stabiliser – called the Darkz Record Stabilizer – is a new part of the Darkz family of mechanical grounding and resonance control systems. So new, in fact, that it wasn’t up on the Ansuz website at the time of initial publication (COVID-19 happened before the photos and the specs hit, and the product was due to roll out of the company’s Danish factory in time for the review). In essence, the stabiliser stands 28mm high, 89mm wide and look remarkably like the UFOs from the 1960s US TV series The Invaders, only without the spindly feet and back-lit dry ice. On the underside are a dozen small ball-bearings (and six small cross-head screws) laid out in a six-pointed star, with a PTFE collar for the turntable spindle. The screws hold the top and bottom sections of the clamp together, the top section having a circular race-track groove set into it, while the bottom section has a similar layout with a dozen holes cut into it for the ball bearings. Place the stabiliser on a flat surface and tap that surface and the Darkz quietly ‘wobbles’ a few times by about a millimetre or so before coming to rest. There’s a high degree of freedom here; it will move only in the same plane as the direction of that tap, but will move at the least prompting. There is a pattern of six grooves and six holes on the top of the clamp.
The Darkz clamp comes in several ‘flavours’ – d•tc, T2 and T2 Supreme – and in this case the difference is down to the materials. We tested two models; the mid-range, high-grade titanium T2, more upscale T2 Supreme, which anodizes that titanium in an alloy of zirconium/wolfram/aluminum/titanium nitrate. Ansuz works with Aarhus University’s Centre for Integrated Materials Research team who could make an alloy out of cardboard and jam given half a chance.
I used both clamps on a VPI HW-40 and – briefly, before it went back – on a Kuzma Stabi S12. The first uses a clamp (and a peripheral ring) as standard, while the latter doesn’t. Using and testing the difference between the Darkz is easy; the stabiliser adds 350g to the record itself, irrespective of anodising process (well, almost… the difference between the two is about 2g). And yes, both versions do achieve a ‘best of all possible worlds’ approach, combining the authoritative bass and linearity of screw-down clamps, the natural mid-range and high frequencies and soundstaging of high-mass clamps and the lightness of touch and effortless rhythm of having no clamp.
Those improvements also show the difference between the clamps. The standard T2 model is more like the combination of a screw-down clamp and no clamp; the T2 Supreme is like mixing all of them. The difference is clearly, consistently, and quickly audible, especially in the sort of system where a high-grade record clamp fits well. One of the most difficult tracks to play here is the 12” 45rpm ‘Annihilation’ mix of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Two Tribes’ [ZTT]. This is a record with a combination of huge dynamic range, a powerful rhythm, a complex mix of samples, orchestral stings and the sort of overproduced synth and rock sounds that were all the rage 36 years ago. It can sound awesome, but can also sound overblown, over-salted with bass, and imprecise. With the ‘standard’ clamp, on both turntables, the bass takes on a tautness and precision, and the complexity of the mix is largely decoded. With the more up-scale model, it adds even more finesse and scale and drama, as well as some much-needed space to the brooding, almost claustrophobic mix. It moves from being 1980s apocalyptic sarcasm to deeply worrying 1980s apocalyptic. Move through your record collection and the same thing happens time after time. The Ansuz clamp is excellent, but the ‘better’ one is a lot better.
In the interests of thoroughness, I tried a couple of ‘bitza’ clamps (swapping the top sections, creating two hybrid clamps in the process). While no-one is going to do this because you basically need to buy two clamps, no-one’s going to do it anyway because the whole is worse than the sum of the parts. At best, it gets some way to matching the more ‘attainably’ priced stabiliser but I found the results more inconsistent than with either clamp ‘proper’. And given the consistency of performance is what sets the Darkz apart, that’s not a win.
In Ansuz’ Aalborg factory, their turntable of choice is a Pro-Ject 6 PerspeX SB turntable and arm, with an EMT cartridge, and Ansuz Signalz cables and Darkz supports. It’s the test bed for the Darkz stabilisers. The Pro-Ject is a perfectly serviceable £1,500 turntable, but not in the very top league. In their room, however, it sits in exceptionally good company, where practically every other component costs 20x as much as that turntable and it doesn’t disgrace itself. A lot of that ultimately comes down to these clamps. No, they aren’t going to transform a bad turntable into a great one, but they do make a great turntable a lot better. They might not be cheap – using a clamp that costs over four times more than the turntable and arm combined is not a proposition in the real world – but as proof-of-concept it shows what these clamps can do.
If you have a fine record player and want to extract even more from it, the Ansuz Darkz Record Stabilizers do their job perfectly, and the improvements ‘scale’ both with the model and the deck you are using. If you are feeling cynical about how much improvement can be had from a record stabiliser, get a demonstration… and then be surprised how fast you reach for that credit card!
Ansuz Darkz Record Stabilizer
T2 Supreme: €6,700
Manufactured by: Ansuz Acoustics