Grand Prix Audio Parabolica turntable

Grand Prix Audio Parabolica

Getting down to practicalities just for a moment, the Parabolica is more than just a carefully honed thoroughbred. In this day and age, where serious vinyl users often want to run more than one arm, the GPA’s minimalist dimensions, so effective when it comes to minimising airborne feedback, might put it at a disadvantage. Except that the armboard is precision located by a single, half turn Allen bolt, accessed via a threaded plug in the platter. Swapping pre-mounted arms takes a couple of minutes at most, whilst also maintaining exact geometry, with two additional, top mounted Allen bolts provided for ultimate security. A screw down clamp is provided, along with a range of three different polymer damping rings that fit over the spindle, corresponding to different weight records. A joy to assemble and set up, my one complaint about the Parabolica concerns the on/off switch – a capacitive pad underneath the front edge (one touch for 33, two for 45 and another to stop the deck). Like any touch sensitive control, it is less than positive and at first it is frustratingly easy to double tap it by accident – although you soon learn to use a swipe action that solves the problem. Maybe it’s just my Luddite tendencies and retro bent, but I prefer a nice, positive push-button. There again, there’s nothing retro about the Parabolica.  

Listen to a system being fed by the Parabolica and you’ll hear musical poise, clarity, authority and vivid dynamics. What you won’t hear is the Parabolica itself. Unlike almost all other ‘tables it leaves a vanishingly small musical footprint, one that disappears behind the vagaries of recordings and associated equipment. One way or another, record players the world over act to blur, smudge, thicken, or gate the information stored in those vinyl grooves. They feed spurious energy back to the stylus (where it gets added to the signal), they suffer from speed variation (that softens the edges of notes and allows images to wander), and they introduce noise and vertical instability (that limit dynamic range). These are the signature traits of record replay that we have come to know and love – not least because as grievous as they are, they are still less musically intrusive than the vast majority of the alternatives. Until now! Listen to the Parabolica and it quickly becomes apparent that you are experiencing an analogue paradigm shift – one that places the performers and their performance front and centre, the mechanics of storing and retrieving that performance firmly in the background. This ‘table simply subtracts less from the signal and does less damage in the process.

The Argerich/Abbado recording of the Prokofiev 3rd Piano Concerto is a notoriously difficult disc. To hear it at its best you’ll need a phono-stage that offers Teldec EQ or the Speakers Corner 180g repressing. But you’ll also need a record player with the organisational talents, temporal stability, and dynamic and spatial clarity of the Parabolica. With all three options available, what so often descends into a cacophonous riot of jumbled notes was given shape, form, and control. Listening to the fluid, quicksilver playing, vividly dramatic colours, contrasts, and power of the solo instrument and it’s positioning against Abbado’s masterful marshalling of the BPO, it’s immediately apparent why the young Argerich exploded onto the international scene in such spectacular fashion. This performance isn’t just spectacular, it’s a technical and expressive tour de force, the Parabolica anchoring the tempo, the phrases, and the dynamic graduations without apparent effort and with no apparent limitation when it comes to headroom. Free of congestion and confusion, the result is as musically emphatic as it is purposeful, a performance that carries you along and leaves you drained at the final, shattering climax.

But the building blocks of this imposing performance are laid at the opposite end of the scale, the crisp, unforced clarity of Argerich’s Prokofiev echoed in the poised delicacy of Benedetti Michelangeli’s Beethoven, his astonishing grace and lightness of touch, the separation and relationship between his left and right hands, but most of all in their musical exchanges and conversation. This is a sense of musical organisation that extends beyond individual notes and phrases to the composition as a whole – and it’s maintained whether that piece involves one instrument, four, or a whole band. When it comes to recordings, the loud bits can hide a multitude of sins, yet with the Parabolica they don’t and don’t need to. It goes louder and does it with greater clarity than any belt driven or idler drive deck that I’ve used and if this is a direct drive trait, it’s a quality that also reflects the ability of a deck’s structure to cope with spurious energy, whether internal or external. The Parabolica’s excellence in this regard speaks volumes about the completeness and balance of its engineering solutions. 

The acid test for any system or component comes with human voice, that most recognisable and subtly inflected of instruments and here the Parabolica reveals its true range. Playing familiar material, the way a singer uses their voice to shape a word or phrase is laid bare, engaging more directly, communicating more clearly. But what I wasn’t ready for was the expressive range the Parabolica revealed. On an album like Janis Ian’s Between The Lines [Columbia], her voice shifts between the fragile intimacy of ‘At Seventeen’ and the snarl of ‘Bright Lights…’, the deceptively open naiveté of ‘When The Party’s Over’, and the steely resolve of ‘Me To You’. It makes an already great album greater still, an effect I’ve experienced before, but only to this extent with GPA’s Monaco v2.0. What surprised (and delighted) me about the Parabolica was just how close it got to its bigger, older brother when it comes to musical expression. Which brings me I guess to the question of just how the two GPA ‘tables stack up? For once the answer is simple, both being cut from the same cloth. The strengths that are so apparent in the Parabolica – clarity, stability, organisation, and above all dynamic range – are taken a step further in the Monaco v2.0, meaning that its superiority is clear if you listen to the two decks side by side. But listen to the Parabolica in isolation and you’ll likely never know what you are missing. Just don’t listen to the Monaco unless you mean it…

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