The Acoustic Solid "Solid One" Turntable
The job of a Turntable is simple, it just has to spin the record at a constant velocity. Have you ever heard that? Yes? So basically it would seem very simple to make a good sounding turntable, just make it spin evenly.... If only things where as simple as that. There are so many other issues involved that making even a mediocre turntable is a fiendishly difficult business. An acquaintance of mine once calculated the smallest modulations present on good LP’s as being only 0.08 microns. That is getting into regions where the wavelength of light starts. So we are trying to mechanically trace modulations nearly as small as the wavelength of light by dragging a piece of rock through a groove in Vinyl. Now that sounds to me like an engineering challenge more likely to come from NASA than from an audio background. Oh well, at least it explains all these super expensive tables, as precision machining heavy parts is no small problem...
Like most of those who play records it took me a while to find the "right" turntable. In my younger years I used various things, ending eventually up with a rather good East German suspended subchassis, belt driven number that included even an on-board accurate low distortion sine wave generator during times when Linn still felt that "AC direct" was good enough. This table and loads of records where left behind with my old life and for a long time my table of choice was Technics SL-1210 (as I was working as DJ among other things), even though I knew other, better ones existed and often enough I even got to listen to them as well.
When I eventually settled down I was for a while without Turntable until a chance encounter with a cheap turntable got me back into Vinyl. In sort succession I went trough loads of tables, listened to even more and eventually settled for an Oracle Delphi. This Oracle has been (note the past tense – it is no longer) with me for quite a few years now, always has given sterling service and was about as unfussy as a tweaky turntable can get. Being already "factory tweaked" to the hilt little else could be done, so I left it alone and played records. At friends houses and in dealer showrooms as well as at Hi-Fi shows I heard many a table that was different but necessarily better and a few more that impressed me enough to file them in my "need to get one if I can" titled file. I had already gotten a Garrard 401 (after hearing a Garrard 501 in Kondo San's room at a HiFi show) and was experimenting with a plinth and many other changes, tweaks and things when Matthew Jameson offered me if I would like to review this amazing new German Turntable he was now importing. And so the story begins.
Never Do The Job Of Your Dealer...
You see, this is not just a "drop it down and forget it" turntable of the Rega Planar or even Oracle kind. This thing has a separate motor unit and the stand is also in two pieces, one major big diameter pillar just for the motor and a stand on three pillars for the actual turntable. I placed the wooden base plate on four Michell Tenderfeet (large) cones, filled all the stands tubing with sand and lugged the stand parts over into my living room. I placed the Turntable base on the stand and fitted the platter. I leveled the Turntable, placed the red suede leather mat on the aluminum platter and set the motor up and finally I put the drive string on (no belt here but fishing line that will not hold any fish I would care to catch). I even found an adapter to allow me to plug the decidedly German (Schuko) plug of the power supply for the turntable into the decidedly English mains socket and it all spun and turned. Great. Let us fit a tonearm...
And I hit the second snag. You see this turntable comes by default with an ingenious, easily height adjustable arm base for a Rega tonearm. An internally threaded sleeve is screwed onto the threaded base of the Rega and then fits snugly into the hole in the top of the arm base, where a small Allen head screw key will clamp everything rigidly together. Great stuff, except it seems Rega ships Arms to Germany with metric thread or something and in the UK with Imperial thread. Whatever, there was no amount of force that got the sleeve screwed down more than about three turns. While phoning Matthew again to get the sleeve replaced I simply wound some self-adhesive metal tape around the base of the arm and finished it off with a top layer of hard Mu-Metal sleeving that was around and had about the diameter of the original sleeve. Finally I succeeded to mount the Arm via this rather improvised and not particular rigid method to the table, connected it all up and finally let a Denon DL-103 drop into the lead-in groove of Donald Fagans Nightfly. After the first few bars of "IGY" I knew I had hit onto something.
Practically all of the turntables who's sound I found attractive to me had been heavy mass, more or less non-suspended designs, with the exception of the Rockport (let’s not talk about this one again until I win the lottery) and the Garrard. Be it the Platine Verdier, the Clearaudio Reference, the Simon Yorke S7 or the big Kuzma. There is a kind of quiet authority to the sounds coming of these type of turntables, something I normally associate with live music. There seemed to be almost an octave lower reaching bass than the same arm managed on the Oracle. The music had a solidity and palpability I rarely hear from LP and never from CD. So I went through quite a few records and while there where things that this table did absolutely great, in other areas the performance fell down, primarily as I found later due to the stand and too many squishy feet between things and andand…
But I am getting ahead of myself. Had I not heard that occasional glimpse of greatness I would have packed the turntable up and send it back there and then. I did not; instead I tried to make this table work as well as I could. That meant making certain modifications and trying out loads of different things. The manufacturer should have really done some, if not most of the things I applied; others clearly are "tweaks" to conform to my taste. However the Acoustic Solid sells for a very modest asking price given the performance and engineering, so these shortcomings may be forgiven to some degree. If you expect a "fit and forget" solution, have your dealer deliver the table and have them set it up, tweak it, pull their muscles in their shoulders and so on. Expect to pay a premium for that kind of service and make sure that the dealer really knows what he is doing. I know I will never again accept a high-performance turntable for review that is not fully set up and optimized for me by the manufacturer or importer. It is just too hard and exhausting work.
Note that I am not as such criticizing the design or the workmanship of the turntable (though I will later mention some items that I do take issue with), but rather to illustrate what you have a good dealer for. Had the turntable made it's way not directly to me, had it been delivered and set up completely (and if necessary tweaked) by a competent Dealer, I would have just (gently) dropped the needle into the groove and would or should have heard the kind of sound I finally got after a lot of work and on which I eventually scored the turntable. The dealer would have been able to advise on such issues as support, isolation from vibrations etc upfront, before one even made a purchasing decision. What for me was a pretty torturous journey would have been a breeze. Now okay, I’m a hopeless case and tweaker, so I do not really mind doing all this, though the long iterative process of getting the best sound from the Solid One did delay this review more than a little.
Meanwhile as I was deeply absorbed in the tweaks and changes I applied, I got to talk repeatedly to Mr. Wirth, the man behind Acoustic Solid and learned more than a few things about the company. So while you can imagine me tweaking away in the background the other of us three (me, myself, and I) will tell you a bit more about the Man, the company and the turntable...
You Wanted What? To Retire?
But back to Mr. Wirth. Having made himself a nice turntable friends would ask: “Can you make one for me please?” So even before Acoustic Solid was ever heard from, Mr. Wirth, almost against his will ended up making small numbers of Turntables. Then he decided to find out how his own creations stacked up against the commercial competition. At a local Hi-Fi dealers shop the result of solid German "Heavy Metal" engineering was compared to a modest selection of high quality (and price) turntables with the result that the former Dealer became Mr. Wirth's Customer. Eventually a Distributor was found and 1997 the first "Solid One" was introduced publicly.
Over and gone was any chance of early retirement, the young company Acoustic Solid absorbed all the time Mr. Wirth could find. By now nearly five years later Acoustic Solid stands on solid (pun unintended) feet and is still steadily growing. Following on from an rather unpleasant episode where the former Distributor started to manufacture and market Turntables of pretty much identical design and after legal wrangles over intellectual property and such, Acoustic Solid now looks forward to a steady future. Recent acquisitions currently allow an in-house production at a steady output of 100 to 150 turntables per year.
Enough history. When I asked Mr. Wirth about details of the design, materials used and such I almost expected the often-found spiel about secret materials and methods, about years of tuning and tweaking. Instead Mr. Wirth wanted to talk about a recent HiFi show he attended, why he liked the Ortofon SPU Pickup so much and mentioned he would send some info over. It seems that on the part of Acoustic Solid the making of a turntable is being done using old-fashioned, solid mechanical engineering, rather than all sorts of strange and exciting Voodoo, smoke and mirrors and the like.
Most unexciting. The material used for the platter and other parts of the table is described as aluminum alloy according to DIN 1798 (DIN – Deutsche Industrie Norm – German Industrial Standard) with copper, mangan and lead content apparently. The platters axle is made from an extra hard metal and machined, hardened and polished as prescribed in the German industry standard #6325. The bearing that is of the common, non-inverted type is unique nevertheless, as it contains a self-lubricating plastic layer that is cast with the actual axle in place, so that bearing has practically no tolerance. Instead of going on endlessly about the (obvious) benefits of such a bearing Mr. Wirth send over a cut open bearing and several pages of technical documentation about the various available plastic coatings, indicating which one was used, leaving it to this somewhat bemused and bewildered reviewer to follow the reasoning of the "why" this specific plastic was used. Good thing I did a nice bit of mechanical engineering way back in my youth, otherwise I would have been really stomped.
Still, such a matter of fact, unfussy and modest approach to manufacturing and promoting a high-end product is refreshing and nice for a change. As the photo of the cut open main bearing shows, the bearing uses a Teflon trust plate on which turns a mirror polished ceramic ball. The bearing sleeve consists of a much too large brass sleeve into which the plastic coating is poured with the axle in place. Once the plastic has hardened and the axle is cleaned you have a bearing that is virtually zero tolerance, with each and every bearing and axle individually precision matched.
At the same time as making for a practically zero tolerance bearing the plastic bearing sleeve and Teflon trust plate offer a certain amount of controlled damping to resonance’s transmitted from the played record via the platter to the bearing. Most main bearings, inverted or not use rigid metal sleeves and trust plates that offer no damping, thus having the resonant energy reflected around the chassis and back through the bearing into the platter, with a bit of delay. So a bearing with a modest amount of damping seems ideal to me. It would seem to me that this bearing shows some parallels to air bearings or indeed those using magnetic levitation, insofar as no semi-rigid metal to metal mechanical contact exists between platter and base and thus the transmission of vibrations is to a certain degree suppressed. I suspect that this bearing is not as effective in this respect as an air bearing or magnetic one, but at the same time it should be drastically better than conventional designs. I might add that most of the legal wrangling mentioned earlier concerned exactly this unique bearing design and that it is as far as I know unique to Acoustic Solid.
I could go on about all the machining of platter, base and so on but what for? Have a look at the photos, one look should tell all. The way all the round, machined parts fit together with short, stubby aluminum rods reminds me a little of Mecano kit, but with a rigidity and precision that is highly impressive. The looks are functional, but with a physical presence that is purposeful and imposing. If you don’t like the polished chrome look other surfaces are available in a matte, sandblasted looking finish and a "natural" just turned look. Mr. Wirth send me samples of the different finishes, I feel the extra cost for the polished or sandblasted finish is well spend, though I can see some preferring the slight rawness of the plain machined metal.
By default the turntable comes with one arm base machined to fit Rega Arms but up to three arm bases can be fitted. Bases for 12" tonearms are readily available and top-plates to accommodate any sort of arm can be ordered from Acoustic Solid. As seen, I got two extra bases, one with an SME top-plate and one for old Ortofon arms. The motor stands separate in a matching machined case and uses a synchronous motor made by Berger in Lahr (Germany as well). This is a much superior alternative to the ubiquitous Philips "clock" type motor found with many a turntable. A range of power supplies is available, but as several German reviews agreed in preferring the sound of the simple AC supply over the electronic alternatives this is what I used. The AC supply is a simple step-down transformer that plugs into the mains, giving the motor 24V to run. The drive is transferred to the platter with a piece of super thin fishing line that luckily enough came already knotted and ready to use, with several extras in case you loose a thread or two. Also in the package is a smart looking little tool bag containing all the tools needed and pair of white cotton gloves, so you don’t spoil the finish with fingerprints when you assemble the Turntable. Talk about finicky attention to detail.
Now you should have a good idea of what makes this table turn and play and I think Me also has finished tweaking and messing about, so we all (me, myself and I as well as the august reader) can go back to my experiences with the "Solid One"...
Lets Tweak Again, As We Did Last Summer...
Now I have a long history of using dissimilar materials to produce very stiff and non-resonant things of all sorts. I chose to have cut a pair of 6mm (1/4") thick glass plates in the triangular shape of the top plate, but slightly smaller and drilled so the glass plates could be applied directly between the actual stands pillars and the top plate. With this done the previously wobbly stand became rather rigid, being pretty immovable and the previously resonant top plate could even with a hard knock not be brought to ring or flex much. Comparing the condition before with the platter stationary and the needle in the groove on the record a short hard rap into the center of the top plate gave a startling loud noise and caused audible extended ringing that any number of "anti-resonance" tweak devices could only slightly mitigate. After the addition of the glass plates the loudness of the initial audible knock was greatly diminished with no ringing. When playing music the result showed itself as greatly improved transparency.
If you wish to use the stand with the turntable it MUST be modified. Ideally I think Mr. Wirth should consider changing the stands design from the factory and to charge a little bit more. My recommended top plate would combine the aluminum top plate currently employed and placed above a pair of 4 – 6mm glass plates with a second aluminum plate covering the underside of the sandwich. No bonding agents, just the whole sandwich bolted into place. The resultant stand should sound as good as it looks.
With the stands own resonance’s resolved I noticed that the pickup of noise from the surroundings via the floor and the kitchen countertop was not negligible. I remembered an abandoned try a friend had made at a platform identical in design to the Symposium units. He had laminated around 15kg worth of aluminum, hardboard and MDF together, but had gotten the foam wrong and abandoned the unsatisfactory result with me. Okay, I thought, let's take the wrong foam out and place the correct foam in the platform, it had about the right size as well. A quick round of black gloss enamel spray made the thing look mildly living room acceptable and after disassembling the turntable system again this DIY Symposium style board replaced the simple piece of wood. The increase in clarity, Bass impact and general tonal accuracy was quite staggering, showing just how much of a problem I still had been having before.
About that time the correct sleeves for my Rega tonearms arrived together with the extra Arm bases for SME and Ortofon Arms so I could finally load up the Table with several Arms and make sure my "reference" Origin Live modified RB 250 or my stock Rega RB300 was correctly and rigidly mounted to the turntable. This again made a substantial improvement on the degree of resolution and detail as well as the LF extension and Impact. This turntable was slowly developing to a sonic heavy hitter. It was about at that time that finally comparisons to my Oracle Delphi became meaningless. As good as a turntable as the Oracle is, fitted with a superior arm and cartridge (Origin Live fully modded RB250 with a Goldring Elite low output MC) still simply could not manage to convince and involve anywhere near to the level the Solid One fitted with an absolutely stock Rega RB300 and a Denon DL-103 Pickup could. Switching the superior Arm/Cartridge across to the Solid One showed a very substantial further improvement on all relevant fronts, it became clear that now I had to continue with the Solid One to the bitter end.
Fitted with an Ortofon RS-212 Special arm and Ortofon SPU Pickup (both originals, the arm took a lot of work to restore to good working condition), both a borrowed SME 309 and later my own SME 3009 Series II (non-improved) and my “reference” Origin Live RB-250 / Goldring combo, the Solid One showed a performance that I could now only compare to some of best turntables I had previously encountered but never managed to have in my place. Certainly the whole range of relatively affordable "high-end" turntables like Rega, Linn, Systemdek/Audio Note, lower Voyd Models, Oracle, Michell and Kuzma Stabi (I'm pretty familiar with most of the models from those Manufacturers as they are common among friends and manufacturers and I tried more than a few before at home) and the lower grade VPI's (HW19, etc.) where simply outclassed.
It’s like having a "battle" between a Tank and a Lexus. The Tank rolls simply over the Lex and that’s that. Sonically I felt the "Solid One" did a similar job, there are clear benefits from being just bloody, backbreaking heavy with a really good quality and design of main bearing. It allows a degree of uncompromising Sonics that are difficult to achieve by other means. Still, there where things that continued to bother me. For one, the sound of the "Solid One" was ever so slightly brighter and more forward than I felt strictly accurate. Cymbals just had a little too much splash, violins could be just that bit fiercer than accurate and high voices seemed to have some for of smearing and ringing with it. Moreover this was exactly the sort of thing I remembered hearing (only much worse) from turntables with fairly resonant metal platters. A slight ping to the rim of the platter confirmed a pretty well damped (by the suede leather mat) but audible resonance mode quite high up. Removing the mat and pinging again gave a nice, beautiful and long sustained ring. Placing a record directly on the aluminum platter and playing it clearly showed that this was indeed the culprit, the sound turning bright and spitty.
But how do you damp a pretty strong resonance mode in a 50mm thick big chunk of solid aluminum? Clearly something innovative had to be thought off and quickly. I hit back to a tweak that I have been using and recommending again and again, a glass platter mat. I'm not sure what exactly does the trick here, but place a highly resonant plane of glass and highly resonant plane of metal together as sandwich, the resultant sandwich is extremely non-resonant despite being made without any energy storing and diffusing damping material.
So I now have a glass platter mat (in fact the simple, cheap and highly effective retail item offered as accessory for the Project brand turntables) and placed that on top of the platter. The ping test revealed? Silence. Playing a record directly on the glass showed now a very even, very nice tonality without any emphasis on any range, other possibly than a certain LF emphasis (we come to that). I experimented both with and without the suede leather mat on top of the glass mat and settled on using it, it seemed to give a smidgen more clarity and focus to the sound, but sometimes I prefer the slightly busier and less focused but slightly more spacious sound without it.
My final, most recent "tweak" was to improvise a form of air suspension, based on the large air cushions found in packing material. The degree of further improvement to the realism and palpability of the music was nothing short of stunning. Most importantly, the slight LF emphasis was simply revealed as "Robin Hood" effect, with the turntable robbing bass from the rich (room/speaker) and giving it to the poor (pickup), only as it stood the pickup already did bass very nicely, so Robin Hood was doing more of job than needed. Isolating the turntable from the floor placed the Solid One into a category of performance where I feel it does not need fear any comparison.
So, by design the Solid One has what it takes to almost all of the way, sonically, but you must take care of what you place it on. Of course, this holds true for any Turntable, but many suspended designs have an additional layer of isolation the Solid One lacks and many of the low price unsuspended designs do not have a high enough resolution to let the support become as large a problem as it is with the Solid One.
It's Wrap, All In The Can, Next Take...
To me the Solid One is pretty much a "final" turntable. If I win the lottery jackpot I will get a Rockport and a Forsell and possibly a Walker (of which I have only heard the Rockport) for the heck of it, but until such a win, any further thoughts on the topic Turntable as such are suspended. One has to hear the solidity, and control that the Solid One lends to the kettle drums on Copland's Billy the Kid, Rodeo, Fanfare for the Common Man (Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Vox/Turnabout TV34169S). One has to hear the huge tonal palette the Solid One draws on with Vivaldi’s Gloria in D Minor (Academy of Ancient Music, L’oiseau Lyre DSLO 554), the way the whole turntable system copes with the huge dynamic range and complex vocals, the clearly audible and well rendered really low Organ registers on this record…
And if called upon to swing, be it Glen Miller, Sephane Grapelli, Courney Pine, or be it Weather Report, swing it does. Not the way a Linn does the "swing" thing, not in that artificial, tacked on way that makes even a Renaissance String Quartet's swing, but in the way a band swings on stage. Just try the Dave Brubeck Quartet live in the Carnegie hall to hear what I mean. Or just for grins and giggles, especially if your loudspeakers and amplifier(s) can follow the tables lead, drop the vinyl edition of Eryka Badu’s Baduizm (Universal, U-53027) on the platter, try "Rimshot" or "Next Lifetime". Basically, the Solid One not only provides loads of fun with music that is meant to be fun, it also offers "deep immersion" serious illusionism with pure and unadulterated recordings of acoustical music. Sort of like Garrard, VPI, Rega and LP-12 all rolled into one but with a serious degree of neutrality across the board added to it.
So, is the Solid One a "perfect" Table?
I know turntables that do the whole "soundscape" thing (as artificial and unnatural as that may be) better (for example the Michell Orbe and Voyd), I know others that will perhaps "swing" a little better (Garrard, Verdier) and I know some tables that I have yet to hear beaten on sheer brachial Bass Power (mostly unsuspended, direct-drive Studio tables, also old EMT’s). Yet to all these tables I personally would prefer the balanced virtues of the Solid One.
Add to such a highly capable and even-handed reproduction (which I need as my musical taste and collection is very eclectic) the flexibility of having up to three tonearms and cartridges mounted and ready to go, consider the sheer engineering and material content in the package and then consider the price and you have a simple best buy. I cannot think of anything in Turntables that I have encountered so far and that has a retail price anywhere close that can match the accomplishments and capabilities of the Solid One.
If I can level one criticism at the turntable (and package with stand) it is the fact that the turntable is highly dependent upon it's support for offering the best possible sound quality and the fact that Acoustic Solid has not (yet?) produced a solution to the support problem that would solve all issues once and for all. How about it, Herr Wirth, could you make a nice supporting platform including some form of reliable suspension (industrial pneumatic mounts or such things as the in Germany popular string suspension) coupled with a version of the Stand that offers the kind of rigidity and freedom from resonance it should, in order to give reliably the best results under all conditions. And all that please without dropping more money on an isolation system and stand than on the actual turntable? Pretty please?
At the moment any recommendation must carry the safety notice about the requirement for a support that is truly resonance free and ideally isolated from floor vibrations, to a degree not required with suspended turntables. Sadly such solutions, when purchased commercially, come at a high cost. So high that simply this requirement may rule out the Solid One for many people.
However, if you can either provide such an isolation solution yourself of afford the Solid One and a suitable Isolation Rack (remember, loaded up we are talking about >80 lbs. of solid metal) try anything you can to get an audition of the Solid One or indeed of any of the turntables in the Acoustic Solid range, as even the lower price, smaller models still use the same platter, bearing and motor system and are manufactured and finished to the same standards as the Solid One and thus will be able to provide a significant fraction of the sonic smorgasbord the Solid One brings to the table, if and only if supported well and set up correctly.As it stands the review unit stays here, I shall have to find a good deal of ready cash next month to make sure of that. Until the next time around keep enjoying the music and if you hear that there is Dealer for Acoustic Solid anywhere in the neighborhood, do drop in and have a listen.
Feet: Three, individually height adjustable
MotorDrive: String drive with separate Motor Unit
Base: 80mm strong Aluminum
Base Size: Excluding Motor Unit, 430mm X 430mm
Weight: From 37kg depending on features
Price: $4,500 in standard aluminum finish, Rega RB-250 tonearm included