There are many high-end manufacturers from Italy. I'm sure that none of them would appreciate being stereotyped, as each and every one of them has a distinct characteristic that challenges any assumptions one might have. Still, when I think of Italian high-end gear, I think style. The first time I laid my eyes upon the Mediterraneo turntable's 60mm curved plinth made from aged Italian Walnut, it was patently obvious that Gold Note, from northern Italy located just outside of Florence, designed this turntable with as much attention to its outward appearance as any other feature. The "ultra-centenarian" Italian walnut that is used to create the Mediterraneo's plinth is sourced from trees that have been aged in hardwood slats for 8 years, and stabilized in an autoclave to achieve the exact humidity level of the wood at 7 percent. It is claimed by Gold Note to have "exceptional elasticity, strength and high density", the curve of its plinth when viewed from the front is downright sexy. Gold Note claims that the plinth is shaped this way not just for its looks, but it increases the rigidity of the turntable. It is also formed in this manner to create a strong alliance with the sheet of 3mm stainless steel that sits above it. For those with ecological concerns in regard to Gold Note using 100+ year old trees for their product, they make assurances that they use only wood sourced from trees that have been forested with "specialized rangers" permitting them to do so to allow for these types of trees to thrive for eons.
Gold Note says that the curved plinth of the Mediterraneo is machined to perfectly integrate with the 3mm stainless steel board it is joined to, and the two are connected in 18 "strategic" points to couple the two. There is a 20mm acrylic board that contains the electronics of the Mediterraneo, this polished acrylic chosen as to lower the resonance frequency of the turntable. My sample of the Mediterraneo has a sleek black surface, but it is also available in white. The turntable has a 12 Volt synchronous motor that was designed for Gold Note's much more expensive Bellagio series. Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) transforms the AC power to DC and back to AC again, which according to Gold Note enables it to lower any scurrilous vibrations that will affect sound quality, and also raises the amount of motor torque. The power supply made it possible for the listener to choose between 33rpm and 45rpm speeds from the top of the turntable's plinth, and to set the speed's fine adjustment setting in memory, even when the turntable is not connected to the power source.
The Mediterraneo has a unique hourglass-shaped pulley, which Gold Note says enables the belt of the turntable to run more smoothly, and lower the amount of wow and flutter, as well as lower the noise floor. They go on to tout the turntable's 60mm long spindle bearing, which is manufactured from the "best" hardened steel and bronze that they could find, and "grants superior audio performance". The recessed platter bearing is able to keep the platter to within 3mm of the acrylic surface, which Gold Note says reduces rotation generated turbulences. The turntable's nearly two-inch-thick platter is made from Sustarin, a "special" material that's basically PTE, a thermoplastic polymer, which Gold Note explains as having an "extraordinary ability" to reduce vibrational feedback. The platter's substantial mass obviously helps rotational stability.
For a while I was one who joined the chorus of detractors. But after living with a few high-end turntables that have had hinged dustcovers I've yet to hear any difference between the sound of the turntable with or without the dust cover attached. What I have found is that a dust cover prevents dust build up on the difficult or impossible to clean landscape of a turntable's platform and intricate components. Admittedly, some turntables are too large to facilitate a hinged dust cover, and for those, a dust cover that is placed over the turntable is one's only option. So much for affecting the turntable's sound. Sorry for this diversion, but it is worth mentioning that the Mediterraneo includes a very well-made and good looking dustcover that keeps the turntable's platform clean between uses.
After un-boxing the 'table, it didn't take that long before I was able to start listening to records. One first must install the platter, the platter spindle, and then the tonearm cable which fits through an opening in the bottom of the plinth. The next step is setting up the tonearm. Gold Note had already mounted the tonearm on the Mediterraneo, and from what I could tell, set all the necessary adjustments since I was also sent their Tuscany Gold phono cartridge, which was pre-installed. Of course, I checked all the settings, which were for the most part spot on. Even though I had never used a Gold Note B5.1 tonearm, everything was pretty straight forward as far as its anti-skate, azimuth, and vertical tracking force (VTF) settings. I really don't have the space to describe the tonearm as much as I'd like to, but it seemed obvious to me that the designer of the B5.1 tonearm wasn't out to make things more complex than they needed to be.
The anti-skate has a nylon strip with a lead weight, which is wrapped around a "cylinder eye" – basically a stationary pulley-type arrangement. Since it is located on the outside of the tonearm it is easily assessable, and only took a minute or so to set up. The VTA is adjusted by loosening a hex-bolt with the supplied Allen wrench to raise and lower the arm. Once the correct height is obtained, one tightens the hex-bolt. The headshell's azimuth is set with a different sized Allen wrench, which is also provided. Veteran turntable users are aware that there are many methods to check for proper azimuth adjustment, and many websites on the Internet are available for one to consider. I prefer to use a variety of methods, including using my trusty multi-meter as well as some crude methods that might raise some eyebrows. As far as I'm concerned, the most important measurement is done with one's ears.
I listened to the Mediterraneo turntable/B5.1 phono tonearm/Tuscany Gold phono cartridge in my main system, which is located in an acoustically treated dedicated listening room. The room has absorptive acoustic treatment panels placed behind the speakers and on the side walls to lessen reflective waves, and behind the listening seat there are panels that act as reflective surfaces. In addition to the acoustic treatment panels are thousands of LPs that line the walls of the room. I'm not sure if anyone has ever measured the acoustic properties of LP shelves, but in practice, their benefits are irrefutable.
The phono preamplifier in the review system is a Pass Laboratories XP-15, which is connected to either a Balanced Audio Technology VK-33 preamplifier or a Merrill Audio Cara linestage. Both preamps are fully balanced designs, but the Merrill Audio unit is only about half the price of the BAT, yet sounds just as good, maybe better. The power amp is a Pass Labs X350.5, speakers are either Sound Labs DynaStat or Westlake Tower 5 (review forthcoming). During the Mediterraneo's review period, the system's speaker cable alternated between a 12' bi-wire run of Westlake Audio's speaker cable that I was provided for the review of their speakers, and a run of my own bi-wire MIT. They both sounded great with both brands of speakers. Different, but both great. I'd like to say that I use a Velodyne subwoofer with a 15" driver and 1250 Watt amplifier only occasionally but that would not be true – I used it at all times during this review.
Interconnect cable is MIT balanced Shotgun S3.3 throughout, except for the Gold Note turntable which came with its own cable terminated at one end with RCAs, and connected to the tonearm with what many would call a DIN connector, but its pin setup and dimensions seemed very different from any DIN plug I've ever seen before. Gold Note claims it is a "German DIN", but I never heard of that. This hardly matters, as the cable's working end fit tightly into the bottom of the B5.1 arm, accessed through a hole in the bottom of the plinth. The cable seemed to have very little sonic character of its own. Gold Note does offer, as an option, two more tonearm cables higher up in its line, and I was sent all three cables that are available for audition. As I went higher up their line, the difference was increased transparency, which brought out more of the table's character, and in turn, more of the music's inner workings. The resolution of one's system will likely determine how much of a difference one will hear between the tonearm cables. The tonearm cable that is the lowest in Gold Note line is far from unsatisfactory, as I thought it did a fine job of conveying both the turntable's and the music's sonic assets.
Operationally, the Mediterraneo was a pleasure to use. Not only is the speed selection conveniently located on the surface of the turntable, but the turntable has no on/off switch, as the two speed controls also stop and start the platter spinning. After pressing either the 33 1/3 or 45 switch the platter gets up to speed in only one or two rotations. The Mediterraneo comes with a silver-colored record weight that sits atop the record by slipping it over the center spindle. This weight doesn't screw on, and it has no clamping mechanism, yet obviously due to precision manufacturing practices it slips onto the spindle very easily and seems to rest on the record perfectly centered. Using this record weight couldn't be easier. Better yet, I had no operational issues with the Mediterraneo, from the day it arrived and the first time I spun a record, to the end of the review period. Its speed was spot on when I first tested it, and was spot on a few months later at the end of the review period.
No, I'm not going to use this space to declare a "winner" of a shoot-out between the two. What I am here to discuss is how the Gold Note turntable/tonearm combination enabled me enjoy every minute of the comparison. It was difficult to decide which pressing I preferred because the Mediterraneo and B5.1 tonearm were able to concentrate on making music rather than displaying which pressing was "better". No, the details between the two weren't obscured by the turntable, that's not what I mean. It is not difficult to hear that the newer pressing has less tape hiss than the Japanese pressing, and its bass is more extended and has the better transient response of the two. Yet both are fine pressings, and both releases made it obvious that the Gold Note analog set up is, again, adept at sounding like music. It is in this way that it was easy to forget that I was supposed to be comparing the two pressings. What the Mediterraneo was best at during the comparison was demonstrating how well King Crimson blends Eastern European classical music, free jazz, proto-metal and amazing musicianship. What many would call progressive rock, it sure doesn't sound like much other progressive rock of the time period other than the musicians virtuosic playing, clear melodic vocals of bassist John Wetton, the groups fantastical composition prowess, and that a Mellotron is featured throughout. But let's be honest, the fact that drummer Bill Bruford was in this line up of King Crimson was thanks to him leaving the band Yes. Progressive Rock is what bin this band was placed in at the record store, and this is for good reason.
Objectively, the Mediterraneo made clear that both frequency extension extremes are superior on the recent 200 gram pressing. This was great – I could feel John Wetton's bass in my gut as well as I could hear it. And it was easy to hear the difference in timbre in each cymbal on Bill Bruford's kit. But this turntable didn't seem to take pleasure it letting me hear every detail within these frequencies. It was more of a relaxed sound, as if it was emphasizing what the musicians were attempting to convey rather than what the operator at the pressing plant that day was attempting to achieve. Yet this relaxed sound did not come at the expense of any transient details or microdynamics. This may seem paradoxical, but it was just that I felt as if I was hearing the music as more of a connection to what was originally laid down to the original recording tape than hearing the record. That the Mediterraneo was able to practically disappear as a source was one of its greatest assets.
The Mediterraneo's lucid midrange was likely aided by this turntable's competence in quietly traversing the grooves of a record. Yes, this is often a trait of a fine phono cartridge, as both the Tuscany Gold and Kesiki Purple Heart excel in this area. A silent background is an aid to just about every sonic quality of just about every piece of audio gear I can think of. The Mediterraneo is no exception. But as I mentioned previously, out of the three components, the turntable, tonearm and phono cartridge, the part of an analog set up that is most responsible for its overall sound is the turntable. So, when I mounted the Tuscany Gold phono cartridge onto my reference Basis turntable, it was easy to hear that Gold Note manufactures quite a fine phone cartridge. I would rate it well above its asking price, and a phono cartridge that is comparable to just about any other that should be considered to be in the top echelon of cartridge manufacturer's offerings.
Obvious was the improvement in depth and tautness of its bass frequencies over the Kesiki in this important area. Also superior was the Tuscany Gold's transient response, its ability to separate instruments in a crowded sonic field, and midrange and treble realism. In retrospect it was not a fair fight as the Tuscany Gold is almost three times the price of the Kesiki cartridge, even though I'd rate the Kesiki is worth about two times its asking price. So, when I mounted the Kesiki cartridge onto the Gold Note B5.1 tonearm to hear how it sounded on the Mediterraneo, I missed the refinement that the Tuscany Gold offered, especially its bass prowess. Yet it did demonstrate that the Mediterraneo is a fine turntable in that its sonic attributes endured, and that a cartridge that costs more than the turntable is certainly not necessary when one purchases a Mediterraneo. Although it is awfully nice, and something that I could easily get used to!
The Mediterraneo was able to separate sounds even on the most complex recordings that I played. The midrange of these records became a clear window into the recording sessions that were pressed onto the record, and, as such, what was recorded onto the master tape that made the record. Balanced is also a good term to use when describing the midrange of the Mediterraneo. When listening to the King Crimson album, yes, the frequency extension of both the upper treble and deepest bass were exemplary, but not at the expense of any other frequencies. The midrange is where most of the sonic action happens, and the midrange is what stood out, only because most of the sonic energy was present in those midrange frequencies. These frequencies were occupied with the uber-distortion on Robert Fripp's Les Paul guitar, and the various oddball percussion instruments being struck by Jamie Muir. The percussion appeared not as an X-Acto knife carved pinpoint images in the soundstage, since that's not how percussion sounds as in real life. It appeared as sounds occupying a space in between and beyond the two speakers, as if peering through the clear sonic window into the recording session. I could point to where a small percussion instrument was located in the soundstage, but the air around the instrument bled into the surrounding air of the soundstage. Robert Fripp's guitar on the title track sounded huge, and occupied the space between, slightly in front, and beyond the speakers, and also drizzled onto my exposed skin. When combined with the Bill Bruford's frantic yet precise drumming, the music was enveloping, as it was meant to be and was expertly delivered via the Mediterraneo.
I also took a trip back in time to when Classic Records started releasing their versions of RCA Living Stereo LPs originally released in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This was the early 1990s, and I acquired as many of their releases as I could afford during this period. Analogue Production is pressing many of these titles again. I've heard a few, and they sound as good and, if one squints one's ears, sometimes they sound a tiny bit better than the Classic Records versions. I highly recommend one score as many as one's bank account will allow. But I'm digressing again. I played the compilation Witches Brew, one of the first Classic Records reissues I acquired back in the day. At one time I owned an original of this 1958 release with Alexander Gibson conducting the New Symphony Orchestra Of London, and although the vinyl was far from being in perfect condition, it was easy to hear why so many audiophiles wanted to own a copy of this record. Classic Records rescued this record from obscurity as far as I'm concerned, and even though there are those collectors who say the original sounds better, to me it's obvious that these record collectors have reasons other than sound quality on their minds. Witches Brew is an excellent demo record, with selections from Arnold, Saint-Saëns, Liszt, Mussorgsky and others with macabre themes.
As one would expect on an album filled with sonic showpieces, there are plenty of bass drum thwacks, tympani outbursts, cymbal crashes, and triangle rolls. The Mediterraneo sailed through the sides of this record as if it was specifically designed to play this record. Admittedly, there are sections on the record where the recording gear used in the late 1950s showed its age, mostly in the form of tape over-saturation, which manifested itself as some crowding and a bit of distortion during the loudest crescendos. Yet, that hardly mattered, since it was the midrange that drew my attention the most when playing this record on the Mediterraneo, and specifically this LP's gorgeous string sound. There isn't one track on this LP where I didn't feel as if I was sunk into my listening seat at least two inches every time the strings played en masse. And there are plenty of selections on this album that demonstrated this. My favorite track on this record, at least my favorite for now as I'm writing this, is the track "Danse Macabre" by Camille Saint-Saens. But there are plenty of recognizable tracks on this record such as two selections from Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exposition, and Liszt's Night On Bare Mountain. Again, the Mediterraneo exhibited its greatest asset: balance – so even when the orchestra is cranking at triple forte, the frequency extremes do not overwhelm the rest of the frequency spectrum, Plus, I practically jumped out of my seat due to the Mediterraneo's ability to handle the greatest macro-dynamic slams this record could scare up (pun intended this time).
Tuscany Gold Phono Cartridge
Dimensions: 18.5" x 8.25" x 14.25" (WxDxH)
North American Distributor