You can package the new Scheu Analog Cello Turntable with a Rega RB250 arm. Today we'll examine it as nature intended, fitted with Scheu's own unipivot tonearm - the Classic Mk II, available in 10 (as tested) or 12 inch form. Scheu Analog rates the Denon DL103R ($379) an outstanding match for this combination. It's a supercharged version of the classic DL103 ($229) which is widely available and has been for some forty years. The DL103R uses 6 nines copper coils wound to the cantilever shaft. So that's the way I used, in combination with a vintage Audio Interface CST-80L step up transformer and a Graham Slee Era V Gold phono preamp. The analog front end plays into a Perreaux Radiance R200i Amp and Wilson Benesch Act 1 speakers through Valhalla cabling.
You may not be familiar with Scheu Analog - in fact this is my first prolonged exposure to their art - so a few words of background may be helpful here. Musician and trained toolmaker Thomas Scheu built his first turntable in 1985 to indulge his passion for tinkering. He built up his company, located in Solingen, Germany into a manufacturer of a range of four turntable models and three tonearms sold around the world. The company also markets accessories for vinyl lovers and designed a cartridge sold under the Scheu Analog name, the MC Scheu, made to their specifications by Benz Micro in Switzerland. Sadly Thomas passed away in December 2004 and his wife Ulla now runs the company. She continues to back her husband's ideas but the marketing has broadened from being an elite brand for connoisseurs to include a wider public. The Cello is the entry level model in the range, which includes the popular Premier, available in a wide range of variants two of which include provision for lead shot loading, the Diamond, the Pink Diamond (a model "especially for ladies") and the top of the line "Das Laufwerk", with provision for three tonearms and the mandatory heavyweight platter.
The Cello is a compact rectangular unsuspended design with an integral drive unit which drives the 30mm 2.5kg acrylic platter through a thin nylon thread, a lifetime supply of which accompanies each unit. It is designed to sit comfortably on a wall mounted bracket. That's just how I positioned it, on my trusty Target shelf which normally holds the equally compact Linn LP12. The 10-inch Classic Mk II tonearm protrudes a fraction behind the unit, but you would probably not experience this with alternative arms like the Rega RB250, which fits in the same arm hole. The Classic is a unipivot device and I worried since unipivots can be very fussy and difficult to set up and handle. No qualms on this score here. This one makes it very easy to set the stylus pressure and anti-skate adjustment. The finger lift is flat and set fairly low – I would prefer a more rounded shape which gives more room for fat fingers, but it did the job effectively. The arm lift works smoothly and supports the arm even when well to the right of the platter, although it would be improved by the addition of a positive lock.
Using the Cello is simplicity itself. No delicate suspension to tune, no clamps, no fuss. Just turn the toggle switch to the left for 33rpm or to the right for 45rpm, slide the arm above the lead in groove and flip the arm lift down. The arm drops gently in a perfect vertical line and the music begins.
Sonically this combination rates well above the entry level standard set by the junior models in the Rega or Pro-Ject ranges. Its best feature is the spacious stable soundstage (try saying that three times quickly) which immediately pulls you into the music. While deep bass is shelved back, as is the high treble, there are no other obvious peaks or valleys in the frequency response. The all important mid-bass is warm and a touch loose, supporting an effortless and colorful midrange below the clear smooth treble. While the hard-to-capture brushwork on cymbals errs on the dry side due to a limited ability to sustain the harmonics, wind and brass excel. Leading edges are clean but not exceptionally fast, and dynamics are some way from state of the art, so that the "Baretta" theme loses some impact on the famous Sheffield disk Discovered Again featuring Dave Grusin.
While placing the listener quite forward in the mix, the Cello is a relaxed performer that proffers no exaggeration or theatrics, just straight ahead reproduction in a very competitive fashion for the price point. When the music holds a lot of bass information, such as the lower registers of a concert grand or a church organ, the scale of the music is diminished when set against more expensive combinations such as my Linn LP12, Itok and ClearAudio Virtuoso Wood cartridge. This latter is far more responsive in the bass, not just in terms of level but timing and articulation too, raising the bar for dynamics, detail, attack, sustain and high frequency extension. But it will also take you into a higher price range, where vinyl can legitimately challenge the very finest CD players. Scheu Analog can accommodate you on that path through their Premier range which starts at $2495 and their Cantus ($1495) or Tacco ($2495) tonearms.
Let's Take A Closer Listen To Some Music
The Scheu Analog combo is much more comfortable in Rosalind Tureck's outstanding piano album An Introduction to Bach [CBS IM 37275]. I recommend her outstanding performance of the "Aria & 10 Variations in the Italian Style". You can experience a profound musical vision here, encompassing a gorgeous piano tone and great immediacy on the one hand with great clarity and the ability to hold without stress at climaxes. Anyone who has grown up on Glenn Gould's Bach will drop his or her jaw in amazement at the clarity, poetry and power of this playing. This is the real thing, why we buy stereo's in the first place, and Tureck is a musician that Bach himself would have revered. I tend to think he would not hold such a warm place in his heart for Gould, even if I am Canadian. Can the Linn do better? It builds on all these qualities an adds a dollop of seductiveness to the tone, greater dynamics and a stronger bass complementing a more open top.
Mozart String Quartet K421 [Philips SC71AX301] confirms the Scheu's affinity for classical music. The Italian String Quartet has a slightly nasal sound at times, but mostly rich and woody while not being fully open on top. Dynamics are good, the image space well laid out, and the treble is sometimes rough and aggressive, which suits the music. I'm sitting on the edge of my seat, captivated by the muscular playing rather than auditioning the equipment, so two thumbs up. Once again the reference Linn is more open on top and defined in the bass, revealing more of the lightning reflexes of these marvelous players and a little extra detail in the string tone and harmonics.
Now for an audiophile recording, I'll turn to Porgy and Bess from Ray Charles and Cleo Lane on Classic Records [JP1831]. The Scheu Analog system brings wonderful color to the orchestral instruments, particularly the winds, and majors in imaging, speed and dynamics. Both voices are very clear and sound great in quiet moments as well as in full flow. Next to the Linn, the Scheu emphasizes surface noise and cuts off sustained harmonics a bit quicker, while losing out in bass slam and definition. The Linn reveals Cleo Lane to be a better more interesting singer than listening through the Scheu, although she is really no match for the outstanding Ray Charles. The dynamics, previously strong are now amazing and the music has more swing than ever. Yet the Linn sound is not more aggressive – it is in fact more relaxing to listen to and it is now far easier to follow all the various musical strands and make out all the words.
We'll leave on a Jazz classic — The Hawk Flies High [MFSL 1-290] from the incomparable Coleman Hawkins. This again is a demonstration class recording, and I have the Mobile Fidelity LP and SACD versions, almost indistinguishable through the Linn and the EMM.
That doesn't mean I stopped listening! I continued with Handel Keyboard Concertos [Argo D3D4], the St Matthew Passion [Angel S36162], Bach Motets [Archiv 2533 349] and multiple pressings of Schnabel's Beethoven Sonatas. Including my listening notes here would not add anything you don't already know. For some reason the Scheu Analog sounded at its most comfortable in the type of music I like best — classical chamber music and solo piano - and at its least impressive with music with a heavy bass content.
This review has compared the inexpensive Scheu Analog components to a much more expensive package, so that you can see how fully it fulfills the potential of vinyl — not assuming for a moment that the Linn is the last word on the subject.
I would happily recommend this combination to the classical music lover who is ready to take a step up from an entry level turntable. You can experiment with a wide range of cartridges, the Denon 103R being a remarkable bargain and a good match but far from the last word with a turntable and arm of this quality. The Cello / Classic combo will hold up well to the competition at the $2500 - $3500 level and you will likely be the only one with a Scheu Analog front end. If the price is a little outside your price range, the Cello / Rega RB250 may be just the ticket and will put quite a smile on your face.
You may care to checkout my review of an entry level player, the Pro-Ject 1Xpression, so you can compare how the Scheu Analog compares to the bargain basement Pro-Ject on a consistent scale. In almost every department, the Scheu Analog surpasses the Pro-Ject, except for Value for the Money, where it still scores highly. See my review of the Pro-Ject 1Xpression by clicking here.
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