For some time now, I've been on the prowl for a decent inexpensive turntable for my Big Fun System. If you've read my bio, you'll know that the turntable I use in my Fleapowered system is a Systemdek 2X2 fitted with Rega RB-250 and a Rega Super Elys cartridge.
My Systemdek is a suspended table meaning that the platter and arm are suspended below the plinth on (essentially) a metal channel. The sound of a suspended table is unique. For those who have experienced a good design, you know that they can be very 'musical'. For those of you that have experienced a poor design, you know just how bad they can sound too. Fortunately, the 2X2 is one of the better designs.
For a couple of years I've been trolling eBay trying to find another one but alas, no luck. Little did I know but Peter Qvortrup of Audio Note bought the rights to the old Systemdek designs and is producing them under the Audio Note label (I know, I'm an idiot).
After looking through the Audio Note turntable line, I found that my old Systemdek 2X2 was hiding there as the Audio Note TT-1. It still basically looks like the old 2X2. Still the same thick polycarbonate platter, still the same three point suspension, still the same Rega RB-250 arm. The only minor visual difference is finish. My particular TT-1 comes fitted in black ash where my Systemdek came in a Cherry wrapper with a brushed gray plinth.
As you dig a little deeper, Peter has made a couple of changes to the original design. First, he has modified the platter and bearing assembly improving on the original design. The platter of the old Systemdek used to rest on a polycarbonate sub-platter, which was integrated to the bearing shaft (the Systemdek and TT-1 utilize a standard bearing rather than the inverted bearing seen so often today). What held the platter and sub-platter together were tapered shaft, gravity and friction. The platter weighs just less than 3 pounds, which is a nice amount of mass, but as Peter discovered, it could be improved on. What he did was remove the taper in favor of a straight shaft add a rubber grommet. This helps dramatically in the slippage department.
There are also some minor differences in the way that the polycarbonate platter is machined. The old platter had a knurled finish while the new platter has a smoother finish. The stock Rega arm internal and external wiring has been replaced. The internal wire is now Audio Note copper. The External lead out wire has been replaced with Audio Note copper Litz wire and some beefy RCA's. If any of you have seen (and heard) the stock lead out wire on a Rega arm, you'll know why Peter replaced it.
The cartridge on the end of the Rega arm is the moving magnet Audio Note IQ1. Essentially, it's a hot-rodded Goldring 10 series. Peter states that the suspension has been stiffened. The cantilever is now aluminum and the stylus is similar to the Van den Hul FG 2 profile. Guessing, it's output is somewhere near 6mV with a mass of 6 grams. Not quite sure what other kind of mods Peter has made to the IQ but no doubt if he told me, he'd probably have to kill me.
This particular table I found as a dealer demo. Normally the TT-1 retails for $975 for the table, $475 for the Audio Note Arm One C and $389 for the IQ1 cartridge. I happened to be at the right place at the right time and picked it up for $900. Pretty good deal considering the table only had about 20 hours on it.
After I got the table, I went through the usual setup procedures. One thing I did that is a little different than most, I removed the pressed board bottom cover and cut a piece of 0.75-inch MDF to use as the base. While I had the table open, I went ahead and did a tweak or two that worked really well on my Systemdek. On the metal beam that supports the bearing and arm board, I loaded it up with rope caulk. What that did was effectively lower the resonant frequency of the metal. This simple damping tweak works really well. Add in the MDF bottom panel and it adds more (effective) mass to the table. Mass is a (generally) good thing when it comes to turntables.
Then to top it all off, I installed a great little tweak. Parts Express offers what they call Speaker Spikes (part number 240-721). A package of four of these points cost a hefty $22.95. They are adjustable and come with a 'point receiver' so you don't scratch your fine wood finishes. They are made of solid metal and come in two finishes, chrome and pewter. These things work great and are way more affordable than Racing Cones or some other boutique brand. Are they as effective? They're pretty close. I'd say they are about 80% - 85% of the way there.
Anyway, after I got the table level and I whipped out my Hi-Fi News Test Record and dialed in the arm and cartridge settings (as best one can with a test record). As I put the first record on, I noticed something a bit weird. I was getting a high frequency bounce to the arm as it rode in the grooves. Strange.
As I fiddle-farted around trying to figure out what was causing it, I remembered that this table is a belt drive (another duh moment). Putting two and two together I guessed that since the table had so few hours on it, the belt hadn't broke in yet. I pulled the platter and popped the belt off. As I started manually working in the belt by stretching it, I noticed that it was extremely tight. Now, I can't recommend manually stretching the belt as a factory authorized procedure but it worked for me. The arm stopped bouncing up and down.
So now I've got the table set up and ready to go so I pop on a nice juicy piece of vinyl. The first one I grabbed was the Classic Records release of Count Basie, Chairman of the Board. This is a phenomenal piece of wax. On my Fleapowered system, it comes alive. It's full of dynamics, horns that jump out at you, crisp, clean whacks on the drums, man this is a real piece of vinyl. I dropped the needle, grabbed the remote and settled in for some fine jazz.
As I soon found out, the IQ1 takes a couple of sides to get nice and loose. At first listen, it sounded a bit thin and constrained. While the IQ ran in a bit, I decided to get up an go putz around. No point in torturing myself. After a couple of sides, I settled back in for a listen. The spin time did wonders for the IQ. While I was gone, it came to life. Then I got the bright idea to dissect my Systemdek. Well, not literally dissect, I just borrowed the Heavyweight and the Slee Jazz Club phono stage and installed them on the Big Fun System.
This turned into one of those 'Oh My!' moments. Everything changed drastically for the better. The tracking ability got exponentially better. I expected that though. Sal's Heavyweight is a must for any Rega RB-250 owners. Plus it's fairly cheap at less than $150 bucks. Looks like Santa has another goodie to get me for Christmas.
As I listened to the IQ1 through the Graham Slee Jazz Club, I was pretty impressed with what I heard. Considering this is Peters entry level cartridge, it sounds pretty darned good. For $389 you get a nice clean, open sound. Many cartridges in this price range can sound dull and lifeless in comparison. The IQ1 was neither of those (at least in this system). The bass is nice and tight too, which is a great mate to these monster Shiva subs I'm using.
The TT-1 couple with the IQ1 provided a very nice presentation of the music. Playing some Dr. John from In A Sentimental Mood, the first track "Makin' Whoopie" features Mac plunkin' away on a piano with Rickie Lee Jones sharing the vocals. Doc's piano comes in crisp and clear without a hint of veiling. On the next song Candy, the drummer is using the brushes on the snare drum. On a lesser table and cartridge, the brushes get washed out by the rest of the music. With the TT-1 and IQ1 cart, they extract all of that minutia we love so much about this hobby.
Next up was some Rory Gallagher from Calling Card. This guy knew how to rock. It's a shame he's not with us anymore. Here again the TT-1 combo sailed through grooves without a second thought. The IQ1 dug deep into the grooves and retrieved tons of detail without coming across as hard or strident at all.
One of my all time favorite albums to test systems is the Sheffield Labs release Still Harry After All These Years by Harry James and His Big Band. As you know, Sheffield's are 'direct to disc' cuttings. I think my copy has to be stamped really close to the mother because it is absolutely phenomenal sounding. The TT-1 combo doesn't disappoint in the least. The system synergy going on here is really pretty amazing. The focus of this table/arm/cart/phono stage combo is so right it's scary. I've only heard this type of presence on this album coming out of my Fleapowered rig. It's not supposed to happen on a system specifically designed setup to play loud rock and roll.
Well, it seems that I got really lucky with the (blind) package purchase. All in all, I'm an extremely happy camper. I always had eBay or Audiogon in the back of my head if I didn't like the sound of the TT-1. Fortunately, for me it's a damned fine addition to this obsession we all seem to have.
Considering the system I have put the Audio Note TT-1 in, I really don't have any beefs at all about the sound. In fact, I couldn't be much happier. I did move it over into the Fleapowered System. There the 'synergy' didn't work as well. Here the combo sounded just a bit thin. I really think it's the IQ1 cartridge. It just has a slightly leaner presentation, which is just fine if you have a fuller sounding system. If your rig tends to be a little lean already, the IQ1 might put you over the edge but that's just my opinion. Of course YMMV.
So, if you're in the market for an excellent sounding medium priced turntable, give the Audio Note TT-1 a spin. I really think you will like what you hear. If you system is a little fuller sounding, the IQ1 should be a nice match as it is with mine. It's kind of funny. When you look at the Audio Note UK site, Peter considers this his entry level turntable. Knowing the quality of the AN gear, I guess you could consider it as entry level but when you listen to the competing tables in this same price range, there's no contest in my book.
Audio Note US Distributor – Triode and Company
Audio Note UK
Back in May of this year (2004), my mother-in-law was listening to Art Bell on the AM band. This particular evening Art was discussing some new technology that is on the horizon here in the States. His guests were Joe Walsh of the Eagles and Jim Hainey of the ARRL (American Radio Relay League). The ARRL represents the amateur radio operators (the HAM guys) out there. Thankfully, my mother-in-law decided to tape the program thinking I would be interested (bless her heart).
The topic of this nights conversation was BPL or Broadband over Power Lines. We've all heard about this technology. It's supposed to bring the entire country into this the 21st century. Nationwide Interconnectivity is its promise. This technology will be to provide cable, Internet, phone service or nearly any digitized signal into your common household duplex power outlet. No longer will there be the need for a separate provider for your phone, cable and internet service. You will now be connected through your favorite utility company. Oh boy, I can't wait.
Just about now you are probably asking yourself, I'm an audiophile, what does this have to do with me? Unfortunately, the answer is both simple and complicated at the same time. First, I need to get you up to speed with what BPL is and then all it's ramifications. You'll pick up bits and pieces of why and what along the way.
Basically, Cable, Internet, Phone Service or any other signal that can be digitized will be transmitted over the power lines that enter your house. At first glance, this makes a darn good use of an existing infrastructure that has taken decades to build. Think about it, everybody has power coming into their homes and place of business. The only place I can think of that doesn't have power is the UniBomber's old shack (there's a joke there somewhere but I won't do it).
These services will be re-modulated to the 2 to 80MHz range then transmitted over your power lines. When it enters your house you will then de-modulate the signal from your duplex wall outlet and enjoy what ever it is you just bought (internet, phone calls, movies, etc.). Great idea, right?
Lets think about this for a minute shall we? First, we are about to transmit boatloads of data over unshielded power lines. Any of you guys that have ever set an unshielded interconnect over one of your power cables knows what that sounds like. You get this God-awful hum and buzz that gets amplified and eventually comes out of your speakers. You now know not to place cables near transformers or power cords.
Imagine if you can, all of these services being broadcast over your power lines. Now, I only mentioned three. Each one of those will take up a fairly narrow bandwidth (sort of). Now lets start adding some new communications to the mix.
The Cellular Phone industry would be a good place to start. In areas where they don't currently have towers, they could (conceivably) use the power lines as their antennas. In small towns where there is no service, they could broadcast their signal across the grid making huge strides in increased cell phone activity. All you have to do is be within X feet or miles of a power line and you now have ability to make and receive a call. Pretty ingenious actually.
Lets not stop there. In the major cities, a company called Nextel has made huge strides in the market because of their walkie-talkie like ability combined into a cell phone. Lets say these guys entering a new city don't want to invest in building repeater stations at say $500,000 to $1,000,000 each. The choice now becomes easy, add a modulator/demodulator to the power grid, the odd amplifier and Bingo, you just connected the entire city and surrounding grid. Cheap, easy and extremely attractive for the almighty shareholders.
Even if my communications examples are flawed, you can see just how attractive this technology could be to corporations. So just what's wrong with this concept? Noise, that's what. The frequency bands that they are talking about taking over (2MHz to 80MHz) will see somewhere between a 55dB to 70dB increase in noise emitted as EMF.
Now, lets take a look at just what is currently transmitting at those frequencies. Some (but not all) police, fire, EMS, CB radio, HAM, some aviation, and short wave radio will all get stepped on because of this BPL technology. The EMF noise will be transmitted at such a level because of the unshielded power lines, that when your local EMS guys are trying to transmit your vital signs to the doctor waiting for you at the hospital, the emergency room on the other end might never receive it.
How about this? Ever been in a rural area and seen a volunteer firefighter before? He had a walkie-talkie right? He gets his calls to respond to a fire or accident via this thing. Guess what probably no longer works with the advent of BPL technology? You got it.
Lets take some real occurrences that would have been greater disasters if this technology were in place. 9-11. This tragedy will stay in our minds forever. Did you know that the HAM guys got the call to help coordinate ground and rescue operations because all communications were down? Land lines were jammed, repeaters were jammed. Police, fire and EMS personnel could only communicate via HAM radio because of the state of panic. Guess what literally wipes out the HAM frequencies? BPL.
Want another? How about the latest rounds of hurricanes that hit the southeast portion of the States. Yep, that's right, FEMA and the Red Cross transmit on these same precious HAM frequency bands.
The logical person asks the question, can't these agencies transmit at a different frequency? Well, sure they can -- at a cost -- to you the taxpayer (I might add). If BPL is somehow allowed to proliferate by the FCC and Congress, chances are your taxes will go up to cover the costs of being forced to buy all new communications gear because the old will be willingly forced into obsolescence by our glorious Federal Government. Why? Easy…. money, jobs, shareholder stock prices, all this. Problem is most of the jobs will go to the Asian rim and Central America. Americans can't afford to buy anything manufactured in America anymore. Shame.
Know what the worst part of all this is? No less than six countries have tried this technology and rejected it. Countries like Japan and the UK ran from the concept after doing studies that found problems as I stated before.
Lets get down to the audiophile level. Most of you guys may question whether a signal riding your mains at between 2MHz and 80MHz will be audible. Well, I can't say for sure. I don't have the test gear to tell you one way or the other. I do know one thing, if it is audible or manifests itself as some form of high frequency background hash, we now get to spend loads of money on some new wiz-bang filtering device so we can listen to our music or watch a clean picture on our new $5000 flat panel monitor.
The next question begs answering. What will a 70dB increase in signal noise do to my existing equipment? Will it somehow shorten its lifespan because of the high frequency signals passing through my caps, resistors, tubes, IC's and transformers? Will my transformers now begin to hum like crazy full time? If any of my mega-buck equipment fails when some HF spike caused by BPL comes through the line, whom can I choke?
ARRL BPL Article
'til next time.Have a happy and safe Holiday Season.