Although Canada's Oracle changed hands a few times since their beginnings in 1979, Oracle's chief designer Jacques Riendeau is the brother of the founder Marcel. Oracle's first turntable, the Delphi (now in its Mk. VI incarnation) is considered by many as very, very important to the history of high-end analog. It certainly ended up in many of the better systems in the homes of audiophiles in the early 1980s. Because of their success with the Delphi, it definitely gives Oracle's new Paris a leg up. What makes the Paris even more enticing though is its price, which although not cheap by any means is not nearly as expensive as their Delphi, or most other analog manufactures' top flight offerings. Yet it still comes very close to some of the best analog one is likely to hear. Although not quite plug and play, it can go from the box to playing records with only a bit more fuss than the most simple entry-level turntable packages. This undoubtedly gives it even more standing in this increasingly crowded field.
The Paris is available as a standard bundle with a Paris high output Moving Coil (MC) phono cartridge with a healthy 1.6 mV that can drive just about any phono preamp that I can think of, and comes with a Paris tonearm -- a ProJect's 9cc that is modified by Oracle. This 'arm is quite an impressive looking affair, and incorporates an important design feature of none other than the Tri-Planar tonearm, a curved silicon filled trough near the base of the arm-tube. The trough can be filled with a user determined amount of viscous silicon which will subsequently tailor the sound of the tonearm and thus the entire turntable set-up. The turntable retails for $3150, the Paris tonearm $950, and the Paris phono cartridge $1150. Purchasing the three as a package saves $250, for a total price of $5000.
The turntable is fitted with three convex screw-in Delrin feet (Delrin is a crystalline polymer) for leveling the turntable's plinth with the supplied leveling tool. 3Cc of oil applied to the main bearing is easily injected into the bearing with the provided syringe. Once the turntable is level one simply attaches the aluminum sub-platter's post into the bearing hole, the belt onto the motor pulley and the sub-platter, and then the place the acrylic platter over it. It was difficult to spoil the sound of the Paris with too little or too much silicon in the tonearm's trough or the set-screw of the tonearm that lowers into the silicon bath, but I ultimately settled on Oracle's recommendations, with the fluid filled about 1/16" from the top of the trough and the tonearm's set-screw just breaking the surface of the silicon bath. One of three different tonearm weights need to be slipped onto the tonearm and with the supplied scale or one's own stylus weight gauge the downward force was set with just a bit of finesse. Since the phono cartridge is mounted at the factory azimuth and anti-skate need not be set by the user. The sample of the Paris also came with an optional clear acrylic dustcover which attaches to the turntable's base with two hinges. As I was more than hesitant to attach to this beautiful and sensitive piece of audio gear what appeared to be a sound-wave sail, I only placed the dustcover on the turntable without attaching the hinges to see how it looked. It looked very nice.
The belt-drive of the Paris is powered by a low-voltage AC synchronous motor, the electronics of which are identical to their pricier Delphi. Oracle claims that the oscillator circuit creates a perfect sine wave to feed the motor, which ensures accurate speed stability. Oracle includes with the Paris a strobe disc, and during setup both the 33.33 and 45 rpm speeds can be fine-tuned by two mini-screws located on the rear of the turntable. The provided power supply also isolates the drive electronics from any AC impurities and fluctuations. One can also upgrade to the same power supply as used with the Delphi model, the Turbo.
I spent the bulk of the Paris' review period listening to the pre-installed Paris phono cartridge, only switching to my reference Lyra at the very end. I have no idea where Oracle sourced this fine Paris cartridge. There are more than a few cartridges on the market with similar specifications, but the bodies of these other transducers look nothing like the Paris cartridge, so perhaps it has been built to Oracle's specifications. The Paris is available in three finishes, Ferrari Red, Lamborghini Yellow, white and Titanium Gray. The sample I received was supplied in the beautiful glossy red. It never failed to receive oohs and aahs from anyone, audiophile or not, that visited the listening room even before I placed a record on its spindle.
The Paris occupied the top shelf of an Arcici
Suspense equipment rack. With the Arcici's thick solid steel top plate supported
by a cushion of air this was certainly a fine way to isolate the Paris from any
vibrations, especially those coming through the floor. But to test the Paris'
semi-floating suspension I initially placed the Paris on a two-inch concrete
slab that rested atop a not-so-sturdy plastic table situated next to the
equipment rack. Of course there was an improvement when I eventually moved the
turntable to the Arcici stand, but not as much as one might have suspected. The
sound tightened up more than a bit, but as the Paris didn't react much to
footfalls and the like even when it was on the concrete slab there wasn't much
to complain about before it went onto the Arcici. Even though the floor of our
old house is much sturdier than those of most modern suburban homes, praise to
the Oracle's design of the Paris' dual-rod semi-floating chassis is due.
I'm sure I've left out some of the design and technical information in describing Oracle's Paris. If you've read any of my reviews in the past you'd realize that this is nothing new, as I'm tons more interested in how a piece of gear sounds than the way the designers achieved the resulting sound. As long as a product is sturdy and reliable, matches one's system, sounds great, and is worth its asking price I wouldn't care if the thing was constructed out of duct tape and parts of a ball point pen. In the case of the Oracle Paris it is rather obvious that a lot of research and development went into bringing this product to market. As a bonus the thing is a gorgeous piece of audio equipment.
If one think I'm being too hard on the Paris when discussing its sonic attributes, please take into consideration the fact that my reference for quite a while has been an analog rig that is much pricier than the Paris -- its tonearm costs nearly as much as the entire Paris combo. Yet the Oracle Paris needs to make no apologies -- and I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. Oracle introduced its Delphi model in 1979, and this instant classic is still in production. Oracle never rested on their laurels as they constantly updated the turntable throughout its existence. They obviously have learned quite a lot about turntable design throughout these years. Although not as an ambitious design as the Delphi, the Paris' robust, punchy, and rather transparent sound is testament to the design prowess of the folks at Oracle.
After the Paris was completely set up to my satisfaction, I intended to perform some off-axis listening to let the cartridge break in. As always, curiosity got the best of me and I set myself down in the sweet spot after only after about half-way through the side of the first LP. Even before the cartridge was fully broken in it was easy to tell that I was in for a treat with this turntable system. I spent time listening to all types of music. But shortly after the turntable arrived I learned drummer Paul Motian died. I played a few of his records on which he appeared for about a side each, but spun both sides of the album Dance he recorded on ECM as The Paul Motian Trio released in 1978 with Charles Brackeen on soprano sax (and tenor on one track) and David Izenzon on bass. Some correctly point out that some of the ECMs from the 1970s have less than perfectly transparent sound, and some go as far as describing these records as being a bit muddy sounding. I think that's somewhat of an exaggeration, as well as too much of a generalization. There are gems to be found in the ECM catalog, and Dance by the Paul Motian Trio is a remarkably good sounding LP. Yes, as usual producer Manfred Eicher is a bit heavy handed with the reverb, but it seems to be used with good effect here (pun intended), only adding to the mood when necessary. Despite the title of the album this isn't akin to any dance music one is likely to have ever heard before, but those who are familiar not only with Mr. Motian's output on ECM but throughout his career, many of his fans say that Paul Motian's drumming evokes a dance within the listener's mind rather than on the dance floor. But rather than going further into the aesthetics of his playing as it relates to the music on this record, objectively there is no doubt that the Paris combo reveals that this is a great recording, not only because it is so spacious sounding. The soundstage is wide, deep, and multilayered, even though this is a result of the studio and not from actual stage placement. No worries here, as with the reverb this "fake" soundstage only adds, rather than distracts from the proceedings.
I love it when I become enveloped within the sound of a record, and on each track of the Dance, the sound of each instrument would wash over me. The Paris revealed that this was more of a "live in the studio" type gig more than anything else. David Izenzon's acoustic bass had a natural growl that also added to the illusion that one was overhearing a playback over the studio monitors while witnessing the recording process. The technique of not only the way Paul Motion tuned his bass drum, but the method of recording it brings to light that rather than just a thump-thump-thump this drum sounds like a large, low pitched drum. Of course this adds to the impression one is listening to real musicians, and although the studio is hardly a stage, recording-wise, it is a real place in that during this session in that no overdubbing was performed. Though the studio's reverb sort of ruins any suspension of disbelief that might occur the record as spun on the Oracle Paris set-up gives one the sonic impression that the musicians are playing their instruments in the same room with each other.
Throughout this fantastic record Paul Motian manages not only to sounds as he is the rhythmic anchor, but somehow melodic at the same time. This is in large part due to producer Eicher's habit of highlighting the sound of the cymbals, as he does in so many of his other records. Before it was fully broken in the highest treble sounded a bit thready through the Paris cartridge, but as time went on this slight papery sound leveled off, and settled into a very slightly darkening of the overall tone of the high end. The low frequencies were a bit plummy sounding, which I found out later after playing more neutral records was in large part being emphasized by the recording, not the turntable set-up. Even more listening to a variety of material revealed that the bass response of the Paris combo was only very slightly tipped up in the mid-bass. Despite this, the low-end sound made the recording seem quite natural.
Again, I hope it doesn't sound as if I'm focusing on the negative. On the Motian album images were separated by huge amounts of space, and each instrument and each part of Paul's kit were solidly placed within the soundstage. Like I said before, playing this LP gave me a clear picture of what was happening that day (or most likely, that night) in the studio. The clarity of the sound was unflappable -- during crescendos no sounds coming from any instrument drifted or became distorted -- harmonically or otherwise. I played a couple of Hindemith's Organ Sonatas by George Markey on the Germany's Psalitte label, and even during the most apocalyptic moments where it seemed as if he is coaxing the highest volume and maxed-out timbre from the organ at St. Mary's Church in Bielefeld, there is neither tracking distortion nor any other stress put upon the sound.
But keep in mind that I was judging the Paris with a previously unknown ingredient, so I mounted my reference Lyra Kleos on the Paris' tonearm. With the Kleos mounted, it was amazing how close in character the Paris turntable/tonearm combination was to the much more expensive Basis Debut/Tri-Planar when using the same cartridge. Now, I'm not saying that the Paris could equal the heft and grandeur of this more than three-times as expensive rig, but main factors that make this such as great analog set-up were there – and was able to bring out not only the positive qualities of the Lyra cartridge (of which there are many) but of the recordings themselves that were being spun on the Paris. It was difficult to believe that the sound was a result of this rather lightweight (compared to the Basis) turntable. I'm pretty sure that the platter of the Basis weighs nearly as much as the entire Paris combination, and yet the Paris was able to project into the room a weighty, solid, and more importantly musically involving, clear sound that will likely send shivers up the spine of any listener who gives this turntable/tonearm combo an audition. To prove my point, play your copy of Bruckner's Mass In E Minor (his second mass) conducted by Roger Norrington on Argo. Ok, I'll admit that not everyone has a copy of this record, but they should. Those that have it know that this is an extremely difficult record for most turntables, not only for a cartridge to track during the many portions of the score that grow in intensity, but separating the voices within the choir of this challenging piece of music. Bruckner was a master of orchestration, and one can easily hear how this skill transfers to his choral work. With the Kleos mounted on the Paris 'arm this set-up not only sailed through the piece, but I was able to hear the individual voices and groups of voices in the most involving manner I thought possible.
I spent most of my time with the Paris hooked up
to the optional Turbo power supply. Removing it and going back to the standard
took a little getting used to, although I wouldn't go as far as saying that the
sound was ruined by not using the more expensive supply. I could easily imagine
one purchasing this turntable set-up without the Turbo, and adding it on later
as an upgrade (although it adds $200 to its $900 price if added afterward),
because that is exactly what it is -- an upgrade. Yes, the sound improves, but
it doesn't transform it. Supplying a more healthy dose of current to the
workings of a turntable motor should, at least in theory, improve its sound, and
in practice it does -- I will attest to an increase in all audiophile-approved
traits when using the Turbo. Do I sound a bit reluctant in giving the Turbo an
unconditional recommendation? If not, I hope my comments won't deter anyone from
upgrading to the Turbo supply if the funds are available. I would spring
for it if the money was there.
Paris Phono Cartridge
Price of Paris turntable, Paris tonearm, and Paris phono cartridge if purchased together: $5000