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HIFICRITIC
Volume 6 No. 3
Subjective Sounds
By Paul Messenger

 

HIFICRITIC Volume 6 Number 3 July / August / September 2012  What with the Naim network system and a number of DACs, I seem to have done an awful lot of ‘digital' over the last couple of months. It was therefore very nice to dig out some vinyl, and realise that the old format still has plenty to offer. It might not have the freedom from background noise associated with digital sources, but it retains that curiously natural quality that somehow gives a more relaxing listening experience.

My own turntable has been through three major upgrade stages over the past year. However, I should point out that what originally started out as an old Sondek had already been through a number of previous modifications, and was a far from standard item. Indeed, after using a Naim Aro tonearm and Armageddon supply for some years, it had long been fitted with a Rega P9 motor (not without considerable difficulty), alongside its matching power supply and Rega RB1000 tonearm. Then, rather more than three years ago, I purchased a Soundsmith Strain Gauge cartridge.

The first of the most recent upgrades was an AudioFlat RubiKon (Vol6 No1). This fabricated metal subchassis/armboard is half the price of Linn's own machined-from-solid aluminium Keel, but more important for me is that a version exists to match Rega RB-series tonearms. The RubiKon replaces the standard steel subchassis and wooden armboard to give greater mechanical integrity, and provided a clearly audible improvement, especially through the midband.

The next stage replaced Linn's (nearly) flat steel top plate with a Tiger Paw Khan (Vol6 No2), a machined alloy piece with raised and lowered concentric and diagonal sections that add a ‘third dimension', greatly improving stiffness, and again sound quality by a significant margin. Here the improvement seemed more at the bottom end of the audio band, firming up the foundation underpinning the music.

The final step came when Peter Swain of Cymbiosis visited, bringing with him a selection of Chris Harban's beautiful hardwood LP12 plinths which Cymbiosis imports. I met Harban at the Whittlebury show a couple of years ago, but his company, Woodsong Audio, is located in the US heartland state of Idaho. It specialises in making the most beautiful plinths, mainly for Linn Sondeks, but also for Garrard 301/401 and Thorens TD124 idler-drive classics. I picked a lovely Indian rosewood example, and Swain set to work transferring all the bits from my standard fluted teak plinth. Even with his experience, this quite complex task took a couple of hours, much of which was spent checking alignments very precisely. Naturally it therefore wasn't possible to do direct before'n'after comparisons, though he was quite complimentary about my Linn's state of set-up before the plinth change.

I in turn was quite blown away by the sound quality of my turntable after the change. It's hard to say how much this is down to the new plinth and how much to the re-setting-up, but there was no denying the significant sonic upgrade, in the overall coherence, in dynamic range and especially in the power of dynamic expression. Whereas the RubiKon improvements had mainly improved the midband and the Tiger Paw Khan the bottom end, the Harban plinth somehow pulled everything together, taking the mechanics of a rotating turntable further out of the picture and emphasising the music instead.

Intriguingly, it also made cartridge downforce setting much more critical, as one searched for the magic ‘sweet spot' that brought everything together. And even though I've long regarded my hi-fi components as ‘work in progress' rather than 'objets de vertu', I do occasionally find myself stroking that lovely rosewood plinth...

 

Paul Messenger
Editor

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