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January 2016
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Superior Audio Equipment Review
Best Audiophile Product Of 2016 Blue Note Award
World Premiere!
Kronos Sparta 0.5 Turntable And Upgrade To Full Sparta
This is where I want my music to be!
Review By Rick Becker

 

Kronos Sparta 0.5 Turntable And Upgrade To Full Sparta

  We are all doomed to extinction in our own little way. It's called death. And the specter of death causes many to seek comfort in the familiar – LPs, old movies and TV re-runs, for example. But lest I be branded with the moniker of macabre, allow me to point out that turntables, cartridges and phono stages have made impressive strides in quality over the past two decades-long since the reported death of vinyl. The Kronos Sparta 0.5 turntable has the ability to be upgraded to full Sparta status. Meanwhile digital just can't seem to get the lid of the coffin nailed down. Men (and women) still seem to paddle. They both fish and sail in wooden boats, but an evolution of turntables has mirrored the evolution of the bicycle in recent decades. They are embracing modern high technology to reach unprecedented heights of performance. Turntables and LPs (both vintage and remastered) have become the poor man's Ferrari and the Second Coming looms just ahead with the legalization "medical" marijuana. Bear with me another moment.

Two days after Louis Desjardins and Bill Parish delivered the Sparta 0.5 and the upgrade parts to make it a full blown Sparta with counter-rotating platters, a good friend notified me of the tragic death of Bobby Palkovic of Merlin Music Systems. Bobby was more of an acquaintance than a good friend of mine. Numerous times I stopped by his workshop in nearby Hemlock, NY, on my way south to the semi-annual furniture show. I liked him a lot. He had passion for his speakers and a drive for perfection which I admired. That I feel a loss with his passing reminds me that the High End is, for the most part, a hobby – a conglomerate of small companies and a coterie of consumers, many of whom become friends as well as competitors. The speaker guys need the amplifier guys and they both need the wire guys. And all the builder guys need all the buyer guys. Friendships happen. And as a journalist I get to facilitate that happening and even make some friends of my own – both buyers and sellers – which brings me back to the Kronos turntable and its creator, Louis Desjardins.

My first encounter with Louis and the Kronos was at the Montreal show in the spring of 2011. In my show report I wrote:

"...this was the finest sounding room with an analog source that I heard at the show. The supporting cast for the turntable included Audio Research monoblocks and preamp. The phonostage was a Nagra. The $30,000 cost of the table includes the arm. And did I say this sounded really, really good? This room was presented by distributor Fidelio Audio who brings us those wonderful audiophile grade CDs and LPs and it easily ranks as one the Best Rooms at the show." [Actually, the price at the time had not yet been announced. It was ultimately introduced at $28,000 without an arm. RB]

Those of you familiar with my show reports know that I'm not prone to hyperbole, and this is about as rave as I get. I'm quite sure I felt at the time that this was one of the best turntables in the world, but on first exposure, I'm reluctant to stick my neck out on most anything. Yet, from this first show where I heard his flagship model it was visually and audibly obvious that he had created something very special. Expensive? Sure, but not as outrageous as some other highly esteemed models.

Louis is a prolific exhibitor and I got to know him better at subsequent TAVES shows in Toronto and Son-Image in Montreal. Each time he was partnered with a different variety of amplification and loudspeaker–always top-shelf gear, or close to it. While he is based in Montreal, he also presents at shows in Europe and the Far East and has established extensive distribution in those regions. His penchant for travel is likely an extension of one of his former careers as a professional photographer and the growth of Kronos in just a few short years is testament to his business acumen. Moreover, he has accumulated a lot of highly favorable press coverage from some very knowledgeable people which you can study on his website. Recognition from the industry at large is voluminous with 36 mentions of Best Sound at Show over the past four years. Three times he has been awarded "Product Of The Year" and Enjoy the Music.com has recognized Kronos with a Special 20/20 Award for phono cartridges and turntables.

At the TAVES show in 2013 Louis pulled up some images on his iPad of the Sparta version of his Kronos design which he hoped to be completed in time for CES 2014. It was projected to have about 85% of the sound quality of the flagship model at about half the price. As we now have seen, it is much more utilitarian in nature and appearance, and targets an entirely different customer than the flagship. I liked what I saw – a lot. It had masculinity and an industrial look that appealed to the motorcyclist in me. At the 2014 Montreal show I heard it first in the GTT Audio room where Bill Parish had it playing with an Air Tight PC1 cartridge. The system was based around the Grimm Audio LS1 active speaker that was targeting the person whose focus in life is the music, not the typical gear-head. Later at that show, in the room sponsored by Fidelio Technologies (Rene LaFlamme, again), I got to hear the Sparta with a Koetsu Rosewood cartridge with Audio Research amplification and Sonus Faber speakers. For comparison, a dCS Vivaldi set provided a digital front end with files stored in a server. I felt both digital and analog front ends sounded excellent, though the dCS stack was about twice the price of the analog front end. I melted in my seat when Louis put on a remastered version of Elvis singing "Are You Lonesome Tonight?"

Of course it is hard to make definitive calls at shows where the room, the system and usually the music are unfamiliar. (We've all heard this disclaimer time and again). But the really defining moment for Kronos came at Son et Image earlier this year [2015]. I had heard about a demonstration Louis had given another reviewer in a room that was comprised of some of the finest gear manufactured in Canada. The room was valued at about $450,000 and included amplification by Tenor Audio, speakers by Muraudio, cabling by Kubala-Sosna and both the flagship Kronos Pro turntable with new upgraded motors and a ZYX UNIverse II cartridge (~$8500), and the Sparta with an Ikeda Kai cartridge (~$10,000). The tonearms on both tables, like the one on my review sample, were by Andre Thériault of Montreal, a hand crafted carbon fiber uni-pivot design using a ball and cup interface rather than a needle type balancing point.

In my show report I was a little more blunt than usual:

"No point in mincing words here. These are two of the greatest turntables available in the world today with their suspended, counter-rotating platters.... It is hard to imagine music sounding much better in this room than what I heard this year. It was a big room and it was very well set up; obviously one of the very Best Rooms at this, or any other show I've been to. The music moved me."

So what was the special demonstration that triggered such laudatory remarks? Again, I'll rob some words from my show report:

"[Louis] put on a mono recording of Louis Armstrong that is frequently played at shows. There was a holographic, three-dimensional soundstage between the speakers that measured about 30 degrees between my outstretched arms that encompassed it. Louis then disengaged the lower, counter-rotating platter so only the top platter rotated. With the same music, the soundstage collapsed to about a five degree angle. Essentially, my arms were pointing straight ahead. When he re-engaged the lower platter the monaural soundstage expanded to its original width. Of course with a stereo record the soundstage expands even further, often beyond the width of the speakers, but the experiment suggests that even more accurate holographic imagery is achieved with the counter-rotating platter when stereo recordings are played. It was clearly one of those phenomena that you didn't know existed until you were first exposed to it, and then had it taken away."

That was the point in time where, I "got it." I recognized the contribution made by the counter-rotating platter and I recognized the quality of the musical presentation that made these tables a world-class design. The opportunity that was missed at Montreal was to compare the Pro with the Sparta. While they had different cartridges, Louis always changed LPs when switching from one table to the other, making a more direct comparison even more difficult. I don't think it really matters. They have completely different visual appeal, different footprints, and different price points. People will ultimately buy the one they are comfortable with, given their own priorities. From his insider viewpoint as the designer of these two tables, Louis assures me that the Pro has a marked improvement in sonics with superior refinement and resolution. There are physical and technological differences, not the least of which is an upgraded motor on the Pro. I have no reason to doubt him, but in the future, if the opportunity is presented, I will press him to play the same LP on both tables. The real "front" of an analog front end is the phono cartridge, and after that comes the tonearm. Your selections here will make a significant contribution to the ultimate quality you are able to experience with the turntable. In this rarified air, it is tough to find opportunities to audition choices. My best advice is to read the reviews, attend shows, and talk with people who sell these items.

 

Kronos Sparta 0.5 Turntable?
At that point Louis shifted the conversation and asked my opinion about offering a single platter version of the Sparta that could later be upgraded to the full counter-rotating, dual-platter version. His thinking was that people could get into a Kronos turntable at a more reasonable price, and then upgrade when funds or interest in analog playback justified the additional expense. Furthermore, the upgrade to a full Sparta would be accomplished without having to suffer a financial loss from having to sell off the original Sparta 0.5 purchase. The original tonearm and cartridge would simply carry over to the full-blown table. Hmmm... interesting idea and an important point. We all know the agony of upgrading; here was a pathway that leaves the door open and avoids most of the pain. For Louis, the idea was especially attractive since the original R&D had already been done. He wouldn't have to start from scratch to design a less expensive table complete with counter-rotating platters. Furthermore, extensive cost-cutting measures to design a less expensive turntable with counter-rotating shafts would likely result in lower overall sound quality than the proposed Sparta 0.5. Nonetheless, I couldn't give him a "thumbs up" on the 0.5 idea. It would be a gamble, but the downside was minimal. Certainly there would be strong competition at a $15,000 price point, but none of the competition could be upgraded to the performance level of the full Sparta. We let the conversation go at that. It would be his decision and his investment.  He was obviously capable of making a good decision. That's why he is where he is today.

 

Kronos Sparta 0.5 Turntable

 

It wasn't long after that Louis phoned to tell me that he was going forward with the Sparta 0.5 and he'd like to send me one "to play with." How could I refuse? The unspoken assumption was that I would love it and write a review. Moreover, he would also deliver the "upgrade kit" so I could hear how it compared with the full Sparta. The big surprise was that Bill Parish, the US distributor, came along with him to learn how to make the conversion. Bill hadn't been here since he delivered the Kharma speakers I reviewed and subsequently purchased back in 2003. Together they brought the sturdy pine shipping boxes into the listening room. Louis did the set-up both for the sake of expediency and the fact that assembly instructions for the 0.5 were not yet completed. Assembly of the 0.5 is fairly straightforward but not what I would call intuitive unless you're familiar with the assembly of various suspended tables. SME and Avid Acutus come to mind as somewhat similar to the 0.5, though Louis thinks the 0.5 is much simpler. On-line instructions complete with photos would be a big help if, for example, you raise dental floss on a ranch in Montana. BTW, if you have a chance to hear Dweezil Zappa in a Zappa Plays Zappa concert, make it happen. Suddenly it will be 1968 again!

 

Photo of Upgrade Kit
With the set-up of the Sparta 0.5 complete we listened to a bit of music, tidied up the room, and then went out for dinner seasoned with a lot of enjoyable conversation. After they dropped me back home I got back into the groove until 3am to get a good grip on what the 0.5 sounded like with this high-tech tonearm and expensive cartridge. Mid-morning we were back at it again; this time performing the upgrade to the full Sparta. The parts for the upgrade are seen in the photo above. The only parts of the 0.5 that become obsolete are the four short suspension pillars which are replaced with the four taller pillars seen in the photo. Everything else remains with some shuffling and re-connecting of wires. Note the platter in the upgrade kit does not have a carbon fiber top like the one used for the LP, nor does it incorporate the speed sensors and computer correcting capability that is found in the more expensive Pro model. The wiring harness gets re-worked a bit when the second motor is added, but this is easily accomplished with the click-on connectors. When they publish a set of photos and instructions on their website, this conversion should be relatively easy for anyone who is comfortable working with their hands. If you're not one of those people, you can probably have one of the dealers in their comprehensive network do it for a nominal fee, if any. It took Louis, who obviously knew what he was doing, about a half hour to accomplish the task.

 

 

The Sparta upgrade kit is comprised of:
A) The lower plinth and 4 attached spacers
B) The lower platter and it's mated bearing
C) The second motor, pulley and belt
D) Four tall suspension pillars

 

 

While the decision to upgrade from 0.5 to the full Sparta will cost you an additional thousand dollars over the cost of buying the full Sparta from the start, it is far more cost effective than buying a comparably priced turntable and then selling or trading it in for the full Sparta. You have a clear upgrade path without obsolescence. It is not like digital music that started out as physical media, evaporated into the clouds and then became a downpour into your server. I'm still playing records that are sixty years old.

 

 

The extremely accurate, fully regulated Class A dual power supply contains a microprocessor that maintains and adjusts the speed. It has been re-configured from the original brick shape into a low, wide chassis that slides neatly beneath the turntable itself. This puts the on-off switch and the speed selector toggle switch, along with a couple of additional toggles to make minute adjustments in the speed, all right at your fingertips. How accurate, you ask? Well, optical sensors measure the speed of the platter and the CPU control adjusts the voltage to the DC motor(s) in real time. Belt stretching and mechanical wear do not affect the speed stability. The kit also includes a strobe light that attaches to the rear of the power supply via RCA connector. Circular strobe markings for both 45 and 33.33 are located on the platter in the recessed circle that falls beneath the record label. Louis claims it is virtually "set it and forget it." Even after the trip up from New Jersey it was still spot on. When turning the table off, the red power indicator stays lit for a full minute, giving evidence of its superb build quality. When turned on, it supplies DC voltage to the high quality Swiss-made DC motor(s).

The flat "backbone" of the chassis that runs left to right beneath the platter has a channel routed out which houses cables that power the motor and RCA outputs for the tonearm cable as well as a binding post for the ground wire. It also has the DIN input for the fine cable coming out of the tonearm. Cables with F-connectors are supplied to connect the power supply with the turntable. It is possible to place the power supply a short distance from the turntable, but in my set-up the floor beneath the stand is inhospitable. Besides, you will want the convenience of having it at your fingertips. Rapid bending down and standing up can induce dizziness in people with low blood pressure–not something you want when cuing up a record with an expensive cartridge.

 

 

The bearing is a massive structure as you can see in the photo. Grooves in the walls draw the 20/50 weight synthetic oil from the well up to the top and spill it out to lubricate the inverted bearing which sits within the plane of the platter for reduced vibration. The bearing is precise and custom fit such that the male and female parts have to be replaced together in the unlikely event that should ever be necessary. Giving the platter a spin by hand...it keeps going and going. When a record is finished playing and you wish to stop the platter, a light touch on the underside (after cutting the power off) will bring it to a halt which brings up a very minor detail. The underside of the platter feels slightly rough to the touch when stopping the rotation because the bottom of the platter is the phenolic layer which cannot be polished. It's not a big deal, but since all the other surfaces of the platter are polished to perfection there is a slight mental disconnect.

My buddy Tom Lathrop came over with a couple of Analog Productions 45 rpm LPs because all of my 45's were thin 7" records with a big hole. About 20 seconds into the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong LP we turned to each other with a big smile on our faces. At the needle drop it was clear the 200 gram disc was ghostly quiet. The focus, transparency and dynamics were as good, if not better than the best I've heard at shows, including players that crossed the six-figure threshold. Being mono, we each had a prime seat, but the chair centered between the speakers at a mid-field listening distance gave a bit more body to the music than the chair directly in front of the right speaker. The music was spellbinding with each song becoming a command performance, far outweighing the distraction of having to flip the record more frequently than a 33. As Tom pointed out, the jump in quality was easily the equivalent of a major component upgrade. He had also done his homework and pointed out that even at $50 each for a 200 gram 45 rpm record, if you bought , say, 10 a year, it might be a decade before you reached the commensurate investment of a new amp or pre-amp–plus, you'd have a very nice collection of select recordings. He also liked the fact that you can switch between 33 and 45 with a small toggle switch on the power supply–much easier than changing pulleys on his VPI Scout.

Of course it didn't hurt that I was running the Sparta into the Coincident Statement Phono Stage with vacuum tubes that can also function as a preamp. (It's an unheralded bargain.) Armstrong's trumpet didn't sound quite like a real trumpet, but that's due to the microphone and recording technology of the 1950's and the fact that we have live trumpets available with which to compare it. Ella's and Louis' voice are no longer available to us live, so only the ancient among us have even distant recollection of what they sounded like, live. Here again, their voices were as good, or better, than what I've heard at shows. Where the Sparta surpasses all other performances of this duo in my experience is in the physicality of their voices which were always front and center in the mono recording. The drums and the piano were far in the background and had a more vintage sound. It was so engaging I almost forgot that it was a mono recording, but the single speaker right in front of me brought that insight into consciousness. I'll even venture to say that 200 gram 45 rpm monaural can sound better than 180 gram 33 stereo, at least with a good recording. Another 45 Tom brought along, a direct disc recording of Charlie Byrd, the guitarist, on a white vinyl record, was less successful, which Tom suggested could be due to the higher noise floor attributed to the white vinyl.

 

 

It may seem to some that playing "Louie, Louie in Person" (Wand 657) to review a turntable of any price is something of a joke. The Kingsmen were a successful garage band in Portland and played throughout the Pacific Northwest. Their breakout effort, a cheap studio album recorded to sound live at a teen club was a quintessential party album for cutting edge Baby Boomers from 1964 until life became serious and we had to deal with the war in Vietnam. Those of us who loved the album have been waiting in vain for a remastered 200 gram LP. Unfortunately the title song is the lead in to side one and gathered the finger prints and salt and butter from the popcorn we ate. A VPI-16 can only offer so much help after half a century. With the Sparta in dual-platter mode I lowered the tonearm. The song began when I was half way to the listening chair and by the time my jeans hit the leather I was in shock. It was as if I had walked into the local Pittsford Inn and was listening to Wilmer Alexander Jr. and the Dukes playing live. Same sound. It was 1964 all over again and it wasn't until half way through Side 1 that I realized it was a mono record. It awoke the emotions of my inner teen with transparency, dynamics and club ambience, even if it was faked. The Sparta (and arm and cartridge) made this LP come alive in a way I've never heard before. If J. Edgar Hoover could hear "Louie, Louie" on this turntable, he'd re-open the FBI investigation. Fortunately, J. Edgar is gone and sadly, so is Jack Ely, who sang only "Louie, Louie" and never made a cent from this iconic song, having left the band before the album was made. The song and the times live on, deep in the groove, waiting to be mined by ever improving technology. The full Sparta gets very deep into that groove pulling out tight deep bass, sparkling cymbals and everything in between, just the way it should be.

 

 

Difference In Sound Between The Kronos 0.5 And Full Sparta
But what is surrendered when the lower platter is disconnected and it essentially reverts to the Sparta 0.5? Most of it remains. The soundstage drops a little bit further away. Horizontally it remains the same, but there is a loss of some of the three-dimensionality of the performers and instruments that adds so much to the physicality of the performance. Consequently, the soundstage contracts a bit, front to back. The tonal nuances and ambience are still there, but the performers and instruments seem flattened out in comparison with the full-blown Sparta. I also noticed that the surface noise became a little more prominent and the clicks became somewhat more frequent and intrusive without the benefit of the counter-rotating platter. The background was not quite as black and the sense of ambience was slightly diminished. But it's not as bad as I make it sound. In comparison with most any other turntable, you would probably think the 0.5 was fully fleshed out, but Louis let the genie out of the bottle by setting up the complete Sparta for me. Mind you, the 0.5 is still in the upper echelon of turntables as I quickly learned when I compared it with my hot-rodded Linn. Granted, we are comparing a turntable with a $6700 tonearm and $8500 cartridge with a vintage turntable with a less than $1000 tonearm and a less than $2000 cartridge. You should expect more when you pay more and in the case of the 0.5 and the full Sparta you certainly get it.

I'm gonna get up in the morning
I believe I'll dust my broom
  – Elmore James, Robert Johnson, and James Elmore

Two shortcomings of either version of the Sparta include its limitation to only one tonearm. You can't set up a second arm with a mono cartridge, for example, but there are arms that will let you swap cartridges efficiently. Actually, if you are really serious about mono, you should consider having a second system with only one amplifier and one speaker. A mono recording coming out of two speakers will create room reflections that shouldn't be there in a true monaural playback system, and your brain will be confused when it hears identical sound coming from two different directions.  Secondly, the Sparta design has multiple layers that are black and will show the accumulation of dust. This necessitates careful cleaning with a fine bristle paint brush or a soft cloth. Fortunately the finish is very smooth and dust is easily removed. Cleaning of the platter surface is easily accomplished with the same anti-static record cleaning brush you use on your LPs. Just be sure to use the metal bar to knock off and blow away the collected dust from the bristles. You don't want to use compressed air anywhere around a phono cartridge. "Air Tight", in particular, should not be taken literally. An inverted plastic storage box from Home Depot for less than $10.00 could be a convenient solution if your room is dusty or populated with free range birds or animals.

 

Being There And Living With It
In the comments made in Paul's Posts (September 29, 2015 at 7:00 am) a blogger named Ned wrote: "Ambiance... the one factor that makes all the difference. Preserving the ambiance in the recording, I think is one of the components' most important tasks." This is where the Sparta, 0.5 and full blown, excels. There is no voodoo involved. The excellence comes from his formal engineering education and work experience. His early hobby of racing motorcycles with engines that reached 13,000 rpms also required obsessive attention to vibration to keep them from flying apart. From this sprang the execution of counter-rotating platters. Other high engineering includes the sandwich plinths incorporating a phenolic material, kind of like carbon fiber, but using different materials and different glue. The same phenolic material is used in the constrained layer design of the platter. The carbon fiber top to the platter drains vibration directly from the vinyl; no mat is needed. The platter edge is designed to allow easy lifting of the LP, even with the platter spinning. The spindle is slightly under-size to disconnect the LP from the bearing. The huge bearing, the suspension and adjustability for leveling the table and the inclusion of a level built into the plinth are all executed with precision.

 

 

Even the M8 DIN connector (which is utilized only when the Helena tonearm is selected) is something special. It is spring loaded and designed to snap into the female receptacle in the backbone of the turntable. It was so unlike anything I've ever seen it gave me a fit when I changed cartridges and had to remove the arm. Normally there is one large ridge on the circumference of a DIN connector that slides into the alignment gap. Working from the side of the table, reaching in behind to make the connection, I could not get it to snap in. As it turns out, there are actually two ridges on this connector a; tall one and a much lower one that was barely noticeable. With my aging eyes I failed to notice the very tiny arrow molded into the correct key. It is this low key that goes into the alignment slot at the 12 0'clock position, not the taller key. Once that was figured out, I had no further problem. You've been warned. Louis said he chose this connector because not only does it lock securely in place, but it is made of plastic, very light, and will not strain the wire connections when it is accidentally dropped like a heavier metal model would. There is actually a spring mechanism inside that releases the prongs when you pull back on the outer surround when removing the cable. Further evidence of engineering excellence was a red rubber O-ring seated on the suspension pillar at each corner to eliminate the possibility of the suspended plinth clanging against the fixed pillar in the event the turntable was bumped. Details abound which were noted in the assembly process.

 

 

From my experience of hot-rodding my vintage Linn LP12, I have a number of different record clamps, some of which were fairly expensive and all of which were noticeably heavier than the standard Sparta clamp. I tried them on the Sparta, but found they all diminished the air and openness at the top end. The treble lost its sparkle. The two-piece Sparta clamp can be screwed down to tighten it on the spindle, but this diminished the air on top, just as Louis said it would. The tolerance of the hole in the clamp is very small, but after using it for a week I got the hang of it and it dropped right on without much hassle.

The ergonomics of the table are very good. I became comfortable using it within a couple of days and easily overcame the intimidation created by the cost of it all. The right front suspension pillar is a convenient place to rest your wrist or forearm when retrieving or aligning the cartridge above the record. I almost always turn the motor off when changing records. After turning the motor back on the platter has come up to speed by the time the tonearm is positioned, the lever is lowered and the stylus reaches the surface of the LP. No waiting. And as I said earlier, the power supply fits right beneath the turntable, right at your fingertips. I had the full Sparta set up on a table that was 26" tall, bringing the top platter surface up to 35".which was very convenient for my 5'9" height. For the true Sparta 0.5 set-up, a table height of 29"-30" would have been equivalent. Your height or personal preference will dictate what works best for you. The 0.5 could be used on a substantial wall mounted shelf, but I would not feel comfortable doing so with the full blown Sparta. Not to worry. Tapping on the suspended plinth produced only a slight "thump" while playing music. Floor vibrations and foot falls on my joisted floor were not a problem, but literally jumping on the floor would cause skipping. I guess it all depends on how you dance.

I want your hi fi mama, won't you let me play it tonight?
I want your hi fi mama, won't you let me play it tonight?
I put the needle in the groove, baby while you douse the lights
  – HiFi Momma, ZZ Top

The importance of the front end in an audio system is well known, and I have been content for many years hot rodding my vintage Linn LP12 taking great delight in each successive improvement. More recently a review of the Charisma Audio Reference One moving coil cartridge at just under $2000 proved to be a significant step upward. While both Louis and Bill complemented me on my system being well balanced, it is not in the upper echelon of premium priced products. I've always sought high value products while maintaining an upward trend in the resulting quality of music. I wasn't prepared for the jump that Louis delivered in the Sparta 0.5 along with the Thériault tone arm and the Air Tight PC1 cartridge. The good news was that the rest of my system was capable of revealing most of the improvement the turntable delivered in both the 0.5 and full blown Sparta mode. I'll get to the bad news further down below.

 

Editor's Note: Louis  is the Cheif Designer and Enginner of Kronos, who can be seen within the above photo tweaking the Sparta turntable. During our telephone discussion, yes people still use the telephone versus text or private message, we discussed many of our loves in life. One of Louis' was this incredible Rickman CR motorcycle. Whilst he was not a rider, he did help tweak and improve the design. He came away with a better understanding for mechanical design/engineering and thus ideas for turntable production. I do find it interesting that there are many people within the high-end audio industry who have worked for Formula 1 or other clubs/series and are now very successful high-end audio companies.

 

At the entry level a turntable often comes as a package deal, bundled with a tone arm and cartridge along with it. As you move up the ladder these become separate components with interchangeable alternatives, though certain variables often dictate successful parings. Things like cartridge weight and compliance, tonearm mass and length, and the suitability of a turntable for mounting various tone arms. The Sparta is designed with an adjustable mounting arm that accommodates 9" to 10.5" tone arms. The four-point suspension of the Sparta (unlike the three-point suspension of the Linn) is such that it will accept a wide variety of tone arms. If you see the 0.5 as your final table you may well be happy with a less expensive tone arm than the Thériault, but if you plan on eventually upgrading to the full Sparta, a top shelf tone arm is certainly justified. Removing my EMT tone arm from the Linn is a project and a half, so I didn't attempt to swap it with the Thériault. If you've got a pretty decent tone arm on your current table and decide to upgrade to the Sparta 0.5, you may be financially more comfortable to retain that arm.

The cartridge is a much easier swap to make, so I took the liberty to put the Air Tight on my Linn and the Charisma on the Sparta. This was an education.  First, the Air Tight is a relatively heavy cartridge and I had to back off the EMT tone arm weight to the very end to achieve a 2.0 gram tracking force. Second, the Air Tight made a big improvement in the music, but highlighted the shortcomings of the pairing with the arm. It also told me the Linn needs further development (which is in the planning stage, now). Pairing the 7.1 gram Charisma Reference One cartridge with the Thériault arm required me to swap the stainless steel counterweight shaft with the supplied aluminum one, which was relatively easy. The Charisma impressed me even more than it had done on the Linn.  Consequently I will be upgrading the ratings that currently appear in the review. The longer I listened with the Charisma, the more I liked the pairing. It wasn't as revealing as the nearly five-times more expensive Air Tight PC1, but I didn't feel impoverished and I certainly enjoyed the music. I would be more inclined to spend $7500 on upgrading to the full Sparta than upgrading to a comparably priced cartridge. Cartridges, after all, will wear out. The Sparta will not. But the new Charisma Reference Two cartridge ($3500) I heard at the TAVES show might make an interesting replacement when the time comes. If you decide to implement the full Sparta, cartridges in the $3500 range on up to whatever your wealth can tolerate seem appropriate to me.

 

Value
The bad news I alluded to above really isn't. The Letters to the Editor column of a popular print magazine frequently features readers bashing the high prices of some of today's gear. I used to be among them but I've changed my way of thinking. It helps to understand the suck-out being experienced by the middle class and the simultaneous redistribution of wealth to an also diminishing upper class. More and more wealth is being controlled by fewer and fewer people. Moreover, much of that wealth is stagnant or very slowly moving at best as it sits in the treasure chests of corporations or in the stock market. For quite a while now audio manufacturers have been developing expensive goods to appeal to this Ultra Class. More recently, particularly at the recent TAVES show I've noticed the pendulum swing to include more affordable gear at the entry level and the next step or two above that. But the velocity of money is still slow. It is not being spent freely and generating new jobs that would trigger additional spending. Even middle class people with checking accounts are clinging to twice as much money as they normally do when the economy is flowing smoothly. We're still feeling the sting of the Great Recession and we're holding back in fear or at least being very cautious in our spending. This doesn't make it easy for manufacturers or retailers.

 

 

So, I've changed my way of thinking and now look at these expensive goods from the perspective of Robin Hood. Rather than see the manufacturers as greedy S.O.B.s, I see them as facilitators in the re-distribution of wealth from the very well off to the craftsmen, artisans, machinists and suppliers of raw materials. Louis Desjardins is not in the upper class of people that don't really have to work. From what I've seen, he works his tail off. He drives a Saab he bought for pennies on the dollar when Saab went bankrupt, knowing full well the Swedish government took control of the Saab parts division–further proof that he's sharp like a fox. (It's a great car for those who live in the Great White North.)

Another way to look at the cost of fine audio gear is to consider that people find a way to spend on things that really matter to them. Drive past your local marina and you will see docks full of expensive boats that would easily translate into a very fine audio rig. Those big Harley Davidsons can easily top $20,000 and a custom motorcycle can be two or three times that price. Some people fly all over the country to catch live performances of their favorite bands, racking up the frequent flyer miles while listening to recorded music on an iPod. For those who treasure a collection of recorded music on LPs and revel in the experience of hearing fine music in the serenity of their own homes, Mr. Desjardins has some marvelous turntables that deserve your attention. If you can afford the Sparta 0.5, go for it. It's a very worthy turntable. If you can see yourself in the foreseeable future being able to step up to the full Kronos Sparta you will not have wasted a lot of money by starting with the 0.5. But if life is short and you can't afford to waste any more time, go straight to the full Sparta and enjoy your music like there's no tomorrow.

Louis wrote:

"What makes us particularly proud of the Sparta system design is that an audiophile can buy today a non-compromised product that can evolve to become their final destination turntable... we aimed at offering true value, an investment in the future. It is an expensive product...but it is not too expensive if it stays with the audiophile a lifetime and procures state of the art performance. Too many audio products today have a short service life and need to be replaced to accede to the next performance level."

It ain't over ‘til it's over.
  – Yogi Berra

 

 

I don't usually read other reviews of equipment that I'm in the process of reviewing myself but I was pretty much done with this one and I had a slow hour near the closing time at work. In his review in The Absolute Sound (Jan. 2016, Issue 259) Greg Weaver reached a very positive tipping point with the full Sparta when he installed it on the Formula shelf of his Grand Prix stand. At Louis' request, I had abstained from trying the 0.5 and full Sparta on any special footers, but Greg's review pushed my curiosity button. After midnight following a Christmas party with the rig warmed up and the turntable spinning silently to warm up the oil, I ran one last test. After listening to ZZ Top's "Deguello" I slipped Sound Damped Steel IsoFeet (a sandwich of viscoelastic polymer between two layers of stainless steel) under each pillar. The result was ear opening with sharper attacks and noticeably improved focus. I engaged the lower platter bringing it up to full Sparta form and repeated side two. Adding the counter rotating platter produced the expected benefits of even greater focus and hence, more ambient detail. I then pulled out Louie, Louie once again and felt like I could almost hear the Calypso lyrics they claim are actually in the song. It would take repeated listening with the printed lyrics in hand to find them, I think, but something wasn't quite right. I was hearing more detail but enjoying the music less. I popped on Jackson Brown and listened to The Load-Out and Stay. Again, more detail, nuance and ambience from this live recording, but harder edges and a more tiring treble. I removed the IsoFeet and listened again. Ahhhh. This is where I want my music to be! The song relaxed and the treble extended inconspicuously into thin air, as if the room had no ceiling.

Maybe if I had swapped out the Charisma Reference 1 cartridge for the $8500 Air Tight PC-1 I might have a different result. But the Charisma Reference 1 is a very good value and a very reasonable choice for starting out with the Sparta 0.5. And who knows – maybe the Panzerholz plywood on top of my father's old ham radio rack is the homemade equivalent of the Grand Prix stand? Sometimes you make do with what you have, which brings me back to the point that Louis Desjardins has thoroughly researched and refined this turntable. He knows of what he speaks. There might be a small degree of margin for you to tweak its performance to your personal preference, but most likely that will fall to your choice of tonearm and cartridge. I could have researched other tweaks if I had more time, but the FBI is at my door demanding to hear Louie, Louie. The Sparta is really two amazing turntables. I could happily live with the 0.5 for the rest of my life, but the full Sparta, there's the lust.

 

Kronos 0.5 Full Sparta

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Vinyl LP record player with two motors
Motor Power Supply: Dual channel pure Class A linear DC 
Motor DC Voltage Output: 0 to 5 Volt, dual CPU controlled and factory calibrated
DC Transmission: Pico 3 pin cable
Data Input / Output Bus: RS232 
Transmission: Pico 4 pin cable 
Motors: Two 2432 precious brushes DC motors
Motor Mounts: Delrin enclosure that are height adjustable 
Rotational Speed: 33.3 and 45 rpm
AC Voltage Input: 110v or 220v factory set
Dimensions: 22" x 14" x 11" (WxDxH)
Weight: 90 lbs.
Price: Sparta 0.5 is $15,000
Upgrade kits to full Sparta status adds $7500
Full Sparta: $21,500
Helena Tonearm is $6500
Acceptable arms are from from 9" to 10.5" via adaptor plates available for SME, Rega, Triplanar, Graham, and others.

 

Company Information
Kronos Audio
4035, rue Saint-Ambroise, suite 414
Montréal (Québec) H4C 2E1 
Canada

Voice: (514) 939-5770
Website: www.KronosAudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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