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October 2014
Superior Audio Equipment Review
World Premiere!
Transrotor Dark Star Silver Shadow Turntable
Listening to, rather than auditioning, this fine turntable.
Review By Wojciech Pacuła
Translated By Andrzej Dziadowiec

 

Transrotor Dark Star Silver Shadow Turntable  Summer holidays are a time of pure rest and relaxation, laying low and taking it slow while leisurely sipping a glass of beer or wine; in short, doing nothing. Going to a museum is just about the last thing you dream about, isn't it? Unless you're on a holiday trip to one of the big cities and museum exhibits are on your must-see list, that is. Then there is nothing you can do about it.

Be that as it may, through the whole of July and August, the National Museum in Krakow hosted two exhibitions. One might be called "local," in that it was dedicated to an artist who would mostly be interesting to Polish visitors, titled “MaksymilianGierymski. Works, inspiration, reception”, while the other was a touring exhibition, definitely "global" in its scope, simply titled “Stanley Kubrick”. I think everybody knows Kubrick (1928-1999), an American film director, screenwriter and producer, who is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential film directors of all time. Starting out as a photographer, he is mostly famous for his films, such as: Spartacus (1960, 4 Oscars), Lolita (1962) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) A Clockwork Orange (1971, Oscar), Barry Lyndon (1975, Oscar), Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

From that list, A Clockwork Orange from 1971 is of particular interest to us, as audio enthusiasts. The reason for that is an extremely important role of music in this film: it portrays Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell, who obsessively listens to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. He listens to the music on a Transcriptor turntable, which this way became one of the most recognizable audio designs in the world.

Sadly, you would look in vain for music at Kubrick's exhibition, or even for any photos of the turntable, not to mention the machine itself. Museologists just don't know how to approach audio products, in which they are no different than fashion and interior design journalists and editors. The latter often painstakingly edit them out of interior design photographs or forget to describe them, even though they take care of every furnishing detail. That shows their incapacity and helplessness when faced with the topic of audio and its role in our life. Why is it that an exhibition such as this did not feature John Michell's Transcriptor? Playing Beethoven, no less?

After all, John Michell's turntable is truly beautiful with the beauty of "progressive" products from the 1970s, focused on the future and happily looking forward to what was to come. Which brings us to the subject matter of this review, the Dark Star Silver Shadow turntable. (In what capacity) How? A Clockwork Orange was released in 1971, and in the same year Jochen Räke became Michell's dealer in Germany. Two years later he founded his own company, Transrotor. The name was a clear reference to Transcriptor, the turntable featured in A Clockwork Orange. JochenRäke told me all that and more during our conversation we had some time ago in my home city of Krakow, Poland. You can read an excerpt from the conversation below, followed by some information on the Silver model from Dirk Räke, Transrotor's head of sales and privately Jochen's son.

 

Design
Transrotor Dark Star Silver Shadow TurntableThe Silver Shadow is a development of the basic first model in the Dark Star range. Although the lineup also includes the Dark Star Reference, the latter has a sufficiently different design (dual plinth) to think of it as a step to the side rather than forward. The Silver Shadow is a mass-loaded turntable with a non-decoupled tonearm and platter. The only points of vibration reduction are three height-adjustable footers that support the whole construction. They can be easily and comfortably adjusted from above with large aluminum discs. Polished aluminum and black finish are the distinguishing features of this machine.

The X-shaped chassis provides rigid support for the platter bearing plate and the arm, yet without leaving unnecessary area exposed to vibration, is almost as black as the vast blackness of galactic space. It is made of POM (polyoxymethylene), a fairly lightweight and easy to machine composite material with excellent mechanical properties. A version of POM developed by DuPont is also known under the trademark name Delrin. It is used by Transrotor and many audio manufacturers, like Clearaudio and others.

Not only the chassis but also the 30 mm platter is made of black POM. Hung underneath the platter you can see 30 mm chrome-plated brass cylinder weights that used to make many a heart skip a beat. This weight swing motion system was designed to lower the platter's center of gravity and give it more weight, concentrated on its periphery. The design is fairly well known to all true movie lovers; a turntable with similar weights featured in Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film A Clockwork Orange. The turntable's unique look became iconic. Hence, my utter disappointment at not seeing it at the Stanley Kubrick museum exhibition in Krakow, which I have mentioned earlier in the review introduction. Or could I have missed it somehow?

The turntable featured in the movie was the Transcriptor Hydraulic Reference (1964), which also appeared in X-Men: First Class from 2011 (dir. Matthew Vaughn). Transcriptor was founded in 1963 in England. In 1973 the company moved to Ireland and at the same time signed an agreement with JA Michell Engineering. 1973 proved to be fraught with events, because in the same year, John Michell signed an agreement with Transrotor, a completely unknown, newly founded German company, to produce mechanical parts for the Hydraulic Reference turntables, and then the whole turntables. After becoming independent, Transrotor launched its first machine, the Transrotor AC, with an eye catching acrylic base and the platter weights mentioned in the previous paragraph. The Silver Shadow is thus a return to this idea after 40 years. The platter weights were also used earlier in the Transrotor Connoisseur Gold.

Transrotor Dark Star Silver Shadow TurntableThe motor is housed in a heavy pod, with the housing made of POM in the center and polished aluminum above and below. It is a synchronous AC motor that features a large aluminum axle pulley. It drives the platter via a round rubber belt around its periphery. The stock power supply is an ordinary wall wart type affair. Optional upgrades include sophisticated power supplies in big aluminum enclosures. I used the second-from-top Konstant M2 Reference power supply, with electronic speed selector.

The arm is mounted to an aluminum base. During the review I used the classic SME M2-9 arm. The Silver Shadow comes with a platter weight made of aluminum and polypropylene. For the review, however, I used instead an excellent record clamp from Pathe Wings, a Berlin-based company that is, incidentally, run by a Pole, Mr. Bartosz Jarzyński

 

Review Methodology
The turntable was auditioned equipped with the Miyajima-Lab Kansui, Denon DL-103 and ZYX R-1000 Airy3 X/TB phono cartridges. I used the RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC phono stage, as well as the phono section of the Mark Levinson No.52 preamplifier. The latter was also used as a line stage preamplifier, interchangeably with my custom version of the Ayon Audio Polaris III tube preamp. The signal was then fed into the Soulution 720 power amplifier that was driving the Harbeth M40.1 speakers on custom stands from Acoustic Revive. The latter’s was also the RAF-48H pneumatic boards under the preamplifiers and cable insulators under the Tara Labs Omega Onyx speaker cables. The whole system was sitting on the Finite ElementePagode Edition rack. The Royal Signature Series Double Crown Empress RCA interconnects were from Siltech. I used the Audiodesksysteme Glass Vinyl-Cleaner for cleaning LPs.

 

Sound
Audio products have their own character. All of them, every single one. It shows to a greater degree in some and lesser degree in others, but it is still there. As in our life, this character can be manifested itself in diverse ways and at different levels, affecting us and various aspects of our psyche. If we were able to reproduce the "absolute sound", there would be no "character" in audio systems to speak about. We would get a perfect presentation in our house, identical to the real musical event. This is obviously an absurd scenario and, frankly, I'm glad that it never does and never will happen. It is the lack of perfection, the errors and mistakes that affirm the value of what is human. The art is a symphony about the imperfection of human perception and our inadequate ways of conveying it. The value of a work of art, in turn, rests on whether it is capable of inspiring something good in us.

Transrotor Dark Star Silver Shadow TurntablePerfectionist audio, which is the name of the game we play, is an attempt to convey as best as possible that which has been captured in the act of recording or a musical "event" itself. We argue about which one is more important; in my opinion it is the former. Translating the language of music – "musical event" – into the language of music “recording” is the first step of "translation". As with any translation, it is an art. The reproduction of the recorded material at home is the second stage of translation, or actually translating again what has already been translated once. There is an imprecise space that stretches between the two, which includes the preparation and manufacturing of the physical medium. Hence, in my opinion there is no way to re-create the real event (in other words, to reach back behind the first "translation"), because audio components would need to have a first-hand "knowledge" about it, which is impossible. Audio equipment will always rely on what has been prepared in the studio, in the first translation stage.

That is why the type of audio product's own character is so important. Within a variety of products at the same price and/or quality level, some are more and others less appealing to our sensitivity and needs. This might explain why it was such a pleasure for me to listen to the newest product from the German Transrotor, the Silver Shadow turntable. Although it is based on the Dark Star and Dark Star Reference model, I find it closer both sonically and character wise to the Zet 1 and 3, and even the Fat Bob. And I really love those turntables.

The sound of Mr. Räke's new turntable has its foundation in a strong, dense and warm lower midrange and upper bass. This is something that many music lovers, seduced with the "analog sound" slogan, expect of a turntable but often miss. In fact, "analog" is more than warmth, roundness and three-dimensionality. Listening to analog master tapes proves that the opposite is often true, and what is taken for an "analog sound" actually turns out to be the weaknesses of the vinyl medium and the turntable itself.

At first, the Silver Shadow sounds like it was custom-tailored to this kind of sound. That is intentional, I think, and makes the turntable a great match for just about any home audio system. It is an excellent choice for those users who are not yet familiar with high-end audio equipment and high quality sound from vinyl records. At the same time, however, it is clear that there is something more to it and that underneath there is a wealth of sonic nuances and complexities that help the Transrotor combine the warmth of "analog" sound with the truth contained in the recording.

I have already pointed out the strong lower midrange. It was audible from the very first audition, especially with the Miyajima-Lab's Kansui phono cartridge that has similar sonic characteristics. But the Merlo Reference that is supplied with the Transrotor, and the ZYX cartridges that I used also proved it to be "number one" on the sonics list.

Transrotor Dark Star Silver Shadow TurntableThe consequences of this particular tonal balance setting are numerous, but the most important is that each LP sounds "professional." What I mean is that only in the ultra-rare, hopeless cases an overly dry and bright, record production was shown clearly enough to make the audition less than comfortable. In any other case the sound was captivating, engaging and encouraging to listening. It benefited the music immensely, which is what audio is all about.

Does the Silver Shadow homogenize the quality of LP playback? Sure, it is as obvious as it could possibly be. Each record appears to sound fine and interesting. Did it bother me? You got to be kidding... Straight after the first Transrotor's auditions at home, you either max out your credit card, look under the mattress hoping that your wife hasn't found your private stash or dig out your rainy day jar – take your pick. And you rush to buy LPs. Lots of LPs. If that is how you understand music and record collecting, this – not overly expensive – turntable can be your trusted partner for life.

The midrange density is most evident on those records that seemed somewhat lacking in this area, or those that we qualified as ‘average' in our mind. Now it's time to reject that qualification, because they sound different. I auditioned a number of Polish LPs pressed in the 1980s, which was probably the worst period for Polish vinyl. Their sonic problems were obvious. Still, the problems did not really distract from the music itself. And in some cases, as with the album Anatomy (1985) by the Polish rock band Lombard, or Sadhana (1989) recorded by Polish pianist SławomirKulpowicz, I was greeted with such a refined sound and so surprising in its diversity, differentiation and presentation, that I had to reopen the mental folder, where I lumped the German turntable together with other poorly-differentiating audio products.

Ladies and gentlemen, poorly-differentiating it is not. Listening to recordings where instrument differentiation is essential, as it builds the identity of the recording, I was able to conclude that my first impression was wrong. It is true that sonic homogenization was evident. However, it was not a linear homogenization, affecting the sound equally in all its aspects. It seems that attack transients were slightly rounded. Hence, selectivity seemed rather not too high. Yet sustain, which follows attack, had a rich differentiation, proper density and depth. Decay was again slightly shortened and suppressed faster than in other turntables from this manufacturer. Add to that high bass and treble energy and dense midrange, and you will get a brief summary of the third model in the Dark Star family.

For me, that set of sonic characteristics is ideal. This is why the TechDAS Air Force One made such an incredible impression on me. While it is a completely different level of quality the same sonic family. The Japanese emperor of the turntable world (I count myself among its subjects) is more dynamic than the Dark Star. Actually, dynamics is not really that much in the spotlight in the case of the German machine. The Thales TTT-Compact with Thales Simplicity Mk2 arm and Thales Levibaseis vastly more dynamic and energetic.

The turntable reviewed today simply sounds different. It is toned down and presents the music in an incredibly relaxed way. The black background is dense and calm; there is no need to rush or force anything. It is by no means a senior citizen's kind of sound, but if think of listening to music as a moment of peace and quiet and you are aware that it must be paid for with something else, just get the Dark Star with your eyes closed.

 

Conclusion
Transrotor Dark Star Silver Shadow TurntableThe new Transrotor turntable features all the ideas and solutions already used by the manufacturer in its previous designs. However, their combination is unique to the Silver Shadow and results in a different emphasis of sonic characteristics. On the one hand, it is not meant to be a professional "tool", a kind of mastering studio turntable that immediately shows any differences in the music material. Its selectivity is not very high and attack is toned down. The soundstage is focused on the foreground. The turntable sounds very nice, yet still no special differentiation plays back old recordings, like the compositions from 1935-1937 issued by the tracks on the album Billie Holliday's album Lady Day released by Pure Pleasure, or on the beautiful remaster of Chet Baker Quartet from the French label Barclay Disques, restored to life by Sam Records. They all sounded incredibly pleasant, but quite similar to each other.

If you take more time to give it another listen, without any hurry, all the details that seemed missing will appear. Like the beautiful cymbals on Bill Evans's concert of Top of The Gate, or Oscar Peterson's piano on the box set recently prepared by my friend, Dirk Sommer of HiFi Statement with his recordings from the cycle Exclusively For My Friends.

All it takes is to ease up a bit and approach the act of listening without audiophile-like expectations. Listening, rather than auditioning. That gives the Silver Shadow a chance to enchant us with its sound. It has everything you can expect of analog, without most of its stereotypical weaknesses. The compact, easy to set up, neat and pretty turntable from one of the most respected turntable manufacturers in the world, Mr. Jochen Räke, is simply perfect in what it does.

 

Short Interview WithJochen Räke
Transrotor Owner and Designer
The turntable manufacturers thought the electronics was the most important thing, not the mechanical parts. I was a mechanical engineer and I told John Michell (Ed. Note: the founder of Michell) – could you change this or that? Finally, I thought we should try production in Germany. We made the first prototype in Germany, although production costs in England were half the price. Everything was cheaper in England than in Germany in the early 1970s. We used to buy hi-fi equipment, Quad amps and speakers, as well as shoes and clothes in England, because it was simply worth doing. So in 1973 we already had our own name, Transrotor, and our own patent, 40 years ago.

We sold everything that Michell made for us under our own name. The problem was that although everything was cheaper in England at the time, we weren't getting the export price – we had to pay Michell the same money as English dealers. I needed to get a margin out of it, which meant that the turntables that came from England were more expensive in Germany. So I said we had to do two things: first of all, change the name, and second of all, we have to change the models. And from that time on all the Transcriptor reference hydraulic turntables came from me. The first one was the Transrotor AC – AC means acrylic glass – and that was the first acrylic turntable in the world. I'm not saying that nobody did that before us, perhaps there were single units or prototypes. But we had a real production for seven years. They were only sold in Germany and Italy. Although I'm sure a few left out the English manufacturer's back door... The excerpt comes from my interview with Jochen Räke.

 

A Few Simple Words With Dirk Dräke
Transrotor's Head of Sales
Wojciech Pacuła: Who designed the individual parts of the turntable?

Dirk Räke: The design was done by my father, our chief engineer and me, it is always a mix of opinions and ideas and prototypes and then our chief engineer makes the final technical drawing.

 

What is the story behind it?

We wanted to have a better sounding (the weights under the platter have especially improved the sound quality) and diverse looking Dark Star. The original Dark Star is a very nice, but kind of neutral sounding and looking turntable, so we wanted to "spice it up" a little. The original design will remain in production and still has its purpose, though.

 

What's the link between the Silver Shadow and your early models?

The looks and the name, we use weights on the platter what was our brand characteristics for a long time. And then there is then name; an early model from the 1970s and 1980s was called Golden Shadow.

 

What about mechanical design – bearing, materials, etc.?

The material is a mix of POM and polished aluminum. This mix has resulted in a very stable construction, with very good resonance damping qualities. The bearing is our "usual" bearing, a steel bolt with ceramic ball in a brass housing, heavily oversized so we don't have problems with bearing noise or stability. The turntable can be equipped with our own tonearms (based on Jelco design) or SME arms.

 

Albums Used During The Review Process
• Bill Evans Trio, Waltz for Debby, Riverside Records/Analogue Productions, APJ009, "Top 25 Jazz", Limited Edition #0773, 2 x 180 g, 45 rpm LP (1961/2008).

• Bill Evans, Selections from Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top Of The Gate, Resonance Records, HLT-8012, Limited Edition #270, blue wax 10” LP (2012).

• Billie Holiday, Lady Day, Columbia/Pure Pleasure PPAN CL637, 180 g LP (1954/2010).

• Billie Holiday, Songs For Distingue Lovers, Verve/Classic Records AS AVRJ 6021, “Special 45 Edition, One-sided”, 2 x 200 g LP (1957/2012).

• Chet Baker Quartet, Chet Baker Quartet feat. Dick Twardick, Barclay Disques/Sam Records, "Limited Edition", 180 g LP (1955/2011).

• Dominic Miller, 5th House, Q-rious Music/Rutis Music QRM 122-2, 180 g LP (2012).

• Dominic Miller, Fourth Wall, Q-rious Music/Rutis Music QRM 114-2, 2 x 180 g LP (2010)

• Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Fitzgerald sings the Cole Porter Song Book, Verve/Speakers Corner Records MGV 4001-2, 2 x 180 g LP (1956/2000).

• IzabelaTrojanowska, Układy, TonpressSX-T 1211, LP (1982).

• J.S. Bach, Partitas, Florin Paul, Tacet L 10, 2 x 180 g LP (2012).

• Lombard Anatomia, SavitorSVT 022, LP (1985).

• Marek Biliński, Best of the Best, Bi.Ma. BiLP-01, 180 g LP (2014).

• Metallica, Masters Of Puppets, Asylum Records/Warner Bros. 470908-1, “45 RPM Series”, 2 x 180 g LP (1986/2008).

• Miles Davis, Miles Davis and The Modern Jazz Giants, Riverside/Analogue Productions AJAZ 1106, “Top 100 Jazz”, 45 RPM Limited Edition #0706, 2 x 180 g, 45 rpm LP (1956/?).

• Skaldowie, Podróżmagiczna, Kameleon Records KAMLP2, “Limited Edition 250 Copies”, 180 g blue wax LP (2013).

• SławomirKulpowicz, Sadhana, PolskieNagrania „Muza” SX 2686, LP (1989).

• Various, Music From Planet Earth. Volume 1, Stag-o-Lee Stag-o-043, 10” LP (2014).

 

Specifications
Type: Analog LP turntable
Platter with aluminum weights
Chassis POM 30mm
Wow And Flutter: <0.05%
Feet and tonearm base aluminum polished
Platter weight is aluminum
Dimensions: 46cm x 34cm x 22cm (WxDxH)
Weight: 30 kg.
Price (in Poland): 19,990 PLN (~$6150 USD)

 

Company Information
Räke Hifi/Vertrieb GmbH
Irlenfelder Weg 43
D-51467
Bergisch Gladbach
Deutschland 

Voice: +49 (0) 2202/31046
E-mail: transrotorhifi@t-online.de
Website: www.Transrotor.de

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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