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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
A Few Simple Words With
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,
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,
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
• 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
• Skaldowie, Podróżmagiczna,
Kameleon Records KAMLP2, “Limited Edition 250 Copies”, 180 g blue wax LP
• SławomirKulpowicz, Sadhana,
PolskieNagrania „Muza” SX 2686, LP (1989).
• Various, Music From
Planet Earth. Volume 1, Stag-o-Lee Stag-o-043, 10” LP (2014).