World Premiere Review!
As I write this the TR-1 is selling with an introductory price of $649 that represents a $100 savings over the normal price of $749. Along with that, there is an optional dust cover temporarily priced at $100. I would strongly advise getting that dust cover, it will make your TR-1 table cat-proof. The Fallbrook people tell us the turntable is, "proudly hand-assembled with many locally sourced parts." Now I'm not certain what that involves. Let us step back a bit and take a broad look at the vinyl player market. There are some affordable turntables in the market place. To introduce a new and affordable turntable at this point is most certainly a venture that represents a bold move. However, as a confirmed audiophile I cannot but love the idea, so bring it on.
Next, remove the rubber drive belt and slip it over the drive motor pulley just to the left of the sub-platter. Then wrap it around the outer rim of the sub-platter. Next, you fit the clear acrylic record platter with a felt mat onto the sub-platter. Since the TR-1 comes with a tonearm and cartridge that is installed at the factory, the only thing you need to do is screw it on the tonearm counterweight. The tonearm cable is fixed to the arm and is not removable.
A 24V low noise AC-synchronous motor with the aluminum drive pulley provides the platters motive power. A 24 volt AC wall wart (Class 2) transformer is the plug-in power supply for the drive motor. The last thing; using the provided bubble level you place it on the surface of the platter and adjust the three feet under the base to level the turntable.
What comes next is what cranked up my curiosity, which is their TA-1 tonearm as it is made by the Rega company in Great Britain. My previous experience with this type of arm has been very favorable, to the extent that I believe it's performance far exceeds the price. This British OEM manufacture makes a line of tonearms along with variations that it sells to other manufacturers. Scouting out the web, I found so many tonearm variants that it is hard to find a directly comparable tonearm to the TR-1.
The TR-1 looks like a RB101 with the RB101 three-point mounting base. The TR-1 arm does not have adjustments for VTA, anti-skating, or a way to adjust vertical azimuth. The Fallbrook people tell us, "the TR-1 has a 111 gram counterweight so that the arm can accommodate most common cartridges". Strangely, during my evaluation this turns out to not be strictly true. Before I get to that it is critical to understand where the sound starts.
The turntable comes standard with a Rega Carbon moving magnet (MM) cartridge. This Rega Carbon cartridge is a resurrected AudioTechnica's AT-91 design and it has a super-affordable price of only $65. The cartridge stylus is user-replaceable and has been upgraded to a carbon material resulting in a further improvement in its' performance. The Rega Carbon comes pre-aligned on the arm from the factory. The conical stylus allows the Carbon to track the grooves and the 2.5mV output makes it a match for a MM phono preamp. FYI, The default loading for most Moving Magnet cartridges is set at 47kOhms.
So no big deal you say. It should work perfectly fine. But in the real world that specification is usually just my starting point. I adjusted the tracking force by ear so it can be a bit more or a bit less than that initial starting point. Anything tracking heavier than 2.6 grams and you would be out of luck. Fortunately, most moving coil cartridges track at lower down-force.
My next concern is the vertical azimuth, as we need to have the cartridge exactly perpendicular to the record surface. For that verification I used my Fozgometer along with the Analogue Productions Test LP. This test record has separate 1000 Hz test tracks for the right and left channels. The Fozgometer is a precision voltmeter capable of reading in micro Volts. Reading the 1000 Hz. test tracks and the corresponding output voltages of the Rega Carbon I can see the right and left channels are exactly the same, and therefore perfectly aligned. Mind you there is no vertical azimuth adjustment provided for with this Rega tonearm so whatever is set by the manufacturer is final. Perhaps the most critical adjustment is just how precisely the cartridge is positioned at the end of the tonearm. Once again I have a tool you can't fool.
The Rega Carbon cartridge geometry was checked with my trusty Doctor Feickert Analogue Protractor. This tool is the Bees Knees of accuracy if anything is not Kosher it will tell you so. As It turns out the cartridge setup was spot on. The Fall brook people used the Stevenson tracking geometry to align the cartridge. I normally prefer the Baerwald cartridge alignment. But either one is perfectly acceptable. With the turntable running you can listen with a stethoscope on the plinth / base and you can hear just how well the platter bearing and motor noise is isolated. On the base of the turntable, noise of the motor is a low-level hum yet is relatively isolated and should not get through to overly affect the sound that you hear.
One last turntable measurement remains. And that is the rotational speed of the record platter. Understand the speed of the record platter does have a very large effect on the pitch of the music you hear. If it is too fast your recording can sound like a Keystone Cops movie soundtrack. Measuring the platter rotation with a Digital optical Tachometer I get a reading of 33.6 rpm and 33.5 rpm while tracking a record. This should be considered very close to the correct 33.3 rpm specification and represents a very good result.
Slipping the drive belt down to the lower slot on the drive motor pulley we should get a reading of 45.0 rpm. The actual speed was 45.6 rpm and 45.5 rpm while tracking a recording. This variation is once again an acceptable result. Platter speed on the most affordable turntables that I have measured are just a bit fast, so these results are very typical.
The first cut on side one is "Promises" with the opening line being "Promises we forget about our promises." This opening phrase seems buried deep center. Like a zoom lens, the image slides forward and fills the space between the speakers. This zoom effect was no aberration it is a low-level sound that increases in volume. Once again the excitement is there with a driving rhythm. You can hear the power in the bass lines that are not all evident on the CD. This time there was a terrific improvement! There was a wider, deeper front soundstage that contained far more precision purity and palpable poignancy. Motivated by my always active curiosity I wanted to push all the possibilities.
Switching to my reference Tavish tube-powered phono stage uncovered another level of performance. All the qualities I mentioned remained but now with an added touch of warmth and dimension. Let's try another one of my reference albums, Another Page by Christopher Cross [Warner 9-23757-1]. Side one track one No Time To Talk. You can now pick out and isolate some of the individual backup voices. I can't but wonder if a $65 cartridge can deliver this much music. Maybe I did waste thousands of dollars buying moving coil cartridges looking for that elusive holy grail.
At this point I seriously considered swapping my Denon DL-301MK 2 moving coil (MC) cartridge to replace the Rega Carbon, but that would seriously change this review. The whole review effort is intended to describe what you would get if you bought the TR-1. Therefore I should not go off on a tangent talking about something different. Add to that the fact that the Fallbrook Rega arm does not presently allow for adjustable VTA. So it would not be possible to substitute another cartridge and then dial in the correct stylus geometry for that particular cartridge. Ergo, that idea is definitely off the table.
Consider that there are so many aftermarket accessories available that the Fallbrook TR-1 could be just a starting point for someone with a beginning budget. As a matter of fact, the Fallbrook people are very aware of the potential. The company's spokesperson tells me that they are contemplating options that would include a tonearm VTA adjustment and the possibility of choosing other cartridges. Since I tend to be a perfectionist with some strong tweak-a-holic tendencies, for me the prospect is very intriguing. Just how far can you push this turntable? You need to find out, so go ahead and check out the Fallbrook TR-1 turntable.
Remember to enjoy the music. And from me Semper Hi-Fi.
Interconnect Cables: Monster Reference 4 pairs, two- 0.5 meter, 1 meter and 1.5 meters, Nordost Red Dawn, Music Hall1 meter Phono cable, 1 meter, Audioquest Cinnamon XLR 1 meter. Chord Silver Siren 1 meter, Homemade Teflon RCA 1 meter, Autobahn 0.5 meter digital.