advice sought, turntables $10-20k

wbass

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Jul 12, 2020
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Apologies in advance for the advice thread, but I'm hoping I can seek out some perspectives from the analog boffins on here....

I'm contemplating a turntable and/or tonearm upgrade. Here are the two set-ups I currently have:

1) Garrard 401, with the following upgrades and other components:
--Artisan Fidelity bearing and heavy stainless-steel platter
--Artisan Fidelity idler wheel
--LDA PSU and speed controller (all installed by AF tech, who also refurbished the 401)
--mass-y wooden plinth (made, I believe by Larry Spence--I bought secondhand with the 401)
--GrooveMaster 12-J tonearm
--Ortofon SPU Synergy G

2) Technics SP10mk2
--refurbed by Artisan Fidelity's technician
--Acoustand two-arm plinth
--Jelco 850L and 850M tonearms
--mix of carts: DL103, DL103R, Koetsu Black, SPU #1E

I like both of these set-ups and have put a fair bit of thought, effort, and expense into them. I plan on hanging on to them indefinitely. However, in this hobby, one's thoughts always turn to possible upgrades. Here are the turntables I'm contemplating, in the $10k-20k range:

TechDAS AirForce V
--possible pros: great company rep, up to four tonearms of any brand and length, air bearing and vacuum hold-down
--possible cons: the V Premium might be better (but out of my budget), motor and platter in same unit

TechDAS AirForce III
--same as above, minus the concern about the inboard motor
--I'd have to find one used

SOTA Cosmos (vacuum model)
--possible pros: factory is a two-hour drive from me, vacuum hold-down, suspension (though I've no experience with a suspended table), possibility for different tonearms (though only one at a time and no 12" arms)
--possible cons: limitations on what length arm can be used, I'm not 100% sure about the aesthetics

Basis 2500 or 2800
--possible pros: strong company rep, vacuum hold-down an option, matching tonearms seem well-regarded
--possible cons: possibly harder to use other-brand arms (?), I'm on the fence the aesthetics and the heavy use of acrylic, 2800 out of budget

Other possible tables:
--TransRotor FatBob, FatBob Reference
--TW Acustic Raven
--Clearaudio Innovation, various models
--Bergmann Galder
(really like the styling and the well-thought out features, probably out of my budget)
--Kuzma Stabi R, Stabi Reference 2 (also like the styling, the company rep, and the possibility of natural pairing with 4-Point arms)


I have my possible tonearm upgrade much more narrowed down. It's between:
--Graham Engineering Phantom III
--Kuzma 4-Point 9 or 4-Point 11

I like both for their good reps and their adjustability. I'm getting more serious about cart alignment and want an arm with easily adjustable and repeatable VTA and azimuth settings.

Obviously, something like the Basis will often come with its own arm. That's not a dealbreaker, but I like the option to swap around arms and add other arms in the future. Multi-arm set-up is also nice.

For the 'table, I'm looking for something that is a noticeable upgrade from the two-set-ups I already own. My questions for the group (with apologies and thanks!):
--What are your favorites from my possible upgrade list? Thanks to those who might mention other tables, but I've done a fair bit of research to narrow down to the above.
--How important or beneficial is a well-implemented vacuum hold-down system? From the above, it's probably clear that this is of great interest to me. However, my experience with other clamping methods (VPI periphery ring and Michell reflex clamp) has been somewhat ambiguous, sometimes beneficial, sometimes making LP playback a little dull.
--Are there other factors or pros and cons to the above I'm missing?
--Are the Garrard 401 and SP10mk2 set-ups I own now "good enough" already? I know there are some out there who feel these vintage tables, well restored and set up, can be a platform for almost any arm or cart. Still, I'm curious if I can improve on what I already have. One option, of course, is to add a Graham or Kuzma arm to my SP10mk2, the plinth of which should take them. But I'm also drawn to the idea of keeping the dual Jelco arms as is and building another turntable platform from scratch.

I'll figure out cartridge(s) later. The Kuzma and Graham seem to be able handle most carts. The rest of my equipment, in brief:

--Allnic H7000 phono-pre
--Audio Research Reference 40 pre
--Sanders Sound ESL monoblocks
--Magnepan 3.7i
--dual 15" subs

I plan to get out and hear as many of my candidates as possible. But for now I'd very much appreciate the experiences of the great analog folks on these forums.

Thanks again for any thoughts, perspectives, and advice!
 
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I went from a TW Acustic Raven with Ortofon 309D, to a decked out grease bearing Garrard 301 with Reed 3P, to the Kuzma Stabi Ref2 with 11” 4Point, to the TechDAS AF5 with SME 3010R. I don’t think it’s so much a case of which sounds better, they all sound different. There also pluses and minuses aside from the sound quality. I prefer my AF5 overall.
 
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@djsina2 Thanks for sharing those experiences. Can you say a bit more about the relative strengths and, if applicable, weaknesses of the tables you've owned? What puts the AF5 slightly ahead for you? Is it a regular or premium AF5?

Do you find the vacuum hold-down on the TechDAS sonically beneficial, or do you use it mainly for warped records? Do you think the onboard motor adds any extra rumble or noise (compared to tables with external motors)?

Thanks in advance.
 
I have the standard AF5.

I can’t comment on the sound between all these as this spans several years and in different systems during that time. I can say though that the AF5 is the quietest of the bunch. It’s also the easiest to operate, offers most flexibility, is the smallest form factor and lightest by a large margin. The vacuum system is invaluable IMHO. I can’t listen to records as I watch my cartridge going over speed bumps. I don’t view it as slightly ahead.

The downsides of the AF5 are the highway robbery costs of official TechDAS arm boards in the USA, no ability to contact the manufacturer directly, and if you’re in the USA the distributor is MIA most of the time or incapable of helping with anything. The good news is the table is so well engineered and built you’ll unlikely need any sort of assistance in that regard.

That’s the one huge plus of Kuzma. You can email Franc directly, even if you’ve purchased used gear, and he will always respond with great detail (usually within 24hrs). Exceptional support and his products are also very well made and engineered.
 
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Thanks again @djsina2

Sorry, just to clarify: You like the vacuum hold-down mostly for warped records, or do you also find it to have a sonic benefit with LPs that are basically flat? Thanks.
 
Thanks again @djsina2

Sorry, just to clarify: You like the vacuum hold-down mostly for warped records, or do you also find it to have a sonic benefit with LPs that are basically flat? Thanks.
I always use vacuum. I have never compared with and without. It seems like the outer seal would interfere if not using it?
 
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I went to a nearby dealer today and heard the AirForce III Premium and was quite impressed. I felt the vacuum hold-down did have sonic benefits. It seemed to calm any sizzle on the top-end and also firm up the bass a bit. A sort of focusing effect, perhaps. I'm a little uncertain whether I could tell, blind, if the suction was on or not, but after a few sides, I seemed to be distinguishing the advantages above. Vacuum seems a worthy feature.

The same dealer also had a used Basis Debut Signature (also with a vacuum system) at a fairly attractive price. Perhaps 10-15 yrs old in decent shape. However, it was waiting on a tonearm, so I wasn't able to hear it.

Impossible question, perhaps, but does anyone have any thoughts on how the Basis Debut Signature might compare to the TechDAS tables, particularly the Air Force V? The Basis is a suspended table, the latter has an air float bearing--that's one obvious difference. Another is that the TechDAS can accommodate more than one arm at a time.

Many thanks.
 
Thanks again @djsina2

Sorry, just to clarify: You like the vacuum hold-down mostly for warped records, or do you also find it to have a sonic benefit with LPs that are basically flat? Thanks.
Yes. No record is absolutely flat. Nor is the platter. Coupling the two together prevents any slippage or chatter.
 
I went from a TW Acustic Raven with Ortofon 309D, to a decked out grease bearing Garrard 301 with Reed 3P, to the Kuzma Stabi Ref2 with 11” 4Point, to the TechDAS AF5 with SME 3010R. I don’t think it’s so much a case of which sounds better, they all sound different. There also pluses and minuses aside from the sound quality. I prefer my AF5 overall.
Do you find SME 3010R a better arm, than Kuzma 4P? Just curious, why you changed the arm too.
 
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Do you find SME 3010R a better arm, than Kuzma 4P? Just curious, why you changed the arm too.
Impossible to say. Arms were on different tables with different cartridges. I sold the 4Point with the Ref2 as a package deal. I wanted an arm that took a traditional head shell and also had a RCA or DIN connection. I don’t like integrated cables.
 
In your price range I think AMG viella should be an option, though if you are limiting to just your tonearm choices maybe not. I thought the standard AMG 12” arm was pretty damn good for the money, the “turbo” version is better.

I find the AMG with turbo arm represents very well with my Etsuro Gold(mg) cartridge. Not everyone would consider mating a cartridge costing nearly as much as the table & arm, but they play exceptionally well together
 
I'm contemplating a turntable and/or tonearm upgrade. Here are the two set-ups I currently have:

1) Garrard 401, with the following upgrades and other components:
--Artisan Fidelity bearing and heavy stainless-steel platter
--Artisan Fidelity idler wheel
--LDA PSU and speed controller (all installed by AF tech, who also refurbished the 401)
--mass-y wooden plinth (made, I believe by Larry Spence--I bought secondhand with the 401)
--GrooveMaster 12-J tonearm
--Ortofon SPU Synergy G

2) Technics SP10mk2
--refurbed by Artisan Fidelity's technician
--Acoustand two-arm plinth
--Jelco 850L and 850M tonearms
--mix of carts: DL103, DL103R, Koetsu Black, SPU #1E
I have an SP10mk2 and can say the STST Motus II is a definite step up. ( caveat: I sell STST )

If the Techdas Airforce III Premium is on the list then I suspect the budget has expanded :)
 
The AF3 Premium is way out of budget. But I wanted to get some hands on experience with TechDAS tables.
 
Yes, good call on SME.

Curious if anyone has thoughts on SOTA. They’re relatively near me here in Chicago. Thanks.
 
You're welcome. I have a 12A and 20/3 after four decades of owning or experiencing much of what's out there including Walker. Great sound quality and a pleasure to use. Many expensive turntables may sound good but are large, kludgy and often from small companies with poor quality control. Many of these small concerns eventually go out of business and you are stuck without support or parts.
 
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The downsides of the AF5 are the highway robbery costs of official TechDAS arm boards in the USA,
The world is flat, so armboards can be bought anywhere.
TechDAs is using a provision of the armboards which is exactly the same, than the old Micro Seiki arm boards.
Used Micro Seiki boards are widely available.

Many supplier do produce arm boards for Micro Seiki, in Italy are some companies that type of professional, that they even demo their products during the Munich High End fair. Prices are in the $200 region

as an example:
https://www.audioantiquary.com/en-us/categorie/basi-per-bracci-micro-seiki/

But other companies do exist as well.
Expensive armboards should definitely not be an argument against TechDAS AFV :)
 
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The world is flat, so armbands can be bought anywhere.
TechDAs is using a provision of the armboards which is exactly the same, than the old Micro Seiki arm boards.
Used Micro Seiki boards are widely available.

Many supplier do produce arm boards for Micro Seiki, in Italy are some companies that type of professional, that they even demo their products during the Munich High End fair. Prices are in the $200 region

as an example:
https://www.audioantiquary.com/en-us/categorie/basi-per-bracci-micro-seiki/

But other companies do exist as well.
Expensive armboards should definitely not be an argument against TechDAS AFV :)
Yes, I am using the Italian arm bases for now. But if you want to keep it all TechDAS the price of 3 extra arm bases in the US is about 60% the cost of a used AF5. :)
 
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