March 10, 2017
Why bother with high-end turntables at all? Are you merely throwing money away? You’ve heard of diminishing returns? Do high-end turntables suffer in the same way? No, actually, they don’t. Generally speaking, the better the design, the better the materials utilised in that design and, hence, the more expensive it then becomes, the better it performs.
That doesn’t mean, if you bought yourself a spanking £10,000 turntable, plugged it in on the kitchen table and sat it on top of your amp and speakers, that it would blow your mind. In this configuration, it’d probably sound a bit rough, to say the least. You need to treat your hi-fi with due care and attention to get the best from it.
OK then, if properly and carefully installed, what does ‘high end’ give you? In conjunction with other complimentary hi-fi components, many things. A sense of realism is just the beginning. Trumpets sound positively brassy, a sax player’s breath can be heard moving across the reed, wooden piano hammers can be heard hitting the metal strings where the wood sounds ‘wood-y’ and the metal sounds ‘metal-y’. There’s more, though. How the instruments are arranged in front of you changes. The instruments appear to be moving backwards, in a 3D-like space. But also to the left and right and even upwards. Entire new instruments (previously masked by noise or a lack of insight) might now appear in the song, seemingly arriving from nowhere, the music will have a new focus, extra precision and on and on. In short, the experience can be thrilling and scarily addictive in terms of searching for ever better sound quality.
Pin-pointing a high-end price point is tough. For this article on this website, though, I’m going to put a spike in the sand and say that any turntable valued over £800 is ‘high end’. After all, if you are going to spend that sort of money on a turntable then you must be pretty dedicated. Don’t forget you might have to spend more on the arm and the cartridge. Then there’s the amp and speakers, of a similar quality, to think about.
With that in mind, the eight turntables listed below are merely a varied sprinkle of what’s out there. There’s plenty of other top quality designs that I will leave out due to space. This is where you come in. Please tell me about your favourites and why they are just that, in the comments below and, if you need any advice, by all means fire away with questions. I’ll be glad to answer them.
Inspire Quest Clear
The great thing about this deck is that it is basically an upgraded Rega turntable. That is, certain components of a typical Rega turntable have been replaced by enhanced Inspire components. Hence, you can buy the bits and upgrade your Rega for a few hundred pounds (the final cost depends on how many parts you might want to upgrade) or you can purchase this deck as a completed, finished item from Inspire.
A German construction, this high-end brand recently released this (for it) low cost deck including the rather nice Concept tonearm and moving magnet cartridge. This is a plug’n’play deck as the company set up the arm and cartridge in the factory for you. For those who want the quality without the fuss.
Origin Live Aurora Mk.3
One the best but least known turntable companies in the world and it’s situated in the UK! The price stated here is for the turntable only. You’ll need to spend out on the arm (Origin’s own Alliance at £250 is excellent) and a cartridge (the Benz Ace at £695 is superb). Origin Live doesn’t get the press it deserves: I have its top of the line Sovereign as my own reference turntable, for example.
Michell GyroDec SE
Price: £1,600 (without an arm or cartridge)
The GyroDec is a phenomenon. The design was released in the early ’80s but don’t think that age equals tired and haggard because the GyroDec is one of the best engineered turntables in existence with sound quality that not only blows away many direct competitors but worries decks twice its price. A quite remarkable turntable. The company’s own TecnoArm can be had for around £660.
Roksan Radius 5.2
Replaced now by the ‘7’ which is more expensive still, you can still find the 5.2 in the shops and its worth hunting down. An all-acrylic, semi-suspended turntable, it sits on three compliant rubber mounts. The arm, included as standard, is the Nima unipivot. An attractive sound that excels in imaging, bass performance and detail retrieval.
Wilson Benesch Full Circle
This deck offers two things. Firstly, it provides a tiny footprint. The ‘circle’ bit of the name says it all, really. Secondly, with its carbon fibre arm (designed by an aeronautics engineer) you are given another slice of innovation. Finally, this deck gives you a taste of what owning a super-deck is all about. Comes with a free cartridge too.
In a way, you could describe the EAT as a posh Pro-Ject. EAT boss, Jozefina Lichtenegger, is married to Pro-Ject’s founder, Heinz Lichtenegger. She runs EAT from the top floor of the Pro-ject factory in the Czech Republic. The C-Note is a hybrid Cardan/unipivot made from carbon fibre with copper internal cable. The C-Sharp turntable is constructed by a sandwich of carbon fibre and MDF. The suspension features a series of seven conical thermoplastic elastomer pieces to remove vibrations and is made by Ortofon, would you believe.
VPI Prime Scout
VPI is based in the USA and makes a range of expensive turntables. This is one of its lower priced models. The Prime Scout uses the VPI JMW 9 tonearm plus an external motor in a substantial housing to minimise vibration. A thick and textured vinyl covers the MDF plinth. That is bonded to a 12-gauge steel plate with an aluminium platter.