The British Avid is competing with another British turntable specialist, a real giant in terms of its input into the pool of engineering knowledge related to this, the company SME. The connecting point is the usage of decoupled, heavy sub-chassis and a heavy platter, but the way those are decoupled is different. SME is of course the reference point, but Avid is of course also a recognizable brand name, although it history started quite recently, in 1995. The company offers now five turntable models - Diva II, Volvere, Sequel, Acutus and Reference. I had the opportunity to test the two lower models for “Audio”, and that with a good result, so I know and respect the company. The tested model is the second from top. It is supplied with an external power supply, which allows for quick changes of the rotational speeds. The unpacking of a turntable of comparable class to the Acutus is an exceptional experience, similar to good sex – there is a moment of coming close together, gentle unpacking of all the elements, polishing of those and finally putting all together into a perfectly performing whole. And then comes – music! Acutus supplies all those elements, because it is made very thoroughly, there is a clever idea behind it, and it looks extremely well. The connection between Avid and SME is not only the country of origin, but also the tonearms produced by the latter are commonly used by the first. The tonearm support is cut to accommodate SME, and there is need to use adapters if we want to apply a tonearm from another company. This is a certain homage from one company to another, even if they officially compete.
Discs used for testing:
Avid is the best turntable I had at home. Not the “best I ever heard”, because models from Well Tempered Lab, California Audio Labs, SME (Model 30), I know from shows, exhibitions and friends, are better products. Two, three or four times more expensive, but – objectively – better. Despite this Avid played in such a way, that although I know that it can be done better, that I might wish more here and there, I listened to it with pleasure, and frankly speaking, during the time it was at my home, I almost did not listen to CDs at all. I am not “digital shy”, I think that every format has its advantages and disadvantages, and vinyl has many, really many, and furthermore “congenital” flaws, those that cannot be eliminated, because they are part of it. But music is a special, brilliant kind of art and as such is not ruled by linear laws, I mean, that inductive reasoning does not lead us anywhere, hence the vinyl brings emotions the silver discs can only dream about. With the Avid all the problems vinyl has are present, you can point to them, but when listening, I never had the need to do it. Also no one from my visitors did that, because the sound of this British turntable left them stunned and in desperate need of owning analog gear.
Interesting enough, the Avid sound is to some extent conform with the common beliefs about vinyl discs. It is incredibly saturated, full and a bit warm. This last characteristic is the one, that differentiates it most from the phenomenal, but not touching my private sensitivity, Kuzma Reference with the Stogi Reference 313 VTA tonearm (HERE). Warmth is a distortion in itself and should be eliminated as such. But on a certain quality level it turns out, that the lesser the distortion introduced by a component, the warmer the sound (subjectively). This is shown splendidly by loudspeakers with ceramic or metal diaphragms – the “ringing” of the latter is a myth and a result of the, not very successful, early applications of this technology. For me, most over brightened are the loudspeakers with classic paper loudspeakers, or polypropylene ones. Of course this is not a rule, but I can show many more such boxes than those using metal membranes. But this is only a digression – I just wanted to remind, that together with the elimination of distortion the sound seems “warmer”. I think, that this is just an illusion, and that it is not “warm”, but only more natural. Lack of nervousness, intrinsic tension is the main characteristic of such sound, one that the Avid masters perfectly.
And like classy hi-end gear it can pull out of each recording things that are best in it. I did not listen to those for a long time, but in this case I put them on one after another – two early discs from OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark): Architecture & Morality and Dazzle Ships. Both are from the “engaged” wing of New Romantic, but most important is the fact, that those were recorded very consciously. Vinyl pressings (originals) are copies of the analog master tape, there was nothing digital in the sound path. As it was practiced then, their bass is not very deep, because record companies were worried, that turntables of lesser quality will not handle the bass and dynamics, and the diamond will jump. But the brilliant contents and coherence were kept. When needed it was warm, when needed – rough. Even the older of the disc guaranteed clear musical transmission, with intentions and emotions, not only a catchy tune. Also the new re-edition of the disc Ten Pearl Jam could be listened to from beginning till end. Yes, the dynamics on it is destroyed, and the sound planes are almost non-existent, but the new version (the album has two discs – one with the original mix, and one with the new) is quite enjoyable. Acutus, showed this nicely, like no other turntable, not forgetting about the flaws, but not concentrating on them.
It can partially be attributed to the slightly rounded attack of the treble. I am writing about a possibility, because this is not a simple rounding off, immediately audible and classifiable. It is just that other turntables sound brighter when compared to the Avid. The Acutus has such an incredibly organic sound, so I am tempted to say, that its “vision of the world” is the only valid one. When I wanted to shock somebody, I turned on the title piece from the disc Take Ten Paul Desmond, with a warm, almost subliminally pleasing guitar from Jim Hall – and that person was “bought”. And it is not about warming, because listening to the Japanese version of Study In Brown Clifford Brown, I bought in Munich, and then of the brilliant Analogue Productions re-master of Miles Davies’ disc Miles Davis And The Modern Jazz Giants showed, that the energy in the upper frequency range – you just need to listen to the first hit of the cymbals – is fantastic, there is nothing missing. But due to the distortion reduction, or due to a slight “trick” of withdrawing the upper midrange a little, everything is brilliant and perfect.
Smoothening of the upper midrange. Something that probably exists, but only with LPs than need that, like Sounds Of The Universe Depeche Mode. Like I say – with 50-ties and 60-ties jazz and Yamamoto Trio recordings from TBM this was on the threshold of perception. I do not know how they done it, so I just tell you my impressions without providing an explanation. Also the lower bass is not as tight as from good mass loaded turntables, like Transrotor Super Seven La Roccia TMD or SME 30. Frankly speaking, I did not feel the loss, but I need to tell about that from journalist thoroughness. Yes, it can be done better, but you will need to make head-to-head comparisons with the competition I called upon earlier to hear that. When listened separately it will only be an impression, and not a judgment. The sound is quite near, but the stage is built incredibly deep and wide. And again: it can be done better, like with the SME 30, but you will need to spend a lot more. Actually I do not know, what could I complain about except for handling – screwing the clamp tight, is uncomfortable and requires to hold the platter still, what leaves lots of fingerprints on it… Every product is cripple, but in this case, I have no strength to search for its flaws. This is probably due to the fact, that I did not have such a good turntable at home until now (probably – this is only my opinion), and everything is new and beautiful for me. And even if I would get loose from its attraction some day, I will keep in mind the beautiful sound it made. More expensive turntables can separate the traction noise and static from music even better. Still Avid is very good at that, those elements do not distract from music at all, but for example SME 30 can locate those two planes in different realities. As if they would exist in parallel but yet separately. This is why the music is completely free from the flaws of the carrier, although those do exist. Acurus separates them nicely, but gives them quite close together.
Acutus is one of the four turntables proposed by the British company Avid, second from top, because there we find the model Reference. It is made according to all the assumptions this company made and is using for years. This is a “mass loader”, but with a decoupled sub-chassis – similar to SME turntables. The residual plinth is supported on three, high, incredibly massive pillars. In their basements we have three threaded feet, used to level the deck. On an inset in the front there is built-in water level, helpful in achieving this task. Most of the surface of the pillars is chrome plated, and the cylinders, on which rubber rings are spanned, is varnished black. The heavy sub-chassis is incredibly rigid, as it is shaped similar to bridge supports with ribs. In three corners we have steel pins, to be placed inside the springs mounted in the mentioned plinth supports. This decouples in the vertical plane. Stability in the horizontal plane – an Achilles heel of such constructs – is maintained by large, rigid rings made of rubber, spanned between the mentioned pins on one side and sub-chassis on the other. In the Acutus those rings are spanned between two points in the pillars, so the decoupling is effective on a broader range, and not only in one direction. This allowed to achieve very low resonance frequencies. This suspension is not as rigid as with SME, thus when we press the platter, it requires some time to get to rest.
The heavy motor is mounted to the chassis by a rubber string. It is about coupling the motor to the chassis mechanically, while keeping it a separate unit. The motor, a synchronous 24V unit, is hand made by Avid. Acutus is equipped with a worked out power supply in a nice enclosure. We can use it to turn on the motor and change the rotational speed (33.3 and 45 rpm are available). The torque is transferred onto the platter by a small rubber belt. Placing the belt is rather cumbersome, because this is not being placed on the outer surface of the platter, but on a milled ring of smaller diameter below it, resembling a bit a sub-platter. The Platter weights 10kg and rests on a bearing with a ball made from tungsten and carbide, working in a sapphire nest. This bearing is placed on a heavy metal cone, the brass part with the spindle is bolted to its upper part. The platter is then mounted atop of the cone. The topside of the platter contains vibration dampening material, and the LP is tightened by a puck. The latter is not easy to use, although it is composed of two parts – the main one and an element used for tightening. The middle element, the cone supporting the platter, sticks up beyond the latter, and the clamp is needed to have the vinyl gain required contact with the platter. This however excludes the usage of Feickert gear to calibrate the tonearm and cartridge (this is personal gear). Unless you have an SME tonearm, which uses simple templates provided by that company.
The support for the tonearm extends to the side of the sub-chassis – it is prepared for SME tonearms. For testing we received the turntable with the fantastic SME model IV, but on request adapters are available. But is it worth the try? Lets add, that the leveling is done by shortening the springs on which the sub-chassis rests, utilizing the key supplied. The workmanship is splendid, although the chrome plated elements require frequent cleaning, which is not so easy.
CDs FROM JAPAN
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