and Transrotor ARTUS FMD
Räke Hifi/Vertrieb GmbH
Irlenfelder Weg 43 | D-51467 Bergisch Gladbach
tel.: +49 (0) 2202/31046 | +49 (0) 2202/36844
Manufacturer’s website: www.transrotor.de
Text: Wojciech Pacuła | Photos: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Andrzej Dziadowiec
Published: 3. April 2013, No. 108
How much should luxury cost? As much as someone who wants to wallow in it is able to pay for it. Pricing of this type of products is a bit like an auction of works of art: their real value is usually hard to measure, so it is determined on the basis of the highest selling price of similar items. Luxury product on the one hand is capital investment, on the other it is prestige - and that for many people is a priceless combination.
On their website, the Germans dedicate to the turntable only a few lines, listing cardanic (gimbal) suspension, aluminum and acrylic build, Transrotor Free Magnet Drive (FMD), special power supply, and platterweight. Not that much. Modest amount of attached pictures (four) does not help much in figuring out what we're dealing with. Even the basic size and weight information: 55 x 55 x 120 cm and 220 kg accordingly, allows only a superficial familiarity with the matter – all we can conclude is that it is not just another turntable, but rather a really big drive system.
A few simple words
I’m not sure if you recall that, but we have already reviewed in "High Fidelity" a product of a similar class, also from Transrotor, the Argos (see HERE). The cost was similar: 600,000 Polish zlotys. Also, the basic design concepts were similar: drive integrated with the base, leveled with cardan suspension and a heavy weight, with magnetic coupling between the sub-platter which is driven by the motor and the platter spinning the vinyl record; with no direct contact between the motor and the record. For many, however, the problem was its modern look, reminiscent of Art Nouveau, geometric household products and furniture. The Artus, which is the subject of the current review, looks much more "classic" in comparison. It has six legs, its outline resembles a truncated ellipse, and the platter is fully visible.
A German in Poland
Jokes about the Poles in Germany are a plenty. While we are a little guilty ourselves, it is also a result of an innate aversion to strangers, present in every nation, and probably some other factors as well. Similarly, there are loads of Polish jokes about the Germans, especially popular during the People's Republic of Poland era. But I have not heard a single joke about a German working for a Pole. And actually it looked like a film made on such joke script: Dirk, a fantastic guy who I’ve known for years, was working for five hours in a Polish home to assemble the turntable for us. He did everything by himself, because he did not want any of the components misplaced or gone missing. Not because he dealt with the Poles (another joke), but because the sheer complexity of the product design, although seemingly simple, is unbelievable.
The unit arrives in seven solid boxes, weighing together half a ton. They need to be unpacked in turn, the components spread on a large, flat surface and only then can one proceed with the assembly. We looked at this and admired the build quality and precision, but also the incredible technology that makes the Artus FMD a unique product. And even if under the skull there was still the nagging thought that we are talking about one hundred and thirty thousand euro after all, which would beg for improbable things, seeing everything it was easier to get used to the thought that a product of such class simply has to cost that much. As Dirk said, the material cost alone, all those special varieties of aluminum, is several thousand euro. Thousands more to machine it and make it fit.
Dirk was working, we were helping ourselves to wine and generally sort of "having a party", watching the progress from time to time. Everything was going perfectly almost to the very end. It was when mounting the 12" SME V-12 tonearms and then the cartridges, with everybody bending over Dirk, that material fatigue finally happened - at some point a stylus from the 18,200 PLN Dynavector DRT XV-1s cartridge disappeared. Literally. Then I remembered the most important message delivered by Wally Malevich during his lecture at the Audio Show 2012 (see HERE): the most important thing when aligning the cartridge is peace and calm. If it’s not there, it is better to let go and come back to it at another time. Dirk did not have that luxury, and the stylus went missing; it hasn’t been found to this day. The cartridge was sent to Japan for a repair, which will cost not much less than the cartridge. Indeed, audio is an expensive occupation.
I feel uncomfortable trying to describe the sound. It was not the sound I remembered from my home system when I had the Argos. Any attempt at an evaluation based on an audition made straight after unpacking and assembling the turntable, without the time needed by all the components to properly run in, without breaking in the cartridge or the preamplifier (they were new), in a new listening room, borders on stupidity. On top of all the above, imagine a dozen people present in the room, with some going in and out, and finally a fatigue. We were really exhausted just looking at how Dirk labored. I have no idea how he managed to keep standing after finally aligning the cartridge and not fell to the side like a tree, which is what I would have probably done. Dirk, however, additionally answered endless questions, swapped the records, commented on them. He acted as if he rested all the time while someone else was working – there is power in this man!
A few things, however, were already evident. The first concerned the scale of sound. I've never heard such a volume of instruments. They had real dimensions, without being compressed to the size of the "window" between the speakers. The soundstage was not limited by the room size. But not because the speakers "disappeared", but because the created soundstage had the kind of expansion, not normally present in home audio systems. The instruments were not specifically separated and lacked depth, but it exactly the characteristic that gets "run in" in the course of time. The size of the presentation was incredible, regardless of whether we listened to Verdi’s Choruses from the original LP, or Hugh Masekela from a Hope reissue.
Our friends and colleagues – “audio laymen” - often ask why audio devices are so expensive. The simplest answer would be: "just because". Luxury is always expensive. That answer actually hits the nail on the head. However, most people perceive audio not as a luxury but some kind of aberration, usurped by snake oil types and crazy freaks. That says more about themselves, about their consciousness and knowledge, rather than the audio, but what is important is that this answer does not satisfy them, either. Then I reach for a comparison with the art: when you buy a graphics, a photography, or a painting – anything really, you don’t ask why it costs so much; instead, you just ask yourself if you can afford it or not and whether you want it or not. The answer to that is usually of the type "but audio is consumer products, not the art itself." And that's also true. Then I need to start a long story, describing the situation of an audio manufacturer and saying that if the product was manufactured in China in hundreds and thousands of units, its price could be a fraction of what it is with production output of a few dozen units. And adding that it would no longer be the same product; that what counts first of all is not so much what the device is made of, but the end result, and that the price is often a reflection of how the device sounds and how it compares to competing products. Last but not least, that the final refinement of a product to the level that we hear is usually the fruit of many years of hard work and that we pay not only for the cost of manufacturing but also for the time spent on the project. And, I must admit, the latter explanation usually works best.