Turntable + Tonearm
Pricing (in Europe):
ntil the end of the 1980s, Poland, a medium-sized country by the Baltic Sea considered by Emil Kundera to be part of Central Europe together with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, was “built” on analogue. The turntable was a common sight in almost every “cultured” home, along with the cassette deck and reel-to-reel. What an enlightened nation, one might think, to not have given in to the digital plague from the rotten West that was insidiously slipping into music lovers’ homes under the guise of user convenience and promises of a “clear digital sound” only to destroy the “real” music, recorded in a pure, non-digitized sine wave. Taking it at face value, we might have expected a medal from the whole world, or at least the part of it that believes in a “noir” flat earth. The truth, however, was much more prosaic. All of the above countries and a few others, such as Bulgaria and Romania, remaining at their post on the eastern, “red” side of the Iron Curtain, were back then technologically unprepared for anything more than the technologies developed in the 1950s and early 1960s.
I'm not sure whether all readers have noticed that I repeatedly mentioned the name Fonica. One needs to know that it’s a very special company for the Polish audio, associated here, in the country by the Vistula River, with one thing: the turntable. Fonica used to be one of the best recognized brands in the Polish audio during the post-WWII years until the turn of the political system in 1989 and was a manufacturer of turntables and amplifiers, both for home entertainment and professional use. Even if someone living here, between the Bug and Oder rivers, might be not familiar with it, another name - Bambino - is instantly recognizable to anyone who was born before the times of Lech Walesa, Solidarity and the fall of Communism. Bambino was chronologically the second turntable model fully manufactured in Poland. We will find its picture in any catalog of an exhibition dedicated to the times of PRL (People’s Republic of Poland, the official name of Poland between 1952-1989 when it was politically dependent on the Soviet Union), in each textbook on the culture of that time, and over the last several years in albums documenting the achievements of Polish designers from the 1950s and 1960s. The WG-252 commonly known as Bambino was launched to the market in 1963, with subsequent upgrade versions to follow.
Fonica – a story of a certain manufacturer (or even two)
Łódzkie Zakłady Radiowe Fonica (Lodz Radio Manufacturing Plant Fonica, also known as ZWAT, LZR Fonica, or T-4) was founded in March 1945 as a separate production unit of the Państwowe Zakłady Tele i Radiotechniczne w Warszawie (State Tele- and Radio-Engineering Plant in Warsaw). Initially, the production plant in Lodz manufactured telephone equipment. The first turntable design was developed in 1953 and started being sold from the next year. It was the GE-53 (this year celebrating its 60th anniversary!), which was the first Polish turntable produced on a mass scale. Karolinka, the first turntable with an integrated tube amplifier, was launched in 1956. A year later, turntables already constituted 40% of Fonica production output. In order to focus on sound reproduction products, the phone manufacturing division was transferred to another company. In 1958 the company was renamed to Łódzkie Zakłady Radiowe (Lodz Radio Manufacturing Plant) and only two years later, in 1960, it adopted the name Fonica.
The “official” company history on Wikipedia does not mention an interesting story connecting Fonica with Thorens and Pro-Ject. It is not included even in the most important book describing the company history, Outline of history of the Polish electronics industry until 1985 by Mieczyslaw Hutnik and Tadeusz Pachniewicz (Zarys historii polskiego przemysłu elektronicznego do 1985 r., Warsaw 1994), due to limits of the time period chosen by the authors. And while I mentioned it once before, it's worth repeating and expanding here.
Let us move on to another connection. I mentioned Thorens and Lenco, didn’t I? Lenco is another Swiss turntable manufacturer, the biggest Thorens competitor in their own country. It was established in the same year as Tesla and at some point subcontracted the latter to produce two turntable models, the NC 470 and NC 500. It turns out that the start of Thorens production in the 1990s was just a continuation of a Swiss-Czech cooperation…
Recordings used during test (a selection)
I am pretty familiar with the sonic characteristics of heavy non-decoupled turntables. If their exemplification, maybe slightly far-fetched but within the limits of the acceptable, were to be the products from German Transrotor, their very core would be the Super Seven La Roccia 07 (HERE. With an aluminum platter, a slate plinth, a rigid, three-point mounting and a motor in a cut-out it looks like the F802. However, the similarity might be not that obvious in a blind test between the two. The Polish turntable is much less selective but at the same time has a better resolution. Its bass does not extend as low nor is it as well controlled, and its main, primary focus is on the midrange. All events are built on and around it. Again, that is the case with many decoupled turntable models, with Thorens and Linn leading the pack. Here, the sound is not as soft, though. It is certainly coherent, smooth and consistent, but without a clear softening of the sound attack. I think that it can legitimately be called Fonica’s "own" sound. It is possible, as I have demonstrated, to point out its characteristics that are common with other turntable designs, but the way in which they are combined here is unique.
Concentration on full-bodied sound at the expense of clear sound attack and perfect preservation of even the smallest details that build the presentation credibility links what I heard from the Fonica equipped with the Miyajima Lab cartridges (mono and stereo) with the sound of a master tape played back on a good reel-to-reel player (see HERE http://highfidelity.pl/@kts-308&lang=en). It is synergic and coherent. Details do not draw much attention, although they are very well shown. They seem to be subject to larger planes and major events. The sound planes are not defined in a hyper-distinctive way. It may not appeal to the music lovers who prefer a higher precision than that of a live performance, somewhat compensating for the lack of visual information. While I understand this approach, the Fonica is not for them. Here, when a new instrument appears, like the drums in the opening track on the 10" blue vinyl edition of Selection from Bill Evans Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of The Gate, it is shown as a separate "player", having its own space but no exact boundaries. It is similar with electronic instruments, such as those on the German edition of Kraftwerk’s Computerwelt album and the 12" Daft Punk single Get Lucky. Since it is a constant merging of music planes and textures, it is difficult to talk about emptiness in places where no sound is located at a given moment. The Fonica does not "add" anything to it, leaving a black background.
Even so, the most important is the midrange. Everything else is subordinated to it – a slightly sweet treble and naturally soft bass. Both ends of the frequency spectrum are well differentiated from record to record, and often differ from track to track, depending on the sound engineer and production studio. In the end, however, they turn out to serve only one purpose: to support the midrange.
While perhaps not evident from the above, I listened to this turntable with sheer pleasure and joy. A comparison with the Transrotor works best for me because it shows that no single design is perfect and each one, in its own way, is an attempt to get to the "truth". The Fonica does it by biting into the "gut" of the sound and not trying to analyze everything on the surface, but rather registering it and immediately getting to the heart of the matter. This way we get a presentation that is internally rich and truly complete. It is dense and full of tonal and dynamic nuances. One can listen to it for hours without getting tired or bored. Not aspiring to the title of a "faithful" tool, it gives you more joy than many precise turntables whose designers forgot to fill out the "framework" with content. The Fonica feeds us "meat" rather than bone. It is a weighty, solid machine, designed entirely in-house and carefully manufactured by artisans in Poland. It will bring us joy, put a smile on our face and give us something more – a peace of mind. This is the type of presentation that does not push for change, instead focusing our attention on the music, and hence does not stimulate the nerve responsible for Audiophilia Nervosa. A really great device!
Fonica’s situation is not as simple as it might seem. In Poland, it is different for the generation of 40-year-olds and older, and for the youth. The former group views Fonica as an iconic brand and, out of nostalgia, gives it and its products a much greater importance than it ever had. The name doesn’t ring any bell to the young people who do not feel any affection for it. For the former group the new Fonica is an attempt to prove itself a worthy heir to a venerable institution; for the latter it basically starts from scratch. I think that the latter is very close to how the company is perceived abroad, for example in the USA.
The turntable sat on the M3X RD-1921 isolation platform from Harmonic Resolution Systems which in turn was placed on the Finite Elemente Pagode Edition rack. The turntable power supply was fed from a dedicated power line. The RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC phono preamplifier (HERE) rested on the Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc feet, and rested on the Acoustic Revive RAF-48H air-floating isolation board. It was powered via the Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300 power cord plugged into a dedicated power line. The following cartridges were used: Miyajima Laboratory Shilabe (stereo), Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono), Denon DL-103 and Denon DL-103SA.
The renewed Fonica’a initial product lineup included two turntable models. The F600 was the less expensive of the two and featured an acrylic plinth and the Rega RB300 arm. The F800 was the higher model that boasted a granite base and came equipped with the Rega RB700 arm. Fonica also offered a brass record puck. At the Audio Show 2012, Poland's largest audio exhibition (three hotel venues and about 9,000 visitors over two days), Fonica showcased the Violin, a much more expensive and somewhat swanky design. And earlier this year, the news went round that the manufacturer developed its own tonearm, slightly redesigned the F600 and F800 to work with it, and released them as the new F602 and F802.
The F802 is a large, heavy turntable. It is a classic example of a mass-loaded non-decoupled design. The latter could actually be disputed – and disputes are healthy – as the spikes on which it sits are tightly mounted to the plinth via rubber rings, which may be seen as a kind of decoupling. The rubber rings mechanically isolate the turntable from the spikes. What is more important, however, is that the arm and the platter are "rigidly" mounted to the plinth. Hence, it seems to me that the F802 may be confidently called a "non-decoupled turntable".
Brass is also used for the housing of the main inverted bearing – a fairly thick cylinder with a flange at one end. It is machined from a single piece of brass together with the record spindle. A heavy platter sits on top of the cylinder that is fitted onto a steel shaft with a thrust ball at the end. There seems to be some kind of hard material that supports the ball from the inside, but I could not find any information about it. The ball is made of a very hard zirconium dioxide (zirconia). Other turntable manufacturers that employ a thrust ball bearing use a variety of materials, such as Teflon, tungsten carbide, or other exotic alloys and sinters rarely seen in audio. The bearing is self-lubricating and is made with high level of precision.
The torque is transmitted to the platter with a round rubber belt. Attached to the motor shaft is a large brass disc with holes to reduce its mass. In the less expensive F602 the disc does not have the holes. The disc has one fixed diameter, as the turntable speed is controlled by an external high-precision controller with quartz oscillator.
All turntable granite and brass components are manufactured by us in Lodz. We buy the motors in the Netherlands. Power supplies are sourced from a Polish manufacturer located in Brzeziny near Lodz. We are finishing work on our own more refined power supply, housed in a brass enclosure to match our turntable style. It will soon be offered as a turntable upgrade. Some production processes such as hard anodizing or laser engraving are subcontracted to other companies. Hard anodizing is a surface treatment of components that provides a high hardness coating - approximately 65 Rockwell. This process uses sulfuric acid - says Mr. Łodziaty.
The first decision after purchasing the brand was to develop an in-house designed tonearm, or actually two tonearm models differing from each other mainly by the type of bearing employed. The F02 is the basic model, but the reviewed F802 turntable came equipped with the more expensive F03. Its development took several months. The head of Fonica says:
As the originator and the person responsible for the design solutions employed in FONICA products I sketched preliminary tonearm designs that were subsequently generated by our engineer in specialized CAD software, including all necessary individual components. The components were on CNC machines. As might be expected, after listening tests most of them would be trashed, and the process would start all over again. The idea was to find a design I liked sonically. This is how we work on each project. I come up with a design sketch which then goes to the computer, followed by a long phase of testing and improving the prototype. At each project stage, the prototype lands in my home where I can carefully listen to it for days and plan further improvements. Also in April, we started working on our reference model to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first FONICA turntable. The work is nearing the end and the Aurora will be a mass-loader made of granite and brass, just as the F802. It will weigh about 100 kg. We have another model in the works that will be positioned below the 800 series and we are working on a granite version of the Violin. We have yet to overcome several technological barriers to production. The process of hand-polishing the acrylic Violin plinth takes a few days alone. And granite is much more difficult to work with. AUDIO FONICA is a small manufacturer, employing a small team of people who are very good friends with complementary capabilities. Many of our turntable components are hand-made of natural materials. Hence, we use granite and brass in our top turntable series. I think that natural surfaces are very appealing to the touch and that’s why we avoid plastics and painted finish. My ambition with the tonearm design was not to use any plastic components. The only exception is the arm rubber cushion and of course wire insulation in the arm tube. Moreover, the cartridge connectors are silver plated and the RCA output connectors are gold plated and housed in brass. The F802 turntable is fitted with the F03 arm that is made mostly of brass. The arm tube is made of gold anodized aluminum. A previous fully brass made tonearm turned out to be too heavy and inert.
It could have been expected, but even then the Fonica arm just looks different, like it were made entirely of brass. And it is, to a large extent. It is a 9-inch gimbaled bearing tonearm (the distance between the arm pivot and the platter spindle is 214.4 mm), with multiple setup and regulation options. VTA adjustment is handy via a large screw/dial. That is important, as the company began their tonearm adventure with a fantastic VTA adjustment mechanism of this type for Rega arms. Azimuth can also be adjusted – the arm head is tightly mounted and secured with an Allen screw – and offset angle. And, of course, VTF and anti-skate.
Looking at some of the components it is easy to find their originator – the anti-skate mounting point and its appearance clearly points to the M2-9 arm from SME, used by Fonica in the F601 and F801 turntables.
The review first appeared in “EnjoyTheMusic.com” magazine in September 2013 HERE
- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4
- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One