Turntable (base + tonearm)
Manufacturer: P.P.H.U. Pre-audio
lack disc industry, reborn from the ashes of the 1980s and 1990s digital revolution, is doing quite well and will be doing even better. It will always remain a niche market but what a beautiful one it is! Related to life not only through music but also other arts, including printing, it is the most aesthetically refined audio format ever made. And the last one of this type. The world currently witnesses its huge revival, both in terms of vinyl records and gramophones used for their playback. Polish manufacturers surprised me with their professional involvement in this industry, to remind new designs from Fonica, Ad Fontes http://www.adfontes.com.pl or Pre- audio, which turntable I saw for the first time.
The BT-1301 that was sent for a review is the latest addition to the manufacturer lineup and a new entry model. It looks very interesting, aesthetically pleasing and intriguing at the same time. The base is absolutely classic – it is a MDF plinth finished with natural wood veneer, with a motor and acrylic platter mounted to it. The turntable is a non-decoupled design, with feet on steel balls and drive motor immersed in an oil "bath" to suppress vibration. The tonearm is a real eye-catcher. It is a rarely seen tangential (linear) design, where the cartridge moves parallel to the record’s groove, following the same line as the cutter head cutting grooves on the acetate disc. This tonearm design allows to completely eliminate the tracking errors that plague classic arm designs. We find it in expensive and very expensive turntables from e.g. Clearaudio, Walker Audio and Kuzma.
A Few Simple Words With…
I am thirty years old and live in the town of Nysa. Music is an important part of my life. I would like to note, however, that listening to music is not necessarily always a pleasure, which can be caused by inadequate audio equipment. Vinyl has always been close to my heart. I used to experiment with a number of turntables from various well-known manufacturers. Unfortunately, I always felt somewhat unsatisfied as each product was somehow lacking. Hence, I decided to build my own turntable. This is how I came up with the idea of starting Pre-audio that has been on the market for 5 years, manufacturing turntables and tube equipment. Many hours of research and experiments revealed the need to design a tangential arm. The BT-1301 turntable was designed to reach out to the customer and show him that the tangential arm is close to ideal. I would also like to note that the presented turntable is the entry-level model in our product lineup.
Wojciech Pacuła: What was the first turntable designed by you?
Daniel Prendecki: My first turntable that was designed and manufactured entirely by Pre-Audio was the GL-1101. The turntable has a linear arm that has a slightly different design than the one featured in the BT-1301, and the base is made of granite.
Why do you use tangential arm? What are its upsides and downsides?
Both mine and Pre-audio goal is to create a turntable that would “wring out” as much as possible from vinyl. The tangential arm provides more accurate reading of the record groove, and hence a better stereo imaging, musicality and palpability of details.
What is the main problem of this arm design if it doesn’t feature the air film?
The biggest problem we had to overcome was a proper selection of bearings for tonearm trolley mechanism. Tangential arm suspended on an air cushion is free of that problem as the arm trolley is detached from the guide, but even this solution has several disadvantages.
Where do your tonearm bearings come from?
The arm bearings come from a very good well-known company which manufactures bearings on a global scale. These bearings are selected by us and, if necessary, subjected to special treatment.
Where did you get the idea of the tube the bearing drive in?
The arm tube is made of acrylic. This tube is a perfect bearing guide, allowing for a minimal contact of working components. The soft acrylic tube material absorbs resonance and unevenness of trolley drive.
Tell us something about the main bearing and motor.
The main turntable or platter bearing is a standard design made up of bearing bush, axle and ball. The bearing bush is made of brass while the axle is made of stainless steel polished to shine. The bearing is made with high accuracy, which guarantees its whisper-quiet and stable operation. The whole unit together with the 310 mm 2 kg acrylic platter is driven by a synchronous AC motor powered directly from the mains. This solution provides a very stable motor operation. The motor operates in a sealed metal chamber filled with synthetic oil. The oil allows its noiseless operation and acts as a resonance damper. Thanks to this design the motor is part of a maintenance-free and silent drive.
Albums auditioned during this review:
Tangential arm has its advantages and disadvantages. The latter include considerable design complexity, and hence instability in time. The cheaper the arm, the more difficult it is to maintain its consistency. And I don’t even mean prolonged periods of time, but changes within the scope of a single record. I perfectly remembered the problems I had faced while auditioning the AURA turntable and I had concerns about the new Polish design. Most of them disappeared when I had a closer look at it. This is an ingenious and sensible design. Some of its problems could not be eliminated, and only tonearms moving on an air "film" are capable of going significantly further.
The sound of this turntable is precise on the one hand, and on the other has proper body. The attack might seem slightly hardened, but definition is not a priority here. The body I speak about comes from a slightly emphasized lower midrange. It was particularly well audible on the albums with vocals recorded in a similar way, e.g. on the album titled Getz / Gilberto. João Gilberto's vocal, low, soft and velvety, was shown quite big, larger than the guitar for example. The overall volume of sound was quite large, tightly filling the space between the speakers. It also helped Astrud Gilberto, Brazilian guitarist’s wife, whose frail and ethereal voice sounded fuller and nicer.
It had a particularly good influence on the consistency and volume of sound. The sound of Geiger counter that opens Kraftwerk’s album Radioactivity was fantastic - low, deep and warm, but with a noticeable attack. It was soon followed by vocals that nicely replaced it, contrasting with high synthesizer notes. Selectivity was not particularly big. This is one of the aspects that need to be addressed. We do not get clear three-dimensional vocals in front of us. They are very nice and have very good tonality, but their acoustic environment is so heavily merged with the environment of other sources that their outlines are fluid. I heard it both in Sinatra’s vocals on the best Mobile Fidelity releases and on the 12-inch Depeche Mode singles from their latest album Delta Machine. The mechanism was always the same, so I assume it to be a "dowry" brought in by the system, including the base, arm and cartridge.
The sound is slightly "tweaked", let’s not have any illusions. But the Pre-audio tweaks it just as it should be and knows what it's doing. Listening to the vinyl reissue of Fire, debut album from the Polish band Hey, I heard the reviewed turntable in a nutshell. The album was released in a limited 500-copy edition on some occasion, I do not remember what. I bought it because I have a huge fondness for those years (the disc was originally released in 1993), when we all used to listen to cassette tapes with Moja i twoja nadzieja or Teksański. I was not put off even by a very poor cover artwork. The sound turned out to be bearable, but I'm fairly sure that the disc was cut from the digital tape with a remaster made for the CD. And it's not even a high resolution, but rather 16/44. Still, there is power, there are dense guitars and no problem (usually) with distortion at the top end. I must admit that I expected a something of a massacre. These types of problems arising from low-resolution source material with digital nature are usually magnified by inexpensive turntables, often several times. High-end turntables go deeper and are capable of separating the music from the problems. Entry level designs mix everything up for good, as in a centrifuge. The BT-1301 did it much more elegantly. Distortion was audible but not dominating. The most important were the guitars and vocals. From time to time, sibilance would come to the fore, but without any side effects - you simply knew what kind of release it was, which is also part of the whole "package".
The Polish turntable is great at differentiating the music material on the record. Poorly pressed although musically wonderful Adam Makowicz’s album Live Embers sounded somewhat distant with fairly flat dynamics. In turn, the outstanding album Curated by Record Store Day from The Doors, prepared for Record Store Day and containing a selection of mono and stereo tracks, exploded with colors and saturation. This allows us to enjoy subsequent vinyl purchases and be sure that we will hear a lot of what's actually on the disc. However, not everything is possible in such an inexpensive turntable. I already mentioned its selectivity that is average at best when compared with other designs. Pro-Ject and Thorens turntables from a similar price range are simply better in this respect. They better separate musical events and show clearer treble. Sound definition, especially of the low bass, is so-so. Here, neither Pro-Ject nor Thorens are capable of showing anything more, because they usually do not saturate the bass so well, slipping out through a side door before committing themselves to anything. Any CD player for this kind of money does it many times better and more accurately. However, even expensive digital sources are not capable of showing the double bass or bass drum in such a natural way – this is vinyl’s domain where the Pre-audio feels great. The soundstage does not particularly stand out. The turntable shows big events and instruments have a fair-sized volume, but we will not learn too much about their acoustics. We get a thick presentation, but fairly uniform spatially.
It would seem that the 2,500 zł (800 USD) price level is the domain of turntables from two, maximum three manufacturers, all very similar and simple in terms of design, and hence boring. The BT-1301 is like having a cold, good beer in Berlin on a sunny summer day (been there, done it, so I know what I'm saying). It will not be a refined Belgian ale, dense and heavy, but more of a pilsner that is loved by all Berliners. The thing is, it will be exactly what we need.
The Polish turntable does many things in a fairly average fashion, but it's not its fault as much as the limitation of the price you pay for it. If you are not too finicky (I meant to write "madmen", but I would not want to offend anyone) and understand that you need to make choices in audio, you will appreciate what you get in the Polish package. First of all, an original design and very good technical solution. Nobody can beat that. Let’s go geek and let the "normal" envy us. The sound is also far from dull - inventive, dense, resolving and interesting. You will never get bored. Pops and clicks are slightly more pronounced than with classical tonearms from this price level, but you can live with that. I checked a lot of Polish pressings that had gone through a lot and they sounded at least acceptably. Get some good pressings and you will be in for a ride.
TURNTABLE OR COMPACT DISC?
Reviewing inexpensive products in ultra-pricey systems is a necessity. It may seem pointless to a “sound mind”, because “inexpensive products will work in inexpensive systems”. But from the point of view of the methodology of auditions this is the only way to hear a product “the way it is”, minimizing the influence of accompanying products. It cannot be fully eliminated, yet the resolution of much more expensive products (and in science it is accepted that the measuring element must be an order of magnitude more precise than the element being measured) allows for much better assessment of a particular component plugged in the audio path than “balanced” systems do. These assumptions are confirmed by my experience. So if one of the audio products I have reviewed sounds totally different in your system than what you read in “High Fidelity” – pardon my honesty, but “truth will set us free” – there is some fault in your system. I have a very deep conviction that I have heard its true “self” in my reference system.
Component reviews carried out this way are obviously incomplete. It would take an audition in a target system of similar price range to complete them. But for that to make sense you’d have to make several, maybe even several dozen, tests of this type, averaging errors brought in by other components. Any other situation would effectively distort the tests’ results. That’s why I don’t practice this “complement”.
In the case of the reviewed turntable I had a rare chance to audition it in a real system at a similar price level, in the company of a friend who wanted to listen to this turntable in his system. So before we began consumption – and we had unfiltered German wheat beers planned for the evening – we sat down with a suitcase full of LPs and their CD counterparts that I selected especially for the occasion.
The audition system was was assembled with my blessing; I know it well and am happy with its sound. Its basis is a small Italian Class-D amplifier that I once reviewed in HF – the Lym Audio LYM 1.0T PHONO (see HERE). This little guy offers excellent sound, with the bass that many larger amps can only dream about. We paired it with big floorstanders, the Castle Knight 5s. The system’s source is a Blu-ray player from Pioneer, connected to the Cambridge Audio DACMagic 100. Recently Marcin, the owner, bought for it a quality Polish linear power supply. The components sit on the Pro-Ject Ground-It Deluxe anti-vibration platform. The whole system sounds remarkably coherent and just great. The amp has two inputs – line and phono (MM cartridges). And this is where I had to slightly bend audition rules, since the Pre-audio turntable was equipped with the Denon DL-103, which is an MC cartridge. So we had an alien body implanted in the system, in the form of the RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC phono preamplifier, which costs as much as the rest of the system put together. A point for Team Vinyl.
We sat down on a couch and played a vinyl and then CD, followed by another CD and vinyl. We had all sorts of different combinations at our disposal: the same analog tape masters, the same digital tape masters, the best available digital version and regular analog, the best analog edition and regular digital version, and finally: the best analog and the best digital version, but released by two different labels. In other words – we had the kind of spectrum of possibilities, as music lovers tend to have.
The audition results were somewhat surprising, but not shocking. We were prepared for the black discs to sound better – and that was true in most cases. Only electronica albums, especially made from a digital master tape, made the vinyls’ superiority unnoticeable. The biggest and clearly audible differences were with analog recordings as the source material and with vinyl cut from analog masters. With Mobile Fidelity, Stockfisch and ORG records – there was nothing to talk about. But that’s exactly what we expected. The real surprise was the conclusion of our discussion we had later. It went more or less like this: vinyl generally sounded better, although bass was often better on the digital version and midrange was better on vinyl, so it was hard to choose a clear winner. What’s more – it wasn’t as if Marcin wanted to throw the player out the window while simultaneously asking for the turntable and vinyl prices. As an ex-DJ and the brother of a still-active DJ, he’s been dealing with the black discs and it was one of his dreams: to buy himself a nice turntable. But when it came down to making the decision, he wasn’t quite so sure anymore. The problems with handling, care and high prices of top-quality vinyl records effectively put him off, at least for some time. Especially since his digital source sounded good enough to not be a problem. And it could even be further improved, for example by adding a better transport (Compact Disc).
Does this mean that buying a turntable for this sort of money isn’t worth it? Of course it is! Especially if it sounds and looks as good as the BT-1301. But for that to make sense, you have to be one hundred percent sure about making this move and be aware of its consequences. If you’re not, it’d probably be better for you to just upgrade a system that you already have. Both paths are equally good, as long as they lead to the same destination – a better understanding of music. And let’s stick to that.
Non-decoupled mass-loaded turntable designs are the norm at this price level. This is also true about the BT-1301 plinth. This is a very nice MDF board finished with natural wood veneer, supported by four acrylic feet sitting on small balls. The feet are adjustable to level the turntable. The main bearing consists of brass bearing bush, polished steel axle and steel ball. The axle is integrated with the sub-platter that is belt driven by the motor brass shaft. The asynchronous motor is immersed in a synthetic oil to reduce vibration and motor noise. The latter is not fully eliminated and the working turntable is slightly audible. The turntable is connected directly to the mains power supply (230 V). Speed control is manual. In the future, it might be worth getting one of commercially available electronic voltage controls. The driving belt is short and fairly thick - the designer clearly wanted to reduce any speed fluctuation. The 310 mm acrylic platter weighs 2 kg and is placed directly on the sub-platter. It immediately attracts our attention with acrylic cylinders mounted to it from below. It's an old patent, best knows from turntables from Michell Engineering. It allows to increase inertia without a large mass increase. The platter is fitted with a thin cork mat, bearing the company logo.
The BT-1301 tonearm (it bears the same name as the turntable) is the most interesting part of this design. It is made from acrylic blocks, an acrylic tube and steel and brass components. A short arm with a mounted-on cartridge moves in a trolley equipped with tiny bearings. The latter glide along the acrylic tube. The arm is raised with a small lever. You need to be careful when lowering the needle, as there is no oil damper we are all used to. The 90 mm arm has VTA and azimuth adjustment. Everything is made very nicely. The only thing that requires some improvement is the cartridge lifting mechanism - the long pin that is used for this purpose is not mounted exactly parallel to the tube, wherein the moving trolley is not able to raise the arm as high at the end of the disc, as at the beginning.
Arm: Pre-audio BT-1301
Optional counterweight: for 5 - 10 g cartridges
Capacity: 5 - 30 mN
Motor: AC (230 V)
RCA and GND connectors: gold-plated
Speed: 33.33 / 45.11 r.p.m.
Speed variance: + / - 0.5%
Wow and flutter: + / - 0.1%
S/N ratio: -60 dB
Speed control: manual Active length of the arm: 90 mm
Arm weight: 25 g
Tracking error: 0
(VTA: + / - 10 mm
Adjusting the arm: + / - 5 mm
Adjusts the base level: + / - 8 mm
Platter Weight / Diameter / Height: 2 kg/305 mm/40 mm
Dimensions: 450 x 350 mm
Weight: 7 kg
Power Supply: 220 - 240 V, 50 Hz
Power Consumption: 2 W
Finish: gloss chestnut; a choice of color and texture of the turntable base.
PATHEWINGS | PW-S1050
Interesting Polish audio products are not only made here, at the Vistula River. I mentioned Mytek and its head, Michal Jurewicz, during my review of the STEREO192-DSD DAC (see HERE). It is very popular among professionals and music lovers in the U.S., Japan and Europe. The inexpensive DAC is mentioned next to the most expensive products of this type.
But there is also much to talk about on the subject of analog. It is commonly known that one of the "gurus" of many Western turntable, arm and cartridge manufacturers, is Wally (Waldek) Malewicz who has been living for years in the U.S. (see HERE). But this is not the end. I showed you once products from the German manufacturer PatheWings - wonderfully made, perfectly finished record clamps. Apart from these, the company offers cork record mats and custom-made wooden turntable plinths (e.g. for Linn). The company head (I assume) is Mr. Bartosz Jarzyński (Bart Jarzyński - pictured above). Just before Christmas I received a small package, and right after that there was the following e-mail:
Dear Mr. Wojciech Pacuła,
Last week I took the liberty of sending you a "Santa Claus" package :) It includes a 1050 grams record clamp from our limited edition and a set of our record mats. I hope that the above-mentioned accessories will prove useful during your auditions and reviews. I will be very grateful for your opinion on them.
The mats mentioned by Mr. Jarzyński are made of cork and have a different weight, depending on extras. They also have a different height. This is a very cool addition to the set of mats I already have. Much more impressive, however, was the PW-S1050 record clamp, a new design from PatheWings. Its name includes its weight - 1050 g. It is perfectly made and comes with a special wooden support base (Yanus Wenge), to hold it when we are not listening to a record. This is a Limited Edition - mine had a 08/20 mark. In the box you will also find a certificate of authenticity. I asked Mr. Jarzyński about more details on this design.
The PW-S1050 clamp is made of high quality stainless steel. It is machined on the best machines for a very precise finish. Each clamp is then hand polished and engraved. The clamp support is made of plywood, which is finished with natural Wenge veneer. Last week I sent to you our newest product – the 770 grams PW-Ti clamp, made from special stainless steel with titanium, which will be available within two months.
PatheWings project was created by my father, who built his first turntable in his quest for an even better listening experience. The company was established on the foundation of this quest, and the rest is a great passion and hard work that we share, listening to music. I would not want to write too much "About Us", because my idea is for our products to gain interest based on their properties and quality, and not because of who we are. In the end, what really counts is what our customer hears and not what I'm able to convince him with my own person :)
I have been using the clamps from Mr. Jarzyński during my turntable reviews for over a year and I've been very happy with them. The new design, much heavier, is also better made. Or maybe it just seems so to me? In any case, it is perfect. I’ve already used it with several turntables, including the currently reviewed Pre-audio BT-1301 and each time several features were repeated. First of all, the sound would "sit down" lower and it was deeper. There was no less treble but the background blackness, which we understand as a "silence" between the notes, was incomparably more smooth and velvety. The sound became even more vivid and simply more refined. Even if a turntable sounded good without the clamp, or seemed fine with other proprietary clamps (like Transrotor), after using the PW-S1050 I had no desire to listen with anything else. And the fact that it is an exclusive, expensive accessory only increases its value. As a matter off fact, audio is the space where music has its context and this context are audio products used for its playback. They must be not only faithful to the spirit of the music, but give it a proper setting. PatheWings products are simply outstanding. You just need to select the proper clamp weight to your turntable, as "heavier" not always means "better". I will have a closer look at the mats some other time, but if the clamps are so good, why should the mats be any different?
- 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