Turntable + Base + Tonearm
Manufacturer: HiFiction AG
he Air Force One turntable from the Japanese manufacturer TechDAS that I reviewed in March was a true revelation to me and its presence in my system (see HERE) made for an exceptional experience. It embodies all the design concepts of Mr. Hideaki Nishikawa, his whole experience and heaps of money from the Japanese company Stella , which owns the TechDAS brand and paid for everything. The AFO design and built quality is outstanding and it employs some interesting design solutions, like its vacuum hold-down system, air-bearing to “float” the platter, and others. But if you look objectively at this manifestation of the human spirit, which is how I understand audio, while being aware of its perfection it will be difficult to point out things that could be called "breakthrough", "one of its kind", "changing the paradigm". Although such level of precision and such design consequence as here, combined with such accumulation of engineering knowledge are in themselves "one of its kind", their unique status is based on countless minor improvements of concepts that have long been known, discussed and used by many other manufacturers.
True innovations are extremely rare in the world of analog audio. Passing over magnetic tape, the basic principles of turntable and tonearm design were known decades ago and have since only been polished and refined. Hence, a revolutionary tonearm design concept introduced by the Swiss company Thales was very refreshing.
The Thales Original tonearm, which was based on this theory, came with one sole objective: to reduce tracking errors to absolute minimum while avoiding the problem of tangential arms, i.e. a large difference in the vertical and horizontal effective mass. All pivoted tonearms exhibit distortion resulting from the fact that LP masters are cut tangentially.
The Original arm was very expensive and not suitable for use with every turntable. The latter restriction prompted the development of a more compact arm that was, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, called the Simplicity. The arm can be mounted on any turntable. Tracking geometry is based on a tetragon design with two arm tubes instead of one, moving relative to each other. Thales claims to have achieved a vanishingly low tracking error of 0.008°. The arm length is 9" and its effective mass is 19 grams. The arm is suspended in a gimbal assembly equipped with six ruby bearings. The arm can be ordered in three finish colors and a choice of DIN, RCA or XLR connectors.
Thales is a company whose founding idea was an innovative tonearm design. It soon turned out that in order to maximize its benefits and advantages as planned, it was necessary to design an own turntable. This led to the development of the battery-powered TTT-Compact.
The turntable was installed in my place by Wojtek from RCM, a real pro when it comes to THESE things. I wish everybody such great customer service, with every step so well thought out. It was him, together with Roger, the owner of RCM, who decided to equip the turntable with the Shelter 7000 cartridge. It is an MC cartridge with 0.55 mV output voltage. In the RCM phono stage that I used, I set the nearest corresponding value of 0.4 mV. The next value of 0.6 mV seemed slightly too bland. The manufacturer quotes the load impedance of 100 ohms; I settled for 200 ohms and it was perfect. The cartridge comes with a 0.3 x 0.7 mm elliptical nude diamond stylus. Tracking force has a very wide range, from 1.4 to 2 grams; Wojtek set it to 1.8 gram. The cartridge coils use PC-OCC copper wire. The cartridge looked great on the Simplicity II arm, as if the two had been designed together.
Albums auditioned during this review
In audio, and in the turntable department especially, product design and built quality determines the set of its sonic characteristics that we run into when listening to music. In other words, seeing how the product is built, we can say with high probability what kind of modifications it will bring to the sound. Sometimes, as in the case of the Thales turntable, it remains an unpredictable puzzle. Taking into consideration other turntables, it would have to be described as a light, non-decoupled, belt-driven design. The arm remains beyond the scope of our guess, because no other company offers this type of design. One could therefore presume that the TTT-C equipped with the Simplicity MkII will offer a precise, selective and resolving sound. The tonal balance would solely depend on the designers’ choices. It might be rather high, as in turntables from Thorens and Clearaudio (light). It could also be low, as in inexpensive Pro-Ject designs, where the treble is recessed and rounded, bringing the warm midrange to the foreground. In a sense, similar comments could be made about Rega turntables, except that they show a more active treble.
None of these guesses works with the Thales, and will be completely off the mark. The first thing that comes in as a shock – and it's not a figure of speech – is the depth, focus and density of bass. Something like that is offered by advanced, mass loaded turntable designs, such as Transrotor, or specially adjusted and also quite heavy units, like SME. The Thales sounds even denser and more dynamic from all of them. As if dropping heavy mass that colors the mid-bass has cleared, refined and polished it.
After all, it’s not all about bass. This is a dense, focused sound. The kind we sit back, relax and chill out to, without falling asleep. The beauty of vinyl, irresistible with many a turntable, is truly enchanting with the Thales. It makes each disc sound interesting, even those worst recorded, even as battered as my copy of Isabella Trojanowska’s debut album with Budka Suflera, with the track I am your sin almost completely worn out by the previous owner. The LP was marked Excellent+ when I bought it and it was really clean, almost with no scratches. It was evident that the previous owner had been taking care of it. What you couldn’t see was how much it was worn out, presumably by lesser quality audio equipment. It only came out during playback. The track I’ve referred to ends the disc, hence it falls in the area of the lowest speed, which translates to highest distortion with classical tonearms. Add to that pops and clicks and it spells disaster.
The Thales did not improve anything – the pops were still there, as always. What it did, however, was to pitch them next to a dense, low balanced sound, music. That the best turntables put natural vinyl distortion, like pops and surface noise, "outside" music presentation is something absolutely normal. What it means is that the distortion is heard from a different sonic plane and does not interlock with the sound, even though it comes from the same speakers. It is as if we stood in a room where music is played back from the speakers and live instruments at the same time. These are two different realities, which we understand instinctively.
On this system, resolution and selectivity are one and the same. Wonderfully combined and supporting each other. The sound of violin, recorded with two microphones, horn equipment and reel to reel tape recorder, was captivating in its beauty. I played this CD to a few people and each one of them was moved by what they heard. The term that everyone used to describe it was "beautiful." Even though it’s a single instrument, the volume of sound was big, and the space in which it had been recorded was supporting the basic sound. Density and focus went smoothly hand in hand.
When I receive another cool source for a review and I share this information with my friends, they no longer ask about the product itself but rather whether it has any chance to stand up to the Air Force One, my dream machine from TechDAS. My answer is the same: Ha, ha, ha! Typically, there’s more "ha". Such is life. But it’s also true that the Japanese turntable is the absolute top for me and it's very hard to get there.
The Thales brand is owned by a Swiss company HiFiction AG, located in Winterthur. The company is a specialist manufacturer of precision turntable components and assemblies. It combines modern technologies such as CAD, micromechanical components assembly and surface treatment with traditional hand craftsmanship. In May 2012, the company moved to the third floor of a large industrial building in Hegi, with plenty of space for its R&D department, prototype and assembly room. All this information is important to understand the incredible level of precision that goes into the manufacturing of the TTT-Compact and Simplicity II.
The base is tiny and at first glance we can’t quite see what we pay for. And we pay, among other things, for the battery power supply for the motor. Seeing a high-end turntable we can be hundred percent sure to see next to it a big power supply enclosure. The point is to "translate" the AC mains power to a perfectly clean current to power the motor. It is not necessary in the case of the TTT-C, as it is guaranteed by the very nature of battery power. Four LiFePo batteries and a charging circuit are housed in the cutout in the very low base. Fully charged batteries provide 16 hours of continuous operation. An operating mode switch on the back is used to put the unit into charging, standby or playback mode. Adjacent to it is a small socket for the outboard 13.2V DC power supply. The latter should be disconnected during playback. The speed (33.3 or 45 RPM) is select via two switches in the left front corner. Fine speed adjustment are possible using small potentiometers available through tiny holes in the front. The 20W DC motor is a modern brushless design.
The main bearing is Most proud of the company is, however, self-designed main bearing. The main shaft (spindle) is made of hard chrome-plated carbon tool steel with hand polished surface. The shaft runs in two sintered bronze bushings. Sintering is the process of forming solid materials by heat and pressure without melting it to the point of liquefaction. This gives the material high purity and very high mechanical resistance. Sintered bronze is frequently used as a material for bearings due to its porosity that allows lubricants to remains captured within it. The bushings are soaked in a specially prepared oil. The platter spindle ends with a small spherical carbide piece that rests on a hardened steel ball. The whole bearing assembly is enclosed in a heavy ductile cast iron housing. The material has excellent vibration damping characteristics.
The turntable platter has two main objectives: to increase the rotating inertial mass and to provide a good support for the vinyl disc. In the TTT-C, the platter mass is not too high but it is intelligently used. The platter weighs 6.5 kg but the mass is concentrated at its outer perimeter. This gives the equivalent inertial properties of a 8 kg platter. The platter is tuned to a single resonant frequency, which is damped by a customized high density inlay. It feels like rubber to the touch, but of a different consistency. The inlay also serves as a record mat. The record is hold down by a 460 g brass record clamp. Its underside is covered with the same mat as the platter surface.
The whole unit rests on three small feet. While they look simple from the outside, they are actually a smaller variant of isolation feet offered by Finite Elemente. They are composed of two main metal parts, the base and top cap, separated by a ball, held in place by a rubber O-ring around the shaft of the base. The whole sits on the LEVI-Base pneumatic board, whose design resembles the RAF-48H air board that I have been using in my system for several years. The TTT-C can also be equipped with a second tonearm, which needs an optional arm base.
Thales’ career began with its tonearm design, which distinguishes it from almost all other manufacturers, except for SME. Manufacturers usually start with a turntable, which is relatively easier to design, and then add to it an own tonearm (or not). Here, the idea was simple: to design a classic gimbaled tonearm that would have the advantages of tangential arm, which is to keep the cartridge tangent to the groove for zero tracking angle error all the way. The way it has been executed in the Simplicity II is that there are two parallel arm tubes, connected with a special gimbal bearing on one end and head piece bearings on the other. The tracking geometry is based on a unique tetragon solution. It may sound simple, but the design and craftsmanship has to be perfect for it to work. The counterweight is divided into two pieces for optimized energy flow so each arm tube has its own counterweight. An additional eccentric piece can be attached to ensure constant tracking force across the record surface. Three different counterweight are included to balance a wide range of cartridges (between 7 and 23 g). The company claims to have reduced the Simplicity II tracking error to a negligible 0.006°. For clarity: the tracking error in a classic 9" tonearm can reach 2.5° and is down to 2° in the best 12" arms.
The quality of workmanship of each component is well above average and may be called perfect. But what else could be expected from the descendants of the best watchmakers in the world?
Technical Specification (according to the manufacturer)
Speed: 33 ⅓ rpm, 45 rpm
- 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