Manufacturer: RÄKE HIFI/VERTRIEB GmbH
rogress, at least in Audio-video industry is often expressed via miniaturization. It is one of the features that people who hardly know anything about audio industry, who use radios and portable devices, usually name. The revolution started by Japanese manufacturers in 1950ties was possible due to development of new technologies, like transistors for example, and later chips, but also due to miniaturization of music mediums - Compact Cassette at first and Compact Disc later.
It seems that not much has changed in this matter since. Another revolution changed only one thing – medium. Today these are music files that make streaming music possible. So what I find interesting is not the phenomenon itself but the fact that experienced audio journalist devote so much time to it. For example, Barry Willis in his monthly column in „Hi-Fi News” magazine wrote about overwhelming popularity of wireless Bluetooth speakers manufactured by brand that until this moment had been associated rather with high-end audio. He appealed to audio industry pointing out that young people found elaborate audio systems appropriate only for „old people”. He also claimed that taking that into consideration audio industry should reconsider its position (Barry Willis, Paradigm Shift, „Hi-Fi News” October 2015, p. 121).
But let's think about it for a moment – wasn't it always so? The young people always preferred as „mobile” audio devices as possible, that always wanted fun most of all, and the „old people” (so say – older then 25) expected more from their audio systems. The later developed their systems over time to achieve more and more refined sonic results. One of the most sophisticated ways of expressing how important music is for audio system owner is playing it using a turntable.
These and some other thoughts accompanied me during the whole operation which brought this turntable worthy of the most sophisticated systems to my room. I'm calling it an “operation” because this test is quite different from all others. My intention is to show you how wonderful our hobby is especially when it comes to vinyl playback. I also want to show you that unlike in digital playback world, here one has a chance to improve one's analogue front-end almost indefinitely. In this particular case one can start with a 17 kPLN turntable and upgrade it until it reaches a price level of 60 kPLN.
How can one do that? By upgrading it step by step, element by element and doing it in any order. On Transrotor's Polish website one can find something, that I've seen maybe once or twice on any audio manufacturer's site – a configurator. One has to choose a link with particular model. There one finds information about the basic configuration and its price. The standard configuration for Zet 3 includes:
I did review such version once. But that's just a starting point. This model might be upgraded in many ways – using “configurator” one has to add or take away some parts and one gets the information about the cost of such upgrade. I'd suggest starting with replacing tonearm with, for example, TR5012, which is a modified version of SME 312. It requires also a SME arm-board Next step could be, for example, replacing standard bearing with TMD (Transrotor Magnet Drive) one. It's a special type of bearing that consists of two halves. The lower one is fixed to the axle and driven by the belt. The upper one sits in ball bearings to carry the platter. Coupling between the two halves is magnetic via small embedded but very powerful Neodymium magnets. As the motor rotates the lower half, the magnetic field drags the upper half with it. This solution is used in the most expensive Transrotor models (see HERE).
But one could start also with something different – twin motors instead of a single one. That involves also upgrading power supply for them – one has to purchase Konstant M2 Reference PS with two, synchronized outputs. Which upgrade should be done first – the answer to that you shall find while reading next part of this review.
So let’s sum up all potential elements and upgrades:
Records used during test (a selection)MONO
Listening to the Zet 3 made me feel like I came home – to a nice, cozy, safe place. I remember my experiences with Zet 1 and Zet 3 in both versions very well – I mean with a single, and twin motors. All these presentation had surely one thing in common – something I'd call a “charming” character. Listening to the music using these decks was highly enjoyable. There are surely some other machines available at similar price that offer faster, more dynamic, more precise sound, but first of all all these features never come together, it's always either or, and secondly none of these turntables offers what each Zet does: charm.
The basic configuration of Zet 3 is already w solid one. It preserves all attitudes of Zet 1, meaning rich, warm sound adding better definition and selectivity to the mix. Sound offered by Zet 3 is also more open. When reviewing this version once I wrote that in this aspect it reminded me another Transrotor model, Super Seven LaRoccia.
Already then I noticed particularly low level of a background noise, and definitely fewer pops&cracks than usually – both features highly appreciated. This time, with this special rack, these qualities further improved. Second motor allows Zet 3 to achieve even higher level in this respect. But even with a single motor and TR 800-S (a selected Jelco) tonearm these feature reach level achievable for most competitors regardless the price level or technologies used.
One may purchase the Zet 3 turntable for a very reasonable, as for the high-end performance, price. But it's main advantage is in fact the large number of upgrades that might be implemented. One, who wants to buy a turntable and just stay with it without any significant changes should rather buy Zet and just maybe after some time upgrade its tonearm to, say, 12'' SME. But if one plans to constantly upgrade one's analog front-end one should seriously consider acquiring Zet 3.
Adding the second motor turn out to be a very good idea. I mentioned that already before but this time I had a chance to check also how important for the performance is an additional platform for these 2 motors (more HERE). Changes introduced by second motor were easily audible – sound became more vivid, richer with information. And I don't mean that the sound became more detailed – it's rather about it being more resolving. Sound seemed bit darker but it was so because it was richer and more natural.
Already at this point we've reached a level of performance that many music lovers dream about and most of them will never actually achieve. It the midrange that focuses listener's attention. Not because it is emphasized but because we are used to problems with this part of the frequency range and thus we try to find those in each presentation. With Zet 3 we find none hence we are in kind of a shock. Even if we did experience even better performance before we have to admire what even this almost basic version of Zet 3 with twin motors has to offer. Such a rich, soft but in a good, natural way, sound is what a refined high-end is about.
One should know that this turntable has its specific sound signature. Top treble is slightly rolled off and rather sweet and there is a gentle emphasis on the mid-bass. The more expensive turntables, including Transrotor's, don't have to use these two features to achieve the same thing as Zet 3 does – an amazing spacing and almost complete lack of cracks&pops. The soundstage is remarkably large, rich, deep and dense. Zet 3 transports performing musicians and vocalists to our room minimizing an influence of room's acoustics on the presentation – it might seem as if the recording was actually done in our room.
It is an incredibly immersive experience. I felt like running to the music shop to buy more records, to be able to experience more and more of wonderful music. But I also dove into darkest corners of my vinyl collection to find album I had not listened to for a long time. The quality of the recording wasn't that important anymore as even records cut from digital mother tapes of CD quality (like many vinyls released recently by Polish labels) offer more than CD with the same source material.
Such a low level of cracks&pops is something most music fans would give almost anything for. I listened to many old records I had that usually quite loudly announce their age when played on most deck, but not this time – they sounded really beautifully. I realized the downsides of each of them but it was rather a memory of playing them back on other turntables rather than actually hearing them with Zet 3. Also the level of background noise was extremely low. Mono recordings I listened to using mono cartridge were very palpable, rich and presented close to the listener. Phantom images seemed large and natural. Presentation of the same records with stereo pickup was similar, but with mono one it was even more nuanced, warmer sounding.
Replacing standard bearing with a TMD one is very simple. One takes the platter off, unscrews (from the bottom) a long screw and takes the whole bearing together with its base out. One has to replace motors bases and also replace pulleys on their axes for with smaller ones. Then put the new bearing in, fix it with a screw, put two short belts (instead of 1 long one) on. Put platter on. It takes maybe 10 minutes.
These 10 minutes transforms this turntable in a way that no previous upgrade did – neither switching from TR-800S tonearm to TR-5012, nor adding a second motor, nor placing the whole device on the special rack. The new turntable, as I think it deserves to be called that, offers quite a different tonality of its presentation and it is hard to believe that replacing only the main bearing and one long belt with two shorter ones could bring such significant change in sonic character.
Before this upgrade Zet 3 was already a wonderful machine, taking us for a trip to a different, musical world – smooth, warm, highly enjoyable. Now it became a new deck that takes us even closer to the music. It might seem like not much of an improvement but actually it is huge! It is not just an evolution but rather a revolution. Performance is much more precise, more 3D, with much better developed both range extremes. Sure, it's still not a top, ultra-precise presentation of TechDAS Air Force Two, because this one still has sonic signature of Zet 3. But now Transrotor's sound become much more similar to those of SME, TechDAS, or Acoustic Signature rather than Linn Sondek LP12 and top Avid, namely ACUTUS REFERENCE models. The latter reminded me rather of the Zet 3 with standard bearing.
I have to admit that after replacing standard bearing with TMD I missed, for some time at least, some elements of the presentation offered by former. But at the same time I realized that there was no going back. After experiencing influence of TMD I knew I couldn't sacrifice this fantastic resolution, better definition to go back to this richer, more palpable sound. But I could understand why some might want to stick with standard version.
Fully equipped Zet 3 also with TMD delivers more natural and more neutral sound. With a standard bearing sound seemed more intimate, with TMD more open, more realistic. The attack was more precise, faster. Bass seemed slightly warm but it seemed to be an intricate feature of this design. But the fully upgraded version mastered dynamics and tonal shading. Also this slight emphasis on midrange, obvious with standard bearing, now disappeared. The basic version of Zet 3 offered performance that was usually associated with “analogue” or “tube” sound, and with TMD it sounded more like an analogue master-tape.
Fully upgraded Zet 3 version, that I called for this test: Infinity, combined warmth and definition. Neither of them is exaggerated. Soundstage still amazed with its volume, but the perspective listener observed it from changed. With this version listener sees a window to the recording between speakers, standard version brought performers to listener's room. TMD delivered more, like “more music in music”. Standard version offered its own creation (a brilliant one if you ask me), upgraded version offers high fidelity to whatever was written in the groove.
Vinyl is a wonderful music medium. It offers its own, unique in many ways, performance and a mechanical nature of its reproduction brings it closer to a human nature, human needs. It also easily comprehensible unlike digital form of music (that, in my opinion, might one day deliver even better sound quality, but not yet) is completely detached from us, humans, and from music.
With Zet 3 all that meets in one point. Original design of the device, an opportunity for many upgrades resulting in even better, and/or different performance is something that makes this deck a life-time choice. Whichever version, whichever state of upgrade, Zet 3 always offers a distinct performance – it appeals to our sensitivity, to our dreams of “analogue” sound. That's what we get or in fact even more than expected. Whoever will fall under Transrotor's spell won't ever regret it. Even the basic version of this turntable open a door to a new, exciting world of vinyl records. Once opened these door shall never close. RED Fingerprint
I already reviewed a basic and twin motors version before so lets repeat some basic information. Zet 3 is a non-suspended mass-loader. The plinth is made from two plates of acrylic separated with a layer of aluminum – it constitutes a 45mm thick sandwich. The acrylic is black, and the aluminum has its edge polished. The plinth is cut in a characteristic way – it looks like a four leaf clover. It is supported with three feet – two in the front and one in the back. All of them are adjustable via large knobs placed on top of them. Feet end with pins with spherical tips that are placed on large, aluminum disks The disks are glued to silicone rings. This is the only place where a springy element was used.
In the middle of the plinth there is a wide and high (for a turntable) cylinder, weighing 4kg, which houses the inverted bearing of the platter. Just like in the ZET1, platter was mounted in such a way that the center of gravity is quite high despite the fact that the common solution is to put it as low as possible – obviously Mr Raeke had his reasons for that. The platter is made of aluminum – it is 72mm thick and weighs 12kg. The bottom of the platter is not flat, but has concentric rings, which work as a flywheel. On top of the platter there is a layer of hardened vinyl. The platter is supported on a small sub-platter, which is made as one component together with the spindle.
The standard bearing might be replaced with a TMD (Transrotor Magnet Drive) one. Its dimensions are almost identical but its design it totally different. Replacing bearing involves also some additional modifications (that are best performed by a trusted Transrotor dealer). With regular bearing drive is transmitted from motor's pulley to platter with a long rubber belt. With TMD installed drive is transmitted to a lower part of the bearing, which has much smaller diameter.
In both versions a double synchronous motor is placed inside a heavy, aluminum housing. When two motors are used they should be placed on heavy bases within proper cut-outs in decks base. They should be connected with a large Konstant M2 Reference power supply that also synchronizes both motor together. It also allows electronic speed change. The turntable weights around 26 kg and measures 450 x 400 x 180 mm.
Standard version of Zet 3 is delivered with TR 800-S arm, which is an OEM version of Jelco ST-250. I have to admit that I like it a lot despite the fact that it is quite a simple design. And the 12” Transrotor TR-5012 is without any doubt a much better arm. To mount it on this deck one has to replace an armboard for 9” tonearms for a 12” one. But if you do it don't throw the 9” one away – it might come handy if you decide to use second arm. TR-5012's cable is terminated with a 5-pin DIN connector. Arm comes fitted with Van den Hul D 501 Silver Hybrid cable. Transrotor also offers few models of phonostage, including a fully balanced, two-box one.
If one keeps the replaced armboard one might use it to mount a second tonearm. In my case it was used for a 9'', “S-shape” SME M2. It sports a detachable headshell which allows user a fast interchanging of few of the with different cartridges. If you do that you' be very close to becoming a... Japanese.
The rack that I also received for this test was the first unit that distributor ever brought to Poland. It was designed to aesthetically match Zet 1 and Zet 3 decks. Three lower shelf, that might be used to place a phonostage, even a two-box one, have the same shape and thickness as the acrylic elements of turntable's chassis. The top shelf is bigger as it has to accommodate not only the deck but also twin motors.
The shelf are supported with massive, thick, aluminum pillars. They are fixed with solid, brass screws. At the bottom one finds four, large cones ending with ceramic balls – same ones as used for TMD bearing. These are placed on four, large aluminum discs. A turntable placed on this rack look simply fabulous – it is not just a deck anymore but a piece of an applied art. What's more – the design does not look massive at all. Place you Zet on this rack and it will attract attention of every visitor, audiophile or not.
Specifications (according to manufacturer)
Chassis: 45 mm thick acrylic-aluminum sandwich
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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