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Turntable + Phonostage

Price: 12 000 GBP (+ 1490 GBP)
+ 3000 GBP

Polish distribution: Intrada

Intrada s.c., ul. Szewska 18a, 61-760 Poznań
tel. +48 (0…61) 662 40 98
tel. kom. +48 501 454 880



Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski
Photographs: autor, Avid HiFi Ltd.

The turntable Avid Reference from the company Avid is in fact the model Acutus with a different motor, power supply and platter bearing. “In fact” is a bit exaggerated in this case, because those elements are key, and allow for enhancing the possibilities of a given construction. But in general the design of the model Reference is very close to the basic one – this is the reason, that in the section Description I just repeat some of the information I put in the Acutus test (HERE). Turntables from this company look really splendid, and each time I test them, it is not only a feast for the ears, but also for the eyes. This time it is even better, because the power supply is a full sized component, which adds “weght” to the whole. Together with the turntable I received the newest phonostage, constructed by Conrad Mas, the owner of Avid. Pulsare Phono is for him the crown jewel, and he told me proudly about it, when we met during the Audio Show 2009. Actually Poland was one of the first places, where the Acutus reference was presented with this phonostage. Pulsare Phono consists of two units – power supply and the amplification section. Exactly the same way as my RCM Sensor Prelude IC. I mention this on purpose, because I think, that it is time to move forward (I am thinking about RCM Audio) – in terms of external design and handling. Both elements are splendid in the British device, and I think, that this is how the new, reference preamplifier from the Katowice based company should look like (if ever made). With the Pulsar we have access to amplification and load settings from the front panel, what is key in my case. And one more thing – the Conrad Mas amplifier has a fully balanced architecture, also the signal from the cartridge can be supplied in a balanced way (each cartridge is balanced versus the tonearm ground) to the XLR input socket of the phonostage. But we need to have a dedicated cable, DIN to 2xXLR we can order from Avid. Unfortunately it is extremely expensive – for 1m we have to pay 3870zl (790 GBP)! And in fact this is just a plain van den Hul cable, the D-501 Hybrid, only with XLR plugs from Neutrik.

In the Avid system test, besides my system I also used the cartridges Air Tight PC-1 Supreme and Miyajima Laboratory Waza, phonostages Art Audio Phono-amp and power amplifier Tenor Audio 175S. The latter two are tested in the same issue of “High Fidelity”. Direct comparisons were made with the turntable Black Stork and the 12” tonearm Reed Q3 from (test HERE). The signal between the phonstages and the line preamplifier was conducted with the RCA interconnect Wireworld Platinum Eclipse (1m). The turntable was placed on my rack Base, and on anti-vibration platforms Rogoz Audio SMO40 and Pro-Ject
Ground It deluxe 3.


Discs used for testing:

  • Musik wie von einem anderen Stern, Manger Products, MANG-2010, 2 x 180 g LP.
  • Billie Holliday, Songs For Distingue Lovers, Verve/Classic Records, One-sided, 2 x 180 g, 45 rpm LP.
  • Depeche Mode, Fragile Tension/Hole to Feed, Mute Records, 12BONG42, 2 x 180 g, maxi-SP LP.
  • Frank Sinatra, Sinatra&Strings, Warner Music/Mobile Fidelity, MFSL 1-313, No. 199, 180 g LP; review HERE.
  • Frank Sinatra, Sinatra&Sextet: Live in Paris, Reprise/Mobile Fidelity, MFSL 1-312, No. 238, 2 x 180 g LP; review HERE.
  • John Coltrane, Giant Steps, Atlantic/Rhino, R1 512581, 2 x 45 rpm LP.
  • Julie London, Julie is her name. Vol.1, Liberty, LRP 3006, LP.
  • Kraftwerk, Tour The France Soundtracks, EMI Records, 591 708 1, 2 x 180 g, LP; review HERE.
  • Mel Tormé, Mel Tormé Sings Shubert Alley, Verve/Polydor K.K. Japan, KI 8212, LP.
  • Mel Tormé, Mel Tormé at the Red Hill , Atlantic/London Records, HA-K 8021, LP.
  • The Cult, Electric, Beggars Banquet/Sire, W1-25555, LP.
  • The Doors, Limited Edition Vinyl Box, Warner Brothers/Rhino, 7 x 180 g LP.
  • Yamamoto, Tsuyoshi Trio, Midnight Sugar, Three Blind Mice/Cisco Music, TBM-23-45, 0080/1000, 45 rpm, 2 x 180 g LP; review HERE.

Japanese issues of the CDs are available on CDJapan.

The Avid set together with the Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge, in balanced connection, shows the better side of the world. If I would like to show it in some psychological background, then I would say, that it is a born optimist. For this system, there are no things in the world, which would not be worthwhile, so bad, so uninteresting, that it would not like to look at them. But antropomorphization is not the best research strategy, especially when we aspire to being objective – as a branch. But from my experience, such approximation is especially helpful, when we are trying to describe events, closely related to emotions. Because we better understand deep, multidimensional, complex things, when we compare them to something similar. And music is emotional. This is the reason, that the word “optimist” should hit the spot.

The British turntable sounds in a very “civilized” way. I wrote about this characteristic when describing the Acutus, but this time, it is even more pronounced. All events on the stage have sense. Everything has a common divider, something holding all what is happening together. If it is a recording, where a voice is most important, like on the disc Mel Tormé at The Red Hill, then this voice will be shown as the star. But when it is an interaction of two, parallel elements, like on the disc Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley, where the vocalist is accompanied by The Marty Paich Orchestra, then those are clearly – very clearly! – two equally important elements. Both are rich in events, within their boundaries, intriguing, but when playing together, then we can hear, that it is all about their interaction, how they combine, and not about the analysis of each element alone. This sound has a built-in (something like a source code) good attitude towards the things, that the diamond reads from the groove. “Good” is not a precise description, but the best I have. And actually it describes well what I want to convey. Regardless of the quality of the recording, the state of the disc, etc, we can be sure, that the Avid system “will do its best” to retrieve all the best from the recording. To a certain extent the preamplifier Pulsare is responsible for this, due to the slightly “tubey” timbre, but I had the same thing with my RCM Audio preamplifier. This is just how Conrad Mas designed turntables sound. As if they would not like to tackle the reality, but try to get befriended with it.

This has some side effects of course, I will get to them in time, thus we need to answer to ourselves, what kind of sound we want to get. I mean, what do we expect from our system. And this is not a nonsensical question, because it should validate our choices, regardless of what others say about it. Avid is part of the group close to the line leading “up”, to the absolute, real sound, but it is not directly placed on that line, rather moved to the warmer side of it. It is not a “warm” turntable (the Pulsare is), it is not dark, not colored. It’s just that music sounds in a very “physiological” way with it. Not fully “forgiving”, but – kind. And it does not matter what kind of music we put on. The mentioned discs sounded splendid, as did Sinatra in Paris and after that the dance, double single Depeche Mode Hole To Feed/Fragile Tension. The last one confirmed, that the British system can reach very low on the bass, and that it shows bass in a colorful, and differentiated way. Bass acts like a foundation for everything above it, also with jazz recordings. It is rhythmical and well coordinated with the midrange. On the lowest bottom it is not as free from the certain “vibration”, like the Transrotor Argos is, and it was also better controlled in the Lithuanian turntable Black Stork with the Reed Q3 tonearm (test HERE). There is no need to spill the milk, because we are talking about a very small part of the sound spectrum, at the very bottom, but it is worth to know about that. On the other hand it will not be that visible with cartridges of lower class, than the PC-1 Supreme, because there will be not such a low bass. This can be nicely heard with the Miyajima Laboratory Waza, which is rather warm on its own, and the lowest bass is only suggested there. In comparison – the turntable Bergmann Sindre seemed much “lighter”, without such a fleshy bass. The presentation was more precise, more resolved and slightly more spacious. But based on my knowledge of best turntables I heard, like the Argos, SME 30, it seems that the Avid was closer to them, than to the Bergmann.

Like I said, this is a slightly warm sound. The preamplifier Pulsare is responsible for a big part of this presentation. Plugging it in directly after the RCM Audio moved the timbre down, in the direction of lower midrange, and warming and softening of the treble. Because I remember well, how the Manley Steelhead v2 sounded, a tube preamplifier, and I know, that a tube does not necessarily mean warming. My RCM sounds similar to that, the Pulsare differently. In a blind test, the latter could be seen as a tube device. One lead to that could be the shape of the frequency response curve. This is a departure from neutrality, as I can define it, but one which is a part of greater whole, and was done on purpose. This deviation is within the boundaries of “correctness”, is not big, this is the reason, that we can decide about acceptance or rejection of it by our own judgment, or by our system, or by cabling. And regardless of how we decide, it will be still within good tonal balance, although not necessarily ideally linear one.

A second lead is saturation with harmonics. Voices of Sinatra, Tormé, Morrison from L.A. Woman the Doors, the beautiful vocal of Julie London from Julie is Her Name. Vol. 1 had a large volume and were presented slightly closer to the listener. Not by much, they were not jumping in front of the speakers, but they had the largest volume. There was no talking about “small” sound, congested elements. This is good, although it will not necessarily fit in all systems. And if the sound is already slightly warm and big, the Pulsare will not help discipline it. Howeber the preamplifier presents a splendid dynamics, shows everything in a very vivid way, and plays on emotion. Its resolution is not as high as in the best preamplifiers I know, but I had no big problems with that, especially when I listened only to the Avid for some time. And I have to mention about a splendid user interface – knobs on the front panel are the basis for each good preamplifier, and this is also the reason, that I swear at my Sensor Prelude IC every time I want to check something, improve something or change the cartridge. And I already mentioned the external design.

The turntable itself is smooth, saturated, really very satisfactory. It has a splendid tonal balance, with a slightly stronger bass and a slightly softer treble. But this is a very good correction, exactly the same I chose when I used the Accuphase room correction processor. It seems, that such correction is necessary to reproduce music at home, in a room that has nothing in common with the recording room. Avid does it automatically. I do not think, that the difference between the top and the bottom is more than 3dB, but it can be heard. Similar to the preamplifier, the turntable is splendid in terms of dynamics. Maybe you cannot hear it from the beginning, because this is a different sound than in most digital players – ok, I’ll say it – very “analog”, but when needed, when on the Sinatra disc hits the snare drum, then it “jumps” to the listener. Why? Probably it hits a more exposed part of the treble spectrum of the microphone, which was probably placed quite close. With the Avid, those nuances are clear and unanimous. Without analysis, without brightening, without impersonating a digital player. Is this the ideal? No. You can reach further down on the bass, which can be even more vivid and natural. Also the midrange can be more resolved and placed on a darker background. But for that you will need to pay much, much more. And for me this sound is absolutely sufficient (for now).


Acutus Reference

Acutus Reference is the top one of the four Avid turntables. It was made in accordance with all the company standards, which it employs for years. This is a mass-loader, but with a decoupled sub-chassis. The company SME makes it similar in their turntables, but in the Avid, the suspension is very soft – when we apply pressure on the platter, it takes a while until it reaches the null point. But because it is a part of a dynamic system, it is never in one position, it vibrates delicately the whole time. This is one thing, that separates this two big British companies – Avid thinks, that this way is better, because it allows to decouple the chassis and sub-chassis better. SME, on the other hand, shows, that this setting is never at rest, and changes its position against the motor every time. And that increases the wow & flutter. The plinth is supported in three high, very massive pillars. Those have special feet, which can be used to level the chassis. On a small inset in front, there is a small level, which can help us with that. The pillars are chrome plated, and their top part, which supports the o-rings, is painted black. The heavy sub-chassis is incredibly rigid, as it has the shape of a bridge, with supportive frames. In three corners there are metal pins, which are inserted into big springs inside the pillars. This decouples in the vertical plane. The stability in the horizontal plane – an Achilles heel of such constructions – is given by quite large, rigid, rubber rings, which are mounted on the pillars on one side, and the sub-chassis on the other. In the Acutus the rings are stretched between two mounting points in the pillars, what decouples effectively in more than one direction. This allowed to achieve very low resonance frequencies. Like I said, this suspension is not as rigid as in the SME, thus when we press on the platter, it takes time for it to return to the null point.

The heavy motor is mounted on the chassis by a rubber string. It should be mechanically coupled with the plinth, and at the same time independent from it. The motor, a synchronous 24V type, is hand made by Avid. Acutus Reference is equipped with a very worked out, very heavy (like a big amplifier) external power supply, in a very nice enclosure, where we can select the rotation speed (33.3 or 45 rpm). It has a 1kW transformer, instead an 80W one, and fully stabilized output voltage – with 190000μF capacity. The company materials state, that it took three years to develop it, and adapt for the Acutus Reference. It is based on an DSP circuit, which controls a feedback loop, quartz based. The torque is transferred onto the platter directly, by means of two short, round belts. It was not so handy already with the single belt of the Acutus, because it is not placed on the outer ring of the platter, but on a lower part of it, with a lower diameter, which resembles a sub-platter. With two belts, which keep on falling off, this is very annoying. The platter weights 10kgs, and is placed on a bearing using a tungsten carbide ball working in a sapphire bearing. This bearing is placed in a heavy, metal cone, to which, from the top, a brass part with the spindle is bolted. The platter is placed over the mentioned cone. The top of the platter is covered with a vibration damping material, and the disc is clamped with a bolt-on clamp. It is not so easy to use, although it is made from two elements – the main one, and an element used to bolt it tight. However using this clamp is mandatory, as the cone in the middle is higher than the rest of the platter, so the disc needs to be clamped. Unfortunately this also eliminates the usage of Feickert tools to calibrate the tonearm and cartridge (I have those). So we need to use the simple protractors supplied by SME for their tonearms.

On the side of the sub-chassis there is a protruding armboard – prepared for SME tonearms. For testing, the turntable was equipped with the fantastic model IV tonearm, but on request other armboards are available. But is this needed? Let me just add, that leveling the sub-chassis is done by adjusting the springs, using the long key supplied. The whole is splendidly made, although the chrome plated elements require frequent cleaning, what is not so easy. The turntable is also available in a different color version – with gold plated elements. We can also purchase a fitting, gold-black version of the SME V tonearm.

Pulsare Phono

The Avid preamplifier looks extremely elegant. It is split into two enclosures of the same size, made from aluminum. The front of both boxes, is a thick, aluminum, brushed faceplate. In front of the main unit we have four knobs, with milled edges – similar to the turntable and power supply feet. The first one selects the input – RCA, balanced RCA or XLR. The second one selects the gain – we have four settings – MM, MC (low), MC (mid) and MC (high). The third one selects the resistance load - 10-30-100-300-500-1k-5k-10k-47k, and the fourth the capacitance load: 20nF, 10nF, 1.5nF, 500pF, 200pF, 100pF. And there is a red LED indicating power on state. On the back there is also a lot of elements – RCA and XLR inputs and outputs, grounding post and a power socket (DIN type, metal and bolted one). All sockets are of high quality. Unfortunately I could not open the unit without damaging it. This is the reason, I do not know, what is inside. The power supply has only one red LED in the front – the mechanical power switch is placed on the bottom plate, close to the fascia. On the back – only an IEC power supply socket. .

Technical data (according to manufacturer):

Acutus Reference
Drive system: belt drive
Speeds: 33.3 and 45 RPM
Platter weight: 10kg
Bearing: reversed, stainless steel
Support: tungsten carbide/sapphire
Suspension: three point, vertical springs, horizontal o-ring rubbers
Resonance frequencies: vertical – 2.5Hz (variable), horizontal – 4.5Hz
Weight: 19kg

Speeds: 33.3 and 45 RPM
Weight: 20.1kg
Dimensions: 415 x 350 x 140mm (WxDxH)
Power transformer: 1000 VA
Capacitors: 190000μF

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  • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Prime (tested HERE)
  • Phono preamp: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Preamp: Leben RS-28CX (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Polaris II, tested HERE)
  • Power amp: Luxman M-800A (tested HERE)
  • Integrated amp: Leben CS300 (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • headphones: AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • interconnects: CD-preamp: Wireworld Gold Eclipse 52 (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Velum NF-G SE (tested HERE)
  • speaker cable: Velum LS-G (tested HERE)
  • power cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9100 (CD; reviewed HERE) and 2 x Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC7100 (preamp, power amp (reviewed HERE)
  • power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • audio stand Base
  • resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE ) Turntables change continuously, as do cartridges. My dream setup: SME 30 with Series V tone-arm and Air Tight PC-1 cartridge (also in the PC-1 Mono version).