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Turntable + Cartridge

Price: 600 000 zł (250 000 USD)

Distribution: Nautilus Hi-End

ul. Malborska 24, 30-646 Kraków
tel./fax: 12 425 51 20/30
tel. kom.: 507 011 858


WWW: Transrotor
Polish language WWW: Transrotor

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

600 000 zł for a turntable is pure madness. This is the price we have to pay for Argos, the top turntable from the German company Transrotor. Led by Mr. Joachim Räke and his son Dirk Räke this company is a symbol of solid, German engineering. Transrotor turntables are based on verified solutions, like ultra-precise machining, and common sense. Without exceptions those are rigid suspension turntables, without decoupling, basing on the mass of the plinth and platter to extinguish vibration. This simple assumption can be executed in many ways, what can be seen looking at the company offerings – very differentiated and broad. To be frank, I cannot fully find my way around it. It seems, that the test you are reading now, is the first review of the Argos worldwide, and probably will remain that for some time. Because the turntable weights 270kg and is made strictly to order. That it was possible to arrange a test at my home is due to the persistence and determination of the Polish distributor, who took the advantage of the unit being displayed at the Audio Show 2009 and “arrested it”… Well, I exaggerate a bit, because Mr. Dirk “blessed” it, having interrogated me first, but he would not come with this proposition on his own.

A test of such an expensive product is on one hand a true pleasure, an opportunity to learn, to broaden the horizon, etc, but on the other hand it is problematic. We have to state clearly, that 600000zl is an absurd price. This is the best word that comes to me. It is absurd, just like the price of a Bugatti Veyron, the watches worn by best paid executives, yachts, etc, not even mentioning art. This had to be the best Transrotor turntable, and the most expensive piece of equipment, of that kind, in the world. And it is. The first problem I had to face, was to put its price out of my head. We judge a product differently, if we can afford it, if – even if it would happen far in the future – we can buy it. This gives a certain “freedom” of choice – if I can afford it, then the only thing that counts, is if I want this “thing” or not. Not: “need”, because those are luxury products, but “want”. Yes, Argos is in the group of luxury goods, what makes the price/performance ratio obsolete. In hi-end this ratio always comes out bad or very bad – every small raise in quality is to be bought with big sums of money. This category is also nonsensical because it is very “unstable”. When we look at the hi-end from the top, even on one single element, then we treat improvement in sound differently, than when we look up to it. I am talking about that, that when we are advanced in a certain way in completing a dream system, then even big amounts spent for small advances are justified, for us. And the change in quality is small – but only when we look at those from the worse devices, because there, the bettering coming with each price increase, is big. Because the price/performance ratio is a relative category, and nonsensical in hi-end. Here, the only thing that counts, is what we WANT to pay for a given product, and not how much it is worth. And this is brought to extremes with the Argos – here only the urge to have it counts. Only that.

Now, every audio element is judged in absolute terms of sound. But what means absolute? This is of course a figure of speech, we cannot reach the absolute, this is more a way of research, and idea to follow. In case of a test, it is done by using the experience of the reviewer and his/her reference system. And, but at a later stage, live sound. With the amount of 600000 zl to pay for the Argos, there is no other product, we could compare it with head-to head. This is why I could compare it only to the best turntables I know: Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn (+Cobra+Castellon), SME 30A with SME Series V tonearm, Bergmann Sindre. I never had the first one at home, but I heard it a dozen times, also with the cartridge I tested the Argos with – the PC-1 from Air Tight, and also with the gramophone preamplifier I used in the test, the Manley Steelhead. But I’ll repeat: I could not make a direct comparison. But I think, that the mentioned SME 30A, helped also by the model 20/12, and the top Sondek LP12 from Linn showed the what and the why, also because I did hear those turntables in comparison with the CAL. I used also some digital sources for the test. This may be a profanation for diehard vinyl lovers, but there is nothing I can do about that – the digital sources do have some assets, that the analog lacks. This is why I listened to SACD with the DP-700 Accuphase and to hi-res files with the DSS30 Tube from Blacknote, working as a transport, with the Accu employed as DAC.

I mentioned cartridges. This is for me something mysterious and incomprehensible – Transrotor equips the Argos with its own cartridge Merlo Reference. This is a very nice MC product, that fits well with turntables costing about 15000zl or slightly more. But for the Argos? This is a joke. The more I was surprised seeing it in the Audio Show system, that cost more than 2000000 zlotys. Changing this cartridge to any top product meant a huge improvement. So why does Transrotor stick with the Merlo? I don’t know. Anyway, for testing I used three cartridges: Dynavector DRT XV-1s, Lyra Titan and the mentioned Air Tight PC-1. Each one added something else to the equation: Dynaudio – dynamics and unconstrained energy, Lyra – exceptional resolution and precise attack, but for me the third one provided the most balanced sound, and I will describe the sound with that one. The same case was with the DIN-RCA interconnect used for the SME 312 tonearm. This is the Van den Hul MC 501 cable, nice, but not for the Argos! I changed it to the top Furutech cable, and presto! Another breakthrough. And a few words about phono preamplifiers: at my disposal were the mentioned Steelhead, the Air Tight ATE-2005 with step-up ATH-2A, C-27 Accuphase and the cheapest, even ridiculous in this comparison, the RCM Audio Sensor Preude IC. Unexpectedly, not only for me, the latter sounded best, and maybe only the Steelhead could match. It is incredible, how well the Polish preamplifier can sound! At home of the owner of the RCM company it plays with the SME 30A, and the sound is impressive as well.

Discs used for testing:

  • Bill Evans Trio, Waltz For Debby, Riverside/Analogue Productions, 9399, No. 773, 2 x 45 rpm LP.
  • Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Study in Brown, EmArcy/Warner Music Japan, UCJU-9072, 180 g LP.
  • Count Basie&Tony Bennett, Basie/Benett, Roulette/Classic Records, SR 25072, 4 x 45 rpm, special one-sided pressing, 180 g LP.
  • Depeche Mode, Wrong, Mute Records, 12BONG40, maxi-SP.
  • e.s.t., Retrospective, ACT Music+Vision, ACT 9021-1, 2 x 180 g LP.
  • Frank Sinatra, Sinatra&Strings, Warner Music/Mobile Fidelity, MFSL 1-313, No. 199, 180 g LP.
  • Jean Michel Jarre, Oxygene, Disques Motors, 2933207, LP.
  • John Coltrane, Giant Steps, Atlantic/Rhino, R1 512581, 2 x 45 rpm LP.
  • Miles Davis, Miles Davis And The Modern Jazz Giants, Prestige/Analogue Productions, 7150, 2 x 45 rpm 180 g LP.
  • Queen, Innuendo, Parlophone/EMI, 6798813, 180 g LP.
  • Sinatra&Sextet, Live in Paris, Warner Music/Mobile Fidelity, MFSL 1-312, No. 238, 2 x 180 g LP.
  • Tori Amos, Abnormally Attracted To Sin, Universal Republic, B0012906-01, 2 x 180 g LP.
  • vijay iyer trio, Historicity, ACT Music+Vision, ACT 9489-1, 2 x 180 g LP.


Like I said, the price of the Transrotor is so high, that it loses contact with reality – it cannot be set of against sound. This is why I will put my impressions from the sound test not against the amount to pay for the Argos, but compare it with other turntables and my experience from the recording studio. And – in some way – to live sound. The latter only in part, because when you heard some hi-end devices, and at the same time go to concerts, then you will know, that those are two separate worlds, two separate events. A recording relates to that, what we experience every day, but only through the “diaphragm” of a recording studio, recording techniques and finally the mastering. A direct transfer from the “live” to what we have at home is not possible. This is a bit platonic in spirit, we “see” only a reflection of the real world, but I think, that is exactly what we do.

But maybe I secure myself too much, because the sound from the Transrotor, especially with the PC-1 Air Tight, because like I said, I liked the sound most with that cartridge, was mostly better than live. If concerts would be made with minimal amplification, or none at all, then we could talk about a similar experience, but in a situation, when most concerts are too loud, badly sounded, and in addition we do not sit in the ideal spot, music from the Argos was closer to me, than that, what I hear live. The most important characteristic of this turntable is, that it “disappears” from the sound path. This is something, that happened only once or twice in my life – with the Continuum Audio Labs and SME 30A – but never to this extent. I know, I know – only the SME was at my home, and that for a short time, and the CAL I heard a few times, but not in my system. But still, I am confident, that the Argos disappears most from the equation, being an audio system. This is why I would not be surprised, when after a short demo, somebody would say, that he or she does not hear, why it costs so much. And that person would be right - the German turntable almost cannot be “heard”. I think, that the fulfillment of the main postulate for a turntable, namely preparing a mechanics, which is only a basis for the diamond, was achieved here. This is why the sound of the Argos is incredibly composed. Not quiet, but composed. Without emotions. This does not mean clinical, or withdrawn, but something in terms of “clearing out” the foreground. Everything is better audible here, more unanimous, but not because the detail of the recordings is better. In that aspect, the SME 30A, Avid Reference and Bergmann Sindre are better. Also other Transrotor products, like the Tourbillon 07 are. But here music sounds much better, because the elements were left alone, not colored by random elements, not modified. With the Argos we have the feeling, that we deal with something completely natural, with the timbre that was recorded, with the dynamics that was recorded, etc. There is absolutely no impression, that the music has to work its way through the qudio setup. The music is incredibly free, incredibly resistant to technology.

This is the reason, why it is hard to talk about any visible characteristics of the sound, that could be attributed to it, for example about timbre. A change of the cartridge resulted in a big change, the same thing was with the preamplifiers, but the turntable itself stood a bit in the shadow, of the things attached to it. If I had to characterize it anyway, a bit forcibly, because I do not have a good reference point, meaning something visibly better, then I would say, that the turntable is a bit dark. Just a moment ago I talked about a brilliant revealing of all elements, I will add to that the best resolution I ever encountered, but in general the sound is a tad darker than from the SME or CAL. The change is similar, like that coming from a recent, albeit brilliant, pressing to a good original. It seems, that the new discs (especially the 45rpm versions) offer more detail, that there is something new extracted from them, but actually the originals add value, maybe sounding less “forward”, but being more balanced, more saturated. This can be heard well when comparing the Kind of Blue Miles Davis – my 50th Anniversary edition and the borrowed original. The cymbals on the new version were brighter, what made them seem more realm but the original showed them in a more natural way, with a fuller envelope, less technical. This pertains also to the Argos – this is a turntable, that seems more natural than others, but not because there is something “more” in the sound – this is not about the amount – but because everything is “better” in it, if I may say so – the quality aspect is in play. For a longer period of time I listened to the new re-editions of Sinatra Live In Paris and Sinatra & Strings, just re-mastered by Mobile Fidelity. In both cases the sound is, so I think, better than on the originals (what is a sensation), and the digital versions should be ashamed of themselves. I was especially impressed by the first disc. Although the recording is slightly worse in terms of dynamics, and presence of the performers, it is an outstanding recording. The problem with it is, that even good turntables tend to flatten the perspective, loosing somewhere the depth of the recording, the acoustics, with which it was done. Closest, to what I heard from the Argos, really, only a hair away, was SME, and this is really an achievement. The Transrotor differentiated the distances, the timbres, the height of the instruments, their volume, etc, better, and although the difference was not big by any means, it was in such a critical place, that after listening to the German turntable there was no comparison.

Even with newer music, like with Depeche Mode discs, also from the maxi-single Wrong, recorded at 33 rpm, with wide grooves, what means big dynamics and strong bass, the assets of this turntable made us just sit down and listen to the music. In the title song from that disc I was mostly impressed by the vocal of Martin Gore, added with a beautiful reverb, being a beautiful addition to what is happening on the first line. Now because it is a bit to the back, usually it is shown a bit small. In the Argos its size was impressive, showing that the resolution of the device, the stability of its rotation are brilliant. Gore sounded in an incredibly clean, inspired way, that I got the creeps. This was confirmed by listening to Giant Steps John Coltrane, from the brilliant re-edition on two 45rpm discs, made by Rhino (Atlantic). It confirmed what I wrote earlier: the German turntable shows the timbres splendidly, incredibly saturated, but it does not color the lower midrange like it is done by the Avid and Linn turntables – this is the easiest way to make the sound more attractive. And although in their price categories those are brilliant constructions, ones I could own, but when we look at them from the perspective of the CAL, SME or the Argos, then we will see, that this is a coloring. Argos sounds with an incredibly balanced sound, and steps back only at the very top end. Like I said, this is no mudding, but it is there.

The incredible resolution of this turntable is not paired here with any mechanicalness in the sound, or any hardening. If a contrabass, like on the Japanese edition Study In Brown Clifford Brown and Max Roach, was strong but quick – then it was reproduced like that. And when that were low, strong, a bit rounded synthesized basses, like from the Depeche Mode disc – then I heard them like that. It seems, that especially the bass profits most from the mass and construction of the Argos. There is not a trace of hardening. It is also not flooded, but shows the things happening in this sub-range in a naturally soft way, like the SME and Avid. This naturalness comes from a comparison to real sound, where most instruments have this velvety character. Even the trumpet, harsh and vivid, in reality has the attack voided from any mechanical “accurateness”. So Brown sounded just brilliant. This was the disc, where the outstanding dynamics of the turntable could be admired best. Although Study… is a monophonic recording, the amount of music in it is just overwhelming. The Argos differentiated the distance from the listener brilliantly, but everything remained in a certain connection, everything was a coherent whole. That I also heard with the incredible edition of the Basie/Benett disc, pressed by Classic Records on four 45rpm discs on one side only. The dynamics and vividness of the sound were fantastic. This is the way the SME 30A sounds, but the Argos went a step further.

The sound stage with this turntable depends most on the cartridge. With the Lyra Titan the first line was a tad behind the speakers, with the Air Tight closer to the listener. And I liked that version better. It provided an impression of the musicians presence. With all cartridges the sound was incredibly deep, and the perspective reached very far. With devices of that class we have a kind of inconsistency between that, what we hear, I mean the musical even presented at our home, with that what we think is “right”. I will explain that now. Listening to Sinatra from the Paris concert we know, that his voice has a slightly cut spectrum from below and above. The percussion is clearly more dynamic and more worked out to the top. Subconsciously we attribute that to the recording, regarding that as an “error”. With the SME, Avid and Transrotor those flaws are evident, but those are only something apart from the music, and from how the whole plays. Of course you have to hear that, to know where it is about, but this is repeated in some way when we evaluate clicks. Good turntables show those distortions (clicks, noise) as something “alongside” music. Their distinctiveness can be heard well, as if those would be coming from a different universe, and placed on the same listening line with music only by coincidence. The Argos goes a step further, because it is the same with the recording itself. Is this the way, the emotions present during recording manifest themselves? Or is it maybe something related to the music, with something built in time? I am not sure, I do not have a good reference point, but there is something in that statement. Time relationships are here dead certain, very fluent and indivisible. Comparing the digital to the analog discs, the holistic approach to the sound of the latter is usually underlined. Subconsciously we perceive the digital sound as incomplete. In the best CD and SACD players this problem is almost non-existent, and the sound can be incredibly coherent and continuous – that was the case with the Lektor Grand SE Ancient Audio, and earlier with the Jadis JD1 MkII+JS1 MkIII. But the dynamics, some kind of getting choked with music and sound happens more often with a turntable. With the Argos this aspect is so well, to an extent we do not notice it anymore. We hear the vocalist and mostly think about how he sings, and sometimes, about how he was placed on the stage, but not in hi-fi categories.

The many hours spent with the Argos did not bring me closer to response to the question, how should the ideal turntable sound. It was exactly the opposite – it gave me a few more grey hair, and some wrinkles, because solving some problems it opened up others, hidden below that, what seemed a “wall” earlier. The biggest problem are still the recordings – this is the bottleneck of audio, one which we will not resolve. The Argos “interprets” that what is on the disc fantastically, not confining us to audiophile editions only, if they are badly recorded, like the new Queen re-editions (a digital re-master) then we will hear their misery. But the turntable sounds with a big sound, shows the instruments in their natural size, and by doing that, it can, to some extent, level out those flaws. Its tonal balance is a bit darker than CAL, SME or Avid, but this is not a fault, just a different look at the discs, maybe even the most proper one. A flawless calmness in showing the full event, as well as its separate elements, is just breath taking. From the constructions I know, and which I heard, only the Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn (+Cobra+Castellon) and SME 30A with Series V tonearm guarantee a sound close to that, what I heard with the Argos. The Transrotor offers even better “relaxation”, deeper drawn sounds, in an even better envelope. The Clearaudio Statement goes in another direction, because there a kind of velvety background, dynamics, details, etc, are more visible from the beginning, manifest themselves more and we cannot forget about them when listening. I am not telling you that this is bad, but this is such a different approach to the sound, that it allows for a very easy choice between the two turntables.

The price of the Argos is absolutely abstract and to a certain extent absurd, but this is the right of the manufacturer, to price their top offerings at a price he desires. This means, that the price/performance ratio cannot be applied here. Products of the “statement” category, top, master, or whatever those are named, cannot be priced in the same way others are. Those are elite products from the very beginning and not designed to get into everybody’s home. They are to have such a price tag as they have. And if somebody cannot afford it, then he or she will not buy it. At the same time the Argos is one of the best turntables in the world – at least according to my experience. It does not employ any rocket science, like the Australian Caliburn, it is just perfected mechanics, which we can find in other Transrotor models. It turned out, that even in the basic, well known solutions there is a potential, we could not think about. And maybe some of those solutions will find their way to lower models. Everything cannot be transferred – costs will pose a barrier, that will not be overcome. But there will be something for us in it.


The turntable Argos from the company Transrotor is its most expensive product, introduced to the market in the beginning of this year. But only on the High End 2009 in Munich (HERE) a working unit was shown, which was the only one except the prototype. It is hard to talk about mass production in this case – to my knowledge only six were sold to date, from which five in Hong Kong.

From the construction point of view, the top Transrotor turntable is a not decoupled device (not completely, but about that later), a mass loader. This means, that there are no springs or other elastic elements which would separate the platter with the tonearms (there are two) from the motor. But as I mentioned, there is something, what enables a different interpretation: the top plinth, with the platter and the tonearms, is separated from the bottom plinth by four pins placed in oil dampers. Those are not elastic elements in the meaning of decoupled turntables, because those are here to damp vibration without changing the position of the upper plinth, but those are a decoupling element per se. But I think, that the approach, that this is a not decoupled construction is safer – maybe we could say – isolated, but not springy. Now I mentioned already, the main turntable is composed of two plinths put atop of each other. Both are made from single steel elements and are chromed. On top we have a platter – incredibly heavy, placed on a small sub-platter and a thick shaft. On top of the platter there is a thick vinyl matte, made especially for this model. At the edge a wide and heavy ring is to be placed, which increases the platter inertia. This is not a ring like in Clearaudio or VPI, where it stabilizes the disc, and has to be removed every time we change it. Here it is mounted on the platter once, and does not touch the disc. The vinyl discs are fixed by using a heavy, chromed record clamp.

Behind the platter, on both sides, two heavy, big discs are mounted – those are the supports for tonearms. The Argos I received for testing was equipped with two tonearms of the same kind – 12” SME 312S with Transrotor logo, what implies changes made to it. We should also try the top SME tonearm of this length, the V-12, Transrotor can supply the Argos equipped as we want. The top plinth is supported by the mentioned pins and dampers, which are mounted in the much heavier lower plinth. Here the motors are mounted driving the lower platter, which creates the TMD – Transrotor Magnetic Drive with the upper platter, in the Argos it is called FMD – Free Magnetic Drive. This is a solution, which separated the motors from the platter. The torque is transferred to the lower platter by a rubber belt. This platter is connected to the upper one via magnetic forces of neodymium magnets. Those magnets are small, but there are ten mounted, and they work perfectly, what I tested myself. A simple and brilliant solution. And a pricey one too… Between the sub-platter, quite heavy on its own, where the upper magnets are mounted, and the lower platter (flywheel), where the lower magnets are placed, we have a not so thick plate, which we mount in a hole of the upper plinth. This plate holds the inverted bearing. This is a steel element with a ceramic ball in the end. The phosphor bronze bed is mounted in the sub-platter. The bearing is lubricated with oil.

The lower plinth, a 50kg piece of chromed metal, stands on three wide feet, with vinyl discs below them. The feet are not regulated! This is because the Argos is equipped with a pendulum, a kind of weight, which levels the unit. In former constructions this pendulum was just a heavy pin, mounted in the plinth axis. The Clearaudio Statement has a similar one. In the Argos it was probably about making it look more like the Continuum Audo Labs, the form had to be flatter, so there is no central bar. This was done in an ingenious way – the pendulum has the shape of a crate – two “U” shaped elements are mounted to the plinth from two sides. On those the 30kg weight is mounted. The whole composes well with the stand, both mechanically and optically. The weight is mounted to a special element, which is in fact a Cardan suspension. Its middle part is a small plate, to which, using thick pegs, the plinth is mounted, on which the turntable is placed. For transportation this plate is blocked with plywood. The front of the upper plinth, as well as the front of the turntable is slightly rounded, similar to the back ends – but the front is convex and the back is concave. This shape is a part of balancing the unit. The turntable has to have the center of gravity exactly in the middle of the small plate. Because the pendulum levels the top plinth under the condition, that the center of gravity is not changed. If it changes, then the weight will shift the plinth to match the new center. This is why nothing must be placed on the turntable. And besides that, we could scratch the chromed surface…

The weight is suspended on a standard, but very heavy and stable, stand. It is bolted from rectangular profiles, chromed and polished. It has three shelves from hardened glass, 20mm thick. This looks nice, but I have bad experience with glass as a material for shelves – marble or wooden shelves “sound much better. Anyway, on one of those shelves we can place the power supply. It is very heavy, as its enclosure is made from one block of steel, and it is covered with a heavy cover. In the front it has a knob, with a blue LED, which is used to set the rpm to 33 1/3 or 45. The power supply has to synchronize three motors, so it is a worked out solution. It is connected to the turntable by means of a solid, shielded cable. On the power supply side the cable has a gold plated, bolted DIN plug, on the turntable side, an even better OCOS bayonet plug. It is also worth to connect a solid power cable to the power supply. It really works!

The Argos is an example of advanced engineering and perfect machining. Tolerances counted in tenths of millimeters, a splendid drive system, etc, make it worth writing about. But we have also to notice, that this is rather an evolution of ideas from years ago, bringing those to extremes, rather than introducing something new to the turntable technology. And this is not an accusation, just a statement. Just tradition in the best possible edition.

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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).