Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

High End 2019: Turntables and Analog-Related Gear

When Jason Thorpe can’t make it to a hi-fi show, we sorely miss him -- he just won’t stop until he uncovers every last new turntable and phono-related product at every show he attends. Jason, unfortunately, wasn’t at High End, so it was up to me to look for new and interesting products for analog playback. Here’s what I found, with all prices in euros (€) or US dollars ($).

Pro-Ject

Pro-ject Audio Systems says their new T-Line of turntables aims “to deliver true high-fidelity sound on a limited budget.” The first T-Line model is the T1, replete with an 8.6” tonearm, a glass platter, and a cartridge. It comes in three versions: the T1 (€275), which has no frills; the T1 BT (€325), which has a built-in phono stage and a transmitter to stream to Bluetooth speakers and headphones; and the T1 SB (€325), which has a higher-quality phono stage than the T1 BT, as well as . . .

Pro-Ject

. . . a 33 1/3 and 45rpm speed-selector switch. Three finish options are available for all: High Gloss Black, Matte White, and Walnut.

EAT

Austria’s European Audio Team (EAT) moved into cartridges successfully last year with the release of the Jo No.5. At High End 2019, they released the Jo No.8, priced at €2290. The No.8 is a moving-coil design with a nude Shibata stylus on a boron cantilever, 8N-pure copper wire, and . . .

EAT

. . . a chestnut-wood and aluminum body. Its frequency response is rated from 20Hz to 30kHz, -3dB.

EAT

EAT also released the F-Note tonearm, priced at €6990, which they say is “made for the best of the best low-compliance cartridges.” Available only in silver, the arm is designed for easy adjustment of vertical tracking angle (VTA), vertical tracking force (VTF), and azimuth. Indeed, Jozefina Lichtenegger, EAT’s president, showed us how quickly the adjustments could be made. But there’s one more feature that . . .

EAT

. . . we’ve never seen before -- a battery-powered laser diode mounted near the far end of the tonearm that, when turned on, shoots a red beam of light toward the cartridge end to make alignment easier.

Krell

The US’s Krell Industries brought a “working prototype” of their upcoming phono stage to High End 2019; it’s the company’s first new phono stage in well over ten years. Dubbed the K-300p, this new phono stage is as yet unpriced. Like many other Krell products, it has a complementary, fully balanced circuit topology to yield the lowest noise and distortion possible. The next step in the K-300p’s development will be listening tests, then some tweaking to get the sound just right before its release later this summer.

AVM

Germany’s AVM Audio showed that their new Ovation PH 8.3 phono stage is unusually flexible. It combines a tube-based line stage with a modular phono stage. On the back are . . .

AVM

. . . four slots, each of which accepts a phono preamp module. AVM will offer different modules for MM and MC cartridges, and with RCA and XLR outputs. The Ovation PH 8.3 also comes with a remote control that allows users to adjust cartridge loading on the fly, selecting from options on the front-panel screen. Listeners can also select from six different EQ curves, with options like Decca and Columbia, in addition to standard RIAA. As AVM pointed out to me, this is especially useful for music-lovers with collections of old classical records. The Ovation PH 8.3 will be available in late 2019, for €8000 empty, or €12,000 with one module.

Crystal Cable

The Netherlands’ Crystal Cable used the 2019 Montréal Audio Fest to launch the first part of their Future Dream flagship cable series, which celebrates the company’s 15th anniversary. In Montreal, they showed interconnects, speaker wires, and a power cord. At High End 2019, the final link was unveiled: a phono cable. Priced at €4500 for a 1m pair, this new phono cable, like the other wires, uses monocrystal silver for the conductor, silver-gold alloy for the first shield, monocrystal silver for the second shield, and Kapton for insulation. The Future Dream series now appears complete.

Nordost

From the United States comes Nordost’s new Valhalla 2 Tonearm Cable + phono cable, priced at $5000 for a 1.25m length, which they say is an optimal length to reduce “the internal microphony and high-frequency impedance resonances of the cable.” Nordost also offers longer cables in 0.5m increments, so 1.75m, 2.25m, etc.

According to their press release: “Valhalla 2 Tonearm Cable + uses four silver-plated, solid-core 99.999999% OFC conductors, arranged in a twisted pair design to create a left and right channel. Both channels are then individually wrapped in a silver, braided shield, eliminating inter-channel crosstalk. In order to dramatically increase its signal speed, and expand the cable’s bandwidth capabilities, these conductors implement Nordost’s proprietary Dual Mono-Filament technology, reducing insulation contact by 85%. A separately shielded, silver-plated bond wire, wrapped in Micro Mono-Filament, is then incorporated to enhance performance and minimize the noise level.” Depending on need, the Tonearm Cable + comes with five-pin DIN, RCA, or XLR connectors.

Audio-Technica

Audio-Technica has updated their venerable OC9X series of moving-coil cartridges, which have been around now for more than three decades. The new AT-OC9X line consists of five different models -- Special Line Contact (AT-OC9XSL), Shibata (AT-OC9XSH), microlinear (AT-OC9XML), nude elliptical (AT-OC9XEN), and bonded elliptical (AT-OC9XEB), respectively priced at $729, $649, $549, $349, and $239 -- and the . . .

Audio-Technica

. . . matching $89 AT-LH headshell, available in three different weights: 13, 15, and 18 grams. The AT-OCX9 . . .

Audio-Technica

. . . cartridges feature a new dual moving-coil structure that is said to separate the left and right channels with pinpoint accuracy. The moving-coil in all of the cartridges is made from PCOCC (pure copper by Ohno continuous casting) wire, while neodymium magnets are also used in all of the models. All will be available in July.

The stalwart German brand Thorens showed several new products in Munich, including their first direct-drive turntable in 30 years. Aimed at listeners who are just getting into vinyl, the TD 402 (€799) is a plug-and-play model, with built-in phono preamp and pre-fitted Audio-Technica VM95E cartridge. The cartridge can be upgraded simply by replacing the stylus -- nude-mount elliptical and Shibata styli are available from A-T. The TD 402 has a semi-automatic mode, whereby the platter stops turning a few seconds after reaching the end of a record. The TD 402 will be available this summer.

Thorens

Intended to recall the legendary TD 160, the TD 1600 (shown above) and TD 1601 (below) turntables (€2499 and €2999, respectively) each feature a heavy two-piece aluminum platter, an external linear power supply, and a sophisticated sprung sub-chassis suspension system with damped conical springs. The springs are attached to the bottom rather than to the top board. A steel thread anchors the sub-chassis to a pin on the bottom, so that the system can move only vertically. This keeps the sub-chassis from being disturbed by torque from the motor.

Thorens

Both turntables use Thorens’ TP 92 height-adjustable aluminum tonearm. Each arm is individually tuned and optimized. First, it’s measured in the factory, then a damping ring is positioned to best control resonances from that specific unit. The TD 1600 is a fully manual turntable, while the TD 1601 has a semi-automatic mode that lifts the arm at the end of the record, then shuts off the motor. All of the Thorens ’tables mentioned here include unbalanced RCA outputs; the TD 1601 adds XLR outputs.

Thorens

The next item is not a turntable, but it’s still worth mentioning. A major draw at the Thorens booth was a prototype TM 1600 open-reel tape deck, which the company exhibited at High End 2019 to gauge interest. If they get a positive response at the show, they plan to put the playback-only deck into production. It is expected to reach market in late 2020, and will sell for €19,990.

Wilson Benesch

The final product to be highlighted here is the most over-the-top turntable we’ve ever seen. Like, EVER! Wilson Benesch showed a prototype of their upcoming statement-level GMT One System turntable to celebrate their 30th anniversary. No price has been established yet, but you know it’s going to be high. This is Wilson Benesch's attempt at producing the world's best ’table by bringing a number of technologies to bear, such as the Omega Drive system, which uses a patented magnetic gear technology that’s described as the world’s first axially oriented, precision, magnetically geared turntable drive. It is said to attain unprecedented levels of accuracy and produce virtually zero noise. But that's not all . . .

Wilson Benesch

. . . the Alpha Isolation System is a microprocessor-controlled pneumatic system with arms that are electronically monitored to provide precise levelling and will readjust in milliseconds if the system is disturbed. What’s more . . .

Wilson Benesch

. . . three tonearms of different masses, including headshells and counterweight components, are provided with the GMT One System. They’re created using 3D-printed carbon-fiber and polymer components. The tonearms’ piezo-actuated VTA adjustment system can be controlled remotely to an accuracy of 2.5 microns.

Perhaps most surprising is what we were told after we learned all about it: that WB is endeavoring to make this wildly ambitious turntable as easy to use as possible. “Basically plug’n’play” the rep there said. We shall see!

Doug Schneider
Founder, SoundStage!