Analog Corner #65

The OTT V.Y.G.E.R. Indian turntable made its debut at the 2000 Top Audio and Video Show in Milan

The 777 hit the Newark tarmac, spilling two weeks of RAM cache input during a hyperactive early-fall visit to Italy and the UK, where I attended hi-fi shows and toured the Sonus Faber and SME factories. It was almost too much for my brain to absorb.

As the plane taxied to the gate, I found myself again in a Vicenza back yard overlooking a vast Italian cornfield framed by a dramatic backdrop of mountains. It was late afternoon, and I was sitting in a chaise longue next to Sonus Faber's founder and chief designer, Franco Serblin. Though he was relaxing barefoot, dressed in a black T-shirt and shorts, I remembered cracking to myself at the time that even had I been wearing a tuxedo, Serblin would somehow have looked more elegant. Style comes from within; at least compared to Serblin, I felt without.

I continued to drift, finding myself sitting in legendary SME founder Alastair Robertson-Aikman's singular listening room in his Sussex, England home, in which two pairs of right-angled Quad ESL-63s had been carefully placed behind a pale green stage curtain running the height and width of the large, formally appointed space. I was listening to digital through a Wadia CD player, then to analog via an SME 10 turntable fitted with Clearaudio Insider cartridge, the system driven by an Audio Research Reference 2 preamplifier and Krell power amplifiers. The sound was remarkable, both tonally and spatially, with bass that was surprisingly deep and authoritative, and male and female vocals that were round, focused, and buttery-smooth.

Robertson-Aikman was a gracious host. Conversing with him in his office, visiting his factory, having lunch, and listening to music in his home constituted a day trip to a well-ordered, high-precision world in which there seemed to be only one way of doing anything: the "proper" way. Another man with a strong, secure sense of individual style—a style sadly going out of style.

I flashed on sidling over to ProAc's Stuart Tyler in a darkened London hotel room during a home-theater demo—the first, I believe, for ProAc at a hi-fi show. Tyler was gracious, though it was clear that my review of his Future One loudspeaker (October 2000) hadn't thrilled him. While James Taylor crooned onscreen, Tyler took mild issue with the slight midrange coloration I claimed to have heard, and which John Atkinson had measured. Tyler's take was that, having heard the open-baffled midrange driver's rear output, I had mentally transferred that sound to the front. Could be—after all, in the end I really liked those speakers. As for the measurements, Tyler wasn't surprised: In the final voicing, flatter measured response had been sacrificed for perceived better sound.

I can't tell you why those memories appeared first, but they and a hundred others prodded by the landing signaled the conclusion of a truly memorable trip. There's nothing more affirming than visiting an exotic place and finding hotel hallways filled with kindred spirits sharing your obsession. And for me, Italy was exotic. I'd dreamed about visiting for decades, and eating Italian food in Italy for the first time was a fantasy fulfilled. The food, continually hyped by friends who'd gone there as perhaps the best in the world, easily surpassed expectations. No wonder, despite all the pasta and cheese, Italians are lean. With flavors so intense, you don't need big portions.

The 2000 Top Audio and Video Show
Hi-fi shows aren't known for being magnets for hot chicks, but the Top Audio and Video show in Milan looked as if it had been stocked like a trout pond with head-turning women. Indeed, some young things had been hired to put a sexy face on the show's registration booths, but the rank and file walking the show were equally fine. The profusion of beauty and exquisite proportion I spied walking around downtown Milan was even more incredible—and those were the guys! Back at the TAV show, of course, the men were the usual bunch of badly dressed, poorly groomed, paunchy schlubs you see at American hi-fi shows. And if I've just insulted you...tell your friends. But my name is Michael Fremer, not Arthur Frommer, so let's get to the hi-fi.

Italy is just getting into home theater, a fact made painfully clear by the almost uniformly inept projector setups. But while the Milan show was punctuated with truly awful video, there was enough outstanding two-channel audio to make it worthwhile.

Licorice Pizza: Italy is apparently not exactly a hotbed of analog activity these days, but V.Y.G.E.R., an upstart Italian turntable company (, made a big splash with its Indian and Atlantis models. The smaller Indian (named for the ocean) features a solid, ingeniously designed inverted airbearing platter—axial and radial loads are supported by air—driven by an outboard AC synchronous motor suspended via O-rings in an aluminum case.

The Indian is massively but compactly made of aluminum with lead inserts at the bottom of its main frame, which is supported by three suspended, semi-rigid feet. The tall, heavy platter is machined from aluminum with a bonded acrylic record interface. Though situated just a few feet from where I sat, an aluminum-encased air unit was impressively quiet. The 'table can accommodate virtually any tonearm, and the price (whatever it will be when imported to the US) includes an armboard cut for your choice of tonearm. V.Y.G.E.R. demoed the Indian on an optional floorstanding support system using a Rega RB900 tonearm and a Transfiguration Temper Supreme cartridge.

From what I heard in Milan, the Indian can produce explosive dynamics and spectacularly tight, deep, well-controlled bass. I really liked what I heard, though the rest of the system was alien territory. The Klaatu-like floorstanding version was a bit scary-looking for my tastes (I worried that if I closed my eyes the turntable would attack me), but the compact "table model" struck me as being quite promising. The cost for this rock-solid–looking machine will apparently be competitive with more traditional mechanical-bearing designs.

I don't speak Italian, and so was unable to communicate effectively with the V.Y.G.E.R. designers. But in a demonstration, I was shown that with the pump off, the platter could not be moved. Once pressure had built, it spun smoothly and seemingly without friction, and with what is claimed to be extremely low "run-off," or the error from perfect concentricity and flatness. What the Indian lacks in cosmetic appeal and finish—it looks more like an industrial machine than a consumer product—is more than made up for by its solidity and businesslike demeanor.

I had to wait till Hi-Fi Show 2000 in London to visit with the more expensive and more visually attractive Atlantis, which looks something like one of those ornate espresso/cappuccino machines you see in Italian-American restaurants—and perhaps in Italian ones, too, though I saw none during my visit.

In the Sound of the Valve room I was confronted by a massive, homemade, battery-operated turntable that could accommodate up to three tonearms. For this show, two custom-made 12" arms had been fitted: one a straight, square wooden affair, the other a more conventional design. Unfortunately, the room's host did not speak English, so my questions went unanswered.

The rest of the analog on display was from well-known brands like Basis, Graham, JA Michell, VPI, Pro-Ject, and Rega. While a host of other brands—Oracle, Pink Triangle, Well Tempered, Trans Rotor, and Simon Yorke among them—were listed in the show guide, I don't recall seeing them on display. Those companies and a few others have presumably secured distributors for customers wishing to special-order products.

A gauge of the relatively low level of interest in analog at the Italian Show was the paucity of vinyl for sale. There were a few guys selling the usual audiophile reissues from Classic, Alto, Speakers Corner, and the rest, but conspicuously absent were dealers in high-quality used LPs. Only one vendor bothered with vinyl, and he brought only second- and third-tier stuff, mostly budget and reissue records from the UK. Though he told me it was not worth his while to bring premium vinyl to this show, I managed to meet a good number of the vinyl faithful, some of whom recognized me from photos in Stereophile or on the post office wall.

Remake, Remodel: While wandering the exhibition hall attached to the hotel, I spotted a guy seated in front of an imposing-looking stereo microscope. It was Roberto Torlai, a watchmaker who has a side business calibrating and rebuilding cartridges. Torlai doesn't speak English well, but we managed to communicate through intermediaries and through the superb color close-up photos of cartridges he'd catalogued. Torlai claims to be one of the few individuals who can repair Clearaudio cartridges, some models of which apparently are prone to fail in the right channel due to the sharp angle routing of the thin wire from the coil to the right-channel connector pin. He told me that when he rebuilds any brand of cartridge, he tries to use original parts, or parts as close to the originals as he can get. You can reach him via his website (, which explains his service in Italian or a valiant stab at English. As for the quality of his work, I don't know. Perhaps someone reading this does and will give me a heads-up I can pass on.

When it comes to cartridge rebuilding, we have Expert Stylus Company in the UK, A.J. van den Hul in the Netherlands, a new owner at Garrott Brothers, Australia (which, in addition to manufacturing its own line of cartridges, rebuilds other brands), and Roberto Torlai in Italy. Wouldn't it be interesting to send each the same model of lunched cartridge to see which does the best rebuild? Want to finance it JA?

Sound: For some reason, perhaps the squarish dimensions of some of the smaller rooms, the sound at the Italian show was frequently disappointing. The music pouring forth from the Audio Physic Medeas in the A.R.T. room was surprisingly blah, given the usually exciting Audio Physic sound. Nothing bad, just nothing special—but then, the room wasn't in the same league as the speaker. The Medeas cost around $60,000/pair and feature the very-high-tech and very expensive German Manger drivers combined with a built-in powered subwoofer system based on Audio Physic's excellent Rhea (which I use). The music just sort of laid there, even though the analog source was a Goldmund Reference turntable, the first I'd seen since my days at The Abso!ute Sound. Even the CDs I'd made from the Rockport LP player I reviewed last August failed to excite the system.

In fact, that was the case in most of the rooms. Funny thing: While those discs brought people into the room in Frankfurt, and later in London, they drove people from the rooms in Milan. Different musical strokes, I guess.

There was big, vibrant, analog sound at Peter Qvortrup's Audio Note (UK) room in Milan from an all–Audio Note system. When I asked some foreign journalists the story of the two Audio Notes, one based in England, the other in Japan, I was told a rather unpleasant tale that, without corroborating evidence, is best left on the cutting-room floor. Let's just say it was an ugly divorce. Audio Note UK's catalog shows six versions of the Io cartridge I recently reviewed (my sample and the step-up transformer were from Audio Note Japan), including models using alnico magnets and electromagnetic systems requiring outboard power supplies. The UK versions feature standard output pins instead of the pain-in-the-butt lead-out wires. Audio Note UK also features OEM Rega arms wired with its cable and OEM cartridges made for it by Goldring.

More significantly, back in 1997 Audio Note UK purchased from designer Guy Adams the intellectual property rights to the highly regarded, almost legendary Voyd turntable line, and now offers the TT3, TT3 Super, TT3 0.5 Reference, and TT3 Reference, along with the AN-1s arm.

While most of the sound at the TAV Show was so-so, there were a few triumphs. A Unison SR 1 integrated amp, Tascam CD 701 transport, and Theta DSP Pro Basic III combo driving a pair of Opera speakers (the Super Pavarottis, I think) stood out; as did another Italian speaker, the Diapason Adamante Limited Edition, driven by an Italian-made R.A.F. PL2 preamp and M1 amp—both tube designs that may find their ways to America.

The large Zingali room, filled with a profusion of horn-driven loudspeakers, also made a sonic dent with me. The hefty, double-woofered Home Monitor 215s, with their large poplar-wood horns, sounded as big and open as they looked. There are three smaller models in the series, while two other smaller, less expensive series, the Overture and Colosseum, round out an extensive line that includes both two-channel and home-theater speakers. An American importer has apparently been lined up; it will be interesting to see how Americans react to the all-horn line. Another unfamiliar speaker name, Piega of Switzerland, also impressed with a wide-ranging line of smooth-sounding ribbon-tweetered speakers.

Style: The drama and high style Italians bring to their automobiles, clothing, art, food, and jewelry also extend to the design of audio equipment. Where else but from Italy could come speakers like the dramatic Pearl Elliptica, or amplifiers like those from Unison, Armonia, and Andrews? And, of course, there are those Sonus Faber loudspeakers, like the Amatis. I'll save the details of my visit to the Sonus factory for another column, or for a review of another Sonus product. For now, I saw a new and very exciting Sonus speaker in its final design stages. The handsome new model, reminiscent of the Amati, will be introduced at CES 2001. Franco Serblin also told me that I should prepare myself for the Stradivarius, his final loudspeaker homage to the great violin-makers of Cremona.

The well-attended Top Audio & Video show appeared to be a great success. There were crowded demos of DVD-Audio, equally popular show-sponsored LP/CD/SACD/DVD-A comparisons, and many live music events. As with the Frankfurt show I reported on in September, the age mix of this crowd was heartening: lots of youngsters eager to hear good sound and get involved in a great hobby that can last a lifetime.

On to England!
Hi-Fi Show 2000 may not have been quite as big as Hi-Fi Show 1999, but overall it seemed a better show. Last year, almost the entire third floor was filled with exhibitors; this year it was closer to two-thirds. Gone for the most part were the dreamers and the hobbyists, leaving a leaner show with a higher concentration of worthwhile exhibits. Attendance was, by all accounts, excellent. Most of the exhibitors with whom I spoke felt they'd seen the important dealers and a good number of "qualified" audiophiles, with far less "dead weight" crowding the rooms to no one's benefit.

Poor Sam Tellig was supposed to cover the non-analog part of the Show, but his Virgin Airlines plane was bumped by the fuel truck shortly before takeoff, the flight was scrubbed, and he went home. There's not enough space here for me to cover the entire Show, so I'll stick to analog and perhaps fill in some other blanks next time.

Last year I dumped on poor Steven Mann of Silvernote, who exhibited half a dozen unfinished turntables and bastard arms using SME and Rega pivots with his own long armtubes. He even used an upside-down apple corer as a motor mount! This year he showed a quite finished and fine-sounding turntable, the RC-1, in Tim de Paravicini's E.A.R. room. I told Steven I'd even the score by mentioning the 'table, which sells for $l10,000 without arm. "Right, but the funny thing is, that apple corer really worked!" he told me.

So how's analog doing in the UK? Avid showed a new edition of its Volvere turntable in an attractive muted gold finish. The 'table features a new clamp, new feet, and a new one-piece subchassis similar to the one used on the more expensive Acutus. The updated design will also be available in chrome and regular finish for less money.

The designer told me that business is outstanding—he's selling all the 'tables he can make. He also told me that John Michell was "swamped" with turntable orders. And when I visited SME I discovered that they were back-ordered by 70 'tables and more than 200 arms. Over a beer, Music Hall's Roy Hall, who has been secretive about his sales of MMF-2s and MMF-5s, told me he sold more than 1100 turntables last year! "Can I quote you?" I asked. "[expletive] it," Hall replied. "Go ahead."

Roksan displayed its new TMS 2 turntable, which should be available by the end of the year. The compact design features three stacked plinths in a configuration that would take too much space to describe here, but a review sample was promised. The price of this ambitious design will be around $7000 without arm.

Nottingham Audio's line of turntables includes the Hyperspace, Interspace, and Spacedeck. Nottingham debuted a new arm at the Show. Pro-Ject showed a wall of colorful turntables along with the new RPM 4, which features rounded plinth sides, an MDF platter, a suspended motor, and the company's best arm, all for about $l300.

In other analog news from Hi-Fi Show 2000, the marketing concern that brings you the Cartridge Man electronic stylus-force gauge and electronic level, along with a wide variety of tweaks (, is marketing a Rega RB250 and RB300 wiring-harness upgrade. It features Cardas Litz wire and interconnect in a one-piece configuration, from cartridge clips to RCA plugs. (The Rega harness has two soldered breaks.) The RB250 upgrade doesn't require bearing disassembly but the RB300 does, something Rega is dead against. The instructions claim to tell you how to do the upgrade without damaging or degrading the bearing settings. I have an upgraded arm in-house and will compare it to the stock Rega RB300 on a new Planar 3 in a future column. The most difficult part appears to be soldering the new cartridge clips, something only an experienced solderer should attempt. Cost for the harness, made by Incognito of Germany, who make the outstanding Easy Riser VTA adjuster for the Rega, is about $150.

In the Audiofreaks room, Branco Bozik, the UK distributor for Kuzma, had a two-armed version of the Stabi S turntable. "Forget about buying one," he told me, but I'd bet if you wanted one and were willing to pay, Franco Kuzma would build one for you. In its one-arm configuration, this 'table is a real steal at $1200; it's well worth considering, along with the Rega Planar 25 and Basis 1400.

Finally, there was an intriguing new arm from Germany, the Schroeder, which uses a thread-type bearing similar to that in the Well Tempered Arm. But instead of gooey silicone, the Schroeder (which will be available in a few different models) uses magnetic attraction to stabilize the system. It looks really interesting!

Yikes! I'm out of space. I'll finish up next time, but I will single out a few great-sounding rooms at Hi-Fi 2000:

The Wilson Benesch/Chord room was making credible music using a new integrated amp and WB stand-mounted speaker. Also noteworthy was the sound from Trilogy, who were using their new 250Wpc single-ended triode class-A Finale amps, featuring four 211 tubes per channel, and their Reference preamp. Finally, there was really impressive sound in the Carfrae room. The speaker features a combo of Lowther driver and powered subwoofer in a snail-like cabinet. Last year I joked about a slime trail, but this speaker, which sells for around $7500/pair, really sounded wonderful.

Sidebar: In Heavy Rotation

1) Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin I, Classic 180gm reissue LP
2) Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, Classic 180gm reissue LP
3) Sweet, Hellraisers, Beat Rocket 180gm reissue LP
4) Joel Frahm, The Navigator, Palmetto CD
5) Steve Davis, Portrait in Sound, Stretch/Concord CD
6) Various Artists, Full Circle: A Tribute to Gene Clark, Not Lame CDs (2)
7) Various Artists, Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons, Almo CD
8) Isotope 217, Who Stole the I Walkman?, Thrill Jockey LP
9) Olivia Tremor Control, Black Foliage, Volume One, Flydaddy LPs (2)
10) Creed, Human Clay, Wind-Up LPs (2)

gMRfk6LMHn's picture

I would love to know how many of producers of the hi-fi equipment reviewed from 2000 are actually in business. Some of the equipment looks fantastic, it would be great to think they are still in business.

James, Dublin, Ireland

cgh's picture

That turntable... looks like a technical cave diver's rebreather rig, with maybe a nitrox deco bottle hanging on the side. Drool inducing, if only for the aesthetic... AND it makes sounds.