This review has been a long time in the making. A fair bit of this delay can be attributed to poor time management on my part- I’m very busy, easily distracted and still prone to idleness when the thumbscrews are put away- but some of it has been down to trying to get a handle on what is a slightly unusual but also very special piece of kit. Why special? Read on.
Avid as a company doesn’t need much of an introduction. Since their arrival in 1999 (although the company was actually founded some years before this and development on the Acutus itself rather before that), they have expanded their turntable line-up to a complete range and recently started on supporting electronics with a considerable vigour as well. Until recently, the turntable range started with the Diva which at £1,600 isn’t painfully expensive but denied Avid a shot at the sub £1,000 category where a great deal of the action is.
The problem for Avid in contesting this category was that taking their design principles to a point below the Diva was not a simple undertaking. Avid products are developed ‘top down‘- the best product the company can make is developed first- for example the Acutus. When a less expensive model is envisaged, the reference is taken and the minimum possible amount of materials and technology removed to meet to the price point. This has worked admirably but the Diva represents effectively the irreducible minimum for an ‘Acutus pattern’ turntable.
Enter the Ingenium- yours less tonearm for £800. The new entry level Avid still holds true to the company ideals. It is still designed around the principle of dissipating energy away from the playing surface via the bearing and it still spreads the energy over three isolating feet but the format that the design takes to do this has changed somewhat. The sub chassis shape that we associate with Avid models has gone and is replaced by a two piece cruciform. This comprises a main chassis section that holds the bearing and the arm mount. This is stabilised by an outrigger that forms the arms of the cross and mounts two of the three feet.
The arrangement of the main bearing is interesting in that it is not mounted in the centre of the beam of the chassis. It has instead been set forward (when the turntable is viewed head on) which means that the full thickness of the beam is maintained across the ‘back’ of the chassis with the attendant benefit in terms of the strength of the design. This also means that from the front, when in use, you can see the whole bearing rotate which is a nice touch.
This change in design practice means that the Ingenium can do two things that its bigger brothers can’t. Because the main chassis is also the arm mount, you can order the Ingenium with a longer outrigger that is capable of mounting a twelve inch arm. Company founder and head honcho Conrad Mas is not the greatest advocate of the footlong but has spent the last few years being asked sufficiently often that he has designed to Ingenium to allow for this. The cost of a single 12” arm Ingenium is £930 with SME or Pro-Ject cut out.
The other option is more unusual at the price and is modelled by the review sample. The as well as being extended in one direction, for £1,200 the Ingenium can be ordered with the chassis extended in both directions for a twin armed version. This is an unusual option but thanks to the way that Avid do all their machining in house, something that they can offer. You can additionally order your Ingenium for two nine inch arms or one twelve and one nine inch- or indeed two twelve inch arms.
While this extra flexibility is welcome, the only downside of the beam chassis is that the arm mounts are fixed. You will need to decide what arm type you are going for and stick with it. This is hardly the end of the world and the Ingenium can be ordered with Pro-Ject, Linn, SME, Jelco and Rega mounts- the latter being usefully able to do new Rega and old Rega types from the same mounting. You can also order your Ingenium with a Pro-Ject tonearm fitted and ready to run. I haven’t heard this combination but given that the Pro-Ject carbon arms are capable bits of kit, I suspect it would be a pretty good one stop shop.
The motor for the Ingenium is free of the cruciform and effectively tucks in behind the main bearing. This is an adapted version of the Diva motor and sits in a custom housing designed to minimise vibration. It is a simple enough unit that connects directly to the mains and spins at a constant speed- speed changes being made by altering the position of the belt on the main bearing pulley. This is a simple arrangement but in practice it works well.
In design terms, the Ingenium follows the Avid practice of absolute functionality. Everything on the deck is there for a reason and the overall appearance is decidedly minimalist. That being said, I like it. The Ingenium is recognisably Avid, the cork top to the platter and the (seriously good) clamp could only be them but the Ingenium is a testimony to the idea that beauty stems from simplicity. It isn’t pretty like my Gyrodec but it is handsome. The build is also extremely good too. The Ingenium feels solid and everything slots together in a very reassuring way. Nothing says, ‘this is the baby Avid’ when you use it and the packaging and supporting accessories are really well thought out. In a perfect world, the motor on off switch would be easier to reach but again, this isn’t a deal breaker.
The review sample came supplied with an SME M2-9 arm and an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge. The other mount was drilled for Rega and left open to technically allow for my Roksan Tabriz to be transplanted from my Gyrodec. For a number of reasons- other review work, the joylessness of removing it from the Gyrodec and an ongoing problem with the VTA staying locked meant that it wasn’t in a position to do so. My lasting thanks therefore to Audio Note UK for the loan of the Arm Three you see in the pics. This arm has been exactingly reviewed before by Dom so I felt it might be a useful known ‘benchmark’ in reviewing the Ingenium. That and the fact it is stupidly good.
This ensemble has been tried largely into my listed equipment in my profile but has in the time this review has taken to come together also been partnered with a pair of Sonus Faber Venere 1.5’s and a complete 47 Laboratory Midnight Blue system which together with the twin armed Avid was half hi-fi and half surrealist art installation. Avid also supplied an isolation platform which has been used with the deck but I’ve also tried it without. Cartridges have included my Dynavector DV20X, Clearaudio Virtuoso as well as the supplied 2M Blue and indeed a complete group test of moving magnet cartridges.
The listening process with the Ingenium wasn’t initially completely smooth sailing. I found that even after letting the deck do some spinning before attempting any listening, I couldn’t quite shake the sense of a very slight pitch instability. This turned out to be motor positioning- it had initially been placed slightly too close to the chassis resulting in slightly low belt tension. With it moved outwards, the problem vanished and hasn’t reappeared- indeed the Ingenium appears to be extremely good in this respect now. It is worth pointing out that everything else on the Ingenium is close to being plonk and play and this was the only aspect of setup that even required a modicum of thought.
With this all sorted, the Avid has revealed itself to be a very interesting performer and in many respects a startlingly good one. The Ingenium is recognisably an Avid- it sounds big, controlled and has very substantial bass when required but there was also a slightly matter-of- fact nature to the performance that I’ve been less aware off when listening to some of the bigger models- although very detailed, I’ve found them to be fairly forgiving to less than beautiful vinyl. Having now mounted the Audio Note arm and tried a variety of different cartridges in it and the SME, I think that some of this can be laid at the foot of the Ortofon and SME combo (or M2 and 2M if you will). That said, even with the more forgiving Audio Note/ Clearaudio combination on the deck, there is still a sense that the Ingenium is capable of extracting enough information to reveal the limits of a poor pressing. If this comes across as merciless, it isn’t- if a truly terrible pressing suffers a little, the payoff with most other ones is really exceptional detail retrieval.
There is a sense after some time with both arms in place that the Ingenium is a very neutral platform that allows for the arm and cartridge to inject what (if any) character you might be looking for in your vinyl replay. Certainly, although a single arm Ingenium machined for the SME would be less than the cost of the M2-9 it mounts in this case, the deck certainly seems up to the task of doing it justice. The resulting performance is led by the SME and the calm, unruffled and detailed presentation that this combination produces is very grown up indeed for a deck at this price. The Audio Note is a more energetic performer with more a sense of life and attack to it and again the Ingenium lets it happen.
Some traits can be pinned on the deck though and the good news is that they are largely positive. The noise floor is extremely low and the Ingenium is a very quiet deck in terms of generated noise and noise audible through the system itself. Bass is good and impressively deep but in the context of my listening room is just shaded by the Pedersen Gyrodec- modifications that add to the already higher price of the Michell over the Avid.
This is a very unobtrusive performance that is deeply impressive for a sub £1,000 deck but there is a little more to the Ingenium’s ability than meets the eye. The extreme simplicity of the Ingenium and the fact it shares some components with Diva means that on balance, I think that the basic Ingenium at £800 less arm (£872 with SME or Rega cut out) would be comfortably over a grand if a company with less of a ready designed component arsenal and its own machining in house tried to construct it. I don’t want to use the word ‘bargain’ but there aren’t many decks at the price that are so unobtrusive in terms of letting your ancillaries show what they can do. The twin arm variant is more left field and harder to make comparisons to but the basic performance remains unchanged and at the asking price, I’m not aware of many other twin arm decks, let alone ones as capable as this.
Effectively, after some time spent with the Avid, I’m left with the conclusion that is superficially underwhelming but rather more exciting when the implications are considered. The Ingenium fulfills the main Avid design intention- it gets out of the way and allows you to enjoy the music via the arm and cart you have chosen. This self-effacing competence and the ability is a very welcome arrival at the price point. The twin arm version is visually a bit more exotic but retains the raw abilities of the simpler version. From a reviewing standpoint, this performance (and the fact that the design makes working on the deck a joy) is too good to pass up and in the interests of full disclosure, this particular Ingenium isn’t going anywhere because I’ve bought it. As a means of testing cartridges and accessories, it really can’t be beaten and furthermore it sounds great while you do so.
Even if you aren’t a reviewer, I think the Avid warrants a place on any shortlist at the price. The way that Ingenium goes about making music is fuss free and deeply impressive. Furthermore, it is built like a tank, offers a fair few choices of arm candidates and looks pretty cool in a minimalist sort of way. An Ingenium/Audio Note Arm One combo would be under £1,500 and I don’t think there are many combinations at similar money I can see outperforming it. The twin is undoubtedly more specialist but the asking price is very reasonable and it really only faces competition from an older deck with custom plinth- something that the ham fisted of us would need to have made anyway. It has taken a while for Avid to go sub £1k with their decks but the result was worth waiting for.
Price as tested: £1,200 less arms.
Contact Avid Hifi: http://www.avidhifi.co.uk/
Discuss the review here