Ok, so this is another scary example of me taking a gamble on the strength of a certain well-known hifi scribeâ€™s opinion, but hopefully (although Iâ€™m bound to say this right?) its paid off.
First of, the build quality of this deck is quite stunning â€“ you can definitely see why it cost considerably more than an LP12 in itâ€™s day, the whole fit and finish is exemplary, from the steel jog dial, to the â€˜hewn from solidâ€™ plinth, it exudes a quality that you rarely see in hifi products (especially ones that can be picked up for such reasonable prices) and really is a joy to look at and use. The set-up process took a little while, and DP was pretty fastidious when it came to cartidge allignment and the suspension system. He was telling me that the 3-point suspended sub-chassis came from the factory with the springs fully compressed, and many people didn't realise that they had to adjust these when they got it. As a result, many people didn't have their deck set up quite as well as they should have
Using the deck takes a little getting used to, but once you know what to press (and when) you get to realise how well the whole thing has been designed. Basically, with this turntable there is never any need to touch the arm assembly at all, the cueing is either automatic (to the start of the record) or manually controlled from the front panel â€˜jog dialâ€™. This dial controls movement of the tonearm via a series of magnets and is really fun to use, but is also very very accurate and makes it easy to position the needle in exactly the place you want. Other neat features include the fact that the deck automatically stops/starts when the arm is moved into or away from the rest position â€“ maybe this wouldnâ€™t be desirable on a belt drive which takes a long time to spin up to the correct rpm, but when it takes 0.6 seconds from idle to quartz locked, itâ€™s a nice touch. You can also set the size of the record so the start button moves the tonearm to the correct diameter when you press go, this is good for those of you with 10â€ or 7â€ record collections, as it saves much manual cueing, or the danger of dropping your needle at the 12â€ mark by mistake.
The sound quality I can only compare to a high quality JVC cd player, and a brief flirtation with a Project Xperience turntable a few months ago, but Iâ€™m mightily impressed. With a Â£100 MM cart, this deck is really deeply impressive, I donâ€™t have much experience of high-end turntables, so I canâ€™t directly compare to the Gyro/LP12/Xeres of this world, but suffice to say it blows my recollection of the Project sound well and truly into the weeds. Bass is extended and accurately placed within the soundstage (even if some people donâ€™t believe this is possible) and times pretty well â€“ although not up to CD quality in this respect Iâ€™m afraid.
The midrange is detailed and emotive, and again hangs in the soundstage absolutely beautifully â€“ quite incredible the difference between the JVC and Pioneer in this respect. The JVC has all the tonality (in fact, Iâ€™d say its tonally more accurate) and sweetness of the Pioneer, but the way the Pioneer hangs the detail in the soundstage is nothing short of breathtaking! Picking out two vocalists that have been placed almost on top of each other by the engineer suddenly becomes much easier, and tracing the harmonies demands less intense listening. This is also due to the very wide soundstage that the TT casts, but more on this later.
Treble is refined, if lacking the absolute detail of CD, but cymbals shimmer, as they should, all with an easiness that many cdps lack. Iâ€™m always a bit stuck as to what you can say about treble â€“ as most musical info is in the midrange IMO â€“ but it goes about its business with a minimum of fuss, never throwing extra detail in your face or shouting, but you are never felt that you are missing details.
Iâ€™d have the say that the one big advantage this has over the JVC is the soundstaging, as I mentioned before, the music hangs in the air over a huge area well beyond the boundaries of the speakers, and although everything isnâ€™t pin-point accurate within that space like a cdp, the overall effect is wonderful, and really adds to the listening experience. The sound is nicely propulsive in comparison to the few turntables Iâ€™ve listened to, and doesnâ€™t have the overly laidback style that many people mistake as â€˜musicalityâ€™. If the record is laid-back, so is the sound â€“ but put on a hip-hop 12â€ like Stezo, and it really grooves and propels the music the way you want with this type of music. Drums slam and horns ring out and the timing is generally excellent.
For a modest sum of money â€“ this offers really superb sound â€“ not eclipsing the JVC cdp (one of the best ever apparently) but offering a different presentation without sacrificing everything that cd replay is about. Is it better than the JVC? I suspect some vinyl heads might say yes â€“ but itâ€™s a very close run thing, even for a digital kid like me. I miss the realism of tone in the midrange of the JVC â€“ for me it has the most realistic reproduction of instruments and voices Iâ€™ve ever heard â€“ but it offers so much more in terms of staging. Essentially this wonâ€™t be stopping me from buying more cdâ€™s in the future, but I will certainly be buying lots of vinyl too. There are probably certain genres that the turntable will excel with, and hopefully in time I will know what works best of cd and what is best to get on vinyl (otherwise buying music will get rather expensive!)
There are a few things I need to change to get the best out of it apparently - a better headshell and some VdH cartridge tags, also some Michel headshell weights to replace the coins. The deck has been run with carts up to Koetsu Signature Red apparently - so plenty of scope for upgrading their too. Of course an outboard phono might help to - but apparently the integrated one in the JVC is very high quality.