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Turntable upgrade (AMG Viella V12 turntable)

Turntable upgrade (AMG Viella V12 turntable)

Click an image to enlarge.

Featured turntables:
SME Model 30/2, EAR Disc Master Turntable
& AMG Viella V12

“It’s all about delivering high drama to the listener” – Wynton Marsalis (1983)

Patience is a quality that comes with age (they say)! I do confess to being much older than the average X Factor contestant (but then again, who isn’t). Unfortunately, I am still waiting to be blessed with patience. My journey for a new turntable certainly tested the little patience I do have to the max.

My first turntable was the very capable Rega Planar 3… No, slight correction, the very first turntable I purchased was a JVC (model number now forgotten) way back in the mid 1980’s. This purchase would have been a step up the ladder from the family music centre (with built in cassette deck & 8 track player). I treasured my JVC turntable along with my Toshiba Aurex SC-M12 mini system!

In the early 90’s, progression came in the form of a pair of Technics SL-1200 MK2’s which I mainly used during my short stint as a deejay. Then onto my Rega Planar 3 turntable, Mission Cyrus one amplifier, Marrantz CD52se and Castle Tay speakers. The Rega Planar 3 was replaced in the mid-late 90’s with the Linn LP12 (Valhalla power supply). After various amplification, speaker changes, additions and modifications over the next few years (discussed on other pages)… fast forward to late 2015, with my musical taste now expanding in conjunction with greater ‘musical knowledge’, it was now time to upgrade from my Linn LP12.

With so many beautifully designed turntables out there at various prices I felt spoilt for choice. As with previous upgrades, setting an initial budget was the first priority. This was not an easy task (bearing in mind the excellent turntables I have owned). I must also stress at this point that I did consider taking the Linn upgrade path, however, after further investigation as well as previous ‘close encounters’ with a few Linn dealers (turning into brief encounters), I soon decided against this option. (Some Linn dealers do conjure images of Fagin from Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’ as they read gleefully from the Linn upgrade list). My decision to ‘move on’ from Linn was further cemented after direct contact with Linn who advised me to “contact a Linn dealer!”

The Long Hot List

The initial hot list included SME Model 10 (then later on Model 15), SME Model 20/2, SME Model 30/2, VPI Prime, Avid Volvere, Clearaudio’s Innovation & Master Innovation and last but definitely not least, EAR Disc Master Turntable.

This expansive ‘and expensive’ list (price range - £5,500 – £19,000) was garnered from many years of sporadic hi-fi show and corporate demo attendances. Obviously all of the above have well documented individual characteristics. The inclusion of suspended as well as non-suspended turntables was intentional. Now, all I had to do was to arrange for a full and detailed demonstration of each turntable (preferably within my own personal listening space) and within a reasonable time frame. Not an easy task!

The Shorter Hot List

After deeper investigation regarding individual turntable characteristics combined with vague or non-existent communication from specific turntable companies and audio dealers, I was encouraged to reduce my initial ‘long hot list’ dramatically.
My shortlist now included SME Model 30/2 EAR Disc Master Turntable & an unknown (to me) new-comer the AMG Viella V12.

SME Model 30/2

SME Model 30/2 (briefly)

SME turntables have been a part of my want list since listening to the Model 10 over ten years ago. I was not even looking for a new turntable at the time, however, the striking pitch stability and overall solid presentation of the SME Model 10 stayed with me. I was therefore keen to revive my memory of this turntable as well as explore SME’s latest offering – the Model 15 Turntable.
SME were unable to supply me with their new Model 15 turntable within my time frame due to their customer commitments (fair enough). The Model 10 was also difficult to find as many dealers seem to have Model 20’s. I did feel lucky to get my hands on a Model 30/2 though. Anyone who has experience of the SME range will know their build quality is second-to-none.

Dynavector Karat 17D3

… The sub-chassis is machined from 19mm thick aluminium alloy plate and weighs approximately 17kg while the base with its four supporting pillars adds a further 16kg. This offers the high mass and stiffness required for uncoloured reproduction further aided by efficient extensional damping of both components to reduce the amplitude and duration of their vibrational modes…

Indeed, it took two of us to lift the SME Model 30/2 (in its crate) to and from my car. As we lifted this monolith of a turntable from its crate I realised my Quadraspire Q4 wall bracket was not designed to take such weight, however, the shelf was fitted to the wall with ‘anchor bolts’so I surmised I had a little more time to play before catastrophe! Visually the Model 30/2 evokes images of an inverted North Sea oil rig (or the interior walls of Sigourney Weaver’s spaceship ‘Nostromo’ in the film ‘Alien’). Reviews do suggest this turntable is prone to exhibit sterile qualities… unfortunately that is exactly what I experienced. Admittedly, I was not in love with the Graham 2.2 tonearm (understatement). Over the next few weeks I discussed the possibility of fitting the award winning SME Series V Tonearm with both SME and the dealer who supplied the turntable, however, this did not transpire. After further tinkering, tweaks, *the trial of two cartridges (Cartridge Man MusicMaker Mk III (MM), Musicmaker Classic (MM) and exploration with various genres within my record collection I just could not engage or connect emotionally. I could have spent even more time attempting to explore various tone arms and various (MC) cartridges but the stark lifeless presentation of Earl Klugh’s “Living Inside Your Love” album and Dave Grusin’s “Mountain Dance” album (to name just two) left me completely cold. I was just not confident that changes within my budget would improve what I heard (or felt). Considering the cost of this ‘demonstration – used’ turntable set-up as it sat was £11,000 (not including cartridge). As this set-up did not spark shape, emotion or imagination from the outset, as well as the fact that no other positive viable suggestions were offered, it made financial sense to explore other options at this point.

The EAR Disc Master Turntable

EAR Disc Master Turntable

The EAR Disc Master Turntable arrived in a relatively modest package considering its value. Weighing in at a solid 24kg it is lighter than the SME, but still slightly above my wall bracket recommended maximum weight! Unpacking and assembling the unit was a moment in time I will cherish forever. The EAR Disc Master turntable is without doubt a work of art worthy of worship. This turntable would not look out of place on its own podium in the Tate Modern or science museum.

The EAR Disc Master Turntable

Despite its futuristic looks, setting up the EAR Disc Master with the “special EAR version of the Helius Omega tonearm” (supplied) is relatively simple, especially after reviewing the extra notes sent by Nevin de Paravicini. This turntable is also supplied with its own separate off board speed controller capable of offering 33, 45 & 78RPM. Nevin spoke passionately regarding his transition into EAR Yoshino and his fathers’ design…

 

EAR Disc Master Turntable speed controller

 

…Yes, I am Tim’s son. As a child, I never thought I would continue this business but my background is product & vehicle design and it became clear it was a natural fit to build on what my father has done. With my understanding of design, the turntable is my most favourite design that my father has created…!”

 

 

EAR Disc Master Turntable
“…With regards to the design, the system incorporates a spring suspension system on the 3 feet for the platter. This design means that almost all noise/vibrations to the platter itself is isolated. You can test this by artificially creating vibration (a good tap) on the table/stand you have on the turntable while playing and as long as there is the table/stand is sturdy, the vibrations will not be audible in the playing. The arm and the platter are obviously on the same physical connections (not suspended independently) which allows for this smooth playing as they move together as “one.” The 3 feet work in the most efficient way possible, like a tripod. Most of the frame is made from aluminium alloy due to its light-weight, high strength properties and its abilities to be machined into complex forms to allow for minimisation of vibrations further. The holes in the platter stand legs is an example of this, which not only look cool, but actually help with the reduction of further vibration to the platter.

A resin/ceramic is used in the platter for its density/deadening properties and its consistency which prevents asymmetries of mass which may cause wobble. The optimised design allows for the product to not use such a heavy platter.

The magnetically coupled drive system was the only feasible way Tim could devise a way to rotate the platter without any physical connection. With that, the only way vibrations can move through to the platter is through its physical parts. Any vibrations have to move through the base, up the feet, across tiny springs suspension, then up the legs (the ones with the holes), up the deadening platter, to the vinyl…”

The EAR Disc Master Turntable

Experience has confirmed that passion, proven physics and mathematical equations do not always translate into musical nirvana. However, after re-visiting Earl Klugh’s “Living Inside Your Love” and Dave Grusin’s “Mountain Dance” albums with the Disc Master, it was clear that the above attributes applied to this this turntable actually do apply! For consistency purposes I continued to use Cartridge Man MusicMaker Mk III (MM), Musicmaker Classic (MM). I was also able to trial the Akeda 9TS (MC). The Disc Master is able to convey remarkable musical detail and clarity whilst still maintaining an organic quality (not an easy feat). The intricate detail of Earl Klugh’s guitar, refined soulful background vocals of Patti Austin, Vivian Cherry and Lani Grove floating effortlessly across the soundstage. The rhythmic entwined bounce of Dave Grusin’s electric piano, Marcus Miller’s bass and Harvey Mason’s drums on “Rag-Bag” never before sounding so harmonious.

As I continued to explore deep within my record collection, I did get a sense that this marvel of a turntable had much more to offer. The Disk Master dug deep into the character of each individual recording, musician and instrument, from the subtle quiet – to the dramatic explosive crescendos afforded to each solo performance on the title track from Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Water From An Ancient Well,” - to the sublimely creative passages from Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos Paganani Rhapsody. I have been fortunate to have been able to experience The Disk Master with EAR’s own phono stage and amplification (some time ago) as well as with ‘non EAR phono stages and amplification.’ My overall impression is the The Disk Master’s organic (transparent) qualities will shine through using most high quality phono stages and amplification, however, to get the absolute best from this turntable (as with most sources) I would recommend you choose your accompanying components (and cartridge) very carefully, or use EAR Yoshino components for a guaranteed match.

The Disc Master is without doubt a remarkable turntable. My musical experience with this turntable is one I will never forget. I felt a great affection for this turntable and as I carefully moved it to one side in preparation for my next encounter…

MusicMaker Mk III

AMG Viella V12 turntable

As this turntable was completely new to me I summoned the assistance of Peter Downs from Alternate Audio to supply and take the lead on setup. Peter arrived on a Saturday morning with the turntable in what I considered ‘another fairly modest’ but sturdy box (considering the contents). Peter advised “This isn’t the final packaging, I left the ‘larger’ outer box at home..!”

 

AMG Viella V12 turntable

This wild card turntable was suggested by a well-read enthusiast, however, my first impression of this turntable (viewing photographs and specification online) was one of vague curiosity rather than ‘love at first site’! Similarities in design to the Brinkman range of turntables are obvious here. Werner Roeschlau (owner & designer for AMG) previously manufactured turntables and components for other companies, mostly Brinkmann.

AMG Viella V12 turntable

I left the initial complete set-up to Peter, only lending my two left hands when requested. The AMG Viella V12 is supplied with a six ‘hex head screwdriver set’ to assist installation and adjustment. Once the plinth was levelled on my rack we lowered the platter with drive belt gently onto the platter bearing using supplied ‘belt mounter and two wooden blocks’. Peter continued to fit the 12J2 Tonearm and separate AMG reference tonearm cable, which slots into the bottom of the arm post (for models without optional wooden decorative frame).

AMG Viella V12 turntable

Peter left the turntable with me to ‘play with’. Within one week I was brave enough to try other cartridges *(fitted by myself after initial fitting by Peter), Cartridge Man MusicMaker Mk III (MM), Musicmaker Classic (MM) and the Akeda 9TS (MC) cartridges. As with the EAR Disc Master, after exploring various genres within my collection I sensed the AMG Viella V12 had more to offer. I felt confident that this time (with a little extra help), I would be able to get the best from this turntable. There is just something extra special about this turntable. Of course I revisited the same albums I explored with the SME 30/2 and EAR Disc Master. Now with the AMG Viella V12, I was impelled to delve even deeper into my collection.

AMG Viella V12 turntable

The hi-fi jury is still out (or may sway from left to right) regarding which tonearm is best (12”, 10” or 9” tonearms) as all have various technical advantages and disadvantages. There are also many other factors involved regarding what you will hear, however, even at this relatively early point, I have to acknowledge the unmistakable superior clarity and detail revealed with every genre placed upon platter here. Without doubt the precision tracking provided by the 12J2 tonearm has a large part to play regarding this information retrieval.

The award winning AMG 12J2 12” tonearm features our patented dual-pivot bearing: The vertical bearing, similar to a technique used in helicopter rotors, utilizes 2 steel wires that allow fine azimuth adjustment while eliminating bearing play. The horizontal axle consists of a hardened tool steel needle roller bearing. The aircraft grade aluminium armwand is anodized for resonance control. The 12J2’s internal wiring is multiple stranded high-purity copper, and features magnetic anti-skate and precision locking VTA adjustment.

AMG Viella V12 turntable with Teatro phono cartridge

The Akeda 9TS (MC) definitely proved the most suitable cartridge companion for this turntable so far - providing capable highs and a thunderous (controlled) low end, but for me there was still room for improvement regarding openness and space. After spending considerable time reviewing characteristics of various moving coil cartridges, I decided to request a trial of AMG’s Teatro (MC) cartridge.

MusicMaker Mk III

…The Teatro’s special 2-piece titanium body provides a superior strength-to-weight ratio and is dimensioned to minimize resonance and reflected energy. The internal construction is radiused and includes a fixture for rigid mounting of the MC generator. The Teatro uses a stylus guard machined from a solid aluminium billet.

The Teatro’s generator is an extremely efficient electro-mechanical design, with each channel using a separate coil for maximum separation. The coils are wound with Ohno cast (OCC) mono-crystal high-purity oxygen-free copper wire. Neodymium magnets are combined with a special soft magnetic alloy yoke consisting of cobalt and iron, for a smooth and dynamic sound.

The Teatro combines natural musical sound with outstanding resolution, the ideal match to the AMG turntables.

Once received, I again took up fitting duties… nearly three hours later I was ready to take my record collection for another spin. Understandably I had to allow the Teatro time to ‘run in’ before achieving best results (as with all new cartridges), however, after just ten minutes, the Teatro slowly began reveal itself. It would take several more days of record playback for this cartridge to fully ‘open up.’ And when it did finally fully open up…

Listening to (or should say experiencing) Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Water From An Ancient Well” (Water From An Ancient Well – Blackhawk BKH 50207) was no less than a revelation this time round. Abdullah Ibrahim and fellow band members weave a spell of poetic and hypnotic emotions here (and throughout this album). Never before have I felt so ‘almost physically’ touched by the dark, light, sorrow and joy exquisitely weaved on this track. ‘Hair raising on the back of one’s neck’ solo performances from the likes of Charles Davis – baritone saxophone, Dick Griffin – trombone, Ricky Ford – tenor saxophone and Carlos Wardon - flute). Delectably interwoven textures created by all musicians on this recording have always been a challenge for turntables to grasp. On some turntable set-ups the combined force from the above musicians can sound disjointed with little or no sense of air and space between instruments, however, the AMG Viella V12 (combined with the Teatro cartridge) takes it all in its stride. As well as a greater sense of space and air between instruments, the soundstage is transformed into a holographic three dimensional musical painting you actually feel part of.

The recommended tracking force of the Teatro MC cartridge is between 1.8 – 2.2 grams (2.0 grams suggested as optimal). Changing the tracking weight by just 0.1 grams +or - dramatically alters the musical presentation from either being laid back and airy (but just as detailed) to forward and lively. After many months of listening between this range, I finally settled on the recommended optimal 2.0 grams.

Initially the AMG Viella V12 sat on my Quadraspire Q4 wall bracket with standard timber shelf (as with the EAR Master Disc). After further advice, I placed the AMG on a granite shelf (oh dear the weight), the improvement in the overall musical presentation was immense. Defined, greater focused highs, balanced midrange with natural, tighter bass. I continued to explore my record collection with even greater fervour.

The turntable disappears

My copy of Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem” (Atlantic 590001 – 1961 release) belonged to my father. This album has been played on various gramophone systems – now vintage music centres and stereo systems throughout the 1960’s – 1980’s as well as being stored jammed tight flat underneath our family drinks cabinet without its cover… It is a miracle it survived! Previous playback of this record on most turntables revealed its eclectic past in the form of prominent pops and clicks. Playback on the AMG Viella V12 reconfirms the superb tracking ability of both arm and Teatro cartridge. Though it was still evident that this album was in need of tlc, the once prominent pops and clicks which had previously overshadowed the music now took a back seat. The music is somehow lifted from an unwanted noisy background. Listening to this ‘super stereo’ Latin themed Leiber, Stoller production gem in its entirety for the first time was an absolute joy.

Rediscovering outstanding vocal performances with the AMG Viella V12 began with Donny Hathaway’s “Live” 1972 album (Atco SD 33-386 - 180 gram). Despite not being the greatest technical recording ‘or pressing,’ this classic live album is a ‘must have’ for all who truly appreciate one of the great soul / gospel drenched voices. Hathaway’s soulful spiritual connection with his audience builds to a musical climax with the anthem “The Ghetto.” The energy generated by Hathaway, band and audience on this track alone is enough for the hair on the back of your neck to rise (permanently). Hathaway’s warm, smoky textured voice on the subsequent Carole King penned “You’ve Got a Friend” continues to transcend the average recording quality and pressing. Thankfully, playback of such seminal moments using the AMG Viella V12 with Teatro cartridge allowed me to completely immerse myself within Hathaway’s voice, the music and atmosphere of the Troubadour in Hollywood.

Whether you’re vocal listening pleasure be the proud poetic, textured melancholy of Nina Simone,the seductive innocence of Minnie Riperton, or the raw rock power of Janis Joplin, you can trust this turntable to allow the true character of the singer to shine through. Depending on listener experience, subtle variations and vocal recording techniques are also revealed (vocal recording booth or not). Various digital compression processes, re-mastering techniques and label recording / mastering preferences are also revealed. Whether you listen to Rackmaninov, Rick James, Aerosmith, or Antonio Vivaldi, the AMG Viella V12 turntable with Teatro phono cartridge will let you know exactly what is buried deep within the grooves. This turntable reveals the great, the good, as well as the not so well recorded (or pressed) with every spin.

Owning this turntable could encourage you to alter your listening habits, I will be bold and go one step further… owning this turntable may literally change your life! Exploring albums within my collection (and beyond) is addictive. I have now developed ‘cllc’ (cannot leave listening chair yndrome)!

This turntable “delivers the high drama” without adding noticeable colour or a ‘turntable signature.’ The AMG Viella V12 and Teatro cartridge just disappears!

*Cartridge fitting / alignment and various adjustments was undertaken with the utmost care! Initial cartridge fitting was undertaken by Peter Downs from Alternate Audio using Feickert Adjust+ software. Thereafter I would spend hours fitting /adjusting each cartridge. I used the HI-FI News Analogue Test LP to assist.

Complete system details:

Turntables
SME Model 30/2 (briefly), EAR Disc Master Turntable (using Cartridge Man ‘Gotham’ phono interconnect cables)
& AMG Viella V12 turntable (using AMG reference tonearm cable)
Cartridges
Cartridge Man MusicMaker Mk III cartridge, Cartridge Man MusicMaker Classic cartridge, Akeda 9TS (MC) & AMG Teatro (MC)

Phono stages & interconnect cables
Whest Audio WhestTHREE Signature & Whest PS.40RDT Special Edition
AudioQuest 1m Red River XLR cable, later upgraded to Cambridge AudioAzur XLR cable

Amplification
Musical Fidelity M8-500S power amplifier with Musical Fidelity M8PRE preamplifier
Luminist Revision Poseidon XLR balanced cables

Speakers
Martin Logan hybrid electrostatic speakers. Chord Legend speaker cable

Table
Quadraspire Q4 EVO turntable wall bracket. Quadraspire Q4 Reference with Q4 EVO top

Mains cables
Campaign Audio Design Conqueror-Elite 5 way block and IEC

Robin Francis
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd.
June 2016 - March 2017
Revised June 2017

Turntable upgrade (AMG Viella V12 turntable)

Turntable upgrade (AMG Viella V12 turntable power supply)

 

Further
Recommended
Upgrades


Click the image below for the Amplification Upgrade.
During the turntable upgrade we also upgraded our phono stage. (Experience review here soon)...

Amplification Upgrade  (click to go to this page) Whest PS.40RDT Special Edition  (click to go to this page)

Go back to Hi-Fi Experience Home Page.

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