Acoustic Signature Analog One Mk II Turntable
|The Acoustic Signature Analog One Mk II Turntable|
15 October 2001
2-speed, aluminum construction, high-mass turntable.
Thread-drive by outboard AC motor. Alpha power supply included.
North America, UK and Australia
Jerry Raskin’s Needle Doctor
419 14th Avenue SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414
800 229 0644
Peak High End
Weinbergstr. 27 D 71229 Leonberg
I was so impressed with the $2000 Acoustic Signature Final Tool turntable that the chance to review their most expensive table, the $3500 Analog One Mk II, was irresistible. Having had less than stellar (OK, lead-footed, plodding and a-rhythmic) musical experiences with many high end, high priced and high mass US turntables, the Final Tool was a revelation and a unique achievement. At last, a high mass turntable that was rhythmically coherent, didn’t lag behind the beat, played deep bass, and communicated the musical message. It could dance, boogie and sing, and locate the music in a coherent and finely crafted stereo soundscape. I found the Final Tool to combine the best traditional qualities of the UK musicophile tables with the stereo imaging precision of the US audiophile tables. Since I had no real criticisms of the Final Tool (other than that I didn’t own one) I was deeply curious as to how the Analog One MkII might improve upon its performance. Would bigger, heavier, and more expensive be better?
The Analog One Mk II shares many common elements with the Final Tool. The 24.21 lb. platter is identical, as is the bearing that supports it and the motor and power supply that drive it. Ditto for the VTA adjustor, thread drive, and construction from soft self-damped aluminum. The Analog One’s motor housing is heavier and taller, however, as is the turntable base - a massive 83.6 lbs. versus 59.4 lbs. of the Final Tool. Three substantial outrigger cylindrical pods support the base and are adjustable for leveling. They do not incorporate any suspension. The arm mount pod, three slender cylindrical columns on the FT, changes on the A-One to a solid cylinder, the interior of which is hollow for passing the tonearm cabling. The arm board is like a cap on a jar and is secured by 3 small allen-head screws. Inserted into the arm board’s cut-out and bolted to it with 3 allen-head bolts is the VTA collar: an allen-head bolt clamps the opening of the collar to secure the arm. I had to use a longer T-handled Allen wrench to supply the necessary "welly" to tighten the arm, as the supplied wrench was showing signs of strain. I used the Ringmat Record Support System of platter spacers to fine tune VTA with the various cartridges and records I used and like my audition of the FT, I used the Ringmat in lieu of the supplied felt mat.
There is no suspension as such on the Analog One Mk II, the mass of the table and its soft aluminum construction supplying the internal self-damping and energy absorption. Every part is rigidly bolted together with no compliances, leading one to assume the design attempts to achieve the ‘closed loop’ that many UK theorists espoused as a design ideal. Since the cartridge reads the signal by relative movement of the stylus, eliminating any relative movement elsewhere in the construction should theoretically allow the stylus to do its job optimally. Similarly, resonances that are generated in one part of the turntable should flow equally in all parts. If this is achieved, so the theory goes, there will be no loss of signal content, but simply a slight reduction in signal level. The appearance of the Analog One is certainly more massive than the Final Tool and its weight is substantial. It would be fair to characterize the A-One as a much heavier and more massive Final Tool.
Since the Final Tool made such wonderful music with the Origin Live RB 300 and the Goldring Eroica LX moving coil cartridge, I mounted them and placed the Analog One where the FT had resided. Any thought that the A-One would slip into the system with the pipe-and-slippers-by-the-fireside ease of the FT and immediately make wonderful music was soon dispelled. Not surprisingly, given my investigations into isolation products and long-time experience with Linn and Rega turntables, the Analog One sounded very different depending on the surface upon which it was placed. The manufacturer recommends a short, heavy, and rigid stand.
Placing the A-One on a short lightweight table from which the Linn sings produced shouting on loud passages and thudding and murky bass. Time to call up The Three Bears and to grimly don the Goldilocks wig, as another harrowing episode of "Goldilocks in Hell" was looming. I tried a very heavy oak-pillared table with a ceramic-surfaced shelf, 2 different audio racks (one designed for 250 lbs. on its top shelf), and various surfaces - ranging from MDF, fiberboard, ceramic and glass. All rested on a concrete floor. I then auditioned cartridges: the Koetsu Rosewood Signature (Van den Hul re-tipped), Audio Technica AT OC9ML, Shure V-15 V x MR, and Talisman Boron. Then I swapped arms to the Origin Live RB 250 and repeated the cartridge auditions. In true Goldilocks In Hell fashion, no placement or combination was "just right." Even more dismaying was the fact that no placement offered performance quite as good as what the Final Tool had delivered.
I then placed the Analog One on my most rigid and heaviest stand and repeated the auditions still again. A prime fear of every audio reviewer is that, like the famous Indian parable of blind men trying to describe an elephant by feel alone, he will grasp the trunk and declare that the elephant is a snake. So I figured that perhaps 20 or so blind men might do a better job of description.
The soundstage window the Analog One opened was wider than my listening room and extended from floor to ceiling. What emerged through that window varied with the placement of the turntable. Bass, satisfyingly deep, taut and focused with the FT, could have more slam with the A-One, but could also thud monotonically and muffle the sound of kick drums. Bass instruments in the soundfield tended to lose focus and the details of hand drum playing - the slap of the hand on the texture of the drum head for example - were not as clear as with the Final Tool or the Linn LP12. Tonality and timbre were vague in comparison to the FT and more monochromatic in tonal color: I was squinting with my ears at times to ascertain what instruments were. There was a tendency to occasionally shout on loud midrange passages.
The Analog One’s rendering of the instrumental positioning and sound staging with chamber music, so focused, anchored, and convincing with the Final Tool, was vague and diffuse by comparison. Soundstage depth on full orchestral recordings was foreshortened and multi-miked pop studio recordings were often just flat in perspective. Dynamic shadings were blurred and did not flow with the ease of the FT, Linn LP 12 and Origin Live Basic Kit tables. Most disconcerting was the relative lack of rhythmic articulation in the bass: it was as if the music was ruled by a metronome rather than by the organic flow of the musician’s inspiration. Rhythmic articulation did improve in the lower midrange on up however.
The ability of the best turntables to fully articulate the dynamic and rhythmic flow of each instrument while simultaneously maintaining the overarching ensemble flow of the music was lacking. It sounded like the turntable could not resolve the fine variations of volume and dynamics, and thus tended to homogenize and average them. The space between notes was poorly resolved. This slurred the inflection and punctuation of notes and musical lines, and damped the expressiveness of the playing, tending to create a rather dry abstract musical presentation. This was less noticeable on legato playing and with restrained performance styles. Even then I found my attention wandering. Performances were not compelling. Fine detail of the acoustics of the recording venue was smudged, blurred, and opaque. In a word, foggy. That sounded very familiar. Perhaps resonant contamination was rearing its head?
I next placed the Analog One on Aurios PRO media isolation bearings. The sonic and musical improvement was staggering. Bass and bass dynamics, so striking and satisfying on the Final Tool, gained enormously. Rhythms began to dance and musicians were allowed more musical expressiveness. I began to finally get musical enjoyment from the Analog One. Some shoutiness in the upper midrange remained (more so as volume was raised) and the depth of the stereo image was still foreshortened. Instrumental images were enormous and tended to project into the room. The feeling was at times uncomfortable; in a way similar to sitting too close to a movie theater screen. Timbre improved, and thus ease of identification of instruments, but a slight timbral shadow still persisted.
The metronomic quality in the bass was not completely vanquished. Playing certain acid- test tracks (The Ron Carter Quartet’s Piccolo[Milestone M-55004]) found the A-One still lagging behind the Final Tool (under which I had not used any isolation whatsoever) and my reference Linn LP 12 in precise positioning of the two basses, differentiating their timbre, and revealing interaction and expression. Olatunji’s polyrhythmic Drums of Passion [Columbia CS 8210] allowed only three rhythms to be followed simultaneously; the Final Tool allowed six.
I next tried the Townshend 3-D Seismic Sink. The 3-D supplies both horizontal and vertical isolation, in effect giving the Analog One a very sophisticated suspension. Results were similar to the Aurios: musical communication and rendering of instrumental expressiveness was improved markedly. Additionally, the midrange shoutiness was ameliorated and hard cymbal crashes which were bursts of distortion un-isolated were now resolved. Bass quality had less punch and drive than with the Aurios though.
The most obvious effect of both the Aurios PRO’s and the 3-D Seismic Sink was an enormous increase in low-level signal resolution. This allowed the acoustics of the recording venue to finally emerge and to anchor the instruments into a more believable space. Verisimilitude gained greatly. A current reviewing cliché values "sound emerging from a black background" as an indication of merit. I would submit that high-resolution playback would present the instruments emerging in the context of their acoustic field rather than from some nebulous black hole.
The performance of the Analog One with the Aurios PRO’s or the 3-D Seismic Sink was not perfect, however, as both are designed to remove structural-borne environmental micro-vibrations and thus can do nothing to eliminate the internally-generated resonances of the component. There was still some soundstage congestion and a slight fogginess continued, a telltale sign of residual vibrational interference. The supreme ease and unflappability of the Final Tool was not quite matched, though deep bass and expressiveness were very close.
I must admit to some disappointment with the Analog One. The Final Tool had dispelled my reservations about the signature sound of High Mass turntables. Perhaps because the Final Tool is so good and such a great bargain, the Analog One would inevitably be over-shadowed. While the Analog One Mk II did not exhibit the plodding and lagging behind the beat bass of many high mass tables that I’ve found so unsatisfactory in the past, it did exhibit a diminution of performance values and expressiveness. Admittedly, listeners who prefer a restrained and intellectual approach to performance and interpretation might find nothing to complain about with the Analog One. The problem is that it did not do justice to other styles of performance, and certainly to more exuberant and Dionysian types of music. In particular, it tended to be prosaic, when the performer and the music demanded poetry.
The emergence of a deep level of fine detail and musical expressiveness when the table was used with sophisticated isolation devices leads me to the suspicion that the Analog One’s heavier weight does not achieve the fine balance of mass and self-damping of the Final Tool. Increasing mass and weight has the effect of lowering resonant frequencies and it did seem to me that the Analog One was being negatively affected by low frequency contamination that the Final Tool ignored. Potential purchasers of the Analog One Mk II will need to budget time, experimentation with placement, perhaps a dedicated rack, and most likely a sophisticated isolation device of some sort in order to get the table to truly sing. Given its weight, a strong back will also be necessary. Even as its best I found the Analog One to offer no real musical advantage over its significantly less expensive Comrade-in-Arm, the Final Tool. Perhaps less is more after all.
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