13 March, 2011

Talk Vinyl: Technics SP10MkII, Benz-Micro Gold and PP1

Full Metal Jacket. Click on pic to enlarge.

Talk Vinyl: Technics SP10MkII, Benz Micro Gold, T-9 Lukaschek PP1

Mellow Gold and Bright Silver
Before proceeding with my Garrad, let me tell you I had just come off a period of listening to my recently acquired Technics SP-10 MkII. This legendary direct-drive turntable is equipped with an all decked-out RB250 (Michell mod and Incognito sliver wiring). It came with the Benz-Micro Gold. Surely you, like me, shall find the cartridge oddly installed so far up front. That is because the armboard that came with it has the center-to-pivot distance to be 3-4 mm more than the official 222 mm. Given the fait accompli, using 2-point alignment, the cartridge seems to be properly installed. Listening revealed no problem with all my LPs, and I just let it be. Until I change to another arm, that is, which is likely.

Interesting how things have come around. My first MC setup was the Benz-Micro Gold installed on my Rega RB-250 ( origin Live structural mod)(read more here), which later developed a problem with the suspension and became unusable. So I am familiar with the sound of this cartridge. Also, I still use its higher-output sibling, the Silver, in NYC (more here). I haven't directly compared the two, but I am pretty certain the Gold tends to be mellower than the snappy Silver. Both were good buys, but at current prices they have quite a bit of competition.

Direct or Indirect? That is The Question
This is the fourth direct-drive turntable I own. The Audio Technica AT-PL120 and Revox B791 were covered before. I had not really covered the Technics SL-1200 MkII I acquired from my friend. Let me just say this legendary DJ turntable is truly a superior turntable that belies its modest price. It is obviously better than the clone AT in terms of musicality. The Revox is a comparable but its sound too tends towards the lean and mean, more so than the Technics. All these direct drives have excellent resolution of detail that IMHO is superior to belt-drive TTs of similar price. However, it does take some work on matching to smooth out the edges in them. If that were not a challenge, there would not be so many people in the belt-drive camp.

Let me just say this outright. From the first play, it was obvious the Technics SP-10 MkII possesses better musicality. The sound, while detailed and excitingly fast, does not impart a feeling of breathlessness, as lesser direct-drives are prone to do. However, this is NOT to say it does not have the hallmarks of a direct-drive. It does, with the wrong phonoamp there is often still a lingering feeling of insistence in the rhythm. More on that when I cover the Garrard. Suffice to say the SP-10 deserves its reputation as one of the best turntables of all times, and certainly likely one of the best of the direct-drives.

Make sure you visit:
Soundfountain's wonderful SP-10 page

When Beauty is not Skin-Deep
I used several phono setups during audition. The TT sounded equally wonderful through the Elekit TU-875, EAR912 and Verdier Control B, all tubed in their phonostage.

The real surprise took place just before I got the Garrard back home. On impulse I got a Benz-Micro Lukaschek T9 PP-1 MC phonoamp to match with the lowly Gold. I had encountered this phonoamp many times before, often with the Glider. It always gave decent sound, but also frequently gave the impression of being on the lean side. Its lack of loading options, indeed any adjustment, is not appealing to many.

Since the arm used Incognito silver wiring, I decided to use the silver Kimber KCAG for connection to the preamp. I used the Elekit TU-875 and the result surprised me a little.

I have not yet written up the Elekit combo. The TU875 has a tubed MM phono stage, while the MC section is solid state, one main reason why I chose this preamp for comparison purposes rather than my other all-tubed units that use transformers for the MC section. Now I use 2x stock Philips 5963 for the phono section and 1x Amperex 12AU7 for the linestage.

There is just a rightness to the all Benz-Micro setup that is difficult to describe. The PP1 is a little more detailed than the Elekit, but not overwhelmingly so to swing the result in its favor. The PP1 is cleaner sounding than the Elekit while avoiding leanness; indeed it is its effortless quality that surprises. In comparison, the imaging of the Elekit is larger and more smeared (shall do more tube-rolling later). Overall the musicality is impressive.

The input impedance of the PP-1 is an unusually high 22k, "...in order to eliminate interconnect cable and phono connector influence on the sound quality..." This is a marked deviation from the norm of 100 ohm, and certain to raise eyebrows, but keep in mind that Benz-Micro cartridges were designed to be loaded at a higher impedance than most others. It is the final sound that counts.

To test whether the high impedance would be a downright mismatch with other cartridges, I later tried it with the Ortofon Kontrapunkt H (mounted on the Garrard/RB250). Again the PP-1 dealt me a surprise. I detected no great frequency aberrations nor diminished musicality, and the "neutral" sound of the Ortofon emerged with great clarity. Note that usually Ortofon's like to be loaded into rather low impedances, hence the big surprise. Maybe there is something to Benz-Micro's cable and phono connector theory (these certainly add their own impedance to the signal path).

Although very small, the PP-1 is an extremely well made device. Once again, it proves SM components and short signal path can be great pluses in a good design (Linn Linto also comes to mind). It is beautiful though the chrome is hard to keep clean and the prints will eventually come off. At its current second-hand price it is good value, but a new unit costs rather more now due to exchange rates. With a Benz-Micro cartridge it is a very good choice, but its sterling qualities should still be apparent with many other cartridges.

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