19 August, 2011

Review: Kuzma Stabi S/Stogi S Part I Denon DL-103 Midas

pic: Two Denon DL-103's on the baseboard; L, Midas; R, stock; in front is the Midas Touch. Click pic to enlarge.

Review: Kuzma Stabi S/Stogi S Part I
Vinyl Talk: To Midas or not? The Denon DL-103
Vinyl Talk: Ortofon Kontrapunkt C

Kuzma Stabi S + Stogi S
An instant classic.
Read The Absolute Sound review (also as a hi-res pdf file). It was recipient of the Golden Ear Award. You may also want to read positive feedback and 6moons.

The Stabi was, and is, quite revolutionary in its looks. I wanted one the first time I laid my eyes on it, but it took me more than a decade to acquire one. I thank my friend Ah Keung, who meticulously cleaned out the damping trough, dismantled it and re-packed it in its original box. As much as the Stabi itself, the packaging reveals the incredible attention to details, indeed quite amazing for the price. The brass looks quite good and surprisingly has held up pretty well over the years in ultra-humid Hong Kong. Oh, I LOVE that dust-cover.

Undamped - Round One
I got it as a package, together with a well used Denon DL-103. As I am not a fan of damping (and rather dislike the looks of the silicon), I decided to start out without it.

From the start, it threw a wide soundstage and the sound was solid, substantial and well composed. Despite the lack of suspension, isolation is very good and the table is not overtly sensitive to what it is placed upon, be it glass or MDF board or wood. In these aspects it is superior to my Clearaudio Champion and Concept.

But at the time the sound was also a little dull at the top, so I swapped out the Denon for the Ortofon Kontrapunkt C, which brought out more sparkle at the top, though still not quite as airy as what I was used to. Here I'd like to say part of this is attributable to the very dark background of this table. I doubt I have heard less background noise in anything close to the price, not even in much more expensive turntables.

Unusually, with this turntable, I found the sound better with the stock spindle weight (you see, I am not a fan of record weights in general).

Then I got side-tracked by other projects (not the least being my Garrard), and I didn't touch the table for a long time.

Midas body and Midas Touch
Now let me introduce the Midas to those who haven't already heard. As you know, the cheap Denon DL-103 and DL103R have formidable reputations, basically and truly giant-killers, the best-buy cartridges to beat (not possible IMHO). Because of their bargain prices, many people have modified them in quests for even better performance. Their efforts vary from just removing the plastic body (more open sound) to even changing the cantilever and tip. But the easiest way to change the sound is probably by dressing the cartridge in different bodies. The pic below the article is provided by daiwok, how beautiful!!!! I love bodies, don't you?

The Midas is yet another variation on the body. The Midas is designed by our friend daiwok, a Lenco fanatic whose super-human energy is simply amazing. You can find plenty of info on his creation in this thread in lencoheaven. It is an aluminum body, superficially a little similar to what Zu does with its offering. The Midas Touch is a tuning device, a spiked metal tongue to be inserted between the headshell and body.

For your information, the Denon DL-103 that I got Midasized is precisely the one that was on the Kuzma, well used but still robust.

Round Two - Initial Impressions
Recently, my vinyl index has mysteriously gone up, and I began anew with the Kuzma. At the same time I have been evaluating two phonoamps (for which another article soon). Here's what I am using:

Turntable: Kuzma Stabi S - Stogi S arm
Phonoamp 1: Softone/ICL Model 4
Phonoamp 2: Denon AU-1000 step-up transformer (courtesy Danz) into Audio Note Kit MM phonostage (discontinued version; only 32 db gain).
Preamp: Kondo M7
Amp: Elekit 8230 or Wavac MD-300B
Loudspeakers: Tannoy Canterbury

This time I started out just listening to the already installed Kontrapunkt C after some minor adjustment, especially azimuth. Much to my surprise, the sound had more sheen than before. Then I swapped in another stock well-used Denon DL-103 (used to be on my Audio Note TT1). To my even greater surprise, the sound was much more open than I remembered. Maybe all this is due to my Kondo M7?

Then I installed the Midas Denon, tracking at the same 2.5 gm. Not surprisingly, the sound was more open than the stock, but a little richness has been sacrificed. In some way, the sound seemed to resemble a little more the Ortofon than the stock Denon. The midrange lacked a little gravitas, not only compared to the stock Denon but also to the Ortofon. The bass was hard hitting but seemingly at the expense of some rhythm and pace, and this last aspect nagged at me a little. The Ortofon remained a "faster" cartridge. It should be noted the Midas Denon is quite heavy and I was just barely able to set the counterweight.

The initial impression of the Midas is it is a worthwhile tweak, though not necessarily for traditional Denon fans. I am sure further tweaking is needed to bring about best performance. All I know at this point is, the Midas 103 is promising enough to stay on my arm for the moment, and I will further experiment with settings. My entire vinyl replay is in a state of flux; stay tuned for Part II.

No comments:

Post a Comment