How much does rock-solid speed stability cost?

I've been shopping for a new turntable and have found out I am very sensitive to speed variations. I listened to several belt driven tables and couldn't find one I could tolerate (Man, the P3 was bad). I thought the Nottingham Spacedeck was going to work, but after a second listen, it started to bug me also. So I had a bright idea - why don't I get an SL1200 from Crutchfield. It's supposed to be very stable. If I don't like it I can return it.

Well, crap! It's just as bad as the others. Average speed is fine, but it's sharp, then flat, then sharp ... Anything with a pure tone like piano, french horn, or flugelhorn has audible flutter. I have a hard time finding ANY recording that doesn't do this.

I guess almost 20 years of listening to nothing but CDs has ruined me. My big question to y'all is...Is this just the way analog is, and it's probably not for me? Or, can spending more money fix the problem? I only have about 200 records, most collected from mid '70s through early '80s. I really can't justify spending more than $2000 on a turntable and arm. I haven't heard the VPI Scout or the Basis 1400. Will they do the trick, or does it cost a lot more to get the level of performance I need?
I think you need to look at something with a non-cogging DC motor system. And also with a "non-hunting" speed controller.

As you have noticed, the ear is much more sensitve to flutter variations, than to the much slower wow variations. AC synchronous motors have a cogging effect that causes this flutter, and it can be noticeable. A properly made DC motor can be non-cogging and relieve this problem. However, these can suffer from problems too, depending upon how the speed regulation is accomplished. But generally, they have variations primarily in the wow area. And they can be made to have very low wow variations. This combination of low variations, combined with the confining of the variations into a less-sensitive type of variation(wow) , can lead to better sounding speed stability.

No motor system is perfect on a turntable. There are drag forces which tend to slow the platter in regular and irregular ways. When the motor system attempts to correct for these slowdowns, it must speed things up slightly. It is the method employed for driving the platter, AND the speed control system that affect things. Rapid corrections lead to flutter, slow corrections lead to wow. Cogging motors lead to flutter, no matter what the speed control consists of.

Heavy platters can also do some good in keeping speed regular, by inertia. Normally these are found in the higher priced turntables, although there are some heavy platter models in your price range.

3 turntables in your price range, that I am aware of, use non-cogging DC motor systems. They are Teres, Michell, and Origin Live.

The Teres Model 135 is unsuspended and string-driven, which leads to less speed interaction between the platter and belt. It also has a pretty heavy 15 pound platter. It has a closed-loop optical feedback system that constantly monitors platter speed via a optical strobe sensor on the platter, and keeps the controller aware of the actual real-time speed conditions of the platter and not just the motor. The controller is programmed to respond very quickly, but apply speed change very slowly. This eliminates the "speed hunting" which can lead to flutter from the controller. Alot of design went into the Teres motor system, and since it is a modular design, it can be purchased separately, and applied to other turntables with good effect. I am aware of improvements in speed control being made to VPI, Basis, Verdier, and others, by replacing the motor and control systems with Teres units.

The Origin Live Aurora turntables use a lighter platter and a suspension. They rely more on the motor for speed control than platter inertia. Speed is regulated and monitored at the motor, and not the platter itself. However, their DC motor and control system is fairly highly regarded, and is available separately also. It has been applied to Rega, and Linn Sondek turntables with good success to improve their speed control and sound quality. They have a couple of DC motor and controller kits on their website. Also their turntables can be seen there.

The Michell Gyrodec has only recently changed to a DC motor system. It apparently also uses a speed controller that senses speed at the motor, not the platter. Reports are that this system is an improvement over the previous AC motor system they used. Their platter is lighter than the Teres, but heavier than the Origin Live.

Oh, and there are a couple of other less-known units out there that use DC motor systems to good effect, such as Redpoint, Progressive Engineering, Bogdan, Pink Triangle. Most of these are not in your price range, except Pink Triangle Tarantella.

In the higher end tables, there can be some mitigating design criteria which will allow AC motors to sound more acceptable. However, I am still of the opinion that a well-designed DC motor is inherently better for this application.
If you have such sensitive ears you might need to spend a lot of money for something like a VPI with flywheel (around $6K). The upper end Technics are really good but their power supplies are not very stable and Technics stopped making the replacement chipsets. KAB electroacoustics makes a beefy outboard power supply for the 1200 which I intend to get in the next few months:

SL-1200 power supply

There is the possibility that you have a lot of electrical noise and (perhaps) voltage fluctuations in your listening room. Even a quartz lock mechanism has to fight the noise background in order to regulate speed and is taxing on the system's performance. There was a really good discussion on the subject of TT power supplies and their effect on the music:

Turntable Power Source Benefits

I think that in your budget range the Technics 1200 w/ the outboard power supply is as good as it gets. Otherwise get ready to spend a lot more (perhaps a Teres will please you). I recently listened to a friend's system that has an Oracle fed by a Hewlett Packard laboratory grade power supply and although good, clean and musical sounding, it did not have the pace and the steadiness of my modded 1200.
My guess is that an LP12 with the Origin Live DC motor control would fit the bill. A Linn that is set up correctly is difficult to beat for the dollars invested and the Origin Live is purported to be more accurate than the Linn Lingo power supply. Audiophiles love to hate them which works in your favor to drive the price down. You can afford a used LP12/Origin Live DC/Ittok/Shelter 501 and, set up correctly on the right stand, you'll be happy for years.
I wonder how much of your problem stems from off center holes in records.
Am in agreement with what others have written, but would like to suggest another view of this topic.

I'm curious: do you have absolute pitch? One of the definitions of AP is the ability to identify the names of the notes of a tone cluster played on the piano. If you do have absolute pitch it also may be very acute e.g. you are able to detect instantly the difference between a 440 A and, say, a 441 A. This ability is extremely rare.

Myself, I'm a professional musician with strong relative pitch. I rely much more on overtones and resonance to sustain a pitch. I do not possess absolute pitch.

At home I use a Linn LP12 with Lingo and find that it suits my need for resonance and to hear the effect of overtones much more than any other table I've tried. One of the overall effects of the Linn is that notes are more 'centered': this must have to do with speed stability and its ability to retrieve low level information (harmonics, attack, etc.) My CD player is an Audio Note CD3.1x, and I find it does much the same.

What about rhythm? Do you find you get more 'kick' out of listening to CDs than to LPs?

Also keep in mind that we all hear differently, and what you may be reacting to others may hear as 'lack of center'; miniscule changes of dynamics through the duration of a note (which others may perceive as very slight pitch changes); increasing/decreasing overtones throughout the duration of sounds (e.g. a long french horn note). From my experience, I've concluded that these subtleties are more apparent with analog sources, as opposed to their digital counterparts.

I'd also be interested to know whether or not you perceive pitch fluctuations when listening to different CD players, say mid-fi to extreme highend. If your ears are acutely sensitive to pitch variance, miniscule dynamic changes, presence/absence of overtones, you may notice the same effect from the very best digital setups. This obviously is a contentious statement, but I do think it's possible. Live music is full of these varying factors, but when we listen to live music (say a string quartet, symphony orchestra, or jazz group) we get much more information than any kind of recording can recreate. With live music pitch does fluctuate somewhat, as do the presence of harmonics, and minute dynamic variances, etc. however, they are not perceived so much because hearing live music is such a different all-encompassing, sensual experience. Nothing is like listening to live music. It's only when live music is recorded and then played back are these subtle 'imperfections' usually noticed. I've experienced this time and time again when in recording situations.

Many musicians are notorious for having inferior stereo systems in their home. I mean really bad. Stereophile and other magazines have interviewed musicians who owned what many audiophiles would consider appalling stereos. Yet they enjoy listening to recordings immensely. Perhaps some of the things I've discussed above have something to do with this fact.

You have brought up an interesting point, Nighthawk.
This is an interesting thread. I also have very strong relative pitch.

One problem I have had a lot of trouble with--and it was mentioned above by Ghostrider45--is off-center holes. It doesn't take much. This effect is most noticable when constant pitch instruments like the piano are playing.

The degree of pitch change increases (grows worse) as the needle approaches the center of the record since the fractional linear speed change causing this increases as the distance to the axis of rotation becomes smaller. So what can be a disconcerting suspicion at the begining of an LP grows into cause for leaping up in alarm to inspect for what the heck is going wrong.

I need to discard a few percent of the records I purchase due to off-center holes...some of them otherwise pristine Shaded Dogs (sob sob).

I have toyed with the notion of actually offsetting the axis of some of my rare LPs by enlarging the hole on one side to compensate. Haven't tried it yet, though.

A slightly bent spindle would also result in this type of periodic change in pitch.

To see if this non-axial rotation is a problem, put a piece of opaque tape on the lid of your TT as a visual reference. Then watch very closely to see if the arm and cartidge are moving slightly in and out as the record plays. It really doesn't take much (depending on how sensitive your are) and it can be hard to see without a fixed visual reference.

I am not that experienced in TT's but find SME's, Basis, and ClearAudio to be very acceptable as regards speed control. Unfortunately, they are also very expensive.
Thanks, everyone, for your thoughtful replies.

Twl, as usual, you are a fountain of useful information. Your explanation of cogging makes sense. I'll do some reasearch into DC motor-based tables. I'll also look into tables with heavy platters.

For those of you that commented on off-center holes, I see that occasionally, but not often enough to explain what I hear.

Violaguy, I am a former musician (trombone), though I haven't played in many years. I played in high school and college. I don't know if I have perfect absolute pitch or not but I'd say I have very good relative pitch, at least. I'm sure I could distinguish between A440 and 441. Thats about 1/8" on a trombone slide. A good trombone player is a lot more accurate than that - I'd say accurate to at least 1/32". I know what you mean about variations in dynamics and overtones. I love hearing the overtone beats of a piano chord, for example. That type of variation doesn't bother me at all. However, that's not what I'm hearing. I'm hearing real changes in pitch. I have heard variations in CDs but always assumed it was due to the master tape. Most CDs are fine. I've found the more overtones an instrument, or voice, produces the less likely it is to cause noticable flutter. It's the pure tones that get you.

From what you all are saying I think it's going to cost quite a bit to achieve the pitch stability I need. I'll keep my eye on the classifieds. (The SL1200 is going back to Crutchfield!)
The 1200 has close to perfect pitch stability--that's why is preferred by a lot of musicians that use "inferior stereo systems". I really like how it flawlessly keeps the beat of complex rhythm patterns of *salsa* music. Most belt drives don't cut it in this department. Something's not right here...

You could be mistaking eccentricity for pitch, as someone else pointed out. Nakamichi used to make a TT that adjusted the record's spindle so that it would play concentric. Perhaps it should be on your short list. Get back to us and send us some pictures!
Psychicanimal, I'm not trying to be contentious but rythmic patterns don't show up the kind of pitch variation I'm talking about. Sustained pure notes do. I listen to mostly jazz and classical which show this effect quite often. I've had the SL1200 for about a week and have played around 50 records on it. Most don't have any eccentricity at all. I vaguely remember the NAK deck. Early '80s, I believe.
Psychicanimal, I thought you might be interested in a recent development. I've been using a Shure V15VMR with the SL1200. I had been using the VTF set at 1.5g, as recommended, when using the dynamic stabilizer and a target VTF of 1g is desired. With this setup I could hear pitch variations on pretty much every record.

Next, I tried disabling the stabilizer and setting the VTF to 1g. Whoa! Much better. Tracking is not so good on warped records, though. This got me to thinking, maybe the stabilizer in subtracting more than .5g. I re-enabled the stabilizer and set the VTF to 1.7g which should give a net VTF of 1.2g, which is near the top of the recommended range for the V15. I suspect the actual VTF is less, but I don't know of a way to verify this. Anyway, the pitch variation is almost completely gone! I still hear it on records with off-center holes, but a good record sounds fine. I've changed my mind on the SL1200. I think I'll keep it:)

Anybody know why this is so? I know the V15 is high compliance. Could the suspension, in a lightly loaded state, been resonating to cause a sound like flutter?

I also use the v15vxmr and have noticed the difference the tracking force can make when using the stabilizer. I could be way off, but I think of it much like the loading of the suspension on a car. I think of the little brush as a spring. If the tracking force is light, as shure recommends, there is less loading on the stabilizer and it's "shock absorbtion" is slower to react or has a greater distance to move, however you want to look at it, but the effect is that some of the load is taken off the cantelever. When we set the VTF higher we have forced the loading on the stabilizer and also the cantelever so the whole mechanism is quicker to react and get back down in the groove because it doesn't move as far vertically. BTW, I also notice more sibilance with the lighter VTF.

In anycase, I agree that it does sound better with the stabilizer in place and with the higher VTF.
interesting thread. there is a review by Peter Moncrieff that will tell you (in his opinion) way more than you might want to know about speed issues with turntables.

turntable speed

the review is about the Rockport Sirius III. after owning a few very good turntables, including the VPI TNT and the Basis 2500, i can say that when the speed is perfect IT does make an astonishing difference in the basic reality of the music. if you read the review it will give you a deeper understanding of some of the issues involved.....even if you don't completely agree with some of what he writes.

whichever turntable you choose, consider a product such as the VPI SDS, which will allow you to correct the speed on A/C syncronous motors.

to answer your costs alot to truely achieve rock-solid speed stability. i would add that there are many very good turntables that do a very good job in this area.....but any/every belt driven tt has it's limitations.
I always tought that a brush attached to any cartridge had to have some deleterious effects...

I knew the 1200 couldn't be at fault unless it was defective. The issue of speed/rotational stability to me is sooo important--you guys see me posting it over and over and over.

Yesterday I oiled my 1200 and the audible improvement was nothing short of stunning! The manual states every 2000 hrs, and I've had the TT working for 1-1/2 years (put away for the last six months). There's no way I could have played 3,000 records on both sides, but I saw a post in the Asylum stating that oiling should be done every year, so I went ahead and used 3 in 1 (with Kevin's approval). WOW! I was playing a salsa record which I know very well and the before and after was stunning!!! The bass was fuller and tighter, the percussion was snappy and with a very fast attack (especially the timbales!), the voices were sharp and well defined; sibilinace was softer. The soundstage became bigger and overall, the music was more penetrating and intense. Member Jahaira had told me a few weeks ago that he oiled his platter and the servo arm in his JVC TT and had a similar experience.

The way I look at it is that there was still oil in the bottom of the spindle, but that oiling the bronze bushing damped the rotation, providing a smoother operation, less noise and less speed correction from the Quartz lock drive. I also noticed that female voices were getting raspier towards the end of records and Kevin had suggested me I coud have damaged my modded Groovemaster by using it the first week @ 2g tracking weight. Not so. Now the voices and the overall presentation are smoother and extended.

Nighthawk, my suggestion is to get rid of the Type V damper and get yourself the KAB tonearm fluid damper. Zaikesman wrote a review and he's using a Benz Glider MC with his 1200:

This issue of the platter providing the time domain is really important. The belt drive crowd doesn't seem to get it. I've gone through all these efforts of modding the 1200 because there is simply no TT around it that can deliver the needed speed/rotational stability. After this experience with oiling the bearing I truly believe the 1200's outboard power supply is going to be a very welcome addition to my system.

Just wondering, is there anything out (current production model) in between the Rockport and the Technics 1200?
Now, before this direct-drive love-fest gets too out of control, let's talk about some other issues.

First, the "belt-drive crowd" does get it, and there are turntables out there that do not succumb to any of the things that Moncrieff points out in his turntable article.

For example, a quality ironless-core, non-cogging DC motor provides a perfectly smooth output. So using a motor of that type takes you a good part of the way there. Next, using a non-suspended turntable takes the subchassis interaction out of the equation. Third, having a non-stretch belt, combined with the above 2 things, eliminates the "stretch-release-stretch-release" syndrome that Moncrieff talks about. So no cog, no platter/belt interaction, no RC-tank effect interaction with belt and subchassis. What's left? Motor speed control. And heavy platters provide the momentum needed to reduce/eliminate the effects of stylus drag, making speed adjustment very infrequent, and maybe not even needed during the play of the LP. If speed adjustment is required, slow application of this adjustment will make it nearly or totally unnoticeable. A quartz-lock mechanism will not allow slow applications of change, and make immediate changes in a very small variation tolerance, so speed does not vary alot in amplitude, but it does vary alot in frequency. It "hunts" for speed. Up and down and up and down. This is true in either belt-drive or direct drive. Some may say it is perfect because of tight specs, some may disagree. So, as you can see, there are belt systems which do not suffer from these "demons" that Moncrieff waxes so epically about.

Now, direct-drive motors are inherently directly connected to the platter by their shafts, and all motors vibrate. ALL. When the motor vibrates, this vibration is directly coupled to the platter, and the platter vibrates. The vibration of the platter during play can and will cause information loss or distortion, since the record is moving microscopically under the stylus in directions other than the time axis. Better main bearings can minimize this effect. So can heavy, well damped platters.

Belt-drives on the other hand, have the motor somewhat isolated from the platter by the belt, and much of the motor vibrations are damped by the belt, and gone by the time they reach the platter. Since they invariably have some reasonably heavy platter weight, any vibrations coming into the platter will be of low magnitude, and easy for the platter to damp.

As I tried to show here, a well thought out belt drive table has much to recommend it, including good speed control and high vibration isolation, and there are a number of belt drive turntables that perform at extremely high levels. Poor belt drive tables are not an accurate representation of what belt-drive can do, just as poor direct drive tables aren't a good representation of what direct drive can do.

The absolute worst combination possible, is a cheap direct drive, cogging motor, quartz-locked, light platter turntable. These were typical in the late 70s mass-market units. They vibrate, cog, and hunt, with very little compensation from platter weight. Next up is a a cheap belt drive with a poorly designed subchassis, rubber belt, AC cogging motor, and cheap light platter. Neither of these is a very good choice. These are primarily what Moncrieff was talking about. IMO.

At the highest levels, both technologies may be good, but the execution of each design will determine how great it is.

Speed control is very important, but it does not exist in a vacuum. Vibration induced into the platter is also an important aspect of the design. They should not be considered as separate from each other, since the overall performance of the turntable is dependent upon BOTH of these parameters, and not just one or the other. This is why bearing design, platter design, motor and speed control, and vibration control and damping, are included in turntable design. Failure at any one of these criteria will result in a poor sounding turntable. The steps up the scale of performance reflect the proper addressing of all these points together.
Tom, there is no physical contact in the 1200's platter, except for the spindle. The magnet is part of the underside of the plater. The chassis is non resonant and made up of three components: molded rubber base, a composite midsection and an aluminum top. You can see the diagram in The creature is pretty well designed and borrows technology developed for the SP-10 series. It would take a high end company millions to develop such technology from the ground up. The mods take it into full high end operating mode.

The other day I was at Lak's and we were talking about TTs (you know he wants to get one). He said he heard the Teres at the Midwest Audio Fest and that it sounded good to his ears. That he's also heard mine with an entirely different system and acoustic scenarios but that it also sounded good to his ears. Lak would love to hear a fully modded 1200 next to a Teres to really find out how they sound--even if that means a trip to Appalachia.

If belt drives are so fantastic, I wonder why record cutting lathes were either DD or rim drive--even for the Audiophile labels...
Yes, Francisco, I realize the magnets are built-in to the platter. That makes the platter part of the motor, and the spindle is the motor shaft, and the main bearing is the motor bearing. That is the point that I was making.

I'm simply pointing out design methodology. Certainly you agree that nothing is perfect.

I know Lak is interested in a turntable. He's emailed me several times. I don't know what he will end up buying. His price range favors the 1200. You don't really have to A/B against a Teres, just against any sub-$3k tables like a Basis or VPI or something like that. If it can beat any of those, then it is well worth the savings to get the 1200. If it can't beat those, there's no sense in even comparing to the Teres.

The answer to your last question is, "torque".
in the 'real world', a high-quality belt-driven tt is the way to go. i agree with Twl that it is possible to minimize (not eliminate) the design limitations of belt-drive to a degree that makes them non-issues unless compared directly with the Rockport.

when Twl mentions 'torque' as far as cutting lathe's; that brings to mind the servo-mechanisim of the Rockport. the servo on the Rockport keeps the speed with-in 10 parts per billion dead on regardless of groove modulations......the 55 pound platter comes to full speed in 3 revolutions and stops with-in 3 revolutions. it takes 'torque' for this to be possible.....both on cutting big groove modulations and playing big groove modulations with no speed instabilities.
In the 'real world', the 1200 is the world's best selling TT. Why? because it can be used for DJ'ing, broadcasting, record libraries, archivists, audiophiles, etc. It is easy to set up, low maintenance, built like a small tank yet very precise, has high torque (1/3 rev start) and an electric brake. Truth is it takes a lot of money to make a belt drive work right, with all its inherent limitations. Most people are not chronic audiophiles and in reality, how many people can afford such things? I have a group of friends who, like me, have worked in A/V stores, record stores, are musicians, started playing with stereos in high school, etc. Of all of them I am the one who is really into audio and the one with the most sophisticated system (wish I could say that of my record collection). Even though I'm buying used, demo and price point gear, my system is approaching $7-8K. This has to end--soon. I need to move on.

Because of its inherent strengths, Kevin has gone through the trouble of developing the 1200 mods. He wants as many people to have high end performance on a budget. I still don't know how far the full mods will take it, but I'm willing to drive 3 1/2 hours each way to take my 1200 to be rewired by Ridge Street Audio. Next will be the outboard power supply.

Tom, there is one of the facilitators in Audiocircle with a Teres. He lives a couple hours from me. It's sad you don't want to meet us. Lak has three dogs and they all like me...
Francisco, I have no problem meeting you. I just have a situation here at home that does not lend itself to having guests at this time. I hope you understand that. It has nothing to do with you or Lak. I couldn't have any guests in here right now.
Francisco sez: "Even though I'm buying used, demo and price point gear, my system is approaching $7-8K. This has to end--soon. I need to move on."

LOL, and good luck, my friend! :-)
I wonder if the VPI SDS or the more expensive Walker Motor Controller would help the situation? VPI also had the original PLC motor controller, but it's been said to radiate spurious noise into some rigs; might be worth trying on a budget however.
Good thread guys, very entertaining
Everything you have in the bank, most of your friends and certainly your wife. After all that what does it really matter?
Gee, Nrchy, if I total the worth of all that, that means I can get rock-solid speed stablilty for just a few bucks. I'm sold! HA! :-)
I wanted to briefly add to this thread, just because it's been brought up above, that I very recently added KAB's new dedicated outboard power supply for the SL-1200 to mine (it's the first one in the field anywhere). The result, on a TT that didn't previously give me a lot of sleepless nights, has been phenomenal, and educational in the extreme. The only downside is that it's so much improved, it kind of makes me sheepish that I ever claimed it sounded fine to me before... :-) Anyway, I have no idea if this mod addresses what the threadhead is bothered by, because gross pitch stability has never been a problem for me, but I will be posting a full review of the PS-1200 in the near future.