Initial Impressions of the Bluenote Bellavista Sig
*INITIAL* Impressions of the Bluenote Bellavista Signature Turntable:
The following are my DETAILED (& sometimes anally detailed) impressions of the Bluenote Bellavista Signature after 8 days of ownership. I have given a synopsis of the entire text to make it less painful for many readers. The detailed text follows for those of you who are hard-core vinyl enthusiasts.
* Bluenote (Italian) Bellavista Signature ‘table, Origin Live Silver 250 tonearm & Ortofon VMS20E Mk2 MM cartridge.
* Bluenote site: www.bluenote.it. Click “Products” on the left side, then, “Turntables” & scroll down a bit to see the “Bellavista Signature” model.
* The platter is very cool looking & weighs about 10 lbs. It is made from polyvinyl.
* Delrin spindle insert that can be used to raise or lower the platter for correct VTA.
* The entire spindle bearing assembly is brass, threaded on the exterior & attached to the underside of the top plinth by a huge hex nut.
* The fit & finish of all the parts is just impeccable & very impressive.
The Rega & OL tonearms are supposed to be drop-in replacements for the Bluenote tonearms.
* I decided to use the OL provided threaded VTA adjustment sleeve.
*The mounting hole was not wide enough for the collar to slip into the hole so the entire VTA collar sat above the plinth.
* The tonearm grab screws were metric – 1mm metric.
* The Ortofon VMS20E Mk2 MM cartridge was to be mounted with a screw & hex nut.
* Weight was 5gms & the mid-range VTF was 1.25 gms. I set it to be 1.35gms.
* The freebie EnjoyTheMusic.com protractor + got one from OL with the cartridge purchase do not require a reference set before alignment. So, it took a lot of sliding the cartridge back & forth in the headshell before the inner & outer null points lined up.
* I set the bias/anti-skate to approx. 1gm as a starter.
* There was the sound – absolutely OK! Coming equally from both channels, pristine, clear, detailed, no buzzing, sounding soooo damn good.
* Clear, detailed sound, great bass extension, crisp high frequency extension.
* The sound has lived up to very expectation I had of it. TOTALLY KICK-BUTT!
After about 2 months of solid research i.e. after extensive reading on available turntables in the $2000 & below price range + extensive reading on tonearms in the $650-$900 price range, I decided to order a Bluenote (Italian) Bellavista Signature ‘table & Origin Live Silver 250 tonearm. The toss-up was between the Teres Audio Model 150 & the Bellavista Signature. The Bluenote ‘tables are virtually unknown here in the USA but are pretty big in Europe so it was exciting to buy a piece of equipment that not many people knew about but still had a very good reputation. Let me also admit that this is not always a good thing as one can be stuck for setup advice or for repairs or for accessories! The OL Silver 250 is very well known here & I had the good fortune of hearing it in a friend’s system before I bought it. For the money, it seemed like a “best buy”. The bad thing about imports is that you have to wait a long time to take delivery (although, I have heard, that ordering a VPI Scout is just as bad!). It took 1 month after I placed the order for the ‘table to arrive. I tried not to think about it during that month but that was an impossible task esp. with Vinyl Asylum being sooooo easy to access!
Anyway, the package finally arrived. It weighed 39 lbs – that’s a good thing (you know, how we audiophiles like heavy equipment! Makes us think that we are getting our money’s worth!). BTW, the OL Silver 250 arrived weeks earlier since it was a “more local” sale. I highly recommend the seller of this tonearm. When I opened the box, I found that it had been double-boxed – plus points to the dealer for doing this! It was nicely padded on all 4 sides + top & bottom. Removed the packing & discovered the Bluenote box – the center packing tape running along the length of the box had Bluenote’s logo all along as if the tape was made specifically for them. That’s a nice touch, I thought! Cut the tape carefully with a box cutter to find a foam top cover. Upon removing that I found another foam insert into which the ‘table parts & accessories were fitted – a tiny bottle of bearing oil, the platter, the spindle, the belt in a zip-loc bag & the motor pulley cover. The platter is very cool looking & weighs about 10 lbs. It is made from polyvinyl & has concentric grooves made on both sides. This shows some extremely precise machining work done at Bluenote’s factory. On the underside of the platter are 12 brass weights about 1” tall that are screwed into the platter. So, when the platter rotates, these brass weights look like a (horizontal) Ferris wheel!! The motor pulley (an option) is also very cool indeed – machined out of solid brass with 2 openings for the belt to enter & leave. This cover weighs at least 1-2 lbs itself!! There are 4 screws in the back of the top plinth where the manuf. provided (optional) dust cover will fit. I unscrewed on the screws to find that the factory had made a hole in the plinth then inserted a metal stub with the center threaded into which the screw fit i.e. the screw did not go directly into the plinth. Attention to details, I though. So, overall, the fit & finish of all the parts is just impeccable & very impressive. After all it’s made by the Italians & we know just how much they care about appearances! A very good review of the Bellavista+Borghese tonearm exists in the March issue of Positive Feedback – lots of discussion of materials used. I recommend this review as a very good introduction to Bluenote’s product.
I removed this 2nd foam insert & there she was – the ‘table itself! A beauty for the eyes to behold! It is a double-plinth design. I do not have pictures but you can see them at the Bluenote site: www.bluenote.it. Click “Products” on the left side, then, “Turntables” & scroll down a bit to see the “Bellavista Signature” model. The ‘table is very simple to look at but has clean lines. The plinth is a beautiful black acrylic with a smooth finish. The 3 feet are milled aluminum & in the bottom center of each feet is a threaded screw. This allows the ‘table to make contact at 3 knife-edge points only rather than having the entire flat portion of the feet in contact with the shelf. Very nice – it is added isolation. A quick rapping of the knuckles on the plinth produced a very dead “thunk” sound. That is a good sign too – no unwanted resonances in the plinth. The tonearm mounting collar is a precision machined aluminum piece with 3 grab screws. The Rega & OL tonearms are supposed to be drop-in replacements for the Bluenote tonearms. The motor is all-brass exterior & is firmly attached to the bottom plinth. The hole on the top plinth is about 0.5cm larger than the circumference of the motor so that the motor pulley can be level with the platter but the motor body does not touch the top platter at all. Nice!! I flipped the ‘table over & I saw a green insert with a flat-head screw-driver slot in the middle of the spindle. Upon reading the provided description I discovered that this is a Delrin spindle insert that can be used to raise or lower the platter for correct VTA!!! How about that??? Never seen this on any other ‘table so far. The entire ‘table & parts are very well-thought out by the designer Maurizio Azerini, are very simple in their design & supposedly are very effective. BTW, the entire spindle bearing assembly is brass, threaded on the exterior & attached to the underside of the top plinth by a huge hex nut.
So, now it was time to mount the tonearm. As told to me by the dealer, the OL arm slipped right in the mounting hole. However, I decided to use the OL provided threaded VTA adjustment sleeve. I felt this was a necessity because when I wanted to adjust VTA, if I didn’t have this sleeve & I released the 3 grab screws, the tonearm would slip down the mounting hole & I would lose my initial VTA setting. Yes, I could hold the tonearm while I unlocked the grab screws but many of you readers have been thru this before! Tell me, how easy is this to do??? To put it modestly, it is a curse!! With the VTA sleeve on, if I loosen the grab screws, the arm will not slip down, it will merely swivel left & right. This has no effect on either the VTA or the cartridge alignment. There was 1 major problem – the mounting hole was not wide enough for the collar to slip into the hole so the entire VTA collar sat above the plinth!! This made the tonearm very high w.r.t. the platter. This is when I realized that the VTA adjustment on the platter was a God-send!! Without that I would have been forced to remove the OL VTA sleeve. I thanked Maurizio Azerini profusely in my mind! Then I had the 2nd problem – the tonearm grab screws were metric – 1mm metric! This is a European brand where everything is metric & here I am in the USA where everything is mostly non-metric!!! So, the next day I went running to Home Depot, Lowe’s & Radio Shack for a 1mm allen wrench. None to be found. I did find & buy 1/16” & 0.05” non-metric wrenches. They were a cludgy fix as they slipped in the hex slots of the tonearm grab screws. I prayed that I wouldn’t strip the grab screw hex slots as I tightened otherwise I’d be sunk! I immediately called the dealer & he was very empathetic, re-assured me & said that he would mail me a 1mm allen wrench immediately. In order to avoid stripping the grab screw slots I laid off from mounting the tonearm. A few days later, in Priority Mail & no less!, the 1mm allen wrench arrived. I was impressed by the dealer’s mailing the wrench via Priority mail – he could feel my pain of having this beautiful ’table sitting right in front of my eyes & my not being able to play a record on it!!! I have to say this – all thru-out my waiting period for this ‘table, the phone help in setting it up & the need for a 1mm allen wrench this particular Bluenote dealer has really been superlative. I got precise updates as to why the shipment from Italy was delayed & the dealer was so good that he did not en-cash my cheque until he had the my goods in his hands. The transaction & after-sales service has been absolutely impeccable from this dealer. He comes highly recommended from me.
So, after I got the wrench, I was able to tighten the grab screws with conviction that they were really tight + I had not stripped the hex heads. I had to raise the platter quite a bit to get the tonearm to be level when the cartridge was sitting on a LP. An audiophile friend of mine has been kind enough to lend me his Ortofon VMS20E Mk2 MM cartridge until my Goldring 1042 arrived.
The Ortofon VMS20E Mk2 was the cat’s whisker’s in 1979! Back in those days I don’t think that they had threaded cartridge mounting holes as Clearaudio & Benz Micro do today. Hence, it was to be mounted with a screw & hex nut. Oh yes! What a royal pain in the rear! Anyway, I discovered the best technique to mount such a cartridge was to start the mounting screw in the hex nut for 1-2 turns & then ease the cartridge mounting holes into the mounting screws. In this way you do not have to both hold the delicate cartridge & try to thread the hex nut onto the mounting screw at the same time! That is a job for people with 3 hands!! After a lot of bated breaths the cartridge was mounted & the tonearm wires fixed. I had not broken the cantilever in the process – Hooray!
Next came VTF. This same friend loaned me his Shure gauge. I did a Google search for the Ortofon VMS20E Mk2 & found that the weight was 5gms & the mid-range VTF was 1.25 gms. I set it to be 1.35gms. This was easy.
Then came cartridge alignment. I had downloaded the freebie EnjoyTheMusic.com protractor + got one from OL with the cartridge purchase. To make a long story short, this alignment was a pain & somewhat confusing. Both protractors do not require a reference set before alignment unlike the Denessen protractor & the one from turntablebasics.com, which require the cross-hairs to be aligned to the pivot point. So, it took a lot of sliding the cartridge back & forth in the headshell before the inner & outer null points lined up. This took me a good 1 hour & it was around 11pm that I finished the job still very hesitant & quite sure I had seriously botched it.
OK, so now the tonearm was parallel to the record surface when the stylus was on the LP, the VTF was correctly set (double-checked after tightening the counterweight + after tightening the cartridge) & the cartridge was aligned. I set the bias/anti-skate to approx. 1gm as a starter. It was time to play a LP to test my handiwork. Somehow I didn’t want to play an LP because I had this image in my mind that, if I had incorrectly aligned the cartridge, it would disintegrate!!! A totally off-tangent thought. Nevertheless, I found some courage to put an LP on & sat in my listening chair with bated breath as the lead tracks ran into the 1st track. There was the sound – absolutely OK! Coming equally from both channels, pristine, clear, detailed, no buzzing, sounding soooo damn good I nearly wet my pants (OK, I didn’t –it’s just an expression!).
Oh boy! How can I describe the sound? The 1st expression that I uttered was “Damn, that cartridge sounds so good!”. I was told it was a very good cartridge, now I realized that it REALLY was! Clear, detailed sound, great bass extension, crisp high frequency extension. I played an Ella Fritzgerald LP – “The Gershwin Songbook” & played the last 3 tracks on that side to check for inner grove tracking. Absolutely OK – her voice was dead center & when her voice went higher in pitch & higher in volume it stayed put right in the center. I read that if VTA was wrong, her voice would go “cinema-scope”. No such event here, thankfully. I played REO Speedwagon “Hi In Fidelity” & the male vocals were absolutely dynamite. Track 3, “Should I follow my Head”, had the correct amount of echo – I compared this to my CD version. I played Supertramp “Even in the Quietest Moments” & the final track on side 1 “Downstream” had the same sort of emotional impact on me as it did with my MMF5. Again, no distortion or buzzing. I played several other LPs the music of which was intimately familiar to me – just 1 side at a time – to check the stability of the cartridge & the consistency of the sound. It was all there………….in spades! Whoopie, a mini-triumph. This was the very 1st audiophile ‘table, tonearm & cartridge I had ever setup (though it is my 4th official ‘table including the direct-drive, linear-tracking Technics I had growing up). I was indeed very pleased with the results of both my handiwork & especially of the sound. The sound has lived up to very expectation I had of it – it is more towards making music rather than being analytical. Bluenote advertises their sound to lean more towards live music & from my short experience I wholly endorse that. TOTALLY KICK-BUTT!
The ‘table is sitting on my DIY sandbox (idea originated from TNT-Audio’s Sandblaster). The sandbox is isolated from the rack shelf with DH Labs Large cones. I think that it sounds very good there tho’ a comparison of the sound with the ‘table sitting directly on the audio rack is in order. Honestly, I’m too busy right now to bother! Since I set the ‘table up, 2 friends have come by to listen to it. Both of them very complimentary of the sound – one said immediately that “this ‘table has great dynamics” & the other really never said anything explicitly BUT I turned my head to watch him as he listened to music in the “hot seat” of my listening room – his head bobbed up & down + his feet tapped with the rhythm of the music & no words were necessary. We were playing his recently acquired & coveted re-issue of The Ray Brown Trio “Soulary Energy” LP. Exact same results when we played his Ella F. & Joe Hess LP.
I will be mounting my Goldring once it arrives. Maybe this time the alignment process with take less time(?). I will report my findings with the Goldring in time to come – I must let it break-in for 50-75 hrs atleast. I will also write my long-term impressions of this ‘table & try to compare/contrast it to my previous MMF5. Until then, keep that black disk spinning!
I’d like to thank the following people for both the knowledge, advice & favours they have imparted & done for me. Their help has been instrumental in my being successful in my attempt to setup my ‘table:-
“user510” for hosting the wonderful site “The Analog Dept.” & his email advice for ‘table setup.
“twl” for the immense amount of vinyl knowledge given to me + his pin-point advice on ‘table setup.
“ozzy” for his late night phone help on ‘table setup (!), lending me his HFNRR test LP, knowledge on the OL Silver 250 & lending me his ears.
“Brad V” for loaning me his Ortofon, Shure gauge & being very obliging to lend me his ears. He’s been a good “accomplice”!
“Vinyl Asylum” – this site is totally awesome for the breadth & depth of knowledge!