These are the two turntables under review.TWO TURNTABLES
Is the modern-day Raven with its three state-of-the-art modern arms, eight times better than the 30 year old Victor TT-81 with its three vintage arms?
Not in my opinion.
Is the modern-day big Raven better head-to-head with the nude vintage Victor TT-81?
Not in my opinion.
Could the nude Victor TT-81 DD turntable actually be better than the modern high-end belt-drive Raven AC-3?
Please read on
The germ for this Project came from an exchange of Posts on Audiogon about the relative merits of different plinth materials for the infamous vintage Technics SP10 MKIII DD turntable.
Different woods were discussed together with slate and Panzerholtz, all of which apparently, changed the sound of the SP10 MKIII.
Raul, a rather ubiquitous poster on this site, provocatively claimed that to his ears the SP10 sounded better without any plinth?
Now for several years I have been following the claims of various groups of audiophiles for the advantages of idler/rim-drive turntables and direct-drive turntables over the generally accepted supremacy (of the High-End Audio Industry), for belt-drive.
Having started in audio with a cheap Technics DD turntable 32 years ago I had progressed rapidly to belt-drive with a Rega Planar 3 and had auditioned Linns and a SOTA Star Sapphire in my system during that time.
I must confess with some embarrassment, that I have never been able to hear dramatic differences between most decently made turntables and that includes the Continuum Caliburn and the Rockport Sirius III.
In fact Im generally at a loss to understand how others are able to differentiate the sound of the turntable from that of the arm/cartridge combination in an unknown system?
So those readers who claim to be able to, can ignore the rest of this report content in the confirmation that I am (and always have been), a cloth-eared dolt?
I have always heard far more dramatic differences in cartridges and to a lesser extent, various arms although as most analogue lovers acknowledge, the arm/cartridge synergy is an inseparable entity?
This comment from Raul about the Technics SP10 sounding fine to him without a plinth germinated in my mind a plan, which might allow me to hear the sound of a vintage DD turntable without the expense of purchasing a respected plinthed Technics, Pioneer or Denon?
I found a 30 year-old Victor TT-81 on Ebay and the story as it developed, is described in this Forum.
I took a long time to evaluate many cartridges on many arms spanning both turntables so as to be quite sure of my impressions and conclusions.
The first thing I noticed about the TT-81 DD turntable was the distinct absence of colouration or signature sound.
I recall in his review of the Raven AC-3 in TAS 2008, Jonathan Valin commented on its rich and beautiful sound but intimated that every record was projected with this richness and beauty (no such bad thing?).
In other words, the table itself seemed to overlay a euphonic colouration.
Its not that one is aware of this occurrence unless one is able to directly compare the presentation to another table (in Valins case, the Walker Black Diamond).
The downside to this colouration is that differences in cartridges and tonearms are harder to differentiate. Indeed, even changes to arm geometry, VTA, VTF and azimuth are harder to discern.
With the TT-81, suddenly even the slightest change to VTA, VTF or azimuth is instantly noticeable.
Cartridge and arm differences were clearly and repeatedly discernable whilst with the Raven, they seemed subtle and often minor.
The second thing that became apparent with the TT-81 was a slightly more rhythmic presentation to the music.
This is hard to accurately describe but on Easy Skankin from the Bob Marley album Kaya, the Raven had a more laid-back beat whilst the TT-81 drove it forward on the front foot so to speak.
Which one is more correct Im not sure. Each one is perfectly listenable, but it does, over time, become apparent that rock music in particular, has a punchier snap to the beat and off-beat. This does get the feets atappin.
The third difference was to me, the most convincing yet Im at a loss to explain or understand it?
We are all aware that with live music (whether acoustic or amplified), when the volume and/or complexity increases, the air seems to expand to accommodate the increased volume without distortion.
With home audio on the other hand, the louder and more complex the music becomes, the more constricted the air seems to become with an increase in perceived distortion?
Id always associated this phenomenon with speaker limitations, listening room limitations, amplifier clipping or recording-source overload?
With the TT-81 however (especially with MM cartridges), when the volume/complexity increased, the air seemed to increase just as it does in the live event?
It wasnt totally as unlimited as live, but it was the damn closest I have yet heard.
Could it be the torque and power of the DD turntable pushing the vinyl past the stylus thus overcoming the increased friction of the more heavily modulated grooves of the loudest/complex passages whilst the belt-drive turntable does not have that advantage?
I am not going to describe all the new sounds and instruments I discovered on familiar discs. Those clichés are so meaningless I sometimes wonder if the reviewer heard any instruments when he first bought the disc?
Nor am I going to tell you how wonderful all my favourite tracks sounded on the TT-81 compared to the Raven AC-3. Comparing degrees of wonderfulness must surely be an exercise in self-abuse and in any case, a wonderfully recorded track will often sound wonderful on many systems, even poor ones.
I have a far more revealing test which involves well recorded but demanding source material which can sound unlistenable on any but the very best systems (http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?eanlg&1236947666&openmine&zzHalcro&4&5#Halcro)
Now the tracks
.Alabama and Words on Neil Youngs Harvest album are a real favourite of mine to test a system.
So unlistenable have they sometimes sounded on various systems (including mine), that wives have literally vapourised like banshees down hallways shrieking at the pain.
The very best I have managed to extract out of these two tracks on the Raven was with the Empire 4000D/III on the Copperhead arm with cartridge/arm geometry set to the micron.
At that stage, the tracks were listenable but still never enjoyable.
On the TT-81 with all three arms fitted with MM cartridges, these tracks were finally able to be understood in respect to their recording techniques and became almost enjoyable
.no shrieking wives to be seen or heard.
The climax to Respighi Pines of Rome (LSC-2436) was suddenly understandable as his attempt at a musical orgasm and with the TT-81 there were no distortions.
The Arnold Overture to Tam OShanter on Witches Brew (LSC-2225) was handled with ease and aplomb whilst the Prokofiev Love for Three Oranges Suite on Mercury SR-90006 45RPM was shocking and startling instead of shocking and unbearable.
Another test in this regard is to play side 3 of the original Apple recording of the Beatles White Album without squirming?
In other words it was no contest in this regard which I prize rather highly.
The TT-81 crushed the Raven.
I had read reports that suggested the bass performance of DD turntables was not generally as good as belt-drives?
With the TT-81, the bass went lower than the Raven AC-3, with more control and better definition whilst the highs were simply ethereal. Now the bass of the Raven is renowned as being amongst the best and deepest of modern turntables so another myth bites the dust?
When Michael Fremmer claimed that most turntables bass performance seemed to directly reflect their weight (ie the heavier the table, the better the bass performance), he obviously hadnt encountered the Victor TT-81?
.front to back?
side to side?
I heard no appreciable differences between the two tables and really I find this attribute to be more related to the cartridge than the turntable.
What I really love about the TT-81 and the three vintage arms I have, is the instant start-up and stop of the platter and the easy switching of headshells with cartridges.
Until you experience this blessing, you wont believe that you struggled with changing cartridges on modern arms without a word of complaint?
I really love rave reviews
.even when they seem to go OTT so here goes
To test this $300 thirty year old turntable against the $18,000 Raven AC-3 is one thing.
Lets bring in some real competition!!!REAL COMPETITION
Here is the Continuum Caliburn with Cobra arm and Lyra Olympos cartridge which costs $120,000 without the Castellon stand and is rated by Michael Fremmer as the greatest turntable/arm combination he has ever heard.
With the TT-81 and the Grace 940G with the Technics EPC100 Mk3 and custom arm-pod, the cost is $2,360 and although it was not possible to listen in the same room through the same system, there was simply daylight between the two sounds.
The TT-81/Grace/Technics combination trounced Goliath (much to the chagrin of Goliaths owner).
When I began this Project, I really hoped to spend a couple of thousand dollars to hear the differences between belt-drive and direct-drive turntables and also to end up with some cheap vintage tonearms.
What has eventuated is the creation of an analogue playing system, the likes of which I have never heard equaled anywhere.
I know nothing about the Technics SP10 Mk2 or Mk3 turntables and their similarity or otherwise to the Victor TT-81.
The fact that most users agree that they sound better in some form of plinth is persuasive (although if every plinth material and thickness changes the sound why is that not a colouration?)
The TT-81 sounds simply perfect naked. If anyone can explain to me (logically and scientifically) why wrapping a plinth around this turntable will make it better, Id be interested?
For the here and now I must conclude that Raul has a valid viewpoint about his nude DD turntable preference
..at least in relation to the TT-81.