Review: Durand Tonearms Talea Tonearm
Disclosure of Conflict of Interest:
The tonearm's designer, Joel Durand, is my friend. I own several of his recordings and have attended live performance of his compositions. If you consider this too great a conflict of interest, read no further.
However, as a friend, I have observed and listened throughout the entire development process. I believe I understand the designer's priorities and how he sought to achieve them. I wasn't looking for a new tonearm, but when I heard an advanced prototype, I committed to purchase if a commercial product was realized. Friendship is one thing, but know that I purchased my Talea with hard-earned money; not out of a sense of loyalty.
Web Site: www.durand-tonearms.com
Joel brings a unique background to tonearm design. Prior to beginning a successful career as a classical composer and university professor, he studied mathematics. Joel has a highly developed aesthetic sense combined with solid mathematical and engineering perspective. The Talea is truly a case of form following function: all to the service of music.
I have spent several listening sessions at Joel's home and can say that his audio taste is highly refined and wide-ranging. During our listening sessions, I have learned a great deal about HOW to listen and experience music. My wallet is invariably lighter from subsequent LP purchases, but I am more than compensated for by the increased musical enjoyment.
I am a long-time music lover. I have no innate musical ability but appreciate the talent of others. I attend 20-30 concerts per year; ranging from the Seattle Symphony, outdoor venues, jazz clubs, and yes, bars. I am also a 30+ year audiophile. I believe that if you buy the best, it only hurts once. As a result, I purchase equipment rarely, and always for the long-term.
The Talea is a uni-pivot design. The tonearm and all necessary tools are packaged in a lovely wooden box, as meticulously executed as the arm itself. All necessary tools are provided, including a jeweler's loupe, alignment protractor and a certificate of ownership. The Jabota arm wand is a beauty. Fit and finish are exemplary. The owner's manual/set-up guide is extensive and easily understandable, supplemented with many helpful illustrations.
The tonearm is easy to use. VTA is set by a knob on the tower with a scale for reproducibility. Fine azimuth adjustment can be optimized 'on the fly' with a scale for reproducibility. The arm wand sits on the arm lift when in rest position.
Lower registers are deep, and even visceral when appropriate. Bass is never syrupy or 'slow' but sound entirely natural. On the Great Jazz trio's "Satin Doll" (Live From LA), Ron Carter's bass and Tony Williams' bass drum are powerful, but remain articulate. On this recording, the distinctive sound of sticks striking the drum head (a difficult sound to faithfully recreate) are realistically heard. The Talea can 'get down and dirty' when called upon. The driving bass line of Prince's "Let's Work" (Controversy) provides a rock solid foundation for one of his signature grooves.
Instrumental overtones are extended and natural. I believe this provides the listener a window into the unique qualities of each performer. As an example, Ben Webster's unmistakable embouchure is highlighted on the Acoustic Sounds 45 rpm re-issue of "Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster". On the same disc, the distinctive 'walking style' of Leroy Vinnegar's bass is more emphatic and articulate.
The sound stage is wide and deep, and seems only limited by the dimensions of my (relatively) small devoted listening room. Instruments are well defined in space. Listening to Lucinda Williams' "Wrap My Head" (West), there are drums, bass and guitar closely spaced, but clearly separate in the center of the sound stage. In my prior experience, these instruments were audible but homogenized.
The Talea excels at revealing distinctive textural information deep in the record grooves. The unique instrumental qualities of The Quartetto Italiano's marvelous interpretation of Beethoven's Late Quartets really shine when played through the Talea. On the LP "American III: Solitary Man", Johnny Cash becomes a palpable presence in the room when played through the Talea. Additionally, the sense of playing in a small acoustic space (rather than a regular recording studio) is easy to hear. Likewise, the ambiance of the larger Koln Opera house is readily recognized on Keith Jarrett's "Koln Concert". Subtle micro-dynamics can be appreciated throughout the Music Matters re-issue of Horace Silver's "Cape Verdean Blues".
The overall effect is startling realistic reproduction. The music is dynamic, while simultaneously, subtleties are coaxed from the grooves. I can sense Rudy Van Gelder hanging on for dear life on Lee Morgan's "Tom Cat" (Music Matters 45 rpm re-issue) and I can't help but smile while appreciating the uninhibited joy of Freddie Hubbard and Oscar Peterson on their killer cover of "All Blues" from the Pablo recording "Face To Face".
The Talea brings me closer to the musicians' vision and draws me deeper into the music. It sounds wonderful with delicate chamber music and captures the wild energy of The White Stripes. It is expensive, but the owner receives tremendous musical pleasure, i.e. value.
I take it as fact that there is no single piece of gear that will satisfy everyone's criteria for the 'best'. I have heard a prototype of the Talea on a Dobbin's modified Garrard and with ZYX Universe and Ortofon A90 cartridges. Not only did it sound wonderful with them all, it revealed their unique sonic signatures.
I believe the Talea deserves consideration as one of the best tonearms currently available. Highly recommended.
Turntable: Galibier Stelvio
Cartridge: Dynavector XV-1S
Phono Preamplifier: Modded, maxxed out K&K
Preamplifier: BAT VK50-SE
Amplifier: Einstein "Light In Dark"
Speakers: Daedalus Ulysses
Schroeder Reference SQ