You know, any review always starts with someone stating that they have this product that they want to talk about, I guess we all like to talk about things we have, either bad or good. So in that vein, I guess this would be considered a positive review and not bragging rights to a certain product. Blame it on human nature. I guess I should give some foresight into why I am reviewing this product at all. I feel that I should provide information for others to see what I have experienced in my real world environments and different component configurations of this product. Of course the usual precautionary statement, this review is based on my ears, my room acoustics and is the sum of all of my components used together as the means to the end. In addition it is based on the various types of music using vinyl as the format that has been played on this system.
This review is of the Transrotor Apollon turntable. In its current state, I estimate the total price with all the upgrades over the last few years to be about $33,000 NOT including tonearm, cartridge, phono front end and turntable stand. The original configuration as ordered included a 60mm platter, 3 motors, 3 motor solenoid controllers and weighed about 85lbs. The upgraded parts from the base purchase are:
1. 80mm platter (weight about 28lbs)
2. TMD bearing
3. Quartz Filter fine 3 motor controller
4. Extra armboard for second SME tonearm
Total weight is now about a little over 100lbs for the turntable assembly. I am using the Clearaudio Montblanc turntable stand (about 290lbs) for my rack on ceramic tile flooring covering 2 feet of concrete slab in the basement with Harmonix points at the base. The combined weight of the stand and turntable bring the weight to almost 400lbs of mass.
My configuration for the rest of the playback consists of the SME V tonearm with VDH MCD 501 pure silver hybrid cables, Benz LP or Transrotor Merlo reference MC cartridges. In the rest of the electronics I use the Aesthetix IO Signature phono stage with one power supply and stock tubes along with Octave mono amps and preamp and B&W Nautilus 800 speakers. All equipment rests on Copulare custom designed lead and sand filled racks spiked to the floor. This is a new build house and brand new listening room and I am just at the tail end of optimizing all acoustics of this room. But so far, I have not heard any demo room sound any better in regards to than what I have right now. I know there are better out there, but I have not made that trek to find one out.
The primary reason the upgrade took place at all was to exploit my enjoyment and passion of listening to vinyl and to experience for myself the differences the additive upgrades would have on my listening sessions. When the opportunity arose to start doing upgrades I started with the platter and the bearing. I moved immediately to the 80mm platter and the new TMD magnetic bearing. This created a profound and a substantial increase in performance as the background become even quieter and even greater dynamics became the norm in relationship to explosiveness and preciseness of musical pieces when called for. Mind you, that I never noticed at any point excessive wow and flutter as it was not an audible issue nor was dynamic expression lacking, there was just more of the dynamic expression with the larger platter and the TMD bearing. I had always heard into the music and heard the nuances of what I thought were live recording cues such as some fader play or tape hiss on some recordings. With these two upgrades, I heard deeper into the music and there was a sense of more realism surrounding the instruments and musicians as the music played, undoubtedly due to the heavier platter and the TMD bearing. Adding mass to this record playing system increased performance greatly.
I never noticed any noises emitting from the bearing before and with the upgrade there were no changes in what I heard, just silence. Some of the immediate differences between the two platters were obviously weight and height. Going from 60mm to 80 mm increased the height by 20mm, meaning that I had to realign the SME V tonearm to raise it accordingly. Not a problem at all. One noticeable physical effect of the TMD bearing is that the previous bearing allowed the platter to spin up (rev) easier and would spin down or glide several rotations longer as it was free wheeling compared to the magnetic bearing. The magnetic bearing applies a magnetic force to the bearing controlling the platter and that magnetic pull is noticeable meaning that the heavy platter needs an additional torque push/pull from the motors to overcome the magnetic pull from the TMD bearing. I had thought of weight as an issue even with the 60mm platter that is how I ended up with three motors in the first place. The three motors and belts had no problem spinning this heavy platter with TMD. The motors never stress under the influence of the magnetic bearing and there seems to be no noticeable belt wear on all three belts, even after almost 2 ½ years of heavy use. The addition of the new speed controller with three separate analog amplifiers for each motor controller and microprocessor logic allowed me to ensure stabile speed and also a built in voltage regulator allowing for fully conditioned electricity to be provided to each motor controller. Speed adjustments are made using the Clearaudio 300hz strobelight and Clearaudio stroboscope. I check about every two weeks to ensure that belt wear or humidity is not playing havoc with the platter. Call me anal I guess, but as you know, owning vinyl means being more involved in the listening process. Ask me, I know, I just had my Benz LP returned a few weeks ago getting it’s 1500 hour diamond replacement. I wish that the upgraded motor controller (or even the base one’s) had some digital display to show me the actual speed as that would be faster for me to check speed status, but I guess that would be too technologically advanced for me, maybe.
For me to describe the sound with adjectives and superlatives would mean that I might be vying for a reviewer’s job, however, I am your average Joe enjoying music like the rest of you and thus my comments are more precise and to the point. The music just plainly rocks on this combination of equipment and room interaction. If an electric guitar was far left and behind or just behind the front stage, or a saxophone playing out loudly or softly, or a trumpet playing…they all sound right and oh so real to me. How does one make comparisons to “real”, well for one, if you get out to listen to live music every once in a while, then I guess you will hear what real and live sounds like. To me what is important is the piano, trumpet, drums and cymbals. If a system can get this right, then you will spend hours on end listening to music…in which case I happen to do. My wife plays piano and I get to hear her play every once in a while at the house, I play trumpet, not as often as I would like and far from professionally, but enough to get by a few songs and just from these two instruments we both get a live impression from music besides our concerts or live music visits which serve as our reference for live music. Our last live music show was Sara K and Christian Willison in Manheim Germany. After the concert, we went home and played a Sara K album and we both just sat back in the seat and realized at the same time that this system sounds to us as good as the concert we were just at. When my wife states something like that, there is a lot of miniscule things she heard at the concert that is being recreated here in our listening room. Last night, I played an MFSL Steely Dan, Aja album and it was so hauntingly real, like the instruments were jumping out of the thin air and just playing for you as the singers played on. If you have to look up at the room to see for your self if there is actually an instrument playing, I guess that is the best complement you can give to your own system, because that is what is happening when I play vinyl via the Transrotor Apollon using the combination of electronics I stated. As I listen to other songs from musicians and either re-mastered new pressings or original issues, it is just pure bliss if the recording reveals that. I can tell the differences in recording techniques as well as the ambiance of each recording. There is not a sterile flat background but a electrified one that emits the life of an event happening in front of you. Ambiance to me is the effect that the silent background of music has but is electrically charged to recreate that “you are their” feeling. For example, listening to Bob Seger’s Night Moves on an MFSL record, when it gets to the lull in the music and Bob starts stating, I remember back in 1969, well his voice is wrapped up in the microphone and you can hear him inhale and exhale…that is the level of detail that this turntable portrays, but not just his breaths, but the way he is inhaling and some of the distinct shhh effect on the microphone when someone gets to close and talks. Another distinct point I would like to make is that I can determine the quality of vinyl pressings by listening and comparing the new versus old. On some of the new recordings such as Marvin Gaye, Lets get it on or Jim Croce, the sound is just flat and sterile sounding, on the original highly scratched versions I own, the sound is so much more vibrant and natural sounding, yet scratched. Another aspect I hear in this system that is a standout to me is the subtle but pronounced way that drums are portrayed across the soundstage. I hear the slight tap of the snare and actually can visualize that drum being hit or slapped, and sometimes multiple drums that pan left or right just hit you with the right feel. It is like looking at an IMAX movie that is the only way I can describe it, where you are immersed in the total event. On another musical example, I played Allman Brothers Band, Idle Wild South and after playing both Midnight Rider and In Memory of Elizabeth Reed I have goose bumps listening to the amazing performances that the Allman Brothers are capable of, again, that mesmerizing effect and then having cravings for 5 shots of tequila to amplify this effect and the feeling like I am meditating, yeah, meditating to the music, now that is what I call it .
How about something different, what about Chic, well, yes Chic sounds just awesome on this turntable, listening to Dance, Dance, Dance or I want your love reminded me of my high school days, but I never really listened to the music like I do now and I can tell you that Chic made some really good music back then. I have to go back to the resonance effect of the musician singing on the microphone; it is as real as real gets. The effect at the end of the song, I need your love, the trumpets are playing distinctly in the front and in between the speakers. I guess I could keep digging out any of my old records and be just as happy listening to whatever I happen to throw on the turntable.
I did something I do when I am looking for furniture, I knocked on the side of the platter to hear and listen to the thud, thud of the mass,,,yes it passed the thud test, with a very dense sounding thud….my next non-audiophile test was placing a record on the platter and playing any song turning the volume up and then knocking on the side of the turntable stand, just to see what is picked up, well nothing unless I turn the volume to past ear splitting levels. Like I said, I never had any wow and flutter issues before and with the increased mass and density of the new platter, it ain’t (yes, ain’t) ever going to happen. I would dare say that with the combination of the Clearaudio MontBlanc and some two plus feet of concrete (basement slab with moisture barrier and floor heat) as core for the platform to rest on that this is just short of the equivalent of total isolation platforms. My wife, my realtor, and the architect “Really” looked at me strange when I suggested possibilities of leaving a hole in the listening room and building this hole separate so that I can put a record player on it…..there are no holes in my floor, nor will their ever be…I do not need to go there with this configuration, but I think I am at least the next step below total isolation, at least that is how this turntable is reacting when subjected to various types of music and volume.
I have to pull myself away from writing, but I am addicted to listening to records, but I have to get up early, the wife is already in bed, my eyes are fighting to stay open, I must get some sleep, arrggghhh. Like I said at the beginning due to human nature, we all like to talk, and I just happen to be a blabber mouth when it comes to things I am passionate about. Oh well, I hope that someone will appreciate what I have to say about the Transrotor Apollon, I do not believe many people have heard one or even seen one up close, so these are not widely known.
I do not know how this turntable compares to the likes of the Walker Proscenium Gold or VPI HRX but I am sure that the quality of playback at this level is a matter of personal choice. I would recommend this turntable to anyone looking for high resolution vinyl playback capability and interested in a giant piece of polished aluminum with acrylic carbon thrown in the mix.
This is description from Transrotor’s web site:
The star-shaped chassis is manufactured as a multiple layers construction; 2 polished aluminum plates enclose a black plate made of carbon-acrylic. The platter mat made of a carbon-acrylic/vinyl composition rests on top of the 60 mm aluminum platter. The tonearm bases are made of a 20 mm aluminum alloy. Incl. SME 3500 tonearm, Transrotor MC Merlo Reference cartridge and platter weight aluminum
Enjoy the music,
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