Just setup a Transrotor Dark Star. It resides on an HF-4 Solid Steel rack. This is not the reference model. It includes a Michell Engineering tonearm called a TA2 in Transrotor naming nomenclature. Without the Transrotor name, it is simply called T2. It was quite easy to setup everything and including cartridge install, maybe, took about 45 minutes. The tonearm was preinstalled and it measured to the alignment reference points with the included alignment tool. Cool.
I installed a Sound-Smith Sussaro MKII instead of the Goldring Elektra that was supplied with the Dark Star. Did a couple of measurements, rough....MOFI Geo-Disk and the supplied Transrotor TA2 protractor. Close enough for me for now.
After a good hour of warm up, dropped the needle and I was highly impressed. For comparison, my main rig is a Transrotor Apollon with three motors, Konstant TMD Reference power supply, 80mm platter, and two SME V's. Cartridges used for comparison were Soundsmith Hyperion, Benz LPS and Benz Ruby Z. Note, I can swap out Benz's so fast and easily now, it is a breeze now.
Cutting to the chase, the Dark Star sounded great. The Dark Star did not image as good as the big Apollon, to be expected, but, it sounded gemutlich, warm, and pleasant sounding. I listened to Eva Cassidy Over the Rainbow and it proved its worth as a turntable that is able to convey emotional feedback from whatever is in the groove. I went from Eva Cassidy to Robin Trower, Bridges of Sigh, and again, the sound was impressive, but to a lesser agree. Next up was some old school Motown, Diana Ross and the Supremes. Love Hangover, Touch Me in the Morning, and Ain't no Mountain High Enough all sounded great. Diana's voice was clear and sounded lovely. Comparatively, the acoustic space with the bigger Apollon felt much larger. With the Dark Star you listen to the music and enjoy what was recorded and can become enthralled with the music being played. Although fine details were not as great as the Apollon, the Dark Star did not disappoint. I sat in one listening session and felt so at ease, that I nearly fell asleep during the listening session.
One stark comparison is that of record ticks and pops. The tonearm / Dark Star combination cannot keep up with the ability of the SME V / Apollon combination to dampen ticks and pops. I was told once a long time ago by an audio mentor who told me that better tonearms have an ability to dampen such noise. I grew up to be a believer. It was noticeable to older scratched and highly played records. Clean and non scratched records will sound fine. Just take note, the standard TA2 tonearm in the Dark Star will get you started, and it does sound great for the majority of clean unscratched records, but it does come with limitations at the price range of that particular arm.
For the initiated, with high resolution systems, the Dark Star may appear to have less layering and spaciousness compared to your wide open and detailed systems. In contrast, what if you don't want to hear the backup singer in the left row in the left speaker, or a variety of instruments which would make you lose focus of the music. The Dark Star will center what you hear and it will be just as joyfull, but in a different manner. Sometimes, less is more. I can relate.
Throw on a better tonearm and better phono IC's, and the Dark Star will be satisfying for most anyone looking to jump into analog bliss. Heck, as is, most people just starting in this hobby, or wanting to upgrade to the next level from where they are now, this is an easy recommendation.
A little history about Michell Engineering as I have heard about the Gyro-Deck from Michell years ago. John Michell used to make models and through collaboration with Stanley Kubrick, Michell built the space ship ‘Discovery’ for the move 2001 Space Odyssey. It is also mentioned that this model ship was later to become the inspiration for the GyroDec. So, the tonearm made for Transrotor by Michell Engineering along with all other Michell Engineering products have an interesting history. Can't forget to add that Michell also took over the trademark for Transcriptor and was able to produce them under certain patents. I thought that was pretty neat to discover.
The Dark Star includes a Transrotor Studio power supply with separate potentiometers to adjust fine speed for 33/45. It is advertised as about 5% accurate. Also included was a very heavy record clamp.
This is a direct quote from the Michell Engineering (2020) website describing the T2 tonearm. It is the same tonearm as used on the Transrotor Dark Star without the A:
"The Michell Engineering supplied T2 Tonearm design takes full advantage of our brand new arm tube and the current three point arm mounting system. Each T2 is meticulously hand assembled, creating a precision crafted tonearm achieving extremely low friction levels and performance way beyond the expectations of a product at this price point.
The T2 uses a custom one piece, aluminum arm tube, carefully manufactured to optimize performance and reduce stress on the ultra low friction polymer bearings. Each tonearm is meticulously hand assembled using custom made tools and torque settings to guarantee optimum performance. This level of care ensures perfect tracking and maximizes the amount of information the cartridge can extract from the record surface."
Mitchell Engineering (2020). About. Michell Engineering Company. Retrieved from
History | Michell Engineer (michell-engineering.co.uk)
I believe the Dark Star falls within the same price range as the Fat Bob-S. It does not look sparse compared to the Fat Bob. It is considered an open-air, suspension-less design which is belt-driven with an outboard decoupled AC-synchronous motor. The Dark Star is all black and looks like it could pass for something that Darth Vader would use.
The chassis and the platter are constructed of polyoxymethylene, or POM.
The platter is heavy and looks to be about 80mm thick. Interesting that the turntable platform actually has three touch points, or footers on the platform. The motor is not connected or attached to the Dark Star platform, but sits closely to a cutout which makes it look like a fourth footer. The motor tower and the tonearm mounting tower are not actually supporting the table. The tonearm cable is fixed (arggghhh) to the tonearm through the tonearm tower and it does not allow me to swap out the cable which has simple RCA connectors. I tried, but the cable is integral to the Michell Engineering tonearm. I added a set of RCA interconnects with gold plated female/female adapters to increase the length to the phono amp (Aesthetix IO Eclipse).
I can easily recommend the Dark Star for anyone interested in enjoying music. It makes for a great first, second, or even third turntable.