October 2014 Robert Archer, CE Pro Magazine (USA)
CE Pro is the leading trade publication for professionals involved in the custom electronics business. (http://www.cepro.com/)
Audio is once again popular, and for the most part it is streaming media that is driving its resurgence. But oddly enough, simultaneous to the rise of Pandora, Spotify and other digital streaming sites is the resurgence of analog audio. Trendier than Wayfarer glasses, vinyl LPs record sales have grown in each of the past several years to return to figures of roughly 25 years ago.
Stepping up to offer dealers and well-heeled vinyl lovers a flagship LP playback solution is the British company AVID with its statement Acutus SP turntable, which is available through its American distributor Sound Solutions.
Decked out in chrome and black, the Acutus offer design enthusiasts a turntable that casts a unique shadow. Getting into the nuts-and-bolts, AVID takes the suspension concept popularized by companies like Thorens and Linn back in the original hi-fi heyday to new levels. Utilizing a tripod type of base, the table features adjustable, spring-loaded legs that support a heavy polished aluminium platter.
Other pieces of the AVID turntable include a separate power supply that connects to a separate synchronous motor, which incorporates pulleys for its dual-belt drive.
AVID also sent along a SME Model V tonearm that featured a Dynavector XX-2 moving-coil phono cartridge. The Acutus can handle a variety of tonearms, but the company notes that it ships from the factory ready to accommodate SME tonearms, and that adapters can be ordered to accommodate other brands.
I removed the vintage Thorens TD-160 from my system and began following the step-by-step instructions supplied with the AVID turntable. I placed the base of the Acutus on top of my equipment cabinet, placed the platter onto its spindle/bearing and then I verified the basic configuration of the SME tonearm.
From there I levelled the table using a combination of the built-in bubble level and my iPhone level app. Next I secured the motor to the base and placed the power supply next to my Cary Audio phono preamp. After adjusting the base and motor to their proper levels I mounted the turntable's sub-chassis. During these steps I felt the directions were a bit out of order and removed the platter (better read them again then-Ed) from the main bearing to mount the sub-chassis.
The following step proved to be the hardest: securing the two drive belts to the platter pulley. This was an exercise in frustration until I called the company's support team. The directions recommend using a "guide pin" of sorts to help pull the belts into place without pinching fingers or bruising knuckles in the limited space between the tripod legs and the platter pulley. It is finished in the same "chrome" exterior as the visible portion of the platter, (really?-Ed) but it lacks a flange or channel-like path to keep the belts in place. (double really?-Ed)
AVID's support team's advice helped. I was able to get the belts on (holding the platter and letting the belt slide on from my fingertips), and I was able to repeat the process. I then re-levelled the table and fastened the DIN connector from the power supply to the motor. I finished by validating the alignment of the tonearm and cartridge; I measured the motor speed using an iPad app and an old Shure alignment LP to make sure it was operating correctly, and I connected the output to the Cary phono preamp.
Joyfully I listened to a lot of vinyl with the Acutus SP, including many of my "go-to" LP recordings such as the Cars' self-titled first record, Michael Jackson's Thriller, Rush's Moving Pictures and Yes' 90125. In general, I would classify the Acutus' image as deep and its soundstage as tight.
The first thing that struck me was the range of dynamics, which seem aided by the table's low noise levels and silent operation. On songs such as "Billie Jean" the bass line sounded huge with a tight slam that I believe really communicated the vibe that MJ and Quincy Jones envisioned for the song.
I found rich mid-bass capabilities on songs such as "Tom Sawyer" and "YYZ" off Moving Pictures. The combination of transients and dynamics in these songs are a real test for audio playback, and I felt they showcased the full capabilities of the table for those that want to rock. Listening to the Acutus handle the odd time signature of a song like "YYZ" dispels the notion that analog can't be fast or tight, and hearing the impact of Neil Pearl's kick and snare during the intro of "Tom Sawyer" was a visceral experience.
Playing Billy Squier's Don't Say No, I've always loved the dynamics and space in this recording, and because of the table's resolution I could hear the harmonics in cymbal crashes and the grit of Squier's iconic '59 Les Paul running through what sounds like a Marshall "Plexi" with a high level of clarity.
I realize that vinyl isn't a format for everyone, and moreover, a flagship type of product like the Acutus SP further narrows the consumer market for dealers. But with all that said, for clients who are either vinyl enthusiasts or simply getting back into vinyl and can afford the high end, the Acutus SP is a statement product that is capable of delivering the qualities of analog audio like few other products.
My only real criticism with the table involves the setup. I would advise taking some training from Sound Solutions, unless you are well versed in turntables. In my case I admit that my knowledge probably pales when compared to many dealers (which would setup for customers-Ed) and fellow audiophile press members.
Nevertheless, one listen to the Acutus SP with a record like Thriller, Moving Pictures or other favourite reference recording is sure to turn analog skeptics into fans.
March 2009 David Price, HIFI World Magazine - (5 Globes) (UK)
I would like to think that in 2009, we are past the stage in the debate where journalists have to talk in terms of "the best turntable in the world". I think there are as many of these as there are people in the world, and never underestimate the power of human subjectivity and individual taste to bring disorder to any type of reasoned debate! So, I am not going to make dramatic pronouncements, rather I'll try to explain why I think this is one of the great turntables in the world...
The Acutus has a very neutral sound, which is to say that it both takes you very intricately in to the recording itself, and at the same time rather removes you from it. By this I mean it is so incisive that it gets past much of what is wrong with a particular recording/mastering/pressing, offering a direct route to the music without concerning you too much with how it gets there. By any criterion, this is an astonishing feat and puts it in the company of the world's very best disc spinners.
For example, when I first spun Steely Dan's 'Deacon Blue' from that jewel 'Aja' LP, I sat there rather transfixed with Donald Fagen's voice. There were moments when I would marvel at the warmth of that superb bass guitar sound, and the brilliantly dextrous way it was played, or delight at the sublime hi-hat sound which was about as realistic as I've ever heard outside a concert hall with its shimmering harmonics and supernatural air. But actually what locked me into this song was the nasal, New York, Jewish whine that intoned, "I'll learn to work the saxophone/ I'll play just what I feel/ Drink Scotch whisky all night long/ And die behind the wheel"... It's the juxtaposition of Fagen's bitterly acerbic, almost poisonous lyrics with Walter Becker's soft, inoffensive melodies that makes this song so powerful, and Fagen's plaintive vocal delivery tops it off brilliantly - and never have I heard it so direct as with this turntable.
Moving to '1000 Knives' from Yellow Magic Orchestra's dark 1981 ambient electronic 'BMG', and once again you could sit there and gasp in awe at the clarity of one of the earliest digital recordings, the sumptuous warmth of those arpeggiating Korg analogue synthesisers and crashing Roland drum machines. You could marvel at the superlative bass grip the Acutus displayed and it vast widescreen projection of the soundstage. And you could smile at the thunderous dynamics, hitherto unheard, as the brooding songs builds to a crescendo. But again I found myself transfixed by what the song was doing, the emotions it was evoking and where it was pushing itself. At the end I was left with a deeper respect for its composer Ryuichi Sakamoto - and an insatiable appetite for more.
It's hard to review a turntable such as this, which is so clearly brilliant in so many areas. Instead, the debate becomes not about its relative merits but whether its particular nature suits you sir! As for me personally, I think this about as close to the sound I am looking for.
May 2003 Michael Fremer, Stereophile Magazine (USA)
"What you end up with is an extremely compact, heavy, superbly isolated record-playback system. like the SME 30/2, which I reviewed in the March issue, the AVID Acutus is a no-BS, industrial grade turntable with a truly effective isolation system. While the Acutus execution differs, its basic design concept is similar to the SME's. The biggest diffrence is in overall mass, and what you do with the energy: damp it out (SME) or let it dissipate (AVID). The SME is a high mass, damped design, the AVID a medium-mass, undamped one,though the Acutus platter is actually heavier."
"What impressed me most about the Acutus was how well-thought-out and compact it is; how everything fits together so neatly. It's also handsome, far more so than the SME 30/2."
"...the AVID is one dramatic-looking turntable."
"The Acutus didn't sound identical to the 30/2, but it certainly was competitive in most ways. Depending on your tastes, you might prefer it overall, though it couldn't match the 30/2's performance in some respects it definately matched the 30/2 in the way music emerged from jet black silence. That alone is a major accomplishment, and reminded me of the Rockport System III Sirius Turntable, which I haven't heard almost 2 years now. I'm unable to perform rumble tests, but I suspect the Acutus would measure as well as the 30/2."
"SME detractors would say the 30/2 is overdamped, with too much weight and emphasis in the base, giving the music a thick, leaden quality. I don't hear that, but it's something you'll have to decide for yourself. The Acutus' base performance was more remeniscent of the Rockport's, which is still saying plenty. The AVID's base was deep, powerful, very well focused, and rhythmically nimble..."
"One thing I noticed almost immediately when I switched to the AVID Acutus after a few months with the SME 30/2 was a slight increase in surface noise on familiar records, accompanied by an area top end."
"The AVID Acutus was a superb sounding turntable by any standard - among the handful of best turntables I've heard..."
"For less than a third the price of the SME, the Acutus came remarkably close."
"Ultra compact, superbly engineered, and rationally designed, the AVID Acutus more than lived up to its advanced billing, and to what I'd expected from such a clever, carefully thought out design."
March 2002 The HiFi Journal (RUSSIA)
Front page stuff again, complete with Dynavector DV507 and XV-1 cartridge.
5 Stars Product.
May 2001 P.Panagopoulos, HXOS High-End Magazine (5 Stars)(GR)
"A Bristish turntable that proves once more that not only has analogue sound not been out-dated but is a constant challenge, as powerful as time itself."
"There are moments in the life of a reviewer that are unique. It is a pleasure to come across a device that incarnates everything you imagined,which for several reasons could not be accomplished. The Acutus is not just an extraordinary case, it is a milestone in the history of hi-end, where an implementation of "aesthetics" approach, from every point of view meets a deep know-how, with respect to the subject "music" in its deepest meaning."
"I cannot hide the fact that I was very impressed by this device which, without costing a fortune (I have seen turntables costing a lot more money, which do not sound or work this right), it encompasses exactly what a turntable needs today in order to perform at its best."
"Together with the now established, SME V tonearm, it achieves an overstepping performance that any other source will find difficult to reach."
"This turntable is of wonderful manufacture. Without resorting to design extremes, sporting rather copact dimensions, it presents a rigidly built model."
"After closer inspection and based on the reproduction performance of the system, I can assure you that in terms of performance of its suspension the Acutus only has a few competitors."
"This turntable, together with the right equipment, "eats" for breakfast anything digital on the market today. This is an undeniable fact. Apart from this, it has all those attributes that will make anyone who has listened to it lose sleep for days. Uninfluenced by all external disturbances, as a solid "rock", it overcomes all the traps of analogue sources' nuisances with characteristic ease.
"As a result, it has astonishinly effortless flow and musicality, which only reality can compete with. It stops right at the top limits of the recording. It literally collides on these, revealing where the limits of the capabilities of the sound engineers, of the recording equipment and even of the performers are.
"Forget "as if" or "sort of". This device is ruthless. It will take everything to their limits, revealing all the points that can be criticised. In the same manner it will reward anything that deserves it, presenting it from a view of acoustic renovation and "fresh aura", with healing effects on your senses."
"Its low frequencies extend to abyssal depths, having flawless control but correct presence too. This means they are not to heavy, trying to add poise, resulting in being slow and losing timing. On the other hand, they are not superficial, even though they do have a tendency to sound quick, which a lot of times is perceived-wrongly-as "control". They are absolutely balanced and real. The same applies to its midrange that has all the lyrical magnificence the black disc can contain."
"In all, it is needless for me to try to describe its behaviour at diffrent areas as they are so interconnected and so homogeneous that can be described as a "whole" only, and really in respect to their result, the sole receivers of which are our sences."
"Listen to it. Give into its magic. Let it drag you to a totally sensual musical world. Experience it even if you do not have the ability to acquire it. It is an experience that maybe you owe to yourself."
February 2001 Dalibor Beric, AudioPhile High-End Magazine (5 Stars)(GDR)
Front page stuff, complete with Graham 2.0Deluxe and Cardas Heart.
5 Stars Product.
May/June 2000 Chris Beeching, Listener Magazine (5 Stars)(USA)
"Visually the turntable is a striking piece of engineering."
"Setting up the turntable is particularly easy, made all more so by the ingenious way the platter and subchassis assembly can be lifted off the main chassis for arm fitting and cartridge alignment."
"Immediately obvious was the absolute stability of the musical material. The size of the acoustic; the integrity and inter-relationship of pitches; and the stereo image were all clearly and sharply defined, just as in real life. Some-how the AVID seemed to offer an authority of presentation, which not even CD managed."
"There has been so much written about bringing the performer into the room that it has suffered overkill, but this turntable transports the listener to the recording environment and-depending on the quality of the pressing and production-lays bare everything that transpired."
"However, this is not at the expense of the "musicality" angle. While it may be called "accurate," this turntable is definitively NOT sterile. It is lucid, poised and refined."
"The second most noticeable attribute the turntable exhibited was a very much lower degree of surface noise than I had experienced before-completely independant of which cartridge was fitted."
"Tonally, the AVID had no obvious flaws at all. Its presentation was neutral, though with one suprise: the depth of the lower registers. This was quite noticeable on recordings with descrete very low frequencies. I do not mean the "obvious" lows of an organ recording,but the low-frequency characteristic of a large recording space, such as a large concert hall or cathedral. Because the bottom end was so clean, the mid/low bass was also far more articulate and musical, and you could easily differentiate between performed low bass/harmonics and the resonance or reverberation characteristic of the recording venue."
"...a real sense of the recording venue came across quite disarmingly."
"The AVID Acutus is a performance package that offers what I consider the most complete and thoroughly intergrated soloution to quality vinyl replay. It will inevitably reveal the shortcomings in the arm and cartridge chosen, and most likely will show up any shortcomings in the amplification and speaker system."
"If a mere(!) $10,000 is your budget for perhaps the ultimate vinyl replay system, the AVID has to be heard!"
April 2000 Jimmy Hughes, HiFi+ Magazine (Score:12 out of 10)(UK)
"Designer Conrad Mas' uncompromising approach has produced a turntable that's essentially neutral, accurate, and truthful."
"...no one could fail to admire and respect the thought and care over detail that's gone into every apect on the design."
"First impressions were of a tight, sharp, lucid, and precisely focussed sound without an ounce of spare flesh anywhere."
"Detail was staggering. And if performance were judged solely on how much could be heard the score would have to be ten out of ten. Sorry, make that 12 out of 10."
"Clarity and control were beyond reproach."
"Stereo soundstaging was unerringly precise; lateral placement of voices and instruments couldn't be faulted for solidity and stability."
"...the Acutus started making music, impressing time and again with its amazing analysis, its vividness and lucidity. It was especially good on simply-miked transparent recordings, where its incredible pin-point detail and slide-rule precise-focus often had one enthralled. At times, it was almost like x-raying the music, such was the clarity."
"The Acutus is a very revealling turntable."
"Buy an Acutus and you've a whole new record collection to listen to - guaranteed. You'll discover new things on discs you thought you knew backwards."
"...low frequencies had the kind of firmness and control one associates with CD. Very impressive!"
"But on a direct A/B comparison I'll wager the Acutus is likely to sound leaner and firmer than most of its peers."
"One of the great strenghts of this turntable is its clean accurate soundstaging. Instruments and voices are placed with the kind of pin-point precision even CD sometimes struggles to equal."
"...the Acutus has the tightest most focussed sound imaginable."
"Build quality is stunning, and the deck is beautifully finished. Its looks and feels expensive without being vulgar, yet there are no unwarrented excesses. Everything's there for a reason: if you talk to the designer he can justify even the tiniest detail. The sprung suspension ensures excellent isolation, and the clever balanced spring arrangment virtually eliminates yaw."
"This helps create rock-like speed stability."
"Listenen to the Acutus imparts feelings of certainty; precise, solid, unflappable, it sound as though nothing short of an earthquake could upset its equilibrium."
"Engineering tolerances are so close, there's no need for fine speed adjustment - the Acutus is spot-on."
"...it's the most incredible turntable you've ever heard"
October 1999 Jason Kennedy, HiFi Choice (Editors Choice)(UK)
"In all functional respects this appears to be an extremely well thought-out turntable. it redfines the classic phrase inky blackness, and does so in such unsubtle fashion that you often wonder, when you've just let go of the arm lift, if the needle is on the record at all. Suddenly there's sound;it makes you jump-it also makes you wonder how much rumble there is on other turntables."
"...and dynamics leap out of the speakers."
"Its simply phenomenal-every familiar record I put on offered up new layers of sound."
"...be hard pressed to find an alternative at or near the price that is so competent across the board."
"Extremely capable design with no apparent short comings; don't even think about selling your vinyl until you've heard it on this!"
October 1999 Temptation, What HiFi (5 star product)(UK)
"...cruises effortlessly through everything from jazz to rock, bringing music to life in a thrilling manner.
Sonic pictures have immense solidity, detail retrieval is exemplary, and dynamics and punch are huge."
June 1999 Steve Harris, HiFi News & Record Review (UK)
"impressive dynamics and very good detail retrieval, all founded on a strong sence of stability-the only word I can use to sum up what must be a combination of excellent speed stability with a low noise floor."
"...the AVID sound was positively dramatic, immediately loud and impressive, and seemed to reveal and open up the acoustic space around the instruments, at some points giving that feeling of a particular instrument etched in space:a truly rock-solid image."