Acutus Reference Reviews


April 2011 Jeff Dorgay, Tone Audio Magazine - (USA)

Unless you earn $2 million an episode, a la Charlie Sheen, $25k is a lot of change to spend on a turntable and tonearm, especially when adding a worthy cartridge and phonostage could easily double the sum. Taking economics into consideration, TONE receives plenty of email from readers with turntables in this range or considering a similar level of purchase. We get substantially fewer communiqués from listeners contemplating a six-figure turntable—now, that’s crazy talk.

To be certain, audiophiles opting to make purchases in these price ranges are well-heeled, yet most seem to be longtime analog lovers that are seeking out that “destination ‘table.” They’ve owned a number of turntables and amassed a fairly substantial vinyl collection. Typically, $25k doesn’t constitute an entry-level price point for many vinyl aficionados; something is often sold or traded (maybe a jet ski or motorcycle) for the down payment, so the sting isn’t quite as severe.

While it’s easy to get carried away with any number of six-figure turntables, $25-$30k represents the sweet spot and right where the AVID Acutus Reference SP lies. The ‘table itself lists for $19,995 and the SME V tonearm (which arrived pre-mounted on our review sample) bumps the price up another $5,495. The subchassis on comes pre-drilled for an SME tonearm, but adaptors for Rega, Triplanar, and a few others can be purchased from $100-$225, depending on the version you require. Current Acutus owners can easily upgrade to the Reference SP—which incorporates AVID’s latest-generation digital-speed control, larger power supply, and two-drive belt system—for $6,400.

Save for a sold-out 10th Anniversary Model ($40,000) limited to just ten units, the Ref SP stands for all practical purposes as AVID’s top-of-the-line turntable. In case you’re wondering, AVID stands for “A very interesting design.” And since the Acutus served as AVID’s original turntable design, the SP Reference takes advantage of everything the manufacturer has learned during the past decade.

AVID designer and director Conrad Mas explains that, a few years ago, he wanted to take the company and his products to an even higher level.

“Rather than say that’s my product, take it or leave it, we listened very carefully to what our customers had to say and, bit by bit, addressed any issues they didn’t feel were best-in-class. We’ve taken this approach all the way to the packaging, with excellent results.”

Everything is Jelly

While the Ref SP is AVID’s premier turntable, the entire line benefits from Mas’ design philosophies. He feels that it is essential for a turntable to get rid of the vibrational energy in the environment as well as that in the vinyl record itself. As he likes to say, “Everything is jelly at a certain frequency; you just can’t see it. The goal is to move all of the vibration away from the cartridge.”

The subchassis is cast from a variable density, highly granular aluminum, which damps the mid and low frequencies most effectively while even the coating on the subchassis is specifically designed to reduce the skin tension of the aluminum casting, effectively dissipating the HF resonance. Rather than cast from a solid shape, the area between the bearing and the tonearm mount looks as if it is folded, giving the shape more rigidity than a solid piece, yet having lighter weight. Mas comments, “This is the most important part of the subchassis, where rigidity is most critical.”

The platter takes the same approach. Mas adds: “The chrome plating on the SP Ref isn’t for the bling factor, it’s functional. It does an excellent job at killing HF resonance. We’ve tried a number of different coatings, but when we did the measurements, nothing worked as well as the chrome plating. When we listened to the different finish options, the chrome sounded best by far.”

Interestingly, Mas feels that the recent trend of 180- and 200-gram LPs is counterproductive. “What we want to do is evacuate the vibration of the record as far away from the stylus as fast as possible. A 200-gram platter stores more energy that the stylus will read and adds a veil to the sound.”

Most turntables concentrate the majority of the mass in the chassis/subchassis assembly. AVID takes a different approach with its units by making the platter the most massive component. Since there’s no heavy subchassis deflecting the bearing during vibration, bearing noise is kept to a minimum. This is the main reason that the Reference SP has such a low noise floor. In addition, a polymer disc is bonded to the 10kg aluminum platter that has a specially designed polymer mat bonded to it which reflects vibration created by the stylus during playback, this being channeled through the bearing that the record is mechanically grounded to. This differs from plastic platters that store vibration or felt mats that allow the records to vibrate causing mistracking.

Mas feels that a suspended ‘table represents the optimum in vinyl playback design because the springs can be tuned to a specific frequency, again effectively isolating the important stylus from outside vibration. In the vertical axis, AVID’s suspension is tuned to 2.5Hz, a factor of two lower than the average cartridge/arm compliance frequency. By comparison, a seismograph, tuned to measure the vibration of the Earth, is at .5Hz.

The Opposite Approach

The main advantage of direct-drive turntables relates to the amount of on-hand torque; by comparison, to minimize the motor’s control on the platter, belt-drive ‘tables rely on wimpy motors coupled to a tiny belt. Flying in the face of convention, AVID utilizes a powerful motor to drive the platter, thus offering more control. Belt-drive owners also likely notice the fairly pokey start-up. Not so the Ref SP. It starts quickly, just like a direct-drive broadcast table!

AVID hand-builds the motors in its factory, where they are then hand-tuned to the individual power supply that will be shipped along with the turntable. In the case of the Ref SP, the power supply alone weighs 42 pounds (19kg.) and features a 1KV power transformer. As I unpacked the box, I honestly thought the company made a mistake and shipped me one of its new power amplifiers instead.

Tradition aside, the approach works flawlessly. A cursory check of the speed with the Acoustic Sounds test record and digital multimeter revealed perfect accuracy: 1000Hz on the nose.

Setup

The Ref SP requires some assembly, but thanks to the concise manual, you should be up and running within about 30 minutes, even when working at a leisurely pace. As much as you will want to spin records as quickly as possible, a more metered set-up pace will give you an even greater appreciation for the care that went into the component parts.

Once the bearing ball is inserted and the main bearing gently slid into place, you can mount the 35-pound platter on the subchassis, making mounting and aligning your cartridge a much easier task than doing so with the whole ‘table assembled—a nice touch. This stream-lines the set-up process, because you aren’t fighting the turntable suspension when trying to set VTA and such. It allows closer access to the area where the stylus meets the alignment gauge and, again, a higher degree of accuracy.

AVID supplies an alignment protractor to help with the overhang alignment. Mas mentions that this step is “absolutely critical.” Which is exactly why the company spent the time and trouble to create its own alignment jig for the SME tonearms. (AVID also produces these for Rega and Linn arms as well as a universal version.)

The last bit of setup involves fine-tuning the suspension and placing the chassis onto a level surface. Once the subchassis is leveled with the supplied tool, the suspension is perfectly tuned to the proper frequency. The final act involves fitting the three O-Rings to the suspension towers and attaching the two drive belts, the only tough part of the entire process. First, pause in order to focus your concentration. Fortunately, my chi was in perfect order. I slipped the belts on just right on my first attempt.

An $80 syringe of silicone damping fluid that usually comes with the SME V is the lone thing missing from the Ref SP box. It’s not advised. The subchassis’ unique design moves the vibration straight away from the base of the tonearm mount, effectively into the subchassis.

Moreover, external damping is usually required when using a cartridge with too much compliance in an arm with too much mass, but the AVID’s low suspension frequency and clamping system eliminates the need for its use. “That’s why the SME arms get a bad reputation for wooly bass. Reflected vibration boosts bass and colors the midrange. It’s not the arm at all. And the non-linear damping in the vibration path, making up for the compliance mismatch, kills the high frequencies. Not so with our ‘table.”

Having spent quite a bit of time with SME tables and tonearms in particular (I own four of them, from the vintage 3009 up to the V), I can assuredly state that the Ref SP is a completely different animal. If you didn’t think an SME arm could sound light and lively, guess again.

Though I’ve always found SME arms slightly heavy-sounding, their consistency and ease of setup has always made them a favorite. But with AVID’s ‘tables, there is no sonic compromise. Mas is definitely on to something.

Listening and Comparisons

While it is always difficult to actually describe the sound of any component without putting it into context, the Ref SP reminds me of a combination of my two favorite turntables: the Rega P9 and the SME 30. If you can imagine a ‘table with the weight of an SME 30 that also has the pace, timing, and speed of the P9, that’s the closest anyone can get to telling you exactly what the Ref SP sounds like.

Almost immediately, the Ref SP became the go-to mechanism in my stable of reference turntables. After a few days of comparisons, it was obvious that I could not live without it. It also meant that a couple of other turntables had to go. Its performance with grade A+ pressings was nothing short of amazing. But even with average pressings, like Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Trilogy—a record I’ve heard hundreds of times since the 70s—revealed new tidbits. Listening to “Abaddon’s Bolero” revealed another layer of very quiet synthesizer playing at the beginning of the track. And as Greg Lake’s bass line entered, there was more texture— and the bass actually had a firm placement in the left channel. Playing the same track with the same tonearm and cartridge combination on my Oracle Delphi V spread the bass out almost evenly between the channels, with a significant loss of pace.

Staying in the classic rock vein and moving to the Classic Records pressing of Alan Parson’s I Robot also yielded a completely new experience. The background chanting in the title track possessed a chilling realism I’d never heard before, as it simply rose up and crept in and out of the forefront.

Experiencing acoustic material proved equally great. Listening to Analogue Productions’ recently remastered Bill Evans The Riverside Recordings box set approximated sonic nirvana. “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” from Moonbeams, starts gently. The ultra-low noise floor of the Ref SP brought the music up out of what seemed like nowhere; the tonality of the piano epitomized perfection. At the beginning of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1, the horns jumped right out of the soundstage in a way that they never have done in my system. Thanks to the additional dynamic range, the overall presentation felt louder since quiet passages were now significantly quieter.

Having performed a number of listening experiments with many turntable/cartridge combinations, I’ve arrived at the firm conclusion that a top-notch turntable with a modest cartridge will deliver more sound than a big-bucks cartridge on an inexpensive turntable. Even when using the Ref SP with the inexpensive Denon DL103R, I was consistently impressed at how much further I could hear into the cartridge’s capabilities. Hence, a device I considered somewhat lackluster in budget turntables turned in a stellar performance with the Ref SP. Moreover, all of the $5,000 cartridges I had at my disposal came across as relatively ho-hum (even when aligned to perfection) when mounted to a budget turntable—again confirming Mas’ analysis of how important every aspect of a turntable design is to playback.

The Ref SP does a better job of extracting the music out of vinyl grooves than anything I’ve encountered—a job that is deceptively simple yet incredibly tough.

When listening to familiar records with the same cartridge (in this case, a Lyra Skala) mounted to both the Ref SP and my current reference, the Spiral Groove SG-2, the Ref SP’s additional dynamic punch became instantly apparent on heavy rock music, large-scale symphonic music, and everything in between. The ‘table’s ability to unravel the intricacies of complex recordings is simply phenomenal. What’s more, the rock-solid pitch stability and ultra-low noise floor offer up more than pinpoint imaging, painting tonal images in true three-dimensional space. Who needs multichannel when two-channel is rendered so clearly?

The Rabbit is in Hand

I’ve been chasing the analog rabbit for more than 30 years. I’d come awfully close to catching it in the past, but with the AVID, I finally got the rabbit by the ears. The Acutus Reference SP combines bespoke build quality, ease of setup, and stellar performance in a gorgeous package. What else could you possibly want?

Yes, this is the point in the review where the reviewer often says that they would “buy this ‘table if they could afford it and will really miss it when they send it back.” Not here baby. I love this ‘table; it offers by far the most enjoyable analog experience that I’ve ever had. Not only did I purchase the SP Ref, I bought two AVID tables, having also upgraded my Volvere to a Volvere SP.

The Acutus Reference SP is indeed A Very Interesting Design.


September 2010 John Bamford, HiFi News Magazine - (Outstanding Product) (UK)

You've got to take your hat off to AVID Hi-Fi. It's top-of-the-range Acutus deck, first introduced 12 years ago and enhanced with the launch of the Reference outboard power supply in 2006, is certainly one beast of a turntable. Resplendent in black and silver chrome that's polished to a mirror finish, it makes for an imposing sight atop any audiophile's equipment rack. Want to make the ultimate statement? The deck is also available to order finished in polished 24K gold plate, though for this you'll have to add an extra 35% to the price.

During the past year or so the company has been introducing 'SP' upgrades across its entire range of turntables. What we have here, is the recent incarnation of AVID's flagship, the Acutus Reference SP. Like all of the firm's decks with 'SP' nomenclature its external power supply (that provides electronic speed switching between 33 and 45 rpm) is a new design dubbed the 'DSP Vari-SPeed supply' featuring on-board digital signal processing to control frequency generation. Also common to AVID 'SP' decks is a twin belt drive system that claims to better control platter dynamics and stability under load.

As the name implies, the power supply now allows fine speed adjustment. On this top-of-range Reference supply for the Acutus, for example, there are three buttons on the fascia. One starts and stops the platter, the other two are for selecting the speed. Pressing and holding both speed selection buttons simultaneously moves the unit into speed adjustment mode, where one button speeds up the platter in fine increments and the other slows it down. You'll need a strobe disc to set it accurately, of course. Once the desired speed is reached, pressing both buttons together once more stores the speed setting in memory.

While certainly looking every bit a super-heavyweight, with its 45cm-tall 10kg platter and chunky suspension towers, the Acutus is actually a fairly compact design with a modest 410x360mm footprint, so you'll have no difficulty accommodating it on the top shelf of any standard-sized audio equipment rack. But don't forget you'll need a substantial shelf to house the Reference power supply that sets this deck apart from the 'standard' £8000 Acutus. The supply alone weights just over 20kg alone.

If you choose to install it yourself rather than have your dealer set it up for you, opening the substantial packing carton reveals a 'kit of parts' that initially rather daunting. But the design is beautifully thought out, and thanks to the explicit assembly instructions the Acutus can be assembled in a matter of literally a few minutes. It's the fitting of your chosen arm and accurately aligning your cartridge that takes the time...

Comprising a main chassis of cast aluminium with levelling feet that holds the deck's three suspension towers, and a separate motor unit that is easily fixed in place with a rubber O-ring in a matter of seconds, the separate subchassis sports three downward-facing 'legs' that simply locate into each tower containing a suspension spring. Each of the Acutus's three springs is the same, but adjustable so that the frequency of movement is the same independent of load. Spring adjustments are accessed through holes in the top of the towers using a supplied Allen wrench. Rubber O-rings fixed to the three towers act as lateral damping, and quickly return the platter to the vertical plane to provide a truly pistonic up/down movement of the subchassis and platter, with a resonant frequency of 2-2.5Hz.

Our sample was fitted with an SME Series V tonearm, into which was installed Ortofon's sublime ruby-cantilevered Cadenza Blue moving coil cartridge. The Acutus Reference's overall presentation appears tightly focused and controlled. Leading edges of notes, from soft and delicate to the loudest, most explosive crescendos, were sharply delineated and squeaky clean. Jan Garbarek's 'Molde Canticle, Part 3 from his album I Took Up The Runes sounded bold and powerful while possessing a beguiling coherence and effortless, relaxed feel. The melodic lines delivered by bass maestro Eberhard Weber were uncommonly easy to follow, where on lesser record players the subtle touches and inflections in his playing become all too easily blurred by over-prominent subsonic thumps of Manu Katche's kick drum. And although Garbarek's wailing soprano saxophone can often become jarring in digital EMC recordings such as this, the sound remained lucid and actually rather silky - even when Garbarek let rip during crescendos.

And this is not because the deck sounds smooth and mellow. Far from it, as it displays plenty of attack and zest. Sounding fast and authoritative partnered with the SME tonearm, there was joyous alacrity to Sly 'n' Robbie's rhythm section on Joe Cocker's Sheffield Steel, while his gruff vocal delivery stood out from the production with uncommonly fine diction and projection. There was nothing bloated about the sound of this turntable combo, everything appearing tight, sharp and lucid, which allowed you to hear deep into the mix of complex multitrack recordings to pick out the subtlest of details.

When listening to 'Couldn't Bear To Be Special' from Prefab Sprout's Swoon album, the low frequency 'thunder' effects had the kind of control one usually associates with CD replay, without an ounce of spare flesh artificially colouring the sound. The Acutus Reference makes vinyl sound not only clean but articulate too, Prefab Sprout's Paddy McAloon appearing frail and exposed as the halo of reverberation around his voice was portrayed vividly within the stereo image. The low-level swirling of electronic keyboards in the recording, together with the percussion fills and ethereal backing vocals, were delineated clearly within a cavern of eerie blackness, sound images seemingly locked in tight focus between and beyond the boundaries of the loudspeakers.

Its funny how the cosmetic appearance of a turntable can sometimes lead one to second-guess how it might sound...but you'd be wrong if you thought this grand and imposing AVID Acutus Reference SP might be all about blood 'n' guts and thunder, with heroic bass to blow your socks off. Not so. Its bass performance is impressive sure enough, Tony Levin's thumping bass 'stick' on King Crimson's Beat album demonstrating noble power and 'slam', but the Acutus' main sonic character is best described as a 'stately coolness' - where nothing appears forced or over lit.

The sound is ultra-clean, with fast, tight bass and lucid midband combined with equally fast treble and superb detail retrieval. Somehow it has the ability to sound explicit without a trace of harshness or over-etching, so the weeping electronic guitar of Crimson's Robert Fripp was exposed without ever becoming brittle.

As you'd imagine, female voices were beautifully served too. I found myself captivated by the richness and detail in lead singer Martha Johnson's voice when listening to Martha And The Muffin's 1981 LP This Is The Ice Age despite Daniel Lanois' typically dense production. The combo did seem to extract all the information it possibly could from the record's 30-year-old grooves.

HIFI NEW VERDICT : With its fabulous detail retrieval and focused sound, the Acutus Reference SP delivers a captivating performance. Moreover its elaborate suspension makes it immune to the vagaries of positioning - not something that can be said of most turntables. Beautifully made, compact, easy to set up and maintain, the only reason not to want it is the high-end cost. Aaah... the price of luxury.


August 2010 Wojciech Pacula, 6moons.com (USA)

Turntables from the AVID company look fantastic. Each time I test them; it is not only a feast for the ears but eyes. This time the power supply was a full-sized component to add both physical weight and cosmetic gravitas.

I also received AVID’s new Pulsare Phono. They regard it as their crown jewel and proudly first told me about it when we met during the Audio Show 2009. Poland actually became one of the first places where the Acutus Reference was shown with this phono stage. The Pulsare Phono consists of two units – the power supply and the amplification. With the Pulsare we have access to amplification and load settings from the front panel, which is key. The Pulsare amplifier has a fully balanced architecture so naturally the cartridge signal can be supplied balanced (each cartridge is naturally balanced versus tone arm ground) to the XLR input socket of the phono stage.

Together with the Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge, the AVID in balanced connection always showed the sunny side of the world. If I would like to embed this in some psychological context, I would call this deck a born optimist. There’s nothing in the world, which would not be worthwhile, nothing so bad, and boring as to not invite a closer look. Anthropomorphization of course is never the best research strategy if we aspire to objectivity. From my experience, such approximations are simply very helpful when we attempt to describe matters, which are closely related to emotions. We better understand multidimensional complexity when we compare it to something similar/familiar - and music is obviously emotional. Optimist thus should hit the spot.

The British turntable sounds very civilized. I wrote about this already when describing the Acutus but here it was even more pronounced. All events on stage make sense. Everything has a common denominator, which holds it all together. If the voice is most important as on Mel Tormé at The Red Hill, then his voice will be showcased as the star. But when it is an interaction of two parallel elements as on Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley where the vocalist is accompanied by The Marty Paich Orchestra, then those become clearly—very clearly—two equally important elements. Both are rich in micro events within their boundaries and intriguing. But when playing together, it’s all about their interaction and how they combine. It's not about analysis of each element separately.

Like a source code, this sound has a built-in good attitude towards what the diamond reads from the groove. ‘Good attitude’ is not a precise descriptor but the best I have, which describes what I want to convey. Regardless of recording quality or condition of the vinyl, we can be sure that the AVID system will do its best to retrieve the best from the recording. This simply is how AVID has designed their turntables to sound. They don’t confront reality. They befriend it.


October 2008 Paul Messenger, HiFi Choice Collection (UK)

When Conrad Mas decided to launch a new hi-fi company based on an upmarket vinyl turntable in 1995, friends said he had taken leave of his senses. History has proved otherwise, as AVID has gone on to establish itself as one of the country's leading purveyors of luxury high-end turntables.

Although less costly derivatives like the Volvere, Sequel and Diva have subsequently been developed, the Acutus was the first AVID to be introduced and remains the flagship model in the range. The standard version with its normal, quite chunky, 80VA outboard power supply remains available at £7300, but is now joined by the Acutus Reference. The Reference shares the same basic turntable but has a much larger, more powerful power supply, which weighs slightly more than the turntable thanks to an extravagant 1kVA transformer.

The Acutus has done much to set the current fashion for skeletal oil-rig styling. Its exceptional standard of fit and heavily chromed finish making a strikingly handsome style statement. No turntable can function on its own, so we asked AVID to supply a partnering tonearm. The company is still working on its own design, so fitted an SME Series V, and also supplied the mounting and lower section of a Naim ARO.

The first, most abiding impression was just how clean it made vinyl sound. The Acutus seems to pin the music down as tightly and with as much control as any CD player. This is at least partly due to that Reference power supply, as comparison with the standard unit clearly revealed. The broad tonal character of the combo was consistent whichever supply was used, but the larger Reference supply tightening everything up significantly. Particularly, the bass and lower midband were better detailed and stereo focus was improved.

With AVID’s very solid   ARO mounting platform   installed, I was on more familiar ground and able to put the Acutus into some sort of context with two other turntables- an Armageddon-driven Linn and an early Rega Planar 9. Once again, the sheer precision and stability of the AVID was immediately apparent- much more like the Rega than the Linn, especially the way voices and lead instruments occupied and dominated stage-front.

This turntable projects music with a bold confidence and a notably strong and dynamic midband and presence. The bass, too, is punchy and precise, though not the last word in weight and agility. Although this is undoubtedly impressive some recordings can also sound a little forced and the result can sound a little sparse. That said, the overall solidity, stability and image focus set very high standards indeed.


March 2007 Wayne Garcia, The Absolute Sound (USA)

And over the five months I've lived with the Acutus Reference it has proved to be one of the most pleasurable-to-operate and finest-sounding turntables I've ever encountered. Its character is notably invisible. What it seems to do is allow whatever phono cartridge you mount on it to speak its voice.

Naturally this level of transparency applies to LP's as well, and do keep in mind that although I listened to two different cartridges on the AVID, the only arm I auditioned was the excellent SME V, whose own character leans just a tad to the dark side of the spectrum. Hearing Johnny Cash sing 'First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,' from American IV: When the Man Comes Around, Revealed a few more things about the AVID. For one, groove noise on this turntable is extremely low, particularly when paired with the Air Tight PC-1, which in my experience is simply unequalled in this area. Next was the Acutus Reference's way of digging down to reveal production details. Producer Rick Rubin deliberately swathed Cash's voice in a gigantic halo of reverb, and over the AVID it came across as never before-as if an electronic nimbus were surrounding his head, which seemed to hover like that of the wizard of Oz, several feet behind, just above, and smack in between my Kharma Mini Exquisite speakers. Most importantly, though, the AVID delivers the emotional goods-Cash's raw, broken voice, drenched in a church-like reverb, the dirge-like insistence of two strummed acoustic guitars, and the swell of the funeral parlor organ burrowed into your soul like grief itself.

Lowering the stylus into the 45rpm pressing of Monk's 'Brilliant Corners', the slightly hesitant opening theme of 'Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are' gives way to a series of solos by each band member. As each player improvises the theme, the AVID brought forth a powerful sense of their instruments' presence and musical force. From the reedy swoop of Ernie Henry's alto sax, to Monk's at first plinkity-plonk then fluid piano playing, from Sonny Rollins' tenor run that pokes around a bit before launching into brilliant improv, to Oscar Pettiford's bass solo, which seems not just grounded to the floor but rooted to the very earth, to Max Roach's drums-delivered with a transient snap and dynamic force we hope for but so rarely get from our systems.

Finally, Hans Werner Henze's 1973 composition 'Tristan' runs from calm passages for solo piano and the breath of a few woodwinds, to near-chaotic stretches for full-throttle orchestra that include the clamor of high-pitched percussion and woodwinds, strings that are bowed and plucked as well as tapped and scraped with bows, and all manner of violent-sounding taped sounds, with quotes from Wagner's opera and the Brahms’s First thrown in for good measure. The Acutus Reference & Co. tracked these as if they were lullabies. It also displayed a special ability to pull the minutest details of technique and timbre from the grooves, never lose a single thread of this highly complex music, to display a dazzlingly beautiful array of tone colours, to carve out a most impressive soundstage of tremendous depth, width, and height, to project dynamics with a convincingly lifelike range of no apparent limits, and to recreate a piano's sound with exceptional presence, lengthy decay, and bold lower-octave chords with a persuasive sense of weight and power behind them.

AVID's Acutus Reference clearly ranks among the handful of top analog playback contenders.

What I can say with confidence is that the Acutus Reference is one of the most musical-sounding record players you can buy, one of the most intelligently designed, thoroughly engineered, and beautifully made, one of the most compact, and one of the easiest to set up and maintain. And the fact that the company's range starts at $2500 means that, even if you can't spring for the Reference, another AVID is well worth considering.