Turntables are wonderful things. I mean that literally. They are objects which constantly leave me full of wonder. The conception that appeals to me most is the way they respond to the simplest of changes in setup. The first changes that might pop into your head are ‘tracking angle’ or ‘downforce’ or ‘anti-skating’. I’m not going to discuss any of these arcane subjects today. Instead, I’m going to tell you how to effect a $500 upgrade to your analogue front end for $25.00!
I have to admit that this was not my idea. Matt Brazeau, owner of the Analog Emporium in Hamilton, Ontario, remarked casually one day that he knew how to make a great turntable stand “really cheap”. I listened intently. I pondered, “the shelf I made a couple of years ago is working just fine”.
Still, Matt’s words of wisdom always have a truthful ring to them, and about a month later I found myself visiting my local building supply yard. I ordered up two 24″x24″ cast concrete patio slabs and one 12″ x 12″ x 24″ chimney flue piece. That’s it. That’s all you need. I made the turntable stand and it was a good one. Warning: this stuff is heavy. Do not attempt this project if you are not in good health! I’m serious folks. This tweak is a killer.
I won’t insult your conceptual abilities by explaining how to assemble this project. The picture really is worth a thousand words. Instead, I will tell you that I was quite surprised at the sonic improvement wrought by the new stand. It made me realize that subsonic vibrations were being transmitted through the 2×4 wood frame of my previous turntable stand, all the way to the stylus. You know the result – sonic haze. It was subtle. I lived with it for years and never noticed it consciously. Perhaps the unsuspended design of my Well Tempered Table had something to do with the dramatic change I experienced in the sound of my system. I’m not sure. I am sure, though, that any decent set of ears will notice the improvements brought about by the new stand immediately, especially in the way details and nuances are revealed for the first time.
One test record I rely on to determine the quality of changes to my turntable setup is Caverna Magica by Andreas Vollenweider [CBS 37827]. The opening sequence is a soundscape of two people stumbling across an opening to a cave, and discovering a huge, wet, reverberant chamber inside. The echoes are, without doubt, artificial, but what fun it is to listen to. I am happy to report that I have never heard this subterranean gallery sound bigger or wetter. The sound of the splashing couple segues into a dreamy world of aural impressions. The ‘scape is predominated by Vollenweider’s harp, which is played with quick, syncopated plucks. This technique displays long vibrating decays, supported by the sonorous resonance of the instrument’s deepest strings.
By the time the record ended, I knew Matt was right. And I’d say it was better than just a good turntable stand. Comparatively, it would be like upgrading from a “cheap and cheerful” Grado to a US$500 moving coil. I wonder what would happen if I filled the flue with sand?