If the number of phone calls, emails and texts regarding every aspect of a review, equipment setup, discussion and follow up is the benchmark of meticulousness, then Vancouver's John Stratton, head of Canadian analogue startup, Pure Fidelity (PF), is the epitome of it. Never have I experienced a fellow so involved in the details of a particular Hi-Fi subject.
Hey, when you have spent the past few years investing lots of your time and money into perfecting an exacting piece of high end kit, the turntable, you get picky pretty damn quickly. Or, you fail. Stratton has very high standards and analogue is a demanding mistress. She doesn't share, or bestow favours.
Stratton has tamed the finicky nature of turntable design and produced two elegant models, the Encore and the subject of this review, the $4500 Eclipse (with Acoustic Signature TA-1000 tonearm). All prices in USD.
Both feature exquisite finishes and very high quality construction. And both are highly customizable—the customer may choose between two power supplies, four tonearms, finishes, upgraded platter, etc. From a design aesthetic, the gorgeous Eclipse Turntable will shine on top of your analogue rack. It's unfussy (no vacuum pumps, crazy arms, under-slung balance weights, counter-rotating platters, dental floss belts, etc) and sits elegantly awaiting your vinyl choice. A curvaceous beauty.
The Eclipse is hand built in British Columbia. Stratton employs CNC machining and the 'table's plinth has a 50 mm Ultra MDF core with high precision bronze bearings. It has a 36mm Delrin platter which is driven by a 12-volt AC synchronous motor coupled with an outboard speed controller called Maestro. Maestro comes with a separate linear power supply. The aluminum, dual-pulley sub-platter is polished to a high shine and mates with the platter perfectly.
PF's obvious attention to detail is highlighted by the feet. Manufactured in aluminum, they are turned on a lathe then anodized black. They have a silicone spacer between the foot and the plinth as well as three silicone bumpers that sit on the surface. Many hours were spent in R&D on the feet, experimenting with different shapes, sizes and compounds before the final design was agreed.
Plinth finishes are available in matte or gloss in woods such as walnut and cherry. The finish would not shame the dashboard of a Rolls Royce. Yes, that good. My copy was magnificent in high gloss Santos Rosewood [a $300 upgrade]. I've not seen a better finish in the turntable industry. Stratton's turntables can also be painted in high gloss colours. I saw the 'Infinity Red' colour. More visual sexiness.
A little background from the designer
I am a long time audiophile and record collector. I started buying records in the early 70s and have never really stopped. After years of fighting it, I reluctantly bought my first CD player in 2005, many years after the launch of 'The Perfect Sound'.
I previously owned a very successful clothing line. We manufactured all of our products in Canada. When it became apparent the only way to survive was to go offshore for our production, we were forced with a tough decision. Our decision was to close the doors rather than go offshore. Sadly, this put a lot of families out of work. It has bothered me for years.
So, I do have manufacturing experience just not in this field. I have owned many 'tables in the past and have lusted after others. Once you have heard a really good turntable it is hard to be satisfied with less. But the problem for me is the pricing! A lot of people cannot afford or justify the ridiculous pricing that accompany many of these tables.
The most important thing I learned along the way was to distinguish between marketing hype and sound engineering choices. We have cut NO corners. Pure Fidelity's goal is to provide world class sound at real world pricing. I also wanted the aesthetics to match the sound...and I think we have accomplished that.
I am the typical Pure Fidelity customer.
Package deal and setup
PF ships the Eclipse with the tried and tested German ace tonearm, the Acoustic Signature TA-1000. Other arms are available to order on the PF website. The arm is pretty well bullet proof, demonstrates a superior design and matches the gorgeous plinth in the fit & finish stakes. Aurally and visually, it is a superb pairing. Pure Fidelity will sell you a high quality cartridge but does not ship the Eclipse with a cart attached. Both turntables are shipped in high quality cartons with CNC cut, hard foam packaging.
Stratton was very kind to setup the turntable at my home on Vancouver Island. His time and expertise were appreciated. And his visit very pleasurable.
Stratton asked in a prior call what cartridge I would like to use with his kit. I asked for his suggestions (in house were two Phasemations, a Rega Apheta, and a Shelter). He suggested he set it up with his Shelter 5000 moving coil cartridge, which had been very successful in his beta testing.
As the Eclipse is an unsuspended design, you must get the rack/level/room right for the best results.
I had just taken delivery of a Sutherland Engineering Duo mono block phono stage, which was shipped/loaded at 47K and 40 gain in each chassis. Stratton insisted on accurate cartridge loading, especially now with his turntable on the block. He followed up our visit almost immediately by forwarding a detailed email from the Canadian Shelter distributor with the exact numbers for the Shelter 5000 [review forthcoming]. I chuckled. Even though I've been doing this a long time, I took no offence at his keenness—gotta be sure, right?
I thought back to a seminar at a show where the same Canadian distributor did a bang up job demonstrating the importance of correct cartridge loading and gain setting, but to always experiment above and below the manufacturer's standard recommendation. 'You may be surprised', she said. And the audience was surprised by the audible differences both good and bad when a cart's spec load and gain was changed.
Of course, with lots on the line, I deferred to the company recs and changed the Duo's shipped loading/gain settings to 100/58 (a very simple task). This setting was perfect—no strain and with the Duo's inky black background as the perfect stage.
The choice of the TA-1000 tonearm by Stratton was inspired. Bullet proof and gorgeous, yes, but unfussy and truly Teutonic in its efficiency. The craftsmen at Acoustic Signature imbued the arm with a 'clunk/click' type of feel. Very solid, but elegant. The arm's performance breathes the same rarefied air as my Rega RB2000 tonearm. You won't get higher praise from me. Both arms are about the same price if purchased without a turntable ($2000).
More from the Acoustic Signature TA-1000 manual:
The TA-1000 uses precision miniature bearings. The bearings are precisely adjusted during the production process. They are added with minimal pressure for zero backlash to achieve a minimum friction and maximum stability. When it comes to arm tubes - 2 mutually exclusive conditions need to be combined. Maximum stiffness and low resonance are achieved by internal damping. The solution is a custom made carbon tube. The TA-1000 uses a Mogami cable for internal wiring and a 5 Pin Connector. The TA-1000 allows you to exactly adjust the azimuth angle.
Sound of the Pure Fidelity Eclipse Turntable
So, killer looks and construction. But, how did it sound?
The threesome of Pure Fidelity, Acoustic Signature and Shelter worked together harmoniously. There were no emphasized octaves—each tessitura balanced beautifully with the next. An added fourth member to the team—the Sutherland Engineering Duo phono stage—to an already happy trio benefitted all involved. The whole was both musically satisfying and thrilling. Desire and soul quenched.
Stratton's design, engineering and construction stresses resonance control, elimination of friction, tight tolerances, and vibration-free rotation with spot on pitch stability. He suggests the Eclipse's weighty platter 'produces a very organic sound with a highly detailed yet well balanced frequency response. The extra thickness provides improved speed stability and an even quieter background from which the music springs to life.' A very accurate description. Add to that a delicate treble and beautifully transparent and tactile midrange.
When heard with a high quality phono preamplifier such as my reference, the Eclipse provides an ultra smooth, detailed and punchy presentation. The turntable is silent, the backgrounds totally black. Record clicks and pops seem mitigated. A perfect environment in which quality turntables like the Eclipse shine.
My system has changed considerably over the past year [post forthcoming]. The Eclipse fit into the musical party without embarrassment or arrogance. Everything sounded just right; definitely in the Rega RP10 Turntable league, my reference turntable.
Violinist Issac Stern believes music is the sound between the notes. The Eclipse allowed me that experience but also sound and meaning behind the notes, beginning with an old friend, in life and recording, pianist John Bingham, playing Schubert Songs, arr. Liszt on a vintage Meridian LP of great quality. Bingham's filigree and incredibly quiet but detailed playing is a real test for any turntable. Pitch stability in the lengthy sustained passages is a must and the quiet passages demand definition, even incision. 'Softer doesn't mean slower', as I often tell my charges. Bingham's playing is a revelation. I have never heard this LP better. The musicality demonstrated was pretty staggering, everything so clear and able. The team was winning.
Casino Royale, of the original Colgems variety, sounded spectacular. All dynamism and 60s cool. I'm glad that Burt Bacharach's wife at the time, Angie Dickinson, convinced the McGill-trained songwriter that he could compose a full movie score. The Look of Love with Dusty sounded very beautiful—all smoke and no mirrors. The 'compartmentalized' recording, so often described as such by HP, was just that. Trumpets, saxes, drums, bagpipes, etc, seemingly flown in from all directions to the mixing board. And heard very clearly on the Eclipse. The 'table dug in deep to allow me to examine Herb Alpert's unique articulation on his trumpet (a mix of lip bend and crisp tonguing).
As the hours of listening went by, I was hearing more and more of the aforementioned meaning 'behind' the notes. Let me explain. It was not so much a philosophical appreciation of the composer's or artist's intentions—pie in the sky, cheeseball, ever-so-musical understanding. More, it was the appreciation of important lines and counterpoint subjugated by years of lousy pressings, digital haze, or lack of synergy. An example was The Sidewinder by Lee Morgan. I have a great pressing and have not listened to it for a while. The inner sidemen's lines were made very evident, but not so much aurally as emotionally. A cohesive whole, but all players there as happy individuals. And that was the outstanding tenet of this wonderful turntable. Total immersion. The music's disposition and structure, not laid threadbare, but complete.
So, with all this stable beauty, what was doing the heavy lifting? Ask just about any vinylphile, and they'll give you many different answers. Be it turntable, cartridge, tonearm, phono stage, cables, room size, flooring or resonance control. Well, like most things analogue, it's most likely a complicated and contentious answer. Yet, most would agree that playing nicely together is a must. And here we had four exceptional parts in synergy. Balance in engineering. The cart was setup perfectly, the loading and gain spot on from a 4K knockout phono stage, the power supply was keeping pitch rock steady and the gravitas of the turntable balanced them all and produced a very satisfying whole. Feed the Eclipse nicely, and you'll be getting dynamic vinyl sound as heard way further up the food chain. Thus, the MSRP of $4500 will seem a bit daft (and a full thousand below the Rega RP10’s asking price).
I must tell you a funny story. Well, funny to me, but not to Stratton at the time. After a wonderful initial demo of Stratton's Japanese pressings (Steely Dan and Michael Franks), where I commented on the very smooth and detailed presentation, I wanted to hear some guts and glory. I threw on my old standby, the Classic Records magnificent reissue of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1, LSC-2322 with the LSO and Jean Martinon conducting. A Kingsway Hall legendary recording. While the bass had been outstanding on the Japanese pressings, the Shostakovich demonstrated just how good the bass was, clean but fulsome, and timbrally accurate. I mentioned quite nonchalantly 'do you hear that rumble'? Immediately, I saw a puzzled look on Stratton's face, as he squeaked out a very timid 'yes'. The poor man thought I was suggesting there was something wrong with the 'table. I quickly added, ‘that's the London tube underneath Kingsway Hall, which the mics picked up regularly, and only the best setups would make it sound so clear and defined’. He smiled and breathed an audible sigh of relief.
John Stratton is to be congratulated on Pure Fidelity's formation, the quality of the engineering and design, and its wonderful Eclipse Turntable. Launching an audiophile startup is difficult enough, but Stratton has embraced a long view business model—great kit, super value, beautiful design, excellent customer support with an easy to use, informative webpage and social media integration. Accessibility, information, follow up, and purchase could not be easier. Pure Fidelity offers a 60 day money back guarantee and a three year warranty.
The Eclipse is getting lots of very positive comments online and will be available for you to audition at RMAF 2018 and other shows. If sound and MSRP are your only considerations, I would say there's not much better in the industry in the sub $5000 category. When adding the fit & finish and parts quality, they project the Eclipse into the next level and well above its suggested price. Very highly recommended.
Further information: Pure Fidelity