A Lucky Guy
I must have been a good boy last year, because the audio Santa Claus has been very good to me, or could that be Constantine Soo, our editor, with that bag of goodies; either way I’ve been a lucky guy this winter. The good thing about my good luck is that you dear readers get a chance to hear about some really exciting cutting edge audio equipment. The object of mine and your good luck today is the Swiss made DaVinciAudio Labs In UniSon turntable.
Design Goals and Description
Peter Brem’s story is not so different from a number of audiophiles I know. His audio journey started pretty much the same way as it does for most audiophiles. He bought a nice high-end system, and started to read more in audio journals. Then he found himself on the slippery slope of upgrading, and that became an endless story of frustration. Sounds familiar?
Then comes in Peter Brem’s story what I call a light bulb moment. According to his web site, he was trying to decide whether he wanted to continue to listen to music or to start golfing in a big way. He decided to listen to music. So, he sold his expensive high-end gear and got a Klipschorn, and a 300B amp. For a while he just enjoyed music, but this actually was the starting point of his building his own equipment. He quickly realized his earlier studies in electronic engineering would finally prove to be useful. His first creation was a large horn based on an Altec driver from the old cinema world. He then built a matching amp with a 300B, a VT52, and a RE604 and so on, then phono and line amplifiers in SRPP technology.
He was really enjoying the sound of this mono system. Then, in 1988, his real adventure began. On his website Peter Brem says, “there is no right or wrong – there is only music and how it reaches your soul. When music touches your soul, when it moves you, can it be wrong?” I think this story is important in understanding how DaVinciAudio and Peter approach the design of audio equipment.
This brings us to the DaVinci In UniSon turntable. DaVinciAudio says the design of their turntable systems is all about getting the turntable and the record as close as possible to the same physical principles of the cutting machine and stylus it was cut on.
To do this they start with a highly stable base. The base of the In UniSon weighs a whopping 77 pounds and the platter adds an additional 44 pounds. Add to this that the tonearm mounting board is made of steel, and you have a classic tried and tested high-mass design. Its mass, compactness, and rigidity is designed to eliminate flexing and resist vibrating. These are qualities we all hope for in our turntables. Both the base and the motor/speed control unit have adjustable, energy absorbing feet developed by DaVinciAudio that thankfully made leveling the turntable a breeze.
Their next goal was to come as close as possible to producing completely silent magnetic bearings to turn the platter. They designed their own motor and motor/speed control unit using what DaVinciAudio describes as an absolutely stable power supply. The review unit was anodized silver and the platter was a very shinny chrome. It may well be the world’s most beautiful turntable to some, but it sure looks very Swiss.
Setup was pretty straight forward for a turntable. As I said above, it’s very heavy and it’s also fairly big. It fitted just perfectly on Mapleshade Audio’s big 24″ by 24″ rock maple platform, but there was no room to spare from side to side. There was just a little front to back. The adjustable feet made both the turntable bass and the motor/speed control unit easy to level. Putting the 44-pound platter on takes a little patience because of such tight tolerances. Still, it went on nicely and it floated beautifully on its magnetic bearing.
DaVinciAudio’s magnificent Grand Reference Grandezza tonearm came with the package, and I mounted my Benz Ebony TR cartridge in it. The rest of the system was my Shindo Masseto preamp, Wavac EC-300B amp, and Teresonic Ingenium Silver speakers. I also mounted one of my Clearaudio Satisfy tonearms on the table so I could use the EMT mono cartridge. Along the way, I tried the Benz in both arms and used the EMT JSD5 stereo cartridge in both arms. With the EMT cartridges, I use the Auditorium 23 step up transformer into the moving magnetic input on the Shindo Masseto.
Using the DaVinciAudio Labs In UniSon Turntable
Using the turntable was even more straightforward then setting it up. The ON/OFF knob is also the speed control selector. You simply turn it to either 33 or 45, and the center position is off. On either side of the knob are two more knobs that do not come up as high; they are the fine tune adjustments for the speed. It’s pretty slow coming up to speed, not as slowly as my Clearaudio Anniversary, but the platter just does not lend itself to spinning, so you have to be patient. The table did not come with a center or peripheral clamp, and of course this makes for quicker playing, but I found it needed a center clamp to sound its best. As would be expected from its design and weight, the DaVinciAudio turntable was totally immune from any kind of bounce when taking the arm on or off the record. All in all, a very ergonomical turntable to use.
It always unnerves me to talk about the way turntables, tonearms, wire, and power conditioning equipment sound; because we all know their whole purpose is to do their job without contributing any sound of their own. Thinking of it, for years the audio community felt that way about amps and preamps, too. In the early days of audio writing, one of the most over used phrases was to say how close an amp or preamp came to the hypothetical “straight wire with gain.” Of course, that was when we had never thought about wire having any effect on the sound. What I have learned, in my 30-plus years of being an audiophile, is that everything affects the way your system sounds. We all learned from Linn in the seventies that this was even truer for turntables than we had ever dreamed.
Constantine had driven over to be at my house during the set up process. We listened to a few LPs on my setup before beginning the set up on the DaVinciAudio. The reason I mention this, is that before we even came close to getting the table and arm dialed in, Constantine commented on the bigger bass sound of the DaVinciAudio table compared to what we had been listening to. This comment was right on. Even after a month of listening and getting everything dialed in perfectly, the DaVinciAudio table is warmer and has a bigger bottom-end than any turntable I have had in for review. It will be a matter of taste if you think this is a good or bad thing. So let’s just begin the listening portion of the review by talking about the bass.
The DaVinciAudio In UniSon table produced more, bigger, and warmer bass than any other source component I have listened to in my system. In a very muscular way, it plummets to the depths with the very best I have heard. In fact, I had no idea my Teresonic Ingenium Silver Loudspeakers could play so low. The bass has incredible air around it, it has equally incredible decay, but not quite the leading edge and quickness of the Audio Note DAC 5 Special or the Clearaudio Wood Anniversary CMB turntable. The bass is incredible on organ music, honestly I have never heard anything quite like it. At first I thought there was too much bass; experimenting with different record clamps can change this.
The very nature of this turntable’s bass is big, warm, and powerful. This nature is the foundation, upon which all the other things you hear from this table are built upon. The In UniSon turntable’s bass is its defining characteristic, in my opinion. The In UniSon turntable is capable of doing some truly magical and musical things, so it is worth your time to get the right cartridge, and record clamp to let you hear what it can do.
The midrange was simply beautiful. With the DaVinciAudio Labs’ Grand Reference Grandezza tonearm and either the Benz Ebony TR, Soundsmith’s The Voice, or EMT’s JSD5 the music flowed into my room in a most relaxed and full way. I think a lot of vinylphiles who hear the DaVinciAudio turntable will feel this is just what they thought analog should sound like. There is no doubt about it in my mind that this turntable epitomizes what a lot of people mean when they say something has an analogue sound. Still, there will be some who will want more of everything, such as transparency and PRaT than what you get from this big sounding turntable.
The midrange was very smooth, but not the last word in transparency or detail. The foundation for this sound was provided by the bass that I have described above. It allowed the sound be fairly detailed, yet still warm and seductive sounding at the same time. It’s combination that many will find quite intoxicating. Whether it’s more beautiful than the real thing is a much more difficult question. Voices sounded very natural and very realistic, if not quite as right in the room with you as they do with the most transparent sources. The top-end was also very beautiful. It was well extended and silky smooth.
Soundstage and Scale
As I have already mentioned, this was a big sounding turntable and the scale was really special. Both singers and instruments were produced in very life size proportions. There was nothing little about this soundstage. It’s big, solid, three-dimensional, seamless, and powerful. This was especially true of an instrument like the organ, a full symphony, or a classic rock group. No, it didn’t make every instrument sound big, but big soundstage was its basic character. The soundstage was also very deep, while soundstage width was good, but not the very best I’ve heard in my system.
Micro-dynamics and PRaT
This is the only area where I feel the DaVinciAudio In UniSon fell short of the very best turntables I have heard. It’s not that it’s poor at micro-dynamics, but it did fall short of the very best sources I have heard in this area. It’s like the micro-dynamics got lost just a little in the bigness of the overall sound of this turntable. This in no ways robs the music of the beauty you get when playing it on the In UniSon, but I did notice it.
Likewise, the In UniSon was not the last word in PRaT. It just didn’t have the same rhythmic drive of a rim drive like the Shindo turntable nor the ‘pace and timing’ of the Merrill-Scillia MS21. Yet, its big tones and big soundstage were very enthralling, and the longer I listened to it, the more I thought about the music and less about these minor shortcomings.
One of things that keeps on surprising me in reviewing turntables is what a big difference the table itself makes. The DaVinciAudio Labs In UniSon turntable excelled at portraying a big and power performance into my listening room in an unforced and natural way. It was totally void of any mechanical or electronic sound. It was a big, relaxed, musical sounding turntable, and I enjoyed music on it very much.
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