The more things change….
A very wise man once told me, “Everything changes, nothing stays the same”.
I sure have changed over the last fifteen years of reviewing. What I value in life and in audio has changed. My taste for obscure audio for instance has moved a bit more towards the mainstream of audio manufacture. Due to unreliability and a lack of costumer service of some of the “cottage” products I have frequented, how I value audio gear has been put into a new and painfully earned context.
So, when I contacted Tom Vu of KT Audio Imports, the manufacturer of the Triangle Art Signature turntable, I realized I was taking a chance on this little known turntable and it’s partnering tone arm, the Osiris. After all, I had just finished reviewing the outstanding Pass Labs XA200.5 monoblock amplifiers featuring superb build quality, reliability, customer support, and all the sound quality one could ever ask for, was I setting myself up to learn an old lesson all over again by engaging this turntable from another small manufacturer?
A little context
Shortly before the review of the Triangle Art Signature turntable, I lived with the George Warren Turntable with a modified Rega Arm. This table along with the Origin Live table and arm I reviewed a few years ago provided fine sonics and a great dose of the analog magic we all crave. I would have lived with either of those choices, particularly the George Warren with it’s fantastic price-to-performance ratio, fleet footed pace, nice warmth and a bold soundstage featuring a ripe mid-band, all of which made it a real winner. While I had neither of these products on hand for direct comparison, thanks to Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings I did have the same cartridge, the phenomenal Clearaudio Stradavari to help complete the sonic circle.
As I mentioned earlier, I have become a real stickler for build quality. I have zero tolerance for poorly engineered gear, especially at the price point I have been engaging in over the last several years.
Yes, $12,000 is a great deal to pay for a turntable, but it hardly cracks the top end of what turntables can cost. With that in mind, I can say that the Triangle Art Signature far exceeded my expectations on all levels. Packing? First rate. Assembly? Could not be easier. Build quality? Off the charts. Sonics? One of the finest front ends I have ever heard. And you get a Walker Precision Motor Controller. Very nice.
After a very short time invested in un-packing and assembling the Signature, I quickly aligned the Osirus tone arm and Clearaudio Stradavari cartridge using the Dr. Feikert alignment tool. I stood back for a moment and just absorbed the physicality of this massive, yet totally graceful piece of design and engineering. The chroming process results in a perfect, flawless mirrored finish of the stainless steel and copper plinth and platter. The mass of the stand-alone motor and tone arm plinth offer outstanding isolation from un-wanted resonances as well. All four elements that make up the Signature rest upon a SRA isolation platform. The looks and literal gasps offered up by visitors when they look over the Signature is almost worth the price alone. But it is the sound that really matters and as promised by Mr. Tom Vu, the sonics are just fantastic. The remainder of my system is comprised of the Pass Labs XA200.5 amplifiers, the Behold preamp/phono preamp and the Lansche 4.1 speakers. All wire is from Skogrand.
Starting with the big picture, the impression offered up by the Signature can range from big and bold to small and intimate, depending on the recording. Listening to Steely Dan title track “Aja,” the soundstage bursts with layers of bold, lifelike images and a wide open acoustic. There is an impression of a massive amount of air being moved in a coherent fashion. A sense that the room is being “lit up” by the sound is kept clear and distinct from the fundamentals and transient attack. I have listened to this track a thousand times, and here it sounds its best.
And how is the bass? Center of the earth extension, yet fast and tuneful; here you get all you could ever want. I never got the sense that the bass crept up into the lower mid band causing any obscuring of texture or detail. No, the bass simply danced along, underscoring the Caribbean-infused “Aja” with a solid rock sensibility. This track goes from dynamic to extremely dynamic during the sax solo, and the Signature simply cruises along keeping the mayhem in line with rock steady coherence.
Bill Evans’ piano on side 4 of Quintessence is nearly perfectly imaged in its sense of scale. But it is the sonic wave that pours forth from the soundboard that really satisfies. Full-scale harmonics and tonal color that are spot-on finish the picture. Quintessence offers another take on the bass. Sounding so right, so much like the real thing, it is breathtaking. Woody resonance abounds. Dynamic shading and transient accuracy finish the picture. Man, I wish I had taken better care of this record! It really is a work of art. Side three is loaded with deep introspection, yet offers an optimistic tone at times, keeping the sense of happy resolution nearby. I know this sounds a bit verbose, but these are the kind of things one gets from the Signature; a deep immersion in the meaning and intention of the musicians when captured on vinyl with care.
That is not to say that even fair recordings do not benefit from the Signature. Listening to the Eagles Hotel California title track, I am taken back by how much information is really there. If not for the bloat in the upper bass, this would have been one hell of a recording. “New Kid in town” features some of Joe Walsh’s finest work and it comes across through the Signature with liquidity and dynamic life.
Another less-than-perfect recording that really benefited from the Signature is “Long distance Run Around” from Yes Fragile. The layering of instruments retains all the clarity one needs to follow along with little ear “squinting” in the effort to follow along. Listening to Steve Howe play his solo acoustic song “Mood for a day” reveals the more intimate side of things. Despite the overall large impression, the solo guitar stayed focused, yet airy and resonant. Harmonics filled the air around the instrument giving the guitar a clean, clear halo of sound.
Duke Ellington Indigos is a record every one should have in their collection. It is one of those recordings that get better and better the more advanced your system gets. Listening to this recording over the Signature is just pure pleasure. Gone is the digital glare on the CD. On “Willow Weep for Me” the horn that appears 3 feet above and 4 feet behind the speaker in perfect focus and harmonic richness is simply one of the finest moments in recorded music for me. Thanks to the Signature, it has deepened the bond to the song as well to the rest of the recording.
The way Grant Green’s guitar and James Spaulding on Alto Sax exchange licks on track one “Minor League” off Grant Green’s Solid is just bananas. All the while, Elvin Jones on the drums keeps this track steaming forward. The piano takes a bit of a back seat in the mix, though it is rendered with real beauty, particularly during the solo. The bass has a mellow character peaking out every so often for some attention. Here is another situation where the enjoyment factor of an entire record is off the charts. You would have to have ants in your pants to want to abandon the listen seat.
Change is indeed inevitable. From the all-digital TacT system of my early days to the Triangle Arts Signature, I have gone through a real metamorphosis. While I do still love my digital front end, particularly the Esoteric K-07 I have in my system at the moment, the Triangle Art Signature has taken my analog experience to a completely new level. Coupled to the Clearaudio Stradivari cartridge and the Osiris tone arm (review to come), Music has taken a leap in importance and depth of understanding. Couple this sonic excellence to the otherworldly build quality and design and ultimately, there is nothing more that one could ask from a turntable system.
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