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Tri-Art Audio Pebbles TA-1 Turntable Review

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Tri-Art Audio Pebbles TA-1 turntable bearings

Tri-Art Audio Pebbles TA-1 turntable bearings

The Pebbles TA-1 is Tri-Arts Audio’s entry level turntable, but a little birdie told me there might be an even less expensive one that will come with a cartridge and a built in phono stage. They currently have a turntable one step up called the Bam-Bam. The Pebbles is a beautifully simple turntable and tonearm. They use grease bearings that are simple and very nicely executed. I love how the table stopped and started almost instantaneously like a idler drive table.

The arm is straight forward and simple to set up, but at the same time very adjustable. It is so simple to change VTA and azimuth. Tracking force is simple but I found it took several tries to get it exactly where I wanted it. It will play 33 and 45 and while it doesn’t have a switch to change it, no switch could be quicker or simpler than it is to move the belt that is right there at your finger tip.

I used this table set up with three different ways. I started with the most basic setup; a Grado Sonata 1 cartridge and the ifi iPhono preamp into the Emia Remote Autoformer, the Wavac EC300B and the Teresonic Ingenium XR Silvers. The second setup changed out the Grado for the Allnic Audio Puritas moving coil and the last setup was to change to my Soundsmith SG-220 Strain-gauge and to place the table on the HRS platform that I use with my AMG Viella V12 turntable. I know this is more than a bit of overkill for a $1,295 turntable, one-thirteenth the cost of the AMG, but how else can I tell what its potential is. I used the HRS record clamp in all three setups.

In all three setups this little table never lacks for PRaT, in this it just excels. The sound with the basic setup with the Grado was surprisingly good. Really exceptional when you consider the price for the table and cartridge come to $1,895 and another $400 for the ifi iPhono. The overall sound was a little on the warm side, but a whole lot of fun to listen to. It was more powerful sounding than I would have expected. It produced a lot of full musical sound with lots of wonderful tone as well just being plain fun to listen to.

I was struck by the very nice scale of the soundstage that produced a vivid musical performance. It’s not the last word in spatial dimensionality or precise imaging, but it is big, wide and has good scale.

I spent some time comparing the now, basic $2,300 Tri-Art Audio Pebbles TA-1 and ifi analog setup with the $3,250 47 Labs 4735 Midnight Blue CD player. It was an interesting comparison. These two sounded a lot more alike than the 47 Labs sounding like my AMG vinyl rig. The Pebbles setup with the Grado and iPhono was more relaxed, had a bigger sound, and better PRaT. The 47 Labs had more inner detail, better micro-dynamics and was more transparent. As I said, these two sounded more alike than different, though I could always tell which was analog and which was digital; which was better though varied from recording to recording. However, when I added either the Allnic Puritas moving coil or the Soundsmith strain gauge, the analogue setup easily bettered the digital setup.

When I moved to the other two setups I discovered that my first impression had more to do with the sound of the Grado than it did the turntable. The Tri-Art Audio Pebbles TA-1 table sounded very different with each of the three cartridges. I think that says something good about the turntable and tonearm. The second setup with the Allnic Puritas was more revealing and had a little more fine detail. It also brought some transparency to the system that wasn’t there with the Grado. I was surprised that the Pebbles turntable played the Puritas as well as it did, but I don’t feel like it got the most out of the Puritas cartridge.

Let me stop and say that using the Tri-Art Audio Pebbles TA-1 turntable in my reference system is very unfair. The system is so revealing of every little change. Then taking out the iPhono and the Grado is even more unfair, because of how revealing the Soundsmith Strain-gauge system is. The fact that the little Pebbles sounded good at all in this system is pretty impressive.

When I removed the iPhono and installed the Soundsmith Stain-gauge system onto the Tri-Art Audio Pebbles TA-1, there was an immediate and significant increase in refinement. The fun factor came to life in a way that no turntable and arm in this price range should. The tonality of the midrange was beautiful. Vocals, horns and woodwinds sounded very natural and fairly alive. It was a sound you could sit and listen to all day long, there wasn’t the least bit of leanness or strain to the sound with the Pebbles table and the Soundsmith playing in my system. The bass, was tight and carried the tune exceptionally well. I tell you there is one area where this table is second to none: That is PRat (Pace, Rhythm and Timing).

With both of the more expensive cartridges I felt the Tri-Art Audio Pebbles TA-1 turntable and arm performed better than I expected, but I knew I was not hearing the most you could get from these two cartridges. The Grado seemed to me to be about the top end of what I would spend for a cartridge for this turntable setup. I do feel it was a really good combination and I found it a lot of fun to listen music with it in my system.

 

Conclusion

There is something ingenious about the simplicity of this little turntable. The Tri-Art Audio Pebbles TA-1 is simple to set up and it has a simple, musical sound. So, where does the $1,300 Tri-Arts table fall short of the $16,500 AMG? Well, everywhere is the answer, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t able to enjoy music with the Pebbles in my system. I didn’t have a less expensive cartridge than the Grado on hand, but I expect this table with an inexpensive Ortofon would be a killer. With the Grado and the iPhono it seemed like an exceptional bargain to me. No, it’s not a giant killer, but it wasn’t designed to be. It more than succeeds at being a wonderful little record player that looks really good and organic at the same time.

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