I’m not what you would call an early adopter. I resisted getting a mobile phone for years, and smartphones and tablets have only lately entered my life. It was the same with CD players, and even after getting my first player, it was a long time before the silver disk displaced vinyl in my affections. But displace it it did, and my turntable has languished if not unloved, then certainly unregarded, for rather longer than perhaps is good for it, or me. The trouble is, good though a well-fettled Rega Planar 3 undoubtedly can be, it isn’t in the same league as a dCS Puccini, with or without its U-Clock. I want to enjoy my now unplayed vinyl again, but anything I listen to it on is going to have to raise its game a fair bit.
So, where to go from here? Like many people, having bought My First Turntable™ in the form of a lower-end Rega or Pro-Ject, the obvious place to look would be further up those manufacturers’ ranges. But, I’ve always had a bit of a thing for the Avid turntables. Until recently, even the entry level models were a bit of a leap, but the introduction of the £800 Ingenium put Avid firmly in the ‘possibles’ pile. Add a decent arm and cartridge and we’re in the £1,200-1,500 bracket occupied by the higher-performance part of the Rega range, for example, so if we’re going to get a bit serious about vinyl, the Ingenium is a contender. And if the £800 Ingenium is a possibility, would it be worth the stretch to the £1600 Diva II? With these questions in mind, Conrad Mas from Avid dropped an Ingenium and a Diva II off, together with a Pro-Ject Carbon tonearm fitted with the excellent Ortofon 2M Blue moving-magnet cartridge. There is a review of the Ingenium pencilled in for a later date.
Happily for this thumb-fingered ignoramus, installing the arm on each table was straightforward and, having established a setup of arm height and tracking weight within limits, a little tweaking was done by ear to find each turntable’s sweet spot. Listening was done through the, rather good, built-in MM phono stage in my Albarry AP11, feeding the M1108 monoblocs to my regular Focal Electra 1028Bes or the new Tannoy XT 8F floorstanders.
The Ingenium and the Diva II share some common features, but differ in some important ones. Unlike the more expensive Avid designs, neither Ingenium nor Diva sports a suspended subchassis. This is obvious in the Ingenium, whose ‘T’ shaped chassis sits atop three free-standing Sorbothane feet, one at the end of each limb of the T. The Diva looks more like the Volvere, Sequel, and Acutus models, sitting on three pods arranged in an equilateral triangle. I assumed this was some form of suspension, like the Volvere but probably simpler. In point of fact, the pods house more Sorbothane rather than any form of suspension and are part of the chassis rather than having the chassis resting atop them; ultimately, both the Ingenium and the Diva II are rigid designs. Both use free-standing motors; the Diva II upgrades from the Ingenium’s 240v unit with on/off switch in the mains cable, to a considerably heavier 24v motor and dedicated power supply. Speed control is by alternative diameter pulleys in both cases. The main bearing, subplatter, and platter are common to both, and the Diva II comes as standard with a record clamp where this is an option on the Ingenium. Given an identical arm and cartridge, the obvious question is: what benefits do the differences between the designs bring, and are they worth the financial stretch?
The Ingenium provides an undoubtedly confident and authoritative sound, making those typical entry-level turntables sound somewhat diffident. Its presentation was big, beefy, and dynamic with strong bass definition and power; it feels more like a full-range transducer, with more of the fundamental of notes in evidence. It’s a sound that a habitual CD user would appreciate, eschewing any sense of vagueness that cheaper vinyl sometimes uses to paper over the cracks. Large-scale orchestral, such as Rhapsody in Blue [Decca SPA 525] is more spacious, with depth and body to the image, and a more expansive dynamic range. I won’t tread on the toes of the review in this issue, but the Ingenium was, for me at least, a definite contender.
If you’re going for the Ingenium, by the way, then the optional record clamp is worth the extra cost. Without it, you lose important levels of midrange definition and texture; pace, drive, and solidity are clearly improved and the musicianship in general is ‘tightened up’. You can assume that any comparisons with the Diva in this review used the clamp for both turntables.
So then I tried the Diva II. I could sum it up as ‘more of the same, with a definite nod toward the big Avid turntables like the Sequel and Acutus’ which would be both true and unfair at the same time. Unfair because it might give the impression that you can get Sequel performance for Diva II money, which you don’t, and also because at twice the price of the Ingenium, getting ‘more of the same’ probably isn’t stating things strongly enough.
The difference, and what would have me drinking a little less each week until I’d saved the extra funds for the Diva II, is that the Diva II also brings a degree of extra control, authority, and musical integrity to supplement the additional scale, weight, and dynamic range of the Ingenium. Instruments like marimba (‘The Animals’, from Sky’s Five Live [Ariola]) or xylophone (the closing track from Mike Oldfield’s Incantations [Virgin]) have a woody depth, resonance, and sense of mass the Ingenium only hints at, and in particular the decay to notes, notably anything with a degree of bass, or drums, is longer and all the more satisfying. The effect on the Oldfield track is to give the xylophone playing more of a sense of bounce and forward motion, musical purpose wrought from a rightness in the timing married to a satisfying depth of tonal colour.
The overall effect is that music works more effectively, ‘Anitra’s Dance’ from the Marriner/St Martin-in-the Fields account of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Incidental Music [EMI] does feel more like a dance than simply a set-piece, and ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ builds not only in tempo, but also in intensity. That Decca Rhapsody in Blue also contains a recording of Copland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ which, via the Diva II, has not only a sense of space and distance to the opening fanfare, but the sheer power of the timpani is quite arresting; they have impact in the truest sense yet, despite their power, the timpani don’t disturb or unbalance the performance. The Diva II keeps its head while lesser tables are losing theirs.
Having listened almost exclusively to CD for the last decade, I’ve become more sensitive to the small instabilities in pitch that can bedevil vinyl replay systems. Both the Avid turntables acquit themselves respectably in this regard, and faffing around with belt tension by shuffling the motor this way and that definitely gets results, but the Diva II’s heavier motor and dedicated PSU are clearly ahead in this particular aspect. On paper, the motors have similar output, but the 24v unit used for the Diva II does appear to generate more torque, noticeable when, for example, cleaning the surface of discs with a carbon-fibre brush. The upshot is that piano in particular, and any music with sustained notes or lengthy decay, is both more satisfying and less irritating. It also usefully benefits musical timing. Dave Grusin’s Mountain Dance [Arista] trips along nicely, and with a better sense of how the percussion is being played – the speed and subtlety of the cymbal work being brought out particularly well. There was a time when I dismissed this track as just West Coast noodling, but it now it has regained a sense of performance it had somehow lost.
Voices, whether spoken or sung, are more natural and expressive. Vocal leads take proper place front and centre, rather than shuffling meekly further backstage, and voices have a natural balance of timbre without obvious emphasis. Richard Burton’s narration on The War of The Worlds [CBS Records], for example, avoids any tendency towards reverberant chestiness and remains both intimate and authoritative, without being declamatory.
As suggested earlier, the Ingenium is offered with a record clamp as an option, but the same clamp is standard for the Diva II. I tried a few tracks on the Diva II sans clamp and it quickly becomes apparent that this is no mere accessory. Without the clamp, first impressions may be that the turntable has more bass, but anything more than a cursory listen shows that this is an illusion borne out of the fact that what bass there is, is loose, diffuse and flabby, ill-defined, and less tuneful than when the clamp is applied. Without providing that essential underpinning support the bass dominates and overpowers, hence why the ear is drawn to it. The clamp literally tightens everything up; bass is firmer, more agile and more tuneful, and allows the rest of the music to assume its proper place.
TThis helps keep bass-heavy pieces, such as ‘Montagues and Capulets’ from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet suite [Philips], from becoming ponderous. There is power and energy, the bass propels the music forward rather than dragging it down, and there is good scale. The orchestra has mass and energy, rather than simply occupying space. The Diva II gives a good account of the way large and powerful musical forces can be controlled and kept in check, so sudden loud or quiet passages are all the more effective. There is a sense that the Diva II is more rhythmically confident: more Prokofiev, and Lieutenant Kijé [EMI] struts and strides boldly. It does this while also providing that added depth of tonal colour – the timbral and spatial differences between the various woodwind parts, for example, becoming more apparent, so you begin to appreciate how the composer has chosen the musical forces at his disposal and has set about using them to best effect.
The upshot is that the extra scale and authority the Diva II brings, coupled with the greater control and rhythmic integrity, makes the Diva II a very worthwhile step up from the Ingenium. The Ingenium is a very engaging and entertaining listen, digging way more from your vinyl than a budget table can hope to manage and presenting it to you with an ebullience and infectious enthusiasm, which engages and holds your attention. Imagine a Labrador puppy, grown to full size but still full of youth and enthusiasm. Now take that puppy after two years of guide dog training. Still a youthful and enthusiastic companion, but also purposeful, reliable, and worthy of your trust. This is the Diva II. It remembers how to have a good time, but knows how to keep things under control so you don’t end up with an almighty mess. It’s a grown up turntable that remembers how good it can be to be a teenager. (Maybe that’s why I enjoyed revisiting so many of the albums from my formative years in the workup for this review).
It’s a fair jump, from £800 to £1,600, and once you’ve factored in a suitable arm and cartridge, the Diva II isn’t something you’d buy on a whim. There is no doubt in my mind that, had I only the funds for the Ingenium, it’s exactly the sort of turntable I’d want because it has the fundamental qualities I wouldn’t want to be without. But… the Diva II is only £800 more (or twice the price, depending on how you look at it). With the same arm and cartridge you’d be looking at around £2,200 as against £1,400, or over half as much again. But it offers so much more in terms of making your music make more sense. I suspect that if I bought the Ingenium, I’d wish I’d gone for the Diva II, and if I went for the Avid Diva II, there is much less likelihood that my vinyl would once again be relegated to the cupboard under the stairs. An extra £800, to reacquaint myself with an important chunk of my music collection? You betcha!
Avid Diva II turntable
Type: Belt-drive, rigid subchassis turntable
Speeds: 33 1/3, 45 rpm, via different diameter pulleys
Motor: 24v 12mNm AC synchronous with dedicated PSU/control unit
Arm Mounting: SME (standard), adaptors (to order) include Pro‑Ject, Rega, Jelco
Platter: MDF with cork mat, 2.5Kg mass
Bearing: Inverted stainless steel
Thrust point: Tungsten carbide/sapphire
Suspension: Triple layer 3 point elastomer
Dimensions: Turntable (overall) 450×390×140mm
Price: £1,600 (turntable)
Pro-Ject Carbon tonearm £510
Ortofon 2M Blue moving-magnet cartridge £170
Manufacturer: AVID HIFI Ltd
Tel: +44(0)1480 869 900
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