Turntable of the Year: Kronos
The Kronos turntable turned the tables on vinyl – literally. The floating top-down suspended turntable (hanging from four towers by means of more than 300 silicone o-rings) features two platters: beneath the regular platter spins another identical platter in perfect counter-rotation. This two-platter arrangement (driven by a pair of extremely well-controlled Swiss DC motors) is designed to cancel out any torsional and residual rotational effects passing from the platter through the subchassis to the arm, and ultimately the cartridge. The result was a sound with a remarkably silent background, and a turntable that sounds like all the best turntables handed over what they do best. And once it is set up, it requires minimal maintenance. Just 250 Kronos turntables will be made: but if that – or the £30,000 asking price – is a problem, just look to the Sparta turntable from the same brand reviewed in this issue! (Reviewed in Issue 107).
Tonearm of the Year: VPI JMW 3D
Tested on the £3,750 VPI Prime turntable (itself a strong contender for turntable of the year), there can’t be many tonearms that point to the future as well as the JMW 3D unipivot arm. Why? Simply because where other arms are machined out of metal or fashioned from sheets of carbon fibre, the JMW 3D is one of the first products in the audio world to take advantage of the 3D printing revolution. The armtube – a retrofit upgrade for existing 10” and recently 12” JMW Memorial tonearms – is printed as a one-piece block of resin, joint free from top to toe (more accurately, from headshell to counterweight block). This makes for an inherently non-resonant tonearm structure, and this is patently obvious in audition – it makes most other armtubes sound like they are ringing along with the music. If this is the future, then it sounds great! (Reviewed in Issue 124).
Cartridge of the Year: Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement
There comes a point where ‘cost no object’ becomes unworkable. The Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement is an £8,995 low-output moving coil cartridge: how can you not object to that cost? Setting aside the 17g of solid gold and the half-carat diamond that forms the cartridge body, this is miniature bespoke precision engineering at its finest, and it justifies that high price in the sound it makes; the latest Goldfinger brings a new sense of flow and shape to performances, a sense of purpose and direction that brings them vividly to life. It brings a holistic quality to good performances and reveals what makes the great ones great. It doesn’t overstep the mark or exaggerate for effect. It simply gives you more of what separates the live from the recorded. Just don’t overtighten the cartridge bolts, because gold is a soft material to make a cartridge body from! (Reviewed in Issue 124).
Phono Stage of the Year: Pass Labs XP-25
This two-box phono stage is a perfect example of Nelson Pass’ pragmatic approach to amplifier design, not least because the company’s resident phono stage expert Wayne Colburn designed the XP-25. Using a power supply that can be shared by the matching high-performance line stage, the XP-25 is designed to extract the best possible signal out of any moving coil or moving magnet cartridge, through a trio of large front panel dials covering nine resistive and six reactive (or capacitive) loading levels, and three gain settings. This is an RIAA-only phono preamp, but one that extracts the musical marrow out of any good vinyl front end. This super-silent solid-state phono stage manages to balance sounding warm and inviting, yet super detailed and analytical. Little wonder that the XP-25 has installed itself in our reference system. It’s practically the benchmark by which all phono stages must be judged. (Reviewed in Issue 94).