It was the Stabi M that first introduced a DC motor to the Kuzma line, a deft technological sidestep that delivered some serious sonic and practical benefits – and one that in the short term at least, challenged the XL’s status at the top of the Kuzma tree. So it was only a matter of time until DC drive arrived on the flagship ‘table, as officially recognized with the launch of the Stabi XL DC, a step that coincides with a reduction in the asking price from £22,000 to just under £20,000. A high-end audio price reduction? The end of the world is nigh!
The XL DC sports but a single motor, which reduces the amount of metal and machining considerably. Mind you, what a motor… The XL DC might only use one motor pod, but that pod is even bigger than its already impressive AC predecessors. Along with it, you get the substantial power supply used by the Stabi M, built into the same large, shoebox chassis as the existing XL4 supply, providing fine speed adjustment for both 33 and 45, with a “hidden” 78 facility too. But the best thing about implementing the DC evolution on the flagship is that the XL’s modular design is easily upgradeable; the entire AC drive system can be replaced lock, stock, and barrel with the DC set-up – albeit at the not-inconsiderable cost of £7,500. Which seems like a lot until you see the size and then heft the weight of the box in which the upgrade kit arrives.
Open the box and what you find inside is the aforementioned power supply, the large diameter drum that houses the motor – now fitted with an attractive top-plate that integrates its appearance much better with the rest of the deck – two XLR equipped umbilicals and a large, flat disc. Machined from solid brass (like the rest of the XL, except the platter) this sits beside the ‘table and gives you control over stop/start, 33 and 45, allowing you to site the main power supply and speed-controller well away from the ‘table itself, but execute basic control without groveling on the floor.
There’s also a special polymer belt. The part played by this stiff, flat, bright blue belt in establishing and maintaining the ‘table’s speed stability is not to be underestimated, its lack of elasticity crucial to maintaining the stable relationship between motor pulley and sub-platter. Precisely spaced using one of Kuzma’s trademark cylindrical spacers, the heavy motor pod stays put and the belt’s constant tension maintains both consistent stiction and distance, with no tendency to ‘walk’ the separate motor housing.
How does the DC drive compare to the four-motor alternative, like this one?:
It’s the musical performance that needs to justify the upgrade price and that doesn’t disappoint. The quieter background, reduction in grain, and increased transparency and focus are all to be expected. What is more surprising is the obvious increase in dynamic range (associated with that lower noise floor) and the significant increase in musical flow and articulation. An expansive soundstage was always an XL feature, but the DC drive brings with it a far more clearly defined acoustic space, better locational definition and improved dimensionality of individual images. It’s especially obvious on orchestral recordings, where the spread of musicians and presence of the orchestra are further enhanced by a richer, more natural tonal palette and the more emphatic dynamic delivery, but smaller, starker recordings benefit too. Suzanne Vega’s recent re-recording of the classic ‘Tom’s Diner’ is a case in point. The repetitive bass underpinning gains shape and texture, attack and pitch when driven by the DC motor. Vega’s voice becomes much more solid and immediate, and her phrasing more articulate, the cello interlude gains body to go with its strings and steps up and into the same recorded space. The end result is a more credible and more definite musical delivery, with more of the performance, and less of the system reproducing it.
The latest round of motor mods to Kuzma’s long-standing XL flagship certainly deliver the musical goods – along with some non-essential aesthetic and operational niceties that are definitely good to have. As well as dropping the price of a new Stabi XL DC, they offer existing owners a worthwhile upgrade, allowing the venerable XL to keep pace with the latest round of resurgent direct-drives. But there are two other things to consider, one for XL owners and the other for the rest of us…
DC motors don’t always deliver the sort of musical weight and authority that comes with the Kuzma implementation; some similar ‘upgrades’ to existing designs, driven by comparatively recent issues with the consistent supply of high-quality AC motors, have been noticeably less successful. Kuzma’s DC motor pod might be large, but it looks like a pretty thin filling when sandwiched between its huge and hugely sophisticated power supply on one side and the massive XL platter on the other. Less might indeed be more, but size also matters and like all high concepts, you need to appreciate just how to apply it.
Meanwhile, for owners of original two-motor XLs for whom the cost of the DC upgrade looks a little steep, the XL4 still sounds better than the two-motor set up and you can expect an imminent increase in the availability of secondhand XL4 motors and matching power supplies. Strike while the iron’s hot: just don’t listen to the XL DC unless you are prepared to put down the cash. It really does offer that big a step up in the Stabi XL’s musical performance.
DC motor upgrade for the Kuzma XL turntable
New motor, power supply and belt, to replace existing two or four AC motor system
Speeds: 33, 45 with ‘stealth’ 78 rpm, fine tunable
Upgrade price: £7,500
Kuzma XL DC turntable complete (no arm, one arm tower): £19,999
Manufactured by: Kuzma d.o.o.
Distributed by: Audiofreaks
Tel: +44(0) 20 8948 4153
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