Five Super Expensive Turntables to Break the Bank

On September 22nd 2016 » By Ed Selley

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In a recent piece, I tried to the best of my limited abilities to explain why the high-end turntable market exists. Whether I won over anyone to the cause is unclear, but to go hand in hand with it, ever conscious of the needs of the plutocrats amongst us, here is a quick selection of turntables that exemplify the great aspects of the high end.

As with any condensed list of models, this is neither an exhaustive list nor something you should genuinely make a purchasing decision that is equivalent to buying a well specified car on. These are deeply subjective products that all seek to appeal to very slightly different groups of people. If you genuinely are looking to blow that unexpected inheritance, deck out that Manhattan loft space or, most importantly, spend a quantity of money you have accrued slowly and painfully over a long period of time, you need to go and listen to the devices in question. You can then decide if the item in question is right for you both in terms of how it sounds, but almost as importantly how it looks and feels. Without further ado, here are some options if you have a great many dollars burning a hole in your pocket.

SME30/2A $27,199

SME 30

Why is it special?

Based on the south coast of England, SME has a completely no-nonsense approach to making things—and things is the operative word because the company produces items well beyond the scope of audio products. The 30/2A is the flagship model in a range of turntables that are all capable of performance that is rather beyond what us mere mortals might be used to.

Where the 30/2A stands out, even in these rarefied circles is that the engineering and attention that goes into it is obsessive even when judged by the standards of an obsessive industry. Like a few models in this list, the SME uses a suspension system to better isolate the playing surfaces from the outside world. Unlike pretty much everyone else though, SME decided thatsprings influence soundand developed a system of 48 custom made O rings to suspend it. Imagine having the time and motivation to first of all make this discovery and then come up with an alternative. Every part of this turntable has seemingly been designed to survive the apocalypse and the given a final once over for good measure. Humanity has travelled into space in less exactingly engineered devices.

Who is it targeted at?

The SME is best viewed as British understatement with a tonearm. If you are the sort of person who has not the slightest desire to make any undue song and dance about the items you purchase but want to know yourself that you have bought the best, this is the turntable for you. Nobody outside of audio circles is likely to get excited about a matt black turntable with rubber bands on it- this is the sort of device you buy for you and you alone. Having bought it, you can rest assured that for as long as you have a source of electricity to run it, the SME will be ready to go and deliver the sort of performance that is close as you can get to the original.


VPI Avenger Reference- From $21,000VPI Avenger

Why is it special?

VPI makes turntables that have always paid very little attention to what anyone else happens to be up to at the time. They make a wide variety of models, some of which might be seen to be affordable with a bit of creative license. The Avenger Reference sits at the top of the pile and has taken over a decade to develop. The result is a monstrous collection of heavy parts of the periodic table that have been condensed into a tripod chassis with the sort of density you'd normally associate with a neutron star.

The Avenger uses a leg of the tripod to mount the board for a tonearm to it. As there are three legs, you can in fact mount three arms on it and VPI says that those can be any arm from any manufacturer. If you do go to the effort of sticking three arms on it, the result is vaguely akin to a biomechanical insect in appearance but very cool nonetheless. In keeping with all good designs at this price, there's some zealous engineering going on. VPI spent several months experimenting with magnetic bearings but felt for all the engineering benefits it was supposed to offer, it didn't sound as good as a normal bearing so they wrote off the extensive testing and went back to a conventional bearing because they could.

Who is it targeted at?

The Avenger is another design where although it is very big and beautifully built, nothing on there is for ostentation or show. This means that once again, this is unlikely to be the sort of model you buy to dress a room. What the VPI does offer is the ability to keep even the keenest tweaker occupied thanks to its flexibility. Do you have a big selection of mono records? No problem, simply fit another arm with a mono cartridge. Can't decide which high end cartridge you prefer, order another armboard and arm and run both. When you throw in the unusual ability of VPI tonearms to have their armwands “hot swapped” because they have no physical bearings, you have a turntable that could notionally run dozens of cartridges if you felt so inclined.


Avid Acutus Reference Mono $35,000 less arm

Acutus_Reference Mono

Why is it special?

Back in normal society, power supplies are considered useful and worthy objects but not really something to stir the blood. In high end audio circles though, they are objects of some discussion and frequently contain some noteworthy engineering in their own right. Few companies have taken this construct to quite the extreme that UK-based concern Avid has. You can order an Acutus in 'SP' specification for a mere $18,000 and the parts you usually consider to be of note in a record player- chassis, bearing, platter etc are all identical. So what are you paying for in this version?

In short, the Reference Mono doesn't have a power supply so much as a power station. To generate the required stable sine wave for a perfect electrical supply, Avid has effectively converted one of their sizable mono power amplifiers to act as a power supply and this means that the end unit is about the same size as the turntable itself— and the Acutus is not small. If you regard environmentalism as a pursuit, this probably isn't the model for you as the business of using an amplifier to generate a signal of this nature is fairly power intensive.

Who is it targeted at?

Avid manages to walk a fine line with the Acutus in that any product available with the option of a gold finish can't strictly claim to be wholly focussed on nuts and bolts engineering but the level of engineering and materials that go into the Acutus is still exemplary and styling-wise looks a bit like Stromberg's submersible aqua battle palace inThe Spy Who Loved Mewhich is pretty cool.

The Reference Mono is for the sort of person who can't fully relax and enjoy something unless they know that every part of the process is being performed in a scrupulously over engineered way. Establishing correlation with products of this nature is tricky but there do seem to be a surprising number of Avids in the possession of figures of authority, including Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev. Thismightbe a curious coincidence or it might be a pointer that absolute power not only corrupts, it leaves you needing a serious record player.


TechDAS Airforce 1 $105,000

Airforce One

Why is it special?

Sometimes, high end audio products have strange names because they can—there's a very fine speaker that goes by the name of the DeVore Fidelity Orangutan—but in the case of the Airforce, the name is descriptive. Vibration and interference is a detriment to vinyl playback so TechDas has engineered the Airforce to be completely isolated via the use of air suspension. This means that the whole chassis has been designed from the outset to make use of channelled air to perform most tasks.

Having successfully isolated the Airforce, TechDAS then uses some of the air supply to float the bearing which removes another traditional point of contact completely from the equation. If this wasn't enough, the Airforce then employs a vacuum system to flatten records against this isolated playing surface. As you might expect, you can use more than one tonearm and everything on the Airforce is built like a piece of lab equipment with pretty much every aspect customisable to your needs.

Who is it targeted at?

There is an unavoidable sense of theatre to the Airforce. Stating it up and watching it level up and the platter rise on the air bearing is intrinsically satisfying. As such, owners are likely to appreciate a little flourish to the way items in their life perform.  

While, as an owner, you can easily point out that everything it does is for entirely sound reasons, it is hard to argue there's almost as much joy in watching it go about its business as there is listening to it. This is very serious audio hardware that just happens to have a slight sense of occasion to it.


Clearaudio Statement $170,000

Clearaudio-Statement-v2-1

What makes it special?

Clearaudio is German and for the most part, their turntable combine an aesthetic elegance with some genuinely clever engineering solutions. The range is topped off with the Statement v2- a record player that doubles up as a sort of monument to vinyl. It weighs over a quarter of a ton. It stands nearly five feet tall and it is assembled from materials including- and I'm not making this up- bullet proof wood. The reason for the size of the Statement is that the chassis sits it directly on the ground and allows the massive platter to be counterbalanced by an 80kg weight assembly on the end of a shaft that runs the full height of the player. There's nothing so crude as a belt for spinning this platter. Instead the Statement uses a magnetic drive system that is applied to a magnetic bearing to ensure there is zero contact. A linear tracking arm designed to nullify distortion completes this temple of analogue.

Who is it targeted at?

Let's be honest here. Unless you happen to live in the palace of Versailles, the Statement is going to dominate any room you put it in. You need to be comfortable with a degree of visible consumption to be the owner of such a device but there is no question that the engineering integrity of the Statement is every bit as all-encompassing as any other turntable here. Anyone fortunate enough to be able to own one is going to be in possession of one of the finest pieces of vinyl replay ever made.
For some people reading this, the existence of these devices will seem faintly absurd but the good news for all concerned is that there are plenty of other options out there at more terrestrial prices. These are turntables that combine uncompromising performance with enough of a sense of occasion to elevate them above simple replay devices. If you get the opportunity to spend any time with any of them, I'd grab the chance with both hands.

Ed Selley

Ed Selley

Ed is a UK based journalist and consultant in the HiFi industry. He has an unhealthy obsession with nineties electronica and is skilled at removing plastic toys from speakers.

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