Part 1 – Avalanche

The headline refers to the very first review of BennyAudio which appeared in the April 2020 issue of High Fidelity magazine. Back then, there was only one single Immersion turntable made and I had only used it for a short while. Thinking about it, this was a risky move which could’ve ended in a disaster. After all, Wojciech Pacuła is a world-renowned audio expert whose reviews are always rigorous and accurate. Luckily, rather than being a nail in the coffin, the review nailed it for Benny and started the whole avalanche of playbacks, analyses and changes.

I remember the first recording I listened to on Wojciech’s audio system. It was Wintersun from Brendan Perry’s album Ark. I had never heard such an expansive bass before! Looking back, I must’ve been completely stunned by it which is a little embarrassing now, but I guess everybody has to start somewhere. On that occasion, I didn’t get to check out the Miyajima cartridge mentioned in Wojciech’s review of Immersion.

He wrote:

Take bass for example. It’s incredibly dense, goes very low and has a lot of weight. And it’s really well controlled… That’s how expensive massloaders usually sound like in my system. And by saying ‘expensive’ I mean really expensive ones.

Wintersun from Brandan Perry’s Ark a classic track for assessing bass performance, sounded very good due to the depth and dynamics. The key is usually the moment when the bass fades and the vocals appear, against the background of a huge space. The Immersion turntable conveyed it perfectly, smoothly switching from mass, pressure to atmosphere and “air”. Anyway, this special property, consisting of a combination of very good bass control and its great timbre and vividness, will also be felt with acoustic material. That’s why the Isoo Fukui’s double bass from the Midnight Sugar by Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio had a very good attack, density and contours.

The same record showed another feature of the tested turntable. This is one of the best piano recordings I know. BennyAudio played it outstandingly in terms of sonority, attack, but also richness of the sound. It was a unique experience, because on the one hand there was a proper precision and on the other hand the atmosphere of the recording. What I want to say is that I did not happen that the tested turntable sounded “technically”. Which is partially a result of slightly emphasized upper bass and saturated midrange.

“…with the Miyajima Laboratory Madake cartridge, the sound was much more resolving, “refined”, internally complex and simply beautiful. But this was not what I would expect from this cartridge and what I know it presents with other turntables. Apparently, its combination with the BennyAudio’s tonearm smooths transients and slightly “stiffens” the sound, which we don’t want.”

“…when I listened to the tested turntable armed with the Denon DL-103 cartridge, which is a representative of a design category with really low compliance (5 µm / mN / 100 Hz), the sound “clicked”. It’s an inexpensive pickup with an unsophisticated stylus, but, man, the sound was just amazingly good!”

I shall elaborate on the above points later but would definitely suggest that you read the entire review at http://www.highfidelity.pl/@main-997&lang=en.

One thing was bugging me, though – why was the playback with Miyajima Madake cartridge lacking in high frequencies? How could this work?

I needed time. It took trying several different cartridges, expensive setups and my own upgraded audio system to finally clock that. I now knew what was (possibly) wrong and could start to think what to do about it.

First, I worked my way through different solutions for tonearm cabling, including silver wires and copper wires made in USA, China, and 80s Russia. I then tried a selection of silver and copper RCA sockets (Furutech, WBT, KLEI) as well as various tin-plated and silver/gold RCA sockets (I decided to go with Mundorf). It did help but the highs still sounded unsettling. The copper interconnects made it a bit better but were limiting the sound information at the same time.

Trawling through web message boards, I discovered the importance of tonearm vibration control on sound quality. It wasn’t so much the resonant frequency as the high frequency vibrations which are a lot more difficult to detect and measure.

I also found a correlation between a bit soulless sound of (fairly modern) AT33PTG2 cartridge and its good high range performance. Conversely, Denon 103/103r introduced some discomfort in the highs, despite sounding incredibly dynamic and organic.

Where does it come from? Why the difference in dynamics?

You can read about it in the next blog entry.

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