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Revolver turntable: Simplicity can be a virtue

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Revolver turntable: Simplicity can be a virtue

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1986, The Syracuse Newspapers

Simple things are often best. Not only are there fewer complications - and fewer chances for something to go wrong - but there is also the likelihood that a simple product that works well does so because of its elegance.

In engineering terms, elegance has nothing to do with posh fashions. It describes the shortest path between the work that must be done and the way something has been designed to perform it. An elegant device is one that does it job both simply and well.

In the field of American and Japanese high-fidelity components, engineering elegance is as rare as a 10-cent telephone call. Many of these hi-fi products are too complicated for even an electronics expert to understand without a schematic, and some are so festooned with gadgetry that their control panels would make a 747 pilot blush.

But the British have so far stayed away from the "bells and whistles" crowd. In their phonograph turntables especially, British manufacturers have remained faithful to the principle of getting things done with the least complication.

The latest evidence of this comes from Sundown Electronic Engineering Ltd. of Warrington, England, in a new turntable called the Revolver. It was shipped for review by the U.S. importer, Music Hall, of Great Neck, N.Y. The Revolver sells for about $450, including a pickup arm and cartridge.

Like some other turntables, the Revolver is belt-driven, with a tiny motor spinning the platter by means of a long, thin rubber band. The rubber belt helps keep the motor's vibrations from mixing with the music when a record is played.

The Revolver's platter itself is unusual and possibly unique. Instead of using aluminum for the platter, Sundown's engineers shaped it out of a less resonant material - common particleboard.

Aluminum is normally favored for platters because it is non-magnetic and thus won't affect magnetic phono cartridges. But the disc-shaped aluminum platters ring" when they are struck, and as a consequence most turntable manufacturers have tried to control this resonance through the use of exotic turntable mats.

But since it is very nearly non-resonant, the Revolver's simple wood platter needs only a thin, non-slip mat to couple itself to the record. The mat is a woven polyester pad filled with carbon particles to drain off static from the record surface.

The chassis is unusual, too. Particleboard slabs rest atop one another, making a sandwich that is filled by thin strips of foam. The foam keeps vibrations from being passed from the bottom slab, which rests on a table or turntable stand, to the top slab, which cradles the motor and spinning platter.

Thick feet of Sorbothane, the "anti-Silly Putty," provide further isolation that absorbs an amazing amount of vibration.

To check on Sundown's claims, I took the platter off and rapped it sharply, and it made only a series of muffled thuds. By contrast, my own turntable's platter sounded like the Bells of St. Mary's when I did the same thing with it.

I also listened for vibration while playing a special silent groove" test disc. One sample of the Revolver showed slight humming, but a replacement unit sent after discussions with the importer was almost soundless, even with my system's playback volume turned up all the way.

The Revolver is a two-speed player (no 78s, please!), and even the speed-changing operation is simple: You merely move the belt from one size pulley to another.

The only drawback I found in the belt-drive aspect was the platter's low torque. Unlike most direct-drive platters, which are able to spin even when a record-cleaning brush is dragged against the disc, the Revolver's platter quickly stops when pressure is applied from above. One way around this is to clean records with a carbon-fiber brush, which has very little drag.

In other areas of performance, the Revolver was at least as good as any of its competition. Its pre-installed phono arm and cartridge (both made by the respected Scottish manufacturer, Linn) matched an expensive Japanese combination I had on hand for a comparison.

What's more, the Revolver's engineering elegance is matched by its simple good looks, which are elegant in their own way. Such a pleasant combination is rare, and very welcome.

For more information, call Music Hall at 516-487-3663.

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