hifi + dec 2014
Kuzma CAR-50 moving-coil
cartridge, 4POINT tonearm
and Stabi M turntable
by Roy Gregory
here was a time when radio
records. Yep – the flat(ish) black
things with musical squiggles
their surfaces. To do that,
they needed record players:
not just any record players, but
record players that could play
discs of any type, day in, day out,
with all the robust practicality that
a studio environment demands.
And by “any type” I really do mean
ANY type. When 78s were the order
of the day, running times were so
long that radio stations used special
16” discs, running at 33 (or sometimes
16) RPM to get whole musical pieces
onto a single disc. These “transcription
discs” were essential to the process and
so the Transcription Turntable was born.
Companies like Garrard, Thorens, and
Technics all built their reputations on building
such decks, motor units that would be built
into a console and often used with a pair of
separate arms of different types or lengths
as the programme material required. Indeed,
they were so successful that pretty soon,
the term Transcription Turntable was being
applied to any deck with pretensions to
high-fidelity performance. Even the LP12, a
deck that flew firmly in the face of all things
traditional, adopted the moniker. Such was
the power of studio association…
The days of the standalone motor unit
are long gone (although the appearance of
potted direct-drive systems means that they
may be about to re-emerge) and nobody is suggesting that you build Kuzma’s
latest turntable into your sideboard, but even so, there’s an unmistakable air
of the studio about the Stabi M. It comes from the unbelievable solidity of its
construction, its size, its sheer practicality and its absolute operational and
physical stability. It also comes from its lack of visual embellishment and no-
nonsense appearance. At a time when the number of individual elements,
materials, and glitzy surface finishes involved seem to be directly proportional
to a turntable’s price, the Stabi M’s look is all business. Externally it’s a case
of, “move along, nothing to see here”, with what little there is hidden below
the smoked lid. The lid? What self-respecting high-end ‘table has a lid? This
one – a fact which underlines just how different this ‘table really is.
But the Stabi M story – indeed, the Kuzma story as a whole – is inseparable
from the development of the company’s tonearms. While the original Kuzma
Stogi was a 9” arm, very much in the mold of its contemporaries, it was also
quite a bit heavier. That led to compatibility issues with some decks, but not
with the Kuzma Stabi, a suspended turntable whose sheer stability meant
it had no problems accommodating heavy arms. Nearly 30 years later, the
emergence of the remarkable Kuzma 4POINT tonearm has played its own
part in the final shape of the Stabi M. What makes the 4POINT so special? It’s
that unusual combination of evolution and revolution that generates a stepchange in performance. Its proven tapered armtube (with what is surely the
best azimuth adjustment EVER) originated with the Stogi Reference. Its headshell and beautifully engineered VTA tower have evolved from the Air Line. Its
280mm effective length has been arrived at after experience with traditional 9”,
12”, and linear tracking designs. But what binds all those different elements
into a single whole that’s considerably greater than the sum of the parts is
the unique 4POINT bearing design, a hybrid configuration that combines a
horizontaly stabilized single-point bearing for lateral motion with a pair of pointcontact “rockers” allowing vertical movement. It might be hard to visualize,
but the end result is an almost unprecedented combination of stability and
freedom of movement, a performance that is utterly consistent, unaffected
by environmental conditions and impervious
to all but the most brutal handling. Combine
that with the 4POINT’s massive physical
rigidity and the ability to adjust and optimize
every parameter of cartridge alignment and
set up (including independent horizontal and
vertical damping) and you have an arm that
is capable of not just extracting every last
ounce of performance from a cartridge, but
exploiting that performance to the full.
Even reviewers (who generally can’t
face the same way when asked to) agreed
that the 4POINT was one of, if not the finest
pivoted arm ever made. The problem is that
‘finest’ isn’t the same as ‘easiest’. It may
have been a model of logical simplicity when
it came to set up and use, but if the original
870g Stogi arm was considered heavy, the
2050g 4POINT elevates that issue to a whole
new level. The latest Kuzma arm delivers a
sense of musical purpose, presence, and
dynamic authority that sets new standards –
but it has a lot to do with the four pounds plus
of aluminium alloy used in its construction.
Throw in the massive off-set mounting that
goes with the VTA tower and 11” effective
length and you’ve got an arm that’s bigger,
heavier, and more demanding of space
than a lot of decks are comfortable with. Of
course, if your turntable is open-plan, skeletal
and rigid (like Kuzma’s own flagship Stabl XL)
that’s not a problem. But Kuzma already had
a more affordable and conventional design
on the drawing board. Intended to fill the gap
in the range between the spring-suspended
Ref 2 and the solid, high-mass Stabi XL2,
the new Stabi M aimed to combine the best
of both worlds, applying the benefits of an
ultra quiet, high-torque DC motor drive to a
genuinely high-mass, suspended design.
Using small, AC synchronous motors,
even in pairs or quartets, with really highmass platters, the low torque generated
leads to slow start up and the risk of
increased noise due to any asynchronicity
in the drive system. The more motors, the
greater the risk. Instead, Kuzma developed
an ultra-quiet DC drive with enough torque
to spin up and control even a really heavy
platter. The end result forms the heart of
the Stabi M, built into one of the heaviest
“Look at the structure of the Stabi M and
you find not just high mass, but multiple
elements, generally bars or plates of solid
aluminium, securely bolted together.
Together they create a massive chassis
structure that contributes over 45kg to the
turntable’s substantial weight.”
integrated plinth systems I’ve ever encountered. Of course, mass alone isn’t
necessarily the answer, or even a good thing. You have to use it intelligently
and for all its imposing bulk, the Stabi M is nothing if not clever.
Hang up a bar of metal and hit it; it rings – long and loud. Now bolt
another piece of metal to the first one and hit it again. You’ll hear little more
than a dull ‘thunk’. Look at the structure of the Stabi M and you find not just
high mass, but multiple elements, generally bars or plates of solid aluminium,
securely bolted together. Together they create a massive chassis structure
that contributes over 45kg to the turntable’s substantial weight, but by using
multiple pieces, each of differing dimensions, that structure is also dispersive
and inherently self-damping. The external frame is constructed from solid
plate, and sits on three large diameter, incredibly easy to use leveling feet.
It also supports the top-plate, which sits on four compliantly mounted brass
adjusters accessible from above for fine-tuning the level of the platter and
tonearm. The sub-chassis is constructed from massive blocks of aluminium,
bolted together to create a rigid frame that carries the main bearing, and is
further stiffened and damped by attaching the solid, 50mm thick aluminium
armboard. The whole assembly hangs from the top-plate on a series of
elastomeric isolators, providing immunity from external vibration and yet
considerable lateral stability. You really wouldn’t realize this deck is suspended
unless you compare the subtle vertical give in the top-plate to the rock-like
solidity of the surround.
That physical stability is key to the drive system, a belt drive that compares
favorably with the latest slew of direct drives when it comes to speed stability.
The DC motor is encapsulated in a double wall, brass housing, securely
mounted to a heavy aluminium plate that is in turn suspended and isolated
from the turntable top-plate by four more elastomer pucks. The massive mainbearing is the proven, inverted 16mm shaft, tipped with a ruby ball used in the
Ref 2. The aluminum sub-platter is belt driven and supports a 70mm thick,
oversized main platter, machined from a laminated aluminium and acrylic
sandwich. The platter itself weighs a substantial 12kg and is topped with
Kuzma’s proprietary bonded interface material, while the spindle is threaded
to take a screw-down clamp. But what makes this drive system exceptional
is not just its overall speed stability – it’s the ability to spin that immensely
heavy platter from stationary up to 33 RPM in two seconds – or around one
revolution! Both things are a function of the close-coupled drive, a product
of the stiff, flat, plastic drive belt and the lack of lateral compliance in the
suspension. Of course, if you mate the drive and platter that intimately, you’d
better have a decent power supply. The Stabi M’s is suitably large, sophisticated
and versatile. It offers simple and incredibly
precise, push-button, fine-tuning of 33 and
45 as well as 78 too. It also offers remote
control start and stop. Yes, I was nonplussed too – until it was pointed out that
the rapid start up allows users to drop the
stylus in a stationary lead-in groove, resume
their listening seat at a suitably leisurely pace
and then hit the start button – with the same
relaxed option at the end of the side.
The large footprint of the Stabi M
(10cm greater in both directions than the
Ref 2) allows it to accommodate pretty
much any arm known to man – and to
do it within the confines of the plinth and
beneath the protection of the cleverly
designed, non-resonant lid. The massive
suspended weight and stable suspension
means that even an arm as heavy as the
4POINT is accommodated with ease, while
the massive, heavily damped chassis offers
a perfect mechanical termination for the
incredibly rigid structure of that arm. The
integrated, easily leveled plinth system is an
absolute boon, while the effective and fussfree suspension makes this a serious plug
“If there’s one word that
sums up the sound of this
complete Kuzma record
replay system, then it’s
‘confident’. The kind of
confidence that you see
exuded by champion
athletes: the confidence
that comes with that
special combination of
balance and power.”
and play proposition, almost impervious to its
supporting surface. Add a Kuzma cartridge,
in this case the flagship, sapphire cantilevered
CAR-50 (bigger brother of the CAR-20
reviewed in Issue 110) and you’ve got a
one-stop solution for state-of-the art record
replay. Kuzma will even mount and pre-align
that cartridge for you, if you are buying a
complete player. Given construction that is in
all likelihood, quite literally bomb-proof, along
with the confidence inspiring consistency
and reliability that goes with it, it’s not hard
to understand why this is a deck that would
be perfectly at home in a professional/studio
environment. It’s an impression that isn’t just
underlined but actively reinforced by its sonic
and musical performance.
If there’s one word that sums up the
sound of this complete Kuzma record replay
system, them it’s ‘confident’. The kind of
confidence that you see exuded by champion
athletes: the confidence that comes with that
special combination of balance and power
that allows them to meet and beat any
challenge, to control any situation. The Stabi
M, 4POINT and CAR-50 are all, individually
amongst the heaviest products in their class,
yet their combined sound is anything but
heavy or leaden. Full of pace and energy, it’s
light on its feet and explosively dynamic, capable of breathtaking power and
weight, but also astonishing finesse and subtlety. Piano will always represent
the sternest test for any record player, with its long decay stressing speed
stability, its range of weight and attack a stern test of dynamic range and
resolution while its harmonic complexity demands genuine neutrality: that and
the fact that most of us have sat at a piano and even if we can’t play, we know
what happens (and what it sounds like) when you hit the keys.
Mind you, few if any of us hit the keys quite like Martha Argerich. Her DGG
recording of the Ravel G Major Concerto (with Abbado and the Berliner PO)
offers a perfect window on the Kuzmas’ capabilities, from the utter stability
with which it presents the instrument, to the superb dynamic discrimination.
Throughout the staccato, almost Gershwin-esque opening movement, the
table’s speed of response and dynamic discrimination make the most of
Argerich’s astonishing rhythmic dexterity and its stark contrasts with the florid
orchestration. But the long, meandering lines of the solo entry to the second
movement is even more impressive. The measured pace and gently evolving
weight in the playing gives space to the notes and poise to the playing, with
not a waver in the lengthy decay, utter clarity when it comes to the accent
and level of each note and phrase, a perfect balance between left hand and
the fleeter fingers of the right. That sense of balance is crucial to any piano
recording but here it really is make or break, with Argerich’s legendary lyrical
and emotional quality utterly dependent on the fluidity and grace in her playing.
Any lumps or discontinuities will destroy the spell, but the Kuzmas’ utterly even
yet uninhibited presentation draws you in and keeps you there.
That top to bottom evenness and poise is key to the Kuzmas’ team
performance. Whether it’s the perfect balance of Martzy and Antonietti in the
Coup d’Archet radio recording of the Kreutzer Sonata, a quality that makes
clear the depth of understanding (and respect) between this star and her
accompanist, or the sheer virtuosity of Pollini’s Chopin Etudes, this record
“If the mark of a great transducer is to
step aside and let the music speak then
the CAR-50 certainly qualifies, with the
Stabi M and 4POINT helping it on its
way. And that’s really the key.”
Stabi M
Type: Belt drive, suspended chassis
Drive System: DC motor with external
power supply
Platter Mass: 12kg
Speeds Available: 33, 45 and 78 (user
player presents a picture of complete clarity and stability, but a picture that
lives and breathes with layered harmonics, space, and vitality. Despite the
weight that it brings to the left-hand there’s nothing clumsy or congested in its
bottom end. Listen to the attack and power that Pollini generates and that the
Kuzmas lift from the groove and you realize just how earthbound and turgid
less accomplished players (pianists or turntables) sound.
That confidence extends to all musical genres. The solidity, impact and
propulsive nature of the drumbeats on Shawn Colvin’s ‘Shotgun Down The
Avalanche’ from Steady On [Columbia] is seriously impressive – but so is the
subtle intimacy of the vocal and delicate resolution of the sleigh bells. If the mark
of a great transducer is to step aside and let the music speak then the CAR50 certainly qualifies, with the Stabi M and 4POINT helping it on its way. And
that’s really the key. As impressive as these three products are individually, the
utterly seamless and symbiotic way in which they combine creates a whole that,
just like the various elements that make up the tonearm, is far, far greater than
the sum of its parts – not in terms of its obvious attributes, but in the way they
step behind the performers and the performance, freeing them of constraint
or imposed character. There are certainly more detailed cartridges and setups that offer greater absolute separation, but there are very few that sound
as naturally coherent, holistic, and musically complete as team Kuzma. This
level of genuine neutrality and the musical versatility and insight it offers is both
rare and reminiscent of the stable clarity that comes from master tape – just
without the sterile quality that tape delivers too. That’s what makes this Kuzma
combination so impressive and so rewarding, immediately and in the long-term;
it will play anything – and it will play it really, really well. At a time when many a
vinyl collection is being ripped to hard-drive, maybe it’s time to update and revive
the transcription moniker, a traditional title for which this is a genuine contender;
what it does with records might just cause a few second thoughts…+
Tonearm Mounts: One
Dimensions (WxHxD): 600 x 500 x 280mm
Weight: 60kg
Lid: Yes
Finish: Black (optional coloured plinth)
Price: £13,995
Type: Pivoted with 4POINT bearing
Effective Length: 280mm
Pivot/Spindle Distance: 264mm
Mount/Spindle Distance: 212mm
Effective Mass: 14g
Interchangable Arm-Top: Yes
Adjustable VTA: During play.
Adjustable Azimuth: Precision worm
Overall Weight: 2050g
Price: £4,995
Type: Low-output moving-coil cartridge
Cantilever: Sapphire
Stylus Type: Microridge
Output: 0.3mV at 3.54cm/s
Compliance: 10cu
Cartridge Mass: 17g
Recommended VTF: 2.0g
Recommended Load: >100 Ohms
Price: £4,495
Manufactured by: Kuzma d.o.o.
URL: www.kuzma.si
Distributed by: Audiofreaks
URL: www.audiofreaks.co.uk
Tel: +44(0)208 948 4153
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