The Feickert Blackbird Turntable

The Feickert Blackbird Turntable
The Feickert Blackbird Turntable
By Jeff Dorgay
very time VANA’s Kevin Wolff visits to set up a turntable, it’s like getting a drive with
one of Porsche’s Le Mans drivers and I realize how
much I don’t know about turntable setup. There I
am, left to my own devices, zooming down the back
straight, thinking I’m going really fast until the real
guy gets behind the wheel and he takes the same
corner – the one that was making my undies bunch
up at about 40 mph – faster and effortlessly.
Just as fine-tuning the suspension on a racecar
makes for faster, more effortless lap times, precise
tuning of your turntable, tonearm, and phono cartridge makes for an analog setup that reveals more
music. Once you’ve had the experience there’s no
going back.
Having had this experience both behind the
wheel and in the studio a few times now, I’ve learned
three things: first, when analog is set up with great
care it is amazing. Second, if you can’t do it yourself,
get your dealer (one of the reasons you should be
patronizing a good dealer) to do it, or hire a specialist to make your table sing. And third, you can always learn more about analog – it’s a never-ending
story that will either bring you ultimate pleasure or
ultimate madness. I vote for the fun part of the equation. Even if you aren’t in the market for a new turntable, the chances are high that careful setup will
reveal more performance in your existing setup, and
Wolff brings this message home every time we get
196 TONE A U D I O NO.72
June 2015
I pull out an original pressing
of Lloyd Cole’s Don’t Get Weird on
Me Babe, and Cole’s trademark
melancholy voice pours out of
my Dynaudio Evidence Platinum
speakers, filling the room, full of
width and depth in a way it just
doesn’t quite do with the digital
front end. And this is via an analog
rig that costs one-tenth the price of
my current digital front end. Damn,
it’s that good. Of course, credit
also has to be given to the Simaudio MOON 810LP phonostage, but
that still makes the complete cost
of my analog front end one-fifth of
the cost of what I’m listening to on
the digital side.
Partnered with an Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridge, this VANA
Ltd. Blackbird package includes
Acoustical Systems Arché headshell and Jelco’s SA-750LB 12"
tonearm. The combination paints
an aural canvas that is expansive
in all directions, while remaining
tonally natural – neither embellishing nor diminishing anything.
Part of this magic comes from the
Arché’s addition that allows for fine
SRA adjustments to be done at
the cartridge with VTA being adjusted at the base of the tonearm.
According to Wolff, this allows
the Jelco to be used in its most
mechanically linear position with
the armtube traversing the record
in a perfect parallel position. The
combination makes setup incredibly easy to fine tune SRA and all
other cartridge alignment parameters to the nth degree… UNI-DIN
(Universal – DIN (Deutsch Industrial
Norm). -And of course, all is set up
with the Acoustical Systems Smart
198 TONE A U D I O NO.72
Tractor that we reviewed back in
issue 67. It only takes five minutes to again convince me that
the Uni-Den alignment geometry
is the way to go.
The result is breathtaking,
and like a top F1 driver romping out of the tunnel at Monaco,
Wolff has the setup singing in no
time, with a few pit stops to explain to me exactly how this system works and why. Each minute
adjustment expands the soundstage and dynamics; just when
I think it can’t get better, it does.
Everything is cleaner throughout
the frequency range, as if murkiness has dissipated. To make
sure things are really grooving,
we play the MoFi remaster of
Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On,
and when I see Wolff smiling, I
know we’re good. I can’t stress
enough how critical this last bit
of fine tuning is. I’ve heard a lot
of mediocre analog setups over
the years and I’ll bet the deed to
my house that it always comes
down to setup. This is where the
analog magic lies. And magic
this combination is.
Wolff heads back to Seattle
around 4pm, and ten hours later
I’m still glued to the couch listening to records. I end the morning
as the sun comes up with Peter
Gabriel’s “Lay Your Hands on
Me” at 45 rpm from the Classic
Records Clarity Vinyl pressing –
LOUD. Even after 12-plus hours
of listening, this table, tonearm
and cartridge provide engaging,
dynamic, fatigue-free listening.
Did I say dynamic? (continued)
June 2015
Though different phono cartridges all
have their own sonic signature, the underlying character of the Blackbird comes
through every time. It exhibits impeccable
timing and pace, a large sonic footprint and
a solid, yet powerful lower register – the
precise area in which most $10k tables fall
short. While I have not spent as much time
with the mega $100k tables as have a few
of my contemporaries, I have spent a lot of
time with tables in the $10k–$40k range.
And the Blackbird is damn good.
Considering where analog was ten or
fifteen years ago, it’s very exciting to see so
many brilliant minds concentrating on how
to extract more information from the grooves
of our records. Dr. Feickert has certainly
raised the bar with the Blackbird. Five years
ago, this level of performance would have
easily cost twice as much.
What makes it so good?
Dr. Feickert builds upon the technology
featured in the Woodpecker, producing “an
affordable dual arm package.” Its massive
three-inch thick plinth houses two motors,
set 180 degrees apart from each other,
canceling out any lateral vibration that might
make its way to the platter. A dual material
platter machined from Delrin, with bronze inserts, rounds out the package. Wolff makes
it a point to explain how these inserts, made
of a different material, help to damp the
platter from unwanted vibrations more effectively than a solid Delrin platter would. This
translates into more of the sensitive low-level
musical detail recovered by your cartridge
being preserved. Those wanting to take the
Blackbird even further can upgrade the AC
power supply to Feickert’s latest creation –
an all-battery supply. Watch for a follow-up
review of the Blackbird with this new supply
in place.
Even with the stock supply the Blackbird
is incredibly silent; those enjoying sparsely
produced music will appreciate this foundation for their music. The majesty of a solo
guitar or violin just hangs in the air, awash
in texture, with a three dimensional feel that
I’ve only previously been able to achieve
with much costlier turntables. (continued)
The Inspire 880 and 980 from Plinius
are highly versatile 80 watt per channel
integrated amplifiers.
Connect to virtually any source with
optical, line, balanced and phono
inputs. Directly stream music from
your digital storage via the on-board
USB connection and DAC.
In addition, the Plinius Inspire 980
offers wired or wireless Ethernet
connection and caters for FLAC, ALAC,
LPCM, AIFF and MP3 files.
Plinius Audio Limited, Christchurch, New Zealand Phone: 503 662 8210 Email:
Dayton OH
Hanson Audio Video
Fargo ND
Arctic Audio
Greensboro NC
Big Kids Toys
San Jose CA
The Analog Room
The heart of music
200 TONE A U D I O NO.72
This also makes it easy for the Blackbird
to be mated with analog’s finest tonearms
and cartridges to great result. Tracking
through Brian Eno’s Music for Airports is full
of quiet bits that gently fade into nothing,
and the Blackbird’s rendition is astonishing.
All of these technological achievements
allow the Feickert Blackbird to perform at
an extraordinary level, but what makes this
table really fun is its two tonearm capability.
The deeper you get involved with analog,
the tougher it is to get by with just one phono cartridge. For some, this may mean adding a mono cartridge to the mix, while for
others having cartridges with either different
tonality or different levels of performance
makes it easier to enjoy a wider range of records. Even if you have one of the $10,000
mega cartridges, they aren’t awesome on
every pressing. On one level if you do have
a big-bucks cartridge, having a daily driver
cartridge for the less than stellar pressings
in your collection isn’t a bad idea either.
The right armboard can mount 9- to 13inch tonearms with a 205–320mm pivot to
spindle distance, leaving a very wide range
of arms at your disposal. Those purchasing an additional armboard for the left side
of the Blackbird can work with 9- to 10inch tonearms with a 205–240mm pivot to
spindle distance. Feickert has armboards
for most major tonearms and working with
a second arm will also be part of our followup review as soon as I can decide what the
setup is going to be!
Those with 78-rpm record collections
can also take advantage of them with the
Blackbird, as it does offer this speed. Again,
another great place to add that second
tonearm with a cartridge optimized for 78s
will help the enthusiast enjoy a wider range
of records with the small footprint of a single
deck. All speeds are selected at the mere
push of the round buttons on the left side of
202 TONE A U D I O NO.72
the table. The Blackbird springs to life
silently and elegantly. It feels like a much
more expensive turntable.
On the subject of speed, all three
speeds of the Blackbird prove to be perfectly accurate, measured with our Acoustic
Sounds test record and Feickert’s Platter
Speed app. This app not only shows the
actual turntable speed, but you can see
the slight variations in speed over time. The
Blackbird exhibits minimal speed variation
within tolerance, suggesting superior speed
control software and the effect that the
second motor has on evening out the
drive impulses.
The threshold
For many music lovers, ten thousand dollars
is a major investment to make in a turntable.
And, should you not require two tonearms,
the performance of Feickert’s Woodpecker,
while not featuring the dual drive motors, is
in the ballpark at $6,500. But I’m guessing
that if you’re considering a table in this price
range, it’s not your first ride in the analog rodeo and you might even have an extra tonearm and cartridge or two in your own stable,
so this will be more of a trade up.
The highest praise I can give the Blackbird is that it offers performance that is capable of supporting much more expensive
tonearms and cartridges, so the level of
performance I experienced here is only the
beginning. For all but the most obsessed
analog enthusiasts, this can easily be your
last turntable. It certainly might be the one
I retire with. Combining high performance
beyond its price tag, elegant design, extreme versatility and a solid upgrade path,
the Feickert Blackbird turntable is an easy
choice for one of our Exceptional Value
Awards for 2015. Should you be shopping
in this price range, I can’t think of a better
choice. l
June 2015
Where Have all the
Good Stereos Gone?
The Feickert Blackbird Turntable
MSRP: $10,000 (with Jelco arm)
Dr. Feickert Analogue
CONTACT (factory) (NA Distributor)
Simaudio MOON 810LP/820S
power supply
Pass Xs Pre
Power Amplifier
Pass Xs300 monoblocks
Dynaudio Evidence Platinum,
GamuT RS5
Cardas Clear
IsoTek Super Titan
e know. Sorting through the jungle that is pre-owned hi-fi gear
can be tough. Myriad Internet forums and online shopping sites just
don’t offer the expertise required to make sound decisions.
That’s where Echo Audio comes in. We have more than 20 years
of retail experience in selling hi-fi equipment the way it should be
sold: In a brick-and-mortar environment that provides you with
personalized attention.
While we will certainly ship any of our gently used classics directly
to your door, we invite you to stop by our shop in beautiful
downtown Portland, Oregon to browse our inventory in person.
Thanks to an in-house service department, we not only service
everything we sell, but every piece of used gear is thoroughly
checked before being put on display. Consider our white-gloves
treatment your guarantee against potential problems.
So, when you are looking for high-quality, lightly used hi-fi gear,
look no further than Echo Audio. Be sure to check out our Web site
for current products and new arrivals.
204 TONE A U D I O NO.72
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