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Reviewer: Les Turoczi
Digital sources: Modwright Sony 999ES Signature Truth CDP; Sound Devices 744T HD Digital Recorder
Analog Source: Linn Sondek LP12 with Lingo, Cirkus, Trampolin upgrades; Naim ARO arm; Spectral moving-coil MCB II cartridge; Nude Denon 103 cartridge; HRS Record Clamp; ARC PH3SE phono stage; Art Audio Vinyl Reference phono stage; various other moving coil cartridges; Basis Audio equipment under current review; Magnum Dynalab Etude FM tuner
Preamp: Bent Audio TAP transformer volume control with silver wiring
Power Amps: McCormack DNA 500; two Electron Kinetics Eagle 400 monoblocks [on subwoofers only]
Speakers: Zu Definition 2 loudspeaker system [with Rane PEQ55 Parametric Equalizer for low bass only]
Cables/Wires: Various sets of interconnects, speaker wires and power cords from Zu Audio; Basis Audio cable and wires in for evaluation as well
Power: Dedicated power lines; BPT BP-3.5 Signature Plus power conditioner
Accessories: Sound Organization racks; Symposium Svelte Shelves; Gingko Mini-Clouds; Walker Audio Extreme SST Silver Treatment and Reference HDL Mk. II links; various other footers; Acoustic Revive RR-77; VPI 16.5 record cleaning machine; Steamfast Hand Held Steamer
Room size: 14' by 23' with 8' ceiling, sheetrock walls, speakers set up on short wall; carpeted concrete flooring
Review component retail: 2800 Diamond Signature Vacuum Turntable in Clear Acrylic, $15,100 [includes Vacuum Hold-Down]; Synchro-Wave Power Supply, $3900; Vector Model 4 Tonearm with VTA Micrometer, $4600; Calibrator Base, $1800; Revolution Microthin belt, $175; Dustcover, Clear, $560
Call me old fashioned.
I appreciate things which are well made, executed for endurance and have intrinsic beauty at multiple levels. One sure-fire way to produce quality products is to utilize quality thinking expressed through distinguished designing. When those elements are intelligently coupled to high quality parts selection and professional-level building acumen, the planets usually align well. How often this happens is a matter of question. Fortunately, the gear under consideration today clearly falls into that rarefied domain where everything bespeaks quality, performance and pride of ownership at a stunning level.
I easily remember my first good wristwatch, first good 35mm camera and first good automobile. Their goodness was apparent because I had prior experience with less good versions. Eventually it became easy to understand what had been lacking in the prior iterations. Experience is a great teacher but knowing what can be doesn't always guarantee better results the next time around. Audio gear is a good example of this phenomenon and I assume just about every 6moons reader knows precisely what I mean. I hope this review will clarify how well things can get when a skilled and talented manufacturer allows knowledge, good taste, serious professionalism, drive and passion to coalesce.
Art, Science and Technology:
The complexity associated with understanding how interactions happen can be mind blowing for almost any topic one wishes to explore. We now have a decent understanding of atomic fission or even how Leonardo executed many of his fine masterpieces. The design and construction of the Egyptian pyramids, the Hoover Dam or the Petronas Towers seem less mysterious to us these days. As relevant engineering principles have been broadly disseminated and made more accessible to educated laymen, we can approach some of these remarkable achievements with much better understanding and appreciation.
This is not to say that just anyone can implement those principles. However, I think dedicated, energetic, thoroughly trained and smart professionals should be able to do so. What I find often missing in the implementation of above-average designing and engineering is the intangible awareness that broad thinkers routinely express. We have too many examples of devices, which look spectacular on paper but fail in the final manufactured outcome.
As the careful execution of science helps to reveal the secrets of the universe and as technology strives to perfect the implementation of successful engineering practices, we hope that the keen perspectives which art embraces can also be folded into the ultimate expression of a finished product. Watches, tools, automobiles, nuclear reactors, wine and audio gear, along with lots of other things, need to reflect the heart and soul of the critical thinkers who plow ahead in making the next best thing. Fortunately, sometimes they get it right. The story of Basis Audio and their gear strikes me as a fine example of the effective amalgamation of art, science and technology.
A.J. Conti, the founder and main man behind Basis Audio, is a professional engineer who embraces the best of these endeavors. He knows the importance which critical thinking, successful designing, serious testing and evolved manufacturing techniques can bring to creating and improving things meant to enlighten the audio experience. Having spent much time by honing his skills in the world of aerospace engineering as well as in audio sales, he brings much to bear when it comes to making devices work beautifully. Setting aside his passion for fine music, champagne and culinary delights, A.J. Conti captures the essence of what one would expect from individuals who enjoy big challenges and revel in pushing boundaries. As this story unfolds, it should be possible to convey more of that about the man and his vision.
My very first direct experience with a Basis Audio product occurred over a decade ago. A new acquaintance, which has since become a good friend, returned to this region of Pennsylvania to establish residence and start a family. He had been off to New York City where he trained and ventured into the early stages of his professional life. A deluxe sound system came with his arrival and it was composed of Wilson Watt Puppies, a full complement of Krell gear and a Basis Audio Debut turntable, with Graham arm and Lyra cartridge. We became audio buddies easily and have gone on to be good friends within the local community. He has very good ears, diverse musical interests and a sophisticated manner in general, all of which has allowed him to succeed in a very fine business involving Swiss watches. While the speakers and electronics were not my cup of tea, having the opportunity to hear that system frequently was informative and the music listening was always fun. The Krell digital side of that rig was clean and clear sounding but the analog experience carried much more involvement and pleasure. The Debut turntable certainly caught my eye for both its good looks and quality of execution. Eventually most of that system was changed in favor of a Spectral/Avalon Eidolon configuration but the Basis turntable has remained, although not set up currently since young children have just a touch too much inquisitiveness around such enticing stuff. Vinyl shall return there in the near future, I am sure.
Early last year my close friend Mike, who has been invaluable as a listening pal and set-up resource, wanted to return to vinyl playback. He was able to acquire an older, very well cared-for Basis Audio 2001 equipped with a Rega tonearm. That combo resided in my home for over a month while Mike's system was being reconfigured to receive it. In direct comparison to my own Linn LP12/Naim Aro rig, it was clear that high potential as well as something interesting was to be found in this 10+ year-old, charming Basis turntable. That table now has a Vector 3 arm on it and has escalated radically in its capabilities. Even though this gear had been used, it was carefully maintained and upgraded in modest ways. It effectively conveys the joy and enlightenment which serious analog playback has to offer. It also reflects the value of smart designing and implementation, especially with upgradeability as a sensible pathway for avoiding obsolescence.
A third exposure to Basis occurred during the Stereophile show in May 2007 at the Verity/Nagra room. Here a Basis 2500 system was in use along with excellent products from these renowned Swiss and Canadian manufacturers. When my good friend David arrived at the show, we arranged to meet and collect our thoughts about tackling the numerous exhibits. The very first room I insisted he hear was this Verity/Nagra room. My initial visit on the previous day had me elated. John Quick, the rep in charge, was providing informative, enticing and musically satisfying demos from the new Nagra digital gear and line/phono stage, along with the Basis Audio phono equipment. The 2500 turntable, Vector 3 arm, SynchroWave power supply and EMT JSD6 cartridge especially conveyed the magic of fine music playback. I was not alone in finding the vinyl demo particularly appealing in this room. Each time I returned to get another fix, I found someone else who had been there on previous visits and we nodded in mutual enjoyment of just how well things came across over a broad range of LPs.
Some time after that show experience, I was motivated to move forward with inquiries to Basis Audio regarding a possible review. That eventually led to the arrival of the marvelous phono gear, which is the topic of this review. All of it has significantly transformed my view of analog playback.