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The Dark Star Reference table:
It’s true that one never hears a table per se but always a combination of it with a particular tone arm and pickup. Perfect then that the Jelco arm had a doppelgänger on my Acoustic Solid MPX; and better still that a cart swap involved nothing more than a screw. To conduct A/B comparisons between two tables with a one-minute changeover was the stuff reviewer wet dreams are made of. I listened predominantly with the Ortofon Rondo MC cart. There was nothing wrong with the packaged Goldring 2200 which offers a lot for its meager €200 but the Ortofon goes rather further – as it should at four times the price. What’s more, I know it better. In reviews, it’s always best to minimize the number of variables. Enough foreplay now.

Between Transrotor and Acoustic Solid decks, the sonic differences did not require bat ears to hear. The music was distinguished on both gestalt and individual aspects like tonality, space, rhythm and flow – or whatever discrete classes of sound an analytical listener might dream up. The difficulty hung on allocating values or judgment to these differences. Too much hinged on personal taste. Whittled down to one sentence, one might say that Herr Räke’s spinner tends toward the charmingly grand gesture to occasionally skip over a few details while being wholly engrossed in the musical momentum; while Herr Wirth’s MPX goes about it all very informatively and with detail and definition galore to perhaps leave the comparison seeming somewhat technical and sober. On a whole, I more fancied the Dark Star Reference but can easily relate to opposing opinions. Thankfully this isn’t about me.

To discuss tonality by starting in the treble, the Dark Star Reference was more gilded than pure theory would have it. Maximally open and transparent it wasn’t.  A side effect is that this deck won’t ever rattle your nerves with hardness. This is a true long player and groove noise appears more subdued and ‘darkened’ and hence, less interfering. Lest you suspect this description of sugarcoating, swapping to the Dark Star will hardly ever have you react with any "wow, the room just lit up, check out the static charge in the air!" If that’s what you need – well, cough.

In a peculiarly irritating way given this prior assessment, the Dark Star’s handling of the upper bands actually had very convincing aspects on cymbal work. Cat Power’s version of Hank Williams’ "Ramblin’ Man" kicks off with a cymbal. Initial crash disregarded, the Acoustic Solid was the more honest, being more resolved, shiny and of longer decay trails. But the very first instant of stick on metal was captured significantly better by the Transrotor. It was more embodied, less reproduced and plainly more real.

Or take "Nzuri Beat" by Steve White and Gary Wallis, a drum/percussion number pure that features a major workout through the world of metals. The Transrotor served it up darker, yes, but I couldn’t dispute its greater realism either. My theory is that midband and treble were more seamlessly meshed while the Schwabian’s collaboration between them was somewhat looser though developed through to the uppermost end.

Something similar could be said about the mids. The Dark Star Reference built upon a fulsome foundation to feel anything but starved and lean. This was saucy and potent and the decisive factor why I fancied the Blackster from Bergisch Gladbach.

Each time an e-guitar dove into proper shred mode, a male voice appeared or a cello was bowed, it occurred with proper Sturm & Drang and substance. The other spinner stepped somewhat on the brakes. Detractors calling it more correct would hear me question it first, then fire off a closing "and I don’t bloody care" zinger. Seriously, I don’t dispute that the Transrotor played it warmer than ground zero but the MPX could also be called somewhat lightweight in its loafers. No matter. The midrange presentation of the Dark Star was potent and fun.

This remained true for the entire bass range. It too evinced some extra pounds. Unlike with the vocal band, here I was of two minds however. Moving from the Transrotor to the Acoustic Solid while slightly goosing the volume, I found myself spontaneously wondering where the pounds had gone. Yet back at the Dark Star Reference, I’d miss the stoically dry definition. To avoid misunderstanding, the Dark Star bass was informative and not one note. But more information is possible and particularly on electronica, I occasionally wished for drier articulation. Conversely, the MPX elicited hopes for more macrodynamic heft across the bass, a particular and pleasing strength of the Dark Star Reference. Desires at cross purposes?