State of the Art Analog: Is the State of the Art Advancing?

Mar 8, 2015
Turntables, Cartridges, Tonearms, Oh My;)!

I've heard some of the very best of the best analog systems at shows and in dedicated dealer and home systems (Air Force 1, Walker, Brinkman, Clearaudio, Vyger, Kronos, Continuum Audio Labs etc.) The best of these are truly amazing, but can cost more than some homes.

To my ears, state of the art analog IS advancing at the cost no object end of the spectrum.

My question is, is the same true for recent front end designs in the four to five figure price range ?

What do you like and why?
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WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
Metro DC
I did some research and found the transistor was invented long before it was made. It seems they lacked the materials.
SOTA is static but execution continues to advance. Digital continues to provide stuff completion.
Frictionless or magnetic bearings.
Speed stability
Stylus material and shapes.(cantilevers)
Vibration isolation
Just a few areas of advancement.
The big boys could provide r and d.


Well-Known Member
Dec 7, 2011
North Shore of Boston
Nice thread topic. I'm very curious to read and learn something here. Based on my limited experience, I will say that my new vdH Master Signature is an advancement over my former top vdh, the Colibri XPP. I read that lower level phono stages are improving with lower noise, lower distortion.

Mike Lavigne

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 25, 2010
when you say '5' figure systems, i assume you are referring to 'analog' vinyl front ends......and not total systems. does -5- figure mean $10k-$20k? or $10k-$99,999$ is this one piece or the whole vinyl front end?

that said; recently i added -2- separate '5' figure turntable systems that i view as state of the art in every way......competing head to head with any tt's out there.

Saskia model two tt, Durand Tosca tone arm, and Ortofon Anna Diamond. an idler, density of tone, leading edge energy, but with low noise, ease and flow.

CS Port LFT1 tt including linear tracking arm, Etsuro Gold cartridge. belt driven, high mass, air bearing. super transparency and detail; grain-less and authoritative.

they join my long term turntable reference; Wave Kinetics NVS tt, Durand Telos Sapphire arm, and Clearaudio GFS cartridge, sitting on a Taiko Tana active drive, active anti-resonance.---power and explosiveness, super organization and soaring command of high energy music.

any of these rigs can play at the top level. not saying some might choose others as better.

and i'm using the CS Port C3ECM2 phono which is reasonably priced, as well as the darTZeel phono's inside the dart 18NS preamp, a reasonable package.

would a $300k turntable system sound better than any of these? i don't know, would it? or just different?

my guess is that at the level of these turntables, whole room and system issues would be far more significant than any net perceived minimal performance differences compared directly to the crazy expensive choices.
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Well-Known Member
Apr 11, 2011
The OP is talking about "systems at shows" and seems to be referring to systems costing $1,000 to $99,000 - so with the turntable/arm/cartridge probably in the range $300 to $30,000. Bit of a wide range for comparisons to be made given the spread is 100 fold but I guess, to give a sense of level, it runs from the Rega Planar 1 (just) with a really basic cartridge to the SME 20/12 with a quality cartridge. Probably a stretch to include the VdH which retails at $13,500. The test should really be centred around a figure of $3,000.


Well-Known Member
Apr 20, 2014
One of the benefits of pushing the SOTA in analogue design is that the smart manufacturers filter down technology to more affordable models the rest of us can buy. That is something Infinity Systems did very well back in its heyday who amongst their many achievements, were the first to release a truly low mass high end tonearm in 1976 - the Black Widow. That was followed up in 1978 with the Black Widow GF which used a graphite fiber arm tube and new damping device; remarkable tech for its day.

My friend owns a Transrotor Tourbillon which uses the impressive Free Magnetic Drive bearing and similar design features to their flagship 6 figure decks, yet would be approachable for the average serious audiophile at around $35kUS. That is one killer deck.

Also it's pleasing to see Swedish Analog Technologies and Wilson Benesch releasing SOTA tonearms at a more affordable price point (though personally i'm a fan of the Swisse watch precision of the Schroeder Reference SQ & 9" Triplanar U12 arms). Whilst in mc carts, the Charisma Audio Signature One & Miyabi Labs Fuuga smash the ball out of the park for cost/performance at their respective price points.
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Member Sponsor
Nov 8, 2013
I seriously doubt it. Analog (turntables) is a dead end technology. IMO.


Industry Expert
Mar 4, 2014
the Upper Midwest
Is the state of the art in analog advancing? I'd say yes and no. The fundamentals have not changed: turning a platter at the constant correct speed and doing that without passing noise into the record.

At its heart, turntable design has seen little real innovation since the 1980s. Perhaps the most prolific design being a rigidly coupled plinth system supporting a heavy platter driven by a belt from a standalone motor. There's been some reduction in the use of the suspended sub-chassis. Then there's idier or rim-drive, applying friction to the inside or outside of the platter via a motorized wheel. And lastly there's direct drive, attaching a motor directly to the platter.

The constancy of speed issue for belt driven tables has led to the application of greater inertia through heavier platters and/or auxilliary fly-wheels. Motor technologies have improved and more sophisticated motors used. Motor controllers in each of the above 3 drive topologies are made more accurate. Add-on technologies such as vacuum hold down and friction reducing and/or air or magnetic isolating bearings each make their claims to various improvements.

The use of DSP software in feedback and drive controllers is relatively new. Use of materials and construction technologies have improved. There are more options in the choice of belt, bearing material as well as lubricant chemistry.. Finer measurement techniques and the ability to work with them has improved. Advancements in the chemistry of viscouelastic materials has led to more choices in dampening.
Likes: Syntax


Oct 26, 2015
Eastern WA
You can't trickle down weight... which is the primary thing tables have gained. There might be better tables today but they aren't new technology.


Oct 14, 2018
Athens Greece
I think VPI case is a good example of the manufacturer who fails to advance. Their current models, even their flagships, are suffering from poor quality control, poor lubrication practices, premature wear of the bearings and thrust pads, unstable speed, noisy motors, noisy power supplies etc.

I even hear that their newly introduced DD is suffering from excessive wow and flutter, issues with the platter’s eccentricity, not to mention the motor controller which is inducing noise in the audible spectrum.

i had to spent a considerable amount of money and efforts to deal with the issues of my Avenger Reference, as from the manufacturer’s side I had zero support (even for the warranty issues) and empty promises. I was surprised to see the new Vanquish with the exact same motor and motor driver with the 40 anniversary and an asking price of 120,000 usd
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Well-Known Member
Feb 26, 2012
At The Dark Side
Is the state of the art in analog advancing? I'd say yes and no. The fundamentals have not changed: turning a platter at the constant correct speed and doing that without passing noise into the record.

At its heart, turntable design has seen little real innovation since the 1980s. .....
Agree, good points.
Well, SOTA....
What is SOTA and for WHOM?

There are endless expensive Turntables out there which got this SOTA medal and they missed the sonic target by a mile. Listened to a lot of them and was disappointed, because there are Tables for a friction of price which serve(d) much better results.
A technical tour de force is no guarantee for a superior sonic result, when you don't know what is responsible for what.
I could write a book about that...but who cares?
See it from the other side...when a real super made table (from done right) would be available for you think it would get the respect it should deserve. I don't think so (same for Arms, cartridges and so on...). The price tag is important for those who can afford everything. They WANT to spend 100k (as an example), they would never give attention to a 6k unit.
So, it is a endless story. Same for those who live from it. The profit for a 100k unit is much higher than for a 6k unit. This road goes to nirvana...
Maybe there are some who want to give the best...but it is the best they can do. They can't do it better. End of Story.
Marketing will fix the rest.

From my personal experience the last 15 years...what is really interesting...every Audiophile is able to detect a superior listing unit (or System) in 5s...everyone.
Interesting is the time after the 5s...then it is too black, too big, too cheap, too much of this, not enough of that...
For me it is sometimes depressing, I enter a demo room which is really very good from hardware sound but it is max. 20k. ALL Together. The Designers are also sometimes depressed because they don't get the merits they deserve.

Back to SOTA (imo)
SOTA from Marketing: Yes, this works from year to year excellent
SOTA from Complicated Parts: Yes, this works
SOTA from High End Reproduction: No

God is in the nuances :)
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WBF Founding Member
Apr 21, 2010
Manila, Philippines
I'm with tima.

It is a time to be judicious. There are companies out there that are jumping on the resurgence bandwagon with OEM parts that have been around forever while there are companies that are reaping the benefits of suppliers or manufacturing subcontractors whose tolerances have been improving over time. Along with controllers I also think the improvements in design software and FEA have benefitted analog manufacture in tandem with manufacturing methods. I guess we can say analog benefits from the overall/general improvement in manufacturing and material sciences. Well, at least those that actually leverage these.

It's a mixed bag. Obviously we can't try everything out there ourselves. For me a good way to see is if traits of flagship models are actually translating to the more affordable models. That tells me that at least mechanically, they may be skimping on materials and features but not tolerances.
May 30, 2010
Is the state of the art in analog advancing? I'd say yes and no. The fundamentals have not changed: turning a platter at the constant correct speed and doing that without passing noise into the record. (...)
IMHO we do not have any improvements in this area, just different ways of doing it.

Where see real progress is in the area of dealing with the vibration induced by the stylus when it reads the LP modulations from the groove - and this aspect can't be completely separated from the drive and bearing needed to turn the platter.

If the Derenville linear tonearm achieves its claims - a linear tonearm with no feedback at all from the stylus I think it is a brilliant SOTA product.
Likes: Lagonda
Mar 8, 2015
Wow, the Derenville is WAY cool!!
So which SOTA analog setups excel at reduction of noise back into the stylus? I assume some of those decoupled from the motor and drive in one or more ways? magnetic induction etc...

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