The resurgence in the popularity of vinyl has triggered a similar growth in the design and production of new turntables but can the older models still compete? Paul Rigby tries one of them, the Michell TecnoDec
Although some of you will be all too familiar with Michell, there will be many readers out there who are scratching their heads and wondering what on earth I’m on about because they will never have heard of the TecnoDec or, quite possibly, Michell itself. Yet, both the turntable and the company are English through and through and both have been around for a long, long time and both continue to thrive. The turntable itself was the final design from the company’s own private genius, John Michell, who sadly passed away in 2003. Hence, this deck is 14 years old. Too old for many to even contemplate as a possible hi-fi purchase. Primarily because society tells us that, where technology is concerned, new is good and old is bad. In many cases, this is a wise dictum but you have to remember that turntables especially are a breed apart. Why? Because they rely less on sell-by-date electronics and more on solid engineering. The company and this turntable is packed with that, certainly. So, on that score alone, it is worth a second look.
Michell has never really shouted about its products and some have even declared, rather frustratingly, that it is actually far too reticent for its own good. Others, in the industry say that, despite the age of the products, the company still charges way too little for them.
Because the outfit is British, it stems from an age when independent outfits sprouted their products from ye olde workshops (Michell’s still exists and works, actually) and, also in keeping with the traditional image, it provides a high quality after sales service. One of the very best in the business, in fact. The latter, on its own, should make you perk up and take notice.
For Michell, the TechnoDec represents the budget option, exhibiting a low-noise DC motor and impedance-matched platter of it’s own, high-priced, GyroDec. The TecnoDec sits in a rather elevated position on a solid-plinth design with spindly, damped feet.
The turntable, weighing in at 4.6kg and spanning 490 x 310 x 85mm, has a platter that combines both acrylic and vinyl. If you dig a little deeper, you will notice that it utilises a rather ingenious oil-pumping inverted bearing.
The turntable, which is finished in black acrylic with aluminium metal parts, doesn’t arrive with an arm as standard, you will need to buy one of those, in addition to the turntable itself. To get you going, the TechnoDec does provide a Rega-type arm board the will cope with most arms. I used a TecnoArm for the review but a budget option would be the lower cost Rega RB202.
There’s an optional record clamp, which I’ve grabbed for the review. Actually, Michell produced the very first. That’s right, Michell invented the thing. John Michell did try to patent the idea but the Patent Office declared that the design was not significant enough to warrant their attention. Can you believe that? One wonders how much money the company has lost as a result.
I started the sound tests with Manchester’s own rock outfit, The Fall. A band who initially were lumped into the punk genre but who have now invented their own genre called Mark E. Smith. I started with an original pressing of the band’s debut, Live At The Witch Trials and the track, Frightened.
The TecnoDec provided an unsullied, fresh and honest overall sound. That is, there were no messy frequencies that got in the way. The soundstage was both tidy and efficient with no irregular or irritating sonic oddities. This is generally a ‘good thing’ because it meant that the music could do its thing without any hassle and with some measure of focus. It also meant that detail abounded.
Arguably, the drums is the most important dominant instrument on this song and, as with any dominant instrument, it threatens to swamp the song and mask other instruments. In this case the sounds under threat emanated from the electric piano and the shy bass guitar but, via the TecnoDec, the big drum sound was kept in check. Hence, even subtle detail from these secondary directions were heard without too much problem.
This precision gave the music extra air and space to manoeuvre. That very space was then utilised by other subtleties such as minor reverb tails that, when added together, gave the sound a naturalistic flow.
I was intrigued by the bass from the TecnoDec. It was not large or powerful in terms of absolute size and mass but it did retain punch. Yet, in this rock track, it did not hit me across the face with a Batman-esque bam and, indeed, pow. Rock fans might want to think seriously about this sonic aspect. Instead, the bass precision from the TecnoDec tightened the lower frequencies and actually enhanced and improved the character, for the price. Why? Well we’re back to those flailing bits of frequencies. Via the TecnoDec, the bass provided core information while improving transient speed. Any TecnoDec-driven track is thus fast, unsullied and unpolluted of any sense of bloom or lower frequency dragging.
The personality of both the midrange and treble was in the cool and neutral sectors. Nevertheless, the delicacy and fragility to be had from the TecnoDec in this frequency region was impressive. This harsh rock track revealed, in its early sections, a unity of tone within early cymbal taps that were just exciting to experience for this price bracket.
The frantically played electric guitar was examined carefully by the TechnoDec, as its notes were stretched and widened, giving the ear a host of tiny and informative details while the electric piano might not have offered a requisite growl as it hit full pelt, it did provide an articulation which added to the rich layering of this track via the TecnoDec.
Female vocal jazz from Sandra King was next as she tackled Henry Mancini’s , In The Art of Love. King gives a big, bold, open and slightly nasal delivery, especially when the song would hit crescendos. The TechnoDec was able to follow these nuanced vocal textures without a problem. Even the space around the brass section of the backing orchestra was measured and found to be of a different quality to the space around the vocal. The TechnoDec was able to convey a sense of space and imagery that enhanced the sense of realism in the song’s presentation. Drums were also tracked successfully. Notable was its separation and positing compared to the subtle acoustic guitar that lay adjacent to it.
Meanwhile, the piano, which generally sounded like it was emailed three months later than the actual recording and stuck on with Blu-tack on the front of the mix, actually made some sort of sense here.
I walked into this review wondering if the TecnoDec still had a place in today’s market for analogue fans. That combination of top-notch engineering and revealing sound quality provided a very large thumbs up for this esteemed and slightly kooky turntable design. Yes, hard rock fans might want to consider their options in terms of bass output but the turntable’s punchy and informative lower frequencies still impress. More than that, the clean and open soundstage will attract many audiophile’s on their own. Don’t forget too that this company will not abandon you when you buy from them. They are there for the long haul and will provide quality support for many years to come.
MICHELL TECNODEC TURNTABLE
Price: £775 (basic turntable with no arm) Michell TechnoArm, £600 or Rega RB202 tonearm for £199.
Tel: 0208 953 0771
GOOD: treble fragility, midrange detail, clean and spacious soundstage, build quality
BAD: Heavy bass fans might think twice
Rega RP3 turntable
Trichord Dino phono amplifier
Rega Brio-R amplifier
Spendor S3/5R2 speakers
Tellurium Q cables
Harmonic Resolution Systems Noise Reduction Components
All vinyl was cleaned using Audio Desk’s Ultrasonic Pro Vinyl Cleaner