A high end turntable based on a thoughtful and intriguing design, Paul Rigby reviews the AVID Acutus SP turntable
My experience of the Acutus began before it was upgraded by AVID to the SP status which included the additional of a second belt – yes, this is a belt-driven turntable. Having been rather slow in catching up with the improvements, I thought I’d look at the turntable afresh now that I have heard that upgrade. My review sample features a SME fitting and a SME IV tonearm. This is a recognised package from AVID, one that its distributors are happy to present to potential customers and so I will reserve my comments on the turntable and the package as a whole. There is a reason for that but I’ll get to that point later on.
This is a big deck, it is imposing and weighty. In fact, it weighs a total of 28.5kg with the platter on its own fetching 10kg. I know many turntables out there whose entire weight totals half the weight of the Acutus’ platter! Spanning 460 x 400 x 210mm, the Acutus stands tall with grand suspension pillars giving it an almost Romanesque architectural look.
The Acutus really started AVID on its way as a hi-fi company. Founder, Conrad Mas wanted to create the best turntable he could at that time. From this position of excellence, the Acutus has been the inspiration for a range of lower cost designs that have all stemmed from the Acutus ‘mother’, as it where. Hence, the Acutus has become a source for a host of other sources that retain their family links.
AVID has never liked massy platter designs like those from Clearaudio because it says that the stored vibrations will, ultimately, reflect back up to the record and arm while the Linn-type approach results, says AVID, in too much vibration in the plinth. AVID has always tried to drain noise from its designs.
One principle method of doing that is the W-shaped lower subchassis which, by its very shape, acts as a drain point. The frontal part of the deck plus the motor are other escape areas for noise. Mas, as a designer, sees the choice of arm for his turntable as important. Rigid bearing designs are preferable. Hence, you should avoid unipivots if you want to buy an Acutus.
The turntable is divided into three parts. The ridged base contains the suspension columns and, in itself, is a damping point. Even the aluminium skin does a job by removing high frequency noise (which is why the aluminium version is sonically superior to the new ‘Dark’ version currently on offer from AVID). Three feet can be rotated for levelling while a tiny, built-in, bubble level aids visual adjustment.
The next layer above that holds the W-shaped sub-chassis and the tonearm too. In my case, that was a supplied SME IV. Three feet from this sub-chassis easily slips into the lower suspension columns beneath and are held in place with strong rubber bands, allowing the sub-chassis to bounce gently on the lower base’s springs.
The inverted stainless steel bearing with a Tungstern carbide/Sapphire thrust point is placed on top of the sub-chassis. The Platter is placed upon that.
The isolation performance is quite superb which reduces the need to find a perfect shelf for the Acutus. That said, I would encourage you to do so – why chance it?
When you put a record on the platter, you’ll notice that it will wobble a little bit because the centre of the record rests upon a slightly raised brass area. AVID supplies you with a two-stage threaded clamp. Once the record is in place, you screw the upper part of the clamp into place. Once tight, you then screw the lower ring of the same clamp. This eases the record flat onto the platter’s bonded polymer surface creating a complete connection with the surface. In effect, the record becomes ‘as one’ with the platter surface.
The platter is rotated by a powerful motor that’s hidden underneath the platter. So attaching the belts around the motor’s pulley and the underside of the platter is a finicky job. You’re given a handy little tool to assist. The system works fine after a bit of practice but it’s not my favourite part of the installation.
A separate power supply holds the power button and 2-speed selector.
I began the tests with an original copy of Jan Akkerman’s Can’t Stand Noise (CBS) from 1983 and the instrumental track Piétons. Akkerman’s electric guitar is distinctly noodly on this track and seems to plug into a Chet Atkins style along the way. The music is little jazzy rock with an easy swing to it. You’ll also hear organ, bass and percussion plus secondary percussive backing.
Firstly, I was impressed by the bass from the Acutus. It’s not just the solidity – although the lower frequencies are very firm and massy in nature – or the nature of the transients which are lean and fast, keeping the music moving at a pace but the character aspect of the presentation, it gives percussion a rhythmic, naturalistic flow.
The noise level from the Acutus is also very low which means that fine details have a great chance to emerge from the soundstage. Even tiny mistakes within the song are noticed by the ear. At the beginning of this song are three almost subliminal rings. As if someone has accidentally knocked against something. But the recording is so busy they’re easily missed. The Acutus picked them up and others like it. Its eye for detail is quite stunning.
The upper mids and treble hold most of that detail which flows very easily which means that the organ, lurking to the rear of the broad soundstage can easily be masked by the dominant instruments out front. The Acutus hates to leave any instrument alone though which means that here, the organ can easily be tracked by the ear while offering a wealth of informative detail to boot.
One of the interesting points during Richie Havens’ Something Else Again on Verve and the track, From the Prison was not so much the midrange response from the plucking of the strings, which was excellent have no doubt about that, but the after effects of the action. The metallic ringing after effects offered a mixture of power but also delicacy as the sound decayed and the reverb petered out.
Again, the low noise aspect of the Acutus’ design allowed the ear to hear more from this turntable. On the Dylan cover, Maggie’s Farm, I heard – for the first time – a particularly muddy line clarified within the lyric. I could finally tell what he was talking about. It was a case of, “Oh that’s what he’s saying!” The relief was palpable, let me tell you. Hence, the clarity of the Acutus is superb. That sense of information, even normally hard-to-track information, hitting you from all angles keeps the ear busy during a typical song. There’s so much to notice that you’ll be assimilating a new track over several plays.
Playing Queen’s In the Lap of the Gods from the EMI LP, Sheer Heart Attack I was impressed by the dynamic energy from the percussion but also the contrasting and open nature of the backing piano. The expansive aspect of the piano with its own reverb tail added a richness to the sound as a whole. More, the next track Stone Cold Crazy is a full-on, heavy rock outing but I was impressed how the ear could easily track the cymbals taps throughout. Instrumental separation was of a high quality here. As was the 3D effect from the central stereo image.
ARM IN ARM
There is one point of note here. You may find the Acutus for sale with a Pro-Ject 9 CC Carbon. You’ll normally pay around £600 for it. Don’t go there. Reject the offer. Really, just don’t. The arm is fine but the Acutus is just too good for it.
And I have to ask, what on earth is AVID doing instructing its distributors to recommend such an arm with a deck like the Acutus? A nice arm, as I say, but one that’s not worthy to kiss the feet of the Acutus and one that’s bundled with it’s £1,650 Ingenium?
You can say the same about the SME IV. As good as this arm is, I realise its legendary status and it performed very well during the test, it is the weak point of the turntable. It’s a good start, which is why I used it for this test but, ultimately, you need to aim higher with this turntable. The SME drags on the Acutus.
A new arm is your next upgrade after buying the Acutus. A £5k Origin Live Enterprise, for example or something of an even higher quality will really get the most from the turntable design. After that? You’re looking at an upgrade to the AVID Reference…but that’s another story and another review.
The AVID Acutus SP is a thoughtful, innovative and incisive design. Just roam your eyes over the chassis and you’ll only find features here aimed at enhancing sound quality. There’s no faff, no filigree and no wastage. You can see where you’ve spent your money and, more importantly, you can hear it too. I’ve rarely experienced a turntable that flows so well in design and sound terms.
AVID ACUTUS TURNTABLE
Tel: 01480 869 900
GOOD: build quality, overall design, firm bass, clarity, detail, low noise
[Don’t forget to check out my Facebook Group, The Audiophile Man: Hi-Fi & Music here: www.facebook.com/groups/theaudiophileman for exclusive postings, exclusive editorial and more!]
Icon PS3 phono amplifier
Aesthetix Calypso pre-amp
Icon Audio MB845 Mk.II monoblock amplifiers
Quad ESL-57 speakers with One Thing upgrade