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J.C.Verdier La Platine
The Turntable
 

 
LABORATOIRE

 
HI-FI+
Issue 12 Jul/Aug 2001 - Issue 14 Nov/Dec 2001
Platine Verdier Record Player and Audiocraft AC4400 Tonearm
by Peter Russell

 
Occasionally, just occasionally, one comes across a product which challenges our usual perceptions. Over tune we all become jaded, prisoners of our own history and experience; where the familiar is comfortable and safe and predictable and anything new is a threat, unless it makes our lives easier or more convenient, and where difference is less acceptable than newness. Whilst the pursuit of the new fuels consumerism, radicalism challenges our view of what is familiar. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of hi-fi. "Me-too" products parade in the clothes of progress as newer versions of the old technology are tweaked and given a more polished gloss or more complex functionality Our attention is continually drawn to how unique this or that modification is. Occasionally old technology finds a new application or is revitalised in the light of current knowledge and economic viability. Sometimes a product comes about by using simple but familiar technology and applying it in an unexpected mannes The Verdier turntable is just such a product.

Here we are confronted with a turntable that has been around for 20 years with very little alteration; its technical principles are the same, just that some of its components and materials have changed. Mention the Verdier Platine to anyone interested in vinyl and they will respond; ah yes something to do with magnets ...it has a magnetic suspension hasn't it? True, but that is only half the story. At first sight the turntable looks like any other high mass top-heavy table. It does not seem feasible for the massive planer to provide a stable foundation for spinning records, and in any case the profile is the wrong way round, especially when you see it being driven by a thread belt. This visual incongruence is of course part of the problem; it should not work, and if it does then it is surely compromised. Well you would be wrong because it does work and whilst its feat of levitation may not be magic the sound it produces is.

A few turntables are deserving of the epithet transcription, i.e. are able to accurately transcribe the received signal and produce a facsimile of the original. The Verdier does just chat. This review has taken an inordinate amount of time and at times confounded my patience with the innumerable permutations available in the process of nailing down the sonic signature of the turntable. In fact I don't think that f have yet got to the bottom of the character of this deck. There can be no question chat a large part of what it does is due to the suspension and the engineering principles employed in its design.

 
Before we get to the legerdemain of the planer we should consider the base on which the planer sits. This consists of a hollow metacrylic plinth into which are inserted three sprung feet chat in turn support three diaphragms on which the top plate of the plinth resta. The position of the feet are deliberately sited to balance the fully loaded deck and the levelling of the base is accomplished by adjusting three large boit heads chat protrude through the top. The diaphragma drawing in air, which is audible as you release the plinth, compensate for any downward pressure on the deck. The suspension system on the more expensive rejuvenated Granito version is slightly different in the positioning of the feet and their relationship to the plinth base.
Okay, so that's the easy bit. If we look at the other end of the turntable then we are confronted by the massive 16kg platter made out of high-grade aluminium and measuring 60mm deep. To this is bolted the cast iron ring housing one of the two opposed magnets that float it. When the deck was assembled by Graham Tricker, the importer, he used an alignment ring to ensure that the two magnets in their housings were in perfect opposition to each other when the platter was assembled. To create the stability required for the platter when it rotates, an axel carrier, which is bolted to the underneath of the planer, penetrates the centre of the platter. Into this housing an axel spindle goes through the axel carrier and rests on a large adjustable set screw which is bolted to the underside of the plinth. Oil is injected into a chamber at the top of the axel spindle and allowed to seep into the space between the axel carrier and the axel spindle to enable the planer to rotate and also to counteract the drag on the cartridge stylus in the grove of the record. There are three dissimilar metals between the spindle and the platter, which serve to deflect mechanical energy. It is important to note that the only thing that actually rotates is the platter. Very little of this is visible to the casual observer. The two powerful magnets housed in their dull gold cast iron rings are in plain view and the setscrew is visible from underneath the platter, otherwise there is little to see.

With the outboard motor the actual turntable base is quite small but large enough to mount two arms if you should so wish. The usual arm-board is in the same material as the plinth, whilst for the Granito version it is aluminium. If you are feeling particularly exotic you can commission one in ebony! The turntable was fitted with an Audiocraft arm. This should really be described as a tone-arm system as it provides for remarkable flexibility. We are all familiar with tone arms which offer the versatility of interchangeable arm wands of varying masses to accommodate different cartridges, but no one goes to the extent that Audiocraft do to provide a means of matching virtually any cartridge including the Ortofon SPU's, as well as any turntable, as it has a choice of overall weights to fit suspended and non suspended decks. As fitted to the Verdier it came with the 12" arm with fixed headshell, set of counterweights, overhang protractor, damping fluid, an additional S shaped arm to accommodate the Ortofon SPU, lateral side weights and its own high quality phono cable. Once set up it looked a million dollars with its bronzed features and sculptured engineering. The detailing of the arm I will reserve for later as we discuss the performance of the arm/deck combination.



The motor supply, sited on a separate support, can accommodate either a thread or rubber belt. For the purposes of this review the drive belt was the waxed button thread provided and the supply was situated 22 inches from the platter spindle. The supply has the usual on/of switch and status light, a switch for 33/45rpm and two rotary controls for setting the turntable speed, together with a switch at the back of the housing labelled thread/rubber.

All of this is housed in a pressed metal box mounted on a matacrylic plinth. Given the engineering involved in the platter and base it is unfortunate that the motor assembly does not mirror the same attention to form and function. 1 would have thought that a more thoughtfully engineered motor housing and switching of the turntable would have been more appropriate. 1 understand from the UK importer that this may well be in hand and that there will be further modifications to improve the look and feet of the turntable.
It is possible to replace the existing motor supply with a battery driven one. Here the turntable is activated by a switch on the battery supply not the motor which, at the same time disconnects the mains. The turntable can run continuously for a week without requiring charge but when the turntable is turned off the battery's intelligent charging system will recharge itself. The advantage of the battery power supply cannot be under estimated; once connected there is an audible drop in the noise floor and the notes take on a sense of space and musical accuracy only hinted at by the standard Verdier, whilst at the same time inner detail becomes distinct and an integral part of the musical performance

As a general comment about the integration of form, function and feel of the Verdier Platine, there is some room for improvement. I am not convinced that the agricultural school of engineering has much to endear itself to prospective purchasers. It is not sufficient to point to the sonic virtues of the product if it looks. in part, as if it came out of a 1950's parts bin and a can of discarded hammerite paint. With a little thought and attention to detail the Verdier could match its glorious musical qualities with equally attractive looks I do know that some of the detailing has been addressed by the UK importer, but at an additional cost.

 
For the purpose of this review I employed the Van de Hull Grasshopper IV, Clearaudio Insider and an Ortofon SPU Reference GM as well as the Ortofon Kontrapunkt a as cartridges in the 12" arm. All were fed into the Counterpoint Claritas phono stage which gave flexibility over MC/MM input as well as gain and loading. This front end was part of the 47Labs system driving a pair of Rethm (Lowther drivered) horn speakers. Cartridge set up was a dream. The Audiocraft arm is so well engineered that every adjustment transmits that feeling of quality and reassurance.
It was fitted to the turntable by way of the heavy suspension weight that locates underneath the mounting board. There is a lighter one available to enable the arm to be accommodated on lightly sprung suspensions. Tracking weight is effected by rotating the counterweight and then zeroed with the bronzed collar with its graduated markings, which proved to be reassuringly accurate. By throwing a small lever at the base of the arm pillar a locking collar is released which then enables a vernier scale thread to be adjusted for VTA, and then relocked by the lever. Whilst it is not possible to adjust VTA whilst the record is playing it only takes a couple of seconds to do any required adjustment. Because the arm is a dual-pivot design it allows a facility to vary the damping of the arm/ cartridge by the use of a large screw at the top of the arm pillar that varies the amount of oil within a small well The instructions and drawings, which accompany the arm, leave very little to the imagination; they are both comprehensive and easy to follow, a model some other manufacturers would do well to follow. Changing from the 12" arm to the S shaped arm to allow the Ortofon SPU to be fitted was a breeze, about two minutes to replace the existing counterweight with the heavier one, attach the lateral side weights, SPU, adjust VTA, set tracking weight, and finalise the damping. We were ready to ride the grooves.

As I said before I am not sure that have yet got to the bottom of the Verdier's sound. I must have ended up playing every kind of music from early music on original instruments through Mozart, Mahler and Jazz; small ensemble music through to vocals by Amanda Mcbroom, Jennifer Warnes and Ute Lemper; guitar music by Albert Lee, Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy; Opera sung by Bergonzi, Ferrier, Callas and more eclectic music by The Penguin Cafe Orchestra as well as Bo Hansen. All in all this deck/arm combination created differences 1 had not heard before, whether it was in the subtle shadings in Ute Lemper's version of `Cries from the Heart' or Amanda Mcbroom's original version. Both were portrayed with a sensitivity and emotional impact, which revealed how very different these two singers are in their ability to create the subtleties and moods through their vocal repertoire.

Increasingly I am convinced that the success of a piece of hi-fi lies in its ability to distinguish the differences between performances, instruments and recordings. The portrayal of contrasts in such a way as to produce the verisimilitude of the performance has to lie at the core of musical belief. As a listener I want to experience the performance, to participate in the event whether it is a live experience or one that I have created in my room with the equipment that I have available. If I can not believe in the performance then I usually end up being distracted or dissatisfied and quickly lifting the tone arm to either replace the record or to leave it all to another day.

There are two records of early music that I return to time and time again. One is the Reference Recordings Helicon with music by Vivaldi and Bach whilst the other is called The Tube on the Tacet label with a collection by Corelli, Vivaldi, Bocherini and Sammartini. They are both very different recordings, but both present the violin and its extended family with a remarkable faithfulness. The violin is the soprano of ensemble music; it nearly always takes on a solo role and has been described as the `tool of the imagination'. On these recordings the performances are portrayed with remarkable veracity a truth to which the Verdier is utterly faithful. Spatial relationships are well scaled, the interplay between the two violins in the Vivaldi pieces are preserved whilst the remaining instruments can be identified easily as they provide the harmonic backdrop to the two violins. It was at this point that the impact of adjusting the arm damping was brought home to me. By finely varying the amount of damping, the tonal quality of the music could be controlled so as to capture the resonance of the original instruments on the Helicon disc and remove any traces of ringing. It is exactly this susceptibility to variations in set up of both the arm and the turntable that make this deck/arm combination both so frustrating and rewarding. Not only could you effect the presentation by varying the arm damping but also an.,, change in cartridge loading was instantly discernable. Add to that the fact that the addition of a turntable mat and the effects of a clamp all made their presence felt meant that not only did this review seem to take for ages but also the permutations seemed endless. However, throughout these evolutions, one factor remained constant; the player's unerring ability to differentiate one performance from another.

I am sure that there will be considerable debate about whether to clamp and/or mat the Verdier. A number of people have said to me that a mat, especially the lead composite Verdier mat, closes down the sound, restricts the sound stage and that the leading and trailing edges of notes are lost. Well that may well be the case with whatever arm and cartridge they were using but in the set up here this certainly wasn't so. The Verdier mat changed the presentation of large scale performances from a wide wall of sound with a strikingly diffuse presentation to one in which you were able to discern the instrumental positions, and where the solo instruments were correctly scaled. The Vivaldi pieces without the mat were initially impressive, the notes filling out the stage and appearing as if created by a large ensemble. It is only by reference to the sleeve notes that one realises that there were only six instrumentalists. The mat and clamp readdress the errors of scale and notes take on their rightful shape and precision. In The Tube the mat resolved the resin tones of the strings and exercised control over the high levels of energy latent in the violins, which can so often sound hard and strident when they should not be. In Handel's Chaconne in G Major one could actually feel the pressure exerted by the pianist as he phrased the notes. The same was evident in the piano playing of Kabi Laretei's Mozart Fantasia in C minor. Here the use of the mat established the relationship between the right and the left hand whereas without it, it was vague and diffuse with a lack of control and a large forward impressive soundstage. With vocals we see the same ability of the mat to present the timbral accuracy of the singing of Ute Lemper and Amanda Mcbroom. There is an intimacy and warmth in their vocal projection, which draws you into their emotional experience. By removing the mat their voices lost some of the midrange fullness that gives expression to their performance.

I am sure that given the numerous permutations possible with the. turntable/arm/clamp/mat etc. that one is able to voice the system to suit whatever preferences one has and the tonal balance of the equipment. However, with its honesty to the recording, the Verdier/Audiocraft combination is a ruthless exposer of the rest of the system. The weakest link will be presented in all its failings and will have to be addressed if the full potential of this combination is to be realised. The originality of its design, commitment to its initial concept and the apparent simplicity of its engineering and operation have provided a remarkably neutral transcription base on which to ring the tonearm changes. With its battery power supply, the right support for the record, and favoured tone arm the Platine Verdier would provide the ideal locus of any analogue system.

Anybody looking for a final turntable can't afford to ignore the performance of this Record Player.


TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Turntable

Bearing type : Opposed magnets running on a vertical shaft.

Speeds : 33 and 45
Drive : Thread (or belt)
Motor : Separate unit with optional battery supply

Tonearms : Two
Lid : No

Dimensions (WxHxD): 390 x 23 x 410 (turntable only)

Weight : 65 kg
Price - Turntable: £4250

Battery PSU: £800

Lead loaded rubber record mat: £120

Tonearm

Type: Damped Dual-pivot
Effective Length: Variable (9" or 12")
Effective Mass: Variable
Price: £1999

 

 
Platine Verdier Revisited
by Peter Russell

There is always a danger in revisiting somewhere you once knew in the past. You know, going back home after a long absence, driving a car you once owned or going back to a favoured restaurant. Memories are a mixture of filtered past events and expectations of the present. I am normally hesitant of reliving some-thing I previously enjoyed because I am so often disappointed. In this case I will have to revise that view In Issue 12 I commented that 1 had not really got to the bottom of the character of the Platine Verdier. Two turntables later and after reinstalling my Well Tempered Signature in a new but smaller listening room has meant that I have had the opportunity to revisit the Verdier and listen to it with a variety of differently priced cartridges. 1 think that by now I have a fairly clear view as to what this exercise in levitation is all about.

Let me first of all make a comparison; over the last couple of months I had the opportunity courtesy of a friend, to listen to a Forsell Reference in my system. Now there is not a lot of similarity between that turntable and the Verdier is there? You would be right and you would be wrong. What they do have in common is a remarkable ability to portray the rhythm and timing in a performance as well as a total absence of grain. There is one other thing that they do well; the music seems to pour out of the platter. It is effortless and fluid. This latter quality is something that all `air bearing' decks seem to share. It is the antithesis of the digital age where the episodic experience is more important than the complete event: Where we listen to music as a sound bite rather than as a performance. The Verdier present, you with a performance, encouraging you to just place the record on the platter and then forget that you are listening to a mechanical device. Its naturalness is its overwhelming characteristic. This artlessness is demonstrated in its ability not to impose artefact between you and the music. If you have a poorly recorded LP then it will be presented as being poorly recorded with all the multi-miked imbalances. If the strings shriek at you it is because that is how they are. This deck will not make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. There are number of recordings that 1 have enjoyed listening to in the past but having heard them again on the Verdier, 1 am no longer so sure that I will be as keen to spin them again. Some appear thin and harsh whilst others have lost the body and substance one remembers from previous listening sessions on other turntables with other arms and cartridges. This fidelity to the source was commented on in the original review and implies that the turntable does not have a particular character, which would be tempting fate too much. If anything, it is too revealing, which is why it is so easy to `tune' this deck with the choice of tonearm. For me, listening to the different timbral contrasts of the Cremona violins on the Fone album was a real delight, just as dragging out my Billy Holiday albums, both the originals and the remastered ones was both a joy and a disappointment. Not all the recordings were capable of portray that plaintive pathos in her performance, or her emotional intensity. At one point 1 succumbed to going through my Albert Lee albums on both the Verdier, the Well Tempered and the Forsell, using the same cartridge on each turntable supported on a BCD stand. All three turntables have their strengths and this is not the place to present a detailed comparison. 1 will say that the Verdier's strengths lay in Usability to capture the raw energy and sheer attack as Lee went through his numbers. The distinction between nylon, steel and gut strings on the various guitars was more obvious and the presentation of the energy spectrum and authority and control over the music meant that the supporting percussive and stringed instruments created a richer and more involving listening experience.

It would be tempting to try to make a final statement about the Verdier as the preferred analogue partner in any set up. This is not only dangerous, it leaves too many assumptions about the reviewer and the equipment unexplored. The committed analogue fanatic has a bewildering choice of record decks to select from at the moment and is probably spoilt for choice. All 1 can say is that in all the various system combinations, arms and cartridges that I have been able to listen to with this deck, it has a fundamental fidelity to the source that will make you reappraise your albumcollection. But if you are thinking of buying one, don't forget to factor in the hidden cost of ownership-all the extra albums you'll be buying as a result.

 

Link to other products of J.C. Verdier 


 


 
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