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Positive Feedback ISSUE 2
basis and benz-micro
1400 turntable, Glider Series 2 MC cartiridge, and the Phonomena phono-section
as reviewed by Dave Clark, A.D. Banerjee, and Larry Cox
The Basis 1400 turntable/Rega RB250 arm/Benz Glider Series 2 cartridge system did an extraordinary job of delivering the musical goods. The turntable normally retails for $1400 with the Rega arm, and the Glider retails for $795, but when purchased as a package, the table, arm, and cartridge sell for $2000. We also had the Basis record clamp, which retails for $250, so the front end sans phono section was $2250. Not cheap, but not the price of a boat. I was unable to work out hum problems with the Phonomena phono section, so my review is just of the front end. No one else told me they were having a problem with the Phonomena, so I dont know what to conclude. Time was ticking, so I did what I could.
There are "factions" in this hobby-tubes vs. solid state, mini monitors vs. floor- standing speakers, digital vs. analog. Within the digital group are people who assert that it is more "accurate" than analog, and that analog lovers simply like colorations. There are a whole host of other arguments lofted by those that prefer digital. The Internet is full of that conversation, so if you want to be full of it, too, go there and get your fill. As far as Im concerned, the best analog has an ineffable quality that digital doesnt or hasnt displayed. It is like being "in the zone," having a "peak experience," in which you are so involved that you are not conscious of the details, an experience so involving that analysis of the process is simply impossible. For me, this rarely happens with digital and is available in analog. In addition to preferring analog to digital, I also find turntables beautiful. Starting in the late 80s, they started to look like fine jewelry, and the sound quality also improved. My Oracle Delphi is a sight to see when the table is spinning and the platter is reflected in the dust cover. Given the cost of high end gear, having something striking to look at is a welcome bonus.
Let those that think that analog is a sleepy medium listen to the Basis 1400. It is many steps up the dollar and performance ladders from, say, a Pro-Ject table or the entry-level SOTAs. The Basis setup will make it possible for many to start and end the pursuit of the wonders of analog. Rega arms have a great reputation, as do Benz cartridges. Both are well deserved. The 1400 is a clear acrylic table, and it is no less than striking in appearance. Simone prefers its looks to my table. However, you dont get the Oracles suspension. My table is on a rack that is atop a floorboard that bounces. Approaching the Oracle while it is playing causes a near skip, whereas the Basis skips. Aarghhh! A Townshend Seismic Sink or an Osiris air bladder platform (or relocating the table) would have resolved this, but again I lacked the time. The Basis gave a solid reproduction of the gold in my black discs.
It is hardly a romantic setup, more of a precision replay system. The presentation conjured up images of men in pinstripe suits with perfect posture-assured, directed, and in action-in counterpoint to the more relaxed, sweet, and "juicy" sound of my Koetsu Rosewood cartridge. I hooked the Basis up to my E.A.R. 802 preamp, as well as to the Naim Stageline outboard phono section, and in both instances (tube and solid state) its character was consistent. It was like listening to a compelling argument, the quality of which was such that your attention was required! That is a good thing. The Basis invited concentrated listening, but did not demand it. Invitations work way better than demands, eh? Music on the Basis was a step above the digital Ive heard, though in fairness the digital seups Ive had in my home have been less expensive than the Basis setup. Perhaps it is unfair to criticize digital within that framework, but I have had similar experiences at hi fi shows. Once Ive had a chance to listen to a more expensive digital rig at home, my opinion should count for more.
That said, my experience of the Basis setup was not quite the magic carpet ride of the best analog. I never lost track of time or of what I was listening to. The best systems do a conjuring job on your consciousness. I count as part of the quality of the experience of an audio system whether I reconnect with past emotional experiences. This is my mirror of the depth of the emotional involvement of the system. It didnt happen for me with the Basis. Alas. Or not! Something different happened. I had the experience of being in the conductors or the composers mind. There were times when I had the experience of "knowing" why the piece moved the way it did, and how the dynamics were meant to capture a particular experience. This happened with many classical pieces. Yes, the Basis was somewhat analytical, certainly more so than my Oracle, but it delivered a very clear and precise musical experience. Instead of transporting me into a deep emotional experience, the Basis created an environment for contemplation and insight. I liked this. The bass was rich, if a bit chalky-sounding, while still tight. The Basis had more drive than my suspended table. However, the tautness also contributed to the Basis less emotional sound. It was perhaps falsely taut and perhaps over controlled. This may be delusional, as I havent had a lot of cartridges in my system, but Ive had one very nice one in there for a while. Vocals could be easily understood, inflections and all. The late Joe Williams sounded great on my copy of Every Night-Live at Vine Street, with perhaps an extra measure of warmth and vibrato ever-so-slightly exaggerating the deep voice. With my Koetsu, which retails for a little more than the whole Basis system, Joes vocals were faster, sweeter, and more natural, and less chalky-sounding. Female vocals were also easily understood, and offered a look into the performers heads, or so I imagined. The top end did not call out, "Im open, extended and airy," but that would be unlikely given my preamp and speakers. Both, in my experience, are a bit rounded off compared to some audiophile products. For me, the lack of highlighting is a good thing.
The Basis 1400 nearly bridges the gap, in terms of detail and precision, with digital. With the Basis rig, it will be clear exactly which instruments are playing and when they come in and out of the mix. However, unlike the digital Ive experienced, this wont be done with razors. For lack of a better term, the Basis is more "natural" sounding. The overall timbre is rich, and slightly on the warm side of things, but without the romance, sweetness, and light touch of my rig. The Basis strikes me as a great tool for a student conductor. There is sufficient emotional involvement that the "heart" of the music is present, and yet the bones of the music will be exposed so that study is possible. I dont suppose that a lot of music students can afford $2500 analog setups, but if they can, this is the one.
Imaging was a bit more pinpointed than with my rig, and less suave. Ill stick in my usual qualifier that Im not a worshiper of the imaging thing, but I know some of you think it is critical, so here goes. The Oracle creates a slightly more realistic image, with images not rock solid, but like a vortex of energy, with a less specific place in space. The Basis images more specifically, but perhaps with a little less "energy," giving a slightly cardboard quality. Those of you who are satisfied with reasonable front-to-back and leftto-right differentiation, will deal with its little triangle-shaped soundstage. Certainly, any "imaging faults" (whatever they are) will be minor. The Basis/Rega/Benz setup is an excellent entry and exit point into the wonders of analog reproduction. Entry points are usually associated with sub-$1,000 prices, but for about $2k you can get a system that gives up little or nothing to the precision and detail of digital, while providing the openness (and some of the emotion) of the best analog. And it is pretty! Larry Cox
We all know the evils that lie behind stereotypes and prejudices, but the reality is that we judge books by their covers. Big, expensive cars look like they offer smooth, comfortable rides, and they do. Cheap little cars look like they will rattle your teeth on the highway, and more often than not they do. When we see small speakers we think less-than-full-range sound, and that's how they sound. Vice versa for big speakers. How does this all apply to the Basis 1400 turntable, Benz Micro Glider cartridge, and Phenomena phono stage? Look at the picture and you tell me what you think it will sound like.
Let's see: the turntable has a clear acrylic plinth, metal pillar feet, semi-transparent platter, and the solid state phono stage has a silver and acrylic housing. Sure enough, my initial impression of the combo was that it was clean, clear, and transparent. My Linn Axis turntable, with its black and gray MDF plinth, black sorbothane feet, and moving magnet cartridge (the K9, but not a dog in any sense), and my E.A.R. 834P tubed phono stage, a black box with gold lettering, sounds warm and full. Much like it looks, it also sounded when used a complete systemdarker and richer then the Bais/Benz/Phonomena rig. I admit that this is the first time I have had another table here for comparison, though I have had different phono sections. The 834P, while it imparts a degree of "tube" sound to the mix, is as clean and clear as any phono stage I have tried (Creek, Acurus, and a few others lost in memory). The Basis setup is more transparent and revealing, but as I mentioned above, not nearly as warm and rich as my setup. It's true that we are comparing a moving magnet cartridge to a moving coil, an MDF plinth to one of acrylic, and a tube to a solid state phono-section, so what would you expect?
What I expected was that both would be musically enjoyable, though for different reasons, and this proved to be the case. The Basis setup allowed me to hear way more information on my LPs, but the sound was more analytical, providing me with more logic than emotion when retrieving what's in the grooves. It wasn't cold or sterile, but "truth" weighed out over emotion. Not a bad thingjust a different perspective on life, er... music. My Linn setup, on the other hand, was far more moving of the spirit. It revealed less information, but delivered it with greater emotion. Each setup had strengths and weaknesses. Make your choicegive in to the flesh or be true to the mind. Keep in mind this is comparing my set-up against the review set-up. No mixing allowed boys and girls!
The next logical step was to combine the Basis with the E.A.R., and this was a match I could live with forever. Matching the warmth of tubes with the speed and clarity of the Basis setup was the way to go. The sound was clean and fast, but with none of the added warmth and somewhat overly ripe bass I get from the Linn. With this set-up, the music just rocked from the speakers with all the strengths each component could offerand mitigating, to such a degree their faults, that I was in heaven!
This is not to suggest that the Phenomena phono stage is a weak link. The Phenomena is a wonder for the price as it is very neutral and extremely flexible in its ability to be used with various cartridges. Whether it is the best for you will depend on what you are after and what it is being partnered with. I really liked the looks and feel of the Basis setup, and found it to be a bargain. This is a very simple yet elegant design, and it worked without a hitch. And you can order the complete setup, as it was here, with the cartridge, arm (did I mention it was the Rega 300?), and table working as one. Highly recommended. Dave Clark
owned about a dozen turntables, more than a dozen tonearms, and countless cartridges.
Which do I own now? On principle, I'd rather not say, nor will I describe the rest of my
system. I realize that this is counter to the usual aM policy, but I feel that your
knowing these things is not important if I inform you about my listening preferences.
(Also, the listing of components by audio reviewers frequently has a chest-beating quality
that I find distasteful.) The best way I can describe my taste in audio is to say that I
prefer listening to music to listening to audio components, and therefore try to choose
components that impose the least character. On the other hand, I do not believe that there
is such a thing as an audio component that has no character, so when I say that I prefer
analog to digital, tube electronics to solid state, and electrostatic speakers to dynamic
speakers, I admit that I'm placing certain values before others, but so be it. The choices
I make sound more like music to me. I should add that many, in fact most high end audio
systems do NOT sound like music to me, no matter what positive qualities they may possess.
Perhaps I should also add that I have heard, and in fact own (or have owned) CD players,
solid state components, and dynamic speakers that sound like music, so I am not
doctrinarian. I rule out no approach if it works.
I've owned about a dozen turntables, more than a dozen tonearms, and countless cartridges. Which do I own now? On principle, I'd rather not say, nor will I describe the rest of my system. I realize that this is counter to the usual aM policy, but I feel that your knowing these things is not important if I inform you about my listening preferences. (Also, the listing of components by audio reviewers frequently has a chest-beating quality that I find distasteful.) The best way I can describe my taste in audio is to say that I prefer listening to music to listening to audio components, and therefore try to choose components that impose the least character. On the other hand, I do not believe that there is such a thing as an audio component that has no character, so when I say that I prefer analog to digital, tube electronics to solid state, and electrostatic speakers to dynamic speakers, I admit that I'm placing certain values before others, but so be it. The choices I make sound more like music to me. I should add that many, in fact most high end audio systems do NOT sound like music to me, no matter what positive qualities they may possess. Perhaps I should also add that I have heard, and in fact own (or have owned) CD players, solid state components, and dynamic speakers that sound like music, so I am not doctrinarian. I rule out no approach if it works.
With the continuing uncertainty in digital, word is that high end CD player sales are down and turntable sales up. For those making a first leap (or perhaps a re-entry) into analog, there is a market for a high-quality turntable at a less-than-high price. The Basis 1400 is clearly aimed at the buyer that is willing to spend a bit of money on analog, but not too much, and hopes to get excellent, if less than state-of-the-art results. The 1400 will also appeal to such a buyer because it is an integrated system, including table, arm, cartridge, and phono stage. All the compatibility decisions have already been made, and to add to the attraction, the system is easy to set up and use. A reasonably handy person can assemble the turntable and arm and hook everything up, and while the cartridge setup should probably be done by someone with experience in these arcane matters, it could be accomplished by a careful first-time user. It is also my understanding that several sets of upgrades are available for the 1400, another wise marketing move by Basis, as it means the buyer can get better analog performance without having to buy another turntable.
The assembled system is unadorned and elegant in appearance, with that clear-acrylic-and-metal look that has recently become popular. The Phenomena phono stage not only matches the turntable aesthetically, but fits precisely between its front two legs, and when installed appears to be part of the package. The motor is housed in a separate unit, which helps isolate the platter from vibration. The turntable lacks a suspension. The platter is fairly thick acrylic, though not particularly heavy, and employs a reflex clamp. The arm is a Basis-branded Rega RB300, without question one of the best reasonably-priced arms on the market, and Basis has provided a simple but effective means of adjusting vertical tracking angle. VTA has never been easily adjustable on the RB300 design, but the problem is solved here by the addition of a setscrew that reaches the arm pillar from the back of the plinth.
Did I like the sound of the Basis 1400? Yes and no. On the positive side, it was admirably clean, transparent, and detailed. On the negative side, it was admirably clean, transparent, and detailed.
In other words, it was on the sterile side, and I listened to it on an all-tube system. On a typical solid state system, I think I would have found it intolerable. Others will no doubt think otherwise. I often hear praise for systems or components that make me want to run for the nearest exit. I do not mean to suggest that the 1400 made me feel this way. It didn't make me feel much of anything, but this is not an effect seek from audio components. I do believe it possible to make the sound of the 1400 more attractive to me. It seemed logical to try a tube phono stage in the same price range as the solid-state Phonomena, so I borrowed Dave Clark's E.A.R. 834P, and found the combination much more to my taste. The Phonomena had tighter bass, as might be expected, but the E.A.R. had soul, and given the choice, I'll go for soul every time. I nonetheless think that the Phonomena is the best reasonably-priced solid state phono stage around today, and I've heard the other contenders, though not in direct comparison.
I had not previously heard the Lyra Da Capo with which the 1400 was supplied, so cannot say how much of what I experienced was due to the cartridge. A fuller-sounding cartridge would no doubt have made me happier, even with the Phonomena phono stage, but I had only a limited time with the turntable, and felt it best to listen to it as presented. If I were in the market for a turntable in this price range, I would certainly consider the Basis 1400, though I would want to listen to it with a favorite cartridge. I also think that placing the turntable on an isolation platform would flesh out the sound, though again I lacked the time to test this hypothesis. I believe that a step in the 1400's upgrade process is to replace the feet with hydraulic ones, though of course this will raise the price. The fact that the 1400 can be improved, and that this can be done in stages, is another reason to give it careful consideration. A.D. Banerjee