ONLINE - ISSUE 5
transrotor Leonardo 25/25/60 doppio turntable
as reviewed by Larry Cox
photo taken by Dave Clark
I'm not sure why I'm still an audio reviewer. I like music, even love it, but I can enjoy silence, too. I don't have to have audio, and don't feel compelled to have the latest and greatest component. I'm not interested in going bankrupt to afford an audio product if I can't eat well, have vacations, and dress nicely. Audio is wonderful, but it isn't life, at least for me. When it come to audio, I like simple things, as long as they're not so simplified that they don't deliver on their promises, like playing music (instead of making sound) and being reliable. JR Transrotor's Leonardo 25/25/60 Doppio is a simple, very good turntable. If you like the futuristic look of clear acrylic and polished chrome, youll like looking at it, too. If not, you may not. I'm not a big fan of the acrylic look, but the table grew on me. It is also a model of simplicity, and is likely to function long after you aren't.
JR Transrotor is new to the United States, but has been around for quite some time in Germany. The look of the Transrotor line either replicates the look of Clearaudio's or vice versa. Rumor has it that Clearaudio replicates the JR Transrotor line, but uses less expensive parts. Performance aside, it is difficult to see how the construction costs of the turntables by Clearaudio, Transrotor, or Basis (another nearly all-acrylic vendor) justify their prices. There seems to be little in their design or execution to warrant the retail price. Without a suspension, you essentially have a collection of plastic Lego blocks. Of course, it is possible that the materials and their beautiful finish are time intensive, or require that lots of acrylic be discarded in making each table. I don't know, but these products seem very low in value. Suspended tables like the Oracles, Linns, or Sotas appear to justify their costs because the parts literally have to hang together and work as a system.
The Leonardo sounds great, or, I should say, doesn't get in the way of the music. Although the table looks light, it is very nearly forty pounds in weight, and can do deep bass. It may be that part of the value of acrylic as a turntable material is its ability to dissipate resonance, and thus be able to plumb the depths. My Oracle Delphi sounded tonally lightweight, hinting at deep bass but not delivering it, whereas my very heavy Sota Sapphire, with its lead subplatter, did a great job with bass. Perhaps the Transrotor's chosen materials deliver value without high construction costs.
Here's what you get: six acrylic pucks with nipples on top to damp vibration, two pieces of acrylic constituting the plinth, a platter, a tonearm, and a motor. They stack on top of each other, sort of like Legos, but without the interlocking. The Leonardo is very simple to set up, excepting that pesky cartridge, which is true of every turntable. You place three of the nippled pucks in a triangle, to allow for a stable platform for the first piece of acrylic, place the second set of nippled pucks on top of that piece of acrylic, above where the first set were placed, then place the second piece of acrylic on top of the second set of pucks. You then insert the motor into the cutout on the left, the platter in the middle, and the tonearm (a modified Rega) on the right. Place the belt on the motor spindle and youre done.
Although I have two of my own cartridges on hand (a Koetsu Rosewood and an AudioQuest 404i), I didn't have the time or skill to set them up, so I listened with the Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood cartridge that Dave Clark supplied with the table (see www.positive-feedback.com/Issue4/transrotor.htm for my reviewDave Clark). At no point did the arm mistrack while the table was playing, so the Transrotor's absence of a suspension wasn't a problem. One of the boons of better tables is that ticks and pops seem to occur at a much lower level than the music. Playing the Transrotor Leonardo on my Lovan rack, the table didn't minimize ticks and pops. Instead, ticks and pops were accentuated, as were sibilants. This was unpleasant and unwelcome. No doubt the cartridge exacerbated the character of the table. This is a very extended, but clinical sounding cartridgenot my preference, although I can understand why some people like it. When this combination of cartridge and table was unleashed on my collection of 70s pop, punk, and new wave, the experience did not support my recollection of analog's superiority over digital.
Fortunately, I had Mana's audio/visual rack on hand. Placing the Leonardo on the Mana rack made a huge difference, dropping the volume level of pops and ticks as well as dramatically reducing sibilance. Even more valuable to me was the sense of calm the Mana added to the presentation, without taking away transient attack, pace, or overall speed. With the calm came a carving out of space for each instrument to play its music, further allowing clarity without removing musicality. This was an upgrade that easily warranted the rack's $1400 price tag, and made the Leonardo seem like it warranted its own price tag. I advise that you have a good rack to go with the Leonardo. What the Mana/JR Transrotor/Clearaudio combination wrought was an experience of delight. I became reacquainted why it is time to get a new turntable into my system. I peeled out my entire collection of music, including great new wave and punk music like Oingo Boingo's Only A Lad, all of X's catalog, The Clash's London Calling, etc. With the Transrotor/Mana combo, I also got to include that goldmine of greatness, The Worst/Best of Monty Python, and various other personal favorites. The Leonardo on top of the Mana didnt turn tar into candy, but the music simply sounded more like a real event, with less work to discern what was going on.
Not all was wonderful, however. While imaging and soundstaging were good, there was little of the air around instruments that conjures up the experience of being in the room with the performers. Instead, my experience was similar to watching the performers on the other side of the glass booth in a recording studio. The sound was closed in, without being rolled off on top or otherwise truncated. I prefer the sound that suspended tables deliver. It may well be a coloration, but its one I like.
I had an opportunity to hear the Leonardo very briefly with a Koetsu Standard, and the sound was closer to what I recall of my Oracle's sound with a Koetsu Rosewood. The sound was sweeter and more emotional, while still delivering the goods. However, even with the Koetsu, my impression was still that I was on the wrong side of the glass, at least as far as air and space were concerned. Tonally, I was in the room, but the space and air that I got with my Oracle, and that you can get live, just wasnt there.
The JR Transrotor Leonardo 25/25/60 Doppio deserves to be on your list of tables in this price range, although, like everything in the world of audio, it is a mixed bag. It is elegant in looks, and when placed on a proper rack, it sounds very nice. The question of whether it provides good value was a concern for me, but the turntable delivers the goods, does so in a simple package, and should last as long as you want it to last.
If you read Larry's review and then mine (www.positive-feedback.com/Issue4/transrotor.htm) you may be thinking that we were listening to two diverse analog systems as we each came away with different takes on the Transrotor set-up. I am not attempting to refute what Lary has written, as I know he writes what he hears. But why we came away with such different takes is the issue. So lets look at the variables that may have had a hand in these differing impressions.
First off, we each use E.A.R. phono-sections (834P for me and the 864 preamplifier for Larry which is basically the 834P combined with the 834L linestage) meaning that is one variable that should have had minimal impact.
Secondly, I am using a Mondo Designs stand along with a BDR board and cones to support the Transrotor. I have painstakingly leveled and tweaked this support to make sure the Transrotor sees a stable and optimum foundation. Larry initially wrote that the Transrotor sounded rather poor when sitting on the inexpensive Lovan stand as compared to how the table was transformed into a quality analog playback system when sitting on the vastly superior Mana stand. Huh. Perhaps this shows just how important a good platform is in getting the most from any sourceespecially so with analog. As such setting up any table requires one to take the utmost care in seeing that it is offered the best supporting platform to yield any vibrational anomalies that could cloud its performance.
Third, we have taken different cable paths to "voice" our systems. Larry prefers the Ensemble line, which in my system have come across as lean, bright, and overly analytical. In his system they offer a nice balance that he finds to be musical without any of the trade-offs I have heard here. With the Transrotor in my system, I found that using DH Revelations resulted in a, well read my review. But basically, these silver cables work wonders here, coming across as rich, smooth, and musical with plenty of natural detail. Are the cables imparting too much of a sonic signature in Larry's system? Are they tilting the sonic spectrum or musical message in a direction different than I hear here? No doubt.
And lastly, lets consider the Clearaudio cartridge. Larry found the cartridge to be a bit too much for his tastes, even going so far as to suggest that it is overly analytical. He prefers the Koetsu suggesting that it is sweeter and closer to what he is after. I would agree with this declaration, as his system is balanced towards the softer warmer, less detailed Koetsuswhich is what he owns. While being very musical and rich, the Koetsu line offers a different perspective than the Virtuoso. Since I have balanced my system for the more up-front presence of the Virtuoso and Larry has done the samebut perhaps in the other directionwith regards to the warmer richer Koetsu (Ensemble cables, speakers, stands, etc.), any differences between the two cartridges will simply be magnified. No doubt in my system the Koetsu would be too soft and muted, lacking in drive and dynamics. They are great cartridges, but even the importer suggests that this is not the direction I want to go in. If we read the reviews of the Clearaudio cartridge elsewhere (see http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue1/theaudioanalyst.htm for a start and I know either Stereophile of TAS recently raved about the Virtuoso, but heck if I can find it), this is a very good cartridge that competes with others costing considerably more.
So whats the deal? Different system synergy, and no doubt, different musical biases. Even so the table is a real winner! Is it worth the price? Only you can decide that. But compared to tables at the same price point it offers comparable performance, looks, and design. Dave Clark
Leonardo 25/25/60 doppio