Kuzma Stabi R turntable

I've been the proud owner of a Kuzma Stabi S turntable and Stogi S tonearm since 2001. The combination was an impulse purchase, made after seeing and hearing it in action at Stereophile's Home Entertainment Show at the New York Hilton. Even under unruly show conditions, the Kuzma player created rock-solid images and played music with serious jump factor. With its matte brass finish, tubular bell looks, and overtly industrial design, the Slovenian-made Stabi S/Stogi S was steampunk before steampunk. Looking back, it was one of my best-ever audio purchases.

The 29lb belt-driven Stabi S turntable, which remains in the Kuzma line ($2156 without tonearm), was and is a brilliant concept, ingeniously executed. Built upon two 50mm-diameter solid-brass rods, interlocked to form a "T" shape, its platter bearing and aluminum platter are fastened at the point where those two segments meet, with the tonearm mount sited at the other end. An outboard pod, also brass, houses its AC motor. All in all, the Kuzma "pipe bomb," as some call it, is a substantial black-disc spinner that punches far above its weight.

Upgrades to my audio system have only confirmed the excellent value and sound of the Stabi S/Stogi S: Stellar sonics and nearly 20 years of fault-free performance make Kuzma's entry-level record player an easy recommendation. So when the invitation came to review Kuzma's latest turntable, the Stabi R ($9595 with wood frame and a single tonearm mount), I jumped.

Here we R—with a familiar friend for a tonearm
As shipped from Elite AV Distribution, Kuzma's US distributor, my review sample of the Stabi R was bundled with an 11" sample of the Kuzma 4Point tonearm ($6675 as supplied), which Michael Fremer has written about extensively (footnote 1). Before setting up and auditioning this $16,270 combination, I got in touch with designer Franc Kuzma, hoping for some insights into his latest vinyl spinner. He replied via e-mail: "The Stabi R was designed as a smaller version of the Stabi M"—$19,225 without tonearm—"and they certainly bear a strong family resemblance. The Stabi R is essentially a scaled-down Stabi M that incorporates very similar drive electronics but built into the chassis instead of an outboard power supply. Same platter, same belt, same hi-torque DC motor, same type of power supply. The sonic goal was to sound as close to the Stabi M as possible."

"As to price point," wrote Scot Markwell of Elite AV, "Kuzma wanted to come in at a good spot in the line, and the basic Stabi R model that sells for about $8500 meets that goal." (That price buys the turntable with a single arm mount and no wood frame.)

My walnut-framed review sample measured 19.68" wide by 4" thick by 18.30" deep. (German RAL Classic colors, black or silver, are available for the base, unframed Stabi R.) The massive plinth is machined from a single billet of aluminum. The 17.63lb platter rotates on a 16mm-diameter steel shaft with an inverted, ruby-ball bearing that's claimed to minimize friction and noise. The platter is described as a "constrained sandwich" with two layers of aluminum and one of acrylic, the latter visible as a half-inch band around the platter's circumference. A rubber-and-textile compound mat is glued to the platter's surface—"Rubber gives elasticity and textile gives stiffness," Kuzma wrote—but an extra mat may be used. (That said, with my Stabi S, which has a similar mat, the best extra mat is none at all.)

Mounted to the left of the bearing shaft, below the plinth's surface, a Pabst DC motor drives the big platter via a thin-yet-rigid, flat blue belt.

"The motor tower is supported and isolated via rubber grommets," Kuzma explained. "The motor has added internal mass and is triple-isolated from the motor tower. [And] with the right choice of hardness of PVC, we manage to get [an] elastic belt [that] minimizes motor vibration and [is] stiff enough to bring even motor torque to the subplatter."

619kuzmar.2

Bolted to the turntable chassis, the diamond-polished bearing shaft rises from the middle of the plinth. To its right, the hole for mounting the tonearm is located on a separate 4" wide by 14" deep walnut armboard. The plinth is leveled by rotating three adjustable aluminum footers, which are inserted into the turntable base via plastic threads (to minimize vibrations, compared to metal). The footers are finished with rounded plastic spikes.

What new ideas does the Stabi R bring to the Kuzma line? According to Franc Kuzma, these include "a very robust chassis incorporating a DC drive from our more expensive models and a versatile [design], which can hold up to four arms" via armboards referred to in the company's literature as "wings" or "balconies." "The 8kg heavy platter goes from 0 to 33 RPM in two seconds, combining the quick start benefits of an idler wheel or direct drive with isolation from motor vibrations via a stiff-yet-compliant machined belt." Kuzma added that "All Kuzma arms will fit on the Stabi R except for the 4Point 14-inch."

Setup
My first hurdle was where to place this Slovenian beast. Could the top shelf of my Salamander rack support it? "Definitely not!" said loudspeaker manufacturer John DeVore, from whom I'd bought the Salamander. So I built my own turntable stand using 6" by 18" cinder blocks, stacked in two waist-high columns. Such a cinder block pedestal could easily support any reasonable weight and should provide good isolation. At $3.50 per block and a $30 delivery charge from a Chinatown Canal Street supplier, I was up and running. Almost.

I slipped a $20 to Mike, my building's handyman. He helped transport the blocks up the seven flights to my lookout apartment. I was gasping for air at cinder-block #4, but Mike, a Marlboro-inhaling emphysema sufferer who lost two fingers in a delicatessen accident, left me in the dust, carrying two blocks at a time. "People like you who sit at a desk all day are weak," Mike laughed. I cried.

The Stabi R turntable and 4Point tonearm arrived well-packed in two double-layered cardboard boxes. The accompanying Stabi R manual included photos of the various turntable bits in their packed state, for easy repacking—an unusually considerate gesture.

Ikea's Aptitlig bamboo chopping boards are my go-to sound/isolation platforms, recommended by Sound & Vision contributor and renowned turntable setup wiz Michael Trei. The D version of this ($19), measuring ¾" H by 21" W by 18" D, placed atop my cinderblock stanchion, proved to be a good turntable support. I hoisted the unwieldy plinth atop its new cinder block throne.


Footnote 1: See Michael Fremer's review in his "Analog Corner" column in the June 2018 Stereophile.
COMPANY INFO
Kuzma, Ltd.
US distributor: Elite Audio Video Distribution
4718 San Fernando Road, Unit H
Glendale, CA 91204
(818) 245-6037
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Ortofan's picture

... exactly what was evaluated. Actually it was a $9595 turntable fitted with a $6675 tonearm, so $16K+. At that price point, KM should also listen to the VPI HW-40/Fatboy Anniversary and the SME Model 20/3A/Series V.

Also, how many owners of ~$16K turntables are going to be using them with ~$500 phono cartridges? If KM will be reviewing turntables in this price range on a regular basis, perhaps he should consider upgrading his cartridge - or arranging for the loan of one.

MhtLion's picture

Strongly agreed. Perhaps, it will make sense to use $500 cartridges alongside the more expensive cartridges as a comprehensive review. But, just using $500 cartridges entirely for the 16k turntable is.. doesn't make much a sense at all.

MhtLion's picture

Strongly agreed. Perhaps, it will make sense to use $500 cartridges alongside the more expensive cartridges as a comprehensive review. But, just using $500 cartridges entirely for the 16k turntable is.. doesn't make much a sense at all.

Jim Austin's picture

Ken was in a situation many potential upgraders will be in: He's got a cartridge proportionate in price (and presumably performance) to his current turntable and arm, but he's looking to upgrade. He can't afford to get the 'table and a really expensive cart at the same time. What will the experience be like until he's able to save up? Will the cartridge from his old 'table hold him back?

He found that the better 'table made a huge difference. That's interesting. If he bought the 'table he'd eventually upgrade and see even more improvement.

What Ken did in this review is totally legit. We should have done a better job framing the comparison; if we had, the logic of the review would have made more sense.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Ortofan's picture

... Linn, then spending all of your analog disc player upgrade budget on a new turntable/tonearm is the proper approach.
Others might suggest that greater sonic improvement would accrue by allocating some portion of that upgrade budget toward a new cartridge.

What KM did in this review may be deemed "totally legit", but it could also be argued that only half the job was done. Wouldn't it have been more interesting to determine whether or not simultaneously including the cartridge in the upgrade process was the better choice?

At a total (turntable/tonearm/cartridge) price on the order of $17K, a face-off could have been staged between the Kuzma/Hana combo and an SME Model 15A equipped with either an Ortofon MC Windfeld Ti or an Audio-Technica AT-ART1000. Is KM up to the task of hauling a second set of cinder blocks up to his apartment?

Jim Austin's picture

What KM did in this review may be deemed "totally legit", but it could also be argued that only half the job was done. Wouldn't it have been more interesting to determine whether or not simultaneously including the cartridge in the upgrade process was the better choice?

Yes, that could be argued. And no, it would not have been a better choice to "simultaneously includ[e] the cartridge in the upgrade process," as this would have created more confusion over what was responsible for the changes he heard: the 'table change or the cartridge change.

He could, of course, have changed out the cartridge for a more expensive (and also superior) one, to see how much additional benefit could be gained after comparing the two 'tables with the same cartridge. As I have already written, this would have been a legitimate choice. This gets complicated, though: You're now, in this second stage, reviewing a cartridge upgrade, not a 'table upgrade. To do this properly, you'd then need to use the new cart on the old 'table and get an idea of how much more of the cartridge's potential the new 'table exploits relative to the old.

Add to this the fact that even audio reviewers live in the real world--we don't always have on-hand exactly the equipment we might want, whether it be that preamp we listened to last year and would like to compare to this new preamp, or an optimally matched phono cartridge for a newly reviewed deck, and I continue to think that what we--what Ken--did was completely appropriate.

I do, however, appreciate your feedback and the respectful way it was offered. I hope this discussion convinces you that I take such feedback seriously.

My Best,

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Ortofan's picture

... when they upgrade to a new turntable/tonearm, reuse the same phono cartridge that was installed on their previous 'table?

Each time I've bought a new turntable, I've always bought a new cartridge to go along with it. Of course, the intervals between those acquisitions have been measured in years. I'm not in the business of evaluating new equipment every few months.

Given that Kuzma also markets a range of phono cartridges, it's curious that the importer/distributor for the line apparently missed the opportunity to include a sample of one of their cartridges with the turntable and tonearm. The CAR-30 model, for example, with a boron cantilever and a micro-ridge stylus, is priced at just under $2K - not unreasonable relative to the price of the turntable and tonearm under review. That would have allowed KM to also evaluate the effect of upgrading his cartridge, either in concert with or independent of the turntable/tonearm upgrade.
http://www.kuzma.si/cartridges.2

ken mac's picture

...as I have been directed, only one component variable is allowed during a review.

I know the sound of my reference system, so when a new component is introduced, the change is obvious. If two new variables are introduced, I can no longer gauge the difference to my reference system--it's been doubly altered. This is why in the review I first introduced the cinder block stand, then placed my Kuzma Stogi S/Stabi S on it to report the difference it made before placing the Stabi R on the stand (I used the Hana EL on both turntables). One variable at to time to avoid confusion, both in my brain and in the review.

Ortofan's picture

... simultaneously replacing your Stabi-S turntable and Stogi-S tonearm with the Stabi-R turntable and 4-Point tonearm?

Can you say with certainty how much of the change in sound quality you observed was attributable to the change of turntable versus the change of tonearm?

billyb's picture

Plus the new support rack. Good thing Art was looking out and reminded him to listen to his old deck on the new platform first.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Survey question ....... How many audiophiles who upgrade to $100k speakers and $50k amps connect them with a lamp cord as speaker cable? ........ Just a joke ...... No offense meant towards anybody :-) ........

billyb's picture

Jim,

The guys got a point, at least acknowledge that. Frame this - It makes sense to throw a 500 buck cartridge at a 16k table in a review of the cartridge itself, as this is a great way of seeing it's limitations. But to justify using it as the sole cartridge in a review of no less than a new Kuzma reference (because that's what it is) really eats at your credibility.
I'm gonna add that that review was boring as f**k. Honestly, there are way better blogs, you tube videos, etc out there if you want to wallow in the mundane points of delivery and set up of a piece of stereo equipment for 75% of a review.
How did it sound? I almost fell asleep waiting to find out. Finally at the end we are treated to a description of your record collection playing through a turntable you can't afford with a cartridge you can and running it all into a schitt integrated. No matter how you slice it you haven't done much justice to the subject of your review.

ken mac's picture

"Actually it was a $9595 turntable fitted with a $6675 tonearm, so $16K+." Which was clearly spelled out in the review.
I am by no means wealthy and don't have 2-4k carts sitting around. But the Hana ML is now in my rig, thanks for noticing! The Kuzma excels with any cartridge, however.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be KM could review the new Primare I35 Prisma integrated amp? ....... I35 Prisma was recently reviewed by Hi-Fi News favorably :-) ..........

Ortofan's picture

... Ry Cooder fan?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Get Your Lies Straight"? .......... Terry Evans with Ry Cooder :-) ..........

ken mac's picture

you betcha

doak's picture

From my experience with a Kuzma Reference tonearm

A general turntable/turntable review question:
Do turntable manufacturers ever provide wow & flutter specs anymore?
Do any mags still do their own measurements of such?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Hi-Fi News does measurements of turntables, tonearms and phono cartridges :-) ..........

jgossman's picture

and comments from the same 12 people.

I check in for the first time in months to see what's going on in high end audio and people are going on about how a 500.00 cartridge CAN'T be up to snuff for that level table.

What if it's a world beater 500.00 cartridge like the old Grado Reference Sonata? What if you haven't heard a great 100.00 cartridge because you think it's beneath your equipment?

All other monied hobbies tend to consider more expense as a way of knowing what's out there when you can afford it. Audio is the only one where many of it's participants don't have any idea what's out there in the entry level (and how good it really is) because it's "beneath them" to see for themselves.

I'm from Kentucky and even the wealthiest among us appreciate a great 25.00 bottle of Bourbon or 6 dollar craft beer from the bluegrass state. High end audio isn't dying a natural death. You people are killing it by taking the fun out of it for people who aren't wealthy.

Okay, I'm done...

ken mac's picture

The Hana EL is a steal at $475. I am in no way apologizing for using it in this review or any forthcoming reviews. And to the idea that Stereophile doesn't review entry level components: Horse manure. Take a look at the top of today's page: Vanatoo Transparent One Encore powered loudspeaker system for $599.00, reviewed by our man from the great Pacific Northwest, Jason Victor Serinus, who typically reviews far more expensive gear than moi. Stereophile covers it all, with far more rigorous and demanding criteria than any hi-fi mag on the planet. Cheers.

jgossman's picture

I had to re-read my comment to understand your response. I didn't say anything about Stereophile's reviewing. Or the review in question. I commented on the responses. As in "there's no way a 500.00 cartridge should be in this review".

I have no idea where your comment comes from.

I'd go so far as to say I'm on your side. Maybe you should re-read my comment.

ken mac's picture

. . . reading and writing on the subway. Thanks for your response, and the correction.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be KM could review the new Revel Performa M126Be, bookshelf/stand-mount speakers, $4,000/pair :-) .........

volvic's picture

Time to sell the Stabi S Stogi table and upgrade. I can sympathize using a cheaper cartridge on pricier turntables, been doing the same on my rigs for far too long. Mine is the trusty Shure V15 Mark V, it's been so trusty and reliable that I haven't felt the need to upgrade on any of my rigs.....until now.

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