Kuzma Stabi R turntable Page 2

I set about navigating the somewhat confusing manual, apparently written for the base Stabi R model and its single detachable aluminum wing. I had to read between the lines to reconcile the instructions with my walnut-framed review sample and its somewhat different armboard arrangement. (Different versions of a new turntable design deserve different, dedicated manuals.)

Once that was sorted, the remaining instructions were clear: Add oil to the bearing well and bearing shaft, and lower the subplatter, with its dunce-hat-shaped hub, onto that shaft; position the belt around the motor pulley and the subplatter rim; lower the platter onto the subplatter; connect the internal power source via the supplied power cord; familiarize yourself with the turntable's rear panel on/off switch and top-panel Start and 33 and 45rpm buttons.

Setting up the Kuzma 4Point tonearm was relatively easy. Supplied with the arm is a flat plastic installation template, used for setting the correct spindle-to-pivot distance—but when Michael Trei came by to check the alignment of my Hana EL cartridge, he found that the arm's position was a bit off, and he used his Feickert Universal Protractor to aid in making the correction. (That's not to say the Kuzma installation template is incorrect—but in use it has a bit of give to it, requiring extra care for optimal results.) All of which points to the good news that the 4Point is eminently and easily adjustable.

I connected the arm's standard Crystal Cable output cables to the twin RCA jacks of the Luxman EQ-500 phono preamplifier, itself connected, via a pair of Triode Wire Labs Spirit II interconnects, to the Schiit Audio Ragnarok integrated amplifier. Triode Wire Labs American speaker cables connected DeVore Fidelity O/93 speakers to the Ragnarok.

Art Dudley suggested that I first try my reference Stabi/Stogi player on the new cinder-block podium, to gauge the difference the podium would bring to the overall sound of my system. Gadzooks! The massive stand brought greater dynamics, blacker backgrounds, longer decay times, larger images, and an overall weightier presentation—and served to further confirm the extraordinary value of Kuzma's pipe bomb. And now I wondered: Would the Stabi R improve upon its smaller sibling's stellar performance?

619kuzmar.3

Listening
In audio, subtle changes can have major repercussions: Individual elements of reproduced sound—imaging, soundstaging, touch, tone, drive, dynamics, presence—can have a major impact on how music affects us. As I played well-loved LPs on the combination of Stabi R turntable and 4Point tonearm, those and other elements grew in importance: the sound of a musician's lips on a horn's reed, metal brushes that stirred and drumsticks that thwacked, a snare drum's plastic head, a finger plucking a string, the proximity of vocalist to microphone . . . all became even more pronounced via the Kuzma combo. Even ambient sounds that I was previously unaware of became distinctly apparent, like illuminated brush strokes in a familiar painting.

I recently had dinner with Art Dudley and his wonderful family. Afterward, we played records. I'd heard Art's rig in his previous listening room, but in his new, dedicated space, his choice of volume setting seemed . . . well, quiet. Yet Art's Shindo-based system made mighty music and lost nothing of the recordings' vibrancy. This same ability to communicate force at lower volumes, a kind of tranquil power, found its way to my rig when joined by the Stabi R. Dynamic shifts became more profound—and as the dynamic range expanded, I no longer needed high volume levels to reveal the music's strength and presence. For a former musician who has always played music at high loudness levels, this was a stone-cold revelation/revolution.

An example: After my upstate New York minivacation, during which I drank much wine, smoked many cigars, and visited several record stores—including the Record Shoppe (Hudson), Spike's Record Rack (Catskill), Rocket Number Nine (Kingston), and John Doe (Troy)—my LP bag was heavy and my spirits were high. One vinyl find (Flying Fish HDS 701) was an album that seems to have no title beyond the names of its performers—a bluegrass supergroup that includes Norman Blake, Dave Holland, Jethro Burns, Vassar Clements, and Sam Bush. At first, I jacked the juice—but when I tried backing off the volume pot, this record sounded no less rich and powerful when played on the Stabi R: This music sounded graceful, forceful, and grooving, and the party jam continued.

The Stabi R and 4Point brought a greater sense of image focus and soundstage depth, and of musicians performing in the larger recorded space now cast before me. Record after record, leading edges of notes and the outlines of instrumental images were stronger, as was the sense of weight behind those instrumental sounds. On the minus side, also increased were surface noise, excesses of sibilance, and the other inescapable trappings of worn records and poor recordings.

Fresh revelations came at every turn. The Beatles' Please Please Me (LP, Parlophone PMC 1202) revealed all its Abbey Road secrets: the boom and echo of Ringo's drums, Lennon and McCartney's magical harmonies laid bare, Harrison's glistening guitar playing . . . all were heightened and concentrated. Those early mono Parlophone records are pure joy, and the Stabi R captured Please Please Me anew, making me smile.

A previously unknown-to-me Jimmy Smith record from 1964, The Cat (Verve MV 2065)—which, as it turns out, was recently reissued as part of Verve's Vital Vinyl series—features Lalo Schifrin's large-scale arrangements and such ringers as trumpeter Thad Jones, guitarist Kenny Burrell, and drummer Grady Tate, all recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's Englewood Cliffs studio. Not sure how they squeezed a 19-piece big band into RVG's New Jersey digs, but the music is superdynamic and BIG, defying its small-studio origins. In contrast to his intimate Blue Note organ-trio records, here Smith plays the lion tamer of the circus, the big band charts punching and soaring within a large soundstage. The Stabi R relayed every nuance, from the subtle interplay of the rhythm section to the full, brassy shouts of the horn section, all with natural dynamic ease.

619kuzmar.4

Moving in a very different musical direction, Kode9 & Burial's double LP, Fabriclive 100 (Fabric200LP), bundles such dance-music subgenres as South African gqom and Chicago footwork with '90s rave and synthpop; the Stabi R tracked this music with acute rhythmic clarity. Massive bass blobs washed over me like asphalt waves as other sounds buzzed overhead like mosquitoes. The Stabi R and 4Point reported the sonic facts without editorializing: the beat, the menace, nothing more.

After that slab of darkness and fright, I felt the need to get happy—so onto the platter went Ella Fitzgerald's Get Happy (LP, Verve VG-4036), with its swinging big-band charts by Nelson Riddle, Frank De Vol, and Russell Garcia. This is 1959 party music, Sinatra-style but infused with Fitzgerald's trademark verve and sparkling vocals. The Stabi R punched out these skyscraper-scaled big band arrangements with ease—and I've heard no other turntable play this music with such rhythmic and melodic steadiness. On this record in particular, it also seemed to me the Kuzma combo's extraordinary detail retrieval and the Hana cartridge's smoothness were a good fit: system synergy at its finest.

Conclusion
It's the rare audio component that can fully alter your playback point of view. I've experienced such moments only a handful of times: when acquiring the Shindo Allegro preamplifier and Haut-Brion power amplifier, when hearing horn-loaded loudspeakers in my apartment—and when spinning records on the Kuzma Stabi R turntable and 4Point tonearm. This Kuzma combo transformed my notions of what's possible from hi-fi—at least from my hi-fi.

As reviewed, the Stabi R sells for between four and five times the price I paid for my Stabi S, adjusted for inflation. (And did I mention this thing weighs almost 80lb?) Is it that much better than my Stabi S? Yes. No other turntable has created its level of stability, presence, resolution and sheer physicality—not in my system.

An $8500–$9595 turntable is not for everyone. At this level, there are other analog-playback choices, including the AMG Giro G9 ($10,000 with arm) and the Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird ($10,995 without arm), to name just two European-made competitors to the Stabi R. On my next trip upstate, maybe I should visit a casino or two? Rake in some big numbers, then lay low with some records . . .

Your financial status may enable this serious outlay of cash without gambling—and if so, the Kuzma Stabi R turntable is worth the coin: It's a game-changer. Extremely recommended.

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.

X