Published On: February 14, 1992

Maplenoll Ariadne Turntable Reviewed

Published On: February 14, 1992

Maplenoll Ariadne Turntable Reviewed

This pricey United Kingdom built LP player is the makings of true audiophile esoterica. Read the full Ken Kessler review to see how the Ariadne stacks up to the Linn LP12's of the world and beyond.

Brave are those who still have enough faith in turntables to make them their sole form of income. That applies both to manufacturers and distributors, specifically Maplenoll and the record player's UK distributor, Wollaton Audio. It's bad enough to scrape a living out of £250 decks of simple construction and deep user-friendliness. When you're talking air-bearings, whacko technology, fruitcake construction and four-figure price tags, well, you might just as well be selling heavy metal LPs to John Crabbe.

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The sweet folks from Wollaton -- and they are genuinely nice people -- turned up with the Maplenoll Ariadne, a two-speed, belt-drive unit costing £2959 in basic form. The review sample included 'extras' like a 500 foot hose reel, a 40lb per square inch 'super quiet' pump (which is super quiet only if placed on another planet), an additional air smoothing plenum, a 30lb all-lead platter and a lead record clamp. If the above list of goodies includes a few things you wouldn't normally associate with LP spinners, note that the Ariadne sports both an air bearing tonearm and an air bearing below the platter.

So much stuff was shlepped into my already-crowded listening room that I wanted to skip the review, but they had driven down from Nottingham to East Kent. Besides, Editor Harris actually thinks I get a kick out of Martian hi-fi. Suffice to say that the Ariadne turned my listening room into something half-hi-fi/half-fish tank. If I'd had any sense, I'd've hooked up my air-brush and painted a few models. The supplied pump really shifts atmosphere.

So Jeff Allen first plunks down a wooden box which looked like an external speaker for a 1930 Cossor Silvertone. This was merely for show; it disguised the air pump. Then he hooked up some clear tubing. What I thought was a case for fishing rods -- maybe he knew that a river flows by my studio -- turned out to be the plenum for ensuring smoother air delivery. This cylinder stretched across the floor, tubing from its other end hooked up to the Ariadne itself.

To be fair to Jeff, this was the lone UK sample, one which had been packed and unpacked and set up and dismantled more times than the sound rig on a G'n'R tour. So it looked slightly battered. But, road wear aside, it's one ugly bugger which looks home-made. This is not the way to win the heart of a reviewer who thinks that the Oracle Delphi is the minimum standard to which turntable makers should aspire and that Nikons feel 'cheap'.

Made out of what I think is marble, the Ariadne looked like a prototype. Especially the arm. Oh, the arm! It had more bits hanging off it than flesh falling from Freddy Kreuger, black painted nuts'n'bolts'n'rods, about as far from an SME V, a Graham or an Air Tangent as a Big Mac is from meat. And this, this bit stuck out at the back, snagging my clothing every time I needed to reach behind my pre-amp.

I was not amused. But the Allens are really sweet folks.

Jeff had the good sense to fit the thing with an AudioQuest AQ7000, one of my fave cartridges and not a million miles removed from certain other Oriental groove tracers which happen to reside in my system. He also supplied a spare arm tube. This pre-mounting cut down on the time needed for set-up, important because I thought that Jeff would roll out a sleeping bag before completing the assembly. Instead, he whizzed through it in under an hour, which almost made up for my belief that Rube Goldberg founded Maplenoll.

Not to suggest that Mrs Allen is frail, but I loaned some muscle to help heft the deck up onto the rack; it must weigh a hundred pounds. The Ariadne is therefore deader'n'a dodo, while the fat lead platter isn't exactly resonant. So, despite its agricultural-cum-neo-Grecian looks, it had the right structural integrity.

Parallel tracking arms frighten me not a bit, especially since Rabco went bust and air bearing jobs took over from chain-driven or belt-driven or friction-driven atrocities. But, and I'll never forgive dear Max Townshend for ruining two or three cherished LPs, I HATE TROUGHS FULL OF SILICON FLUID TRAVERSING MY DISCS. Being a fair-minded soul, I let Jeff fill the trough, provided that he replace my LPs should a mere speck of the stuff jump out and taint them forever.

You get the picture: this is one pain-in-the-tush deck if all you want to do is spin a few platters. First, you switch on the pump and then wait. No, you don't have to go out and jog a few laps before it reaches full pressure, but you'll have plenty of time to clean an LP on a VPI or a Moth before the platter raises above the plinth. Looking at an Ariadne in 'off' mode is disconcerting because the platter rests right on the plinth's upper surface. Only when enough air flows does it raise up microscopically.

Read more about the Maplenoll Turntable on Page 2.

You'll know if you've been impatient because a couple of things
might happen. You may hear a gawdawful scraping. You may smell rubber
as the pulley spins but the belt doesn't. And the deck sure as shootin'
won't dance around at 33 1/3rpm. And, unless you've purchased the
longer hose so you can stick the pump in another room, you'll want to
hear music just to drown it out.

Given that the pump is supposed to be in another room, don't worry
about pump noise intruding on your bliss. If you haven't a cupboard or
other space in which to hide it, don't blame Maplenoll. Or the Allens,
who are really sweet folks.

Once up and running, you place an LP on the platter and then use a
puck -- either the one supplied or something similar. With the
exception of the Oracle and the Gyrodeck, I can think of no other
turntables as sensitive to some form of record weighting. Without the
centre weight, the Ariadne sounds artificially light and less in
control. So don't skip this step even if exasperation sets in.

Then you lean back smiling. Why? Because you're amazed that it works
at all. The Ariadne adds new meaning to the word 'funky'. However
radical, advanced. 'high end', 'state of the art' or merely clever the
technology, its visual presence is so, so dumb that you start thinking
Golden Turkey, BIC, Strathearn, Fons, Accutrack, Kitdeck...

Which is unfair. Because the Ariadne is, in sonic terms, a
near-masterpiece. The sound is like the physical presence deck itself:
solid. Bass, especially that of the Transfiguration, seems suddely
freer -- taut and controlled as needed, yet capable of soaring and
swinging without a trace of smearing of muddiness. I would imagine that
the only way to better this aspect of the performance would be to use a
vacuum platter, but there are still those who have nightmares about
grit ground into the underside of the LP.

With such a solid foundation to support the mid and treble, you
might think that the Ariadne sounds bottom-heavy. Not so. When delicacy
is required, it's as light on its feet as it needs to be. From the deep
grunge of an Eddy Grant 12in to the airy-fairy pickings of New Age
guitar, the Ariadne didn't change its tune. If any particular region
between the extreme bass and treble seems out of touch with the rest,
it has to be a slight potential for sibilance -- not the screechy spit
that that implies, but a hissy sound on certain instruments and voices
which hightens your awareness of S-words and the splash of cymbals. It
will not, I assure you, drive you from the room. And yet I know that
this is not a characteristic of Lyra-based cartridges, so I have to
attribute it to the Maplenoll package.

So heavy and so solid is the Maplenoll that at no time did it suffer
from its lack of suspension. Its sheer weight, when perched atop a
Newsstand sitting on a concrete floor, ensured some kind of mechanical
earthing -- and I listened to it at one point with the deck right
behind an Apogee Diva in Seriously Loud Mode. At times, its
unperturbable behaviour reminded me of the Townshend Rock, and not just
because of the damping trough.

Which brings me to its only real sonic downside. The sound of the
Ariadne is so detailed, so precise and so CD-like that some may find it
too agressive, too 'un-analogue'. Which is, of course, nonsense. What
you're hearing is more of what's in the groove, the info which we
didn't have access to back in '83 because the cartridges, the arms and
most decks weren't up to it. Goldmund, Versa and Basis rewrote the
rules, while Air Tangent, Graham, SME, Lyra, Koetsu, Transfiguration
and others caught up enough to make analogue even better than we knew.
Or thought.

The Ariadne, however swinging the bass, doesn't sound quite as warm
and 'live' (not 'lively') as the very best; then again, it doesn't cost
8000-plus. Which makes it something of a bargain as far as high-end
turntables go. But it is strictly for those who can live with its
ghastly appearance (and that, I state quite clearly, is only my opinion
and others -- like the designer -- probably love its mausoleum chic),
the air pump, the protuberances, the trough and its weird pre-play
ritual. I wouldn't choose one as my work horse because I'm lazy and
because there's enough ugliness in the world. On the other hand, I
wouldn't kick it out of bed, er, my listening room.

Additional Resources
• Read more source component reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Find a receiver to pair with this source.
• See more about the audiophile world at AudiophileReview.com.
• Discuss all kinds of gear at hometheaterequipment.com.

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