Oracle Delphi III Audiophile Turntable Reviewed

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Long-time Oracle user Ken Kessler advances his player to Mk III status. How well is the Canadian turntable showing its age?

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Forgive me if I sound smug, but I find it eminently satisfying that I -- a hi-fi reviewer -- have managed to avoid precisely those upgrading patterns which keep this industry afloat. Unlike
the dazed-and-confused audiophiles who change components the way Mickey Rooney changed wives, I remain loyal to components for as long as is feasible. In my case, since my reference system is a tool of my trade, I try to follow these occasionally conflicting rules. Products are changed when:

1) They have been quite blatantly surpassed by too many other products to represent what would be considered reference-calibre performance.

2) They've been so long out of production that readers cannot hope to find a shop demonstration which will allow them to approximate the sound which I've been describing.

Exceptions to both rules are common, mainly because I can afford to buy only so much equipment -- even at trade prices. There's also a strong argument for never changing anything if the system really is to be used as a known reference point rather than the more obvious approximation of the state of the art. Hence, I do often retain some long-in-the-tooth, out-of-production products, for a number of reasons, and these include my cherished Beard P100 monoblock amplifiers, Decca cartridges and other venerable goodies. With the Oracle, I soldiered on for a couple years past the 'Best Before...' date, using a well-worn Mk I Delphi with Mk II suspension and custom power supply. With the re-establishing of the Oracle name in the UK by way of a new importer, the time seemed ripe for a look at the current, Mk III version.

Times have changed from the earlier part of this decade, when the first Oracles appeared. Back then, they were contenders for the state of the art, they were considered dear and they were regarded as one of the best-looking record spinners ever conceived. Only one of the three still applies unreservedly, and that's the most subjective of the three points made. At least I still think it's one of the best-looking turntables ever seen. As far as cost is concerned, #1450 is now considered quite a common tariff for high-end turntables, what with Versa, Goldmund, Basis and a bunch of others offering decks for as high as #15,000; Oracle themselves even have a model above the Delphi. But state of the art contender? Probably not, because the Oracle Delphi has too distinctive a sound to be neutral enough for king-of-the-hill
honours. Yet, as with every other component ever made, if you know even a wee bit about system-building...

The Oracle Delphi Mk III will not shock anyone familiar with the earlier versions as all of the changes are subtle and evolutionary rather than radical. With the exception of the new feet and the sleek pillar covers, the Delphi III looks very much like the circa '79 original. The deck consists of a large perspex base plate, smoked instead of the MK I's clear, on which rests
three pillars supporting a subchassis and platter. Also mounted on the base plate are an illuminated housing for power on/off and speed selector, the motor assembly and the dust-cover hinges. If the Mk III looks substantially more modern than its still-stylish Mk I and Mk II forebears, it's only because of the darker lid and baseplate along with the ever-simpler tower shapes.

A physical description of the Oracle reaffirms the company's stated design goal of controlling vibration and resonance; it's as if every detail were inspired only by those demands. Retained
by the MK III are the screw-down record clamp, the Oracle Groove Isolator Mat -- the stickiest in the business, a massive 'Flywheel' platter surrounded by a damping ring dubbed the 'Peripheral Wave Trap' and a subchassis consisting of a seven-layer laminate made up of four layers of aluminium/ magnesium alloy separated by a special bonding agent. The arm-mount assembly is a perspex disc which fits into a circular opening at the end of an arm jutting out from the subchassis; the disc is held in place by four Allen bolts. The subchassis holds a
removable bearing housing which contains the thrust pad and a bath of molybdenum disulphide oil. The bearing itself consists of a tungsten carbide tip fitted to the tempered steel spindle; the spindle is located in the bearing housing by fixed bushings. One neat touch for those of you who think in the long term is the easy access to the thrust pad. By removing the bottom of the bearing housing, the thrust pad can be replaced by the user or, if wear is slight, be reversed for further employment.

This assembly rests on three squat pillars, and it's here that we find one of the main revisions (beyond aesthetics) which justifies the MK III suffix. A trend started with the MK II and continuing with the MK III is the simplification of the gawdawful set-up procedure, the most annoying, confusing and difficult of any turntable I've ever examined. For all of the irritationality
accompanying the setting-up of even the most basic of true three-point suspension subchassis decks, there's a commonality to the descendants of the AR-XA and Thorens TD-150. Those which don't adhere to the pattern, like the original Logic and the Pink Triangle, at least tried to improve on the set-up procedure. Not the Oracle.

As before, the suspension kit consists of a variety of bell-shaped springs of varying tensions which are colour-coded for use with arms of differing weights. The owner's manual gives a rough guide to help in the selection of which springs are required. The springs hang from the pillars and are fitted with cups which support the subchassis itself. By turning the cups one can alter the spring rate to ensure that the suspension is levelled, centred and bouncing at the desired 3.5Hz. Through a complex array of lock-nuts, washers and star-shaped felt thingies, Oracle has created an absolutely wonderful, stable suspension which -- once set up correctly -- does everything as it should. But getting there, even with the help of the detailed owner's manual, is such a chore that I cannot recommend this deck to anyone who cannot find a dealer capable of doing the setting up as part of the package. I know that Gamepath has trained its staff to perfection -- the installation of my Delphi cannot be faulted -- and they're training the retailers, so there should be no excuses for any but the most masochistic of audiophiles for taking home a boxed-up Delphi. As for the MK III's suspension changes, the damping has been improved and the set-up is supposed to be easier, meaning that the spring selection is now simpler and there's one step (height adjustment) eliminated, but I find the whole thing as terrifying as before. The consolation is that the Oracle, once installed, stays in tune as securely as any turntable I can name, including the incredibly stable Alphason Sonata. My Mk I needed less attention than any product I've ever owned; I'm assuming (after only two months with the Mk III) that the stability of the new unit will be on a par with its predecessor.

Read more about the Delphi III turntable on Page 2.

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