Published On: February 13, 1989

Oracle Delphi III Audiophile Turntable Reviewed

Published On: February 13, 1989

Oracle Delphi III Audiophile Turntable Reviewed

The Oracle Delphi Mk III is a marked improvement over the previous iterations in the series. So much so that this reviewer felt compelled to purchase the turntable for his reference system

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

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.

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.

Drive for the Oracle Delphi has changed from an AC motor to a new DC motor.
It powers the platter via a flat cross-section belt which surrounds a
lip under the inner section of the single-piece

platter. The motor itself is situated in a new, smarter-looking housing
and features fine-speed adjustments for 33 1/3 and 45 rpm and input for
the power from the outboard mains transformer.

Using an Oracle, like any component, requires a short period of
familiarisation, if for no other reason than to grow accustomed to the
product's peccadillos. Because operation of the Delphi Mk III is
identical to its predecessors, I had no problem with the screw-down
clamp, press switch location and so on; it was a case of welcoming back
an old friend. Or, rather, one which had undergone minor reconstructive
surgery. What hadn't changed was the necessity to operate the Oracle as
a system, much in the way that Linn doesn't approve of owners tampering
with its turntables. In other words, you have to use the clamp and the 
under-the-mat label-raiser to couple the LP to the platter, and you
must use the hyper-sticky mat. Failure to employ either results in a
loosening of the bass and slight smearing, but I learned that the clamp
is probably more important than the mat...to my relief. (See below.)

The Delphi III was fitted with the SME Series V tonearm and inserted
into my reference system consisting of Audio Research SP-9
preamplifier
, Apogee Diva loudspeakers and a slew of amplifiers
including the Denon POA 4400A, the Raymond Lumley Model 150 and the
Valfet monoblocks. Cartridges included the Audio-Technica AT-ART1 and
Ken Chan Koetsu as well as the recently serviced Koetsu Rosewood
Signature. Talk about déjà vu...

Whatever any anti-subjectivist tells you about the weaknesses of our
aural memory, the return of the Oracle into my system signalled a kind
of familiarity which restored my faith in audiophilic tendencies. It
was an easily discerned rearranging of the sound back to something I
knew. I don't know how to describe this without stretching your
credulity even more than is usual, but it's like returning to anything
else from your past. I haven't driven a Triumph TR-3A in 19 years, but
I'm certain that everything would fall to hand within mere yards of
travel. I haven't even seen a Scott 344-C receiver since 1972, but I
know the feel of the press switches and the dual-concentric volume
control. Maybe it's just my selective memory.

Either way, the sound of the latest Oracle is nothing more and
nothing less than a refinement of its predecessors. For those of you
who haven't yet had the pleasure of living with this gorgeous creation,
it makes non-fatiguing, wholly musical sounds the likes of which
enables 40-hours-or-more-per-week listeners like myself to exist
without suffering fatigue. I've heard this player's sound described as
'soft', 'muted' and 'too nice'. Can something ever be too nice? We're
not talking about Bonnie Langford here -- we're discussing a turntable
which simply refuses to add any nasties.

The sound of the Oracle is the exact opposite of a certain milestone
player which everyone else I know adores and which I happen to detest.
The Oracle has a clear, extended yet non-abrasive upper register. It is
fast and incredibly well-controlled without sounding hygienic or
artificial. For this alone it deserves your attention. The balance
continues in this manner down through the midband but changes slightly
when the lower registers are reached. Here the sound is slightly dry,
drier than the Mk I, but still a far cry from stretched-skin, B&D
control of either the best vacuum hold-down players (eg the Versa) or
the massive-plattered players like the Basis and the coveted Goldmund
Reference. As regular readers will know, I've just described what is
dream bass playback for one K Kessler, who finds over-damped lower
registers to be just as jarring as screechy treble.

This, of course, should make me less than happy with the Mk III
since the most obvious sonic gains over the Mk I/II concern greater
bass control and damping. But the by-product of this is vastly reduced smearing, more precise image location, quicker
transients and even greater transparency -- and that's across the
frequency spectrum. The change to Mk III status is therefore not a mere
marketing ploy but a genuine, worthwhile revision, like Stax uprating
the Lambdas to Pro or Signature level, or California Audio Labs
uprating the Tempest to Tempest II status.

And in case you're wondering, yes, the Oracle Delphi Mk III will
remain my reference for the foreseeable future, if for no other reason
than my financial status, which precludes the ownership of a Basis,
Versa or Goldmund. But I assure, I'm not suffering. It's no more
painful or sacrificial than using, say, a Leica until you can afford an
Alpa.

Still, if you spend a few years with any product, you're bound to
find lateral approaches to its employment in your system. Allowing for
the near-totality of the Oracle concept, there are just a few
aftermarket tweaks available. The Mod Squad manufactures TipToes to
replace the standard feet and I believe that there are machined
aluminium armboards and heavy-duty power supplies available, but most
owners will be content to leave the Delphi alone. I have only one real
complaint about this otherwise astounding product, and I deal with it
as follows:

I have always hated the Oracle mat. It sticks to the LP like a leech
and serious peeling action is required to separate the LP from the mat
when it's time to change records. It is, quite simply, an absolute pain
in the butt, a far greater inconvenience than establishing the habit of
twisting down the record clamp. For years I'd been looking for a
substitute mat which either matched or improved upon the sonics of the
standard mat. Felt, hard acrylics, various types of rubber, Sorbothane
-- they either made the top end harsh or made the bass sloppy.
Eventually I struck upon the Sicomin mat, a thin, soft, fibrous mat
which didn't look like much but sounded simply delightful. It weighs
less and is much thinner than the standard mat, so suspension and arm
height adjustments were required for the changeover, but that's a small
price to pay for the removal of that accursed adhesion.

Sonically, I suppose my Delphi III is now non-standard. The changes
include a lightening of the sound, everything seeming a bit quicker and
sharper than before, but it's still unmistakeably an Oracle under my
LPs. And, as if to make certain that I don't forget the Mk I which
served me so faithfully, this latest Oracle has also emulated its
predecessor in that the little bulb which illuminates the Oracle logo
near the on/off switch burned out within days of the deck's arrival. As
they might say in French Canada, from where the Oracle hails, 'Plus ca
change...'

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.

Subscribe To Home Theater Review

You'll automatically be entered in the HTR Sweepstakes, and get the hottest audio deals directly in your inbox.
HomeTheaterReview Product Rating
Value: 
Performance: 
Overall Rating: 
When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Your support is greatly appreciated!
© JRW Publishing Company, 2020
magnifiercross linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram