However cool or unimpressed we try to be, there's no escaping 'prestige' endorsements. Even if there's been some financial inducement - what did it cost BMW to get James Bond to drive a German car? -- we're still impressed. But I have to say that Simon Yorke pulled off the niftiest endorsement any hi-fi manufacturer could hope to secure: his turntable is used by the Library of Congress in the USA. And they
Admittedly, British xenophobes will think, 'Library of Congress? Big deal.' Sorry, gang, but the LoC makes the BBC's archives look like your local Our Price. According to Yorke's figures, the Beeb has 500,000 recordings in its vaults. The Yanks'?
Think of the implications. The Simon Yorke Designs S7 Precision Analogue Disc Transcription System is made in li'l ol' County Durham, yet the USA itself can boast Rockport, Basis and other LP spinners of note. So much for the LoC having to buy American. But Simon Yorke is the guy whose turntable/arm combination was chosen by the world's largest sound archive to spin its utterly irreplaceable discs during transfer to tape for archival storage and therefore for posterity. And if you think that the S7 reviewed here bears no more resemblance to the LoC's actual unit than a Clio does to Villeneuve's Williams-Renault, think again.
Beneath the addenda which makes the LoC's version of the '7 suitable for transcription purposes lurks the same core which defines the 'domestic' S7 and arm. The price span, however, ranges from the £6668 entry-level 9in arm-plus-turntable which I used to the made-to-order device used by the LoC at £15,625. Note, however, that the latter price includes delivery and installation "world-wide".
Whether you opt for the economy model or wish to pretend that you're an enormous building in Washington, D.C., you <won't> want to set it up yourself. Yorke insists that it's a doddle using instructions which run to a dozen detailed pages. I watched him do it with the fluid, casual movements which betray his role as its designer, and still I know that I would screw it up beyond redemption because Yorke is so blas about positioning the free-standing drive pulleys to provide the correct belt tension. I was horrified with his glib, 'Just check if it feels right' attitude, but more about that later.
A checklist itemises the system's 25 or so components. What you'll miss if someone else installs it is the opportunity to examine, fondle and therefore fully appreciate workmanship beyond criticism. It makes you wonder how a guy who could almost pass for Swampy manages to work to such levels. Yorke had it up and running (including the assembly of the unipivot tonearm and the fitting of an exquisite £2450 Crown Jewel Reference moving coil on loan from RT Services) in under 35 minutes. And the instant he pressed that oh-so-cool, ball-shaped on/off button, the unit performed and sounded like a dream.
But first you will need to acquire a
The main bearing uses a hardened stainless steel shaft, rotating in precision-bored, low-friction sleeves, its thrust bearing made up of two carbon steel balls in a point-contact configuration. The record spindle is detachable, primarily to allow custom-built spindles to be fitted for specific non-standard discs or to allow the use of special clamps.* The platter is "a perfectly balanced flywheel", machined to micron accuracy from a 30mm slab of non-magnetic stainless steel; it weighs in excess of 11 kg, and Yorke says that the stored kinetic energy "guarantees absolute stability of speed without resort to fanciful electronics."
Beneath it is the main chassis, a 185mm diameter stainless steel disc which houses the turntable bearing and supports one or two armboards as specified. The A.C. synchronous motor and transfer bearing units connect to it solely by the two drive belts, leaving the turntable itself entirely immune to motor-borne vibration. A standard S7 offers speeds of 33.3, 45 and 78 rpm, but it can be supplied less the intermediate transfer bearing assembly for a fixed speed of 33.3 rpm.
What rattled my cage is that the enclosures containing the motor and the intermediate transfer bearing are free-standing and no template is provided for exact positioning. Yorke pooh-poohed my concerns, as he seems totally oblivious to the anal obsessiveness during set-up of audiophiles. This is rather amusing when you consider how fanatical is his attention to detail everywhere else. But he just plunked 'em down to the left of the deck, fitted the belts and pinched them together like a mechanic checking the slack on a fan-belt. OK, OK, so the speeds were spot-on according to two different strobe discs, but that's not the point: I'd want absolute peace of mind for my £6k-plus, instead of relying on guesstimates.
On the motor housing is a small ball which you depress to switch on the motor. This was the sort of detail which elicited the same responses in observers as did the Nagra pre-amp. All who beheld the S7 wanted one badly and couldn't resist playing with the on/off ball. The module next to it, the transfer bearing, is topped by a three-step pulley; you move the belt to access the speeds, and corresponding grooves in the platter preclude belt 'wandering' or drift.
Read more about the Simon Yorke Turntable on Page 2.