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Ready-to-Go Turntables from Mark Levinson, SME, and VPI
By Bes Nievera

When one gets a hold of a 300+ page-turner, like Music Direct's all-new 2021 catalog, you discover that it's both a photo album and informative, whip-smart look at all that we survey and sell. Among the book's pleasant surprises is a threefold increase in analog products, many of which offer exceptional ease of operation (something that might make our set-up teams, this author included, a wee bit worried about our careers). And while we've previously talked about decks from Denon, Music Hall, Pro-ject Audio, and Cambridge Audio, here's a brief on some other new models that may persuade you to up the budget and pair them with equally proficient gear.

Mark Levinson's all-new No. 5105 turntable stands as the Connecticut-based manufacturer's second analog rig to roll off its assembly line. It endows the listener with a robustness and voicing every bit in the Levinson wheelhouse. At an astounding 73 pounds, the heavyweight 'table, as National Training Manager Chris Robinson pointed out in a recent launch, "brings back...turntables in a very big way." Like its 5100 Series companions, No. 5105 arrives apportioned with an aluminum and glass front piece that complements partnering Levinson electronics. Unique to 5105 is a thoughtfully designed, uber-quiet DC belt drive to rev the milled, 13-pound platter as well as an apportioned record weight. A 10" tonearm with a factory-mounted Ortofon Quintet Black cartridge rounds out 5105's appearance. Setting up the rig proves wickedly easy, as the weight and all crucial parts are fully assembled and aligned, leaving you to simply install the platter, cables, and record mat. Power it up and get spinning!

SME's Model 6 marks the British manufacturer's first model in several years. While subtle cues of classic SME tech remain on view, fresh approaches in engineering permeate Model 6's savvy operation. Breaking away from the all-aluminum framework of iconic models such as Model 30, Model 6 employs CNC-machined resin plinths that are as stiff and well-dampened as those on its larger siblings. The 'table's suspension is managed with an aerospace-grade silicone and rubber compound, which replaces SME's costlier dampened o-ring and tower approach. Worry not: The deck's slimmer profile proves equal to the challenge in tackling low noise. SME's M2-9 tonearm, in a complementary black chrome finish, completes the main assembly, and, as with Model 12, comes fully assembled. Translation: Pairing it with your fave needle is as easy as it gets, especially since we can pre-mount and align the cartridge prior to shipping Model 6 to your door. Another bonus: The standalone power supply is equipped with a more sophisticated approach to speed management, eschewing the multi-button, follow-the-blinking-light approach to speed accuracy. Using the supplied strobe disc, a large knob provides fine-tuning adjustments usually lost in button-pushing decks. Incredibly sensible, particularly at this price point!

Last but not least, VPI's long-running Prime gets a welcome refresh in the form of Prime 21, available in black or walnut. Described as VPI's easiest-to-set-up model, Prime 21 sports the curvy good looks of its predecessor and adds a multitude of new features, including a steel top plate to increase dampening as well as the company's latest-generation gimbaled 3D-printed tonearm and VTA-on-the-fly mounting base. Turntable noise is further managed by the inclusion of feet previously designed for the company's 40th anniversary turntable, HW-40, while the 300RPM motor effortlessly spins the a 20-pound aluminum platter. Available a la carte with a Music Direct-recommended cartridge, or factory outfitted with VPI's Shyla MC cartridge, Prime 21 bows as another American-made marvel from Mat Weisfeld and the entire VPI team.

Details on all products mentioned are linked throughout the article. As always, a Music Direct Audio consultant is a phone call away to take your order or answer any questions. Be sure to keep the conversation going on this page, or on our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook pages. Also, subscribe to our YouTube Channel for new product announcements and more!

Follow @besnieverajr on Twitter and Instagram

December 15, 2020

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