September 2010 John Bamford, HiFi News Magazine - (Outstanding Product) (UK)
You've got to take your hat off to Avid Hi-Fi. It's top-of-the-range
Acutus deck, first introduced 12 years ago and enhanced with the launch
of the Reference outboard power supply in 2006, is certainly one beast
of a turntable. Resplendent in black and silver chrome that's polished
to a mirror finish, it makes for an imposing sight atop any audiophile's
equipment rack. Want to make the ultimate statement? The deck is also
available to order finished in polished 24K gold plate, though for this
you'll have to add an extra 35% to the price.
During the past year or so the company has been introducing 'SP'
upgrades across its entire range of turntables. What we have here, is
the recent incarnation of Avid's flagship, the Acutus Reference SP. Like
all of the firm's decks with 'SP' nomenclature its external power
supply (that provides electronic speed switching between 33 and 45 rpm)
is a new design dubbed the 'DSP Vari-SPeed supply' featuring on-board
digital signal processing to control frequency generation. Also common
to Avid 'SP' decks is a twin belt drive system that claims to better
control platter dynamics and stability under load.
As the name implies, the power supply now allows fine speed adjustment.
On this top-of-range Reference supply for the Acutus, for example, there
are three buttons on the fascia. One starts and stops the platter, the
other two are for selecting the speed. Pressing and holding both speed
selection buttons simultaneously moves the unit into speed adjustment
mode, where one button speeds up the platter in fine increments and the
other slows it down. You'll need a strobe disc to set it accurately, of
course. Once the desired speed is reached, pressing both buttons
together once more stores the speed setting in memory.
While certainly looking every bit a super-heavyweight, with its
45cm-tall 10kg platter and chunky suspension towers, the Acutus is
actually a fairly compact design with a modest 410x360mm footprint, so
you'll have no difficulty accommodating it on the top shelf of any
standard-sized audio equipment rack. But don't forget you'll need a
substantial shelf to house the Reference power supply that sets this
deck apart from the 'standard' £8000 Acutus. The supply alone weights
just over 20kg alone.
If you choose to install it yourself rather than have your dealer set it
up for you, opening the substantial packing carton reveals a 'kit of
parts' that initially rather daunting. But the design is beautifully
thought out, and thanks to the explicit assembly instructions the Acutus
can be assembled in a matter of literally a few minutes. It's the
fitting of your chosen arm and accurately aligning your cartridge that
takes the time...
Comprising a main chassis of cast aluminium with levelling feet that
holds the deck's three suspension towers, and a separate motor unit that
is easily fixed in place with a rubber O-ring in a matter of seconds,
the separate subchassis sports three downward-facing 'legs' that simply
locate into each tower containing a suspension spring. Each of the
Acutus's three springs is the same, but adjustable so that the frequency
of movement is the same independent of load. Spring adjustments are
accessed through holes in the top of the towers using a supplied Allen
wrench. Rubber O-rings fixed to the three towers act as lateral damping,
and quickly return the platter to the vertical plane to provide a truly
pistonic up/down movement of the subchassis and platter, with a
resonant frequency of 2-2.5Hz.
Our sample was fitted with an SME Series V tonearm, into which was
installed Ortofon's sublime ruby-cantilevered Cadenza Blue moving coil
cartridge. The Acutus Reference's overall presentation appears tightly
focused and controlled. Leading edges of notes, from soft and delicate
to the loudest, most explosive crescendos, were sharply delineated and
squeaky clean. Jan Garbarek's 'Molde Canticle, Part 3 from his album I Took Up The Runes
sounded bold and powerful while possessing a beguiling coherence and
effortless, relaxed feel. The melodic lines delivered by bass maestro
Eberhard Weber were uncommonly easy to follow, where on lesser record
players the subtle touches and inflections in his playing become all too
easily blurred by over-prominent subsonic thumps of Manu Katche's kick
drum. And although Garbarek's wailing soprano saxophone can often become
jarring in digital EMC recordings such as this, the sound remained
lucid and actually rather silky - even when Garbarek let rip during
And this is not because the deck sounds smooth and mellow. Far from it,
as it displays plenty of attack and zest. Sounding fast and
authoritative partnered with the SME tonearm, there was joyous alacrity
to Sly 'n' Robbie's rhythm section on Joe Cocker's Sheffield Steel,
while his gruff vocal delivery stood out from the production with
uncommonly fine diction and projection. There was nothing bloated about
the sound of this turntable combo, everything appearing tight, sharp and
lucid, which allowed you to hear deep into the mix of complex
multitrack recordings to pick out the subtlest of details.
When listening to 'Couldn't Bear To Be Special' from Prefab Sprout's
Swoon album, the low frequency 'thunder' effects had the kind of control
one usually associates with CD replay, without an ounce of spare flesh
artificially colouring the sound. The Acutus Reference makes vinyl sound
not only clean but articulate too, Prefab Sprout's Paddy McAloon
appearing frail and exposed as the halo of reverberation around his
voice was portrayed vividly within the stereo image. The low-level
swirling of electronic keyboards in the recording, together with the
percussion fills and ethereal backing vocals, were delineated clearly
within a cavern of eerie blackness, sound images seemingly locked in
tight focus between and beyond the boundaries of the loudspeakers.
Its funny how the cosmetic appearance of a turntable can sometimes lead
one to second-guess how it might sound...but you'd be wrong if you
thought this grand and imposing Avid Acutus Reference SP might be all
about blood 'n' guts and thunder, with heroic bass to blow your socks
off. Not so. Its bass performance is impressive sure enough, Tony
Levin's thumping bass 'stick' on King Crimson's Beat album
demonstrating noble power and 'slam', but the Acutus' main sonic
character is best described as a 'stately coolness' - where nothing
appears forced or over lit.
The sound is ultra-clean, with fast, tight bass and lucid midband
combined with equally fast treble and superb detail retrieval. Somehow
it has the ability to sound explicit without a trace of harshness or
over-etching, so the weeping electronic guitar of Crimson's Robert Fripp
was exposed without ever becoming brittle.
As you'd imagine, female voices were beautifully served too. I found
myself captivated by the richness and detail in lead singer Martha
Johnson's voice when listening to Martha And The Muffin's 1981 LP This Is The Ice Age
despite Daniel Lanois' typically dense production. The combo did seem
to extract all the information it possibly could from the record's
HIFI NEW VERDICT : With its fabulous detail retrieval and focused
sound, the Acutus Reference SP delivers a captivating performance.
Moreover its elaborate suspension makes it immune to the vagaries of
positioning - not something that can be said of most turntables.
Beautifully made, compact, easy to set up and maintain, the only reason
not to want it is the high-end cost. Aaah... the price of luxury.
August 2010 Wojciech Pacula, 6moons.com (USA)
Turntables from the Avid company look fantastic. Each time I test them;
it is not only a feast for the ears but eyes. This time the power supply
was a full-sized component to add both physical weight and cosmetic
I also received AVID’s new Pulsare Phono. They regard it as their crown
jewel and proudly first told me about it when we met during the Audio
Show 2009. Poland actually became one of the first places where the
Acutus Reference was shown with this phono stage. The Pulsare Phono
consists of two units – the power supply and the amplification. With the
Pulsare we have access to amplification and load settings from the
front panel, which is key. The Pulsare amplifier has a fully balanced
architecture so naturally the cartridge signal can be supplied balanced
(each cartridge is naturally balanced versus tone arm ground) to the XLR
input socket of the phono stage.
Together with the Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge, the Avid in balanced
connection always showed the sunny side of the world. If I would like
to embed this in some psychological context, I would call this deck a
born optimist. There’s nothing in the world, which would not be
worthwhile, nothing so bad, and boring as to not invite a closer look.
Anthropomorphization of course is never the best research strategy if we
aspire to objectivity. From my experience, such approximations are
simply very helpful when we attempt to describe matters, which are
closely related to emotions. We better understand multidimensional
complexity when we compare it to something similar/familiar - and music
is obviously emotional. Optimist thus should hit the spot.
The British turntable sounds very civilized. I wrote about this already
when describing the Acutus but here it was even more pronounced. All
events on stage make sense. Everything has a common denominator, which
holds it all together. If the voice is most important as on Mel Tormé at The Red Hill, then his voice will be showcased as the star. But when it is an interaction of two parallel elements as on Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley
where the vocalist is accompanied by The Marty Paich Orchestra, then
those become clearly—very clearly—two equally important elements. Both
are rich in micro events within their boundaries and intriguing. But
when playing together, it’s all about their interaction and how they
combine. It's not about analysis of each element separately.
Like a source code, this sound has a built-in good attitude towards what
the diamond reads from the groove. ‘Good attitude’ is not a precise
descriptor but the best I have, which describes what I want to convey.
Regardless of recording quality or condition of the vinyl, we can be
sure that the Avid system will do its best to retrieve the best from the
recording. This simply is how Avid has designed their turntables to
sound. They don’t confront reality. They befriend it.
October 2008 Paul Messenger, HiFi Choice Collection (UK)
When Conrad Mas decided to launch a new hi-fi company based on an
upmarket vinyl turntable in 1995, friends said
he had taken leave of his senses. History has proved otherwise, as AVID
has gone on to establish itself as one of the country's leading
purveyors of luxury high-end turntables.
Although less costly derivatives like the Volvere, Sequel and Diva have
subsequently been developed, the Acutus was the first Avid to be
introduced and remains the flagship model in the range. The standard
version with its normal, quite chunky, 80VA outboard power supply
remains available at £7300, but is now joined by the Acutus Reference.
The Reference shares the same basic turntable but has a much larger,
more powerful power supply, which weighs slightly more than the
turntable thanks to an extravagant 1kVA transformer.
The Acutus has done much to set the current fashion for skeletal oil-rig
styling. Its exceptional standard of fit and heavily chromed finish
making a strikingly handsome style statement. No turntable can function
on its own, so we asked Avid to supply a partnering tonearm. The company
is still working on its own design, so fitted an SME Series V, and also
supplied the mounting and lower section of a Naim ARO.
The first, most abiding impression was just how clean it made vinyl
sound. The Acutus seems to pin the music down as tightly and with as
much control as any CD player. This is at least partly due to that
Reference power supply, as comparison with the standard unit clearly
revealed. The broad tonal character of the combo was consistent
whichever supply was used, but the larger Reference supply tightening
everything up significantly. Particularly, the bass and lower midband
were better detailed and stereo focus was improved.
With Avid’s very solid ARO mounting platform
installed, I was on more familiar ground and able to put the Acutus
into some sort of context with two other turntables- an
Armageddon-driven Linn and an early Rega Planar 9. Once again, the sheer
precision and stability of the Avid was immediately apparent- much more
like the Rega than the Linn, especially the way voices and lead
instruments occupied and dominated stage-front.
This turntable projects music with a bold confidence and a notably
strong and dynamic midband and presence. The bass, too, is punchy and
precise, though not the last word in weight and agility. Although this
is undoubtedly impressive some recordings can also sound a little forced
and the result can sound a little sparse. That said, the overall
solidity, stability and image focus set very high standards indeed.
March 2007 Wayne Garcia, The Absolute Sound (USA)
And over the five months I've lived with the Acutus
Reference it has proved to be one of the most pleasurable-to-operate and
finest-sounding turntables I've ever encountered. Its character is
notably invisible. What it seems to do is allow whatever phono cartridge
you mount on it to speak its voice.
Naturally this level of transparency applies to LP's as well, and do
keep in mind that although I listened to two different cartridges on the
Avid, the only arm I auditioned was the excellent SME V, whose own
character leans just a tad to the dark side of the spectrum. Hearing
Johnny Cash sing 'First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,' from American IV:
When the Man Comes Around, Revealed a few more things about the Avid.
For one, groove noise on this turntable is extremely low, particularly
when paired with the Air Tight PC-1, which in my experience is simply
unequalled in this area. Next was the Acutus Reference's way of digging
down to reveal production details. Producer Rick Rubin deliberately
swathed Cash's voice in a gigantic halo of reverb, and over the Avid it
came across as never before-as if an electronic nimbus were surrounding
his head, which seemed to hover like that of the wizard of Oz, several
feet behind, just above, and smack in between my Kharma Mini Exquisite
speakers. Most importantly, though, the Avid delivers the emotional
goods-Cash's raw, broken voice, drenched in a church-like reverb, the
dirge-like insistence of two strummed acoustic guitars, and the swell of
the funeral parlor organ burrowed into your soul like grief itself.
Lowering the stylus into the 45rpm pressing of Monk's 'Brilliant
Corners', the slightly hesitant opening theme of 'Ba-lue Bolivar
Ba-lues-are' gives way to a series of solos by each band member. As each
player improvises the theme, the Avid brought forth a powerful sense of
their instruments' presence and musical force. From the reedy swoop of
Ernie Henry's alto sax, to Monk's at first plinkity-plonk then fluid
piano playing, from Sonny Rollins' tenor run that pokes around a bit
before launching into brilliant improv, to Oscar Pettiford's bass solo,
which seems not just grounded to the floor but rooted to the very earth,
to Max Roach's
drums-delivered with a transient snap and dynamic force we hope for but
so rarely get from our systems.
Finally, Hans Werner Henze's 1973 composition 'Tristan' runs from calm
passages for solo piano and the breath of a few woodwinds, to
near-chaotic stretches for full-throttle orchestra that include the
clamor of high-pitched percussion and woodwinds, strings that are bowed
and plucked as well as tapped and scraped with bows, and all manner of
violent-sounding taped sounds, with quotes from Wagner's opera and the
Brahms’s First thrown in for good measure. The Acutus Reference &
Co. tracked these as if they were lullabies. It also displayed a special
ability to pull the minutest details of technique and timbre from the
grooves, never lose a single thread of this highly complex music, to
display a dazzlingly beautiful array of tone colours, to carve out a
most impressive soundstage of tremendous depth, width, and height, to
project dynamics with a convincingly lifelike range of no apparent
limits, and to recreate a piano's sound with exceptional presence,
lengthy decay, and bold lower-octave chords with a persuasive sense of
weight and power behind them.
Avid's Acutus Reference clearly ranks among the handful of top analog playback contenders.
What I can say with confidence is that the Acutus Reference is one of
the most musical-sounding record players you can buy, one of the most
intelligently designed, thoroughly engineered, and beautifully made, one
of the most compact, and one of the easiest to set up and maintain. And
the fact that the company's range starts at $2500 means that, even if
you can't spring for the Reference, another Avid is well worth