Ortofon SPU Synergy GM versus London Decca Super Gold

Discussion in 'Equipment Reviews & Opinions' started by sqlsavior, Jul 1, 2017.

  1. sqlsavior

    sqlsavior AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Here's a post that I put up for a while after I'd gotten my Teac TT fixed, and the Synergy SPU back in service:

    I got my Teac TN-400 turntable working again recently...

    http://audiokarma.org/forums/index....tn-400-turntable-speed-control-repair.740329/

    …which means I have a place to mount my 12” Jelco tonearm again, which I need to run the Ortofon SPU that I bought four years ago (on sale, for about 2/3 of its current price, btw). I’d only run the Ortofon for about a week before putting it away, so it’s nice to hear it again!

    I’m running it through my Bob’s Devices Cinemag 1131 step-up transformer, and into phono 2 on the Luxman C1000 preamp, which I discovered by accident is brighter than the rather dark phono 1. The signal exits through tape-out, and into the Prometheus TVC, so the line stage of the Luxman is not used.

    The result is a sound that seems to combine bass with the most definition I’ve heard from vinyl so far, not slammed, not boomy, just tuneful and organic, but with dynamics that just POP! As with the Clearaudio Virtuoso, which leaned a little toward the slam side imo, it is a nice change of pace from the rather polite Benz Micro. The Synergy also has a more immediate, they-are-here presentation with vocals - sometimes. I haven’t figured out why only sometimes.

    As for the highs, the Benz is more refined, and downright sweet, while the Ortofon contributes just a little of the gratuitous “tizz” that seems to creep into so many systems from one component or another. At the moment, that is another change-of-pace from the Benz. For example, at the beginning of Fleetwood Mac’s Hypnotized, I was expecting more emphasis on the tom and kick drum, but they were pretty matter-of-fact, while the cymbals in between were what was emphasized, making me notice them almost as if for the first time.

    [​IMG]

    OK, two days later now…

    The tizz is gone. I had the arm tail-up a bit, now it is nearly level. Hypnotized sounds normal again. The phantom presence has stabilized, to a presentation that may change from song to song, but not phrase to phrase. As might be imagined from its ancestry, the SPU is very sympathetic to Elvis Presley, with most of the songs on the first three sides of “30 Number 1 Hits” benefitting, but especially on Hard Headed Woman with that fantastic trombone, and My Lucky Charm, with (Ray Walker’s?) bass vocals. Some of these were “how could it get any better?” moments for me.

    On Killing The Blues on Raising Sand it brought out Alison Krauss’ voice more, stayed coherent through Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us, and managed to resolve several other drums along with the enormous one on Polly Come Home. Rich Woman never did that much for me, and the SPU didn’t change that. The other three sounded the best I’ve heard yet.

    The Carpenters: The Singles 1969-1973 is another seemingly perfect match for the Synergy SPU.

    Funny thing is, when I had it tail-up a bit, it gave the best interpretation of Crime of the Century I’ve heard on the Quads. I joked to my friend that it turned them into Klipschorns. ;)

    I have a lot more listening to do.


    [​IMG]

    My experience with the Decca has been just as fun, maybe more! For all the horror stories about "a glimpse of heaven from the pits of hell", I have never had a cartridge that was less troublesome to mount and get right. I bought a Yamamoto "African Black Wood" headshell, ordered the Super Gold with the Decca Pod installed, mounted it straight in the headshell with 66/32nds of an inch stylus to collar distance (very close to 52 mm) and tried it. The VTA was the same as I'd left the Synergy, and it must have been spot on, because the sound was perfect, except for one problem. This is on the same Jelco 12" tonearm, with a little mineral oil in the damping well. The problem was hum, but let me ignore that for a minute, because otherwise the sound was the most life-like I've yet heard. There was no wondering if I'd gotten the alignment right, because everything sounded so natural. I was kind of expecting a sense of exaggerated dynamics and overwhelming slam, but instead I heard...natural. In this respect the Decca is a lot like the Quads.

    To me it is either extracting more information, or presenting it more coherently, but I've never, ever heard as much separation between instruments, nor as much precision in the imaging. I have no doubt at all that what the Decca reveals is closer to what is on the record than anything else I've heard. On Killing The Blues and Polly Come Home, the imaging is uncanny. I can follow Allison or Robert's voices together, or separately - listen to one, then the other, then back again, with almost no effort. Everything is laid out, and the old cliche about hearing new things on old albums came true again to an astonishing degree - I thought that pleasure was a thing of the past, but no!

    I couldn't solve the hum problem until I mounted it on my Marantz TT-15, where it disappeared completely. I suspect the Decca may not like DD tables, or at least some of them. I haven't got the presentation quite as absolutely perfect as on the Jelco, but it still displays all the qualities I mentioned, just not quite as perfectly so far, it seems. I don't know yet if that is VTA that needs just a little adjustment, or if the Jelco's damping does something that the Marantz's tonearm cannot. Either way, it is still the most information-rich presentation of any cart I've heard.

    The Synergy SPU will mis-track at several places on the MFSL 45 rpm of Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms on side three, on the big peaks that occur every so often on Ride Across The River. The Decca handles it perfectly. The Synergy also requires me to cue it down with the platter stopped, or it will tend to bounce and skate across the first few grooves. The Decca is probably needing a little bit more tonearm mass on the Marantz - it quivers a bit upon landing, but then does fine.

    My friend was over for a listen. He hears the extra info provided by the Decca, but prefers the Ortofon for its smoother sound. I myself am not so sure. My Quads are unrestored, and the bronze pair seems to be just a little bass-shy compared to the black pair, so the Decca can seem a little emphasized on the top end, but I just dig that easy, natural abundance of detail, and the extra separation, air, and imaging it gives. On the other hand, the Ortofon plays DSOTM and Crime Of The Century better on the Quads than my other carts will.

    London Decca owners are kind of rare it seems. Maybe the reputation for issues scares people away, but I don't know why it isn't the most raved-about cartridge around. Perhaps like the Quads, reviewers feel they've "been there, done that" already, and have lost a conception of what they are missing...

    Interestingly, the base models of these cartridges are over 50 years old. It certainly puts to shame the argument that newer must be better!
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2017
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  2. sqlsavior

    sqlsavior AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    After going back to the Synergy while my Marantz TT-15 is down, I have a more balanced view of these two cartridges. The Synergy is all about tone and body and impact. The Decca is all about precision tracing. It maximizes presence and separation, and reveals what is recorded in the grooves more accurately than any other cartridge I've heard. I have even heard it make poorly recorded vocals sound better, by separating the microphone hash and pre-amp overload from the voices, making the vocal itself easier to follow, and seemingly cleaner, because the distortion is separated and thus ignorable. I am not making this up! They really complement each other. It is hard to predict which one will sound best with a particular record, and often even tougher to decide. I'm really grateful to have both, and can't wait to get the Decca going again. I think I did well. :)
     
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  3. asilker

    asilker Bible Reader Subscriber

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    Neat review. I'd like to live with a Decca.
     
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  4. sqlsavior

    sqlsavior AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    I finally tried the Decca on my Technics SP-25, expecting hum, like I got from it when on my Teac TN-400 Magnefloat, and my Denon DP1200.

    Surprise - no hum! So my generalization about the Decca not liking direct drive tables was just that - a generalization.

    It's really nice to be able to listen to the Decca again. :music:
     
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  5. johnjhazel

    johnjhazel PhxJohn Subscriber

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    Thank you sqlsavior for the very interesting review. I am curious...does the 'sql' part of your moniker stand for structured query language ? I have always been interested in the London(Decca) cartridges. I have never heard one but hope one day to own one. Right now I own two GE VR 1000 cartridges which are my favorites. They generate the signal very close to the stylus as do the Londons and the Audio Technica ART 1000.
     
  6. sqlsavior

    sqlsavior AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Those VR 1000s look interesting.

    Yes, the sql portion is a database language reference. Kinda lame for an audio forum, I know. ;)
     
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  7. johnjhazel

    johnjhazel PhxJohn Subscriber

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    I was always amazed at how few people know how to properly code SQL. Filter, filter, filter. LOL.
     
  8. johnjhazel

    johnjhazel PhxJohn Subscriber

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    I wrote extensively on the VR 1000 and the patent change that ruined the styli and the reputation of the VR 1000 on Lenco Heaven.
     

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