I’ve reviewed a bunch of turntables in the past and they’ve all been entirely conventional. That is, a round platter has been mounted in a rectangular plinth with the motor and tonearm attached. But I’ve long eyed off those strange skeletal models which get rid of most of the body and feature rigid arms to hold the necessary bits, including the supporting feet. Well, the Avid HIFI Ingenium Plug&Play Turntable is one of those.
It’s the entry level model for the Avid HIFI, a British brand which offers several models priced in the tens of thousands of dollars.
- As the name suggests, the Avid HIFI Ingenium Plug&Play Turntable is designed to be ready to go with minimal setup
- Make in the United Kingdom
- Belt drive with a physically separate motor
- 33 1/3 and 45 rpm speeds, achieved by removing platter and manually moving belt to relevant pulley
- Inverted stainless steel bearing with tungsten carbide/sapphire thrust point
- Platter weight: 1.264kg (Avid HIFI says 2.5kg, perhaps they included the rather weighty subplatter)
- Record clamp, tightens via threaded spindle, 403 grams in weight
- AVID TA-1 tonearm
- AVID CA-1 cartridge
- Tonearm details not specified
- Cartridge details not specified
- Turntable supported by three substantial feet with elastomer suspension
- 370mm wide by 305mm deep by 130mm tall
- 9kg weight
- What if a super high end British turntable maker produced an entry level model? The Avid HIFI Ingenium Plug&Play Turntable delivers just the quality you’d expect.
- Available at fine high fidelity retail outlets, and direct from distributor's retail division here
More about the Avid HIFI Ingenium turntable
Visually, the Avid HIFI Ingenium turntable is styled like all of Avid’s other models. And indeed it has inherited a number of features that have trickled down through the model line-up, all the way from the models costing those tens of thousands of dollars. The arms of the turntable, which act as its body, are supported by those substantial feet, each of which provides isolation by means of an elastomer, a soft rubbery material. Spring suspensions work as filters. Vibrations that are below their resonant frequencies do tend to make it through, those above their resonant frequencies are filtered, increasingly so as their frequency increases. Elastomer suspensions don’t provide a wide-ranging movement, and thus a low resonant frequency, like springs. Avid HIFI – actually, no turntable maker to my knowledge – specifies this resonant frequency. But I’d guess that upper bass and above should receive good protection from audio breakthrough, at least via the body of the turntable. Most importantly, they should receive good protection from any noise from the motor.
The fact of the suspension is particularly relevant here because the motor is not physically attached to the turntable, except via the belt and the surface upon which both it and the turntable are sitting. In other words, there is no way any noise of vibration from the motor can be transmitted to the stylus directly. It will either have to come through the belt – that’s virtually impossible – or through the bench upon which the system rests.
If any noise did manage to make its way from the motor, through the surface of my equipment bench, through the elastomer feet and into the stylus, it was so low in level as to be utterly inaudible.
I should note at this point that the turntable does not come with a lid, so there is a slightly increased possibility of some feedback into the turntable stylus from the sound transmitted through the air. Again, I heard not the slightest hint of this.
The subplatter is machined metal and quite substantial. The bearing is inverted stainless steel with tungsten carbide/sapphire thrust point. This was originally developed for Avid’s high end models. The belt wraps around this and, for 33rpm playback, the upper pulley on the motor. The manual specifies the distance required between the turntable spindle and the motor pulley, but there’s some flexibility in this. After some experimentation, I found it best to have the motor as close as possible to the rest of the turntable, so long as there was enough “grab” to ensure no belt slippage. When I stretched it out more, there seemed to be a little stress on the motor which resulted in a barely perceptible sound. I think. This wasn’t through the turntable, but instead a sympathetic vibration in the bench top. A purpose-designed turntable shelf would probably not result in this possible sound.
The platter material isn’t specified but to me it looks like 25mm thick MDF for platter with a 3mm cork mat bonded to it. The cork is a rather handsome darker shade than you normally think of with cork.
The Avid HIFI Ingenium Plug&Play turntable’s spindle is threaded. Supplied with it is a weighted clamp. The weight – a substantial 403 grams – is kind of irrelevant because it’s the clamping function that is most likely to affect playback. You simply screw the weight onto the spindle. This might seem like a lot of work to go through, but it turned out to be easy. I did proceed with caution when starting to mount it because I dreaded cross threading the system. Fortunately, it didn’t seem particularly susceptible to that. And once I had the thread engaged, a spin brought it all the way down in a second. Likewise for taking it off.
However, I would note that if you play an album at lot, the underside of the clamp might eventually produce some wear in a ring on the label where it makes contact.
The motor is controlled by an inline switch on the power cable. The cable carries mains power to the motor, not some lesser voltage delivered by an external power pack.
The tonearm is standard length and looks to be of nice construction. It has a proper queue level and a clip for holding the arm in place.
Setting up the Avid HIFI Ingenium turntable
Read through the instructions, of course, to assemble the turntable. It really is quite straightforward. And do everything gently, of course. In particular, the manual warns that you should not drop the subplatter into the bearing hole because that risks shattering the sapphire. And that’s certainly something you don’t want to do.
Setting up basically involves putting the main skeletal structure where you want it, placing the motor between two of the arms at roughly the right distance from the spindle, carefully putting the subplatter and bearing assembly into place, wrapping the belt around the subplatter and motor pulley, powering up the motor to make sure all is working properly, and perhaps adjusting the motor position a little if required, placing the platter in place, placing the counterweight on the back of the tonearm and pushing it as far forwards as it will go, then removing the stylus guard from the pre-attached cartridge. You’re ready to go.
I would have liked some more explanation in the manual. For example, it doesn’t actually indicate what the tracking pressure is. I assume that’s because it is preset, but nonetheless it’s a good thing to know. Some turntables come with cartridges which track at up to 3 grams, a level that makes me uncomfortable. I checked, and it came in at 2.06 grams according to my stylus pressure gauge, which is fine in my book. Neither does the manual indicate whether there is an antiskating mechanism. I consider the inclusion of this important, but it is omitted on some turntables. Is it fitted to this one?
Well, yes it is. On my grooveless test track, the styus remained dead steady in the centre of the track, indicating that it is set perfectly. It isn’t adjustable, but it should work similarly for any other cartridge tracking at 2 grams.
Using the Avid HIFI Ingenium turntable
The first thing I should note is that this turntable forced me to reform my lazy ways. After an album or two, I couldn’t just return the arm to its rest and close the lid, leaving the LP in place. That practice with the open nature of this turntable would lead to disaster, also known as dust settling into grooves. So, as soon as the stylus hit the lead-out, it was time to get up to either flip the LP or return it to its sleeve. And since I was returning it to its sleeve, it was hardly any more trouble to put it in its proper place on the shelf.
Then there was the issue of what to do about dust during playback? Short of buying one of those full-turntable covers, it was a matter of minimising dust. So in addition to my routine carbon fibre sweep of the record surface, I assiduously applied some de-ionisation with a Milty Zerostat 3 antistatic gun. I figured that ought to at least keep the vinyl from attracting nearby dust during playback, subject of course to how much static electricity was caused by the movement of the stylus over the vinyl.
(And, yes, the Zerostat 3 does actual reduce or eliminate static. The first thing I did when I bought it was charge up a plastic hair comb and pick up some tiny bits of paper. When I applied the Zerostat, the paper fell, and the comb would no longer pick it up.)
Listening with the turntable
After spinning a dozen or so albums to get things settled in, it was time to sit and listen properly. I used a Moon 110LP V2 phono preamplifier, a Schitt Audio Freya S preamplifier with the high gain setting. They fed a Moon 330A power amplifier which was driving Dynaudio Contour 20i loudspeakers.
I decided to start with Jethro Tull, Thick as a Brick. This is the original album which I bought back in the day, complete with the fold-out St Cleve Chronicle newspaper. The opening guitar was sweet and clean, with each pluck nicely placed in space. The Avid turntable handled the dynamic switches effortlessly with no apparent compression. I don’t generally get much more than a one-dimensional sound stage with this album, but cymbals and tambourines in particular were delivered with height and a touch of depth. There was a little surface noise, the tiny clicks to be expected from a forty-year-old LP. These were neither emphasised nor diminished by this turntable.
The mid and upper bass was in balance and delivered with drive.
That was more apparent with the equally ancient album Photoplay by Sherbert. The drum kit and tight, grinding bass on “Magazine Madonna” was first class. By 1977 Australian studios had picked up their game and were doing some decent quality recording. Braithwaite’s voice is recessed on this recording a little more than I remember. I think the delivery might be just a little warm. The next track, “Midsummer Madness”, I remember as being a lightweight number, but with a strong delivery of the rhythm section and a visceral performance with the larger drums in the kit, it proved to be surprisingly dramatic. The cartridge picked up a little grinding noise from the groove between tracks, appropriately.
Getting a lot more up to date, I span one of the four sides of Dirty Three’s Ocean Songs, the one with “Authentic Celestial Music”. The original release was in 1998 and my copy is a newly purchased reissue. Despite certain issues with this particular pressing, the delivery was simply stunning. The thick, slightly lazy bass drum was full and delivered with seemingly unlimited power. The stylus must have been working overtime on that. And while it was going on, with a layer of guitar and violin spread across the sound stage, the rest of the drum kit was delivered as layer upon layer for superb stage depth. The turntable held things together very well as the track moved into its intense, climactic section, with no diminution of the power of the bass or reduction in stage depth. Every tiny element of the music was available for inspection, yet nicely merged onto a musical whole.
That same excellent body and rounded sound stage continued into Laura Marling’s 2013 album Once I Was an Eagle. Her voice was presented up front and with unlimited immediacy, and occasional microphone sibilance, incipient for the most part. That sibilance is part of the recording and its absence would have been troubling. The Avid HIFI Ingenium presented all of this without endeavouring to paper it over.
I listen to stuff like this and I start to wonder whether we ever needed digital … and then a click from the vinyl surface pokes its way through the mix. No turntable can fix that.
I have been listening to all the forgoing albums a lot in recent years. As I was selecting something classical to play, I stumbled across an old favourite of mine that I realised I hadn’t played for several decades: Beethoven’s A major Sonata for Piano and Violin – the “Kreutzer Sonata” – performed by Wilhelm Kempff and Yehudi Menuhin on Deutsche Grammophon. Back in the day I tended to find DG’s orchestral stuff a bit light in the recording – I preferred Decca – but its small ensemble and solo works could be rather nice. And this one is. The Avid HIFI Ingenium delivered it with exactly the amount of bite required. The violin was detailed and possessed steel when required, and glorious sweetness when appropriate.
My copy has all the surface clicks it possessed when I first bought it new, and of course these were also faithfully delivered by the turntable. However, I’ve always been careful to use tonearm and cartridge combinations which, however indifferent they may have been in terms of performance, have done little to no violence to the grooves. So, the peaks remained clean, unstressed and were faithfully delivered.
The cartridge included with this turntable is, as would be apparent from my listening impressions, quite competent. Still, I don’t think you would go astray with an upgraded model. But given the nature of the tonearm on the Avid HIFI Ingenium Plug&Play turntable, though, there are certain things to consider.
First even though the included cartridge is called the Avid CA-1, I strongly suspect I know the cartridge from elsewhere, in which case it likely has a spherical stylus and is of medium compliance. Likewise, the arm would appear to have an effective mass towards the upper end of the low range, say around 11 grams. Any replacement cartridge would best be a model with medium compliance of around 20μm/mN. The interaction of a cartridge’s compliance (springiness, if you will) and the effective mass of the turntable determines the arm/cartridge resonance. Too high and bass on the record gets filtered out, too low and it could emphasise rumble, or lose footing when encountering record warps.
Second, the arm does not have a vertical height adjustment, but I found the arm very close to parallel to the record surface with the cartridges I tried which were pretty standard in height. An unusually tall cartridge would probably not be suitable.
Third, because the tonearm counterweight can only be pushed so far forward, and that placement is correct for two gram tracking with the supplied cartridge, the arm is not suitable for use with a cartridge that requires a lower tracking weight unless the cartridge is physically heavier. The included cartridge, though, weighs 5.0 grams, which is rather light in weight. Most quality replacement cartridges will weigh more than that, and so can be used, even at lower tracking pressures (if so specified).
But, fourthly, because the arm doesn’t have any calibration markings, to set the tracking pressure you’ll need to use a stylus pressure gauge and spend a little time on trial and error.
I really enjoyed listening to music using the Avid HIFI Ingenium Plug&Play. It’s easy to set up, it’s easy to use, it sounds great and it’s incredibly interesting to look at. Anyone with the slightest interest in audio will, upon entering your listening room, immediately see that this turntable is something special. And then you can spin some vinyl to demonstrate that it really is.