Kuzma Stabi M Turntable, 4Point Tonearm, and Car 40 Moving-Coil Cartridge – The Absolute Sound
Over the last thirty years, a period that spans the introduction of the compact disc, the replacement of vinyl as the dominant listening medium in the home, and, as far as we now know, the beginning of its demise, Franc Kuzma’s company has built an enviable reputation for making excellent record player systems. You only have to look at their latest model, the Stabi M ($19,225), particularly when equipped with the company’s 4-point arm ($6,675), to know that this is a setup that means serious business. When it comes to aesthetics, black-on-black-on-black, all-metal in a baked matte finish, there’s absolutely no reverence for domesticity; the look is strictly industrial, form follows function, which also determines the materials. The biggest difference from Kuzma’s previous turntables of recent years (all open-chassis designs, including several built on a unique base made of thick brass tubing in a T-configuration) is its appearance. By his own admission, for this new model, Kuzma relied on the most classic of all turntables, a rectangular chassis enclosing a sub-chassis, complete with a hinged dust cover, because he missed having a dust cover attached (I also, see the sidebar). “drew upon” is the operative phrase here, as m is clearly a 21st century machine when it comes to engineering and thinking.
First, size. This thing is big, particularly with its very roomy dust cover. second, it’s heavy, brutally heavy. I made the mistake of moving it myself from one surface to another and vice versa, for which I paid dearly for my recklessness in the form of a severely strained left shoulder muscle that was excruciatingly painful for a day. One hundred thirty-five pounds may not seem heavy, but much of it is concentrated on the plate, which in effect tilts the weight to the left. Mass, i.e. volume, and stiffness are the buzzwords of the M: thick slabs of aluminum for the outer and inner chassis, with just enough springiness between them to allow for judicious damping without compromising stiffness. According to Kuzma’s description, “The aluminum top plate below the turntable has an elastically suspended main frame and motor system below which is isolated from the outer structure of the main turntable via four large elastic shock absorbers, allowing a fine horizontal leveling of platter and tonearm.” The three pod-shaped feet that support the entire frame provide additional leveling (the correct procedure here is to level the outer chassis using the pods, then trim the level with knobs on the plinth). In an arrangement I’ve never seen before, although the feet look like pods, there are actually spikes inside the pods for added stability, but the spikes don’t make direct contact with the surface the m is placed on.
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The deck is a sandwich structure of two 40mm thick aluminum slabs separated by a layer of acrylic for additional cushioning, while the mat is a proprietary material that has some springiness, providing more cushioning. kuzma supplies a washer to go over the spindle; The diameter of the mat itself is slightly less than that of an LP, so that when clamped, the entire surface of the record flattens out in intimate contact with the mat. it’s the best mat/clamp arrangement I’ve used since the last sme I reviewed, which is to say as good as this side of the vacuum clamp.
The trend in recent years is towards low torque motors because they are claimed to transmit less vibration through the subframe or belt to the chainring. Whatever its purported advantages, I can honestly say that I have never been aware of any motor-to-platter sonic vibration issues on any belt drive turntable in my experience, low torque can be a real nuisance in everyday use. some designs even require a push for the plate to catch up or in a reasonable amount of time. By contrast, the m’s cc motor is so powerful that, in combination with the unique, relatively stiff blue polymer belt (designed not to twist), it brings the massive platter up to a steady speed in two seconds, almost unheard of on a driving belt. the vibration problem is addressed by a combination of special motor housing and damping. an led on the external power supply reads the speed (33 or 45) and offers speed adjustments, although once the speed was dialed in it never drifted. For installations where the power supply is positioned low or out of sight, speed selection and power on/off are duplicated on the turntable’s front chassis. A novelty frisson is a small remote control that allows you to point the stylus at the stationary register and start the engine from the listening point. Kuzma likes to sit back and relax before he starts playing.
Although Kuzma has long been known for his radial arms, the 4point ($6675, with silver crystal cable/gold phono cable) is his first foundational design, and once again he can boast some innovative thinking, especially on what appears to be a unique four-point bearing configuration, hence the nickname. kuzma again: “two points (which are similar to a unipivot bearing) allow and control the vertical movements of the arm. the other set of two pointed bushings allows and controls the horizontal (lateral) movements of the tonearm. the four bearing points have minimal friction and zero backlash in all planes of motion.” the arm has an effective length of eleven inches; the tube is tapered and made of a solid bar of aluminum; At the pivot end is a VTA turret, which allows for adjustment during play, and a dual counterweight system that sets tracking force while ensuring the counterweights stay as close to the pivot as possible. Unusual for state-of-the-art arms these days is a detachable helmet; But the Kuzma is unlike any other, featuring a hex locking system that is claimed to offer just as rigid an energy path to drain resonances from the platter as a non-removable one attached by the typical glue and set screw. there is also provision for precise azimuth adjustment and both vertical and horizontal damping channels, which are easily bypassable (a vane is easily lowered or raised from the fluid by turning a set screw). Kuzma prefers not to muffle.
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I can’t comment on ease of setup because it was done by the importer, scot markwell of elite audio video distribution (scot was harry pearson’s installer for many years). I watched and helped him: the weight of the plate alone makes it a two-man job. however, there was nothing that I found unusually complicated or difficult, if you are willing to follow the instructions and work slowly. but note my caveat about lifting this thing: locate the outer chassis where you plan to use the turntable, and then start on the inner chassis, platter, etc. In addition, you will need an exceptionally strong, solid and resistant support. cabinet, table, or shelf that is 24 inches deep due to the way the dust cover tilts back when fully raised (i.e., it is hinged on the bottom, not the sides).
All, then, a traditional-looking setup that’s packed with an effective mix of new and tried-and-true ideas. Before I get to the sound, I should mention an oddity: despite the considerable mass of this setup, it was surprisingly microphonic in the sense that with the volume advanced, to be fair, considerably advanced, the firm touches on the bass and socket they were easily audible through the speakers, though, to be fair, they were crisp and extremely well damped (i.e. no effective decay). Kuzma’s argument is that high pitched impulses like this or equivalent disturbances aren’t really relevant to assessing a turntable’s effectiveness in muffling or isolating the ‘table’ from the music when music is played loud, even at low frequencies. very low, and measures to protect against vibrations. introducing absorbent material or filtering springs compromises rigidity and presents other problems. (I don’t agree with this when it comes to well designed and competently implemented suspended or hanging suspensions). It’s certainly true that sudden impulses like bumping or hitting the chassis aren’t the sort of things that are normal, and if your environment is full of them, you should probably be listening to music somewhere else. and it is also true that during the entire review period I did not hear anything wrong with the playback that I could attribute to the miking. Furthermore, once a record was clamped to the platter mat, rapping the surface of the LP with one’s knuckles produced only the dullest sound, which is much more relevant evidence of good damping.
As for the sound, well, this has been one of the most frustrating and even difficult reviews I’ve had to write in quite some time, albeit in a good way. in the several weeks that I spent with the kuzma, I listened a lot and with the greatest pleasure, but I almost did not take notes. Every time I dropped the Car 40 truck (see sidebar) in the slot, the presentation sounded so nice and unostentatious that I soon abandoned the notes and forgot all about my review duties. it was all about the music. Like all great turntables in my experience, this one is superlative in size. Two examples: Liszt’s rhapsody that opens side two of Stokowski’s album of rhapsodies, with its strikingly registered bottom hit, swept across the front of the room in a wholly persuasive simulacrum of an orchestra. when the brass enters just before the recap, they emerge from the backstage as they should, but ring out with tremendous clarity, richness, and impact. the dynamic range is sensational. Sometimes big turntables can be a little too laid back too, but the way Kuzma handled fellow Ionesco (Stokowski at his most ferociously energetic) certainly puts that idea to rest. That elusive sense of timing, what the British like to call “rhythm,” is present in abundance, but there’s nothing of an overly engraved character or the kind of articulation that draws attention to itself.
The setup is equally suitable for solo instruments or smaller ensembles. An old recording I hadn’t heard in a while is Paul Badura-Skoda’s set of the last five Beethoven piano sonatas played on a vintage pianoforte. here it was if the instrument materialized in the room, centered between the two speakers, slightly to the rear, and sounding amazingly real.
the kuzma combination also represents the space extremely well. the kings college choir procession with carols for advent sunday (argo) begins very softly with the organ introit as the choir is heard in the distance. the following is crucial: the chorus should originate deep on the left side of the spectrum, but its sound should not be limited there. as they progress, you should hear their sound project across the sound field and into the right channel, an effect that should be continuous. it’s not until they move into the stalls (“an immaculate rose”) that you hear them balanced between the two channels. the kuzma played all of this in the most persuasive way i have ever heard, and the impression of being transported to a real space where a live music event is taking place was quite extraordinary. here was stereo in its basic sense of solid, not as is often the case, especially with early stereo, a left, center, and right appearing more or less like a stitched panorama. the choir’s movements were so perfectly tracked that it seems obvious to me that there isn’t much to disturb the performance. there’s enough transparency and detail that you can occasionally identify an enthusiastic member of the congregation in the hymns, and always the congregation sounds like a collection of individual voices, not an undifferentiated mass.
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coloration is very low and the impression of musical authority and naturalism is very high, whether it be familiar voices (sinatra, fitzgerald, schwarzkopf) or instrumentalists (sonny rollins, regis pasquier, miles davis). Featuring a truly realistic recording as the Yale Quartet playing Beethoven’s Op. 132, it’s as if the chain of playing records just disappeared and all four players were in the room.
reviews? There’s perhaps evidence of a certain creepiness, let’s call it, of liveliness that I don’t remember from, say, über-neutral smes, and the entry-level models I’m familiar with have more of a scalpel-like precision feel. , and both may have a little more final bottom blackness, but in terms of overall performance, the Kuzma is certainly and easily in its class. It also boasts something else that’s a little harder to pin down: there’s an LP-to-LP day-to-day ergonomic precision about it that allowed me to forget about the physical task of playing records. another way of putting this is to say that it makes the physical task of playing records so unobtrusive it becomes second nature, every button and knob in the right place, everything works exactly as it’s supposed to, so when the pencil is pressed all your attention goes directly to the music. my regular readers will know that when it comes to vinyl, I like designs that are set and forgotten. this describes the kuzma stabi m/4point/car 40 to a t – a superb contemporary update on traditional vinyl engineering and design that will give you years of musical enjoyment, such a solid and solidly built instrument and dare I say? , so timeless. that I hope your grandchildren still enjoy it and are happy that it was passed down to them. that is, if you’ve done your curmudgeon duty and made them good and hooked on the joys of vinyl, whatever newfangled technology they may be listening to by then.
specifications & prices
kuzma stabi m turntabledrive: beltspeed: 33, 45motor: dc Dimensions: 25.5″ x 11″ x 19.5″Weight: 135 lbs. (with ’arm)price: $19,225
kuzma 4 point armtype: pivoting, 4 points, horizontal and verticaleffective length: 11″effective mass: 14 grams price: $6675
car moving coil phono pickupfrequency response: 10hz- 40khzoutput: 0.3mvforce monitoring: 2 gramsinternal impedance: 6 ohmsweight: 7 gramsprice: $2900
elite av distribution (800) 457-2577eliteavdist.com
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