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Newport 2014: Raidho, Pass and a Heavenly Walker

DSC_0634 hiresnewportlogoforwebEver since I bought my first linear tracking turntable off eBay some six years ago (a Technics SL-10, natch), other linear trackers have held a bit of fascination for me, and none more so than the Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond V ($105,000). The best way I can describe this turntable is "crazypants." The Black Diamond looks like nothing so much as a cross between a Singer sewing machine and a turntable all filtered through the Victorian mind of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The massively heavy air bearing platter and plinth are machined from a proprietary low-resonance material that looks and feels indestructible. The clamp and all of the tonearm adjustments are machined from brass. Everything is infinitely adjustable. The motor, encased in a matching crushed marble enclosure, is mounted on vibration-damping feet with a straight-cut drive pulley and a flat silk belt. The belt tension is relatively loose, preventing the belt from pulling the platter off of the air bearing. When I first learned of the idea of an air bearing turntable, I was pretty dubious about the noise of the air compressor; memories of aquarium air compressors droning into the night haunted me. However, in the Walker room, I wasn't able to detect any noise emanating from the compressor over the sound of the music. In an at-home set up, however, I'm told it's entirely possible to locate the compressor in a closet or another room and run tubing; in fact, it comes with 100 feet of tubing for just this purpose. With all my excitement over what seems to be God's Own Turntable, it might be easy to overlook the rest of the system.

Fortunately, the Raidho Acoustics Diamond Series D-3 loudspeakers ($71,000 in the pictured walnut burl, $66,000 in basic black) made themselves known in a way that was hard to ignore. Powered by Pass Labs Xs 300 monoblocks ($85,000/pair) and paired with the Walker Reference phono amp and power supply, second edition ($25,000) and the legendary Counterpoint Magnum Opus 1, everything here sounded truly magnificent. “Best soundstaging of the show,” read my notes, and my recollection in hindsight bears this out.

The level of detail on the bluegrass track that was playing (sadly not recorded in my notebook) was truly impressive, almost clinical in the ability to pick out each individual note. The Walker keeps time like an atomic clock, offering rhythmic stability and grip like little else I’ve heard. If I have any complaint, it’s that the overall sound signature in the room was almost a little too precise for my usual tastes. However, this was easily one of the most impressive rooms I experienced at the show, and I am endlessly pleased at finally having seen a Walker turntable in the (pitch black and shiny brass) flesh.

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14 Comments on Newport 2014: Raidho, Pass and a Heavenly Walker

  1. Maybe it’s so expensive because the market will bear it.

    Cache – real or implied, deserved or contrived, can sell product.

    Amazingly, there ARE those among us who apparently shop by price and cache as opposed to getting the best bang for their buck, let alone what their soundroom bear.

    TG it’s waaay outta my range. Just one less decision to fret over…LOL

  2. So in the end, it’s just insanely high priced because it’s insanely high priced, no other real reason exists. It’s the only real way the price makes sense, not economies of scale, not cutting edge engineering, or even the prototype theory. I’m sure it could easily be reverse engineered for a fraction of the price…try that with the Bugatti. Even Mr. Romney, with all his riches, is surely too intelligent to fall for this one.

    • Part-Time Audiophile // June 19, 2014 at 9:43 AM //

      I think that’s a little blunt. Say it this way: “I’m sure I could reverse engineer this for a fraction of the price.” And then see if you can. And when you do, don’t forget that it’s a commercial product, so add in a profit margin. And since it’s a commercial product, with a channel-reseller go-to-market strategy, don’t forget distribution and reseller margins on top of that profit you added. If, at the end, you have a comparably-performing and comparably finished-looking device that is significantly less expensive, well my friend, then you have a product. Go forth and conquer.

  3. the comparisons themselves don’t even make sense…it’s a turntable, not an exotic automobile which is an entire system of transportation in itself based on cumulative billions of dollars of technology, research, engineering, etc., etc., over the past 100+ years. Agreed it is subjective, but it approaches theoretically impossible that this product justifies it’s price under any circumstances.

    • Part-Time Audiophile // June 18, 2014 at 12:07 PM //

      This time, it’s probably worth an extended examination of the Law of Small Numbers as it applies manufacturing.

      I’m just guessing, but it’s probable that not a lot of these are built with regularity, which makes it impossible to leverage savings that come with scale. That’s hard to overestimate. Most suppliers will give you great deals when it comes to materials or parts, provided you buy enough to make it worth their while. Ask them to make one of anything, however, and suddenly the economics don’t make sense — unless the cost is high enough to justify the attention. Nothing nefarious there. To rephrase, the only reason the assembly line worked as a viable manufacturing strategy was that Ford produced serious volume. Would have made no sense to have that arrangement if they were only selling 1 Model-T a year.

      And then you have to add in the costs of the reseller channel route-to-market.

      It all adds up. Fast. And high.

      Happily, there’s no reason for you (or anyone) to do that. Rega and Pro-Ject make great lower-cost turntables.

      Market forces at work.

      • Comparatively under closer examination it’s not a matter of the Law of Small Numbers either…For example:

        Let’s use Bugatti sited above which produced about 300 or so Veyrons in it’s initial run, an extremely small number of automobiles compared with the hundred million or so total automobiles produced during that same time worldwide. The vehicle sold for apx. $1,500,000 or apx. 15x the cost of the mentioned turntable. So in their respective classes both products are the rarest of their class, albeit the Bugatti would still be exponentially more so based on worldwide manufacturing ratios of total units in each class.

        According to a Sept. 13 article published in The Economist, Bugatti’s parent company Volkswagen loses apx. $6.25 million on each unit produced. This is the simple result of the massive amount of money it takes to produce and distribute such a product. Remember, it’s also the most expensive production car in the world.

        It’s fair to assume that the turntable costs nowhere near its retail price to produce or distribute, much less that they lose $400,000 on each on sold. Instead I’d speculate that the tables profit margins are stratospheric.

        It’s apples vs. hundreds of oranges with no rational way to draw similarities. Remember, we can measure what the Veyron does, for example it goes 250 mph, etc., it’s the fastest passenger car in the world and from an engineering standpoint does things impossible for other automobiles. We don’t need to even consider the subjective value of design, etc. The turntable plays records. Better than others, probably and maybe even much better. But by measures that are limited by the laws of physics than others? Probably not.

        Rather than an example of a law of Economics at work here, a more accurate view may be the application of the axiom which states there’s a s****r born every moment…

      • Part-Time Audiophile // June 18, 2014 at 4:30 PM //

        Or, instead, they price it to not lose money, maybe?

        Your own example says that if Bugatti weren’t stupidly under priced, the cost would be 6x what it is. That is, it’d be over $6.25M per car.

        Again, just guessing, but it doesn’t look like Walker is as clueless generous as VW.

        Another way to view this, a suggestion that I made some time back, was a bit more on-point (to me, at least). “Summit-Fi” audio is not equivalent to auto exotica. Expensive and loss-leader that it is, the Bugatti is still a full production model — that is, they produce more than one at a time (and have to, or that loss would be far higher). Rather, Summit-Fi is far more like “concept cars” than production cars (no matter how exotic). That is, they’re ideas designed to show off. The difference, of course, is that in high-end audio, these items also get price tags. In the auto industry, not so much. Audio is different than auto. But since this “level” (again, a misnomer because they’re not really products in the way we normally think of such things) is always a one-off, items found there are never going to be cheap.

        Bottom line: however you explain it to yourself, it’s still crazy-expensive. Would I pay that much for a turntable? No. But that wasn’t ever the question. Here’s a good one, though: Would I pay that much if I were Mitt Romney? Well, that’s not quite so clear. If money didn’t matter, and status did, I might. The fact that the ‘table in question is actually quite the performer certainly wouldn’t detract from that equation. I’d like to be Mitt Romney. Well, sort of. I’d like to have a Scrooge McDuck-sized pool that I could fill with cash so I could swim around in my own profligacy. But so far, the Lotto Fairy has refused my calls.

        Don’t have to like Summit-Fi pricing. But the truth is, it’s not insane, even if it’s too rich for my (or most people’s) palate.

  4. I simply find it hard to believe I will find a significant difference between this $105K Walker (in 2012 it was $90k and heavily discounted) and a $5-20K Basis, Thorens, Clearaudio, SME, Kuzma, you name it turntable. Perhaps it is ignorance on my part but even if I was a billionaire spending that much on a turntable seems excessively extravagant with no real sonic improvement.

    • Part-Time Audiophile // June 17, 2014 at 8:01 PM //

      Aside from the typical hand-waving at the law of diminishing returns, I don’t disagree with you. I’m not sure many would. I’m also not sure, however, that the differences in sound between all those turntables is dependent on price, or that there may well be a fan favorite at any particular point on that curve regardless of price. All that said, if you want the Walker, it’s $100k+.

      Sometimes, it’s best to not even drive the Ferrari, Bugatti, Bentley or Aston. It’s just enough to know they’re out there.

  5. And the Phono cartridge WAS……………..???????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    • Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenney // June 17, 2014 at 1:43 PM //

      Oh, Greg, you keep catching us falling down on the job. I’m sorry. I’ll see if Mal remembers anything at all about the cart; it wasn’t included in the cut sheets provided by the manufacturers. I’ll also email the folks at Walker and see if they can fill us in.

    • Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenney // June 17, 2014 at 2:25 PM //

      And I have an answer — survey says Soundsmith Hyperion.

  6. I guess it’s a drag to keep saying it, but the pricing makes no sense at all. How about two BMW 328i sedans for less than that TT (with change for any Rega, Pro-Ject, VPI, etc)? Defies rational analysis, but I guess the calculus is that the more money you have, the less intelligent you must be.

    • I don’t think it is as simple as you make it out. Just slapping a “state of the art” label on something doesn’t justify any price you care to put on it. (BTW, I’m stipulating it is indeed state of the art. I don’t know that in fact). Conversely, just because it has a big price doesn’t make it state of the art. Pricing like that of this TT is not state of the art and is self-parodying.

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