RMAF 2015: Win Tinnon’s Saskia II turntable and Dave Slagle’s Frankenstein Quad ESL-57 mods

275 lbs of 'table
275 lbs of ‘table

rmaf-2015-200x200Dave Slagle builds oft-talked about (and lavishly praised by my brother from another mother Malachi Kenney) autoformers, he is a champion of the modest audiophile with his EMIA gear which features the EMIA phono stage, step-up transformer (SUT) and remote attenuators, and does all sorts of uber-cool hi-fi mods.

I got to hear one of Slagle’s remote autoformers in the Audio Note room at RMAF this year and I can tell you, it’s definitely something I’d like time to spend with for an extended review.

Win Tinnon (Win Tinnon Audio, LLC) was showing the much-lauded Saskia II turntable, running through Slagle’s gear. Tinnon has the air of the Southern gentleman of yore about him, he’s a distinguished chap with a sharp tongue and quick wit who doesn’t cotton to BS. We hit it off over an industry dinner.

860x300 PTA NOBLE RMAF-01
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Saskia II Reference turntable with outboard motor-speed control ($53,000 USD)

Slagle’s room had seriously doctored active, bi-amped and direct-coupled Quad ESL-57 speakers that were sporting more glowing EL-34 tubes than I’d ever seen on the back of a speaker, never mind one of my favourite speakers of all time, the ’57.

Behold the glowing tube village
Behold the glowing tube village

This is the speaker that actually got me hooked on audiophile sound many years ago, and one of many hi-fi classics that I fetishize over, mind you I prefer a straight rebuild with updated (and safer than the original spec’d parts) electronics, but these ’57s were something to behold indeed.

Direct-coupled, active Quad ESL-57 speakers courtesy of the mind of Dave Slagle

The room was chock-a-block with all sorts of fetish-type gear strewn about a table behind the Quads, and I got all up in it as best I could.

Fetish bits & bobs on shelves
Fetish bits & bobs on shelves. Look at those crazy cabinets on the ’57s! Also, I have that Julie London 45rpm remaster… and it has the jam.
Lots of goodness here
Lots of goodness here
Slagle SUT
Slagle 1:15 SUT (Step-up Transformer)

The sound had some real meat on it’s bones and generous, tight bass thanks to the incredibly black, silent background that a ‘table as massive as the Saskia II (approx. 275 lbs platter and slate plinth) can, in my experience with properly-implemented idler-drive turntables (think Garrard 301), provide.

I’ll let our own Scot Hull dish from this room review in 2013:

The arm boards are free-standing modules, and just slot into the receptacle on the side of the uppermost plinth. The motor assembly rests, “semi-isolated” on the lower plinth. The  spindle is ceramic and the bearing is a traditional arrangement, but made from “advanced materials”. Designer Win Tinnon smiled as he said it, but I had the feeling he would really have no compunction about ensuring my silence, so I didn’t press him.
The Saskia II is an idler ‘table, with no pulleys, and something like half of the platter is actually sunk into the top plinth. The ‘table will play 33 1/3 and 45 RPM records — and it also plays your 78s! Eddy current management means speed changes are transparent and on-the-fly.

The Schroeder CB tonearm ($5,000 USD) and Ikeda KA-1 MC cartridge ($8,500 USD) on vinyl translation duties were allowed to really emote and get on with connecting the listener to the music. Julie London’s Julie is her Name was spinning (the 2×45 rpm Bernie Grundman remaster by Boxstar put out in 2009), this is an LP I own after carefully unearthing it from the back of a deep stack during an analog dig at a Music Millennium in Portland, Oregon this summer. London’s voice is pure silk on the album with some generous echo on her voice at points and cavernously deep mono soundstage that Deep-Vees right down the middle between the speakers and on out of the room for a good 10 feet behind the speakers’ driver plane in the right set-up, and these Quads, while perhaps not a fully realized concept, were doing a remarkable job on imaging and of course, London’s vocals. This is what the ’57s are coveted for people, that midrange magic.

Schroeder and Ikeda
Schroeder and Ikeda

While I found this to be more of an experimental room, as it was my understanding that there was still some work to be done on certain aspects of the Quads, it was a fun, and engaging sound that was going on inside with nothing but tons of promise from all the components involved. Slagle and Tinnon are definitely up to something good here.

About Rafe Arnott 389 Articles
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream