Rafe Arnott’s review of the Pure Fidelity Eclipse turntable originally appeared in The Occasional Magazine.
The Pure Fidelity Eclipse Turntable
What do you do when you’ve owned a number of turntables over the years but always found one aspect lacking in each design you’ve entertained?
You design and build your own deck and start-up a company to produce and bring them to market.
This is exactly what John Stratton of Vancouver, British Columbia did when he decided he wanted a ‘table that could deliver the sound he loved from high-price turntable designs but at a price grounded more in reality.
The result was two decks: the Encore and the Eclipse turntables, which both retail for roughly $4,500 USD depending on the exact specifications at the time of ordering. The Encore features a traditional-style plinth and the Eclipse turntable shows a modern take on shape.
Both feature 50mm Ultra MDF cores, CNC machining, precision bronze bearings, a 12-volt AC-synchronous motor and an outboard speed-controller with a separate linear power supply.
When Stratton first reached out to me to see if I would be interested in reviewing one of his designs, I couldn’t say no after checking his website; he was only about 15 minutes from my home.
The What and the Wow
He’d finished the unit he brought over in beautiful matt Santos Rosewood (Stratton said that a high-gloss finish could be available as an option) and equipped with a package deal that included the Maestro outboard motor controller and a TA-1000 tonearm. He had kindly outfitted the deck with a Benz Micro Wood SL low-output moving-coil cartridge for me as well.
Getting the ‘table into my system took a matter of minutes, and after making sure I’d leveled the deck, I ran unbalanced cables into an Audio Note S2 step-up transformer and from there into an Audio Note Soro Phono SE Signature integrated amplifier and out to my Audio Note AN-E/Spe HE loudspeakers.
I fed the Pure Fidelity Eclipse turntable a steady diet of vinyl for several days to familiarize myself with its sonic abilities before I got down to take a serious look at what made up the deck and how it sounded.
Taking off the large 36mm thick Delrin platter and examining the bearing shaft, tonearm mount, dual-pulley-driven polished-aluminum sub-platter and fit and finish of the unit I came away with a deep respect for what Stratton and his crew had accomplished. QC was outstanding, and the ‘table would not easily be equaled by other designs I’m familiar with at double the price.
The platter and the sub-platter fit was truly precise and spun so true and flat that I often forgot I’d left it running because you must be only a few inches away to see if it was actually spinning. Something I’ve not seen accomplished on a few turntables pushing $20k at trade shows.
Operation of the TA-1000 tonearm was fluid, well-damped and concise. This isn’t an ‘arm that flops around or feels flimsy: just the opposite. It has a feeling of such high-quality machining and fluidity to its use that I often smiled whenever I queued-up a track and dropped the needle in the groove.
Getting familiar with the sound took a while, but one of the first things I noticed was how rock-steady the pitch was. Stratton’s attention to detail in the motor-control assemblies obviously paid off as did his use of a heavy, damped plinth because I’ve heard the Benz SL on other decks and the bass produced with this combination contributed more bottom-end definition and speed to the lowest notes than I’d ever heard previously from Benz Wood or Glider.
The treble signature was always open, airy and extended and never strayed into dryness or etching. A real feat on some of the LPs I spun which I’d heard go sour up top on other rigs.
The midrange was well-balanced with tonal accuracy and transparency without sacrificing details like massed strings, or multiple guitar and horns.
Piano qualities in playback were smooth, well-rounded with a beautiful rendering of timbre, ditto for cellos and violins which both had excellent weight and body.
Grabbing my copy of the Chromatics’ Night Drive, I was eerily transported by the title track’s ambient recording of a call from a pay phone that segues into a deep, rolling electronic bass line synched with overdubs of Ruth Radelet’s ethereal vocals. Keyboards layered into the soundstage with classic deep-v 3D-rendering of the sparse guitar, drums, and programming which make up the song.
The cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” off the same side had Radelet’s ghostly musings sparking goosebumps up my spine and showed off that sub-basement bass that I’d started to identify as the Pure Fidelity Eclipse letting that TA-1000 and Benz SL do their thing, all the while allowing the subtle synth work of Johny Jewel and the hypnotic guitar riffing of Adam Miller to come through clearly defined and unruffled by what was going on underneath them.
The Classic Records QUIEX SV-P 200-gram LP of Sonny Rollins A Night at the Village Vanguard that I own is one of my favorite live recordings. It’s unassuming in it’s miking of Rollins’ tenor sax, Wilbur Ware’s bass, and Elvin Jones’ stick work. No one outshines the other, there is a delicate balance held between the artists throughout the session. The audience never becomes overly-intrusive like some live-venue recordings I own or have heard where cutlery can often be heard on plates as patrons dine. Not here. The focus is on the musicians.
I’ve heard this LP more times than I can remember, but I’ve never heard it with this authoritative of a bottom end. Once again the Pure Fidelity Eclipse seems to allow the cartridge and tonearm to mine the depths of these grooves in a way that other ‘tables I’ve played it on haven’t been able to. Ware’s finger fretwork has an organic texture with every brush of the strings during “Striver’s Row,” and Jones’ skins have a papery-dry presence to every strike that comes through with clarity and speed on “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise.” Rollins’ sax blows hard and has real meaty punch with brassy hues apparent through every breath on “Old Devil Moon.”
Switching things up I pulled out Talk Talk’s last effort, their 1991 post-rock LP Laughing Stock, which features a large ensemble of session musicians backing up what was left of the group core in Mark Hollis and Lee Harris after Paul Webb’s departure. Eerie atmospherics exploit the recording space and place the listener into an odd environment and the whole LP is heavily punctuated with instruments that bristle melodically all over the soundstage.
This has led lesser cartridge/tonearm/turntable combos into the smearing of the many micro dynamics at play in every track.
Here the Eclipse turntable did not put a foot wrong and carved out a clear space in the presentation for every instrument and Hollis’ aching vocal tracks.
Pure Fidelity Eclipse takes a bow
Not über high-end, and not necessarily budget-conscious, the Pure Fidelity Eclipse turntable walks a line between the promise of big-money sound and what’s practical from a materials and engineering standpoint at the sub-$5K level.
The Eclipse combines the PRAT (pace, rhythm, and timing) of an RP8, the dynamics and resolution of a Clearaudio Ovation and a bottom end I’d more closely associate with something like a Dr. Feickert Analogue Woodpecker deck.
This is a very good thing.
The Pure Fidelity Eclipse turntable is a deck that Stratton wanted to incorporate those facets of turntable design he values highest into what he described as “the ultimate hybrid.”
I’d say he achieved his goals and then some.