Wow! What is it about Italian audio gear? I have been recently blessed with a veritable feast for both the eyes and the ears …. Right at the tail-end of my time with the lovely Sonus Faber Sonetto II speakers, this lovely morsel shows up: the Gold Note Mediterraneo turntable (website) fitted out with the company’s B7 ceramic tonearm. Just like Sonus Faber speakers, this ‘table reeks of classic European style and panache; it’s a visual work of art and thing of beauty. Don’t be fooled though. There’s plenty of innovation and technology here to impress that kindof perfectionist as well. Sure, vinyl playback is old school stuff, but pushing the technological envelope helps us to dig deeper into those grooves and draw out more of the musical magic encoded there.
Why so special?
In short, attention to detail rules the day. The Gold Note Mediterraneo is a design tour-de-force that also sees to dotting the “I’”s and crossing the “T”s. Looking through the list of intentional design choices nearly boggles the mind. On the surface, the Mediterraneo looks like a typical high-end turntable, maybe with the exception of the beautifully sculpted lower walnut plinth (we’ll return to that a bit later…).
Stepping back a bit, we see that the Mediterraneo offers many of the same features that other high-end ‘tables do: a precise, high torque motor; a heavy platter; a well-tuned, low friction bearing; choice of (electronically adjustable) 33 and 45 rpm speeds; and an external power supply.
Go a bit beneath the surface, however, and you’ll find that there’s more – much, much more.
As the Gold Note folks like to say, their design intent was to go smart, not overboard. We all know of high-end (and very expensive) gear that achieves its goals by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the design and implementation. That is a fine approach, but it’s neither efficient nor cost effective.
Take, for instance, the Mediterraneo’s power supply. Rather than opting for a heavy, expensive linear supply, the Gold Note designers chose a well-regulated switching supply. Horror of horrors, right? Well, not really. Switching supplies have come a long way lately, and when properly implemented, they work quite nicely. According to Gold Note, a smaller switching supply is more than sufficient to power the nearly frictionless and efficient motor that they have developed. Furthermore, the power supply is external to the ‘table, so noise is a non-issue. Even though the supply seems physically small, Gold Note indicates that it puts out six times the power output needed to effectively run the motor. I can tell you that based on my own experience, this setup works exceedingly well.
When I carefully extracted the Mediterraneo turntable from its box, the first thing I noticed was it beautifully sculpted wooden base. Resting on three cones, the sub-plinth alone almost looks like something that should be displayed in a modern art gallery.
While beautiful, there’s more to the chunk of cured Italian walnut than meets the eye. It was chosen for its dense rigidity, which stems from the wood itself, as well as the uniquely curved design. Those wave-like curves, you see, add to the structural rigidity of the ‘table much like a well-designed arch creates strength in a building. This design actually adds effective mass to the plinth while saving on actual mass and material. Smart design, right?
The platter and bearing
Turntables amaze me because they rely on the integrated interactions occurring among so many moving and non-moving parts. The plinth for instance is stationary, yet it greatly affects the overall performance and sound of the ‘table. If the plinth is important, then the moving parts must be vital!
Alongside the motor, the platter and main bearing take on the task of spinning the record at the correct velocity. In addition to requiring that precision of speed, they must also be as frictionless as possible so that minimal vibration is introduced into the equation. Often, the platter is large, heavy, and composed of a deadenedmaterial. All of these things are true of the Gold Note Mediterraneo’s platter, which is crafted of Sustarin, a dense composite material that seems a lot like Delrin. Further, Gold Note claims that their precision bearing is designed to minimize vibration and oscillation, using a unique clamping system coupled with a brass spindle in a bronze encasement that rides on a tungsten ball bearing.
This ‘table uses the upgraded Gold Note B7 ceramic tonearm. The upgraded arm appears to be solidly constructed and of straightforward design, boasting precision ball bearings at all pivot points. The wand is titanium, though the arm itself is fairly heavy at 380 g, with an effective dynamic mass of 10 g. VTA is adjustable via a small hex bolt on the tonearm collar, but cannot be adjusted on-the-fly. Azimuth is also adjustable using two hex bolts mounted just foreof the fixed headshell.
Unboxing and setup
As the tonearm came mounted on the ‘table upon arrival, setup was amazingly easy. All one has to do is to install and tighten down the platter to the spindle/bearing assembly, mount and align a cartridge of choice, set tracking and anti-skating forces, and snap, you’re done!
For this review, editor Scot Hull supplied me with a high output moving iron Soundsmith Aida cartridge ($1999). Given the somewhat large (but not excessive) effective dynamic mass of the B7 tonearm, we felt that the medium compliance Aida would prove a sufficient match. Indeed, I found the Soundsmith cartridge to be a sonically agreeable companion to the Gold Note ‘table/arm combination.
My system for evaluation was simple: the cartridge output was delivered to my Edwards Audio MC3 phono stage (which also does MM), which in turn fed a Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL2.0 preamp. Speakers were my reference ATC SCM 100 SL passive monitors powered by a Pass Labs X250.8 stereo amplifier.
When I turned the motor on for the first time, I noted that it came to speed instantaneously and ran quietly with minimal apparent vibration. Lightly touching the upper plinth with my fingers in the vicinity of the motor housing led me to believe that no measurable vibrations were transmitted to the plinth, bearing or platter. The Gold Note Mediterraneo is one quiet ‘table indeed.
The sound of the Gold Note Mediterraneo
After letting the Gold Note ‘table, arm, and Soundsmith cartridge run in together for about a month, I began making some critical evaluations.
To get a better reading on my assessment, allow me to introduce the two turntables that I live with: (1) my fun ‘table, which is a highly modified Steve Frosten vintage AR XA that has a Grace 704 tonearm with a Nagaoka MP 110 high output mm cartridge, and (2) my reference ‘table, a vintage Technics SP 25 direct drive highly modified and housed in a custom plinth, courtesy of the late Jim Howard of Applied Fidelity. The arm in this case is a rebuilt Litz-wired Audio Technica AT 1009 sporting a low output Shelter 901 cartridge.
I enjoy both of these ‘tables, but they definitely sound different from one another. The AR is exceptionally musical and fun, but not all that accurate. By contrast, the Technics gives what I like to call “master tape” reproduction. It’s exceptionally neutral, both in terms of tone and pace, and quite honest, at least in my own opinion. It’s also a considerably more costly rig, tweaked for maximum neutrality and stability.
When the Gold Note Mediterraneo stepped up to the plate, I was quick to note that it put me in immediate mind of my Technics deck. Yes, the SP 25 is a direct drive ‘table, whereas the Mediterraneo is belt-driven, but I could tell immediately that the Gold Note ‘table was doing an exceptional job of extracting those tiny details out of the record grooves. And it was doing so with little to no editorializing.
Mediterraneo Honesty and integrity
Not only was the Gold Note Mediterraneo tonally honest, it also told the truth from a pace and timing standpoint. Again, such a thing is the supposed realm of the direct drive ‘table, but the Italian combo never missed a beat. My music pulsed in a relentless torrent of well-timed goodness. With a good pressing, this was indeed “master tape” type stuff.
Don’t get too excited yet, though… Sometimes we don’t really want to hear the entire truth. For example, my AR ‘table makes most recordings sound good. So-so pressings are elevated in enjoyment, and blah recordings seem to take on added life. Noisy surfaces recede behind the music. That’s why I call the AR deck my fun ‘table. I can fire it up and listen to it in pretty much any mood and still leave happy.
The Mediterraneo more or less tells it like it is. When listening through this deck, poor, noisy pressings are exposed for what they really are. Thin recordings sound, well, thin. However, good pressings of excellent recordings dig deep and let me revel in their full glory. Put on one of the impeccably made Blue Note reissues, or any of the better pressed Lyrita discs, and you’ll immediately appreciate the honesty of the Gold Note Mediterraneo.
What I mean…
Meandering through my collection of thousand-or-so LPs, I picked out a few favorites to better evaluate the Gold Note Mediterraneo.
Up first was Handel’s Chandos Anthems (LP, Argo oval label, ZRG 5490) performed under the baton of one of my favorite British choral conductors: David Willcocks. This record was part of a personal collection gifted to me by a very talented organist and choral director of national reputation. Funny how we remember where our most special records came from, isn’t it?
Besides the natural, lovely tonality of this recording, I was awed by the spatial reproduction of this performance, as recorded in the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge. Vocal soloists were easily discerned as being located out in front of the chamber orchestra and supporting choir, surrounded by airy volume. The delicate notes from the harpsichord were easily distinguished deep in the sonic tapestry of the recording. There’s a great deal of complex detail present in this spacious recording, and the Mediterraneo did an exquisite job of exposing it.
Keeping with English composers, I next grabbed my Decca pressing on the Lyrita label of Gerald Finzi’s Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra (LP, Lyrita, SRCS 92). Finzi was an unabashedly romantic, but lesser-known, 20th-century composer. This music is openly lovely and mellow in an idyllic version of the English pastoral style, but engaging enough not to put the listener to sleep. The recording, which is typical of the Lyrita catalog from the sunset of the analog LP era, is stunning in its immediacy, detail, and clarity. It’s the type of record that really highlights the strengths of the Gold Note design.
Using the Mediterraneo ‘table, I was treated to the deep, sonorous string tone that was one of the highlights of the Lyrita catalog. Trust me folks, strings are done right here, and the Gold Note Mediterraneo/C7 setup gets it. Also, while the clarinet is mildly highlighted, extending ever so slightly forward in the soundstage, it never overpowers the strings that back it.
If you’re in a truly hedonistic mood, do check out the “Eclogue for Piano and Strings” on side two of this album. To me, the Eclogue is near the pinnacle of 20th-century string composition, as it’s just achingly beautiful. When played back through the Gold Note deck, I tend to get the sniffles by the end. The lush string tone and subtle shift in dynamics coaxed out by the Mediterraneo really pull at the heartstrings here.
Jazzin’ it up, Gold Note style
It’s no secret that I love my jazz, especially on LP. Choosing a favorite recording to evaluate the Gold Note Mediterraneo wasn’t easy, but I decided to go with a really good one: The Modern Jazz Quartet’s Blues at Carnegie Hall (LP, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Original Master Recording). Focusing on the first cut, Pyramid, I found the Mediterraneo to do a notable job of hashing out the harmonic complexities of Milt Jackson’s expertly articulated work on the vibes. I’ve heard this very recording on some very high-end vinyl rigs, and this presentation competes with those heavy hitters. Instrument separation and sense of surrounding air are both top-notch, as is the overall rendering of acoustic space. There is a nice sense of both depth and dimension to the applause that gives a real sense of the warm, intimate embrace of Carnegie Hall.
I couldn’t stop there. I just had to go with one more favorite. This time it was a good old monophonic recording of the Charlie Byrd Trio: Charlie’s Choice (LP, Offbeat Records, OJ 3007). I totally dig this recording, as it aptly captures the live dynamics of the trio in a relatively small venue called the Showboat. This club was in Washington D.C. and was a regular haunt of local talent at the time.
Charlie’s Choice is one of the most realistic sounding records I have. My favorite cuts are no doubt the Trio’s renditions of House of the Rising Sun and Taboo. These cuts include some of the most awesome drum solos I’ve ever heard, with Buddy Deppenchmidt going to town like few others could hope to do. The recorded dynamic shifts of the drum kit are awesome, and thanks to the Mediterraneo ‘table I can picture myself almost right there, sitting just a few feet away from the pyrotechnics. I can hear precisely how the drum heads are tuned, and the kick drum sounds like a cannon when Buddy really lays into it.
Final Thoughts on the Gold Note Mediterraneo
There’s no doubt that the Gold Note Mediterraneo turntable/B7 tonearm combo make an impressive analog playback rig. The listener is offered solid, smart engineering and design, coupled with precision manufacturing to give a highly musical and satisfying package. Perhaps the Mediterraneo setup isn’t especially forgiving, but it’s eminently revealing and truthful in its presentation. In short, it’s unfettered in its musicality, and that’s what a perfectionist audio component should strive to achieve, right? My only criticism is that the tonearm lacks a few niceties that might otherwise be available at this price point. On-the-fly VTA adjustment comes to mind for those perfectionists who may demand it.
Most tellingly, I found a few things to be true about my listening habits while the Mediterraneo was in-house here. First, I found it hard to work at my computer while the records were spinning. I’d rather just sit and listen in the sweet spot. Secondly, I felt the desire to dig deep into my record collection and ended up re-discovering gold nuggets of vinyl that I hadn’t pulled out in years. Thanks to the great people at Gold Note, I’ve been taking my own enjoyment of analog audio to new heights.
- Turntable: $6375 USD
- Turntable with stock 5.1 tonearm: $7450 USD
- Turntable with B7 tonearm: $8550 USD
- B7 ceramic tonearm alone: $2180 USD