The Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird turntable signifies a lot of firsts in my vinyl-loving life. It’s the first turntable I’ve used that accommodates two tonearms, and lo and behold I’ve got two tonearm and cartridge combos mounted on it right now. It’s the first turntable I’ve used that has more than one motor to spin the platter. (It has three, in fact.)
Finally, it might be the heaviest turntable I’ve ever reviewed. I’ve had seat time with many, many high-mass turntable designs but I’ve never set one up in my home, all by myself. It was a humbling moment when it took every bit of my strength to lift the Firebird’s plinth out of the box and place it on my equipment rack. “It’s time to hit the gym,” I told myself as my almost 57-year-old arms quietly muttered, under their breath, “You couldn’t have asked to review a Rega? No, you had to grab this beast.”
If I sound like I’m focusing too much on the weight of the Firebird and not the actual performance, there’s a reason. Most of the turntables I’ve owned over the years were not heavy—I’m not sure if I can think of one that weighed more than thirty pounds or so. Low-mass turntables are often characterized by a fast, energetic sound, while some of the heavyweights are often criticized for being a little too dead, a little too lifeless, with all the important life-giving resonances squashed into oblivion.
As I’ve found out a number of times in the last couple of years, however, that’s not true at all.
It Ain’t Heavy, It’s My Turntable
I don’t know why I haven’t spent more time with high-mass turntables until now. Perhaps it was the price—evenly distributed mass and the machining of exceptional heavy materials can cost a lot of money. (The Firebird starts at $12,995.) Maybe it’s the same reason why I’m a fan of 2-way monitors—I like moving stuff around without needing a two-hour break afterward. But there is one reason why I’ve always wanted a high-mass turntable in my system. It’s the sound.
High-mass turntables, in my opinion, have a very distinct sound that can probably be attributed directly to that mass. For instance, I always find that high-mass analog rigs always have remarkably stable and solid imaging, so much so that the music seems to breathe on its own, separated completely from the machinery producing the sound. Everything is RIGHT THERE. You can reach out and touch it.
Secondly, high-mass turntables are superb at taming unwanted vibrations and resonances. I’m always mentioning the importance of lowering the noise floors to allow more music to reach the listener. It’s one of the two things a turntable must do—isolate the stylus tip acoustically from the motor and spin the record at a precise speed. I’ve had plenty of experience with turntables with active suspensions, and I’ve placed my analog rigs on any number of isolation platforms over the years. This high-mass thing seems to produce the most reliable results—for me, anyway.
The Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird turntable weighs 69 pounds complete. I thought it was more like 200 pounds, but that’s just pride messin’ with my brain. Nevertheless, the Firebird possessed many of those attributes I affix to high-mass designs—stable images, an enormous soundstage and a low noise floor. But there’s more to this turntable than meets the eye.
King of the Mountain
The Firebird currently sits at the top of Dr. Feickert Analogue turntable line. That’s funny, because I had my heart set on reviewing the model at the other end of the line, the affordable and compact and gorgeous new Volare. I saw this in the Tenacious Sound room at the Capital Audiofest last year and thought, “Wow, this is definitely in my wheelhouse.” My plan was to review the Volare, and if I loved it the folks at MoFi Distribution and Dr. Feickert Analogue might just allow me to work my way up the line. No, I’m starting at the top, and I’m glad I did—life with the Firebird has altered some concepts I have always had about turntable design that I will apply in the future.
For example, I always assumed that big, expensive turntables were usually difficult to set up correctly—especially since every adjustment tends to critically alter the sound. You need to get everything just right, and with a heavy machine that might require industrial-sized drums of elbow grease. In addition, I’ve owned a couple of expensive turntables in the past, and they’re usually not what you’d call plug-and-play. Once or twice I opened the box, and if it wasn’t for the platter I would have had no idea I was looking at a turntable.
The Firebird, however, is exceptionally easy to set up. This is, after all, the same company that designed the awesome Feickert alignment protractor, which is a wonderfully elegant tool to have when you’re into vinyl. For the most part you pick up the turntable—as I said, the hardest part—place it on the shelf and do all the things you normally would such as level it and oil the bearing and set the platter (which is heavy on its own) and install the belt.
The hard part is mounting the arms and cartridges, but the armboards and trough-like holes on the Firebird are designed so that just about any arm length will work. The calibrated scale not only aids with placement of the arm, but you can also write down the number if you have more than two arms. I was lucky—both arms and cartridges and arms were already mounted for me, so I just had to double-check everything after transporting the Firebird to my house. (As it turned out, I did have to move the arms around just a tad.)
Arms and Cartridges
As I just mentioned, the Firebird was given to me with some serious hardware already installed—a 12” Jelco 850 arm with a Miyajima Madake cartridge on the back, and a 12” Origin Live Illustrious arm with a Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum on the side. That back position can accommodate an arm that’s between 9” and 12”, and the side arm can handle an arm that’s between 9” and 14”. (I didn’t have a 14” arm available, nor have I ever, so I’ll take Dr. Feickert’s word for it.) I did about 75% of my listening with the Origin Live/Koetsu combo only because I’ve owned two Koetsus in the past, a Black and a Rosewood, and I really miss that trademark romantic sound.
Upstream, I used a Miyajima ETR-KSW step-up transformer and the PureAudio Vinyl phono preamplifier. Various amps and speakers were used during the review period, mostly the equipment reviewed in the Summer Issue of The Occasional.
The Dr. Feickert Firebird has a high-mass plinth and three motors, as I’ve repeatedly mentioned. There’s more to it than that, of course. This new design was based on the knowledge gained from designing two smaller turntables in the line, the Woodpecker and the Blackbird, but the actual blueprint had to be completely re-worked to accommodate the three motors. These motors had to be arranged in a precise equilateral triangle to reduce torque. This, in turn, greatly reduces wobble and rumble. Stability is also enhanced through the brass cylinders embedded in the poly-oxy-methylene (POM) platter.
The bearing was also re-designed to reduce friction through materials that are harder and stiffer than before, resulting in a 80% reduction in surface contact. The plinth consists of two aluminum plates that sandwich a core of MDF and was carefully designed to reduce vibrations generated by the three motors.
This is why I’ve spent so much time talking about high-mass turntable designs in this review—the Firebird, with both arm/cartridge set-ups, imparted a solid feel to the music that was astonishing. This mattered the most when it came to imaging, when each piece of the musical puzzle was so carefully anchored to a specific location that it was eerily clear and tangible. Coupled with an unusually low noise floor, which the entire analog chain undoubtedly created as a whole, there was an extraordinary poise to the music. This provided a stunning contrast to previous perceptions with many of my favorite reference LPs, as if the Firebird was calmly telling me that this was the correct sound, and everything I’ve heard up to this point was wrong.
With my prized Three Blind Mice LP pressings such as the Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio’s Misty and Midnight Sugar, the Firebird did a fantastic job of placing the instruments in a space that seems somewhat realistic and logical—lesser analog rigs sometimes create an image that doesn’t quite seem balanced. (The position of each performer during the recording was unorthodox, but it shouldn’t sound nonsensical.)
On the recent LPs I’ve reviewed for French label Newvelle Records, the Firebird made the emotional content clearer by digging deeper into the recording and drawing a detailed image of each performer and the physical interaction with each musical instrument. On Andy Zimmerman’s Half Light, for example, the tenor sax revealed layer after layer of somber reflection, and each note told me more about the composer’s mood and intent. I often found music to be more moving with the Firebird, because I was able to make those emotional connections with less effort.
I had one serious reservation with the Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird turntable: my time with it was too short. Just as I felt I was getting spoiled by one of the finest analog rigs I’ve ever hosted in my home, I had to pack it up and take it to AXPONA so that Jonathan Derda of MoFi could use it in one of his rooms. I’m not saying I didn’t have enough time to write a proper review. I just wanted to keep playing records on it. I wanted to hear the Dr. Feickert Firebird extract just a little more oomph out of my favorite recordings, to provide a more revealing perspective than I’ve had before.
It’s like tasting something so incredible that you keep telling the chef that you need one more bite to make sure, and you keep on going until it’s all gone. The Dr. Feickert Firebird taught me a lesson: I prefer the sound of a high-mass turntable, despite what my lower back tells me. The focus and the clarity of such a beautiful machine is addictive, and I can’t wait for the next bite.