If you’ve been following the Vinyl Anachronist columns on Perfect Sound Forever over the last 22 years, you’ll know that I owe a debt of gratitude to Gene Rubin of Gene Rubin Audio. He’s the one who steered me away from the mid-fi gear I’d been using since I was a teen and started me on my true audio journey. Gene was especially helpful when it came to turntables—he sold me my first Rega, a Planar 3, back in 1991. In 1998, Gene helped me into a nice Planar 25. Then one day he told me that he had discovered a turntable brand that had become his new favorite, J. A. Michell. Before you know it, I had myself an Orbe SE with an SME V arm and a Koetsu Rosewood cartridge and used it for nearly a decade. I still believe that was one of the best analog rigs I’ve heard, and it was all mine.
When Gene says he’s found something new that becomes a personal favorite of his, I tend to pay attention. Lately, that’s been Palmer. I’d known about Palmer turntables from the UK for many years before Gene decided to carry them—I even had a couple of email exchanges with the very friendly and kind Jon Palmer when his products first reached our shores. I really loved the looks of the Palmer and I hoped to audition it one day. Many years passed before I did.
About a year ago, Gene sent me a PM out of the blue. He asked if I wanted to review the Palmer 2.5i turntable. I didn’t even have to think twice about saying yes. Gene set it up with Walter Swanbon of Fidelis AV—Walter is someone I’ve also known for years since he was one of my dealers back when I was an importer-distributor. Fidelis is the US distributor for Palmer, not to mention many of my favorite brands such as Harbeth, LFD, Stenheim and others.
If you look at past reviews of the Palmer turntable, you’ll notice that they’re usually done with the Audio Origami tonearm from Scotland. This is considered a synergistic combination and it’s rare to see a Palmer these days without the PU7 mounted to the substantial armboard. While I spent a little time with my The Wand Master Series tonearm on the Palmer, I waited for the next shipment of Audio Origamis to arrive at Fidelis before I formally started the review.
A Little History
As I’ve mentioned, the Palmer turntables have been on my radar for many years. When I first saw photos of the Palmer, I was intrigued. The massive platter and the gorgeous wooden plinth (made, of course, in Italy) are visually striking, so I took one look and said to myself, “Ooh, I’d really like to check that out.” I even spoke with Jon Palmer via email a few times, but this was before he had Fidelis’ help.
Over the years, the Palmer turntable evolved and improved. Then, it got awfully quiet in the UK. Jon Palmer had run into difficulties producing turntables due to personal issues, and Walter came to the rescue. Fidelis was already the distributor for Acoustic Signature from Germany, and a deal was soon negotiated. Palmer sent one of his turntables and a set of plans, and now Acoustic Signature builds the Palmer turntable. That’s why the Palmer 2.5 is now the Palmer 2.5i—according to Fidelis’ Dwight DiMartino, Acoustic Signature improved the design by upgrading the motor, main bearing and power supply. It’s also readily available in the US.
Palmer 2.5i Turntable
The Palmer 2.5i ($10,990) is another high-mass belt drive design. It’s quite heavy—I had difficulty with picking up the fully assembled turntable but found it much more manageable when I installed the very heavy 21 lb. platter after the base had been positioned on my rack. That platter is certainly impressive, but it’s that beautiful thick wooden plinth that will probably catch your eye first. The Palmer 2.5i comes standard with a cherry finish, and it’s beautiful to stare at it when you’re up close to cue LP.
Another unique feature of the Palmer 2.5i is its pedestal, which elevates the platter a few inches above the base. While this sleeve may appear precarious with a 21 lb. platter spinning on top of it, the entire turntable is unusually solid and smooth in its operation. I’m reminded of Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers when they were asked about the difference between a Mustang GT and a BMW M3. “The Mustang is a really nice car,” they explained, “but the M3 is a machine.” The Palmer 2.5i is a glorious and beautiful machine in every sense of the word.
Audio Origami PU-7 Tonearm
The Audio Origami PU7 tonearm ($3995) is a highly refined version of the legendary Syrinx PU3. Designer John Nilsen basically took the Syrinx with “all the mods” and the PU7 evolved from that point. The Audio Origami arm is available with a number of options. It can be custom ordered in any length, with either a black or a silver anodized finish. You can order the PU7 to fit either Rega or Linn armboards. Internal wiring is furnished by van den Hul, but you can select any external wiring you wish—one UK dealer I discovered offers anything from Cardas to Kondo. My PU7 came with Zavfino Spirit 1877 phono cables supplied by Fidelis.
In this respect the Audio Origami PU7 is a truly bespoke product, as John Nilsen builds each one by hand.
For such a massive turntable and tonearm rig, the Palmer 2.5i and the Audio Origami were very easy to set-up, which was certainly one of the original design objectives of Jon Palmer. He wanted to make a world-class rig that was as close to plug and play as possible. That’s good since neither the Palmer nor the Audio Origami came with instructions per se. The Palmer 2.5i doesn’t come totally assembled, but all the pieces are so large that anyone who has set-up a turntable before can figure it out quickly. The box the Palmer comes in also features a handy diagram on the lid that explains how to properly re-pack the turntable, which is a nice touch. (Roy Gandy, take note.)
The Audio Origami PU7 was also easy to mount—it’s mostly assembled as well, and it also lacks instructions. Fortunately, you can watch videos on YouTube that will walk you through the process even though it’s done on a Linn and not the Palmer. John Nilsen’s Scottish brogue is a bit daunting, but I was able to get everything installed easily after viewing the video.
I ran into one small problem while mounting the Audio Origami on the Palmer 2.5i turntable. The screws on the Palmer’s armboard were not quite long enough to catch the tonearm base, so I had to make a quick trip to Lowe’s for longer fasteners. Not a big deal, but someone should probably address that issue if they’re going to sell these as a package.
One more caveat for the Audio Origami—the headshell is a bit wide, especially along the inside edge. Normally that’s not a problem for me, but I’ve just started using record weights (not my usual clamps) such as the gorgeous Brass Record Weight from Fern & Roby. The headshell, unfortunately, collides with it when the record ends. You’ll have to jump up and lift the needle as soon as the last song ends. Metal bumping against metal is never a good thing in the long run. Fortunately, the Palmer comes with its own record weight, and that’s what you should use.
One more thing about that headshell. It does seem large. I mounted three cartridges for this review—the Fabulous Affordable Threesome of the ZYX Bloom 3, the Sumiko Starling and the Hana ML. The first two cartridges were a cinch to install, but for some reason the Hana was set back very far on the headshell, so much so that proper alignment was only achieved by pushing the cart almost all the way to the back of the mounting slots. I’ve never had to do that before, and it looked funny—so funny that I was reluctant to post photos of the combo for fear of someone pointing it out and saying I must have made a mistake.
I kept thinking there was some adjustment I hadn’t yet discovered on either the Audio Origami or the Palmer, some little screw that allowed the entire arm assembly to slide backward just a bit. But I checked the alignment and all other parameters repeatedly, and it was correct. In fact, I knew it was correct because this analog rig sounded exceptional with the Hana ML. That’s what I used for the majority of the review period.
Gene Rubin offered the solution: “You can loosen the armboard screw and move the armboard to the right a bit until the center of arm pivot is 10.25” from the spindle.” This requires a phono cable with a 90 degree DIN connection, and I had a straight connector. Keep this in mind when you’re choosing a phono cable for your Palmer.
Palmer 2.5i Use
First of all, the Palmer 2.5i turntable is one of those designs where the motor isn’t quite strong enough to get to speed on its own. You have to give it a push. I’ve heard about this type of low-torque motor in the past, originally with the Nottingham turntables, and the idea is to use a motor that is just powerful enough to maintain speed and not so powerful that it will create unnecessary vibrations through the plinth.
This was the first time I’ve reviewed a ‘table like this, and I have to admit that I started to enjoy it after a while. It just adds to the interactive enjoyment of spinning records. I found myself needing to adapt my usual vinyl rituals to this feature. For instance, you can’t simply flip records as easily as before, something that Rega and Linn users understand and expect. (This is also due to my new habit of using heavy record clamps, and the fact that the cork platter mat that comes with the Palmer seems to attract plenty of static and tends to come off with the record.) One extra step is necessary—you need to turn the speed control off on the outboard unit. But if you’re concerned with saving a few seconds here and there while spinning records, you’re in the wrong hobby.
In addition, that platter is, once again, very heavy. If you let it come to a stop on its own, it spins for a very long time before it comes to a complete stop. That, of course, says a lot about the excellence of the Palmer’s main bearing. You can certainly stop the platter manually, but if you’re flying along at 45rpm and you switch off the motor, you’ll experience a surprising amount of inertia if you grab the platter right away before it has slowed down.
Once I adapted to the Palmer 2.5i and Audio Origami’s idiosyncrasies—or mine, depending on how you look at it—I became spoiled by both the ease of operation and the sound quality. Everything about this turntable and tonearm is very easy to live with, and the high fit and finish and precise build is incredibly impressive and remains so over time.
From the first LP I played, everything sounded effortless and musical. If you’ve read my review of the Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird turntable, you’ll know how infatuated I’ve become with the sure-footed and solid sound that comes from a high-mass turntable. The Palmer and Audio Origami certainly achieved that type of sound, but I was even impressed with the visual cues and noted how they contributed to the whole experience. The platter, for instance, spins so true that it’s impossible to see movement while a record is played. I also found the entire rig to be incredibly free of noise. The first word I came up with to describe the Palmer/Audio Origami is poise. It’s simply an unflappable machine.
When noise is reduced to such an imperceptible level, that means only one thing—lots of detail. The overall sound of this combination was smooth and relaxed, and yet I felt a profound sense of discovery while playing even the most familiar LPs. (That’s a fancy way of saying the old audiophile cliché of “it sounded like I was hearing my favorite records for the first time!”)
While I trotted out all my usual reference LPs from Opus3, Three Blind Mice and Analogue Productions, I was especially impressed with a trio of electronica LPs I’ve recently reviewed: Rasmus Kjaer’s Turist, Orqid’s Tenderness and Lucid Child’s My Universe. I used to avoid electronica and its many subgenres on vinyl—these pristine landscapes and their copious amounts of silence are best delivered without surface noise, or so I thought. All three of these pressings are incredibly quiet however, and I was amazed at the scope of this artifice and how the size and shape of individual elements could be manipulated by the performers to increase the drama.
With Turist, however, these synthesized sounds are mixed with real, live instrumentation, especially percussion, and the Palmer 2.5i and Audio Origami PU7 did an exceptional job of drawing the distinctions between these two worlds when needed. Or, these elements could be seamlessly blended for effect. Every sound was presented as a tiny and independent whole, and I could isolate these sounds or explore how they interacted with everything else in the mix.
Not only was I enchanted with the deep layers of details uncovered by this rig, but I also felt that the Palmer and the Audio Origami reached further into the low frequencies than most turntable/arm combinations—especially when mated with the impressively dynamic Von Schweikert Audio ESE loudspeakers I’ve been using for the last few months. Let’s face it—I almost stopped listening to digital altogether during my time with this rig. I’d walk through my listening room and take one look at the Palmer 2.5i and the Audio Origami PU7 and I’d instantly think, “What can I play today that will knock my socks off?”
Conclusion: Palmer 2.5i Turntable and Audio Origami PU7 Tonearm
After all these years I had high expectations for the Palmer 2.5i turntable and the Audio Origami PU7 tonearm, and I was a little bit worried that I’d be mildly disappointed in one way or another. After all, I’ve had some spectacular analog rigs in my house over the last couple of years. But this combination, once in place, also conjured a profound feeling of “set it and forget it,” that if I was a normal audiophile and I was considering this purchase, it could easily be the end of my forty-year journey through this madness.
I still have to answer to audiophiles who make think it’s nuts to spend $15K on a mere turntable and arm combo—cartridge not included—but I’ve heard far too many super-tables that cost a lot more and I’m not sure, especially with the absence of A/B comparisons, what they offer that the Palmer and the Audio Origami cannot. For my particular tastes, this analog rig does exactly what I need it to do—deliver all of the information in the groove while maintaining an easy flow that caters to my desire of having beautiful music in my home nearly every waking hour of the day.
And yes, after all these years Gene Rubin is still right.