LSA T-3 Turntable | REVIEW











 

Maybe you’ve started to notice a certain theme in many of my reviews, so it won’t surprise you to hear that the LSA T-3 turntable (website) and I also go way back.

We’re talking close to a decade ago, when I first started out as an importer and distributor and I was on the other side for the first time—not as an audiophile attendee or a member of the press, but as someone trying to sell a product. I’d always see the Margules family—as in Margules Audio Group, a manufacturer of tube amplifiers based in Mexico City—at CES in Vegas every January. Colleen had known them personally for years and, oh, they’re such a nice family, you need to meet them, the father has been working on a turntable and they’d like you to take a look at the design.

I met Julian Margules, patriarch and chief designer for Margules Audio Group, and he started showing me computer renderings of a turntable he wanted to make. The designs were visually stunning, with thin curvy plinths flowing and undulating in seemingly impossible ways. I was told that these were the result of a student competition at a nearby design school—the school his daughter attended. Years later, Deborah Margules is in charge of the visual and industrial design at Margules Audio Group, including most of the Magenta line. She and her brother Jacob, who is the Operations Manager, represent the fourth generation of this 93-year-old family business.

He told me that first time that he wanted to build a better Rega Planar 3, but he wouldn’t proceed with the project unless he knew he could do it for under $1000 complete. And by complete, Julian Margules wanted to include an arm, a cartridge and a built-in phono preamp. He wanted to beat Rega at their own game. That was incredibly ambitious for a small high-end audio company to make, and deep down I knew it would wind up being something a little more sophisticated.

Still, I couldn’t wait to hear the Margules Audio Group turntable in its finished form. I tried to keep up to date on the progress over the years.

Where does the LSA T3 Turntable Come In?

Each CES I would visit the Margules family in their exhibit room, and each time I inquired about the turntable, which at the time was called the Tornamesa TT-10. Margules Audio had narrowed down the unique, sweeping plinth designs to just one, a perfectly balanced curved canopy. Over the years I saw the designs mature, the renderings grew more detailed.

Then, one year, Margules had a static prototype at a show. Then, they had one that actually worked, but for some reason they couldn’t play it in the room yet and I was supposed to make an appointment to come back later in the show. If you’ve been to CES as many times as I have, you know how tough it is to make it back to any room. I didn’t get a chance to hear the Tornamesa, which had now evolved into something called the Magenta TT-10.

At last year’s Florida Audio Expo—sadly, the last high-end audio show that any of us have attended before everything shut down—I noticed that the Margules Audio Group had an actual exhibit room. Nearly every piece of the system was either Margules/Magenta or the LSA Group with Core Power Technologies The Magenta TT-10 was there and, with a Soundsmith Mezzo cartridge, delivered a wonderful sound that I called warm and spacious and incredibly musical. I spoke with Julian Margules at length, and just a couple of months later I was contacted by Walter from Underwood Hi-Fi and the LSA Group and asked if I’d like to review the LSA T-3 turntable.

Hmm, I thought. The LSA T-3 looks just like the Magenta TT-10! I did a little research and found that that the T-3 was, indeed, the Margules TT-10, rebadged.

Connecting the Dots

If you read my review of the LSA Group’s Core Power Technologies cable products, you’ll know that Walter Liederman, aka Underwood Wally, has been expanding his business into something much bigger and diversified. Underwood Hi-Fi, Liederman’s longtime high-end audio store, has made some big moves over the last few years, buying loudspeaker manufacturer Living Sounds Audio, creating a buzz with the power conditioners from their Core Power Technology lines, and now partnering with my friends at Margules with the LSA T-3 turntable.

I spoke with both Liederman, and later the Margules team at the factory in Mexico City—Julian Margules, Carlos Smith (remote from inside the US) and Jacob Margules. Both sides are excited to be partners, because they’ve worked as a team to bring the Magenta TT-10 and the LSA T-3 to new levels of performance. Liederman discovered the Magenta and knew it was a solid value at $3500, but he wanted to make it an excellent value by providing plenty of extras. As Carlos Smith explains:

“Margules already had improvements in the pipeline and decided to include them in the LSA T-3 to optimize the product launch for Underwood HiFi. Examples: improved metallurgy fit and finish, balanced platter, improved spindle assembly and bushing to reduce wow and flutter, improved tonearm lift for smoother action, greatly improved packaging design and materials for product safety during transportation. For historical accuracy, Underwood HiFi ordered one standard production Magenta TT-10 to audition it and then placed a much larger order based on that unit, before the above-mentioned improvements had been made. There were also customizations, such as logos and a new dust cover design, to further enhance the product for Underwood. As stated during our interview, we greatly value the collaborative nature of Walter´s business model, allowing us to become much better known as Margules, while sharing in the success and responsibility towards Underwood´s clients.”

If you know anything about Wally, it’s about getting both incredible performance and great value. So LSA adds a number of extras and packages that push the T-3 into another category without jacking up the price.

More on that later. Let’s talk about the LSA T-3.

Choosing the LSA T-3 That’s Right for You

At last, the Magenta TT-10/LSA T-3 was in my house. It’s gorgeous in person, that brushed aluminum look on the canopy-plinth even though it’s made from a polymer that improves the sound while resisting scratches. I dug those bold curves, the stunning contrast of the cork platter, almost identical to the cork platter that sat on the Gem Dandy Polytable Signature that sat next to it for most of the review period. I took a lot of photos of the duo because they just looked so cool in my listening room together.

The LSA T-3 turntable arrived with a lot of extra goodies. Walter provides you with thoughtful extras such as an easy-to-use protractor, a digital stylus force gauge (instead of one of those little plastic seesaws), a spare belt, a custom LSA dust cover that normally runs for $250, and the Magenta Turntable Resonance Control—a beautiful and effective stainless steel clamp/weight that normally sells for $500 alone. Margules is quite proud of the TRC because it’s far more than just a clamp or a weight–it addresses movement-induced resonance in addition to stabilizing the disc. I’ve been paying more attention to the improvements these spindle-toppers bring to the sound, usually when it comes to tracking and tightness in the low frequencies. The TRC excelled at its job, adding weight and subtracting inner groove distortion. Again, it’s included.

After that, you can start looking at the Underwood Hi-Fi packages for the LSA T-3 that include arms and cartridge. My LSA T-3 came outfitted with the Margules unipivot arm, included in the price, that is simple and solid in its execution. You can substitute other arms, but Carlos Smith feels that you’d have to spend a lot of money to better this one. As far as pickups go, Wally offers package deals on a number of cartridges such as Pro-Ject and EAT, but he really loves the LSA T-3 with the Sumiko Starling that I reviewed last year. That would be the one I’d probably pick for my T-3, too.

All LSA T-3 turntables come, of course, with the solid and thoughtful attention to engineering details I’ve expected from the Margules Audio Group. (I’ve had many conversations with Julian Margules, and this is a man who loves to consider the philosophical and physical reasons why we respond to well-reproduced music so favorably.) That includes a high mass 11 lb. solid aluminum platter, a rigid, low resonance frame, a very low friction bearing and an AC low-speed 24-pole synchronous motor with very low RPM (250) and torque.

Set-Up

Walter Liederman had his team mount a cartridge on the arm, so I just aligned it properly and got to work. By the way, you should always double-check pre-mounted cartridges on your new turntable before playing that first LP. Don’t assume it’s ready to go. I do like having it pre-mounted for me–half my job’s done.

I did swap cartridges quite frequently. That was one of the many advantages of running a two-turntable system for the last few months—it makes it so easy to evaluate both cartridges and phono stages on more than one kind of turntable. I used a handful of cartridges with the LSA T-3 turntable: a briefly borrowed Soundsmith The Voice, my ZYX Bloom 3 and the new ZYX Ultimate Airy X, which I’m also reviewing (and considering buying). The LSA T-3 with tonearm was more than resolving enough to inform me of the very distinct differences in tone between all three of these outstanding cartridges.

One more note on setting up the LSA T-3 turntable: the two cones that act as footers for the turntable are quite pointed and can possibly ruin a shelf. (The third “foot” is the box that contains the motor.) You might need a hard mat under the T-3 to protect your shelf. According to Carlos: “We emphasize that setting the turntable down should be done cautiously to avoid scratching surfaces. The motor assembly is independent and should couple directly to the platform to transfer energy away from the turntable.” Margules Audio Group will start including small flat cup or discs to address this. I was able to work around this, but you do have to remind yourself not to slide the T-3 around on your shelf.

Sound

Once properly set-up, the LSA T-3 turntable had that familiar solidity I hear from those big high-mass turntables. I started calling it “solid in the groove,” which suggests to me that every part of the analog rig, from the tip of the stylus to everything that resides downstream, is working perfectly as it should. Sometimes there is a visual component to this where you can stare at the spinning record and the perfectly leveled tonearm and the movement of the cartridge is almost non-existent. It’s all confidence and poise, with no wobbling or noise anywhere.

What does this have to do with the sound? I think a lot. That same sense of a finely tuned machine translates into the sound in most cases, and with the LSA T-3 I felt an incredible openness and clarity in the presentation. This pure delivery was, of course, instrumental in making the soundstage of the T-3 convincing, although this is one area where an excellent turntable in this price range—and there are a few—might sound a little smaller than that big expensive high-mass turntable. Chances are you’ll only notice this if you’re switching back and forth between the LSA and something like the Palmer and the Feickert Firebird (both run into the five-figure range when you add a comparable list of extras, though.)

The LSA T-3 turntable was around while I had both the Vimberg Amea speakers, our 2020 Product of the Year, and the Volti Audio Razz. Both speakers are adept at producing just the right amount of powerful bass in my listening room, no more or less. The LSA T-3 could easily manage those low frequencies, but with a surprising amount of refinement. I heard, LP after LP, a supremely honest interpretation of those huge, soft bass drums in PureAudioProject’s Music Odyssey—China and the open, grumbling reaches of outer space recorded on the second side of Rasmus Kjaer’s Turist.

Conclusion

At $3499, the LSA T3 (and the Magenta TT-10, for that matter) is a good value and an exceptional performer. There have been many turntable rigs in that price range that have won my heart like the Thorens TD-1601 and the Gem Dandy Polytable Signature. The LSA isn’t bouncy and lively like the Thorens, or as serious and determined as the Gem Dandy, but it has its own winning personality, a combination of steadiness and confidence that encourages you to relax and listen to your favorite LPs.

I’m so glad the Margules Audio Group turntable matured into such a well-engineered, thoughtful and visually stunning design. If you’re disappointed that Julian Margules never quite built that Rega-killer, I’ve heard rumblings that they are working on a second, less expensive turntable.

I could end the LSA T-3 turntable review right there, but wait, there’s more! And this changes things considerably.

I told you that Walter Liederman always wants to bring additional value to his products, and I told you he includes a lot of extras such as the arm, the dust cover, the clamp and much more. What I didn’t tell you was that the LSA T-3 is sold at Underwood Hi-Fi for $2299 delivered. That’s an insanely low price for an analog rig this good.

In addition, Walter also provides a big discount on cartridges when bought as part of a package with the T-3. For instance, that Sumiko Starling is a killer sub-$2000 cartridge. It might sound like overkill to put it on a turntable/arm combo that’s only $300 more, but you’re looking at a guy who put a Koetsu on a Rega Planar 25 twenty years ago and loved it. But when you add the Starling to the T-3, the total comes to just $3499.

Buying the LSA T-3 with this configuration, in other words, means you basically get the $1900 Sumiko Starling for free. Walter can also give you a similar deal on any number of cartridges—the T3 with the $600 Pro-Ject Aida is $2499, a $1250 Sumiko Blackbird gets it up to $2999, an $1300 EAT Jo #5 brings it to $3199 and the EAT Jo #8, which goes for $2500, brings the total package price to just $4299 delivered.

Now we at Part-Time Audiophile wouldn’t normally go on and on about the discounts you can get when you buy a high-end audio product from a specific retailer. As a former importer and distributor, I’m very sensitive when it comes to one dealer underselling all the others or having any other exclusive deals, because it can devalue the brand over time and no one will want to pay retail anymore. But this is different. You can only get this turntable from Walter, and he’s part of the reason it’s so good. He’s saving a lot of money by taking over so much of the supply chain, and he’s passing the savings on to you. There are no tricks—just a good businessman who’s carved out a modest empire by doing a little bit more for his customers than expected.

It’s almost kismet that he and the Margules family teamed up to bring the LSA T-3 turntable to the states, and at a price that comes close to those objectives Julian Margules set down so many years ago. That’s why I’m giving the LSA T-3 turntable, and all the goodies that come with it, the Best Value Award.