Between a worldwide pandemic, the death of reason and civility, and accidentally scratching my favorite Stones’ Sticky Fingers import pressing, I had a serious case of the blues. When I found out Norm Steinke of Rutherford Audio, the American distributor for Vertere Acoustics, would be sending me a fancy British turntable to check out, my mood improved significantly. Along with the excellent Vertere Acoustics MG-1 turntable ($9,995 for a clear plinth, $10,995 for black), Norm included the SG-1 MKII tonearm (separately sold for $2,495), a Vertere Mystic MC cartridge ($2,699) AND their Phono-1 MKII standalone phono preamplifier ($1,395). This is going to be fun!
I was informed that designer Touraj Moghaddam would be readily available for any questions, which he most certainly was. Awesome! As it turned out, it was so much fun that I have decided to break up the discussion of this analog rig into two separate reviews: the turntable and arm will be Part One, and the cartridge and phono pre will be in Part Two. Laissez le bon vinyl rouler.
Vertere Acoustics MG-1 Set Up
I had peeped a few pics online to see what this lovely creature looked like, but I wasn’t prepared for seeing it’s stylish modern (or is it mid-century?) design aesthetic in the flesh. The Vertere Acoustics MG-1 features a multi-level transparent acrylic plinth, a gently rounded aluminum platter of substantial thickness, and a serious-looking carbon fiber and brushed metal tonearm. The whole thing, at 32 pounds is much heavier than it looks. Unpacking was a breeze as Vertere seems to put lots of thought into the packaging–gotta keep their baby safe during the rigors encountered during international shipping.
Since this one had been earmarked for a reviewer, Touraj had premounted the Vertere Acoustics Mystic cartridge and sent detailed pics showing where the anti-skate weight should be set, tracking force, and other details. All I had to do was follow the instructions in the manual for oiling the bearing, install the spindle and platter, remove the protective transit screw for the arm bearing, and use my tracking force gauge to set VTF, then copy the anti-skate setup in the pictures.
I was ready to rock in no time, or so I thought. After temporarily banishing my Rega P-10 to another part of the room and setting the Vertere Acoustics MG-1 on top of my equipment rack, I attached the precision ground polymer belt to the motor shaft and around the platter circumference. Then I plugged in the motor controller box and connected the multi-pin cable to a socket on the back of the transparent acrylic plinth.
Wait, what’s that wobble? The aluminum alloy platter (with a 3mm thick piece of smooth black acrylic bonded to the top) sits on a free-floating, single point of contact on the spindle. I must have set it incorrectly cause there was an obvious up and down movement as it rotated. Reread the manual. Reset the platter and belt. Nope. Reread the manual. Reset the platter and belt. Nope. Walk away. Take deep breaths. Make another double shot latte–wait, bad idea. Let me at least hear this thing. OK. Sounds pretty darn good. But my OCD is on FIRE with that little wobble. I’ll reach out to Touraj on WhatsApp.
“Take a Q-Tip and clean the dimple under the platter that sits on the spindle,” says Touraj. BOOM. That was it. Life is good again.
Even though there had been no visible debris in the platter contact dimple, that microscopic piece of Whole Foods Restaurant Style tortilla chip (or whatever it was) that must have snuck in from my setup on the dining room table had been just enough to throw things off. This gave me a sense of how essential the tolerances and setup are to high-performance turntable and tonearm designs. Oh, that’s what those white cotton gloves are for. Duh. The Vertere Acoustics MG-1 has three adjustable feet that I could easily adjust in fine degrees, thanks to the bubble level. Vertere was also kind enough to send their new Techno Mat ($200) for use with the MG-1. To quote Vertere:
Techno mat is a two-layer mat comprising a randomly fibrous designed top layer bonded onto a Cork/Polymer compound layer. The top layer provides the record with an almost air cushion-like support. This air cushion keeps the inherent properties and characteristics of the vinyl record itself unchanged. The lower layer provides the required interface and connection to the platter in an inert manner. The two, in combination, create as neutral a support for the vinyl record as possible.
Alrighty then. We’re off to the races. But first, let me dig a little deeper into the tech.
Well You Needn’t
I know, but this time I want to go deep with some backstory and design, particularly the Vertere Acoustics SG-1 MkII tonearm.
Vertere Acoustics makes two tonearms–the Reference Tonearm, and its little brother the SG-1. The Reference Tonearm retails for a cool $35,000. It embodies everything Mr. Mogahaddam has learned over 35 years of designing and building turntables and tonearms since introducing the legendary Roksan Xerxes in 1985, which was originally supplied with a Rega arm. Touraj soon followed up with the Artemiz tonearm, which was as sonically ground-breaking of a design as the Xerxes.
One of the things that most fascinates me about turntables, tonearms, and cartridges is the extreme amount of physics and an understanding of the oh-so-delicate interplay required in a mechanical system intended for the most accurate retrieval of information contained in the sub-micron level of a vinyl groove. You’d practically have to have a graduate degree in mechanical engineering to begin to understand everything involved.
Oh, wait–that is precisely the case with Touraj, an audiophile and alum of the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine with a post-grad degree in mechanical engineering. If he hadn’t had his now-famous a-ha moment hearing Thelonious Monk on the tele and wondering why it had more musical impact than playing Monk records on his Linn, the audiophile world might have lost him to wind turbine designing.
After my illuminating phone discussion with the most affable Touraj, I learned that his mechanical engineering experience led him to identify WHAT and HOW to measure aspects of a vinyl playback system directly impacting the sound. Since part of a tonearm’s job is to follow the groove as it winds into the record, tonearm bearings must not only be low in friction, but they also need to have the least amount of minute grab or stickiness when changing states from rest to movement.
I learned that Touraj is not a big fan of record clamps or weights and feels that the tonearm and cart simply need to follow the groove wiggles AND small vertical movements of a less than a perfectly flat disc with as close to zero drag in any axis. If the tonearm and turntable are correctly designed, a clamp or weight won’t help. Being curious, I confirmed this on the Vertere Acoustics MG-1. When I tried a weight, I could hear no change. I also learned that something seemingly as minor as the axis of where the counterweight is located on the tonearm changes the cart’s ability to track–not the distance from the arm pivot (which is also important) but how high or low the counterweight is on the arm axis. Lower is better, which is why the Reference Tonearm has a complex arrangement for counterweight location.
In the SG-2 tonearm, the counterweight is a bit of a tear-drop shape which serves two purposes: a lower center of gravity relative to the arm and the ability to slightly twist the fatter, lower portion of the “tear,” which changes the cartridge azimuth. Twisting the counterweight changes azimuth because the Vertere Acoustics MG-1 has what Touraj calls a Tri-Point Articulated bearing. The arm feels to the touch like a unipivot bearing but is, in fact, quite different. Touraj also goes on record as feeling that tonearms don’t need to be super long to minimize tracking error on inner groove (or the outside area) modulations.
Against the stream and backed by science. I like it.
“The unique Tri-Point Articulated (TPA) bearing is comprised of three precision silicon nitride balls and stainless pivot. The pivot point centered between the balls provides flawless support and articulation. TPA eliminates bearing point ‘skating’ and allows the stylus to track the most delicate pieces of information that are typically lost with uni-pivot designs. This ensures accurate play back due to the strict adherence of the stylus to the record groove.
“The bearing pivot is structurally bonded to the aluminium alloy yoke. The yoke assembly provides the support required for the arm tube, the main counterweight and the anti-skate mechanism. The pivot point and the counterweight centre of gravity are vertically positioned to be as low as possible. This in turn retains the tonearm in its most stable position.”
To further quote Vertere on the tonearm tube design:
“Roll wrapped carbon fibre is used in the construction of the arm tube. This provides higher strength and more homogenous fibre structure than a Pultruded or moulded equivalent. The head-shell is machined from aluminium alloy and connected to the arm tube via structurally bonded alloy end insert. Naturally non-resonant and higher strength to weight ratio of this configuration provides the optimum cartridge platform.”
And if that’s not enough fancy tech, there’s this:
“An adjustable and de-coupled stainless ring allowed to move along the arm tube provides fine tracking weight adjustment. The relative position of this ring and of the main counterweight can also be used to alter the arm/cartridge resonance frequency and optimise play back performance.”
The Loudest Noise In The World Is Silence
I need to take a tech break and let my brain recover.
So what does the Vertere Acoustics MG-1 and SG-1 combo sound like? It sounds like a bubbling brook, deep in a quiet forest, a randomized flow of water over stones that quiets your soul. Well, not exactly, but that’s what popped in my head one evening while listening to some records. There is a subtle but unmistakable sense of flow to any record I put on the Vertere Acoustics MG-1. A velvet continuity to the sound that was beyond detail or dynamics or any other standard audiophile terms. And it’s quiet. Very quiet.
At first, I had the Vertere Acoustics MG-1/SG-1/Mystic/Phono 1 as a complete piece feeding a line input of my current preamplifier, the VAC Master Preamp. I also had my Rega P10 fitted with a Charisma Audio Signature One cart playing into the built-in phono input of the VAC. This made it relatively easy to make quick comparisons. Although this was apples to oranges, I got a sense right away of how the complete Vertere Acoustics package stacked up to my current reference analog front end.
The Rega setup seemed to puff its chest out and say, “Look at me, you still love me, right?” The Vertere had a quiet confidence that said, “Just listen to the music and don’t think so hard about things.” On one of the first evenings with my new Vertere friends, Linda looked up from her book and said, “Something sounds really good about this.” I knew right away that I might have to sit down and gently talk to the Rega to explain I still loved her, but maybe we’d be better off as friends. Ouch.
As the days passed, I tried other combos like the Vertere/Mystic into the VAC phono and the P10/Sig One into the Vertere Phono pre, but I knew I had to drill down deeper. I ended up taking an entire day to set up a little test.
Taking my Korg DS-DAC-10R I picked selections from four albums to record into a laptop at 24bit 96K. I had each table and cart take turns using the Vertere Phono 1 as the preamp and acting as a control for all tests. Then I swapped carts and fastidiously re-aligned using a Smart Tractor and repeated the recording process. Then I took all the files into my mastering studio and loaded them into Magix Sequoia, the digital audio workstation I use for mastering. Doing so allowed me to closely level match and instantly compare the same cartridge on each turntable. I had the same four musical selections for each combo. I’ll go into greater detail about the sound of the Mystic and the Phono 1 in part two, but what I’ll share now is the fascinating differences between just the different table/arm setups using the same cart and phono stage.
I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You)
I heard more of a difference in each turntable/arm setup’s sound than the cartridges. Shocking.
Yes, the carts sounded different, but I was more impressed by the differences exhibited by only the mechanics rather than the transducers.
The Rega was more carbonated and exciting sounding. The Vertere Acoustics MG-1 had that flow I had heard before, but now it was laid bare. It’s an ease to the sound that was beautiful in a relaxed, confident way, not overtly lush or lacking in detail or dynamics (both macro and micro) but rather an enjoyable continuum that it brought to the music, a subtle inevitability to each new phrase or note or drum beat.
The Rega was by no means brash or edgy, and in fact, it’s slightly more energized and exciting presentation was enjoyable in a rock and roll kind of way. Yet the Vertere Acoustics MG-1 and SG-1 combo was not boring or stodgy by any stretch. And that Vertere flow was mesmerizing, like the aftertaste of a fine wine or cigar that starts subtle and finishes large and complex.
I’ve said a bit about the SG-1 tonearm, but there are plenty of wonders packed into the MG-1 table. Any serious turntable lover knows it all starts with the bearing. To whit:
“The MG-1 MkII main bearing is directly derived from the SG‐1 utilising exactly the same bearing spindle and ball with a phosphor bronze bearing housing machined using the same precision engineering techniques to our high standards. The materials used and manufacturing to extreme engineering tolerances make the MG-1 MkII main bearing silent, smooth running and second only to the SG-1.”
And the motor:
“Directly derived from the RG-1 and SG-1 motor assembly design, the MG-1 MkII utilises double precision bearings fitted to its dedicated Acetal motor platform and motor bearing support. The motor is aligned using three spike pointed screws making the perfect residual vibration coupling of the motor to the platform itself. This unique design keeps the motor continuously synchronous to provide a drive with constant belt tension. Simply put, it drives the platter at constant speed without variation. As a finishing touch is the switchable internal mood lighting.”
And who doesn’t like a little mood lighting? I know I do.
As I side note, I was informed that the acrylic plinth pieces’ casting process is complicated, expensive, and time-consuming. (Of course it is, or it wouldn’t be high-end audio!) But there are two notable advantages: a predictable and controllable non-resonant behavior AND complete stability when located in a very humid environment found in some parts of the world. The same is not true of wood or other organic materials commonly used for plinths. People of Texas, I have a turntable for you.
I’ve already talked a bit about the platter on the Vertere Acoustics MG-1, so that leaves the motor controller. I won’t quote the website tech blurb cause it does what it’s supposed to do, even if being visually a bit unassuming for a system of this price. The little toggle switch for selecting 33 or 45 works fine but could be sexier to the touch. Whatever.
I purchased fellow audiophile and reviewer Richard Mak’s AnalogMagik cartridge alignment setup tools later in the review process. I’m going to review this powerful suite of tools in a separate piece, but I’ll tell you right now no serious vinyl-loving audiophile should be without it. You get two test records (microphone and Numark mixer not included) and a dongle to allow the downloadable analyzing software to work on your PC. I love Richard, but after using AM, I’d be scared to know what’s in that brain of his to come up with this insane and fantastic product. But then I’m just as weird to be using it!
Having decided I was in love with the sound of the Charisma Signature One on the Vertere Acoustics MG-1, I lived with that combo and played lots of records. Later, using AnalogMagik, I verified the speed was almost dead on (4149.8 Hz vs. a perfect 4150 Hz for 33/3 rpm). I was also able to reduce distortion by a full 5% using Analog Magik to fine-tune VTA. A tiny amount of azimuth offset (via a very slight change in counterweight orientation) got me a more even side-to-side match. The slideable ring on the arm tube allowed me to see distortion improvements by moving it as little as 0.1 gram! I also verified the anti-skate was correctly set. These micro tweaks added up to a substantially more vivid and focused soundstage while retaining that Vertere flow.
There Are No Wrong Notes Some Are Just More Right Than Others
I used the Vertere gear as a complete package and also just the MG-1/SG-1 and either the Mystic or Sig One into the VAC phono stage. During a time, a lot of loudspeakers and amps came and went for their reviews. It never failed to give me the Full Monty. Not in an I’ve never heard that little sound before kind of way (although that did happen a few times). No, it was simply a much deeper and involved listening experience than I was used to.
I’ll give some final thoughts in Part 2. I can say now that the Vertere Acoustics MG-1 turntable and SG-1 tonearm were a complete joy to use for playing records. Along with its dead quiet rendering of vinyl, it brought a great certainty and ease to anything I played. It was a direct conduit into my cranial pleasure center that transcended the usual breakdown of audiophile attributes. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Highly recommended.
Rega P10, Charisma Audio Signature One MC cartridge, Vertere MG-1 with SG-1 arm and Mystic MC cart
VAC Master Preamplifier with phono stage, Vertere Phono 1MKII
Pass Labs XA – 200.8 monoblocks, McIntosh MC1502, Audio Hungary Qualiton APX-200II
Marten Oscar Trio, Acora Acoustics SRC-2, QLN Prestige Five, Wilson Audio Specialties SabrinaX
Innous Zen Mini with Qobuz via Roon, Denafrips Pontus II DAC
Cardas Clear Light interconnects and power cables and Nautilus power strip, Furutech power cords