Acoustic Signature Manfred MkII turntable

29.01.2014..

Introduction

Turntables. According to the report 2012 by IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), the passion for the vinyl records continue to grow and it's not just about a memory or collector's items. In fact, the sales go beyond 170 million dollars: an amount that represents the top since 1997 and the triple of what cashed in 2007. A shocking data if we consider that, at the same time, the overall sales of music on physical support register a decrease of 5%. Hence, the vinyl sells more than the CD. Moreover, in the occasion of the last Record Store Day, a survey by ICM Group states that the majority of the buyers are young people with an age comprises between 18 and 24. If such figures are confirmed, we can also say that, notwithstanding CD, audio DVD, SACD and streaming music (i.e. without a solid support, therefore files on the net, on hard disk or on pendrive), the old good LP is leaving a new life, mostly among young people. The reasons can be the charm of the vintage, the presumption to play better (objective value) or more pleasantly (subjective value).

 

But we are not interested in a technical analysis, rather in understanding if the offer of turntables, tonearms and cartridges can comprise also a good choice of less expensive, although valiant, products. The Manfred MkII Acoustic Signature turntable is not among them, but represents an effort to offer a model that doesn't cost a fortune if we take into account that the trademark of this small manufacturer is the quality.

 

The Acoustic Signature is a turntable made by one of the few – about ten – German companies specialized, for tradition and market opportunity, in the manufacture (design and realization) of turntables. All have a solid know-how in precision mechanics and expensive numerical control machines and all have, more or less, the same characteristics: high masses plinths, heavy or very heavy platters, platter bearings with low friction .

Acoustic Signature has a wider catalogue and the models are an attempt, we will see later if successful, to reach a good compromise between cost and performances as we said in the beginning. The most expensive model, the Ascona, with amazing characteristics, has a platter weighing eighteen kilos and a mass of about eighty. Seven other models follow before arriving at the new Wow! which, despite the price of one thousand euro, boasts a platter of more than four kilos and a spindle made with the same materials of the top models. The model we are testing is the Manfred MkII and it should take the fourth place from the bottom as for price and characteristics. We use should because the version we received from the Italian distributor, Il Tempio Esoterico, shows some improvements and has a higher price than the standard device described by the manufacturer in the company's website. We will talk later of such peculiarities.

 

Description

The Manfred MkII is a well designed turntable: the plinth is made of a thick MDF board housing the spindle and the arm bearing, in our case in cherry wood veneer, but other versions are available (maple or painted high gloss piano finish). Three big aluminium feet, adjustable acting on a plastic screw, allow a quick level and a stable support. Even if without any elastic suspension the system is sufficiently decoupled from the environment. The synchronous motor unit is set apart in an aluminium cylinder filled with lead balls, with the double purpose of making it heavier and damping the vibrations. For the driving there's a quite stiff square section belt wrapped around the external diameter of the platter. The high mass of the platter is about six kilos and there are added elements to assure a remarkable dampening of the vibrations. Besides the weight of the platter, the already good drive system is helped by an external power supply which generates a 12 volts AC independently from the mains frequency. The tonearm is a Rega RB301, mounted on an aluminum base and flange that allow the fine tuning of the VTA (vertical tracking angle), something not possible with the standard model. In the Manfred, though, this is an Hobson's choice, since it would be difficult to find an arm that can be lifted, without any modification, in order to reach the 3,5 cm of the platter and, therefore, being perfectly leveled. Hence, the scheme is simple and rather linear. The difference is in the care put in the manufacture, in the choice of the components (motor, electronic pieces) and in the materials. De facto, the quality in the reproduction of a vinyl record depends, mainly, on the control of the "inner" vibrations. If we can defend from the outer vibrations, nothing can be done against the vibrations produced "inside" the system during its functioning. For this reason the turntable, in the platter/tonearm match, has a very important role in the chain of the sound reproduction. In the Manfred MkII there are two unusual or special features that, according to the manufacturer's opinion, contribute to the good sound. The most important is the bearing housing which is traditional in the design but doesn't require to be lube thanks to the good materials and the strict dimensional tolerances of the making. The platter bearing is manufactured from special hardened and polished steel, while the base of the bearing is made with a synthetic material called TIDORFOLON and developed specifically for the Acoustic Signature's turntables. Unfortunately, they didn't reply to our enquires about this material so, all we can say is that, at the touch, it's a kind of plastic closer to teflon rather than to vanadium, titanium or ferrite, components that Acoustic Signature claims as Tidorfolon elements. The entire weight of the platter (6 kg) discharges on the top of the spindle so that the housing has to be stiff and with low friction and resistance. Very important are also the bushings that support vertically the bearing in its housing. These two sinter bronze inserts (again we don't have a direct confirmation) have such a strict tolerance that the bearing struggles to go down because of the air-bearing effect, also without the oil that normally seals the little room that remains. I want to stress this aspect because, in the more traditional designs, the oil is required not only for the lubrication, but also to make a light fluid layer between spindle and bushing that works as a "filter" against vibrations too. The thing is that in the Acoustic Signature there is no oil, but the bearing works without noise, without a significant friction and with an effective decoupling of the vibrations. The very heavy platter contributes for sure at this outcome and this is the second distinctive element. It is made in dampened aluminium with an anti-vibrant panel that covers the entire surface and features eight cylindrical elements called Silencers whose purpose is to reduce the resonance frequency of the platter itself. The Silencers are another added characteristic not available in the standard model. By the way, we have to say that in the Acoustic Signature's website you can find an upgrading section where it is possible to require such improvements for your turntable.

 

Set-up and in use

The Manfred MkII set-up is something easy and quick: there are no springs to adjust and the level is intuitive.

The round cut in the plinth forces to place the motor unit at the right distance and the only piece of advice I'll give you is to start the spinning of the platter "by hand" before turning the controller on. You don't have to, of course, but without a little help the platter will take a little longer to reach the right speed and, at this stage, the belt and the motor work under a strong stress which, all in all, is better to avoid if you want to protract the life of your turntable. Speaking about the precision of the spinning, we have measured the speed at 33 rpm ant it is correct. The platter spins without any noise and, although the turntable was set close to the loudspeakers and on a light wooden table, also at high volume, there have been no problems of acoustic reverberation of the vibrations or the presence of perceptible resonances. The absence of lubrication doesn't have to be a concern since the ten years warranty stills all doubts or perplexities.

 

Listening test

It could be hard to set if a turntable performs well or not so well and someone could also have some doubts on the fact that a total passive component can influence that much the reproduction of music. Instead the question is not so weird because, when put to the test, the differences between turntables are real and easy to detach. As I said before, they come from the attitude of the system to isolate the cartridge from the external vibrations and, even more, from avoiding to produce vibrations (motor, spindle, arm-bearing) and, finally, from the vinyl shape that can cause annoying resonances. Just consider the dimensions of the grooves (the cutting stylus for an LP master measures about 6 microns).In this phase no mechanical noise should be generate but, considered the infinitesimal tolerances at stake, this is practically impossible. Another thing is that the turntable "sounds" by itself and affects the tracking by adding (vibrations and modulations) and by taking off (badly tracking info) something at the signal cut on the vinyl. Determining exactly the contribute of the platter, or of the arm, or of the cartridge, is a long and complicate process. It's better to analyze the contribute of the single component in a well known system and tell the differences compared to the reference audio chain. Experience helps a lot in making the listening impressions, subjective by definition, as an acceptable and repeatable instrument of comparison.

 

The Manfred MkII has been inserted in the following system: Grado Reference Signature cartridge, The Mod Squad Phono Drive phono preamp, McCormack DNA 0.5 solid state power amp and a pair of Stat Audio Immagine loudspeakers. The speakers are absolutely great and particularly suitable, for cleanness and detail, to be used as a reference in the listening tests. A well known, mid-high category system that matches well to the target of the turntable object of our test. With a high, but not "exaggerate" acoustic pressure, the general and immediate impression is of a very controlled, rather fast and well damped sound. The tone is balanced, without any emphasis in the low and mid range, with a light trend to underline the high-pitches. The bass is fast in the attacks and quickly damped in the closing. The good timbric coherence and the valuable cleanness of the sound are more evident in the mid range, with a well reproduced voice in the virtual stage, both in position and dimension. In the high range, the most delicate and difficult to reproduce in the analog systems, there are no evident faults and this a good result, although it's not the best part of the Manfred MkII. It stretches upwards with just some emphasis. Let's say that here the control, the balance and the three-dimensionality of the low and mid range are missing. Most probably the fault is of the tonearm that shows some limits. A possible upgrade can be a better tonearm considered that you can easily find many armboards and flanges of several models and brands.

The Manfred MkII. is a solid turntable with a good sound a good dynamics, capable of an accurate and three-dimensional recreation. All these virtues comes from the impeccable manufacture and from the very strict dimensional tolerances.

 

In conclusion a fine turntable, both in the appearance (we like most the silver version) and acoustically. The making is exemplar and the design is between tradition and innovation thanks to the material of the bearing and the renounce to the oil. A good product at a fair price, at the moment, with the hope that the increase in the vinyl sales, will increase the competition and force the price to go down.

 

Official technical specifications:

Drive unit: 1 Synchronous motor, electronically regulated fully mains decoupled adjustable, small Alpha Motor electronic, external power supply

Bearing : high precision TIDORFOLON Bearing rollerbushed and paired with axle.

Chassis: real wood veneer, 38mm Chassis, 3 height adjustable feet, external motor

Platter: high precision platter made of aluminium, 34mm height, 6kg weight.

Speed Range: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 UPM with motor electronic.

Power Supply: 230 Volt or 115V      

Dimensions: 430b x 170h x 340d mm

Weight: 16kg.

 

Official Italian dealer: to Il Tempio Esoterico website

Official current price in Italy: 2,450.00 EUR

 

Acoustic Signature Manfred MkII (Il Tempo della Musica's version).<br />Price 2,450.00 euro.<br />The platter and the tonearm are different (from Rega RB251 to Rega RB301).
Acoustic Signature Manfred MkII (Il Tempo della Musica's version).
Price 2,450.00 euro.
The platter and the tonearm are different (from Rega RB251 to Rega RB301).
The S-Alpha motor controller and the off-board power supply.
The S-Alpha motor controller and the off-board power supply.
The outer motor has no direct contact with the turntable deck.
The outer motor has no direct contact with the turntable deck.
The spinning is conveyed through a quite stiff square section drive belt.<br />The couple motor is barely sufficient and the start of the spinning is quite slow.
The spinning is conveyed through a quite stiff square section drive belt.
The couple motor is barely sufficient and the start of the spinning is quite slow.
The motor is a synchronous Premotec at 12V-50Hz. The same brand equips other turntables of mid-high category.<br />The turret hosting the motor has been made heavier and damped with lead balls
The motor is a synchronous Premotec at 12V-50Hz. The same brand equips other turntables of mid-high category.
The turret hosting the motor has been made heavier and damped with lead balls
The motor is synchronous, therefore in 12V-50Hz AC. In the less expensive systems there's only a transformer to shoot down the tension from 220V to the required ones.<br />Besides, the precision of the spinning is the current is transformed into a lower voltage where an oscillator and an amplifier generate a sinusoidal wave with appropriate frequency and width.
This is what the small S-Alpha unit does. " />
The motor is synchronous, therefore in 12V-50Hz AC. In the less expensive systems there's only a transformer to shoot down the tension from 220V to the required ones.
Besides, the precision of the spinning is "devolved upon" the goodness of the electric frequency, as provided by the power supplier. In the most sophisticated systems
the current is transformed into a lower voltage where an oscillator and an amplifier generate a sinusoidal wave with appropriate frequency and width.
This is what the small S-Alpha unit does.
As we can see, the Tidorfolon board is literally screwed into the housing of the platter bearing.
As we can see, the Tidorfolon board is literally screwed into the housing of the platter bearing.
The manufacturing characteristics and the materials make possible the absence of oil in the housing of the bearing.
The manufacturing characteristics and the materials make possible the absence of oil in the housing of the bearing.
The platter spindle is traditional. Differently from the case with the interposition of a bearing, the spherical top allows here a bigger radius.
The platter spindle is traditional. Differently from the case with the interposition of a bearing, the spherical top allows here a bigger radius.
The platter has been modified by inserting eight anti-resonant elements called Silencers.
The platter has been modified by inserting eight anti-resonant elements called Silencers.
The textile mat in microfiber looks like imitation leather.
The textile mat in microfiber looks like imitation leather.
A thick and heavy anti-resonant plate has been put at the base of the platter.
A thick and heavy anti-resonant plate has been put at the base of the platter.
The three feet can be adjusted in height with a very simple system: a plastic screw.
The three feet can be adjusted in height with a very simple system: a plastic screw.
The tonearm is a Rega RB301 set on an armboard that can be blocked in order to adjust with precision the VTA.
The tonearm is a Rega RB301 set on an armboard that can be blocked in order to adjust with precision the VTA.
The flange hosting the armboard is directly screwed on the wooden plinth.
The flange hosting the armboard is directly screwed on the wooden plinth.
by Maurizio Fava
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