REVIEW: AVID HIFI INGENIUM TURNTABLE
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Oscar Wilde the playwright, essayist, and incomparable raconteur, was once asked how he’d spent the day. He replied:
I’ve spent all morning taking out a comma and all afternoon putting it back in again.
AVID HiFi’s Ingenium turntable in-situ in my listening room, reminds me of Wilde’s fanatically casual, attention to detail.
No matter what angle I view it from, one thing is clear: the elegant simplicity of this audiophile-grade turntable hides an engineering fastidiousness that’s almost fanatical in its precise execution, but seemingly effortless construction at a cursory glance.
Buyers who approach the Ingenium superficially, and bypass it without an audition for more traditionally styled vinyl spinners will be defrauding themselves.
Those that drill a little deeper will be rewarded by a sound that has abundant authority, scads of detail and a character that’s audibly neutral.
The Ingenium is quite simply the little turntable that could. And did, put in a stellar performance in my listening room, given its price.
Which is no accident of design.
Those familiar with AVID’s manufacturing methodology will tell you this UK firm starts its designs with the top of the range models, and uses this technology to trickle down to its less expensive masterpieces.
Remove the Ingenium’s platter and its skeletal structure reveals a sub chassis in the shape of a cross: the longer part of the cross carries the bearing and the tone arm mount, terminated underneath with a single supporting isolation foot. The remaining two isolation feet are under the cross’ shorter section to stabilise the Ingenium.
AVID’s engineering team decided on a bearing design that is offset towards the front of the main chassis spar. This ensures the spar has greater mass and strength, but there’s another sonic benefit: the bearing is relatively isolated from the chassis so it transmits less noise to this elegantly conceived chassis in working mode.
Because the arm board is essentially part of the chassis, AVID sells the Ingenium with a choice of two arms. You can have the Rega RB303 or a 9-inch carbon fibre model built by Pro-ject.
You can also order another version of the Ingenium that has a longer arm spar to accommodate 12-inch tone arms. Since AVID has a close working relationship with SME, presumably the arm on offer will be naturally, a 12-inch model from SME.
Yet a third variation on this theme allows buyers to order an Ingenium with an arm beam that extends outwards in two directions, so two arms can be mounted. Whether the buyer opts for a single arm or a pair of 9 or 12-inch versions, is an individual decision. The thing is AVID can supply the Ingenium in a number of configurations and provide arm mounts for SME, Linn, Rega, Jelco and Pro-ject tone arms.
The Ingenium’s motor is free standing so it can be positioned behind the bearing. As for getting the right amount of belt tension between the motor pulley and the Ingenium’s sub-platter, Rick Powell the man who had setup the arm and cartridge and delivered the Ingenium, had great advice.
Rick has a legendary reputation in Melbourne audio circles for his audio knowledge and expertise. He’s a man who builds his own turntables and tone arms. He’s also one of a diminishing select band of veteran audiophiles who I’d allow anywhere near my Linn LP12 when its needs a service or suspension tweak.
Rick’s advice about the belt was simple and clear: position the motor so the belt just touches the outer lip of the pulley without stretching and then slip the belt over the pulley. The pulley has been machined with two belt positions to provide speed changes. Nothing could be easier. But there is a caveat: get the belt tension wrong and you’ll hear it. Get it right and the Ingenium’s speed locks into a constant speed cycle that’s also audible.
The Ingenium’s platter is made from MDF topped by a layer or cork to provide a measure of dampening. AVID supplies a hefty machined aluminium record clamp with each Ingenium.
Rick had installed and tuned our Rega RB303 tone arm and Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge on our review Ingenium. Once the motor and belt were in situ, it was simply a matter of powering on the Ingenium and enjoying the music. The thing is, such elegant engineering makes the Ingenium a ‘set ‘n forget’ turntable that should never go out of adjustment.
Unlike a Linn LP12 that requires periodic suspension tweaks, there’s nothing a buyer has to do to maintain the Ingenium, save for an occasional dusting. This stress free approach commands a lot of respect from the demographic likely to be Ingenium buyers.
Priced at $2499 including tone arm, the Ingenium sits in the hotly contested mid-tier of a three-part audiophile quality market category that comprises entry level, mid-priced and aspirational turntable models.
Buyers will more than likely comprise two broad groups: those buying an audiophile turntable for the first time and have a budget of about $3000, and upgraders with the same amount of money to spend looking for a better turntable than their Rega 3 or Pro-ject Debut Carbon for example.
Their money buys the Ingenium and a tone arm, sans cartridge. Smart buyers will opt for the Rega RB303, a tone arm whose elegant simplicity hides sophisticated engineering solutions, as does the Ingenium.
The Rega is a fairly new model and the result of design using the most current 3D CAD and CAM technology. Rega will tell you the RB303 comes with more than 30 years of tone arm design, and that’s a fact you can bank.
The RB303 replaces the truly giant-killing RB300 model and improves on this enduring model’s technology via a new, one-piece arm tube and a bearing housing that’s more rigid. Rega has also fine-tuned the arm’s mass to make it more immune to resonances than the RB300, and the new bearing assembly has less friction as well.
The Ortofon 2M Blue supplied with our review Ingenium will cost buyers about $329 but it turned out to be an ideal sonic match with the RB303. The 2M Blue has an output voltage of 5.5 mV, a frequency response of 20-20,000 Hz and a tracking force range of about 1.6 to 1.75 grams.
Into the Music
The review system comprised the Elektra Audio PNYX preamplifier fitted with the new phono board, the Elektra Audio Reference HD power amplifier and Dynaudio Contour 1.3 and Wilson Audio Sophia Series 1 speakers.
Arthur Rappos, Elektra’s designer had installed his new and long-awaited phono board in my PNYX. Asked why he’d chosen the name, Rappos explained that PYNX is a hill in Athens and from the 5th century the meeting place for the city’s democratic popular assembley that forbear of modern democracy. The word PNYX means ‘’tightly packed’’.
Rappos will tell you he designs high-end models priced to suit the mainstream market. There’s no argument when Elektra owners tell you he’s exceeded his brief.
Both pre and power amp are highly transparent, sublimely detailed, have a surfeit of micro and macro detail and both are addictively musical. The new phono stage also conjures up a high-end performance with all of the above qualities along with a sense of directness that has to be heard.
The classic hit ‘Walk Away Renee’ from the Rickie Lee Jones’ Girl On Her Volcano album, emerged from the Ingenium/Rega/Ortofon combo with a macro dynamic insistence that never failed to surprise visitors to my listening room.
Shimmering, crystalline highs and tantalising midrange vocals flanked by tight informative bass ensured no one spoke a word for the duration of the track.
Clearly the Ingenium was working as a highly neutral platform that was allowing the sonic qualities of the tone arm and cartridge to be heard and appreciated. An educated guess reveals the RB300 is a synergistic match for this turntable and the Ortofon 2M Blue much more than a starter cartridge.
Moving on to the seminal Dylan album, Highway 61 Revisited and the long track called ‘Desolation Row’, auditioned with the light dimmed and a round of mellow Port, the general consensus was that we were listening to music rather than a hi-fi system.
No one was arguing that the Ingenium front end scaled the heights of sonic veracity the way dearer turntables do so easily. For example, whilst nicely rhythmic, the Ingenium lacks the Linn’s foot tapping drive and pace. Nor does it have the air and scale of a fully loaded Gyrodec, or its soundstage scale.
But hearing Desolation Row emerge from a dead silent back ground, with Dylan’s vocals carried right through the duration of the track by a menacing bass repeating its chords over and over again, the Ingenium drew the attention to the music and not the source or the system.
A performance parameter that points to this model’s ability to do everything very well without excelling in one particular area. It reminds one of good athletes who win by playing within themselves. A sure way to eliminate errors in their game.
To probe a little deeper into the Ingenium’s lack of colouration, the track ‘Spanish Dancer’ from the Steve Winwood album, Arc Of A Diver was placed on the platter and the Rega tone arm lowered.
And again the room went quiet and no one spoke for the duration of this six-minute masterpiece of a track. An organic presentation comprising Winwood’s high-pitched vocals, supported by unconventionally tuned lead and rhythm guitars was enjoyed throughout the whole track. And all these were carried by a beat that was truly mesmerising.
Enjoyable enough to have us dipping into the album’s opening track called, ‘If You See A Chance’. This was to be the highlight of the evening and our group listening session. An engaging track featuring a wholly immersive synthesizer and emotionally laden lyrics.
By the time my guests had left it was close to 1 am on a Saturday morning. With the promise of a sleep in I couldn’t resist the urge to end this listening session with ‘Made Of The Sun’, the 6th track of the latest Patty Griffin album called, Servant Of Love.
A song to her mother, ‘Made Of The Sun’ is all about the human heart and its capacity for finding joy in real and abiding friendships:
“When the world was only you and me and your warm arms/ I’d look for you, you were the favorite one/ Your yesterdays poured into my tomorrows/ And the songs you sang/ Were made of the sun.”
Griffin’s distinctive vocal style, her emotion charged delivery and the masterful playing of lead and rhthym guitars, flooded into my moonlit room and it was time to turn off the system.
The Sum of the Whole
The next day I thought about the Ingenium’s pared back, minimalist construction and how this belies the scale of sound it has delivered on a daily basis.
Friends wondered and indeed posed the question hanging in my listening room. How, they asked, could a performance with such muscular authority and replete with air, grace and abundant detail be emerging from a turntable that compared to mainstream models at its price, seemed structurally anorexic?
Dissenters there were. But these heretics were few in number and all had dismissed the joys of vinyl for the cold faith of digital decades ago. Too long to understand what their ears have been missing all these cold, analogue-less years.
While its true many potential Ingenium buyers will be underwhelmed at first by its uncluttered build. And its not hard to imagine some bypassing this well-kept secret of a turntable for rival models that appear, to offer more real estate for their dollars.
Those smart enough to keep any preconceptions of what a turntable is supposed to look like should be prepared to be delighted with the precision the Ingenium can playback their precious vinyl.
So where does this mighty mite of a turntable that’s priced at just $2499 including either a Rega RB303 tone arm or a carbon fibre 9-inch model made by Project, sit in the vinyl spinners’ pecking order?
If we slot all turntables into three bands of sonic goodness and light called budget, mid-priced and aspirational, an audition makes it clear that the Ingenium is poised just far enough to make it into the mid part of the mid-priced turntable category.
By comparison the Rega P3 priced at about $1450 with factory cartridge and 303 tone arm, sits a rung below with the upper level of budget spinners.
Using the same categories, an entry level Linn with the most basic arm and cartridge would leapfrog the Ingenium and remain firmly perched at the extreme top rung of the mid-priced models along with the Rega RP6 and the Gyrodec.
Looked at this way, the Ingenium delivers what you’d expect from a $2499 turntable. But please note, not all similarly priced turntables offer the same level of neutrality as the Ingenium.
And here’s where we sum up what this turntable is all about. The Ingenium doesn’t really have colourations that you could characterise as its abiding sonic signature.
It’s essentially a neutral platform that allows you to hear its accompanying tone arm and cartridge strut their stuff. You really can’t ask for more at this price.
For more information visit the AVID HiFi brand page.
One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, if there's a speaker he's likely heard it or owned it at some point in his career. Peter was formerly the audio-video editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades.
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