KODO "THE BEAT" TURNTABLE
The Beat is a large turntable measuring 16” deep (front to back), 21” wide and approximately 8” high measured from the adjustable Stillpoints feet to the top of the copper platter. The weight without arm and cartridge is approximately 104 pounds with the machined copper platter contributing 22.5 pounds to that total weight. The outboard power supply/speed controller measures 14” deep (front to back), 10” wide and 4.25” high and weighs in at a hefty 18 pounds. There is no platter mat as designer Steve Dobbins feels that The Beat sounds best when placing the record directly on the massive copper platter. He also feels the same way about using any type of record clamp with The Beat as the best sound is achieved without using one at all.
While difficult to see in a picture, The Beat’s plinth is dressed in a high quality cherry flecked pearl automotive paint finish. In the right front corner of the face of the plinth there is an engraved badge that simply says “Kodo” (more on that later).
The Beat can be fitted with either one or two tone arms.
“The Beat” turntable story – Everything Matters
The Beat is designed and built by Steve Dobbins right here in the USA in Boise, Idaho. In order to more fully appreciate the engineering and workmanship behind every “The Beat” turntable, I asked Steve to give us some insight into what his design goals and objectives behind the table as he worked to bring The Beat to the audiophile marketplace. What follows are Steve’s own words:
“The Genesis of The Beat was an accumulation of dissatisfaction from several high dollar TTs of my recent past. Add to that I enjoy very much building functional pieces of art. A large part of the enjoyment is the education that comes with developing a set of ideas. I had been studying resonance and its effects on sound for several years. In the beginning, this knowledge was used in room and shelving work. It became quite useful during the turntable development and resulted in the combination of five different materials used underneath the show car finish of the The Beat’s plinth (the high gloss paint helps deflect room energy).
All known turntable drive systems were considered and tested. I was not going to settle for anything but the best during this journey. In the end, there was only one drive system that could deliver the combination of speed stability and dead quiet background I had to have. It was some form of what most people call Direct Drive. Direct Drive is such a misnomer as it is the only system that offers the possibility of no direct contact from motor to platter. It also follows my desire to keep things as simple as possible because simple means less things to break or make noise. Simple as it was on paper, this system was going to be, by far, the most difficult to develop.
After much more study and testing, several things were clear. Speed control in a turntable is the holy grail. While many servo controlled TTs would average 33.33 or 45 RPM, most could not maintain that speed smoothly. To varying degrees, the platter would move in steps. In order for a servo to correct the speed, there had to be an error in speed first. So the platter is constantly speeding up or slowing down. One might not think we could hear this speed change, but in fact we certainly do and when we understand how minute the record grooves are, it makes perfect sense. The answer to this problem was no feed back. Again, it sounds simple. In fact it was anything but. This required a true three phase motor driven by a very sophisticated controller. Another discovery was that stylus drag does in fact exist. The answer here was a high torque motor combined with the proper weight platter. This gives the leading edge impact you hear while playing in a band. It also lets the musical notes develop and bloom. While this solves stylus drag, it created other issues. Too much torque and the sound becomes edgy, too little and the sound becomes soft and lacks energy. While demoing the beta prototype, it was clear I could not please everyone with one torque setting. Solution? Adjustable drive motor torque.
In keeping with my goal of keeping it simple, The Beat has only one moving part: the bearing. Since this is the only internal source that can impart noise to the record, much care was taken to develop the bearing. Over engineering describes it nicely. It has a 25mm diameter spindle that is capable of handling a 100 pound plus platter (and yes, I did try one). There is a degree of resistance built in to the bearing and it too can be adjusted. There are a number of methods used to isolate any remaining bearing noise from the record in The Beat. One example is the record spindle is completely removed and isolated from the platter bearing. The standard record spindle can be removed and replaced with a threaded version if a clamp is needed for a warped LP. Speaking of clamps, I feel if a clamp or record weight is needed on a flat record, there is a flaw in the platter. We have tried almost two dozen different clamps and weights with none improving the sound and most decreasing the sound quality. The key is having the right record interface from the start.
The Beat comes packed in 2 custom made wooden crates. One crate has the turntable and platter and the other contains the outboard power supply/speed control unit. Once all of the screws are removed from the covers of the crates you are ready to setup The Beat.
I can’t imagine any turntable easier to set up than The Beat. Why you might ask? Purchasers of The Beat do not need to set it up at all! When you purchase The Beat from Steve, he travels to the home of every one of his customers to do both the setup and to teach you, his customer, how to do it properly as well (of course, this will take lots of practice to even approach the skill level that Steve has in this area). Steve feels strongly, and I would definitely agree, that getting that last 10 - 15% out of a tonearm/cartridge setup is difficult for the majority of vinylphiles. This last 10 - 15% can be the difference between great and magical.
Think for a moment what a HUGE factor this is. Most people who purchase a high-end turntable must set it up and adjust the arm/cartridge combo themselves, or perhaps a dealer comes out to help in the setup. But that’s a far cry from having the guy who designed and hand-built the table, the one person on the planet who knows most intimately the capabilities of it, come to your listening room and adjust it to perfection! No, most spends days, weeks or even months making minute adjustments to the VTF, VTA and all the other alignment parameters in hopes they will eventually find that magic spot when the table system is working at its best. Believe me, the moment Mr. Dobbins leaves, you know for sure that nothing else needs to done to improve what you’re hearing. That leaves you totally free to just sit back and experience the music with no lingering qualms or thoughts of “if I only change THIS just a little bit…” To borrow a marketing slogan from MasterCard, “The Beat Turntable - $24,000. Having the designer/builder set it up for you in your home? Priceless!
The Beat is a joy to use. The outboard power supply includes 2 high quality toggle switches on the front faceplate. The left toggle is used to power on the table. You simply push the toggle down and when you do that, a blue LED above the toggle switch lights up to let you know that the power is on. The right toggle is used to set the speed – push the toggle down one time for 33.3 rpm and push the toggle up for 45 rpm. Note that 78 rpm is not supported. Once you select the speed, the platter starts spinning and the blue LED light goes out so that you are not distracted while you are listening. It takes about 8 – 10 seconds for the platter to stabilize its speed. When you want to stop the platter to change records, simply push the left toggle up once and the platter will stop within about a second. There is even a safety measure programmed into the speed controller such that after 45 minutes of continuous platter rotation, The Beat will automatically shut itself down and perhaps saving your valuable cartridge from potential damage.
How Does The Beat Sound
The arm that I use with The Beat is a 10.5” Reed 2A arm with Cocobolo wood arm wand. I have that paired with the Allnic Puritas LOMC cartridge and the latest version of the Allnic H3000 phono stage (it has the upgraded transformers).
Prior to auditioning The Beat, I was using one of Steve’s beautiful and refurbished Garrard 301 turntables with the same arm, cartridge and phono stage as above. The Dobbins Garrard 301 table is wonderful and so I was very intrigued to see what differences I would hear with The Beat.
Since I’ve owned this table for about a year now, I’ve obviously listened to hundreds of different recordings to form a very informed evaluation of its sound. The LP’s that I have chosen to reference for this review are:
1. Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra – For Sentimental Reasons – Asylum Records pressing
2. Ray Brown – Soular Energy – Japanese Super Analogue Disc pressing
3. Diana Krall – Love Scenes – Original Recordings Group pressing
4. Cream – Royal Albert Hall – London May 2-3-5-6 2005 – Reprise Records pressing
5. Dick Hyman – From the Age of Swing – Reference Recordings – 45 rpm reissue from Quality Record Pressings
6. Your Friendly Neighborhood BIG BAND - Reference Recordings – 45 rpm
As soon as you settle down to listen you immediately notice how quiet The Beat plays. You hear subtle nuances on recordings that you might not have heard before. I enjoy this in live recordings as you begin to really feel as if you are a part of the audience with ever so subtle sounds – glasses clicking at dinner tables, background coughs, laughter, applause, etc.
Regardless of what LP’s I play or what genre of music that I listen to (note that classical is not one of my favorite genres) the results are always the same. The Beat portrays music in an amazingly coherent and elegant fashion. Nothing sounds out of place and there are no ragged edges. The Beat always stays in control. This coherency is very evident when I listened to Your Friendly Neighborhood Big Band recording. For those of you not familiar with this recording, it is a true Big Band with 20 members and after several attempts was finally successfully recorded at the Santa Ana, California High School auditorium back in 1984. This recording is very good at capturing the scale of a big band playing in a good auditorium and The Beat allows you to hear what a great recording this is along with some great big band jazz music as well.
At 45 RPM, this Reference Recording LP bristles with rhythm, fast transients, ultra wide dynamics and a large dose of just plain fun! The sonic qualities are a severe stress test for any table/arm combo, but I’ve never heard this LP sound better. The Beat conveyed all the most difficult passages with a sense of ease, like it wasn’t even trying. One quickly looses any sense of listening to an LP, or a stereo system at all for that matter. Brass, here in abundance, was as clear and clean as stars seen from atop Mt Everest on a cloudless night. Sparkle. Multi colors of metallic brilliance with a sense of air passing though the horns.
As you begin to relax into the music, you realize how alive and energetic the music sounds. On Dick Hyman’s From the Age of Swing, the cymbals and high hats in the percussion section sound so realistic. They have great delicacy and shimmer with wonderfully long decays but always sounding like the metal instruments they are and yet without a hint of grain or glare. You suddenly realize that your toes and feet are moving along with the music as you feel the drive and pace and energy of the music.
When I listen to Ray Brown’s great masterpiece, Soular Energy, you listen to Ray playing his bass and say to yourself – now that is how an upright bass is supposed to sound. Full and rich and deep and you hear the wood of the bass and Ray’s fingers on the thick strings. Mix in Gene Harris’ wonderful piano playing and you get to hear the effortless sound in Gene’s hard playing in those upper registers of the keyboard.
Oh did I mention vocals? With Linda Ronstadt’s For Sentimental Reasons her voice can really, really soar. On lesser tables, you might hear some strain and glare in her voice when she does this but not so with The Beat. With Diana Krall’s Love Scenes there is such wonderful transparency and tonal shadings of her vocals, again making the music so much more exciting and realistic.
And how The Beat can rock with the best of them! Listening to the fabulous live recording of Cream - at Royal Albert Hall is exhilarating to say the least. The ambience of Royal Albert Hall is captured so well when I listen to this with The Beat but what really stands out is the power and depth of Ginger Baker playing those drums.
In my system, images of the performers can take on near life size proportions if the record allows it and with The Beat it would seem that a lot of recordings allow this to happen. The soundstage is very wide (again, if the recording allows it) and within the soundstage, I can hear the wonderful spatial relationships between the performers that can be mostly lost with lesser tables.
Now, I’ve been singing the praises of The Beat and it is truly deserving of some very high praise indeed. But, there are no perfect audio components and as such, there are some items to consider about The Beat. First, at $24,000 it is not inexpensive. Second, it has a large footprint. The Beat rests comfortably on the top shelf of my Adona component rack – but that shelf is fairly large at 27” across and 21” deep. And yet, as large as that shelf is, it cannot hold both The Beat and its outboard power supply/speed controller. So you’ll need another shelf for that. Finally, and this came as a bit of a surprise to me is that The Beat will point out to you imperfections in record pressings that you previously did not know were there. I remember the first time I played an original pressing of Count Basie’s 88 Basie Street on The Beat and heard the wavering pitch of Basie’s piano. I had not heard this previously with my Garrard 301 so I got up and took a look and saw the Reed tonearm moving left and right as it was playing the LP – a sure sign of an off center spindle hole. But to be sure, I took the record to a friend’s system and played the same cut – sure enough his table’s tonearm was doing the same amount of left & right movement and the wavering pitch of the piano was present but just not as obvious in his system. Once you get used to that amazing speed control of The Beat on well pressed recordings it’s easier to hear those imperfections.
If you are in the market for a true state of the art reference level turntable, The Beat offers stunning performance and equally stunning looks at its price point and well beyond. The Beat comes complete, meaning there aren’t any confusing options that you need to consider and agonize over. While The Beat will work well with just about any good quality tonearm and cartridge, it’s important to use a tonearm, cartridge and phono stage that are commensurate with the considerable capabilities of The Beat to maximize your analog playback enjoyment. Having the designer and builder of the turntable show up at your home to properly setup the table and then teach you how to do it – as I said before – is “Priceless”. And beyond that initial setup visit, you have email and phone access to him whenever you want. I’ve owned The Beat for approximately 1 year now and there has never been a problem with it. I play The Beat a lot as analog has become my primary listening source. But you can be sure that if there was a problem Steve Dobbins would get it resolved as quickly as possible. This is customer service at its finest. Combine that customer service with the sonic qualities of The Beat and you have (pardon the pun) and un - Beat – able analog experience.
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