EDWARDS AUDIO TT1 TURNTABLE

and MM1 PHONO PREAMP

Turntable  $699

Phono Pre $349

 

Review by

Michael Peshkin

&

James Darby

 

Thanks to Carl James of USAHIFI.COM for making us aware of these products and providing them for our review.

MIKE PESHKIN

Can you like “inexpensive” sound?  Or should I use the condemnation, “cheap” sound?  Actually, the idea of both is ludicrous. As audio buffs, we hear good sound or bad sound, money has very little to do with it.  A collection of good equipment, mated well for sound, speakers set properly, all adjustments made, and any system is going to produce music that can stir our souls. Publishers note ~ Amen, Mike! Huge amounts of money have wrought boring, tonally incorrect sounding systems, and yet of course, huge amounts of money have been spent to achieve superb sounding systems.  The question is satisfaction…can we be satisfied with good sound?  Is it truly important to have the utmost in spatial reality, for instance?

Reaching the lowest notes, the highest notes with pure and correct tonality is expensive…bass perhaps being the costliest.  But music’s foundation is ensconced fully in the mid-range and since our ears hear those frequencies with the highest degree of linearity, that is where the sound of our gear must meet high standards.

Thankfully, it doesn’t cost an inordinate amount of cash to reach that goal.  When that goal is reached through a combination of various pieces that work very well together (the word is synergy), then a music enthusiast can be incredibly happy.  He didn’t spend a fortune to play air guitar or coffee table drums or kitchen table keyboards.

The combination of the Edward’s Audio MM1 phono stage and TT1 turntable, with (in this case) an OM10 cartridge really shocked me.  OK, I don’t get shocked by a lot of the equipment that comes into my home, only the DIY stuff I make myself.  How about the use of pleasantly surprised?  But few of those things are so good that I want to keep them.  I do keep some of the equipment I review, but some leaves with the thought that I liked it a lot but really wouldn’t buy it because I liked a similar piece of gear a bit better.  Recommendable, but not keepable for Muzikmike.

Then there are those components that I’d keep just because they seem to hold me captive, threaten my life if I don't purchase them!  The Edwards Audio gear falls into that category.  If I had the room, the money, and perhaps the smallest need to own another phono stage and turntable, this gear would be mine…all mine.

 

The USA turntable is built upon the Rega 250 arm and P1 table.  The table’s bearing has been upgraded, and there lies at least one of the reasons the table sounds so good.   Putting the table together was quite easy; the platter needed set upon the spindle and its support plate, a larger disc of some type of polymer.  The packing was well laid out to protect the table from basketball players at FedEx.  The arm was already mounted so all I had to do was mount a cartridge.

I must admit I’m not a fan of the Rega arms or any arm that has no facility for the headshell or arm-wand to be removed.  Beginning with the eminently easy method of alignment the Thorens TD160 I had just set up delivered, I now find an arm without a headshell (Or in the case of the VPI, removable arm-wand) can be a royal pain in the big toe.  Publisher’s note – I know what you mean Mikey, but the person looking for a table like this is not a reviewer and probably has no need or desire to change cartridges and are thrilled that it came pre-mounted.

But the sound!  Yikes!  Warm, full, punchy and tonally correct; the music envelops and mesmerizes me.  Rarely have I heard music rendered in a fashion that is so gripping.  Listening to the Joni Mitchell Blue LP (Classics reissue), had the alignment dialed in about as good as it could be expected…I used the Ken Willis protractor which makes alignment a real snap.  I faced a major problem (described above), but that had nothing to do with sound.  Keeping with Joni, I listened to one more of her LPs and was really impressed how this inexpensive rig made Joni’s voice and her fingers on her guitar even surer, more defined in some way.

Turning to a duplicate Lyrita LPs my good friend and fellow reviewer John Richardson, digital guru and analog nutcase had given to me (an LP is always a great gift), first up was Bax.  I figured the player came in a Bax, so I should play one.  (That was so bad that when I typed it I got slightly ill).

Dynamic swings are handled smoothly with that Rega arm and soft, quiet, delicate passages are truly delightful.  This is a very quiet table.  Using the OM10, imagining what the upgrade styli may bring. This series has 4 different levels of styli that slip into the same body so you can upgrade rather inexpensively.  I was surprised at how quiet the vinyl sounded listening to almost any record I played.  Stylus shape, the arm’s ability to control the mechanical problems of vinyl playback, and the phono stage and its ability to reject out-of-phase noise is one of the important things to look for when upgrading turntables.  

While the table and stage couldn’t perform like my big rig, the overall quietness of the musical presentation made me want to listen to more LPs, which is always a good sign.

Herbie Hancock’s River-Joni Letters could be used as a child’s introduction to the sound of various instruments; each one captured by its

 

mike so cleanly, so perfectly, they may never hear another record with the ease of identification of those instruments.   You can hear the hammer strike the bass notes of the piano is so real that you’ll look around to see where the piano is in your listening room.  The attack and sustain were more than simply average, in addition to the soundstage and imaging, the combination of those factors allowing me to perceive the piano was in my listening room; Herbie played for me!  Samuel Coleridge Taylor had to have audio buffs in mind when he described the phenomena as the willing suspension of disbelief.

Listening to many records on many systems, I’m totally unable to suspend disbelief.   With some it’s better, with the best it is easy to believe that piano is definitely in the room, perhaps only for a few moments, sometimes for quite a long period.  River, played using the Edwards table and phono stage, made me turn my head several times to see the instrument I knew was there in my room!

Playing an Art Blakey LP, (Night in Tunisia, OJC reissue) I kept turning my head to see who was talking.  Live shows…they can confuse the easily confused; the Edwards Audio phono stage helping in that regard, of course!  It happened rather often as this phono stage seems to throw (perhaps) an overly large soundstage, although imaging is not too big even though it isn’t the equal of some far more costly phono stages.

This should appeal greatly to those owning a system that throws a narrow stage.  Of course, the surprisingly black background the table produced influenced that, too.

 

Digging out Clap Hands, Here comes Charlie, I was greatly impressed by the sound of Ella’s voice…somehow more serious or more humorous, depending upon the cut I chose…pulling out some others of Ella’s LPs.  The Gershwin Songbooks reveal more about the sound of gear than most LPs you’ll ever use…attack, sibilance, depth of soundstage…  One thing I heard years ago at a friend’s home who has an incredible system, Sound Lab speakers and big tube brutes is Ella controlling her microphone, leaning or stepping backward, or singing directly into the mike.  I’d never actually heard that use of distance as a control of vocal/microphone interface.

Once I’d heard it with my friend Dee’s system, I began listening for it with my Buffet/Verve Gershwin Song Books.  Lots of equipment fails to show me that vocal technique.  The USA phono stage/turntable combo definitely showed it to me!

One thing I have to repeat what I wrote about was the sound of that table with the OM10 cartridge…what a combination!  Synergy that shows what the word means!  It is a combination that surpasses the cost of these two pieces of gear in a huge way…magnificent!  I never thought I’d say this about a Rega-based table, but I really like this combo and thing a lot of you will, too The table, arm, cartridge and phono stage together, make music well beyond what could ever be expected!

 

 

 

JAMES DARBY

A couple of years ago our little community held a community garage sale event with many homeowners participating. Those snowbirds just love to buy our junk at outranges prices. After things slowed down in the afternoon, I went around the neighborhood myself. Since it was a mass garage sale, I, of course, asked them if they had any LPs they no longer wanted. What I discovered is that FOUR of my neighbors had substantial collections stored in their garages/attics/closets, but they had no turntable!  When I asked why they’re keeping them, three of them said, “Oh, I’m going to transfer them all to CD someday”. I said, “No you’re not”. I went on to explain that even if you a lot of experience doing that, it takes at least an hour for each LP and the process is extremely tedious with some audio expertise needed to edit the digital recordings, and then you must enter every album title and song title after that. I told them that I knew a lot of people who have tried, but gave up after transferring just one or two. I added that they should just buy a cheap new turntable and enjoy them. “But they don’t even make turntables any more, do they?” You know how the rest of the story goes.

Oh. The fourth neighbor, a single chick with 2 kids, said she had heard that records were bringing big money these days and she was going to use her 300 well-used 70’s rock LP’s to put her kids through college. Really.

The Edwards TT1 is a perfect solution for three of them since it could not be simpler to set up and listen. But how does it sound? Can such a cheap turntable actually sound like….music?

After seeing and fondling (but not hearing) the Edwards audio turntable, expectations were pretty low. It was plasticky and rather cheap looking and I could lift the whole thing with one hand. I'm used to turn tables whose platter along weighs many times the weight of the whole Edwards table. I expected the table to sound pretty much the way it looked and felt.

I stuck the table and its box in my car for the 1200-mile trek from Pennsylvania to Florida just hoping it would survive the journey. When I got home I set it in place of my TW Akustic Raven One table with Graham Phantom four arm and The Voice cartridge by SoundSmith. Total cost of that package is somewhere north of 10 or 11,000 bucks. Not a fair comparison? Of course not; it's not intended to be if the object is “which one of these is better or which one should I buy”. But the object of the comparison is to see how the Edwards compares to a solid, known, reference. That's why we spend the bucks to assemble a reference system in the first place.

I should note that I have written this second opinion without knowing what Mike said about it. Mike was nice enough to leave his XXX OEM 10 cartridge in place so we'd both be working from the same sonic page. I did not have the Edwards MM1 phono pre-amp that he used though, so I used my nova phenomenon ($1000) instead that features “get me off the grid” battery operation for a very transparent and quiet performance.

 

After balancing the tonearm and listening to a couple of evaluation cuts to fine tune it, I was prepared to listen to a sound I was sure would offend my analog sensibilities to some extent; I figured it was just a matter of how much. A $500 turntable and a $99 cartridge. There is no way I'm going to put one of my pristine, expensive LPs on this thing, so I started with a backup copy of a recording I know extremely well in both digital and analog domains; Linda Ronstadt's “Cry like a Rainstorm”.

 

The First Cut Is “Still within the Sound of My Voice”, a big power ballad that puts Linda's prodigious voice way out in front of an orchestra and rhythm section. By the end of the cut, I realize several things; my eyes were not watering and my ears were not bleeding. Most importantly, my most dependable bad sound detector was not on high alert at all. In my case, even if my ears are copacetic, my lower jaw never fails to detect excess distortion or other fatal flaws. If after a few minutes I feel it getting tight and start to ache, something in the sound is not right.

The next cut is the title track, another big ballad with a distinct R&B gospel feel emphasized by the addition of a wonderful gospel choir deep in the background. I remember thinking, “Hey, this is not bad…” and my lower jaw was relaxed and pain-free. After “All My Life” that ads Aaron Neville, I could feel my sonic anxiety quickly fading and my musical enjoyment quotient rapidly rising. I flipped the disc over and queued up one of my favorite reference tracks, “Shattered”, that starts out with a very poignant piano intro that alone can tell me most of what I need to know about a system. Each softly played note is a bit different in velocity, tone and volume. Lesser systems make it sound as if each note is the same or nearly so, lacking the highly emotional impact that sets the tone for the heart wrenching lyrics and the heart breaking vocal. Have I heard this intro done better both via digital and LP? Certainly. But, did it capture the fluidity and angst as well as most of the tiny dynamics? Yes it did.

Overall though, the sound was rather boxed in, restricted and constricted. Transparency, compared to costlier tables, was, um, less transparent. The sound was a bit grainy and the soundstage was as holographic as it should have been, even by recent digital standards. I say recent because digital has come a long way in just the last 2 years or so.

And one other thing: At no time did I get the sense of a stone being dragged around a rutty vinyl groove. In other words, I soon forgot I was listening to a turntable, much less a $600 one, and was able to listen to a performance that was quite compelling and pretty darn musical. It also gave me confidence that the inexpensive arm and cartridge was not gouging out the LP so I could play some more expensive LPs without worry of damage.

The torturous "Four Centuries Of Organ Music" by Simon Preston on Argo was up next. This is one of the best-recorded pipe organ recordings ever and an extreme test of any table/cartridge. Did the TT1 exhibit the same extreme low bass, midrange detail and purity and high-end air as the $11,000 rig? Of course not, but you know what? It still sounded darned good! Surface noise was not elevated much and dynamics were pretty good, as extreme as they are on this recording. Not only was the sound more than adequate, it was starting to get downright impressive.

 

I listened to several more LPs from the jazz and classical world as well as some well recorded pop and rock from the 70's and 80's. Yes, they do exist. Each fared much better than expected and I thought the pop/rock records were especially good. Overall though, compared to the Raven One, the sound was rather dry and lackluster and closed in, kind of like a cloudy day in Florida. It might be cloudy, but it's still Florida, you know? Those criticisms are to be expected of course, and one thing we must consider is the TT1’s intended audience. How many $500 turntable seekers do you think have ever heard a $15,000 turntable? Heck, their references are Bose speakers and 128k mp3s!

But...what if I put on a better cartridge? I dug out my Denon DL103R that had been highly modified by Zu. They don't offer this model anymore, but if they did it would be somewhere around $600 or $700 - more than the table alone. I first put on the same Linda Ronstadt LP I had used previously for an apples to apples comparison. I heard a low whistle emitted by someone in the room, but since I was the only person present, it must have come from me. Big change. Everything opened up, especially the soundstage which was now better layered, deeper and wider. Clarity and transparency improved, too, with substantially more detail.

The same proved true with other jazz, classical and vocal LPs. I still think the table does the best with rock/pop and the like, but that’s a good thing I think since what most people who have stacks of old LPs in their attics or garages will probably own. The person who owns older classical and Jazz LPs. Especially those vintage Mercuries, Shaded Dogs and Blue Notes will probably want something with a little more finesse, but that’s just an educated guess.

The point is, the TT1 is very capable of handling cartridges better than the basic $100 or less models that inhabit most full line vendors. I doubt if I would venture much beyond the $500 point, though. Cartridges are available used of course, but buying them is riskier than a used amp or speaker. Also, more expensive cartridges tend to have more fragile cantilevers and nothing will discourage a new vinylphile more than snapping one off a $500 cartridge.

Carl James at USAHIFI.com who carries this table in North America is very knowledgeable. I’ve known him for years and have talked to him about all matters stereo many times. He shares a lot of off-the-record insider-type things with me that he doesn’t have to - things that I’ve never printed - so we’ve grown to trust each other. He’s a Stereomojo Certified Good Guy. He carries a full line of Goldring cartridges – 11 of them to be exact – from 50 bucks to over a thousand. I’m sure if you tell him about the rest of your system, your favorite genres and your other listening habits, he will not steer you wrong. Oh yeah; he discounts them 25%, too.

Something neither Mike nor I have mentioned so far is that the TT1 comes standard with a very handsome, hinged, clear dust cover. I’ve seen dust covers alone go for somewhere around $200 each, so having one included here is a super bonus. Just make sure you keep it open when you’re playing records.

So if this is a Rega clone, why not just buy a Rega? Ah…thank you James, excellent question. Rega no longer makes the P2. They have a new RP1 that costs $450 and replaces both the old P1 and P2, but it has a lesser 101 arm. It does come with an Ortofon OM5e that retails for $59. I’d go for something better, though, so I see that as a negative unless the seller will let you trade up. The next model up is the RP3 that goes for about $1,000. Neither, as far as I can see, includes a dust cover.

While I did not get to hear the Edwards MM1 pre in my system, Carl James tells me it's one of the biggest sellers in the US and abroad. He sells about 60 of them a month - huge numbers for any hi-end product. There must be a reason.

 

The Edwards Audio TT1 is the ideal turntable for those, like my neighbors, who have stacks of LPs wasting away. All of them are probably full of their favorite music ever and they are missing out on a ton of enjoyment. Of course, almost every significant new recording is also released on vinyl these days and of course classic albums are being re-released and re-mastered every day. Just check out MusicDirect and get ready to be amazed. One of the best, most fun things for most LP lovers in combing through the shelves of Goodwill and other thrift stores to find gems for a buck each. And, at that price, you can afford to try some music with which you are not familiar to see if you like it. I can’t tell you have many discoveries I’ve made that have become my most cherished recordings. Heck, if you don’t like ‘em, take ‘em back and donate them for a charitable write-off!

The TT1 is also ideal for those who want analog in their offices, bedrooms or anyplace else to supplement their main system. Probably not your car or boat though…

Got a young teen at home or student going off to college? Bingo. Buy them a cheap, stout cartridge.

Of course, there are many audiophiles who never have experienced the wonders of analog at all and are “buy” curious. We can’t think of a better or bigger bargain turntable with which to start your musical journey. If you do buy this table, unless you are a veteran of cartridge mounting, make sure that whatever cartridge you buy is pre-mounted for you. This table is intended to be a no-hassel, plug-and-play device.

 

We can’t help but appreciate the wonderful level of music the Edwards Audio TT1 and MM1 phono preamp brings for such a small amount of money – well within our Cheap Bastards $1,000 limit. For that we must bestow our Stereomojo Maximum Mojo Award upon them both – separately, but particularly in combination. Very high value/performance ratio.

 

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