The mighty Proscenium Black Diamond V belt-driven turntable from high-end makers Walker Audio uses an elaborate air-bearing arm and platter to help keep resonance at bay. Though it's attracted a fair amount of high praise from industry pundits, it's very expensive indeed. Slovenia's Mag-Lev Audio has taken a somewhat different, and less costly, approach to floating the platter on air. The company is currently Kickstarting a design that makes use of magnets, sensors and custom software to levitate the platter above the base, keep it perfectly stable and spin it at album or single playback speeds – adding a wow factor visual feast to the vinyl listening experience.
Though once kind of magical, getting an object to levitate and pretty much stay put is a pretty common sight these days. We've seen many impressive examples over the years – from an office chair and table to a lamp, lightbulb, clock and Bluetooth speaker – but the Mag-Lev Audio team also claims to have managed precise, digitally-controlled platter rotations.
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When in off mode, the 300 mm (11.8 in) board platter topped by a felt mat rests on feet that rise from the anodized aluminum and wood veneer base. Though not specified, this is likely when a vinyl record is secured on the spindle to avoid any potential wobble issues when the platter gets its float on. The prototype's platter is said to weigh 1.6 kg (3.5 lb), but we're told that the final version is expected to tip the scales at around 0.5 kg (1.1 lb).
Once the spin is started by selecting either 33.3 and 45 RPM on the dial to the left, the platter feet retract into the base and allow the platter to turn 37 mm (1.45 in) above the base. Listeners will then have to manually position the Pro-Ject 8.6 tonearm with Ortofon OM 5E moving magnet cartridge to start the vinyl listening session, but when the stylus runs into the end groove of the record, the system will lift the tonearm so that it can be returned to its rest position.
Mag-Lev Audio says that the turntable is rotated in mid-air thanks to a patent-pending magnetic levitation drive system made up of a combination of magnets and electromagnetic coils, proprietary software and built-in sensors. "We use custom made software that regulates the movement of the levitating platter by instant analysis of the information provided by magnetic sensors in the turntable and the platter itself," the company's Masa Pavokovic told us. "The software adjusts the strength of electromagnetic coils and keeps the platter level."
Pavokovic revealed that it currently takes about 10 seconds for the platter to reach 33.3 RPMs, but the team is looking to improve on this prior to production. On the subject of wobble control, he assured us that the system has been designed to ensure precious vinyl is safe and playback smooth. In anticipation of concerns from Kickstarter backers, the team has posted a short video as a campaign update, which shows some raw footage of the prototype in action at a Hi-Fi audio event in Ljubljana, Slovenia, recently.
A moving magnet cartridge and a magnetic levitation drive system may seem to be a recipe for sonic disaster, but we're told that there is sufficient shielding in the platter to negate any interfering field problems. Also, though some of the prototype shots confusingly show the platter levitating when the system is switched to off mode, the developers say that the platter feet will automatically rise to support the platter when the tonearm is returned to its resting position, allowing the user to switch off the drive mechanism and remove the vinyl record safely.
Users are advised not to use vinyl stabilizers with the system, as it could adversely affect the monitoring system and playback. The turntable is reported to sip just 12 watts of power during operation, and includes a battery backup in the event of power loss, which is said to be enough to safely stop the spin, lift the tonearm and raise the platter feet before completely powering down.
It doesn't have a built-in phono stage so it will need connecting to a phono pre-amp or a hi-fi amplifier with phono support via the attached connecting cable with RCA ends sprouting from the back of the base.
A funky orange glow emanates from the base below the platter for no other reason than it looks cool, but Mag-Lev Audio recognizes that this may not be to everyone's taste so are adding a switch to the final design for those who prefer not to illuminate the LED ring. Like Audio Technica's AT-LP5 turntable we got to listen to at IFA 2015, the Mag-Lev Audio unit won't be supplied with a dust cover.
As already mentioned above, the design team has a working prototype in the bag and has turned to Kickstarter to bring the levitating turntable into production. Early bird specials have already gone, so pledges for a Black edition turntable start at US$880, including free shipping to all backers. The campaign runs until November 21, and the first units are expected to be sent to backers in August 2017. The promo video can be seen below.