According to Nielsen's year end analysis, vinyl sales in the US increased for the 11th consecutive year in 2016. Though that means an aging turntable might be getting a dust off for its return to the living room, folks new to vinyl will no doubt be looking for fresh platter goodness to get in the groove. We've seen quite a few eye-catching takes on the trusty turntable over the last 12 months, including a mid-air spinner and a design where the stylus was dragged around a stationary record. Now, a family business in the Netherlands has launched the Wheel on Kickstarter, which may have onlookers wondering where the tonearm and phono cartridge have gone.
Where the traditional turntable format calls for a tonearm and phono cartridge to be strategically positioned at one corner of the plinth, the Wheel doesn't have any corners. Instead, the creative team at Miniot has hidden a linear tonearm within the platter, so that the Wheel plays the underside of a vinyl record instead of the upper side.
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Currently at the pre-production prototype stage, the Wheel's tonearm is made from a single piece of machined mahogany laminate, ending in a modified AT95E cartridge. The company says that the cartridge and tonearm (with an IR sensor for tracking) have been tweaked for optimum damping, resonance and weight distribution, which means that the modified AT95E can't be user replaced (though the stylus can be swapped out).
A 12-inch vinyl record is placed on the aircraft-grade aluminum alloy platter topped by a rubber mat, which is spun at 33.3 rpm by an electronically-controlled belt drive system (with less than 0.05 percent wow and flutter being reported), and secured in place by the platter's outer ring and a built-in lock/unlock spindle. The Wheel's functionality is then controlled using the 23.5 mm (0.9 in) high spindle.
This center stick, as the makers call it, turns the unit on and off, starts playback and activates a pause in the music, and engages forward or back track skip. Twisting the stick also raises or lowers output volume. All of this stick handling does have us a little concerned about potential damage to vinyl, but Miniot does promise scratch-free, stylus-loving operation.
Under the wooden plinth – which is available in genuine cherry, walnut, mahogany or rosewood – are the left/right RCA output ports for connecting the turntable to a living room hi-fi system, a ground terminal if needed, an amped headphone jack and a switch to choose between phono or preamp line signals.
Miniot says that the Wheel turntable can be used horizontally – placed on a table or hi-fi cabinet, for example – or mounted to an upright stand or hung on a wall to turn record playing into visual art.
The Miniot Wheel project has launched on Kickstarter to fund production. Pledges start at €472 (US$500) for a standard model, or €663 for a special edition with a rosewood base. The Wheel will come supplied with a transparent LP record which serves two purposes – it should keep the internal mechanism free from dust between listening sessions and actually includes sample music from some Dutch bands, with its see-through nature also allowing users to see what's going on during playback.
If all goes to plan, the Wheel is estimated to ship in November. Have a look at the pitch video below to see the pre-production prototype in action.