In 2010, I purchased and then reviewed what I honestly thought would be the last turntable I would ever own, the Shindo 301 turntable, tonearm, and cartridge. Then, two years later I reviewed the AMG Viella V12 turntable and tonearm. The AMG Viella V12, when set on the HRS M3X-1921-AMG V12, gave me everything I was getting from the Shindo with the versatility to use more cartridges. It also had a slightly more transparent sound. So, after just two years of buying the last turntable, I replaced it, proving I am an audiophile. Here it is four years later, and I still own the AMG Viella V12.
During that time I have had the pleasure to review the wonderful and beautiful Artisan Fidelity Garrard 301 Statement turntable and the surprising little Tri-Art Audio Pebbles turntable. Then in the last six months, I’ve had in house for review the Thales TTT-Slim turntable and Easy Tonearm as well as the TriangleART Symphony. Each was a very good turntable system, and while only the Artisan Fidelity tempted me, in the end, I preferred my AMG Viella V12. Now, just after spending the last few months with those two turntables, I have the TriangleART Symphony SE Turntable with the Osiris Tonearm. So the question is, will this similarly priced turntable tempt me to change again? Read on to find out.
When I was talking to Tom Vu of TriangleART about returning the Symphony, he asked me if I would like to be the first to review the new Symphony SE. I hesitated when I found out it weighed in at 200 pounds. So I told him I would love to if he came and picked up the Symphony while delivering and setting up the Symphony SE. Now, I already knew Tom was one of the real gentlemen of the audio world, but when he said he would love to, I was blown away.
He left L.A at 3:00am on a Friday morning and drove to Concord in the San Francisco Bay Area. By the way, he came on Friday because my Saturday was already full. When this kind gentleman arrived, he and my son brought in the turntable, and he spent the next hour setting it up. When I asked him to use my Soundsmith Strain Gauge cartridge instead of his top-of-the-line Apollo MC, which he had brought with him, he didn’t bat an eye. I did promise that when I had finished this review with the Strain Gauge (with which I am quite familiar), I would be honored to review the Apollo MC. This was a no brainer as I had already enjoyed his less expensive Zeus MC.
One last thing before I get into the review itself: I wish manufacturers wouldn’t make minor name changes to products that are anything but a minor change from the product with which it shares part of its name. I first felt this way when reviewing the Pass Labs XA30.8. It was a totally different product from the XA30.5 and a huge step forward. From the first tunes I spun on the Symphony SE, I knew this was true of this turntable as well, compared to the very good Symphony I had just reviewed.
On its website, TriangleArt lists six turntables that they manufacture in Anaheim, California. The Symphony SE sits in the middle of the line, along with the Signature turntable. The Signature is an open structure table without a plinth and with a separate pod for the tonearm and another pod for the motor. The Signature weighs in around 200 pounds, just like the Symphony SE.
On the other hand, the Symphony SE looks much more traditional. It has a 3” plinth made of a hefty solid composite metal. The rosewood veneer sandwich is beautiful, I would say furniture grade, but very little furniture these days looks nearly as well made. The plinth is hollowed out in three places; one for the tonearm, one for the motor to fit into and one for the main bearing. Mounted on the extra-large bearing and spinning above this beautiful plinth is a solid metal platter that weighs in at 35 pounds. The platter is turned by a belt that is driven by a high-torque AC motor.
The high-torque AC motor is powered by TriAngleArt’s newly designed motor controller, “Crystal Digital Controller.” On their website Tom Vu tells us “it is enclosed in a beautifully CNC, and Laser Cut Aluminum Enclosure. Inside the unit are three robust transformers that supply power to a microprocessor-based digital controller using an ultra-precise quartz crystal oscillator to produce an exact speed for the motor. As the unit is microprocessor based, it can be later firmware upgraded for future modification or improvements. The controller can also be configured to work with either 120v or 230v by few simple internal switches.”
I like more traditional looking turntables and for my taste, the Symphony SE when paired with the Osiris tonearm may just be the most beautiful turntable I have seen. The only thing I would change would be if the brass work on the tonearm and platter were in a brushed platinum finish. This is just personal though, and just by the way it sits I feel it is a thing of beauty!
Speaking of the Osiris Tonearm, it is really something special. It is named for the Egyptian goddess who brought forth life from the ashes. I have to admit that when paired with the Symphony SE it did an exceptional job of bringing LPs to life. I was surprised when I first used my AMG V12 tonearm because I had never seen a tonearm with a needle roller bearing mounted on springs. Well, the Osiris was equally unusual, it has two small ball bearing magnets that suspended the tone arm. There was one magnet facing up and one facing down; the top magnet attach to the arm’s base and are stabilized by the downward facing magnet. This results in what could be seen as an inverted unipivot tonearm.
A word of explanation if not a warning is needed here. Until you get used to it, you might move the arm so that it becomes disengaged from the top magnet. The good news is that the bottom magnet will “grab” the arm and keep it from flying off the table. I quickly got used to how to handle the tonearm and preferred picking it up to using the arm lift. Still, the first few times I pulled or pushed the top magnet loose from the top magnet it was a little unnerving. Don’t let this deter you from using this tonearm, it is no more difficult to handle than other unipivot tonearms.
The Osiris tonearm is construed of gold-plated, polished brass with a 12” tonearm wand made from Macassar ebony. Ebony is an extremely dense wood that seems to be very good for making tonearm wands and cartridge bodies. Tom Vu said that he tried many different kinds of wood and metal, but the combination of the Macassar ebony and brass sounded best. I can tell you this tonearm looks and sounds beautiful.
Setting VTA and VTF were pretty straight forward and well explained in the manual. I must admit I missed the bubble level found on my AMG tonearm, but the bubble was just for getting things close to start with and then you still have to do the fine tuning by ear. The counterbalance was very easy to adjust so that I could track my Soundsmith SG-220 Strain-Ggauge at 2.3 grams. VTA was as simple as unlocking a screw and turning a knob. Azimuth adjustment was also as simple as unlocking a couple of very small hex nuts and slightly rotating the arm tube. The magnetic inverted unipivot bearing did cause a slight difficulty in how the arm lift works. When I raised the tonearm, it drifted back toward the pivot. It was not going to go up and come down in the same place. This never bothered me, but I thought I should note it.
This tonearm and turntable combination made a great first impression both visually and more importantly, audibly. For the first couple of days, the overall sound was a WOW! Now, I don’t mean it didn’t stay a wow, but with any component with time the wow wears off. The real question is how you feel about listening to music after the new wears off. More about that later.
My only negative first impression was the fact that the platter rang like a bell when I set the clamp on it without a record on the platter. However, my overwhelming initial impression was that this TriangleArt combo sounded very alive, with a wonderful and beautiful tonal quality. In some ways, the sound reminded me very much of a really good 300B amp. This was especially true with female vocals; they simply sounded stunning. One other positive first impression was that my system seemed incredibly quiet while using this turntable, which included a reduction in surface noise. So, it’s obvious that this turntable/tonearm combo made a great first impression.
Long Term Listening Impression
Let me start by sharing some impression from several listening sessions. I had been listening to the SE for several days when I sat down to take some serious notes. My son was with me, and he wanted to hear Rickie Lee Jone’s album Pop Pop. I have two pressing of this LP; one is the reissue from ORG, it is excellent and dead quiet. Still, I prefer the more alive sound of my early Geffin copy even though it has been played many times and has a few clicks, pops, and surface noise. It definitely sounded quieter played on the SE than the original Symphony. From cut to cut her voice was shockingly alive, and full of body and soul. The instruments had beautiful tone, and my impression was that even though I had heard this LP a few hundred times, I had never heard it sound better.
Next, we put on Billie Holiday’s album Songs For Distingued Lovers. I was again impressed with how quiet the background was and how well placed in space the instruments were. On “Stars Fell On Alabama,” her voice was luscious but with her special edge apparent. How special this recording came through loud and clear. The sax was full and airy, and the piano was placed behind and to the outside of the left speaker in a very natural way.
One afternoon while I had this setup, Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings came by to drop off the DS Audio Optical Phono Cartridge to review. While he was here, we set down to spin some tunes, using the system as described above. We started with Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s album, Americana. He had never heard this LP and just like when John DeVore visited he said he had to get it. What I really wanted to play for him though was Rob Wasserman’s album Duets. Garth had introduced me to this LP, and I knew he used the cut “Angel Eyes” sung by Cheryl Bentyne to set up systems and evaluate them. He was very kind in his praise for the sound of the system on this song. He ended up staying to spin tunes for over an hour.
My two favorite cuts on this LP are “Ballad Of The Runaway Horse” sung by Jennifer Warnes and “Over The Rainbow” performed with Stephane Grappelli on violin. Jennifer Warnes’ voice sounded haunting, and Rob’s bass sounded spot on. The “Over The Rainbow” duet has some special spatial cues allowing one to hear the bass low and to the left of center and Grappelli’s violin slightly left of center and higher in the soundstage. Again these spatial cues were played as well as I had ever heard them. On every cut on this LP Garth and I both were impressed with how the system allowed us to hear the layering of detail inside the soundstage.
The next day our publisher Constantine came over to hear my system with the TriangleArts SE turntable and Osiris tonearm. He had just spent a couple of hours listening to my system with the AMG V12 turntable and tonearm the week before. Like myself, he had the same initial WOW! He also pointed out it was hard to put into words what he liked so much about the sound, but he felt more drawn into the music.
As we moved into more and more different kinds of music, I begin to notice something about his demeanor. When listening to the Beatles’ Love album, he was ready to move on to something else more quickly than normal. This also happened when I played a Kronus album. When I asked him about it, he at first, said he just wanted to hear more different kinds of music on the system. Then I put on Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, and he was locked in again. Then he turned to me and said this combo seemed more sensitive to the quality of recordings than the AMG combo did.
I understand this statement but after long term listening, I don’t think that was it. It’s not so much the quality of the recording as it is the music itself. While the SE was truly world class on most all music, it is without a doubt more magical with music that is focused on the midrange. What this table could do in the midrange was very SET-like and quite magical. It surely did draw you deep into the musical experience with these recordings. Don’t take this as a criticism but as a bonus. With the SE and Osiris, you would be getting a world class record player that will simply blow your mind with certain vocal or jazz recordings.