Component Reviews

Kuzma Stabi S Brass Turntable with Kuzma Stogi Tonearm

An attractive turntable with simple design and high performance.

Published on November 25, 2009

Kuzma Stabi S Brass Turntable with Kuzma Stogi Tonearm
Kuzma Stabi S Brass Turntable
SRP $2240

Turntable design constructed of solid brass rods 50mm in diameter in a T-shape; independent motor with 45 rpm attachment; acrylic cover, plastic mat, heavy brass clamp included; 13 kgs; platter weight is 4 kg; AC synchronous motor; 400 x 300 x 140mm; available in black.

with Kuzma Stogi Tonearm with Cardas Wiring
SRP $1875
Medium mass tonearm machined from aluminum; Cardas wiring with Eichmann RCA plugs; brass counterweight; included arm bass; VTA, azimuth and fine bias adjustment; total mass 850 g; effective mass 12.5 g; effective length 229 mm; removable finger lift, Eichmann RCA plugs.

Kuzma KC 1 MC Phono Cartridge
SRP $875
Cartridge made for Kuzma by ZYX Co. of Japan; .48mV output; 2.0 g recommended tracking force; recommended load impedance >100 ohm; 5.0 g weight.

Elite Audio Video Distribution
Scot Markwell
800-457-2577 x22 (voice)


Associated Equipment

Musical Fidelity A5.5 Integrated Amplifier, Sunfire Cinema Grand Amplifier, Meridian 568 Preamplifier, Bowers & Wilkins 803S and Signature 8NT speakers, Sonneteer Sedley Phono Preamplifier [John-  link review], Marantz TT-15S1 Turntable/arm/cartridge (for comparison).

Setup

Scot graciously offered to do a full setup for my review, but I preferred to do it myself so I could write about the process.  If you don’t have the necessary experience it is best to have the dealer set the table up.  Small adjustments can make all the difference.  The arm, table and cartridge all come in separate boxes.  I’ll take you through it:

Table.  The manual with the table was fantastic.  It has color pictures that explain how to put everything together.  The T-base was extremely heavy and has rubber rings to prevent scratching the surface it rests upon.  There is no leveling option so it is critical that it rests on a level solid table, rack, etc.  I set the base down and added oil and slipped on the sub-platter.  It spun freely so I moved on.  I had no need for the brass pillar (to use with other tonearms) as I intended to use the Kuzma arm and it slides right into the base.

Motor.  My motor did not come with an electrical plug, so I called Scot and he put on a Furutech.  He said that normally the dealer wires this up.  I didn’t set up the motor yet as I was planning to move the table to a different location.  The manual has a recommendation for placement distance from the T part of the base, but I found it easier to use my KAB strobe and disc to adjust the distance.  In turn, when I did put the belt on I was able to get an almost constant speed with less than .03% error for over a minute.  It was completely stable as far as I could tell—excellent performance.

Tonearm.  I’m not a big fan of unipivot arms.  They may sound good, but it just makes me nervous watching them twisting back and forth, so I requested the Stogi—a standard pivot arm.  The manual with the tonearm was photocopied and much more involved than the table manual.  All the necessary wrenches are included to install the cartridge and set the arm up.  I attached the finger lift (as I can’t imagine moving the arm back and forth by the shaft).  When I put the arm onto the base I came to my first hurdle.  It seemed the arm wouldn’t go up high enough.  After a quick call to Scot I found I was just being impatient and there is an adjustable inner sleeve on the table that allows for precise height adjustment.  Cool.  I didn’t need the mounting template and ignored section IV in the manual which includes information on mounting the arm to a different table.  The only thing I did do was attach the bias thread to the arm.

Cartridge.  I had been warned by Scot about excessive break-in time needed for the cartridge, so I had attached it to the Marantz table and played records for a couple of weeks.  It went from sounding lousy to being competitive in its price range.  The nuts are attached to the cartridge body, so screwing the cartridge to the arm was less of a problem than it can be.  The arm wires attached with no problem, so I went on to adjust tracking force.  I used the Shure scale rather than try to adjust the weight by floating the arm.  There is even a screw to lock the weight into place once the weight is adjusted–another nice feature for dealers who want to avoid curious customers messing up their precision work.  According to the manual (much later) there is no way to adjust the bias (anti-skate) for more than two grams, so I was lucky that the recommended tracking force was only two grams.  The manual suggests an arm height where the shaft is parallel to the record to start.  There is a section F in the manual that explains fine adjustment.  I found better results were achieved by raising the arm and increasing VTA (vertical tracking angle).  The arm comes with a protractor with points at 66 mm and 120.9 mm.  I used it to adjust the cartridge with a little trial and error.  Azimuth was fine so I didn’t touch the arm.  I set the bias weight and that’s it!

SoundDue to an unfortunate situation with my computer, I lost the entire review I had previously written (including all my listening notes).  Normally I jot down details like what recording I listened to, my sonic impressions, etc. and translate them later into the review in a way that makes sense.  They are all gone.  Pages of notes—poof!  Lucky enough, most of what I had been writing about is still fresh in my mind, so although it may not be the equivalent of paragraphs full of examples to compare, I will do my best to articulate the strengths and weaknesses of the Kuzma.

The first group of listening tests involved a direct comparison between the Marantz table/arm/cartridge (which I purchased) and the Kuzma combo.  The Kuzma strengths were: dynamics, rhythm and pace, involvement, and bass control and impact.  At times it was just plain exciting to listen to music with the Kuzma.  The Marantz, by comparison, sizzled with lots of top end, offered finer detail, extension and air.  The Marantz sounded a bit looser and lighter weight as if the music was being thrown around a bit (for lack of a better description).  With the Kuzma the midrange was more emphasized, most likely due to the lack of extreme high end that changed the balance of sound, but the benefit was that surface noise was not as noticeable.  That emphasis also seemed to make some of the images (with high midrange content i.e. voice) blend together somewhat.

Matching in a system is critical to get the best performance as is matching the components of a turntable.  With a different set of speakers I had tried initially the sound was not as good.  A different phono preamp was even worse.  It is always a good idea to hear the combination you plan to buy or rely on the good advice of someone who has experience with what you intend to buy.

I suspected that a lot of the differences I heard were related to the difference in cartridges.  I decided the best way to get a better handle on the sound of the tonearm/table combination was to move the Clearaudio cartridge from the Marantz to the Kuzma.  First, I did quite a bit of listening to the Kuzma by itself.  Switching between the tables would require time and I wanted to get the best feel for the sound as I could.  Then I mounted and aligned the Clearaudio on the Kuzma and began listening to an entirely different sound.

The Kuzma cartridge was duller sounding, bass was heavier and the image had less depth.  In isolation the music came through nicely, but as soon as I made the comparison its deficiencies were obvious.  The Clearaudio did offer some advantages, but some listeners will find it too detailed and get in the way of just listening.  It’s a fine line but if I had to pick between them I would choose the Clearaudio.   Ultimately, I would want something better and sonically in between the two.  In a different component setup results might lean the other direction.

Operation and Component Critique

Table.  From the moment you push the power button to the motor, the table starts up smoothly and quickly.  Since the motor itself is heavy it doesn’t move when you power it up or down so readjusting its distance from the turntable is unnecessary.  The belt is wide so it is easier to put on in comparison to some tables with small round belts.  The device to play 45s is easy to put on and take off; however the table doesn’t come with a 45 adapter so it will be necessary to purchase one or get inserts for playing 7” records.  (See my accessory article for more information.)  [John – link to accessory article] It’s nice to have the plastic mat if you just want to keep the platter clean without putting on the large lid.  At first I thought the lid was quite goofy-looking, but once it is placed on the table it is very attractive.  As a standalone table I was very impressed with the Kuzma’s build and flexibility although I missed having feet to adjust for slight level imbalances.  (You can always buy a base that will allow for leveling.)  Another nit to pick is that the record rests inside the diameter of the platter and because the platter is black (like most records) if you aren’t careful you can miscue and land the stylus on the platter instead of the record—the horror, the horror! All in all though, compared to the table I had, the Stabi S was clearly better.

Tonearm.  As long as you keep the tracking force below 2.0 grams you shouldn’t have a problem with this arm.  It allows for all the other adjustments one might choose to perform.  I like that it comes with all the necessary tools and complete instructions for setup.  It even has a cartridge protractor and detailed instructions on how to use it.  The arm rest sticks a bit which might not be such a problem, but the arm is above the height of it, so when you take it out it needs to pop up and when you put it in you need to push it down slightly—not as sleek as I’d expect for two grand.  Originally I had intended to compare the arm with a Rega RB-900.  Unfortunately, the Rega arm was modified for a Basis turntable and had a thicker sleeve than normal preventing the arm from fitting onto the Stabi S.  The Kuzma table seems like it could work with a variety of arms if trying to stay within a budget.

Cartridge.  Originally I had told Scot that my maximum budget was under $5000 dollars so when I made the choice to get the more expensive arm, it meant going with the cheapest cartridge in the Kuzma line to keep the price in check.  In retrospect, this is where I would have made a change.  I believe this table and arm could easily support a much better cartridge.  Then, the system would offer much better performance.  One of the things that bothered me about the cartridge (aside from the sound) was that the needle was hidden underneath the cartridge body.  This made cueing up a particular song more difficult.  I would recommend going up to a better model in the Kuzma line or investigating a different cartridge.

Conclusion 

I had this review sitting for a while before finishing and it gave me some time to put the performance offered by the Kuzma in perspective.  Since my initial start of this review I’ve had the chance to play around with some older tables (a Thorens and a Linn) and the newer VPI Classic (which will be reviewed soon).  My opinion is that the Stabi S is the best table I’ve used so far.  The Stogi tonearm did the job well and I don’t have any complaints with its performance although I don’t have a lot of experience comparing tonearms.  As a less expensive alternative the Stogi S (which is normally sold with this table) or a Rega arm might fit the bill.  The cartridge was the weakest point with this combination.  It wasn’t bad, but if I had the funds I would be looking for something better (and most likely more expensive).  If I get the chance to keep the table for a while I will continue to use it and try other cartridges (if they become available to me).

The last thing I’ll mention is the styling of the table.  During a Halloween party (of about 40 people), several visitors had a chance to see this table and mentioned how fantastic it looked—not the kind of comments I usually receive for products under review!  Aside from its attractive appearance, there is solid (pun intended) engineering behind the design and from what I’ve heard, its simplicity contributes to excellent performance.  Kuzma may not be the top of everyone’s high performance turntable list, but it is now on top of mine.

- Brian Bloom
big_brian_b@hotmail.com




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