Belt drive, direct drive, rim drive, idler wheel...these are the designations that describe various approaches in turntable designs. For all those analog aficionados still caring to maintain that indispensable »analog feel«, the choice of turntable construction can present quite a big question mark before a decision is made. The prevailing or shall I say the most popular approach is of course the belt drive but is it also »the best«? To me that`s not an easy question to answer. I have witnessed great and less great belt drive designs but so is with every technical approach: you need to choose a set of compromises that will suit your needs or »philosophical/technical« views best. In regard to the turntable drives, some people have firm beliefs about what is best or at least optimum, well, I wouldn`t count myself into that group, I`m more open and I expect surprises all the time (incorrigible optimist :)).
In the past, I have already experienced the great (refurbished) Lenco drives and the abbreviation that keeps popping up among the »idler wheel community« is: PRaT (pace, rhythm and timing). For in-depth definition perhaps you might look here: http://www.tnt-audio.com/edcorner/prat_e.html
To be honest, this »PraT« is really impossible to overhear with a good idler wheel and is certainly something that I find highly attractive if present in the music reproduction. No one want`s the rhythm to be described as »sluggish«, right? All forms of music that rely heavily on »rhythm&beat« put great demands on our cherished audio equipment and here, all parts of the chain contribute to the end result: source as much as amplification and speakers...shall I also mention the cabling? Yes, of course!
Anyway, when you hear it and become accustomed to it, you will quickly notice it`s absence in lesser systems and once you become »slave to the rhythm« there is a great chance you will remain a slave...to, well, whatever.
Of course, if idler wheels would do only the rhythm thing right and everything else so-so, then their existence wouldn`t be justified, in my view, but luckily, a good idler wheel attains an overal level of reproduction quality that can easily become addictive.
Although there are plenty of debates among audiophiles who have heard and compared the various turntable approaches, many feel happy to join these debates even without actually hearing/comparing them and some compare different turntable designs heard in different audio systems...and form their conclusions. Since scientific circumstances that are a basis for any meaningful conclusions are somewhat difficult to achieve, my approach is »lighter«, I just try to look for the overall potential of the aural experience and for the degree of the involvement factor. I have found out that within the familiar circumstances one can get definitive impressions even without direct comparison to another similar product and here, the involvement factor is certainly a good indicator, among other things. With some gear I just get an urgent need to turn it of within a few minutes, without even knowing why (OK, I know why: the lack of energy). On the other hand I have experienced components that just kept me enchanted for hours, enjoying the music in a way that was incredibly rewarding for my poor soul. Energy, immediacy and vividness seem to be the magic words.
This brings us to the subject of this review, the Puredynamics PureGroove Ultimate, the turntable that I have had a privilege to listen to, for some time now. It is the brainchild of Georg Ruppert, the creative mind behind the Puredynamics brand.
By coincidence I stumbled upon his website and was warmly surprised by the »range of activities« that Georg and his partner Christian Drolle perform. A few emails were quickly exchanged and led to a an informal visit where I could learn more about some Puredynamics products:
Although optics can be and are a highly personal thing, I can say that I really love the visual design of the PureGroove Plattenspieler. Turntables of course are meant to play records as good as it gets but if their aesthetics are pleasing to the eye – all the better!
The overall design seems also logic from a technical standpoint but let me just mention that I really liked one »small« detail, namely, the heavy platter is markedly bigger than the record and this solution (increased mass) also helps in speed consistency.
The tolerances of a quality idler drive have to be extremely tight otherwise a rumble can appear, this is well known. Inspired by historical designs but incorporating a few of his own ideas, Georg Ruppert did a great job in his idler wheel construction as I have witnessed during the listening sessions. The PureGroove Ultimate was equipped with 12'' Jelco tonearm und Denon DL103 cartridge, both of them should be familiar to anyone seriously involved in turntable reproduction. They represent excellent choices in terms of relatively affordable but also great analog reproduction. The Phono MC/MM preamp unit used was also from Puredynamics but I have briefly substituted it with a prototype phono unit lend to me graciously by Andrea Giovanardi of GRAAF, that I also happened to have on hand.
Georg himself took all the necessary time to set up the turntable properly and after that we listened to some of the records he brought with him.
I remember vividly how I was transported to another place and time while listening to Dean Martin`s singing his unforgettable songs. Good analog setups are just incredible time machines, that`s the easiest way to describe them. Great digital reissues of old analog material can be really rewarding, no doubt, but never quite on the level of doing it analog - all the way. I have experienced phenomenally dynamic and lifelike sound from a BluRay disc featuring live Jazz music captured in HD but to imagine such technological advancements will render top analog setups playing true analog recordings redundant, would be sort of silly to expect.
I don`t think the question which one is better, analog or digital, is really important, the fact remains that we have both at reach and those who recognize value in both – shall use both! It`s as simple as that, no need to argue endlessly about it.
Back to the PureGroove Ultimate.
This turntable provoked me to spin up some of my old records from my modest but packed with rarities record collection. With the exception of few albums that could be considered »audiophile« (Harry Belafonte, Romantic Russia, etc), all the others were pretty ordinary in terms of audio quality but hey, they represent a great musical value to me.
Let me start with »Belafonte Sings The Blues«. The tonal range and color of instruments and Belafonte`s voice were simply incredibly well laid out. The images were rock solid and the whole soundstage seemed very realistic in proportions and in all three dimensions, depth especially. The sound was very alive and »sparkling« in character.
I continued with »Borodin / Glinka / Mussorgsky - Romantic Russia« : »Stunning 1966 UK FFSS Wide Band Stereo Original. Georg Solti Conducting The London Symphony Orchestra.« says the description on »AudiophileUSA« website and indeed it was. Played through the PureGroove Ultimate, the whole darn thing sounded so good I had to listen to the whole record in one go...well, almost, if we ignore the fact each LP has two sides.
The separation of the instruments was very good and so was the hall ambience, extending very deep and slightly upwards. With classical and jazz recordings of the piano, the instrument had all the body, weight, rich overtones and also mechanical noises, all contributing to a very believable reproduction of this very difficult to reproduce instrument. Various choirs and smaller vocal groups had excellent separation of individual voices.
I had to recall some of my youth moments and so I put on various Bluegrass, Country Rock, Rap, Funk, Folk, Jazz and even classical records that I have kept for all these years.
It was a joy to hear Kurtis Blow accompanied by Bob Dylan (yes, Bob Dylan Raps on this one!) on »Street Rock« from the »Kingdom Blow« album. The electric guitars were screaming, accompanied by some heavy bass and drums pounding. The sound was just spectacular and I quickly found out my feet just couldn`t stand still.
Some more »beat« was in order and the excitement grew even more with the legendary Newcleus Record »Space Is the Place« from 1985 with the »Let's Jam« track, one of my favourite electro funky grooves of all time. The two rappers almost appeared like they will jump out of the speakers and the bass just kept pulsating in a most powerful but also controlled manner.
Steps Ahead – Magnetic and Bill Laswel – Baselines, same story, the sound was extremely captivating and involving all the time.
For a great dose of very vibrant and immediate sound full of sparkling lifelike energy I always put on Zlatko Kaucic` - Round Trip album, the experimental percussion sounds are captured very convincingly, actually with staggering realism. On the PureGroove Ultimate it was simply magical, there is nothing more I could add.
All drums in general were reproduced with a sense of power, punch, control and effortless feel that was very reminiscent of the live drums performances. Just next to my demo room my son Timi used to play drums for fun and I rarely missed the chance to hear them without the compression effects of an audio chain. Another friend has three high quality drum sets and listening to them live, without any sort of amplification is quite an eye-opener, especially since at the concerts, the drums are mostly amplified through PA systems which add their own sonic signature to the whole sound.
Like with all great turntables, when listening to some pure analog recorded Lps, the sound of human voice could easily fool you into thinking there is alive human being in front of us. Every time I experience a great digital recording of human voice, I think about the progress that is happening all the time but experiencing it on a really good analog rig is simply much more realistic.
It was hard not to notice that a well executed idler wheel like the PureGroove Ultimate, indeed has some special rhythmic qualities that seem to be on a higher level than with other designs and that the almost cult following isn`t based on self-delusion of its followers.
The acoustic guitars and vocals on various Folk and Blegrass LPs had unmistakenly a sense of human touch that immensely enhanced the listening experience and made it very believable.
I could go on and on but let me just say that my time with the PureGroove Ultimate turntable was highly enjoyable and that I could live with it happily ever after, hardly missing anything at all.
The price is not exorbitant and the real value seems very high, so I cannot imagine anyone not being fully and completely satisfied with it`s performance and dare I say looks. Of course, other arms and cartridges might bring even better performances on the table, but that`s another story.
Respect to the PureDynamics team, this is one heluva good record player!!!
Text & photos by Miro Krajnc
Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine 2006-2014. www.monoandstereo.com.