HOLBO Airbearing Turntable System MK2 review

Here is another highly interesting product reviewed by yours truly. As you can read in this review, the HOLBO Airbearing Turntable System MK2 by Boštjan Holc is a remarkable achievement in many ways.

HOLBO

Holc Boštjan built his first air-bearing turntable and tonearm about 20 years ago. The air bearing used in the HOLBO Airbearing Turntable System MK2 is the same as it was 20 years ago - it has worked great all these years. Only the main air bearing has been changed. 

The first turntable was not easy to use and the production costs were very high. Holc took the trouble to simplify the design and in less than three years developed a turntable that now proudly bears the name HOLBO.

Holbo Airbearing Turntable System MK2 

Holbo is a non-sprung turntable with a 5 kg aluminum platter sitting on an air cushion. The compressor is supplied by an external manufacturer and provides a not very high air pressure. 

The compressor is absolutely silent and supplies air to the tangential arm, which also moves on the air cushion, via an air pipe in connector at the back of the deck. 

It is rare that a tonearm of this type offers the user so many adjustment options: SRA (Stylus Rake Angle), VTA on the "fly" in the range of +/- 7 mm, azimuth, and of course VTF.

The effective length of the arm, made of aluminum alloy and carbon fiber, is 163 mm. At one end of the tonearm are the 316 Inox counterweight and a screw that allows you to attach it to the tonearm tube. 

The weight of the arm is 31.6 g and the effective mass in the vertical direction is 7.5 g. With a simple template, the user can set the correct distance between the stylus and the tube along which the tonearm travels; the needle moves exactly on the radius of the record, parallel to this tube.

The turntable, weighing 5 kg, is made of 6082 aluminum alloy, and the main air bearing weighs more than 2 kg. The plinth is made of 30 mm thick MDF, so all the cables are hidden inside.

The plinth has three adjustable feet made of high-quality plastic, which end with spikes. 

The DC motor is made in Japan, the speed is electronically switched (33 and 45 rpm) and can be fine-tuned separately for both speeds.

The exact design of the air bearings is a trade secret, but to indicate the exact precision, the tolerances of the air bearings are in the range of + - 0.003 mm! The air film in the platter air bearing is less than 10 microns or 0.01 mm. The tolerances of the air film are also the same for the tonearm air bearings.

The HOLBO turntable may look simple, but it is very expensive to manufacture and it takes a lot of time to adjust the platter air bearings.

When all parts are precisely manufactured by more than 20 HOLBO contractors, each air bearing must be manually machined (gluing and polishing) to achieve satisfactory machining and tolerance and perfect fit between rotating parts.

It takes more than 20 hours for each HOLBO turntable to assemble and adjust the platter and tonearm air bearing, and the designer does it personally! 

This highly demanding and meticulous assembly must be done with extreme care, otherwise, the quality cannot be satisfactory. If the assembly is not done carefully, the bearing will be discarded.

Typically, every third piece of the air bearing does not reach the required tolerance and is rejected.

The system has a low pressure of 0.35 bar. Inside the table base, there is a precision pressure regulator for tonearm and platter, which is adjusted at the HOLBO factory and when unpacking the complete system everything is ready to go.

The pressure and air volume are also adjusted at the factory to eliminate any resonances that occur during the operation of the turntable.

As you can see, each HOLBO turntable takes a lot of time to be manufactured, adjusted and set up, and the low price only reflects Holc's enthusiasm for music and his desire to make people all over the world happy with his product in absence of overcomplicating the setup and use.

Before speculation ran rampant, the 3 cm thick MDF board for the plinth was not chosen for cost reasons, but numerous materials were tested during the turntable's development and this particular MDF has repeatedly proven to be the best material to achieve HOLBO's preferred voicing, as it does not alter any narrow or wideband across the frequency spectrum and is closest to the natural timbre of the instruments. 

Mk1 vs Mk2

  1. new touch switch buttons for on/off, 33/45 selection, and red/green indicator LEDs.
  2. power supply and air pump in the same housing.
  3. automatic switching on of the pump when you start the turntable motor and switching off the turntable motor is stoped or after five minutes.
  4. all accessories for adjusting the turntable are included
  5. record weight
  6. optional dust cover

Operational

I am no stranger to air-bearing tonearms, and tinkering with an air-bearing tonearm alone can be a nerve-wracking affair. Add to that the air-bearing platter and everything can go south very quickly. 

But no worries of troublesome dealing with HOLBO! The HOLBO Airbearing Turntable System MK2 is a straightforward affair when clear setup instructions are followed. You do not have to be technically proficient, but it is recommended that you perform the basic installation as recommended by the manual. 

The simplicity of the HOLBO Airbearing Turntable System MK2 air pump system amazed me. No loud noise from the pump, no air leakage, no massive system to hide or even put in another room. 

When I turned it on, both the tonearm and turntable floated with feathery lightness, and the platter drifted smoothly and with fluid perpetually. Call me impressed! 

The system starts with the left front button. A second button on the right-side switches between 33.3 rpm and 45 rpm speeds. 

On the far right side of the back is a DC input that comes from the power supply, which also combines a small air pump. Next to it are the buttons for fine-tuning the two speeds. The epicenter is reserved for the air input and the left side houses the RCA output and the ground connection. 

Although the base is made of high-density MDF, it feels more like the rigid plinth is made of aluminum due to the heavy platter. 

The HOLBO turntable leitmotif is not about quasi less is more, but about removing everything unnecessary from view and keeping what is needed out of sight. It's very impressive how minimalist HOLBO looks, as more or less everything is concealed in the base of the turntable. 

All in all, it's helpful if you have some mileage with a turntable setup, but I would not call it mandatory to get the HOLBO turntable system up to speed.

The Music

Holc Boštjan is first and foremost a music lover. But not only that. He is a true analog enthusiast who has never actually entered the digital realm.

Ever since he was inspired by the iconic Versa Dynamics turntable nearly three decades ago, he has remained true to his passion and love for music released on records. When CD was introduced, he skipped the trend and, instead of jumping on the digital medium, just kept buying records. 

Holc is a classical music enthusiast and a true aficionado. It's his beloved genre and that became clear as I've started to browse through my collection of classical records. 

There is something to be said for the HOLBO turntable's ability to delve deeper into classical music. There are many positive qualities that I pointed out in my listening notes, but two of them were particularly reiterated. 

The sense of horizontal and vertical expansion and dynamism. These two attributes are usually more the domain of digital when compared to analog, but surprisingly, the HOLBO Airbearing Turntable System MK2 not only raised the bar in this regard, but far exceeded expectations in reproducing holographic spaces, complex passages, and introduced uncommon shifts between pianissimo and forte fortissimo. 

The Ravel Complete Orchestral Works (ERC061), conducted by ANDRÉ CLUYTENS, showed immediately and clearly that HOLBO can effortlessly handle seamlessly the quietest moments and thunderous orchestra fluctuations. 

HOLBO's Airbearing Turntable System MK2 paints the fundamental reality with an invigorating and novel evocative quality and without any of the stirrings, one would expect in this price range. 

When the turntable fails to deliver needed potency, the orchestra can sound too quickly like a pigeonholed-like affair parceling an artificial division of music into blocks instead of a harmonic entity. 

HOLBO's Airbearing Turntable System MK2 never gave off an accelerating feel that translates into frantic behavior, as seen even on some far more expensive turntables but vacillated through various passages of music with a delightful breeze. 

The sheer nimbleness and clarity were also evident in the ERC Shostakovich Symphony No. 13 "Babi Yar" conducted by Andre Previn with the LSO (ERC056), where my listening marginalia showed that the HOLBO turntable unpeeled far more out of the black grooves than I dared expect. Dimiter Petkov's voice was furnished with way more bounteous than the necessary drama and without a juxtaposition between orchestra and voice. 

Petkof's vibrant Bass was in clear syncopation with choir and orchestra, and "Babi Yar" pulsed with elemental spirit, never seeming counterintuitive to the tempi or disappearing into the orchestral sweep. 

When the turntable does not operate at the required plane Mozart and Mendelssohn, played by Leonid Kogan (ERC049), can sound lean, lacking in life and pale. Using HOLBO's MK2 air-bearing turntable system, Kogan pierced through the orchestra's veil with music that clung closely to the tempi, prompting me to return several times to the album and rediscover all the fragments and allure. I do not think there can be a better compliment for such a reasonably priced analog solution. 

The heavenly pace of Beethoven's Nine Symphonies Otto Klemperer (ERC046) was magnificently rendered, with the vehemence of the orchestra sublimely meshed and constellated. 

As with the other records, the HOLBO turntable never strayed into the realm of the counterfactual, where an abundance of detail would triumph over-energetic concentration. The golden trinity of timbre, tone, and color was also just right. 

The HOLBO Airbearing Turntable System MK2 cemented the primary sonic attributes with a repeated, fundamental sequence. Not only dynamically rich passages but also complex structures prudently positively complimented the narrative and did not fall into the domains of superficial.

Bach Six Sonatas for Violin and Piano, BWV 1014-1019 Played by Michèle Auclair & Marie-Claire Alain (ERC048) is a rare match (made in heaven) between violin and organ. The harmonic density permits a rare concomitantly with the long-lasting impact.

HOLBO turntable's capacity to blend these two instruments on the sonic canvas immediately caught my attention. Impressively, the notes never faded away. On the contrary. HOLBO's analog system solidified in its role of deriving information from the black grooves of a higher league, allowing the organ to materialize from the inky black space and violin to float with unadulterated and organic spirit. 

Further, the Debussy A Debussy Recital Played by Samson François (ERC069) was presented unconstrained, free of some restrictions I would expect.

The HOLBO Airbearing Turntable System MK2 encompassed Samson François' virtuosic playing with an unforced quality that plumbed the music with a unique permanence and colossal impact. 

It was a highly mesmerizing affair. The level of the anchor points allowed protruding notes to remain fixed without losing their decay tails or localizaton! 

It was great to observe the HOLOBO turntable reproducing the chords and notes with feathery, evocative ease. 

In a way, depth beats width in the HOLBO Airbearing Turntable System MK2. This is true of HOLBO's intimate connection with classical music. As simple as this.

As a summary of my music verbiage let me pinpoint the HOLBO turntable impressive 

It sketches the music with a seductive, organic sound that allows listening at a low volume without imperiling quality or reproduction. 

Most importantly, from track to track, album to album, Holbo sounds like an unbroken harmonic thread of continuous fluidity. 

Rarely is dynamic unfolding and vertical expose at such forte regardless of turntable price, but HOLBO takes it to a new level at this price and beyond.

Conclusion 

After finalizing the testing of the HOLBO Airbearing Turntable System MK2, I found a lot to ponder about.

Holc has not introduced any unnecessary workflows with the HOLBO turntable system, but solely created an elegant way to enjoy analog music with the utmost ease and highly impressive performance.

If anything should be noted at the forte about the HOLBO Airbearing Turntable System MK2, it's how greatly it paves a way to analog enjoyment, making it a non-forbidden fruit, that will delight any analog fan, no matter from where you look or position yourself in the analog ladder. 

The HOLBO turntable is far more than the sum of its parts. It brings out creativity, with a variety of challenges being properly channeled. It goes beyond what's expected, doesn't limit the medium, and offers an impressive extraction of the essential qualities of music. 

The potency of the HOLBO Airbearing Turntable System MK2 is proving how analog is not some parallel world to be observed casually. Being a fully functional analog apparatus, it provides an extremely immersive and profound reproduction of what is hidden deep within the black grooves. 

More comfort in operating the analog front end clearly brings more musical enjoyment, and this is where the HOLBO Aierbering Turntable System MK2 excels like no other turntable at a comparable price that I know of. 

HOLBO's analog front end allows such an easy, pleasant and loving return to an endless journey into the analog universe by maintaining the core of the analog thrill and blast every time the record is played.

There are no discrepancies across the frequency spectrum, no fizz at the top end that can be easily associated with turntables under four digits or associated even with some of the higher-end priced turntables. 

The unique nimbleness of the HOLBO Airbering turntable System MK2 is clearly the result of a challenging task to refine and extract what is present in the grooves while avoiding introducing any sonic excessiveness or alienation. 

The HOLBO turntable kernels essence of the music, expertly avoiding neglection of the fine details and not smearing off the leading edges of the notes or blurring the primary dynamic characteristics. 

With the HOLBO Airberaing Turntable System MK2, I never felt that the well-known records were limited at any point.

Quite the contrary. The result of combinatorial efforts on so many different levels allows the HOLBO Turntable System to paint the sonic canvas with true colors and offer a genuine nod to the infinite scroll of music captured on records. 

However simple and straightforward might look at first glance, Boštjan Holc's proud creation is anything but a happy accident or merely a sum of its parts. Rather, it is the result of more than twenty years of scrupulous work on refining and perfecting his Airbering turntable system.

The result speaks for itself. The HOLBO Airberaing Turntable System MK2 offers a novel, sophisticated yet simply executed analog playback system that far exceeds its price. 

I was blown away by its performance, its simplicity, its virtually silent operation, and most of all, the way it can connect with the music. 

With products like the HOLBO Airberaing Turntable System MK2, the analog is far on the safe side and far from relinquishing. 

For what it represents price-wise and performance-wise, I am more than happy to give the HOLBO Airberaing Turntable System MK2 a double-decker Mono and Stereo award in the form of Highly Recommended Product and Best Buy Awards. •

Matej Isak

The Price

  • RRP = 6800 eur (with VAT)

Technical specifications

  • Airbearing design
  • dc motor
  • beltdriven
  • Aluminium platter 5 kg
  • Airbearing 2,16 kg
  • Dimensions: 430 x 400 x 150 (W x D x H)
  • Total weight: 12 kg
  • Power consumption : 10 W
  • Noiseless
  • Dimensions: 225 x 147 x 120
  • Weight:1,8 kg
  • Linear tracking airbearing tonearm
  • aluminium alloy/carbon
  • effective  length 163 mm
  • effective vertical mass 7,5 g
  • total tonearm mass 31,6 g

Contact

HOLBO s.p.

Gornji Rudnik cesta IV/11

1000 Ljubljana

Slovenia

Tel: +386 31 578 518

Email: info@holbo.si

Web: www.holbo.si