A turntable fitted with sliced squash balls, sand squeezed through an aluminium tube, and a golf ball for good measure? It sounds like madness, but the new Simplex, reckons Ashley Kramer, is product of the year so far.
When you strip away anything that’s not essential and then simplify the remaining fundamentals using good science and lateral thinking, the results can be phenomenal. Take something like Colin Chapman’s original Lotus Seven or the more modern Ariel Atom super car; bereft of just about everything bar engine, chassis and drive train, their stunning performance is an excellent example of minimalism in action.
Another example is this Well Tempered Lab turntable. It doesn’t have a platter bearing machined to ultra-tight tolerances or a fancy tonearm made of exotic materials. Hell, it doesn’t even have tonearm bearings. The Simplex has been simplified within an inch of its life, leaving behind a high performance skeleton designed to do nothing more than extract information from records.
Designer William Firebaugh has been creating and tweaking his eccentric turntables since 1985. The Amadeus was his recent shot across the bows of mainstream turntable design, and the Simplex is the latest evolution – an Amadeus pared back even further.
Construction and Features
There’s not much to the Simplex; a thick MDF plinth is supported by sliced squash balls at each corner. A small servo controlled motor drives the chunky platter using a thin polyester filament (0.004” if you must know). The tonearm is made up of a length of aluminium tube filled with sand and jammed through a golf ball. Yep, you read that right, a golf ball, which is suspended from a small tower and dunked into a tub of silicon goop. Even the “zero-clearance” teflon platter bearing is as simple as pie and the cartridge is mounted in a rudimentary headshell which allows no adjustment of the cartridge geometry. Heresy!
Sounds like something your slightly mad Uncle Wally might whip up in his West Auckland shed alongside his anvil powered mousetrap and solar powered combine harvester? Could well be, but there’s method to the apparent madness.
The study indicated that a turntable’s tonearm should have a low effective mass and be highly damped to eliminate side-band distortion caused by mechanical instability. Side band distortion = bad, okay? Hence the zero-clearance tonearm, which uses no bearings at all. The rest of the Simplex’s structure is intended to do nothing more than provide a stable platform and a rotationally stable platter. It took around 50 prototypes for Firebaugh to end up with the Amadeus, and its performance very definitely speaks for itself, as does that of the Simplex.
The looks are pretty basic; far removed from the bling and glitz associated with many modern turntables, which are design statements as much as hi-fi products. The build quality is prosaic, but the Simplex still looks good to these eyes, and the minimalism is appealing. Setup isn’t close to being plug and play – the review sample was set up for me; all I had to do was mount the cartridge. A look at the owner’s manual shows that getting up and running is very much a hands on process. It’s not exceptionally complicated and anyone with a modicum of mechanical ability with an Allan key and the ability to follow instructions will be fine.
The motor is powered by a little wall-wart power supply (another heresy, imagine that), while the tonearm cable isn’t continuous – there are two RCA sockets and a ground connector on the back panel, so you can use your cables of choice. It even ships with a digital stylus pressure gauge. Isolation from external vibration is quite effective considering the simplicity of the squash ball suspension system, but you’ll need to provide a level surface as there’s no self-leveling built into the plinth.
I mounted a Dynavector DV-20XL low output moving coil cartridge into the arm and used a Dynavector P-75MkII phono stage in phono-enhancer mode plugged into my Yamaha/Sachem/Theophany system.