The sound of the Simplex is extremely “analogue” and it flows along effortlessly in a most un-digital fashion. The backgrounds are as dark and vacant as I remember from the Amadeus, and while there’s a pronounced sense of delicacy and openness through the midrange and treble, there’s also a lot of weight as well as big-time impact in the bottom end without it being at all slow.
An unlikely but delicious combination? Too right.
That Dynavector cartridge of mine had previously been mounted on a modified Technics 1210 fitted with a Rega RB300 arm. I’d always been aware of an edge to the highs but in the Simplex, I found the treble to be absolutely sparkling and well extended without trace of a bite. Detail levels are massively high for what is basically an entry level low output MC cartridge, with once almost unheard parts of the mix becoming more apparent. This isn’t artificially etched resolution that quickly becomes tiresome, and there’s nothing harsh in any element of the sound, which makes for fun sessions over many hours.
Listening to “Danza” from Sky’s eponymous album showed that the Simplex can extract a major amount of information from any recordings it’s presented with. Even at low volumes, the multiple guitars had a discernable bite to their leading edges and were located in a dead quiet background. Tracy Chapman’s first album is one of my favourites, and the combination of energy and enhanced textural detail coming from the Simplex was just amazing. The atmospherics and air around instruments is always impressive and the soundstage seems to deepen backwards and extend into the room as the recording dictates.
Whatever I played, from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Frank Sinatra by way of Alison Moyet and John Mellencamp, or Robert Cray following Harry Belafonte, the Simplex drew me in every time and made it impossible to tune the music out – the detail, the rollicking rhythm and musicality combine with the openness and spaciousness to create a level of enjoyment that doesn’t quite seem feasible at the price.
The one area where the Simplex can’t quite match my current Technics rig is in outright bass speed, but it’s not far off. Not far off at all. The direct drive Technics starts and stops bass notes like it’s connected directly to the magnetic forces of the earth, but the Simplex is sensational and manages to delve deeper into the lower frequencies than the Technics/Rega combination. My room was filled with huge bass but the hardest ZZ Top drum shots from Afterburner rang out as clear and sharp as fireworks, while the heavy bass lines from Wild Beasts’ Two Dancers were powerful and absolutely addictive.
Rhythm and timing as good as this is rare at the price, not to mention the killer dynamics thanks to the speed of attack on transients. This deck has enough drive to get me off my butt and into an air guitar and air drumming frenzy, and that is saying something.
If you want to hear what your turntable is actually doing, listen to it through a set of good headphones, which will highlight any imperfections like a military spotlight. Even under these demanding conditions; the Simplex was on form, sounding smooth, crisp and relentlessly detailed with low levels of surface noise and analogue pops and crackles that were barely worth acknowledging.
The manual states that “Damping can be altered by simply raising or lowering the damping cup, it is not critical and maybe (sic) adjusted to suit the listener’s own preference” – and that’s a fairly accurate assessment. The damping isn’t critical because the deck always sounds good, but there’s a definite sweet spot where everything snaps into perfect focus like the view through a sniper scope, it just takes some time to find the right combination. Minor changes are quite audible; change the amount of golf ball immersed in the silicon and you’ll hear it every time, mostly as a relaxing or tightening up of the dynamics. Small adjustments in VTA and stylus pressure are also very obvious, perhaps because there’s so little in the way of mechanical interference getting between the music and the ears? So what we have here is a tweaker’s dream deck, but also one that can be set up and forgotten? How bizarre. How cool!
The only negatives I can find are the lack of a dust cover and the fact that there’s no arm lift.
Sub $300 dust covers are available locally, so ignore any mentions of the $600-plus version available as an option. One slip up can mean bye-bye cartridge with the manual cueing, but you do get used to it in a hurry, especially since the damped arm doesn’t plummet like a meteor when released, but falls quite slowly. Some Amadeus users have dispensed with the finger lift altogether and just cue the stylus using the arm, which works on the Simplex and is a good solution.
The last time I felt quite as affected by a “reasonably” priced turntable was when I heard the Simplex’s predecessor the Amadeus, which rewired what was possible for me from vinyl at the sub five figure level. The overall sensation from the Well Tempered Lab decks is of being connected to your music again, maybe not like the first magical time you heard it but close, very close. The Simplex grabbed me over and over, not merely with the sheer quality of the sonics but at the overall value for money I was hearing.
That may sound like a strange statement. True you could argue about the value of the various bits that make up the Simplex, trotting out the cost of components vs. the RRP, and you can point out that the finish isn’t all that flash compared to most equivalently priced decks, but you’d be missing the point.
If you’re results orientated, then the Simplex is ultimately an extremely focussed, coherent and superb sounding piece of audio gear at a compelling price. It does so much right and very little wrong, so dismiss this deck at your peril. Frankly, the Simplex has rendered my pride and joy Marantz SA8260 SACD player somewhat superfluous, because it offers a far more intimate and involving connection to the music than this excellent digital player.
I had been contemplating a cartridge upgrade in my own vinyl rig until I fitted it to the Simplex, at which point I realised that I’d never actually heard the DV-20XL at its best. Faced with an ongoing series of pricey upgrades (cartridge, arm, mat and power supply), I decided to save my sanity and just buy the damn review sample instead. No, it doesn’t look like three grand of turntable but yes, it sounds like it’s worth every cent and more.
My product of the year so far.