Well Tempered Lab Simplex Turntable Review

Sound Quality

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 Negatives

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.

Conclusion

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.

ASHLEY KRAMER

www.soundline.co.nz

23 Comments

  1. NB – the price of the Simplex has been reduced from $2,999 to $2,750. This information reached me a day or so after the review was loaded, so I have adjusted the price on the review.

    This price reduction makes the Simplex an even better buy and pretty much the default choice in the $3,000 turntable sector but five stars is five stars….can’t rate it any higher than that.

  2. Five and a half stars Ash?

  3. If such a thing existed, the Simplex would probably qualify.

    It’s a great buy at $2,999, so just be happy with laying out the $2,999 and spend the $249 change you get back from your wad of cash on:
    1. A decent set of interconnects or
    2. A Spin Clean record washer and some records or
    3. One of the dust covers available on Trade Me or
    4. A small pile of shiny new vinyl or
    5. A big pile of second hand vinyl

    Christmas has come early this year.

  4. It’s been pointed out to me that the squash balls under the Simplex aren’t sliced in half at all. The complete ball is recessed into the plinth.
    That explains it!
    I was wondering how they managed to cut the balls so cleanly in half, having tried it myself with minimal luck.

  5. That’s a great idea as the ball would still be pressurised and give the best isolation. And here I was thinking Well Tempered Labs had a staff Ninja with an unfeasibly sharp samurai sword. And he’d naturally be blind…

  6. So, how does it sound compared to the Amadeus? I think that is the main question most people want answered.

  7. Hi Ken
    That’s the question I’m asking as I decide whether to buy a Simplex or an Amadeus. I haven’t heard an Amadeus for a while and when I did, it was running a DV2XX cartridge as part of a Consonance/Monitor Audio system and it just about blew my socks off.
    Without comparing them side by side, it’s hard to say which is the better TT. I’m reliably told that the sonic differences, if any are extremely minor and that Bill Firebaugh prefers the sound of the Simplex.
    I prefer the look of the Amadeus but I’m not sure if that’s enough to make me buy one instead of a Simplex. The difference in cost can be put towards a cartridge upgrade and I have no doubt that the Simplex can do justice to a DV2XX, so that’s where I’m leaning at the moment.

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  9. Hello,

    Does anyone have dimensions for the Simplex?

    Thanks!
    Matt

  10. Hi Matt

    I’ve just measured the demo Simplex I’ve got here (my new unit is still in the box):
    400 deep including the switch, RCA sockets etc
    379 wide
    170 high to the top of the arm hanger post but that will vary depending on how it’s set up (but not by much)

  11. Don’t worry about the dimensions – for a turntable this good, you MAKE room! 😉

  12. Thanks AshK. Am doing all I can, Hew. 😉

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  14. Thanks for the review, but will it ever make it to the USA! Hopefully so because this table seem like a winner.

    Hank C.
    USA

  15. Hi Hank.
    The Well Tempered site lists a US distributor. I’d drop them a line and see what the story is:
    email – info@dynavector-usa.com
    web – http://www.dynavector-usa.com

  16. Thanks Ash,

    I did contact them and it sounds like it should be available in the spring or early summer.
    Will be curious to see what you find out.
    Thanks!

  17. Ash,

    Any update on the Simplex or whatever Well Tempered you settled on? How’s it working out?

  18. Hi Roscoe
    Alas my Simplex is in storage along with all the rest of my hi-fi system while I’m on my travels. I’m in the process of writing up a follow up on the items that I’ve bought over the years but all in all, I’m happy with the Simplex. It’s a sonic star.

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  21. Hi, this and other reviews show a good report – my only qualifier is that Soundline supply the product and the reviewer is associated with Soundline??

  22. Hi Chris, I’ve lurked around with Ash for a few years and rest assured he has no affiliation with Soundline that I’m aware of. A quick squiz at his gear reveals the only Soundline-ish product he has on his hifi rack is the Simplex, everything else is either esoteric imported stuff (Silverknight passive pre for instance) and a luscious pair of Theophany M5’s!

  23. Hi Chris

    I’ve got zero affiliation with Soundline – I use some Dynavector gear and the Simplex TT because I rate them highly but like all my other audio equipment, they stand or fall on their own merits – I’d chuck them in a hurry if I found something else I preferred. The Simplex stays.

  24. Hi, Just wondering if you have any updated comments on the Simplex vs. Amadeus in side by side comparisons? I opted for the Simplex based on the (limited) good reviews such as yours on-line, and used the savings to get the DPS and a better cart. I absolutely love it but now I wonder what I am missing with the Amadeus! (It’s a sickness)

    Cheers.

  25. Hi Brendan
    Not as yet. I’d like to arrange this sort of side to side comparison though.

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  27. I changed from a fabulously built Well Tempered Record Player to the Simplex…clearly not as well built but demonstrably better in sound (and ease of set up). Running it with a Dynavector 17D and P.75.Mk 111. Can’t imagine it get much better than this. Also had a very handsome 4mm acrylic dust cover made for £40!

  28. Hi John Humphreys,
    I found the Well Tempered Record Player used for $800 US. Since you used to have this turtable, would it be a good deal? Also can you tell me what you liked and didn’t like about the Record Player?
    Thank you,
    George

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