Taking a spin with the Funk Firm Little Super Deck
The enduring allure of Vinyl
While I’m a big fan of the convenience of digital (and with a good DAC and a hi-res file it can sound great too), a digital file just doesn’t carry the romance of vinyl. Stripped of their iconic sleeves, classic albums are reduced to a binary file listing on a database of song titles, an intangible contraction of music into bits and bytes. Digital also doesn’t have the soul of vinyl, with it’s large format artwork, and the satisfaction of being able to slip a gleaming disc of black vinyl from it’s sleeve, holding it carefully in your hands, gives a satisfying sense of ownership.
Three great decks – Rega, Clear Audio and Funk Firm LSD
All of which eventually led me to purchasing a turntable again. After an un-hurried time researching and auditioning many fine turntables, the choice narrowed down to three choices – the Rega RP6, the Clear Audio Concept, and the Funk Firm LSD.
Of these, I loved the looks of the Clear Audio, especially in the wood trim, and it is exceptionally well made, but I found the sound with the MC cart a little too lean and clinical, an almost back to a digital sound. A great sounding deck to be sure, but not quite was I was after. Also, the rest of my rig is all British, and at the risk of sound jingoistic, I didn’t fancy mixing a Tuetonic plattenspieler in with it.
The Rega came with bucket loads of positive reviews from across the web, and is virtually the goto deck at this price point, but being somewhat independent minded, I found it’s status as default choice a bit off putting. The other thing that went against it for me was the separate power supply / speed switch, which would have added yet another box to the jumble of equipment and wiring already cluttering up my living room. But it is un-doubtably a fine looking (especially in red), well engineered and brilliant sounding turntable.
Taking a trip with the Funk Firm LSD
I began seriously consider the LSD after reading some very strong reviews (see links at the end of the article), but perhaps it’s status as the relative newcomer, and a bit of an under dog of the three appealed to me.
Luckily, the excellent Modular Audio, tucked away in that mecca to hi fi in Singapore, the Adelphi, had one in stock for a listen, and comparing it against the Clear Audio, I was immediately taken with it’s warmer, full bodied sound, so taking the plunge I ordered one – in White, with a red Achromat, and a Whest 2 dual mono phono stage.
The guys at Modular needed a few days to set the deck up (I’d read on line that setting up the tone arm, the azimuth, vertical alignment etc was a bit of a’mare for a beginner, plus the manual is a bit rubbish in this regard) so was glad of the expertise a good dealer and personal touch can bring. The chaps came round and finished the set-up, and I was set for a weekend of intensive vinyl listening.
Back to black – a weekend of vinyl pleasure
Paradoxically, one of the first immediate things I noticed was an absence of noise, allowing a sense of openness and air, and for the music to take centre stage. The music itself is rendered in a way very different to digital – more vibrant and warm sounding, with an immediacy and sense of presence not found in digital files.
The richness of sound is perhaps nowhere better demonstrated than when playing Beck’s Morning Phase, one of my favourite albums so far of 2014. The mid range sounds wonderfully warm and full, the contrasting acoustic guitars of opener “Cycle” precisely rendered, with waves of Beck’s vocals shimmering over the top. Lovely stuff.
Switching to something a bit more electronic, I dusted off a series of New Order classic 12 inch singles from the 1980’s (literally – they’ve not been played for 15 years), and a recurring favourite, Bizarre Love Triangle, a single I’ve played hundreds of times in many formats. But on the Super Deck I’ve never heard it sound so good, the layers of synth, samplers, vocals and bass all clearly re-produced and delineated. I was expecting vinyl to sound warm, but the level of information retrieval being delivered to my system is surprising, on a par at least with 24/96 digital resolution to my ears.
One of the romantic record playing images I had in my head, was of the perfect Sunday morning, or late at night, listening to some classic Blue Note jazz records. Perhaps of all the genres and music recorded over the past 100 years, it feels that jazz from the 50’s and 60’s really should be played on vinyl.
Blue Note are currently embarked on a long running initiative to re-issue a substantial amount of their classic back catalogue re-mastered on vinyl. So far I’ve bought two of them, “Idle Moments” by Grant Green, and “Midnight Blue” by Kenny Burrell and featuring a host of virtuoso jazz musicians. “Midnight Blue” in particular has rarely left my turntable for more than a day since I bought it. Listening to the track and having Stanley Turrentine’s soulful sax bursting out of the right speaker, has a wonderful sense of immediacy, as if the great tenor sax is there with in the room playing just for me.
For something different, I played alot of The The’s 1982 record “Soul Mining”, recently given a full on reissue treatment, with a remastering at Abbey Road overseen by frontman Matt Johnson himself, and lavishly put together in a vinyl only box set. Stand out track “Uncertain Smile” features a crack squad of session musicians, including Jools Holland. The LSD jumped on the track, snapping out the rhythm, and every note of Holland’s tumbling piano playing.
Tune In and Drop Out
With, to my eyes, great aesthetics, quality components including glass platter, a three point vector drive, and the F5 tone arm, the LSD deck is a great buy. The quality of music re-production has brought me a new listening experience and in a short period of time, a huge amount of pleasure. And with that I’m off to raid the vinyl shops of Singapore and bring back more of the black stuff to satisfy my new vinyl addiction.
Update – See the Little Super Deck playing The Doors here –
Clear Audio Performer MM, Funk Firm LSD with F5 tonearm > Whest 2 phono > Arcam A85 / Alpha 9 power amps > B&W 605D
Update: In September I switched to a Charisma Audio MC1 cartridge – review here
Other reviews of the Funk Firm LSD –
TonePublications – glowing review, with a closer look at the F5 tonearm
HiFi WigWam – a very good owner review (though I didn’t have some of his installation issues)
Hi Fi World – another 5 star review and some in-depth listening notes across a wide variety of music. (The anti skate device has been upgraded since this review)