AVID Volvere SP

Back in 1977 a 16-year-old Conrad Mas was wowed when his friend showed him a turntable that he had built himself from a kit. Suitably impressed, Mas promptly purchased the vinyl spinner from his mate and set about improving it. And so began a life time obsession with creating the ultimate record player, culminating in the creation of AVID HiFi in 1995 and the introduction of the company’s first deck – the Acutus – four years later.

The Acutus set in motion a series of principles that have been religiously adhered to on every AVID vinyl spinner since – all the way up to the Volvere SP before you. Chief among these is that the company’s ‘Very Interesting Designs’ (from which it takes its name) have always employed a high-mass suspended sub-chassis. The original Volvere was in fact Conrad Mas’ third turntable release back in 2000 (followed by the Volvere Sequel in 2003) and this new SP iteration is so named because of the fine speed control provided by the DSP-governed PSU, more of which later.

The cast alloy sub-chassis employs carefully machined ridges in order to minimise unwanted vibrations. It has three legs, each of which is positioned on a spring in the lower base. The result is a much more stable platform than that offered by compressed springs and, better still, one that requires less tweaking. Lateral movement is provided by the inclusion of three robust O-rings positioned around each suspension turret onto pegs on the sub-chassis.

Available in a choice of silver or black finishes, the sub-chassis hosts the bearing and outrigger onto which a tonearm is mounted. Consequently, the option of interchangeable armboards is not available, although it does come pre-drilled for a standard 9in SME fitting. Of course, AVID offers a range of adaptors with standard Linn or Rega mounts for those that have other ideas.

The sub-chassis sits securely on its mounting legs prior to fitment into the springs. This helps setup enormously as it means that the arm and cartridge can be easily fitted and aligned before lowering the whole caboodle onto the base.

So far so simple, but things start to get a little bit more challenging when it comes to fitting the twin belts. With sub-chassis and base mated, the belts need to be stretched around the main platter drive hub before connecting a pin into a hole on the underside of the platter. The platter is then lowered onto the bearing and the pin is used to position the belts onto the pulley. This done, you can remove the pin. Sounds simple, but it’s one of those processes that requires a steady hand and the patience of a saint – think of it as the ramped-up pressurised moment in a movie when the bomb disposal expert has to choose between snipping the red or blue wire to save the orphanage from certain destruction and you come close to the tension that’s involved.

The aforementioned bearing is inverted so that it has a central spindle on which a ball sits in a small dimple. This in turn makes contact with a sapphire thrust pad on the underside of the main bearing when it is lowered over it. Such is the stability offered by this design that only one bush is required lower down the bearing shaft. Manufactured from sintered bronze, this is essentially self-lubricating and AVID boasts that it won’t need any additional lubrication for up to ten years’ worth of normal use – a boost for those that want an easy life.

The outboard power supply from which the SP appellation derives weighs in at 2.2kg and features controls for main power on/off, rotation start/stop and speed change. A high-quality toroidal transformer is employed internally to provide the mains supply, neatly eschewing the cheaper wall-wart option that lesser rivals so often plump for. The AC motor’s frequency can be adjusted to not only provide push-button speed change of 33 and 45rpm, but also allows fine tuning should you require it. The Volvere SP’s motor comes courtesy of French specialist Crouzet and gets the 6.7kg platter up to speed incredibly quickly. It is topped by a fixed cork mat, while a screw-down record clamp is additionally on hand to limit vibrations by snugly holding your chosen record in place.

The basic Volvere SP package comes sans tonearm and cartridge, but for the purposes of today’s test we’ve gone for the £5,990 option, which comes bundled with an AVID TA-3 – a Rega RB330 by any other name. This is easily mounted, thanks to a three-point Rega-to-SME adapter plate. We opt to partner this with Audio-Technica’s AT-OC9MLII cartridge and then hook the turntable up to Yamaha’s C-500/M-500 pre/power amplifiers driving PMC’s twenty5.24 floorstander.

Sound quality
From the moment the needle is lowered into the groove of our first test record, it immediately becomes clear that this is one hell of a belt-drive offering. In short, the Volvere SP combines the sheer fluidity and atmosphere that only a top-notch belt-drive can deliver and then goes one step further by adding to the mix the sort of solidity and precision that are normally the domain of the very best direct-drives. The outcome is a terrific sense of focus and stability regardless of what is slapped onto the platter. Rhythms are locked down tighter than the strictest tier five (or whatever the current pandemic setting is where you are now) scenario, performers are placed in the soundstage with unwavering precision and there’s more detail on show than you’ve any right to expect at the price. If you’re after a vinyl spinner that effortlessly hunts down and retrieves all the excitement and subtlety that are hidden within the grooves of your record collection, the Volvere SP should be right near the top of a list that also includes the Volvere SP, the Volvere SP and the Volvere SP...

Impressive though this admittedly is, the real revelation is the low-end performance. Whether Massive Attack, Mahler, Mose Allison or MC Hammer are your bag, when it comes to basslines few turntables are better at keeping things simple and unflustered. Suddenly all the pressure of hooking up those twin belts seems worth every painful second.

As if to highlight this very fact, the picked bass notes at the start of Chris Rea’s Loving You, taken from his 1999 cut One Fine Day, effortlessly carry the track along thanks to their deep, fruity and sinuous qualities. As those unmistakably gravelly vocals get in on the act, the Volvere SP ensures that they remain emotive and lifelike before slipping into their more characteristic gruffness. Admittedly, we’ve experienced richer takes of this track on rival turntables, but the slight greyness that can be heard is more than likely as a result of that TA-3 tonearm than the turntable itself. In all other respects, it’s hard to find fault with the midrange detailing and atmosphere.

Switching to something a little simpler like the soothing sounds of Dylan LeBlanc’s Pauper’s Field long player is hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff. The Volvere SP projects those distinctive vocals with clarity and emotion, while the soundstage opens up to reveal the sort of extraordinary width and depth that is rare at the price. More impressive still, there’s never any impression that the AVID is trying too hard or adding any artificial widening effects of its own, instead just laying out the atmospheric recording precisely as it was captured to the vinyl.

Moving on to some more densely recorded material does little to change the overall impression that this is a magnificent turntable, pure and simple. The jangling guitar, delicate mandolin and boisterous kick drum that feel like they’re fighting for supremacy in the mix on lesser offerings are gently corralled into position here with each retaining their character without muddying proceedings so that the delicacy of the mandolin hits home just as effectively as the whack to the chest of those kick drum strikes.

Of course, it’s all too easy to extract sparkling results from perfectly recorded vinyl, but it’s the ability to find beauty in those discs that are poorly mastered or mixed that really marks the big boys out from the also-rans and, once again, the AVID is not found wanting in this regard. Take Gary US Bonds’ 1981 album Dedication, which though a great record is very much a victim of the era in which it was mastered and so consequently left at the bottom of most record piles due to its lacklustre engineering. The Volvere SP cares not for such fripperies and effortlessly resuscitates the recording with all the majesty of a modern-day deity. Suddenly the underlying rhythm of Jole Blon is able to emerge from the surrounding muddiness of the mix to bound infectiously back into life like the recipient of much needed CPR, returning a welcome feeling of swagger to the track.

Finally, impressive higher frequencies complete the picture. Our decision to partner the AT-OC9MLII with the TA-3 tonearm was no happy accident. Experience has taught us that the treble sparkle of the Audio-Technica cart can help cancel out the over smooth top end of Rega arms, and so it proves here. The combination balances out perfectly so that there’s no artificial sheen to the treble and if a recording is opaque the turntable certainly lets you know. However, cymbal strikes remain dynamic and clean throughout while hi-hats are crisp and snappy and subtle background effects are clear to hear. Should you decide, however, to explore different tonearm options you won’t be disappointed. Substituting in an SME 309, the results are sublime, suggesting that if you have the desire (and funds) to upgrade, the Volvere SP certainly has more to give. Considering that AVID is working on its own range of tonearms, this might also be an avenue worth exploring further down the line.

The only potential banana skin is that the Volvere SP demands you don’t get overly flustered during setup. But with a bit of patience and a can-do attitude the rewards by far outweigh the effort that’s required. There’s an inherent rightness to the way the AVID makes music that ensures that all that hard work pays off in spades. With its dynamic, detailed and confident presentation, this is a vinyl spinner that delivers all of the thrills and spills that are hidden in your vinyl collection’s grooves and adds a few more just for good measure. Rock solid, unerringly precise and gloriously natural, it’s a magnificent triumph of a turntable that combines the joys of a belt-drive (fitting aside) with the precision of direct drive. Ignore it at your peril. HFC    

Product: AVID Volvere SP
Type: Belt-drive turntable

● 33 and 45rpm
● Optional AVID TA-3 tonearm
● Separate PSU

Read the full review in  Issue 472