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ELP Laser Turntable.

Distributor: Future Tech, LLC, 39 Rugged Rock Road, Old Saybrook, CT 06475; 860/577-8076

Manufacturer: ELP Corp., Mirami-Ku, Saitamatui Suitama, Japan 336-0017

Price: $14,999

Source: Manufacturer loan

There are still many of us who own and listen to a large record collection. Each time a record is played, the potential for a little more wear occurs because of the cartridge stylus contacts the record grooves. Wear can be minimized by clean records, the proper cartridge alignment and the correct stylus and stylus force. Record wear can conceivably be eliminated altogether by playing records on a machine that has no mechanical contact with the record, except to support and rotate it. Such a machine is the ELP turntable, which uses lasers to read the microscopic undulations in the grooves. The information gained is translated into an analog signal that can be fed to an audio playback system. The ELP is available in two styles: one with a direct output to be connected to an external phono preamplifier; the other version with a built-in phono preamp which can be connected directly to a preamp or integrated amp. The higher-output signal power of the latter is the preferred configuration for quality of output, particularly if the cables between the turntable and preamp are long.

The ELP Laser Turntable is a sophisticated device imported from Japan. Laser alignment and tracking are critical to the process, as are clean records. Even debris in the grooves that is hardly visible without magnification can cause some degree of noise in the playback. ELP recommends a record cleaning machine be used on records before they are played and they provide one with each ELP sold in the U.S. Incidentally, clean records sound better no matter what device is used to play them.

The ELP is a large piece of equipment at 6-inches high x 18-9/16" wide x 18" deep and heavy at 49 lb. It arrived in an oversize cardboard carton with a lot of very sturdy fitted foam packing. The package weight was 58 lb.

Setup, although not difficult, requires a little time. After removing the ELP from its sophisticated packing cocoon, it has to be tilted up on its left side where a transport locking screw on the bottom can be unscrewed to release the internal mechanism. The next step is to right the unit on a level surface and connect the power and interconnect cables. If the ELP has an internal phono preamp, the interconnects can go directly to the preamp inputs. If not, then the interconnects plug into a phono preamp. In my system, the preamp had an internal phono preamp. Once the ELP power switch is on, either the front panel button or the remote control can be used to open and close the drawer. The laser turntable platter is placed in the open drawer so its bottom pins are in the drawer grooves and the supplied calibration record is put on top of the platter with the label arrow facing out. The power button is held down to close the drawer and start calibration. In less than a minute, calibration is completed and records can be played.

The case is black with control buttons and displays on the front panel, which slopes outward from the top a distance of 2-inches and then down vertically. The buttons from left to right are:

* on,

* open/close,

* pause,

* play,

* seek back (to move to the beginning of a cut that is being played),

* scan back (to scan back across while the record is being played),

* hover (to play a single groove repeatedly),

* scan forward (to scan across the record)

* seek forward (to move the beginning of the next cut).

There are two display windows. The left one shows the position and number of cuts and the position of the laser head, and the right window shows, alternately, record diameter selected and record speed of rotation. A center post adapter is provided for use with 45-rpm records. Also supplied is a small remote control (6-1/2 inches x 1-1/4 inches x 9/16 inch) with two AAA batteries. Its controls are power, open/close, scan back and forward, seek back and forward, pause, and play.

A power-operated drawer is below the sloped section and contains the turntable platter and the record to be played. This drawer must always be opened and closed with the remote control or the button on the front panel. Manual manipulation of the drawer may damage the unit. The drawer doesn't open fully, leaving about 25% of the platter covered. Thus, one needs to be careful loading or removing a record to avoid scraping the surface over the top of the opening or the platter center post. The main power switch is at the left side of the bottom third of the front panel. The first ELP turntable did not function, and although it appeared to have no physical damage to the exterior, it may have been handled too roughly in shipment. I learned that repairs could only be performed in Japan, so the damaged unit had to be sent there. A second unit worked as the manual described, with the exception of a 60-cycle hum when the unit was installed in my main system. I tried numerous fixes for this, including lifting the ground from the ELP Laser TT power cord, a practice I do not recommend for safety reasons. If the ground has been lifted, any internal short in the electronics will be grounded to whoever touches the device, rather than through the power cord ground.

The ELP does what it's designed to do--that is, read and reproduce the content of the record grooves without causing any record wear. Reproduction includes music as well as noise from scratches, defects and dirt. ELP wisely includes a record-cleaning machine with every turntable purchase. An interesting marketing plan was put in place by the U.S. dealership: If serious buyers put down a 50% deposit, they are shipped a turntable plus a free record cleaner. If the buyer wants to keep it, they pay the balance. If not they return it and get a refund. ELP also has home dealers who bought the turntables and are in different parts of the country. Potential clients can make appointments to hear the ELP at the homes of these dealers. Let me give you a quick overview of the equipment I used to audition the ELP, then I will discuss the results of those listening sessions.

Associated Equipment: Speakers were Mach One M-Two 2-ways on a counter in parallel with two Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble low-frequency units, all driven by a Parasound HCA-1000A power amp controlled by a Carver CT-26v preamp-tuner. The M-Twos were run full-range. Speaker connections were via Kimber 4PR cables. Interconnect cables were by Vampire, WireWorld, and Gotham.

I cleaned and played a large number of LP albums, including Dave Brubeck's Time Out, The Shirelles (Gusto FT5-0079), Mahalia Jackson, The Very Best of the Ventures (UA-LA331-E-0498), On The Beautiful Blue Danube by Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic (Columbia MS 7288), and many other LPs and 7-inch 45s. The turntable sound with these and other records that were in good condition was very good. All of the depth and spaciousness that was recorded came through clearly.

Occasionally, a record was too worn or otherwise damaged to play well. The ELP tried to play through these problem areas. Sometimes the sound at these locations was distorted or muted while the lasers advanced to playable areas. There were some skipping and noise problems with Jackie Wilson's Reet Petite LP (ACE CH 125), although the record surface was visually clean (and had been cleaned with the record-cleaning machine). I suspect the eight cuts per side made the grooves too small to be read properly by the lasers. A trial run of this record on my Thorens turntable with Clearaudio cartridge sounded fine.

Playing 45-rpm records was a matter of installing the center spacer and telling the machine the record size and speed. I found that the these values had to be reset each time the Laser TT was turned on, as the default setting was for 12" LPs. My 45s are generally more worn than my LPs, so many had some unwanted noise, skipping or wouldn't play. I found that the Laser TT could play some warped 45s that my cartridge could not track--an unexpected bonus.

I've enjoyed my time with this unit. Although it is large, heavy and expensive, it does what it is designed to do. The sound has been a faithful replication of the information on the records and it plays them with ease unless the records are very worn, dirty, or damaged. The ELP's ability to play warped records adds important versatility. The ELP does not cause any record wear and it provides electronic control to skip selections, which is a boon with many LPs where one wants to skip some cuts. Of course, you can walk up to a regular record player and move the stylus, but ELP makes the process a lot simpler. The remote control is another bonus, as it enables making changes so much easier. Also, according to ELP, the laser turntable requires servicing only once every 10 years. There are many recordings in my collection that aren't available on CD. I also like the sound of many of my LPs better than the same cuts that have been transferred to CDs. Although the bass on a CD can be deeper, the quiet areas quieter, and the dynamic range possible a bit greater, I've found the sound of many of the LPs to have greater spaciousness and dimensionality.

I take good care of my records and carefully align a cartridge, level the turntable, and precisely set the stylus force. All of these steps are needed to not only get the best sound from a record, but to ensure against damage and minimize wear. I found the ELP Laser Turntable to provide the same sound quality as my turntable-cartridge system, without the meticulous setup, record wear potential or as much risk of damage compared to a traditional record playing system. It was fun to use, and especially rewarding with a warped record. If you have an extensive record collection and an expansive bank account, the ELP is worth considering.--JTF
COPYRIGHT 2006 Sensible Sound
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Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Frane, James T.
Publication:Sensible Sound
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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