We are thrilled to announce the arrival of the Well Tempered Versalex turntable to our range.
Looks can be deceptive: read on
The Versalex is the new range-topping brainchild of William Firebaugh. He’s been designing unique turntables for decades and the Versalex is the pinnacle of his radical thinking. Read his philosophy here. Where most alternatives follow a well trodden path of design and are essentially therefore variations of popular themes, William started afresh.
First off, the plinth is wood but not just any wood to look pretty, no, its 30mm solid Baltic birch ply and veneered on top with a most pleasing walnut. This not only gives this un-suspended deck weight but is naturally damped too, something close to the designer’s heart, more later.
Turntable designers the world over, have striven to design better decks spending considerable amounts on more exotic materials to allow the machining of ever finer bearing tolerances. William’s solution was to remove ALL arm bearings. Yes you did read that correctly, his arms have no bearings whatsoever. The problem as he sees it is no matter how fine the tolerances there must always be some free-play as a perfect fit would mean they could not move at all. This free-play manifests itself as ‘chatter’ that the cartridge easily picks up.
Atop this deck is mounted what appears to be a quite conventional looking tonearm but closer inspection shows that’s far from the truth. The all-new LTD tonearm is now an all-in-one unit rather than three separate components mounted on the plinth of previous designs which makes it easier to set up and use. It even has a built-in cue lever!
Note the twist in the suspending filament. It's also the variable bias, clever.
From the ‘sharp end’ the arm features a fixed unique geometry headshell mounted on a soft sand filled aluminium tube (more damping). This is attached to an aluminium mount on top of what may look like to you a half of a golf ball. That’s because that’s exactly what it is. William realised he didn’t need to re-invent what has already been perfected at the cost of millions, a sphere, although for his purposes, half of one. The first units used a whole ball as seen here but the arm has recently been redesigned with the machined metal top.
If you look closely you should spot half of a golf ball
This sphere is a qualitative step up from the previous ‘paddle’ of the original design. Underneath that, lies the next innovative aspect of the design, thick silicone damping fluid. The whole tonearm assembly is suspended from a gallows above by a filament with one half twist. Another stroke of genius, this half twist provides the necessary bias or antiskate but what’s more, it’s variable as in theory it should be, such is the force to untwist which increases towards end of side. Brilliantly simple. The sphere is part submerged in the damping fluid cup which can be raised or lowered to alter the amount of damping to suit the partnering system. It is then left with no further set-up required.
The stainless steel ring atop the gallows from which the suspension filament is hung rotates to allow for on-the-fly azimuth or HTA (horizontal tracking angle) adjustment, this just gets more logical as it continues. What’s more by dint of the damping fluid the VTF (vertical tracking force) is also automatic ie as the groove forces the arm to raise the VTF increases slightly to maintain full and perfect contact with the groove wall. It works too; you’ll hear NO mistracking on even the most tortuous records.
The next unique aspect of Well Tempered turntables is the main bearing design. Well Tempered call it a Zero Tolerance design. Unlike the arm, the platter needs a main bearing upon which to rotate but again unlike ANY other it is NOT a sleeve design. As with arm bearings, William argues a sleeve with any tolerance is still imperfect, it will inevitably still ‘chatter’ to some extent and the pick-up will resolve this as unwanted noise. The solution is his next stroke of lateral thinking. A round spindle in a triangular hole. Yes, again you read that correctly. The bearing spindle tip rests in a Teflon cup and against just two sides of the triangular Teflon opening in a tube filled with a very light oil. What you have here is a three-point mount in constant contact so no ‘chatter’, zero tolerance.
Like a round peg in a triangular hole, no, it is a round peg in a triangular hole!
The last of the unique design features is the belt. When I say belt, that’s not strictly correct. Surely at this point you didn’t expect the designer to settle for a rubber band did you? That would simply transfer motor vibration, however small to the platter. No, no rubber band here. Instead we have a 0.004" non-elastic mono-filament. This ensures perfect isolation and prevents the bearing spindle from ‘falling over’ and making contact with the third side of the triangular opening. The platter is solid acrylic and over-sized for better rotational stability. The matt is of a fine foam which is easier to keep clean than the usual felt mats.
'Belt' If you drop it you'll stuggle to find it. Don't worry, there's more in the box and they're free for life.
Phew! I think I’ve covered everything. No? Oh yes, how does all this design translate into its sound?
Well none of us here have experienced quite what a Well Tempered is capable of until now. Each of us here use markedly different decks and there is some friendly banter and ribbing but on this we are as one. The very first thought is of total stability. Everything is absolutely rock solid in its soundscape and where it should be. Pitch and timing appear perfect. No harshness whatsoever, even on some pretty old vinyl. Dynamics are out of this world. Backgrounds optimise what we refer to as inky blackness and vinyl roar seems remarkably absent. The music simply flows.
The detail and resolution are a revelation but not in a overtly 'HiFi' or analytical way, just totally natural and unforced. There's not a trace of bloom or excess of any part of the audio spectrum but the bass plumbs the depths like few others whilst managing to articulate each and every note with ease.There's real pace and drive without it sounding artificial or contrived.
Voices such as Joni Mitchell's sound hauntingly present whilst piano has real scale and resonance. Listening to Richard and Linda Thompson's 'Poor Little Beggar Girl' from their 'I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight' album, both guitar and mandolin sounded better than I've ever heard them before, missing was the added warmth other decks render but at the same time the bass guitar and drums remained with driving force.
It’s like listening to the source tape with all of the emotion of the performance flooding through.
Lastly, this is not a deck to fret over. It requires no servicing. There are no upgrades, tweaks or third party mods to spend your hard-earned cash on, you’ll just be buying a LOT of records. The output is via a pair of phono sockets allowing options for arm-lead and naturally you can upgrade your cartridge. We are reliably informed it can take anything at any quality, right up to the truly exotic. Your cartridge is in for 'the ride of its life!' John at Pear Audio uses a Dynavector XV-1t at £5,500. Replacement belts are free for life too.
If that’s not enough to whet your appetite, then bring in a record or two, as it’s on front of house alongside other favourites, and judge for yourselves.
I’ve been using another very well known deck at home at various spec levels for exactly twenty-nine years but will I get to thirty?
£3495 excl. cartridge.
(Cartridge shown is a Dynavector XX2 @ £1049)
Packaging quality. Bottom left is the tin for the free electronic stylus force gauge
Plinth with beautiful walnut veneer
Precision made tonearm component detailing 'gallows pole' and damping fluid trough
Cartridge option: Dynavector XX2 on our demo deck