The versatile vinyl package that lets your LPs sing
Fresh from the news that the best-selling item in the Amazon US home electronics category over Christmas was the turntable, it looks increasingly likely that the vinyl boom is set to continue into 2016 and beyond. Unsurprisingly, the popularity in the analogue format means a greater number of decks hitting the market, which is great for both new and old vinyl fans alike.
One new arrival is the Zero turntable from British newcomer Analogue Works. We have already sampled the company’s Turntable One, which was highly Recommended when reviewed in issue 388. The Zero is the smallest of three new models that the maker claims further evolve the design principles of the original and look set to offer improved performance as a result. The Zero is available as a basic model for £1,000 or as seen here in Zero+ form, which upgrades the arm and cartridge supplied for an extra £500.
The Zero+ is an unsuspended, belt-drive design that is in Analogue Works’ own words a combination of “best engineering practices, common sense, careful listening and a marriage of materials”. This might be seen as a slightly long-hand way of saying that the design is not an especially radical one, but it does include some impressive features given its price.
The plinth is constructed from layers of Finnish birch ply selected for its relative density and resonance control. This contains the main bearing, which is a very substantial piece of engineering indeed and has been designed in conjunction with the plinth for the absolute suppression of mechanical noise. The good news is that they seem to have succeeded. This is aided by feet made from weight-dependent damping material that offers a useful degree of isolation.
The platter that drops into the bearing is a high-mass steel type that is seriously weighty for a model at this price point. One unusual aspect is that as well as having a groove for the drive belt to sit in, it additionally has a larger groove at the top of the platter for the fitting of a rubber damping ring which quells resonances that can cause the belt to strum during rotation if it isn’t present. The belt itself connects to a motor sited within a hold at the rear left corner of the plinth and the motor housing is as solid as the accompanying turntable and also impressively well damped.
Spin it to win it
The nature of this motor provides a clue to the origins of some of the design ethos of the Analogue Works. It is a low-torque design and the result of this is that if you flick the switch on the accompanying ‘Black Eye’ power supply to start the deck, nothing will happen. Due to its weight and low torque, the platter needs to be started by hand after which the motor will spin it to the correct speed (and a strobe test suggests it is impressively stable once there). After a bit of time, this feels entirely second nature, but it does take a little getting used to.
Finishing off the Zero+ deck is a Jelco SA-750DB tonearm and Audio-Technica AT440MLB cartridge. The Jelco is a talented arm and looks and feels extremely impressive. Fitting it to the Zero+ is fairly straightforward and thanks to the use of a removable headshell, it means that the body of the AT440 cartridge can be easily fitted to the detached headshell and simply slotted into place. A Cardas-wired tonearm interconnect completes the package.
As a package, the Zero+ is a genuinely handsome turntable. It looks clean and simple without appearing overly basic and the build quality is extremely good for the asking price. Where Analogue Works has been extremely clever is that nothing about the design screams low production volume. All of the details are well implemented and it feels like a product that has been designed from the ground up rather than assembled from parts to hand. There is also the possibility to upgrade performance further at a later date with the optional WM One Power Supply, which will set you back an additional £745.
You shouldn’t feel the need to rush into trying to squeeze more performance out of the Zero+, though, because there is a great deal to like about the way that it behaves. Connected to an Avid Pellar phono stage (HFC 363), Naim Supernait 2 integrated amp and Neat Momentum 4i speakers, it demonstrates a number of distinctive and likeable traits from the outset. The first is that it is a genuinely quiet turntable. Mechanical noise is almost completely absent and this contributes to a low noisefloor on the deck itself.
As a result, with the wonderful Spaces by Nils Frahm, the Zero+ excels itself. The increasingly frantic piano work of Hammers rises from near total silence and the scale and power of the instrument is captured perfectly. The Zero+ is able to get out of the way of the music and let it happen in a way that is unusual for a deck at this relatively sane price. There is a clear perception of the space on the stage and the mass of the audience in front of it, which combines to give a fine sense of realism to the performance.
At the same time, there is also a sense of force to the Zero+ that is extremely likeable. With the more boisterous Art Angels by Grimes, there is a clear sense of drive and attack that gives the deck an enthusiastic quality without sounding forced or relentless. Instead, the punchy bassline of California is rendered in an unapologetically joyous fashion. The relatively high mass of the Zero+ seems to make itself felt in consistently deep and controlled bass that has plenty of impact without sounding sluggish or dominating. It can’t produce the same relentless accuracy of the Avid Ingenium (HFC 379), but it is rather happier having a bit of fun when the occasion demands.
The upper registers are also well presented. Claire Boucher’s striking vocals are crisply and clearly defined from the accompanying instruments, but remain well integrated with the music as a whole. Vocals seem to be a particular strength. While the deck doesn’t tend to over emphasise the midrange – it is very even from top to bottom – there is a genuine sense of life to voices and stringed instruments in particular that makes any recording with them a pleasure to listen to.
The Zero+ is unfazed even by extremely complex arrangements and this sense of control is consistent across a wide variety of material. Past experience with the AT440 cartridge suggests that it is slightly on the bright side of neutral but it combines with the Zero+ and Jelco to excellent effect, sounding lively without tipping over into being thin or bright. The presentation also holds up well with less than stellar recordings. The Audio-Technica is a little susceptible to surface noise but congested and confused records like Placebo’s Meds still sound listenable and fun where many rivals can all too often reveal the many and varied flaws that are in the mastering.
The synergy of the deck, arm and cartridge and this peppy and evenhanded nature means that it is very hard to wrong-foot the Zero+ across a huge variety of music. It seems just as happy with the delicacy of the Cinematic Orchestra as it is powering its way through the more chaotic clatter of Underworld.
On occasions, sources with a fundamentally lively presentation can sound a little ill at ease with music that doesn’t require the same get up and go. Where the Zero+ is particularly impressive is that while it never stops sounding powerful and engaging, this never seems to unduly interfere with music that really doesn’t benefit from this. Anthony and the Johnsons’ hauntingly lovely I Am A Bird Now is as delicate and soulful as you could hope for and never sounds like the Zero+ is forcing the issue.
Neither is it terribly fussy about partnering equipment. As the main source used in this month’s phono stage Group Test, the fundamental qualities of the deck are present with all of the test models while being sufficiently revealing to highlight the differences between them and it suggests that partnering it should not be too demanding a process. Equally, those clever feet do a fine job of keeping the deck isolated and while a dedicated platform will provide a further boost, the performance when positioned directly on a Quadraspire rack is extremely good.
Vinyl boom or not, there is no hiding from the inescapable fact that there is no shortage of models to choose from at this key price point and that includes some very well-known brands alongside some deeply accomplished rivals. Analogue Works has been clever in putting the Zero+ together and has avoided particularly radical design aspects and exotic components. Instead it has focused on using the best materials it can get its hands on and sound engineering practise to deliver a turntable that is handsome, beautifully made and exceptionally capable across a very wide variety of music. We loved the Turntable One, but in this second-generation of turntable models it has a genuine star, and the Zero+ should be on your shortlist if you’re seeking a deck at this price. ES
PRODUCT: Analogue Works Zero+
TYPE: Belt-drive turntable
DIMENSIONS (WxHxD): 468 x 108 x 369 mm
● 33 & 45rpm
● Jelco SA-750DB arm with detachable headshell
● Audio-Technica AT440MLB cartridge
DISTRIBUTOR: Divine Audio
TELEPHONE: 01536 762211
To read the full review click here
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