With its unique performance, Andrew Simpson finds out why the new Flamenca could set your heart on fire
When The Funk Firm releases a new turntable, you can expect innovation to be high on the agenda. Challenging the norms of turntable design is what company founder Arthur Khoubesserian is all about. Let’s not forget that this is the man who some decades ago first introduced novel ideas like fitting DC motors to belt drive decks alongside acrylic platters for placing your LPs on sans mat. Back then this was truly leftfield thinking, but now it’s commonplace on many of today’s high-end vinyl spinners, showing that Arthur was clearly ahead of the game.
But that was then, and AK’s Pink Triangle decks of the day have since passed into audiophile legend. Since the early noughties, Arthur has been channelling his hi-fi energies into The Funk Firm, which has gained an impressive reputation for its visually striking decks with alternative drive systems and mould-breaking tonearms.
Despite its conventional looks which are more in keeping with its £1,440 Little Super Deck sibling than the distinctive curves of the Vector and Saffire models, the entry-level Flamenca continues to live the Funk ethos, thanks to some unique features.
Like the LSD, the Flamenca sports a glass platter. But unlike the LSD, it eschews Funk’s proprietary vector belt drive system of a motor with two slave pulleys for a more conventional periphery belt drive from a single motor pulley. I say conventional, but as with most things Funk, the basics have been carefully considered for maximum sonics. The motor is intentionally cited at the deck’s front left corner because Funk believes putting a motor at the rear of a platter allows motor and/or structural vibration to travel along the belt causing the cartridge to vibrate side to side. However, putting the motor pulley in line with the tonearm allows these same vibrations to instead travel down the arm tube that’s held firm by the bearing.
In another effort to minimise vibration and noise entering into the replay chain, the Flamenca gets a 12V DC servo controlled motor to aid smooth and silent running. Speed is controlled electronically via a knurled silver knob for 33.3 and 45rpm, with discreet trim pots for speed fine tuning.
For spinning duties the deck’s 10mm-thick glass platter rests on a finely engineered steel plate with a case-hardened spindle that turns against a steel ball sitting at the base of a close-tolerance brass bearing sleeve. The deck’s 25mm-thick plinth is made from three layers of MDF bonded together to aid damping, while four chunky rubberised circular feet give stable support.
Completing the package is Funk’s F6 tonearm, which unlike the usual gimballed or unipivot designs employs a thread bearing, whereby the arm tube is effectively suspended from a polymer loop. This loop connects to a single polymer thread inside the arm, which exits through the bottom of the tube where it attaches to the lower bearing housing to hold it steady. The arm tube itself is made from aircraft-grade aluminium with a threaded low-slung steel counterweight at one end and an acrylic head with separate cartridge mounting plate at the other. The arm’s mounting is of the conventional Rega type and at £370 on its own, the F6 is a perfectly positioned upgrade for budget decks in need of an alternative approach. And while you’ll need a steady hand to keep the arm still during cartridge installation, its design has lots of easy adjustment including for arm height, via a simple recessed hex-headed clamp for fuss-free fine tuning.
The deck comes with a thick felt mat as standard and Funk also includes an inhouse 3mm Achromat with our test rig, costing £57 extra. Set up is without drama. The hardest part is fitting the round section rubber belt around the platter which takes a bit of perseverance, but once on stays put.
After an hour’s run in, a quick strobe test reveals our sample to be bang on the money at both 33.3 and 45rpm without need for extra speed trimming. The next task is to decide which platter mat to go for, and a few laps of Donald Fagen’s Ruby Baby finds the answer. Supplementing the thick felt mat for the Achromat gives a more dynamic sound with crisper edges to the piano notes and better instrument separation. It costs more, but on clarity grounds the Achromat is a wise upgrade.
It’s difficult to describe the Funk’s sonic palate because its strengths lie in transparency, without adding too much of its own personality. I often hear decks that are voiced to bring certain elements to the fore, be it a more pronounced midrange or tempered treble. And if these elements are to your liking then these decks will no doubt tick your personal boxes. The Funk, however, stakes a less obvious claim for a particular type of performance, by striving for a balanced sound without overly favouring any element of the soundstage or its presentation.
Armed with an Ortofon 2M Blue pick-up (HFC 375) and plumbed into my Primare R32 phono stage, the Flamenca nails its lack of colouration to the mast via Joy Division’s New Dawn Fades from an original pressing of the Unknown Pleasures album. This track can often wrong foot an unsuspecting deck as with turntables favouring a rockier and more polished presentation it can sound raw, but devoid of character. While more laid-back machines let the track’s murky tones saturate the mix, removing the edgy nature of Curtis’ no-holds-barred vocals, the Flamenca leans to neither side and instead presents the song evenly, which really drives home why Martin Hannett’s distinctive production was so crucial to the band’s unique sound. Guitars are conveyed with just the right amount of body and tonal appetite, and it’s the content of their long drawn-out notes that the Funk subtly brings out, which breathes life into the music. Meanwhile the rapid drum strikes are rendered with a clean, short echo, before falling away into the darkness of the soundstage, behind my Dynaudio Focus 260 floorstanders’ physical footprint.
While the Funk’s imaging isn’t as ultimately precise as some of its similarly priced stable mates, the way it really opens up the soundstage is beyond many of its peers. Taking the Flamenca to the next level with a Benz Micro ACE SH MC (£595) reveals the Funk’s underlying capabilities. On PJ Harvey’s The Glorious Land from Let England Shake, the Funk lets the bugle call out from far back within the mix and with a natural echo as it sweeps across the far regions of the soundstage, before the rhythm guitar’s ringing notes flow from my speakers without constraint. And when the vocals kick in there’s plenty of space around them as they float across the air. The Flamenca’s sound is far from forward and it seems to want to push the music upwards and outwards, rather than straight at the listener, which also adds to its sense of openness and lack of congestion. Whether this is down to the minimum resistance thread bearing arm allowing its partnering cartridge more freedom to express itself I can’t say, but there is a definite sense of letting the music speak for itself about this deck, that’s reminiscent of how a unipivot arm presents the music.
Returning to the Donald Fagen album via the opening I.G.Y track reveals the bass to be fast and, well, funky. And while this track reveals that the Funk’s low end doesn’t have the chest pummeling power of some of its heavyweight counterparts, the bass it does render is tight, rhythmical and upbeat.
Looks-wise the Flamenca certainly doesn’t stand out from the crowd as much as other decks from The Funk Firm’s stable. But it only takes a few minutes of hearing it to know that the Flamenca is blessed with what makes the Funk brand so unique. It’s transparent and airy sound is very inviting and when partnered with the right pick-up to get the best out of its thread bearing arm, you’ll be rewarded with an open window into the music.
LIKE: Open and transparent sound; simple yet clever tonearm design
DISLIKE: Belt can be fiddly to fit; not for hardcore bass junkies
WE SAY: Deceptively conventional looks hide a turntable of true sonic merit
PRODUCT The Funk Firm Flamenca
TYPE Belt-drive turntable with tonearm
DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 414 x 110 x 320mm
• 33 and 45rpm electronic speed change
• 12V DC motor
• Funk F6 thread bearing tonearm
• External wall wart PSU
• Removable dust cover
DISTRIBUTOR The Funk Firm
TELEPHONE 01273 585042
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