Sperling L-1 Turntable

Sperling L-1 Turntable

A little beginning…what started it all?

It all started for Sperling when two gentlemen from Germany, Ansgar Sperling and Michael Bonninghoff, hit the DIY and audio market with their first external, stand-alone drive unit. It consisted of an elaborate and adjustable, fine tuning, speed drive (or motor) system meant for those who are not easily satisfied with the original stock drive; not unlike our designers here. After enjoying some early success, our designers decided on their next logical move: design own turntable. They wanted a turntable of “the highest level of flexibility combined with an uncompromising precision and without regard to materials or cost”. They hope that the resultant turntable will bring forth “Extreme Relaxation and Extreme Excitement” to all users.

Since Sperling L-1 ‘speared’ here…

Given that Sperling has only landed here fairly recently (compared with other turntable brands), I would say that it has done quite well. The brand is already known to many analogue enthusiasts locally. At a whopping price of around €30,000 (depending on finishes), it would not be an immediate runaway success any time soon. In addition, at that price point, the expectation is for a whole lot of analogue sound. And more…

But an analogue source comprises more than just a turntable. It is true that €30,000 may not buy you the complete Ultra High End analogue source here (note: there are much more expensive ones out there!). So, be prepared to spend a bit more to hear the Sperling experience. In the meantime, do consider the following and compare the alternative offerings:

The Heavyweight Contender

Visually, the Sperling L-1 is already impressive enough, and looks a heavyweight among the Ultra High End high-mass turntable category. It comes with a ‘special aluminum alloy platter’ that weighs a whopping 60 pounds (about 27kg). It is a norm that platters have the record sit on top and some will have a mat in between. Here, Sperling L-1’s platter goes one better: it has inlays affixed to the precision groves on its top that are exchangeable with different materials. These materials, from different types of woods, acrylic, POM, and more, will result in different tonality. They are provided by the manufacturer, at a cost, upon request.

Such an idea is not new as it can be found in tonearm bases which you can calibrate individually to create the coupling between record and platter. The record does not have any contact with the aluminum alloy platter but rests on the eight pieces of inlays. Thus, there are gaps of air in between certain parts of the coupling. It can be argued that it is not even a full coupling but I have not experienced any problems. It can be counter argued that this notion creates the tonality as described in this review.

Vinyl lovers, myself included, will always prefer more than one favorite tonearm and phono cartridge. Here, the designers seem to have the same inclination. The Sperling L-1’s base, a massive ‘V’ shaped aluminum support for two tonearm bases, is designed for tonearm mounting between 9 inches and 12 inches.

According to the designers, this has sprouted forth “an innovative rotation mechanism that made it possible to set both tonearms to the platter in any conceivable position or angle, together with extremely stable screw connection”.

In addition, “the tonearm bases display an accurate scale on the top side that made it possible to return a readjusted tonearm and/or phono cartridge combination and its rightful base plate to its original point effortlessly, regardless of whether it’s between the two bases on the same turntable or even between other Sperling L-1 turntables”.

There’s also some tinkering on belt tension adjustments, between the motor and the platter. Our German designers knew such actions have a significant influence on the tonality of a turntable. Therefore, the Sperling L-1 comes with a “new housing (compared to their previous stand-alone offerings) that offers the ability to change the belt tension while running; with the help of a very sensitive adjustment system. Here, a user can set his/her  device at any time to suit his/her taste”.

Finally, the Sperling L-1 spots a massive bearing system of a large diameter spindle integrated into an equally large oil reservoir. On top of that spindle is located a tiny ball made of Silicium Nitrid (one of the hardest ceramics found) where a larger diameter spindle bushing is sledded over it to capture the ball. The whole assembly is filled with the provided oil. When the spindle bushing spins, the oil contained in the reservoir will circulate throughout the spindle.

Actual Ring and Matches thus far…

Other than the experience with the review unit that is still in my audio den for more than a year now, I have heard a number of other set up configurations of the Sperling L-1 in a number of different audio systems, which mostly belong to my audiophile friends. These are my findings thus far:

Those who have had the pleasure to experience the Sperling L-1 would notice how quiet the background was. Some might call it “black” background. I enjoyed that attribute very much while playing “Supreme Sessions 2 (Marten Recordings)” especially the track “Requiem to a Machine”. Here, the sheer darkness coupled with the  background with ‘chains and foils rumbling’ afloat in my audio den was an eerie experience. At times, I was taken by surprise by the dynamic contrast and slam from that track. The Sperling L-1 would easily ditch out any embedded dynamic and attack from any (native) recording.

(But) it is not a Kronos Pro Turntable?

Those who have read my reviews on the Kronos Pro Ltd turntable would be aware of my fondness toward it. I would say it out now that the Sperling L-1 does not present its music like the Kronos Pro Ltd.

A dear friend purchased the Kronos Pro Ltd with SCPS (Super Charger Power Suppy) told me the Sperling L-1 turntable may not be a ‘Kronos Pro Ltd’ but it sure has its appeals.

Both of us heard the Sperling L-1 with the Acoustical System Aquilar tonearm and Miyajima Kansui MC cartridge  played the Ernest Ansermet conducted “Falla: The Three Cornered Hat” (Decca, Esoteric ESLP-10003). He told me to listen closely to the depth of the soundstage. I mentioned to him that such depth was only possible for a turntable with extreme low noise (if the recording permits, of course). He agreed that the noise floor was so low that the musicians sat at the far end were vividly portrayed at their individual positions in the soundstage.

He thoroughly enjoyed the Sperling L-1’s soundstage presentation with its proper placement of every musician and element therein. Overjoyed and much impressed, he bought the Sperling L-1 with the rarest ebony wood finish. 

On a somewhat similar footing, I would like to share my experience regarding scale and proportion in a recording playback. There are some source components (and other components in the set up) that tend to exaggerate certain areas and/or frequencies bandwidth thus distort the scale and proportion of certain musical instruments in the band or orchestra in the recording. Some might call that coloration. Colorations happened to be throughout the recording chain before the vinyl record reaches the playback system.

No, the Sperling L-1 does not remove any coloration in the recording nor any from the ancillary components in the set up.

I felt the Sperling L-1 does provide that stable platform for the other ancillary components such as tonearms, phono cartridges and etc to perform as intended with/out (least) coloration.

I played one of my favorite demo albums, “Winds of War and Peace” (Wilson Audiophile/Analogue Productions APC 8823), especially the first track, “Liberty Fanfare” for obvious reasons. It is so easy to impress audiences with said track what with its raw dynamic slam of low bass. The Sperling L-1 would carry that presentation a notch higher with musicians well placed in the orchestra and at proportional size and scale. I have the feeling that the whole presentation was in ‘good order’ and the sense that the conductor was satisfied with the whole show.

Is it not as deep in the extreme low as the behemoth Clearaudio Statement turntable? 

Ever since the Sperling L-1 was introduced into my set up, I felt that the music that flows through it tends to be in ‘good order’. By that, I do not mean that the presentation to be lifeless or without dynamics and slam. On the contrary, play side B of “Faust” Ballet Music “Carmen” Suite (Living Stereo LSC-2449/Analogue Productions) and any listener could easily testify in favor of the Sperling L-1’s authoritative low frequency attacks. Here, the wave upon wave of lower registries easily filled my audio den. That sensation was as if I was given a nice massage. 

The Sperling L-1 was not only able to ditch out the low frequencies with the right quantity but also able to control and ‘delineate’ them. In ‘delineating’ the low frequencies, at the end of each low note and low end frequencies attack, there is a round off to mark its end. Each low note and wave are allowed to decay and not sharply but roundly. To some, that maybe the more natural way to decay a note but others may prefer a sharp end (each to his own). I believe that was the cause of the ‘good order’. The Clearaudio Statement turntable would be a great testament to what analogue deep bass would be. Comparatively, the Clearaudio would go a few notches lower and at higher quantity, to the extreme low (I mean real low) and be able to maintain that low registry to its bitter end, clearly and sharply (my next question is could the other ancillary components follow suit?).

It’s not a TechDas Air Force One Turntable?

There are many reasons why complicated music, especially Big Bang and Orchestra music are not favored by many audiophiles. Most audio systems cannot handle them. To start off, the source component(s) must be up for the job. The Sperling L-1 can easily traverse through the most complicated musical passages. I would testify that it is in the same league of other Ultra High End turntables, such as The Clearaudio Statement, Kronos Pro Ltd (with SCPS), and TechDas Air Force One. A good test album here would be “Venice~Solti” (Living Stereo LSC 2313/Analogue Productions) where mass of strings amounted to a steady presence of energy at the mid low registries would prove difficult for any lesser turntables. The Sperling L-1 has no problem here (or any other grand scale orchestra and Big Bang recordings). On another note, if extreme comparisons be made, I would say that one of the plus points of the TechDas Air Force One turntable is its ability to traverse even the most complicated of musical passages with ease, stability, integrity and finesse. Here, the Sperling L-1 may not have that final refinement comparatively speaking, but it sure has that ability to space out the musicians nicely thus allowing a certain rounding up of each section of the presentation, in ‘good order’.

Seductively Different…

The next show, I have Ms. Lyn Stanley with her latest album “The Moonlight Sessions Volume One” (Beta, One-Step Supersonic 45RPM, A.T.Music LLC #3105). First of all, I must say this is one great recording and a ‘Must Own’ in my audiophile book. The Sperling L-1 presented the human voice quite differently compared to the other Ultra High End turntables in my possession. It has that certain ‘un-forceful character’ to the voice. Here, Ms. Stanley has been given the opportunity/time/space to express her emotions. It was so easy to flow with her emotions as if you “have given her all the time and space in the world”

I think it is more sensible and logical to credit the effect to the recording, and to Ms. Stanley’s seductive vocal qualities, but ultimately a testament to the Sperling L-1’s positive attribute.

Since we are at ‘human voice’, I wish to introduce another sensual vocalist, Ms. Pacharamon Naphasthanakiat from Thailand, and her latest album, “Oopiib Sings Impression” by Pongpan Channet (Impression Sound Studio, www.impressionsound.com). This recording was done in a world class studio of 375 square meters (about 4,000 sq ft) named Studio 28 in Thailand. Here, the vocals were closely miked and captured with all intended density, vibrancy, liveliness and detail. The accompanying musicians were recorded ‘live’ together with the vocalist to enjoy the spaciousness of the studio.

Upon hearing her voice, my soul was immediately captured. The Sperling L-1 has that ability to surround her vocals with such quietness or ‘blackness’ that allows her emotions to materialize and punch into my soul. If you are a lover of Single Ended Tube amplification (SET) then maybe it would be easier to comprehend what I am trying to share here (I used to own the Audio Note (UK) Ongaku). 

Caged Up…

I have to agree that the price of the Sperling L-1 turntable is not within the budget of most audiophiles. However,  for those with deep pockets and a desire to open up a new listening experience, I encourage a good listen before taking the plunge. Here, they will be treated to a musical presentation of ‘good order’ backed by an extremely quiet background where palpable emotionsdetailsseparationcontrolled dynamics, and authoritative bass slam at the proportional size and scale are the rule, not the exception. 

Dato’ Danon Han