Langer Audio No.7 Turntable
or a turntable with serious designs on high-end customers, just the presentation of the Langer No.7 is in danger of handicapping it so heavily it will be out of the running. For audiophile end users inured to multiple motors and belts, external power supplies and even platters, heres a turntable that isnt just compact, its almost willfully plain in appearance. Even more shocking is the simple plinth, shallow platter and integrated power supply. This turntable isnt just easy to install, its easy to accommodate and easy to use -- thus breaking three hallowed audiophile dictates in one go, all before youve even started it up. Mount an S-shaped tonearm like a Jelco and the overall effect is so eerily retro that it wouldnt be out of place amidst the offerings of the Japanese electronics giants right before they stopped offering turntables altogether.
Its a strangely apposite appearance -- and no accident. The Langer No.7 has more in common with those last-generation Japanese turntables than just the way it looks, for this is a classic direct-drive design. Built around Langers own brushless, Hall-effect motor/bearing and control system, it flies in the face of belt-drive orthodoxy and construction, with design and engineering optimized for its own approach rather than that adopted by the competition. It looks different because it is different. That thin platter actually weighs a pretty serious 3kg and is machined from solid aluminum. It mates with the upper face of the motor itself, which effectively constitutes the subplatter, and which rides on exactly the sort of main bearing youd find in any other top-flight turntable. A standing design by necessity, it uses sintered bronze bushes for side loads and a soft polyamide thrust pad to help reduce bearing noise. The motor control electronics run from an analog sensor and reference, with variable torque ensuring quick startup and then minimal impulse once the platter is up to speed. This constant low-level drive, balanced against the moderate weight of the platter, helps reduce noise generated by the motor or the effort required to correct any speed variation. In yet another retro step, the disc sits on a thick rubber mat. Its almost as if Langer wanted to discard every last bit of the accepted wisdom that goes with belt-drive design. Either way, theres no mistaking the fact that this is a direct-drive table, as different from the belt-driven masses as it looks.
Having said that, as visually iconoclastic as it is, the No.7 is also just one amongst an increasing number of direct-drive turntables hitting the market. This once-reviled technology is making a comeback that even Rocky might find implausible. But theres no escaping the fact that, at least as far as appearance goes, the Langer is the retro ticket. Whats not quite so obvious is that the retro theme runs deeper still. The No.7 turntable consists of the drive system and a range of plinth options. The one supplied for review is the top model, priced at 5980. A hinged lid is available for an additional 150 -- and you dont get much more retro than that!
But the old-school jokes soon peter out once you actually start handling the No.7. The plinth might look simple, but its machined from a solid billet of aluminum to produce a 20kg slab to which the drive and tonearm are attached via a four-point, elastomer-suspended, aluminum-plate subchassis. A substantial aluminum base plate has large, retro-style alloy feet in each corner. These might look just like the plastic moldings off of an old Technics or Pioneer, but they are actually discs machined from solid metal that run on large 20mm-diameter threaded posts sunk in the tables base, offering both leveling and stability. The undersides are fitted with rubber O-rings to offer a small degree of decoupling and also to protect the supporting surface.
Unfortunately, like the elastomer grommets that sit between the VPI Classic Direct motor and plinth (and the "isolators" that support the No.7s subchassis) these also form an effective barrier to efficient mechanical grounding. Assuming that you are going to mount the deck on something more sophisticated than a sheet of glass or slab of MDF, they are best reversed, which gives an uninterrupted metal path from plinth to supporting surface. For those seeking a less-industrial look, wooden plinths in a range of attractive veneers are also available, built onto the same base plate and subchassis, with prices starting at 5640. There are a host of pictures showing the various options on the Langer website.
The armboard is designed to accept 9" tonearms (although longer, offset 'arms like the Kuzma 4Point and Tri-Planar, both 10.5" designs, can also be accommodated); it's a simple alloy plate that attaches securely to the much more substantial subchassis. That accounts in part for the Langer No.7s compact dimensions, but might well be seen as a limitation in a world that seems to be moving inexorably toward longer armtubes.
Which brings us to this tables second resolutely retro aspect, something that reaches far further back into audio history than its mere aesthetics. The Langer motor system is available as just that -- what in days of yore would have been called a motor unit. Companies like Thorens and Garrard offered both finished turntables and drive systems that could be built into alternative plinths, housings or even radiograms. Hence the wide variety of different plinths seen below secondhand 301s, 401s and TD124s, and the current DIY market for replacement plinths, continuing a tradition established by no lesser lights than the likes of SME, who offered their own plinth system to integrate the Garrard motors with their own tonearms.
The Langer drive system is available in various levels of completeness -- four steps that range from a simple motor and speed-sensor board (2250) up to a complete motor, housing and platter, with all the necessary electronics built into a separate, external casing (3450). Fancy some kind of weird, sculptured acrylic plinth paired with a 14" tonearm? Knock yourself out. Want to know how a solid bronze platter sounds? Now you can. What the Langer motor unit does is prize the lid off the can of worms that is DIY turntable design. Let the fun begin.
ack in the world of off-the shelf performance, how does the Langer No.7 stack up? Is it as sonically lightweight as it looks or as musically solid as it feels? Well, before we can find out well need to mount an 'arm and fire up the deck, neither being quite as straightforward as it might be.
Okay, so how difficult can it be to plug in a mains lead? That depends on the size of the hole through which that lead has to pass. The Langers IEC input is deeply recessed within the plinth, accessed through a rectangular port little bigger than the head on a standard kettle lead. Any kind of oversized molded lead wont fit; anything using a round-bodied Wattgate or Furutech-type connector is out of the question -- which pretty much rules out audiophile AC leads of any type. Given that its easier to machine a round hole than a rectangle, Id suggest that this is one aspect of the design that would benefit from modification, making both manufacturing and installation easier.
As with any turntable, when it comes to selecting and mounting a tonearm, you need to pay attention to the physical arrangement and constraints of the design. If you ever tried to mount anything other than a Linn-compatible 'arm on an LP12 youll understand exactly what Im talking about. Move the mounting collar away from its accustomed position on the armboard and it starts banging into things inside the deck. Come forward and you hit the subchassis, backward and outward and you hit the plinths corner brace. Either way, you are getting into minor (or sometimes major) surgery -- and as the medical profession will tell you, thats definitely best avoided.
The Langer No.7 shares the same basic footprint as the LP12, but has an even shallower plinth, which makes the physical constraints potentially even tighter. The armboard is located over a large oval cutout in the baseboard, allowing the tonearm leads to exit. However, the rear outer arc of that cutout is overlapped by the large diameter of the rear-right foot. Now look above the plinth and you realize that the shallow platter and small dimensions of the armboard conspire to create potential geometrical conflict. The natural inclination is to mount the 'arm on the centerline of the armboard: it just looks neater that way. But the small footprint of that armboard and the fact that it is attached snug up against the platter mean that almost all 9" tonearms, with spindle-to-pivot distances in the realm of 210mm (Linn-type geometry) to 222mm (Rega) will place the 'arm well toward the armboards outer edge. Now factor in the shallow platter and the need to set the 'arm quite low to achieve proper VTA and any 'arm that uses a collar-and-post mounting, assuming that you can set it low enough, is going to end up with an awful lot of post sticking down below the armboard -- where you only have 60mm of clearance before you reach the top side of that foot, clearance that has to accommodate both the armpost and the cable coming out of it, as well as any plug that connects the two together. It all has the potential to get a bit tight.
Using Jelco and Kuzma 'arms, with their moderate spindle-to-pivot distances (210mm to 214mm), I experienced no problems, especially with the 4Point, with its cable exiting above the plinth. An RB1000 wasnt as easy. The 'arms post extends to around 40mm and the thick cables used create a bulky extension that required careful dressing to avoid fouling the turntables foot. An Audio Origami PU7 with its (optional) Rega geometry and deep mounting post was another story altogether, creating a perfect storm of mechanical interference. The 'arm needed to be set at its minimum height to achieve correct VTA, pushing that long post so close to the rear foot that even the compact SME-type right-angle-entry plug on the 'arm cable wouldnt clear it. The straight-entry Tiffany and Nordost connectors were completely out of the question. I finessed it by winding all four feet down to near maximum extension, but thats hardly ideal.
These issues are not insurmountable, but they do suggest that a little pre-planning when is comes to the choice and mounting of the tonearm will constitute time well spent. Firstly, check the lower height limit of the proposed 'arm-and-cartridge combination. The height from the armboard to the top of the platter surface (including the thick rubber mat and a record) is only 27mm. Make sure that your 'arm can be set low enough with the chosen cartridge installed. Next, look at the spindle-to-pivot distance. Anything much over 215mm and Id consider positioning the 'arm behind the armboard centerline in order to get a little extra lateral clearance from the foot. That might seem counterintuitive, but as the 'arm moves toward the rear of the deck, it will also crab to the left. Just make sure that you dont push it so far that the 'arm fixings interfere with the subchassis. Finally, if the 'arm has a removable lead, make sure that you take the type of connector into account. Generally Id recommend right-angle plugs as they will also provide a more natural exit path for the leads. A straight-entry connector will tend to push the leads down into direct contact with the supporting surface, which is definitely best avoided. It would be nice to see Langer offer the option of a clamping/attachment point for the armleads. Although its not a difficult thing to arrange for yourself, its so much neater if theres an integrated solution.
Given that theres no leveling facility incorporated in the suspension of the subchassis, remember that if you change the 'arm to something heavier -- say, swapping the Jelco for the tank-turret engineering of the Kuzma 4Point -- youll need to check the overall level of the platter once the 'arm has bedded (or should that be dug itself) in. Youll also note that theres a ground terminal on the rear underside of the plinth, which can be used to ground either the 'arm or the plinth itself. Initially I found that I was getting small static shocks off of the plinth, but grounding it cured the problem completely.
I have spent a lot of time discussing the physical arrangements pertaining to tonearm mounting, because in all likelihood youll be doing it yourself. The Langer No.7 is sold, whether in kit or finished form, directly to the end user. That means no dealer markup -- but no dealer to mount your tonearm or install the deck either. Not that I suspect that will deter the adventurous souls who hear what Langer are doing and see the opportunity for a bit of DIY action. The prices all include German sales tax of 19%, so units being sold outside the EU can deduct that, although local tax and duty will have to be added, along with shipping costs.
With 'arm and cartridge installed, youll soon discover a slightly disconcerting aspect of the Langers physical arrangements. The start/stop button for the deck is immediately below the stylus tip. Given the lower-than-average platter height, the proximity of the cantilever to the control panel certainly instills a degree of discipline in the operator. You soon get used to swinging the 'arm across to the lead-in groove before starting the deck, but it does rather underline the Surgeon Generals advice to consume alcohol responsibly. The four switches provided cover power on/off, the aforementioned start/stop and selection for 33 or 45rpm. There are fine-speed-adjustment screws accessible through the underside of the plinth, but once set, these shouldnt need any further attention. The review deck arrived running at perfect pitch -- and stayed that way.
One final aspect of the deck caused my audio antennae to twitch. Most manufacturers (and most of us) dispensed with the sort of heavy rubber record mat fitted to the Langer many, many moons ago. At least this one is flat rather than patterned and profiled, and I spent quite some time listening with it in place, as I grew accustomed to the sound of the deck. But the longer I listened, the more tempting it became to experiment with alternative mats. I duly rustled up a thick felt mat, stolen from an older Rega deck, as well as the Loricraft two-piece cork mat, trying all three options with and without the Stillpoints weight. The results were both interesting and worthwhile. I found that the supplied rubber mat diminished and masked the essential qualities of the record player, introducing an opaque quality to the midbass that generated a thickness to the broad midrange. Bass was deep and weighty but lacked pitch definition and attack. The overall musical effect was to thicken and slow the performance, so that Ansermets sprightly reading of Prokofievs Classical Symphony [Speakers Corner/Decca SXL 2292] was more muted in both dynamic and tonal terms, more stylistically old-fashioned in its playing than Im used to. The orchestral tuttis that are such a part of Prokofievs music lost that sudden quality, while spatial separation was indistinct and the overall palette was darker and grayer than life. Adding the Stillpoints Ultra LP Isolator to the equation certainly introduced greater spatial definition, separation and depth along with crisper dynamics, but it was still a case of trying to make a musical silk purse out of a sonic sows ear.
Switching to the felt mat (definitely preferred without the Stillpoints weight) brought a welcome increase in dynamic range and tonal color. The music became far more expressive, with greater dynamic contrast and a quicker, more vibrant feel to the piece and the playing. Pace picked up and the sound lost its opaque and congested quality, starting to breathe with the phrasing and push home its points. But it was the cork mat that really delivered the musical goods. In fairness, I could have lived with and enjoyed the verve and sheer musical gusto of the felt support, but the cork mat introduced greater control, detail, definition and musical organization, all without limiting the expressive life and fleet delicacy of the performance. The transparency, coherence and focus of the soundstage improved dramatically, with impressive orchestral spread and instrumental location. The range of tonal color became more subtle and natural; the sense of pace and rhythmic precision improved significantly. This was a much more convincing and sophisticated performance, embodying the stereo separation and airy tonal qualities of those early Decca recordings with the deft, light-touch control and direction of Ansermets baton. The choice of tempi and phrasing was more apparent and articulate, the restraint and delicacy in the quieter passages increasing the musical impact and contrast sprung by those sudden orchestral explosions. In contrast, the felt mat sounded like a large and overly boisterous puppy, all unbridled enthusiasm and feet that are too big.
The rhythmic and dynamic distinctions were even more obvious on rock and pop music. On "Cut Me Down" from Lloyd Coles second album, Easy Pieces (with The Commotions [Polydor LCLP 2]), the understated vocals were so recessed with the rubber mat that Cole sounded like he was singing in a pit, while the slow acceleration in tempo and increase in bass weight and power passed almost unnoticed, as did the pause before the chorus. The felt mat was predictably bold and bouncy, but again it was the cork support that really measured the rock-solid rhythm and subtle ebb and flow in the track. Add in the Stillpoints weight and it took another step forward, with even greater dynamic definition and a more precise energy budget. The shape of the rhythm, the structure of the bars and their importance became clearer, finally introducing the necessary insistence to the drive and musical momentum. Cole's vocal was much better defined, surrounded by its own ambient space, with greater subtlety to the diction, more expression to the lyric. Not surprisingly it was the combination of the cork mat and Stiilpoints Ultra LP Isolator that found favor and was the combination I used for virtually all of the serious listening.
Where does that leave the rubber mat? I think that the best thing that can be said is that it is cheaply and easily replaced -- something Langer should consider with some urgency as the rubber slab does its best to mask the qualities that make this a rather special turntable. The felt mat is a viable option, especially for those seeking the life, bounce and musical enthusiasm that characterized early LP12s. But for me, the Loricraft cork mat made a pretty compelling case even used on its own, a case that became incontestable if you included the Stillpoints weight.
nce released from the shackles of the rubber mat, the No.7 quickly stretched its legs and spread its arms. Its essential character was quick, clean, open, unforced and beautifully balanced. There was no sense of exaggeration or specific frequencies being pushed forward, no bowing or narrowing of the soundstage, no lack of air, transparency or space within the recordings being played. Perspectives were natural, instrumental scale correct -- no fifty-foot-wide pianos or cellos the height of Nelsons column here. In fact, as with many of the new-generation direct-drive decks, piano showed the Langers strength to perfection. The grace and dexterity of Benedetti Michelangelis playing in his peerless recording of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No.1 (Giulini, VSO [DGG 2531 302]) was perfectly portrayed by the No.7, the precision and delicacy, his perfect phrasing and absolute authority, beautifully balanced by the weight and power of the Vienna Symphony under Giulinis sensitive direction. There was a purity and clarity to the piano notes, devoid of overhang, yet still full of complexity and proper length, especially in the left hand. Great pianists make the instrument dance, and thats just what happened here. You get weight, authority, crisp attack, harmonic complexity and phenomenal expressive range -- all out of a percussion instrument. The image was held perfectly stable, the sound propagated almost spookily natural. If the mark of a great system is the ability to forget that system and lose yourself in the performance, then the Langer No.7 is a great place to start. Even the densest of the Viennas crescendi didnt crack, wobble or collapse, with no flaws to the stability of the image, no obvious limitations to the dynamic range or curtailing of notes in the quiet passages to remind you that this is a recorded performance, rather than just the performance youve chosen to listen to. Perhaps most impressive of all was the clarity, complexity and texture of the elongated chords that emanated from the pianos nether regions, with no blurring, smudging or confusion to obscure what Michelangeli is playing, or just how hard hes playing it.
Move on to a very different kind of piano, the sparse, percussive arrangements captured on Ahmad Jamals Alhambra [Alto AA005] and the leading-edge clarity and attack of the Langer comes into its own, capturing Jamals stabbed playing style ("Love For Sale"), the stark contrast with his more contemplative passages ("Snow Fall"), his abrupt interjections and rhythmic elasticity. The relaxed relationship with his rhythm section was equally apparent, the fluid fingering on the bass, the texture of the brushwork, the space around his lines. The delicate balance and chemistry that elevated the artistry of great small-group jazz was perfectly preserved by the Langers unforced musical and dynamic precision.
I used the Langer with five different tonearms, ranging from the Jelco 750D (in its standard and Isokinetik Silver Melody versions) to the Rega RB1000, the Audio Origami PU7 and the Kuzma 4Point, with cartridges as varied as the Lyra Dorian and Etna, the Kuzma CAR-20 and the Allnic Puritas. In each case, the table proved to be the perfect foil, clearly revealing the character of the different 'arm-and-cartridge combinations, whether it was the musically fluid but slightly rounded quality of the Jelco 'arms, the rhythmic poise and dynamic precision of the PU7 or the absolute authority imposed by the 4Point. Likewise, the bold presentation and power, richer balance and tonal colors of the Puritas stood in stark contrast to the more understated organizational delineation of the Dorian. If all a table has to do is spin at a constant speed and do it quietly, then the Langer succeeds admirably, imposing the required temporal stability and providing the necessary low noise floor and associated transparency without leaving too much of its own character mixed in with the signal along the way.
I started listening using the Jelco 750D tonearm as it enabled me to make swift comparison between the Langer and a number of other decks that are currently in-house, while using an Acoustical Systems Arche headshell, that designs canting cartridge platform allowing me to make tiny, repeatable adjustments to the VTA/SRA rather than using the horribly imprecise post-and-collar armbase. Again, if I were thinking in terms of the Jelco to partner with the Langer deck, the Arche makes a strong case for inclusion in the package. But for me, the ideal choice of tonearm would be the Tri-Planar. With its low stack height, offset mounting and plinth-level cable routing, it ticks all of the physical boxes, while its agile, lively and articulate sound should make the most of the Langers stable mechanical and sonic platform. I wasnt able to get an armboard in time for this review, but theres one on the way. If the results are as engaging as I hope they will be, then Ill report back shortly.
n the meantime, there is much to like and admire about Langers No.7 turntable. I love its compact dimensions and utterly fuss-free operation. This is pretty much as close as you get to fit and forget when it comes to high-end analog. I love the integrity of its somehow unmistakably German engineering, the combination of quality materials, clarity of thinking and execution, from the wide-diameter threads on the screw feet to the provision of an optional lid, the solid medium-mass aluminum plinth and carefully considered drive system.
But most of all I love the direct, uncomplicated and uncompromising clarity of its musical performance, the expressive range and temporal anchor with which it underpins the performance of your 'arm and cartridge. Like any table, it imposes its own compromises when it comes to partnering equipment, although in this case those are all to do with the selection of the matching tonearm and the physical arrangements involved in mounting it. But once youve gotten past the nuts and bolts of putting the record player together, the results are very musically rewarding indeed.
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