Baltic M / SME Model 312 / Sumiko Pearwood
You would be forgiven for thinking that $7,800 is an insane base price to pay for a turntable. I can just hear my father shouting out now: "I've bought cars for less!" Yet the Baltic M is actually one of the lower-priced models from Milan, Italy-based V.Y.G.E.R. - in a range that extends right up to the $40,000 Indian Signature, a 300-pound, floor-standing behemoth that looks a bit like some giant contraption from a Jules Verne fantasy. Just in case you're wondering, the V.Y.G.E.R. name comes from the word VOYAGER with the O and the A left out, a la Star Trek.
One thing is certain, though: The M in Baltic M stands for magnetic. This model's suspension consists of a set of opposing magnets set into each footer, sufficient to lift the Baltic's not inconsiderable 55-pound weight so that the turntable is essentially floating on air. The motor sits separately outside of this floating assembly, meaning that the only possible way that motor noise can get to the turntable is through the drive belt.
The bigger models from V.Y.G.E.R. use a linear-tracking, air-bearing tonearm of the company's own design. But for the Baltic, V.Y.G.E.R. has turned to one of the most highly respected and long-established British audio manufacturers and mated the turntable with SME's Model 312, the company's latest 12-inch tonearm. By going with an arm longer than the standard 9 inches, you reduce the amount of tracing error and potential distortion - but not every turntable has the extra real estate needed to make it fit. Fortunately, this isn't a problem for the massive Baltic M.
To round out the package, I mounted a Sumiko Pearwood Celebration II low-output moving-coil phono cartridge ($2,000). Although its shape and wood-clad body bring to mind classic cartridges from the likes of Koetsu and Kiseki, the Pearwood is a bang-up-to-date modern design, boasting an alnico magnet-based generator to deliver a somewhat higher than usual 0.5-millivolt output. Normally, a cartridge of this caliber will use an exotic stylus profile that requires a highly exacting setup to maximize its performance. Sumiko, however, realized that this is an unrealistic expectation for most users and instead opted for a less demanding yet still very high-quality elliptical profile.
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