The new Consonance Wax Engine turntable NZ$1695
If analogue is an enthusiasts market, then the new Consonance Wax Engine turntable is very much a product designed for the hands-on enthusiast. Playing a record is always going to be a tactile exercise - select the album, take the LP out and place it on the platter, cue up the arm and go. So taking ownership of the setup and operation of your turntable is just a natural progression. The LP6.3 'Wax Engine' is designed for the value conscious analogue enthusiast who wants to wring the best possible sound out of their system. It's a turntable system that opens up choices and allows you to both easily fine tune and upgrade over time.
The Consonance brand warrants an introduction - as part of the Chinese Opera Audio company since 1994 Opera has produced an number of very good analogue and digital components including turntables and tubed products - these have effectively flown under the radar in New Zealand but have built up a solid following in both Asia and Europe. There is a significant connection for us - Opera Audio assemble the Well Tempered turntables and electronics and the new Wax Engine benefits from both the experience gained building Well Tempered and design input from the WTL team. The company is the largest supplier of analogue equipment and also is the distributor of Dynavector tonearms and cartridges throughout China.
A new turntable design to rival other options
What we wanted when we first learned of the Wax Engine design was to have a new turntable that was more affordable than the Well Tempered and provided some serious competition for the european made Project. Which is easier said than done.
The Well Tempered Simplex stripped the WTL design back about as far as it was possible to go without compromise but still ends up at around NZ$3000 before we even fit a cartridge. The Wax Engine had to work from a different direction and their solution is as elegant as any from the WTL stable.
Key to the design is the chassis - it's a skeletal T but rather than being one piece it's constructed from a series of aluminium box sections bolted together - this gives a base with far greater rigidity yet lower resonance than any conventional wooden plinth - there is some serious damping going on which you can immediately tell by both the weight and obvious deadness of the assembly. This chassis was first seen in the original LP6.1
The chassis ties together the 3 critical parts of the any turntable - the motor, platter/bearing system and tone arm. The relationship between these elements is critical to any design - for the motor you need stable mounting to ensure pitch accuracy yet also need isolation to eliminate motor noise. Likewise the geometry between platter and tone arm must remain free of compromise- the parts are all moving so this is rather more complicated that it may at first seem, and any variation on even the smallest scale - in fact especially as the small scale is where the action is on a record, must be tightly controlled.
The chassis sits on 3 hemispherical hard rubber feet - perfect for both isolation and easy leveling adjustment. The motor is a high torque 12V DC unit - this provides quick start up with the switch located next to the motor and drives via a silicon rubber belt. Speed change is manual via the stepped pulley. The platter looks very similar to the Well Tempered units and is acrylic - we know this offers a happy balance of mass, damping and good acoustical properties. You place the record directly on the acrylic surface - there is no mat and the central recess takes the thicker label section so records sit nice and flat. The bearing is a very solid brass sleeved design which is consistent with the high rigidity of the chassis. A hemispherical spindle end bears on what looks like a teflon surface at in the well of the bearing - only a little oil is required for lubrication.
Unique unipivot tonearm
The Wax Engine Tone arm is of particular note - while it looks almost conventional, it is a unique hybrid unipivot design - this immediately prompted me to spin some questions back to the design team - as past Linn owner I'd always looked in horror at tone arms that had 'slop' in their bearings - which was then completely confounded by by the Well Tempered with no bearing at all. What seems like a problem in the tone arm is actually the solution.
The Carbon Fibre tone arm is assembled by Opera-Consonance in Beijing from parts machined by a watch maker situated in South China, made to exacting standards with the finest of tolerances. It appears to be a refinement of their T8 model which is pretty slick in its own right and given the specification, it should work well with a wide variety of cartridges. In keeping with the intention of providing a high value and performance combination we've been teaming it up with the Nagaoka MP series moving permalloy cartridges. The tone arm is easily adjustable so it is possible - and in fact mandatory - to fine tune both tracking weight and VTA. The turntable comes with a nice little scale to aid this. Cuing is a breeze with clear vision and a smooth arm raising mechanism. The antiskate is set by the well proven system of a small weight attached by fine nylon.
Your own choice of interconnect
Rather than a captive set of cables or questionable 'free' interconnects the Wax Engine sports a set of sockets waiting for a good quality interconnect cable. Note that with any turntable set up like this, it is really important to have a cable that is both very low loss, but also low noise as you are dealing with a much smaller value signal than from digital sources and any introduced noise of interference has a much greater proportional effect. The new KLEI interconnects are just perfect for this application, being exceptional performers in their own right. We have started with the base model - the gZero1 at just NZ$315 for a pair - again it's about an appropriate combination of both performance and price.
So how does it sound?
The Wax Engine could best be described as taut - there is a real precision and pace to the sound. There is definitely some of the Well Tempered DNA in there - the low level detail, and a certain ease in the midrange that gives you an idea of the fluidity that models like the Versalex excel in. The bass is very tight and controlled - I suspect the rigidity of the chassis has a lot to do with this and the sound staging is remarkably stable. In comparison with a similarly priced Project turntable there is more refinement and openness to the sound combined with some real drive and power. By getting rid of all extraneous parts and incorporating a more substantial platter system, you can hear further into the music, with layers peeled back. But most importantly, you can easily hear the difference small adjustments make and this gives me cause to dig deeper into what the Wax Engine is capable of.
In any analogue system, the performance can be improved in a number of ways - far more so than in a digital environment. A quality phono stage is our first consideration - this performs two tasks - both a rebalancing of the frequency response and amplification to bring the sound level up to that of a DAC or CD player. Given we want something just a little bit more special to go with this turntable, we'll jump past entry level and suggest that the Well Tempered RIAA phono stage is just the ticket for this particular turntable - there are several reasons for this:
Firstly, the WTL is a seriously good phono stage - it's a dedicated RIAA device for moving magnet level cartridges only - while this is a single purpose beast, not catering for MC means there is no redundant circuitry when switched between types and, for my money, I think it actually outperforms the estimable Dynavector P75 mk3 in this mode. (But if you have a low output MC it's a completely story). The WTL RIAA is also a bit of a ripper when it comes to bass performance - it's got some really solidity and depth which balances nicely with the tautness of the Wax engine and the lucidity that the Nagaoka cartridges put out. And the RIAA runs of a 12v DC input which leads to our next trick.
Just about every serious turnable will have a separate power supply as standard or upgrade - some can be absurdly expensive. The Wax Engine employs a very nice little 12V DC motor which looks rather similar to that in the Well Tempered models - so of course the WTL power supply is compatible and offers quite an immediate improvement in pitch stability and lucidity over the basic supplied unit.
The Wax Engine also ships with a strobed speed checking disc and the motor speed can be very accurately adjusted via a small pot located beside the power input and on switch. In addition to running the Wax Engine, the WTL power supply has multiple taps out and so can also be employed to run the RIAA phono stage (or any other device running on 12V DC - again, another upgrade in performance and also a very tidy way to set everything up.
All these options take the performance of the Wax Engine up, step by step and when fully set up, it can directly rival the Well Tempered Simplex in its most basic form - it offers a more immediate and controlled sound with admirable bass and stability while the Simplex seems softer. The difference in price between the two turntables allows considerable scope to customise and improve the Wax Engine to a point where it is delivering not only a sound tailored to your personal preferences - the end result will rival some of the finest turntables made, especially if you are prepared to devote a little time to the basics of setup and are prepared to experiment - the nature of the Wax Engine makes this easy and its responsiveness means you'll hear even the smallest adjustment - in short, if what you do makes it sound better, it is better.
Opera Audio Consonance Wax Engine Turntable NZ$ 1695
Ships with - Wax engine tonearm, acrylic platter, speed check disc, stylus scale, 12V power supply & 3 belts.
We recommend the following upgrades in this order:
Nagaoka MP110 Moving permalloy cartridge $180
KLEI gZero1 analogue interconnects (1m pair) $315
Well Tempered Labs RIAA phono stage $660
WTL power supply $690
Once set up to this level, you could also consider going further with the cartridge - but you are much better to complete all the preliminary steps first as this will mean any cartridge upgrade is much more obvious - you’ll have greater resolving power and while styli wear from day one, the other parts will literally last a lifetime.
Consider these 2 choices:
The Well Tempered WTL is Nagaoka modified by the Dyanvector team and is one of these most refined and balanced MM cartridges we have enjoyed listening too. $810
The Dynavector DV10X5 is a a high output MC cartridge -that offers a ‘bigger’ sound with warm character and more dynamic contrast - it’s real analogue. $1095
Finally if you want to hear all the Wax Engine is capable of, the better KLEI interconnect cables, both from the turntable to phono stage and phono stage to amplifier will yield even more - these are very much components in their own right and prove that there may well be no limit to how far you can go - we've heard cables that cost more than the Wax Engine, yet the extra information they transmit and improved musicality easily justify the cost - it’s only when you hear what they do that you realise just how much is being lost in transmission in other systems.
The whole idea of analogue is to enjoy better sound - it's going to be a bit hands-on but that has its own reward as you are the one that is in control of how good sound you can get. I’m still here to deal with things like initial setup, but everything about the Wax Engine is as close to self explanatory as it’s possible to get in a turntable and if all else fails, the english language manual is well written and illustrated. Once set up, the Wax Engine will stay in tune - there are no fiddly suspension systems and short of occasionally checking the stylus and bearing oil there is no maintenance required.
The packaging of the Wax Engine is worth a note - the double skin box and high density foam mean every unit shipped arrives in perfect condition.
Given the recent and substantial improvements we've seen in digital, any new analogue product has to be better, and also be an improvement on what has come before. The new Wax Engine happily fulfils this - it’s easily the best sounding turntable we’ve heard short of the Well Tempered models. The precision engineering that has gone into it is a credit to the Opera Consonance company. They have been uncompromising in their design choices and created a turntable that is not just great value, but will also last a lifetime and has the ability to be progressively and affordably upgraded.
The Wax Engine is now what I regard as the worthwhile entry point into analogue - with digital getting so good, a lesser turntable may well fall short of expectations. So from here on in, we have the Wax Engine in stock. I'm more than happy to discuss all the different setup options with you - you may well have a phono stage built into your amplifier that you are happy with, or a cartridge you would like to retain. Whatever the case, we'll put together the best possible solution for you and show you just how good your records can sound.
How To Order
Once you’ve made your decision and are ready to order, we’ll make it easy for you. Either phone us on 0800 909–101 or e-mail and we can get your address and all details confirmed. For payment more and more people prefer to use internet banking – email us to get account details. Credit Card is a safe and easy option; and if you’re overseas the currency conversion is taken care of by your credit card company. We accept Visa and Mastercard.
And we support the World Wide fund for Nature and Save Animals From Exploitation.
Totally Wired Limited
The Terrace Houses
217 Stuart Street
NZ Toll Free