Compliments of RAFAEL TODES, for HI-FI WORLD, December 2010 Edition
If this sounds more like an obituary than a review, I apologise, but the Fletcher Audio Omega is the product of Tom Fletcher's (formerly the designer and owner of Nottingham Analogue) final few years of work, and is as such the crowning legacy of a highly innovative career. Tom died earlier in October from cancer aged 72, following a fight of several years. Having left Nottingham Analogue, he forged a partnership with his former Danish distributor to form Fletcher Audio, and to realise the fruits of the work he had begun around the time when his illness started.
The Omega Point 5 has visually as well as aurally Nottingham Analogue DNA. Tom Fletcher had a fascination with how different materials sounded. In the Hyperspace he used a combination of alloy and graphite for the platter and MDF for the plinth. In the Omega Point 5, there is less mass, but the chosen material is a hardwood of some description for the plinth and the same material for the body of the turntable, which looks like a half-moon. The platter is weighty (10.5Kg and 59mm thick) and made of an aluminium alloy. It has a sacrificial bearing made of phosphor bronze with a stainless steel pin - the soft material will 'wear' into shape- and should last an estimated twenty years.
The motor is a similar type to the Hyperspace, and is connected by a substantial silicone band. Fletcher believed that the it should be powerful enough to maintain momentum, nothing more. It has the same eccentric lack of an on and off switch. To switch on, you give the platter a 'push', to switch off, you manually brake it. A similar set of bands circumnavigate the platter as with the Hyperspace to damp the 'ringing'. A small felt mat sits on top of the platter- the Hyperspace sees the record touching the platter directly. There is a curious piece of rubber which looks like a rat's tail, which brushes the underside of the platter during rotation, which according to the designer assists with phase issues. The 3 adjustable feet and armboard are made with Acetal (Polyoxymethylene - POM). A secondary armboard can also be fitted.
The Deck was supplied with the Fletcher Zero arm, which is a unipivot and retails at around two thousand pounds. It has a highly original anti-skate mechanism, which works like a rubber band on a balsa wood plane propeller and is operated by rotating a screw at the highest point of the arm, to add compensatory rotational force. There is a SME V-like screw for adjusting VTA on the fly. There is a "lite"version of this, the Point 3 which has a less substantial platter and retails at £2599. In the New Year, the entry-level Point 1 is scheduled for release at around £1500.
One of the attractions that drew me to the Hyperspace, is the sense of air and space it creates for the music. It is a sound that appears as if from a cloud. How would this new opus fare by comparison?
Price: £3699 with armboard
Next up was the early Bernstein recording of Rhapsody in Blue, with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, conducted from the Piano by Bernstein (CBS60135). The piano has a rock-steadiness to it, it made me think that Steinways have changed since the 50's, the sound was more mellow, less brittle than today, but utterly convincing. The brass was more extremely located to the right than I am used on the Hyperspace, there was more interplay between the orchestral sections, and seemingly greater distances between the instrumental sections. It is almost like a magician's trick just how convincingly this unit creates space. I did notice on the downside that the 'weight' of the string section is more substantial with the Hyperspace, in it's quest to achieve ultimate airiness, there are inevitably casualties. It does however have its half-brother's ability not to make heavy weather of anything, it never gets bogged down in rhythms, or is never leaden-footed, it bounces and springs along and often I found myself smiling at its jollity!
Tom Fletcher was a great music lover, and the two areas he was most interested in were Classical and Jazz. Turning to the 1958 recording of "High Standards" (JASS Records), Coleman Hawkins and Red Allen, I was instantly struck by how amazing this recording is. The instruments are humongous in the room, the energy, communication and spontaneity the musicians generate stops me in my tracks. You have the illusion of being bathed in their sound.
The piano sounds, like the previous recording to be utterly solid, not at all honky-tonk, and mellow. The double bass just sounds right, it's not exaggerated, its not showing off or sticking out, it's just sounds integrated to the correct degree- taut and tight, never bloated.
Listening to Sir Clifford Curzon's recording of the Schubert Impromptus,(Decca Jubilee JB140, the Ab op 142 No2) a recording I had previously written off for it's odd timbre, now suddenly makes perfect sense. It is Schubert at his most tender, soul-searching and poignant: the Omega expounds the micro-dynamics perfectly, showing the extraordinary range of colours that Curzon uses to tell this melancholic tale. Isn't that the point of it all, to get to the heart of the music, and open the window to the performer's communing with the composer?
Raymond Leppard's recording (Philips 6747 166) of the Bach Brandenburg Concertos provide for some interesting insight. In the 3rd concerto, there are some beautifully sculpted spacial effects written by Bach- you hear a cellular unit being passed through the band, like a decanter of port being passed clockwise with every solo instrument having his/her say, virtually locatable in space. There is an evenness and excitement created by its precision. It's an old-fashioned way of playing Bach, which you don't hear these days since the period/original instruments took over, but it is not without its charms!
In the same set, there is a recording of Brandenburg no 5, with solo Harpsichord, Violin and Flute, I have a feeling that the turntable is really "on song", as it documents the interaction between the solo trio and the orchestra. When you go to a live concert, you don't just hear instruments playing, the most compelling thing is to feel the forces and tension between the different parts. It is rare to find this on reproduced music, and it's one of the first things to disappear with slick "HI-FI" systems. This turntable seems to have this illusive quality in spades- not on every recording I've heard it reproduce, but when it does, you sure know it. I think this is where real "musicality" of a component lies; musicality is in my humble opinion too frequently abused as a concept. It is used as an undefinable, which is unquestionable.
However, and there is always a however, listening to Mahler's 6th Symphony last movement, which is a massive, highly creative and original collection of orchestral colour, I miss the incision that I remember from the combination of the Hyperspace and the SME V, or even better Len Gregory's Conductor, an air-bearing parallel tracking tonearm. With both of these arms on the Hyperspace there is more grunt to the bass section, the bite of the beginning of the attack of the sound when the fugue starts. It's almost as if the strings are using less rosin! More than likely this is down to the unipivot arm and not the turntable.
Tom Fletcher used to argue that if you reproduce a string instrument using metal, it is as if you were to make the instrument out of metal, which of course would sound awful. The fact that the plinth and the body of the turntable is made of wood I'm sure contribute to the more 'organic' nature the sound has over the Hyperspace, and so many other turntables I've heard.
This turntable represents the final chapter in a life's quest for the designer Tom Fletcher. He was obsessed right from his earliest designs with searching for a transparent, open airy sound, and finding the heart and sole of the music he loved. He was not a marketing man, he didn't really play the game that is necessary to achieve market domination or universal recognition. In his case, his success was largely based on word-of-mouth. This is his final statement- maybe with it posthumously he'll achieve the recognition he so deserved while he was alive.
Reference systemOrtofon Kontrapunkt A
Icon Audio PS3 signature
VAC Auricle Musicblocs with Shuguang Treasure series KT88s
Thickness of platter: 59mm
Diameter of platter: 300mm
Weight of platter: 10.5kg
Width of plinth : 525mm
Depth of plinth: 370mm
Overall height of TT and plinth: 185mm
Height of TT without plinth: 145mm
The Omega Point 5 took less than a couple of seconds to declare it's hand. Listening to the opening of the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante for Winds, (the lesser known one ) on Philips (6707 020), I was immediately aware of the soundstage opening up massively. It was always fairly grand with the Hyperspace, but this took the performance space to epic dimensions. The separation between instruments was more clearly defined, creating a believable sonic image that turned my living room into a concert hall. After sampling this spacial feat, it may be difficult to return to a more compact space I fear!