Review: Sempersonus TE-2/Raven 12/Charisma Signature One/WyWires Playback System

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dodgealum

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Hi A/Crs: This is the first "review" that I have posted on the AC. This is Part 1 of 2 (Part 2 will focus exclusively on the sonic merits of this vinyl playback system). While I am excited to share my experience with fellow audiophiles, I write simply as a happy
customer/client and have no business affiliation with Sempersonus, TW Acustic, Charisma Audio, WyWires, or High Water Sound. I hope you enjoy the read--I look forward to your comments and questions.






The Quest:

I have been fortunate to own a variety of belt drive tables in my audio lifetime. The list, which is pretty long, includes a Linn LP12/Akito, Townshend Rock/Rega RB-300, Systemdeck IIX/Rega RB-300, VPI HW-19 IV/Alphason HR-100S, VPI Scout/JMW-9, and, most recently, a VPI Scout "Supreme" which was essentially a Prime Signature with a highly specified gimbal 3D-10 built on a Prime plinth. I enjoyed these over the span of 30 years and so only compared them in turn as one entered and the other left my system. Last up was the Scout “Supreme”, which may well have been the best of the bunch. Mated with an AT ART 9 and then later a Soundsmith MIMC Star, the Scout “Supreme” gave me a lot of what most of us enjoy about vinyl--natural detail, spaciousness, and a warm presentation. I worked closely with Mat and Harry Weisfeld to design and build the Scout “Supreme” and figured it would be my last table.

Then one day I got to hear a friend’s new Artisan Fidelity Garrard 301 with an Ortofon RS-309D (12”) tonearm and top-tier Ortofon SPU pickup. It sat on his shelf next to a beautiful AC Raven table with a Raven 10.5 tonearm that housed a Dynavector DRT XV-1cartridge. For fun we listened to the same cuts on both players, going back and forth, over his high resolution 2AR3 driven custom horns. Both tables sounded spectacular, but my ear was inclined toward the idler-drive table. While not as detailed or spacious as the Raven, the idler had a very compelling musical quality that was hard to describe and impossible to ignore. It conveyed the music and commanded my attention in a way the belt-driven table didn’t and left me eagerly anticipating the next LP that came off the shelf.

It was then that I dove head first down the rabbit hole that is the world of idler-drives. I looked at various platforms (Garrard, Lenco, Thorens) and restoration specialists/plinth builders, including Artisan Fidelity, Woodsong, PTP and others. My research convinced me that after a lifetime of belt driven tables I wanted to try an idler-type table BUT one built on modern technology, not an antiquated design with restored or remanufactured parts. I discovered that every vintage idler has its own mechanical idiosyncrasies and design foibles, and that none of the restoration specialists were addressing what I felt were fundamental flaws despite the (often) excellent machine work and (occasional) application of new, improved materials. In addition some, like the Artisan Fidelity models, were very, very pricey (though gorgeous eye candy). During my research I also decided that I wanted to try a 12” tonearm but wanted the table to have a “traditional” appearance and size--not a behemoth but rather an elegant package that would fit on my wall mount shelf. Thus did I set about to find a table that would meet the following criteria:

Idler-type drive system with a modern precision motor guided by a sophisticated electronic speed controller;

High quality bearing/component parts and a plinth capable of carrying a 12 inch tonearm;

Traditional style plinth sized to fit on my Target wall shelf (PS-1);

Price with reference quality arm and cartridge in the vicinity of $10-12K.

I soon realized that if I was going to insist on these criteria I would have to do some more research and be prepared to wait--perhaps for a long time.

The Find:

Some months later, after nearly giving up my quest, I discovered Sempersonus while reading online coverage of the 2018 CAF. Led by a Portuguese engineer, craftsman and audiophile named Paulo Rebordão, Sempersonus was launching a new table (dubbed the “TE-1”) and making really good sounds in the GT Audio Works/Sound Insight room. If the Part Time Audiophile and AV Showrooms coverage could be believed, here was an idler-type table that seemed to check all the boxes. (Funny thing--I was at CAF 2018 and somehow missed the room!). Anyway, I shot an email off to Paulo, which turned out to be the beginning of the end of my quest and the start of a new audio-inspired friendship (I love when this happens!).

Over the next six months I continued to correspond with Paulo while his table underwent significant design changes, ultimately leading to a new model called the TE-2. Throughout, Paulo impressed me with his knowledge, passion, integrity, and personal warmth.

Along the way he informed me that the TE-2 would feature a new constrained-layer plinth with a sliding arm mount (similar to the Feikert) capable of hosting a 12” tonearm. In addition, like the TE-1, the table would feature an “epicyclic” (or inner rim) drive that has the inherent design advantages found in properly executed direct, idler, and belt drive systems while minimizing the inevitable tradeoffs. The TE-2 would include a BLDC motor governed by a quartz digital controller, which uses an optical encoder to measure platter speed 1000 times per second, ensuring correct speed and optimal motor torque at all times.

According to Paulo, “traditional (vintage) idler drive designs represent a compromise. At the time, motors were noisy and vibration-prone [and] couldn't be made to spin smoothly at lowish speeds (150-200 rpm). So, some kind of reduction and isolating gearing was needed, hence the Idler drives. Now, we have motors that can hardly be felt vibrating (or heard) when spinning and modern digital electronics which can make them spin smoothly at almost any speed. It follows that you can get rid of all the transmission gear and associated parts with obvious benefits to cost, reliability, durability and even noise. With this approach I think I achieved an almost completely silent operating mechanism with very few parts (moving and non moving), compared to a traditional idler.”

Paulo contends that “the TE-2’s epicyclic drive system has better speed stability, and is more immune to minute speed variations caused by stylus drag, than a belt drive table due to the higher torque of the motor and mostly slipless (directly coupled) drive system. Compared to a direct drive, the advantages are less obvious, but include increased isolation from motor noise and vibration and less susceptibility to cogging effects due to a reduction ratio between motor and platter. Direct drives are also costlier to engineer and manufacture in a limited series, since it is very hard to source off-the-shelf motors that can do the job.”
The key to the exceptional speed stability of the TE-2 is digital. Paulo employs an off-the-shelf industrial motor controller (although with his own customized software), that allows control over the behavior of the motor in almost imaginable ways. As he shared with me in one of our many emails: “A motor that generates noise and vibration also wastes energy, so precision industries are keen to eliminate them as keenly as any audiophile. Thus, attached to the motor is an optical speed/position encoder that generates 1000 pulses for every revolution. The controller uses this information to constantly adjust the motor speed (1000 X per second) to the prescribed value. Contrary to the "rudimentary" electronic controllers of the 80's (think Japanese direct drive players from Technics, Sony, Denon, etc), a modern controller can make adjustments hundreds (at least) of times faster and smarter, allowing the designer to program it to react quickly and aggressively to any speed deviation (a tactic employed in the 80's, thus leading to the bad name of direct drives in many audiophile circles), or it can react more lazily, trying to smooth out the variations”, which is the "tactic" Paulo employs with the TE-2. This programmability also allows Paulo to specify how much time the platter takes to spin-up to the selected speed and down to a full stop--and of course provides electronic speed selection between 33/45/78 (and even fine pitch adjustment for 78rpm, as the old 78 records are prone to have been recorded with some variation to the exact speed).

Paulo said that the TE-2 would also sport a traditional design aesthetic--reasonable size, clean lines--and would be available in a wide variety of colors (cleverly using Alcantara for the side panels to allow customization of the finish by the end user). As the TE-2 came into view, it became clear that Paulo’s new design would check all my boxes and I happily volunteered to serve as guinea pig for the first model shipped to the USA.

Outfitting the TE-2:

Several more months of fine tuning and testing went by and just as the table was nearing completion COVID-19 struck, which delayed shipment. Meanwhile, throughout the fall and winter, I had been deep into the challenging process of selecting a 12” arm and cartridge to compliment a deck I’d never seen or heard. I also sold my Scout “Supreme” to raise funds for the project--the proverbial “point of no return” had been crossed. I had narrowed the arm choices down the Origin Live Encounter or Conqueror, the Brinkmann 12.1, and the TW Raven 12”. Auditioning would prove to be difficult for a variety of reasons--just how does audition a tonearm as a separate component these days anyway?

I decided to begin with the Raven since my friend got his from Jeffrey Catalano at High Water Sound in NYC. Jeff came highly recommended and I had met him casually at a few shows. I liked the vibe in his room--it was all about the music. In addition, Paulo had just sent the first TE-2 off the line to his Italian distributor (Musica and Video) who was showing the table at the 2019 Roma Hi-Fidelity show with the Raven 10.5 arm. Paulo had made a special mounting adaptor for the Raven and his Italian distributor forwarded glowing reports about this combination. Jeff was happy to demo the Raven arm for me and suggested a cartridge that was unfamiliar but which he held in very high esteem--the Charisma Audio Signature One. I made an appointment several weeks hence to visit Jeff for a look and a listen.

Meanwhile, my conversation with Jeff left me interested in finding out more about Charisma Audio and its founder Bernard Li, so I decided to give him a call. I discovered that Bernard was a contributing editor of Audiotechnique, the number one audio magazine in Hong Kong, for over 14 years. There he established close relationships within the audio industry and an expertise in analog playback systems. Under Bernard’s leadership, Charisma was established in Canada at the millennium by a group of audio enthusiasts with over 25 years experience in the field. Their goal is “to import premium quality stereo components with incredible performance but affordable prices”. Bernard then leveraged his expertise and connections to develop a line of moving-coil cartridges that offer best-in-class design, materials, build quality, and sonics.

In May 2018 Charisma launched the top-of-the-line Signature One, which is a semi-open design featuring an ebony wood body, low mass jewel (ruby) cantilever and super fine line contact nude diamond. The Signature One is unique to the Charisma lineup in that it features a “pure iron square coil” motor with custom made alloy wiring that outputs 0.4 mV. All Charisma cartridges are voiced to achieve a balanced sonic profile--neither hyper-detailed and somewhat antiseptic nor overly “lush” and romantic sounding. Every model is intended to outperform designs considerably above Charisma price points. 

I found Bernard to be extremely knowledgeable, polite, and enthusiastic. As a dealer of various cartridge brands including EMT, Benz, Clearaudio, and Dynavector, Bernard was well positioned to help me understand what made the Signature One unique and why it represented such a good match for the vinyl playback system I was assembling. Bernard was confident that for the music lover with eclectic tastes, the Signature One will compete with cartridges at far higher price points. Over the ensuing weeks Bernard patiently answered any questions I had and encouraged me to follow up with my listening impressions after my visit to High Water Sound, which was rapidly arriving.

Off to NYC:

Jeff operates HWS out of his walk up studio near South Street Seaport. It is a charming place filled to the gills with LPs of all kinds. Jeff likes records--a lot! I like that about him. He also has an eclectic lineup that features some extraordinary sounding equipment built by less-than-household names. I asked him to spin something--I could have picked anything and I’m sure he would have had it on the shelf. Facing the kind of overload that comes with too many choices (think breakfast cereal aisle at your local supermarket) I went extremely pedestrian with…...”Kind of Blue”. He popped it on the table and pure magic came out of two large, high efficiency, horn-loaded speakers. Almost immediately I was done. We spent much of the rest of my visit talking about politics (don’t get him started!), cars (we both like vintage Porsche and BMW), and music. We listened some more. Definitely done. Really--some of the best sounds I’ve ever heard. Nothing stuck out, very pure, emotional, full on engagement. Did I say “done”? I ordered a 12” Raven tonearm and Charisma Audio Signature One and went on my merry way.

Setup and Cabling:

Due to COVID-19, the 12” Raven and Charisma Signature One arrived first. The Raven comes in a dedicated bulletproof “suitcase” that includes a very detailed instruction manual, set up jig, three precisely machined counterweights for use with cartridges of different weights, and all the tools and hardware you need for proper setup. From the jump you can see that it is an incredibly well-designed and manufactured arm. The adjustments are precise and the fit and finish excellent--German engineering at its best. Take for example the adjustments for VTA, VTF and magnetic anti-skate--all made via high-grade steel parts machined to extraordinarily fine tolerances. Each adjustment provides just the right degree of rotational friction with super fine threads that allow for very precise increments. The bearings are incredibly precise as well, with an obvious lack of “stiction” and play. The Raven arm is extremely simple and unfussy to set up, with an elegant appearance that is accentuated by the twelve inch length. 

The same is true for the Signature One, which comes in a sealed custom wood box containing the related accessories. The Signature One features a beautifully carved ebony wood body and the pick up assembly, which is partially exposed, appears robust and finely crafted. Unique to Charisma designs are very thin, lightweight jewel cantilevers, which reduce moving mass and allow for greater accuracy and responsiveness. These are extremely difficult to manufacture and yet offer notable sonic advantages.

Finally Here!:

The TE-2 showed up from Portugal a few weeks later, packed for the long trip across the sea, and with clear instructions and everything needed for proper set up. It took me about two hours to assemble the table, mount the arm and dial in the cartridge--working slowly and carefully. I placed the table on my Target PS-1 shelf, connected it to my Herron VTPH-2a stage with some DIN-RCA cables I borrowed from my friend with the Artisan Fidelity (who I blame for starting this whole thing), and played some records to let everything settle into place.

What I heard immediately was tremendous potential, with some recordings sounding better than others but none sounding as good as I had hoped. I had a hard time putting my finger on what didn’t click--it seemed to be a moving target. Sometimes the high frequencies sounded pinched, lacking extension and air. Sometimes the midrange sounded a little vague or uneven. Also, at first blush the bass wasn’t particularly deep or dynamic and the midbass lacked richness and warmth. Pace and timing were very good but the lack of frequency extension and natural warmth were limiting my ability to enjoy the musical flow.

Bernard said the cartridge would need 50 hours to break in so I did not do any “serious” listening for several weeks, just spinning discs and sitting down occasionally to hear subtle changes (all to the good) over that period of time. Meanwhile, now that the table was sited on my shelf, and I had an accurate measure of the length DIN-RCA cable I would need, I reached out to Lou Hinkley at Daedalus Audio and Alex Sventitsky at WyWires to order up a set of Platinum series cables. These arrived around the 50 hour mark on the Signature One and by that point the TE-2/Raven/Charisma (hereafter “TE-2”) were sounding much closer to what I was hoping for when this whole journey started. I’ll say more about the sound of the entire setup in the next section, but it is vitally important to pause here and make two things very clear--first, that the performance of the TE-2 absolutely blows my mind, and second, that I consider the WyWires (or some other top flight cables) essential in reaching this rarified level of performance. (I will say more about why I think the WyWires Platinum Series deserve strong consideration).

Next Up: Part 2 Sonics

FullRangeMan

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Nice review, these backlit buttons are first class.

dodgealum

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The Sound:

One of the things I have enjoyed about my audiophile journey is discovering new levels of musical fidelity that I never thought existed. I have been very fortunate to work with a number of small manufacturers to assemble a system (over a long period of time) that is both revealing of changes upstream and yet preserves a high degree of natural tone and musicality. There have been several recent additions to my equipment lineup that have really exposed limitations that I did not otherwise perceive in my system. For example, I swapped the excellent Modwright KWA-150SE for an LTA Ultralinear and discovered that, paired with my high efficiency Daedalus Audio Apollo speakers, the LTA provided a much more detailed and musically compelling presentation. Similarly, I replaced a pair of Dynamic Design Lotus Series speaker cables that I had been happily using for years with a set of Daedalus/WyWires reference speakers cables and discovered another layer of vibrant warmth, detail, and staging. I consider the WyWires cables an absolute must for any Daedalus owner and highly recommend the LTA UL to anyone using high efficiency loudspeakers.

But none of these prior upgrades could have prepared me for what the TE-2 brought to the table (pun intended) in place of my VPI Scout “Supreme”. Yes, I know, with the arm and cartridge I selected we are talking double the price, but the leap in performance still has me scratching my head. The TE-2 excels in all the performance areas prized by die hard vintage idler-drive adherents and yet manages to also deliver the goods like a top-tier modern belt driven playback system. PRaT, frequency extension, staging, tone--REALISM--it's all there in spades.

The first thing I noticed about the TE-2 is how homogenized the VPI sounds by comparison. Looking back, I now view my Scout “Supreme” as a very “nice” sounding table. It had a warm, pleasing sound which one could live with for a very long time--unless of course you happen to hear the TE-2. By comparison the Sempersonus is MUCH more transparent to the source, providing the listener with a revealing perspective on the recording venue, choice of instruments, musicianship, and vocal styles of the performers laying down the tracks. And yet the TE-2 does this without sounding at all “analytical”, forward, or tonally lean. In fact, what you get with the TE-2 is a slightly more laid back (think row “G”) presentation, but one with much greater inner detail and separation of instrumental lines. Interestingly, this shift in perspective and enhanced inner detail is exactly what happened when I switched to the WyWires/Daedalus speaker cables--just to a less dramatic degree.

For example, I recently played MFSL “Teaser and the Firecat” by Cat Stevens. Listening to “How Can I Tell You” positions Cat and his guitar well behind the front plane of the speakers and yet his strumming and vocal articulation are rendered with extraordinary detail. At various points he restates the last word or phrase of a verse but does so in a sort of spoken word or gentle humming beneath his breath. The TE-2 imparts these vocal embellishments in a way that adds considerably to the emotional intensity of the song. Similarly, on the opening track (“The Wind”), Cat’s voice is positioned slightly off center, up and well behind the front plane of the speakers and yet the vocal phrasing, tone, and emphasis are incredibly vivid and lifelike. This is the kind of “in the room” sound that we all crave. The same is true for the sound of his guitar, which is conveyed with all the subtle dynamics, tone, and delicacy of the real thing. This “relaxed technicolor” realism is a key feature of this playback system--one which reveals subtle nuances that are the holy grail of two channel audio.

Speaking of tone, the TE-2 is also remarkable in the way it communicates the tonal qualities of acoustic instruments like guitar, cello, and piano. I recently listened to Mozart's “Sonatas d'Eglise” performed by Ensemble London Baroque on original instruments. Like every well-recorded chamber music LP I threw at it, listening to this album on the TE-2  illustrates the unrivalled communicative power of this playback system. The cello, for example, is captured with a resonant warmth that I have never experienced before despite having played this record dozens of times over the years. The instrument sounds so real that it is startling at times, with a woody resonance, absence of smear and overhang that both drive the music forward and provide tonal richness and body to the work. Honestly, listening to recordings like these on the TE-2 leave me feeling as though I have never really heard the cello properly reproduced in my home (or the stand up bass on my jazz recordings for that matter). 

The other thing that immediately seizes your attention are the dynamic and transient capabilities of the TE-2. Listening to well-recorded percussion or acoustic guitar provides an in the studio experience like none I’ve ever experienced. For example, on the title track of Shelby Lynne’s “Just a Little Lovin” the drummer combines kick drum and rim shots to create a very compelling rhythmic foundation to the song. On the TE-2 the kick drum is not only incredibly deep and tight, but the rim shots have a transient snap and decay that are without parallel in my listening experience. Similarly, listening to Michael Hedges “Silent Anticipations” from his debut album “Breakfast in the Field”, I hear periodic and incredibly vivid “whacks” on the soundboard, with a lengthy decay that moves from left to right across the soundstage. On my prior set up, this was merely subtle  punctuation, conveyed as homogenized “raps” on the wood body of the guitar. With the TE-2 it is possible to distinguish between the force and location of each percussive blast. This is the kind of thing that happens often with the TE-2, and never fails to leave me giggling and speechless.

The TE-2 also creates the impression that the frequency response of my system increased by 10%, north and south. The system simply goes deeper and is much more extended on top. The bass response is not only deeper, but much tighter--the system moves more air and does so with immense clarity and zero overhang. The top end is not only more extended, but way faster, nuanced, and more delicate. I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz since installing the TE-2 (“Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section”, MOFI’s “Kind of Blue”, Cecile McLorin Salvant “Woman Child”, Cannonball Adderley “Somethin Else”).  While these LPs really demonstrate the transient and dynamic capabilities of the TE-2, they also allow the listener to gain extraordinary insight into the percussive talents that add drive, color and texture to well recorded jazz. These are recordings I know well and love and yet on each I am hearing the snare, cymbal and brush work in ways that are entirely new. With the TE-2 you can hear where and how hard the drummer taps the cymbals as well as the space between rapid taps that previously blurred into a single stroke. Listening to Art Pepper, at one point “Philly” Joe Jones delivers a sequence of rim shots that are progressively more forceful--until he desists. It is simply amazing how each rap gets louder and projects forward into the soundstage until the last one knocks you back in your chair. While the TE-2 excels in so many key areas, the extended frequency response is impressive and noteworthy. The level of detail and natural accuracy is simply astonishing, and my Daedalus Apollo’s, outfitted with the new ten inch woofer and Eton tweeter, really make the most of what the TE-2 is throwing down.

Another thing I have noticed with the TE-2 is the way it captures subtle gradations in vocal delivery that provide much greater insight into the artistry of Frank Sinatra, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Linda Ronstadt, Harry Belefonte, and other great singers residing in my collection. This is most apparent when a vocalist really “leans in” to the tune, projecting their voice to accentuate a lyric to elevate the emotional intensity of the song. I’ve listened dozens of times to Linda sing “When You Wish Upon a Star” with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. The opening verse is the song title which is followed by “makes no difference who you are” at which point it seems as though her voice has no limits. The TE-2 is the only table I’ve heard that can keep up with the sheer power of her voice, evidencing zero strain or distortion. Similarly, “What’s New” (MFSL) concludes with the standard “Goodbye”. As she signs off at the end of the tune she holds the final note for what seems like forever. The TE-2 hangs right with her and vividly captures the subtle vibrato she uses to embellish (and sadden) the close of the song.

It is also important to say something about the tonal balance of this playback system, which is very even-handed. Compared to my Scout “Supreme” the tonal balance is more akin to what I was getting with the ART 9 than the MIMC Star. The former was extremely balanced top to bottom whereas the latter had a noticeable, if pleasant, midrange emphasis. What I love about the TE-2 is that it does not editorialize--it is very transparent but never sounds dry or sterile. Reviewers have made much of the midrange richness of the Charisma line of cartridges but I would characterize the Signature One in my setup as decidedly more accurate and neutral than tonally warm. This midrange accuracy allows the listener to easily distinguish between tenor and alto sax, Fender or Rickenbacker, violin or viola. By contrast, my VPI loaded with the MIMC Star now seems considerably colored in retrospect, adding a pleasing but homogenizing glow to every track while slightly rolling off the frequency extremes.

Finally, something about PRaT and the ability of this system to convey separate musical lines as a synergistic whole is in order. The TE-2 does exactly what I had hoped for when I started this journey--leaves me tapping my toes and yearning for the next record with every listening session. This setup has a simply amazing ability to differentiate separate musical lines. For example, vocal overdubs become really interesting--you can literally hear each take as a separate recorded layer with unique subtle shadings applied by the artist to bring about a cohesive whole. Norah Jones debut LP “Come Away With Me” reissued by Acoustic Sounds and pressed at QRP comes to mind. Whereas on my prior set up Norah’s overdubs sounded like a mashup of voices, now each vocal take is clearly a distinct layer with its own harmonic contribution to the whole. Similarly, listening to Mozart’s “Haydn” string quartets (Quartetto Italiano on Phillps) reveals the exceptional interplay between the four instruments, allowing the listener new appreciation for the composition and musicianship captured in these performances. I could go on and on--the point is that there is a sonic landscape that is created by this system that allows the listener to both isolate and appreciate different elements while at the same time experience a deeply moving artistic whole. Taken together with the aforementioned dynamic contrasts, there is a sense of flow that is so compelling and so lifelike that the music never fails to touch you like a great live performance.

Some Nits:

So what’s not to like about the TE-2. Obviously, not much. But there are a few areas for improvement. First off, I have found that the Charisma Signature One reveals more surface noise on some recordings than my Scout “Supreme” running either the Soundsmith or the ART-9. This is most noticeable when the playing surface has notable imperfections--the pops and ticks are more audible. Where the pressing is clean and unmarred, the Charisma is quiet as can be. So if your vinyl collection is like mine--irregularly cleaned and containing some LPs that go back decades--you may hear a little more surface noise than you would like. Second, the Raven arm is a brilliant design but I do find the cueing lever slightly awkward to operate when dropping the needle to the lead in grooves--the tip of the lever sits quite close to the anti-skate mechanism, leaving a relatively small amount of space for the tip of your finger. My hands are quite large so this will not be a concern for most and is not an issue when raising the arm at the end of the LP. Again, a minor nit to pick. Finally, while the overall fit and finish of the TE-2 are excellent, the supplied feet are nothing special and appear a bit small in relation to the plinth. While I found the feet to do an excellent job isolating the table from footfalls and airborne vibration, I do wonder whether there might be a slightly larger design that would offer an aesthetic improvement. Since the tread size is a common M6, I intend to play around with some options. Those nits aside, the whole package offers a commanding, musically compelling performance at a price many audiophiles will find attractive.

Conclusion:

At the end of the day it is impossible to say which component contributes what to the sound I am getting from the TE-2 vinyl playback system. Certainly the Charisma Signature One is an exceptional pickup, and I am inclined to give considerable credit to the cartridge when it comes to tonal balance, inner detail, and transient speed. The Signature One is an extremely balanced, tonally neutral, and highly musical transducer. It has the exceptional “flow” that made my AT ART 9 special, only way more--and this is likely in part due to its pairing with a TE-2 drive system that conveys pace, timing, and delineation of musical lines like a champ. The TE-2’s utter lack of distortion and coloration are perhaps most attributable to the Signature One’s pairing with the Raven 12, with its incredibly precise bearings, rigid arm, and flexible adjustment parameters which allow for (and reward) proper setup. And of course, none of the sonic attributes described above would be communicated effectively without the WyWires Platinum interconnects transferring the delicate signal with such accuracy and purity. I can say with confidence that the WyWires are truly excellent interconnects--they replaced the ICs I was using during the break in period and the leap in performance was not at all subtle.

Together, the TE-2/Raven 12/Charisma Signature One/WyWires vinyl playback system represents a dramatic step up from what was a very capable (and not inexpensive) VPI that was at least on par with their $6.5K Prime Signature (sans cartridge). The TE-2 does all this at a reasonable price and in a manageable size that is attractive, easy to set up, and bulletproof to operate. In fact, the TE-2 represents such a capable and thoughtfully engineered platform that I am confident if mated with capable but considerably less expensive partners, like an Origin Live Silver and Charisma MC-2, it would provide similarly outstanding performance that is well within the reach of most budget conscious music lovers. With the Sempersonus TE-2 Paulo Rebordão has managed to design a table that captures the idler wheel magic while ticking all the audiophile boxes. As a result, the TE-2 is a game changer that deserves the attention of true music lovers who want outstanding performance in a simple, cost-effective package.

Icing on the Cake:

After penning this review I began exploring clamps for my TE-2. After some research I decided to try a Stillpoints LP-1 (Short Spindle) record weight. I’ll make this short and sweet. The LP-1 is the perfect partner for the TE-2--functionally, ergonomically, and aesthetically. Functionally, the Short Spindle version provides plenty of clearance above the spindle, allowing the unit to apply pressure fully and evenly across the album label. Also, the LP-1 is heavy, and while I would not recommend it for a belt drive table it is the perfect partner for the epicyclic drive TE-2, which has plenty of torque and zero slippage to drive the platter without any loss of speed stability. Ergonomically, despite its heft, the LP-1 is easy to handle with confidence since the center groove provides a sure-fingered grip around the circumference of the weight. Aesthetically, the LP-1 has excellent fit and finish to match the simple lines and chrome details of the TE-2. Sonically, the LP-1 does absolutely no harm--it flattens warped records yet does not impart itself sonically. After reading Roy Gregory’s glowing review, I anticipated a more significant sonic enhancement from the LP-1. If anything, I detect a slight further easing of the sound--perhaps a bit more “relaxed” presentation without any loss of vibrancy. That said, I would not place a wager on my ability to tell when the LP-1 was in place. And I’m all good with that--the TE-2 sounds spectacular sans weight and, while expensive, the LP-1 does a nice job of taking the warps out of records and solidly pressing the LP to the record mat--right where it should be!