Direct-Drive Turntable: $8500
The talented electronics designer Peter B. Noerbaek, who designs and manufactures electronics for PBN Audio and Liberty Audio, also makes the handsome line of GrooveMaster Vintage Direct turntables based on four classic Denon direct-drive models of the 1970s: the PBN-DP2, based on Denon’s DP-2000 (1978); the PBN-DP3 (Denon DP-3000, 1973); the PBN-DP6 (Denon DP-6000, 1976); and the PBN-DP8 (Denon-DP80, 1980). These designs differ slightly from one another, but each has a relatively lightweight platter of die-cast aluminum directly driven by an AC motor controlled by quartz-crystal oscillators and regulated by pulse width modulation. The platter of the PBN-DP6 weighs a little under 4 lbs. A DC electrical brake system results in smooth operation and speed changes.
The prices, which includes a Jelco tonearm, range from $5500 (PBN-DP3) to $9500 (PBN-DP8). Every original Denon ‘table is completely disassembled and rebuilt. Noerbaek uses only the original’s motor, platter, circuit board, and speed-sensing head. The boards are overhauled: the electrolytic caps and most of the transistors are replaced. Also new are the pushbuttons and potentiometers, the plate on which they’re mounted, and the motor’s massive aluminum mounting plate. “Good for another 40 years,” says Noerbaek. Each GrooveMaster Vintage Direct goes into a gorgeous, curvaceous plinth available in a variety of hardwoods.The plinth is a laminate of three layers, each 1.625″ thick, each layer’s grain at an angle of 120 degrees to the others. Before the stainless-steel caps and feet are added, each plinth weighs about 16 lbs. The model supplied was the PBN-DP6, fitted with a Jelco SA-750EB – a 9.5″ curved tonearm that retails separately for around $570. The cost of this combination is $8500. You can specify any tonearm you wish, but once it’s installed, you can’t later opt for a longer or shorter version. Almost all of the work is done in-house at PBN Audio, including the CNC woodworking and finishing.
Noerbaek told me that the lead finisher for his factory works the day shift at PBN, and then an evening shift at Taylor Guitars, which is also based in El Cajon, California. Noerbaek supplied a plug’n play PBN DP6 with a Lyra cartridge already installed and aligned in the Jelco’s headshell. All I had to do was set VTF, and plug in the straight DIN-to-RCA cable (supplied at extra cost) and the angled power cord.
The PBN-DP6 was up and running within six minutes of being unpacked. Its built-in strobe confirmed that the platter was rotating at a precise 33-1/3 or 45rpm, with small deviations as the measurements shown in figs. 1 and 2 demonstrate; the pitch is easily adjusted within plus or minus 6%.
Denon made and sold a lot of direct-drive turntables. Yes, you can go on eBay or elsewhere and find many for sale, with or without plinths, and in various conditions. So if you’re into DIY, have fun! But for those who want a fully-reconditioned Denon direct-drive in a drop-dead gorgeous plinth, PBN has done all the work. The GrooveMaster Vintage Direct PBN-DP6 is a stunning-looking turntable you’ll want to have on display.
SOUND: The PBN-DP6’s ribbed rubber record mat wouldn’t be my first choice, but that’s how I first listened to the turntable. I found it was better to turn over the mat (ribs down) which creates a flat surface for the record to better couple to. (The raised center section of the PBN-DP6’s platter will narrow your choice of alternate mats.)
I ended up using a Funk Firm Achromat on top of PBN’s inverted mat, and raising the tonearm’s pillar to maintain the proper vertical tracking angle (VTA) and SRA. I also used a Stillpoints Ultra LP Isolator atop the spindle, in place of the PBN-supplied record weight; the latter produced noticeably better bass, more solid images, and “blacker” backgrounds. It was difficult to separate the PBN-DP6’s sound quality from that of the inexpensive Jelco tonearm. All I can say is that the combination, with the Lyra Etna cartridge, produced the kind of smooth, open, well-articulated, effortless, stable reproduction of music that can easily convert almost anyone hooked on digital, and who is willing to do the minimal work required to spin records.
Recently, during a visit to High Fidelity, the Los Feliz, LA record store owned by Mike Hobson, cofounder of Classic Records, I found, for around $8, an original pressing of Charles Lloyd’s Discovery (LP, Columbia CS 9067). I’d never had one and had always wanted it. At the time (1965), Lloyd was a member of the Cannonball Adderley Sextet, and this was his first recording session as leader, backed by Don Friedman on piano, with either Eddie Khan and Roy Haynes or Richard Davis and J.C. Moses on bass drums, respectively. This wonderful recording, I thought, told me everything I needed to know about this turntable-tonearm combo –both that it was the only record I played! Backgrounds were quiet, images stable, and the bass was nimble and tight, if not as fully extended as what’s on the record The top-end was wonderfully open and airy, with transients finely yet smoothly articulated, and a well-developed sense of studio space behind the players.
PBN’s GrooveMaster Vintage Direct series isn’t for the DIY crowd, and part of what you’re paying for in the PBN-DP6 is its gorgeous looks – but for the guy or gal who wants a compact showpiece that will be trouble free, sound great, play at the correct speed, and likely remain dependable for years to come, one of these GrooveMasters would be a good choice.