The Konus Audio Vinyle 3000-MC Phono-stage

Playing Joan Armatrading (Intervention Records’ superb re-issue) the Konus phono-stage sets up a voice that is solid, present and incredibly natural. The full, almost creamy character of Armatrading’s singing is beautifully captured, with none of the pared-away leanness that so many high-end phono-stages impose, The natural articulation in the performance underpins the expressive range she brings to a song like ‘Love and Affection’, while the guitar(s) sound immediate, full of weight, body and harmonic complexity, attack and energy. There is a sense of purpose and direction, investment and connection here that escapes all but the best pop records. This is lyric and singing, music and playing bound together to elevate the artistic expression. It’s what makes this a great album and the Vinyle 3000-MC leaves that greatness in no doubt. In terms of bringing the performers and the song home, this is a serious tour de force

Play ‘Save Me’ from the same disc and the depth, weight, pitch and power of the bass entry is going to impress. Glyn Johns’ excellent production leaves space around the instruments, which makes the contribution of each clearly apparent, but also lays bare the linearity and energy spectrum of the system doing the playing. It’s the clearest indication yet of the Vinyle 3000-MC’s sure-footed temporal security, its ability to reproduce not just the leading edge of a note on time, but to get its full energy spectrum just where it should be. As with the Beethoven, it’s an ability that allows music to both breathe and progress at its own pace, fast or slow. The beauty of the Armatrading disc lies in just how clearly you can hear the musicians making and implementing those choices – as long as your phono-stage is up to the task. The Vinyle 3000-MC makes those shifts and rhythmic accents more than just clear – they’re actively explicit, bringing the music and musicians to life.

Results with the Fuuga are (perhaps predictably) excellent, but when it comes to the 3000-MC, that cartridge definitely sits near the top of the price band for prospective partners. At the other end of the spectrum sits the c. €1,500 Ortofon SPU Royal N – a cartridge that often goes unnoticed amongst Ortofon’s many, glitzier offerings, but which is arguably a more enticing prospect than any of them. Paired with the Rigid Float RF7c it makes for a musically beguiling combination, the natural flow, stable staging and planted energy of the arm mating perfectly with the naturally rich tonal and harmonic colours and textures of the cartridge. The pairing might lack the emphatic dynamics and sheer presence of the Fuuga/4Point14 set up, but it lacks a hunk of their price-tag too. What its virtues do suit is the wider acoustic catalogue, with acoustic-leaning pop or roots being particularly well-served. I could regale you with tales of Martin Stephenson or Neil Young, Alison Krauss or Vampire Weekend, but the record that stands out most vividly in my musical experiences with this arm, cartridge and phono-stage is the Shostokovich Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings (Ogden, Wilbraham, Neville Marriner and the ASMF, Argo ZRG 674).

Casting a light…

This is a recording that captures the mercurial Ogden at the height of his powers, Shostakovich’s choice of Trumpet to contrast with the piano all the more effective for its stark chromatic distinction. Ogden’s playing oscillates between gravity and levity, authority and humour, the 3000-MC able to track each flickering change of mood, light and shade as the composer rattles through ideas and suggestions with an almost kaleidoscope abandon. But as impressive as the opening and closing movements are, it’s the second movement Lento that is really beautiful. The plangent string scoring with its lilting, wistful melodies offers the perfect backdrop to Ogden’s poised playing, the system as a whole preserving the critical balance of left and right hand without disrupting the fluency in the playing or the mournful lyricism of the trumpet. It’s a musical triumph, both for the players and the phono-stage, the latter managing to capture the contrasting facets in this evocative piece: authority and humour, lyrical delicacy and furious exuberance, poised crystalline clarity and torrid, stabbing insistence. Through it all, it preserves the sense of fluid, musical purpose, the performance never hesitating or breaking stride. The music carries you along, with its vivid mix of colour and humour, power and authority a compelling testament to the musical articulation that Konus Audio has invested in the 3000-MC.