Diva II SP Reviews


November 2013 Deon Schoeman, AudioVideo South Africa (ZA)

I’m an unrepentant fan of UK firm Avid’s turntables -- so much so that after I’d reviewed the Avid Diva II four or so years ago, there was no going back: I had to buy one. That deck, with an OL Encounter tonearm, has served me well as one of my record deck references ever since.

Not long after I’d purchased the Diva II, Avid released an SP version, promising even higher levels of performance, thanks to a number of technical upgrades compared to the ‘normal’ version.

The key updates included swapping out the II’s MDF platter for a heavier, machined aluminium version, fitting a twin-belt drive system, and providing more precise (and adjustable) speed adjustment and control of the synchronous motor using a DSP control unit.

The rest of the Diva II package remains as is: the triangular cast aluminium chassis, the inverted stainless steel bearing, and the tungsten carbide/sapphire thrust point are carried over, as is the 24 motor, and the three-point, triple-layer elastomer suspension.

Four years later, I’ve finally managed to lay my hands on a Diva II SP -- by buying one. And as much as the purchase was a leap of faith, based on my experience with the II, I’m happy to report that the SP is every bit as good as I’d hoped.

Unpacking and setting up the SP is almost as easy as it is for the II. I say almost, because the twin-drive pulley system requires a bit more care and practice than the single-belt Diva II. A belt locator is provided for that purpose, but it’s a lot more fiddly to get right than the manual suggests!

There is no suspension or height adjustment, so ensuring that the deck is positioned on a level surface is paramount. The freestanding synchronous motor is placed adjacent to the turntable’s chassis, utilising a cutaway provided for that purpose.

The hefty, 6,3 kg aluminium platter is carefully located on the bearing, with the belt locator letting the twin belts latch onto the platter’s outer rim. A cork mat fits over the platter, while a well-weighted screw-down clamp positively locates the record on the platter.

The Diva II SP can be fitted with any number of tonearms, but it comes preconfigured for SME arms, with the 309 the recommended choice. It seemed ill-advised to stray from a tried and trusted recipe, so I ordered the table with the 309, which arrived in a separate box, and had to be installed.

Fortunately, that process was relatively simple, and adjusting the arm once fitted didn’t take long, either. The SME is a masterpiece of British precision engineering (a bit like the Avid gear) which explains why they’re so well matched.

Anyone serious about vinyl and turntables will agree that set-up is everything, and that small variances in VTA (vertical tracking angle) and stylus azimuth can have a major impact on sound quality. The comments here assume that the deck, tonearm and cartridge are all as perfectly aligned as is humanly possible.

Talking of cartridge, I’ve been running a Van Den Hul The Frog MC during a prolonged running-in process for the deck/arm/cartridge combination. The Frog has ended up being an excellent choice, with a good mix of weight, presence and expressiveness.

For the first week or so, I felt that the Diva II SP sounded smooth and articulate (and yes, similar to my earlier Diva II in terms of space and imaging), but somehow lacking in real substance. Even when I swapped out the Frog for another of my cartridge regulars, an Ortofon Cadenza Black, the table/arm still didn’t offer quite the grip and insight I’d expected.

But by week two, everything had snapped together, and once the Frog had passed the 100 hour mark, the deck, arm and cartridge gelled beautifully.

In broad terms, the SP sounds similar to the Diva II: there is an approachability and an honesty to the performance that instantly draws the listener into the music. But the SP/309 duo sounds bigger and more expansive, with superior bottom-end delivery and control.

There is real foundation and substance to the music, not only in the lower registers, but across the frequency spectrum. The midrange is smoothly and amply expressed, but with no sign of oversaturation, while the higher frequencies are lucidly rendered, with plenty of bite and sparkle, and none of the rolled-off ‘warmth’ some might consider de rigeur with vinyl playback.

Boz Scaggs’ Memphis showed off the Avid’s superb sense of timing, with his laid-back but eloquent guitar work, almost laconic vocals and the set’s engaging arrangement presented with verve and believability. On ‘Dry Spell’, Charlie Musslewhite’s basement harmonica had an almost visceral presence, while Keb’ Mo’s slide Dobro was vivid enough to be right there, in the room with me.

The Diva II SP has a real talent for air and staging, providing plenty of breathing space for the music, while an exceptionally low noise floor and total lack of mechanical noise ensures that the finest sprinkling of detail -- especially subtle ambient clues, and incidental effects -- are meticulously rendered, thus adding to a sense of compelling authenticity.

Can it rock? Those Swiss jesters of Euro-rock, Yello, always provide a good system workout with their densely arranged, holographically produced music, and the Avid was able to deliver the full impact of the massive soundstage, the power rhythms, the soaring vocals and the resonant narratives that make Flag one of the classic Yello releases.

Suzanne Vega’s atmospheric Beauty And Crime, can sound boomy on the bottom end and sibilant in the vocal range on anything but a finely tuned deck, but the Avid had no problem keeping things under control. Vega’s voice soared over the driving percussion and meaty bass on ‘Zephyr’, while the guitar was delivered with presence an intent.

The Avid negotiated the layers of music with both accuracy and cohesion, affording the ethereal background vocals, and incidental nuances as much attention as the primary performers. The result was a rich and expansive sound that had me rifling through my record collection for more musical gratification.

It’s that ability of the Avid to dig deep into the music and to extract a greater level of emotional and sonic content than expected, while never losing sight of essence nor intent that makes spending time in its company such a pleasurable and compelling experience.

Yes, there is an underlying honesty to the deck that won’t tolerate poor recordings. And some might find its slight aloofness in the upper midrange to lack the ‘warmth’ that many consider a default trait of vinyl playback. In that context, the Diva II SP is smooth but neutral, and thus a tonally truthful deck.

There is also no doubt that the Avid Diva II SP represents a big step forward over the Diva II in terms of weight, authority, air and staging. The sheer sense of dimension, of authority and of musical generosity, together with real talent for dynamics and timing, vindicates the extra acquisition cost over the Diva II, while propelling the SP into true high-end territory.

The SME 309 is an excellent companion, as is the Van Den Hul The Frog cartridge, making for a record deck that finds just the right balance between revealing analysis and thrilling musicality.

VERDICT
The Diva II SP may look near identical to the more affordable Diva II, but in practice, the SP is streets ahead of its already impressive junior sibling. Greater tonal depth, vastly improved detail retrieval, and an immaculate sense of timing ensure riveting listening.


February 2012 Jeff Dorgay, Tone Audio (USA)

AVID’s Diva II and Diva II SP Turntables

Perusing the Car Configurator on Porsche’s Web site is daunting. Options abound, and prices get wacky in a hurry. Sure, you can get in the game for just under $50k, but the top end of the range demands about $150,000 from your savings. Your first instinct is to get more power—because, after all, that’s the testosterone-fueled thing to do, right? Yet just how much performance does an entry-level car possess? Can you still get the Porsche experience with the base Boxster?

It all reminds me of the time I sat across the table from race-car driver Hurley Haywood and discussed the perfect Porsche for everyday use. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “There are probably eight people in the world that can drive a Porsche 911 to 100% of its capability and you’re looking at one of them.” It’s hard to argue with the man that won the prestigious 24 hours of LeMans for Porsche three times, and secured more endurance racing titles than just about anyone else. “Just get the Boxster. It will do everything you need it to do, with no sacrifices in performance in day to day driving.”

A similar case can be made for the AVID Diva II and Diva II SP turntables. If the company’s $20,000 Acutus Reference SP isn’t in the budget, think of its entry-level ‘tables as the equivalent of a Boxster and Boxster S, incorporating priorities that make the top-end ‘tables fantastic—just in a slightly smaller, more compact packages. Both models embrace a healthy amount of Acutus Reference DNA at a fraction of the cost. The $1,995 Diva II is bettered by the $3,995 Diva II SP, which offers increases in sonic performance concurrent with the price, though each look relatively similar to the naked eye.

Where some manufacturers begin their product line at the bottom, deriving higher performance by refining initial offerings, AVID takes the opposite approach by utilizing the Acutus as a starting point. Designer Conrad Mas builds as many aspects of the Acutus into other ‘tables as economically possible. All models are centered around a W–shaped sub-platter design, which provides high structural rigidity without extremely high mass. The sub platter is cast with variable density aluminum that acts as a conduit to drain vibration energy away from the tonearm mount and main bearing. The results? A turntable line with a signature sound free of resonance-induced coloration. Resolution and dynamics improve as you move up the range.

AVID’s top ‘tables utilize precisely wound coils for suspension. Yet the Diva versions use elastomers, made from an extremely high-grade Sorbothane that, according to Mas, does not degrade. The Diva II shares the same sub chassis and motor with the SP model, incorporating a DSP-controlled power supply and two-belt drive system. Many belt-drive turntables use a low-torque motor to spin the platter, yet AVID takes an uncommon approach via a high-torque motor, yielding low wow and flutter and great speed accuracy. Both ‘tables measure 33.3RPM out of the box. The Diva II is the only AVID model that does not require a motor swap when upgrading to the SP version.

The platter is the most visible difference between the models. While a cork mat covers each, the Diva II uses a less-expensive composite MDF platter than the massive, machined aluminum edition on the SP. Both ‘tables arrive with the sub chassis pre-drilled for an SME arm. However, most popular arms (Rega, TriPlanar, Dynavector, and others) can be accommodated with an adaptor plate available from AVID dealers. Comparison listening between the Diva II and II SP came courtesy of identical SME 309 tonearms, each fitted with Dynavector DV20x2L phono cartridges and Furutech ag12 tonearm cables. Feickert Analogue’s Adjust + software assured identical performance from both setups.

With direct comparisons complete, further listening with the Rega RB1000, TriPlanar Vii, and the Funk Firm FX•RII yields excellent results, proving these ‘tables mate easily with the tonearm of your choice. A particularly synergistic albeit decidedly old-school match is achieved with a rebuilt SME 3009 and Ortofon SPU cartridge. The Audio Research REF Phono 2 boasts more than enough resolution to hear the differences between the two ‘tables.

Regardless of the arm, both models can be optimized in less than 15 minutes. Operation is smooth and simple, taking advantage of a machined aluminum clamp to tightly hold the record to the cork platter mats. The large motor also provides quick startup and enough torque to effortlessly work with foam-pad record brushes.

The Diva II and SP share a neutral tonal balance and low mechanical noise prevalent in the Acutus. Theirs is a lively sound, possessing a weighty bottom end that never comes across as overdamped. Listening to acoustic music reveals bass notes possess enough warmth, resonance, and overhang to sound convincing. The opening bass line from “Tea in the Sahara” from the Police’s Synchronicity maintains Sting’s trademark smoothness—and the necessary acceleration to capture the mood. Both ‘tables have a similar weightiness (the SP wins out, however), and the SP is more expressive due to the presence of additional tonal shading.

The two models are most similar throughout the midrange. Should your musical tastes range towards smaller-scale music, you may be hard-pressed to distinguish any differences. Listening to Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat Major, which lacks huge dynamic swings and major bass excursion, makes it almost impossible to distinguish the Diva II from the Diva II SP. Only when switching to full-scale orchestral music, or Rammstein, does the extra dynamic range become readily apparent.

Speaking of Rammstein, both ‘tables are highly resistant to acoustic feedback when blasting “Ich tu dir weh” at high-volume levels. Yes, the AVID decks will satisfy hard-core metalheads in addition to everyone else, regardless of musical taste. This is not a feat aced by all turntables.

The II SP comes into its own with more complex music by furnishing more detail in all three dimensions. Santana’s self-titled debut showcases pinpoint imaging, with drums and percussion retaining distinct places within the studio-created soundfield. The Diva II does an excellent job decoding spatial cues and placement, and finite characteristics remain closely within the speaker boundaries. The II SP brings Santana’s guitar playing out in front of the imaginary boundary between the speakers, and the smallest percussion bits are more distinct and focused.

While both ‘tables admirably function with some of my best recordings, the II SP’s higher resolution uncovers more treasure on mediocre, densely packed recordings. The II SP also offers a bigger performance gain when paired with a premium arm and cartridge. The gap isn’t as vast with a Rega RB 300 arm as it is with the SME 309 or Funk Firm FX•R arm. I concur with Mr. Mas, who feels like the ‘table and arm are critical to an analog playback system, and that one can achieve better overall performance with a great turntable/arm setup and modest cartridge than the other way around.

The more time I spend concurrently listening to both ‘tables leads me to love the Diva II SP the most. However, in all fairness to the standard Diva II, the difference between the two represents a linear progression. You don’t get 85% the performance of the Diva II SP for half the price in the Diva II. A brief comparison with the $5,500 Volvere SP confirmed the same conclusion; the Volvere experiences a similar increase in performance when put head-to-head with the II SP.

Both decks are excellent. If I were writing the check (and I purchased a Diva II SP half-way through this review), I’d pair the Diva II with something like the Rega RB 250/300/301, leaving the higher-priced arms for the SP. Much, of course, depends on your other components’ performance. More system resolution favors the better table and arm combination.


May 2011 Laurent Thorin, Haute Fidélité (FR)

With this thoroughly revised version of the Diva II, Avid makes an impact by offering an affordable turntable of outstanding performance, capable of doing justice to the best arms and cartridges, as well as less exotic partners.

The British brand AVID was created in 1996 by Conrad Mas, a mechanical engineer with high fidelity as a hobby. In addition to audio, the company also provides engineering and Avid’s knowledge to companies in the medical field, robotics and defense. Avid turntables have experienced rapid growth, and even the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who is known for his passion for high-fidelity, has recently purchased an Acutus Reference SP and Pulsare phono stage!

Diva II SP is a reworked version of the standard Diva II. It is also twice as expensive. Aesthetically, it is very successful, according to a well-known term that ‘form follows function’. The main chassis is a casting of aluminium with a ribbed profile, comprising the arm board (which is standard cut for SME), the three suspension pods and platter on its bearing. For decoupling from the surface on which they rest, a triple layer of a specific elastomer is used called Sorbothane. The principle of inverted bearing has also been chosen and at the centre of the chassis is a firmly fixed stainless steel spindle with a centred end. Here a tungsten ball is placed. Then a tapered main bearing, with a threaded spindle, rests on the ball with a ruby thrust. Finally, the platter fits precisely on the main bearing. This tapered design eliminates any chance of torsional movement. The platter is made from one piece of aluminium and perfectly balanced. Weighing 6.3 kg, on its upper surface it has a layer of cork that provides the interface to the record. The record clamp is screwed onto the spindle pressing the record to the platter. The large mass of the platter ensures a very low suspension resonance frequency of about 4 Hz.

The design of the bearing and clamp allows vibrations generated by the stylus to be evacuated quickly: the principle of creating a Mechanical earth. The platter is driven by a 24 volt synchronous motor with high torque. The drive is done using two cylindrical belts, allowing better control the movement of the platter and stability regardless of load. The motor is placed in a heavy cylinder totally independent of the main chassis. Its place is clearly defined by a cut out in the latter. But be careful during assembly, there must be clear space so the two sides do not touch. Within its housing, the motor is duly damped by the heavy material. The speed is tightly controlled by a separate DSP Vari-Speed power supply. The DSP (Digital Signal Processing) power supply allows changes in the speed and the motor enjoys a current source pure and abundant. The owners of the Diva II can upgrade their version to SP through a fixed price package.

This analogue source sets the bar very high for tonal equilibrium. There is an impressive degree of naturalness. Anything that makes the charm of analog playback is at the rendezvous, that is to say a good sense of matter, a balance fleshy, and a tiny touch of warmth. However, these virtues never become caricatures and are deployed with a keen sense of measure. In short, this is the modern analogue and not a substitute of vintage players. We locate this success primarily to the width of the bandwidth that is characterized by a bass never seen on a turntable for this price. Listening to the trio of Bill Evans recorded live in Montreux in 1968; Eddie Gomez on bass is simply phenomenal. The tension on the strings has superb presence and energy. There is a lot of presence and accuracy in playing the bass. The limited version Kind of Blue, the bass is once again exceptionally deep and control. It is always surprising to rediscover a disc you thought perfectly well after having encountered it hundreds of times. The fluidity of a medium is successful.

The Avid / Dynavector impose a sense of energy always well controlled. The listening takes place in an atmosphere of tranquility and serenity simply because the dynamic behavior is controlled to the millimeter. The accelerations are straightforward, the judgments are sharp. The breaks are clear, the times too. In short, we can follow the complicated melodic lines with the feeling of not missing a beat. This ease was sticking to the signal gives meaning to listen expressed with clarity of good quality. Whether on a trio or a bigger jazz orchestra, this source is able to offer a deep breath to recorded music.

The image is large and has excellent holographic qualities. Kind of Blue on the site of the musicians is an accuracy that is often lacking. Not only is the focus of sound sources surprisingly accurate, but each retains its own environment and placing on the panorama with excellent space. The depth of sound is obvious with solid images.

The Avid-Dynavector combination quickly showed a supreme elegance and revealed every detail and nuance, with a wealth of micro-information, quite amazing at this price level. It allowed a fine analysis of records by completing the most complex to dissect the message never isolate any component.

VERDICT

This analog source gave us the most musical performance in all aspects. Of course, it is important to put this into a broader sense. Indeed, the combination of which we have the opportunity to test is a bit unusual and would be rarely assembled. It is indeed unlikely that a customer would choose a tone arm which will be priced higher than the turntable, and use a phono preamp costing 8000 euro and a 1400 euro cartridge. But despite these imbalances the final result was an enthusiasm that the intrinsic value of each link was excellent. And that the turntable, in particular, is remarkable. This also allows us to confirm with confidence that the Diva II SP, along with a less expensive arm (for example a SME 309) and a more affordable preamp, would make a complete analogue source (turntable + arm + cartridge + RIAA preamp) for less than 7000 Euros, particularly capable of excellent performance. For all these reasons, the Diva II SP wholly deserves our Best Buy distinction.


January 2011 Michael Fremer, Stereophile Magazine (USA)

I'd evaluated the Diva II turntable from Avid HiFi Ltd and was just about to start writing the review. I didn't know the price, but based on its build quality, and especially its sound, I figured it was about $4500. But when I looked it up on the website of Avid's American importer, Music Direct, I had to call them to make sure the price shown - $1800 - wasn't a mistake. This is going to cause a revolution, I thought.

It wasn't a mistake, but it turned out I'd made one. I'd been listening to Avid's Diva II SP ($3995), which includes, among other upgrades from the Diva II, a nearly 14-lb machined aluminium platter and, for its 24V AC synchronous motor, a DSP-based voltage-synthesizing outboard power supply that lets you dial in the speed. World order had been restored.

The Diva II SP resembles other Avid turntables, with which it shares components, including its tungsten-carbide/sapphire ball, inverted stainless-steel bearing, affixed to the hub of a three-legged chassis of cast aluminium. Part of that casting is an integral mount for an SME tonearm machined into the end of a leg that protrudes from midway between two of the support towers (adapters for other arms are available). Instead of spring suspensions found in more expensive models, the Diva II SP and Diva II use a three-layer elastomer system that includes a "tailored Sorbothane compound" incorporated into each of the support legs.

A mat of soft cork tops the platter. The crown of the inverted spindle bearing protrudes slightly from the platter surface to provide the downforce flex for the screw-on record clamp. The platter is driven via capellini-gauge dual O-rings looped around double grooved pulleys on the platter and motor.

Avid's ingenious belt-pin system makes it easy to fit the O-rings over the hidden pulleys; Insert a small pin in a hole in the platter's underside, close to its outer perimeter. Fit the belts around the platter pulley and then over the pin, which pulls the O-rings away from the pulley. You then carefully fit the platter over the bearing, placing the pin so that the pulley-aside section bisects the motor pulley. It's then relatively easy to remove the pin and let the O-rings snap into place in the motor pulley's two grooves.

With the motor all but invisible between two chassis legs, the handsome Diva II SP has a relatively small footprint. Turn on the power supply, push Play, and the platter is up to speed so quickly you'd think it was direct drive.

Music Direct supplied me with an SME 309 tonearm. I was able to securely bolt it to the Diva in minutes, and set it up almost as easily. I used a USB-connected microscope to set a Lyra Kleos moving coil cartridge's stylus rake angle to 92, and a digital oscilloscope to set azimuth.

The results of this all-instrumentation, no fiddling, no guesswork setup were spectacular. While sprung 'tables do achieve excellent isolation from outside vibrations, I believe that once you set a platter spinning, no matter how carefully it's machined, it will cause the suspension to move. I much prefer the rock-solid performance of mass-loaded or elastomer-isolated 'tables like the Diva II SP, provided they're placed on a properly tuned isolation stand like the HRS SXR rack and M3 base - which is what I did.

This $6000 combination was ridiculously good in every aspect of vinyl play. It produced an impressively quite background out of which sprang rock-solid three-dimensional images. The Avid's bass performance was rhythmically nimble, "tuneful," and harmonically expressive. The bottom octaves were taut and impressively well controlled, yet supple and texturally revealing. In my experience, sprung 'tables have trouble keeping up with this level of bottom-octave performance.

The Diva II SP's overall attack was fast and precise, its sustain reasonably held long, and sounds decayed very, very cleanly into silence. I sat twice through an original UK pressing of Eno's Before and After Science, and found myself concentrating on the precision of the cymbal work, particularly when I played the album at low levels during one play, and on the "tunefulness" of the bass during the next. This 'table dug down deep to deliver foundational rhythmic grooves for which rockers will go absolutely crazy.

All of the Diva II SP's sins were of omission, and even those were minor. Overall dynamic and spatial scales were somewhat diminished, but the Avid's most significant lack was of a fully fleshed out midrange, which gave it a generally cool, detached sound. While this quality produced less "fleshy" vocals and somewhat undernourished and mildly recessed harmonic palette for strings, reed instruments, and keyboards, it revealed an incredible wealth of genuine low-level detail, particularly in the recording's reverberant field. This somewhat clinical quality can be balanced out with a warmish cartridge or phono preamp.

However, even in the clinical context of a tonally neutral cartridge and phono preamp, the Diva II SP produced sound so enticing that I listened night and night to all kinds of music, constantly surprised by its high level of performance, and telling myself that if times got tough and I had to sell my big rig, I could listen happily ever after to the Diva II SP. That's how well balanced and robust its overall sound was. My only real complaint was about its coarsely threaded spindle: It was easy to misthread the clamp, especially when I was in a rush to hear the next record.

While at $3995 the Diva II SP isn't the bargain it would have been at $1800, it's still an incredible value for such a well-designed, well built, superb sounding analogue rig. Combined with the precise-sounding, easy-to-set-up SME 309 tonearm, I'm not sure what's better, or even as good, for $6000.


October 2009 Adam Smith, HIFI World Magazine - (5 Globes) (UK)

Spurred on by the resurgence of vinyl, it would appear that Avid is a company going places. I had a long and interesting chat with owner Conrad Mas at the Munich Hi-Fi Show and he was telling me of the companies plans for the future, and what they are planning to introduce over the next couple of years. Naturally I am sworn to secrecy but suffice to say that I nearly fell off my stool when he announced that the number of new products in this period will be in double figures!

I think this is indicative that Avid has become something of a success story since it opened its doors in 1995. Yes, the company also doubles as a source of high quality mechanical engineering, but making perfect 'oily bits' for a turntable is all very well if you don't know how to put them together or how to make them interact successfully. Fortunately, judging by the Diva II, Volvere and Acutus models that we are such fans of, it appears this isn't an issue. Consequently, it was with a great sense of anticipation that I set to unpacking the first newbie from Avid; the Diva II SP turntable...

As its name suggests, this deck is an evolution of the base model Diva II, which incorporates some features found on bigger brother Volvere, but also launches one or two new ideas for Avid onto the market. Obviously visually similar to the Diva II, the first thing you notice when assembling the deck is that the platter is a metal item, rather than the MDF of the standard Diva II, and this spins on a high quality Tungsten carbide/sapphire bearing assembly taken from the dearer decks. As per all Avid designs, the Diva II SP is belt driven, but it is here that the new item I mentioned earlier shows its face, in the form of a synchronous AC motor, driving the platter through twin belts and offering variable speed through a brand new frequency-adjustable power supply.

This configuration came about as Conrad prefers to stick with a synchronous AC motor. As he explained, he sees the use of a DC type as something of an easy option, requiring a simple voltage alteration for speed adjustment but his concerns at how the changing load on such a motor can ever make it hope to remain stable meant that he stuck with the AC, and chose to develop a circuit that regenerates a clean AC signal to power the motor, making it frequency-adjustable for the possibility of speed alteration. The result is the DSP Vari-SPeed supply, so called because it uses Digital Signal Processing for the signal generation and control.

Physically the supply is a small and neat metal box with an on/off knob and two buttons. One starts and stops the platter, and the other changes the speed, whilst pressing and holding both moves the unit into speed adjustment mode, where one button speeds up in fine increments and the other slows down. Once the desired speed is reached, both buttons are pressed together once more and the setting is stored in memory. A simple process and an effective one too, as both speeds remained rock-solid after several days of continuous running.

With my Audio Technica AT-OC9MLII fitted, and warming up the Diva II SP and supplied SME 309 arm with something a little frivolous in the form of Kleerup's recent twelve inch single 'Longing for Lullabies', I realised that the Diva II SP does indeed have the Avid family sound, but definitely takes the performance of the standard Diva II up a gear.

The electronic bass line from this track was punchy and deep, offering visceral excitement, and the Diva II SP proved a more than willing accomplice to some dance-related shenanigans. Moving to something a little more sophisticated, it continued to show that its right at the top of the tree when it comes to bass lines, imbuing Tift Merrit's 'Still Pretending' with a delightfully well formed underpinning.

Equally delightful was its sense of expressiveness and feeling across the midband. Tift's vocals were vivid and finely etched onto the performance, the Avid making it easy to spot when she pulled back from the microphone when delivering something of a vocal crescendo; some lesser decks simply leave you wondering why she's gone a bit quite suddenly, but the Avid didn't miss a trick here.

Instruments also held no fear for the deck, and the Uliean pipes from Brian Kennedy's track 'Captured' were magnificent in both timbre and sonic texture. Once again, a less than capable deck can make these sound rather strained and uncomfortable, but through the Avid they sounded as clear and as lifelike as I could have hoped.

Shifting the musical genre again the Jean Michel Jarre showed that the Diva II SP is also something of a wizard when it comes to timing. Those delicious analogue synthesisers stopped and started perfectly, and the Avid made sure that each and every note sat in its own space and could be easily picked out if one chose to do so, and yet melded with its companions to form a beautifully cohesive and flowing whole. In fact, in imagery terms, I felt that the Diva II SP is one of the best at its price in the way in which it layers performances.

That is to say, some decks pull everything out into the room, some push all the action off into the distance, but the Diva II SP has perfected the trick that usually identifies something much more expensive. Which is to say that it positions everything perfectly, lining the main action up at the front, and tucking the backing performances in behind this just where they need to be. Frankly, it's further grist to my theory that, if you want surround sound but don't want a roomful of loudspeakers, try a decent turntable instead.

The Avid Diva II SP is a fine turntable and, the doubling of price it commands over the standard Diva II is well worth the extra outlay. The Diva II is certainly an absolute bargain at its £1,000 price point and punches well above its weight sonically, but listening to the Diva II SP, it's easy to pick out the extra sophistication and musical insight that the superior engineering has brought about. Add in a versatile new power supply that will undoubtedly be making its influence felt elsewhere, and you have a very fine vinyl spinner indeed that promises high standard for the other forthcoming models.