Walker CJ55 vs. Denon DP-1000 shootout

In the continuing saga of the Walker vs. the Denon, I have once again moved my Grace G707-II arm and Shure V15VMR cartridge from the Denon to the Walker, now that I’ve found a suitable belt for the Walker.  My impressions over the past couple of years of swapping back and forth were that the Walker may have a warmer and richer sound.

Yet the speed stability and precision drove me bonkers.

Walker CJ-55 TurntableThe two turntables have two different design philosophies.  The Walker is primarily a wood-based product.  The basic design is similar to the subchassis design of the Linn LP-12, where the subchassis is suspended by four damped springs from the main base.  The base itself is all wood.  The subchassis is a wooden “H” frame, with a vinyl coated particle board arm board.  The subplatter and platter are both machined from Tufnol, a wood/plastic resin material very similar to Bakelite, and is acoustically dead…and heavy.

Yet despite the heft of the turntable and subplatter, I can’t help but think the base is rather chintzy.  The feet on the bottom are mere circles of cork, ferchrissakes, and the bottom panel is nothing more than a thin 1/4″ sheet of fiberboard.  And I can’t say that the H frame subchassis looks any different from furring strips I see at the local home improvement store.  This was a not a very expensive turntable when it was build in the mid 80s, but I feel that some corners were cut a little too drastically.  More on this shortly.

The Denon, on the other hand, is typical Japanese construction.  The platter is cast aluminum, sturdy but not very thick or heavy.  It does ring if struck, albeit not as badly as others I’ve owned.  The platter uses a thin rubber mat, about as generic feeling as it gets.  As insubstantial as the platter is, the wooden base of this turntable is quite solid, with the direct drive unit itself on the hefty side.  The arm board is a layered plywood construction.  To its credit, speed stability is supposedly improved by use of a magnetically imprinted strip on the underside of the turntable platter, with a tape head that feeds back the signal to the electronics.

In this case, the base of the turntable is stable and acoustically dead for the most part, the drive unit is hefty, but the platter and mat are not up to the same heft.  I feel the platter should have been at least several times as heavy as it is–there is benefit to having a lot of mass in the platter to deaden the sound (more on that below), as well as having a flywheel effect that would have further smoothed out the speed variations.

And yes, there were speed variations–you could faintly see the strobe “nudge” as it maintained speed.  Not as drastic as my cheaper “beater” direct drive turntable (a Realistic Lab-400 that is built like a tank, and great for spinning 78s), though.  The speed on this unit was not quartz locked, like later Denon tables would be.  Yet I wonder if those had better platters than this one.

So, why all the fuss on materials?  How do they actually sound? I’ve pulled out a couple of standby LPs to give the Walker turntable a trial run.  As in the past, I felt as though the Walker had a warmer, richer sound to it.  I now am also hearing that the bass is more solid.  One change I made this time was to use my turntable weight.  With the subchassis being suspended by springs, this meant I had to level the system differently to make up for the mass of the weight–the subchassis tends to sink if more weight is put on it.

Why the record weight?  It clamps the record down to the platter much tighter.  This platter is made of Tufnol, which is acoustically inert and quite dense. By coupling the record to the platter, you are in effect making the record and the turntable a single unit of mass, and the energy is dissipated from the vinyl to the platter.  With the clamp, the record is not just resting loosely on the platter, in other words.

Does this work?  Sure!  This is why many audiophile turntables come with a clamp.  And it works here as well.  What you will notice is that there is a lessening of “vinyl noise”.  That noise is not crackles or clicks, or hiss, but sort of a faint warbly rumbling to the sound.  The music comes out of a “blacker” background, for lack of a better term. One other effect of the dampening of the platter is that it solidifies the bass.

Pat Metheny: Secret StoryI have a great example of this. Keep in mind that I have not yet played the Walker using the weighted clamp.  (I do have a plastic “spider” clamp that clings to the spindle, but it does not lock down as tightly as I would like.)  Playing Pat Metheny’s “Cathedral In A Suitcase,” the 32Hz note at the end is a test of bass solidity.  On CD, the bass rings through loud and clear.  The Denon turntable’s playback was a bit more vague–32Hz was there, but not really resonating.  What struck me on the Walker this time was how this turntable just nailed it!  Boom, it was right there, resonating throughout the room.  It was not even a matter of volume, although it did appear more prominently–it felt as though the Denon was struggling with reproducing that note, where the Walker clarified it. Other records fare nicely in the bass also.  It just sounds as though there is an added bit of clarity, the sound being more in focus.  It is most noticeable in the bass, yet the midrange also seems to be more natural.

Now that the speed issue is mostly tamed, this turntable is finally starting to sound decent.  It only took me 30 years.

I used to use a platter mat on the Walker.  It was a thick mat made out of something resembling sorbothane, but firmer.  I no longer use it, at least not for the time being.  The Walker was made to be used without a mat.  While it may seem like heresy to put a record on a hard turntable platter, as long as both are clean, there are no issues whatsoever. I may do a comparison and see if the mat helps or hampers the sound.  The mat was designed to “cling” to the LP (yes, this is also safe) to help deaden it during playback, yet it did not have the benefit of mass to dissipate that energy.

Oh, and on that speed issue?  In the past, I’ve written about how the Walker used to play too fast, which to someone like me who is inflicted with perfect pitch, is sheer torture.  By using wide rubber bands on the perimeter of the subplatter, I was able to knock the speed down almost to where it should have been.  Far better.

Yet the belt on this turntable was always a problem.  The original two belts from the manufacturer never truly controlled the platter the way they should have, and the pitch would waver terribly, especially on piano music.  (Sheer torture…rebooted.)

When I last fired up this beast, I stole the belt from the now-departed Music Hall MMF-2.1.  That belt was too small in circumference, and too narrow.  Yet the tightness snapped the platter up to speed, where it should have been.  The narrow belt had it sometimes shifting up and down on the convex surface of the motor pulley.

I found the belt for the Walker from an Amazon seller in the UK.  Even with shipping to the US, the cost was probably half of what I’d pay from US sources.  As this one has worked out so well, I am going to order at least one or two more as spares.  Even if I sell it off, the new owner will have two new fresh belts to enjoy the turntable with.

I am on the verge of ordering a new cartridge, so I will be anxious to hear how truly revealing this setup is once it arrives in a few weeks.  I am also looking at some of the Pro-Ject turntables, such as the 6 Perspex, the RM-9, RM-10.1, and the Xtension 10 Evolution, for a purchase later next year.  The Xtension and RM-10.1 both have a 10″ arm, which is an inch longer than the standard 9″ arms on most turntables.  The Xtension also has the built in Speed Box SE, which sends a clean AC signal to the motor and allows for electronic adjustability.  But with my media player and media server issues, this upgrade may wait a bit longer. I’ll have more impressions of the Walker once the new cartridge gets here.  I’m anxious to hear it!