The merits and disadvantages of turntable drive systems is a topic guaranteed to spark fierce debate in audiophile circles. Direct drive turntables were commonplace during the latter two decades of vinyl’s heyday with most Japanese outfits upper product ranges comprising a direct drive turntable or several, favoured for their superior speed stability, low noise, high torque and zero maintenance. Designing a good direct drive system however is costly and more complex than a drive train consisting of a belt or an idler and that, coupled with the increasingly rapid adoption of the compact disc and decline of the vinyl format saw most companies drop their direct drive designs in favour of simpler, cheaper belt drive alternatives. Only a handful of companies kept the direct drive spirit alive. Technics produced consumer direct drive turntables into the mid 90s, and eventually discontinued the 1200 line in 2010, bringing the line back with the re-introduction of the brand in 2016. Chinese outfit Hanpin continue to produce a wide range of direct drive ‘Super OEM’ turntables for various manufacturers (Sony, Audio-Technica and Pioneer to name a few), most of them closely resembling the Technics aesthetic and function and most aimed at the DJ, though few if any able to match Technics’ legendary build quality.
Outside of the club, belt drive designs are of far greater prominence in today’s audiophile market largely owing to a combination of cost, complexity, clever marketing, misinformation and a little snobbery. Many claim that direct drive turntables are noisy and suffer from ‘cogging’ – slight ‘bumps’ felt as the motor poles pass the stayer, and speed irregularities as their servos dynamically adjust to maintain correct speed. In reality the opposite is often true, with a well maintained direct drive turntable being every bit as quiet as a good belt drive design if not more-so, and any speed irregularity being so minor that whether or not it is audible is a matter of debate. Discussing the pros and cons of any drive system is not the subject of this article. Today’s test concerns the Reloop HiFi Turn 5, a new direct drive entrant into the hi-fi market from the HiFi division of Reloop, a german company who has been producing DJ and pro audio equipment since 1996.
Priced at £650 the Turn 5 stands above the DJ-oriented alternatives, though with better attention to build and fit and finish as a result. Its multi-layer 12.8KG plinth carries a metal top plate finished in a deep piano black with a gold anodised platter floating above, a satin black alloy arm tube and further gold anodised detailing throughout. The platter weighs in at 1.8KG including the provided rubber mat, and is additionally rubber damped on its underside to minimise resonance.
Beneath the platter is a three-phase, 16-pol brushless DC motor supporting speeds of 33.3, 45 and 78RPM with quartz speed control and an illuminated strobe. The motor provides 4.3KG/CM of starting torque, spinning its platter up to speed in a Meer 0.2 seconds and braking electronically in the same amount of time.
The tonearm is s-shaped with a removable headshell, adjustable VTA (6 mm), damped cuing and a gimbal bearing with friction of roughly 20MG in both planes. The arm’s effective mass is approximately 20 grams including the supplied headshell, which puts it firmly in medium mass territory. Cables connect to a recessed terminal block at the rear of the turntable, and a quality interconnect and ground lead are provided in the box as is a figure of eight power cable.
Having assembled the Turn 5 on the rack, the first word that sprang to mind was “Technics”. The tried and tested aesthetic is replicated here though with some notable improvements and omissions. The large start button is where one would expect it to be, with a pleasing ‘clunk’ in operation and a wonderfully solid feel. The power switch is shrouded to minimise the chance of accidentally knocking the switch as happens so easily on a Technics; pre M3D at least. There’s no pitch control, which some would see as a missed opportunity given the ability to play 78s, some of which were recorded at anywhere from 60 – 100RPM before the speed was standardised.
I don’t see this as an issue, as I never use the pitch control in normal use and were I to spin a 78 (to digitise it for preservation) I would prefer to correct the pitch in software. There’s no target light or storage recess for a 45 centre adapter either, lending the top panel a very clean, uncluttered appearance. The hinged dust cover is almost an exact replica of a Technics besides differences in the hinge design. Were it not for the different hinges the two would be interchangeable. .
The similarities continue as we move onto the arm which sits atop the plinth on a helicoidal VTA adjuster. The arm feels pleasingly solid and its controls are smooth and precise. I didn’t find any play in the arm bearing; a tiny, barely perceptible amount of free play is desirable in a gimbal bearing when correctly adjusted, and the Turn 5’s arm is excellent in this regard. The counterweight dial calibration isn’t spot on producing consistent readings of roughly 0.2 grams too light, but a digital scale costs next to nothing and should be considered an essential tool to correctly setup a turntable at this price. Anti-skate is via a calibrated dial at the base of the arm with an adjustment range of up to 3 grams. Here the calibration is accurate, with the dial set to match the tracking force resulting in the correct amount of bias applied. Azimuth appeared perfectly set so I didn’t mess with it, though I did spot a screw at the rear of the arm tube which would provide a degree of adjustment greater than the play in the headshell connector if required.
In operation the turntable spins up to speed almost instantaneously and runs with no audible motor noise, and only a slight noise emitted as the starting torque is applied. Speed change is handled at the press of a button and braking is electronic, with the platter coming to an abrupt yet controlled standstill with no overshoot. Stall torque emulates the performance of a Technics 1200 MKII requiring slightly greater pressure on the platter of the Turn 5 to bring it to a stop. It’s a little more ‘torquey’ than the classic 1200 and less ‘torquey’ than the newer generation, but it is ‘torquey’ enough to account for stylus drag and to impart the energy and enthusiasm for which direct drive turntables are renowned.
Measurements and Specs
Reloop quote a wow and flutter specification of 0.01%. In practice I measured values of 0.0927 RMS and 0.1817 peak, average of readings taken over 10 seconds using a 3kHz test tone. The Turn 5 comfortably bests the quoted 60dB DIN-B signal to noise ratio figure, achieving a through-groove reading of 73dB. The plinth is heavy and well damped, though does produce a slight ring when tapped with a stylus on the record. This isn’t an issue at this price, especially as the feet do a very fine job of isolating the plinth from external vibrations.
The Turn 5 is supplied with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge pre-aligned in a 9.5G headshell to the standard alignment for this type of arm, parallel with a 15 mm overhang. This results in theoretical maximum and RMS distortion figures of 0.761% and 0.5% respectively and a tracking error angle of 2.31 degrees assuming the offset in the S-Shaped arm is calculated correctly. Though a lofgren A (Bearwald) alignment to IEC standard null points of 66 and 120.9 mm gives better figures – 0.64% peak and 0.417% RMS, with a tracking error angle of 1.86 degrees, I have always preferred the standard alignment. It not only looks better aesthetically, but aligns the cantilever with the arm’s pivot point and allows the arm to perform at its best. Theoretical specifications aren’t everything.
The combination of the Turn 5 arm and 2M Red cartridge yields a resonant frequency of approximately 6.7Hz, taking into account an approximate fastener mass of 0.5 grams. This is lower than ideal, with an ideal range falling somewhere between 8 and 15Hz. At resonance, the cartridge and arm combination produces a rise in output which can cause problems if it appears in the range of recorded music (above 20Hz) or in the region where record warps and rumble are common (sub 5Hz). Thankfully the combination of the Turn 5 arm and the 2M red falls just outside the problem area and no ill effects were encountered, though were I to replace the cartridge I would consider something of lower compliance and likely a moving coil.
The Turn 5 offers much of the impeccable speed stability, timing, drive and rhythmic adeptness usually associated with a direct drive. It’s lively with boundless energy, fast-paced and exciting. It does flatten dynamics somewhat; a product perhaps of the mismatch between cartridge and arm causing some high frequency damping, and some harmonic resonances in the arm below 200Hz. Imaging is somewhat vague too, though there is plenty of detail to get stuck in to and the Turn 5 follows complex musical passages with ease. Low bass passages are articulate and well defined with none of the unfocused blur of some similarly priced belt drive rivals.
Most importantly, the Turn 5 is quite simply great fun to listen to. Agile bass makes for a lively and energetic low end. In the highs its sonic signature is more relaxed than bright; some would say ‘warm’. But it is extremely musical and rich in the midband, making vocals and acoustic instruments in particular a delight. And while it isn’t the most dynamic sound going, it is at least cohesive in the way it presents layers of musical information to the listener and has enough ‘get up and go’ to remain interesting during extended listening sessions.
The Reloop HiFi Turn 5 is a well built, well specified and keenly priced alternative to the norm at this price. It’s a great looking deck with a wonderfully musical sound. It offers an upgrade path too; swap the cartridge for one better suited to the arm and it gets a whole lot better. Though it won’t match the performance of a Technics (arguably the direct drive king), it’ll get you most of the way there for significantly less money. Highly recommended.