Vertere DG-1 Turntable Review

Batman doesn’t own a turntable but if he did…

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

15

Highly Recommended
Vertere DG-1 Turntable Review
SRP: £2,750.00

What is the Vertere DG-1?

The Vertere DG-1 (Dynamic Groove) is an unsuspended, belt driven turntable. It is intended to offer a level of plug and play convenience while not compromising on the virtues that the company holds dear. You don’t need to be a vinyl fanatic to look at the DG-1 and see that it is a device that looks rather different to what might be expected of a turntable at the price. Or any price come to think of it.

Of course, there are plenty of companies already making turntables at this price who have some fairly well defined priorities of their own. The DG-1 arrives in this category looking like it has been designed to defeat an air defence radar and wearing a badge name that few people will have heard of. What’s important to stress is that it looks this way for a reason - we’ll cover this off in due course - and that Vertere is not a company that has appeared from nowhere.

Even so, we’ve already looked at some magnificent turntables at around £3,000 and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the choices actually available to customers. Is the Vertere a radical shake up of the rules of turntables as we know it or a wacky answer to a question that nobody asked?

Specification and Design

Vertere DG-1
Vertere DG-1 - front view

First of all, while it is quite possible you have not heard of Vertere, it is more likely you’ll be familiar with the work of its founder and owner Touraj Moghaddam. One of the two founding members of Roksan, Moghaddam was responsible for the design of the Roksan Xerxes (and the subsequent revisions and improvements to it). The catch with designing a legendary turntable though is that people become loathe to change it (Linn also knows a thing or two about this) so, in 2011 he decided to leave Roksan and set up a company that would allow him to keep working on the development of his ideas.

And make no mistake, Vertere is a high end brand. Would like some context for that statement? How about a tonearm that costs £35,000. Not a complete turntable. An arm for the price of a Honda Civic Type R. At the upper echelons of its range (anything wearing ‘Reference’ in its name basically), the products are effectively designed to be as good as they can possibly be and once that has been achieved, only then does anyone really tally up how much it costs. More terrestrial products have been added to the roster as well but I’d hesitate to describe anything with a Vertere badge on it as ‘cheap.’

This does mean that when Vertere describes the DG-1 as ‘entry level’ they do mean it, if only by their standards rather than anyone else’s. This leads onto why the DG-1 looks like it does. It is a response to addressing the issues of vinyl replay that Vertere feels are significant while costing less than the lead out cable of the £35k arm (no, really). To do that, it borrows from the more expensive models where it can and finds wholly novel solutions where it can’t.

Vertere DG-1
Vertere DG-1 - rear view

The chassis itself is a steel one to which is housed the motor and its attendant circuitry and that sits on three adjustable feet. The motor is a 30v DC unit which is descended from the unit that is used all the way at the top of the tree in the RG-1. This uses a wall wart PSU but electronic speed control is provided. This chassis supports a plinth made from three layers of acrylic and consisting of a main outer plinth and inner sub plinth. This supports the bearing which is an inverted type that uses a tungsten carbide bearing which has little need for regular maintenance. This bearing supports a metal platter that is made of machined aluminium with a PETG mat bonded to the top of it. This is matched by the pulley on the motor and the two are connected by a relatively thick and translucent belt.

 

This does mean that when Vertere describes the DG-1 as ‘entry level’ they do mean it, if only by their standards rather than anyone else’s 

So far, this is clever engineering but nothing truly outside the remit of what we’ve seen before. Where things get very different indeed is the arm of the DG-1. The ‘Groove Runner’ arm is a response to making an arm when your budget won’t quite stretch to hot hatch money. As you might imagine, no company sets out to design a tonearm that costs as much the Vertere Reference does without developing some fairly strong ideas about what works. With Vertere, core philosophies of resonance control and noise creeping in via bearings and mountings are at the root of what they do. This meant, when the time came to consider how these itches might be scratched at a new lower, price point, the conclusion reached was a slightly surprising one. There was no bearing assembly or armtube that met Vertere’s requirements as they saw them. Neither did ones that were brought down to the price applicable to the DG-1.

As you can see, the DG-1 has a tonearm but you can also probably see that it is an arm that looks somewhat different to anything else that has passed though AVForums. In short, it sidesteps the issues around armtubes and bearings by possessing neither. The arm is a PCB - literally a circuit board - which is sandwiched between two layers of composite. Doing so creates an arm that pushes resonance outside the audible spectrum and physically cannot ring. Historically, flat arms have been looked at with a degree of suspicion because they lacked the stiffness of a tube - a piece of simple physics. The improvements in materials in recent years means that these criticisms are no longer automatic.

Vertere DG-1
Vertere DG-1 - Groove Runner tonearm

The bearing solution is arguably more novel still. The Groove Runner uses nylon threads instead of conventional bearings. Now, we have seen this before in embryonic form with the Elipson Omega 100 which uses a similar system for the antiskate, and the Funk Firm Gett! which uses similar system for the vertical axis. Where the Vertere is different is that both the vertical and horizontal axis use this system. This also incorporates the anti-skate mechanism. Thanks to Vertere putting the threads inside a fixed structure - the two vertical bars you see on either side of the pivot - which means that the VTA can be adjusted to work with different cartridges.

 

It sidesteps the issues around armtubes and bearings by possessing neither

The means the Groove Runner looks odd and feels different to almost anything else but crucially it doesn’t feel wrong. Indeed, in some ways it is rather more user friendly than some more conventional rivals. The counterweight is underslung at the rear - something of a Vertere trademark which brings the centre of gravity nearer to the point of cartridge. More unusually still, there are two counterweights. The second is a smaller weight that is mounted in front of the pivot and allows one to set roughly the correct weight with the main unit and then smugly nail it to 1/100th of a gram via the front one. The use of circuit tracks for sending the signal is also unexpectedly helpful. The thick copper tracks are long enough to be easy to connect to a cartridge but can’t pull out from the arm, risking them dragging on the record.

Vertere DG-1
Vertere DG-1 - Groove Runner tonearm

In fact, the whole thing feels utterly practical in use. The DG-1 is available for £2,750 without cartridge and with a moving magnet type unit fitted at the factory for an extra £100. I can’t see it being too many people’s first turntable but it goes together in such a way as to be fairly straightforward. Pretty much the only thing I don’t like is how close the start/stop button is to the belt. It has a lid too which is a rare but desirable object in this day and age and a decently quality grounded interconnect is supplied too. It doesn’t ask very much of its owner in installation or use despite how different some parts of it are in execution. Only one aspect of the DG-1 needs to be taken into particular account. The deck and arm are not simply designed to work together, they cannot work apart and anyone purchasing one will need to know that they will limited to cartridge and phono stage upgrades. In reality, you have to be a special sort of ‘keen’ to do an arm change on anything so I don’t believe this matters too much.

In the interests of pedantry, not everything on the DG-1 is functional. It doesn’t need the indents on the sides of the plinth and it certainly doesn’t need LEDs that light up the logo but everything else on the Vertere is there for a reason. It’s a world away from the Rega Planar 8 and 10 (which it sits between in price terms and that I’m proud to have gone nearly 1,500 words without mentioning) but the same ethos shines through. It comes across as solid and well-engineered even if the feel of the two different company’s offerings is very different.

And then, we come to the looks. I’m pretty sure that most people reading this review have already made their minds up about the DG-1 and - if my face to face conversations with people about it are anything to go by - a few of you won’t simply dislike it, you actively hate it. The thing is, rather more people have come down on the other side of the fence - and I am one of them. I love that the DG-1 looks like it is made to have a low radar cross section. I love that the Groove Runner arm looks like a piece of lab equipment and that the motor mount shifts to counter the torque while the platter spins up and down. Vinyl has survived in part because using it is an event and the DG-1 understands that implicitly. It’s a dust trap and an absolute mongrel to photograph but it looks magnificent.

Vertere DG-1

 

Vinyl has survived in part because using it is an event and the DG-1 understands that implicitly

How was the DG-1 Tested?

The Vertere has been connected to an Isotek Evo 3 Corvus mains conditioner and used first with the supplied cartridge before that was removed and a Golding Ethos moving coil was fitted. The partnering equipment in both cases was a Cyrus Phono Signature and Cambridge Audio Edge A integrated amp running into a pair of Kudos Titan 505 or Focal Kanta No1 speakers. A Rega Planar 10 has been on hand as a useful point of comparison. The test material has been oodles of records.

Sound Quality

Vertere DG-1

My critical listening experience of Vertere up to this point has been limited to some time listening to the MG-1 turntable at a dealer and a brief (but very impressive) session with the Reference setup at the Munich show. On both of these occasions one thing felt apparent above everything else. Vertere exists as a physical counter to the notion that vinyl is intrinsically ‘soft’ or ‘warm.’ The larger turntable in particular is one of the most neutral, detailed and tangible sources of any type that I’ve ever heard.

In microcosm, the DG-1 marches under the same banner. Spinning Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm Live shows this off to fine effect. The opening bars of Like Eating Glass capture the rising excitement of the crowd and the band almost teasing them by starting at half tempo before launching themselves into that iconic track. All the passion, intensity and sheer joy of the performance is captured like an insect in amber. The crucial difference between the DG-1 and many other turntables, even at this lofty price point, is that this joy is on the album itself. The Vertere delivers it with an extraordinary lack of embellishment.

This whole presentational style is instrumental to what the DG-1 does. For all the radical appearance, the intention of this turntable is to step to one side and let the music do the talking. Having the Planar 10 alongside has been instructive. By any normal standards, the Rega is a neutral and revealing turntable but here, you can perceive its character, however subtle its application. With the magnificent Japanese Jazz Anthology Vol I by Barely Breaking Even records - one of the very finest pressings I’ve ever heard - the differences are hardly enormous but they are there. The Vertere lets it happen while the Rega is more rhythmically involved in its creation.

Vertere DG-1
 

For all the radical appearance, the intention of this turntable is to step to one side and let the music do the talking.

Now, to be very clear, I like what the Rega does very much. There have been plenty of times listening to both turntables side by side where, I prefer what the Planar 10 is doing to the Vertere. In fact, over the course of the review, I’ve oscillated between ‘calling it’ as to the better turntable but (spoiler alert for the conclusion) I can’t. As I’ve said before, turntables are mechanical engineering designed to scratch different itches and address different issues. I suspect that many retailers of both turntables will experience a fair bit of A/B dems with them.

There are further some points of detail to this. The Rega is still more than capable of digging a huge amount of information off the record and - regardless of the cartridge that the DG-1 happens to be mounting at the time - it has deeper bass response. The other is that the Vertere, for me at least, does work a little better with a little bit of colouration being added somewhere in the mix - in my case, the speakers adding a little personality. Having spent some time with it though, I feel confident in saying that there isn’t anything else I’ve tested at or near the price that feels as unambiguously transparent as the DG-1 does.

To really get a handle on what the Vertere can do though, my advice would be to save £100 on the purchase price and put that towards a more capable cartridge. For the avoidance of all doubt, the supplied unit is an outstanding cartridge for £100 but the performance of the DG-1 with the Goldring Ethos (£895 on its own, which would take the items if bought together to £3,645) is simply in a different league and I suspect you could probably push the supplied cartridge further without it feeling restricted.

Vertere DG-1

My other criticisms are very limited. Compared to the (more expensive, don’t forget) Planar 10, at times the Rega feels very fractionally more pitch stable than the DG-1 and, presumably as a result of the thread bearings, the arm will not always drop into the same groove as it was lifted from - a party trick that the SME on my Michell Gyrodec and the RB3000 arm on the Planar 10 can both manage. It feels more like a unipivot in this regard even if it isn’t one.

With the Goldring in place though, the Vertere is simply outstanding. Without ever feeling relentless or wearing, it finds information on records that I was only dimly aware of up until this point. It is unfazed by complex timing or crowded performances and it works across pretty much every genre I’ve thrown at it. Something this effortlessly transparent will reveal limitations in poorer pressings as a matter of course although there isn’t anything I’ve tried in my collection I would describe as actively unlistenable. The heights that it can reach with even competently pressed records completely outweigh this though, for me anyway.

 

It is unfazed by complex timing or crowded performances and it works across pretty much every genre I’ve thrown at it

Verdict

Pros

  • Outstandingly accurate performance
  • Incredibly clever design
  • Striking appearance

Cons

  • Some operational quirks
  • Rivals can be subjectively more fun.
  • Needs to be specified with a decent cartridge to show what it can do

Vertere DG-1 Turntable Review

The Vertere DG-1 doesn’t do ‘normal.’ It doesn’t look normal, it doesn’t have normal engineering and neither is the performance remotely normal. It is in complete honesty, one of the most effortlessly transparent vinyl replay devices that I have ever tested and it has gone some way to recalibrating some of the things I thought that turntables at the price can do. There are plenty of times where I’ve hankered after the greater snap and propulsive force of the Rega Planar 10 and my own Gyrodec has tricks of its own that I’d miss too. Nevertheless, the sheer unbridled ability of the Vertere is still something that delights. It successfully brings a hint of what the more expensive models are capable of down to a nearly sane price and does so while looking and feeling like nothing else on the market. If that doesn’t warrant coming Highly Recommended, I don’t know what does.     

Highly Recommended

Scores

Sound Quality

.
9

Build Quality

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Features

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
9

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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