Vertere MG-1 Mk2 Turntable Review
- Astonishing combination of transparency and realism
- Peerlessly engineered
- Incredibly easy to use and live with.
- Will encourage acts of gross fiscal irresponsibility
Introduction - What is the Vertere MG-1 Mk2?
The Vertere MG-1 Mk2 (hereafter MG-1) is a belt drive, unsuspended turntable. We have covered a fair few such devices over the years but none of them have ever broached the £10,000 barrier before. The MG-1 steams comfortably past that fairly significant psychological break point and this means that it is more than four times the price of the only other Vertere turntable we’ve looked at; the striking and innovative DG-1. For many companies, this ratio increase would put the MG-1 toward the upper end of what they produce.
Vertere though, is not most companies. The MG-1 isn’t the most expensive turntable the company makes - in fact it is only the next rung on the ladder. If you want to go to the top of that ladder by ordering the flagship RG-1 turntable in its ultimate specification, you will in fact need to have £121,650 at your disposal (and a bit more for a suitable cartridge and phono stage). I mention this because a degree of perspective is vital when considering the MG-1. Like the dCS Bartok, it’s a high end product but one that is actually at the more accessible end of what its builders can do.
As such, welcome to the subject of the 2021 ‘Christmas Longform Spectacular™’ where I pick a product that might not necessarily be an entirely conventional fit for us over the rest of the year and dig a bit deeper into it. The MG-1 has been selected for two reasons. The first is that aforementioned range. When you make a turntable that costs roughly as much as a 2021 Porsche 911 GTS Cabriolet, how does that affect one that ‘only’ costs about as much as a brand new Suzuki Ignis?
The other is that, more by luck than judgement, the MG-1 wears an arm and cartridge that gives a point of reference back to the more terrestrial end of turntables we’re more used to. It has arrived sporting a combination that is very similar to that which adorns my resident Michell GyroDec. As the two turntables can be tested side by side into the same multi input phono stage, it gives an unusually comprehensive point of comparison. There’s much to cover so we had best begin.
Specification and Design
In terms of the basic mechanics of the MG-1, it’s arguably less radical (or at least, less radically different) than the DG-1. That is a collection of ways that Vertere circumvented the limitations of various components at the price point they were working to whereas the MG-1 is priced at a point where, for example, the tonearm can be more in keeping with a tonearm we’ve seen before. No less importantly, the MG-1 features certain aspects of its design and construction that are ongoing themes of Vertere’s founder Touraj Moghaddam. Before Vertere, Moghaddam was the co-founder of Roksan. While there, he designed the Xerxes and Radius, which continue in production in modified form to this day.
In a great many ways, the MG-1 is a different beast to the older designs but in one very important one, it’s a blood relative. It is an unsuspended turntable in that it has no suspension in it (save for in the motor housing) but neither is it completely rigid. Instead, an upper and lower section are separated by a series of rubber isolation mounts that are rigid but compressible. Further isolation is achieved by the platter and arm being mounted on an inner sub chassis. These statements are equally applicable to the Xerxes and the MG-1.
Where the two turntables diverge is the means by which they achieve this design principle. The MG-1 is to all intents and purposes a skeletal deck. There’s more of it than, for example a Rega Planar 10 because there needs to be more of it in order to work but nothing that doesn’t need to be there is present. It is built from two sections of acrylic that are visibly divided by the isolation mounts. As standard, these acrylic sections are left in their natural finish but for a £1,000 premium, they can be had in white, champagne or the black of the review sample.
At the rear is a 30V motor that mounts to the lower plinth and passes through an aperture in the upper one. It sits on an Acetal motor platform and motor bearing support. The motor is aligned using three spike pointed screws to further aid vibration control. The motor itself has electronic speed control via the Tempo motor drive system which is housed in its own separate chassis and that connects via umbilical. This particular Tempo benefits from the Challenger offboard PSU that is an additional £350 in place of the supplied wall wart type PSU. The Tempo makes use of single button control system that takes a moment to get used to but works well once you’re used to it.
The platter that this motor acts on is single piece of aluminium that has the belt act on the outer edge rather than a sub platter in the manner of the older Xerxes. Underneath is a bearing assembly that is taken from the more expensive SG-1 design. This comprises a phosphor bronze housing that is machined and takes the same spindle and bearing, filled with a proprietary oil. Compared to the hefty devices that some high end turntables use, this is a relatively slight affair but the manner in which it moves is utterly seamless. The platter is now topped with the Techno Mat; a felt and cork composite that is available separately for use on other turntables too for £150.
Where the DG-1 uses the extraordinary Groove Runner arm, the MG-1 has sufficient budget at its disposal to use a more notionally conventional design. This only applies to an extent however. The SG-1 PTA is equipped with a bearing but it’s an evolution of a unipivot design that balances the arm assembly on a single point - something we saw in the VPI Prime. Here, the spike is contained between three silicone nitride balls that ensure it moves freely but only within agreed amounts.
This means that the arm requires azimuth (the left/right angle relative to the record) to be set by the user and this process encapsulates how Vertere works as a company. On the original SG-1 Arm, this was done by moving the counterweight left and right on its stub. Doing this was effective but it was a little tricky to make fine adjustments and there was additionally a risk of moving the counterweight back and forth, affecting the tracking force. Most companies would simply accept that and move on; it isn’t as if most sane people need to perform the set up that often. Vertere isn’t most companies though. The PTA version of the arm has a threaded bolt that runs through the counterweight. This can be adjusted without moving the weight at all, allowing for azimuth to be set exactly with no alteration of the tracking force.
The rest of the SG PTA speaks to the same level of attention to detail. The bearing supports a carbon fibre arm tube made from roll wrapped carbon fibre. Something that is in common with the Groove Runner is the presence of a second small counterweight that slides up and down the tube allowing for simpler fine adjustment of that last 100th of a gram. This tube terminates in a structurally bonded aluminium fitting that supports the headshell. On the PTA version of the arm, this is made from alloy but on the higher spec HB version that lives on the GyroDec, it is made from titanium. The revisions from the original arm (which also spent some time on the Gyro) have moved the mass of the arm into a medium mass design which is more in keeping with what modern cartridges require.
Again, it is possible to see themes that have featured in Moghaddam’s thinking from long before Vertere. The counterweight is underslung from the stub, lowering the centre of gravity and improving performance. This relatively large counterweight and spacious headshell allows the SG PTA to handle cartridges that present a challenge to the other tonearms resident here. The SG PTA is a great deal more materially complex and sophisticated than the Nima unipivot that accompanied both the Xerxes and Radius through their reviews but setting it up, brings a small rush of the familiar from using them. And using it is simple. It is no more difficult to cue that the ubiquitous RB330 fitted to the Rega Planar 3.
The cartridge that the MG-1 is supplied with is the Mystic which is also developed in house. Within its smart blue body, the Mystic encapsulates everything that I know many of you find infuriating about my Hi-Fi reviews. The combination of aluminium cantilever, micro elliptical stylus, copper coils and samarium cobalt magnet, resulting in an output of 0.5mV are all solidly respectable but you can buy a cartridge that has a similar basic spec for a quarter that of the £2,000 that Vertere would invite you to part with. You’ll have to trust me when I say that if you parked a Mystic and one of those rivals in identical arms, with equally exacting set up, you won’t struggle to tell them apart blind. I own a Mystic. I parted with my own money to do so. Not once have I regretted that decision.
And, like clockwork, there are ‘Vertere touches’ to it that make using rival company products frustrating. That large body is flat edged to help alignment and it has a genuinely great stylus guard. Each Mystic (and SG PTA arm for that matter) is supplied with a pair of threaded thumbscrew bolts and they make the fitting of any cartridge an order of magnitude easier than with Allen bolts (let alone unthreaded nut and bolt combos). They are sold separately and, if you change your cartridge on a semi regular basis, they reduce the stress (and risk) by a huge margin.
What this creates is a turntable that looks and feels different to anything that’s passed through here save for its DG-1 stablemate. There is theatre to the design and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. It doesn’t ‘need’ the three feet to be anodised in orange (the Vertere house colour apparently) or a white LED to illuminate the motor or indeed a metal cover for the motor itself (although it does help avoid dust building up on top of the pulley). I’m sure another few quid could have been saved by not polishing up the platter too. This is not hair shirt minimalism and it reflects that most clientele for such a device have (justifiable) expectations of how something that costs this much should be finished.
None of this changes the way that the MG-1 feels gloriously unembellished and functional. Some products simply let their engineering do the talking and the Vertere is a fine example of this ethos. It has a rack presence that stems from this lack of adornment. You don’t need to be conversant with the finer points of analogue replay to know that it’s an expensive bit of kit but the nature of how it is constructed and the materials involves makes it feel special. Build is exceptionally good, both in terms of construction and finish. I think the fact a dust cover is an extra charge feels a little impecunious but everything about the MG-1 itself meets the expectations you should have about something that costs this much.
There’s something more too. The MG-1 asks very little of you the owner/user. If you can use a Pro-Ject T1, no aspects of the MG-1 are going be weird or intimidating and it is barely any harder to set up. Nothing about it has you suffering for your art in the manner that used to be weirdly obligatory when working with high end devices. I have long regarded the Planar 10 as being an exceptionally good example of user friendly high end but the MG-1 is barely less ‘together’ as a device.
None of this changes the way that the MG-1 feels gloriously unembellished and functional. Some products simply let their engineering do the talking and the Vertere is a fine example of this ethos
How was the MG-1 Mk2 Tested?
The Vertere has been parked on a Quadraspire QAVX rack and has been used with and without a trio of Quadraspire QPlus Evo feet underneath it. Power has been supplied by IsoTek Evo 3 Aquarius. It has been connected to a Cyrus Phono Signature Phono Signature Phono stage running into a Chord Electronics CPM2800 MkII integrated amp and Kudos Titan 505 speakers. The GyroDec mounting the SG PTA HB arm has been alongside also running into the Cyrus for comparison and the arm itself has been tested on the MG-1 as well. Material used has been an absolute orgy of vinyl.
Everything that Vertere seeks to achieve in its products is underpinned by a desire to recreate the feed of an analogue master tape. This isn’t some sort of abstract construct either. The company is actively involved in the process of analogue mastering and has a small number of records for sale on the site that demonstrate the fruits of its handiwork. The long and the short of it is that the MG-1 and its more stratospheric brethren are designed the way that they are to not be the story. By the time you get to the RG-1, you’re sinking six figures on a device that is making strenuous efforts to not be there at all.
For some people this approach will come across somewhere between anticlimactic and perverse. I confess, from the perspective of writing devices like this up, they can be something of a poisoned chalice because if they do have no sonic signature of their own, they’re a bit of a pig to write about - sort of sonic black hole and if they do have a defined character, you can find yourself the recipient of some interesting feedback from the manufacturer who disputes this. This leaves the MG-1 with a bit of a mountain to climb. The thing is that the Vertere does it. In fact it saunters up it. The realisation about what the MG-1 does, oddly enough began with The Shamen.
I posted this on my Facebook in a firmly non professional capacity. It’s something of a long running joke that I’m a big fan of the Shamen, all the way from their beginning as a psychedelic Scottish pub band through to the smooth edged techno they wound up producing. I will even go so far as to legitimately claim (sober no less) that the ‘v1.5’ mix of En Tact is one of the most important British electronica albums of all time. I wasn’t really expecting to discover much from Different Drum though; it’s a collection of remixes and offcuts. I own it because I’m a Shamen completionist (every act should have at least one).
And yet… while I was making my jokey social media post, the MG-1 had other ideas. I’ve heard the Beatmasters remix of Boss Drum more times than I should really admit to but the rendition on the MG-1 still took me aback. This isn’t a recording for the ages and neither is it anything like the sort of analogue master that Vertere would consider as the sort of thing they’re working to replicate. Even with these limitations, the MG-1 digs more out the record and does more to deliver it in an utterly unforced and uncongested way than I was ever expecting.
It’s important to stress that ‘unforced’ is not shorthand for ‘languid’, let alone ‘sluggish.’ It’s a nineties dance track by The Shamen; it thunders along with all the enthusiastic fury it has demonstrated from the first time I heard it 1993. The MG-1 neither constrains or augments it, it simply takes what is there and ensures you get every last micro transient of it. It’s momentarily disconcerting for two reasons. The first is that some very fine turntables have passed through my hands over the years but this still feels like something else again. The second is that you find yourself wondering “what the hell can the big one do?”
Drilling down into this requires me to put Ebeneezer Goode away and reach for something more considered; in this case the magnificent Toward the Within by Dead Can Dance. It also requires me to fire up the GyroDec as a point of comparison. First up, lets deal with the basics. The MG-1 has truly biblical pitch stability and its noise floor is effectively non-existent. Long, sustained notes are just that and details that you miss even on the Gyro are there plain as day on the MG-1. The Michell wanders into this fight in much the same vein as Apollo Creed versus Ivan Drago. What has always felt like a thoroughly unvarnished take on the contents of the record wilts under the relentless cohesion that the Vertere brings to the party.
The specifics are individually minor but it’s their cumulative effect that makes the difference. The MG-1 doesn’t have more bass than the Michell but, below 100Hz, there’s a level of control and definition that makes that bass more tangible and vivid. When recordings become congested, the Gyro handles it to a point but eventually has to allow some of that congestion to creep in. The MG-1 just handles it. Interestingly, the MG-1 presents a slightly narrower soundstage than the Gyro does but such is the order and coherence to it, it’s arguably not a deficit.
The Gyro does demonstrate something interesting about the SG-1 PTA arm and Mystic though. In microcosm, these components are doing the same thing that the complete MG-1 is doing. The arm and cart allows the Gyro to be a Gyro and furthermore, it allows it to be the best Gyro it can possibly be. The components that make up the MG-1 aren’t altering the balance this way and that to hit the end result, they just embody it in miniature. Vertere’s more ‘affordable’ (to a given value of affordable at £845) cartridge, the Sabre is here too at the moment and it has diligently gone about doing the same thing on the end of an SME arm on the AVID Ingenium.
Stick the higher specification PTA HB arm on the MG-1 and everything and nothing changes. There’s no one eureka moment you can point to and go - “that’s the difference.” Instead, it simply advances the same attributes that the MG-1 has shown from the first rotation. I appreciate that this is a contextually near useless thing to say but it simply becomes ‘more Vertere’; a descriptive effort that makes rather more sense if you’ve heard it. You get the sense that if you unhooked the PTA HB arm and substituted the Reference one; a £35,000 tonearm, built to be the best there is, the MG-1 would still continue in the same progression; realistically not as capable as the RG-1 at exploiting what the arm can do but still becoming ‘more Vertere.’
So, it’s a ‘sonic black hole’ then? This is where things get both complex and utterly subjective. So light is the perceived touch of the MG-1 that you never feel you’re being force fed a relentlessly ‘correct’ take on the material to hand. There’s also the nature of the medium. Vinyl is variable. It’s a constant balance of compromises to ensure that the needle stays in the groove full stop. In essence, the MG-1 can never be a character free black hole because the medium it is built to play is never free of character. In a system where the Titan 505 is present; an £8,500 monument to joy that finds the engagement in everything, the MG-1 is the perfect foil to let them do what they do. It’s conceptually possible that in a system notionally built around colouration at the source, it might feel less ebullient but here, it works fabulously.
Making comparisons to its ancestor, the Xerxes is probably something neither company really wants me to do but I’m going to anyway. The most amazing thing, flicking through my notes is that there is an impressive continuity between the two turntables. They are perceivably a shared response to the same priorities and issues and they are both capable of standing aside from the record in a way that is periodically uncanny.
For all that, there’s the unavoidable hint of generational shift though. For anyone idly wondering how I’d gone 3,386 words without a Porsche metaphor, here we are. Both turntables are Porsche 911s; devices defined by the continuity of design. The Xerxes is a 993; the last air cooled 911, still magnificently capable in 2021 (and huge fun) but possessed of elements of character nevertheless. The Vertere is still a 911 but it’s a brand new (slightly confusingly termed 992) model, still exhibiting the same basics but possessed of the material and engineering benefits of the present and truly astonishingly capable in the real world. There’s an argument that if one was making a ‘three turntable rack’ like a ‘three car garage’ pub debate, there would be room for both. If you’re sane and you only have one slot though, like the car, the MG-1 is likely to be all the turntable you ever need.
It’s momentarily disconcerting for two reasons. The first is that some very fine turntables have passed through my hands over the years but this still feels like something else again. The second is that you find yourself wondering “what the hell can the big one do?”
Vertere MG-1 Mk2 Turntable Review
I wound up last year’s Christmas Longform Spectacular™ considering the merits of the magnificent Kudos and Exposure active system. In that conclusion, I noted that I was saved from making any irrational and terminally irresponsible actions about it because of the sheer impracticality of using it for the work I do. For every euphoric moment it had delivered (and that realistically was from the moment I turned it on to the point I finally relented and put it back in the boxes) was the underpinning realisation that it could only ever be a holiday romance; that I would need to come back to a word of amplifiers that didn’t need six mains plugs and that didn’t occupy half a three unit wide rack.
The same euphoric test phase that has occurred this year has been underpinned by a realisation more palpable and arguably even worse than what I felt last year. There is a sequence in an episode of Top Gear (season 7, episode 5; now all on iPlayer) where a pre agricultural champion era Clarkson remarks of the Bugatti Veyron, having driven it from Italy to London, a feeling of remorse, noting “I’ll never experience that power again” (although, he has seemingly managed to get over this feeling in the ensuing seventeen years). Listening to the MG-1 has put me in the same wonderfully terrible place. At some point, I’m going to have to commit an act of herculean fiscal irresponsibility and secure my own because I can’t not have my records sound like this again. Author's note; after a degree of pontificating, on December 15th, I bowed to the inevitable and purchased the unit in the pictures. It was a... bold... financial decision but one that had to be done.
It’s a reflection of everything else that the Vertere gets so right that there’s no arguments against it from a practicality standpoint. It takes up the space of one normal record player and uses one plug. It is no more complex to live with and operate than a Pro-Ject Debut and it is built in a manner that inspires confidence it would be the last record player you’d ever buy. And then, if it wasn’t, there’s the intoxicating notion of those two further rungs on the ladder- two products I almost dare not listen to for fear it’ll lead down the path of me flogging organs (maybe my own, maybe not) on the dark net.
What the MG-1 has done is redraw the boundaries of what I felt a ‘normal’ (by which I mean something that is nineteen inches wide, using a conventional arm that can be operated by me without feeling like I’ve suddenly Sam Becketted into the role of a bomb disposal expert) turntable can do. It delivers a performance that is a unique phenomenon for me; a sort of pragmatic other worldliness that makes most other things sound a bit broken. It’s a line in the sand by which I will judge everything else and, as AVForums cruelly lacks a ‘Transcendent Moment’ badge, it is unquestionably a Best In Class.
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