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This review first appeared in the December 2009 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read this review of the Transrotor Argos in its original Polish version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or Bergmann Audio - Ed.

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacula
Review system: Go here
Review component retail: zł 600.000

Zł600.000 (€146.000 or $209.000) for a turntable is sheer madness. But that’s what you must shell out for the Argos, Transrotor's top model. Led by Mr. Joachim Räke and his son Dirk, this company is a symbol of solid German engineering.

Transrotor turntables are based on proven solutions, ultra-precision machining and common sense. Without exception theirs are rigid non-suspended decks which instead rely on the mass of plinth and platter to attenuate vibration. This proven method can be executed many different ways as a look at this firm’s very differentiated and broad portfolio shows. Frankly I cannot fully find my way around it.

The review you now are reading appears to be the first worldwide and will probably remain so for quite some time. This turntable weights 270kg and is strictly made to order. That a review could even be arranged in my home was due to the persistence and determination of the Polish distributor.

He took advantage of the unit being already at the Warsaw Audio Show 2009 and "arrested it". I exaggerate of course. Mr. Dirk blessed the loan after having interrogated me first - but he would not have made a proposition on his own. On one hand, testing such an expensive product is a true pleasure, an opportunity to broaden one’s horizons and learn.

On the other hand, it’s problematic. We must be clear that zł600.000 is an absurd sum - absurd like the price of a Bugatti Veyron, the watches worn by the highest-paid executives, their yachts, not to mention fine art. This is the best turntable Transrotor makes and the most expensive of its kind in the world. My first problem thus was to get its price out of my head. You see, if we can afford a product—now or in the future—we tend to apply different standards. If I can afford it, the only thing that matters is whether I want the thing in question or not. That creates a certain freedom of choice. It’s not a matter of need but desire. And this is a luxury product where any price/performance relationship becomes irrelevant.

In hi-end audio, this ratio always comes out bad or very bad. Each small raise in performance comes at great costs. The ultra-fi category is irrational also because it is very inconsistent. When we look at hi-end from the top down, we treat even a very small improvement in sound differently than if we look up at it. When we have advanced to a certain extent toward completing a dream system, trading even large sums of money for small advances seem to us justified. The objective increase in quality however is tiny compared to the inferior levels where each doubling in price still buys significant upgrades.

The price/performance ratio remains a flexible category but becomes solely irrational in the ultra hi-end. Here all that matters is what we want to pay for a given machine, not how much it’s worth. The Argos exemplifies this to the extreme. Here only the urge of ownership counts; nothing else.

Each audio component is usually judged in absolute terms of sound. What does absolute mean? In one sense it’s just a matter of speech of course. We cannot reach the absolute. It’s an unobtainable ideal which simply informs research in an effort to get closer. With a review, a writer’s experience and his/her reference system become the assessment tools; and at a later stage, live sound. At 600.000 zlotychs, there exists no other product to compare the Argos against. This is why I could only compare it to the best turntables I know - the Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn with Cobra arm and Castellon rack; the SME 30A with SME Series V tonearm; and the Bergmann Sindre.

I never had the first one at home but heard it a dozen times with the actual cartridge I would test the Argos with—the PC-1 from Air Tight—and also the same Manley Labs Steelhead phono stage. But I could not make a direct comparison. However, the SME 30A helped as did their model 20/12 and Linn’s top Sondek LP12. Those I did hear in direct comparison to the Caliburn. I also used certain digital sources for reference. This might smack of profanity to diehard vinylists but I won’t apologize – digital sources have certain assets which analog lacks. Hence I listened to SACD with the Accuphase DP-700 and to hi-res files with the Blacknote DSS30 Tube as transport into the Accuphase as converter.

I mentioned cartridges. To me it is mysterious and incomprehensible how Transrotor can outfit the Argos with its own Merlo Reference. This is a very nice MC pickup that well suits turntables costing up to zł15.000 or even slightly more. But for the Argos? It’s a joke. I was all the more surprised then to see it in the Audio Show system which clocked in beyond 2.000.000. Replacing this cartridge with any top option meant huge improvements. Why then did Transrotor stick with the Merlo? I don't know.

For this review, I used three cartridges, the Dynavector DRT XV-1s, the Lyra Titan and the already mentioned Air Tight PC-1. Each added something unique to the equation, the Dynaudio dynamics and unconstrained energy, the Lyra exceptional resolution and precise attacks. The third however provided me with the most balanced sound so I shall describe the sonics with it. The same need for upgrade proved true with the DIN-to-RCA interconnect used with the SME 312 tone arm. This is a Van den Hul MC 501 cable, nice but insufficient for the Argos! I changed it for the top Furutech and presto, another breakthrough. Now a few comments about phono preamplifiers. At my disposal were the Steelhead, the Air Tight ATE-2005 with ATH-2A step-up, the Accuphase C-27 and the—in this context ridiculously cheap—RCM Audio Sensor Prélude IC. Unexpectedly not just to me, the latter sounded best and perhaps only was matched by the Steelhead. It is astonishing at how high a level this Polish machine can perform! At home the owner of the RCM company runs an SME 30A and the sound is impressive as well.

Albums used for this review: Bill Evans Trio, Waltz For Debby, Riverside/Analogue Productions, 9399, No. 773, 2 x 45RPM LP; Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Study in Brown, EmArcy/Warner Music Japan, UCJU-9072, 180g LP; Count Basie & Tony Bennett, Basie/Benett, Roulette/Classic Records, SR 25072, 4 x 45ROM, special one-sided pressing, 180g LP; Depeche Mode, Wrong, Mute Records, 12BONG40, maxi-SP; e.s.t., Retrospective, ACT Music+Vision, ACT 9021-1, 2 x 180g LP.; Frank Sinatra, Sinatra & Strings, Warner Music/Mobile Fidelity, MFSL 1-313, No. 199, 180g LP; Jean Michel Jarre, Oxygene, Disques Motors, 2933207, LP; John Coltrane, Giant Steps, Atlantic/Rhino, R1 512581, 2 x 45RPM LP; Miles Davis, Miles Davis And The Modern Jazz Giants, Prestige/Analogue Productions, 7150, 2 x 45RPM 180g LP; Queen, Innuendo, Parlophone/EMI, 6798813, 180g LP; Sinatra & Sextet, Live in Paris, Warner Music/Mobile Fidelity, MFSL 1-312, No. 238, 2 x 180g LP;  Tori Amos, Abnormally Attracted To Sin, Universal Republic, B0012906-01, 2 x 180g LP; Vijay Iyer Trio, Historicity, ACT Music+Vision, ACT 9489-1, 2 x 180g LP.