Moth Alamo turntable

This review was first presented in Audiophile magazine in October 1993. Malcolm Steward tests the Rega-based Moth Alamo turntable in a superb sub-£700 system and is suitably impressed by its performance…

moth_alamo

Moth Alamo turntable

I have always thought that many budding audiophiles are far  too eager to upgrade their first hi-fi systems. What escapes their notice is that many entry-level components, although they lack the sophistication of their more esoteric counterparts, manage to cut through the hi-fi bull and get to the heart of music very persuasively. In their hurry to dabble with exotic gear those nascent aficionados never discover fully what good starter systems can do. Not recognising the rewarding aspects of the performances they can deliver, in my experience, often signals the start of sideways upgrading and frequent, long-term dissatisfaction.

A recent perplexing encounter with a temperamental high-end system reminded of this. Its fickle performance contrived to make my life fraught and it was with a sense of great relief that I subsequently hooked up a rudimentary starter system. This comprised a straightforward manual turntable, moving magnet cartridge, an integrated amplifier and a pair of budget two-way speakers. The way this allowed me to kick back and enjoy music without fretting about performance variations was like being in heaven. The high-end system, when it wasn’t being petulant and uncooperative, was certainly far more revealing and insightful, but the budget system boogied along unwaveringly, suffering no mood swings and, in spite of its lower performance ceiling, affording me many relaxing hours of frustration-free entertainment.

Sitting at the front of this convivial sub-£700 confection – the price of which included cables, table and stands – was the new £175 Moth Alamo turntable. The strange model name appeared less so when Moth Marketing’s Mike Harris revealed that – albeit with some reluctance – it would almost certainly represent his company’s ‘last stand’ for vinyl playing products.

The deck looks virtually identical to a Rega Planar 2, the only obvious difference being the motif in the front corner of its plinth, which also appears in reduced size on the dark perspex lid. Close inspection showed that what looked at first to be a daub of bright red paint was the silhouette of a moth in flight. Further examination confirmed that the turntable is indeed very closely related to the Planar series decks, which isn’t surprising when you learn that it is built on Moth’s behalf by Rega. You might question why Rega doesn’t simply market the deck under its own name but the company’s involvement with only a limited number of specialist dealers wouldn’t make that feasible or worthwhile. Moth’s retailing structure is more liberal and puts a Rega-sourced deck into shops that wouldn’t otherwise have access to one. I also doubt that any prudent company would nowadays pin its future solely on inexpensive turntables, hence Rega’s diversification into amplification and loudspeakers.

It’s worth noting that despite the outward similarities the Alamo isn’t simply a re-badged Planar 2. The Alamo’s solid Medite plinth, whose three compliant feet provide its isolation, is painted while the Rega’s is laminated. Bolted directly to it are the Alamo’s main bearing and tone-arm – a differently specified Rega RB250 trimmed in red Moth livery – and its drive motor. Look at a Planar 2 and you’ll see that its motor is compliantly mounted. The Alamo’s platter is also a Rega-pattern two-part assembly with a small plastic inner hub driven by a round-section rubber belt. The outer platter, however, which is made of float glass on the Rega, is machined from Medite for the Alamo and topped with a thin felt mat.

I listened to the Alamo with the sort of equipment with which it will most often be partnered, an Arcam Alpha 3 integrated amplifier and a pair of Mission 760 speakers. The supporting cast for this act comprised a pair of the thoroughly excellent £60 sand filled, Atacama SE24 stands under the 760s, with a Sound Organisation ZO21 stand playing host to the turntable and amplifier. Cabling to the speakers was Cable Talk’s Talk 3. I fitted a Goldring 1012 moving magnet to the Alamo, which is supplied without a cartridge, although I expect that in many systems it will be partnered with something less costly, probably one of the budget Audio Technicas, which would keep the total price of the deck under £200.

Partnered with the Goldring, a cartridge that shows a real flair for recovering information without sounding conspicuously busy or stressed, the Alamo’s performance proved well-balanced with its fundamental strength being an animated but controlled rhythmic flow. Even with copiously detailed, intricately structured recordings, Dizrhythmia’s fusion of contemporary European and classical Indian themes being a prime example, the Alamo proved very satisfying. Its sturdy portrayal didn’t resolve the finest of nuances nor salvage the more subtle aspects of the music as capably as costlier decks, but it never left me feeling short-changed. It didn’t fully exploit the abstract touches that make listening to the album spellbinding but it clearly succeeded in conveying the music’s gestalt, overall structure, and emotional triggers.

The broad brush approach of budget decks often compromises their efficacy with densely scored classical and choral music but the Alamo’s recreation of Orff’s Carmina Burana was surprisingly assured. It demonstrated fine articulation with the solo baritone and massed voices of Ego sum abbas, and kept an impressively tight grip on the pungent orchestral interjections that provide the music’s striking physical impact. While such dramatic music normally serves merely to emphasise the shortcomings of budget systems – their reduction of scale and cosmetic roughness being the most noticeable effects – the Alamo impressed me with the degree of refinement and composure it displayed. It refused to become muddled when stretched by intense passages such as O Fortuna, or to drift into blandness when the music was less outgoing and colourful. Voices retained their naturalness and character while the orchestral playing sounded robust, polished and agile.

One of the deck’s characteristics that I appreciated with a variety of music was its handling of low frequency information. The Alamo had typically ‘British’ bass that was admirably tight, dry and tuneful. It was also commendably free from added bloom for a solid-plinth design. Heavyweight, synthesised bass lines, such as those on Milli Vanilli’s Blame It On The Rain and Jeff Beck’s Behind The Veil lacked little impact but never threatened to lose their shape or precision. Slightly played acoustic bass lines did seem a little more distant than I considered ideal but that was about the only real criticism I could muster. The Alamo’s behaviour at the other frequency extreme was similarly vice-free. Its treble was vibrant and lively, in a positive, well-controlled manner, and not fettered by the uncouthness that afflicts the top end of many budget turntables. Terry Bozzio’s drum and percussion work on the Jeff Beck track mentioned showed that the deck could easily handle explosive cymbal crashes, for instance, tracking their decay and revealing their tonal character with creditable adroitness.

As I’ve tried to intimate throughout this review, there’s much more involved in presenting music in a worthwhile fashion than offering a faultless portrayal of hi-fi niceties. The Alamo hasn’t the dynamic or temporal precision of a superdeck; nor has the music it makes quite the expansive range of expression that expensive turntables display. It nonetheless captures what is vital and salient in a performance without appearing obviously stretched or stressed. By not trying too hard to impress, the Alamo succeeds in delivering a performance that is without doubt very, er, impressive.

DATA

PRICE £175
SIZE 12 x 45 x 36 cm (h,w,d)
TONE-ARM Moth arm (Rega RB250)
SPEEDS 33 & 45 rpm
DRIVE belt

  DESIGN

  •     Solid plinth, fully manual turntable based closely on the Rega Planar 2
  •    Supplied with less tightly specified RB250 arm without cartridge
  •    Easily removed two-part platter allows easy speed-changing

 PERFORMANCE

  •     Rudimentary isolation system works very effectively
  •    Deck gives very tidy appraisal of frequency extremes
  •    Overall sound well organised and easy on the ear, even on demanding material

 

 


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