Wilson Benesch – Circle 25

For the price of a decent new car, and plugged into a test system the price of a family four-door, Ian Peel expected to hear more than just mere music… But did he?

Additional equipment Dynavector cartridge & Naim amplification
Price £3,990
Website www.wilson-benesch.com

With R&D dating back to 1989 and with all design and manufacture in-house at its Sheffield HQ, Wilson Benesch has set out to redesign what a turntable should look like in order to redesign how it should sound. To test its latest creation, a suitably upmarket system was assembled by the team at Long Live Vinyl’s test centre, Winchester HiFi. We tested the turntable with a DV-20X2 L/H cartridge by Dynavector (£729) and a two-box amplifier system by Naim: the NAC-N 272 pre-amp/streamer (£3,469) paired with a NAP 250 DR power amp (£3,860). A two-part phono stage – that’s the preamp between turntable and amplifier – rounded out the system with a Concert Stage (£695) and a Stage Power (£795), both by Attwood Audio.

We also used Wilson Benesch loudspeakers: a pair of Vertexes (£4,650) and a Torus sub-woofer (£6,240) or, as they describe it, an ‘infrasonic generator’. Limiting the sub to a maximum of 30Hz added a perfect hint of bass to vocals and really brought to life bluesy double bass – more of which in a moment.

In short, we’d built the ultimate hi-fi. And you could feel it – and a weight of expectation – as soon as you lifted the carbon-fibre tone arm. It felt scary and a little odd do so at first, on account of the arm being practically weightless. But after a few tries, it felt so natural. At the rear of the arm is something you see only on a system of this level – a small weight, the size and shape of a ball bearing, dangling on a piece of thread. It rose gradually during the course of playing an album, which was a clue to its use: it’s there to counteract the side-force of the needle being pulled – as opposed to just gliding – towards the centre of the record, thus keeping it always perfectly upright and in place.

We threw four very varied test discs at this system. To begin with, a spin of the (33 rpm) 12″ single of New Order’s Ruined In A Day, from 1993. It sounded a little crunchy, with lots of middle, but when the vocals came in they were as close to ‘live’ as you could imagine. It was almost like having Bernard Sumner appear in the room singing to a backing track. For a 70s/80s test, we jumped into Side 2 of Brian Eno’s More Blank Than Frank and heard a bassline in No One Receiving I’d never clocked before.

For something more up to date, we tried the Norah Jones-esque Americana of Applewood Road, from vinyl specialist label, Gearbox. And this is where the Circle 25 started to come into its own. Yes, there were pops and crackles on the vinyl, but this turntable completely audibly differentiated them from the music. The build quality and materials used allowed you to hear
(and focus on and enjoy) what the cartridge was receiving, as opposed to how the tone arm was physically reacting to the surface.

Another dimension

Our final test took the Circle 25 into another dimension, and crystallised its appeal. We initially only played Silva Screen’s recent reissue of The Soundhouse – a 1983 compilation of sample-based electronica by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – because its fluorescent-green vinyl would look good on the platter. But when we heard it, it was uncanny. On tracks like Paddy Kingsland’s incidental music for The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the bass was prominent but not potent and synthesiser whooshes that should have sounded tinny in this day and age sounded cinematic. The only other way to achieve an experience like this would be to wire up the original synths and plug them straight into your speakers. The net effect? We were shot back in time almost 35 years and allowed to put on a pair of BBC Radiophonic engineer’s headphones.

So, yes, you’d expect an incredibly high level of sound quality with a turntable of this price. But you also get something we didn’t expect, that we thought money couldn’t buy. We got time travel.