Analog Corner #304: SAT XD1 record player
Let’s begin by discussing what SAT’s XD1 Record Player System is not: It is not a Technics SP-10R in a sci-fiinspired plinthalthough the XD1’s engine does begin life as the SP-10R’s basic drive system, which is stripped down to a handful of essential components, reimagined, reengineered, and rebuilt to much higher mechanical standards.
Marc Gomez, SAT’s designer, holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and materials science. Before dedicating himself to creating the SAT tonearmby far the finest sounding and performing arm I’ve yet encountered (as unanimously corroborated by Stereophile readers who bought this very expensive product unheard as a result of my review)he was involved in a variety of projects for, among others, the European Space Agency and various European automobile manufacturers.
Even if it’s not broken, why not fix it?
The XD1 is a compact disc player, though not a player of compact discs (footnote 1).
Its sculpted, satiny beauty goes beyond skin deep. The XD1’s metalwork, and that of the SAT tonearms, is machined at a Swedish workshop that makes parts for Hasselblad cameras.
Gomez says that in designing the XD1, he focused on four main areas: isolation from external disturbances, speed stability, rigidity, and vacuum hold-down.
When Mr. Gomez began conceptualizing his design a decade ago, it was immediately clear to him, he says, that direct drive was the best way to spin a platter. His reasons were these: A direct-drive motor’s rotational speed is just 33.3, 45, or 78rpm compared to several hundred rpm’s required in the typical belt-drive design, and with direct drive the spindle is not laterally loaded as it is in belt-drive designs, so it receives only torque, not an off-center force. The amount of torque available means the ‘table is less likely to drag during heavily modulated passages, something direct-drive advocates claim happens with most belt designs.
Gomez says the drive-unit is no an off-the-shelf motor designed for generic industrial applications. Rather, it is conceived and built from the ground up to drive the XD1 (except for those few elements he kept from the SP-10R motor, footnote 2). He says it’s better balanced than the motors typically used on belt-drive and idler turntables.
These claims are hardly novel: If your old Technics SL-1200, which also uses a direct-drive motor, could talk, it would make the same claims. Nor did Gomez address the oft-cited disadvantages of direct-drive systems, which include motor “cogging” (torque ripple), noise, and “hunting and pecking” as the quartz-locked system readjusts to maintain speed consistency, a sort of analog “jitter” that belt-drive advocates claim is sonically more pernicious than the slow, gradual speed shifts a belt-drive table is more likely to experience.
Gomez says that the inertial forces created by the unbalanced motors found in belt designs increase as the square of the rotational speed, which he says means they are more than 100 times greater in belt designs than what he measures in the direct-drive motor.
So, for instance, a typical belt-drive motor turning at 330rpm would have 10× the rotational speed of a direct-drive motor doing the same thing; the inertial forces, Gomez says, will be squared. That would mean that the vibrational characteristics of the XD1 motor are lower by a factor of more than 100. That, too, would be true of the “plain vanilla” SP-10R and probably your old SL-1200 as well.
Belt-drive advocates would counter that the belt does a very good job of isolating the platter from such vibrations. My opinion: The best examples of both technologies work very well.
What else is going on to bring the XD1’s pricewithout a tonearmto 150,000, or $177,435 at the current exchange rate as I write this? (Cynics will reply, “profiteering.”) As with his tonearm designs (footnote 3).
Gomez seemingly suffers no price contraints in his efforts to increase rigidity and decrease unwanted vibrational energy. After all, what is vinyl playback but the transduction of vibrational energy into electrical energy? And what does the most damage to that transduction than the creation and/or transmission of extraneous vibrations?
The extensive mechanical and electrical modifications performed on the Technics motor elements include an all-new, internally mounted platform that greatly increases both system stability and isolation. There’s a purpose-built, massive, three-point supporting bracket that provides “accurate, residual stress-free coupling.” (We should all be so lucky.) The bracket connects to the turntable chassis through a high-area, friction-damped surface.
I remember, though not well, seeing in a presentation a comparison between the SP-10’s stock motor’s support system and the system Gomez has produced. The first seemed an afterthought; the second, a fortress.
A “preloading” system further increases the motor assembly’s rigidity. The stator (the stationary part of the rotating system) couples rigidly to the chassis at three points above the motor bracket, adding a critical increase in stiffness. The couplings are preloaded after the motor is assembled in the turntable chassis and then locked, to maintain the settings indefinitely.
SAT also developed a motor-damping system, located at strategic points around the stator and said to reduce high-frequency vibrations that would negatively affect resolution. Because the damping causes the motor to vibrate less, it can more accurately rotate the platter. Gomez told me that the XD1’s mechanical design is a “determinant factor in the resolution and dynamics conveyed by this turntable.”
Gomez places the control electronics in an outboard chassis machined from a single block of aluminum, sitting on 10Hz-and-up isolation feet. This heavy chunk of machined aluminum must surely reduce airborne disturbances, and those feet will eliminate most structure-borne vibrations. Plus, the chassis complements the turntable’s aesthetics.
The tonearm supplied with the XD1 continues the original arm’s CF1 designation; now it is either the CF1-9Ti (9″) or the CF1-12Ti (12″). The 9″ version I received appears outwardly identical to the original CF1 arm but adds a titanium tube running through the armtube; the original carbon-fiber armtube was already superstiff. In addition, the CF1’s removable carbon-fiber headshell had been stiffened at the joint with an aluminum frame not found on the original SAT arm. In the new arm, the aluminium in that frame has been replaced by titanium.
For buyers of the XD1, the additional stiffness comes at a moderately stiffer price. XD1 buyers pay 50,000 for the CF1-09Ti; at today’s exchange rate, that’s approximately $59,000. The standard CF1-09 costs about $56,000. Purchased separatelyto install on your Rega P3, perhapsthe CF1-09Ti costs 76,000, or approximately $90,000. The 12″ version, if you buy it with the turntable, costs 60,000 ($74,000), and if you buy it separately, 80,000 ($94,500). (Sorry, your Rega P3 can’t accommodate a 12″ arm.) The standard CF1-12 currently costs $71,000. The price difference reflects Gomez’s priorities. He told me he prefers to sell the Ti arm to buyers of the XD1.
The isolation system, chassis, and tri-leg structure
The XD1’s price includes a custom, low-profile, Minus Kbased “negative stiffness” isolation platformone of two components that constitute the turntable’s dual-complementary isolation system (footnote 4).
The Minus K provides a very high level of isolation from 1.5Hz to 100Hz. Multielastomer-based suspension modules, matched to the turntable’s mass and built into the XD1’s three legs, provide isolation above 100Hz. They can be replaced with modules of different calibration if a heavier platter or tonearm becomes available. The feet also allow for precise platter leveling.
The high-density monoblock chassis, machined from a single piece of a magnesium-aluminum-silicon alloy, also provides isolation. Gomez says that several sharply machined edges along the chassis and leg contours diffract sound waves, reducing their sonic impact. Smaller curved, chamfered surfaces replace the large, flat surfaces found on most turntables.
The three massive legs were designed via Finite Element Analysis simulation and VDoE (Virtual Design of Experiments) technology, which you can learn more about on Google once you scroll past the Virginia Department of Education.
A unique armboardturntable interface
A “key” type “drop in” system, stiffened with bolts, produces what Gomez claims is a 100% accurate, rigid interface between the two armboard “pods” and the side of the chassis. The design produces repeatably reliable geometry: With an arm and cartridge preinstalled on an extra armboard, you can install it in minutes and be sure of accurate alignment.
A platter matter
The XD1’s standard platter weighs 26.5lb; the vacuum hold-down version weighs 33lb. Both are precision-machined from a “precipitation-aged Mg-Si-Al alloy” similar to what’s used to produce the chassis. Both feature tall sections that “nest” the top platter and a flywheel ring of Swedish brass.
Footnote 1: Swedish Analog Technologies, Gothenburg, Sweden. Tel: (46) 736 846 452. Web: www.swedishat.com.
Footnote 2: To learn more about the stock SP-10R, see my interview with Technics CTO/Chief Engineer Tetsuya (Tony) Itani, which I conducted at the 2017 Tokyo Audio Show when the SP-10R was still in prototype.
Footnote 3: You can read about Gomez’s approach to designing tonearms in the review of his original arm here.
Footnote 4: You can read an interview with the inventor, Dr. David Platus here.
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