These days, you can get a turntable-tonearm-cartridge setup for as low as $99 but to be honest, these don’t amount to anything more than toys. You have to enter the $500 to $1,000 category to start appreciating what vinyl offers, and things get really interesting as you move past the $2,000 mark, though it doesn’t stop there. In fact, turntable setups (table + arm + cartridge) reach right up into the six figures, leaving a lot of room for both enthusiasts and vinyl-o-philes to explore. Acoustic Signature, a German audio product manufacturer, produces phono products that span this entire range, from their flagship Invictus table, in the six-figures, right down to their entry-level WOW table at just over two-thousand. For this review, I chose Acoustic Signature’s one-up-from-entry-level WOW XL Turntable ($3,490), paired with the company’s TA-1000 9-inch tonearm ($2,190) and a London (Decca) Gold cartridge ($1,500).
I received my introduction to the Acoustic Signature brand, while attending shows, such as TAVES and Salon Son & Image. Goerner Audio, the Canadian distributor, has demonstrated their products over the years, to the delight of visitors. I’ve seen the Acoustic Signature Storm a number of times, with its massive stance and marvelous engineering, and its performance has never failed to seduce me. More recently, I came across the WOW XL, a product that seemed to imbue the ideals of Acoustic Signature’s much higher priced turntables, within a more compact and affordable package. The WOW XL, with the TA-1000 tonearm and London Gold cartridge seemed like just the right setup for me to get a good taste of what these brands can offer.
The WOW XL is quite deceiving at first glance, given its rather svelte stature. One might think of it as falling into the category of tables in the under $2,000 range but under closer inspection it soon becomes obvious that it’s a whole different animal. The table is extremely well engineered, with impeccable fit and finish. The plinth sports a couple of stainless steel buttons for power (on/off) and speed (33/45) and is constructed with a sizeable 10mm upper aluminum plate, bonded to a 25mm lower high-density wood lacquered plate. This sandwich construction serves to reduce unwanted vibrations and resonances and serves as a sturdy housing for the main platter bearing. The main bearing in the WOW XL is an Acoustic Signature proprietary design (Tidorfolon II Bearing) and is the same used in the much more expensive, up-scale Acoustic Signature tables. It uses a special hardened steel axle that sits within matched sinter bronze self-lubricating inserts and has a unique Tidorfolon bearing ground. The bearing is lifetime maintenance-free and has a 10-year warranty, affirming its superb quality. Spinning the platter was the proof-in-the-pudding, as I stood in awe while it spun noiselessly as if on a cushion of air – most impressive at this price point. The plinth is supported by three robust inverted conical feet that adjust for easy levelling. On top of the plinth sits the platter, a massive solid aluminum disk, 34mm thick and 14-lbs in weight.
The motor of the WOW XL is a synchronous design that is electronically regulated and fully decoupled from the mains, with an external wall-wart switching power supply. What was most interesting was the cord used to connect the power supply to the motor – a detachable CAT-5e, something you would typically associate with Ethernet but here is used simply to transmit the regulated power to the table. Acoustic Signature offers a linear power supply upgrade, the AC-1 ($450), which was supplied with the turntable for my evaluation and I’ll share my impressions later on what this upgrade path offers. The speed is maintained by a precision electronic controller that allows fine speed adjustments of ±0.1% via a couple of tiny buttons at the back of the plinth.
The WOW XL came with the Acoustic Signature TA-1000 9-inch precision-bearing gimbal-mounted tonearm ($2,190) pre-mounted. This arm also comes in 10-inch and 12-inch lengths. The arm is comprised of machined aluminum and brass parts with a carbon arm tube – the counterweight and anti-skate ballast are both brass. Like the table, the fit and finish of the arm was impeccable and design was contemporary and refined. Reinhard Goerner professionally setup the London (Decca) Gold cartridge on the WOW XL, while I watched. I was very impressed with the arm’s full-assortment of adjustments, including VTA, overhang, VTF, azimuth and anti-skating; all well engineered into the design to aid proper setup. The arm utilizes precision miniature bearings from the German manufacturer SKF for minimal friction and the arm tube is a dual carbon tube, designed to have optimal rigidity and vibrational damping. The TA-1000 tonearm uses a Teflon insulated 6N OCC copper tonearm cable (provided by 1877Phono), which runs continuously from the cartridge pins to the plug ends. There is an option to have a 5-pin connector, rather than the cord, for those seeking to use their own interconnects. The arm comes standard with a Rega-style mount but can be ordered with an SME mount.
I auditioned the WOW XL in my main system, connected to a Simaudio 350p preamplifier via a Pro-Ject Phonobox II SE. The amplifier was my Bryston 4B-SST2 and the loudspeakers used were my quadral Aurum Montan VIII as well as my KEF LS50. All cabling was Nordost Heimdall 2. Along with the Acoustic Signature upgrade AC-1 linear power supply ($450) that I mentioned earlier, I also used a Funk Firm Achromat 5mm platter mat ($150) recommended by Goerner Audio – I’ll share my impressions on these upgrades in the sidebar. I used the London (Decca) Gold ($1,500) cartridge exclusively for evaluation.
With about 75 hours on the table and cartridge, I started to take note of what the WOW XL was presenting. There was an overall smoothness and naturalness to its delivery, accompanied by inherent warmth that remained neutral in tone. The setup was quick and dynamic with notes fully developed, avoiding any sense of haste or truncation. The soundstage was layered and generous in width with significant depth. Over the following weeks I re-explored my vinyl collection with the WOW XL blazing the trail.
William Ackerman’s LP Passage is gorgeous music and the Windham Hill Records pressing is brilliant. The first track “Remedios” is a simple arrangement of guitar and violin but what starts off as slow and gentle builds in intensity, speed and aggressiveness. The WOW XL, TA-1000 arm and London Gold cartridge were able to render this song in an effortless manner, with the notes having essential delicacy. Minute details, intrinsic within the recording, came across naturally, integrated within the tapestry of the music and without any sense of exaggeration. There was an even-handedness of tone and an absence of brittleness. The plucking of the guitar strings were rendered lively and in time, preserving the flow of the music. We all know the guitar as a string instrument but it can also very effectively double in for percussion, something that’s easy to hear live but often gets washed out in playback. However, here the WOW XL proved to be adept, presenting the dynamic strums of the guitar with their full percussive quality. The rendering of the violin was no less fervent; textures of the bow against the strings clearly heard and possessing a lovely sweetness intertwined with the telltale harmonics of the instrument.