Micro Seiki BL-91 (SAEC 407/23) Impressions

Discussion in 'Vinyl Nutjob World: Turntable and Related Gear' started by purr1n, Jul 16, 2022.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Two years ago, I wrote a little diddy on why to not get into vinyl (turntables and records) playback. In fact, it's stickied here:. Between that time and now, I've also been encouraging people behind the scenes to get into vinyl. So what gives? What's up with the contradictions? The fact is, there is no contradiction. It's a matter of where you are, what you are willing to deal with, and what your expectations are.

    If most of the music that you listen to is modern using digital chains, then the the reason to get into vinyl is one of curiosity, novelty, and with more exposure, the realization of one's ability to tweak the sound, a lot for free. I will quote @Armaegis:

    I think part of it is that it's easier for newbies to grasp the tweakiness of analog. You can see and feel it, and there's great satisfaction in that. Plus there's the psychosomatic connection; you get to change something physical, and you think it sounds better. Digital is still magical pixie dust for all intents and purposes, and there's a greater disconnect. Or for non-newbies switching over from digital, well, maybe they ran out of things to realistically/financially tweak in the digital realm without breaking the bank... but Analog? well when you're starting from ground up, it's easier to get started into a new hobby when it's cheap, until you climb the ladder again.
    I know quite a few people who still subscribe to vinyl playback even with modern "DDA" recordings, not only for the presentation of vinyl playback, but also because they can easy tweak the presentation of playback on a single platform more than any one DAC, from record to record even! Others will have a record player handy because the record will be differently mastered from the CD (or stream). Not necessarily better, but different does offer us more choice.

    Now if we are willing to explore the immense catalog of recorded music from the 1950s to the 1980s, then there could be huge sonic advantages over digital. Full analog chains may have analog errors, but they won't have the quantization errors of digital (including the AD) and associated additional circuitry chains of both AD and DA.

    I know someone locally who picked up one of these cheap Drop tables, was flabbergasted, and immediately sought out the local used record stores. I don't think everyone will have this reaction because it depends upon where we are in the hobby. Vinyl is full of surface noise, ticks, pops, scratches. These things could be hard for someone used to digital to overlook. Lower cost entry level players will suffer on the low-end, could suffer from horrible wow and flutter, or many other ailments. This is why I wrote the article two years ago warning people of getting into vinyl, hoping to set proper expectations. Although I have to say that some of these latest entry level record players from the likes Audio Technica are pretty solid - far better than the vinyl dark ages when Pro-Ject seemed like the only entry level choice.

    Getting back on topic, this person who picked up the Drop table was at the point where he understood that "music lived in the mids", so he could overlook the problems on the low-end on this table. At the end of the day, if one is willing to deal with the manual aspects of vinyl playback, an entry level table today with a modest cartridge upgrade has the potential to beat the pants of any DAC in the mids and the highs, particularly if the record is AAA, that is recorded, mixed, and mastered through a fully analog chain. Any worries about impermanence or the fragility of records is unfounded. My most worn copy of Emmylou Harris - Quarter Moon in Ten Cent Town from 1977 sounds better than any digital version from any DAC.

    Anyway, all I wanted to say is that there are reasons for vinyl and even more reasons for not vinyl. Those who have reasons for not vinyl should turn the page or click the back-button.

    --

    The BL-91 is a belt-driven table and as such not my initial intention. I had originally wanted a direct drive table. I chose Micro Seiki because of what I perceived as value after studying their designs and noting the poor values of used tables on the 'gon. No one seems to know that Micro Seiki tables are, so I guess that's a good thing. This particular BL-91 caught by eye because of the substantial platter, the copper plate record mat, and the SAEC 407/23 tonearm. The wide band as the drive belt reminded me of what I did on my Classic 4 where I ran three belts to get a more focused sound closer to direct drive. After my experience with the Ikeda tonearm, I felt the 9" SAEC would give me the drive, the heft, which the 12" VPI unipivot arm on my Classic 4 lacked. The long unipivot arm has certain strengths: smooth sailing, fluidity, refinement, grandeur. But drive, boldness, heft - it didn't do these. Different not better.

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    The Ikeda arm on the BL-91? Now that would interesting. Heck, maybe the longer Ikeda arm as a complement to the shorter one the Classic 4 (if I can figure out how to mount it on the BL-31). The SAEC 407/23 isn't in the same class as the Ikeda IT-345, but knowing that these were often paired with SPU cartridges back in the day, I figured it would do the job with the low-compliance DL-103 - which it does. I've got an SPU on order from overseas, but I have no idea when I will receive it.

    DSCF0259 (Large).JPG

    I noted that the Micro Seiki BL-91 and VPI Classic tables have some similarities. Both have heavy plinths, heavy platters, a tight coupling of the arm onto a metal mounting plate screwed to the plinth (as opposed to a wood or acrylic armboard, which in turn is coupled to the plinth). The difference is that the Micro Seiki motor mount has much more play and the VPI goes full brute force with respect to material and mass. While light a tap on the Classic 4 barely or if at all registers on the speakers, they do a little bit on the Micro Seiki. Still, what Micro Seiki pulled off in the early 80s was ahead of its time, considering that Toyotas sucked back then. The Micro Seiki is about refinement vs. brute force. I believe the motor is servo-controlled. The mounting plate appears to be steel. The drive belt or band, feels like a very high-tolerance piece manufactured to a precise thickness. Here's a photo of the bearing shaft. The platter is machined to fit over the tapered area. I'll take a look at the bearings when I get a chance, but after all these years, I don't think anything is off given my recordings with RPM Speed app.

    PXL_20220717_001233721.jpg

    The little control panel is a solid industrial design. We have a simple on/off and 33/45 switch with a dial for fine speed adjust. The plates hide the motor shaft, which is a nice design.

    DSCF0258.JPG

    The sound of the BL-91 is vintage, but good vintage. It's far cry from the mostly plastic plinth mid-range turntables from the likes of Technics and Sony that my high-school friends and I owned back then. I think the Cu-180 copper mat moves the sound a bit more toward the modern direction with clearer transients, as does the off-brand center weight I'm using. At the end of the day, I'm happy with what it does and where it fits. I have a modern sounding table with a long unipivot arm and a short heavy arm. This vintage sounding table with some modern sensibilities provides a great compliment. Now I just need a Garrard right? Actually, I'm fine, I will have my hands busy with a lot to tweak and a lot to play with in the next year or so.
     
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  2. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    Mazel tov, Marv! That’s a beautiful table. I know you’ve been looking at Micro Seiki for a while and it’s easy to see why. I was looking at them too before I lucked into my PX-3. You can just see the care and craftsmanship put into that table. I hope it gives you many years of enjoyment!
     
  3. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Thanks!

    Did an RPM Speed app. Don't know how accurate they are because the 0.03% wow seems too good to be true. I'll try again later to see if I can replicate the results. I am running a VPI SDS to reduce the running voltage to 100V (it's a Japan spec table).

    Screenshot_20220716-220138 (Small).jpg
    Screenshot_20220716-220119 (Small).jpg
     
  4. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    I stacked the table next to my other just so I would get a direct comparison. Up to now, I've only had the BL-91 up next to my desk. I would have to say that the BL-91 / 407/23 / DL-103 combo is not something to be trifled with!. It holds its own against much more expensive competition!

    PXL_20220717_022518512.jpg

    TBH with respect to the Denon DL-103 cartridge, I actually prefer this on the Micro Seiki / SAEC to the VPI / Ikeda. I do have an SPU on order from the EU (exchange rates are very good right now) and do suspect that the SPU would pull ahead on the pricier set up.

    The DL-103 is just scary good on the Micro Seiki / SAEC. This is one of those situations where the specific colorations of each component synergize with each other to result in a greater whole. Of the three arm / cart combinations I have, this is the most slammin' setup. The bass isn't the tightest, but there's a depth to the bass that sounds like it's the result of interplay between the plinth and the DL-103's tubbiness in the lows. In most situations, or in an intuitive sense, this sounds like a disaster (personally and for example: I think the DL-103 is horrible on the SL1200). In this case, it works. As I've said many times, synergy can be weird and unexpected. Overall, there's a vintagey wall-o-sound thing going on without the effect being overbearing or congested.

    Now I am beginning to understand why @shaizada has so many tables, tonearms, and carts. I've been having a lot of fun listening to different takes from the same albums - all these takes offering a different interpretation while still sounding essentially correct - by "correct" what I mean is not massively colored or compromised in any one area (e.g., NOS DACs with no analog construction filters, cough cough). With two turntables and three tonearms, I can now experiment and roll infinite combinations with different cartridges mounted on headshells / armwands. The awesome part is not all of these cartridges need to be expensive either. While I like what the DL-103 is doing, I also want to hear what the Shure M95HE can do too.

    Though all this, there is one very interesting thing which I have learned for myself: I'm not a detail freak. Well, it sort of goes like this: With digital, it was always a matter of moar microdetail, moar plankton, moar resolving. With vinyl playback, I'm tending to prefer conicals that don't dig out every last bit of detail. It's not matter of conicals lacking resolution. It's just that they don't throw it into our faces. I've heard and spoken to old-timers who prefer the sound of conicals (Mike Moffat at Schiit is one of them) and now I get it (when I used to think, how can anyone turn down detail?). I think what it comes down to is that digital always seems to be missing something, there's something inherently unsatisfactory to digital, hence the reason why people change DACs so often, or why I sought moar and moar detailed DACs. There are DACs that do try to emulate the vinyl experience, but ultimately they suck balls - I've heard enough of them that I just want to throw them out the window because they are posers. Vinyl playback on the other hand is what I would say is beyond detail.

    As far as modern recordings with digital in the chain, I just play them back on a decent mid-end DAC (or on my tables) and don't worry about it, because I know they are a lost cause.
     
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    Last edited: Jul 17, 2022
  5. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    Micro Seiki is da bomb, ain't dey?

    Actually, I am torn between celebrating the Micro Seiki tables and saying, “Shhh. Don't tell anybody. The secret will get out.” I was lucky enough to get a BL-111 this spring and I am still going through it. I have to say that I am impressed with their technology and development. Every part is well thought out and precise.

    Regarding the belt, when you get experimenting, consider trying a thread instead. The BL-111 was designed from the start for a thread drive and they chose kevlar thread. Bruce McDougall, who made Anvil turntables for a short while, really liked using surgical silk thread to drive his turntable. Since the Anvil table is philosophically similar to the heavy Micro tables, it might be worth a try on your table. And talk about missed opportunities, I should have bought an Anvil when they were available, but I wasn't ready yet.

    As far as I know at the moment, the BL-91 and BL-111 use the same motor and platter bearing. The motor is described as 4-pole 6-slot, outer rotor type brushless DC servo motor. I can't feel any cogging, so I assume that it is a coreless design and from a point of ignorance about motor design, that is what it looks like to me from the inside. As you can see, there is a cylindrical steel rotor, that is just a little smaller than the outer case, with a ring magnet inside. The rotor has teeth on the bottom surface of the rotor and sensors in the case for the servo speed control. The motor is quite large at 63 mm diameter, heavy, and is both high torque and high rotational inertia.

    In the picture of the motor from the outside, you can see a triangle shape piece of metal sitting on top of the motor. I'm not sure if yours has the same, but in the BL-111 it is likely gray cast iron that is used in machine bases for it's damping characteristics. Having a mass with damping between the motor and it's mounting plate is nice thinking for motor vibration control.

    The other thing that might be the same between the 91 and 111 is the tonearm mounting plate. The BL-111 plate is made of bronze and plated with some sort of soft silver finish. It is 15 mm thick and weighs 1.5 kg. Another case of using mass to create vibration nodes.

    I don' t think your wow “0.03% 2 sigma est” is out of bounds at all. Mine measured 0.03% wrms (different app) and that is bacically the 0.025% spec for the new table.

    Anyway, congrats on the Micro. I'm sure you will enjoy it.
     

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    Last edited: Jul 17, 2022
  6. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    I forgot to also say congrats on the SAEC 407. I love knife edge bearing tonearms and SAEC are about as good as they get. My Micro came with a Micro MA-505 Mk III which is nice, but I like zero clearance bearing arms over gimble bearing arms. I have an old Magneplanar Unitrac that I may try as I get to know the table better.
     
  7. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    .03% seems realistic given that really good DD tables can get down to about .01%.
     
  8. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    By "really good", you are talking really expensive too. For example, the Technics SL 1200G ($4000 US) has the same 0.025% wrms wow and flutter spec as the 40 year old Micro's. To get to 0.01% you must be thinking really exclusive. Of course, I don't want to get too tied up into one spec.
     
  9. shaizada

    shaizada Friend

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    I think a wholesome experience can be had after experiencing the various drive systems. A good belt drive, a good direct drive and a good idler drive.

    Then you can appreciate what each one does and what makes it special. You take that "special-ness" and play around with tonearms and cartridges. Finally at the end of it (does it ever end?) You start understanding what works for you in your setup. Finally, peaceful feelings prevail and you feel settled.

    My peace was found with 6 tables and 12 tonearms running together in one system ❤️ . Connect it all together and you can really maximize any record for the most enriching listening experience for your tastes.

    You did well Marv!
     

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