The Vinyl Anachronist
by Marc Phillips
Part XCI: The Man with the $150,000 Turntable
Aleksandr Bakman is a man who is in search of perfection. He spent 18 years as a flight hardware analyst in the aerospace industry and has performed structural analyses on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Sikorsky Heavy Lift Helicopter CH-53K, the Mars Lander Phoenix and the Boeing 747 Freighter programs. NASA awarded him with a special medallion for his support of the technologies aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. Alek’s singular efforts have literally reached the outer limits of our solar system.
While he calls the U.S. home, he is originally from the Ukraine and spent his younger years living in the Soviet Union. He remembers riding a bike to and from work, even in winter. Afterward, he would pedal up to thirty miles a day to make daily visits to three local record stores. “In Russia," he told me, “if you weren’t there when they unboxed the new LP releases, you didn’t get them." He remembers racing home from work in order to make it in time to attend a performance of a local symphony. “Music is important," he likes to say.
Aleks Bakman has also designed and built a turntable--a $150,000 turntable--that was also developed to achieve perfection. He wanted one thing from this turntable, and it was to sound like real music. He summoned all of his engineering knowledge to produce the Onedof turntable. Onedof, which is an acronym for One Degree of Freedom, is a both a gleaming work of art and a pure statement of engineering prowess. The world of high end audio is full of hyperbole, but when Aleks tells you the Onedof is “an instrument to match music in attraction and longevity," it’s a statement to consider with care.
I’ve heard the Onedof and I’ve never experienced anything that comes close to its performance--and, amazingly enough, there are turntables out there that cost far more than Alek’s creation. It has received a handful of glowing reviews from analog stalwarts such as Michael Fremer of Stereophile (who called it a “miracle and wonder") and Peter Breuninger of A/V Showrooms (who said “I’ve never heard music sound so beautiful"). About a year ago, he offered it to me for evaluation and I balked; I didn’t think I could assemble a system that could do it justice, and I have access to some truly wonderful gear. But was I tempted? Hell yes, I was tempted.
Which brings up the question... who will buy the Onedof?
“American high-end audio equipment manufacturers deserve much more attention than they are getting not only because they work so hard and sacrifice so much, but because their products are so good, in fact the best available products," Aleks told me. “The high-end industry has to make room for huge improvements, so that the manufacturers and distributors, creative people and trade people alike get the compensation that they deserve." Matching these extraordinary engineering challenges to clients who appreciate these efforts therefore is a true challenge that designers like Aleks must meet.
While I’ve known Aleks for a while, I’ve only heard his story in bits and pieces. When I approached him with the idea for the interview, we spoke at some length and I quickly figured out that we just couldn’t sit down and talk about an expensive turntable. The Onedof is far more than just a pricey toy, and the person who purchases the Onedof will not be concerned with the cost of admission. That person will be interested in one thing--achieving perfection.
PSF: Onedof is an unusual name for a product. It means “One Degree of Freedom." Can you tell us what that means?
Aleks Bakman: Marc, it is an algebraic equation: pure rotation MINUS unwanted wobbling MINUS unwanted shifting EQUALS One Degree Of Freedom of movement. Self-centering in all directions, the Onedof bearing reduces unwanted movements to immeasurable nanometers, providing conditions for dramatic improvement of the sound.
PSF: The first question you usually get about the Onedof is “$150,000, why so much?" I’m not going to ask you that question, because I know the answer--the parts quality is staggering and the materials are the finest money can buy, and the research and development you had to employ was extensive, to say the least. But you have stated that you designed the Onedof for primarily one reason, and that’s to achieve “perfection." What do you think the Onedof does that no other turntable has accomplished?
AB: Onedof attracts women.
PSF: You mean in terms of “wife acceptance factor" or just in terms of its incredible beauty and sexiness?
AB: Attracting women is important because women are closer to nature than men.
Nature expresses itself through the creations of both men and women,
but women are more sensitive to the voices and tunes of nature.
The men are there just to make the women happy.
The same is true about the women.
If a woman buys a million dollar stereo, a man is not necessarily playing any role in her decision.
If a man buys a million dollar stereo, a woman absolutely and inevitably takes an important place in this manly action.
PSF: That’s part of a poem you have written for potential owners of the Onedof. A lot has been written recently about attracting women to this hobby. It’s important.
AB: In addition, Onedof brings high end audio from the basements and attics to the living rooms. Onedof defies the status quo of a high end vinyl disk turntable as a niche market item for the hobbyists. Onedof is a qualitatively new product. It radically redefines and re-states the concept of a turntable. The intended side effect of an exact precession of the Onedof mechanism is the long life of a product. It is conceived and created to last for generations. Onedof is an investment in a piece of art that appreciates in time.
The most dramatic novelty of the Onedof technology is the variable stiffness and damping ratio of the liquid suspension, known as smart liquid effect. To any attempt of the external excitation it responds with the overwhelming increase of stiffness and viscosity, killing the incoming vibrations dead. The harmful resonances do not have any chance to develop.
PSF: When you were building the Onedof, at what point did you realize that you had achieved your objective and created what you felt was the world’s best turntable? Was it while you were listening to a particular piece of music and everything clicked into place?
AB: You know you have achieved something essential when an old familiar record sounds like you are hearing it for the first time. It happened during the very first listening of the recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Milstein/Leinsdorf/Philharmonia Orchestra on Franklin Mint red vinyl.
Then it happened again with the same record, but this time to Michael Fremer, who described the “miracle and wonder" feeling in his Stereophile review of the Onedof Turntable. Mr. Fremer even procured that record that sounded so well. The latest case of spontaneous unmanageable public excitement happened during listening to Paul McCartney’s ultimate screaming in “Oh, Darling!" (The Beatles, Abbey Road, EMI 1969. What record can be more familiar?) reproduced in the Peter Breuninger’s AV Showroom system with Krell mono amps through MBL speakers. Thunderous maximum volume produced no feedback, no distortions, but crisp and clear, fresh and powerful sound. Twenty-nine year-old Paul McCartney rushed into everyone’s heart energetically and musically. It was better than I could ever imagine.
PSF: You’ve certainly developed a reputation for demonstrating how effective the Onedof is when it comes to isolation, especially at audio shows.
AB: I was terribly surprised at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, when instead of a modest knock on the wood my fist produced a series of cannon blows on the table top. Perhaps I was nervous because on that table top, the Onedof turntable was playing a record belonging to a famous turntable reviewer. The needle was in the groove of the record, but the giant Sonus Faber speakers did not react to the violent knocking. The music was not affected at all. Kids, do not try it at home.
PSF: One of the obstacles you may have encountered with the marketing of the Onedof is having a prospective buyer say to themselves, “Why would I spend this type of money on a turntable from a brand new company? Will Aleks be there for me if something goes wrong a few years down the line?" You’ve obviously built the Onedof like a tank, but how do you convince someone that the Onedof will provide a lifetime of worry-free enjoyment?
AB: I have built the Onedof turntable like a turntable that will last. For the last 18 years, my professional integrity and the reliability of my work has been convincing to the major American aerospace corporations and their customers. I can provide references of that.
PSF: Let’s say I just bought the Onedof. Do I need to know anything special about it first? I did watch Peter Brueninger’s video review of the Onedof in A/V Showrooms and it seems exceptionally easy to set up. But what would you need to tell the owner about the Onedof so he can maximize his enjoyment of it?
AB: I already took care of details. Tune your tonearm and cartridge accordingly to Michael Fremer’s video recommendations, or just plug and play the music. For the tinkerers I recommend Dr. Christian Feickert’s tools, or just plug and play the music.
I recommend no record mat. If you cannot resist it, use any record mat at your own risk and responsibility. Some people love playing comparing performances of different tonearms and cartridges. Accordingly to Michael Fremer and Peter Breuninger, no turntable is better suited for that than Onedof. So consider buying additional tonearm towers and install more than one tonearm/cartridge combination.
PSF: Is there anything you learned about building the Onedof that would allow you to produce more modest designs that would appeal to a greater number of music lovers? Can you imagine creating a $10,000 or $20,000 turntable down the road once you’ve sold a few of these?
AB: Onedof is not expensive enough if compared with everything that I have designed before, but Onedof is my best effort so far, my life’s achievement. I cannot predict dramatic reduction of price of the Onedof now. In fact the price of labor and materials has grown. Now we are asking $175K for the Onedof Turntable of the basic configuration, advertised on our web site. But that is just a reference price. The design of the turntable is constantly evolving. The actual price is quoted for each turntable individually, based on the past experience of the manufacturing facilities with this product and current cost of materials and labor. That is why we do not put the price information on our web site.
Mass production makes each item more affordable, but requires large investment of money and time upfront. Mass production is not flexible; it is not open for changes. Onedof LLC intends to stay independent and evolve. We test each turntable rigorously just like they do it before sending a spacecraft to space. Full reliability is the only choice for Onedof LLC. We cannot afford the simplification of design or reduction of quality control standards. In fact, the design will become more sophisticated as we learn more about the new smart liquid technology. The theory and technique of motor controls is developing fast. We will always evolve. The price will have to change accordingly. We are aiming at the ever better sound. Price effectiveness is not our goal at this time, but it is not impossible.
PSF: In my limited exposure to the Onedof--I heard it at CES 2012 and was deeply impressed--you had a relatively modest arm and cartridge on it, and yet you still managed to create an extremely superior result. Have you found an arm and a cartridge that can live up to the performance of the Onedof, or is the Onedof so good that it elevates the performance of the entire analog chain?
AB: The latter. I liked all tonearms and cartridges that I have heard with Onedof: Graham, Kuzma, Triplanar, and Ikeda tonearms; Benz Micro LPS, ZYX Omega, and Lyra Titan cartridges. They all sounded quite different, but all of them delivered plenty of excitement to forget about components and to listen to the music. The components that you, Marc, had heard at CES 2012 with Onedof, the ZYX Omega cartridge and the Graham Engineering Phantom tone arm, are rather outstanding products.
PSF: Oh, absolutely! The Graham and the ZYX are stunning products, but they are just a few thousand dollars each. With all of the $15,000 cartridges and $15,000 tonearms out there, you wonder if the Onedof owner will feel compelled to spend more money than he or she has to.
AB: Marc, the American money is valued by the product of American people, and not the other way around. Do not make a cult out of a dollar.
PSF: I am certainly guilty of that at times.
AB: Frank Kuzma was very kind to provide his tonearms for the reviews of my turntable. I was so impressed, that I could not be sober enough to make a proper judgment. The character of the sound was new to me, but I forgot about it almost instantly. There was the great American soprano Barbara Hendrix in front of me in Mr. Fremer's basement, and she is infinitely more important than any tonearm or cartridge. I think, that is precisely the feeling of a listener that Mr. Kuzma was trying to achieve. That is the miracle of music that a great tonearm, like Graham, Triplanar or Kuzma makes possible.
Fortunately, I am not a tonearm reviewer. I advise people to listen and make their own minds. I am most familiar with the latest and greatest versions of the Triplanar and Graham tonearms. Both these tonearms are creations of the engineering art. Even so, each one of them has its character, they both deliver a religiously musical experience with Onedof. I am proud to enjoy a close friendship with Mr. Robert Graham of Graham Engineering, so I am very partial to his products, but I think they are the best. The gratitude to the unselfish sacrificial tonearm and cartridge manufacturers overfills my heart. All of us should be thankful that we have them.
PSF: Most people don’t get the idea of this costly of a turntable, and I had one person suggest to me that the mere building of such a product didn’t follow any proven business models. I told him that completely misses the point, and that your objective with the ONEDOF was never to have them rolling off the assembly line by the hundreds--although that would certainly be wonderful for you. I defended you by explaining that products like the ONEDOF weren’t meant for the masses; they’re work of passion, or labors of love--however you want to put it. Am I close to the truth?
AB: You are right on money, Marc. I am solving engineering problems in order to achieve previously impossible quality of the sound. The least probable solution is the most fun to find. The pattern following or the original thinking itself is not my objective. I wanted to make something irresistibly, astoundingly attractive. I wanted to create a product that people want to have. Elegance and harmony of engineering as an art form should be obvious from the first glance and from the first sound. See also my answer above about manufacturing volumes and prices.
PSF: If you had it to do all over again, would you do anything differently with the design of the ONEDOF or is it indeed perfect?
AB: Onedof is the best we can do now, but the improvement process is continuous. It never stops and never ends.
PSF: Finally, you have to truly love vinyl to create something like the ONEDOF. What is it about vinyl that attracts you?
AB: Marc, "Recording is giving to the music its final dimensions in the more convenient space and time." This is a quote from my poem to the record listener, available on the statement page of Onedof web site. That is, I am not an audiophile, I am a music listener. Vinyl records last long enough for us to enjoy unique recordings of the 1940’s, ‘50’s and ‘60’s, of the great era when the most brilliant musicians lived: Nathan Milsten, Leonid Koga, Emil Gilels, Svyatoslav Rochter and so on and on. Many of them recorded music in the same EMI Abbey Road studio that the Beatles immortalized. All of them recorded at the same time when the Beatles delivered their immortal albums and I was listening to the Voice of America daily show Jazz Hour with Willis Conover under the Iron Blanket. Digital copies of these analog recordings are getting better and better all the time, but they still sound like grainy copies. The original new digital recordings sound much better than digitized copies of the analog originals, but some significant time must pass before we fully understand the greatness of the contemporary performers. That is why the old times always win the comparison with nowadays. That is one.
Two. The sound of the world is continuous and the digital recording is the discretized approximation of it. If you made shot a picture with the most expensive and sought after mega-giga-pixel digital camera, and then blow this picture up to the size of a highway billboard, you will see giant pixels, the whole million billions of them, would you not? What the magnifying glass does to the picture, the human ear does to the sound: if there is imperfection in the sound, the ear will register it. The brain may not be prepared to explain the difference, but when the sound is pure, the listener just feels profoundly better much longer and keeps coming for more.
Three. The listener may be affected by the Madison Avenue style of promotion of a new exciting technology, made available by the Apple Corporation (the non-Beatle one) at the convenience and privacy of your own brain. But playing "songs" and listening to the music are two different occupations. Four. The MP3’s and FLAC’s (files) will be long forgotten, the gadgets that could read them will become concrete slabs holding man-made islands in the Arab Sea, when the listeners, still high on the analog sound of the 20-th century, will sing goodbye to the temporary digital era: "I get high when I see you go by, my - oh - my!".
If you would like to learn more about the Onedof, you can visit Aleks’ website at http://onedof.com/.
Contact the Vinyl Anachronist at firstname.lastname@example.org and see his Blog site
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