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Audiophile combines tradition with the best of modern technology

07 February 2016

A low-noise, no-cogging, precision-controlled brushed dc motor was on Sheffield based audio consultant Shaun Daniels' shopping list when he embarked on a project to create a modern vinyl disc turntable combining the best of traditional design with modern technology.

An example from Peak HiFi’s SMD Acoustics turntable series
An example from Peak HiFi’s SMD Acoustics turntable series

In 2004, Shaun Daniels, turned his love of music and high-quality audio equipment into a part-time retail business, alongside his full-time engineering job. His company – Peak HiFi - specialises in high quality audio equipment, particularly stereo and analogue equipment, with an enthusiasm for classic turntables. The business flourished and Shaun left his day job to focus on Peak HiFi with the intention of plugging a gap in the market for a completely new vinyl record player

“I am a big fan of the Garrard 301 and Garrard 401,” says Shaun. “These were amongst the very best turntables of the 1950s and 1960s and are exceptional even by today’s standards. Unfortunately the technology around the drive system is complex and expensive to produce, and they died out in the 1970s

“They also have areas that can be improved upon; technology and production limitations of the day resulted in casting defects, large motors with no speed control, isolation issues and so on. We started to produce upgrade components for these old decks and this is where the vision of a completely new record player came from, one that incorporated the best of the older deck drive systems but addressing the weaknesses with the engineering of today.” So what makes a good turntable? Shaun again:

“You want to retrieve as much information out of the groove as possible, but add nothing. You should aim to introduce no vibration or noise from the mechanics, such as the motor or bearings and reduce airborne and mechanical vibrations from the speakers. Another area vital to performance is pitch stability, the record must rotate at a constant speed and not fluctuate. The drive system must not slow down and speed up, it must have a grip for consistency of speed. This is where the idler drive technology from the turntables of yesteryear, together with a controller, is a vital piece of the device.”

For his latest product, the SMD Acoustics V2.0 turntable, Shaun made use of modern technology and precision engineering to produce a record player with a contemporary design that built on the qualities of those from the past. Shaun had heard of maxon from a colleague within the audio industry and he contacted the maxon UK office for advice about the turntable motor and controller.

“From the first call, right through design and development, maxon supported me all the way,” he recalls. “When you are building someone else’s products into your design, you have to have complete confidence in their product and in their support and product availability, for years to come. You don’t want to switch and have the expense of finding a new product, possibly changing the design and having to cope with a knock-on effect to the production timetable. maxon motor have been around for over 50 years and are well known in the record turntable business.”

For Shaun’s application, maxon developed a custom system based on its RE-max 29 brushed dc motor and ESCON 36/2 dc motor controller, with firmware specially modified for the SMD Acoustics platform. The motor uses an ironless rotor construction with no cogging, giving smooth speed and – essential for this turntable application - low noise.

Speed control via the maxon ESCON 36/2 controller is achieved by measuring the back electromotive force from the motor thousands of times a second. This enables minute speed adjustments to be made to the motor, with allowances for changes in temperature and load to maintain constant speed and pitch. Furthermore, thanks to the flexibility of the ESCON software, future modifications will simply involve an easy software change. After three years in development, the SMD Acoustics turntable is now ready to go to market, with plaudits already heaped upon it by industry experts. A last word about his company’s relationship with maxon from Shaun:

“From the first enquiring email to maxon motor, we were treated like an important customer. Peak HiFi is a small company, and when we contact large organisations, we often even don’t get a reply! The level of responsiveness from maxon, even when we are only buying small quantities, is terrific. We are made to feel like one of the big boys and are treated like a person asking for thousands of units a year.”

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