Dohmann

HELIX 1 - State of the Art Turntables - The Gold Standard
unparalleled analog playback performance

MARK DÖHMANN – SYSTEMS ARCHITECT – HELIX-1 & HELIX-2
Each form of media, digital or analog, is a facsimile of the original performance. No media is truly inclusive of every detail of the performance, however, are we extracting all the available information from the media? Mark Döhmann has proven yet again we are not!

The Döhmann Helix-1 & Helix-2 delivers unparalleled analog playback performance due to its unique Micro Signal Architecture© (MSA) engineering that sets new noise reduction and micro-signal preservation benchmarks.

MSA is a cohesive approach to design that uses the most advanced techniques available to remove physical and mechanical vibration and electrical noise. This approach to signal preservation is the brainchild of Mark Döhmann, who has conquered the seemingly insurmountable obstacles frustrating turntable designers since the 1950’s. 

Mark is respected among his peers for original thinking and an understanding of a turntable’s architecture and which elements influence psychoacoustics (how our brains perceive music and sounds).

By joining forces with a team of talented scientists, engineers and designers, Mark has addressed each aspect of noise and vibration suppression utilising the latest in visualisation techniques, engineering concepts and patented technologies.

DESIGN TEAM
MARK DÖHMANN – SYSTEMS ARCHITECT
Mark is recognised for continuously developing analog systems having been a staunch advocate of the core technology since the early 1980’s. He has a well-respected track record in innovation and design of advanced turntables and tonearms of the highest calibre since 1982. He generates original ideas and understands the influence these innovations have on the sonic result.

Mark created the Micro Signal Architecture© design for the Helix 1 table which formed the underlying directive to each of the engineering teams.

In 2012 Mark experienced firsthand the use of Chladni plate analysis in the creation of bespoke stringed instruments by a world renowned luthier. Mark was impressed by the luthier’s mastery of his art and recognised the potential for the same techniques to be used in deriving the sonic attributes of a turntable. This “eureka” moment opened a whole new panorama of creativity and new tools for turntable design.

In 2013 with an introduction from Rumen Artarski he approached Dr Plamen Valtchev to build a software model to use the Chladni “method” and verify and predict eigen modes in a new design. 

The Helix 1 is a bold new direction in turntable design and the core knowledge gained during the development process will be expanded upon into allied components in the near future.

Mark originated the tight integration of NSM technology into the Helix 1 design with Dr David Platus from MinusK. The engineering team constructs each mechanism from exacting specifications needed for the Mechanical Crossover to function as designed. The end result is a customised NSM system capable of consistent laboratory grade integration of the technology into every table we manufacture. 

RUMEN ARTARSKI – EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF ENGINEERING AND MARKETING
Rumen aka “Cesar”, the Director of Engineering, has well established international credentials in the audio and video industry. His journey started with an Electrical Engineering degree from University of Denmark before working in UK (London) in several high end recording studios as an engineer and studio designer. As a successful entrepreneur in many industries; including clients in aerospace, defence, and big budget film and television it was only natural for Rumen to return his focus to his true passion for music.

Rumen is the key integrator and facilitator of the engineering team used for the integration and application of the “mechanical crossover” and Micro Signal Architecture© directives. His collaborative efforts successfully incorporated the subassemblies, motion control systems and drive technologies; all possible noise sources that exceeded the MSA specification. His patience, knowledge, effective communication skills and commitment to our customers is the key factor in the successful development of the Helix 1.

FRANK SCHRÖDER – ANALOG DESIGNER
Frank is one of the most respected analog designers of his generation and one of the industry’s true gentlemen. His immense knowledge of audio history of the audio art provides insight into the genesis of ideas and who they should be rightly attributed to. He has designed several impressive analog systems in his own right and his tonearms are among the most sought after in the market. He holds patents for his technologies and is a regular visitor to Audio Union’s main European manufacturing hub.

The CB tonearm is generating industry discussions as being one of the finest tracking arms ever made. The bearing system offers lower friction numbers lower than even the venerated Technics EPA-100. Sonically, the CB it is a musical masterpiece. 

His contributions to the Helix project include advanced magnetic pre-loading systems and the ingenious arm bearing design. The Helix 1 is evidence of Audio Union’s ability to collaborate effectively to attain our lofty goal, restoration of “High Fidelity”. 

LEE GRAY – INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER
Lee is one of the rising stars in the Audio engineering community having penned several award winning industrial designs. The look of the Helix 1 table is a testament to his abilities, aesthetics and integration skills. He is part of the Audio-Union consulting team.

BO CHRISTENSEN– INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER
Bo is one of the most acclaimed creative designers in the Audio industry having penned several award winning iconic designs with Primare and Bow Technologies as well as other commercial brands. Bo was part of the genesis of the Audio Union team and provides his considerable master skills to guide the aesthetic values.

STANISLAV STOYANOV – MECHANICAL ENGINEERING
Stanislav is a graduate of the European and Russian Aeronautical engineering schools and holds qualifications in advanced engineering disciplines, science and advanced metallurgy. He heads up the mechanical engineering team at Rumen’s facility and oversees the many millions of dollars of CNC and surface finishing technology. He continues to work on projects for advanced projects and contracts for NATO and Lufthansa Technik for commercial aeronautical projects. This means the Audio Union products are able to access the best systems for quality manufacture and repeatability. Full CMM and Quality Assurance systems ensure parts are built to best practice. 

DR. PLAMEN IVANOV VALTCHEV – ENGINEERING CONSULTANT
Plamen is a senior technology contributor to Audio Union and the Helix project. He is an expert in the use of advanced software visualisation, FEA modelling and acoustics. In a jointly owned facility with Rumen Artarski our CEO, Audio Union has access to the most advanced test and measurement equipment. Plamen developed new software driven tools for the Chladni plate analysis methodology and also worked on the physical test models.

DR DAVID PLATUS – VIBRATION SPECIALIST AND FOUNDER OF MINUSK
David is one of the most respected designers in the field of vibration isolation and holds numerous patents in the field. A close association with Dr Platus led to the design of a new custom low frequency isolation system for the Helix 1 table. This technology is a world first for a turntable project. 

THOMAS KLEINBECK - MECHANICAL ENGINEERING
Tom is one of the guiding forces behind the EnKlein Systems company and hails from Kansas City MO. He is a senior mechanical engineer and advanced fabrication specialist. He holds numerous patents for engineering innovations and aeronautical technology. Everyday people travel safely whilst relying on some of Tom’s inventions. Tom was highly trained by the US government in technology during his tenure in the armed services and this broad experience means the Helix 1 is built to most exacting standards and achieves high reliability. Tom works closely with Mark to ensure the conceptual world is translated into reality. He provides engineering services to the European team at Audio Union and coverage to our Support team in USA and Asia/PAC.

DAVID KLEINBECK – DIRECTOR AUDIO UNION INTERNATIONAL
David is the founding member of EnKlein Systems and also hails from Kansas City MO. David is one of the world’s leading RF/EMI/Transmission engineering consultants. He holds a BSECE, Electrical, Electronics and Communications Engineering from University of Missouri-Columbia. David has worked for several US Government agencies in various technical capacities before joining the commercial sector with Fluor Daniel, Nortel Networks, Sprint and most recently K&M Systems as VP Research and Development. He holds several patents and is regularly consulted by global telecommunications companies for technology initiatives.

David provided the electronic and RF shielding topology for the Helix 1 to ensure the Micro Signal Architecture© extended across the electrical and RF spectrum.

David also heads up Audio Union International the USA based Head Office and provides technical, business and corporate governance to the business to allow our USA customers access to quality business support and services.

Featured

All Products

Reviews

Awards

Featured

DN 03 TT HELIX1
NZ$ 74,995.00 (incl. GST)
HELIX 1 ARCHITECTUREHelix 1 rewards the listener with the closest facsimile to master tape yet realised. How do we know this?  Our engineering facilities and listening rooms use several studio...
FEATURES INCLUDEMSA - Micro Signal Architecture©NSM - Negative Stiffness Mechanism Vibration...
It’s no surprise to anyone who’s read my frantic scratchings here the past few months that I am an...

All Products

Turntables

DN 01 TT HELIX2
Price on application
The name Mark Dohmann will need no introduction to enthusiasts who have been around the traps. Over a decade ago he was Chief Designer for arguably one of the world’s best turntables with the...
Turntables
DN 03 TT HELIX1
NZ$ 74,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
HELIX 1 ARCHITECTUREHelix 1 rewards the listener with the closest facsimile to master tape yet realised. How do we know this?  Our engineering facilities and listening rooms use several studio...
FEATURES INCLUDEMSA - Micro Signal Architecture©NSM - Negative Stiffness Mechanism Vibration...
It’s no surprise to anyone who’s read my frantic scratchings here the past few months that I am an...
Turntables

Reviews

I have seen a standout in turntable design and it is the Döhmann Helix 1. @ RMAF 2015
Rafe Arnott

REVIEW SUMMARY: The sound the Helix 1 was producing was incredibly compelling, engaging and supremely musical. The level of detail and nuance to the sound, the deep, authoritative bass and immense sound-stage scaling made available through the SAT arm and Lyra pick up were deeply involving. I’d be hard pressed to list another turntable that was as capable as the Helix 1 in producing such an absolutely black, dead-silent background for the music to leap from

It’s no surprise to anyone who’s read my frantic scratchings here the past few months that I am an analogoholic. I will never enter a 12-step program for this unabashed addiction from which I craft numerous fetishes. Rare Japanese MC cartridges? Check. Obscure step-up transformers? Check. British valve amps and phono stages? Check. Turntables designed by Mark Döhmann? CHECK.

Döhmann is quite well-known in international audio design and engineering circles for his advanced analog work since the ’80s with turntables and tonearms.

This turntable is the result of complex, and advanced engineering technologies, the likes of which I’m not getting into too much here, needless to say this is truly next-level thinking in design (to me). The people at Audio Union have a great breakdown on the tech. The Helix 1 features advanced motion control and many proprietary technologies such as incorporating a Negative Stiffness Mechanism (NSM), Vibration Isolation with Mechanical Crossover Technology, and a Tri-Modal Platter system (to name just a few) that sees the 15 Kg platter fitted with an Edge Damping Ring.

From the Audio Union website:
“Helix 1 design is a significant enhancement on state of the art and its motion control defines what will become part of a new breed of “super turntables”.The 120mm (four-inch) plinth is made from precision CNC aircraft grade aluminum and structural alloys and weighs close to 50 kg (100Lbs) when assembled. Connected by a series of interlocking plates which are fitted closely to the MinusK suspension system and allow for the mounting of the sub-systems such as motor, bearing, tonearm combinations. A laminated glass plate is used to add ballast and lower the center-of-mass. This glass plate provides visual access to the MinusK suspension for performance monitoring.

The 15Kg (30Lb) platter is made of triple layer of an engineered thermoplastic (made for Audio Union by a European supplier of polymers), and non-ferrous alloy machined to close tolerances. Each high-mass platter is balanced and shaped for lead-in groove and record label.Special features include an EDR – Edge Damping Ring which damps the platter and LP edge and a damping mat to interface to the LP.”

I managed to get a hold of Döhmann down in Australia via email and a very enlightening phone call with Dave Kleinbeck, who is president of Audio Union International.

Here are the questions I asked, and Döhmann‘s responses:

PTA:
Your long involvement in turntable design and research on many types of turntable drives, isolation, vibration control and damping has led you to Audio Union and the design and current production of the Helix 1. This is a radical design on many levels. How does it feel to have accomplished packing so much technology into one design and have the outcome be such tremendous musicality?

Döhmann:
“I’m very proud to be part of a great team of very talented engineers, scientists and designers at Audio-Union. I admire the work of great watch designers who in the last 20 years have had to adapt to the almost ubiquitous use of digital technology and create timeless mechanical designs with ever more complex movements and features. Some of my favourite designs have a visual feature where you can see all the complex mechanical workings. The Helix One  showcases the mechanics, so one can see the inner workings of the suspension system with all its intricate parts. These inner workings are key to the musicality of the table isolating the core systems from deleterious noise and vibration. It looks simple but to get all the mechanisms to fit without adding more and more outrigger devices is a challenge. We managed to do so using advanced software modelling tools. Having a clear vision of the architecture before starting did help too.”

PTA:
What previous turntable designs and industrial or medical designs did you draw inspiration from in the design of the Helix 1?

Döhmann:
“Emile Berliner, Thomas Edison, Garrard, Neumann, EMT, the great Japanese vintage tables, Rockport, and Meitner definitely provided the inspiration. Industrial designs include classic automotive icons and Frank Lloyd Wright, Denton Corker Marshall architectural influences and the pioneering work of George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic. Medical inspiration was provided by the great technicians at Scottish firm Glenmorangie.  ;)”

PTA:
How has the design and technology incorporated into the Helix 1 influenced your thoughts on future ideas for turntable design?

Döhmann:
“Software driven systems where every parameter is adjustable and tunable. This is the future.

PTA:
Lastly, how critical, in your opinion, is the interface between tonearm and turntable, vs turntable and its environment.

Döhmann:
“The foundation of a good house is often unseen as we focus on the parts we see. But build it on an unstable foundation and you will soon experience the lack of foresight and planning in a crumbling house. The foundation of a turntable is its isolation from the environment it sits on. The Tonearm benefits from this. Look back far enough and you will see speaker floor interactions showing up in Tonearm responses. Remove that interference and you advance the performance. Early EMT tables understood this. Helix One takes that to the level demanded by atomic force microscope users for critical operations. That’s where the world of science has opened the door to better music.”

The sound the Helix 1 was producing was incredibly compelling, engaging and supremely musical. The level of detail and nuance to the sound, the deep, authoritative bass and immense sound-stage scaling made available through the SAT arm and Lyra pick up were deeply involving. I’d be hard pressed to list another turntable that was as capable as the Helix 1 in producing such an absolutely black, dead-silent background for the music to leap from.
........ Rafe Arnott

Combined with the engineering skills of Audio Union it resulted in an incredibly fast sound with great momentum. Differentiation provided by Helix 1 is amazing and the sound reminded me a bit an analog master-tape,... if you seek the truth give it a try
Wojecieh Pacuta

SUMMARY: This is the first known to me turntable built around MinusK system. It is not placed on top of it, it doesn't use it as a decoupling system but actually is integrated with it. Such a radical exploitation of any technology does not happen to often and I'm incredibly curious about results it could yield used for a CD Player.

Combined with the engineering skills of Audio Union it resulted in an incredibly fast sound with great momentum. Differentiation provided by Helix 1 is amazing and the sound reminded me a bit an analog master-tape, ie. there was no warming up of the sound that is characteristic for vinyl records. It comes at a cost of this slight stiffening of the upper bass attack and not really "sweet" treble. Maybe some music lovers will prefer designs that offer richer midrange. However, if you seek the truth, but one that generates interest in material you're listening to, be sure to give it a try, because it's a great example proving how to show abundance of detail and not kill listener with it, how to tell about how the album was recorded, but not spend all time just talking about it.

EXTENDED REVIEW: A trick of a wobbly rack and turntable placed on top of it, which did not even twitch, while the rack wobbled, as if it was about to fall apart, was one of the highlights of this year's High-End Show in Munich (more HERE). Every visitor could approach this product, wobble it personally and than wonder about the solution that made this is possible.

And this is really a really advanced solution. The turntable was in fact integrated with anti-vibration MinusK platform, designed for research laboratories as a support used under electron microscopes and sensitive to external vibrations measuring instruments. A similar pedigree has the Mr. Ken Ishiguro's pneumatic Acoustic Revive RAF-48H platform, used at the University of Tokyo, but in this comparison, it is like a bicycle, and MinusK as high-class Mercedes.

Innovative feature of this solution lies in such decoupling of the element placed on it that the resonance in the horizontal plane equals 1.5 Hz and in the vertical, 0.5 Hz. This is a significant achievement, as it means that they are far below the usable bandwidth. The mechanical, passive system is called Negative-Stiffness Mechanism (NSM), and it uses a solution called the Micro Signal Architecture (MSA), reducing noise and micro-vibrations and it was developed by an American engineer, Mr. Dr. David Platus.

His company MinusK Technology has developed a unique system of mechanical isolation, where the central part rests on a large spring, but in both planes it is supported with thin shanks, which prevent two boards from moving – the upper one, on which the isolated device is placed - and the lower one, which the actual basis. The system is extremely sensitive and needs to be adjusted for a particular load.

AUDIO UNION

His company MinusK Technology has developed a unique system of mechanical isolation, where the central part rests on a large spring, but in both planes it is supported with thin shanks, which prevent two boards from moving – the upper one, on which the isolated device is placed - and the lower one, which the actual basis. The system is extremely sensitive and needs to be adjusted for a particular load.

This is not the first creative manufacturers' group, which included Mark DOHMANN. He is the man who designed the Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn turntable and Cobra tonearm! This turntable has been in Michael Framer's, from the "Stereophile", reference system for years. He is one of the most influential personalities of the analogue world. This realisation of this project was possible thanks to the financial support of David Payes, privately analog audio fanatic, who made a fortune on the PC market.

HELIX 1 TURNTABLE

The novelty of the solutions used in this turntable lies in the fact that the MinusK system is permanently integral with it, or in fact it is the turntable that is integrated with the system. The upper board of the system is at the same time a top cover of the turntable, with motor and platter attached to it, and the lower board is integrated with feet. The whole system can be viewed through a large glass window in the front wall. The upper board is made of precision machined aluminium and integrated with the "collar" screening the platter. It seems that it is serving an aesthetic purpose, because he platter consists of several elements of different diameter, which does not make it look good.

It's a thick aluminium latter, to which via sort of separating layer, a lower, wider platter is fixed. It features three layers - aluminium, metal similar to iron and pasted on the top, fairly soft mat. The brass pin is threaded so that a clamp can be screwed on. One needs to be careful not to overdo it – if you tighten it too much that record might warp.

The motor is bolted in an unusual spot – behind the platter and close to its outer edge. We know this solution from Rega turntables, but in the extreme high-end it is rarely used. It seems that it was just in order to best balance MinusK. Driving torque is transmitted from the high aluminium shaft screwed to the motor shaft, to the bottom platter using two, translucent strips of circular cross-section.

Power to the motor is supplied by a large, massive module, resembling a power amplifier in a well-made aluminium housing. It is connected with turntable using two cables – one for power (4-pin XLR) and another for control and feedback signals (Ethernet). The power supply is in fact a complex, microprocessor-controlled digital voltage converter. When we look at the rear panel we can see another socket, that allows software actualisation. It turns out that the control has a lot of different modes of action, and each of them results in a different sound! Perhaps manufacturer should let users to select one of them?

The turntable can be fitted with two tonearms attached to the dual modules. Originally they were single, and therefore lower, but Polish distributor, RCM, suggested that they needed to be strengthened – and manufacturer agreed. Usually turntable designers seek for the greatest possible rigidity of the arm (stylus) - platter (record) system. Here it is solved differently. The bases of tonearms are suspended on a heavy element, which is in turn suspended on thick pulls and controlled with magnetic cushion. The compliance of this element has to be determined in each case for particular arm/s.

SETUP

As you can see, Helix 1 is not just "another" turntable. It is a decoupled design, but also a mass-loader like once Thorens Prestige. Its decoupling system, however, can move not only up and down but also sideways - SME prided itself on the fact that although their turntables were decoupled, they were forced to move only vertically. This was an element distinguishing them from other decks, eg. from Avid, Linn and so on.

This is an a-typical design, so it requires an unusual preparation. I would suggest using the services of a distributor. They will not only assemble the turntable - and this comes in a large, sturdy box - but perform the whole setting and adjusting. MinusK system is very sensitive to changes in pressure, so it's a pity that the manufacturer did not provide users with an indicator that would inform them whether the turntable is in the optimum position (balance).

Another problem might be turning the rotation on. This is done with two buttons - for 33,33 and 45 rpm, glowing green - "ON" - or red - "OFF". The buttons are located on the board, which on the lightest touch moves, bumping inside the base. In my opinion some sort o locking mechanism would come handy - even a very simple one – that would allow to lock MinusK in a given position (maybe even via remote control).

The person installing the turntable will also be obliged to get rid of hum – the power supply is extremely eager to introduce interference. You can overcome this, but a help of an expert will come handy. Anyway, the PSU must be put as far as possible from the turntable. During this test it was placed a bit too close, but it was acceptable. The idea was to put it on anti-vibration platform - please try it with high quality power cables and elements protecting from RF and EMI interference, such as X Block Brown and you will see for yourself how it changes the sound.

Following my own recommendations I did not participate in the process of turntable assembling (on the upper board of Finite Elemente Pagode Edition). It allowed me to study the design and its execution. Distributor delivered it with Frank Schröder's dedicated CB Tonearm and Shelter Accord (13 500 PLN) cartridge – almost the same setup as with TechDAS Air Force Two. CB is a fantastic tonearm with an unusual length of 9.4 ", and its tube is made of carbon fibre.

The rest of system was my usual setup: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC phonostage, Ayon Audio Spheris III preamplifier, 710 power amplifier and Harbeth M40.1 loudspeakers placed on stands made by Mr. Ken Ishiguro of Acoustic Revive. The signal between phonostage and preamplifier was transmitted using Siltech Triple Crown IC, and Crystal Cable Absolute Dream was used between preamp and power amp.

SOUND

I approached Marek DOHMANN's turntable test with a certain dose of distrust. Apparently on one hand, the designer himself guaranteed a high class of the product and appreciated the idea behind the Helix 1, confirmed by other two, highly respected designer participation in this project, Messrs Frank Schröder and Rumen Atarski, and yet ... Let me put it this way: many smart, accomplished guys in the past came up with something that either turned out not to function well in the real world, or was so technologically ahead of its time that it was impossible to realise the idea exactly as planned. The idea itself is sometimes not enough.

And on top of that there was this irritation, which was growing in me when I was using the turntable – it's quaking during the operation was depressing. And finally, there is this thing that even now, after my conversion to "döhmannizm" bothers me – the turntable's decoupling in all planes was (and still is) for me, contrary to intuition and experience. Because this is one of the features of Avid HiFi turntables, which is raised the supporters of rigid constructions and SME lovers (now also Kronos Audio), that's causing a warming up of the sound and blurring the attack. Plus there is the soft isolation of the tonearm from the platter – a complete heresy.

Although, on the other hand, I could have guessed that there was more to it than just child's curiosity of an engineer who asked "what if ...?" The same goes for Avid turntables, that I really like and that while presenting a certain sonic signature, remain among the most pleasant sounding devices, one of my favourites. If, however, manufacturer used only the original theory, and just decoupling a large mass in all directions, Helix 1 should sound similar to the Avid Reference, right? And maybe even like Kronos Sparta and to some degree as Linn turntables. But in fact it sounds completely different.

I verified my initial expectations to another batch of Polish Jazz reissues. With the first, released a few months earlier, six of these records I assumed that it was only an addition to digital editions (Compact Disc), designed to appeal to young people who have recently bought a turntable and are into vinyl collecting; for true collectors - I thought – new re-issue were unnecessary. I was wrong. Listening and comparing them with the originals and subsequent re-issues proved their high value and made me cautious in my assessments. Ultimately, I had to use a individual approach to each title and each of them could become attractive for both the novice and the experienced vinyl fan.

Another "six" turned out to be even more interesting, mainly due to the stereo (analog) versions of Polish Jazz Quartet and The Andrzej Trzaskowski Quintet (respectively, vol. 3, and vol. 4) albums. Mainly because - I think – the turntable under reviewed was incredibly differentiating device. Differentiation is the ability to show changes in the material, while maintaining its consistency. Only partly it is connected with detail retrieval, because that is associated rather with better selectivity, and it is closer rather to a resolution. Helix 1 in this respect was simply stunning. It showed even little changes between successive pressings of Zbigniew Namysłowski Winobranie (new remaster is coming) in a very firm and solid way, as though it perfectly "knew" how the shape of the grooves tracked by the Shelter's stylus changed and in addition it was able to translate it into language understandable for the listener. Also, any change in the pressing method, in the master (digital or analogue) selection of consecutive releases was perfectly clear.

Which brings us to the place where one should ask oneself how much one cares about the "ruthless" truth, and how much one prefers the "liberating" truth. Contrary to appearances, is not only some logical exercise, or useless theorising, but rather the question of the basic priorities for any audio fan. I introduce this concept, because the differentiation test turntable leads to acceptance. It is rare in audio, where the focus is mostly on negation, because it pushes us forward, provokes us to search for new, better devices and recordings. But here the acceptance comes from having all information on system and particular recording delivered by this turntable, and this knowledge allows us to calmly listen to virtually any pressing and release. I have not found even a single record that I would have to remove from the platter before the music ended.

Another important feature of this design is momentum of the presentation. This is a quality known from top-mass-loader, such as the flagship TechDAS top Transrotors; partially also from the SME 30/12 and said Sparta Kronos Audio. It develops sound in a way that makes us believe that we deal with the real size room, in which the recording was registered and the real size of the instruments. This is obviously a trick, otherwise the audio would have no reason for existing – it is not possible in an average listening room, with loudspeaker smaller than two meters, to reproduce something that would be similar to the real event. Helix 1 does not break the rules of physics, nor "smashes the walls and ceiling". But it is so convincing in it that we almost immediately accept that we actually listen to something real.

Because along with differentiation, momentum and power we get excellent dynamics and attack speed. It is the latter that defines how close does the system approach the real sound. Here it is extremely well done, because even though it's obvious that we listen to recordings, all elements of the sound build up a credibility of the performance. There is, for example, a really fast kick drum, an attack of metal cymbals is reproduced brilliantly, sibilants are clearly marked in vocals (because they are natural part of the voice). But it doesn't stop there – the attack phase is followed with a proper weight of each sound that gives it the momentum I was talking about.

I mentioned the upper part of the band - if was to try to determine the tone of sound that we get from the tested system (turntable + arm + cartridge), I would have to say that it is neither bright nor dark; it does not resemble in this regard either TechDAS Air Force Two nor Kronos Sparta. The closest in terms of colour balance and saturation in my (a bit risky) opinion is TechDAS Air Force One. In a blind test I would probably say that it presented maybe a bit scaled down version of top TechDAS deck. Which considering such fundamental design differences poses questions about the real impact of techniques and technologies on the sound and how we interpret them while listening.

On one hand Helix 1 is characterised by a sonic signature that comes from soft suspension, which would make it closer to other such designs (though, let me add, rather to SME than Kronos and Avid). It offers a beautifully colourful sound, great vividness and lack of harshness; the latter by the owners of the mass-loaders may even be considered as a sign of warmed up sound. But it is not a warm sounding turntable, far from it. It delivers a lively and dynamic sound, rich in detail, with a strong, well controlled bass, which in turn sends us back to the non-suspended turntables. And finally, it is not something in between - let's say (to stay in the same price range) - TechDAS Air Force Two and Kronos Audio Sparta. "Between" always means some compromise and often, unfortunately, lack the advantages of both solution and instead their combined drawbacks. The Mark Döhmann's design offers the best qualities of both competitors, but is not a golden mean but rather a separate, top quality party.

One that remembers the sound of other top turntables could of course point out their particular advantages. Sparta, for example, has a richer lower midrange and in results renders more tangible phantom images, this is how a turntable, understood as the type of a source, sounds like. In my opinion Avid Reference represents very similar type of sound. Air Force One is even better in shaping the leading edge, that is naturally soft, but extremely fast. On the other hand model Two of the same company, as well as once Kuzma Reference, and recently another Reference by Mr. Sikora, have even more accurately portrayed the attack of the sound, they are even better in detail retrieval. Helix 1 sound more like them in this respect than any other, above mentioned, suspended decks. None of them, except perhaps Air Force One, does not render such a fantastic soundstage depth or such momentum as the herewith reviewed turntable.

SUMMARY

This is the first known to me turntable built around MinusK system. It is not placed on top of it, it doesn't use it as a decoupling system but actually is integrated with it. Such a radical exploitation of any technology does not happen to often and I'm incredibly curious about results it could yield used for a CD Player.

Combined with the engineering skills of Audio Union it resulted in an incredibly fast sound with great momentum. Differentiation provided by Helix 1 is amazing and the sound reminded me a bit an analog master-tape, ie. there was no warming up of the sound that is characteristic for vinyl records. It comes at a cost of this slight stiffening of the upper bass attack and not really "sweet" treble. Maybe some music lovers will prefer designs that offer richer midrange. However, if you seek the truth, but one that generates interest in material you're listening to, be sure to give it a try, because it's a great example proving how to show abundance of detail and not kill listener with it, how to tell about how the album was recorded, but not spend all time just talking about it.

DESIGN

The turntable is quite large, but its its actual is much larger than actual area between its feet. The manufacturer recommends that the shelf one intends to place this device on should be at least 620 mm wide and 500 mm deep. It should also have a load capacity of over 70 kg. The basis turntable is made from precision machined aluminium - it has a height of 120 mm. Vibration damping element is made of a polymer, same as the mat. Along with the MinusK system and the platter it adds to the total weight of 50 kg. Front of the base was cut out so that one could see the MinusK system. Weighing 15 kg platter, composed of several layers of different materials, features a lowered centre of gravity. The upper parts has a damping layer in its rim - the solution is called EDR - Edge Damping Ring. One can screw a clamp on the threaded the axis of the platter

The main bearing has been developed specifically for this turntable by Stanislava Stoyanova and is made of so called "maraging steel". Steels of this type are generally characterised by high nickel content, very low carbon content and the use of substitutional elements or precipitates to produce age-hardening. Steel pin rests on ceramic ball. The material used for the lubrication of bearing was sourced from the aviation industry.

The motor has been positioned very close to the main bearings. It is a type of belt drive - two belts of circular cross-section transmit torque to the lower plate. This is a solution with a powerful motor called HTAD - High Torque Adjustable Drive. It is controlled by a digital converter associated with the 16-bit monitoring system allowing to track the platter at 120 000 points per revolution. The controller features many different work modes, that can be accessed via port, which connects to the computer.

The turntable may accommodate one or two 9 "to 12" tonearms. The platforms where the tonearms are installed are not rigidly fixed to the board but decoupled with magnets.

The power supply is fitted into a very solid, well-made aluminium housing. On its front panel there are two switches – with one we can turn off the PSU and deck's logos illumination, and the second turns on the system of pumps that suck the record to the platter. This solution known, eg. from the Air Force One turntable, is optional - the switch in the reviewed unit was inactive. The power supply connects to the turntable with two cables.

Awards

STEREOPHILE Recommended Components: 2017 Edition TURNTABLES - Audio Union Dohmann Helix 1: US$40,000

Designed by Mark Döhmann, who headed the design team at Continuum Audio and now works under the auspices of Bulgaria-based Audio Union, the belt-drive Döhmann Helix 1 was intended to achieve the same goals as the well-regarded Continuum Caliburn turntable, but at a far lower cost.

Incorporating a CNC-machined aluminum-alloy plinth that itself weighs 100 lbs, the Helix 1 also makes use of a Negative Stiffness isolation platform, a high-torque motor with a software-based control system, a 30-lb metal-and-thermoplastic platter with a permanently installed damping mat, and a screw-on record clamp (a retrofittable vacuum hold-down system is in the works). Paired with the Helix 1 is the Captive Bearing (CB) tonearm from Frank Schröder, also a member of the Audio Union design team.

The CB features a carbon-fiber armtube and ultralow-friction hybrid ceramic bearings that include internal magnetic damping of horizontal motion. MF praised the Schröder CB as a "strong performer for $4000, or even more," and also evaluated the Helix 1 turntable with his reference SAT tonearm—an experience that led him to declare that "the Helix lets the music erupt (as I wrote about the Caliburn 11 years ago)."

Mikey concluded:
"Had I installed the Helix 1 in the same 2005 system that provided the context for the Continuum, I'd have written about it what I felt about the Caliburn: 'no turntable in my experience comes close to its sonic performance and you are guaranteed to hear your favorite demo LPs, indeed all of your LPs, as you've never before heard them.'" (Vol.40 No.3)