WILSON BENESCH Circle 25 Anniversary turntable - less tonearm

WB 60 TT C25
NZ$ 4,250.00 ea (incl. GST)
Wilson Benesch

The FUTURE is CARBON

New

"For vinyl lovers, it’s important to know that Wilson-Benesch first began in 1989 as a start-up dedicated to building a turntable simply because it felt vinyl was a superior medium compared to CD. For that reason alone, the company should be venerated. W-B argued that new, emerging technologies like carbon fibre could further elevate vinyl playback.”…….. - Michael Fremer

"This player of jubilee pedigree has more momentum and drive, not only than its cousins in the Wilson Benesch stable, but more than most of its competition. That quality, along with an ability to plunge into the deepest of signal-bearing abysses without losing sight of the music and said signal, makes this one hell of a player to enjoy, to cherish and to keep playing records on"......Trond Torgnesskar, Fidelity Magazine

The Wilson Benesch Circle 25 turntable, produced in honour of the British brand’s 25th anniversary, represents the evolutionary refinements that the company has introduced to its turntables over the years since its founding.

Based on the Wilson Benesch Full Circle turntable, the Circle 25 turntable uses a unique suspension design. “It features unidirectional, high-modulus, carbon-fibre rods,” says Craig Milnes, Wilson Benesch founder, owner, and director. “This elegant solution provides a cantilevered sprung-suspension system; but also, because of their intrinsic super-high stiffness, the rods cannot transfer the resonance that would impact on the crucially important sub-chassis, which holds both the bearing and the tonearm.”

Additionally, the turntable’s new Delrin composite plinth is considerably more rigid than its predecessor’s, which used medium-density fibreboard. Lifting the platter from the sub-chassis reveals its elegant machining and assembly. From the plinth and suspension design to the unique kinematic bearing used since 1989, the Circle 25 makes it extremely easy for the user to set up and begin listening.

An improved main bearing reduces platter vibration, while a Wilson Benesch A.C.T. 25 tonearm and matching Ply phono cartridge, which come preinstalled, eliminate the need for a complicated setup process. Wilson Benesch employs a unique method for laying the carbon fibre when producing the A.C.T. 25 tonearm (the same technique used to make the company’s loudspeakers and subwoofers), giving the tonearm superior rigidity and weight reduction compared to its predecessor.

The Wilson Benesch Circle 25 turntable is available with a black or white finish

In any design, ultimate high performance can only be attained when all the components have been optimised to work in harmony. Following this philosophy Wilson Benesch have taken all design and manufacturing in house to create the Circle 25 turntable. Using State of the Art Dassault CAD/CAM Systems, Wilson Benesch precision engineer each component in the Circle 25, within a tolerance of 0.01mm, to create a perfectly engineered masterpiece.

Forming the principle structural components of the Circle 25, the distinctive two-part Polyoxymethylene (POM) circular plinths replace the MDF plinths used in the original circle design. POM is a high-grade engineering homopolymer exhibiting superior stiffness and a higher damping coefficient.

The lower plinth houses the motor assembly, which is isolated from the upper plinth by three lossy polymer nodes. In turn, the upper plinth sees three alloy nodes meet with unidirectional carbon fibre cantilevers to create a unique sub-chassis suspension. The carbon fibre cantilevers are central to the success of the Circle 25 design. They exhibit exceptional stiffness and energy damping, providing a solid reference point for the platter and damping any structural borne resonance. This highly optimised design translates directly into the sonic presentation of the Circle 25, creating a wide-open soundstage, with the ‘blackness’ and solid quality to the analogue sound.

The final element is the bearing. The Circle 25 references the past to redefine the future. Taking elements of the original bearing design, the new bearing combines a hardened steel shaft and captive ball bearing, with a phosphor bronze bearing hub. With a highly polished surface finish, the bearing ensures the lowest possible level of friction and noise, while being phenomenally resistant to wear.

A turntable is purely a system of measurement, designed to allow a ~10nm (0.000001mm) cantilever tip to trace a ~50µm (0.05mm) groove in a piece of vinyl. By considering the microscopic level, it is then easy to appreciate the beauty of the Circle 25 design. What appears a simple design is in fact a complex and highly engineered analogue replay system.

Features

Specifications

Reviews

Features

POLYOXYMETHYLENE CHASSIS
Polyoxymethylene (POM) is a high-grade engineering polymer that exhibits superior stiffness and damping properties versus the MDF used in the original design. In addition, POM is a more dense material, with a higher mass making the Circle 25 3kg heavier than the original design. With this additional mass at the base of the turntable, the overall stability and energy damping of the Circle 25 is vastly improved.

Another advantage of POM is its excellent machinability. You would never construct a turntable from solid aluminium, owing to the fact the material would resonate and damp structural borne energy poorly. However, POM has a material hardness akin to aluminium, but exhibits excellent damping properties. This allows  Wilson Benesch to bring manufacturing of the Circle 25's two POM plinths entirely in house. Both machining and finishing is done in one process, allowing a high precision component to be realised with a beautiful machined finishing as seen in the Wilson Benesch R1 HiFi Rack.

CANTILEVER CARBON FIBRE SUSPENSION
The immensely stiff carbon fibre cantilevers in the Circle 25 act like springs, damping energy as a result of their high longitudinal specific stiffness.

The Circle 25 uses two different diameter carbon cantilevers in the design; Three smaller 3.7mm diameter cantilevers isolate the bearing hub from the upper POM plinth via the three aluminium hubs, while two larger 12.3mm diameter cantilevers isolate the arm hub from the bearing hub.

The large diameter cantilevers provide very high specific stiffness, ensuring maximum stability in the arm hub. The smaller diameter cantilevers have a lower specific stiffness, allowing for more energy damping.

The carbon fibre cantilever suspension system is a highly tuned and unique approach to turntable suspension design

ACRYLIC PLATTER
The Circle 25 is supplied with a precision-machined acrylic platter that has been turned in house at Wilson Benesch. This critical component must be machined perfectly to ensure that the vinyl on the platter spins true.

OPTIMISED BEARING
The Circle 25 bearing is a highly engineered, precision-machined set of components produced from phosphor bronze and hardened steel.

The steel sub-platter meets with a hardened steel shaft, which in turn holds captive, a hardened steel ball bearing in the base of the bearing hub. The bearing hub is machined from phosphor bronze, which comprises the shaft and the end cap. These two elements form the critical meeting point with the captive hardened steel ball bearing. Highly polished and resistant to wear, these components legislate for the lowest level of friction and noise within the bearing.

Machined and finished in house, every component used in the Circle 25 bearing has been manufactured to exacting tolerances, guaranteeing the bearing at the heart of the Circle 25 is perfectly aligned and accurate.

Specifications

DESIGN
Advanced materials used throughout.
Totally unique design concept.
Low mass design.
Immensely stiff unidirectional carbon fibre rods used in the principle structural components.
High tolerance phosphor bronze plain bearing with tool steel spindle.

DIMENSIONS
Diameter: 305mm (12")
Stacked Height: 140mm (5.5")
Weight per Channel: 4kg (9 lbs) or 8kg (18 lbs) with stand

FINISHES
Machine finished polyoxy methylene plinths (black or white)
Colour coded, silk finish support hubs and casings
Machine finished translucent acrylic platter

Reviews

What a way to honour the Wilson Benesch turntable legacy. This will undoubtedly become a firm favourite for years to come. Hats off to the good people of Falcon House, Sheffield.
Trond Torgnesskar - Norway,
SUMMARY: Launched in celebration of the company’s 25th Anniversary in 2014, the Circle 25 Turntable was re-engineered from the original classic Circle that attracted an almost cult like following due to its unique design and its totally different approach to suspension design that sees carbon fibre materials technology used in a cantilever design.
 
And herein lies, at least in my humble opinion, the genius that is the WB Circle 25.
It carries the torch of former WB turntables and has all of the qualities of the earlier models, but it also has a more insisting way about it. A bit more torque, so to speak. It literally leans a bit more forward, not in the sense of sounding forward as such, but in sounding a bit more alert, a little bit bigger and an ounce more dynamic, with more generous amounts of information, especially in the depths that the music might plunge into. And it handles it all with guts.
......Trond Torgnesskar, Fidelity Magazine, Norway,

This player of jubilee pedigree has more momentum and drive, not only than its cousins in the Wilson Benesch stable, but more than most of its competition. That quality, along with an ability to plunge into the deepest of signal-bearing abysses without losing sight of the music and said signal, makes this one hell of a player to enjoy, to cherish and to keep playing records on......Trond Torgnesskar, Fidelity Magazine, Norway

EXTENDED REVIEW: Since I actually use this players spiritual grandfather as my long time reference, I was naturally eager to listen to the new Circle 25 in my own set-up over a period of time. The standard WB Circle, insofar as such an iconic player can even be called «standard», is one of my all-time favourites in high end vinyl replay, and has even had its stint as player of choice in our magazines reference setup. It surfaced in the late nineties, but is now out of production, so the Wilson Benesch analog torch has been taken over by the Circle 25. A very thorough revision of a classic of The Circle's magnitude naturally takes both time and effort, simply because one would not like to leave a stone unturned, I should think. The classic design elements of the Circle are still very much the same, I am very glad to say… but the finish seem to have been taken further up a notch..
Arms and development

At first glance, there does not seem to be too many alterations done, actually. But then you look closer, only to realise that in such a product, there are both beauty and upgrades that are more than skin deep. The circular plinth itself is now made of a composite called POM, which is much more dense, a full 3kgs heavier and has better anti-vibrational properties than the former mdf..That translates into an altogether better base, even better at withstanding resonant- and vibrational energies, simply put.

The carbon fibre rods that form the sub-chassis together with the pontoon - like structures have also gained diameter, to better drain away vibration. The platter bearing is a even better version of the old phosphor bronze/steel one used in the original Circle, resulting in ultra low friction, noise and wear. This means gains in dynamics, absolute silence and the blackness between the notes, so to speak. The supplied ACT 25 arm is in fact a reworking of the old top-of-the-range ACT Two, and that says a lot about the ambitions of the C25-project. The old ACT Two is an arm of the utmost quality, capable of giving many of its «mega-buck-and then-some»-competitors a run for its money. It is my personal reference, and short of getting a Nanotube, I have never felt like upgrading. The fact that the 25 arm betters the old is nothing short of remarkable.

All the effort that has been put into the development of this arm are really easily appreciated. With such total control of the vibrational energies created by the cartridge and sent via the armtube, not to mention the bearing noise and the resonances of vinyl replay, you as a listener will undoubtedly find the sound to be free of haze and distortion, cleaner, more alive, vibrant, detailed and very natural. Like all Wilson Benesch pick up-arms, the 25 has a tapered carbon fibre armtube of ultra high rigidity, stiffness and anti-resonant properties. Granted, there are other manufacturers also championing carbon fibre armtubes, but a mere glance at the 25 arm tells you that what you see here is of quite another class and character. After all, Wilson Benesch started using and mastering carbon fibre long before the rest of the trade even knew how to even pronounce it.

Subtle? I think not. 

We are not talking subtle changes here, in other words. Another change is the fact that the Circle 25 comes without a cartridge, unlike its predecessor. The Benz-sourced, but carbon-fibre-injected WB Ply of earlier days is no longer in production, so a prospective buyer must choose another supplier of «needlework». Given the aforementioned qualities of the 25 arm, that should not be a difficult task. The newcomer was placed on my Wilson Benesch Triptych turntable stand, and equipped with my Koetsu Urushi Signature cartridge, its signals being fed into the riaa- stage of my Hovland HP 100 i

preamp. For some weeks of the review period, the Circle 25 was also connected to a PS Audio P10 Power Plant.

The Circle 25 is made in such a way that it is easy to live with and relate to. The instruction manual is virtually impossible not to understand, and the player itself is as «set-and-forget» as it is possible to be. Once you have set it up and found a place to put it, you do really not have to bother with springs, further adjustments or other things bugging you. On the subject of placement, there is actually a Circle turntable stand that makes the whole setup look even more futuristic and simplistically elegant, but I did not have the chance to try it. The material used for the plinth makes the C25 quite immune to vibration, and therefore not too critical when it comes to placement, but to make it perform its best and display what it can really do, care must be taken. There are differences!

A felt mat? Really?

Upon placing the C25 on my dedicated stand, I really had to think about the fact that the good guys of Falcon House really did not see the need to upgrade the felt mat. What is it with our friends in the U.K and their persistence when it comes to using felt on a turntable?? Could anyone please tell me? It does not seem to be an integral part of such a masterful design, but well, I will give it a chance, even though I have my thoughts. In my view, felt is ok used in slippers, Christmas decorations and on pool tables, but it has no place on a turntable, and certainly not on one of this calibre.

Wilson Benesch tells me that they are launching a series of upgrades to further enhance the inherit qualities of the Circle 25, the first one of these being a record clamp of matte black composite, with an aluminium tightener, complete with the company logo. Quite a beauty to behold, and in keeping with the players aesthetic qualities. Now, is a new and far better mat too much to wish for, Gentlemen? It makes a difference, you know! Since it is supposed so screw down on the centre spindle, this needs to be grooved, but for some reason, the grooves do not run down long enough to allow the clamp to be used if the felt mat is taken off. After having adjusted the setup, the first record to make this beautiful summer Saturday even better, was one that to me is quintessentially British. We are talking «Abbey Road», of course. And one of the finest songs of the last fifty years, George Harrison's «Here comes the sun» is first off.

Layers upon layers 

There are many layers to be found in George Martin´s beautifully crafted production, and the Circle 25 really displays such an open and uncluttered window into the music making of the Fab Four that i really felt transported to the world's most famous recording studio on those summer days of 1969. I have had this recording since I was nine or so, but i still found details, rhythmic shifts and tone colours that I honestly can't say I have experienced before. The Circle 25 has such a tremendous grip on both rhythm and bass reproduction that it sounded like a layer of grit had been torn aside, exposing McCartneys bass work and the fluid quality of his playing like no record deck I have ever used, apart form my own. That is really saying something! The music just swings along, feet tapping, giving me, the lucky listener , first hand knowledge of

the goings on in the studio during the recording of one of the best records of all time. . Or at least that was what it all felt like. The music ebbs and flows, it feels so natural and right, giving goosebumps to all that came into the room. My girlfriend just stood there, totally amazed. This is one of her favourite records ever. The Circle 25 gives such tremendous insight, it delivers such uncanny openness, but it does this without ever sounding dry. It strikes a fantastic balance between openness and palpability, tone colour, naturalness and sheer rhythmic heft. There is nothing anaemic about the music coming off
the Circle 25. It has an openness and an insight that stretches down to the deepest abyss, telling the listener just what is in the signal. And what is not.

If you have been doing a fair bit of listening to recorded music, you probably know that getting this balance so right is one of the most difficult things a maker of stereo equipment can undertake, and one it seems that many do not fully master. That is why many components sound like hifi, and others, like the Circle 25, simply do not. They sound like music being played. That is quite another thing. Here, Wilson Benesch's knowledge of how to deal with a fragile signal becomes very apparent, especially when it comes to seeing that no harm comes to it by not submitting it to vibration and resonances of all kinds. But such insight would not really matter if it was not followed by just as deep a knowledge of the effects of interplay, timing, tonal shadings and instrumental qualities. In short, how making music on different instruments sounds like in real life. There is a profound difference in giving you as a listener an utterly believable experience of a recording of a piano being played and the experience of the actual sound of the piano. That is the kind of quality I am talking about.

The sheer size of the «three-dimensionality» of sound that the C 25 gives the listener is really rather remarkable. An airy, palpable, colourful, breathing, realistic sound-field with gorgeous tone colours and a really deeply rooted, utterly solid, but still almost transparent bass quality. This transparent way of going about the bass gives the C25 both a potentially thunderous, but also nimble quality not easily described. But trust me, it is there.

Furthermore, the Circle 25 has an insisting, eager quality to its music making that was not apparent in the more laid back older Circle. It has a faster way with its transient response, and seem to be on the altogether faster, snappier side. it also sounds larger and more generous, giving a more enveloping experience, like it is even easier to reach out and touch the players in the orchestra. I think that all translates into sounding a wee bit more «live». The classic Circle really had a way with making records sound more «real», and the 25 has actually upped the ante here. Musicians and their instruments are rendered with such generous helpings of both musical insight and sheer weight. Listening to the 25, you will not miss a single detail of what is on the recording, provided you are awake enough. But this tremendous amount of recorded detail is not hurled at you like fragments, but presented as a dynamic, natural and coercive whole, devoid of the signal break-up tendencies of lesser components, that often sound unnaturally detailed. Here, you get fluidity, rhythm, control and musical realism. The qualities of the abyss…and that of cardboard.

This player of jubilee pedigree has more momentum and drive, not only than its cousins in the Wilson Benesch stable, but more than most of its competition. That quality, along with an ability to plunge into the deepest of signal-bearing abysses without losing sight of the music and said signal, makes this one hell of a player to enjoy, to cherish and to keep playing records on. The sheer impulsiveness of its deepest bass, the fluidity of its playing and the amounts of information it transports back to the listener is nothing short of immense. When subjected to such colourful cascades of information, it is advised that you sit down, or else you might just fall over. Given that you have a system that can take it. The force and impulsiveness, the sound of air set in motion, gives you bass that is full of information, not one that is more akin to the sound of a frustrated man kicking a wet cardboard box. If the latter is more to your taste, you are kindly asked to look elsewhere. All this display of inherit qualities does of course demand a more than decent cartridge. You would be wise to look in the direction of Kiseki, Koetsu, Acoustical Systems, VdH or the upmarket Dynavectors. It really is that good. 

It really insists that you listen to what is being played, and that was very apparent on Rickie Lee Jones famous debut release of 1979, and on Bill Evans and Monica Zetterlunds utterly wonderful «Waltz for Debby» of 1964. The Circle 25 played both these two releases like there was no tomorrow, energy, colour and drive by the spades. Especially the latter was rendered in a way that really told us what was being played in an old movie studio in Gothenburg three magical days in July fifty-two years ago. The totally unforced shifts that the Circle 25 displays between laidback musings and full-force,

commanding dynamism is really uncanny, and not easily found at any price. Furthermore, it really is the backbone of naturalness. The Circle 25 delivers it all without seemingly even breaking a sweat. That is what is really impressive! And herein lies, at least in my humble opinion, the genius that is the WB Circle 25. It carries the torch of former WB turntables and has all of the qualities of the earlier models, but it also has a more insisting way about it. A bit more torque, so to speak. It literally leans a bit more forward, not in the sense of sounding forward as such, but in sounding a bit more alert. a little bit bigger and an ounce more dynamic, with more generous amounts of information, especially in the depths that the music might plunge into. And it handles it all with guts.

On Robert Plants masterful desert-rock epic «Lullaby..and the ceaseless roar», a recording difficult enough to make sense of regardless of equipment, the insight, colourful naturalness and open, unforced qualities of the 25 comes to the rescue, delivering a sea of sounds, structures, rhythms and musicality that transforms into a intoxicating brew that you just want to play again and again. The 25 really cuts through layers of fog and distortion, giving a much more coherent picture of the musical events. It gives you the masterpiece this record really is. Oh, how slow and sirupy many other decks tend to sound in comparison! The same thing happened when I played the track «Fifth of Firth» from my old Prog-rock heroes of

Genesis. More speed, drive, complexity and timbre than I am accustomed to, making the record sounding faster, but with the same amount of weight. The 25 really gives you the full picture, or circle, if you will. It lays bare the soul-wrenching heartache of Rickie Lee Jones´ «Rainbow Sleeves», just as it exposes her intense joy for all to hear in «Under the boardwalk», not to mention every ounce of angst in David Bowies personal requiem, «Black Star» I very much doubt you will miss anything with the Circle 25. You get the music of your records delivered to your sensory system with all the nerve, drive, timbre, emotion and colour there is. Some of it you probably knew about, but some will be a totally new experience. Making this kind of a record player is quite an accomplishment, but it strikes me as an even greater one given the price. And on the subject of the price, if you are considering the Circle 25, a word about the effect of the record clamp. Apart from the fact that it really looks the business, it makes the bottom end seem a bit fuller (not that you , being of sound mind, will ever miss the fullness if you use the 25 nee clamp…) and the sound-fields seem to stretch a bit further to the back. It adds a certain depth to the image, and imparts a certain calmness to the treble that might suit some types of music, but take the edge off others.

Since the Circle 25 has an acrylic platter, and acrylic probably is the chosen material due to its acoustical qualities being close to those of vinyl, some might want to use the 25 without the mat. I mentioned the fact that the spindle is not sufficiently grooved for the clamp to be used without mat to the good people at Wilson Benesch, and this is being looked into, and may well be sorted by the time you read this. 

Like the Circle of yore, even the 25 responds to different tweaks in a way that makes it relatively easy, if not necessarily cheap, to customise the sound, or even make it an even better player.For example, I know of no other player that respond to such a degree by changing the power cord to a more upmarket one. By going for one from Transparent, PS or  Wireworld, it sort of tidied up a bit, and made the sound even more dimensional, the contrasts becoming more vivid. It has such a wide open signature that you should be able to hear even quite small changes to the infrastructure. And when you use a player of this pedigree and caliber, why not go all the way?

We few and fortunate ones that call ourselves audiophiles, always searching for the lost chord, so to speak, are not known for listening with any sort of handbrake engaged. Our stereo setup tend to be the main piece of furniture, and it must be a revelation to be able to tweak or upgrade a turntable of immense quality in small increments, making it into a player that takes no prisoners at all. So, with all this in mind, what happens when you throw away the felt mat, my personal gripe?

Well, I ended up using the mat that I use on my WB ACT One TT. that two-piece little number from FoQ Components of Japan. One thin, rubbery mat with large holes, one thicker, plain one to be put on top. That resulted inn a bass quality of even more resolution and detail, and slightly more open and fluid midrange. Definite steps upwards, if you ask me. And in a sense, you do, don't you? You simply hear even more of what is there, or at least, it becomes even more vivid.

With these small adjustments (or without them, by all means!) the Circle 25 is in my opinion impossible not to take into consideration if you are looking for a turntable the of utmost quality, without braking the bank and taking out yet another mortgage. For what it actually is, the price of the C 25 is really a bargain. It, like its predecessors ACT One and Circle, really redefines the amount of quality available at a given price. This really is a piece of democratic high-end turntablery, no less.  I use the term «democratic» because this player enables the owner to enjoy qualities that stretches far beyond its price, and in a time when high end hifi are often priced in the extremes, this gives the C25 a certain «democratic» quality.

Taken my preferences into account, and the fact that I use the Circle 25´s spiritual ancestor as a reference, albeit with a better power cord and cables, upgraded PSU, a large PS power Plant and better mat, of course…), I can honestly say that I struggle to come up with a competitor that even comes close to delivering this kind of quality at anything near this price.
The Circle 25 turned out to be even more of an accomplished giant-slayer than the Circle. Time will tell what kind of resistance it can offer.

The Circle 25 is significant upgrade on what is one of Fidelity's all time favourite turntables. The 25 really is quite a lot better, and succeeds in showing even much more expensive competitors how it is done. What a way to honour the Wilson Benesch turntable legacy. This will undoubtedly become a firm favourite for years to come. Hats off to the good people of Falcon House, Sheffield.

You have really done me proud.
....... Trond Torgnesskar

 
The Full Circle follows a lineage chock-full of careful research..... the piano now dances around the soundstage with a syncopated swing, as the bass provides a steady underpinning in contrast to the flighty keys
Paul Rigby

SUMMARY: The vocals finally reveal the multi-tracked nature of the recording in clear tones, providing new focus to the delivery.  The upper midrange, supported here by the synth backing and guitar, is now calm and smooth, without a hint of brightness.  Superb instrumental separation also allows the ear to hear each instrument from different angles as each settles into the soundstage.

The bass offers a low-frequency tone and shade that extends the melodic range of the song, with the overall soundstage now showing a new depth and height.

EXTENDED REVIEW: You could save up what it would cost to buy yourself a Porsche Cayman S or a two-week holiday in the Bahamas, and still not be able to afford a set of Wilson Benesch’s top-of-the-range Cardinal speakers.  So when the British manufacturer offered its Full Circle turntable up for review, I was initially wondering just how many circles would be on the price tag—surprisingly, not many.  In fact, the Full Circle (complete with the company’s A.C.T. 0.5 tonearm and Ply MC cartridge) turned out to be a relatively low-cost, high-value bundle.!

And, while some decks look like they are all elbows and sharp angles, the Full Circle is all curves, once I got it out of the packaging and put it together.  The assembly took about 30 minutes.

The Full Circle follows a lineage chock-full of careful research.  The deck is a direct descendent of the company’s first turntable effort, which it released in 1990 as the first deck to feature carbon-composite structures and which Wilson Benesch soon followed with the world’s first hyperbolic curved tonearm.  To create the current iteration of the table, the company upgraded the motor and dropped the sprung suspension, which it replaced with a combination of compliant rubber and carbon-fibre cantilevers.

In terms of the chassis design, the Full Circle “is constructed of two component parts,” says Craig Milnes, Wilson Benesch’s Design Director.  “The lower part has the motor attached to it.  The upper part is where the vinyl is transcribed and so it has to be isolated from the vibrations of the motor.  The task was to link the two systems but isolate them at the same time.  Between the top sandwich and the bottom sandwich, you have rubber compliant feet that deal with the load frequency coming from the motor.”

A secondary system, says Milnes, tackles the high frequencies, utilising thin carbon-fibre rods that sit between three aluminium pillars, which are on top of the second sandwich.  A stainless-steel sub-platter features a phosphor-bronze bearing and also serves as the host for the belt.  A piece of felt lies on top of the acrylic platter.

The 0.5 tonearm sits on a carbon-infused steel rod and utilises an intriguing kinematic bearing system, which is formed by three captive ball bearings, with a fourth bearing dropped into the centre to locate the arm.  This system, says Milnes, is superior to a normal ball-race system, because it removes the stiction problems that require a force to change the bearing’s state from stop to go, and also eliminates the unipivot design, which can suffer from excess wear around the bearing tip.  “Even if the kinematic balls wear,” says Milnes, “the rate of change will be the same on every one of the balls and will have no effect on the centre of the point of movement.”

But perhaps the most integral feature of the tonearm is its carbon-fibre tube.  While carbon fiber is a popular design material, it is often poorly implemented, according to Milnes.  “Off-the-shelf carbon rods might be stiff, but they’re not damped,” he says.  “To do it correctly, it has to be optimised.”  For the 0.5, doing it correctly entailed creating a one-off tool that enabled the company to produce an arm with a homogeneous, integrated headshell and enhanced dampening by allowing the carbon fibre to flow in a twin-walled, overlapping, double-helix pattern.  “Everything about the tonearm is unique,” says Milnes.  “We went out on a limb to prove that the result was possible.  The headshell has to have different characteristics than the arm.  It requires super stiffness and super damping, but you also want it to flow naturally into the tube so that the energy that flows from the headshell goes into the rest of the tonearm, where it can be absorbed and damped.  This is the stiffest tonearm in the world and it’s the most highly damped tonearm in the world.”

The final part of the Full Circle package is the Ply cartridge, which utilizes a generator from Benz Glider.  Wilson Benesch then adds its own carbon-fibre body.

Sounding Off

There are two reasons to buy a Full Circle: to invest in a new midrange system, or to take the first step in a hi-fi upgrade.  For the latter, I wanted to find out exactly what a Full Circle offers, so I hooked up a Rega RP3 turntable, Rega Brio-R integrated amp and Spendor S3/5R2 speakers with Tellurium Q Blue speaker cables.

Mounting the Full Circle on its pedestal stand, I played “Tribal Statistics,” from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band 1983 album Somewhere in Afrika.  Attempting to replicate a bare-bones upgrade, I temporarily shunned a phono amp and plugged the Full Circle directly into the Brio-R’s phono section.  I immediately detect a dramatic reduction in distortion, an increase in clarity and an ordered, structured soundstage, while each instrumentalist now has space to manoeuvre.  The music flows, rather than sounding squeezed out of the speakers.  The bass is not necessarily weightier, but it is full of character and integrated within the mix, while synths have a textural, informative presentation.  The vocals prove to be nuanced and delicate.

I then add the Trichord Dino phono amp to better support the Ply moving-coil cartridge, and the music jumps from very good to spectacular.  The entire soundstage opens up, with the bass roaring from the Full Circle with both mass and authority, while the percussion provides a forceful rhythm that grounds the entire track.  The vocal performance is full and rich, and the midrange is dynamic, offering greater breath and reach.

Turning to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Bewitched,” via Speakers Corner’s reissue of the Rodgers & Hart Songbook, I find the smooth tones of the vocals both clear and free from stress, while the lazy percussion, which normally sits hidden behind the piano, is now visible, adding depth to the mix.  The piano now dances around the soundstage with a syncopated swing, as the bass provides a steady underpinning in contrast to the flighty keys.

So how far can the Full Circle go?  I integrate it with my reference system, replacing the Circle stand with a Decent Audio wall stand. Starting this time with Fitzgerald, I notice a new layering within her intonation changing the focus of the delivery.  The track’s guitar, which was almost unnoticeable previously, now emerges like a butterfly from a cocoon, providing added depth and complexity to the overall performance.  The piano also has a new grandeur that takes nothing away from its jazz tones but that does give the song added gravitas and weight.  Meanwhile, the bass offers a low-frequency tone and shade that extends the melodic range of the song, with the overall soundstage now showing a new depth and height.

When I move back to Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, the Full Circle almost pins me to the rear wall.  The bass is shatteringly powerful, pushing me to the rear of my chair with its drive, while extending the range of the lower frequencies.  The vocals finally reveal the multi-tracked nature of the recording in clear tones, providing new focus to the delivery.  The upper midrange, supported here by the synth backing and guitar, is now calm and smooth, without a hint of brightness.  Superb instrumental separation also allows the ear to hear each instrument from different angles as each settles into the soundstage.

Tweakable

The Full Circle proves that it is highly tweakable.  For example, I replace the supplied felt mat with an Oyaide BR-12 mat (approx. $140), which opens up the soundstage further, tightens up the bass, reduces the distortion and improves clarity, while adding focus to the overall presentation.

Topping the Full Circle off with an Oyaide STB-MS vinyl stabiliser (approx. $250) gives the music a sharp emphasis and adds to the weight of the lower frequencies, providing much greater stability to the overall presentation.  The whole delivery of the soundstage exudes control and solidity.

Elegantly designed, well made and easy to install, the Wilson Benesch Full Circle gives a typical hi-fi system a confident and commanding suite of lower frequencies, with an airy midrange that oozes detail.  Showing that it also responds well to tweaks and other improvements, the Full Circle will prove an ideal purchase for beginners as well as audiophiles and hi-fi enthusiasts.
......  Paul Rigby

Despite the music industry’s struggles to maintain sales, the small but trendy world of turntables continue to surge in popularity.
Robert Archer

Despite the music industry’s struggles to maintain sales, the small but trendy world of turntables continue to surge in popularity. Not too long ago, Audio Reference, a high-end audio New Zealand based importer / distributor added the British turntable and analog product manufacturer Wilson Benesch to its product line.

Serving the high-performance audio category for decades, the U.K. company recently announced that it is celebrating its 25th anniversary with the release of its Circle 25 Turntable and A.C.T. 25 Tonearm.

According to the company, like past Wilson Benesch products, the turntable and tonearm utilize carbon fiber for the rigidity and lightweight properties the material offers, as well as other materials to support its goals of state-of-the-art performance. Starting with the turntable’s plinth, Wilson Benesch says the Circle 25 features a plinth made in-house from the material homopolymer that is said to provide the table with a stiff and dense plinth with high levels of damping across the audio band.

Wilson Benesch also points out that it has made improvements to its turntable designs in the area of its bearings. The company says its latest bearing has been redesigned with a multi-element construction that it says reduces friction and noise levels.

Looking at the A.C.T. 25 Tonearm, Wilson Benesch claims its carbon fiber-based solution is the world’s lightest and stiffest tonearm, offering 10 times the stiffness of titanium and half the mass of aluminum. The company adds the tonearm’s kinematic bearing features three 1mm carbon-chrome ball bearings that are held in place by a brass ball cap that is located at the end of the arm stem. A fourth ball is retained by a brass mount located in the egg-shaped housing at the end of the tonearm.

Summing up the Circle 25 Turntable and A.C.T. 25 Tonearm, Wilson Benesch notes that more than 90 percent of the products are manufactured in-house from raw materials.

Overall, the Wilson-Benesch Circle 25 and A.C.T. 25 combo is a compact, extremely attractive, easy to use vinyl playback system that provided a great deal of listening pleasure.
Michael Fremer  |  Sep 25, 2015 (model since upgraded)

Conclusion: (note - this model has since been upgraded) The Wilson-Benesch Circle 25 turntable and A.C.T. 25 tone arm was a revolutionary product when introduced and all these years later it remains a unique design. I think the arm is the real star here. I’d like to hear it on other ‘tables to really find it what it can do. The A.C.T. 25 arm was an excellent tracker and very stable in the groove. How it “sounded” independent of the ‘table is a question I can’t at this time answer.
This combo sets up easily and the set-up is basically fool-proof thanks to the design and excellent instructions. 
Overall, the Wilson-Benesch Circle 25 and A.C.T. 25 combo is a compact, extremely attractive, easy to use vinyl playback system that provided a great deal of listening pleasure. 

EXTENDED REVIEW: For vinyl lovers, it’s important to know that Wilson-Benesch first began in 1989 as a start-up dedicated to building a turntable simply because it felt vinyl was a superior medium compared to CD. For that reason alone, the company should be venerated. W-B argued that new, emerging technologies like carbon fiber could further elevate vinyl playback.

Carbon fibre was a relatively exotic material back in 1998 when I first reviewed the Full Circle turntable and ACT 0.5 arm. Perhaps carbon fibre wasn’t exotic in certain circles, but in audio—especially in turntable and tone arm construction—it was.

Today carbon fibre is relatively common place and used even in relatively inexpensive turntables and tone arms from companies like Pro-Ject as well as on more exotic and expensive product like the $28,000 Swedish Analog Technology arm, that claims to use a more sophisticated construction methodology, as well as others from Canada and New Zealand.

As W.B. says on its website: “…there are actually very few designs which utilise highly engineered, geometrically optimised carbon composite structures. This includes the increasingly common single diameter carbon fibre tonearm tubes”. In other words all “carbon fibre” products are not constructed identically.

Please read the full review linked above for the older Full Circle ‘table and A.C.T. 05 arm basics as well as detailed description and description of the sonics. You’ll also find fascinating the story of how the turntable came to be. Keep in mind that both the new arm and ‘table, though similar looking to the old, have been completely re-worked.

I chose to re-visit the revamped Circle 25/A.C.T. 25 combo (“A.C.T.” stands for “Advanced Composite Technology”) both because it was an interesting and innovative design back in 1998 and because with the passing of seventeen years since the first review I wanted to see and hear how the ‘table and arm stand up to the competition and whether or not my opinion of the ‘table has changed over the years, now that I have all of that additional reviewing experience.

The original Full Circle has been refined in numerous ways since 1998, especially in terms of the materials used for its circular split plinth, which was formerly made of MDF (medium density fiber board) but is now fabricated from POM (polyoxylmethylene)—a thermoplastic with attributes that include high stiffness and dimensional stability.

The switch to POM adds about six and a half pounds to the ‘table’s mass but more importantly POM is stiffer and more dense than MDF and has a superior damping coefficient, which W-B (incorrectly) claims on its website produces a “lower signal to noise ratio”. Of course they mean lower noise, which produces a higher signal to noise ratio. Oops. The claimed benefits of the higher signal to noise ratio are improved sound-staging, imaging and overall clarity.

The ‘table features a new bearing design though still utilizing a phosphor bronze bushing and hardened steel spindle—all machined in-house.

The round base, about the same diameter as the platter, is a smoothly finished wafer of POM on which is mounted a raised On/Off rocker switch and an AC-synchronous motor, the latter housed in a structure tall enough to protrude through a hole in the next layer of POM, which rests on the base via three elastomer feet.

Mounted on this POM layer are three satiny aluminium discs—two large, one small—that surround a much larger central disc, into which is fitted the phosphor-bronze spindle bearing. This central disc is suspended from the second base via a pair of small-diameter, "unidirectional" carbon-fibre rods, creating a cantilevered leaf-spring–like structure.

The aluminium arm-mounting platform is itself cantilevered off of the base via three more carbon-fibre tubes: two far thicker ones sustained by the bearing support disc, and a thinner one held by the smallest of the three surrounding aluminium discs, which is the disc closest to the armboard. Though both of these cantilevered structures are extremely stiff, they flex when pressed.

The motor’s close proximity to the sub-platter and the “O”-ring drive is in many ways similar to Rega’s basic drive concept—something I didn’t take note of in the original review—though W-B’s execution appears more costly than that of the top Rega I’ve examined (the RP8) and the main bearing is (I think) of a larger diameter. The Circle 25, like its predecessor uses a two step brass pulley.

The A.C.T. 25, which has an effective length of 233mm and an overhang of 18mm (in other words its actual length is 215mm or around 8.5 inches) 15% lighter than the 0.5, with no loss in stiffness or damping claims Wilson-Benesch. I’m not sure why lighter is necessarily better in a tone arm. It all depends upon the mass and compliance of the cartridge you plan on using it with, of course.

W-B says the arm uses the same “kinematic” bearing as the original which it describes thusly:

“The kinematic bearing features, three x 1mm carbon-chrome ball bearings, which are held captive in a brass ball cap located at the end of the arm stem. A fourth ball is retained by a brass mount located in the egg shaped housing at the end of the tonearm. The shape of the eggshell derives stiffness and strength through its geometric form. When mated the fourth ball is held in a high pressure triangulated frame of reference ensuring that the centre of movement can never change regardless of the age of the system or the ambient temperature. In theory the contact surface is a single molecule.

The platter is a nicely machined piece of acrylic about an inch thick, and hollowed out under its centre both to accommodate the sub-platter, and to increase the flywheel effect by having the mass concentrated about its outer edge. It is supplied with a felt mat.

The relatively light weight three pound acrylic platter topped by a felt mat wasn’t an issue for me back in 1998 but in retrospect, and looking at this innovative and ingenious design today, it’s almost as if Wilson-Benesch ran out of inspiration or something when they got to the platter.

To me, in 2015, a lightweight three pound acrylic platter topped by a felt mat makes more sense on a “lower tech” lower cost ‘table than on one so ingenious and high-tech, though in today’s turntable market the price is moderate not high. I can tell you that the Circle 25’s isolation system works remarkably well on impulse type noise. With the arm in a record groove and the volume up, tapping the surface upon which you’ve mounted the ‘table produces almost nothing from the speakers and its accomplished without a spring suspension. Even tapping on the top POM circle produces almost nothing. While impulse type testing can’t predict the ‘table’s actual sonics, it can tell you about the quality of the isolation from the outside, and the Circle 25’s is outstanding—and based on what I wrote in 1998 superior to that of the Full Circle.

For around the same price you can get something like a VPI Classic 3 with JMW Classic tone arm that incorporates an eighteen pound aluminium platter damped with a stainless steel disc bonded to its lower surface.

I’m not going to tell you that the VPI arm is in the same technological league as the A.C.T. 25’s but at this price point I’m all about high mass platters and plinths or low mass platters and low mass plinths like Rega espouses. Both design philosophies have their adherents and both make sense. Here we have a relatively high mass plinth and a low mass platter.

On the other hand, W-B may argue that the the Circle 25’s plinth is actually very light in weight because it really consists of the suspended circle in which the bearing sits plus the cantilevered arm mounting circle, which would qualify as “low mass”. The larger POM discs are more like a separate platform than part of the plinth mass. That would be the argument and it’s not without merit, plus the upper of the two lower discs holds the motor in isolation, which should produce low noise above.

That said, the bottom line of course is how does the Circle 25 and A.C.T. 25 sound .
If you go back and read the old review keep in mind that my system then was a pale shadow of what I now have particularly in terms of bass response, and the quality of my reference turntable is in another orbit.

Back then I called the Full Circle’s bass performance “ absolutely superb—deep, tight and very well-controlled” though not in the same league as my then reference Simon Yorke Series 7/Vibraplane combination. Well of course what I’ve now got is in another league from that and my speakers are as well so while the W-B Circle 25 produces reasonably well-controlled and extended bass, by my standards today it’s not “superb”, but only very good and slightly soft, but fundamentally correct in that the deep bass did not intrude and colour the lower mid-bass, which is something lesser ‘tables often do.

I pulled out the same Super Analogue reissue of Solti’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (KIJC 9198) referenced in the earlier review and compared the Circle 25’s performance with that of another more expensive turntable under review as well as to my reference and though the Circle 25 didn’t extend quite as deeply its bass performance was lighter on its feet in a positive way, and more nimble and you could say more “tuneful”.

Like the Full Circle, the Circle 25 was impressively coherent top-to-bottom with an overall tonal neutrality and not a hind of grain or brightness, and like the Full Circle, the Circle 25’s midband was “rich, airy and lush”, but in today’s context more rich and lush than airy.

On an original pressing of Tschaikowsky’s (sic “vintage” RCA spelling) I wrote that Heifetz’s violin sounded well-focused and well in front of the orchestra, “neither softening nor exaggerating the rasp of the bow sliding across the strings”.

I wrote that in the mid-upper register the Full Circle never sounded “etched, aggressive, or steely. Yet it never sounded dull or soft either….if just slightly laid-back—which is the worst that can be said for the Full Circle’s overall sonic performance.”

The Circle 25’s presentation was also slightly laid-back and I did have a few criticisms of the old ‘table that hold true today but even more so in context of what’s currently available: “the arm/'table combo's three biggest shortcomings were: somewhat compressed macro- and microdynamics, which limited explosiveness on one end of the scale and diminished the resolution and "liveness" of inner detail on the other; a higher noise floor, with more of a sense of a "milky" background and less of a sense of "black" behind the music; and a bit of soundstage congestion that pressed images together.”

All still true but consider that that’s compared to far more expensive turntables on hand, and I suspect compared to the similarly priced VPI Classic 3, which based on admittedly dim sonic memory probably lacks the Circle 25’s smooth, pleasing laid back quality.

In the older review I compared the Full Circle to my sonic recollection of Rega’s then top of the line RP9 and I stand by that today but compared to the RP8 that I reviewed some time ago. The Rega was faster, more exciting with better “rhythm’n’pacing”, while the Circle 25 is richer, smoother and definitely more laid back and not as macro-dynamically expressive or “punchy”.

While I did much listening using the felt mat (and constant use of the Audio Desk ultrasonic cleaning machine), I ended up preferring the Boston Audio graphite mat. If you buy the Circle 25 or any felt-mat turntable, do yourself a favour and replace it with anything or nothing.

Conclusion

The Wilson-Benesch Circle 25 turntable and A.C.T. 25 tone arm was a revolutionary product when introduced and all these years later it remains a unique design. I think the arm is the real star here. I’d like to hear it on other ‘tables to really find it what it can do. The A.C.T. 25 arm was an excellent tracker and very stable in the groove. How it “sounded” independent of the ‘table is a question I can’t at this time answer.

This combo sets up easily and the set-up is basically fool-proof thanks to the design and excellent instructions. 

Overall, the Wilson-Benesch Circle 25 and A.C.T. 25 combo is a compact, extremely attractive, easy to use vinyl playback system that provided a great deal of listening pleasure.