EAT Forte Turntable - SOUND QUALITY

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Having just spent a long and most enjoyable period with Avid’s Acutus, and of course my own Sony TT-S8000 (a late seventies Japanese direct drive that makes most moderns look like Fisher-Price playthings), it was a sobering experience to see the E.A.T. Forte in my equipment rack, let alone hear it. It is massive; bigger I would say than two Technics SL1200s in a row. The sound is concomitantly large, as imposing as the deck’s physical bulk. I was fascinated, as in my system I haven’t come across anything quite like it...

First then, a little bit of perspective. I found the Avid Acutus (at a mere £3,000 less if you fit it with the SME Series V tonearm that it so obviously wants) to be a breathtaking vinyl replay tool – masses of energy, vast amounts of detail and tremendous energy that had me perching on the edge of my seat. Put on some power pop like Simple Minds, or heavy electronica like The Prodigy and it was time to fasten your seatbelt for – as they say – the ride of your life.


Immense and cowering as the Forte may be sonically, it is not like the Avid. It is an altogether less intense experience. Don’t take this to be in any way disparaging, as actually it is more versatile. Slip on some John Coltrane and you can sip a snifter of Scotch, light up a Silk Cut and tap your toes just as the Right Honourable Ken Clarke would his Hush Puppies. You can relax into the music, think about next weekend’s visit to the in-laws or what colour you’re going to paint the front door when the weather gets better. With the Avid, you’d have the vagaries of the recording etched into your cranium, and may well be thinking, “a great piece of music, but this early sixties cross-paired mic recording isn’t ideal”. Back to the E.A.T. though, and you’d be bathing in the languid, luxuriant sounds of Johnny Hartman singing, ‘Lush Life’, sitting up straight totally transfixed with your heart up where your Adam’s Apple should be. My point is simple; the Forte takes you into the music as far as you want to go, yet demands nothing from you.


On the very surface of things, it is less detailed than the Avid. It doesn’t put a magic marker under every attack transient, underlining when the note starts, and yet it is no less fast and no more unstable – indeed it seems even more speed-stable than the Acutus, which is really saying something. I found with Yes’s ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’, my reference Sony only just nosed ahead in the leading edge of the bass guitar stakes. The TT-S8000 is utterly exceptional in this respect, and a little ahead of the Avid, whereas the E.A.T. was, figuratively speaking, just millimetres behind its back bumper. But whilst the lithe direct drive with its light platter and clever quartz lock speed control servo system could just about inch ahead on leading notes, it lacked the E.A.T.’s immense stability. It was as solid as the proverbial lump of granite sticking out of the briny. The scale, the epic expanse of its soundstage and the utter unflappability of its performance beat the Sony into a cocked hat.


Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ was another case in point. Brilliant of course as the song is, it’s a slightly murky mid-seventies analogue recording and one that doesn’t flatter a turntable of any size, price or weight. I found the Forte was able to unpeel the song, rather like an onion skin, giving me great insight into every layer of the production, yet without sounding in any way forced or strained. I remember the Avid doing this too, albeit with more drama and seemingly more detail, although I still found the E.A.T’s presentation more naturally ‘right’ on an instinctive level. Its dynamics were formidable, and yet less explicit. With such innate power, it was able to deliver the contrasts in a more effortless way, like a slumbering giant waking up to brush away an irritation without bothering to raise an eyelid. Again, by contrast, the Sony seemed a tad breathless – which is not something you ever say about it in less illustrious company...

Tonally, the Forte was superb. Its bass is immense, unflappable and without fault – save for being fractionally slower to switch on than the Sony. Alternatively, it may be right and the Sony is simply a little 'nervous' with the leading edges, etching them artificially hard in a characteristically direct drive way? The E.A.T. is also sumptuous in the best tradition of vinyl; cue up The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ from an original seventies pressing of ‘Who’s Next’ and you really know that’s a valve bass guitar amp being used. It’s the sort of bass that doesn’t need to make any apologies – there’s no issue with the recording, or the rest of the replay equipment, it’s just there like the elephant in the room.


Yet it doesn’t overpower, or slur notes, or dominate the mix in any way; put on some nineteen sixties freakbeat from Ice (the most famous band to come out of my own Sussex University, which isn’t saying much) and yes, sure enough, you can tell it’s recorded in someone’s bathroom in Brighton. Cue up 4hero’s ‘Escape That’ however, and you’re into low frequencies the like of which you rarely hear outside of Wembley Arena. Powerful as the E.A.T is below the stairs, let’s just say it’s not gratuitous.


Across the midband, you have a massively expansive sound. It makes the Sony – and to a less extent the Avid – seem rather stuck between the speakers. Yet instruments are not quite as accurately located as with the Acutus, which if it were a policeman would be a Miami-based member of CS1. The E.A.T. isn’t imprecise, it’s just big enough in its soundstaging for you not to have to ask questions; “the guitar’s over there, the lead vocal is over there, okay, fair enough!” Nor is the midband quite as icily clear as the Acutus or the Sony, but it’s actually no less detailed or informative, it’s just the way it presents the information is altogether more relaxed. Now, I have a sneaking suspicion that the Ikeda arm is at least partly behind this state of affairs. It’s so redolent of all those hours I used to spend languishing in Japanese hi-fi shops in and around Tokyo, listening to that country’s high end fare. Think massively polished, with easy information retrieval that would never even think of throwing it at you. Yes, it’s an ever so slightly ‘hi-fi’ sound, but a gorgeous one – and mates brilliantly to the E.A.T’s mellowy, moody, subtle sound.


As befits a turntable of this immense speed stability, the treble is a joy. It is slick and easy, beautifully polished and wonderfully atmospheric – yet sharp and incisive in a way that never dominates. Miles Davis’s ‘Kind of Blue’ was majestic; smooth, vast in stage and deliciously, naturally musical, and with a wonderfully natural top end. If ever there was a turntable/arm combination to flatter a cartridge’s natural treble ability, this is it. Once again, my reference players both turned in a superficially slightly more detailed rendition, but it wasn’t in any way more informative. Rather, it was if the brightness control had just been turned up a bit. The Avid was brilliant, pushing you right up close to the cymbals, the Sony had wonderful ‘snap’, whereas the E.A.T. took a gentle step back from the hi-hats, giving a less ‘in your face’ rendition that was – all said and done – a tad easier and more satisfying to listen to.



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