Continuum Caliburn Turntable

During Michael Fremer's recent appearance on my podcast, he told the story about how he fell in love with a turntable he had reviewed for Stereophile—and how his wife had wholeheartedly approved of buying it, even though it cost as much as a high-end luxury car. That turntable is the Caliburn with Cobra tonearm from Continuum Audio Labs in Australia.

The Caliburn consists of several parts, all of which fit very nicely in the optional 176-pound Castellon stand. The turntable itself—which weighs 160 pounds, not including the motor—sits on a magnetically levitated shelf that completely isolates it from any external vibration.

Tipping the scales at 84 pounds, the belt-driven platter was designed using finite-element analysis (FEA) software to minimize resonant modes. The vinyl record sits on a thin layer of proprietary material that is held down by a massive, super-quiet vacuum pump on the bottom shelf of the stand.

A custom-built, battery-powered DC motor spins the platter and is controlled by an outboard computer that occupies another shelf on the stand. To reduce wear and tear during startup, the computer gently nudges the motor into motion before slowly ramping up to the desired speed, which can be 33, 45, or 78rpm. (Actually, that last one can be anywhere in the range from 68 to 84rpm.)

The Cobra tonearm is no less ultimate than the rest of the system. Like the platter and chassis, the tonearm was designed with the help of computer modeling, resulting in a cobra-like shape with surprisingly high stiffness and low mass. Instead of tangential tracking, Continuum decided on a jewel-pivot system like that found in the finest aircraft instruments.

As I said at the top, Fremer liked the Caliburn/Cobra/Castellon system so much, he bought the review sample, which listed for $90,000 at the time; since then, the price has risen to $150,000 for the entire package. Can the sound it makes possibly be worth that much money? Fremer and his wife clearly think so; here's how he ended his review:

"I'll let my audio-cynical wife have the last word...I sat her down to listen to Bonnie Raitt's cover of Bonnie Hayes' "Have a Heart," from the DCC Compact Classics version of Raitt's Nick of Time. Her final request was to hear "Station Man," from Fleetwood Mac's Kiln House. When the track ended, she looked at me and exclaimed, "My God, this is better than sex!"

I don't know where that leaves me."

It leaves you with an amazing turntable and a wife who enjoys listening to it as much as you do—in other words, an audiophile's dream.