REVIEW: ELAC MIRACORD 90 ANNIVERSARY TURNTABLE
ELAC's Miracord 90 Anniversary is the current top of the line turntable in its line-up and is something rather special to look upon. We put it through its paces to see if it performs as good as it looks.
AUD $4,499 / NZD $4,999
Germany-based ELAC has been around for quite some time – over 90 years if you hadn't already guessed from the name of this product release (the Miracord 90 was released in 2017) – making their Miracord turntables and speakers to high acclaim.
In more recent years they may have been best known for their speakers - not to mention a bunch of home theatre, music server and amplifier options - but have now revived the Miracord name with a new line up of turntable packages to suit almost any budget.
Although owned by Chinese Global Legend Holding Co., Ltd, ELAC turntables are still designed and made in Germany.
The belt-driven Miracord 90 is the current top of the line (the Miracord 50 and 70 models being cheaper options) and is something rather special to look upon.
The unique-looking main chassis, all glossy with rounded edges and available in four colour options (black base with gloss white plinth, silver base with gloss black plinth, and black base with oiled walnut plinth), is machined from MDF and encased in aluminium. It sits upon four silicon damping feet, designed to isolate the chassis from the surface on which it sits.
The 12-inch platter, supplied with a felt mat, is machined from solid aluminium and not surprisingly weighs a hefty 6.2kg. The sub-platter, which supports the platter with four damping pads, sits on a hardened steel spindle and 8mm ruby ball assembly with high-quality bronze bearing bushes.
The low-torque DC motor sits, efficiently decoupled, in a hole machined into the plinth in the front left corner and drives the platter with a decent flat belt which, unlike my old Well Tempered Record Player, I found very easy to put into place.
The on/off speed selector (33/45 rpm) dial is located in the front right corner, matching the motor configuration in size and shape. This switch is accompanied by an indicator light which tells you when the platter is spinning at optimum speed. When you first turn it on it lights up green then gradually becomes pink and then white when at the correct speed. This bugged me at first because it takes a full 30 seconds to get up to speed and longer if you slow it down by placing a record cleaning brush onto the surface of the record. I expected to dislike it for this, but I quickly realised this was all just part of the ritual and the result was well worth it. Besides, I soon learnt that a good swipe with a finger or two before turning it on can help get the platter up to speed a little quicker.
The straight, gimbal bearing tonearm is made from carbon fibre with a standard half-inch headshell. It features a graduated counterweight and anti-skate mechanism. Although it is ELAC's own, the tonearm appears to be made elsewhere in Germany. A nice touch and much more than a mere token gesture is the pre-fitted moving magnet cartridge with a micro-line diamond stylus, branded ELAC and made specifically for the company by Audio-Technica.
At the back can be found two gold-plated RCA output plugs, the earth post and a screw-in power socket which runs a cable to the external power supply. A lovely set of ELAC branded phono interconnects is supplied. There is no dust cover, but it's probably easy enough to find someone who makes custom acrylic covers for not too much money.
Set up is very easy. First, you just need a good solid, level surface on which to place the turntable. You then fit the belt, attach the anti-skate weight and plug in the cables. You do, however, need to set the tracking force via the counterweight which, for some people, could be the trickiest part.
The manual explains how to do this by dialling the weight back until the arm 'floats' then turning it back until it is balanced, but to be honest, I'm buggered if this has ever worked for me. This isn't specific to the ELAC turntable – I have had the same issue with other brands in the past, possibly in part because I am an imbecile. I managed to get the thing to float, and although I thought I had it balanced correctly, it just didn't operate as anticipated, and the sound was certainly not up to par.
I see no reason why any guesswork should be involved at all, so instead I used my trusty scales to set the correct weight – in the case of the ELAC cartridge, this was 1.4g – and I had it sounding sweet straight away. I highly recommend you do the same.
For the review, I used several amplifiers and phono stages all feeding my Reference 3A floor-standing speakers. My Fi Yph tube MM phono stage isn't ideal as it was designed to be used with a step-up transformer (SUT) and moving coil cartridges so although it did sound quite good, not surprisingly it didn't have the oomph I was after.
Luckily, I had at hand a very nice custom-built all tube phono stage with separate tube-rectified power supply. I don't know a lot about the origin or design of this pre-amp, only that it has plenty of gain and sounds just as good as any decent mid-range brand I have heard. I also managed to score a loan of a friend's Dynavector P75 Mk 4 phono stage which I reviewed in depth late last year. This is an absolute gem which I believe performs superbly with turntable/cartridges well beyond its price range.
It quickly became clear to me that while the supplied cartridge is outstanding and would keep many people happy for years (myself included), a cartridge upgrade will most likely boost this turntable well out of the park.
First on the platter was Gillian Welch's recent vinyl (re)issue of her 2003 album Soul Journey, on Acony Records. I don't know a lot about Welch, but I really liked this album when I first heard it. From the first strum of her acoustic guitar on 'Look at Miss Ohio' to the opening lines of verse, I couldn't help but let out a contented sigh. It was clear and lit up, emanating from dark silence into a crisp, focused soundscape. Later the drums kicked in with impressive scale and beautifully timed precision and the bass snaked around with fluidity and a nice touch of warmth, clearly showing off the ELAC's ability with rhythm.
Welch's voice was especially striking, being clearly revealed and full of nuance and depth. Throughout the record there was a great sense of space and depth accentuated by naturally real sounding instruments, displaying good tonal character and body.
The ELAC produced a naturally rhythmic and fluid sound with a crisp and clear treble, chunky bass and a smooth, fast and fluid midrange. There was good layering from behind the speakers to right out front, and the soundstage remained uncluttered with sharply defined images regardless of what was on the platter.
Even Wilco's 'At Least That's What You Said', the opening track on their 2004 album A Ghost Is Born (Nonesuch Records), remained perfectly coherent throughout the battling guitar/piano, bass/drums passage. It was easy to distinguish piano notes from the deliberate shambles of Jeff Tweedy's frenetic fret work. The bass had real muscle and there seemed to be a heightened emphasis on Glenn Kotche's already impressive drumming.
Impressed with the scale and impact on display, I decided to pull out something a little more acerbic from the catalogue of Mr Steve Albini.
The sharp, angular sounds of the Albini-fronted Shellac from the album Dude Incredible (Touch and Go Records, 2014) were reproduced with all the visceral aggression one could want, along with a power that made me pull my head back for fear of an air-borne concussion. The drumming was vast and breath-taking, with real slam on the snares and deeply thudding kick drum. I could almost see Steve Albini's veins popping out of his neck and forehead as he stormed and seethed into the microphone, the splintery notes he wrought and riffed from his guitar sounding bright and piercing – that is, in the way they were intended.
That's right: the ELAC didn't come across the slightest bit brittle or fatiguing at any point. As usual, I went super loud with this one to really feel those drums as well as that burst of adrenaline in my chest, and I was not disappointed. And while the ELAC remained completely unperturbed, I do hope my lousy neighbours weren't so lucky.
Toning things down a bit but with no less fire, Nina Simone, on 'Sinner Man' (Pastel Blues, Philips Records, 1965) sounded natural and powerful, palpably bristling with emotion while her piano was percussive and rich with timbral expression. The clarity and stability of those piano keys showed there was not the slightest hint of that substantial platter's speed fluctuating.
The drumming was speedy and agile while the bassline bounced along underneath. Just after the four-minute mark, I almost wanted to join in with hand claps of my own. Again, I was impressed with the sense of space and presence the ELAC displayed. Although I have heard this album – and especially this track so many times, there was a freshness the ELAC brought to the speakers (with all my favourite records, in fact) that served to reaffirm my love and enjoyment of the music.
The Miracord 90 has a drive and energy, and huge fun factor that reminds me of my first experiences with top-notch budget turntables, coupled with the thrill and in-depth potential of higher-end decks.
The Miracord, along with its tonearm and cartridge surprised me time and again, deftly reproducing any genre with ease and skill, nothing seeming to trouble it. Where my Lenco and EMT combination can sometimes be a little unforgiving, perhaps a tad too revealing with certain recordings, the Miracord 90 seemed unfazed by a record's flaws, solely concerning itself with bringing joy to the ears of music lovers with an across-the-board talent.
It has a way with rhythm and scale and recreates an excellent sense of space that makes you feel involved with the music, even if it's something you've heard to death.
I don't have many late nights these days, but I had at least two or three with the ELAC. Indeed, I found myself so engaged with the music that I would find myself listening to each album from start to finish – often more than once – unable to merely concentrate on one or two tracks as is my usual practice when reviewing equipment.
The Miracord 90 may be pricey by many people's standards, yet it would be a pittance in the minds of most high-end audiophiles, but the performance and joy it brings to music will probably surprise those from both camps.
Everything about it, from its splendid appearance to the music it reproduces, is fun and engaging. For those who still think vinyl is a tired old format, this turntable may be the breath of fresh air needed to change their minds.
ELAC has brought their turntables into the 21st Century with solid and appealing design and simply excellent performance, adding further proof to the fact that the current vinyl trend is very much a worthwhile one.
For more information visit ELAC.
Having been mauled by the hi-fi bug in his twenties, Andrew has been writing about it for a few years now. His passion is for vinyl and its associated rituals, but digital music comes a close second. Music is a big part of his life and if he’s not listening to an album, he’s wondering which one to buy next. He enjoys writing about his adventures and hopes for many more to come.
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