August 27, 2012

10Qs For Ansgar Sperling & Michael Bonninghoff Of Sperling Audio.

If there's one thing you can accuse Sperling Audio of, is that it's definitely a company run by two engineers with vinyl as hobby and passion for music. However their Sperling turn table seriously looks constructed unlike anything close to a hobbyist project. It's as much as an industrial design triumph as a precision musical playback instrument.

I spoke to both the designers of the turn table and their German based company Sperling Audio. 
Ansgar Sperling(left) & Michael Bonninghoff, owner and co-designers of Sperling Audio turn table.

Big E: You guys don't seem like Swedish?

MB: That's because we're Germans!

Big E: I taught Swedish Statement only sold Swedish products?

MB: You'd have to ask Mr Koo(of Swedish Statement) about that. He met us in the Munich Show and I've never seen anyone wanted to represent our products so fast! (Mr Koo chips in, "good things must get fast, otherwise will lose out!")

Big E: Tell us a little bit more about yourselves?

AS: I am a broadcast radio engineer by profession before founding Sperling Audio.

MB: I was a microphone engineer before. We met on our job and very quickly became good friends, because of our love for vinyl and passion for music.

Big E: What made you guys wanna make your own turn table?

AS: We were never quite satisfied with what we could buy off the market, and we are always modifying other manufacturer's turn tables.

MB: Yeah, our business started out as an after market turn table mod shop, and eventually, we wanted to make our own turn table design, which was the next most logical step to take.

Big E: What do you think makes your turn table stand out from other high end designs also in the market today?

MB: For our turn table design, we started with a fresh sheet from ground up, we left nothing to chance, and no budget limitations. We wanted to take our turn table design expression and engineering capabilities to the limits of today's technology. For example, our noise free motors are built in house with load regulators built in to the speed control circuit. The tape drive stub mounted on the motor is custom finished with CNC tolerances of less than 0.01mm.  Our bearing is an over sized design to handle the extreme pressures exerted by the heavy platter. The wood inserts on the platter also makes the sound different compared to other materials. We allow owners to customized their sound by offering optional insert materials. Just to mention a few examples of our engineering work gone in to the turn table.

AS: Our turn table design has three patent pending features which would make it different from other existing turn tables in the market today. The three patent-applications we have for our turntable are:
1) The dials for tone arm mounting with graduation from 0-360°
2) The arm mounting system with the rotary plates to mount arms from 9 - 12inch
3) The on the fly regulation of the tape tension

Big E: Talking about the bearing, why not use the magnetic bearing design much favoured by much high end turn table designs these days?

MB: If you have done as much test as we have on bearings, you'd find that the magnetic bearings which causes the platter to float slightly for reduce contact force, and therefore reducing noise which is good. However, there's also a down side to the magnetic bearing which floats, but it is not exactly on even plane as the platter turns. It seems there is some bounce, only visible under magnified conditions during the float, due to the opposing magnets trying to push each other away. It causes the VTA to vary very slightly always as the tone arm and cartridge tries to track the grooves on an LP's surface, which to us is not ideal, because we are trying to get the tone arm and cartridge to track the LP's grooves in a consistent contact point and angle all the time.

Big E: You're demoing the turn table today with a tone arm from another manufacturer(an Ikeda tone arm and cartridge was used, if you have to know). Is this the preferred partnership, or do you have plans to make your own tone arm designs?

MB: Yes, we do actually, but it may take some time before you can see it. We actually tested our turn table with many tone arm designs, from the budget Rega RB250 to SME V to Graham pivoted arms and even Air Tangent linear tracking arms, of all lenghts between 9-12inches, and found that our turn table will work well to any one of them. The Ikeda is a great match for the Sperling turn table, but it's not the only one!
The Sperling Audio turn table which struck a chord with the high end KLIAV 2012 show crowd.

Big E: Which do you think is the most important element of an analog system, between turn table, tone arm and cartridge? Where would you put most of your "budget" in to, if you ever assemble an analog play back system?

MB: I think there is no wrong or right, or if there is any one part of the equation more important than others. It's what the person assembling his own analog play back has to choose his sound preference in accordance to the music that he plays. There is no "the one" magic combo out there, as I've seen some combining our turn table with an Rega RB300 arm for instance and still turned out very musically satisfying performances.

AS: I feel the more important part actually belongs at the cartridge to tone arm matching, which is technically more crucial, due to the compliance issues, compared to tone arm to turn table matching. However like my partner says, there is no magic formula and one has to try things out to know one's preferred combination.

Big E: I notice that you mentioned on the fly regulation of tape tension, which is a patent pending feature. Does it help to prolong the life span of the delicate looking tape pulling the heavy platter?

MB: The on the fly regulation of tape tension does the following, and that is to regulate the perfect contact point of the tape tension between the motor pulley stub and the platter, to ensure consistent speed and prevent the tape from slipping down as it spins. The drive tape does not look like much, but it was design to drive much heavier loads without stretching. That drive tape will last for years, under normal usage, and should it stretch or break, we have spares to back up the end user.

Big E: There are also two patents pending on the tone arm mounting dials. Care to elaborate more about them?

MB: We designed those dials to take the guess work out, and make setting up or re-mounting of tone arm an exacting procedure. Every single tone arm design is unique in it's mounting and especially setting up properties. Should the turn table owner has as many arms as we do, and likes to rotate the use of his various tone arms, then all he has to do is to mark down all the dial measurements for a given tone arm and re-used those dial positions the next time that same arm is intended to be re-mounted for use. With this feature, every time a tone arm is mounted or re-mounted, the result will always be exactly the same, and repeat able. we spent much time in designing this feature, which we felt is worth while.

Both Ansgar and Micheal also does recording in their spare time. They brought along a jazz LP which was recorded by them, performed by their friends who are members of the band. The LP sounds wonderful, and I wanted to buy a copy, but it was no more in pressing and no longer issued, which is a shame. These guys are truly engineers with a musical passion!

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