Right now, two turntables sit side by each on my custom double-wide equipment rack. On the right is my VPI Prime Signature, and to the left is a newcomer, Dr. Feickert Analogue’s Volare. Each is illuminated by its own 3000K potlight. They look quite dramatic.
Both turntables do the same thing -- spin platters at a precisely calibrated speed, to scrape music off the surface of a piece of plastic -- but they couldn’t be more different. The VPI is a ginormous Brundle-fly crossbreed of an industrial log splitter and a skinned T-800 Terminator -- a big, imposing, freakishly impressive piece of machinery not immediately recognizable as a record player.
The Volare looks like a record player. When non-audiophiles close their eyes and think turntable, I’ll bet what they see looks pretty much like the Volare. It’s vaguely rectangular -- but not too much so -- with a platter slightly offset. That platter, though substantial, doesn’t overpower the clearly visible Platonic ideal of low-slung turntable embodied in the Volare’s classic proportions.
A turntable’s appearance is vitally important to me. When you decide to spend more than a grand on one, the options open up and you get to choose the combination of size, shape, and look that most appeals to you. Want a low-slung machine-age complication? Head over to the VPI’s side of the room. Sleek, dark, and futuristic? Pro-Ject’s Imperial TIE Fighter RPM 10 Carbon might capture your heart. If you want something a little less imposing, a bit more low-key, Dr. Feickert’s Volare might be the ticket.
But while the Volare may fall under the heading of Conventional Turntables, no turntable, conventional or un-, is worth the powder needed to blow it to hell if it doesn’t perform its intended task of playing records. The spun-sugar confections make a big deal of looking as if they’ve got the chops, but the Volare holds court quietly, keeping its design tech close to its chest.
Consider: The slim Volare measures 16.5”W x 4.9”H x 14.2”D and weighs a stout 38.6 pounds. Its plinth, made from a 2.2”-thick slab of MDF, feels extremely solid and dead, and sits on three conical feet that terminate in viciously sharp spikes. Dr. Feickert supplies three flat footers on which these spikes can sit in turn, to protect your furniture. Each spike is pierced through with a hole, into which you can slide an Allen key to raise or lower the spike and thus level the platter.
The Volare is mostly painted an honest matte black with pebble texture. It shows dust like crazy, but cleans up super easy with a quick swipe of a damp cloth. To make a nice, enlivening contrast, the forwardmost third of the top deck is covered with a plate of anodized aluminum. At no upcharge, the deck is also available in a veneer of real walnut with a plate of black aluminum -- in the photos, it looks most tasty.
The Volare spins at 33⅓, 45, or 78rpm, each speed selected with its own button, and fine-tuned using the + and - buttons -- all five buttons are arrayed on the deck’s left front corner, in an arc that follows the curve of the platter.
Dr. Feickert supplies an Oyaide BR-One record mat, which is a thin sheet of butyl rubber that seems to make good contact with the record and -- very important -- mostly stayed put when I lifted a record off the platter. The mat is fairly soft, and quickly gathers dirt -- a quick rinse under the tap cleans it in a jiffy.
The Volare is sold without tonearm, but Dr. Feickert Analogue makes armboards for a number of popular arms, these boards stocked by Feickert’s North American distributor, Mobile Fidelity Distribution. For the purposes of this review, MoFi supplied Origin Live’s Silver, a 9” tonearm. It’s hardwired with single-ended RCA cables and a separate ground wire. I plugged the former into the Constellation Audio Andromeda phono stage’s single-ended inputs. As I mentioned a few months ago in my column, “For the Record,” which is on SoundStage! Ultra, MoFi supplied a MoFi Electronics MasterTracker moving-magnet cartridge ($799) for my initial listening pleasure, so the Silver was first connected to the Andromeda’s MM input. Later, when I received a review sample of European Audio Team’s Jo N°8 moving-coil cartridge, I used the Constellation’s MC input.
MoFi Distribution offers the Volare as a package with the Silver tonearm and their UltraTracker cartridge ($499), which is very similar to the MasterTracker but has an elliptical stylus instead of the MasterTracker’s micro-line model and tapered cantilever. The package price is $3995 with UltraTracker, or $3695 without.
The Volare’s motor is attached directly to the plinth -- not exactly optimal, you’d think, as a standalone motor is less likely to transmit its self-noise to the platter-mat-record-stylus-cantilever-tonearm, in that order. That said, throughout my listening, no motor noise intruded on the sound.
The motor itself is the same brushless, high-torque, direct-current model used in Feickert’s more expensive Woodpecker turntable, and it’s fed by a chunky power supply similar in shape and size to the one powering the computer on which I’m writing this review.
As I assembled the Volare, I was taken aback by its main bearing. Instead of a plain ol’ post with a ball bearing of some kind embedded in the top, the Volare’s has a huge bearing shaft -- using my handy vernier calipers, I measured it at exactly 2cm. This ginormous bearing serves two purposes. First, it centralizes much of the rotating mass at the center of the platter, which, combined with the wet-sump oil bath, results in low rumble. Second, the large surface mating area makes an extremely stable base for the platter.
In my initial test fitting of bearing into well I noted a tiny bit of lateral play, which seemed odd. Not expecting it to make a difference, I added the bearing oil, as specified in the Volare’s two-page manual. This small amount of surface lubrication filled all of the area of play and thus eliminated that play -- this thin film of oil has clearly been taken into account in the design tolerances. As specified in Feickert’s promotional copy, the Volare’s bearing is a wet-sump oil-bath design, which should promise long life.
The solid, chunky aluminum platter is then lowered onto the top of the bearing shaft, and this tolerance is scary-tight. Midway through my listening for this review, I tried to lift the platter to take another look at the bearing, but was stymied for five minutes. It’s not possible to raise that platter unless you lift with precisely the same vertical force on both sides. It’s trickier than it sounds -- at first, the platter felt as if it was glued to its bearing. The Volare’s bearing and platter design impressed on me that Dr. Feickert Analogue has put much R&D into ensuring that this turntable is built to an almost unreasonably high standard.
Fully set up, the Volare proved dead-nuts simple to use. I pushed the button corresponding to the desired speed, and the motor and belt torqued the platter up to speed right sharpish. The wide, flat belt didn’t slip, and there was a complete absence of drama. There’s a tiny, unobtrusive blue LED just under the rim of the platter, with six levels of intensity. The platter speed is continuously adjustable -- I found it easy to maintain a stable and precise 33⅓rpm, as confirmed with the most excellent RPM Speed and Wow app installed on my Samsung S10 smartphone.
Origin Live’s Silver tonearm I likewise found impressive and extremely businesslike. Its headshell has a nice finger hook, and its cueing lever a most smooth action -- as you lower the arm, the lever feels as if it’s descending through honey. The only somewhat irksome aspect of the Volare-Silver combo was the setting of vertical tracking angle (VTA). This is accomplished by adjusting a large nut that threads onto the arm’s mounting post. It’s recessed deep in the body of the Volare, which necessitated sliding the plinth far over the edge of my equipment rack so that I could angle a pair of Channellock pliers up the ’table’s backside to get a somewhat tenuous grip on that nut.
A voice from the aether! As if Dr. Feickert himself has heard my grumbles, his company has just announced a revision to the Volare: a new mounting system for the Origin Live Silver. This consists of a collar that permits consistent and repeatable settings of VTA. Loosen the lock screw, then use an Allen key to raise or lower the arm. This revision solves the sole functional problem I experienced with the Volare-Silver combo.
After setting up the Dr. Feickert Analogue Volare with Mobile Fidelity’s MasterTracker MM cartridge installed in its Origin Live Silver tonearm, I listened to that combo a fair bit longer than I’d planned to. The VPI ($6000) was armed at this time with Top Wing’s Blue Dragon cartridge, which on its own costs $12,500 -- multiples of the Volare’s price. So even as I reviewed the Volare and MasterTracker -- hard at work all the time, I swear -- I at first found myself looking longingly at my reference turntable and its exotic, alien symbiont.
But after a week or so of listening to the Volare-MasterTracker, it didn’t seem much like work. Together, they produced a huge, lively, snappy sound at odds with the comparatively reasonable price.
When I reviewed the MasterTracker in “For the Record,” I praised it for its excellent dynamics, and for a refinement that you seldom hear from an MM. Some of that refinement came from the Volare, which, with the Silver arm, kept a tight grip on the MoFi’s stylus as it sashayed through the groove.
With the MasterTracker on point, I found my head nodding and my foot tapping to the music as this combo delivered music with a sinuous, lithe undercurrent. I’ve often said in these e-pages that Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream (LP, A&M SP-64298) is not only their best album but, in my opinion, one of the best, most underrated albums of the 1980s. My copy was pressed on translucent marbled vinyl, which usually doesn’t correlate with good sound quality. Guess I got lucky -- my marbled pressing is silent and dynamic, with excellent soundstage depth.
The Volare-Silver-MasterTracker combo sucked huge gobs of boogie from New Gold Dream. The crisp, well-delineated highs of “Colours Fly and Catherine Wheel” jetted from the speakers with whipcrack MM snappiness. Mel Gaynor’s tastefully played hi-hat cymbal was slightly more prominent in the mix through the MasterTracker than through the far more expensive MC cartridges I used later in my listening -- slightly more prominent in a good way. The hi-hat sounded a bit higher on the stage through the MasterTracker -- that little trick aside, the Volare, as supplied, was most evenhanded in its reproduction of music.
If someone plonked down this setup in your listening room, I think you’d be hard-pressed to hear anything to gripe about. As I said at the beginning, I had the Volare-Silver-MasterTracker set up on the left, and on the right, the VPI Prime Signature, loaded for bear with Top Wing’s Blue Dragon cartridge -- both setups were plugged into the Constellation Andromeda phono stage. That scenario sort of screams Russian mob money, but hey -- it’s just a job, right?
Without breaking out my calculator, let’s say that the VPI-Top Wing combo retails for five times the price of the Volare. Listening to the Volare-Silver-MasterTracker on its own, I couldn’t fault the sound, which was deep, controlled, and well defined on every plane. When I switched to the VPI rig, I got what you’d expect -- a much deeper soundstage, and additional refinement through the mids and highs.
I mean, really -- I sure hope you’d get that from the VPI, along with a lot more. At that price, you’d expect sparks to shoot out your ass as you listened. Ultimately, I preferred the VPI and Top Wing, but here’s the thing: I cared about the improvement only when I swapped back and forth in quick, direct comparisons. Most of my listening was to the Volare-Silver-MasterTracker, and I never felt shortchanged.
Add the Mobile Fidelity UltraTracker, which promises to be a very good cartridge, and for it, MoFi Distribution adds only $300 to the price of the Volare-Silver combo. In high-end audio, you can’t get spat on for $300, let alone git yerself a very good-sounding cartridge that complements a very good-sounding turntable.
Time marched on. Despite the MasterTracker’s overachieving nature, I got the feeling the Volare-Silver combo could support an even better cartridge. Enter EAT’s Jo N°8.
At $2495, EAT’s Jo N°8 moving-coil costs a good chunk of change when considered as a partner for a $3695 turntable. The EAT hovers right over the point at which throwing a bunch more money at a cartridge buys you not much more sound quality. I reviewed the Jo N°8 in “For the Record” in November 2019 and was enchanted. It’s as if the folks at EAT put my head in a jar and extracted my wish list of qualities for MC cartridges.
I mounted the N°8 in the Silver tonearm and immediately got a full dose of the EAT’s abilities. Ry Cooder and Manuel Galbán’s Mambo Sinuendo (LP, Perro Verde/Nonesuch 7559-79284-0) is a gem. First, there isn’t a bad cut on it -- this is an entire album of lush, reverb-drenched relaxation. It’s like taking a bath in warm honey. And it sounds wonderful. With “La Luna en Tu Mirada” I got a full dose of Galbán’s juicy Telecaster as it saturated my room with ripe overtones. The Jo N°8’s very slightly rich and tactile midrange had a field day with those overtones, letting them bloom and decay with outstanding delicacy.
I replaced the EAT N°8 with Vertere Acoustics’ Mystic cartridge ($2699), which I also reviewed in “For the Record.” The Volare immediately told me that the Mystic is a less romantic, more exciting little guy. Excelling at dynamics and rhythmic pace, the Mystic totally changed things around. I sat through all of Mambo Sinuendo again, this time taking a little more notice of the bongos and drums and how they twine around the two guitars. With the Jo N°8, I was more entranced with the performance as a whole -- the Mystic dragged out and presented more detail, like a cat dropping at my feet, for approval, a barely dead mouse.
You’ve probably noticed that, so far, I haven’t discussed the Volare’s sound as such. Instead, I’ve described the characteristics of the cartridges. This lack of an identifiable sound signature is the mark of a very good turntable -- actually, it’s the mark of a very good audio component of any category.
Fight it out
Earlier, I mentioned how satisfied I was listening to the Dr. Feickert Analogue Volare and Origin Live Silver with MoFi’s MasterTracker cartridge. Later, after replacing the MoFi with EAT’s Jo N°8 cartridge, I compared that combo with the VPI Prime Signature, also with the EAT. This necessitated installing and aligning the Jo N°8 each time I switched between turntables. But the Jo N°8 is maybe the easiest cartridge to mount and align: great sight lines, a nice stylus guard, a chubby little body that’s easy to grip. It took me only about five minutes each time to get it near-as-dammit dialed in.
First up, the Volare, which sounded just like the Jo N°8 cartridge mounted on it -- as described above. Philip Glass’s The Photographer, performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble conducted by Michael Riesman, is possibly the most dynamic record I own (LP, Epic/Music On Vinyl MOVCL005). The sound is huge, with immense helpings of space and texture within that space, a shit-ton of bass, sparkling highs, and boatloads of precisely placed aural images.
The Feickert-Origin-EAT gave me everything this record offers. Bass shook the room, working through the Estelon YB and, most recently, PMC Fact.8 Signature speakers -- it was tight, controlled, and well defined, just as I like it. All the way up through the midrange and into the treble, I heard nothing lacking, and no spotlighting. Images were well and firmly positioned, and the highs sparkled.
The sound through the VPI-EAT was far more similar to the Feickert-Origin-EAT version than it was different -- I had to work hard to hear what, if anything, had changed. This was a very good thing: The VPI Prime Signature is an extremely good turntable built to a very high standard.
After a few more swappings in/out and comparisons, the differences became clearer. The VPI-EAT delivered very slightly tighter image focus -- in Act 1 of The Photographer, the women in the chorus had a bit more corporeal presence. The Feickert-Origin-EAT still isolated them in space, but with a very small amount of haze around each voice. Those honkin’-great bass-synth notes were a bit of a puzzle -- the VPI-EAT kept the notes tighter and slightly more defined, the Feickert-Origin-EAT let them bloom a bit more. Both sounds were equally valid, but I think I preferred the VPI-EAT’s better grip on each note’s start and stop -- I think it would be more versatile with the various speakers that cycle through my system.
I found Dr. Feickert Analogue’s Volare an extremely neutral turntable. It had great fundamental bass capabilities, and it didn’t falter anywhere higher in the audioband. Over a long listening period, there wasn’t a single aspect of its sound that I could call out. On a casual listen, it’s very close to the performance of the VPI Prime Signature at little more than half the price.
A reminder: “very close” does not mean “just as good.” The VPI projects slightly more cohesive, better-delineated aural images, and its bass is slightly tighter. But those improvements don’t come cheap. Another $2500 sure as heck should buy you a better turntable, and in this case it does. Or you could think about saving that $2500 and spending it on a better cartridge.
But I can’t imagine that any prospective buyer’s two shortest-list choices for a turntable would ever come down to the VPI and the Dr. Feickert Analogue. The Volare’s small size is no doubt one of its biggest selling features. Maybe the biggest news here is that the Volare has no downside. Let’s hear it for the little guy.
. . . Jason Thorpe
- Analog sources -- VPI Prime Signature turntable; EAT Jo N°8, MoFi Electronics MasterTracker, Roksan Shiraz, Top Wing Blue Dragon cartridges
- Digital source -- Logitech Squeezebox Touch server
- Phono stages -- Aqvox Phono 2 CI, Constellation Audio Andromeda, JE Audio HP10
- Preamplifier -- Sonic Frontiers SFL-2
- Power amplifier -- Bryston 4B3
- Integrated amplifier-DAC -- Hegel Music Systems H90
- Speakers -- Estelon YB, Focus Audio FP60 BE, PMC Fact.8 Signature
- Speaker cables -- Audience Au24 SX, Nordost Tyr 2
- Interconnects -- Audience Au24 SX, Furutech Ag-16, Nordost Tyr 2
- Power cords -- Audience FrontRow, Nordost Vishnu
- Power conditioner -- Quantum QBase QB8 Mk.II
- Accessories -- Little Fwend tonearm lift, VPI Cyclone record-cleaning machine, Furutech Destat III
Dr. Feickert Analogue Volare Turntable
Prices: $3995 USD with Origin Live Silver tonearm and MoFi UltraTracker cartridge, $3695 without cartridge.
Warranty: Two years, chassis and electronics; five years, bearing.
Dr. Feickert Analogue
Phone: +49 76-65-94-13-718
Fax: +49 76-65-94-13-725
North American distributor:
1811 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue
Chicago, IL 60660