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The Aura Turntable
Was it W.C. Fields who said: "Never work with children or animals" ? I think so. In any event, he might have added..."or motors" to that short list of stipulations. What has this to do with the magnificent Aura Turntable? Glad you asked.
For those who are not aware of this rotating marvel, I refer you to Owen Young's site: Dark Lantern, where you will find a brief history of the Aura, a short history of the manufacture, including a brief period in Brisbane, Australia, and an exploded perspective schematic of the turntable's major parts.
My interest in the Aura is purely personal. I came across it on the Internet back in March/April of 2006. This was towards the end of Aura production, alas, with Dave Whittaker passing away in 2007. Like all so-called "orphaned" products, one is (almost) on one's own when something goes awry, as, in the fullness of time, with wear and tear taking their toll and parts going off specification, faults do, indeed, occur. The motor in my Aura, (interesting phrase), started to make "imprecise noises" such as one associates with a worn out bearing. A close look (5X lens) under the brass flywheel mounted on the motor spindle revealed brass filings littering and glittering gayly against the black acrylic top plate. Just confirmation of a kaput top bearing. [N.B. The top bearing is not brass, but running eccentrically with excessive wear caused it to brush the brass flywheel on the steel mounting bolts, hence the 'brass filings']
I said "(almost) on one's own". New Zealand is home to many strange creatures, even hobbits, apparently, and so it was only a few minutes searching to find the hobbit-holes where the audiophile fraternity dwells in the last homely house before the great mountains. Enough with the Tolkien already, let's get back to reality. I contacted Owen Young and via his good offices, Chris Marquet, designer of the later model speed controller for the Aura. Chris provided the valuable information that the motor was a Panasonic MAX-13X9L and further broad information about the procedure for "fixing" the motor. Thanks Chris.
In short, this motor has a top bearing that cannot be fixed. I agree Chris. I was able to buy the last motor of this type, off the shelf, in Sydney for $AUD130 and the Panasonic folks say they will still supply the beast for $AUD148 with about 5 weeks lead time. I presume they manufacture them to order, even after all these years. How many years? The date of manufacture on the one I bought is Nov 28, 1989 !!
Parts and Procedures
These parts and procedures apply to replacing the entire motor in the Aura with a new MAX-13V9L or MAX-13V9LL(P)
Parts: 1 x Panasonic VCR motor Model: MAX-13V9L 8VDC
Materials: Solder, De-soldering braid, Super Glue, Acetone, Clean lint free cloth
Tools: Miniature gear puller (for 2 to 5mm shafts) (e.g. Omnimodels, as shown here), Needle Nose Pliers, Soldering iron
Removal from Pod
N.B. All the remarks below relate to the late model speed/controller boards after Chris Marquet's design.
The Aura motor pod is cylindrical approximately 130mm high and 100mm in diameter, and I suspect is a brass pipe casting of nominal OD-100mm and wall thickness 5mm finished in a high polish chrome plating. The entire pod is dismounted by removing two dome nuts clearly visible on the top plate. The motor and speed control top deck is a circular, 92mm diameter x 4.5 mm thick, gloss black acrylic sheet drilled at several locations to accommodate the coarse and fine speed adjustment pots, mounting rods and three-point motor mounts. These latter are 6mm rubber grommets recessed into the underside of the top acrylic plate. The motor is secured by M3 bolts and washers. The M3 bolts run through the grommets and secure directly into threaded holes in the top end of the motor. These M3 bolts are not visible from above with the motor pulley/flywheel in place, but are easily accessed once the pulley/flywheel is removed...and there is where your adventure, if you are a novice like me, may start. "Never go out your front door Frodo..." (real world, now, concentrate!)
The motor/controller top plate (click to enlarge) :
The entire motor/speed control board assembly is easily removed once the dome nuts are off. It will, in fact, fall completely out of the housing and dangle by the on/off and power supply wires(!), if you're not careful when inverting it. The on/off switch is removed by unscrewing an external nut and the AC power supply socket wires are simple to de-solder (even for me) as there's tons of space to move about and see what you're doing. Once these are detached, the motor, speed controller and top plate lift completely out of the metal pod.
The motor can then simply be unplugged from the speed controller board and the connecting wires de-soldered from the tag board on the motor. Just take note of which wires went where - OK? If you don't, the order (on mine) was Black, Brown, Red, Orange, from left to right on the small tag board at the bottom of the motor when viewed from the top of the motor as it would be in the normal, veritcal operating position. You should now have the motor in your hot little hands, Bwhahahahhahahahahahaaaaa...!!
Here is a picture of the capstan being pulled from the Panasonic motor (click to enlarge) :
This nifty little device (the gear puller) is about $AUD25 from Omnimodels in the U.S. Heat applied with a soldering iron helps (nod to Chris Marquet), as this is purely "friction fit" to the shaft. None of your glue caked on the walls and flying out of the windows with this one! Anyhow, tighten, heat, tighten, heat and...it comes off smoothly. A quick spin of the shaft reveals no untoward noises, so I assumed everything (like the rotor), was still in place.
Similarly, the pulley and flywheel can be removed from Dave's original motor, the heat in this case being needed to melt the super glue with which Dave fixed it to the shaft (thanks again to Chris Marquet for that inside 'super glue' information). The pulley/flywheel is a firm fit, but not firm enough to turn a belt without itself rotating on the motor shaft.
At this point, one has a bare pulley/flywheel and a new pulley-less motor shaft. Inspection of Dave's pulley revealed, not unsurprisingly, the residue of super-glue along with some accumulated dust and grime. I used acetone (a super glue solvent) and some lint free cloth on a 2.5mm drill bit (by hand) to clean the bore of the flywheel. A little patience and the pulley/flywheel was shiny inside and out, as well as free of grease and smut.
Before introducing these two to each other it's a good idea to do a dry fit and make sure that the pulley spins the shaft freely, then mount the motor to the top plate, and push the pulley into place so that it clears the mounting bolt heads. If it fouls the bolt heads, even slightly, then the bolts need tightening to compress the rubber grommets further. I believe that a very tight fit on these rubber grommets is desirable to send some of the motor energy into the pod frame and not down the belt. I imagine that Dave Whitakker introduced these to nullify the usual whirring noises that such a chamber might mechanically amplify. I intend to try the motor with a rigid mounting in due course to assess the effect and to see if it improves the sonic performance of the Aura at all.
First, mount the motor to the top plate with three M3 bolts and washers. You don't really want to fix the pulley in place before the new motor is mounted on the top plate, since the 40mm pulley won't fit through the 20mm hole! Then, mount the pulley to the shaft. Place the motor horizontally to apply one drop of super glue to the shaft and another drop to the bore hole of the pulley. Don't do this vertically! It would be very, very embarrassing to have super glue drool down into the motor!
Re-attachment of the motor wires is easy. The solder tabs are large and well spaced. Then plug the motor leads back on to the controller board. Chris may be pleased to know that the speed was still very close to correct when the unit was re-started, showing both the durability and reliability of his controller board and, it must be said, the consistency of the Panasonic motor manufacture.
After 12 hours of run in, the motor is performing spot on speed as far as I can see with all available strobe discs:
Here is the end bearing. It appears to be a synthetic material, in fact (10mm dia. with ~3mm bore):
I hope this short note is of some assistance to anyone in the same situation, but, as in the TV ad, there's more...(and it ain't steak knives)
Aura Motor (Part II) -- The Caves of Motoria
All is well that ends well. I don't know if that was W.C. Fields, probably not. He was more likely to have said that the "cost of living has just increased by 25 cents a quart". So, with new Panasonic motor in place and vinyl playing smoothly, what's to complain about?
Not complain, as such, but pragmatism and the reality of time passing must force us to consider the practicality of continuing to use this motor, for several reasons:
- It is no longer in production, even though it can be obtained, given enough time; but, for how long?
- The top bearing (and the bottom bearing) are bronze/brass sleeves. They are not well suited to the lateral forces imposed by the necessity of moving a mass such as the Aura flywheel presents. I suspect the wear in this bearing is very premature, as the example I have has not been in 24/7 use for 7-8 years, nor has it been used as frequently as the motor designers may have expected in a VCR machine.
- There are better motors available today than when Dave designed the Aura, both AC and DC, although I have a leaning towards modern DC and the relative ease of external control without having to fidget with mechanical parts of "just the right" size.
So, thus begins the "adventure" alluded to earlier; told you, Frodo.
I'm pursuing a number of directions and will post something on the results of each one, here, in due course. For now, I'll just summarize as follows:
- Origin Live motor kit. A bit pricey for basic bits, but upgradeable without resorting to buying the official "upgrades". I'm prepared to invest the cost of an "Advanced Motor Kit" $AUD550, listen, upgrade, and listen some more. The controller looks "ultra basic" and is not hard to upgrade to OL's "ultra" version. I think it can be done for $AUD150 (including the grossly overpriced 'special transformer') instead of the $AUD600~$AUD650 extra that OL essentially charge.
- Maxon motor kit (which doesn't exist). A matter of trawling through dozens of possible specifications to find a better motor. Origin Live use a Maxon 110119 and a Maxon 226774 but these are the lower end Maxon motors and also have sleeve bearings as standard. The 226774 can be built to order with ball bearings for around $AUD250 though and it is the so-called "ultra" motor that will run with the OL controller..
- Completely new motor and controller from Maxon or manufacturer of equal marque. Preliminary discussions with Maxon Australia's Managing Director indicate a cost of ~$900 for a top flight motor/controller combination. The kind of thing you put in a dialysis machine and expect to work, come what may. Not as expensive as it seems when you see the price of some of the controllers out there.
- Lastly, because I am obtuse and suspicious of price-gouging retailers (Orcs), I think I will obtain a PWM unit on eBay and a cheap(ish) DC motor and see what the difference is in a cost/use/performance sense. For under $AUD100 for the bits and motor, the results should be illuminating.
Whichever path works out best, the black acrylic top plate of the Aura will need to be replaced, so I've already sourced that item from a firm in Brisbane, Australia -- www.acrylicsonline.com.au who laser cut a few samples of the 92mm x 4.5mm top plate for $AUD25 which I drill as required.
This is the simplified Aura Motor Pod Top Plate (click to enlarge):
A motor mount hole or two will need to be added, but all speed adjustments will be off board; certainly so during the prototyping stages.
If you're interested, come back here in a few months. I should have made some progress by then. Any errors or omissions in the above can be reported to me via the www.quadesl.org site.
Aura Motor (Part III) -- Balrogs and Other Inconveniences (September 20, 2014)
The first thing that occurred to me after installing the new motor (apart from using the turntable!) was the nature of the power supply. Would a "better", slightly more capable transformer supply make much difference to the sound? Since I intended to try the Origin Live motor kit and it is widely published that an "upgrade" tot he power supply of that beastie makes it sound "so much better" then I might as well try a heftier power source. A less noisy one as well. I finally settled on a Tortech transformer which is described by the manufacturer as a "plug pack" but is, in fact, an in-line transformer with a nominal 12VDC and 3A output. The original plug pack supplied with my Aura was a 12VAC 0.5A unit. The theory (or guess work) here is that in times of need the psu can supply just that little extra current.
This is the Tortech unit ($100).
A quality device to which you connect your own polarized plug,
or directly to a device by screw terminals on the bare wires:
Well !? What's it like then? There is a noticeable improvement in the overall performance when things become busy/complex. Bass passages do, indeed, seem more articulate and clear. I wouldn't write volumes about the improvements, but having taken the Tortech in and out of the setup and given it a careful listening trial, I do believe there is something to be gained there. It is certainly an electrically quieter device, for what that's worth. Speaking of worth -- is it worth $100? In fact, if I were not going to use it elsewhere I would say the cost/benefit is marginal. I could be convinced to spend my money in other ways, but since this is a "shot to nothing" and I'm using this Tortech transformer in the Origin Live investigation, then nothing is lost.
Aura Motor (Part IV) -- Shelob -- Fibre is Good for You (September 22, 2014)
Having settled the new motor down somewhat and running on the original power supply 12VAC, 0.5A, I was seduced and distracted by descriptions written by people who thought something was to be gained in using a minimally elastic "belt" to drive their platter. Dave Whittaker (and others) are well documented as having used polyester tape (VCR tape, Cassette tape) as a non-stretch belt. Yet others have used various fibres, for instance, dental floss, cotton, silk, spider web? Really, that was an aberration. No one has used spider web, giant or otherwise. Really. I hope. In any event, if you're out there, (and believe me, if you've used spider web then you are "out there"), don't write or call, I have enough problems of my own.
So, I replaced the two round section belts driving the main platter of the Aura from the flywheel,l with dental floss. I left the rubber belt from the motor capstan to the main flywheel alone. I will not entertain the sadists among you with the trials and tribulations of tying a knot in something this fine so that A) It does not slip; and B) It does not KA-THUMP on every revolution when the knot goes by...it can be done but I am not herein publishing the incantations required. Imagine for yourself, or, better yet, try it! Nor will I entertain correspondence on the matter of whose turntable is freshest, waxed or unwaxed.
Tedious as this installation is, was and will be, it is one thing above all: CHEAP. Secondly, it is reversible very easily if and when you decide you couldn't be hearing what you are hearing :)), for good or evil.
Quick! Someone shut him up!
Does it make a difference? What about the sound, man !?
Everything changes the sound. Everything. Using dental floss, properly tied, is an improvement over the rubber(ish) belts used as original equipment fitted to my Aura, yes. A significant improvement too.
OK, what did I notice?
The whole sound stage is 'cleaner', top to bottom, and I say that as a long time Quad ESL user. I am used to "clean" and natural sounds. Very clean. Speed accuracy is slightly improved and with it, as with any means to improve speed accuracy, the intention of the musician is communicated more accurately. Horrors! It makes the Aura sound more musical. Sorry, I am not a Linn apologist, but that's how I would put it in the proverbial nutshell -- more musical.
Again, no debate is needed. Not even over cost effectiveness. It's easy (snip, snip) to reverse and all you may waste is a little time. Well, a LOT of time. Read up on surgical knots be tying yourself in same :)
I was a skeptic on this subject, but I am now converted to the use to dental floss, regularly. I may even try silk thread when I've recovered from the floss/knot/mint trauma. Here's a link to Silk Thread for the adventurous among you.
Aura Motor (Part IV) -- Wanted, Origin (A)Live or Dead ? (September 24, 2014)
The first fleet arrived in Australia on January 26, 1788 with mostly convicts aboard. It had left Britain on May 13, 1787. That's about 250 ~ 252 days, or so. It didn't take quite that long for the Origin Live motor kit to arrive from Southampton; it just seemed that way. Mr Baker apologized for not sending it via a signature confirmed, more expeditious service, but that didn't particularly pre-dispose me kindly to Origin Live's service. After all, the only reason it had to come from England was the necessity of fitting a "tall pulley". What arcane technology is involved in fitting a simple plastic barrel pulley of more than the usual longitudinal dimensions to a 3 mm steel shaft is anyone's guess. I really, really, really dislike audio voodoo. Perhaps that's why I like Quad.
So much for the rant. I hope to have communicated that, by the time I took possession of the "Advanced Motor Kit" (including tall pulley), I was in a less than equitable mood. I could have had a short holiday in New Zealand (for example) and fitted 110 (and a half) kits to a similar number of turntables. Rather than the NZ holiday I indulged myself with learning a great deal more than the nothing I already knew about motors and controllers. I need about a month more to get my act totally together on this front, but that's (yet another) story.
The Origin Live kit has been well described elsewhere, I believe, so I'll hit the salient points.
- There's a motor (not labelled as to manufacture), but likely a Maxon 110119 A-Max that sells for around $AUD110. OL call this the DC100 - whatever spins your disk. It has been fitted in this latest incarnation with a small circular cork pad on the front flange which acts as a mechanical vibration buffer between the front flange and the stainless steel mounting plate provided by OL. The motor is affixed to the stainless steel mounting plate with 10mm long M2 bolts which penetrate the cork pad and are further damped by small O-rings.
- There's a regulator box with a single switch on the front for OFF, ON-33 and ON-45. The rear of this box carries the AC power plug (labelled "Power Only") and the Motor Plug (labelled "Motor Only") plus the multi-turn pots to adjust 33 and 45 rpm settings. The plug points BOTH LOOK like 3.5mm polarised jacks, BUT they're not. It is NOT possible to plug the motor in where it should not be and the DC power into the motor OUT socket. The centre pins are different diameters, so a fatal mistake is not possible, but it would be nice if they were VISIBLY different at a glance, or the casing was etched with a label. Those sticky labels do fall off now and then.
- There's a strobe card to set speed and some fittings for assisting one to fit the motor to one of those Linn Sondek thingies.
You can see in the third and fourth photos (above) that the stainless steel motor top plate is affixed to the new Aura top plate with only one (5mm dia.) bolt. This, according to OL, "sounds better". This is something that can only be assessed after I've had a very good listen to the motor installed according to the manufacturer and then trying a few non-destructive, minor variations. One variation that does occur to me is to replace (or perhaps add to) the cork disk. The material that Herbie's Sound Lab sells in their "grunge buster dots" is one alternative material that comes to mind.
Aura Motor (Part V) -- The Ballad of Origin Live (October 4, 2014)
I'll explain in full, but from the very first I recommend that if you are an Aura owner then you should acquire and install either the Origin Live DC motor kit or an equivalent quality motor kit. The improvement over the standard Panasonic MAX-13V9L motor is substantial. I was not particularly enamoured with OL because of their slack service, but credit where credit is due. Also, you can install other DC motors and controllers; they don't have to be Origin Live. However, they do need to be of high quality, like Maxon, Moog, Alied Motion, Premotec and others.
Now, the hard part. Explaining what I mean by "substantial".
The motor was installed exactly according to OLs manual (which needs an edit or two), btw. The motor is initially a little noisy, as announced in the manual, but it does settle down very quietly within a couple of hours. I don't really think it took the full four hours that OL recommend, but I let it run that long in any case. The DC100 (OLs label) is impeccably silent in operation after a couple of days and you have to put your ear within 30cm or less to hear a soft whirring, if that. So, acoustically, it is more than acceptable, being far more acoustically quiet than the Panasonic motor. This is no reflection on the designer/builder of the Aura. These motors were not as readily available a decade ago and precious metal brushes along with rare earth magnets were not available in miniature motors like these either.
All very well, but how does it affect the sonics of the turntable?
The Aura was once reviewed as being "borderline Class A" equipment in its field; by Dick Olsher, I recollect. If one accepts Mr Olsher's experienced view, and I am inclined to that view as well, then the addition of a good quality, up to date DC motor takes the Aura well into Class A territory.
Sonics man !? Sonics!
Everything is improved. Sound stage, bass control, voice inflection and intonation, apparent pitch, micro-dynamics of instruments...even detection of faulty editing of a tape or two!
Let's take singing voice(s) for a case study. Or, I should say..."lesh taksh shingin vurces fer a casshe shtudi" ... which, with some small exaggeration, is how the sound of voices was before (slurred, drunk) versus how voices sounded after the motor transplant. It was possible to understand a lyric at a different level, simply because the turntable had sobered up! Also "effects" like...Iamsickofthisslowtrainservice" ... disappeared. Again, I exaggerate slightly, but words that once appeared "run-together" were now explicit. Rapidly enunciated, perhaps, as that was the performer's intent, but clearly understandable. So, I now have a different opinion of some performers, as well!
I found myself turning the gain (volume) down. This is something I've experienced before, just about every time I've installed a piece of equipment that lowered the noise floor of the system substantially. That might have been a pre-amp, cartridge, or step-up transformer. Less hash to take up the power in the amplifier chain and less need to call on that power. The converse is that the gain can be "jacked up" quite a lot and the whole performance remains very, very relaxed and seemingly unconstrained. Remember that it is a source component that has been altered and that even the most minute improvement (or degradation) is being amplified tens of thousands of times by the cartridge. Come to think of it, eliminating micro vibrations through the turntable must make it easier for the cartridge to track a record as it is responding less to spurious [ Latin: spurius (for a bastard whose father is unknown) , perhaps Notho (for a bastard whose father is known)] vibration and more to the track undulations that it is suppose to trace. Indeed this is exactly what I discovered upon digging out the old faithful test record and finding that the Denon 103R will now track the +18dB level better than ever, with a slight loss of "grip" in the left channel only. This, as we all know, is well beyond anything required to track 99.9% of ordinary program material. So, an unexpected, but now obvious, benefit.
The mechanism that causes all of the above ka-fuffle is clear, micro-vibrations transmitted through the "isolating" belts into the mass of the flywheel and platter. Possibly also into the supporting structure of motor pod and the main platter assembly. This latter is likely less prominent in a turntable such as the Aura as these two assemblies are physically distinct already. Such unwanted micro-vibrations will then be transmitted through the metal structure of the main platter and excite the stylus in unwanted ways (and very likely not excite the listener, similarly). The idea that these vibrations can be eliminated by "damping" the platter is specious. The damping of the platter certainly controls the sort of vibration that we are going to hear as acoustic noise in the macro environment (i.e. when you tap a platter, it does not go "bong"), but, whatever you damp the platter with it will be a solid substance that transmits some vibration. Recall that vibrations propagate faster in most solids than they do in liquids or air/gas media. So, let's trace the journey of a vibration originating in the motor assembly. Where does it go? It can move from the motor to the bolts and base plate via the cork or rubber dampers. They're "dampers" not "eliminators" remember! These will disperse some of the energy as heat, reflect some of the energy back into the motor and transmit some of the enrgy along the belt or belts. The belt is another "damping" medium. It may achieve this damping by dissipating some of the vibration as heat and perhaps some by reflection. No matter how good the belt, some micro-vibration ends up in the Aura flywheel which is solid metal and will enhance a vibration, not damp it out. This is isolated by the main platter drive belts in theory, but, hang on, the best drive belt will not stretch very much, so that means it won't be "elastic" and capable of reducing any vibrations that have made it this far. So, caught between Scylla and Charybdis (as usual in audio) we either opt for a highly damped medium in the belt or a belt that does not stretch and drives the main platter more accurately. Bugger!
Whatever you choose as your personal optimization of the factors in the last paragraph, all of us would be clearly better off if there was simply less vibration injected into the system in the first place. This is so well recognized in audio already where we spend a lot of our time isolating certain components from airbourne vibration or, if not that, then "grounding out" said vibrations before they get to out precious stylus. Always remembering that the stylus and cartridge assembly will magnify things 10,000 times and then that will be further amplified by the step up and phono stages...aaaaarghh! This is an intense area of investigation in certain quarters, see: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1000936111604305 for academic article on the matter of micro vibrations upsetting the "point-ablility" of cameras on spacecraft. Audiophiles think they have it bad :) Hah!
Speed Accuracy -- One Ring to Rule them All?
The other side of the coin in this scenario is the control exercised over the motor in order to maintain proper speed. In the Aura turntable I own, there is the Chris Marquet designed controller board of late manufacture. Four wires run from the board to the Panasonic motor and I assume therefore that some kind of sensor signal is involved in the control loop. Again, I assume this might be Hall Sensors in the Panasonic motor (usually 60 degrees apart) or perhaps a back EMF sensing circuit. Chris may care to enlighten me on this point. In any case, the speed control is rock solid without fuss or inconvenience.
Why is speed important? A variation of 6% will make a note vary from the one recorded by the equivalent of a sharp or a flat, depending on whether the turntable is running fast or slow. The acceptable broadcast standard for speed accuracy is +/- 0.3% and this should be the minimum for a quality turntable. Up to 0.03% is achievable.
The Origin Live regulator/speed controller has been examined in many incarnations (now up to Mk 12) in many forums. The one I have is the "Advanced" Kit and there is considerable danger in the use of the word "Advanced" for OL. I say chaps, the English language is difficult, I know, but words do have specific meanings and I'm not sure that the word "advanced" belongs anywhere near this controller.
The "Advanced Controller" will maintain speed within reasonable limits once it is allowed to settle in. OL recommend 4 days of run in. Even so, the controller is not guaranteed to lock on to the correct speed until 2 minutes after switch on and may vary speed depending on regulator temperature. There is some suggestion "out there" that it is also sensitive to mains fluctuations. My considered opinion is that a consumer device of this kind should be free of any of this fussiness. I would not consider a car that had to "warm up" for 2 minutes to even be fit for purpose in this day and age and I know very well that it is not beyond the wit of mankind to build a motor controller (and fairly cheaply at that) which is immune to short term mains fluctuations and does not require minutes of warm up time to maintain its accuracy. If it is truly advanced it should also be able to sense loading conditions and not have to be finely adjusted after 30 secs of stylus contact. No, not "advanced", merely, "adequate" is my opinion on this particular gadget.
EDIT: The original motor controller I had was returned and replaced under warranty by Origin Live. The repeatability of the new unit is much better. (November 15, 2014)
Allowing for my quibbles about the motor controller, I still find the overall performance of the OL motor kit to be a substantial and easily heard improvement over the standard Panasonic motor in the Aura.
Aura Motor (Part VI) -- Maxon Motors - Driving Your Dollar Further...(November 15, 2014)
As foreshadowed above, I've saved up a few pennies and bought a genuine Maxon 226774 motor for the Aura. This is supposedly the equivalent to the "Ultra" motor that Origin Live supply. The cost, directly imported to my front door from Switzerland is $290 (inc shipping). The local price for the Origin Live "Ultra" motor is $320 or $198 upgrade from the DC100. Considering the genuine Maxon motor ("Ultra") is around $150 and OL would have the advantage of scale, then $320 is a pretty steep price. Having examined the DC100 closely in comparison to a genuine Maxon (I keep using that word -- genuine), I have difficulty in convincing myself that Origin Live use a Maxon motor. The OL motor is very good, but I think it may be a Chinese clone manufactured at a lower price and hence a greater profit margin, but that's business and if it provides the performance then that's OK too.
Here is a side-by-side view of the OL motor (unlabelled) in background: (click to enlarge)
Before reading the comments below regarding sonic improvements (which were substantial), the reader should keep in mind that I did not transfer the "cork" pad from the OL motor to the Maxon 226774. I may do this and comment on the differences once I am used to the effect of the new motor. I am also considering inserting a "washer" of "grunge buster" material from Herbie's Ausio Lab in the same position as the cork pad to see if audible benefit is to be obtained. I think so.
Sonically, the Maxon 226774 is superior in almost every way to the DC100 (OL) motor when used to drive the Aura. For direct comparison, I used the OL motor controller (Advanced Kit) and the same pulley. The bass end of the spectrum benefits most with sound stage "feeling" just that much more "solid". What used to be known as "presence" in the space in which the recording was made is greatly improved. The Maxon motor has even less internally generated noise and thus less is transmitted to the belt/flywheel having the usual benefits downstream in increased detail and better imaging detection.
Frankly, 3 months ago I would have pooh-poohed the idea that a motor could make this much difference to the sound of a turntable. Sure, I would have admitted that it made some difference. Everything makes a difference to the sound, but these differences are clear and present, as it were.
At this point in time, I can tell you with some confidence that the Aura turntable is substantially improved in performance through the use of a Maxon 226774 motor and an Origin Live "Advanced" motor controller (or, very likely, a motor controller of equivalent or better quality). I have used the controller with and without a larger (high current) AC power transformer and this is the component which provides the most marginal benefit to the sound. Nevertheless, a better power transformer does provide better(audible) performance. A total upgrade price would vary but I suspect it could be done for under $AUD600 if you went with the Maxon motor and a quality (but not OL-priced) dc motor controller. That would include the $100 for a high quality AC-AC transformer that can provide 3amps as required.
Now, what's next...?
I suppose I'll look at component upgrades to the motor controller. Sometimes a few dollars (<$15) spent on critical components can lift performance. I'll think about a custom DCX motor from Maxon. The higher quality Maxon motor was a fairly expensive exercise, but cost effective in musical terms. Maxon allow buyers to customise a motor to a purpose and that might be the next step and it may or may not amount to over-reach in cost terms. If half the improvement was obtained from a super-high quality custom built motor as was obtained by fitting the 226774 then it would probably be worth it. Like all imponderables of this nature, it's a bit of a gamble, so I'll look at that in the new year. For now, cheapie motor controllers and better components :)
Stay tuned for further developments...
September 15, 2014 (original post, updated as shown above)