Review: Galibier Stelvio Turntable

Category: Analog

A review requires auditioning a piece of equipment in a personal reference system, utilizing a variety of equipment to extract the best performance from the product being reviewed. Additionally since I have already purchased the equipment, I am invariably influenced by ‘post-purchase rationalization’.

If you wish to avoid wading through what follows: I am very happy with my purchase!

I have been a music lover all of my life. I purchased my first LP for my 10th birthday (Elton John’s Greatest Hits) and have accumulated approximately 2000 LPs and 700 CDs. My music collection consists of:

Jazz (50%):
Favorites: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Count Basie
In Heavy rotation: Louis Armstrong “Plays King Oliver”, Basie “Chairman of the Board”, Anat Cohen “Poetica”, Joscho Stephan “Django Forever”

Rock/Pop (30%)
Favorites: The Clash, X, Squeeze, Elvis Costello, Kinks, Prince
In Heavy Rotation: AC/DC “Back In Black”, Squeeze “Greatest Hits”, Robert Palmer “Double Fun”

Latin: (10%) – my current passion!
Favorites: Marisa Monte, Eliades Ochoa, Chano Dominguez, Pixinguinha
In Heavy Rotation: Marisa Monte “Tribalistas”, Pablo Moura “Mood Ingenuo”

Classical: (10%)

I tend to keep equipment a long time. Prior to purchasing my CDP and turntable I hadn’t bought a piece of equipment for five years.

I’ll confess: until recently I’ve been a died-in-the-wool Linnie. Since my original Sondek purchase in 1986, I have dutifully performed every upgrade as it became available. However, the recent announcement of the Keel upgrade made me pause. I had purchased my new Andromeda CDP and had become less satisfied with the sound of my vinyl. Before committing to the costly Keel upgrade I decided to investigate my options.

Over the course of six months I auditioned several turntables, including a visit to the 2007 RMAF. I listened in unfamiliar systems with familiar recordings. When possible, I initially listened to well known CD’s (Scissor Sisters "Eponymous", Marisa Monte "Tribalistas", Russ Reinberg "Blue Scarlett", Ray Brown "Super Bass" and The Bad Plus "These Are Vistas") to get a feel for the character of each system prior to critical auditioning with familiar vinyl.

I listened to a variety of music and recordings of variable quality (Scissor Sisters "Eponymous", Ralph Peterson Trio "Triangular", Rockpile "Seconds of Pleasure", Abbey Lincoln "It's Magic". Many times the associated system did not match my personal listening priorities, requiring listening through the downstream components. I did have the experience of auditioning one turntable that I initially disregarded but when I had an opportunity to listen in the context of a different system, it was magical. Not ideal but this is the best we can do. The list of comparable products includes the tables I auditioned.

Tables not auditioned but would have love to hear:
J.C. Verdier

The majority of the tables clustered around a fairly narrow normal distribution of my personal opinion of ‘neutral’. It is my opinion that ‘neutral’ is an individual preference. In other words, there is no absolute sound because sound requires an individual’s interaction with the music and we all have our unique tastes and biases.

Ultimately I narrowed my choices to the Teres 460, the TW-Acustic and Galibier. All of my finalists had a unique voice. To my ear the sound of the Teres was more akin to Ben Webster; slightly lush and ‘warmer’, while the Raven and Galibier were more Charlie Parker; slightly more detailed and ‘quicker’. Mind you that these were subtle shadings from what I consider ‘neutral’. Given that I was purchasing a handmade product, I felt it was critical to feel comfortable with the people behind turntable. Luckily, the folks involved are all first class: Jeff Catalano at Highwater Sound (TW-Acustic), Chris Brady (Teres) and Thom Mackris (Galibier).

Strangely, I can’t say exactly how I arrived at a final decision, but over the course of a few days, I realized that the Galibier was the best table for me. Thom’s philosophy that a high quality turntable will make you happy to play all of your albums, not just your best sounding ones truly ‘resonated’. So in late December 2007 I placed my order.

After placing the order, Thom and I exchanged a number of e-mails and phone calls. Thom never explicitly told me what arm and cartridge to purchase but spent time learning about my listening tastes, where my system currently is, and where I hope it will eventually be. With Thom’s input, I ordered a Triplanar arm and Dynavector XV1-S cartridge, but never felt like I was pushed into a particular arm or cartridge.

The table, arm, cartridge and requisite set up tools arrived in late April, exquisitely packed and in perfect condition. Thom arrived to personally set-up my system in early June. Thom includes the personal set-up as part of the purchase price of the Stelvio. With respect to the length of time from order to set-up, yes it was long and I wished it was shorter. However, you are purchasing a handcrafted piece of equipment, each made to order. It was worth the wait.

While I could have handled the set-up on my own, this part of the process was very important for me. I must have been out buying records when they passed out the handyman gene, so personal delivery and set-up made me feel confident that a) the system would be installed properly and b) I would be able to make the necessary adjustments to keep the system dialed-in.

The contribution of the Triplanar and Dynavector to the overall system can not be overlooked. The Triplanar is a remarkable piece of engineering and extremely intuitive. I was glad to have Thom walk me through the set-up and show me how the various tonearm adjustments interacted. Since I haven’t had a different arm or cartridge on the table, I can not ascribe the relative contributions of any particular component. I have heard a Galibier sound fabulous with a Schroeder arm and ZYX cartridge.

The night before my installation, I watched Thom optimize another Stelvio. This owner’s system features Serious Stereo amplification and horn speakers. The system sounded quite different (and in many ways better) than mine, but the essence of the Galibier sound was present.

The analogy of getting private golf lessons from Tiger Woods passed through my head as Thom demonstrated how to optimize my set-up. In 90 minutes we were ready to listen to music.

It sounds GREAT! Right from the first LP (Shelby Lynne “Just A Little Lovin’), there was loads of information and nuance that I had never heard on familiar recordings. The amount of low frequency energy was startling, even on an old favorite recording such as Duke Ellington & Ray Brown “This One’s For Blanton” (Pablo 2310-721). And it’s not just the quantity of low frequency information. You can hear the bassists’ fingers on the neck of the instrument and appreciate the wood tones. I have also experienced what others have described: a good analog set-up significantly reduces the background noise with a definite reduction in the clicks and pops. I think this is part of what makes listening to less than perfect recordings so much more pleasurable. When there is record noise, somehow it seems to be on a different ‘plane’ from the music and therefore less intrusive.

The system definitely had a break-in period. Initially the sound did not quite ‘hang together’. During the first 50-100 hours the system steadily improved, seemingly to ‘relax’ and revealing more detail. The music steadily becoming more coherent. It required another 100 hours to reach ‘steady state’. During this time, the space around the instruments and the overtones that distinguish each individual instrument and player became richer and the music became more realistic.

Subsequently, I repositioned my speakers and at a friend’s suggestion, unhooked my components from a Tice Power Conditioner. This significantly improved the sense of realism, especially for the higher frequencies. I continue to experiment with speaker positioning. The Galibier definitely provides a window on what is downstream in the reproduction chain.

Rather than spending effort with meaningless audiophile lingo attempting to describe the indescribable, I must confess that I couldn’t compose this ‘non-review’ while listening to vinyl. The music is too engaging to attempt multi-tasking. My Galibier rig thrills me with hidden nuances in old favorites and encourages me to rediscover forgotten albums. I’m listening at least 20 hours a week and experience an emotional connection to recorded music that I had no idea existed. It’s great fun to randomly pull out an LP and discover what I had been missing. By no means does it make a poorly recorded LP sound fabulous, but I find myself enjoying records that had been consigned to vinyl purgatory secondary to a poor recording. Records that I hadn’t remembered as being especially well recorded in fact sound excellent (AC/DC “Back In Black”, Prince “Controversy”, Flip Phillips “A Real Swinger” and Basie “Chairman of the Board” as examples.)

Is it perfect? Of course not, but I have yet to find a serious flaw. Perhaps that is the system’s greatest strength. I would describe the appearance as ‘industrial chic’. Personally, I think the Raven and Teres have the advantage on looks. The table is very heavy and requires a stable, level platform. I look forward to the arrival of the Schroeder Reference arm and plan on experimenting with different (possibly mono) cartridges as funds allow.

Just a couple of final points. The system is relatively ‘simple’ and should be reliable. Thom anticipates that any repair should be manageable locally. Thom is a wonderful gentleman to deal with; passionate, but not pushy. Since my installation, we continue to chat and exchange emails. When you purchase a Galibier there is an additional benefit: you join a community of like-minded souls who are passionate about vinyl.

Despite the considerable investment, this has been one of my most cost effective audio purchases. If you are interested in Galibier but don’t have the funds for a Stelvio, the Serac and Gavia offer a significant slice of the Stelvio magic at significantly less cost and with an upgrade path over time.

I'm one very happy customer. If you are in the market for your ‘last’ turntable, the Stelvio should be on your audition list.

Associated gear
Triplanar Tonearm
Dynavector XV1-S Cartridge
Loricraft PRC-4 RCM
Linn Linto Phono Preamp
SimMoon Andromeda CDP
BAT VK50SE Preamp
Levinson 436 Monoblock Amplifiers
Wilson Watt III/Puppy II Speakers
Transparent Interconnects and Speaker Cables
EquaRack x2
Elrod Power Cords

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Acoustic Solid Royal
V.Y.G.E.R. Indian
Teres 460
Jazdoc a fine description of your thoughts and learned lessons along with a fine description of your music favorites.
In my mind a heavy weight turntable is a must for true top to bottom vinyl reproduction. The difference in sound is like hearing your collection all over again.
I am sure that your vinyl playing is now taking the majority of listening time over your digital front end.

Thanks for the encouraging feedback. Between the Stelvio and my Loricraft, the CD player is primarily used to warm up the system while I clean the first record of the day. I have also discovered that when word gets out that your into vinyl, LPs find their way to you! Just last week, a friend of my wife's who is downsizing invited me over to pick through his collection. I walked out with a car full of RCA Red Seals, Shaded Dogs, Angels and Mercurys. Life is very good...
Just a quick 1-year update...The Stelvio is awesome!

The turntable is the center of my system. Everytime I make a downstream upgrade (speakers and amplifier), the turntable sounds better. The Stelvio is definitely not the limiting factor in my system. It's amazing how much data the Galibier can extract from those vinyl grooves.

Since buying my new rig, I've spent many, many wonderful hours listening with my family and friends and enjoying lots and lots of new vinyl. It's also been great fun to rediscover old LPs that hadn't seen the light of day for many years.

As an added bonus, I've gotten to know Thom Mackris as a customer and friend. Everything you've heard about Thom is true; he is not only a unique and comprehensive audio guru, he's a terrific person.

I am a blissfully satisfied customer.