Rekkord Audio is the new brand name for turntables produced by an old name, Alfred Fehrenbacher GmbH, maker of the Pro-Ject Automat A1. Headquartered in Germany’s Black Forest region, Fehrenbacher formerly controlled the Dual brand name but relinquished it after a court battle with the owners of the revitalized Dual organization.
Priced at $499 (all prices in USD), the F300 bears a close resemblance to three other automatic turntables I’ve reviewed recently for SoundStage! Access: the Andover Audio SpinDeck Max, the Dual CS 329, and the Pro-Ject Automat A1. All of them appear to share the same basic Fehrenbacher design in their motor/belt-drive systems, suspensions, and controls. The arm design is where these three vary. And that’s where the F300 shines.
The F300 has user-adjustable tracking and antiskate forces, so the owner can substitute another cartridge for the factory-installed Audio-Technica AT91. This turntable even comes with a mounting gauge to ensure that you can mount your new cartridge with the correct 19.5mm overhang (the distance from the spindle to the stylus tip).
The F300 uses a flat rubber belt to drive a plastic sub-platter. The main platter, which fits on top, is aluminum and fairly lightweight. To dampen the platter’s vibration during playback, the turntable comes with a felt mat.
The aluminum arm has an effective length of 8.3″ and is equipped with a cue (up/down) lever control. To ensure the stylus reaches the record groove gently, the arm is damped as it descends. Fashioned from carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer, the captive headshell is light but resists undue flexing.
Equipped with a 0.6 mil conical stylus, the AT91 is Audio-Technica’s entry-level moving-magnet cartridge. Available separately for $40, the AT91 is a respectable but basic unit that’s been in production for many years. While it’s not the cartridge I would choose for my own system (I prefer elliptical styli), it’s a time-tested product frequently included with turntables in this price range. I asked Roy Feldstein, chief technology officer of Vana Ltd., Rekkord’s US distributor, about this choice. Feldstein passed my question onto Heinz Lichtenegger, founder of Pro-Ject Audio Systems, Rekkord’s parent company. Lichtenegger responded:
Our opinion is that with such a low-cost automatic turntable, we attract a wider audience of customers, different from the typical audiophile. These customers may have older, used records and not the best pressings. For example, an AT91 performs better than some elliptical ones, which go deeper in the groove and produce more surface noise. Also, we wanted a softer, more forgiving sound balance that was not necessarily as open and detailed. These customers often use less expensive speakers, and our preferred sound balance is a better match.
For sure, we ensured that you could also change the cartridge if you want to go a level higher in resolution and openness. The [F300] is definitely good enough to benefit from such an upgrade.
I can’t argue with Lichtenegger’s points.
The turntable’s back panel presents captive interconnects to the amplifier and a ground/earth wire of acceptable quality. The only other connection is for the wall-wart power supply—unusually, this is permanently equipped with a European-style Type C plug, so you’ll need to connect it to an adapter for North American outlets. It works, but it makes for a very deep/high wall plug.
From front to back along the right side of the top panel are the Start/Stop lever, record-size selector (7″ / 12″), speed-selection switch, and the cueing device. There is no separate on/off switch. To play a record, just hit Start, or pick up the arm and move it to your desired cut. Pretty simple. The unit comes with a heavy-gauge plastic dust cover.
The F300 measures 5.1″H × 16.9″W × 14.4″D and weighs just a smidgen over 13 pounds. The platter, arm, and automatic mechanism are suspended from the heavy MDF base to decouple it and minimize the effect of external vibration. My review sample had a black base, but the F300 is also available in a striking wood veneer called Stirling Oak. The F300 is covered by a two-year parts and labor warranty in the US.
Unpacking and setup
Unpacking and setup were a snap. The turntable is well insulated from shock in its box. After opening the box, the first part you encounter is the dust cover. Once you’ve lifted that out, you can pull out the turntable nestled in its protective polystyrene forms. You’ll find the platter and mat at the bottom of the box. The counterweight, the dust-cover hinges, and a 7″ 45 rpm adapter are tucked into cubby holes in the polystyrene forms.
The first step is to remove the red clips that hold the motor/platter/arm unit in place during shipping. Once that’s done, press the platter over the spindle until the platter’s locking spring fits into the slot on the spindle. The terse but fairly thorough operating manual then instructs you to put the clips that hold the dust cover into their slots on the plinth, then attach the dust cover itself. This takes some effort as the dust cover is fairly thick and the clips that hold it don’t like to spread.
The only slightly tricky part is, of course, balancing the arm. As is common, you first screw the counterweight to the back end of the arm, then balance the arm so it’s parallel to the plinth top. The next step is to set the tracking and antiskate forces. Turn the force gauge at the front of the counterweight to “0,” then turn the counterweight and gauge in tandem until the “2” marking (for 2gm / 20mN) is vertical. The antiskating control is unusual: it’s a ring around the base of the arm pivot. Turn it clockwise until you reach “2” and it’s set.
After I had everything dialed in, I found the force gauge pretty accurate. With the counterweight showing “2,” the tracking force measured 2.045gm. The RPM app on my smartphone measured the actual speed for the 33⅓ rpm setting at 33.52, or 0.5% fast. At 45, the measured speed was 45.30 rpm, or 0.7% fast. Estimated wow at 33⅓ and 45 were ±0.28% and ±0.19%, respectively.
As the unit appeared brand new, I gave it several hours of play time without listening to soften the cartridge cantilever’s mount. The disc I used was one of my many “Stereo Spectaculars” from the early 1960s that have percussion bouncing all over the soundstage.
My first selection was Symphony No. 3, “Organ,” by Camille Saint-Saëns, performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under Sergiu Comissiona (Vanguard Audiophile VA 25008). This is a wonderfully lush interpretation recorded at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, with its magnificent Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. The strings play as one in the first of the symphony’s two sections, with exquisitely soft passages that could pass for nocturnes. Played on the F300, these passages were very satisfying. The second section has a totally different sound: much louder, with major contributions by the winds and percussion. The music builds steadily until the dramatic entrance of the massive pipe organ. Again, I felt the F300 did a very decent job of conveying the majesty of the work. In all, well done.
In my opinion, Mel Tormé was one of the three best “saloon” singers of the 20th century, along with Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. On “Harlem Nocturne” from Mel Tormé—Songs of New York (Atlantic 7 80078-1), Tormé’s warm voice is accompanied by a prominent snare played with brushes, a sparse piano part, and silky strings. The F300 delivered this cut with a pleasant, rather mellow quality. But on a few notes, there was a slight harshness to Tormé’s voice that I haven’t noticed on other turntables. Although this is a stereo recording, the soundstage didn’t extend much beyond the center. Even so, the F300 delivered rather decent sound.
One of Canada’s great gifts to the world was pianist Oscar Peterson, a Montreal native. His playing style borrowed a lot from stride pianists and Art Tatum. Peterson’s dexterity, skill, and tastefulness made him a legend. I recently picked up Oscar Peterson: Return Engagement (Verve V3HB-8842), a two-LP set of recordings by his trio from the 1950s and ’60s. On Peterson’s version of “Bag’s Groove,” the master tape is driven into modest distortion by his athletic pianism. The piano part showcases his control well. Peterson is in the center, with Roy Brown’s bass on the near right and Ed Thigpen’s drums a little further to the right; the left side of the soundstage is occupied mainly by room tone and Peterson’s talking and singing—this is early stereo. The F300 reproduced the song with more clarity on high piano notes than I’d heard before. Brown’s incredible bass playing sounded very well articulated.
Steely Dan, the duo consisting of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, was always backed by an impressive array of musicians, including Randy and Michael Brecker, Rick Derringer, and Mark Knopfler. One of their most famous cuts, “Hey Nineteen” from their album Gaucho (MCA MCA-6102), contains Fagen’s electric piano and synthesizer along with Becker on bass and electric guitar; Hugh McCracken is on the other electric. Fagen’s vocals are just right of dead center while his piano and synth are slightly further right. One guitar is on the far left and the other on the far right. The F300-AT91 combination created a convincing soundstage, but there wasn’t a lot of depth. Even so, the overall rendition was very satisfactory.
Earlier in my life when I was a DJ at a private club in New York City, our patrons were not always up on the latest deep disco hits; they preferred songs they heard on Top 40 radio. Whenever there wasn’t enough activity on the dance floor, I had two go-to tracks: “Shotgun” by Junior Walker and the All Stars and “I’ve Got the Music in Me” by the Kiki Dee Band. I hadn’t listened to the latter in a long time so I chose to play it here. It’s from the band’s album of the same name (Rocket/MCA MCA-458). The tune starts with an insistent bass/snare dance beat, and Dee enters with the first verse, followed by acoustic and electric pianos, electric guitar, organ, percussion, and backing vocals. The song starts softly but rhythmically, then builds steadily as more instruments enter the scrum. On the F300, the soundstage was well defined, but again, not especially deep. Placement of the instruments was solid, but the shimmer of the snare, the high notes on the guitar, piano, and vocals came across a little flat, which detracted from an otherwise very fine sound.
“Money for Nothing,” from Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms (Warner Bros. 9 25264-1), hadn’t graced a turntable under review for a while, so I played that next. This recording sounded different than the ones that preceded it. The soundstage was good, with far more depth than I’d noticed on other cuts. For instance, the cowbell that keeps time was firmly planted between the singers and the drums. Knopfler’s guitar was in front of the synth. And here’s one possible advantage to the AT91’s conical stylus: the various pops and clicks on my copy were far less noticeable than they’d have been with an elliptical stylus.
A while back, I purchased a used copy of Weather Report’s Heavy Weather (Columbia PC 34418), primarily for its opening cut, “Birdland.” The Manhattan Transfer’s cover of this tune is one of my favorite review tracks. So of course, that’s the only cut on the record that has a scratch. I thought I’d see if the F300’s graceful handling of clicks and pops would carry over to scratches. Did it soften them? Well, not really. However, the turntable turned in a very fine performance of the song, especially leader Joe Zawinul’s synth and Jaco Pastorius’s masterful bass playing.
Comparison: Rekkord F300 vs. Music Hall Stealth
I know this is an unfair comparison—the F300/AT91 combo retails for one third the price of the Music Hall Stealth, which comes with the excellent Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge. Given that price disparity, the F300 did surprisingly well. My song of choice was “Ease On Down the Road” from the 1974 Broadway-cast recording of The Wiz (Atlantic SD 18137). This was recorded at A&R Studios with engineering by Phil Ramone, so you know it sounds good. The Rekkord’s sound was rounder and a bit softer than the Stealth’s, with some unnatural boom on certain bass notes. On the F300, the high frequencies weren’t as prominent as they should be. By comparison, the Stealth/Blue combo had a more clinical sound. Though it was a bit less full, it offered better highs and a more solid, more natural bass line. Vocals on both were crisp. Given its price point, the F300 turned in an impressive performance.
If the Rekkord F300 has a weak point, it’s the supplied cartridge. If I were to buy this turntable, I’d shop around for a different pickup—perhaps an Ortofon OM 5E or an elliptical-stylus Audio-Technica. But for many people, I’m certain the included cartridge will do very nicely. And the F300 has many attractive features. Its speed is steady, without wow and flutter calling attention to themselves. The automatic mechanism is nearly silent. The cueing device is one of the most accurate and smoothest I’ve encountered. And the F300’s operational ease and careful handling of vinyl are admirable. All in all, the F300 is a fine value that will serve its owner well for many years.
. . . Thom Moon
- Speakers: Acoustic Energy Radiance 3, Advent ASW-1200 subwoofer.
- Preamplifier: APT Holman.
- Power amplifier: NAD C 275BEE.
- Analog Source: Music Hall Stealth with Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge.
- Analog Interconnects: captive on F300; Music Hall-suppled on Stealth, Wireworld Luna 8 (preamp to power amp).
- Speaker cables: Acoustic Research 14-gauge terminated in banana plugs.
Rekkord Audio F300 Automatic Turntable with Audio-Technica AT91 Cartridge
Warranty: Two years, parts and labor.
66 Southern Blvd.
Nesconset, NY 11767