By Lam Seng Fatt
Louis Desjardins, the Canadian designer of the highly-praised Kronos turntables, was an unknown in the hi-fi scene before his turntables took the industry by storm. However, he has a very strong background as a music lover and audiophile. And a tweaker.
During a Chinese dinner at the Oases in Petaling Jaya last night, he came across as a likeable and knowledgeable person who is passionate about music and hi-fi. While some of his opinions may be controversial, he has his turntable as proof that he is not full of hot air. Indeed, the Kronos turntable does sound impressive which gives him good authority to air his views on other turntable designs.
He does not think highly of designs like spring suspension, air or magnetic bearing, idler wheel drive, direct drive, unipivot tonearms (with a sharp-point bearing), linear tracking tonearms, and others. He also does not think highly of some of the top turntables in the market.
Ironically, his idea of having a second counter-rotating platter to counteract the “torque force” generated by the spindle of the first platter rotating the normal way was inspired by another turntable designer. Former owner and designer of Pink Triangle turntables, Arthur Khoubesserian, had set up The Funk Firm after Pink Triangle folded up. Arthur had come up with the concept of the Vector Drive, a three-pulley system to drive the sub-platter of the Linn LP12 evenly without the spindle rocking.
“When I read that, I knew immediately how I could solve the issue of ‘torque force’. I could visualise in my mind how I was going to do it,” he said. And that was how the turntable with two platters came into existence. Soon after that eureka moment, he set out to build a turntable based on what he had visualised. And it worked. He knew it worked because there was a difference in sound quality when the counter-rotating platter was taken out of the equation simply by removing the belt connected to the motor. After that it was just a matter of refining the product.
“What is ‘torque force’?” I asked. Louis proceeded to turn a tea cup on a saucer. The saucer turned along with the tea cup. That is the ‘torque force’ generated by the tea cup that is being turned; the platter’s spindle will cause ‘torque force’ on the bearing housing and in turn the plinth, he said.
“You know, I met Arthur during a hi-fi show and he commended me on my great design, but I told him I had to thank him for it because it was his Vector Drive that had inspired me,” he said.
During a listening session after dinner at the showroom operated by Hi-fi Creations in a Soho unit nearby, I could hear a difference with and without the counter-rotating platter. I commented that the music sounded hollow without the counter-rotating platter.
“You know why? Without the counter-rotating platter, vibrations caused by the stylus raking the grooves of the LP travel along the LP to the platter and turntable and are reflected back to the stylus out of phase. There are cancellations at certain frequencies, that’s why it sounds hollow. The sound is out of phase,” he said.
Louis was trained in pure science, but his father was an engineer. Louis worked for some time in a company that rebuilt motorcycles, so tinkering around and modifying things is something he is good at.
His hi-fi journey began with a Yamaha amplifier and Yamaha speakers. The source was a Thorens TD160 turntable. As expected, he modified it by changing the position of the springs, adding this and that, rewiring the tonearm and rebuilding the tonearm. Little did he know that tinkering around with the Thorens would one day enable him to launch one of the world’s top high-end turntables with praises pouring in from reviewers around the world.
Then came the CD and “Perfect Sound Forever” and – like millions of other audiophiles – he was seduced by the dark side of the digital forces. But CDs never really gave him the satisfaction that he craved for.
His affair with CDs lasted some 10 years. One day, he bought a Thorens TD160 turntable again. “I had no more LPs but my sister had some and I took a few from her. I placed the stylus on the grooves and I loved what I heard,” he said. Thus began his second relationship with vinyl and turntables. Given his tendency to tinker and tweak and his ability to think out of the box, he was surely destined to design the twin-platter suspended turntable which he called the Kronos.
Louis is also a collector of things hi-fi. He has speakers made by JBL, Altec Lansing, Infinity, Tannoy, KEF and others.
He is also a collector of LPs (he picked up a Louis Armstrong mono album for one buck!) and a passionate lover of music. During the listening session at Hi-Fi Creations’ listening room using a system comprising Magnet amps, Skogrand cables and the Ocean Five Pacific Reference four-box speakers, he kept playing LP after LP.
He looked at me and said, “You want to hear Count Basie tapping his foot while playing the piano?” He played the Count Basie album and told me to “listen to that” when boomy tapping sound was heard. It was the sound of Count Basie tapping his foot in time with the music and the microphone had picked it up. Louis was obviously and genuinely happy to let me experience a moment of music-making that his Kronos Pro turntable picked up from the grooves of an ancient LP.
“You want to hear some crazy bass?” And he played an album with some crazy bass that was so low that I could feel the soft one-seater I was sitting on vibrate a little. He enjoyed playing the music, and he was happy with the fact that I was enjoying the music. And he enjoyed knowing that his turntable could pick up all those musical details and dynamics for me to enjoy.
Since he is indeed the vinyl expert, I had to pop him this question: “Given an LP made from an analogue master and an LP made from a digital master, which would sound better?” “The one made from the analogue master,” he said. “Okay, next question. With songs recorded digitally, and if the songs are released in LP form, would the digital master files sound better than the LP version>”
He said there is a Diana Krall album that was recorded digitally and the LP version sounded better than the digital master. “Why?” was my obvious question.
He believes it is probably because the cutting lathe “rounds up” the digital information when the grooves are cut on the stamper. I replied that it would mean that the LP would not be an exact copy of the digital master then. He believes that there would be some loss of information when the lathe “rounds up” the data, but it makes the music sound more pleasant to the ears. Bear in mind that this is a purely theoretical discussion, but it is interesting nevertheless.
Louis spent much time explaining to me the finer details of his Kronos turntable such as it being necessary for the two platters to have the same weight and spin at the same speed for the “torque force” to be cancelled out. He said the turntable design is such that the double plinths, which are secured to each other, are effectively suspended in air by O-rings which need not be changed. It is so well-balanced that the stylus will not skip even when the plinths are knocked sideways…and he proceeded to prove to me that the stylus would not skip by giving the plinths a push.
Louis said his aim when designing the Kronos was to make his turntable sound as good as the master tape. And with help from his friend Rene Lafleme who works for the Fidelio Audio record label, it was easy for him to compare the LP with the master tape that Rene produced. The fact that Rene is now using the Kronos turntable as his own reference just goes to prove that indeed Louis has achieved what he set out to do.