High End 2022: Acoustic Signature Tornado Neo Turntable with TA-2000 Neo Tonearm

I have had multiple experiences with setting up and/or listening to the original Invictus, Invictus Jr., and Ascona ’tables from German turntable specialist Acoustic Signature. Since then, the company has updated its entire lineup of nine turntables, from the Invictus to the lowest-cost Maximus, in addition to refurbishing its complete tonearm catalog. The word “Neo” is applied to all models in the new series. Briefly, Acoustic Signature says that the across-the-board Neo improvements are an accumulation of at least 25 years of industry experience, along with the present-day implementation of its innovations in areas of vibration control, platter-bearing design, and constrained-layer damping.

The subjects of this report are the Acoustic Signature Tornado Neo turntable ($7495) with TA-2000 Neo tonearm ($3495). The Tornado is one of three similarly shaped turntables within the full Neo series: the other two are the more costly Hurricane and Typhoon. The Tornado Neo is made of anodized aluminum and is available in silver, black, or a combination (platter/chassis) of the two colors.

The chassis of the Tornado Neo is 1.7″ thick and machined from a single billet of aluminum, including the three-point integrated supports for footers. The chassis is cosmetically machined with outer grooves along the edges to break up the visual appearance and provide a look of three pieces of stacked material, when, in reality, the chassis is a single piece of aluminum. The feet of the Tornado Neo are all adjustable for leveling and also gel-damped to minimize the effect of external vibrations from the support shelf.

The top of the chassis has a machined recessed area (hidden by the platter when installed) to incorporate what Acoustic Signature calls the “Dura Turn Diamond” bearing, sub-platter, and fully isolated dual-belt-drive AC motor. The main platter is a 1.97″-thick, solid piece of aluminum with four brass damping elements, called Silencers, imbedded 90-degrees apart from their nearest neighbors and evenly spaced at a distance, when viewed from the top of the platter. The platter is supplied with a record mat that adds an additional level of constrained-layer damping; bonded to the underside of the platter is a similar type of material.

The motor used in the Tornado Neo is a dual-coil, 24-pole, AC synchronous model. Acoustic Signature uses the DMC-10 Digital Motor Controller to monitor and custom-adjust the in-phase and in-quadrature (I/Q) drive signals of the motor, automatically stabilizing and further reducing vibrations in real time. The I/Q drive-motor signals involve the use of two sinewaves that have identical frequency and a relative phase shift of 90 degrees. The result of this signal processing and real-time motor-specific adjustment approach is much quieter rotation with reduced vibration (as I’ve also observed in other loosely similar applications), which translates into significantly lower motor noise when subjectively observed or objectively measured.

The Tornado Neo components arrived well packaged and secured between custom-cut layers of high-density foam within a double-boxed container. Once the items were removed from the container (the turntable, motor controller, control unit, accessories, and installation manual), I began the assembly and set-up process.

Quickly covering this procedure, I set the chassis on a level surface and removed the motor cover-plate as instructed. Next, I leveled the adjustable feet under the chassis and carefully installed the sub-platter with its attached upper portion of the bearing into the lower-bearing section already mounted on the Tornado Neo chassis. Then, I installed the twin belts around the sub-platter and the dual-groove motor pulley. After the motor cover-plate is reinstalled, the main platter is carefully placed on the exposed sub-platter, after ensuring there is no dust or debris in the mounting location that would diminish the turntable’s precision when operating. The motor controller (DMC-10) is then connected to the Tornado Neo via a D-Sub connector cable, which runs from the turntable chassis to any of the three available D-Sub connectors on the DMC-10. I chose the “Motor 1” D-Sub connector. The control unit for power on/off and speed selection (33.3/45rpm) gets connected to the DMC-10 via a supplied RJ-45 patch cable at the remote panel-connector identified on the motor controller (as outlined in the manual). The final connection is the 120VAC wall-outlet power cord to the IEC inlet of the motor controller.

At this point, the manual instructs you to turn on the DMC-10 and use the two buttons on the wired control unit to start/stop the platter rotation and select speed 33.3/45rpm. Additionally, the manual explains that when an LED on the wired control unit is blinking it indicates the target speed is in the process of stabilizing. The LED stops blinking and becomes fully illuminated when the target speed is locked. On the control unit, a green LED indicates 45rpm, while a red LED indicates 33.3rpm. No LED illumination on the control unit indicates that the platter is inactive. The wired control unit can be placed in any location the user prefers for ease of use (within the limits of the connecting-cable length). I ended up with the control unit placed partially under the front of the Tornado Neo below the label and out far enough for the control buttons to be easily accessed.

The 9″ TA-2000 Neo tonearm was shipped in its own double-boxed package with all the necessary tools and items for installation. The tonearm was set up using the attached SME-style mount. One of three cartridges used was installed and aligned via the supplied alignment tools. Additional documented adjustments available on the TA-2000 Neo include overhang, offset angle, arm height (VTA/SRA), and anti-skate. Azimuth adjustment is also available, but the procedure is not documented in the installation manual. Later in the evaluation, I also completed cartridge-installation adjustments using the more thorough and time-consuming procedure I regularly apply for completeness during an evaluation.

I encountered a small hiccup when using the 5-gram Hana SL cartridge. The TA-2000 Neo specifications list acceptable cartridge balance-weights of 4 grams to 16 grams. Unfortunately, the Hana SL could not be balanced to 2 grams of tracking weight. This brings up the additional consideration needed to properly balance your cartridge. The combination of the cartridge “balance” weight and the required tracking force may be what sets the minimal weight with the cartridge in question. For the Hana SL, the tonearm would not allow the cartridge to reach its intended tracking force. The TA-2000 Neo’s minimal “balance” weight is 4 grams. The Hana SL weighs approximately 5 grams. The tracking force required for proper operation of this cartridge is 2 grams. The result (measured and verified) yields nearly 1 gram of tracking force with the balance weight at its lowest weight setting. In order to use the Hana SL, I had to add a headshell weight to achieve proper tracking force. (Both horizontal and vertical cartridge-resonance-frequency performance parameters were still within the generally accepted 8–12Hz range when completed.) The key takeaway is that the TA-2000 Neo specifications list the cartridge “balance” weight. Therefore, the user should account for the additional tracking force required for the cartridge to be used. The other two cartridges drafted for use during this evaluation (Hana Umami Red and Lyra Etna) worked without issue. [Acoustic Signature now offers a lighter counterweight for low-mass cartridges. —Ed.]

A second problem, while minor, prevented me from using a couple of my phonostages with the TA-2000 Neo’s supplied tonearm cable. The available distance between the left and right RCA connectors used to connect to the phonostage would not allow the supplied tonearm cable to spread far enough apart to complete the input connection on two of the three phonostages I have in-house. Prospective users should check the distance between the phonostage inputs and ensure the supplied (or desired) phono cable will spread far enough apart to make the connections

Once the issues mentioned above were addressed, the Tornado Neo with TA-2000 Neo performed and operated flawlessly during the evaluation period. The primary buttons on the wired control unit for start/stop and speed selection were fully operational and easy to use. Additionally, cueing the tonearm when playing vinyl records was simple and straight-forward.

With the trio of cartridges, the Tornado Neo and TA-2000 Neo produced excellent sound in most cases. The Hana SL displayed the majority of its overachieving performance, as did the outstanding Hana Umami Red and the always first-rate Lyra Etna. The known differences and scaling of performance between the cartridges installed on the Acoustic Signature combo were apparent and observable.

If nitpicking, the one area where this vinyl playback combination held back the performance of all three cartridges was a wee bit of shaving off of the visceral force and impact of dynamic transients, particularly in the bottom octave. While other admirable performance characteristics in this area were on display, the Tornado Neo didn’t quite capture all that these cartridges are capable of delivering. Regardless, the Tornado Neo and TA-2000 Neo were generally well behaved and very enjoyable to listen to.

Mighty Sam McClain’s album titled Give It Up To Love (AQ-LP1015, AudioQuest Music LP; APB 1015, Analogue Productions LP) serves as a good example of the excellent playback of the Neo combo of Tornado and TA-2000. Both LPs played well and showed most of the power of the bass drum with bass guitar overlay, while both parts of Kevin Barry’s dual guitar playing on overlaid tracks were identifiable in their individual space, as selected at the mixing board for this multitrack, all-analog recording. The combo revealed McClain’s unique and identifiably soulful vocals with plenty of emotion, while the timing of all songs was spot on. Particularly, during the playback of “Too Proud” via either version of the LP listed above, the Acoustic Signature combo exhibited Bruce Katz’s Hammond B-3 organ saturating the soundstage in a steady and controlled, yet fully attention-capturing way. Riding on top of the organ were the sometimes penetratingly dynamic bluesy guitar licks and powerful, but slightly less-intense-than-usual drum whacks, which still sounded impressive.

The overall spatial presentation on both albums was very good in terms of in-room energy and instrumental clarity. By comparison, APB 1015 pressing showed its characteristic additional warmth and fuller lower register, while the AQ-LP1015 version displayed more clarity and transient speed, and greater openness. The Tornado Neo and TA-2000 Neo combo was capable of delivering the unique characteristics of the individual LPs, while staying true to the performance of the recorded material. Well done.

For a steadfast display of dynamic energy and the ability to unravel complex musical passages, Malcom Arnold’s overture to “Tam o’ Shanter” was selected from two different albums: Witches’ Brew (LSC-2225, Analogue Productions reissue) and Mephisto & Co. (RM-2510, Reference Recordings). The Overture to “Tam o’ Shanter” offers a thrill ride of full-on orchestral power with delicate instrumental details woven within the performance. The music and orchestration gives one a look into the ability of a vinyl playback system to transparently parse, focus, and portray intensity and delicacy, along with the potential emotional roller-coaster ride that is available with such performances. With a capable cartridge and phonostage, the Acoustic signature combo proved to be up to the task of satisfying all criteria.

Both album versions of this overture (different orchestras, conductors, locations, and recording equipment) had nearly identical overall timing, yet provided appropriately unique sound signatures when played back with the Tornado Neo and TA-2000 Neo. The Witches’ Brew LP had a more forward presentation with additional upper-midrange emphasis (think strings, woodwind, brass, and non-bass percussion), while maintaining excellent clarity and dynamic agility. Timing and pacing, as presented by the combo, were as good as expected and proved to be a conduit for a bundle of energy when called upon. The Mephisto & Co. version of “Tam o’ Shanter” presented additional fullness and power in the lower registers of all instruments (especially in the bass region), while maintaining the rhythmic pacing of the performance. Energy was excellent, tilting a good bit towards the lower register of any instrument used during reproduction. This contrast is normal for these recordings and consistent on any of the playback systems I have in-house. The Tornado Neo and TA-2000 Neo combo reproduced the expected differences in these performances with relative ease.

With an already solid construction supported by the Neo advancements that Acoustic Signature has implemented across the board on all products, the Tornado Neo and TA-2000 Neo provided near-exceptional performance in its price class along with countless hours of musical enjoyment.

Associated Equipment
Analog tape: Otari MTR-10 Studio Mastering (¼” 2-track) tape deck with custom Flux Magnetic Mastering Series repro head and secondary custom tube output stage, Studer A820 Studio Mastering (¼” 2-track) tape deck (x2), Studer A80VU MKII Studio Mastering (¼” 2-track) tape deck, Stellavox SP7 (¼” 2-track) tape deck with ABR large-reel adapter, ReVox G-36 (¼” 4-track) tape deck
Analog vinyl: Basis Audio Debut Vacuum with Synchro-Wave Power Supply, Basis Audio 2800 Vacuum ‘tables; Basis Audio SuperArm 9, Basis Audio Vector IV (x2), Graham Phantom III tonearms; Lyra Atlas, Lyra Atlas SL, Lyra Etna, Lyra Etna SL, Lyra Titan-i, van den Hul Colibri XGP, Hana SL, Hana Umami Red cartridges
Phonostage: The Raptor (custom), Ayre P-5xe, Musical Surroundings Phonomena II+ w/Linear Charging Power Supply
Preamp: Dual Placette Audio Active linestage
Amp: Custom/modified solid-state monoblocks
Speaker: Vandersteen Model 3a Signature with dual 2Wq subwoofers and dual Sub Three subwoofers using M5-HPB high-pass filter
Cables: Assortment of AudioQuest, Shunyata, Tara Labs, Acoustic Research, Cardas, and custom cables.
Racks/accessories: Minus-K BM-1, Neuance shelf, Maple wood shelf, Symposium Ultra, Aurios Pro, Pneuance Audio, Walker Audio, Klaudio RCM, Kirmuss RCM, VPI RCM, Clearaudio Double Matrix Professional Sonic RCM
Room: 18′ x 8′ x 43′

Specs & Pricing
Tornado Neo
Type: Belt-driven turntable
Motor: AC synchronous
Drive system: RPM-regulated double-belt drive with speed fine adjustment for the sub-platter
Tonearm base: Up to 3 (one supplied)
Dimensions: 17.8″ x 6.26″ x 18.1″
Weight: 58.4 lbs.
Price: $7495

TA-2000 Neo
Type: 9″ tonearm
Pivot to Spindle Distance: 222mm
Effective length: 239.3mm
Effective mass: 9.6 grams
Price: $3495

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Andre Jennings