Let me start with a question. Do you think small accessories can make a big difference in the sound of your audio system? I never really considered this question until recently, when I was offered a custom hardwood record weight by Massif Audio Design for review. I have known Trevor Doyle, the man behind the Massif Audio Design brand, for more than 6 years. He has been one of my first and faithful followers on Instagram (@hifialex) since 2015, when I began posting photos of High End Audio systems and components. We met in person for the first time at the TAVES 2015 show in Toronto. Trevor is a professional carpenter, who makes custom audio equipment racks from exotic wood. Local Toronto area High End Audio dealers, like Sonic Artistry and Audio by Mark Jones, have used Massif racks for years and have always praised them.
I've been debating if I need any record weight at all. My turntable is Pear Audio Analogue Little John. Peter Mezek, Pear Audio's owner and designer, does not recommend any record weights for any of his turntables. So I wasn't sure what to expect. But curiosity got the best of me. The worst that could happen, I wouldn't hear any difference. Little did I know I was in for a huge surprise.
The record weight arrived packaged inside a nice drawstring bag, which was housed in a neat box with the Massif logo printed on top. This particular model is made of mpingo with the top part made of cocobolo. It is the top of the line model and retails for $895 USD. The bottom portion is slightly wider than the top. The top portion is slightly curved. The quality is outstanding. It is a beautiful piece to look at and pleasant to hold in your hands. You feel its weight immediately. It is about 300 grams +/- 10%. The weight has been in development for over 4.5 years, during which Trevor tried every wood possible, from Brazilian rosewood, to various species of ebony, even Jatoba and Bubinga. But he kept coming back to mpingo. Jonathan Badov, one of the owners of Sonic Artistry, played no small part in helping Trevor develop this weight. Jonathan himself told me how he prefers Massif mpingo weight to a record stabilizer that comes with his TechDAS AirForce III turntable. Even with AF's vacuum record hold down, Massif record weight still makes a difference. Jonathan also mentioned that, in his opinion, it even beats a Shun Mook record clamp! With such high praise, I was more eager to experience what this weight had to offer and so I began my critical listening.
My first record of choice was Mobile Fidelity's 2016 reissue of Supertramp's "Breakfast In America" (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab – MFSL 1-471). It is quite possibly one of the best sounding records in my collection. This pressing is super quiet, very clean and detailed, with a great bottom end. I started playing "Gone Hollywood" without the weight and admired the quality of the sound. I stopped in the middle of the song, put the record weight on and started from the beginning of the track. And almost immediately I noticed something that was very familiar to me, something that I first experienced a few years ago, when I reviewed the Gold Note PSU-10 inductive power supply. Specifically, it was the significant drop of the noise floor. The exact same thing happened with the Massif record weight. The results became very apparent and immediate - more details, tighter images and deeper soundstage. The difference was quite astonishing. I kept asking myself, is this possible with just a record weight? As I kept playing track after track on "Breakfast …", I was forced to acknowledge what I was hearing. Every song sounded better than I ever heard it before!
Next, I pulled out the Korean pressing of the self-titled debut from American hard rock band Danger Danger (CBS – ZK 44342, Jigu Records Corporation – CPL-1073). This is a well recorded, transparent sounding rock album. At the time of this debut in 1989, Danger Danger were unfairly lumped together with other "glam metal" bands of the period. But this debut has two songs, which I love, which set them apart, because they sound more like AOR / melodic rock than glam metal. One of them is a track called "Don't Walk Away". I started playing it with the record weight on and again experienced the level of details previously unheard. I did not even bother comparing it with how it would sound without the weight, as I knew right then and there, it just wouldn't be as enjoyable. I even made a short video, which you can watch below. Headphones are recommended for better effect.
The other AOR / melodic rock track on the album is called "Feels Like Love" and it too sounded amazing to my ears, with Ted Poley's vocals filling my room and every instrument sounding distinctly within the big soundstage. After playing just these two records I knew I could not go back to listening to anything without this record weight. It had ruined me and it was a beautiful thing!
Over the next two weeks, no matter which record I played, it was like hearing them for the first time. With every record, every genre of music, the results were the same - more details, better and deeper stage, improved imaging. I won't list all of the records, but here are some of the highlights.
Jean-Michel Jarre "Le Concerts En Chine" (1982, 2LP Gatefold, Disque Dreyfus FDM18110). JMJ's first iconic live record is a masterpiece of electronic music. And playing it with the Massif record weight I perceived its beauty and power like never before, complete with the live audience applause between numbers. My wife and I enjoyed this performance so much, we had to have more of the JMJ goodness, and so I played a few tracks from two more Jarre records, specifically his debut "Oxygene" (1979 Canadian pressing, Polydor – 2310 555) and the 1986 "Rendez-Vous" (Disques Dreyfus – DLP 2005). Both were equally awesome sounding and, as I mentioned above, I did not even bother comparing the sound without the weight. It just wouldn't be enjoyable.
If you've read my other reviews in the past, you know how much I enjoy the Swiss duo Yello as well as Boris Blank's collaboration with Malia called "Convergence" (EmArcy – 374 593-2). I could not wait to hear it with the record weight. It is very well recorded and is another one of my go to critical listening records. As soon as the first song began, I felt like a veil had been lifted and I was hearing nuances I never knew were there. Malia's voice felt natural and very present in the middle of the stage. Rather than playing just a few tracks, I couldn't stop and played the entire record. Then I just had to follow it up with Yello's "One Second" ( Canadian pressing, Vertigo – 830 956-1).The drums of "La Habanera" exploded with tight and textured bass. The awesome voice of Shirley Bassey on "The Rhythm Divine" floated in the sound field with seductive power and detail.
Of course, I could not skip playing the awesome tango instrumental "Nublado" from the 45 RPM Serà Una Noche EP (MA Recordings – M052AV). The ambiance of the space where this music was recorded is unbelievable. Out of curiosity I did try playing the track with and without the weight. And once again the differences were quite apparent. Without it, the space felt compressed, but with the weight, everything expanded, each instrument image was more precise and easily identifiable.
And, as mentioned above, anything else I tried, I just could not listen without the weight. I don't know how I lived without it before.
Conclusion and final thoughts
A few days after I started playing with the weight, I was discussing my first impressions with Jonathan from Sonic Artistry. He told me he experienced similar results with this particular mpingo / cocobolo model and that in his testing, he even noticed how some of the vocalists he was listening to were pronouncing words more precisely. The answer to my question in the beginning of this review should be self-evident to you by now. Obviously, I cannot speak for every accessory, but in the case of Massif's record weight, it absolutely makes a difference and it's not small. After spending two weeks with it, I really cannot imagine listening to my records without it and I will be buying it. It's a great addition to my analog setup of the Pear Audio Analogue Little John + Gold Note phono stage, that brings out previously unnoticed details and nuances among other improvements I mentioned above. No disrespect to Peter Mezek, but this is a different kind of record weight. I therefore wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking for a new record weight. I would like to thank Trevor for sending me the weight, which is now permanently in my analog setup, providing hours of enjoyment as I rediscover to my entire vinyl collection.
Massif Audio Design
Pear Audio Analogue Little John turntable with Cornet 1 tonearm
Hana SL MC cartridge
Gold Note PH-10 phono stage
Gold Note PSU-10 inductive power supply
Lyngdorf TDAI-1120 streaming amplifier
Audiovector QR 5 loudspeakers
Transparent Cable RCA interconnect
KirmussAudio speaker cables
OPPO BDP-95 Universal Player