Acoustic Signature Montana NEO
Stereophile|January 2022
You may be moving to Montana.Acoustic Signature is not an overnight sensation, nor are its turntables driven by dental floss. If you’re not a Frank Zappa fan, you probably have no idea what any of that means, so please Google it. I’ll wait till you get back.
MICHAEL FREMER

TURNTABLE

The German company is headquartered in picturesque Süssen not far from Stuttgart, one of the country’s automobile capitals. Porsche and Mercedes-Benz are headquartered there. It has been around for 25 years, specializing in exquisitely machined, high-mass, nonsuspended turntable designs, manufactured in-house. With companies moving to electric cars, you can be sure that, should the company need any, there’s no shortage of super skilled machinists in the picturesque valley known as the “Stuttgart Cauldron.”

The Acoustic Signature turntable line has expanded over the years, bottom to top, from moderately priced high-performance turntables some can afford to luxury models only a few can afford. There’s also a lineup of similarly priced tonearms. The company has long manufactured reasonably priced turntables—at least by high-performance standards—but none that fall into the “budget” category.

A few months before the pandemic shut down the world, I visited the tidy, well-organized factory. The company’s loading dock/ recycling area is cleaner than some factories I’ve been in. I came away mightily impressed by the operation, which includes state-of-the-art CNC machinery and cosmetic metal-lapping surface finishing devices, all operated by a talented team of engineers, technicians, and skilled craftspeople. I saw engineers designing A-S’s next product generation using the latest CAD software. The 21 employees work in the kind of well-organized factory you’d expect to find in Germany.

Also on the premises is a showroom/listening room sure to wow international distributors and members of the press. All the company’s products are on display and can be auditioned. After the visit, I concluded that Acoustic Signature—a company that offers a 15-year warranty on all of its products—is one of the companies most likely to still be around in 15 years to honor that warranty. If you can take the factory tour here, you’ll also see LEGO bricks used most ingeniously.1

More recently, Acoustic Signature launched an updated product lineup under the NEO umbrella, with turntable prices starting at $4595 for the Maximus NEO. Add the least costly arm in the line, the $2295 TA-1000 NEO, and you’re looking at $6890 for the company’s base offering. In other words, the company cedes the low-end market to others while reaching for the heights with a top tonearm price of $29,995 for the TA-9000 NEO and a top turntable price of $189,995 for the Invictus NEO.

The Acoustic Signature Ascona I reviewed some years ago—a stalwart on our Recommended Components list before it “aged out”—has been replaced in the A-S lineup by the $48,995 Ascona NEO.

I found the original Ascona overdamped to the point of sounding kind of dead, and that’s what I reported. To his credit, Founder and Chief Engineer Gunther Frohnhöfer went back, made some modifications, and released a much more alive- and open-sounding Mk2 edition. That’s one of the reasons I admire and respect him, unlike some other manufacturers who respond to criticism by pouting, screaming, or refusing to ever again provide products for review.

SPECIFICATIONS

Description

Montana NEO: Nonsuspended, mass-loaded, triple–belt-driven turntable. Speeds: 33.3rpm, 45rpm. Platter: 12.2 (310mm) diameter, 1.97 (50mm) thick. 3 AC synchronous motors. Wow and flutter: not specified. TA-7000 NEO: Ball-race bearing, carbon fiber, pivoted tonearm. Effective length: 239.9mm; pivot-to-spindle distance: 222mm; overhang: 17.3mm; offset angle: 23.9°. Effective mass: 10gm. Weight: 683gm.

Dimensions Montana NEO: 16.8” (426mm) × 16.8 (426mm) × 6.77 (172mm).

Weight: 79lb (36kg).

Finish Black or silver anodized or bicolor.

Serial number of unit reviewed Montana NEO: A21-05-020; TA-7000: TA-2450. Manufactured in Germany.

Price Montana NEO: $30,995. TA-7000 NEO: $17,995. Approximate number of dealers: 15. Warranty: 15 years.

Manufacturer Acoustic-Signature Made by AS-Distribution GmbH Hillenbrandstrasse 10, D-73079 Süssen, Germany. Web: acoustic-signature.com. US distributor: Rutherford Audio 14 Inverness Drive East, Unit G-108 Englewood, CO 80112. Tel: (888) 279-6765. Email: info@rutherfordaudio.com. Web: rutherfordaudio.com.

The Montana NEO and the $17,995 TA-7000 NEO tonearm

The Montana NEO ($30,995) is a new model; it was shown to me two years ago during that factory visit I made in preparation for the product launch and this review, but of course the pandemic interrupted both. The Montana is in the middle of Acoustic Signature’s eight-turntable line, with three models priced higher and four priced lower. The TA-7000 NEO ($17,995) is second from the top of the five-tonearm lineup.

Montana is a compact, ingeniously designed, superbly machined, precision-built turntable that puts belts and motors out of sight and touch, leaving visible only the spinning platter, the tonearm, and the outboard power supply that connects to the plinth via red and blue Ethernet-type cables. While the appearance is that of a classic “four-poster,” the approximately 17 × 17 × 2.5, constrained-layer damped, 55lb aluminum-alloy chassis sits on three hefty, knurled, height-adjustable, gel-damped feet, bringing the chassis height to approximately 4.

The 12.2-diameter, anodized-aluminum platter is festooned with 24 of Acoustic Signature’s polished-brass, vibration-absorbing “silencers,” which may look like buttons or wafers but in fact run the full depth of the platter; the platter adds 24lb to the assemblage’s weight and 3 to its height. That’s 79lb concentrated in a relatively small footprint. The efficacy of those silencers is detailed in measurements found on the company’s website.

In addition to the constrained layer–damped chassis and brass silencers, A-S innovated another vibration-canceling system it calls Automatic Vibration Control (AVC), which combines hardware and software to control the Montana’s three 24-pole, two-coil AC motors.

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