This week we reviewed the MAG-LEV Audio ML1, the first ever magnetic levitation turntable. Does its inventive design really enhance musicality?
MAG-LEV Audio ML1 review: a unique and innovative concept
The product of a Slovenian startup company, the MAG-LEV Audio ML1 is the first ever magnetic levitation turntable. Its heavy 2.2 kg platter levitates and spins thanks to a powerful magnetic field. This technology allows for an intriguing retro-futuristic design and has the primary purpose of decoupling the platter from the chassis to remove it from any external vibration. Since air has an almost non-existent friction coefficient, the platter can spin freely without any interference.
The MAG-LEV Audio ML1 levitating turntable operates semi-automatically. Consequently, when the tonearm is positioned above the record, the retractable feet are lowered automatically, allowing the platter to float and begin its rotation. Once it hits cruising speed (approximately 10 to 5 seconds after the platter legs are lowered), the cartridge comes to rest in the record’s first groove and playback starts. When the record is finished, the tonearm is automatically raised to avoid unnecessary wear to the stylus. When the turntable is off, the feet rise to support the platter and the magnetic levitation is deactivated. The UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) provides a few minutes of autonomy in the event of a power outage in order to raise the platter feet and turn the turntable off without the platter falling.
MAG-LEV Audio ML1 review: unboxing and setup
The MAG-LEV Audio ML1 turntable comes in a box containing a platter mat, a 45T adapter, a high end proprietary RCA cable, as well as an anti-skating control, a counterweight suitable for cartridges weighing between 6 and 10 grams and a user manual. Under this top layer, a thick circle of polystyrene houses and protects the revolutionary magnetic levitation platter.
Underneath is the MAG-LEV Audio ML1 turntable’s black gloss chassis onto which a Pro-Ject 9cc carbon tonearm is mounted. The tonearm is fitted with an Ortofon OM10 elliptical stylus cartridge at the factory. The turntable’s external power supply and power cable are also included.
Once it is out of the box, the turntable must be placed on a completely level surface. This step is crucial and requires precise calibration using a spirit level, otherwise the platter’s rotation will be irregular. Next, a few steps are needed to complete the MAG-LEV Audio ML1 turntable’s setup. These steps are explained clearly in the user manual. First, you must connect the power supply to the turntable with the speed dial set to “OFF”. This will raise the feet so you can position the platter correctly. You must be careful during this step as the magnetic system both attracts and repels the platter. It must be held firmly with both hands and positioned so that the feet fit into the grooves on the underside of the platter.
Once the platter is in place, the counterweight may then be placed onto the tonearm and the tracking force can be set according to the recommendations of the cartridge manufacturer. The pre-installed Ortofon OM10 cartridge requires a tracking force between 1.25g and 1.75g. Then all there is to do is turn the anti-skating control to one of three positions, select the turntable’s rotation speed (33 or 45 RPM) and place the tonearm above the record. The large speed dial’s display flashes until the final rotation speed is reached. The tonearm then lowers itself onto the record and playback starts.
MAG-LEV Audio ML1 review: build quality
When it comes to build quality, the MAG-LEV Audio ML1 turntable boasts exemplary workmanship. There is a solid ABS chassis that contains the electromagnet system and sits on top of wide damping feet. The chassis also holds the Pro-Ject 9cc tonearm, crafted from a single carbon piece. It has a conical profile to eliminate vibrations and standing waves. The tonearm houses an Ortofon OM10 moving magnet (MM) cartridge featuring an elliptical stylus. Naturally, it is possible to install a higher-quality cartridge, so long as it is a standard 1/2” mount and weighs between 6 and 10 grams. For this review, we favored the Audio-Technica 540 ML cartridge.
The centerpiece of the MAG-LEV Audio ML1 turntable, the impressive 2.2kg magnetic platter, is made from a blend of 80% ABS and 20% fiberglass. The underside of the platter contains the turntable’s magnetic system composed of numerous magnets that are arranged evenly around the lower perimeter of the platter. These magnets generate a magnetic field that is opposed to that of the chassis in order to keep the platter in levitation. The top of the platter features an anti-magnetic protection to avoid any interference with the cartridge.
MAG-LEV Audio ML1 review: listening impressions
For this review of the MAG-LEV Audio ML1 turntable, we decided to use the Cayin CS-55A KT88 tube amplifier paired with the Elipson Facet 8B compact speakers using Viard Audio Silver HD12 HP cables. Our listening session with the Cayin’s integrated phono preamp was somewhat disappointing, even though Cayin’s tube amplifier offers outstanding results with the Elac Miracord 90 turntable. Therefore, we decided to use the Thorens MM-008 external phono preamp connected with Norstone Jura RCA cables. We also swapped the pre-installed cartridge, which was globally satisfactory, with an Audio-Technica 540 ML model. The purpose of this modification was to ensure that the magnetic field didn’t impact the cartridge, even with a very sensitive model like the one from Audio-Technica.
Once the MAG-LEV Audio ML1’s platter is levitating and spinning at a speed of 33 RPM, the cartridge positions itself in the record’s groove and very quickly, the sound is a lot more impressive. The soundstage is more dynamic and balanced. The lows are deep and engaging. Globally, however, the restitution remains too focused on the lows and mids. The highs are slightly lacking in presence and detail. Despite being elements that are highly sensitive to electromagnetic interference, the cartridge and amplifier tubes didn’t pick up any interference whatsoever. Therefore, the magnetic field’s directivity seems to be perfectly controlled and the turntable’s isolation highly effective.
The lows are deep and engaging, but the highs are slightly lacking in presence and detail.
When listening to Serge Gainsbourg’s Aux armes et cætera, the electric bass is perfectly restituted and the vocals are natural. Stereo effects, omnipresent in this album, are rendered relatively well. The soundstage offered by the MAG-LEV Audio ML1 turntable flows well but lacks breadth and clarity at the upper end of the spectrum.
MAG-LEV Audio ML1 review: conclusion
The MAG-LEV Audio ML1 turntable is appealing with its build quality and magnetic levitation technology which guarantees an unprecedented experience. We weren’t completely blown away by the sound of our favorite albums, but the hypnotic aspect of the platter magically floating above the chassis makes you lose track of time and the songs go by one after the other. We are rapidly brought back to reality, however, as soon as the first side of the record is finished. To play the second side, you have to turn the turntable off, wait for the feet to rise and carry out the start up procedure all over again. It is time-consuming and hinders the listening experience immensely. Moreover, the motor used to raise and lower the feet is very noisy.
The hypnotic aspect of the platter magically floating above the chassis makes you lose track of time and the songs go by one after the other.
Take note! The MAG-LEV Audio ML1 turntable’s platter levitates precisely and steadily, provided that it is placed on a completely level surface and that you don’t make any sudden movements next to it. Moving around in the same room as the turntable only creates small air ripples that don’t affect playback, but drafty rooms or wild parties can be a problem. In these situations, the air ripples aren’t so severe that they cause the platter to fall, but they can impact the musicality of the turntable. It is recommended to use a turntable cover for this type of use. This turntable is geared primarily towards those who love beautifully designed objects, not hi-fi enthusiasts.
What we liked:
- The build quality and finishes
- The unique concept and magical aspect of the levitating platter
What we would have liked:
- A quiet motor
- To be able to adjust the height of the feet
- A globally superior sound