This review examines the performance of a custom handmade turntable that offers near state of the art performance.

Karen 6 & Speed Controller

Highlights

JWM Acoustics Karen 6 Turntable

  • Custom Made Plinth
  • Matching Customized Speed Control Box
  • Custom Record Clamp
  • Rega RB 303 Tonearm
  • Custom Sub-platter
  • Custom Motor and Aluminum Feet

Karen 6 Turntable

Introduction

JWM Acoustics is a small, custom audio manufacturing firm located in Hawaii, and Austin Texas. Joshua Miles is the owner and master builder. He is also a successful sculptor who works with ceramics and wood as his canvas. Joshua Miles also happens to be a very passionate audiophile who blends his love of art and music to create unique musical reproduction machines. His product line includes studio monitor speakers and turntables of which one, the Karen 6 is the subject of this review. I met Joshua when he attended a party for the RCAS audio club that I was hosting. It was there and then that Joshua and I shared our love for big horn speakers and vinyl. Joshua kindly allowed me to review his middle of the line turntable the Karen 6.

The Karen 6 is a hand built turntable that sources it’s tonearm and platter from Rega, the motor and subplatter from Tangospinner, and the wood for the plinth from rare species of wood from Hawaii. The speed control box is sourced from Rega too, and encased in similar wood to the turntable. Modifications are done to the circuit to improve the speed performance of the control box. A record weight from Tangospinner is supplied to help flatten records to the platter. The cartridge recommended by Joshua is from Ortofon. My sample came with an Ortofon Black.

JWM ACOUSTICS TURNTABLE REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
Dimensions:

Turntable: 5” H x 19 ½” W x 16 1/2” D
Speed Box: 3 3/4” H x 11” W x 8” D

Plinth Wood Options:

Monkeypod, Sapele, Mango, Purple Heart, Maple, Wenge, Clear LVL, Blue LVL, Red LVL

Wood Finish:

Satin, Gloss

Speeds:

33rpm and 45rpm

MSRP:

$2300.00 without cartridge

SECRETS Tags:

JWM Acoustics, Karen 6, Rega upgrades, Turntable review, Turntable Reviews 2016

Design

JWM Acoustics Karen 6 - Tonearm

The design of the Karen 6 begins with the tone arm, the excellent Rega RB 303. Many years ago the company Rega invested research and money in the development of an affordable tonearm capable of performing as well as the best available. They developed an award-winning design that through masterful engineering created a tonearm tube made of one continuous piece of aluminum. Beautifully balanced and featuring precise bearings the arm became a legend in the industry. The Rega RB 303 is the current model of that legendary tonearm.

What it does well is that it realizes near perfection in analog playback. In use the tonearm has almost frictionless movement up and down and side to side, with very little play. What that means is that the tonearm will hold the cartridge’s stylus in the groove properly during playback. Joshua Miles expertly mounted an Ortofon Black cartridge on the arm for me to use.

Turntable & Speed Controller Behind

Joshua Miles hand crafts the most beautiful plinth I have ever seen. The lucky customer gets the opportunity to select rare woods like Monkeypod, Sapele, and Wenge sourced from Hawaii as the plinth. Drawing from his experience as a recognized sculptor using wood and ceramics he creates a unique and visually appealing base for the turntable. Using an accelerometer Joshua Miles has determined the design and the shape of the angles of the plinth for best sound. The Karen 6 turntable is beautiful and functional. A cross section of Sapele are used on my sample. The different density and structure of the Wenge and Sapele helps control the unwanted vibrations from reaching the tonearm and stylus.

JWM Acoustics Karen 6 - Subplatter

The bearing is made of hardened stainless steel as is the subplatter and the two are sourced from Tangospinner. The motor has more torque than my Rega RP 6 and three belts used help stabilize and dampen the vibration from the motor.

JWM Acoustics Karen 6 - Speed Controller

The speed control box from Rega is modified as well. Wenge and sapele are used for the housing. Internally, Joshua replaces critical components for improved sound.

The platter is the same one from the Rega RP 6 that uses the float glass outer flywheel. A beautiful solid aluminum clamp and feet also sourced from Tangospinner finish the turntable.

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Setup

JWM Acoustics Karen 6 - Turntable Playing

Joshua kindly set up an Ortofon Black cartridge on the tonearm for me at his work space in Austin. When I got home I re-checked the tracking force (set to Ortofon’s recommended 1.5 grams). I set the Karen 6 on top of my equipment rack next to my Rega RP 6. What a unique visual analog fantasy this was! The handsome and exotic looking Karen 6 next to the neat, and beautiful industrially looking Rega RP 6.

Joshua had told me that the turntable was new and had not been broken in. He recommended that I run the turntable for 24 hours straight to help break it in. The Ortofon Black was new as well and from experience I knew I had at least a few weeks of break in on it before I was to begin critical listening. So I plugged in the Karen 6 to my new find (a Threshold FET 10 phono stage) and began to play records on this amazing machine.

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One thing I noticed was the smooth rotation and start-up of the platter, no doubt the result of the up-graded motor and triple belt pulley system. I put the solid metal clamp weight down on the record and let the music play.

Having owned many Ortofon cartridges over the last 35+ years of music listening I have become familiar with the “house” sound of the Ortofon cartridges. I would say that what you will generally hear is a very clear sound that emphasizes the high frequencies, and this is what I believe you get with the Ortofon Black cartridge. Within a couple of weeks, I had switched to the phono stage in the Rotel RC 1590 preamplifier. I thought that the smoothness of the highs that the Rotel displays was a better musical pairing with the Ortofon Black cartridge.

I had received in time for review the excellent Rotel matching amp the RB-1552MII. This gave me a solid state alternative for my Klipsch Cornwalls. I normally listen to a custom modified vintage Magnavox SET tube amp.

Listening

Carly Simon

Carly Simon “Secrets”

To warm up I put on an old favorite, Secrets (Elektra EKS-75049) by Carly Simon. Even at a low level (55-68db at listening position) I could easily hear the orchestration and I didn’t feel like I had to “turn it up”. I could hear the delicate ring of the acoustic guitar. Noise level was impressively low, and this allowed the music to flow beautifully from the speakers.

At a low level I could distinguish the fine details of the orchestration and the phrasing of Carly’s delivery. I could hear the delicate ring of the acoustic guitar. If a recording is reproduced well like it was you can hear distinctly the sound of the pick as it glides across the guitar strings. There was also a bell like quality to the ringing strings and the notes and harmonics floated out in space. On voices I could hear Carly’s use of her mouth and tongue to form the words. I could hear her artistic use of head resonance to add meaning and emotion to her music. This was especially evident on the song “The Carter Family”, and her signature track “You’re So Vain”. The clarity of the instruments and rhythmic flow was so good it became intoxicating to listen to. “This is what High End and Vinyl sound are all about”, I thought to myself. As the entire side of the record danced across my listening room I was left wanting more of that beautiful music reproduction.

Court and Spark

Joni Mitchell “Court and Spark”

I decided to keep in a folk-rock vein with a female lead, Court and Spark (Asylum 7E-1001) by Joni Mitchell. I also decided to try the Threshold FET 10 pre-amp with the Karen 6 again. Experienced audiophiles know that audio equipment needs break-in time to sound the best. The Karen 6 and Ortofon Black are no exception.

It took three months of constant playing to get to this point. Since the turntable now had some break-in time I felt I should try it one more time. On the Court and Spark LP, I noticed a smoothness and relaxed detail that was wonderful. The slight irritating high frequency glare was gone, replaced a compelling immersive sound field to get lost in. I could easily follow the lyrics, which on lesser equipment is shaded or obscured. The reproduction of Joni’s voice was presented in a rounded, fleshed out way. As her voice floated between the speakers the presentation was so vivid that it touched my soul.

There was a sense of precision and authority to the music reproduction from the Karen 6.

Uomo di pezza

Italian Prog group Le Orme “Uomo di pezza”

Records just kept spinning, one of those was Uomo di pezza (Phillips 6323 013 L) by Italian Prog group Le Orme (The Footprints). This is a very well recorded progressive rock album (my copy was purchased in 1973). I always loved the spacious and warm sound that preserved the textures of the voice and instruments.

The record has sounded almost 3 dimensional and with the Karen 6 in the system it was striking. On the opening track Una dolcezza nuova, the weight and power of the percussion and organ was thunderous, while the piano played sweetly on the opening track. The art work on the album is other worldly and the playback on the Karen 6 re-enforced that quality. On Giambo de Bimba the voice of Aldo Tagliapietra had a sweet, rhythmic balance. It was as if you could use his voice to describe what “singing” is all about. What I mean is that the tone of the voice was beautiful and there was a silky smoothness and wonderful musicality to the sound. The bells and the strumming of the guitar on this track rang out with glorious joy.

Melody Gardot LP

Melody Gardot “The Absence”

Listening to the Melody Gardot LP, The Absence (Decca 3700328) the Karen 6 kept the rhythms of the different instruments separate but together in time. On the track Amelia when the chorus came in I was startled because the voices seemed to come from the next room (my listening space has an opening to the kitchen on my right).

Again a very holographic and warm sound emerged from the speakers. This is stereo at its best I thought. Switching to a pair of B&W CM6 the Karen/Ortofon Black sounded fleet of foot. The minute details of the layered instruments emerged with an immersive, sweet presentation. The Karen exhibited precision, speed, detail. The Karen/Ortofon Black allowed me to hear the fine details of the recording easily, while still maintaining a musicality that touched my heart and soul, and put a smile on my face.

Kind of Blue

Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”

Thinking that I had finally broken in the Ortofon Black cartridge and Karen 6 turntable I switched speakers again. This time I used the JWM Acoustics Alyson (review to follow) studio monitor speaker system. Wow, the best sound in my home I thought. Having binged on recent reissues I splurged on the new Mobile Fidelity 45rpm Kind of Blue (MFSL 2-45011) by Miles Davis.

Having heard this record countless times in the past, it is still one of my favorites. I poured myself some coffee, lowered the tonearm and sat down for a listen. “So What” and “Freddie the Freeloader” are familiar tunes, but it was like I was hearing them for the first time. Subtle phrasing, and quick flourishes appeared and disappeared in space, and I thought I never heard that before or at least in this kind of way. The Karen 6 provided a silent, black background. Kudos to Mobile Fidelity, but also to the Karen 6 turntable and Alyson speakers. The sound was vivid, live sounding with astonishing dynamics and clarity. Timing was superb, I had a hard time sitting still as the rhythmic pulse made me want to tap my toes and shake my booty. This musicality of the reproduced sound was an experience that made me want to stay up all night listening.

JWM Acoustics Karen 6 - Karen/Alyson Photo

Conclusions

JWM Acoustics Karen 6 - Karen 6 X 2

THE JWM KAREN 6 is a Solid, Beautiful Hand Built Turntable That Offers Quiet, High Resolution Playback for the Most Discerning Audiophile and Represents a Terrific Value for the Selling Price.

Likes
  • Beautiful aesthetic design
  • Solid build
  • Incredible musical performance
Would Like To See
  • Dust Cover for Turntable

Rejoice! If you love vinyl like me, then I say we audiophiles are living in a golden age. There are many new recordings and reissues of past classics on LP available now for the music lover. The same goes for new, modern turntables. To be sure, older, classic turntables can be reawakened to elevated performance from a new cartridge upgrade. However, newer turntables from VPI, Rega, Project, and now JWM Acoustics offer a higher level of performance for the music enthusiast than ever was possible before.

In this light the JWM Acoustics Karen 6 represents a tremendous value for its selling price of $2300.00, and is in my opinion a bargain for the serious audiophile. The Karen 6/ Ortofon Black combination offers musicality and soul when reproducing records. Adding to the spectacular performance for the price the proud owner will also have a limited, customized, and hand built turntable. The look, appearance, and finish of this turntable is unsurpassed. Rejoice, for you may find as I did in rediscovering my favorite LP’s from decades past that you are indeed fortunate to live in an era of sonic vinyl playback excellence. I highly recommend the JWM Acoustics Karen 6 turntable for the most discriminating music lover.

  • Carlo Lo Raso

    Great write up! Robert Kozel and I got to hear the Alyson monitors at RMAF 2 years ago and were really impressed.
    Need to get a pair in for review!

  • T N Args

    This is an advertorial. I don’t mind praise for good design, good execution, good performance, but I know the difference when the writer uncritically quotes the builder and praises every design choice as if there were no compromises. It becomes advertising copy.

    Example: “Rega invested research and money in the development of an affordable tonearm capable of performing as well as the best available.” Well, that last bit can’t be true if it isn’t a linear tracker.

    Example: “…three belts (are) used help stabilize and dampen the vibration from the motor.” Vibration would actually be better dampened with one belt.

  • Francisco Licon

    Carlo, I have a pair of the Alyson in house that I am working on 🙂

  • Carlo Lo Raso

    Sweet!

  • vneal

    Excellent review.

  • Francisco Licon

    Hello and thank you for your input. I enjoy getting feedback from our readers. I have gone back over my notes, re-listened to the Karen 6 and I have come to the same conclusions as stated in the review. As to your points, I know it may be hard to believe but based upon my years of past experience with Rega tonearms (and this one in particular) I would have to say that they are affordable tonearms that can compete with the best available. During the extended review period I heard nothing that would cause me to consider otherwise. As to whether a linear tracking tone arm is better than a fived pivot design, that is a debate that has gone on for decades among audiophiles with fans pulling for either type. I would like to point out that many of the top turntable designs on the market that are cost no object have opted for a fixed pivot design.
    As for the multiple belt choice made by Tangospinner, there are many other designs (Rega included) that have used or are using multiple belts. Again, I heard nothing during the review period that would cause me to question this design choice. To be direct I think that the performance of the JWM Karen 6 is extremely musical, satisfying and revealing. I encourage you to try to listen to one if you can.

  • Jim Clements

    It looks like the new Mark Levinson No.515 turntable has multiple belts. I haven’t heard it yet but I have seen the photos. It appears to be a very well engineered product in partnership with VPI. Piero Gabucci will be reviewing one soon.