We had high hopes for the Saffire, the new top-of-the-range model, which is hailed as the modern day replacement for the still-popular-after-all-these-years, Pink Triangle Anniversary.
The top-of-the-range Saffire features Funk's patented K-Drive, belt-drive system that employs one motor, one belt and three pulleys. There is also an additional switch on the power supply case that'll illuminate tiny LEDs in the plinth, adding a whimsical bling element to things.
The Saffire also benefits from a refined iteration of the Anniversary's famous inverted main bearing configuration supporting the acrylic main platter and topped of with a Funk Achromat (which, says Funk, provides the best impedance termination for records).
The K-drive configuration prevents the drive belt tugging at the platter and causing it to oscillate around the main bearing. What's more, the K-Drive system uses asymmetric slave pulleys that, by rotating at different speeds, ensure that the drive does not generate any resonance. All of this adds up to a ferociously stable platform that spins the record at an absolutely constant speed.
The arm-mounting plate is the only part of the system that has been designed to lose energy. Khoubessarian opines that the least deleterious place to dissipate the extraneous energy that cartridges produce is at the point where the tonearm meets the turntable plinth - hence the carbon-fibre/acrylic sandwich construction of the tiny arm-board.
Our review Saffire came fitted with a tonearm that would be very familiar to any fan of Sondek in the 1980s and 1990s - the venerable Linn Ittok LVII. The Ittok was a great arm, but it had a tendency to be a little 'zingy'.
This annoyance could be reduced by removing the arm-rest from the Linn's arm-board along with the lift/lower mechanism. This wasn't the most practical of solutions though, because it left one's cartridge exposed to potential damage. The Funk Firm's answer is rather more radical and involves replacing the arm-tube.
The Ittok F-dot-cross tonearm modification (you have to supply the Ittok) retails at £700 and features the ultra stiff, carbon-fibre with crossed I-beams arm tube construction of Funk's new ANTI (Advanced Neutral Transcribing Instrument).
The supplied arm also came re-wired and with a £399 Wraith Flexi Link interconnect, using rather delicate, air-dielectric, flat conductor wiring. Along with transmitting maximum amounts of data from the cartridge it's also said to negate the problem of the Ittok's performance being dependant upon careful cable-dressing - though that is hardly a major consideration with the skeletal, unsprung design of the Saffire.
Sadly, ours got damaged in transit and so we did our listening with a standard Linn lead.
Fitted with a Dynavector 10X moving coil, and sitting on a mix of Hutter and Mana supports, the Saffire/Ittok's sound displays a wonderfully sure-footed, firmly rooted quality: there' s a sense of real substance and solidity about it.
Every voice and instrument is sturdily planted in the soundstage and presented with a credible three-dimensionality and conviction that make the suspension of belief delightfully easy.
Even when playing frenetic punk or crazy free-form jazz, the Saffire exudes an air of untroubled relaxation and calm composure. There is none of that "will it manage to hold on?" tension that accompanies the performance of such music on lesser turntables.
Aiding it in this respect is an equally delightful ability to reveal nuances and detail in an unforced but genuinely insightful manner. This is not the kind of over-egged detailing that some high-end hi-fi can overwhelm listeners with; rather it's an approach that listens to a piece of music and the subtle differences in the way that the performer plays his instrument or sings a particular line and then reproduces it in a completely natural way.
Nor does this turntable have any problems with conveying rhythm and timing information. In fact, it emerges with often shocking clarity thanks to the deck's seemingly complete absence of extraneous noise. With many deck and arm combinations there's a near constant, albeit typically very low level, background hash that masks and blurs subtle timing clues.
The Saffire/Ittok, however, sounds markedly quiet and that absence of noise is apparent from the first time the stylus hits the groove. This is not an artificial cleanliness: you still hear imperfections on a disc but the Saffire does not make a meal of them, dealing with clicks and pops quickly and quietly, which is always an encouraging sign.
Doubtless the K-Drive system plays a huge part in this as it certainly does in the Saffire's rock-solid portrayal of the piano. This challenging instrument's pitch never wavers. And this dogged nature also helps the deck give wonderful renditions of vocalists.
If, for example, you ever doubted that Ella Fitzgerald's voice was anything less than a divine gift, take a listen to her singing on the 1957 Verve album Ella and Louis Again Vol 2. The deck traces every inflexion and modulation in each phrase she sings, while displaying her flawless intonation perfectly.
What's more, the Saffire extracts the full emotional content from the songs on this album, recorded with Louis Armstrong and Oscar Peterson's trio, which, as you might expect from the calibre of the performers, isn't exactly short of feeling.
The deck's speed stability naturally helps it accurately portray note shape.
While this is, perhaps, most apparent with instruments such as the guitar, it also enhances its portrayal of instruments with less sharply defined leading edges: for example, the Saffire provided a highly realistic performance of sax-player Andy Sheppard's Java Jive, capturing the timbre, attack, delay and release of each of the variety of horns in the ensemble. Even trombone slides enjoyed razor-sharp definition.
Another major factor in this turntable's success is its sense of balance and lack of exaggeration. Tonally, it doesn't favour any part of the spectrum, which means that it will happily play any recording of any genre you throw at it.
It treats all music with equal respect: for example, it switches from Oscar Peterson to The White Stripes with equanimity, which is just as well because Icky Thump currently tops the playlist.
The Saffire's controlled nature works well here portraying Meg White's heavy-footed drumming and Jack White's often feverish guitar playing with noticeable composure, while easily maintaining the dynamic contrast of tracks such as the 300mph attack of Torrential Outpour Blues.
We conclude our listening with The Devil's Right Hand from the Webb Wilder and The Beatneks album It Came From Nashville, a slice of no-nonsense, country-flavoured, Southern rock 'n' roll that demands no intellectualising: it either sounds right or it doesn't.
On the Saffire it comes across just as it should - like an extremely tight band playing live in a Tennessee bar and having a great time doing it. Interestingly, the deck gives one of the finest portrayals of the song's drum patterns we've heard. Feet were tapping so furiously that one laptop came very close to forsaking its lap and meeting the floor.
The sheer power, impact and weight of the drums also shines through on the White Stripes disc, which suggests that the designer's claims about the Saffire's speed staying absolutely constant under dynamic load are truthful.
All round, the Funk Saffire proves to be a highly capable, entertaining record spinner and the modified Ittok makes a surprisingly neutral partner for it. Whether your tastes favour raucous rock or calmer classical, this funky record player deserves a place near the top of your need-to-audition list.