When the Vertere Sabre arrived, the first thing to admire was the manner in which it is packaged. It is bolted to the door of a two tier plastic structure with two knurled thumb screws. Simple and effective. Having liberated it from that safe environment, mounting it on to my Linn Ittok was very straightforward, thanks again to the aforementioned screws. I am pretty cack handed, and changing cartridges is just about my least favourite audio task, given that it often involves Allen keys and even tiny nuts to receive the equally tiny bolts. The Vertere thumb screw system is an absolute pleasure by comparison. Having fitted the cartridge to the head shell and attaching the four coloured tags, I used the Mobile Fidelity GeoMat to fine tune the positioning and alignment. The last task was to adjust the tracking weight which I got spot on at the recommended 2.0grams.
Visually, the Sabre is quite striking. The body is precision machined from solid aluminium alloy and then anodized in its striking burnt orange coating. An Alnico magnet was selected for its long lasting magnetism and strong magnetic field to size ratio, which isn’t as great as the more fashionable neodymium but this material has a cult following in cartridge and loudspeaker circles. An elliptical diamond stylus is bonded to an aluminium cantilever, and the geometry has been calculated to give optimal contact with the record to avoid compromising the high frequency performance while keeping surface noise to a minimum. Frequency response quoted for the Sabre is from 15Hz to 25Hz. I reset my Gold Note PH10 for a moving magnet cartridge and checked that there was no unwelcome hum to be heard through my Harbeth C7ES XD loudspeakers. Satisfied I was ready to hear what the Vertere could do.
The Sabre had already been well run in when it was sent to me, so I was able to crack straight on with a proper listening session. I have my usual selection of test records but I also picked out some of my less played material, such as Shpongle’s Tales of the Inexpressible, Kraftwerk’s The Mix, Porcupine Tree’s Up The Downstair and Halestorm’s Vicious. I was attacked by a reader for hardly moving with the times with my musical choices in a previous review, but I play music that I like and as someone whose musical tastes were largely shaped in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I play music from those decades a lot, and without apology. I also find that my usual review repertoire helps to give a common reference point for my reviews. However, I do still buy new recordings and I mention some of them here just to show I am not locked in some dusty musical archive.
Where was I? Oh yes, listening to the Vertere Sabre. The first album I selected was Paul Chamber’s Bass On Top, on the Blue Note Tone Poet reissue from last year (BST-81569), which was recorded back in July 1957 at Rudy Van Gelder’s legendary studio in Hackensack, New Jersey. Mr Van Gelder engineered the one day recording session. From the first notes of track 1 side 1, Yesterdays, I was drawn into the music. Throughout the album Chamber’s bass is given plenty of emphasis with several engrossing solos, and the Sabre delivers those with real authority, while showing the rest of the fine quintet in a balanced and deeply musical way. Kenny Burrell’s guitar comes through loud and clear and the sense of the quintet performing right in front of me was palpable.
I switched genres and went to the Halestorm album. A double album, to be played at 45 rpm, this a tour de force of heavy rock, led by Izzy Hales’ dynamic vocals. The Sabre did this recording, and all four sides were despatched in a single listening session. My usual suspects also had a run out, with every one of them sounding musically coherent and as engrossing as I have heard them. Given that my own cartridge is a highly regarded moving coil design that retails for well over £1,000, one of the highest compliments I pay the Vertere moving magnet is that I did not miss the more expensive device once throughout the review period.
Given that one of the benefits of moving magnet is that many amplifiers come fitted with a suitable phono stage, I decided to see how the Sabre would fare using the one in my Lyngdorf TDAI 3400. I powered down the Gold Note and moved the Linn’s output cables and earthing wire to the amplifier. As I expected, it worked very well, with a highly enjoyable sound continuing to issue forth from the Harbeths. I did detect a slight reduction in bass weight but overall I found that there was not much sacrifice in musical enjoyment. As a result, I listened to the Sabre in this configuration for the next few days. I played pop, rock, blues, jazz and classical and all of it was presented in a delightful way. The Sabre is absolutely genre-neutral (probably gender neutral too).
In the following week, as luck would have it, I received Vertere’s Phono 1 phono stage for review. Having read the (flipping) manual, I set the dip switches for a moving magnet cartridge and plugged in the LP12 once again. I went back to the Paul Chambers album with which I had started my review listening, and oh… my… goodness. Through the Gold Note I had found the sound engrossing, but pairing the Sabre with its stablemate was revelatory. The soundstage grew even wider, taller and deeper, and the sheer musical involvement was now quite astonishing. I suppose that this should not be a surprise given that Mr. Moghaddam designed them both but it was nonetheless extremely pleasing.
Every album I played – and there were a lot of them – absolutely commanded attention. Driving rock had boundless energy and yet the music never lost focus, and more subtle recordings, were delivered with a commendable lightness. The common factor, no matter what I played, was the sheer musical pleasure this pairing provided.
I have a few records in my collection that carry the reminders of past handling errors, and I find it interesting to see how different arm/cartridge combinations cope with them. I am happy to report that the Ittok/Sabre team stuck valiantly to its task, even when presented with records with less than pristine surfaces.
These are happy times for cartridge purchasers. There is a bewildering choice available to a prospective buyer, with most turntable manufacturers offering good examples at various price points, as well as a number of excellent options from cartridge specialists. The Vertere Sabre is joining a crowded field, and at a price which casts it to the high end of moving magnets and above the entry point for some moving coil designs. However, there is a lot to love about Touraj’s latest design, and it thoroughly deserves a place on any vinyl lovers shortlist when cartridge renewal time comes. It will certainly be on mine. It is well built, easy to fit and actually offers terrific value despite the sticker price. That old chestnut, that quality remains long after price is forgotten, is no less true today than when it was first coined, and it most certainly applies to the Vertere Sabre.