I’m a big fan of Dr. Feickert’s turntables, let it be known. I’ve owed two Dr. Feickert Volares with different tonearms and the entry-level Volare is a fantastic performer [My Dr. Feickert Volare / Origin Live Silver review is here]
When looking around for a new turntable, it made sense to move up the Dr. Feickert line, and so, when an opportunity to grab a low mileage Woodpecker came along, I jumped on it.
Let’s back up a bit.
Those who’ve been here before may understand that I’m not a professional reviewer running a review business website. I’ve written reviews in the distant past for which I’ve been paid, but those were published on for-profit websites, such as Positive Feedback Online, for example. My own website here is basically the extension of a hobby that I’ve enjoyed for several decades. In some sense, it’s my own personal diary and notebook where I can keep tabs on stuff I’ve heard, stuff I’ve owned, and secondarily, it’s sharing my experiences with others. The point is, most of my reviews involve having to go out and purchase something using my own hard-earned cash. So when something is reviewed here, it’s almost always the case that it has been heavily researched prior to arriving on my doorstep, and the mindset is always one of wanting to enjoy the item (since I’ve bought it) and not pick it apart looking for any minor flaw. My research is generally thorough so it’s quite rare that I review something and find that I really don’t care for it. That said, not all my reviews conclude in the positive, there are some acquisitions I’ve made along the way that didn’t end well. I’m fortunate in having freedom from any advertisers, sponsors, or other forms of manufacturer’s influence, so I can label a turd a turd, if and when I come across one. As you’ll find out in this review.
Prior to purchasing the Woodpecker package, my main deck was the Origin Live Resolution MKIV with all factory available upgrades and the wonderful
Origin Live Illustrious 3C tonearm. [You can read a review of the Origin Live turntable here.] In tandem, I found myself owning a second Dr. Feickert Volare turntable, this one with a Jelco arm. With two fairly high-end turntables, the need to consolidate to create space in the rack, and also to release funds for new acquisitions, one of them had to go. By an accident of nature, I ended up selling both turntables in the same weekend and found myself sans vinyl. You can learn how that happened here if you wish!
I spent a good few weeks exploring options prior to buying the Woodpecker, and I talk about that process in the article you can find at the link directly above, so I won’t go over it again here.
I purchased the Dr. Feickert Woodpecker on the used market, it had been sold new by Upscale Audio in CA. The owner/seller had also purchased an aftermarket power supply, an SBooster, and a custom acrylic cover. Since we’re talking about 4 boxes, including the fragile cover, I decided to purchase a wood shipping crate from Uline and ship that out to the seller, so he could package everything safely and easily for shipping. I’ve done this a couple of times now and I highly recommend it to those buying/selling on the used markets. It isn’t cheap but it’s better than any insurance policy you can buy via the shipper.
Setting Up A Dr. Feickert Woodpecker and Kuzma Stogi S 12VTA tonearm
As with any turntable setup, the critical first step is to ensure you have a good platform and that it’s properly leveled. I use a Silent Running Audio platform on a custom VPI turntable rack, so I had everything prepared before unboxing the Woodpecker.
Getting the Woodpecker in place is made a little awkward by the position of the input jack for the motor power supply, which is hidden away under the table, so you literally have to set the table up on one edge, insert the jack, then lower the thing down onto the shelf. Adding a couple of drops of oil on the spindle/bearing shaft, you’re soon ready to carefully lower the platter into place and install the belt. Easy peasy.
The arm setup isn’t so straightforward with the Uni-Pivot Kuzma Stogi S 12 VTA. As far as attaching it to the Woodpecker is concerned, it’s a breeze. Obviously, the arm had been installed previously on this table so all of the hardware was in place and ready to go. But once the basic install is complete, there’s some time needed to get the spindle to pivot distance set and checked, set the starting point for VTA, and get the fiddly little anti-skate weight in place. To get from unpacking the boxes to installing the cartridge probably took around 4 hours, with me being very slow and careful not to mess anything up.
While you can rely on the calibrated scale on the body of the turntable for setting the spindle to pivot distance, I also used the Dr. Feickert alignment jig to check everything and to make sure the distances were exactly right. At almost $300, the jig is expensive but it works well.
I’m not one of those guys who has a drawer full of expensive cartridges laying around. When I sold the Origin Live Resolution/Illustrious package I sold it with the ZYX Ultimate cartridge. Likewise, the Volare was sold with the excellent Hana ML cartridge. In preparation for the arrival of the Dr. Feickert Woodpecker I’d purchased a Benz Micro LP-S LOMC cartridge, so it was that that I originally installed on the Kuzma arm. The Benz worked well, as it should, and was a good fit for the arm and for both the Allnic Audio H-1202 phono preamp and my Manley Labs Steelhead.
Installing any cartridge on a Uni-pivot arm like the Kuzma Stogi is not the easiest of tasks for an old dude with shaky hands. Getting the alignment done properly isn’t easy, either. I find Uni-pivots like the Kuzma, and my previous JMW arm, to be a real pain in the arse and I’ve made a mental note to never own one again. Initial setup aside, I don’t particularly care for them in normal operation either. I very much prefer a gimbaled ball/race bearing system tonearm, I always feel with a Uni-pivot that they’re just too unstable and always feel like there’s an accident waiting to happen.
Aside from the fact that Uni-pivots, by virtue of their design, require a little more care and attention to set up and operate, there’s one additional obstacle with the Kuzma that makes it hard for me to recommend this arm. The system for setting VTF via the counterweights is married to the system for setting azimuth, and the two don’t play well together. There are two counterweights, the primary weight is used for setting force, and the secondary weight (smaller) for setting azimuth. The weights each have holes drilled such that when the hole is pointing straight down, you’re exerting no rotational force on the arm, and, in theory, the headshell should sit parallel. To rotate the headshell as is required to adjust azimuth, you need to loosen the grub screw on the weight and rotate it so that the hole in the weight moves left or right of its down-facing central position, hence cocking the arm’s headshell and cartridge to the left or right. Let me tell you now, this is a horribly poor design. The main counterweight for adjusting VTF needs to operate independently of the weight for adjusting azimuth, so they’re not fighting each other during adjustment. Example – with both weights set with holes pointing down, and locked loosely to the shaft with their grubscrews, you can start out by getting the VTF close to whatever the cartridge manufacturer recommends, say 2 grams. So you loosen off the screw on the main counterweight and slide the weight on the shaft until the VTF is set. Next, you want to set azimuth with the secondary weight. But you can’t turn that weight clockwise or counter-clockwise on the shaft without nudging its lateral position on the shaft. As soon as it moves laterally, your VTF is screwed. So, you set the azimuth, now you need to go back to the main counterweight and adjust VTF. Because the second weight also has a hole in the collar, adjusting it laterally invariably causes it to move rotationally on the arm, so you’ve re-adjusted for force but now you’ve also upset azimuth. The two weights each have their own function but they fight against each other. Sure, all of this is exacerbated by my shaky hands, but regardless, I consider this a big design flaw. The truth is that I was never really satisfied that the arm/cartridge was set up optimally, and the idea of changing cartridges, as one would want to do with most rigs from time to time, was just too scary a thought.
With the life of a $5000 cartridge hanging in the balance, the Kuzma arm always created a heightened sense of caution that detracted overall from the ability to set it up accurately, and from the enjoyment of day-to-day use. Selecting the right tools for the job is entirely down to the operator, and I picked the wrong tonearm, again. My bad. But Kuzma didn’t help matters with its whacky design.
The first week or two with the new rig was a little bit sketchy. I had to get some time on the Benz LP-S before making any judgment calls, but I was also sensitive to the possibility that the cartridge installation, hampered by my unsteady hands and the Uni-pivot arm with its bizarre VTF/azimuth adjustment mechanism, wasn’t quite as it should be. So I spent a lot of time making adjustments to the overhang, VTA, VTF, and also checking and re-checking the arm install with the Feickert jig. It took perhaps a month or more for me to finally settle down and declare that what I had was as good as it was going to get under my stewardship.
Feeding the MC input on the Manley Steelhead, images from the Woodpecker deck have substance, they emerge from a black background, they have body, accuracy of tone and timbre, and are enveloped by ambient cues from the recording space. The adjectives I’d used in describing my Origin Live Resolution setup included – detailed, airy, spacious, resolving. The adjectives I’d used in describing my Volare and Jelco setup included – authoritative, weighty, solid, and heft. The Dr. Feickert Woodpecker with Kuzma Stogi arm did a nice job of combining the two sets of attributes into one package. The sound has almost all of the air and detail of the Origin Live deck, but the images also have the weight and solidity of the Volare/Jelco, more so in fact. I lust after a ‘live’ feel to the music, with good extension top and bottom, that weightiness and heft in the low bass that underpins the music, and the Woodpecker rig has that in abundance. I could quickly sense the Dr. Feickert ‘house sound’, this being my third table from Feickert. No matter the arm or cartridge, Feickert’s are excellent in the areas of timbral, spatial, and dynamic presentation, offering solid three-dimensional images wrapped in a warm and comfy overcoat. The Woodpecker isn’t a device to pick apart and analyze musical notes and threads, it’s more about delivering a sense of musicality on the macro level. You can of course steer the sound more towards the analytical, switching out the Benz for something like the ZYX offers an opportunity to strip away a layer of flesh and reveal more things skeletal, but the underlying sense of weight and authority is always there.
Playing the 180g 45rpm MoFi recording ‘Unplugged’ by Clapton, the soundscape produced by the Woodpecker/Kuzma/Benz combo was well layered, both wide and deep with three-dimensional images presented with substance but also plenty of air, space, and venue cues. Listening to ‘Malted Milk’, the combo captures the intimacy of Clapton’s vocal and at the same time renders the presence and tone of Clapton’s and Andy Fairweather Low’s guitars quite beautifully against a black background. As the track ends, the spell is broken as the audience applause washes into the room and spotlights the venue’s boundaries brilliantly.
Listening to John Martyn’s seminal recording ‘Solid Air’, the title track starts with a fat and plummy acoustic bass and the Feickert/Kuzma/Benz captures the earthiness and tone wonderfully, laying the foundation to Martyn’s acoustic guitar and ethereal vocal, which emerge from within a voluminous and dimensional soundscape.
If your preference is for rock and roll, then the Dr. Feickert Woodpecker will thrill you with its ability to provide deep bass, excellent instrument separation, and complete freedom from any strident high-frequency glare. When things get complex, the Woodpecker/Kuzma retains its composure, delighting in its ability to separate out instruments into their own physical space while placing them in a large, wide, deep soundstage. Adjusting VTA on the Kuzma via the excellent ‘on-the-fly’ calibrated adjuster, you can emphasize the bass lines a little by lowering the arm at the pivot end, or add a little more high-frequency energy by winding it in the opposite direction.
The Woodpecker’s acoustically inert and well-damped plinth coupled with its speed-stable motor system and high-mass platter, deliver notes with a very natural-sounding sustain and decay, notes emerging in such stark contrast to the blackness of the background that sometimes the effect can be quite startling. Take Duke Ellington’s ‘Blues In Orbit’ on 200 gram, (remastered by Bernie Grundman), as an example. Favorite tracks like Three J’s Blues and The Swinger’s Jump excel via the Woodpecker combo, delivering dynamic impact that gives the performance a true-to-life feel. On McLaughlin/de Lucia/Di Meola’s – “Friday Night In San Francisco”, the soundstage is enormous in both width and depth, and the delineation between performers on the stage along with the vibrant transient attack of guitar notes is the best I’ve heard from this excellent recording.
Wrapping It Up
I should point to the fact that this review of the Dr. Feickert Woodpecker is really a review of a vinyl playing ‘package’ and not just a review of the turntable per se. The Woodpecker/Kuzma combination is a common pairing and seems to be the default option from most of the Dr. Feickert retailers I’ve seen with an online presence. Sold initially by Upscale Audio, this package was termed: DR. FEICKERT ANALOGUE WOODPECKER TURNTABLE – DELUXE 12 PACKAGE, and with the dustcover option retailed for $9645.00, plus $400 for the Sbooster LPS.
As a combo deal, I can’t fault the sonic ability of this setup. It does everything extremely well and it’s versatile enough to allow you some latitude to steer things in different directions via on-the-fly adjustment of the tonearm’s VTA or changing out cartridges. Ergonomically, though, I’m less than thrilled with the Kuzma Stogi arm. There’s an inherent design weakness in the Kuzma, while it functions as any Uni-pivot arm should function, and it certainly sounds very good, I was never able to relax into the music knowing that everything was set up just as it should be – there was always that doubt that I hadn’t been able to lock-in the setup 100%.
Though it might sound dramatic, I have to say that the Kuzma arm robbed my enjoyment of the otherwise excellent Dr. Feickert Woodpecker turntable. I could certainly have pulled the arm and floated it out into cyberspace where it would have no doubt fetched a good price; but, in the end, I sold the entire package along to a new owner – hopefully someone younger than I with a more stable body and mind.
CAH – 2022