Hitting a high note
The ML1 brings a breath of fresh air to the traditional turntable
The creators of the world’s first levitating turntable, the MAG-LEV ML1, describe its invention as marrying art and science. But upon seeing it for the first time, you realise perhaps they’re not quite right. Perhaps, it’s actually more an illusion: an ingenious magic trick whereby every owner has his or her own way of presenting it to friends.
The act begins by grabbing the vinyl platter with both hands and docking it into four cylindrical legs which slowly rise up from the base. It’s trickier than it seems: you’ll feel resistance, pushing your hands from side to side, because the plinth contains a strong neodymium magnet, which is mating with nine smaller equivalents tucked within a ridge on the plate. Once locked in, place a vinyl on top and swivel the circular switch to 33 ⅓ RPM. You’ll hear a series of whirrs and buzzes that signal a kind of otherworldly calibration process.
Then the impressive bit: with the mechanics over, the four stands retreat into the base, as a bright circular LED lights up the stage. The plate begins not only floating but spinning in mid-air. So secure is the rise, you can test it out by waving your hands underneath.
You’re almost ready to go – but not quite. You can now manoeuvre the needle over the record, but it will only descend when the computer verifies the platter is rotating at the perfect speed. “People didn’t believe me when they first saw it,” says Tadej Doles, the engineer who made it possible. “But now they believe.”
In truth, the core technology behind the ML1 – short for magnetic levitation, naturally – has been in existence for years, but nobody previously attempted such a feat before because the nuances involved are maddeningly complex. The obvious difficulties involve getting the record to whirl at a perfect speed and height, but there are also issues with the magnet interfering with the cartridge or even the speakers attached. “It was hard,” adds Doles. “There were so many things we didn’t expect.”
The turntable was a collaboration between a team of engineers, who previously built solar power plants, and three designers from the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana. The group launched a Kickstarter page in December 2016 to raise $300k, but finished with more than 700 backers pledging $550k. Production began in April 2018, and the units shipped late last year. “I needed five seconds to say, ‘Yes, let’s do this together,’” says Doles. “The design was perfect. I’d never seen anything so special until that moment.”
The launch coincided with a record year for vinyl, with 4.2 million sold in the UK and more than 10 million in the US. “The world goes so fast and sometimes people need time to relax,” says Doles. “Sometimes people need half an hour for themselves. People who listen to vinyl records don’t pause the music. They play the record from start to finish and savour that time.”
The success of the original imitation wooden ML1 has led to a range of special editions, including aluminium versions in white, black gold and silver, as well as a limited release of turntables peppered with Swarovski crystals. Already, plans are afoot for more models in future.
“But first we must show the world this one,” concludes Doles. “It’s an honour to be first in the world to make something like this.”