REFERENCE COMPONENTS

TONEARMS

UPDATED APRIL 2014

INTRODUCTION

CLASS A

CLASS B

CLASS C

OTHER INTERESTING TONEARMS

READERS LETTERS

INTERNAL LINKS

INTRODUCTION

Tonearms are the unofficial champion of the "biggest pain in the ass component" contest. They are usually very difficult to set up (especially for a beginner) and, in most instances, one can never be absolutely certain that they are set-up perfectly, no matter how much time is spent on the job.

Very Short History

Tonearms have evolved in build quality, versatility and performance over the last 40 years. In the 1960's and 1970's, the original SME models (3009 and 3012) were by far the most famous and copied. They were on numerous turntables and even phono cartridges were designed around them.

Everything changed once moving-coil cartridges became reliable, and with unprecedented performance (and eventually became universally popular). A totally new type of tonearm was needed to optimize the potential performance of these new (heavier) pickups.

The most concentrated and obvious progress was then made in the 1980's. Especially noteworthy were the Linn Ittok, SME V and IV, the Eminent Technology and the now unfairly forgotten models from Fidelity Research. There were many other innovative designs that offered excellent value and performance for the money. Many of these new models were designed and built in Asia, which offered low-priced yet top quality engineering and technical skills.

Further improvements have been made since then, but they have been more of a "refinement" over the still excellent 1980's designs, rather than any new major "breakthroughs".

The New Focus on "Dialing In"

One very important area of recent progress has been the ability of an increasing number of modern tonearms to "dial-in" the most important setup parameters (VTA, azimuth etc.). This allows the listener to finally hear and enjoy the full potential of their tonearm and cartridge (and of course their entire system).

How important is "setup"?

It is critical.

In fact, it is highly probable that an (otherwise) inferior tonearm, which is properly setup, will outperform a (potentially) superior tonearm, which is not setup optimally.

Perspective/Cables

The sonic differences between the three classes of tonearms, assuming proper setup, are usually not as pronounced (meaning as "noticeable") as within the different classes of turntables or (especially) phono cartridges.

Tonearm cables (the cables between the tonearm and the phono preamplifier) are the most important cables in an analog system, because they will make either the largest improvement, or cause the most significant problems. Accordingly, it is critical that a tonearm has the capability to use different tonearm cables. If not, its performance will always be compromised.

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CLASS A

NOTE- This Class was originally dominated by linear tonearms, but this is no longer the case. Within the last decade or so, there have been important and serious technological advancements in pivoted tonearms, which is now reflected in the models discussed below.

DURAND TALEA II

The Talea II has set new performance standards for me and is now the finest tonearm I have ever heard in a number of important areas of music reproduction, in my own system or otherwise. However, as can be expected with any tonearm, there are critical qualifiers and conditions that must be taken into consideration before making an actual commitment. My Methodology: A direct comparison with the Graham Phantom Supreme was conducted twice; The first time was in December 2012, with the original ZYX UNIverse, and with Jean Nantais (Lenco) present and assisting me. A second comparison was made in late September and early October 2013, with the ZYX UNIverse II X, though this time by myself alone. In both instances, the rest of the system remained exactly the same (with one exception during the first comparison, see below). The details...

A Tale of Two Cartridges

(The Original) ZYX UNIverse

Jean Nantais was visiting me with his new Mk. II version of the Reference Lenco (which I ended up keeping). Near the end of his (one week) visit, we replaced the Graham Supreme with the Talea II. This was basically an entire day's project. We first spent a couple of hours doing the basic installation, and then another two hours (later in the afternoon) listening to the Talea, while fine tuning it to optimize its performance (VTA, VTF, Azimuth & anti-skating). That evening, we spent another 6 hours listening to it, while attempting even more fine tuning, though, by then, any changes were extremely subtle. This is what we both observed...

The Talea II was more immediate, precise, refined and delicate than the Graham Supreme, as well as any other tonearm I have ever heard (thus setting new standards for me). This superiority was noticeable to us in less than a minute, and was consistent as well, at least with any record that had the appropriate musical material. However, there were downsides as well, just about as obvious, and which became more noticeable over time.

The Talea was somewhat lean, and lacked weight, power, mid/upper-bass drive, and "balls" when compared to the Graham. It appeared that everything from the upper bass on down was attenuated and, even more important, noticeably compressed (except the deepest bass, which was still powerful and defined). This created, of course, the typical (and highly frustrating) audiophile dilemma; which sonic problem was worse, and/or more objectionable to live with?

In the end, we both preferred the Graham, even though I now realized that the Talea had exposed its (hitherto unknown to me) "weaknesses". On certain records, I still preferred the Talea, because its problems were not exposed by the music, but on (too many) other records, those same weaknesses, with the UNIverse, were just too obvious and important musically. The Bottom Line- I just couldn't live with them. I realize that someone with another system, and/or with different priorities, could feel differently, but for both Nantais and myself, it was a relatively easy decision to go back to the Graham Supreme, at least with my current system and with the (original) ZYX UNIverse. (Of course, using both tonearms on the same turntable, which I can now do with the Lenco II, would be the ideal solution to this dilemma, but that is something I've never been interested in, even if I had the required funds.)

The Six Month Interim

I made no change in my system for more than a month, and decided to simply concentrate on evaluating the sonic improvements I heard with the updated version of the Reference Lenco. Meanwhile, Joel Durand, the designer of the Talea, had sent me a second tonearm wand, this time with a DIN jack, unlike the Talea II that Nantais and I had heard, with a pre-attached (Discovery?) phono cable. This meant that there was one other factor, besides the tonearms, when we made the first comparison. With the DIN jack, both tonearms would now be using the exact same phono cable. Unfortunately though, and because of a series of unforseen circumstances, the second comparison would take more than 6 months to commence*, but it was worth it, because the results would end up being quite different with the UNIverse II X...

*Mainly due to the extended break-in period and evaluation of both the UNIverse II X and the V-Cap CuTF capacitors, plus the normal awful weather in my state, and resulting AC problems, during the long summer.

The ZYX UNIverse II X

This time, I made the comparisons with no assistance. I also waited until going back to the Graham Supreme (and again optimizing it) before making the final evaluation (A/B/A). The final results were surprising to me, though I believe this was mainly due to the inevitable prejudice created by the initial comparison. Fortunately, reality overcame prejudice in this instance. This is what I observed:

The Talea II still had the same advantages described above, and (probably because of the extra time) I now heard even more advantages: Superior definition, focus, separation, inner detail and a lower sound-floor. The Talea was also more articulate and had slightly better flow and timing. However, importantly, the sonic differences were much more subtle than before (see below). Even more importantly, all the Talea II's "weaknesses and problems", that we heard with the Original UNIverse, that I described above, were basically gone (which was the "shocker" for me). The Talea almost sounded like a different tonearm with the UNIverse II X.

Some important areas were the same for both tonearms; soundstage size, dynamics, and neutrality. The Graham was still slightly more extended and powerful in the bass, and still had a little more body and weight. However, the two tonearms both sounded so disarmingly "right", that I am not able to say that either the Talea is a touch "lean" or the Graham is a touch "fat". In fact, there was no area where the difference(s) between them was "dramatic", or easy to hear, completely unlike the 1st comparison in 2012, where virtually all the differences were easy to hear. This proves the cartridge is a critical factor when evaluating tonearms!

In the end, the two tonearms sounded so similar (with the UNIverse II), after optimization, it's even possible that I would NOT notice an exchange if I wasn't warned of it beforehand. The Bottom Line- They are both outstanding performers, and I can live very happily with either tonearm (with the ZYX UNIverse II X). Still, if I was forced to choose just one of them, to use with the II X, with cost not being a factor, which tonearm would it be? It would be the Talea II, though by only a small margin. For me, the subtle sonic advantages enjoyed by the Talea II trump the fewer subtle sonic advantages of the Graham Supreme, on the UNIverse II X, when it comes to reproducing most music.

Conclusion

The Talea II has more sonic potential than any other tonearm I've ever used, but only with those cartridges which are compatible with it. That group obviously includes the ZYX UNIverse II X, but not the "Original" UNIverse. According to Jean Nantais, who has more practical experience with the Talea (II) than any independent observer I know of at this time, the Haniwa cartridge is another excellent choice for the Talea (II). Besides these proven two, (potential) Talea owners will either have to experiment themselves, if possible, or do as much research as possible on the Internet, and/or through other trusted sources, to find other suitable candidates.
What about me...?

As for now, I am keeping the Graham Supreme, even though I (repeat that I) slightly prefer the Talea II with my present cartridge (and system). I also believe, through my own experiences described above, plus feedback from some of my associates, and also through extensive reading and research, that the Graham is compatible ("at its best") with a larger variety of cartridges than the Talea. This is obviously a personal choice, based primarily on my circumstances. The goal of this short review is to assist serious audiophiles in making their own choice between the two finest tonearms I've ever had the pleasure to use.

Practicalities and End Notes

The Talea II was able to track the UNIverse II with a slightly lower weight; 2.08 grams, versus 2.26 grams with the Graham (just before the switch). This might account for some of its sonic advantages (see below). The DIN plug on the Talea was more convenient for switching phono cables with the Lenco, since it could be placed in a various positions, while the Graham required a DIN cable to connect to the bottom of the tonearm.

Adjustments for VTF are as good as it gets with the Talea, both easier and more precise than the Graham (or any other tonearm I've used, with the exception of the Forsell). Its azimuth adjustment, which can be used during play, is also preferable. However, I preferred the VTA adjustment on the Graham, because of its easy to read numbers, though both tonearms were easy to optimize. The Talea's VTA lock should be used if a setting is finalized, since it appeared to improve its performance. I also preferred the finger lift on the Graham, which made it easier to control and position, but I became used to positioning the Talea pretty quickly.

The sonic differences between the two tonearms were more pronounced during the original switch to the Talea and also when I initially switched back to the Graham. However, when I re-optimized the Graham a few days later, with the assistance of one of my associates, those same differences were noticeably reduced, and are as now described above. This is more evidence of the critical nature of an optimized set-up. In fact...

Final Note- I am now convinced that while there have been definite advancements in tonearm technology and performance over the last 3 decades or so, much (or even most) of the sonic improvements we now hear are actually caused by the unprecedented ability of the most recent generation of tonearms to be fully optimized (VTA, VTF, Azimuth), to a degree that was not practical, if even possible, with the older generations of tonearms.

Records Played for Evaluation

A large number of records were played during the evaluation periods, with a considerable amount of variety and challenges, but these LPs were used the most often:

THOMSON-PLOW THAT BROKE THE PLAINS-STOKOWSKI-ANALOGUE PRODUCTIONS AP 001

THIBAUT DE NAVARRE-PANIAGUA-HARMONIA MUNDI HM 1016

MICHAEL HEDGES-AERIAL BOUNDARIES-WINDHAM HILL WH-1032

PFITZNER-GESANGE FUR BARITON UND ORCHESTER-FISCHER-DIESKAU-EMI 065 45616

MEDIEVAL CHRISTMAS-BOSTON CAMERATA/COHEN-NONESUCH 71315

13 & GOD-ANTICON/ALIEN TRANSISTOR-ABR0050/N11

Relevant Links:

My Audio System

Durand Tonearms

GRAHAM PHANTOM SUPREME

The Supreme is the upgraded version of the Phantom II (which I've been using since 2010). It is also the finest tonearm I've ever heard in my system, pivoted or linear. While I immediately heard an improvement when first using the Supreme, I had to make the distinctions between the tonearms per se, their respective arm tubes (which are interchangeable), and even the basic set-up (since I sadly learned that my II was not completely optimized when I set-up the Supreme). This meant a lot of difficult comparisons, and this time I had no assistance from any of my associates, except for the initial audition. (I also didn't visit the Graham website during the entire four month evaluation to avoid being prejudiced and/or influenced in any manner.)

Some Basics

From a visual standpoint, the two tonearms are almost identical. All I could see were a small difference in the (VTF) counterweight, which is a little "squatter" on the Supreme, and the anti-skating bolt is a touch thicker. There also appears to be some "play" with the VTF knob on the Supreme, unlike the II. The word "Supreme" is printed once, just below the leveling bubble.

On a superficial glance, the arm tubes look exactly alike, but they aren't. The Supreme's titanium arm tube is slightly thinner (near the fixed headshell) than the II's ceramic* arm tube, though the titanium is still heavier** overall. Finally, the small space separating the two opposing magnets (the Magneglide system) is slightly wider in the Supreme.

*Another reader claims that the II also has a titanium arm tube, contradicting the May reader. I will try to find out the truth. Bottom Line- The arm tubes are different. In what manner remains to be discovered.

**The Supreme (tonearm base) alone, with no arm tube installed, is 3.25 oz heavier than the II, which I consider substantial.

Sonic Comparisons* of the Supreme and the II

The Supreme tonearm, with the II arm tube, provides a larger soundstage, more natural body and is slightly cleaner, less homogenous and more effortless, at all volume levels. The (Supreme) titanium arm tube, on its own, also has a slightly cleaner, more effortless and more "solid" sound, as if the there was less mistracking, or the amplifier suddenly had greater power and control. This is also noticeable at all volume levels. It is also slightly less homogenous than the (II) ceramic.

While I felt that the Supreme was no more immediate or neutral than the II, a broad range of tiny frequency aberrations were noticeably reduced, allowing the Supreme to further disappear. If I had to make a distinction, the improvements of the tonearm itself were around 75% of the total (the "lion's share"), which means that using the new titanium arm tube (with the II) will provide around a quarter of the overall improvement.

In short- The Supreme is larger sounding than the II and, at the same time, more refined, solid and precise than the II, which sounds a bit crude and rough (though only) in comparison. A very nice improvement, which is easily noticeable and with no sonic downsides.

*Clarification- If "A" is the II, and "B" is the Supreme, then the direct comparisons were A/B/A/B, though that does not include the the separate arm tube comparisons.

Conclusion

When I first noticed the Supreme's striking physical similarity to the II, I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to distinguish them or, if I did, the differences would be so subtle as to be meaningless. Those concerns proved warrantless. As it turned out, the sonic differences, while not large (let alone "dramatic"), still ended up being significant (for me). This seeming inconsistency requires an explanation...

When any component's performance is already at a very high level (such as the II), even a relatively modest improvement always has the possibility of being "significant". In this instance, for me, the Supreme achieved that desired goal. This is because the Phantom Supreme is more than just "the best tonearm I've ever heard", a "title" which maybe a dozen other tonearms could have also claimed in my audio past. This time however, a critical threshold was also passed: The Supreme is the first tonearm, in my recent experience, that has no obvious* sonic flaws when compared to every other tonearm I've ever heard.

Now it's still possible that something I've heard is still better in some subtle way than the Supreme, but it is not obvious to me. This may all seem "academic" to some readers, but for a serious audiophile, listening to a component with the conscious (and unconscious) feeling that nothing you've heard is better, in any manner, is both rare and extremely satisfying, because it effectively "removes" that component from the system (at least in your mind). This is why I feel it is "significant"**.

I don't know for certain what the cost is for the Supreme upgrade, but I read that it was $ 800. For that price, especially considering the initial cost of the II, it would be an understatement for me to state that I recommend this Supreme upgrade enthusiastically.

*Examples- My two most recent former (personal) References: The Forsell tonearm had obvious problems in the deep bass and the II had obvious problems in overall soundstaging. Neither of their problems were "serious", but that is irrelevant to this current point.

**This is easier to understand with numbers. Let's assume the II is 95% "perfect", while the Supreme is 97% "perfect". Most audiophiles would agree that the difference between the numbers 95 and 97 is marginal. However, the difference between 5% (100-95) and 3% (100-97), which is a 40% reduction in imperfection, can be profound to an audiophile (or any "perfectionist" for that matter). Sometimes a change in perspective clarifies an otherwise confusing subject.

Relevant Link:

Graham Engineering

GRAHAM PHANTOM II

The Graham Phantom II is the finest pivoted tonearm I have ever heard, but I still don't feel confident that I can describe its (minor) imperfections in as thorough and accurate a fashion as is possible for me. I've had difficulties in both setting up the Phantom II, and, worse, separating its performance from the Reference Lenco (which I believe may be impossible at this time).

As of now, the only criticism I have of the Phantom II's performance (in contrast to the ergonomics of set-up), is that the lateral width is not quite as wide as the Forsell tonearm (though the differences are never more than "minor" and are usually inaudible). In most performance areas, they sound very similar, but since the Graham currently has a 3 foot tonearm cable, while the Forsell had NO tonearm cable, the comparisons are still weighed in the Forsell's favor. Even the set-up favors the Forsell, since I had literally years to optimize it, while the Graham may still require some more "fine tuning". In short, it is easily understandable, as impressed as I am, why I can not feel confident that I've heard the Graham at its very best.

My first priority is to audition different and shorter phono cables*. I've delayed this project because of bad weather and some experiments with my phono stage. After these phono stage and phono cables issues are both settled, than I will go back and attempt to optimize the tonearm one last time. I don't have a schedule for any of this, but I would like to do all of this in a timely manner, though without any rushing, which is both needless and potentially dangerous.

*The Phantom II has a standard DIN outlet. The DIN can be turned in any direction, which may prove helpful in both "dressing" and shortening the phono cable. However, I would still prefer at least the option of the internal tonearm cable extending into a "termination box", with RCA female phono jacks, which would then allow any interconnect cable to be used.

The Ergonomics of Optimum Set-up

The Phantom, in potential, has outstanding ergonomics, in that every important and audible parameter of optimum set-up is theoretically possible. The problems I have with the Phantom are in the practical matters of actual implementation. At this point the descriptions of the fine details of the Phantom's ergonomics are as critical as their ultimate implementation. I will address then each adjustment in turn...

Tonearm Installation, Cartridge Alignment & Offset- This is pretty standard and it works well if the normal focus and care is taken (which should be a given at this price/performance level). The cartridge alignment is a little unusual, but it works (I used two other alignment tools for verification).

Vertical Tracking Adjustment (VTA)- This feature is the Phantom's strong suit, and it's a proverbial joy to use. The VTA knob is calibrated (#1 to #10), and has a reference notch for repeatability (which is critical for optimization). The VTA can be changed while the tonearm is playing. One can not ask for more (short of a digital readout; a highly marginal improvement). Unfortunately, this is the Phantom's one true high point, and most of the rest is downhill.

Tracking Force- The Phantom has a large counterweight behind the pivot, which is typical and obviously required. However, this particular counterweight doesn't slide or rotate on its own. Instead, there is a small knurled knob at the very rear of the tonearm, where tracking force adjustments can be made. (The knob, in effect, must change the relative position of the counterweight to the pivot). While this system should work quite well, there is a practical problem with its implementation.

The knob is really small, but far worse, it completely lacks any calibration numbers or even usable notches. (The existing knurls are so tiny they are barely visible.) There is also no static reference point on the tonearm itself for repeatability. In effect, one has to rely on their sense of touch to know how much movement was made. Well, one can ask, what about just using a tracking force scale?

There are two problems with using a scale and hoping for the best. While a scale is important for communication and repeatability, it's almost impossible to get the Phantom to match a previous setting, because the knurled knob has no calibration points and the damping fluid takes time to settle each time the tonearm is engaged. All you can do is try to learn to make the smallest movements possible and trust your ears. The tracking force scale will give you "the big picture" and nothing else. However, I do have some (hopefully constructive) suggestions...

I would first increase the diameter of the knob, and, much more importantly, I would use distinct and precise calibration notches on its edge, which are easy to see, instead of just simple knurls. Also, I would include a reference notch on the tonearm (at 12 o'clock), which would also be easy to see. These changes will allow smaller movements to be made, and then confirmed and repeated. Such changes shouldn't increase the cost of manufacturing the tonearm (or its selling price).

Azimuth- The azimuth adjustment shares the same problems as does the tracking force. This time the knob is even smaller (it's tiny actually), and while there is a visual reference point, it is far too crude to help make the subtle adjustments required for final optimization. Once again, I would increase the diameter of the knob and also include the critical (easy to see) calibration notches on it. I would also have a static reference point somewhere close to it.

None of these changes is a big deal, but they would greatly assist the user in their tenacious and necessary quest to fully realize the Phantom's potential performance.

Anti-Skating- This is pretty standard; a string attached to a weight (nut and bolt). The force can be changed depending on the relative position of the nut. If the nut is completely removed, the bolt is also disengaged at the same time, through a lack of tension, so zero anti-skating is possible with this tonearm.

I saved the worst for last...

Damping Fluid- As far as I'm concerned, this is the critical adjustment with the Phantom (at least for my cartridge - the ZYX UNIverse), and it's a royal pain to optimize, assuming that it's even possible with the tonearm, as delivered, at this present time. There are two problems, and, fortunately, I believe both of them can be resolved.

First of all, the (silicon based) damping fluid, which presently comes with the tonearm, is much too highly viscous, making it almost impossible to get the right amount. And if you don't have the right amount, the sound will either be muddy and dead, or bright, distorted and highly irritating. As it is now, a literal fraction of a drop can make a noticeable difference, which I think is ridiculous.

The easy solution it to simply use another type of fluid, possibly STP ("oil treatment", which I now have and plan to experiment with later this year). The second problem is another repeat of what I've written above...

There are no calibration points on the Phantom's pivot shank (which is only seen when actually adding or removing the damping fluid). This can be easily remedied by the manufacturer. Once done, it will provide the user a few visual reference points that will be of great assistance when making the necessary fluid adjustments. As an aspiration, I believe one drop of damping fluid should provide a noticeable, though subtle, change in sonics. If achieved, the user should easily be able to fully optimize the Phantom without any great difficulty.

(Preliminary?) Conclusions

I'm very satisfied with the Graham Phantom II, even with the (unnecessary, in my opinion) problems associated with optimizing its performance (detailed above). I find it a joy to use and I'm thrilled with its performance. There's no question in my mind that it is one of the finest tonearms in the world, and I make that claim without any "qualifiers". However, there are always other options, which must be discussed.

It would be more than a stretch to claim that the Phantom II is "the best tonearm value" currently available. (The high-quality linear* tonearms, selling for under $2,000, own this distinction in my opinion.) However, I do believe that, when considering everything, the Graham Phantom II is probably the finest tonearm, overall, at its (present) price point of $ 5,000. In other words, short of some cartridge/tonearm mismatch, I don't know of any tonearm that can equal, let alone outperform, the Phantom II at $ 5,000 (or less). The only possible exceptions are, once again, the linear* tonearms.

*Particularly the Trans-Fi Terminator.

What about tonearms selling above $ 5,000?

As far as I know, there are six tonearms in the upper price range that constitute serious options (when not counting the new, more expensive, 12"* version of the Phantom). To begin, there are two "veterans": the Kuzma Air Line (already in Class A Reference Tonearms) and the DaVinci Audio Labs Grandezza Reference, both of which sell in the $ 10,000 range. (There is also the Schroder tonearm, but I/we have no relevant experience with it, and its performance, at least anecdotally, isn't consistent enough yet to inspire confidence in me.) Then there is the new Durand Talea, which sells for much less than the other two.

From my accumulated knowledge, which includes what I, and my associates, have actually experienced, plus what I've read, and been told, by audiophiles whom I feel are credible, competent and objective, the Graham, Kuzma and DaVinci are all somewhat different, but still highly competitive with each other, which means none of the three has a serious overall advantage over the other two, just "tradeoffs", depending on the cartridge, turntable and audio performance priorities. Since the Phantom sells for only around 50% of the other two, this obviously makes it an outstanding value in relative terms, despite its high selling price. What about the Talea?

The Talea is the tonearm I am most interested in hearing next, and for good reasons. Its design is truly different (it allows azimuth adjustments while playing), and the anecdotal evidence of its performance, from highly experienced auditioners, is simply outstanding (so far). While the Talea is still quite expensive, and more money than the Phantom II (including the 12" version), it doesn't reach 5 figures. As of now then, the Talea may provide the best opportunity to improve on the Phantom's stellar performance, and without spending "big bucks" to do it.

Then there are three other tonearms, of which much less is known, for now. All of them are quite different in both appearance and approach. Two of them are from Continuum Audio Labs, which are made in Australia; the Cobra at $ 12,000, and the Copperhead at $ 7,000. These tonearms are almost always sold with the Continuum turntables (which are ultra expensive), and not too much is known yet about them on their own**. The third tonearm is the Thales, from Switzerland, which also sells for $ 12,000. It is also unique, a pivoted tonearm, but with "perfect tangential tracking" (just like a linear tonearm, such as the Kuzma above).

When it comes to these three tonearms, not enough is known about them, at this point, from credible, experienced and non-commerical sources to provide an informed, confident and defensible opinion about them. Still, they all have enough (net) positive anecdotal evidence, plus a sound scientific foundation to their designs, to appear very interesting, and are all well worth looking into.

*I am not able to mount the 12" version of the Phantom II on my current (Reference Lenco) turntable.

**This is speculation on my part, but based on everything I've read about the Continuum Phono line, from various sources, their two tonearms may just be their real achievement, and not their turntables.

KUZMA AIR LINE

This is as good as any tonearm we have ever heard. For more details, go to the Kuzma Turntable/Tonearm Article.

NORD AIR TANGENT (10B OR REFERENCE)

Along with the Kuzma Air Line, these are competitive with the finest tonearms ever made. The Reference is the same arm as the 10B, but with the added features of a remote control to change the VTA and it even comes with an electronic readout to boot!

Sadly, these models were discontinued and only a few were ever made, but they are definitely worth seeking out. Either model, and particularly the Reference, can be considered one of those very rare, final purchases. They are expensive of course, but worth it considering their build quality and sonic performance. These tonearms were made in Sweden.

I had very little experience with these tonearms myself, but a couple of my associates more than made up for that.

IMPORTANT NEWS- I have just been informed that there is a NEW Air Tangent Tonearm that is claimed to be even better than the two models above. It is $ 5,500 in Sweden, but according to a different reader, it will be $ 8,000 in North America. A link to the future information about this new tonearm is in the "Links" section.

Here is the URL for further information on this important component: http://wvvv.dnaudio.com/Tan.htm

FORSELL

This tonearm is very similar in performance to the two above Air Tangents, but only if properly optimized with thorough modifications.

It doesn't have as many features as the Air Tangents. It includes a VTA adjustment that is neither totally precise nor repeatable. It requires very specific and expensive air regulation to almost, but not quite, equal their performance, but it will still cost a lot less.

It is rare and very difficult to find on its own. It was usually sold with their matching turntables. The low-bass reproduction on this tonearm is not equal to the two Air Tangent models and many of the other Reference tonearms below.

Its overall performance is still about good enough for this Class, but its more accurate rating should be Class A/B. There are more details about how to optimize this tonearm within the Forsell Turntable Article.

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CLASS B

GRAHAM 2.2

The Graham is one of the finest pivoted tonearms ever made. It has a unipivot bearing, which for many tonearm freaks is either a "big plus" or a "big minus".

There have been a number (?) of versions of this tonearm, but only the latest models have performance in this class. I slightly preferred the Triplanar below in the past, but it’s very close and both are superb. Many audiophiles prefer the Graham. Their older models are in Class C.

The latest update (the .2), can be done by the owners themselves, according to the talented designer and manufacturer, Bob Graham. None of us has heard Graham's latest top-of-the-line model, the Phantom.

TRIPLANAR IV ULTIMATE

The Triplanar was my first choice in the past for pivoted tonearms, but the present Graham is extremely competitive, and VPI has just updated their already excellent JMW Memorial tonearms. Only the most recent models have Class B performance.

My experience with this tonearm was short, but instructive. Along with its sound quality, I was particularly impressed with its (then unique) capability for totally optimizing the pickup's potential performance.

Neither the Graham nor the Triplanar are as "well built and finished" as the finest of the SME series. Their earlier models are in Class C.

EMINENT TECHNOLOGY (LATEST MODEL & MODIFIED)

The overall performance of this tonearm is on a par with the Graham and Triplanar, but only if it is upgraded with superior and very specific air regulation (Schrader Bellows). This is the best linear tonearm ever made for the money.

Caveat 1- This tonearm is at its best with a very "stable" turntable, meaning one with either a very stiff suspension (or better yet, no suspension at all) like the VPI HW-19 series. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to optimize its performance on any Oracle, Sota, Linn, Gyrodec etc.

Caveat 2- It is extremely difficult to setup this tonearm properly (meaning totally optimized) even when the turntable was designed for it. An experienced "expert" should always be found to do the setup on the ET.

Important Pump Information

A reader just sent me some information about the ET Tonearm. I feel this may prove very relevant and valuable to current and prospective ET owners. Here it is, slightly edited:

"It has been a year since I emailed you last about the mods for an ET-2 arm. I purchased the high pressure manifold last year, but could not get my hands on a Wisa 200 pump until January. I found that while there was an improvement in the mid and upper frequencies, I ended up getting a lot of lower frequency rumble. I think this was caused either by the fact that the Wisa pump was loud (I made a custom box, filled with dampening material which was then put into a closed closet 15 feet away - but still too noisy for me), and vibrating to a point of causing the vibrations to feed to the turntable, or the air supply out of the Wisa pump was pulsating (to a point of feeding a vibrating pulse through the hose itself). I was not happy with the setup, to say the least.

After months of investigating various pumps, I came across a medical grade pump (Medo), which is very quiet (40db max) and has 14 Psi air pressure rating. I then enclosed this into the custom box. A friend of mine came over and could not hear the difference between the pump being on and off. Now to the sonics - pure heaven. No distortion on the lower or higher end. No rumble from the pump. There is a more 'emotional' presentation. Very airy and open mids and highs. I feel that I just got a brand new turntable. Just a reminder that I have the Micro Seiki turntable, which I have modified to fit the ET-2 arm. My cartridge is the Shelter 501. I rewired the ET with Cardas unshielded 33 Gauge wiring."

Personal Note- After I received the above letter, and then prompted by another reader, I asked for further clarification. This is the reader's reply, slightly edited:

"...the Medo model # is AC0110. It will do 3 L/m and output as much as 18psi. The pump is a linear piston type. When connected to the ET, I am getting a constant 7Psi. They also make higher flow rate pumps (with 50db ratings). You can have access to more information at www.medousa.com. I think the retail price of the unit I am using is around $ 200-300. However I picked mine up through ebay from Steve's Industrial Surplus. He regularly has them for around $ 40-60."

Personal Note- The Medo pump mentioned above sounds ideal for owners of the ET tonearm, but that doesn't mean it will work well with other air-bearing tonearms. For instance, the Forsell tonearm, which I presently use, requires just the opposite type of pump; high flow and low PSI. I'm going to look for one of the appropriate Medo models, on Ebay of course, and will report back with the results if my hunt is successful.

VPI JMW MEMORIAL TONEARMS

These are also superb tonearms, and definitely the best value in this class at this time. VPI reduced the price of the original models because of an upgrade. The "originals" are now an incredible value.

The also offer updated and more expensive (.5) models. I've recently had some more experience with one of these models (the 10.5), and I was able to make some direct comparisons with the original (10) version, in two separate steps. The 10.5 is definitely superior.

The "outriggers*" and the new counterweight were heard first. They improve the "focus" of the music and also increase the separation of the instruments. Because of this, the music becomes more "intelligible". The sound was also "cleaner". I then installed and heard the effects of the new bearing. I only heard it for one (long) evening, but the sound-floor was slightly reduced. This improvement wasn't as noticeable, or as important, as the earlier change. In both instances, the tonal balance was not altered.

I can't just state, without reservation, that these improvements are worth $ 900 ($ 2,300 vs. $ 1,400). This depends on the personal perspective of the listener. If there are other, serious, weak links in the system, that can be "fixed" for the same price, I would attend to them first. If, instead, the system is "mature" and already satisfying, then I would seriously consider the .5 version of the tonearm, though at that price, it has stiff competition with the other tonearms in this class. The 10 (or the 12) can also be modified later, as an upgrade, without even shipping the tonearm.

The (longer) Model 12 is worth the extra money, IF its longer length will fit on the turntable.

*Further- The outriggers are essential with cartridges, such as the Shelter 901, which have low compliance, if you want to optimize their ultimate sonics. According to a reader, the outriggers and some other upgrade parts can be purchased directly from VPI, with considerable savings. Highly recommended. (7/03)

SME V (LATEST MODEL)

An associate has heard the latest incarnation of this tonearm (on an Avid Acutus) and was very impressed. I don't know exactly how it compares to the other tonearms within this class in sonics. I strongly suspect it is more "competitive" than truly "equal", but I do know it deserves to be here. I still consider it to be THE best built pivoted tonearm of them all, and easy to set-up.

I owned a SME V personally in the late 1980's and early 1990's, which was mounted on the final version of the Goldmund Studio. I really enjoyed that turntable/tonearm combination, though I must add that I've never heard an earlier version of this tonearm equal the performance of the later Triplanars, whenever a direct comparison was made.

The one potentially serious problem with this design is that it is more turntable dependent than most other pivoted tonearms* (see below). So a prospective purchaser should check with other owners of his turntable before making the committment.

This tonearm is still relatively expensive in North America, but it is a very good value in England and Europe. Their tonearm cable must also be changed, one way or the other. I am not familiar with the popular 312 model, but based on the virtually universal praise it has received, it most likely also deserves to be in Class B.

We have no experience with the latest SME IV.

*CAVEAT- According to a number of Linn Sondek owners I've talked to over the years, and all my reading and correspondence, the SME tonearms have serious problems working with the LP-12. The words that usually describe the combination are all negative: "heavy", "dark", "dull" etc. I would only attempt using the SME on the Linn if there is an "out", which means you can audition the SME at little or no cost to you.

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CLASS C

EMINENT TECHNOLOGY (USED)

This is a great value for the money, though it must always be remembered that it is probably the most difficult tonearm in audio history to setup correctly (due to its numerous, off-setting adjustments). It can later be upgraded to Class B performance in (many) small and (mainly) inexpensive steps.

Further- This tonearm works particularly well with the VPI 19 Turntable Series, especially if the VPI's suspension is defeated. (See important "Caveats" above before purchasing one of these.)

SME IV OR V (EARLIER MODELS)

Both these are excellent tonearms and they are also beautifully built, with the V having a slight, but noticeable, edge in performance. The IV is a true bargain. Both are relatively easy to set up and work well with almost all cartridges. However, they are not compatitble will all turntables.

Both of these tonearms used overly long and mediocre (in today's standards) cables from VandenHul. The cable should be replaced with more recent and superior designs.

I owned a Model V for years, and immensely enjoyed using it.

LINN ITTOK (USED)

This famous model is an excellent tonearm, and one of the finest ever made for the money, but it's not quite the equal in performance to the other Class C tonearms, with the exception of the Grado and the Zeta. The Ittok also had an important marketing significance, since it began the now routine model of having superior tonearms engineered and built in Japan, then marketed in North America, Europe etc.

This tonearm’s performance is the minimum acceptable in a true high-end system. It is a Reference only if it is less expensive than the superior SME IV. It obviously works very well with any version of the Linn LP-12. Also, I much prefer this tonearm to the Rega RB-300, despite all the hype the Rega now receives.

Actually, I've long felt that the superior performance of this tonearm was the only real reason that the Linn "turntable" was even at all competitive (for the money) well into the 1980's. In short, audiophiles were crediting the Linn turntable for what in fact their Ittok tonearm was really achieving.

CAVEAT: Avoid the much more expensive EKOS. The improvement in sonics over the Ittok is real, but not worth all the extra money, and it may even have reliability problems. Go for one of the Class B tonearms instead.

FURTHER- A reader, from Holland, relayed some of his observations about the Linn Ittok, plus some other interesting tonearms. Here it is, with only slight editing:

"I agree with your statement about the (Rega) RB300. It doesn't work on a LP12, as it doesn't work on other turntables either. Some people put it on a Thorens TD160 where the Ittok would give much better results. The reason I think that it doesn't work is that it's too heavy for a LP12 or a Thorens in a way that it becomes impossible to get the suspension right.

I own a Gyrodec MK. V, but I very soon replaced the standard RB300 by a Michell Tecnoarm (heavily modified (Rega) RB250), which improved things a lot. With the RB300, the Gyro simply didn't get started and wasn't able to show it's full potential. On the Gyro it can't be a question of being too heavy, so there must be another reason why the RB300 didn't work here. I think that it was a good idea to use a RB250 as a starting point for the Tecnoarm. The Tecnoarm comes with a much better endstub and counterweight, Cardas endless interlink, damped armtube and better bearings. The result is a much livelier sound. I think less resonance, better balance because of the lower gravity-point of the new counterweight and better interlink does the trick." (8/05)

Personal Note- I've always found it both ironic and amusing that the Linn LP-12 is so overrated, while their excellent Ittok tonearm is now so underrated. The Rega is still the best tonearm I've heard for the money, assuming you can totally optimize it, which isn't easy, unfortunately.

GRAHAM AND TRIPLANAR (OLDER MODELS)

You can count on excellent performance from either tonearm with the later the vintage the better. These are competitive with the SME’s in sonics, but they are not as well built and they are also more difficult to set-up.

However, the Triplanars have the ability to optimize the cartridge's performance to a greater degree than the others.

WILSON BENESCH ACT 0.5

This is one of the best values in pivoted tonearms manufactured today. It is also well built and looks stunning. They make a more expensive tonearm, but it isn’t worth the extra money in our experience.

If you must have something new in this (now moderate) price range, this tonearm, and the two, original VPI’s, are it.

ALPHASON HR-100S

This is an attractive and excellent sounding tonearm, which my former retail store carried in the 1980's.

It has more detail and is generally more neutral than either the Grado or Zeta, but it can also sound "lean", and even bright, with the wrong cartridge and/or preamplifier; meaning those that have similar "tendencies". The later versions had "foam" injected within the arm tube as a damping material, which improved its tonal balance.

A reader reminded me of this neglected design, and he also mentioned that it worked particularly well with the Koetsu line (and sound), which is what I remember too.

There are a few "idiosyncrasies" with the setup and when operating it. There is more pertinent information concerning this tonearm, and its potential strengths and problems, within the Vinyl Asylum website.

THE GRADO

This is also a very good tonearm, although its overall sonic quality does not quite equal the other Class C tonearms, including the Ittok. It is still one of the finest tonearms ever made for the money.

Caveat- The Grado is oddly shaped, and if it's mounted correctly, with all the spacers, the tonearm is then too tall for most dustcovers. However, it will work almost as well with the short spacers. If the Ittok is still too much money, and the appearance isn't a problem, this is the way to go. Very well made and it's a pleasure to setup and use.

THE ZETA

Another very good tonearm, with sound quality approximately equal to the Grado, but slightly different strengths and weakness. The best tonearm, overall, for the money in its day. The sound quality was very full bodied, but it wasn't at its best with outer detail or precision.

It is very attractive and impressive looking in glossy black, and it is very well made for the money. It isn't very difficult to set up. I am not able to give more details because it has been too long since I used it on a regular basis. I just know it should be here.

CAVEAT- While I have never had a problem with one of these tonearms, I have heard consistent "rumors" over the years that some of them had faulty bearings that are "impossible" to repair. So this arm should be checked out before purchasing it.

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Some (Initial) Thoughts on Other Interesting Tonearms

Fidelity Research- There were two models as I recall. They were unquestionably one of the finest tonearms of their day (early 1980's-See Breuer below). They were especially effective with large and heavy moving-coil pickups (over 10 grams). They were also very well built, and they had a "serious", solid "feel" to them.

They should probably be in Class C (or even B), but I haven't played around with either one of them (in a controlled condition) for around 20 years now. It's a Reference with the right (heavy) cartridge.

Koetsu- This was another excellent tonearm. It was not actually made by Koetsu of course. It was made by the same Asian company that makes the "Linn" Ittok and Sumiko tonearms (I think), and they just put their name on it.

I remember the performance of the Koetsu tonearm being at least comparable with (and most likely superior to) the Ittok. I also remember it being relatively straightforward to set-up.

I'll list it in Class C when I can recall (or I am reminded of) its unavoidable "idiosyncrasies" (or lack of them), which must not include any "serious (meaning disqualifying) problems".

Immedia RPM2- We have heard many good things about this tonearm over a number of years now, but none of us have experience with it.

Breuer- I was informed by a reader that this tonearm was still being "handmade" by Mr. Breuer himself, and that the cost was "$ 4,000 (Euros)". That is quite expensive for a pivoted tonearm.

I had a couple of these tonearms in the early/middle 1980's, and was very impressed with their performance. There is no question that they were one the finest tonearms available at that time. The two characteristics I can still remember were its superb detail retrieval and excellent build quality. I've had no (serious) experience with them since then, and I also didn't know if they were still in business, which is why I didn't list them.

If this tonearm has been significantly improved, which wouldn't be that surprising considering the time frame, then it could once again be a top contender. The early version of this tonearm should also probably be in Class C, and the new, improved model may even be a Class B performer.

Sumiko MMT- I sold a large number of these tonearms during my "phono heyday" in the 1980's. They were the finest value at the time, the "RB-300" of its day. They still hold up today, since their VTA is adjustable, and the build quality is decent. A Reference if in good condition. Perfect for "first timers" who want adjustability and good value. At its "best", it is still not as good as the Rega RB-300 at ITS "best", but it's more difficult to hear the Rega at its best.

Sumiko FT-3- This was the enhanced and more expensive version of the MMT, and not a replacement. It had slightly better performance and build quality. It was not quite as good a value as the MMT, though still very respectable in that regard.

Lustre GST-801- This was another (Japanese) tonearm that I sold during the early/middle 1980's. It was rather heavy, silver in color and very well built for the price. The "set-up" was straightforward and it had excellent adjustability for VTA (which is very important). It also had a removable headshell.

The sound quality of the Lustre was also quite good, though it didn't match the (more expensive) Ittok or the other "upscale" tonearms of its day mentioned above. It was a little bright and crude in comparison. The sonics could be improved (a little) with a better headshell, if you can still find one now, and modern tonearm cables.

This tonearm is still a very good value considering everything. It should be mounted to a turntable with a heavy plinth (like a VPI) or one with no suspension.

Further- I've always been a fan of this tonearm, recommending it for years now when others have entirely ignored or forgotten it; both for its excellent intrinsic performance and its versatility and ease of optimization. One European reader has had even more success with it recently, using it with the top-rated Dynavector XV-1s. That's a severe price mismatch of course, but if what he observes is even close to the truth, this is an incredible combination for the money. Here are his experiences, after I sent him a somewhat skeptical reply to his first letter to me:

"...Maybe I was over zealous in my praise of the Lustre/XV-1s combination. I haven't heard it in every combination. What I have heard it (the Dynavector XV-1s) in, however, is a SME V (statically balanced); Ikeda IT-407, Morch DP 6 blue point (with precision head); Dynavector DV507 MKII and a Graham 2.2. Hands down, the Lustre/XV-1s combo outperformed the other combos and gave a "you are there" realism that still excites me - as you probably gathered from my eulogy. Spare cartridges that have faired in this mix include a Spectral Reference mc, Lyra Titan, Lyra Parnassus Dct mc (now in need of repair) and a Music Maker III mm. Apart from the Allaerts/Ikeda combo, no other combination comes close to what I hear with the Lustre/XV-1s."

Personal Notes- My experience with (high performance) tonearms is that you never know when it just happens to be a "perfect match" with a particular cartridge, figuratively speaking, so I would take this reader's observations seriously. Also, this letter provides one more reason to hear the Allaerts one day, but it's tough to get one in North America. (10/05)

SAEC- This was a popular (Japanese) tonearm line in its day (at least in Toronto), with above average build quality for their price. Their set-up was average in difficulty. The sonic performance was respectable, and nothing more or less than that (they looked and felt better than they sounded). I can no longer remember the exact differences between the models, but I do remember that they weren't significant.

Origin Live Rega RB-250- We have heard a relentless flow of good things, from numerous people, about this tonearm within the last two years. Enough to feel that there must be something to it, but none of us has any experience with the Origin, so we can't comment on it, let alone consider it a Reference.

I would seriously consider the Origin if you are "on a budget" and looking for the finest new tonearm you can buy for the money. I would. Links to Origin Live dealers are provided in the Links file.

Dynavector 505- I have very limited experience with this tonearm. It was very idiosyncratic, working very well with some turntables and cartridges, and a disaster with others. I would only buy it if it's really cheap or with a return/refund "out". This will be difficult because it has now become something of a "cult" item.

Further- I just received this perspective on the Dynavector from a now veteran reader (and contributor), who has considerable experience (and enthusiasm) concerning phono front-ends and preamplifiers:

"I'm surprised of your omission of (the) Dynavector arms, at least they deserve a mention. I have returned to (the) 505 after trying (the) SME V, Alphason, SME 3009 and Koetsu arms on my Oracle Premier and it is by far the best combo I've tried. Granted, it will sound too dark on (a) VPI, and requires careful choice of tables, but in my case it blows away almost everything that I can afford (didn't try Graham yet). It performs flawlessly with (the) Denon 103, Koetsu Onyx (the best combo with Onyx so far I've heard, and Onyx even tracks well in it, being a notorious bad tracker), any MM and AT OC-9."

"(The) 505 is amazing in it's ability to make every cartridge perform to it's max, never letting them sound too bright or peaky. It is very "together", coherent and powerful in it's presentation. It makes even (the) BPS sound listenable. It is due to it's great damping ability, which is a combination of shear mass (3 lbs), anti-resonance main arm damping and unique magnetic damping. Add to this the ability to change headshells and adjust tracking force and VTA within seconds, and it is one of the most versatile arms out there. It has amazing bass and lots of detail. It is not as dynamic nor (as) clean as the best out there, including (the) SME V (which didn't impress me - too clinical) but it is musical and involving."

"Prices for used mint 505's have skyrocketed in recent months and they commonly bring $800 or more. Last month one boxed 505 sold on Audiogon for $1200!!! Ridiculous... "

I guess I am behind the times with this model. If this tonearm goes for $ 800 or more, I suppose you don't have to worry about finding (or selling) one "really cheap".

Basis Vector- This is a very interesting design, at least based on the description by the designer, A.J. Conti. It's very new on the scene, and I don't know anyone who has heard it yet, but I would keep my eye on it if the price, $ 2,500, is not out of hand. It does face some tough competition, but it is also different, primarily the bearing.

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READERS LETTERS

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CAVEAT-Please be advised that the readers’ letters posted on this site are solely the opinion of that reader and may not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions of Arthur Salvatore or High-End Audio. These letters furthermore, are not to be taken as being endorsed by Arthur Salvatore or High-End Audio. They are posted because they may be edifying, thought provoking or entertaining.

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MG-1 AIR TONEARM

I have no experiences with this component, but one helpful reader has had time to experiment with it, and these are his four edited letters. Very Important- Read them all, because the final letters correct the errors in the early letters.

First Letter

"(There's) some good news and some bad news. Bad news first:

1) The pump is WAY too noisy, much noisier than the ET pump.
2) It is NOT an Air-Tangent workmanship-wise, it is a very good copy but... Air manifold is aluminum, easily scratched, Air-Tangent uses magnesium, ET - polished and treated super-hard something that is nearly impossible to scratch.
3) It does not have enough counterweight to support heavy cartridges, like my Koetsu or Miyabi. Their site shows it with a wooden Grado... I imagine that more pressure may be needed for even more weight with the Miyabi.
4) A lot of hiss is coming from the manifold, something I've never heard from ET.
5) The arm has a feel of a thing built, well, in China - that is exactly where it is built. It's not that it does not work, but it's just rough around the edges, VTA adjuster, for example. It is rough, not as smooth as ET at all.
6) Final level adjustment requires a 10 cm long #4 Allen wrench, which is not included.
7) It's not for a novice, but, rather for an expert. In fact, it is more of a kit, a starting point, which should be adjusted, slightly modified and improved to reach it's full potential.

Now the good news:

1) It works.
2) It sounds good (more on that later), when you can hear it over the pump and manifold noises and hisses.
3) Relatively easy to operate.
4) Price - it is the first and only (so far) affordable air-bearing arm in a high-enough league."

Second Letter

"The Air Tangent was advertised on Audiogon for a mere $5000 used, stating that it has an optional carbon-fibre wand (a $1200 option). The MG-1 comes with a carbon-fibre/aluminum hybrid tube STANDARD. I like this tonearm more and more, especially after Ada Lee (the owner?) offered a heavier custom-made counterweight FREE!"

Third Letter

"Having lived with this tonearm for about a week now, I have no desire to go back to Goldmund T-3. I would be happy with it. Now the question arises - will it sound this good on another turntable? I, having bought it as the way to downgrade, don't know if it will sound this good on, let's say, the VPI HW-19 Mk III? (the Mk IV costs too much for justifying selling the Goldmund).
The only drawbacks so far are some hissing from the manifold (air tube) and a somewhat noisy pump, which also gets very warm very fast. Ada said hissing is part of the very difficult and complicated design which makes for great sound. The sound is right up my alley - as you know, I don't like overly dry, dead, clean sound. The SME V or a Rega are not my cup of tea. This one is very lively, big and spacious, with a lot of detail, plus it tracks very well. Easy to mount, easy to use... Anyway,... at the price - unreal, at twice the price - hard to match!"

Fourth (and final) Letter

"Some more info: The owner contacted me because of some obvious misunderstandings that I must correct:

1) The tonearm is NOT made in China, but in the USA.
2) The owner is not Chinese.
3) It is NOT a copy of an Air Tangent, as the air bearing design is a development of a completely different designer (Poul Ladegaard) and it was designed BEFORE the similar LOOKING Air Tangent.
My sincere apologies to Ada Lee."

Personal Note- This tonearm is an exciting development. There is more information about it on Audiogon, within the Discussion Forums (Analog).

EMINENT TECHNOLOGY ET-2 TONEARM- I posted sometime last year that there was an air pump that might prove to be a nice improvement for this tonearm. This information came from a reader. Another reader just sent me this letter with some contradictory results. Here it is, with some slight editing:

"In your column you mentioned that a reader suggested using a Medo AC0110 airpump for the ET tonearm. I just got mine in today and find it runs VERY hot. Also, upon further research (Medo Japan website), they mention the duty cycle is only 30 minutes! That will severely degrade the life expectancy of the pump. I don't really expect you to know this and also the Medo was suggested by Bruce Thigpen of ET himself. However I'm a bit disappointed. Is there any way of contacting the other reader to find out how long his pump has lasted (my original pump is 10 years old!)."

Personal Notes- I asked the reader to directly inform Bruce Thigpen (ASAP) with this information and his alarming observations. I would contact the original reader myself, but my email files are still inaccessible at this time. More recently, the original reader read the above and made a reply (below), but it is sadly inconclusive..

"I just read the blog on one of the users who tried the pump and was not happy. I did not realize that it was only rated for 30 min duty. However, I have run it for hours (in fact, before I implemented a trigger that turns both pump and turntable on and off, I accidentally left it on for over 24 hours) without any problems. My pump is enclosed in a wooden box to further dampen noise. I have been running it for more than a year now and since I purchased it for less than $50.00. I would by another one (at that price) without hesitation, since I find that it is superior (sonically, and much quieter) than the WISA. The pump that I have was purchased used but I don't know how long it was previously used.

I thought that I was the only one with this setup, but since I emailed you last year, I have on occasion, come across other people (some on audiogon) that have had the same setup on their turntables. If I come across any more users like this, I will be sure to ask what their experience is with the pump. I truly hope I have not caused any problems with your readers."

Personal Note- Only time will settle this dilemma. Maybe there is some difference(s) between the models, or there was some prior abuse? I'll post any further relevant correspondence.

GRAHAM PHANTOM TONEARM- None of us has any experience with this latest tonearm from the distinguished manufacturer. The design does appear to be truly evolutionary, and the "buzz" from actual users has been like a continual rave. After a direct request, I recieved a short letter from a veteran reader, who compared his Phantom to his (latest version of the) Triplanar. There's some editing, since the reader is from Europe:

"Well, in general I can say that both tonearms are one of those rare ones, which work on a very high level. The decision of which one, is more or less a personal one.

The ease of setup:
In my opinion, the Phantom is in a class of its own. Based on the magnetic azimuth, it is simply outstanding. Well first, the VTA adjustment of the Triplanar is very good too, but I think the quality the Phantom is better. Forget the 2.2, the Phantom is much better. VTA changes while playing are no problems with either tonearms.

The azimuth correction is ok with the TRI, but it needs the help of a screwdriver, and is more or less better than nothing, but there's no comparison with the Magna Glide, which is PERFECT. However, you don't do the adjustments while playing (same with the TRI): (Instead) lift the tonearm, change the setting and play it again. In VERY short time, you get the (optimum) point. The Phantom is, in my opinion, the best tonearm out there. It closes the gap between pivot and tangenital tonearms. It combines the best of both.

Sound differences:
Well, it is probably a matter of taste, but the Phantom's brutal power and speed in the lower frequencies must be heard to believe. The Triplanar sounds very natural, and when you never listened to a Phantom, I would say, that's the one to go to.

Even with ten left thumbs, is is possible to make the right adjustments with the Phantom, and their own Graham Alignment tool is super, too. The only problem with the Phantom is the connected phono cable (which) isn't one of the best, so you can be dissapointed... I use the XLO Phono cable, that is ok. The Discovery wire from the Triplanar is excellent."

Personal Notes- Based on his letter, I feel it is safe to say that this reader prefers the Phantom in his system, at least after changing phono cables. Now he even has me excited about it. If it's at all possible for me to get one the next time I try out a new turntable, I will do so. Meanwile, audiophiles have another serious alternative for "the best tonearm", especially in the pivoted category.

TWO (WIDE-RANGING) LETTERS

I received two informative letters from a reader a little while ago, and they were put temporarily aside when I was swamped with correspondence. I kept them though, and am now posting them, along with my initial response (mainly questions) and some final thoughts. Here is relevant material from the first letter, with only minor editing (my bold):

"I've recently received Len Gregory's "The Conductor" linear tracking air bearing tonearm. At first blush, its very, very good. Simple in design, relatively easy to set up and competes VERY favorably with the other LT arms I've had (ET2, Maplenoll Ariande Sig, Forsell). Overall sound is better than my Schroeder DPS. The Conductor is a high flow, low pressure design and so finding a pump for it has been an interesting education.

HI-FLOW PUMP

Len Gregory sells the Conductor arm with the Sera 550r aquarium pump but its only available in Europe and in 220-240v. The Sera pump, like many other similar style pumps is made in China (eg. the Dophin 5-star pump available in the US). It has a flow rating of 10 litres per minute at 3.5 psi and has an on board filter and rheastat.

The pump I've found in North America which is by far and away the BEST high flow, low pressure pump is made by Techno Takasuki of Japan (in their Phillipine plant) and is distributed and marketed in North America as the "Hiblow" pump by Hiblow-USA Inc. in Minnesota. The Hiblow pump comes in several models (#20,40,60,80,120-- numbers correspond to litres per minute) and is vastly superior to any other high flow pump that I've seen or used. Its primarily designed for professional aquaculture application and not an aquairum hobbyist pump like the Sera.

The #20 Hiblow is very quiet (31 db) and is rated at 20 lpm at .5-1 psi. and has a stop flow/pressure rating of 5-6 psi (ie. where the flow ceases). It has an on-board filter and single outlet thru which the air flow can be regulated using a section of tubing and a conventional 'gang' valve."

The reader later replied back to a question from me:

"The retail cost of "The Conductor" tonearm by Len Gregory (The Music Man) is 1,500GBP ($2,856 US). It comes with everything required.

You can Google several reviews on the arm (6moons and TNT Audio mag in Europe). All reviews are extremely complimentary and rate the Conductor as the equal to any linear tracking arm made and as good if not better than the conventional designed Schroeder Reference, but at less than half the cost!

The name of the hiblow pump we like is called the "Hiblow" and retails between $199 and $230 USD. It is distributed by Hiblow-USA of Saline, Michigan (Don Lentz sales manager). Its sold by fish farm and professional aquarium suppliers. Like many other things, its much much more expensive in Canada ($400+), so its better to buy it in the US.

Eminent Technology Tonearm Air Flow Optimization

This new reader offers some practical advice when it comes to the solving the E.T.'s problematic airflow, plus he offers a few other interesting observations about Krell and vintage components. There's some minor editing and my bold:

"...One of your readers had some problems with the Wisa pump and the Melo one. I had used a Wisa pump initially without satisfaction, and then my friend and I did some thinking; Even with 2 air reservoirs and filters between the tonearm and the pump, you are bound to get fluctuations in the air pressure applied to the the air bearing of the arm, so I bought an industrial size compressor, placed it 30 feet away in the furnace room, had a valve fitted to it and hooked up a hose to the 2 air reservoirs and then to the tone arm. Next, I turned the compressor on and filled its big tank with air. When the tank is full, it would shut off in auto mode, then I would set the air pressure by adjusting the valve to the desirable level, around 10-11psi or something like that. The full tank of air supplies a steady stream of even and non pulsating pressure to the ET2.5 air bearing. The result was simply fantastic*.

I thought I would share this tip with others who may use the ET arm. The 2.5 is much better than the 2. I had mine set up on a VPI TNT3, with a BenzRuby 2 feeding the signals to a pair of Krell KPA class A phono preamps used in balanced mode. These preamps are awesome when used as a pair. They would give any phono preamps a run for their money. It's a huge difference over using only one. Also, I want to mention when the compressor tank is full, there is enough air supply to pressure the ET2.5 arm for at least 2 hours.

Before I go, I want to mention to you that a properly restored pair of Scott 121C tube mono preamps, and Scott 280 El34 mono blocks, will provide supreme performance, and I also love my Altec 340A 6550 tube mono blocks. These vintage pieces are not in the back seat compared to any MacIntosh or Marantz gear in my opinion, and actually may sound better."

*One of my "associates" uses air tanks with his Forsell turntable/tonearm. He also gets excellent results. I would try it myself, but I don't have the space.

Warning about using Air Tanks for Tonearms

This is an important letter from a reader, who was also a long-time customer of my Toronto audio store. There's only some minor editing:

"I hope your readers already know this, but a word of caution to anyone who uses compressor tanks to supply air to their tonearms. As you know, I am a machinist and I work with compressed air every workday. I can tell you that compressor tanks will contain a "LOT" of moisture in them. You really need to make sure you have a high quality in-line filter between the tank and reservoirs, and I also recommend putting another quality filter between the reservoirs and the tonearm. The original filters, used with these other smaller pumps, would not be sufficient, and any moisture could damage any tonearm permanently."

Forsell Tonearm Set-Up Tweak

This reader, from Europe, has discovered an easy method to improve the performance of the Forsell air-bearing tonearm. I will try it myself as soon as I have a chance, and get back with the results at that time. Any Forsell owner who duplicates this experiment, is highly encouraged to relay their experiences here, no matter what the results. This letter was edited:

"I discovered that if I twisted the (Golden) armtube slightly towards the front, then the arm would float easier on its air cushion, allowing me to turn down the airflow and get less turbulent flow. Why this is, I do not know, but it may be a good tip for other Forsell owners as well. The armtube is just slightly turned along its axis, making the air holes not pointing straight upwards, but slightly to the front (maybe 5 degrees from the vertical). I adjusted all the angles, and set the vta to almost neutral (level arm), and found it to play marvellous."

On the Schröder and the Triplanar Tonearms

I received two letters from Thom Mackris of Galibier Design, plus another letter that Thom forwarded from Frank Schröder, the tonearm manufacturer. The three letters are mainly about the tonearms mentioned in the title, plus some extras. Here they are, basically unedited, but make certain that you read them all, because there are corrections made later on. My bold as usual:

"...You have my permission to publish the entire contents of this e-mail on your website.

I read with both interest and amusement the comments about the Schroeder Reference SQ on your "June 2007 Recent" page. At the onset, please note that I sell both Schröder and Triplanar tonearms. Implemented correctly, they are both world-class tonearms. "Correctly" is the key word, and I'll try to delve into this topic a bit at least in the context of my experience. Please note that I am waiting on delivery of my SQ, and so my experience of it are based on the arm we ran on a dual-armed rig (Triplanar/Schröder) in our room at the 2006 RMAF. Of course, I have lived with a standard Reference for some 3 years now.

Let me begin by correcting a couple of omissions about the SQ version of the Schröder Reference. There are three items which distinguish the SQ from the standard Reference with only the first being mentioned by your reader:

1. The noted change to Nordost wire.

The Nordost is not better than the solid core copper, but rather presents a slightly different harmonic structure. I look at the main advantage of the Nordost as it being considerably more physically robust than the frighteningly thin solid copper. I advise selecting it as an option for customers who order the standard Reference for this reason alone.

2. The upper bearing sleeve (the visible bronze cylinder) is replaced with hardwood.

This provides a bit of resonance damping.

3. The magnets are N-52 strength (vs. N-50 for the Reference) and are machined with matching concave/convex surfaces (think nesting spoons - or more correctly, barrels). Machining the Neodymium magnets is approximately a 4 hour task in order to keep heat at a minimum.

The magnet curves make the arm less sensitive to vertical tracking force changes when adjusting VTA. One of the idiosyncrasies of the Model-1, DPS, and standard Reference arms is that tracking force is fairly sensitive to gross VTA changes. In normal use, it's not a large concern, but many individuals do not measure their tracking force at record level. I know of one accurate digital scale that is fine for the likes of conventional tonearms, but which measures some .3 grams high (meaning you will set your tracking force too low) with Schröders having flat magnet surfaces.

--------

The negative comments made about the Reference SQ point toward a lack of understanding about Schröders in general.

When I advise my customers about the differences between the Triplanar and the Reference, I emphasize that the arm you set up the best will sound the best. Where have we heard this before? More to the point, I've found a large percentage of individuals who will achieve a "better" setup with a Triplanar than with a Schröder - especially if they have not benefited from Frank's or my mentoring. The Triplanar fits with their previous experience of tonearms.

Yours truly benefited from a demonstration by Frank (Schorder) in order to understand the tonearm's potential. This learning process is not in the least involved, but is more a matter of peeling away a few prejudices and habits you've accumulated from working with more conventional tonearms. The unfortunate reality is that unless this has been demonstrated to us, we are unlikely to try it. This is "showing the possibilities" is the extent of the "mentoring" process. I don't want to over blow its magnitude. It's not complicated in the least.

In my early experiences with the Reference, I thought that it was a bit short on dynamics, air, and bottom end. Frank showed me the criticality of tuning dynamics and "air" by varying the torque on the single cartridge mounting bolt. Bass is controlled by tightness of the set screw on the counterweight (quite tight is typical with most cartridges). The Cartridge bolt I'm referring to is the single socked-head pivot bolt which passes through the headshell and threads into the cartridge carrier.

With the Model-2 (aluminum headshell), this headshell bolt torque adjustment can be more of an "on-off" sort of thing. On the DPS and all Reference models, Frank extended the wood arm wand to include the headshell - not for issues of energy transfer between headshell and arm wand (he got this right even with the aluminum headshells), but rather for ease of adjustment. The headshell bolt torquing is much more forgiving when the arm wand extends to the wooden headshell. Cartridge bolt torque still matters, but with the wood, but it is much less sensitive.

We are not habituated to thinking of cartridge mounting bolt tightness as a tuning parameter - other than "welding" our cartridges to the headshell - making them "Linn-tight". I've found that breaking this habit in individuals requires demonstrating it to someone. I was as guilty about this as my customers were.

Some of the adjustments on the Reference are remarkably easy but still fall a bit short of the simplicity of the Triplanar. Perhaps the biggest barrier to setting up a Schröder (when compared with a Triplanar) is that the Schröder setup is a bit more iterative - requiring that you return to some settings. You need to be just a slight bit more dedicated - dedicated, but not extreme or compulsive.

Making gross changes in tracking force (beyond the perhaps .15g range provided by the fine adjust screw) will require that you re-visit the azimuth adjustment on the Schröder. This is somewhat of a barrier to experimenting with tracking force changes. OTOH, I've found that the azimuth fine adjustment is much more direct and finely adjustable on the Schröder than on the Triplanar.

I have yet to find the perfect tonearm and these two differences underscore this fact.

Frank listens to a wide range of music, and has ZERO tolerance for a loose floppy sound, or a shut-in top end. He has one test disk from a late 20th Century composer. I'll withhold its title, because I'm still trying to find a copy of it myself (grin). There are a couple of transients on it that sound like breaking glass, and when the system is dialed in, it will shake you out of your seat.

I advise my customers that they will most definitely have a preference for one arm over the other (Schröder vs. Triplanar) and I cannot predict how they will react. They are both very, very good. There are subtle differences in presentation between the two, and whenever I have one arm mounted, I miss attributes of the other. Of course, if you look at this from a dollars perspective, then the Triplanar becomes a bargain, because it truly is the equal (but different) of the Schröder (at least the standard Reference - I'm still waiting on my SQ) ... if your tastes lean in that direction.

OTOH, if the Schröder is more to your tastes, then it represents the bargain of the century, because there is nothing on the planet quite like it. Knowing that nothing is perfect, I could live with either tonearm.

Oh yes ... paper can do interesting things. In the development of our graphite-topped platters, we tried inserting a layer of paper between the graphite and the substrate. In this application, the sound was completely choked off when the paper was added. Note ... I mention this only to point out how dramatic such seemingly subtle changes can be, and not to the universality of this change in terms of absolute good vs. bad."

Letter Number Two, From Thom...

"I copied Frank Schröder on my e-mail to you and he clarified a few points this morning. I was under the erroneous assumption that the Nordost was "only" as good as the solid core copper - even after cryogenic treatment.

I find his comments interesting about the Model-1 tonearm not being as VTF sensitive with respect to changes in VTA. This model is discontinued (replaced by the DPS). It had a dual support thread. I realized my typo after the fact - having intended to reference the Model-2, and not the Model-1. In my typo, I learned something new.

The Strain Gauge cartridge, that Frank mentions, is by Peter Lederman of Soundsmith (http://www.sound-smith.com/products/). I had sample #1 one in-house last Fall for a few weeks. Frank's comments follow ..."

Letter Number Three-From Frank Schroder:

"Hi Thom,

Thanks for pointing out the letter(s) sent to high-endaudio. Thanks also for the reply to Arthur, but it contains some mistakes:

a: The Nordost wiring in its cryoed form is actually superior to the solid core wiring (as you will hear), but it requires a top notch system to show the magnitude of the difference.

b: The magnets are not only stronger, but also larger in diameter.

The redesign of the bearing does NOT require 4 hours of physically grinding the surfaces (more like two) but it takes forever to test the "level" of the magnetic "imbalance" in the bearing so that it counteracts the restoring force of the low slung counterweight perfectly.

Grinding, removing the magnetic debris, reassembling, testing, back to grinding, etc... End result: no change in VTF when you change VTA over a wide range. BTW, changing VTA on the No. 1 arm also didn't alter VTF!

The magnets are not shaped like nesting spoons! The bottom magnet is either flat(bottom pole piece needs to be concave then - or it is sphere-segment shaped (flat pole piece then).

The top magnet is barrel segment shaped, with the axis oriented along the axis of the armwand. The result in conjunction with a properly sized counterweight is increased stability around the axis of the armwand and near zero stability (restoring force) for vertical movement.

c: The bearing tower isn't made of wood alone, but has a bronze sleeve inside. The purpose is not only to further dampen the structure, but also to reduce mass and therefore energy storage.

Something else that no one seems to mention. ALL arms with low slung counterweights(or with counterweight stubs that are below the pivot point) require resetting VTF after changing VTA.

Try the old Immedia arm or any of the current VPI arms(all fine sounding arms). The change of VTF for only 1mm of VTA alteration is enormous! It was mainly for this very reason that Bob Graham came up with his "Magneglide" bearing stabilization.

Something totally different. I STRONGLY recommend you contact Peter Ledermann about cooperating at the RMAF (if you haven't done that already). The strain gauge cartridge is ABSOLUTELY awesome. He'll tell you all about his Florida weekend experience :-)"

Personal Notes- I wouldn't overlook the Graham Phantom tonearm at this level. This strain gauge cartridge obviously sounds exciting. I've never heard one of them in my system. This might be the one to hear, though its entire dedicated phono amplifying system is required to hear it. There is a Link to Soundsmith in the Links File.

MEDO AIR PUMP "FIX"

A reader sent me this suggestion for solving the heating problems previously mentioned when using the Medo air pump. There's only minor editing, and my bold:

"...I acquired a VPI HW19 MKIV with an ET2 tonearm. The pump pressure was keeping it from performing as it should. I picked up a MEDO AC0110 pump and discovered... the "rated for 30 min operation". I spoke with someone at MEDO USA, and described the application. The fix was simple. A fan placed beside the pump dissipates the heat, and it never gets hot. We'll see how long it lasts. The pump and fan are in another room, so I can't hear them. I am sending you this in case there are readers who could benefit from this."

THE KOETSU TONEARM

A reader sent me a link to the manufacturer of the Koetsu tonearm, which I thought was discontinued many years ago. I remember its performance being somewhat better than the Linn Ittok, and easy to set-up, which means it's a solid Class C component. I don't remember the details anymore, which is why I never got around to "officially" recommending it. Here is the letter and URL (my bold):

"New info on Audioasylum, thanks to user "Mosin":
The Koetsu tonearm was built by Jelco (http://www.jelco-ichikawa.co.jp/e_tone_arm.htm). The company is still in business, and producing 3 versions of arms, one of which looks EXACTLY like Koetsu arm. They have replacement parts as well."

Jelco Tonearms and Denon DL160 Cartridge

A veteran reader/contributor has sent me some information on a tonearm that I am not familiar with, but it certainly sounds interesting, and it could be a good alternative to others, more established, in the "best bang for the buck" category.

"I recently bought the CD set of the Traveling Wilbury's complete output including a few songs not on the original albums. It included a music DVD of how George Harrison and the rest of his supergroup made the albums in Tom Petty's home studio. Volume 1 is famous for being the last album Roy Orbison sang on. I have the LP from years back, still in good shape, and thought it would make an interesting comparison as to how far digital recording had come. With George and Roy now dead, and no more albums by the Wilbury's coming down the road, the albums are true classics and I figured no expense would be spared to make them sound as good as they could.

Well, the CD's and DVD sounded good, but when I put my old Vol. 1 LP on the HW-19 and played through the C-J tubed phono stage, I definitely enjoyed the LP more, and my vinyl setup is far below what many audiophiles consider really good stuff. I could be my old 16-bit Rotel CD player acting as a choke point, but even my SACD Sony player through the AKG HEARO 999 pro headphone setup offers little sonic improvement over it, unless a really good SACD disc is being played. If the choke point was the home recording studio, then it would be impossible for the LP to sound better, unless it was recorded on analog gear, which seemed to be in evidence in the music DVD. Most early redbook CD's were destroyed in the recording studio or during remastering, because I have some CD's that sound really good when played through my Rotel RCD 855, and as I have found, it suffers little, if any, in comparison with my later Sony SACD player when playing 16-bit redbook CD's..

Well, I think the long term report is that the Denon DL160 is a fairly good cartridge. I recently reset the tracking force and ran through some of my test LP tracks and all was as well as ever. Improvements in tubes in the phono stage were easy to hear. It will probably have a long lifespan. The Audioquest PT-6 tonearm probably has a lot to do with the sound, as it was a much better tonearm than the Rega RB300 that was an option during the early 90's when I bought the HW-19. I discovered that the Audioquest tonearms were built by Jelco in Japan. Graham did an upgraded version called the Robin that had a detachable headshell and better bearings than the Audioquest models. Probably the last PT-9 model was fairly equivalent to the Robin.

I discovered that Jelco tonearms are available out of Japan by a Japanese dealer on eBay. The selling price is around $295 last time I looked. If a person can't find a PT-6 through PT-9 at a low price on the used market, then maybe the Jelco tonearms are a real hot tip in the low priced tonearm market. Dealers who sold both usually recommended the Audioquest tonearms over the RB300 tonearm. One internet dealer had bought up the entire Audioquest tonearm stock when I was checking Denon cartridge prices last summer, and flatly stated it was far superior to the Rega competitors. One thing I noticed is that the tracking force and anti-skating adjustments were very accurate on my PT-6. The strong magnets in the DL160 preclude using a stylus force gauge that employs iron in the design, so that is a good thing. The silicone damping reservoir and plastic damped tube seem to work well. The Jelco tonearms may have an undamped tube, but it can be wrapped with a similar material. The Jelco tonearm straight out of Japan should eliminate the Audioquest or Graham import markups. Also, the Jelco tonearms may be available used for even greater savings.

A Jelco tonearm with DL160 should run under $500 even if buying brand new, which makes it a steal compared to a medium output Benz-Micro and whatever other tonearm a person would be considering. Of course, a used HW-19 jr. with an Audioquest arm may be the best bet for a budget analog rig, seeing as how VPI keeps parts available and the easy upgrade capability. I have bought a belt for my HW-19 in the past 15 years, and that's my total expenditure on spare parts so far. I have the sorbothane pucks installed instead of springs, and replaced the rubber feet with McCormack tone cones, and set the tone cones on a sheet of tempered glass that cuts down vibrations transmitted into my wood cabinet which would feed back into the turntable. This eliminates most of the motor vibrations, which was the main bugaboo in the stock HW-19 setup. The other thing is that Grado cartridges and HW-19 motors had a real EMI hum problem when used together, which going to a Denon cartridge solved by at least 80%. It could also be that the Denon DL160 just loves the PT-6 tonearm, as my cartridge/tonearm frequency sweep test track that spots the resonant frequency of the tonearm/cartridge combination failed to note a resonant frequency. I repeated the test as it seemed strange. The compliance is stiff enough that there should have been a resonance within the test frequency band, but I just couldn't spot it, visually or aurally. I keep the silicone reservoir rather full, so that probably helps. Maybe I got lucky and have a really good marriage of tonearm and cartridge. I can play music really loud without feedback being an issue."

Advanced Analog MG-1 Tonearm (& Digital Calipers)

A veteran reader has sent me his latest observations, which may prove helpful to all tonearm owners (see my Personal Notes below). Only minor editing and my bold:

"I'm still in love with this arm, and am now on a second one. This is a current version with minor improvements and a digital VTA read-out. I will say again, that IMHO, it is absolutely THE BEST BUY, AND AN EXCELLENT ARM EVEN AT 3 to 4 times the cost. The Digital VTA read-out moves it into a totally different territory altogether. Ada Lin is a true enthusiast, and this product is addressed to the like.

VTA is utilizing a mass-produced, but nonetheless excellent digital LCD-screened gauge, also found on digital calipers. Powered by a single LR44 cell (which should last for a LONG time), it provides read-out both in inches (to .001") and in millimeters (to .01 mm). It has a power button, which allows you to turn gauge off after correct VTA is dialed in, inches-millimiters switch, and zero button. It works like a charm.

Since I switched to this arm from pivoted, there is no going back. Inner grove distortion is practically non-existent, and that alone is worth it. Packaging on current version is greatly improved as well. It is HIGHLY recommended, especially at it's price point. Granted, it requires somewhat more care and attention than your proverbial Rega, but it's performance is WELL worth it.

P.S. I definitely like my Oracle Premiere better than VPI mk IV, even with a TNT platter. It is more alive, more musical, albeit loses in the low bass dept." (8/08)

Personal Notes- I believe a Digital Caliper can be used with any tonearm. First, you make a measurement from the tonearm base to the actual arm (or another part, which moves up and down, which can be easily measured). That measurement becomes the reference (starting) point ("0"), and then you can go up and down from there, measuring in .001" increments, while always knowing you can go back to the reference starting point again. Once the optimization point is found with any particular record, it can be noted for future use. Very importantly though...

It is critical to make sure that the original measurement be made only after you've optimized a particular record(s) you are very familiar with. This optimizaton with a particular record(s) must be done, because if you change cartridges (or tonearms), you must go back to this particular record(s) again, optimize it again, and that particular number once again becomes the (new) reference starting point ("0"). I plan to do this procedure myself, and will report back when I have some relevant experiences to share.

Dynavector 507 Tonearm & Some Preliminary Comparisons

A veteran reader, and contributor to this website, just sent me his most recent observations. I have no experience with this tonearm, and very limited experience with an earlier model, the 505 (certainly not enough to give an informed and detailed opinion), but enough to know it was very idiosyncratic. Here's his letter, with some editing and my bold:

"I mounted the Dynavector on my Oracle Premiere. In order to do that, I had to defeat the suspension and basically support the subchassis on wooden pucks. It is an original 507, and weighs 1380 grams - that is over 3 pounds, and is actually heavier than the 505 by 130 grams (nearly 3 Cognac bar drinks!). It is definitely more modern and user-friendly that the 505. It sounds pretty good. As to interchangeable headshells - I don't see how it is any worse than Graham's or Tri-Planar's interchangeable wands. I have to do some critical listening, and throw back my MG-1 for a good comparison to get a good opinion.

So far - BIG sound, BIG midrange, populated by lots of midrange information, BIG bass with BIG slam, a feeling of solidity (no surprise there). Very good tracker, the Shelter 901 is pretty happy in it at 1.65 grams. I may be mistaken, but it seems to glide over some very low level information. It is not the most resolving arm that I have heard, but it is definitely very musical. What info it does get off the record, it presents with aplomb. Another thing that have struck me, is the sense of 'intimacy' and involvement in the musical experience. It seems to get out of the way, especially on live recordings.

Just from my memory of three days ago, MG-1 is a bit more accurate, more resolving, more neutral, with slightly more accurate and life-like bass, but not as 'solid' in it's presentation, not as dynamic, not as full sounding. While comparing Madrigal Carnegie I and Shelter 901 on MG-1, I heard the differences mostly in tonal balance. While the 901 was definitely better at handling transients and dynamic swings, difference in this respect was much more pronounced in the Dynavector. But the 901 is also darker sounding on the 507. The Dynavector has so much more midrange and bass, that ZYX would probably sound good on it.

But the price difference: new MG-1, with digital VTA readout, is $599 or something like that, plus pump. New 507 Mk II (exactly the same as original 507 from as early as 1984, but with different headshell and cables) is about 5 grand! One sealed NOS Mk II just sold on ebay for $2,500. so I guess mine was a bargain at $1575 (NOS 507, never mounted). They are probably the coolest looking arms out there, but I don't understand why they bring such big bucks... I have to play with it some more to make my final decision.

For a short period I played with EAR 834 with MC transformers and output volume pot. Was not impressed at all. Sweet, nice, musical, but non-resolving. Nearly everything sounds at least decent through it. Reminded me of an old Dynaco PAS preamps. The Hagerman Trumpet is light years ahead." (12/09)

EMINENT TECHNOLOGY TONEARM MODIFICATIONS

A reader sent me a list of the improvements he made with the venerable ET tonearm, which has been around now for around 25 years. English is not the reader's first language, so there is some editing and my bold:

"I would like to share my experience with readers in the US of my ET 2 arm. This arm is mounted on a full acrylic DD turntable of the Dutch brand Sphinx (15 years ago Sphinx was owned by Siltech). The Sphinx Project 6 uses the same motor as the Goldmund Studietto. It is the JVC type. I used to use the arm with the Takatsuki SPP-6GA pump, supplied by Eminent Tech.

The first upgrade was the homemade surge tank, made of PVC tube. Next was the damping trough. After using it with the Dynavector DV 17 MK 2, the ET had an upgrade to the carbon fibre arm, together with the large diameter magnesium arm wand. After that upgrade, it is the ET 2.5. I replaced the DV 17 with the TE KAITORA, also from Dynavector, and replaced the original wiring with Incognito silver loom, total length 1.6 M, so the wires from the cartridge directly connect to the Phono PH5.

The original pump was replaced by the Wisa 300, but this pump was too noisy. So I contacted the Takatsuki company in Japan, and I came by a Takatsuki SPP 15 GA directly from Hiblow France (price Euro 110). There is a branch in the US (Saline MI 48176) (www.hiblow-usa.com). I like this pump very much, as it is not noisy, and it is in use in the same room as the turntable. IMHO, this TT with the ET2.5 arm, TE KAITORA and the silver wiring will give me a lifetime of pleasure." (01/10)

Some (Phono Source) Audio Observations

A long-time reader, who is also an audio manufacturer, periodically sends me some of his latest observations and thinking about various subjects. I removed the material that may have conflicts and/or "sensitivities", but the remainder is still quite interesting and potentially highly valuable, with my bold as usual:

"I just want to pass on a few observations and suggestions, based on your recent updates.

Regarding the CineMag step-ups that are packaged by Bob's Devices, based on the 10 Audio review, I'm sure that Bob has made no provision for adjusting the loading resistor. Jerry mentions that while he likes the sound in general, he says it's really stunning with the Denon DL-103R. This makes sense, since that cartridge has a 14 Ohm internal impedance and, with the CineMag, is looking for a 47K Ohm phono load. That just happens to be the default resistor which almost every phono circuit uses, so no load adjustment is required.

http://www.10audio.com/bob%27s_devices_step_up.htm

However, the lower the internal impedance of the cartridge, the lower the phono load needs to be. Otherwise, the CineMag sounds too hard and bright. For my MoFi-branded Miyabi, which has a 2 Ohm internal impedance, a 10K load works best. Of course, that's based on the fact that I can remove the 47K resistor from my phono circuit completely and replace it with any other value. Since most 47K resistors are soldered in place, you'll have to experiment when using one that parallels the 47K default. Unlike normal cartridge loading, gross steps, such as 5K or 10K between values, are fine enough.

As a caveat, I also found that there is a synergistic relationship between the circuit and the CineMag that goes beyond proper loading. You may find that it's character will change, with the phono circuit that it's feeding.

I've used an ET2.5 arm for almost 20 years, and probably have more money invested in the air compression system than most listeners put into their entire front end. Early on, I became friends with Jay Victor, an air compression engineer and audiophile, who later became VP for new products at Monster Cable. You can see his photo is the Audio Advisor catalog, associated with Pangea cables and cords. A lot of the tips came through him.

Like myself, Jay used a Maplenoll Athena turntable, which came with what is essentially an ET1 arm. I replaced it with an ET2, later upgraded to an ET2.5. My Athena eventually morphed into a DIY version of the Walker Proscenium Gold, with a 105 lb. (mostly) lead platter, the evolution of which is a separate story in itself.

Anyway, to optimize the ET, you need a minimum 4 gallon surge tank (commercial or DIY), plus a whole range of filters, regulators, and controls. The best air compressor you can buy is any of the Danish-made Jun-Air models, which are primarily marketed for medical and dental use. While relatively quiet, they're still as noisy as a modern refrigerator and need to be placed in a separate room. Mine is a Jun-Air 6-15, which retails for about $1.8K, but which can be found used for mush less than that -- I paid $750 for a "like new" dealer demo. Wisa and similar compressors are really designed for fish tanks and are woefully inadequate for high-end audio.

To get the most out of your ET2.5, you need regulated 19 psi air pressure, which means that it must be regulated down from something higher, like 30 or 40 psi. There also has to be a high-enough flow rate to ensure that the air supply doesn't poop out. Ideally, the compressor should fill the tank, turn itself off, and cycle on after 10+ minutes. If you have a large enough tank and a high enough flow, you can even run the arm for a couple of hours between on-off cycles. With a 4 gallon tank set for 19 psi, mine is typically running 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off.

The Jun-Airs come with their own built-in tank, as well as a simple regulator, which are enough to get you started. But to do it right, you need to add dust, oil (unless it's an oil-less compressor), and moisture filters, as well as a needle valve and a Fairchild air pressure regulator as close to the arm, as possible. Naturally, pressure gauges need to be positioned along the way at critical junctions. It also helps to use heavy duty Tygon tubing with special metal compression clamps.

http://www.jun-air.com/

See "air compression" at http://www.mcmaster.com/ for filters and accessories.

Of course, the entire rig can be used with any air bearing arm or table, including the Forsell and Air Tangent..." (02/10)

Goldmund T-3F Tonearm Modification

I always had problems with this tonearm when I used to own one of them, and when I sold them in my former store, 20 years or so ago now. It was mainly the set-up of the motor sensor that bothered me, but I was also never confident that its potential performance could ever be realized. A veteran reader has sent me his ideas for modification, which appear both reasonable and economical. I also have his PDF file/drawing for those interested. Here it is, a combination of his earlier post at Audiogon and his recent letter to this website (there's some editing and my bold):

"The T-3F had two major problems...lack of frequency extremes and CW mass:

I have found the aluminum headshell of this arm to be too heavy at about 7.5gr. This accounts for almost 50% of its effective mass. I changed the material of the headshell bringing the mass down to 2.5 gr. This restored a lot in the extremes, specially in the hi-frequencies.

The main problem however was in the counterweight. IMO, Goldmund, in the attempt to keep the CW hidden within the bridge, placed the CW too close to the bearings. With such short leverage, the system can only work by increasing the mass of the CW, for example, with a cartridge of 10gr, only the heaviest of the CW could be used and this one has 195gr.

I solved this issue making by CNC a prolongation of the CW shaft and by moving the CW back a mere 40mm. I reduced its mass from 195gr to less than 50gr for the 10.5 gr of the Lyra Titan-i. The gain in performance is terrific... After all the total cost of this mod was less than 150 U$D.

Basically the concept is to modify the back wand of this arm by installing a prolongation to move the CW further back. Just as an example consider this:

1- Standard T-3F/Titan-i => Goldmund headshell 7.5 gr (aluminum) + CW 195 gr ..... resonant frequency of the system + - 5hz

2- Modified T-3F/Titan-i => CNC Ebony headshell 2.2gr + resin prolongation (+ - 40mm) CW new mass = 46 gr ...... resonant frequency of the system 9.5 hz

The concept is so silly simple that I'm amazed nobody never realized it before, to my knowledge." (10/10)

Syrinx PU3(B) Tonearm

I was a dealer of Syrinx tonearms at one time, but I haven't had any experience with them in almost 20 years. I didn't feel I had enough information and experience with it to list it among my Reference Tonearms. Still, the Syrinx has been unfairly neglected by this website, so I now repeat what I wrote 7 years ago to a reader...

"I remember it was excellent, with a lot of detail, though a bit lean sounding. I think it had problems with its bearings, and was also fragile... The Syrinx was a really good tonearm and I remember it being better than the Ittok..."

Further, that same reader, also 7 years ago, sent me his observations after some experimenting with the Syrinx. Here they are, with some minor editing:

"...With utmost cure, I've moved the PU3B arm long its operative arc, farther the inner grooves, until over the central platter's spindle. After I've surveyed the presence of anti-skating effect. It is disappeared! Only when I’ve replace the PU3B in its rest the problem reappears. This fact explains where the problem is. The anti-skating effect isn’t a constant mechanical matter, but due to internal wiring. So I’ve decided to check if the wiring was overstrained, convoluted or wrapped. Thus, I’ve removed the arm tube and observed that in the wiring there isn’t problems. The wire rises inside the centre of the arm pillar, through a fixed spindle. It exits by a very small hole in the side of the spindle, directly into the arm tube. Here is the trouble...

This tonearm (different in many important details to PU3) have some incomprehensible design solutions. The above mentioned hole (a very guillotine) is too tight and thus produce grave problems: it hampers and binds the wire and don’t let free the arm in its movements in all directions, probably vertically too; its poor design over time scuffs the insulation from the wires causing a short; besides it makes very difficult and risky rewiring the arm. Theoretically the only resolutive operation is enlarge the hole by a drill but practically it’s impossible. I don’t know other solution. Since I‘ve remounted the arm tube the vertical friction seem lightly changed. Perhaps, now, the internal wires binds less...I should propose Syrinx PU3B at least for your class "C"."

Personal Notes- The performance of the Syrinx, in my limited experience, would be equivalent to the tonearms in Class C of my Reference Tonearms, agreeing with the reader. My practical suggestion, to the reader's problem, was: Maybe a tiny "file" can be used to enlarge the opening. A good machine shop should be able to handle this problem...

Addendum...

Another helpful reader has further observations and experiences to share concerning the Syrinx (there's some editing and my bold)...

"Unfortunatly this tonearm was broken during a mounting session, and for a few years it was out of order. As your (reader) pointed out, it’s very fragile both in internal wire and also in the pivot.

My PU3 was completely rewired (Cardas) and perfectly repaired by the owner of website 'Audioorigami' in Scotland, Mr. Johnnie Nilsen; I think that he knows Scott Strachan (designer of all Syrinx tonearms).

The rebuilding improved this tonearm, it remains the slightly 'lean' character as you noted, but it also shows a great dynamic contrast; and now it’s a little better in overall detail and low level information..." (12/10)

EMINENT TECHNOLOGY ET 2.0 & 2.5 TONEARM INFORMATION

In my decades of experience setting up and using numerous tonearms, the Eminent Technology, without a doubt, was the most difficult for me to optimize. I was "OK" at it, but I (and my then store) eventually found some real experts to set it up properly. One helpful and generous reader, who is enthusiastic about the ET, has sent me an email with his suggestions that may assist the owners of these potentially superb tonearms. Here it is, with minor editing and my bold:

"I would like to discuss the ET 2.0 and ET 2.5 tonearms.
I hope you find some of this info useful for other owners if questions come up.

I have been using ET Tonearms for over 8 years. I am still learning about them. They keep teaching me. Bruce Thigpen is a great resource. I own pivot arms as well.

I use an ET 2.0 with High Pressure Manifold for MM cartridges. Its spindle resonates at 5-6 hz.

I use an ET 2.5 with Carbon Fibre arm wand and High Pressure Manifold for MC cartridges. The larger diameter 2.5 spindle resonates at 3-4 hz.

Timeter Aridyne 50 psi Medical Pump regulated down to 19 psi for both arms.

3 Turntables:

Idler - Jean Nantais 100 lb Classic that has the Metacrylate mat, Bear claw feet and Jean's newly designed spindle
Direct Drive - Technics Sp10 MKII in a minimum plinth w/20 lb brass armpod
Thread Drive - TNT - Pneumatic Suspension

I see a number of ET setups online and it is obvious that the owners have not optimized them for the best sonics. They are very misunderstood tonearms.

1)PROPER I-BEAM SETUP- One of the biggest problem areas I see from looking at pictures and in talking with owners. There is no standard on how to set it up. The I beam setup is critical as it holds the lead weights and this is the area that is used to adjust VTF and customize the horizontal/vertical ratio of the arm thereby changing the sound.

The Brass Rings are NOT counterweights (P.32 of the Manual). Most owners use the brass rings as counterweights. They resonate and can move on the thread when the arm is raised and lowered over time. For ultimate rigidity only lead weights should be used and more can be ordered from Bruce Thigpen or owners can make their own - you can find lead at auto shops - wheel rim weights. Cut into similar rectangular squares and drill same diameter holes through them. Keep the I-beam parallel with the Arm wand. If you are using a heavier MC you will need to get more lead weights IMO. Don't leave all those lead weights way out on the end of the I Beam "end of the plank" to get the proper VTF. Get more of them and bring them closer to the spindle.

2) BASS RESPONSE- The ET2 has a horizontal to vertical mass ratio of 6-1 and flat neutral response down to 5 hz. This has been tested by Eminent Technology. If you want to 'customize' the sound - add more bass: Increase the vertical weight. This can be done by adjusting the location and amount of counterweights and their position on the I-Beam. For example: If you use 5 weights in the middle of the I- beam to give you the VTF you need. You could add two more weights and move the counterweight holder closer to the spindle. You have increased the vertical weight by doing this. You will get more bass. This does not refer to the SRA which is a separate control. See manual.

3) Do not use the sub base plate- This will only introduce resonances with an extra layer - mount the arm on its spikes directly to the surface of the platform.

There are many more tips.
Hope you find this info useful for owners with questions." (11/11)

Important Note: Below is a link to an Audiogon thread with relevant information, observations and advice concerning optimizing the various ET tonearms:

ET Tonearm Audiogon Thread

Graham Phantom Tonearm Damping

In my experience, the most critical part of the Phantom setup is the amount, and viscosity, of the damping fluid. One veteran reader has sent me some suggestions, which I am passing along. I will experiment myself with alternative damping sometime early next year. There's minor editing and my bold:

"I... came across your hiccup of being able to get the ration of damping/viscosity correct for you to really enjoy your arm. I'm not sure if anyone has recommended this, but there are some very accurate/scientific sources for the viscous fluid those and many other arms need.

In SoCal, they call the places Hobby Lobby...basically, for the weight you're looking for and to try all points in between, these places that deal in RC cars have what they call super silicone for differentials...it's exactly what Mr. Graham is using ONLY you get to choose the weight of the silicone!!! The range is all over from 100,000 to 5,000-and like I said, to tweak, all points in between.

For those who have the older arms (Gray/Neat, etc unipivot viscous damped), there is a supply house online that sells in large quantity: http://www.clearcoproducts.com/super_high_viscosity.html

In smaller sizes, you have this place: http://www.turntablebasics.com/silicone.html

I hope this information helps you and your readers as even in today's amazing wealth of information at the fingertips, it can still be a bit of a challenge." (11/11)

Graham Phantom Tonearm Damping

A veteran reader, who I believe is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable persons in the world when it comes to tonearms, has sent me two messages concerning the Graham Phantom damping problems. Here they are, in chronological order, with some minor editing and my bold:

"I just read your info about the Graham tonearm and your plans for the damping fluid. I do not use the silicon from Graham, because it needs a long time to go to the deepest place and this is also depending on the temperature.

Instead of that, I use the bearing oil from a Basis Turntable. It works very well, with no hassle for the user how much he wants to use and it is independent from the temperature in your area. I've used that oil since the Graham 2.0 up to the Supreme, and I always get a stable sonic performance independent of temperature. When you want to use the Graham silicone, I recommend to warm it up before you fill it.

I got the results by accident when I thought about the original fluid, temperature, how much I need (too much and you get a kind of 'underwater sound'), and then I had the Basis fluid from my turntable..(Basis Audio). I simply tried that and think that is the easy way to go. But I am confident there is something similar out there. You can try whatever you want I think (even motor oil). You only need 2-3 drops." (12/11)

Dynavector 507 Mk.II Tonearm

I have very limited experience with this tonearm, which many serious audiophiles swear by. In fact, I've probably read more about it than actually listened to it. One veteran reader, and former customer, sent me his observations about it, which I felt should be shared. Very minor editing and my bold:

"I have had the good fortune of picking up a new 507 mkII tonearm. This is easily the finest tonearm I have used, but then I have not used many, if any, really good arms -- Mayware Formula IV and the Black Widow being the two I favoured.

The Dynavector is unique in it's construction, but the bi-axis geometry makes for a similar result to a linear tracking tonearm, in that horizontal effective mass is decoupled from vertical effective mass. (Dynavector refuses to tell me exactly what that is....) In that regard, the tip from getting more bass from the ET tonearm should be considered -- use the highest weight stub counterweight you can. This will decrease the resonant frequency, as vertical effective mass will rise, and so, increase bass along with it.

Here is the point to this email:

The trick to using the 507 is that the spring used to dynamically balance the tonearm may also be used to provide some resonance control. For example, a cartridge that has some resonance issues would benefit by setting more weight by the spring, and the rest by the counterweight. A damp cartridge is better using more static balance (counterweight only). Obviously, you need a digital scale to do this.

To use this feature, it is best to first establish that the SRA is set properly. This can be done with a USB microscope. I recommend a 'pen' type, as it can be moved far closer to the stylus. 92 degrees has been the recommended SRA, measured with the top of the stylus further from the arm pivot that the tip.

Once the SRA is set, set the tracking force dial at zero, and set the VTF using only the counterweight. This results in a statically balanced tonearm, with no damping from the spring. If this sounds too bright or distorted in the HF, set the tracking force to 1/2 of the current tracking force with the counterweight, and make up the rest with the spring. If this is too dull, use more counterweight and less spring. If this is not satisfactory in the HF or otherwise too 'lively' use more spring and less weight.

eg. Suppose you track at 2 grams. Set it up statically balanced at 2 grams. Then, try 1 gram static plus 1 gram dynamic. Suppose that is too dull. Set it for 1.5 grams static and 0.5 grams dynamic (spring). If the HF is too distorted/lively, set it for 1.25 grams static and 0.75 grams dynamic. Once it is not clear which direction to go (more spring/more counterweight), it is dialed in. IMO, it is possible to dial in the right amount of spring force in 3 steps, though your ear may differ.

With a Benz ACE, I found the best setup was all spring. With a Benz Wood, it was about 1/3 spring and 2/3 counterweight. The Benz Wood is just a loaner. I'm trying to locate a Yamamoto Sound craft cartridge. It is supposed to be a very good match for the arm and a good match for my phono section - the Peter Daniel phono stage (Audio Sector in DIY audio) in dual mono format. This is a modified 47 Labs, using Vcaps, high end op-amps (OPA627/637) and shunt regulated power supply. IMO, it is competitive with phono stages in the $5-$7K range.

I am currently using a Technics SP-10 in Panzerholz, 507 mkII, and Benz Wood, into the Peter Daniel phono stage, a Melos 110B line stage into a *heavily* modified Phase Linear 400, driving my old Watson Lab 10's. (I used to use a Paragon System E preamp and Marantz 250, with Ariston and Black widow/SME IIIs). While competitive with modern amps in the $3K-$5K range, the Phase linear is by far the weakest link -- it needs something with a MUCH bigger power supply, say 120,000 uF storage...." (01/12)

Counterweight (XTCW) Upgrade For VPI JMW 12.5

A reader informed me of this modification, which I had never heard of. It sounds interesting, and it's not "big money". There may be more anecdotal reports on the web for those looking for verification. There's minor editing and my bold:

"This might be of interest to you with regards of a after-market counter weight for VPI JMW 12.5 tonearm (it may also work for other VPI 12 inch arms). The manufacturer, located in the UK, also makes the same type of product for other unipivot arms, and I would suspect the same substantive improvement in tracking/stability/resonance control resulting in superior sound reproduction.

NOTE: The 12.5 is a stellar arm. So, this assessment is trying to mark a clear distinction in the improvement in music retrieval of the XTCW over the VPI drop-style counter weight.

Here is my assessment on the sonic benefits of the XTCW for my VPI JMW 12.5: The JMW tended to be a bit edgy on high notes from wind instruments and violins. Tracking on the inner groove would sound a bit unstable on very complex passages (common on symphonic arrangements). With the XTCW, the edginess of the high notes is smoothed out and the instruments sound very close to a live performance (violins, clarinets, and oboes sound on target). Tracking is consistent from beginning to end of the groove (this brings great delight to my listening experience).

Principally, I listen to classical music, and to a lesser extent, big band music. The listening experience takes a step closer to live performance with the XTCW. The instruments take on greater fullness of sound (they are rich and textured). The initial reaction is the noticeable depth/definition of the lower octave notes. However, I quickly recognize that, from top to bottom of the frequency range, everything has greater clarity and the aural experience (sense of the auditorium and placement of instruments) is more prominent than with the dropped-design VPI counter weight.

The set up for the azimuth, without losing the VTA setting, is greatly simplified. Fit and finish are high quality and compatibility with the VPI is excellent. Some may find the XTCW less, visually, attractive. However, once the sonic benefits are recognized, an appreciation for the engineering simplicity overcomes any perceived beauty blemishes.

This is an wonderful improvement in sound reproduction at a reasonable price ($80 USD).

I find it difficult to convey in words the sonic improvement of the XTCW over the JMW counter weight. However, it is substantive.

The XTCW is sold on Ebay, by JCLOVES Music.

My set up is a TTWeights GEM idler drive turntable with a periphery ring, 3.1 lb center weight, Denon DL-S1 cartridge, Jasmine phono (upgraded Jantzen output capacitors), Jungson JA-88D, and Orca Designed Focal Utopia speakers (7" TMM configuration).

P.S. You commented on the benefits of idler drives, so, parenthetically, the GEM idler is a very nice TT, a big upgrade over VPI TNT (I would describe the benefits similarly to your assessment of the Lenco Jean Nantais). However, TTW's quality, workmanship, and customer support are sorely lacking. So, no recommendation until they stand the test of time." (02/12)

A Confirmation...

Counterweight (XTCW) Upgrade

A reader sent me another positive experience with the previously mentioned counterweight upgrade. The earlier reader used the VPI JMW 12.5 tonearm. Here's the unedited letter and my bold:

"I can also vouch for the after-market counterweights by JCLOVES music in the UK. Mine is for the original Hadcock 228 tonearm, whose original rubber counterweight is quite fiddly since it also serves to adjust azimuth, and whose friction fit loosens over time. The JCLOVES counterweight is nicely made, if a bit utilitarian, and fits tightly with grub screws. The fine azimuth adjustment is accomplished by turning a bolt, and is far less frustrating to use. Most importantly, the overall resulting sound is a great improvement over the original I think due to much better resonance control." (02/12)

Eminent Technology ET2 Tonearm I Beam Setup

At my request, a reader sent me this short article on his experiences with the ET2 (a "Reference" Tonearm of this website), which I felt should be shared. Here it is, with some minor editing and my bold:

"The ET2 Tonearm I Beam setup is the most misunderstood part of this tonearm. Its proper setup is critical to the tonearm sounding right. Many owners set it up and forget about it other than adjusting the lead weights. It requires IMO as much interaction as the cartridge. You can tailor the I Beam setup to your cartridges weight and compliance.

The ET2 counterweight with leaf spring and lead weights has been designed to work in tandem with the armtube/cartridge. This counterweight system with its lead weights and the way the leaf spring resonates is meant to balance out the weight, vibrations and resonances produced by the cartridge and armtube. The air bearing spindle joins them and ensures their movement across the LP. Think of how a teeter totter works. In this case instead of the riders being across from one another they are separated by a long horizontal pipe or tube instead. The system is genius IMO. The limitation being that not all cartridges weigh and resonate the same. They are different in design, weight, cantilever construction, stylus. It’s a moving target. We need a way to better deal with these variances.

Now we do - Single, Double or Triple ET 2 - I Beam Setup.

The ET2 stock I beam is shown with one silver leaf spring.

Order two more I beams from Bruce Thigpen with 3 extra springs on the side/loose.

$15 each for the I Beams. This allows you to make one double I Beam spring – two silver springs glued together, and one triple I - Beam spring.

As said earlier, the leaf springs vibrate, resonant and balance out the vibrations and resonances of the cartridge/armtube. You can now tweak and optimize your own system sound with these three I Beam versions. It all depends on what cartridge and armtube you are using with the different weight and compliance involved.

To understand how the springs work, I like to think of the older leaf springs on the rear suspension of older automobiles and trucks. They move in a vertical up and down motion with road conditions and control the cars handling whether loaded or not. Now for the turntable application and the ET2 tonearm, think of these leaf springs working in a horizontal back and forth motions instead of up and down. The ET2 I Beam setup is what controls how the stylus will behave in the groove and therefore critical. Remembering that cartridges have different weights and compliances. You can now tailor the tonearm to work with your cartridge in your room, system and tuning.

The triple I beam leaf spring is the firmest application you can set up. Using the car analogy again if the conditions are right, road dry and smooth you can corner at high speeds. But if conditions worsen and for this analog world I refer to an eccentric record, warps, off center LPs, you can also slip and slide easier. What if you hit a bump in the road? The older leaf spring cars used to jump in the rear and actually move sideways. A similar situation can happen here with the stylus jumping the groove. The single leaf I beam provides for the softest ride. Allows for best tracking but the sound is different than with the firmer setup. Experimentation in your system required.

I personally found higher compliant cartridges work better with the firmer I Beams (more leaf springs). There is more information in the music and tighter bass, impactful bass. The single leaf I Beam is the tracking champ and the sound is still good but with the higher compliant cartridges more diffused, less information compared to the firmer I Beam.

I am using a triple leaf spring I beam with the very high compliant Sonus Blue Gold MM Cartridge and a double version with a Benz Micro MC with Ruby SS Retip and Empire 4000 DIII MM.

It takes 2 minutes to change out an ET2 I Beam and the cost of this is $30." (04/12)

Graham Phantom Supreme Tonearm

A veteran reader, who is one of the world's leading experts on (evaluating) tonearms (especially state-of-the-art models) in my opinion, sent me his observations (and some helpful suggestions) on the Supreme. Here it is, with some editing (the writer is European) and my bold:

"The Supreme has 3 huge differences compared to Phantom II, which will have some effects to sound quality:
a, Titanium Armtube (the other one is ceramic)
b, Inside the bearing house you see an additional side wall filled with some heavy metal)
c, More weight from the main housing in general

A new wire may be true, maybe not, we can't check it.
A new Magneglide, or an improved one, can help in sonics, but I doubt about that. It can make the Arm more stable with heavy carts, but who really knows....

So, what you can do now, is a comparison between those 2 different Armtubes. When you want to compare Phantom II to Supreme, you have to use an original Phantom II.

Normally the Set up from the Phantom is easy, one exception:
When the pivot tip is not 100% in the middle, the Arm will create a strong side resistance the closer it gets to the spindle, but to correct that is very simple...
Open the bearing cup a few turns and swing the whole Arm to the turntable spindle. You will feel some resistance and the the bearing tip moves on its own into the right position. Then turn (close) the bearing top clockwise and it is done.
Or sometimes the whole Magneglide is in the wrong position (more forward in direction, maybe from fumbling out of the box). You can swing it back too." (05/12)

DURAND TONEARMS

Editor- Below are a few notes from the veteran "Entry-Level" reader about a company that is definitely not "Entry-Level":

"As you may be aware, (Joel) Durand started with the Talea arm, then came the Talea II, and the latest is the Telos. The Telos differs from the Taleas in that the Telos follows your philosophy of making any sacrifice necessary in order to optimize performance. Hence, it is reputedly not as easy to optimize as the Taleas, but worth the effort.

The Durand website has a link to a two page discussion forum by some serious Hong Kong audiophiles which may be worth your attention (http://audioexotics.hk/index.php?option=com_simplestforum&view=postlist&forumId=1&parentId=10162&topic=true&Itemid=53). Three things stood out from my perspective, beyond the general praise for the Telos. The first was that one audiophile assessed the Telos as decidedly superior to his previous Graham Phantom II. If this is indeed the case, it would suggest that the Telos is at least competitive with the Phantom II Supreme, if not clearly superior to it, depending upon how improved the Supreme is.

The 2nd thing that caught my attention was the praise heaped upon the Thor grounding wires. These apparently come from Tripoint Audio (http://www.tripointaudio.us/index.htm), but I couldn't find mention of them at the Tripoint website. I suspect that the Tripoint products are worth investigating.

The 3rd was the record weight they were praising, which I believe is this one: http://www.dalbyaudiodesign.co.uk/products/d7-vinyl-stabiliser.html. Also see http://audioexotics.hk/index.php?option=com_simplestforum&view=postlist&forumId=1&parentId=10185&topic=true - some are suggesting a "product of the year" level of merit. This must be one amazing record clamp!

I wonder what one of Jean Nantais' Reference (Lenco) decks with a Telos and Dalby clamp would sound like?" (07/12)

(OMA) Lenco and the E.T. Tonearm

A reader sent me his observations using a different Lenco than mine, plus the E.T. tonearm. There's some new solutions he discusses which I feel E.T. owners should learn about. Here it is, with some minor editing and my bold:

"I have recently come across your writings about the NANTAIS Lenco and the ET. Since I am using a similar system I thought I would mention a few things to you.

My Lenco is my own assemblage. I started working with the Lenco about three years ago. I have an oversized plinth from OMA. There is a 'shelf' behind the table where I can place my phono amp which allows the use of a long (well, not THAT long) length of the CARDAS phono cable from the cartridge to the input of the phono amp.

I use the PTP to mount the motor and platter. My bearing is from MIRKO, who I think is now making the bearings for OMA. When I first mentioned this to the OMA guy, he had disparaging things to say about Mirko, and then the next thing I know ... Mine is his titanium version. I also have Mirko's titanium idler wheel.

My motor is a 50 hz version. I use a PS AUDIO P300 ac regenerator (first version) to get the 50 hz AC. I read about the weight instead of the spring for idler activation on your site, and after initial skepticism I tried it and it is worthwhile. I call it subtly important.

Now to tell you what I have found that you might find of interest.

I bought my ET arm when it came out. Thanks to the generosity of Bruce Thigpen I have kept up with his changes to the arm. Not that he gives me the stuff! I think it is as great as it is unusual when a mfg allows old customer to stay up to date. Thigpen is one of the best. He is always available to help out.

So my arm has the high pressure manifold, which I power with a full size compressor, which is kept on an outside porch. I use about 20 lbs of pressure. I am using the carbon wand which is about an inch longer than usual, so I can use the TTWEIGHTS periphery weight (another excellent Canadian mfg/audiophile!).

My manifold is clamped directly to the slate plinth. I have removed all of that sloppy adjusting stuff and using some large pieces of ebony, and a single hole in the plinth, along with a large bronze nut and bolt, the manifold is in firm contact with the plinth. Due to the use of five of TTWEIGHTS copper mats stacker atop each other, there is another ebony piece between the plinth and the manifold.

I am fluid damping the tonearm using ET's little round paddle and 80 cwt silicone fluid in a vessel I had to make for myself.

Attached to my counterweight beam is a length of balsa the same length as the wand, with a blob of MORTITE/lead shot to achieve the tracking force. This removed so much useless mass from the tonearm. To handle the arm it 'feels' so much better. There is plenty of mass in this system without having to use a large counterweight. My cartridge weights approx. 8 grams. The de-coupling thing works well and only one is needed. It is amazing how little counterweight is needed to get the tracking force with this beam extension.

This was the last thing I have done to the tonearm and I am very pleased with the result of this simple to implement mod." (09/12)

Some Observations from a Veteran Reader

I received this letter from a reader who has extensive experience with many of the finest audio components ever made. Even better, he has compared these components to each other, and is not hesitant with directly stating his observations and evaluations. There is some minor editing and my bold:

As for "I have spent years with various air bearing linear arms and concluded that they are all somewhat flawed by the basic physics of their execution. I have yet to see an air bearing linear arm that doesn't have very significant tangential forces as a result of the tonearm wires and/or air hose. It's impossible to completely isolate their influence on lateral tracking. You can hear the sound stage shift slightly as a result, and sibilance in particular can be off center from the voice. I never could get the Schroeder arm to sound right. It's a wonderfully made arm, but I just couldn't get it dialed in. I currently use the Kuzma 4 Point and am quite happy with it. Franc Kuzma is a great engineer and not only makes very good sounding equipment, but equipment that is very easy to setup and operate. He also is very good at answering questions on his products. He is a joy to have in the audio business. I have not tried some of the other top arms, such as the Reed or Talea, as I am satisfied that the 4 Point not only sounds very good, but is a well engineered design that is very easy to use." (08/13)

Updates from Australia

A veteran reader sent me his latest observations which may be useful to readers, especially those living in Australia. Here it is, with minor editing, but with my bold:

"Audio Origami PU7 Arm (www.audioorigami.co.uk)

I've been using this arm for almost two years and I love it. Johnnie, of Audio Origami, has long been hailed as the UK's wonderboy of arm repair and enhancement, and developed this arm out of ideas gained from Syrinx, Linn, Rega and many other arms he has worked on. I do not understand how he does it, but this arm simply does not require pinpoint accuracy in setting the anti-skate. Anywhere near the right position and it just seems to behave as if it was set precisely. This has really major benefits in switching from 33 to 45 RPM, as the same antiskate position works perfectly without adjustment." (08/13)

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