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Stephen Scharf
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For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega turntables

About 6 weeks ago I found out about the Groovetracer subplatter for Rega turntables. As the manufacturer was local, I drove down and met the developer of the Groovetracer, Frank Smillie. Frank owns and runs a professional CNC-based machine shop and his "day job" business is focussed on providing extremely-high quality machining, design, and CNC-milling to the aerospace and IT industries.

But he is also a serious vinyl-lover (his handle on AK is VinylAddict) and a big fan of the Rega turntables, and with his expert skills, developed the Groovetracer sub-platter.

We spent the evening after work listening to music on his custom-made turntable (which, believe me, is as impressive as any high-end table I have ever seen), and talking and listening to music.

I left that night with his signature product, the Groovetracer subplatter.

Groovetracer makes three versions of the subplatter: standard, deluxe, and reference models. I bought the reference model, which in, in addition to the Delrin pads that decouple the glass platter from the subplatter on the Deluxe model, also has a sapphire bearing mounted in the business end of the spindle bearing. This sapphire bearing rests on a new zirconium oxide ball bearing in the brass bearing that is mounted in the plinth of the Rega. In addition to the improved bearing specification of this subplatter, the runout of the Groovetracer is considerably better lower than the stock plastic Rega subplatter, which results in more precise speed (and I would guess, less wow or flutter, but, hey, I'm not an engineer, so I could be wrong here).

Bottom line is that the Groovetracer has significantly lowered the noise floor of my Rega Planar 3. With a good-quality presssing, lowering the Grado Sonata (5 mV) onto the lead-in groove with the Arcam at 80 dB volume setting, the LP is dead quiet. It's impressive to hear the cartridge between tracks and hear virtually no noise. The lower noise floor has resulted in better "air", spaciousness, imaging, and most of all, a more musical presentation.

Here's a picture of mine.

Mine is an unusual "one-off" in that it had been black-anodized, I bought it as I liked how it matched the black plinth of the Rega. All the Groovetracer subplatters are a natural aluminum finish.

Groovetracer: http://www.groovetracer.com/subplatter_groovetracer.htm

Groovetracer also makes a beautiful acrylic platter for the Rega tables, and a counterweight for Rega tonearms.

I can't recommend this tweak to all you Rega owners highly enough. No affiliation, merely a very, very satisfied customer.

judicata
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

I thought about this, because I can tell my stock subplatter is slightly off, but probably within specs. I had moved on and decided not to get it, and now you post this. Darn. I guess I'll have to think about it again.

Frank Noonan
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

Looks like a really worthwhile innovation.

BTW, that Grado Sonata is no slouch either.

Stephen Scharf
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu


Quote:
Looks like a really worthwhile innovation.

BTW, that Grado Sonata is no slouch either.

The Grado Reference Sonata is absolutely wonderful....it made the biggest improvement in my system since getting the Rega itself. A luscious, rich, sweet, intensely musical cartridge, and I mean all of those adjectives in best possible way.

Buddha
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

That is a GREAT review!

I think the way you describe the effect is fantastic.

Kudos.

Stephen Scharf
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

Thanks, Buddha, for the kind words.

I've done some writing in the past, for a sports tabloid called Intense Sport Magazine, and I write and shoot from time to time for the leading motorcycle roadracing website in the U.S., SuperbikePlanet.com.

I've got some professional writing experience, and have peer-reviewed, first-author papers published in journals e.g. Science and The Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences

SAS Audio
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

That really looks nice Stephen. Glad it really helps with the sound. I hope this is not a stupid question, but if you have compared, how does the Sonata compare with some of the moving coil cartridges out there and maybe even to the less expensive Grado cartridges? I know that is a broad question but thought I would ask.

Thanks for the review Stephen.

Steve

judicata
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

Stephen - one quick question, if you don't mind. What kind of background noise did you hear with the plastic stock subplatter compared to the groovetracer? If you're able to put that in words, that is. I'm trying to decide if I should get one.

Stephen Scharf
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu


Quote:
That really looks nice Stephen. Glad it really helps with the sound. I hope this is not a stupid question, but if you have compared, how does the Sonata compare with some of the moving coil cartridges out there and maybe even to the less expensive Grado cartridges? I know that is a broad question but thought I would ask.

Thanks for the review Stephen.

Steve

Hi Steve,
I wish that I could answer your question about how the Grado Reference Sonata compares to Moving Coil cartridges, but the fact of the matter is that I have never had a moving coil cartridge in my system with which to compare it to. My previous cartridge was a Grace F9E Ruby from the mid-80's, which is presently at Soundsmith for a retipping. Goodness knows when I will get it back from Peter Ledermann. I bought a Grado Prestige 1 Blue as an interim, and it was okay, but the Reference Sonata was a revelation when I put it in in place of the Grado Blue. If anyone has an MC they would be willing to lend for a comparison, I would be glad to try it out and write up a comparison review.

Stephen Scharf
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu


Quote:
Stephen - one quick question, if you don't mind. What kind of background noise did you hear with the plastic stock subplatter compared to the groovetracer? If you're able to put that in words, that is. I'm trying to decide if I should get one.

Just that the noise level was notably lower overall; it's the old "Blacks are blacker" adage. It's kind of hard to describe in the sense that there isn't more, there's less. It's kind of like trying to describe what putting a good suspension does on a motorcycle. You ride it and the bike doesn't do anything over the bumps. But that's the point; the bike was doing SOMETHING over the bumps before, and now it isn't. So, it's no longer calling attention to itself in your mind because it's not doing anything, rather than doing something. It's when you go back to the way it was that you now notice what was going on all along. This is something I found out about comparing improvements to audio systems long ago; when things get better, it can be hard to put your finger on what the improvement is because your not hearing "problems" anymore. It's when you go back to the way it was before when you figure out what the problems were, "Oh, now I hear what the problems were! Doh!"

If I had to try to be more specific, I would say that the surface noise was reduced, and overall, the noise level has gone down, so that the entire presentation of the music being played is more "musical", if that helps. That is, the music sounds clearer, more lifelike, more dynamic, with better tonal shadings and more accurate instrumental timbres. On some LP's, it is so quiet, even with the gain turned up to 80dB on the Dynaudio Audience 72's (which are an awesome speaker, BTW), I cannot hear any noise from the turntable between tracks.

If you have a Rega, as far as I am concerned, this is a no-brainer.

Stephen Scharf
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu


Quote:
That really looks nice Stephen. Glad it really helps with the sound. I hope this is not a stupid question, but if you have compared, how does the Sonata compare with some of the moving coil cartridges out there and maybe even to the less expensive Grado cartridges? I know that is a broad question but thought I would ask.

Thanks for the review Stephen.

Steve

Steve,
Here is a "review" of sorts I posted a while back on the Grado Sonata. I don't necessarily want to hijack this thread, but I guess since I started it, I can hijack it (with all due respect to the other forum members).


Quote:
posted by Stephen Scharf on AK
While my much-loved Grace F9E Ruby is at Soundsmith awaiting a retipping/new cantilever, I bought an interim Grado Prestige 1 Blue.

It was a nice enough cartridge, nice and musical and pretty detailed when listening to fairly easy music to track. But when passages became more modulated and complex, louder and/or higher in pitch, the tracking would give up the ghost and it was pretty unpleasant to hear, with pinched highs and a congested sound.

I went in to my local store yesterday, to listen the Grado Reference Sonata, which I've read great reviews about...

This store sells from the entry level to the extremely high end, and yet they use the Grado Reference Sonata even in their very high-end turntables.

Reason? The reason the store owner gave me is that they just sound better than anything else...and he carries all the expensive stuff like Koetsu, etc.

But whenever I go in there they are always listening to a record with this cartridge, in fact it is the only cartridge they have installed on all their store turntables.

After auditioning one, I bought a cryogenically-treated Grado Reference Sonata and came home and installed it in the SME III on my Rega.

After a day of listening to it (it's only got 7-8 hours on it...), I have to say it is the nicest and most enjoyable cartridges I've ever heard. All the expected improvements are there: tracking, detail, air, instrument defintion and timbre, dimensionality, all that good stuff. It sonic character blends beautfiully with the Era Design 4s as the Grado is a little laid back in the upper upper mids, lower treble, and Era is a little forward in that area.

But the most enjoyable thing is that it is just a very "musical" sounding cartridge; capable of being forceful or delicate, loud or soft, yet never strained, just very, very pleasant to listen to. Music just sounds "right" with this cartridge.

Wonderful, just wonderful...


and:

Quote:

I've been listening to the Grado tonight on this incredible album that I bought many years ago, The Chieftains 5 on Island Records.

The Grado Sonata is doing just amazing things with this truly excellent-quality recording of complex and absolutely wonderful music.

The Chieftains are 7-person group who play traditional Irish music, with traditional celtic instruments ranging from uillieann pipes, tin whistle, harp, ubridy flute, celtic fiddle, oboe, timp

Jan Vigne
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

The Sonata is a Grado. Anyone familiar with that sound knows what to expect from the Sonata. It has a midrange that is difficult to beat for timbre and texture. Its overall coherence is about as good as it gets. It gives up a bit of detail and extreme control at the frequency extremes for a musicality that is second to only a few and none at its price point.

On the other hand, IMO there is no such thing today as a standard moving coil sound. The mid priced Benz cartridges, in a direct comparison to the Grado excels at transparency while lacking by an equal margin the body and catch-your-attention pacing of the Grado. You are trading one set of virtues for another. Many moving coils I've heard in the price range of the Grado Sonata still have a cooler, lighter sound that is good if you want to count the ice cubes in the glasses of the audience but isn't as thrilling to listen to as the Sonata. The Grado can do "big" without sounding fake about it.

That is as installed in a modified Rega RB300 arm.

Stephen Scharf
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

Yeah, I wish I could put a Rega RB300 arm in my Rega, Jan.

I am thinking of getting a P5 sometime next year, and putting the Sonata in that, and putting my Grace back in the Smeee III.

But, I am listening to a jazz album right now of Ron Carter and things sound pretty sweet....

Great description of the differences between the Grado and good MC's...I heard a Sumiko BP Evo III the week before last when auditioning my Dynaudio's, and it was just as you describe. Incredible amounts of detail (maybe even a bit too much for my tastes), but a bit cool, and not as musical as the Grado. My Dynaudio's sound even better at home than they did when I auditioned them at Audio Visions in The City.

tom collins
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

i think i can second jan's description of mc vs. mm. i was using a mid range benz high output and had the chance to get an unbroken in clearaudio aurum beta s. i would agree with the description of the difference in overall presentation with the benz sounding what is often described as analytical and with not too much punch in the bass and the clearaudio sounding more musical, deeper with better bass. it is probably not up to the standard of the grado sonata, but i like it quite a lot. another advantage is that no separate phonostage is required, but is an option. i may try one of the soundsmith moving irons next as they have the high output and are alleged to deliver the best of both worlds.

Jan Vigne
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

The Grados are "moving iron" cartridges. The Grado and Ortofon "moving magnet" cartridges all employed a system that moved a permeable material inside the magnetic field of fixed position magnets. Audio Technica used a similar design though not identical to the Grados and Ortofons. This allowed for much lower effective mass at the cantilever end. The B&O cartridges that Soundsmith has refashioned used a similar principle.

judicata
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

Thanks for the additional explanation, Stephen. I know it is hard to describe those things.

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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

Good information for Rega owners. I only recently became aware of Groovetracer products. Since I was not aware of his products I purchased the DeepGroove subplatter and can attest to the improvements of a machined subplatter. I can not compare the two but his seems more advanced in design. I also purchased the Michell Technoweight which like his is a lowered counterweight. Anyone with a Rega Arm would benefit from the lowered counterweight for improved tracking and reduced surface noise. I am considering his platter because it is the same weight as the Rega glass platter. Other acrylic platters are lighter as is the Funk Firm Achroplat which might affect rotational speed.

Stephen Scharf
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

I bought the Groovetracer acrylic platter at the same time that I bought the subplatter. It is beautifully made and looks gorgeous on the Rega. Frank Smillie put a lot of work into so that it's mass would match the glass platter/mat stock system.

But, after a month of using it, I returned it as I felt it did not sound as good in my system as the glass platter and felt mat. It was less open-sounding, and smeared detail in the upper bass and lower mids. Bear in mind that this was with my system (a Planar 3 and SME III from 1981), so YMMV. It may work really, really well on a Rega with an RB301 tonearm and different cartridge set-up. I would definitely recommend trying it out and seeing if it works for you in your own system if you're interested in an acrylic platter.

JohnMichael
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

Stephen one of the tweaks that did not work with the Rega for me was replacing the original feet with hard cones. This gave the table a sharp aggressive sound. While using the cones I bought the Funk Firm Achroplat platter. I did not like the sound of it. I then switched back to the glass platter. Later I went back to the original Rega feet and found the sound more enjoyable. After reading about your experiences with the acrylic platter I dug the Funk Firm platter out from under the bed. The Funk Firm platter with the original Rega feet are a good improvement. Better and more focused soundstage. Better seperation among instruments and singers. Wider and deeper soundstage. The fuzzy and diffuse sound is gone.

Jan Vigne
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

If you would care to experiment with some feet, try this set up.

Go to the plumbing supplies department of any good home improvement store. Buy at least three rubber QuikCaps. These are rubber caps used to cap off the end of a pipe. They will have a metal cinch on them to draw them up tight to the pipe. Every one I've seen has a slight depression in its top surface.

You can experiment with size if you like or buy whatever diameter you feel is appropriate. I use 3"'ers under my VPI Scout and 4"'ers under my tube pre amp. You'll quickly figure out that the diameter of the Cap will set the resonant frequency of the "suspension".

Stop in the sporting goods department and buy three squash or racquet balls.

The balls go into the center depression of the QuikCap and the whole piece goes under the equipment with the underside of the gear resting on the small apex of the ball. This should give you a better, less wobbly support for a turntable than the inner tube provides.

Your goal, if you like the sound of the QuikCaps/balls, is to achieve the type of bounce that sets a Linn LP12 owner's heart aflutter. Pushing directly down on the table's center the bounce should be only in the vertical direction. Any side to side wobble and you should add more Caps/balls or play with placement of the existing systems until the new suspension runs as desired.

If you wish, have the home supply store cut you a sheet of 3/4" birch plywood (3/4" MDF if you prefer, though the two materials will sound different) to a size just slightly larger than your table's dimensions. Place this between the balls and the table's existing feet.

The new suspension will cost about $20 max. Try it and let me know what you think.

Stephen Scharf
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu


Quote:
If you would care to experiment with some feet, try this set up.

Go to the plumbing supplies department of any good home improvement store. Buy at least three rubber QuikCaps. These are rubber caps used to cap off the end of a pipe. They will have a metal cinch on them to draw them up tight to the pipe. Every one I've seen has a slight depression in its top surface.

You can experiment with size if you like or buy whatever diameter you feel is appropriate. I use 3"'ers under my VPI Scout and 4"'ers under my tube pre amp. You'll quickly figure out that the diameter of the Cap will set the resonant frequency of the "suspension".

Stop in the sporting goods department and buy three squash or racquet balls.

The balls go into the center depression of the QuikCap and the whole piece goes under the equipment with the underside of the gear resting on the small apex of the ball. This should give you a better, less wobbly support for a turntable than the inner tube provides.

Your goal, if you like the sound of the QuikCaps/balls, is to achieve the type of bounce that sets a Linn LP12 owner's heart aflutter. Pushing directly down on the table's center the bounce should be only in the vertical direction. Any side to side wobble and you should add more Caps/balls or play with placement of the existing systems until the new suspension runs as desired.

If you wish, have the home supply store cut you a sheet of 3/4" birch plywood (3/4" MDF if you prefer, though the two materials will sound different) to a size just slightly larger than your table's dimensions. Place this between the balls and the table's existing feet.

The new suspension will cost about $20 max. Try it and let me know what you think.

This sounds like fun. Thanks, Jan.

I will try this out as a project during my "week between X-mas and New Year's break".

Stephen Scharf
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu


Quote:
If you would care to experiment with some feet, try this set up.

Go to the plumbing supplies department of any good home improvement store. Buy at least three rubber QuikCaps. These are rubber caps used to cap off the end of a pipe. They will have a metal cinch on them to draw them up tight to the pipe. Every one I've seen has a slight depression in its top surface.

You can experiment with size if you like or buy whatever diameter you feel is appropriate. I use 3"'ers under my VPI Scout and 4"'ers under my tube pre amp. You'll quickly figure out that the diameter of the Cap will set the resonant frequency of the "suspension".

Stop in the sporting goods department and buy three squash or racquet balls.

The balls go into the center depression of the QuikCap and the whole piece goes under the equipment with the underside of the gear resting on the small apex of the ball. This should give you a better, less wobbly support for a turntable than the inner tube provides.

Your goal, if you like the sound of the QuikCaps/balls, is to achieve the type of bounce that sets a Linn LP12 owner's heart aflutter. Pushing directly down on the table's center the bounce should be only in the vertical direction. Any side to side wobble and you should add more Caps/balls or play with placement of the existing systems until the new suspension runs as desired.

If you wish, have the home supply store cut you a sheet of 3/4" birch plywood (3/4" MDF if you prefer, though the two materials will sound different) to a size just slightly larger than your table's dimensions. Place this between the balls and the table's existing feet.

The new suspension will cost about $20 max. Try it and let me know what you think.

Okay, I got my Christmas shopping all done, so tomorrow I will be going to Orchard or Home Depot and getting some Quick Caps; then off to Any Mountain for some squash balls. Will report back.

Stephen Scharf
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu


Quote:
If you would care to experiment with some feet, try this set up.

Go to the plumbing supplies department of any good home improvement store. Buy at least three rubber QuikCaps. Stop in the sporting goods department and buy three squash or racquet balls.

The balls go into the center depression of the QuikCap and the whole piece goes under the equipment with the underside of the gear resting on the small apex of the ball. Try it and let me know what you think.

I tried it with 2" Quik-Caps and squash balls and it sounds really good. The sound is open, airy, and spacious, with excellent imaging, and the bass performance seems improved, too. In fact, I put the foam bungs in the Dynaudio's ports as I was getting more bass than my little space could handle.

Haven't done an A/B yet....I'm too busy enjoying music!

Maybe in a day or so, I will compare inner tube with QCSB (QuikCapSquashBall).

Sade, on her debut album, Diamond Life, sounds pretty wonderful.

Jan Vigne
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

Glad you like it so far, Stephen. I hope it works out for you. I didn't mention it but you should leave the cinch band on the Caps though, as always, it's your choice based on what you hear.

Also the 4" Caps will sound slightly different than the 2"ers (different system resonance) and tennis balls will give slightly brighter, crisper results than the squash balls which IMO are a tad bit warmer, fuller and more listenable on a table as light as the Rega. I prefer the squash balls for my system so that's what I recommend first.

Stephen Scharf
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu


Quote:
Glad you like it so far, Stephen. I hope it works out for you. I didn't mention it but you should leave the cinch band on the Caps though, as always, it's your choice based on what you hear.

I was wondering about the cinch bands....I took them off as it distorted their shape a bit; I still have them and could put them back on and try it. How tight should they be?

Jan Vigne
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

Just enough to keep the shape of the Caps. If they sit on the surface better without the bands, I wouldn't worry about them.

Stephen Scharf
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

Oh, makes sense.

I don't think I need them as my Rega isn't as heavy as the VPI. The sides of the caps are nice and straight.

R.Solhaug
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

Just jumping in; way back I improved my Rega big time by making up a raw rubber mat about 5 millimeters thick.(1/4") The rubber glues both to the glass and the vinyl, making it into a heavy and ronresonnant sandwich. This gives seriously bass-improvement, generally better dynamics and reduces noice.
The arm needs to be "adjusted" up to compensate, should be a piece of cake

BillB
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

Squash balls seem like they would work well - they have some give (hence the name, they squash when you hit them) - as long as you use the international or soft version. The American "hardball" version, though, is obviously harder and might not help. Fortunately, the "hardball" game has faded in popularity and you don't see those balls as often.
Racquetballs, like tennis balls, are much bouncier so take that into account. They come in different versions/colors. Probably no difference, stereophonically speaking, but I would probably pick the "retro" black ones currently being marketed, they are less lively than the blues/greens/reds.
Ignore as you wish, I haven't done this tweak.
But I do have some soft/squishy "stress relief" balls under my turntable, to help damp it a bit from its wood platform. I don't think I hear a difference but I get less audible thump when I tap the platform.

Stephen Scharf
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

MIne seem relatively squishy. I thought about getting racquetballs, which are in-between squash and tennis balls in size, and using them on the 3" Quik-caps, but the current set-up works really well.

As Jan pointed out, it is more stable than the inner tube with this set-up (I am using 4 balls/caps, one at each corner.)

SAS Audio
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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu


Quote:
but the Reference Sonata was a revelation when I put it in in place of the Grado Blue.

Hi Stephen. Sorry I am late in replying and thanks for all the information. That does help.

A little bit of information if I may. Some time ago I found that each cartridge needs its own proper loading. I say that because I have a cheap grado black version and according to the formulas, it should use 11.5k instead of 47k for a proper load, flatest response. I immediately noticed the bass tightened up and sounded much better, more open as well. I am sure it does not come close to the Sonata, just a thought that might further improve the sound.

Here is the link
http://www.hagtech.com/loading.html

One can usually obtain information about the cartridge either directly at the manufacturer's website or by contacting them for specifics via email.

Take care and thanks again Stephen.

Steve

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Re: For all you Rega Lovers: Groovetracer subplatter for Rega tu

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the info, but I have no idea how I would change the impedance for my cartridge.

-Stephen.

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