Eminent Technology Two tonearm Guy Lemcoe November 1989
When I travel to larger cities, the first thing I do after checking into my room is to consult the Yellow Pages under "Records, Tapes & Compact Discs"for a certified vinyl junkie, discovering a source of used records in a strange city can be economically disastrous as well as socially alienating. Be upfront with your friends about your addiction, or you may find yourself returning home alone! Not empty-handed, though! If you extend your search to used-bookstores (which usually have a few records stashed away somewhere), the depth of your insanity becomes even more apparent to others. Let your friends think what they may about you, though, and go about your business. Remember, you have a mission to accomplish, and as we enter the age of the Great Vinyl Meltdown, that mission takes on desperate proportions.
Visiting local hi-fi salons enables me to pick up on what is currently hot or not (footnote 1). Plus, most dealers have a shelf for used equipment. Examining this section of the store is the most fun for me. Here I can find relics from the distant past (remember Collaro record players?), as well as more recently abandoned state-of-the-art gear. The prices are generally appealing (usually a fraction of what the equipment sold for new), and you can browse without being bombarded with the sales pitches and hype. I enjoy reading about the latest "super" amps or preamps from Krell, Mark Levinson, Audio Research, etc., but financial circumstances dictate that I am unable to buy them fresh from the factory. The same holds true for the other elements in the hi-fi chainloudspeakers, turntables, tonearms, cartridges, and cables. Until recently, I've had to entertain myself with vicarious thoughts about the high end, through friends fortunate enough to be able to afford it, and by reading about it in the various journals. I am, therefore, always on the lookout for a good high-end deal!
In my recent review of the AR ES-1 turntable (Vol.12 No.8), I was slightly apprehensive of the fact that I did not have a record player of "reference" quality. My Systemdek IIX with the Black Widow arm had served me well in my listening, and had enabled me to make substantive comments on the sounds of other components to which it was compared. However, I felt a need to explore the possibilities of an upgrade in this area 1) to increase my own enjoyment of my record collection, and 2) to strengthen my credibility in the eyes of other audiophiles by installing a player of reference caliber in my system. A call to an audiophile friend in Illinois confirmed my decision to look for a VPI HW-19 Mk.II set up with the Eminent Technology Two tonearm. I could retain my Talisman S cartridgeit was sounding just as sweet as ever.
I immediately began a search through the classified ads in both Stereophile and The Absolute Sound for dealers offering such a combination at an attractive price. After all, I was looking for equipment which, if new, would cost close to $2000. The audio journalist doesn't get paid that well! My search didn't pay off, and I began to feel I had gotten the right idea at the wrong time.
Then it dawned on me that I had once subscribed to Audiomart, the ultimate source for used audio gear of all types. I dug through my collection of old audio literature and magazines, hoping to find a back issue so I could call them and renew my subscription. I found onea quick phone call and my MasterCard number put me back on their mailing list. Audiomart assured me that I would get the latest issue, which had just gone to press (they now publish every two weeks instead of monthly).
Within four days of my call came ten pages of used and demo gear of all shapes, sizes, vintages, and prices. The listings included equipment ranging from the highest of the high end to replacement front panels for Eico preamps. Buried in the small print is, I am sure, equipment which would whet the appetite of any seasoned audiophile. And the prices asked, which must be included in the ads, could not be beat. I knew I was on the right track at last. Within an hour of receipt of my copy, I had located three people with the VPI/ET system I was looking for. I kept coming back to one ad in particular, which seemed too good to be true. Not only was the seller offering the setup I wanted, but was going to throw in an extra ET-2 arm-tube. It didn't take me long to contact this person and negotiate a price.
My initial feeling toward the whole deal was one of reservation. Why was this guy selling this gear so cheaply? What was wrong with it? How old was it? What parts needed replacing? Had it been wrecked due to careless set-up? I was skeptical. My fears were put to rest, however, after having spent some time on the phone with the seller. He sounded sincere in his efforts to answer my many questions, and assured me I would be happy with the equipment. He reminded me of Audiomart's policy regarding fair dealings, and offered to have Audiomart hold my money for three days while I had the opportunity to inspect and try out the gear. Fair enough, I thought, and went off to the bank. I rationalized to myself, as I dipped into my savings, that this was a necessary and prudent move. The price was right and I really needed to upgrade my front end (footnote 2).
When the UPS truck pulled into my driveway a few days later, I was nervous. The moment of truth had come. The driver asked if I would help her with the large box containing the VPI. (The ET-2 was packed separately.) I lugged the VPI into the house and began unpacking it. This was done carefullyI had to be careful handling the subchassis and platter, for they were heavier than I had expected; the subchassis alone weighs more than my Systemdek IIXand the seller had attached set-up notes to various parts. I followed the enclosed notes and read the manufacturer's instructions slowly. Set-up presented no serious problems, for the VPI is really quite simple in design. Satisfied, I turned to the ET-2 arm and read the comprehensive instruction manual three times. I did not have the set-up jig, so I called my friend back in Illinois to borrow his. He sent it out that same day and I received it two days later. While I waited for the jig, I researched all the reviews I could find of the VPI/ET in the various journals. The information I gleaned from these reviews proved quite helpful in my efforts to install this 'table and arm properly.
Jig in hand, I went about the task of installing the ET-2 on the VPI. This was not one of the easiest jobs I've encountered. Hard-wiring the Litz leads to the backside of the female phono jacks was an exercise in frustration. But I kept with it and finally succeeded. With all the wiring out of the way, I settled down to the task of aligning the arm, hooking up the air-line and pump, leveling and realigning everything. Although the pump with my arm was extremely quiet, I set it up in a hall closet with the air line running under the house, coming up through a small hole in the floor directly beneath my equipment stand. The prior owner of the VPI had installed an on/off switch for the pump in the 'table base. This was a great convenience: I could turn on pump and 'table at the same time. A small, red LED installed in the acrylic top-plate let me know when the pump was on. Clever! I didn't want to risk damaging my Talisman S during final alignment, so I installed my "budget" Grado in the extra armtube. If I was going to wreck a stylus or cantilever in this phase of set-up, better it be a cheap one.
The precise alignment of the ET-2 arm was made easier by its thoughtful design. Each parameter of adjustment can be easily and quickly made with just a small Allen-wrench. As I was making the final tweaks to the arm, I came to agree with the rave reviews and praise given this product in various journals. I have never had the pleasure of using such a well-finished, well-designed arm. I would like to mention the courtesy and helpfulness of ET's Bruce Thigpen, whom I contacted several times. He answered my rather na;d;ive questions patiently and advised me of future upgrade possibilities. Likewise, Harry Weisfeld, in extremely gentlemanly manner, did all he could to ensure my used VPI Mk.II was operating up to spec. I still marvel at his record-clamping system. It is simple and effective, turning every record into a flat one.
Needless to say, my initial fears over buying used high-end gear (especially turntables and tonearms) via mail-order were allayed. I felt good about my purchases and was reassured, after talking with Bruce Thigpen and Harry Weisfeld, that there still were manufacturers out there who stand behind their products. I have read all too often the horror stories of consumers' relations with certain manufacturers. Component reliability, customer service, and manufacturer accessibility are important issues in high-end audio. It depresses me when I hear of the lackadaisical attitude of some manufacturers toward their customers. To my way of thinking, this is indefensible. After all, we, as music lovers, to some extent pursue the muse to escape the common and parochial attitudes we have to deal with every day. We audiophiles are a strange breed (if you don't believe me, ask a non-audiophile) and are caught up in a maniacal quest for the "perfect" sound, whatever that might be. In this quest we need all the help we can get, especially from manufacturers. We need more men like Bruce Thigpen and Harry Weisfeld in this industry.
The sound of my VPI/ET exceeded my expectations. I had transformed my system, in one fell swoop, from a pleasant-sounding "hi-fi" into an instrument for reproducing music. The extraneous noises and colorations I had previously adapted to vanished. There was much less intrusion of extra-musical elements into the aural experience, which allowed more of the music through. Bass went lower, with more tautness and better pitch definition. The highs were airier and extended. The midrange was brought to life, and instrumental timbres were rendered naturally. The sense of the recording venue was conveyed with solid ambient clues (if the recording had captured them in the first place), and the soundstage was broader, deeper, higher. Overall system resolution increased dramatically, and I could "see" deeper into the music and pick out fine details of the performance heretofore obscured. One of my favorite soundtrack albums, The Mission (Virgin 90567-1), has become a much more intimate and involving experience for me. I feel closer to the intent of the composer and performers. I realized, shortly after making this front-end upgrade, that I had suddenly acquired a new record collection (footnote 3).Guy Lemcoe
Footnote 1: I believe dealers refer to this activity as "tire-kicking."John Atkinson
Footnote 2: Guy has only been writing for Stereophile for four months and already he's treating a turntable upgrade as a Number-One Priority. Draw your own conclusion, all you readers hanging onto Technics SP-10s and Kenwood KD-500s for sentimental reasons.John Atkinson
Footnote 3: You see, gentle readers, all this was a result of a turntable/tonearm upgrade. See footnote 2. Absorb the moral of Guy's tale. Get rid of that Kenwood; junk that Sony; put that Technics out of its misery!Ye Editor.