Listening #122 Page 2

The denouement: Prior to installing the Artemis TA-1, I'd neglected to read the instruction manual all the way through; had I done otherwise, I might have noticed the advice, in the final paragraph on the back page, to point the flipper-shaped collet itself toward the 8 o'clock mark. It took a brief few minutes to reinstall the arm accordingly, after which the arm pillar had sufficient downward travel. O happy dagger.

Neither is age
I used two different cartridges with my review sample of the Artemis TA-1: my well-loved Miyabi 47—nigh on 10 years old!—and my similarly cherished Denon DL-103, the former driving my Auditorium 23 "SPU version" transformer, the latter driving my Silvercore One to Ten. Both cartridges worked well in the Artemis arm, but it was the Miyabi that really shone, sounding more impactful and dramatic than it has in any other arm of my experience.

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Fact is, I got lucky. The weight of the Miyabi cartridge, its position at the end of the armtube after alignment (per the standard Baerwald geometry, using the DB Systems protractor), the weight of the TA-1's standard cartridge platform, and the weight of its standard counterweight all conspired to place that counterweight as close to the bearing as possible without impeding the arm's movement—the theoretical ideal for preserving dynamic contrasts in phono playback.

It proved an empirical ideal as well: The pairing of Miyabi 47 cartridge and Artemis TA-1 arm on my Thorens TD 124 was, without exaggeration, just as dynamic as the pairing of EMT TSD 15 pickup head and EMT 997 arm on my Garrard 301. And that's really something.

I noticed it while going back and forth between the two players with a number of discs, and with none more so than a fine recent reissue of the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Time Further Out (Columbia/Impex CS 8490). With the Miyabi-Artemis pairing, the drums in "Far More Drums"—which is, in any event, a little less compressed and a little more forceful than the average Columbia stereo recording of that era—had a level of impact that bordered on the amazing. On that record, the Artemis tonearm also allowed the Miyabi 47 to sound more colorful than usual, with tone-drenched piano chords, and a string-bass sound with lots of timbral meat on its percussive bones.

Based on my two-cartridge experience, the Artemis TA-1 could be considered just a little bit sweet—sweeter, even, than my fondly remembered Syrinx PU-3 tonearm—with a treble range that was clean but free of undue emphasis and unnatural texture. Whether for that reason or because it's an especially "fast" arm, the Artemis was also kinder than average to the most well-worn records I tried: Noise was occasionally audible but never intrusive.

The TA-1 also sounded poised, uncompressed, and free from tracking-related distortions in densely recorded piano music, although that quality didn't really manifest itself until I spent the time to really fine-tune downforce and antiskate. Neither adjustment is calibrated on the TA-1, which forces users to trust a downforce gauge for the former, their ears for the latter. I'm also accustomed to using my eyes to gauge the effectiveness and range of an antiskate control, partly by observing whether a cantilever flicks toward the inner or outer groove when the arm is cued up, and partly by observing the arm's behavior when the downforce is set to zero and the arm is allowed to float. But the design of the TA-1's vertical bearing is such that the arm can't be statically balanced in that manner—it will always tend to tip either all the way down or all the way up.

I do so hate to sound like an audio geek, but I've long used the sound of one LP in my collection—Jascha Heifetz, Charles Munch, and the Boston Symphony's recording of Beethoven's Violin Concerto (RCA Living Stereo LSC-1992)—to dial in antiskating while listening for both a centered soloist and an absence of mistracking in the right channel. With the Miyabi 47 cartridge set for its preferred 2gm downforce, I achieved the best sound by turning the TA-1's antiskate setscrew fully clockwise, then backing it off by a little more than one full turn.

Because I was unable to float the TA-1 tonearm at its 0gm setting, I was also unable to observe, in the manner to which I'm used, the abundance or lack of friction in its bearings. Artemis Labs claims for their arm levels of bearing friction of less than 2mg in the vertical plane and less than 3.5mg in the horizontal plane. Although I have no way of confirming those, I heard none of the problems I might associate with high friction—or excessively loose bearings, for that matter.

At the end of the day, the Artemis TA-1 tonearm sounded so good with my turntable and cartridges, and straddled so nicely the fence between adjustability and fusslessness, that I wonder with real optimism how it might fare with the best modern turntables. I would love, in particular, to try the TA-1 on a VPI Scout or Classic. After my experiences these past few months, I already think of the Artemis as one of the most recommendable tonearms—of any length or type—I've had the pleasure of using.

Day of Rek-O-Ning
When I brought home the Rondine Jr. pieces that formed the basis of my Rek-O-Kut turntable project (footnote 3) it was the hottest day of the year; when I finally fitted it with a tonearm and a pickup head, it was the post-Sandy coldest. God works in mysterious ways.

I got out my metal metric ruler, measured 305.75mm from the center of the Jr.'s spindle—the spindle-to-pivot distance of a Thomas Schick Tonearm, when used with standard Baerwald geometry—and scribed that point on the plinth. Because I had drilled, during the plinth's construction, all but the very top layer with an opening large enough to accommodate both the arm pillar and the signal cables, this last step was easy: I made a 20mm hole for the pillar, then added three holes for the screws that fix the arm-mount collet. Because I was drilling into ¾" plywood with an open space below it, a standard-issue wood bore would have made too many splinters; instead, I used a good-quality Forstner bit.

Installation went without a hitch, and the new A-style Schick arm looked absolutely lovely. As with my other Schick, its armtube collet was smoother and more positive than that of any competing arm I've tried, which made installing a pickup head that much more pleasant. I was ready for the moment of truth.

But truth was on backorder: The motor once again needed several minutes to get up to speed. And when it did, some mechanical noise remained: a bit of main-bearing whirr, plus that strange idler-wheel noise that affects only 331/3rpm. The former proved only slightly audible through the loudspeakers, while the latter seemed to have no effect on the amplified sound—although I'm sure that, in the winter months ahead, I'll find plenty of indoor time in which to fix it. (I heard that The Farmer's Almanac has forecast an unusually warm, mild winter for the American Northeast, but that was two major storms ago.)

At speed, and with a good tonearm and pickup head, the Rondine Jr. allowed my LPs to sound substantial and colorful, if a bit lacking in treble sparkle. The bottom octaves were meaty and powerful, while singers and soloists had a very nice sense of body and presence. Music had more force, lines of notes more momentum, than with my Linn LP12—but, to my disappointment, the Rek-O-Kut still fell short of the more impactful Thorens TD 124 and Garrard 301 and 401.

Because I continue to associate the above qualities with the sheer torque of any turntable's drive system, I can't help blaming Jr.'s iffy motor—and that's something I can fix. I think. So I'll keep tinkering away in the background, hoping I'll have better news by spring.



Footnote 3: See "Listening" in December 2012 and January 2013.
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COMMENTS
smittyman's picture

Worth the price of admission for Jokerman.

MVBC's picture

Anyone owning a piano knows that wood is never an inert material and responds to climatic conditions. How is this wood based tonearm supposed to fend off this reality especially when one is adjusting for fractions of a millimeter?enlightened

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