Listening #87 Page 2

On the other hand, the EMT's spring-actuated downforce makes life a good deal easier than the Schick's uncalibrated counterweights, and the fact that the 997 applies a positive tracking force may confer a performance advantage, especially with warped records. Finally, it must be noted that the Schick's vertical bearings aren't offset to match the angle of its headshell, in the manner of the EMT 997: With the latter, as the arm moves above and below its fulcrum, proper azimuth is maintained.

Schick's online setup instructions imply that the tonearm's spindle-to-pivot distance (304.8mm), overhang (12.82mm), and offset angle (17.11°, footnote 3) are in keeping with the well-entrenched Baerwald geometry, with perfect stylus tangency at 66 and 121mm from the spindle. Yet when used with a G-style Ortofon 90th Anniversary pickup head, which adheres to the specified 51mm distance from stylus tip to collet edge, my sample of the Schick arm required a spindle-to-pivot distance of slightly over 302mm in order to null at those points. But I'm getting ahead of myself . . .

With the Ortofon pickup head in place, the counterweight set for a 3gm downforce, and the output cable snugged into the moving-coil phono jacks of my Shindo Masseto preamp, I sat down for my first listening session with the Schick arm in place—and was distracted all at once by a new problem: With the stylus in the (unmodulated) lead-in groove, an unpleasant low-frequency noise made its presence known, swamping the quiet opening notes and remaining audible virtually throughout the LP side.

I wasn't sure whether I was hearing a newly noisy turntable motor or rumble from a worn-out bearing. Lucky for me, I had spares of those parts—and virtually everything else—languishing in a second rebuilt Thorens TD 124 that I've come to think of as the donor body. Because the platter bearing is easy to replace, I convinced myself that that was the problem. "Wait here," I said to the Schick as I removed it from its mounting collar and set it to one side. "This won't take long."

Indeed, replacing the platter bearing took practically no time at all. It also made no audible difference at all.

I began to suspect—began to know—that the motor was at fault, but replacing a TD 124's motor involves soldering, and that means going down cellar for the soldering iron. Instead, I decided the noise was coming from somewhere between the motor and the platter, so I replaced the belt, then the idler pulley, and then the idler-pulley thrust pad. When none of those made any difference, I installed the precious new idler wheel I'd been saving for the afterlife. The noise was still there.

I went down cellar for the soldering iron. While there, I saw a dead mouse. I really hate dead mice.

Replacing the motor took about an hour. The tone of the noise changed slightly, but not its intensity. Glacially but steadily, I came to realize that the turntable was innocent [insert Gary Condit joke here], and that the real culprit was . . . well, I knew it couldn't be the Schick arm. Arms don't make noise.

But when I swapped my EMT tonearm back in for a quick'n'dirty comparison, I was astounded: The noise was gone.

Two minutes later—the time it takes to unbolt one tonearm board, then bolt another in its place—the Schick went back in. So did the noise.

While the Schick was in place I changed pickup heads, experimented with different grounding schemes, moved the gantry up and down, and swapped the Schick's undamped counterweights for damped ones—and combinations of damped ones—from other arms on hand. As with the motor swap, different counterweights changed the character of the noise somewhat, but the noise was still there, and it was still bothersome. After that, I tried replacing the Schick's relatively spare arm-mount collar with heavier ones from other arms that use the same size mounting hole (such as the EMT 997 itself). I also experimented with different arm heights, and different degrees of torque on the arm pillar's locking screw. Those, too, slightly changed but did not diminish the noise.

In a final, crazy, animal effort, I once again removed the Schick, armboard and all, from my Thorens. Then I used a C-clamp to fasten that armboard to the heavy wooden table next to my turntable support. (The relative heights of the two were nearly perfect—obviously a sign that the Almighty had blessed this particular stunt.) I used the wooden template I'd made in Step One to set the distance between the turntable on one support and the tonearm on the other. Then I reinstalled the arm and sat back to listen.

The noise was gone. Completely.

Fun in a Box
Not only was the noise gone—after just a bit more work (which I'll also get to in a moment), the Schick tonearm treated me to some of the best vinyl playback I've heard.

The question remains: Why did the Schick fare so poorly when fastened to the Thorens TD 124? I can only assume that its own resonant fingerprint—the frequencies to which its tube or its support structure or its bearings or its counterweight support (I still suspect that) are most sympathetic—are, simply and sadly, in the same range as the natural noise of the Thorens's motor. (The resonant frequency of the combination of Schick arm and Ortofon SPU—the latter being obviously and inarguably the sort of thing around which the former was designed—was nearly ideal: Using the Hi-Fi News & Record Review Test Record (HFN 001), I noted lateral and vertical figures of 9 and 10Hz, respectively.) Almost every photo on Schick's website shows his arm being used with a simple motor unit (Garrard, Technics, Lenco, et al) or else mounted off to one side, on a separate structure. Cripes, that has to mean something.

Footnote 3: 2: Of course, universal acceptance of that or any other twin-null alignment scheme seems less likely today than ever: Convincing cases are regularly made for the sonic or archival advantages of all of them. Suffice it to say that, unless an alignment scheme actually fails to produce two null points within the modulated-groove area of the average 12" LP, one cannot honestly describe it as "incorrect." At worst, it can only be considered "the one I don't like."

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