Almost immediately on entering the analog marketplace in 1982, Franc Kuzma, a mechanical engineer based in Slovenia, then part of the former Yugoslavia, established a reputation for manufacturing finely engineered, high-performance products that sold at reasonable prices. Kuzma's early industrial designs, however, while serviceable, looked less than distinguished.
Visit www.stereophile.com and look at the Vote Results for June 17, 2007: You'll see that when we asked our readers to name the one audio product that's spent the greatest amount of time in their systems, the most common answer by far was the Linn Sondek LP12 turntable (footnote 1). Little wonder that Scotland's most famous record player endures as an object of attention for various and sundry commercial tweaks.
"Tonearm?" muttered John Crabbe, my erstwhile editor at Hi-Fi News & Record Review, as he bent over my shoulder some 12 years ago to see what I was writing about. "A tonearm belongs on an acoustic gramophone—you should use the term 'pickup arm,' which doesn't suggest that the arm has a sound of its own."
Until recently, my favorite shirt was one I'd found on a clearance table at Macy's: a red paisley thing with long sleeves and a button-down collar, not unlike the ones seen in photographs of Peter Holsapple or the young Syd Barrett. When I first found it, this shirt was dusty, and appeared to have been marked down at least a half-dozen times before bottoming out at a price that wouldn't buy a six-pack of Mountain Dew at the local stop-and-rob. Maybe it was on the verge of being discarded, but I suspect that the people at Macy's had simply forgotten it was there.
Sad though they may be, Flat Earthers endure in getting two things right: In any music-playback system, the source is of primary importance; and in a music system in which LPs are the preferred medium, the pickup arm is of less importance than the motor unitbut of greater importance than just about everything else.
I can't help wondering: how did the mainstream audio press, cheered Dynaco and Marantz and McIntosh and Quad for switching to transistors a couple of generations ago, greet the first tube-revival products from Audio Research and the like? What was the reaction when moving-coil cartridge technology, considered all but dead by the early 1970s, became the perfectionist hi-fi norm just a few years later? And what would the same people make of the fact that a high-mass, transcription-length pickup armwith interchangeable pickup heads, no lessis one of the most recommendable phono products of 2008? The mind boggles.
When I was visiting Santa Fe last Easter (footnote 1), one of the subjects I raised with JA was Naim's ARO tonearm. This unique unipivot design has languished in Class K of Stereophile's "Recommended Components" listing for far too long. JA explained that the regular reviewers have quite enough to do, thank you, just keeping up with speakers, electronics, and especially digital. The esteemed Martin Colloms is happily using an ARO on his Linn Sondek, and wrote a review for the English magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review in May 1991, but since there is a very small but nevertheless vociferous overlap in US readership between the two magazines, it is Stereophile policy not to have two reviews by the same reviewer of a given piece of gear.
It's now been eight years since a Rega P3 turntable passed through my listening room. While the new P3-24 superficially resembles the P3 (and virtually every other Rega 'table), the company has made some significant changes, including upgrading to the high-quality, low-voltage (24V), electronically adjusted motor used in the more expensive P5, P7, and P9. As in those models, an electronic circuit trims the phase angle of the P3-24's motor coils, thus substantially reducing motor vibrations. In 1998, during a factory tour, a Rega engineer demonstrated the circuit's effectiveness to me. As he adjusted the circuit board's pot, vibrations from the motor dramatically decreased, until it was difficult to tell if the motor was spinning or not. Back then, this "hand-trimmed" motor technology was available only in the P9. The P3-24 uses a less sophisticated version of the same basic idea.
Andy Payor hurls a briefcase full of engineering and scientific mumbo-jumbo at in an attempt to justify the $73,750 price of the latest and greatest edition of his Rockport Technologies turntable, but really—isn't this all-air-driven design a case of analog overkill? After all, defining a turntable's job seems rather easy: rotate the record at an exact and constant speed, and, for a linear tracker, put the stylus in play across the record surface so that it maintains precise tangency to a radius described across the groove surface. By definition, a pivoted arm can't do that, so the goal there is to minimize the deviation. That's basically it. Right?
Simon Yorke is an artist, a machinist, an electronics wiz, and a political idealist. He's also an analog enthusiast who melds aesthetic and technical considerations into eye-catching, densely packed, compact record-playing devices that are ruggedly built and functionally elegant. His turntables' smooth, matte-gray, metallic finishes and efficient lines make them among the most visually pleasing ever made.
Much has happened in the analog world since I reviewed SME's flagship Model 30/2 turntable for the March 2003 Stereophile (footnote 1). Back then, spending $25,000 on a turntable (without tonearm) was an odd extravagance intended only for those seriously committed to the format, and who already owned large LP collections. Although new LPs were being pressed in growing numbers, the resurgence of vinyl was still spotty, and the long-term prognosis for the old medium remained in question.
Spiral Groove's new Centroid tonearm ($6000) arrived just a few days before press time, so it would be risky to say anything definitive about it. But I will take that risk: using the system described in my review of the SG2 turntable, this may be the best tonearm I've heard. Its sound is different in ways that will open people's ears, and I predict that it will affect the design of every tonearm from now on. The Centroid's design deserves and will await full coverage in its own review, but here are the basics: It's a fluid-damped unipivot design unlike any other that gives the user fine adjustment of all relevant parameters.
The La Luce turntable's elegant form usually stops audiophiles dead in their tracks. Then comes a long, low "Wow." I'm hardly immune myself. And that's not even considering the sound, which has always been wonderful, as it was in the Joseph Audio/Cardas room at CES '98.