Tonearm Reviews

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Art Dudley Posted: Sep 04, 2015 1 comments
In a bizarre but happy turn of events, recent consumer trends have given even the most socially awkward audiophile something to talk about at cocktail parties and family gatherings at which normal people predominate: the PonoPlayer and vinyl. These are hot topics; each is among the best-sounding music sources available, and both offer hope for our hobby, if not for music lovers in general. But vinyl has the advantage of appealing to a much wider range of budgets. LPs can be had from anywhere to "We'll pay you to haul these away" to "Your loan officer is on line one." Likewise, vinyl playback hardware is available in virtually every price range, from a second-hand Dual 1229 ($50 and up) to the highly praised Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn ($200,000 and down).
Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 09, 2015 24 comments
Late in the fall of 1982, Los Angeles turned ugly for me. I'd finished my work on Tron and despite the Academy Award nomination for Best Sound (which went to the mixing team, not the sound supervisor), it was obvious that nothing else was coming my way anytime soon. To earn a living, I had to reinvent myself.

So there I was in Las Vegas, at the 1983 Consumer Electronics Show, schlepping heavy bags filled with press kits, each containing an audio cassette of a dozen radio commercials for a car-stereo store that I'd voiced and produced, along with a résumé-bio and endorsements from clients.

Art Dudley Posted: Jun 30, 2015 11 comments
Before hitting the Refresh key on last month's column, which was dedicated to the challenges one encounters when evaluating audio cables and other accessories, I'd like to share with you a true story: a cautionary tale, as it were, about the hazards of writing reviews for a living.

Seven or eight years ago, just as spring was returning to upstate New York, I made my annual trek to Montreal for Salon Son et Image: one of my favorite audio shows for a number of reasons, not the least being the fact that I can travel there by train.

Art Dudley Posted: Jun 26, 2015 3 comments
There's nothing new under the sun, or so we are told. Nevertheless, in the early 1990s, a British designer named Tom Fletcher upset the audio status quo with a turntable that combined otherwise-familiar elements in a manner that was, at the very least, new with a lower-case n. Fletcher's product, the Space Deck, was perhaps the first original design in British phonography since the Roksan Xerxes of 1985; and his company, Nottingham Analogue, went from nothing to something in no time at all.
Art Dudley Posted: Jan 22, 2015 0 comments
Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is: Never try.—Homer Simpson

Months ago, as we put together the most recent installment of "Recommended Components," Phillip Holmes, of Mockingbird Distribution, got in touch and asked if we would please remove from our list the Abis SA-1 tonearm, which Mockingbird distributes (and which I first wrote about in our March 2014 issue, footnote 1). As it turns out, Abis is making some changes to the arm, and Holmes didn't think it would be right to let the recommendation endure until we'd had a chance to try the new one.

Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 09, 2015 Published: Jan 01, 2015 1 comments
Pear Audio Analogue's Peter Mezek can keep you up all night spinning fascinating turntable tales. Had my mind not been numbed by Sunday evening, October 12, the last day of the 2014 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I might have insisted that he do just that.

Over dinner that evening he regaled Pear Audio's North American importer, Michael Vamos of Audio Skies, and me with turntable stories dating back to the late 1970s and the Linn Sondek LP12, which, until the early '80s, he distributed in Czechoslovakia. In the mid-'80s, Mezek was involved in the development and distribution of the Rational Audio turntable, designed for Mezek by Jirí Janda (pronounced Yeerzhee Yahnda), who died in 2000. For those of you old enough to remember, Janda, a founder of NAD, designed that company's 5120 turntable; among other features, it had a flat, flexible, plug-in tonearm that you could easily swap out, much as you can with VPI's current models.

Art Dudley Posted: Oct 02, 2014 0 comments
". . . with faithfully replicated artwork."

That's how a press release, dated June 16 of this year, described the manner in which the next wave of Beatles LPs—mono releases claimed to be mastered direct from the original analog mixdown tapes, and not the 44.1kHz digital files that Apple Records and Universal Music Enterprises (which now owns EMI) considered good enough for their last wave of Beatles LPs—are being packaged for sale. Hope, as Emily Dickinson once observed, is that thing with the feathers. Which, as we all know, evolved from the dinosaurs.

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Michael Fremer Posted: May 14, 2014 0 comments
In 1995, Harry Weisfeld's son Jonathan was killed in an automobile accident. Jonathan was a charismatic young man whom I had come to know—a genuinely gifted artist and musician who, at the time of his death, was helping his father develop the tonearm that would be named for him: the JMW Memorial Arm. The design of the original JMW Memorial Arm focused on providing easily adjustable and repeatable VTA and SRA via a massive threaded tower that bolted to the plinth. The bearing point, on the other hand, sat near the end of a relatively long and not particularly rigid metal platform cantilevered off the VTA/SRA tower.
Art Dudley Posted: Oct 01, 2013 2 comments
Whether the subject is hi-fi equipment, films, restaurants, power tools, or condoms (see the April 2005 "Listening"), reviewing should be off-limits to the perennially unhappy. I'm reminded of that dictum by the flap over the recent film Identity Thief, which was savaged by reviewer Rex Reed—not because the film is weak, but because its star, Melissa McCarthy, is heavy. Reed, whose career as the Paul Lynde of film reviewing was punctuated by a starring role in a flop called Myra Breckenridge, mentioned in his review McCarthy's size not once but numerous times, thus exposing himself as a bullying hack who wields his harshest criticisms not when they are merited but as unconscious expressions of his own personal anguish. Hate speech of any sort is the crayon of the unhappy; that is doubly true of people who write for a living.
Art Dudley Posted: Aug 01, 2013 1 comments
Writing is easy. See? I just did it. Three whole sentences, written between breakfast and lunch. (I had to pause and think about one of them.) Payday, here I come.
Art Dudley Posted: Feb 06, 2013 2 comments
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 unit—but of greater importance than just about everything else.
Erick Lichte Posted: Oct 05, 2012 2 comments
Like many audiophiles, I cohabit with someone who understands my audio obsession but has no desire to share it. That someone is my wife. Since I began writing for Stereophile, Ashley has helped me carry amplifiers, tape up boxes for shipping, and found room in our house for all the extra components and their boxes—which sometimes make the place look like a scene from an episode of Hoarders. She's a peach. Every time new gear comes to the house or to my studio, my wife has calmly helped me move stuff around while I dance around like a six-year-old on Christmas morning.
Art Dudley Posted: Oct 05, 2012 1 comments
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.
Michael Fremer Posted: Oct 14, 2011 2 comments
Trends in turntable design shift back and forth over time, each "advance" turning out to be a mostly sideways move. Over its long history, VPI's founder and designer, Harry Weisfeld, has moved the analog goalposts back and forth as he's refined his thinking. His early turntables were mostly standard spring-suspension designs of normal size. By the time Weisfeld produced his fully tricked-out TNT model, which was originally designed to stably hold the heavy moving mass of Eminent Technology's ET2 air-bearing arm, he'd moved to a massive, oversized, sandwiched plinth with isolating feet at the corners. He first used springs and, later, air bladders originally designed to cushion a tractor-trailer's load, and which he'd found in a trucker's supply catalog. Via an O-ring, the TNT's outboard motor drove one of three pulleys that protruded from holes in the plinth, and attached to a T-shaped subchassis that, in turn, drove the other two pulleys via two additional O-rings.
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Michael Fremer Posted: Sep 09, 2011 5 comments
No one has ever accused Franc Kuzma of designing glamorous audio jewelry. His turntables and tonearms are industrial-strength examples of engineering know-how and machining excellence. But to those who appreciate such things, his products are truly beautiful, even if they're not adorned with chrome, wood, and sleekly polished surfaces. And if looking at the 4Point tonearm ($6500) in pebbly Darth Vader black doesn't get your analog juices flowing, perhaps its innovative design will. But first, this message:


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