Tonearm Reviews

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Michael Trei  |  Jul 20, 2023  |  7 comments
Creating a new flagship model is never an easy task for an audio company. A good designer will have already incorporated all his or her best ideas into the prior flagship. For a follow-up, you typically get a scaled-up version of what came before, incorporating the kind of improvements a bigger budget will allow.

SME's history is well-documented. The company started out, in 1946, as an engineering company for hire. In 1959, after a few years supplying parts for the scale modeling and various other high-tech industries, company founder Alastair Robertson-Aikman wanted a better tonearm for his personal use. He leveraged the capabilities of his small engineering company to create what eventually became the legendary 3009 and 3012 tonearms. The reputation of the new arms spread quickly, and from the mid-1960s through the 1970s, SME dominated the high-end tonearm market. SME's corporate slogan was The Best Pick-Up Arm in the World, and few people at the time would have challenged that claim.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 14, 2023  |  First Published: Dec 01, 2016  |  33 comments
I recently posted to AnalogPlanet.com's YouTube channel a video that compares VPI's Prime turntable and JMW 3D-printed tonearm ($3995) with Continuum Audio Labs' Caliburn turntable (ca $150,000 with arm and stand, discontinued) fitted with the Swedish Analog Technologies arm ($28,000). Both played "Braziljah," a snazzy track from the New Zion Trio's latest album, Sunshine Seas (LP, RareNoise RNR065LP), featuring guest Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista.

The Prime was fitted with a Lyra Helikon SL cartridge (ca $2500, discontinued), driving a reasonably priced phono preamplifier: the Audio Alchemy PPA-1 ($1795, currently under review for AnalogPlanet). Accompanying the Continuum Caliburn and SAT arm were Audio-Technica's AT-ART1000 cartridge ($5000), and Ypsilon's MC-16L step-up transformer ($6200) and VPS-100 Silver phono preamplifier ($65,000)—total cost, more than I paid for my first house, in 1992.

Ken Micallef  |  Jun 01, 2023  |  6 comments
Founded in 1978, VPI Industries appears to be one of the most successful turntable manufacturers in the world—certainly in the US. The New Jersey–based company sells turntables, tonearms, cartridges, record clamps, plinths, record cleaning machines, and a phono preamp. But that's not all. The company offers VPI-branded pillows, candles, mugs, stickers, T-shirts, and a tell-all company history, 40 Years on the Record.

And talk about turntables! From the entry-level $1499 Cliffwood to the top-of-the-line $104,000 Vanquish (found under the website's "VPI Luxury" page, accompanied by the adage, "Settle for Nothing but Extravagant"), VPI is clearly and rightfully proud of its analog achievements.

Herb Reichert  |  May 31, 2023  |  22 comments
I wish that all who love LP playback as much as I do could hear a Thorens TD 124 or Garrard 301 or EMT 930 in their systems, but those products are subject to the vagaries of supply and demand: They are rare and pricey.—Art Dudley
Michael Fremer  |  Mar 10, 2023  |  First Published: Mar 10, 2017  |  7 comments
The ability to fine-tune a vinyl playback system is part of what makes it possible to combine an archaic technology with modern thinking and materials to create musical magic, and take listeners to new heights of ecstatic musical pleasure. It's why so many young people are tuning in to vinyl, and helps explain why just today, as I write this, it was announced in the UK that, for the first time, revenues from sales of vinyl exceeded those from downloads.
Michael Fremer  |  Aug 23, 2022  |  3 comments
The AXIOM tonearm from acoustical systems (footnote 1)—the company prefers lowercase—has been on my To-Review list since I spotted it at Munich High End more than a few years ago, but for one reason or another, that never happened. Until now.
Michael Fremer  |  Jun 21, 2022  |  6 comments
Lublin, Poland, is about 130 miles from Lviv, Ukraine, a town that has been in the news lately. That's about the same distance as Hershey, Pennsylvania, is from my desk in northern New Jersey, where I'm writing this. They are close. Russian missiles struck Lviv on March 18, 2022, and as I write these words Lviv is preparing for more intense bombardment.
Herb Reichert  |  Jun 08, 2022  |  9 comments
Playing records is a delight-filled chore. The simple, quiet act of lowering a tonearm places one's mind at the ready for something marvelous to happen. Surely, this gentle ritual initiates a higher mode of psychic connectedness than poking absentmindedly at a side-facing equilateral triangle on a piece of cheap plastic.
Michael Fremer  |  May 10, 2022  |  First Published: Jan 01, 2018  |  65 comments
It was great fun having our editorial coordinator, Jana Dagdagan, shoot a video profile of me in my listening room. As I write this, it's had more than 88,000 views. While the ratio of thumbs up to thumbs down has remained consistently around 10:1, some of the negative comments, particularly about our industry and about this magazine, do enrage me.
Michael Fremer  |  Dec 07, 2021  |  First Published: Jun 01, 2018  |  11 comments
Why am I once again falling down the rabbit hole of alternating current? A while back, I committed to listening to SMc Audio's AC Nexus power conditioner, designed by SMc founder Steve McCormack and distributed by dealer Hi Fi One.
Michael Fremer  |  Nov 09, 2021  |  First Published: Jul 01, 2018  |  2 comments
Bergmann Audio (footnote 1) launched its first turntable—the Sindre, which featured an integrated tonearm—in 2008. The Sindre's acrylic platter and tangential-tracking tonearm both floated on air bearings; it had an outboard motor controller, a separate air pump for the air bearings, and cost $21,000.
Michael Fremer  |  Sep 28, 2021  |  44 comments
If you're going to spend a year-plus in COVID lockdown, it doesn't hurt to have a million dollars' worth of turntables keeping you company, right? That's been my good fortune. Sounds like a roomful, but it's only three: the SAT XD1, the TechDAS Air Force Zero, and the OMA K3 ($360,000, footnote 1).

You'll find this issue's cover girl either strikingly beautiful or homely. Visitor reactions fall strongly into one of those two camps, with nothing in between. I love the looks. Whatever your opinion, the K3's visual distinctiveness cannot be denied. The innards are equally unique.

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 09, 2021  |  First Published: Oct 01, 2018  |  7 comments
Despite one website's recent claim that "Vinyl's Revival Is Already Fading," Nielsen SoundScan recently announced that vinyl sales for the first half of 2018 were up 19.2% over 2017, led by Jack White's Boarding House Reach, with 37,000 copies sold so far (and we know that N/S misses a great deal of the action). While on the West Coast looking for business, a friend of mine who's about to open a major vinyl-pressing plant on the East Coast was told by everyone that they're experiencing "double-digit vinyl growth." No one was seeing a slowdown ahead.
Michael Fremer  |  Aug 03, 2021  |  First Published: Nov 01, 2018  |  9 comments
Technics' sudden decision, in October 2010, to stop making its iconic SL-1200 direct-drive turntable, then in its MK6 iteration, took vinyl fans by surprise. At the time, although sales of vinyl and turntables for home use were surging, their use in clubs was falling as DJs moved to the digits. According to Technics (a division of Panasonic), production of the SL-1200 was stopped not because professional sales dropped, but because the factory tooling for manufacturing them had worn out, and retooling wasn't cost-effective.
Michael Fremer  |  Jul 06, 2021  |  First Published: Dec 01, 2018  |  3 comments
Turntable manufacturer VPI Industries is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary. Despite analog playback's ups and downs (pun time), VPI has managed not only to survive but to prosper and grow, thanks to a smart product mix that includes high-value, wet-wash/vacuum-dry record-cleaning machines that perhaps took up the revenue slack when, in the mid-1990s, interest in new turntables dipped—but the vinyl faithful still had millions of dirty records to keep clean.

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