Gramophone Dreams #3 Follow-Up

Herb Reichert returned to the PLX-1000 in July 2015 (Vol.38 No.7):

Within minutes of submitting my review of Pioneer's PLX-1000 turntable for the March 2015 issue, I had second thoughts: I'm new at this magazine. If the PLX-1000 doesn't play better than budget audiophile 'tables, as I said it did, in no time my credibility will be circling the porcelain bowl.

Hoping to avoid shame and insolvency, I began to relisten, rethink, and reevaluate. I played a lot more records, using as many different cartridges and phono stages as I could. I carefully compared the Pioneer to my current in-house references for quality phono playback: Acoustic Signature's WOW XL 'table ($2300, review underway) and TA-1000 tonearm ($1500) with Soundsmith Carmen moving-iron cartridge ($799); and my ancient Thorens TD124 (typically $1200 on eBay) with an Abis SA 1.2 tonearm ($2100) and one of three cartridges—the Zu Denon DL-103 ($399), or Ortofon's SPU CG 25 mono ($999) or the Jasmine Turtle ($710).

What I discovered: The PLX-1000 sounds even more solid, detailed, and natural than I said it was last March. I will stake my reputation on this.

Think of the Chinese-made Pioneer PLX-1000—and its progenitor, the Technics SL1200M2—as the audio equivalents of a Jeep Wrangler. In fact, the SL1200 has much in common with the old Jeep CJ. The venerable Technics is a cult object worldwide for which hundreds of aftermarket parts and upgrades are available; many of these—armboards, tonearms, damping, platter mats, etc.—will fit the PLX-1000.

In Dreams . . .
In case you haven't noticed, I write my "Gramophone Dreams" stories for those of you who may never have owned a black disc or a turntable but are beginning to think, Ahhh, maybe I should haul Dad's old records up from the basement. I wonder if some of those cat-scratched albums will sound good . . .

I also write for that even larger group of readers who grew up playing LPs, but abandoned them not long after Tower Records switched exclusively to CDs before going out of business. Many of those audiophiles have moved on to invisible files and pocket players of extreme quality. They're the ones who've dumped their film cameras, their vintage BMWs, their automatic watches. When I get into an old Land Rover Defender with a Nikon F2 hanging off my neck, I see that look of contempt in their eyes. But contempt without reinvestigation leads to only a boring life. This is why I want to add to my Pioneer PLX-1000 review the following observations.

I wrote about this mass-market, direct-drive turntable and tonearm because I wanted to share my discovery of a sturdy new record player that could not only play sophisticated music as well as the VPIs, the Regas, and the Pro-Jects, but could also be something you'd let your brother, your mother, and your kids use. I saw it, too, as the perfect player for record collectors. Most important, it seemed to be a turntable even I could afford. And besides being semi-unbreakable, the PLX-1000 is easy to use. It's especially wonderful if you like to occasionally swap cartridges: You can have a whole row of headshells, each holding a different cartridge, all pre-aligned and ready to go—as I do (see photo below). The swap made, the only adjustment then needed is of the vertical tracking force (and maybe antiskating).

Easy Work
For me, mounting and aligning cartridges is like changing a car's spark plugs, but most audiophiles aren't comfortable doing the job themselves. The Pioneer PLX-1000 solves that problem. Its headshell is removable, which minimizes mishaps. To attach a new cartridge, you simply remove the headshell from the arm, position the cartridge (with stylus guard in place) over the headshell slots, and snug down the two M2.5 screws and nuts just tight enough so that, with some firm urging, you can move the cartridge slightly. Then, using needle-nose pliers, slip the colored headshell leads onto their pins on the cartridge. (It's best to grasp each female connector just behind the part that slips over the corresponding pin.)

Using the overhang template in the Pioneer's owner's manual—or a good ruler—you can now position the cartridge so that the distance from the gasket on the headshell collet to the stylus tip measures precisely 54mm. If you have a good eye for a right angle (90°), now is the time to square up the cartridge body on the headshell—being sure to maintain that 54mm overhang. This simple procedure will get you really close to a perfect Stevenson alignment (which favors classical music because it produces the least amount of distortion in the inner grooves, classical works tending to be louder at the end than at the beginning). Having reinstalled the headshell, you'll be wise to verify this alignment with a protractor—something as solid and effective as my Dr. Feickert Analogue ($300), or as easy and free as the one you print out from the madly addictive website

Dangerous Work
When my review of the Pioneer PLX-1000 appeared, a number of readers protested that I'd let Mike Trei, my good friend and in-house "turntable guru," adjust the PLX-1000's "way loose" arm bearing. It seems that they felt that this looseness was a deal-breaking problem for the Pioneer. It was not. It's really just a problem of buying audio gear online (and is why bricks-and-mortar audio dealers must continue to be supported).

Just so's you know: High-quality, hand-assembled tonearms such as my Abis or Acoustic Signature are meticulously built and adjusted at the factory, and will likely never need further tweaking. If they do, you must send them back to the factory or the dealer for adjustment. Low-priced, mass-produced arms are another story. They're made in places where the most important quality control is not to make the arm bearing too tight. (Some DJs prefer a loose arm bearing!) Mass-produced tonearms often have poorly adjusted bearings—it's why I checked the Pioneer's—and most users will never notice. When an arm bearing is too tight, your cartridge will mistrack, and may even skip or not work at all. But . . .

You, too, can quite easily adjust the PLX-1000's arm bearings—if you're brave and mechanically minded, and if you're unafraid of voiding your warranty or damaging your tonearm. (Big ifs—consider this a firm WARNING!) First, check them by holding the armtube firmly between fingers and thumb, and try to rotate it as you move it gently up and down. The arm should move with no apparent friction or play, and with no noticeable tightness. If it clicks or rocks—even a little—it needs adjusting. The Pioneer arm has two screws that are easily adjusted with a 2mm slotted screwdriver: one on top (centered on the pivot), for the vertical bearing and one on the side for the horizontal bearing. Adjust these screws very slightly—by just 1° or 2°—until there's no click, no tightness. Remember, a little loose is better than a little tight.

You can verify your efforts by adjusting the arm's counterweight until the arm floats horizontally about 1/2" above the record surface. (Do this with the stylus guard on and antiskating set to "0.") When the arm stops moving and is just floating in air, lift it slightly—say, ½"—and release it. The arm should move effortlessly, and slowly return to its position above the record surface. When it's stopped moving, turn the antiskate adjustment just slightly and watch the arm. It should begin to move freely and easily away from the center of the 'table. If neither of these things happens as I've described, the bearings are too tight. Loosen them a degree, and remember: I warned you not to try this!—Herb Reichert

volvic's picture

I gave the Pioneer's arm bearings a quick check and discovered they were way loose. Turntable guru Mike Trei was in the house, so I let him do the honors; in short order we fine-tuned and triple-checked the bearings on the Pioneer -

How was this done?

jmsent's picture

complete with a a half gimbal carrier for the horizontal bearing, an outer locknut, and a screw type needle bearing. Loosen the lock nut on the outside, slowly tighten the screw while rocking the arm at the bearing back and forth to feel for play. Tighten until all perceptible play is gone, hold the screw in place with your screwdriver while tightening the outer locknut. Check arm movement for friction. Should move absolutely freely with no binding in vertical and horizontal. If necessary, readjust. This is something we did as routine when repairing Dual TT's back in the '70s. It takes a degree of "mechanical feel" to get it right, but it's not rocket science.

rtrt's picture

Thanks for the description JM.

Ideally i'd like to take a look at some video/pictures showing how to perform this task.

Any pointers to something useful out there on the web?

volvic's picture

Hello JM, just curious if any special tools are needed to loosen the tonearm lock nut.

jmsent's picture

Usually the outer lock nut has a couple slots in it where you can insert the ends of a pair of small needle nose pliers. You turn that counterclockwise. Then you adjust the play with the internal screw which should now be loose. Re-tighten the lock nut with the needle nose while holding the adjustment in place.

volvic's picture

most helpful.

deckeda's picture

Stanton ST-150, Reloop RP-6000/7000/8000, AT-LP1240 ... they share the same "Super OEM" motor and basic design with this Pioneer, if Craigslist is all out of $350 1200's in your area. Of course the devil's in the details.

Origin Live is one of a few companies who make "audiophile" upgrades for the 1200 ... it would be interesting to know if any of these others could also be tweaked.

Especially when review samples arrive with loose tonearm bearings!

And I don't mean for the above to appear snarky. I enjoyed the review, love reading Herb and as a terminally BROKE audiophile it's gratifying to read that a cheaper, "DJ" deck can in some ways outgun a more expensive one. Just need a little more info, is all.

blownsi's picture

I have a fully modded KABUSA Technics 1200 & a stock VPI Traveler (version 2). The VPI is better in every way to my ears.

g.kolbeck's picture

Having grown up using the two red suitcase record players handed down to me from my older twin brothers (it was great, I got two of everything they didn't want!) to play my Monkees and random records (all hand me downs from my two older sisters and oldest brother), I graduated to hand me down Panasonic stereo "systems" that all consisted of an AM/FM receiver with a built in turntable on top and two tiny speakers in some weird 1970's design, (the completely round ones I remember the most) All the systems I had from then on were still just low end junk from Technics,Sony and JVC and I never did get a good set of speakers... at least not anything that sounded as good as my friends JC Penny system! My system today is made up of stuff that was being thrown away. A set of SANYO speakers model SS-540 and a set of Pioneer speakers model CS-99 (these speakers were both out for trash collection when I got them... the Pioneers sat under the Sanyos for ten years before I hooked them up last year to see if they worked... they are still working jut great!) The receiver is a Sony home theater monstrosity model STR-K502P that I have set on two channel stereo flat EQ (no sound field) I don't know what the wattage is, but it seems to be very loud... playing a cd through it using the Pioneer speakers has been a big improvement for me. I have a JVC dubbing cassette deck that is dying from old age (model TD-W354), a Sony CD recorder model RCD-W500C (with only the single recording/playing side working) I actually bought those two items new. Last but not least a mint condition Technics turntable model SL-QD22 (?) given to me when two friends got married and switched over to cd's in the early 90's! They actually gave me two of the exact same model that were pretty much unused, I also use this system to play sound from a VCR machine for concert films. I guess it's time for an upgrade, but this junkyard system has been a big improvement over the red suitcase systems!

David Mansell's picture

I have to agree with Herb Reichert about the misplaced denigration of Japanese direct drive turntables, particularly by the British hi-fi press (nostra maxima culpa, I am a Brit). I started my hi-fi trip in the 70s with a Rega 3 and graduated to a Roksan (I missed out on Linn because of the excessive hype). Then one day I went to audition a Grado cartridge a fellow audiophile was selling (Signature 6, I think) and heard a Garrard 401 for the first time. Sell the Roksan, over to idler drive. Since then have acquired a Garrard 301, a Thorens 124, Thorens 135. Did improvements to the Garrard, new stainless steel thrust bearing for the spindle ; for the Thorens a new thrust bearing for the motor, and so on.
Then a couple of months ago, on a whim, having seen good reports on the Technics direct drives in the hi-fi press, I bought a Denon DP37F on eBay for about £120 all in to see what the fuss was about. Inserted it in the system and was blown away by the improvement over the Garrard, another octave of bass, better transients, better soundstage with stereo. I don't know how much this was down to the direct-drive motor and how much to the "dynamic servo tracer" (is that right?) micro-processor-controlled tone-arm, which will track badly-warped discs that other turntables give up straightaway. All this and it's automated too, just press the button and go. Enough said.

kelven's picture

It is nice to see a budget priced rig receive such high praise.
Unfortunately, the closing paragraph has either a glaring typo, or Herb owns a product I never knew existed: a 30,000 dollar cartridge!?

clydeslyde's picture

I just bought a N.O.S. Citronic PD-2s turntable. The PD-2s is a manual 3-speed direct-drive turntable from England. It was fun opening the carton, assembling the TT, and balancing the tonearm--felt like Christmas morning! It was intended for the British market so the voltage selector switch (located under the platter) will need to be switched to "115" (from "230") and the British 3-prong power cord will need to be replaced for U.S. playback. A Stanton 505 cartridge is pre-installed on the headshell (which I replaced with an Audio Technica DR500LC). There does not seem to be much information on this TT--except that it is popular with DJs in the UK--but I will say that this is an EXCELLENT record player. The PD-2s looks attractive, and feels well-built and fairly solid (it weighs 22 lbs). Curious to know how this turntable compares with the Pioneer PLX-1000 that Herb Reichert reviewed in STEREOPHILE.

Christian Goergen's picture

Dear Mr. Reichert, the Internet pages didn't offer sufficient informations. Do the mentioned alternative styluses fit into the body of the cartridge?
Thanks for your answer (I strongly intend to follow your proposed path to the pioneer-Shure-mani near to nirvana)
Pps: did you use interconnects, that are comparable to the budget of the main components?

Preddy's picture

Hi Herb,

First of all many thanks for this article, helped me a lot in selecting my back-to-analog-music turntable. I got myself PLX1000 and for the moment have Ortofon 2M Blue and Concorde Pro S. As soon as budget available for expansion, will probably get myself the 2M Black. All supported with Yamaha RX-V3800 receiver (yup, I know, not by high standards of Audiophile, but is majestic piece of all-arounder that I need and what my budget could support) and set of 5 off JAMO speakers E6 series.

Am reading your posts almost religiously and really enjoy them. Please keep them coming!

Have one question for you: lot was written about what good turntable systems should do and how they work, but that is only "consequence" part of the story of the vinyl. Meaning: all this turntable systems are trying to replicate the original source signal recorded on the vinyl. but, what is the guarantee that recording device was accurate (while making vinyl) when replicating reality in studio or wherever the recording took place? Hope that the question is clear?

JRCD's picture

There is a store on Ebay that sells wood bodies to improve Shure cartridges, also for Denon and Audio Technica, but the commenting application does not allow me to put the address.
Please do a search on Ebay for 'Exclusive Wooden body for Shure' and you will find it, is very interesting.
In the text you say that it does not support the Shure M44-7 more than one day, for listening at home is better the M44G, it is sweeter.

DougM's picture

In the seventies when we rockers could afford our first good audio system we much preferred the lively, dynamic sound of a good Pioneer or Technics direct drive table with a good MM cartridge (think Shure V15, Stanton 681EEE, Pickering XSV3000, Empire, AT, or my favorites- ADC XLM MKIII and ZLM) to the bland sound of a Dual or AR and MC cart, just as we preferred JBL, Cerwin-Vega, M&K and Klipsch to the bland AR and Allison and similar speakers. It's good to see the rest of the world catching up, as the good loudspeakers today seem to be closer to the sound of the best balanced CVs, JBLs, and the like to the soft east coast sound.

JRCD's picture

A question. The problem with all these record players seems to be the tonearm, it is what most limits their sound quality, To the Technics SL-1200/1210 can be changed, and often does. Is it also possible to change it in the PLX-1000? For example, for something good and economical like a Rega RB220 or an Origin Live Alliance.

SystemShock's picture

Despite Herb's assurances to the contrary, 4.5gm of tracking force *does* make me nervous about record wear and damage. Aren't cheap Crosleys excoriated for having tracking forces in that range, and are complained about as 'record destroyers'?

I hope this comment does not inspire Herb to review and love a Crosley now, LOL. =]


EddyBoy's picture

Herb ET all, In the last 2 months I decided to start playing my LPs again. My old AR The Turntable has speed (motor) , spring , belt issues and to fix it up would be expensive. I decided on new. As a long time subscriber I read the April issue and found Pioneer's PLX-1000 a $$$ Class C. I read the full Gramaphone Dreams and was intrigued I got a 17% off coupon from Musicians Friend and I bit. I also bit on Audio Technica's retrip/replace for my old AT OC/9 and traded it in on a brand new OC/9MLII. Tried to mount it on the new Jelco HS-20 headshell, too heavy. Needed sub weight. Sub weight threads didn't bite. Pioneer said send it back. MF took it back & paid for shipping, but couldn't guarantee a new one for perhaps 3 weeks. Have a Guitar Center in the Twin Cities they had a new one and matched my MF price. Brought new one home mounted OC/9II/HS-20 turn on switch hear a turn on spike then it settles into a hum in my left channel. Replace my Audio Quest cables from TT to also new Van Alstine Vision Q (a great Phono Pre BTW) and into my Adcom GFP-750 with new wires that came with PLX-1000, and some other non directional wires (at Frank Van Alstine's suggestion) same issue. Wrote Pioneer again. They said PLX01000 #2 was defective with ground hum, exchange it. Which I did. Took new one home set it up, pluggted in the OC/9II/Jelco to the tone arm. Turn on hear the spike and then the hum. I also have an brand new old Adcom High Out put Cross Coil. I mounted in the stock Pioneer Headshell which I used during the OC/9 trade. It hums too. reversed RCAs on back of PLX-1000 now the right speaker hums not the left. Hum is the same with ground wire securely attach or off. Tried 3 different AC plugs...same spike & hum. Bypassed my Adcom line conditioner direct into wall plug...same spike & hum. Tried a three to two prong grey ground lifter (a handy device us professional musicians often rely on to take the hum out of our PAs) ...same spike & hum. The left speaker is 4 or 5 inches away from the PLX-1000 but when I reversed the RCAs the hum totally went to the right KEF Reference 3.2. I spent 35 years selling hifi including being the national sales rep for a fetus called Boulder Amplifiers in the mid 1980s. I've sold & and installed thousands of Turntables and cartridges into Hifi systems of many price ranges sans the absolutely insain jewelers systems often reviewed in Stereophile. So I am no idot when it comes to these things. San the hum the PLX-1000/OC/9II/Van Alstine Vision Q etc, can actually put musicians in my living room. And being a life long musician including now making my living thus, I know what real musicians making real music sounds like especially when someone isn't humming in the back ground. Herb you don't mention any turnon spike or hum problems in your review or follow up. It's not what I've read much about online, though the guy from Pioneer DJ has indicated that this was not intended as an Audiophile product and DJs aren't all that concerned about hum that could never bee heard. He gave me a suggestion of raising the tone arm height 3mm because that worked for an owner of a PLX-500 with the same issue. I really wan to keep this thing because it is a real value, but only if it's humming isn't masking the fine detail and resolution. Herb..anybody...any thoughts or insights? Please.

EddyBoy's picture

FYI, I just replaced my brand new PLX-1000 with my old AR The Turntable with my Adcom Cross Coil mounted & hooked up in my system. Absolutely NO turn on spike and positively no hum in either the left or right speaker. Even with the volume turned way louder than on my PLX-1000. So it has to be the PLX-1000 turntable humming from the left channel this is very illuminating and disappointing. I am relieved and bummed. Is there a fix for this? I am thinking it's poor internal grounding, and maybe we're picking up the lights buzzing. Is there any hope? Do I try another PLX-1000 or move on & chalk it up to a bit of a waste of time, but not a waste of money because I can return it for full credit to Guitar Center?