Listening #145 Page 2

The downside: The Abis TA-1L, though commendably detailed, was slightly lighter in the bass than my Schick—and, for that matter, than my memory of the SA-1. With the TA-1L shepherding my cartridge across Procol Harum, neither B.J. Wilson's kick drum nor Knights's bass had quite the fullness or impact I'm used to hearing from my system; I heard a similar effect with other records.

The SA-1 had no less treble content than its S-shaped sibling, yet that extension was balanced by a stronger bass register—or so it was with the cartridges in my collection. One should bear in mind that Abis designed the SA-1 as a 9" tonearm of higher-than-average mass, in which sense it is suited to such lower-compliance pickups as the Ortofon SPUs and Denon 103s of the world: things I flat-out love. It's my impression that the TA-1L—and, I presume, the shorter TA-1—are aimed at hobbyists who will use a greater variety of cartridges, including those of medium and medium/high compliance (footnote 4).

As one who prefers to do all of his own setup work, including drilling and occasionally making my own mounting boards for the various tonearms that come my way, I've been forced to come up with a few shortcuts. One of them is a method, discovered by accident, for measuring tonearm spindle-to-pivot distance with reasonable precision, when the need arises to either locate an arm-mount collet in a new installation or check for the correct position in an existing setup. Rooting around in my parts bin one day, I happened on a spike from an old set of Linn Isobarik speaker stands. Mind you, this wasn't the sort of scanty, skinny spike that would confound a listener's ability to hum along with his or her Ben Sidran records, but rather a proper, thick slug of a thing with a neat little point at its presumed center.

The first thing that entered my mind when I saw it: This looks awfully close in diameter to the mounting pillar of my EMT 997 tonearm.

Blessed with a couple of spare EMT collets, I soon discovered that the Isobarik spike was only a smidge too fat. I set about shaving off said smidge, after which the diameter of the slug and that of the tonearm pillar were one and the same. While I was at it, I machined a round notch—one half of a ¼"-diameter hole—from the edge of a metal metric ruler I had, making sure that the center of the hole was aligned with the ruler's zero mark.

The next time I came across an Isobarik spike—this time in my desk drawer, for God only knows what reason—I trimmed it to size for the arm-mount collet of my Schick tonearm: pressed to a higher calling. To this day, with one or the other of my modified spikes snugged into an arm-mount collet, and with the spindle of my turntable snugged into the semicircle I made for it at the zero mark of my ruler, I can measure spindle-to-pivot dimension to the nearest half-millimeter. Easily.

There's a point to this, beyond merely illustrating my fanaticism: The first thing that greeted me on opening the carton for the Abis tonearm was an installation tool similar to my own attempt at same. This new one is a cylinder, machined from acetal, the diameter of which matches that of the TA-1L's main pillar. Its center is drilled and fitted with a short metal rod about 4mm in diameter, with a point at one end: This is the marking pin that I used, in tandem with the above-mentioned plastic template from Abis, to show me where to drill the main mounting hole—but, when inverted, the point makes it easy to check spindle-to-pivot distance. Great minds and all that . . .

It might seem reasonable to wonder if the need for all this fiddling is really so severe—especially for a hobbyist like me, the majority of whose phono cartridges forgo such modern stylus shapes as elliptical, hyperelliptical, Replicant, Vital, and van den Hul in favor of the simple spherical (aka conical) tip. Consider, too, that many of my LPs and all of my 78s are monophonic, with grooves that some regard as more forgiving than stereo grooves of cartridge-alignment error. One would think a bit of slack could be cut—until one considers that H.G. Baerwald's "Analytic Treatment of Tracking Error and Notes on Optimal Pick-up Design" was published in 1941: before elliptical styli, before stereo, before the microgroove LP itself (footnote 5).

In spite of all the trouble, in spite of the fact that minute changes in overhang and offset angle don't always produce immediately obvious changes in sound, I believe this sort of care should be taken by all serious record lovers. And in spite of the small glitch in their installation template, which would seem easy to correct, Abis and Mockingbird Distribution both seem committed to achieving alignment perfection—or at least as close to perfection as we can come in this world.

I continue to look forward with pleasure to the return of the bigger-bottomed Abis SA-1, the sound of which fit my Thorens TD 124 hand-in-glove. But in the here and now, the TA-1L is a well-made and distinctly recommendable product: a distinctively well-detailed transcription-length tonearm for a fair price. Just remember that it may require an extra bit of attention in setting up.

Why I no longer use glue traps
Every year, it's something new. In 2003 we were overrun with ladybugs (none of whose houses were actually on fire, as it turned out). The next year it was katydids. Then milk snakes. Then phoebes. Then tent caterpillars. Then very small toads. Then God knows what else. One summer we actually found five stick insects, which qualifies as an infestation on the order of dust-bowl locusts.

As I write this, we are losing the battle with field mice—who, having conquered the shed, seem to have found a new way into the house. Things have not been pleasant.

Things were apparently not pleasant in the past. The people who owned this house before us—they used it only as a summer-weekend retreat—loaded it up with d-Con. I still find little bits of it here and there, the garish blue pellets having been stored in our walls by mice who were equal parts prudent and pig-ignorant.

For a long time I refused to go along, for two reasons. First, there are foxes and owls and a bobcat or two on our property, and field mice are a part of their complete breakfasts: I find the very strong possibility of secondary poisoning abhorrent. Second, it just isn't fair. I have found evidence that some mice in our house were taking d-Con pellets outside, and we found at least one neighborly chipmunk who succumbed. That was a sadder-than-hell day, let me tell you.

One Saturday two months ago, I heard my wife and daughter both cry "Eeek!" at the same time. I came running. They said a mouse had run past them and the dog, and then scooted under the closed door leading to my hi-fi room, from which there is no other obvious exit. So I put a glue trap in every corner of that room. Then I forgot about mouse and traps alike.

I forgot about them until one day about a month later, when it was my turn to cry "Eeek!" There is one place in my room, to the right of my Box Furniture rack, where speaker cables and AC cords alike lay coiled on the floor. And there was the mouse, whom I had once imagined sleeping peacefully in one of the reflex ports of one of my DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96 loudspeakers. Instead, he'd gotten his hind legs caught in a glue trap, and had used his forelegs and his last minutes on Earth to drag himself and the trap into that tangle of wires. Rather than describe the nearly day-long cleanup project before me, I will draw across the scene a Curtain of Charity.

Screw fairness: I'm going d-Con. This is war. Besides, while not meaning to go all H.P. Lovecraft on you, I think there's Something in the wall. Something that sounds bigger than a mouse.

And another thing Hot on the heels of his new graphite headshell (see "Listening," November 2014) comes more news from tonearm designer and manufacturer Thomas Schick: Beginning in 2015, he will resume direct US distribution of his products (footnote 6). For a number of years those duties have fallen to Oswalds Mill Audio, whose Jonathan Weiss introduced me to the Thomas Schick Tonearm—which, ever since, has been listed in "Recommended Components." Of OMA, Schick says, "[Our] target groups are going in different directions," and so the change is to everyone's benefit. We wish both companies well.

Footnote 4: Replacing arms isn't brain surgery

Footnote 5: As Keith Howard reminds us in his indispensable article "Arc Angles," published in Stereophile's March 2010 issue, the challenges posed in playing lateral-cut records with pivoting tonearms were described as early as 1924, by the great Percy Wilson.

Footnote 6: Thomas Schick, Dorfallee 47, 16559 Liebenwalde, Germany. Tel: (49) 33054-69-36-38. Web: