Listening #197: Simon Brown & The Wand tonearm

There's a noise I make when I'm having trouble with something inanimate: a deep, growly huff that starts in my diaphragm and comes out in one or two quick, staccato bursts. I huff this huff when I drop a tool or can't budge a seized bolt or the bottom falls out of a trash bag. It annoys my family and scares my dog.

I made that noise at least a half-dozen times while installing and setting up the Wand, a unipivot tonearm designed and manufactured by Design Build Listen Ltd., in Dunedin, New Zealand (footnote 1). That's not to say the Wand is lacking in any way: It appears both well engineered and well made, and its thorough, eight-page installation manual is written with an evident zeal for perfectionism. Nevertheless, the Wand is fiddlier than average, especially when it comes to the unsmall matter of mounting cartridges.

The Wand is similar to the Sorane ZA-12 tonearm, which I wrote about in the February 2019 Stereophile, in that its armtube and headshell are one and the same, the latter being a continuation of the former. But the Sorane's armtube is made from a solid aluminum bar—something easily shaped into a nice, flat cartridge-mounting platform, with mounting-screw holes of the correct size and spacing and offset angle. The armtube of the Wand is a carbon-fiber tube that measures a whopping 7/8" in diameter, said whoppingness chosen to maximize the arm's stiffness.

The Wand's armtube is formed by grinding one end of a carbon-fiber tube at a shallow angle, creating on its underside an elliptical opening more than 3" long and giving that end of the tube a slightly rounded point. (Think: Oliver J. Dragon, from Kukla, Fran & Ollie.) A small, oddly shaped fitting made of laser-sintered titanium serves as the cartridge-mounting platform; this is cemented to the underside of the armtube's snout. (There—I said it.) On my 12" sample of the Wand, the platform's mounting-screw holes are offset by a fixed amount of about 15° (DBL doesn't specify the precise angle). The holes are accessed from above, the inboard one via a corresponding hole drilled through the carbon-fiber snout, the outboard one via a semicircular cutaway in the snout's edge. Getting at the inboard mounting hole is tricky, and appears doable only by dropping the screw into it with the threaded end pointed downward—as you can imagine, the shorter the screw, the harder this is. On the other hand, to hold a nut atop that mounting hole in hopes of installing its corresponding screw from below seems virtually impossible.

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The other, snoutless end of the Wand's armtube is secured to a combination bearing housing and structural counterweight, machined from brass, subsequently plated. Near the seam between carbon-fiber tube and aluminum structure is a deep recess containing a very small, downward-pointing ball designed to ride in a similarly small cup atop this tonearm's height-adjustable mounting spindle. The very missionary Wand is designed so that, in use, the bearing's point of contact is well above the stylus tip and most of the counterweight's mass.

The Wand's structural counterweight is supplemented with two kinds of auxiliary weights: one or more 0.05"-thick stainless-steel discs that fasten to the rear of the main counterweight (and are of the same diameter and approximate shape), and a single 0.73"-diameter threaded plug that contributes to holding the above-mentioned discs to the main weight. The discs counter most of the weight of the user's cartridge, and can be rotated toward either port or starboard to adjust cartridge azimuth. The two discs supplied are enough for cartridges of average mass (6–8.5gm); additional discs can be bought separately for use with high-mass cartridges. The threaded plug is for adjusting downforce: screw the weight closer to or farther from the bearing. Simple.

Also supplied with the Wand are: a two-piece arm-mount collet; a gantry that serves as an armrest and as a support for the Wand's cueing mechanism; a thread-and-falling-weight antiskating mechanism; a bit of grease intended to be used, sparingly, between the unipivot's ball and cup; a small metal cartridge spacer (I'll come back to that); a very well-thought-out stainless-steel setup jig/alignment protractor; and an Ortofon balance-beam–style downforce gauge. The Wand's signal wiring is a single, unbroken run of Cardas cable, 900mm long from its gold-plated cartridge clips to its low-mass Eichmann ETI RCA plugs (footnote 2).

My review loaner was the Wand Plus, which is sold only by authorized dealers, and retails for $1800 for the 12" version; the 10.3" version costs $1600, the 9.5" version $1400. Also available are a more expensive version, the Wand Master Series, and a more plainly finished entry-level model, the Wand Classic, the latter available only direct from Design Build Listen.

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He persisted
The above-mentioned jig/protractor is an invaluable aid in at least five different installation and alignment chores, one of which is locating the precise spot to drill the Wand's single mounting hole, which can range in size from 23 to 25mm. After installation but before being tightened in place, the arm-mount collet is free to turn: the mounting spindle fits into an off-center hole, so the spindle-to-pivot distance—and thus the overhang—can be adjusted by rotating the collet. I used a 15/16" spade bit, which falls within that allowable range, to drill through an alder armboard I'd made for my Thorens TD 124 turntable.

The first of two cartridges I tried with the Wand was EMT's TSD 15 N SPH—the same cartridge as my longtime reference TSD 15, but configured as a standard-mount cartridge, minus its otherwise integral headshell. In terms of ease of installation, this was a crazy-bad choice, in ways both obvious and unforeseeable: The TSD 15 N SPH lacks a stylus guard, thus forcing on the installer an extra measure of care—something I normally take in stride. I had it in mind to place the Wand belly-up on my worktable and install the cartridge while it was in that position—yet owing to both the roundness of the structural counterweight and the tonearm's very low center of gravity, the Wand wished only to roll back and forth; it would remain stationary only in a prone position. I found myself holding the armtube with three fingers and the palm of my left hand, holding the fragile EMT cartridge in place with the thumb and forefinger of the same hand, and using my right hand to insert the mounting screws, hold them in place, and apply and tighten their nuts. I huffed and I cursed, colorfully and often.

Nuts fell. Screws declined to cooperate. The phone rang. Yet I succeeded. After that, things went as expected, with two exceptions.



Footnote 1: Design Build Listen Ltd., PO Box 5415, Dunedin 9058, New Zealand. Tel: (64) 3-4773817. Web: www.designbuildlisten.com. US distributor: Old Forge Marketing, 12 Roosevelt Avenue, Mystic, CT 06335. Tel: (860) 336-1723. Web: oldforge.marketing.

Footnote 2: In my pantheon are three superior RCA plugs: those from Switchcraft, Eichmann, and Audio Note. I find that Switchcrafts sound the best, Eichmanns almost as good, and the solid-silver Audio Notes only slightly less good than the other two, while boasting superior durability and smoother, more secure feel.

COMMENTS
Ortofan's picture

... the installation and performance of "The Wand" with that of the similarly priced Pro-Ject 12cc Evolution tonearm.
https://www.project-audio.com/en/product/12cc-evolution/

Said review will incorporate a new metric - the "huff factor" - to help quantify the degree of difficulty encountered while installing and operating a given piece of equipment. A relatively higher number of huffs indicates that proportionally more obstacles and frustration were encountered with the use of a particular component. In this case, The Wand tonearm has achieved a rating of 6 Huffs.

Anton's picture

I hate fiddly and hate "Huff."

I have drifted back to detachable headshells.

jjgr's picture

More info available elsewhere?

DavidCope's picture

For some reason, Stereophile invented a new domain for this review. They must not have liked the one I supplied, which does exist and does work: http://www.oldforge.marketing .

Jim Austin's picture
This has been repaired. Apologies for the error. Jim Austin, Editor Stereophile
jjgr's picture

https://oldforgestudio.com/

DavidCope's picture

That’s the URL for my recording studio.

My distributor site for Wand And Pure Audio is: http://www.oldforge.marketing .

volvic's picture

When I was a lad and got my Dennsen protractor, I spent endless hours stressing if I had the overhang properly aligned. Unscrewing the nuts and screws and starting all over again. Back then we never had digital cameras to zoom in to make sure all was perfect. That headache ended with the purchase of a Shure V15 V MR which had that beautiful installation gauge that took out all the guess work. Double checking with the Dennsen and all was great. Never had to stress again. Then bought SME arms and that took out even more guess work. I read this review and it takes me back to those days of fidgeting with screws and cartridges trying to get everything aligned and mounted and wonder why in this day and age would anyone want to go through this. As good as the arm may be it shouldn't be this strenuous. It's the same reason I never jumped on a Well Tempered table from the 90's and present; beautiful sound, but adjusting that tonearm a dealer friend of mine told me years ago was quite the "huff' factor.

Anton's picture

With my detachable headshells, I can set a cartridge up, align it, etc...and then take it off and toss on another cartridge in under 30 seconds.

Don't try pulling my "finger" about loss of signal, etc.

volvic's picture

Once you have it set, and that is the biggest hurdle you can swap to you heart's content. I do have an SME m2-9 and will start doing that with that particular turntable that has that arm. Just those headshells are a little pricey.

Have a Technics 1200 and swapped a friend's cartridge with his headshell. No loss of info or signal.

s10sondek's picture

Does anyone know if the tonearm wiring on the Wand and Wand Plus is Cardas Standard, or Cardas Clear? I ask because back-to-back swap testing in my tables reveals a dramatic difference between them, with the Cardas Clear exhibiting such superior coherence and resolution in the top octave as to make the Cardas Standard seem a bit blunted in comparision. The contrast is dramatic. It would be great to know which wiring is employed in the Wand and Wand Plus.

Also, how would one best characterize the difference between the Switchcraft 3502A and the Eichmann RCA plugs? It's pretty neat that a simple $2 plug can go up against a boutique plug like the ETI, as well as many more expensive alternatives! I've made up one-shot (cartridge clips to RCA) external tonearm wiring looms using 3502A's as well as those made by Eichmann's new company (KLE) and would say the 3502A provides a meatier tone, while the KLE's (which are very similar to the ETI) sharpen the blade ever-so-slightly reaching into the upper overtones a bit more. The 3502A's are maybe easier to work with in terms of securely soldering things like tiny tonearm wires and loading resistors simply because there's more metal surface area to work with. Would be curious to hear other viewpoints regarding these two wonderful DIY components, as well as other candidates that have proven successful in other people's experience.

dial's picture

Hello everybody . Like Anton, I only use SME mount heads now. It's so much easier to set up cartridge, tonearm ... Unfortunately, the Thorens TP 71 doesn't seem to be available separately.
At last you published the photo of a Denon 103 (mounted) so any new reader could know the test was done.

Pryso's picture

And here I assumed I might be the only one here old enough to remember them! ;^)

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