Listening #47 Follow-Up, January 2008

The Well Tempered Record Player, January 2008 (Vol.31 No.1)

A little over a year ago, I borrowed a sample of Well Tempered Lab's bread-and-butter turntable-tonearm combination, the Well Tempered Record Player. Distributor George Stanwick (of Stanalog) let me keep the review sample a little longer than usual, and that gave me a chance to make a few more notes.

Next to the Rega P9, which I also admire, the WTRP came closer than any other new turntable or tonearm to coaxing this Linnie into abandoning his LP12—or at least buying an alternative. The LP12 and the WTRP differ in their overall sonic signatures and presentations, and use very different technologies to produce similarly effective results. Put more plainly: They don't really sound alike, but they both make listening to records a blast.

For its part, I loved the utter blackness of the silence from which the WTRP pulled its streams of notes, and the musically sensible manner in which it presented them: This American 'table bowed to none in its ability to get rhythm and pacing right. The WTRP was great at pulling solo instruments and voices forward from everything else, and at preserving their timbral colors. It also handled surface noise well, and seemed to tame excess sibilance when that was called for. All that, plus 45rpm at the flick of a belt.

But as I mentioned in my November 2006 "Listening" column, I had one long-term concern: The WTRP was designed with a drastically concave platter—sufficiently concave that when an LP is tightly clamped against its surface, as is the intent, the record becomes dished: the lead-in groove at the perimeter is physically higher than the label at the center. Not only that, but the profile the record thus assumes, howsoever temporarily, presents the tonearm headshell with a moving target, as far as cartridge azimuth and VTA are concerned.

But I loved the sound of the 'table. And I loved using it.

I mentioned all of that to George Stanwick, and while he took my concern seriously, and didn't rule out an engineering change somewhere down the road, he did suggest that most people seem to be satisfied with the player as it is. Fair enough.

Then it occurred to me: If it bothers me so much, why don't I just take off the platter and put it back on, upside-down? And why hadn't I thought of that before?

I eased the WTRP's acrylic platter away from the bearing on which it was pressed—and saw what I'd forgotten till then: The platter's (nominal) bottom was machined with a recess to snugly accept the flange of that bearing spindle; the top was not. If I inverted the platter, the side that used to be the top would merely perch atop that flange, with no snugging.

I did it anyway. I had to raise the arm a little, because the platter's surface was now higher. No big deal. And the higher platter didn't trouble the drive belt at all.

The sound? Precisely as before—which is to say, wonderful. My peace of mind? A tenfold improvement. Maybe twelvefold.

Silicone follies: While the WTRP was enjoying some downtime early in the year, I decided to clean all of the silicone fluid out of the tonearm's damping reservoir, to prevent spills. I requested a new vial of the stuff a few weeks later—but before pressing the 'table back into service, I decided to do things a bit differently: I installed the cartridge, adjusted the downforce, adjusted the overhang, and set the arm height, all without the silicone in place.

The advantage of doing such a thing, I believed, was that I wouldn't have to wait for the arm to settle slowly back into place after every teensy adjustment. This time, I was right: It worked. I was surprised at how stable the arm was without the goo. And I was delighted at how well my old Dennessen Soundtraktor cartridge-alignment gauge suited the Well Tempered Tonearm. There's a spot on the gantry from which the arm is suspended that corresponds with the center of its "bearing" and marks one end of the arm's effective length; knowing the location of that end and the other end—the platter spindle—made perfect alignment perfectly feasible.

And when I finally added the damping compound and let everything settle back down, I found that all of my carefully-arrived-at settings were still where I'd left them: a testament to designer Bill Firebaugh's good engineering.

Granted, reviewers have to change cartridges more often than normal people do—but it still wouldn't hurt for WTRP owners to invest in one or two extra doses of goo. Getting the arm totally clean of the stuff is the only way to guarantee good setup.

I returned the WTRP to Stanalog in July, about a year after George Stanwick had brought it to me. This time it was still set up—I sat it on a pillow on the back seat, next to my daughter—and a very busy Stanwick asked me to just leave it in the foyer, next to some other gear that was on its way out. About three weeks later, he called to ask why the platter was upside down. This time, I think I just about convinced him.—Art Dudley