Listening #87 Page 3

It's a good thing my Box Furniture rack is so solid and stable: It is now not only a rack but a turntable plinth.

A word for those to whom praise of the new seems rebuke of the old: I haven't yet fairly compared the Schick and the EMT, if only because I still haven't used the latter in the same manner as the former, with its mounting board removed from the noisy Thorens (which is noisy only in the manner of all motor units; in the wake of its re-renovation, my TD 124 is in better shape than ever). Until I do, I can't say for sure whether the things I'm hearing are due to the different arm, the different mounting scheme, or some combination of the two.

That said, orchestral music sounded just as big and substantial with the Schick tonearm in my system as with the EMT 997, and with LPs and 78s alike. (I'm fortunate to have a mint copy of Leopold Stokowski's 1938 recording of Franck's Symphony in D Minor on shellac, which sounded magnificent when played with a borrowed Edison Spirit 78 cartridge in the Schick arm, with the help of my Yamamoto headshell.) Records also sounded smoother, less grainy. And notes in the lowest two octaves were, for want of a better word, juicier: not necessarily weightier, but more colorful and more present, as with the plucked double-bass notes in Joseph Keilberth and the Bavarian State Orchestra's recording of Richard Strauss's Salome (Telefunken SLT 43085).

Those observations all arose from the time I spent listening to the Schick arm with either the Edison Spirit 78 cartridge or the Ortofon SPU 90th Anniversary, the latter being the only G-style pickup head I have in house. Yet I was able to try various other pickup heads with the Schick, quite possibly to the surprise of its designer.

As he describes on his website, Schick makes his tonearm in two lengths, with a version even longer than mine intended for use with the shorter (by 22mm) A-style headshell. Presumably that version can be dropped into an arm-mount collar already installed for the other Schick, to offer perfect alignment with an A-style pickup head, as well as the same (theoretically, at least) superior 12" effective length. But: Given both a movable tonearm mount and a willingness to sacrifice a bit of that considerable overall length, one can accommodate the 22mm-shorter pickup head by also shortening the arm by the same amount.

And that's what I did. I removed the Schick from its mounting collar, just for the moment. I scooted the Thorens TD 124 closer to the arm mount, keeping track of the distance with my best metric ruler, and stopped when I'd shortened the distance between turntable spindle and tonearm pivot by precisely 22mm. I reinstalled the arm, this time with the A-style Shindo/Ortofon SPU in place of the G-style Ortofon SPU, and reset the arm's counterweight for the different mass. According to the DB Systems protractor, the alignment was dead-on perfect, just like before.

For once in my life, I knew that something was going to work—and it did.

Shedding our bias
The Schick tonearm has the distinction of being both relatively affordable—at $1475, it's the least expensive contemporary transcription-length tonearm I know—and a superb performer: just the thing for newcomers to the world of old-style motor units and pickup heads. For veteran listeners, the question is no longer Will this stand alongside my other, more expensive tonearms? but, rather, Do I really need more than this?

The much larger question—Why do it at all?—may be all that remains. As with so many things in phonography, from record cleaning to the relative merits of different stylus profiles, some things remain matters of faith in the absence of proof. That said, as long as the record lover also wishes to experience the glories associated with phono pickups of distinctly lower compliance than the norm—and I do—then an extralong (and thus extramassive) tonearm offers a very real advantage in terms of tracking-angle error: With greater effective length comes shorter overhang, and thus a smaller angle between the radii associated with the two (still very necessary) zero-error nulls—and thus a lessening of the severity of the still-inevitable degrees of error between and beyond those nulls. That is inarguable.

Also, because the need for a certain amount of headshell offset decreases as the effective length increases—compare the Schick's 17.11° angle with the +22° average of conventionally sized arms—the dreaded skating force also diminishes. For the owner of a 12" arm, it can be argued that the fiddly, fussy, resonant, kludged-together, compromise-at-best antiskating mechanism can finally be dispensed with altogether. Without having to ask for them, I can hear the Amens already, without having to ask for them.

The ultimate proof is in the listening, of course, and for me that continues to be a delight, with both of these 12-inchers. Soon I'll try a different approach to tonearm isolation, just as I'll repeat these steps with the EMT 997. But right now, I'm one very happy clam.