Recommended Components Fall 2021 Edition Tonearms

Tonearms

A+

SAT CF1-09: €48,000
SAT CF1-12: €50,000
In 2018, after selling 70 of his original Swedish Analog Technologies Tonearms, designer Marc Gomez discontinued it and replaced it with two new tonearms. The more expensive, the CF1-09, is now the company's flagship. The CF1-09's tapered, hand-lapped, "naked"-carbon-fiber armtube has an effective length of 9" and incorporates a number of parts machined from solid stainless steel—including a new vertical bearing yoke that's far more massive than that of the original SAT arm and makes the CF1-09 too heavy for turntables with spring-suspended subchassis—and its newly designed hardened bearings exhibit far tighter tolerances. Also available is the 12" CF1-12. Mikey tried the CF1-12 in place of the Schröder CB arm on the OMA SP10 Plinth System and praised the SAT's "more explosive," "warmer," and "fuller" sound. (Vol.41 No.11 WWW, Vol.42 No.2 WWW)

SAT CF1-9Ti: €76,000
SAT CF1-12Ti: €80,000
These two cost-no-object tonearms appear outwardly identical to the Swedish manufacturer's original CF1 arm. However, there is now a titanium tube running through the carbon-fiber armtube and the CF1's removable carbon-fiber headshell has been stiffened with a frame made from titanium. The 9" arm was auditioned, but the 12" arm should be just as good (but longer). Prices are when purchased separately; when the arms are purchased with the SAT XD-1 turntable (see "Turntables"), the prices are €50,000 ('9Ti) and €60,000 ('12Ti). (Vol.43 No.12 WWW)

A

AMG 12JT: $8500
This tonearm features a unique, dual-pivot horizontal bearing system (for vertical movement) and a vertical bearing (for horizontal movement) that uses a hardened tool-steel axle with top and bottom micro ball bearings. The antiskating mechanism uses a pair of adjustable magnets that can be moved closer to or farther away from an opposing ring magnet, and azimuth is adjusted with a knurled knob. See MF's review of the AMG Viella Forte Engraved turntable ("Turntables"). (Vol.43 No.9 WWW)

Bergmann Odin Tonearm System: $13,400
The Bergmann Odin is an air-bearing, linear-tracking tonearm in the mold of the Eminent Technology Tonearm 2, of the late 1980s. But where the sliding portion of the older arm was a longish aluminum tube—the arm's effective mass was thus greater in the horizontal than vertical plane—the armtube of the Odin is attached to a 3"-long sleeve of comparatively low mass, which rides along an "airtube" that's held rigid at both ends and whose level is adjustable. (Bergmann claims for the Odin an effective mass of 14gm.) Also adjustable are VTA/SRA and overhang; Bergmann suggests that the Odin is azimuth-adjustable, but that wasn't so on the review sample provided to MF, a former owner of the ET Tonearm 2 and now a bit of a linear-tracking skeptic. The Bergmann combination of Odin tonearm and Galder turntable (see Turntables) "perform way above their total price," MF concluded. Air pump included. (Vol.41 No.7)

EMT 997: $6495 ★
The banana-shaped EMT 997 tonearm is a fixed-pivot, high-mass design that is supplied without a headshell. (Use with old-style pickup heads is presumed, although the 997 is compatible with conventional detachable headshells.) Its effective length of 307mm (12") works to minimize tracking-angle error and distortion. Though it sacrificed timbral neutrality, imbuing well-recorded voices with "some mid-to-upper-mid bumps and dips," the 997 impressed AD with its ability to convey the inherent tension of recorded music. "The EMT 997 was the least wimpy, least wispy tonearm I've ever heard," he said. If willing to invest the time and effort necessary for proper installation and setup, the user will be rewarded with "an almost indescribably great deal of pleasure," AD added. Current-production samples of the EMT 997 incorporate a bearing housing machined from brass rather than stamped from aluminum alloy, and a better finish for the armtube. AD found the bearings of the new version to have less play than those of its predecessor, the sonic and musical consequence being "a surprising if subtle increase in musical drive." "The EMT remains the best-sounding tonearm I have used … and the best-built arm I have owned." (Vol.31 Nos.7 & 9, Vol.38 No.7 WWW)

Graham Engineering Phantom Elite: $13,750-$14,750 depending on length. ★
Outwardly similar to the standard Graham Phantom tonearm, the Phantom Elite is said to be made from more costly materials and incorporates new Litz wiring, a refined alignment gauge, and a thicker, more rigid version of the Phantom's removable, damped titanium armtube. (The latter is available in three sizes, for effective lengths of 9", 10", and 12".) Retained from the original Phantom is Graham's patented Magneglide system, in which magnets are used to stabilize the arm's inverted-unipivot bearing. MF observed that, when used with the TechDAS Air Force Two turntable, the Phantom Elite had good texture, but not the same degree of weight as the more expensive Swedish Audio Technologies arm. Like Graham's standard Phantom, the Phantom Elite is available with a circular or an SME-style arm mount; MF suggests that the latter makes it easier to adjust spindle-to-pivot distance. (Vol.38 No.11, Vol.44 No.9 WWW)

Graham Engineering Phantom III: $8300 (10 inch length)
A less expensive alternative to the Graham Phantom Elite, the new Phantom III improves on its predecessor, the Phantom II, with a titanium arm wand, a more massive bearing housing, and, inside that housing, wiring that's claimed to produce less physical resistance as the arm moves. A new counterweight permits a wider range of cartridge weights, and Graham's patented Magneglide stabilization system has been further improved. After using it with a TechDAS Air Force III turntable, which Graham distributes, MF wrote that "it was immediately clear that the Phantom III's bass reproduction was far more robust and controlled than that of the Phantom II Supreme that I owned." The Phantom III's price drops to $5000 when bundled with the Air Force III. (Vol.41 No.1)

Klaudio KD-ARM-AG12: $11,999.99 (for 12" arm)
Our Mikey, whose enthusiasm for tangential-tracking tonearms is less than infinite—rest assured, he's tried them all—was nonetheless impressed with the ingenuity of the Klaudio KD-ARM-AG12, a pivoted tangential tracker. The Klaudio arm maintains tangency to the groove via two distinct mechanisms: the articulation of its headshell relative to its twin carbon-fiber arm beams, and an evidently cam-actuated mechanism whereby the entire tonearm, bearings and all, slides nearer to or farther from the record spindle as the arm swings across the record. Stylus position is set with an alignment jig and confirmed with a very cool Laser Tangent Tool (both are included). MF praised the KD-ARM-AG12 as "mechanically ingenious, superbly built," but also noted that this "super-complex assemblage of hinged and sliding parts" has a "wobbly" lifting and lowering mechanism that resulted in imprecise cueing, and that its sound, though "generally neutral," exhibited "a lack of bass punch and dynamic slam." (Vol.42 No.1)

Kuzma 4Point: $8400 and up
Kuzma 4Point 9: $5160 and up
Designed by Franc Kuzma and available in 9", 11", and 14" versions, this tonearm takes its name from its four-point bearing system: Four carefully arranged points contact four cups, permitting the arm to move in both the vertical and lateral planes while avoiding the chatter of gimbaled bearings and the instability of unipivot designs. A removable headshell makes swapping cartridges painless, while adjustment of VTF, VTA, antiskating, and azimuth are relatively simple. With its outstanding immediacy, transparency, and overall coherence, the 4Point consistently exceeded Mikey's expectations. Compared to the combo of Continuum Cobra arm and Ortofon A90 cartridge, the 4Point with Lyra Titan i offered greater timbral, textural, and image solidity, said MF. Compared with the Cobra, the Kuzma sounded more natural and energetic. "The Kuzma 4Point may be the finest tonearm out there, period," said MF. The Kuzma matched the Graham Phantom II Supreme's detail retrieval and neutrality but offered greater speed and coherence, said MF. As reported in the July 2019 Stereophile, KM's review sample of the Kuzma Stabi R turntable came with a 4Point 11" ($6675 as supplied), which proved "eminently and easily adjustable." Also offered with regular phono cables/no RCA box for $6375. (Vol.34 Nos.9 & 10, Vol.35 No.7, Vol.39 Nos.3 & 11, Vol.41 No.6, Vol.42 No.7 WWW)

Reed 5T: $21,500
This pivoted tonearm has a unique design that uses a servo-controlled, battery-powered motor and a laser to enable it to track tangentially and also to address antiskating. Compared to pivoted tonearms, the 5T's smaller moment of inertia allows for better tracking. Care must be taken when cueing cartridges with the Reed arm, as moving too fast will disable the servo mechanism. The 5T, mounted on the Reed Muse 1c turntable and fitted with an Ortofon MC Century cartridge, sounded "wonderful," said MF, and "excelled in soundstage stability and expansiveness, all across the record surface." (Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

SAT LM-09: €25,000
Engineer Marc Gomez has replaced his original Swedish Analog Technologies Tonearm with two new tonearms, one slightly less expensive, the other considerably more so. The former is the LM-09, which retains the original model's basic design elements—tungsten-carbide bearings with user-adjustable preloading, and a 9" armtube made of carbon-fiber laminates—while offering lower overall mass by means of an aluminum rather than a stainless steel bearing yoke. The new SAT arm also has more robust bearings and a stiffer armtube, and its detachable headshell has been redesigned to provide more rigid coupling and smoother rotational action, the latter for more precise setting of azimuth. The new LM-09 is a drop-in replacement for the original SAT arm; MF compared them and heard "faster, cleaner, and better resolved" reproduction. For $29,000, SAT offers a 12" version, the LM-12, although designer Gomez still suggests that, all else being equal, 9" arms offer superior performance. (Vol.41 No.10 WWW)

Schick 12" Tonearm: $1995 ★
Schick 10.5" Tonearm: $1995
Made in Germany and now distributed in the United States by Mofi Distribution, the Thomas Schick 12" tonearm is intended to combine the greater-than-average length and mass of certain vintage models with the high-quality bearings of modern arms. It offers superb fit and finish, with a clean, spare bearing cradle and a smoothly solid pickup-head socket. Though lacking the spring-loaded downforce and other refinements of the EMT 997—and, thus, some measure of the more expensive arm's performance—the Schick is characterized by a big, clean, substantial sound, with an especially colorful bottom end: "a superb performer," per AD, who also verified the correctness of the Schick's geometry with Keith Howard's ArmGeometer freeware. According to Art, "The Schick tonearm is an outstanding value and easily the most accessible transcription-length arm on the market." Thomas Schick has now added to his line a proprietary headshell ($295) machined from resin-soaked "technical" graphite, with a mass (15.2gm) that makes it more suitable than most for use with cartridges of low to moderate compliance. AD bought the new headshell for himself and reported that, compared to his wooden Yamamoto headshell, the Schick offered "far tighter, cleaner bass." He was also impressed with how "cartridges mounted in the Schick suffer less breakup during heavily modulated passages." Now with balanced cable. Reporting on the 10.5" arm, HR wrote that after hearing Schick's arms in a variety of systems, he suspected that the medium-length version "might strike a good balance between the liveliness of the 9" and the greater mass and tracing accuracy of the 12" version." He found it to be a good partner for his Dr. Feickert Blackbird turntable. (Vol.33 Nos.3 & 6, Vol.34 No.10, Vol.37 No.11, 12"; Vol.44 No.1, 10.5" WWW)

Schröder Captive Bearing (CB) tonearm: $5500 (9" version)
See MF's reviews of the Döhmann Helix One Mk2 turntable, which uses this arm with the carbon fiber armtube. The 11" version costs $6000. (Vol.40 No.3 WWW & Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

Thales Simplicity II Tonearm: $9450
The Simplicity II occupies the middle of Thales's three-tonearm range, surpassed by the more refined Thales Statement, yet the Simplicity II shares the same basic design: It's a pivoting tangential-tracking tonearm, with two slender, elegant armtubes; a split counterweight; a ball-bearing-loaded, articulated cartridge-mounting platform; and a Cardanic main bearing. AD was taken with the Simplicity II's performance—characterized by superb momentum and flow and very good tactile qualities—as well as its ease of use (especially apparent in Thales's ingenious cartridge-alignment jig). Above all, the Simplicity II's build quality impressed AD, who called it "the most well-made tonearm" he has used. It works especially well with the vintage Thorens TD 124 turntable—a must-hear combination, Art sez—as well as Thales's own TTT Slim II ($6750, or bundled with the Simplicity II for $14,180). (Vol.42 No.8 WWW)

Thales Statement: $ 20,250 to $23,630 (depending on coating)
Micha Huber, a former watchmaker and the chief designer at Swiss manufacturing firm Thales, has spent nearly 20 years perfecting the concept of a pivoting rather than straight-line tangential-tracking tonearm. The Statement is his magnum opus. Earlier Thales arms used an articulated auxiliary arm, in addition to the main armtube, to continually adjust the headshell's tangency to the record groove; the Statement is "more elegant," with its slender, two-tube arm structure, encapsulated cardanic main bearing, and a headshell articulated by means of micro ball bearings. MF praised the Statement's construction quality—"if you didn't know [it] was designed by a watchmaker, you might have guessed it anyway"—and praised its image stability, bottom-end power and grip, and "solid, well-articulated [note] attacks and convincing sustains." (Vol.42 No.5)

B

Rega RB330: $595 $$$
Current version of Rega's classic tonearm. See the Rega Planar 3 entry in Turntables and Gramophone Dreams in Vol.40 No.2 WWW.

Sorane ZA-12: $2500 $$$
To view the Sorane ZA-12 is to think: Why hasn't anyone thought of this before? Viewed from above, from its bearing housing forward, the ZA-12 is a single, long, continuous rectangle of aluminum, unbroken by even a headshell: Two slots for cartridge-mount bolts are machined at the specified offset angle (16.5°), and a slender finger lift is screwed in place. On the underside of this chunky aluminum beam—Sorane doesn't specify an effective mass, but the ZA-12 is clearly a high-mass arm suitable for only low-compliance cartridges—are channels for the signal wires. Point-and-cup bearings provide vertical movement, with ball-and-race bearings in the lateral plane; all feel both frictionless and robust. AD tried the Sorane with three different cartridges and found the sound consistently and pleasantly vivid, detailed, impactful, and forward. His conclusion: a "high-value tonearm" that "made music like crazy." (Vol.42 No.2 WWW)

The Wand Plus: $2000 for the 12" version; Standard 9.5" version is $1800
The Wand Plus, imported from New Zealand, is a missionary-style unipivot with a 7/8"-diameter carbon-fiber tube: both thicker and lighter in weight than the average aluminum tube, yet apparently no less rigid. AD sampled the 12" version of the Wand Plus ($1800)—also available are 9.5" ($1400) and 10.3" ($1600) versions—and praised its ability to play music with fine color, texture, presence, scale, and musical timing, noting that he was "honestly shocked at how utterly, amazingly good it sounded" and adding that "the combination of Denon DL-103 [cartridge] and 12" Wand Plus proved a relatively low-cost giant killer." AD cautions that, in its installation and adjustment, the Wand Plus is fussier than average and is best suited for users who are either comfortable with such or are fortunate to have very good dealers. (Vol.42 No.5 WWW)

Editor's Note: There are currently no Class C or D tonearms listed.

Deletions
Audio Origami PU7, Audio-Creative Groovemaster II Titanium, Brinkmann 10.5, Brinkmann 12.1, VPI JMW9, not auditioned in a long time.

COMMENTS
MatthewT's picture

Not much for me here, being a vintage gear fan first. Please bring back the entry-level column, there is a lot of gear at that price-point worth getting reviewed.

Anton's picture

Budgetwise, I think I would be most like a "Double A" audiophile.

Same with me and wine.

I do admit to seeing some of the top end prices for either wine or Hi Fi and thinking that there are people who have checkbooks that are 'better' than their palates/ears.

Like JA1 described in the past...there are already parts of my own hobby that are beyond my budgetary event horizon.

_

If we did have audiophile classes, from minor leagues to major league, I wonder what the price points for each step would be.

MatthewT's picture

Lets me play every now and then in the Majors. Nothing depreciates faster than audio gear. I have to admit being somewhat happy at seeing a dartZeel break while listening to it, while my beloved Sansui keeps making music.

Anton's picture

I like showing gear in the reviews to my wife and asking her to guess the price.

When I saw the OMA turntable in the latest issue, I guessed 15,000 dollars. When she saw it, she guessed 12,000 dollars, and we've been playing this game for 25 years!

Next, I asked her if I were able to purchase it for 90% off retail, would she let me. She said, "Only I promised to flip it immediately."

Then, she threw me a bone and said, "You could buy it and keep it for the 12,000 dollars that I guessed."

I'd need a 97.5% discount to have a chance at it. And even that would be wildly extravagant. I'm happy with life, this is just for scale.

tonykaz's picture

Above the PS Audio level is the world of Status & Ego. !

Which has me wondering if Stereophile is a Status & Ego type publication ? Is this a Robb Report mag that belongs on the coffee tables of private Jet Airports ? ( I've never seen it there )

Does an Anodized Red $200,000 Amplifier belong on the Front Cover of a magazine like ours ? None of us will ever have any chance to experience Velvet Rope Gear so why are we bothering with it? It being better is probably one person's opinion ( and that person probably doesn't have to buy it or own it ).

Reviews of these $100,000 +++++ pieces are man-speaking to us how our gear is deficient and unworthy, we are reading Hubris & gas lighting.

There is a World of $1,000 bottles of Wine, $25,000 Rolex Watches, Super pricy First Class Seats on UAL Flights and Political Leaders that are wealthy from insider trading. We shouldn't be reading about those things here.

Ours is like the world of our modest Canadian, revealing a new form of music discovery and writing one of Stereophile's most insightful pieces of literature about it. ( nice writing Mr. Robert S.)( is that the door bell? )

Tony in Venice Florida

rschryer's picture

Thanks, Tony

tonykaz's picture

Annnnndddd :

Thank You to the Editor that gave you the Word Budget and turned you loose.

Stereophile keeps raising the Bar !!!

Tony in Venice Florida

Anton's picture

Where on Maslow's Pryamid is a half million dollar record player?

I'm curious to see....misguided 'esteem?'

I prefer to use Swanson's Pyramid....

https://external-preview.redd.it/5cDe4MZ9E0ZfvcS10kmAUd2ynTkp6b3wfU-fYsxyNfg.png?width=960&crop=smart&auto=webp&s=be478d54ccedc0bd3a8ea8428e368fe10ed78c60

(Second from bottom left.)

tonykaz's picture

A most expensive record player would service the Ego needs of someone needing to establish themselves as the very Top of Analog Audio's Caste System.

The widely recognised Top Level Analog Format has been Tape.

I grew up in a Performing Arts household, my mother was an Operatic Performer and one of my older brothers was a Horn Player for our local Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

So, from my point of view, no Analog Audio System has ever come close to performing like a Live Audio Performance from a listening distance position.

Super pricy Audio Gear is about Status & Ego !!! ( I hear that Bob Carver still laughs at this stuff )

Tony in Venice Florida

tonykaz's picture

Yes, Brilliant Observation! ,

of which, of-course, I completely agree .

Proving the old maxim: when two people agree on something - only one is doing the thinking.

Now that I'm living in the Deep South, Swansons Pyramid is where I'm slowly migrating to. Hmm.

Y'all have a Grate Day

Tony in Venice Florida

ravello's picture

The introduction to recommended loudspeakers states that "Candidates for inclusion in this class [i.e. Class A, limited LF extension] must still reach down to at least 40Hz, below the lowest notes of the four-string double-bass and bass guitar." The Falcon LS3/5a, for example, most certainly does not reach down to 40 Hz, unless you define "reach" to include a -10 or -15 or even lower dB point, which cannot be construed as useful bass etension. This is probably true for several other speakers listed in this category. So what is happening? What is the thinking behind this inconcistency?

smileday's picture

Perhaps about -7 dB at 40Hz in this room. Fig. 6, https://www.stereophile.com/content/bbc-ls35a-loudspeaker-harbeth-measurements

It might be -3 dB at 40Hz in a broadcast van, the intended usage at the design stage.

tonykaz's picture

...performance level for all Great Transducers?

It was the very loudspeaker that brought me and my English partner into the Audio Business. ( back in the early 1980s ) -- ( my business partner and I begged Raymond Cooke for this design to import to USA - he said NO! )

Isn't it still a "Reference" for comparison ? , doesn't any new design have to match or exceed it's super high levels of performance?

This little device and a well matched sub builds an outstanding Desert Island System.

But, it's still outstanding without the Sub.

It may not be Full Range but it well earned a Lifetime Class A+ transducer system rating. ( four Decades + )

Tony in Venice Florida

Ortofan's picture

... like antique furniture, but the KEF LS50 Meta is a much more highly evolved successor.

tonykaz's picture

I'm sure that I agree with you.

I seem to have a deeeeeeeep seated feeling that the LS3/5a is the grandfather of High End music Gear.

Even during the 1980s, my little shop : Esoteric Audio in Farmington Frills, Mi. stocked most of the small mini-monitors including the LS3/5a, Linn Kann, ProAc Tablette, Spica TC50, Quad ESL63 and the whole range of other hopefuls. Performance wise, the ProAc Tablettes were the musical leaders, the Quads were the Sales leaders, the Spica was the Reviewer Favourite . We had them all on permanant comparison using a VPI player, Koetsu Rosewood, Electrocompaniet Electronics and MIT Music Hose cable interfaces. It was an exciting adventure for any and all customers to take part in the ongoing comparisons. People bought scads of 'all' of those small speakers types.

With great or outstanding supporting gear, the LS3/5a can Scale up to amazing levels of music reproduction.

Tony in Venice Florida

ravello's picture

@ smileday: With due respect, the link you posted is not to the current Falcon "Gold Badge" reviewed in 2021, which I was talking about, and which is about 12 dB down at 40 Hz (ref. 1 KHz) in JA's listening room on the evidence of Fig. 6 and Fig. 8 (red trace). This, as I was saying, cannot and should not be construed as useful bass extension at 40 Hz, so listing this speaker as "Class A, limited LF extension" is misleading (to say the least) in light of Stereophile's own stated criteria for inclusion in this category. Perhaps Editor Mr. Austin would like to take the stand on this. Furthermore, most of us don't listen to music in a broadcast van. Mind you, I am not saying that these are not truly great speakers. Indeed, I used to own the Harbeth P3ESR, which I found as nearly flawless as I suspect is possible in a loudspeaker, except for bass extension and volume (SPL) capability -- admittedly an inevitable design constraint given the size of the midbass driver, the size of the cabinet, and the benign impedance. This is why I eventually replaced them with a pair of the Harbeth C7 (40th Anniversary), which turned out to be game-over speakers in my small, 12 sqm study. Perfectly solid bass to 40 Hz and possibly below.

TowerOfPower's picture

It's surprising to not see a single Soundsmith cartridge on this list. Would like to know why.

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