Spin Doctor #1: Shaknspin2 & Miyajima Kotetu Mono Phono Cartridge

Have you ever asked yourself how you ended up an audiophile? I certainly have, and I haven't been able to figure it out. Other audiophiles tell me that their father, uncle, neighbor, or whoever introduced them to quality home music reproduction and the equipment needed to achieve it, but that was never the case for me. My fascination with music and gear goes back further than I can remember: My mom once told me that by age 3 I was climbing the bookcase to put records on the turntable and already knew how to operate the whole hi-fi rig by myself.

Like most American households in the early 1960s, we did have a hi-fi system, and we all loved our music, but my father was no audiophile. Our cobbled-together stereo was modest, with a Garrard Auto Slim P MK II record changer and an oddball Japanese tube receiver called Monacor SMX-50A, which came complete with speakers with oval paper-cone drivers.

My dad was a founding member of the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" school of upgrading, so this system remained unchanged through four moves and five countries until we ended up in Belgium in 1972. By this point, cassettes were taking over from records as the preferred format chez Trei, so we felt it was time to add cassette playback to the system. We had been early adopters of the cassette format (footnote 1) and owned one of the original Philips Norelco portables, but even my dad recognized its limitations for playing music. We made a few trips to local hi-fi stores, such as Hi-Fi Georges DeCoster in Waterloo, to select a suitable cassette player. These might as well have been trips to Disneyland for me: I was hooked.

It was around this time that I met my first true audiophile, the father of my best friend Gregg. Heinrich (Henry to us) was a larger-than-life Austrian, kind of a cross between Auric Goldfinger and Captain von Trapp. The family's six kids—all music students on various instruments—worked in lock-step precision Sundays when it was time to wash the family's red Mercedes 250SE. Gregg studied piano and organ and would go to the local church so he could practice on their massive pipe organ, waking up the neighborhood. Henry had an amazing hi-fi system, with a big Marantz receiver, some German speakers I can't recall (Grundig, perhaps?), and best of all, a Thorens TD 125 turntable with a SME 3009 tonearm and a Shure V15 III cartridge. I just loved watching this beautiful-yet-delicate-looking machine playing records from Henry's extensive collection of classical music with a quality of sound I hadn't realized was possible until then.

Gregg had a simpler system up in his bedroom, with a Dual 1219 turntable built into a plinth with its own amp and a pair of classic Sennheiser HD 414 headphones. I would sneak in with my Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple albums, then escape into music played back with far better quality than I could achieve at home. I loved the open clarity of the Sennheisers so much that they went straight to the top of my gift-request list. They became my first quality audio component on my 11th birthday.

Recognizing my newfound interest, my dad took me to the 1973 Brussels Hi-Fi Show, where my mind was blown by Dual's display, which flipped a playing turntable around in a big gimbal, demonstrating how their dynamically balanced tonearm could play even when upside down. The biggest impression of all, though, was made by the Nakamichi 1000 cassette deck, demoed in a system set apart in its own listening room, just like we find at hi-fi shows today. Who knew a puny little cassette could sound that good?

My insistence that we needed a Nakamichi landed on deaf ears. We ended up getting an oddball Sony combination cassette deck, amplifier, and speaker package called the TC-133CS to replace the old Monacor. It all seemed cool to me, but this change introduced a new problem, which would eventually lead to what I do today to earn a living.

The Sony had a phono input, but it was designed to work with moving magnet cartridges, not the ceramic cartridge we had in the Garrard. To make it compatible with the Sony, a new cartridge was needed, and I suggested a Shure like Henry had in his Thorens.

My dad, though, always put his trust in Consumer Reports. He decided to go instead with a highly rated English cartridge called the Goldring G850. In retrospect, it was probably a good move, because the clunky Garrard changer wouldn't have been too gentle with the delicate Shure. I somehow managed to install the new cartridge without breaking off any headshell wires or bending the cantilever, and it sounded great. I didn't have a way to measure the tracking force, so I just twiddled the Garrard's downforce spring until it felt about right and left it at that.

That system remained my listening refuge for many years, until I went away to college and could finally start indulging my audiophile interests.

Over the last 40 years, I have set up or serviced literally thousands of turntables, and during that time I have seen a lot of increasingly sophisticated tools become available to help in getting your turntable optimized. I've had my eye on the Shaknspin speed analyzer since it was launched a couple of years ago, and now there's a new Shaknspin2, which promises more accurate results (footnote 2).

Getting the platter rotating at exactly 33 1/3 revolutions per minute might sound like a fundamental task for a turntable, but you'd be amazed at how far off some 'tables sometimes are. If you want to adjust the speed, you need an accurate way to measure it. For years I used an iPhone app from Dr. Feickert Analogue called PlatterSpeed, but this was discontinued due to pressing problems with the accompanying test record, and Feickert never upgraded the app to work beyond iOS 10. While the app generally worked well, measuring platter speed using a test record is always going to be fraught due to imperfections in the pressing. PlatterSpeed overcame this problem by including a filter that removed record-centering issues from the results, but it's better to eliminate the variability of a test record completely.

The original Shaknspin was reviewed by Michael Fremer in Analog Corner #313. He found it worked well and deserved a place on Stereophile's Recommended Components list. In addition to upgrading the Shaknspin, Portugal-based manufacturer Sempersonus has also appointed a US distributor, so you no longer need to buy it directly from Portugal. Too bad they didn't change the name (except to add a "2" onto the end),which to me sounds like something you'd find shelved between Fisher-Price and Mattel.

Changes in the Shaknspin2 include a new infrared transceiver that reflects a beam off a marker positioned outside the edge of the platter, which automatically calibrates the Shaknspin2 every time you take a new measurement, eliminating the need for the separate calibration procedure required with the original (footnote 3). As before, the results can be displayed on the device's small screen or exported to an app—but now the export options have also improved and include support for iOS devices as well as Android.

To use the Shaknspin2, you switch it on using the only button on the device then place it on the platter for an initial calibration. Then you select which test you want to run, from a menu system you navigate by rotating and tilting the device, sort of like an old Nintendo Wii controller. There are two test options: a simple speed test and a more detailed wow and flutter test, which produces a plethora of numerical results and graphic readouts.

To run a speed test, you place the Shaknspin2 on the platter with the inside corner of the L-shaped housing snug up against the platter spindle, then you start the platter. Once the platter reaches operating speed, the device will analyze the rotation for a few seconds, then deliver a real-time speed readout on the display as it turns. This allows you to make adjustments on the fly as needed to get the speed adjusted to get the speed exactly right: 331/3 or 45, 78—whatever you're after. When you stop the platter, the speed display locks and changes from green to blue. That blue number indicates the nominal rotation speed.

The wow and flutter test works in a similar way, except that there's no readout during testing as there is with the speed test; it just lies there spinning until the results screen pops up—it takes about 15 seconds—and then you can stop the platter and scroll through the results, which are pretty extensive, including average speed, maximum and minimum speeds, deviation, and wow and flutter (and wow and flutter separately), using both WRMS and DIN weighting. Graphical displays of speed over time and speed distribution are also available. Most of the results can be read directly from the tiny screen—or you can transfer the results via Bluetooth to a phone or tablet running the Shaknspin app for Android or iOS. You can then download a CSV file, which can be opened in a spreadsheet program for analysis and graphing.

The app is convenient, but I found that the on-screen display gave me everything I needed. The real-time speed test is very responsive to changes as you adjust the turntable's pitch. I brought the Shaknspin2 to several of my turntable setup jobs and found it easier to use and more accurate than relying on a strobe disc. Several phone apps are available that work in a similar way, with your phone placed directly on the spinning platter, but the Shaknspin2 is a dedicated tool with better calibration features, more precise positioning, and more accurate and detailed results. At $280, it's pricey for those with just one turntable to maintain, but it offers a lot of analysis that would be expensive to replicate with traditional test equipment. I will be adding this to my tool kit for my turntable-setup work.

Footnote 1: The Treis were indeed early adopters of cassettes. Prerecorded cassette tapes weren't introduced in the US until 1966; by 1972, their sales were still dwarfed by those of 8-track tapes, let alone LPs.—Jim Austin

Footnote 2: Shaknspin2: R Prof Mario Albuquerque 5-3B, 1600-812 Lisboa, Portugal Email: info@sempersonus.com Web: shaknspin.wordpress.com. US distributor: Hyendaudio Services Tel: (973) 692-6270. Email: hyendaudio@gmail.com. Web: hyendaudioservices.com.

Footnote 3: There's still some calibration involved—two steps, in fact, but both are very simple. The original Shaknspin required a more involved calibration procedure.


Ortofan's picture

... only two output terminals, as does the Denon DL-102?

rl1856's picture

I recently upgraded from a Ortofon CG25DI MKIII (AD Rec Component) to a VAS modified Denon DL103. VAS removed the vertical coil, and reoriented the remaining coil to align with horizontal movement. Sonic results are outstanding !

georgehifi's picture

Looks like this thing tries to make vinyl into a CD player, except for it's weakest area, diamond to plastic contact.
Remember that vinyl grove laser reader turntable, no contact or wear, (optical turntable) what ever happened to that??



Cheers George

Brown Sound's picture

Is that a HP-48G or 48GX, sir. Aahhh, memories of the end of my college days. I bought one of those to replace my aging HP-11C, for a few graphing needs in Calculus 2. Still have them both, plus a TI-30 (with the faux denim case) and TI-55 from high school days in storage. That Shaknspin2 is a very cool looking setup tool, but I'll stick to my RPM and bubble-level phone apps for my rare setups or cart changes. Thanks for the calculator flashbacks, Michael and have a great day.