Swedish Analog Technologies tonearm Page 2

SAT supplies a pair of clampable counterweights of brass with soft alloy inlay—which you use will depend on the mass of your cartridge. To set the vertical tracking force (VTF), slide the counterweight along the arm's rear stub until you're close to the desired force, then lock it down with an Allen key. A lockable, weighted screw that protrudes from the end of the stub permits easy, precise fine-tuning of VTF.

Setup
The SAT tonearm comes in a Pelican case, each of its components nestled in a cutout of high-density foam. Also supplied are Allen keys, a tool for adjusting the bearing pre-load, and other assorted hardware—including, etched in aluminum, a Löfgren-alignment cartridge-overhang gauge inscribed with the stylus arc and grids at the two null points. Three machined spindle inserts of differing interior diameters ensure minimal slop of the gauge when placed on the turntable's platter.

The arm's specified pivot-to-spindle distance is 212.2mm, its overhang 22.8mm, for a total effective length of 235mm—the same as that of the Graham Engineering's standard Phantom, and 4mm shorter than those of the Continuum Cobra, the Rega Research, and other arms. The offset angle is specified as 26.1°. Marc Gomez has chosen null points of 80 and 126mm instead of the more commonly used 66 and 121mm. Thus, as I found out, you can use only his gauge to set cartridge overhang. From SAT's website: "Custom alignment templates to match your specific preferences, available upon request."

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Gomez was kind enough to produce a review sample with an arm pillar of diameter small enough that it could be dropped into the Kuzma 4Point base installed on my Continuum Caliburn turntable's secondary arm mount. The SAT's narrow cartridge-mounting slots and thick headshell required the use of SAT's supplied bolts.

In short order, I installed and aligned a Lyra Atlas cartridge in the SAT's headshell. Unfortunately, even with the arm pillar lowered almost fully into the base, the Lyra's SRA was higher than was optimal—but this is a problem peculiar to my setup. It was time to play some tunes.

I'm So Glad . . .
. . . I don't regularly foam at the mouth about every good product that comes my way for review, or declare every new one "the best" until the next comes along. Even when I think that, I tend to hold back. In fact, one reader read my very positive review (in the January 2006 issue) of the Continuum Caliburn, bought one, and thought I'd been holding back. He admonished me: "It's much better than you wrote."

This time I won't hold back. With the very first record I played on the Swedish Analog Technologies tonearm, it was immediately obvious to me that the SAT was easily, and by a wide margin, the finest, non-sounding tonearm I have ever not heard. The SAT's sound quality so far exceeded, in every parameter, that of any other arm I've heard—including the Continuum Cobra and VPI's JMW Memorial arm.

I had never heard the Lyra Atlas sound as it did when mounted in the SAT—nor had I ever heard Ortofon's Anna cartridge sound as it did when I heard it in Sweden in February, in the SAT arm on Rui Borges's RB turntable. In fact, the SAT fundamentally and dramatically changed and improved the sound of my system in ways I had not imagined a tonearm could, because no other tonearm has. No other cartridge has produced this level of improvement.

I'd thought my days of "I'm hearing things I've never heard before" were way behind me. Wrong. The first week the SAT was installed, I was up late every night, playing very familiar records, laughing out loud in delight at what I heard. I'd thought that, at best, today's best audio gear could produce only incremental improvements in sound quality, subtle shifts one way or another—never did I expect to hear the sonic seismic shift produced by this arm.

Even with the best gear, there are usually trade-offs—as with Boulder Amplifiers' 2008 phono preamplifier, which produced dynamics and detail I'd never before heard from familiar records, but at the cost of a dry, analytical quality that some didn't like, or that required reining in with a slightly soft-sounding cartridge. Ditto the Rockport Technologies tonearm, which also sounded on the dry, analytical side of neutral.

With the SAT, there were no trade-offs. It suppressed both impulse (pops, clicks) and steady-state (surface) noise better than any tonearm I've heard—but that was minor compared to its other strengths. From top to bottom, the SAT was the fastest, most frequency-extended arm I've ever heard—yet it managed that without sounding at all analytical. We usually think of "slow" bass as having greater texture, but at the expense of detail; and "fast" bass as having greater transient detail, but at the expense of warmth and texture. But bass passed along by (rather than produced by) the SAT was, by a wide margin, the fastest, most extended, most precise, most nimble—and, especially, well -textured—I've ever heard, here or anywhere. It was as if the bottom-end response of my Wilson Audio Alexandria XLF speakers had been retuned—and their bass was very good to begin with. The "starting and stopping" of musical notes, along with retention of textures, were so improved that I found something new and worth appreciating at the bottom end of every familiar record—improvements that ranged from the smallest microdynamic gestures to the largest bass explosions.

Image three-dimensionality, front-to-back layering of those images, soundstage and image focus, overall transparency—all reached previously unimaginable levels of resolution. So did microdynamic scaling—the ability to resolve small-scale shifts in volume. All in the context of fundamentally correct and coherent attack, sustain, and decay.

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The SAT arm gave me a new definition for the phrase transient attack. I used to evaluate transient attacks using scales of from soft to hard and from fast to slow. The SAT rendered those scales meaningless. It passed along transients cleanly and precisely, more like tape than a stylus in a groove, these transients sounding neither etched nor softened, but with their edges convincingly defined. The SAT didn't sound as if it were selectively suppressing or accentuating anything in the realms of time or amplitude. Such harmonic wholeness presented me with reproductions of the sounds of pianos, brass, strings, percussion, and voices that held together with a singularly full, dense richness.

How many times have I heard "Gimme Shelter," from the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed? Mick Jagger and Merry Clayton (the latter recorded separately in L.A., after the original sessions) were now layered from front to back, each in a specific, definable space that I'd never heard before. There was Jimmy Miller's familiar, always-audible guiro, but now I could "see" and hear its hollowness, and the precision of the stick as it strikes each serration in the gourd was considerably improved while still sounding entirely woody. Later, when the maracas enter, I could hear the beans shaking around inside those gourds with unprecedented texture and weight. Multiply such examples by every one of the dozens of LPs I listened to through the SAT, and the total improvement it wrought in the quality of my listening was overwhelming—day after day, and late into every evening.

After all these years, and considering the precision of playback my system had already attained, I hadn't thought there was any room left for further astonishment. Wrong again. Last night I compared versions of Elvis Costello's King of America: the original Columbia, cut at Precision, S.F.; the F-Beat and Demon UK pressings; the Japanese pressing; and Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab's recent 180gm edition. The MoFi is the best, the American Columbia sounds as if the great analog master was transferred to PCM with a Sony 1630 before cutting, the F-Beat sounds analog, the Demon just sounds blah.

Jerry Scheff's double bass in "Brilliant Mistake" seems overpowering even on the best rigs. The SAT/Continuum/Lyra put it and the entire ensemble in focus and in space as I'd never heard it. Scheff's electric bass in "Lovable" had never sounded this wonderfully gnarly and wiry and three-dimensional. I almost jumped out of my seat. I could hear these differences from all of these pressings, but they "popped" completely with the MoFi. With the F-Beat and MoFi: the rapid-fire kick drum and sticks at the end of "Glitter Gulch"? Never heard it like that. The marimba in "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"? Never heard it like that. The acoustic guitars throughout the album? Never heard them like that. And so on.

I'd never heard most of what I've played in the last few weeks "like that"—which was why, at the end of each of those late-night listening sessions, I laughed in delight.

I like saying to people, "The folks who invented this playback system had no idea how good it could be. Now, at last, we know."

Evidently, we still don't know—but thanks to Swedish Analog Technologies, I now know a great deal more than I did before.

Unfortunately, the SAT arm costs $28,000.

COMPANY INFO
Swedish Analog Technologies
Gothenburg, Sweden
(46) 736 846 452
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
ppgr's picture

twenty_eight_thousands_dollars.... That is a lot of money.

By the way, the mounting plate looks like a stock Jelco part.

Michael Fremer's picture

It is no such thing.

Ornello's picture

Fremer, you're a moron. LPs suck no matter how much you spend on turntables, cartridges, or tonearms.

grantray's picture

Crotchety old guys like you are why I don't publicly admit I'm an audiophile, and that I get embarrased when my wife outs me. I mean, I love a good system as much as the next sucker, and I put in a couple of hours a day on my Line Magnetic amp, DAC, and Devore O93s. But I'm not a dick about it when I meet someone who's equally in love with the $75K Magicos they just bought. Right now, as I type, I'm listening to the new Father John Misty album, through those same O93s, on the 1956 Garrard 301 that I bought for cheap and rebuilt with the early 1960s SME 3009 I also rebuilt with brass counterweights, and that's sporting an early Shure M7D running at 3.9g on an 18g headshell. You know what? It sounds flippin' amazing. Now, I'm generally a skeptical guy when it comes to emporers' clothes, but I'd say the record sounds better than the downloaded version I also got. But would I call somebody a stupid moron for throwing down on a new Brinkmann Spyder and a Miyajima Zero just so they can listen to reissue Beatles mono records? Eh, only if I absolutely have nothing better to do with my life. Because music is fun, and transformative. And if that's not the case for you, too, why bother trolling an audiophile editor?

Catcher10's picture

No amount of money will make your mp3 files and CDs sound better than my vinyl rig....Too bad for you

Ornello's picture

No amount of money will make an LP sound as good as a CD from the same source, assuming both are properly mastered.

Catcher10's picture

The same source?? The recording is digital 24bit file, when mastered for vinyl pressing the same 24bit master file is used to press the vinyl. That 24bit file is truncated down to redbook 16/44.1 for CD pressings, thus music is lost, meaning the CD version is well, not good.

Ornello's picture

Wrong. The music is lost making the LP, dumbass.

I have many CDs that were duplicates of LPs, including many ECM recordings made on tape originally. The CDs are better. Remember, I had a Stax CP-Y cartridge. Better than that there was none. I also used a Magnapan unipivot tonearm, and a Thorens TD-125 Mk II table. This set-up was awesome. But the CDs are better.

Catcher10's picture

The rantings of a raving lunatic...you are clueless. Enjoy your CDs, please!! You have no reason to enjoy or understand vinyl, leave that to us.
Have a great day!

Ornello's picture

I had 1200 LPs and a first-class setup! Don't tell me I don't know about LPs. You're a reprobate and a loser. I had some of the best records ever made, and I sold all of them, and said good riddance! And it's not 'vinyl', dumbass! Did you know that vinyl is colorless, and that the black added to it makes it noisier? Did you know that since 1969 there have been no true stereo LPs? That was when 'compatible stereo' was introduced. Frequencies below about 500Hz are mixed to mono to reduce vertical modulation, improve non-fill and running time. It also allowed mono cartridges to be used with less damage to the LP. This is why there was a 'mono' Beatles White Album, but no 'mono' Abbey Road. Compatible stereo made mono records obsolete. But of course I know nothing. You're a total dumbass.

And I have no interest in debating with deaf mental cripples.

stephen jones's picture

28 Thousand is a bit rich for a tone arm.

(They eat a lot of fish)

The "S" SME Series 2 tonearm is the best I've heard.
It was cheaper, and I could park it and not worry about dents.
(Nothing fishy, there)

The Swedes 15 years ago made our Submarines ; underwater they sound like a rock concert.
(That's fishy)

Michael Fremer's picture

I so much better than the SME. Find my YouTube channel and even digitally compressed you can hear it.

FavoriteAnimal's picture

...all the compromises have been worked out of the tone arm design problem. Well, anyway I hope so.

What a beautiful piece of engineering. I had thought William Firebaugh had had pretty much the final word on how to think around the tone arm's sand traps. I can afford Mr. Firebaugh's work, happily, but this SAT arm, which I can't, is just as pleasant to contemplate.

It's been pointed out to me that when I run into something I like and can't afford, I can be jealous, or I can realize once again what elegance the human mind can create. Thanks for this review, Mr. Fremer, with your characteristic attention to detail and your gift for addressing key issues. I imagine we are both saving all the nickels we can.

vicweast's picture

Great review: Thank you for the thoughtful article and for sharing this. Unfortunately, one of your readers is no stranger to the embraces of various barnyard animals (I am avoiding using his name, which means "Tab_A_Slot_B_error"). That reader seems to have developed a personality short circuit. It is possible to make a remote diagnosis, but it would not be fit for print.

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