Transcriptors Vestigal tonearm Manufacturer's Comment

Manufacturer's Comment

Editor: To put forward to your readers a doctrine of low-compliance cartridges in the required high-mass tonearms is offering advice that a technology 20 years out of date should be followed. I am not able to argue at such a level, as such thinking indicates only an utter lack of knowledge on this subject Whilst in no way would I fault lack of knowledge, I do fault unqualified journalists writing about highly complex subjects such as tonearms, when in reality their vocation is that of a greengrocer, garbage worker or whatever.

Contrary to your comments, no other arm has ever remotely resembled the Vestigal. London Bridge articulates in the vertical, but there the resemblance ends. Any other arm ever to articulate in the vertical was designed so as to lower the inertia in the vertical while disastrously raising the inertia in the horizontal, as the inertia of a beam device increases as the square of the distance. Hence the Vestigal is an unbalanced, gravity-neutralized device having low inertia in all planes, and such drastically lowered actual masses that infinite-ratio pivoting (jewelled pivots) can for the first time be used on a tonearm. This will be quite beyond your understanding, as I note you avoid any discussion of inertia, the vastly most important design parameter of any disc-playing device.

Take a one-gram weight, place it or the tip of one finger, move that weigh around, and you won't be able to feel it at all. Now set any conventional arm at 1 gram tracking force, place the stylus on the tip of the finger, and lift it up, and with most arms it will feel as if you are lifting 10 grams. This is inertia, the destroyer, the wear factor! Tracking pressure, which you maintain and clearly state to be the wear factor is of very minor significance in comparison with inertia. Neither do you point out that a conventional arm set to trace at 1 gram will vary its tracing pressure by 1000% on a flattish disc and up to 3000% on sharp warps. The Vestigal doesn't.

If you want unarguable figures: With the Shure V-15-III and hardware weighing (in total) 8 grams, mounted in the latest SME 9" arm, inertial figures are as follows:

• 8780 grm cm2 in all planes
• 4500 grm cm2 in one degree of the horizontal.
• Mounted in the Vestigal: 120 grm cm2 in the vertical.

By the invariable laws of physics, the Vestigal requires half the force in the horizontal, and one seventy-third in the vertical, to shove it around during play than is the case with the SME, and the SME is the lightest conventional arm we know! Japanese monoliths sometimes have twice the inertia of the SME, The dramatic decrease in wear factors is brought about by the decrease in inertia on the Vestigal.

Your theories on resonances are positively obscene! Let me say that, as the designer of all Transcriptors products, I have had much experience in the field of resonance, vastly more than any journalist, even those belonging to responsible publishing houses, so perhaps I am in a position to point out the unutterable rubbish you write.

You state there are two two tonearm resonances. In fact, resonances encountered in tonearms are greatly in excess of two, and very little indeed is known about these resonances.

You would be correct in stating there to be a system resonance of between 7Hz and 17Hz if the compliant component on the stylus was an undamped spring. It isn't, and in no way behaves as such. In fact it behaves as a damped spring and, like an automobile which, without shock absorbers, is dan¨ gerously resonant, with shocks it has NO resonant frequency whatever.

The plastic or Neoprene compliant component cannot resonate as you suggest; it is too highly damped.

Now, what is that desperately awkward resonance which you have failed to mention, the biggest bugbear of all tonearms? Feedback, which on conventional tonearms occurs between 40 and 90Hz and creates the well-known howl through the speakers. That is your system resonance, and in a conventional arm it is right bang smack in the middle of the large air-moving frequencies which can excite it. On the Vestigal, if you can get it to feed back at all, it doesn't howl, it sings at 160Hz or above.

As an engineer, I am rather more humble than your reporter, as I don't know why arms should feed back where they do, and neither does anyone else because too little work has been done on the subject. Engineers think they know what causes feedback, though there is still much argument about that! They know partially how to alleviate it, but they know nothing of what occurs during feedback. For instance, with a special stylus supplied to us by ADC, with a compliance of 130x10–6cm/dyne, the system resonance in the vertical can be counted as being 5Hz, and we think it is about 2Hz horizontally. It is difficult to excite it at any frequency except 90Hz. Don't ask me why—perhaps only high-speed photography would tell us what resonates in sympathy with what, but certainly since this is the frequency at which excitation occurs, it must be the system resonance.

Let's take a look at your math! And we don't need to look far either; just take your very first so-called formula (And your figures);


where FR is the low-frequency resonance in Hz, M is the total effective mass of the arm and cartridge in grams, and C is the compliance of the cartridge in cm/dyne (footnote 2).

No need to calculate further than your very first line. You are of course maintaining that the compliant component is acting as an undamped metal spring. (It doesn't, but have it your way!) As any spring will only resonate at a given frequency with a given weight—in other words, varying with weight—your formula is incomplete and meaningless until you introduce a figure for tracking weight, as the resonance will vary with the tracking weight chosen (in the vertical).

As this is so, we now have two system resonances, don't we? One varying with tracking weight in the vertical mode, the other not varying in the horizontal. I won't pursue the matter; to do so would require volumes; there are probably hundreds of resonances involved.

Now let's see about M. You say "total effective mass in grams." But Mr. Reporter, there is no such thing as effective mass at all; you must mean inertia. In fact, you can only mean inertia, and that can't be expressed in grams. It requires grams to overcome the inertia of the arm, and that is not overcome until movement has taken place, so this can only be expressed in gram-centimeters-squared (g cm2).

Your formula now reads:


And that's still without that tracking-weight figure which must go in somewhere. It's your formula, you find a place to put it!

It's a load of rubbish, isn't it, Mr. Reporter?—David Gammon, Transcriptors

Transcriptors Limited
Unit 10 Daybrook Business Centre
Daybrook, Notts

eugovector's picture

It's articles like this that make me wonder what JGH would have said about products that tend to get a bit of coverage in the modern mag, like pretty much anything from Synergistic Research.

John Atkinson's picture
eugovector wrote:
It's articles like this that make me wonder what JGH would have said about products that tend to get a bit of coverage in the modern mag, like pretty much anything from Synergistic Research.

Stereophile hasn't reviewed a Synergistic product in years.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

eugovector's picture

And yet, that didn't stop you from putting them on the 2015 Recommended Products List.

John Atkinson's picture
eugovector wrote:
And yet, that didn't stop you from putting them on the 2015 Recommended Products List.

My apologies. Hadn't had enough coffee when I responded this morning, as I forgot that Michael Fremer had written about the Synergistic Research ECTs, HCTs, and PCTs in the February issue's "Analog Corner" column.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

jmsent's picture

... many years back, and it was a total piece of junk.

T-NYC's picture

... David Gammon was correct in his use of Vestigal as Google shall tell, although Vestigial is also correct. As to the rest of the review, I agree based on the available empirical evidence and a reliable first-hand account.

Venere's picture

Holt and Gammon both sound like insufferable assholes. Not sure what the point is for reprinting crap like this for a product that no longer exists. Review some new equipment that has some relevance to your readers. Lastly, articles like this only serve to show what a pain in the ass analog reproduction is (was?) and why the entire world (other than a handful of tech-dweebs who would prefer to tinker and adjust their turntables and tonearms rather than actually listen to music) has moved on to digital sources and playback. I'd rather have crappy sound from an iPod that have to deal with all the BS discussed in this "review". Fortunately, there is also the option of listening to music on a quite satisfying modern system consisting of a disk player, an integrated amp with onboard DAC, and a pair of speakers. What an appropriately named product, the Vestigal remains of a dead technology. RIP.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

I also wonder why republishes ancient reviews of defunct gear. Must be Altzheimer's.

John Atkinson's picture
Venere wrote:
Not sure what the point is for reprinting crap like this for a product that no longer exists.

1) There is a demand for our reprinting these classic reviews from the magazine's earlier days, to judge from the emails I receive from readers.

2) When we started our website, one goal was eventually to have all the magazine's reviews reprinted on-line, going all the way back to the first issue. We are well on the way to achieving that goal, hence the appearance of a review from 1975 like this.

3) This review was a classic example of theory and practice being opposed, hence I thought readers would find it instructional.

4) It costs you nothing to read this review, so what's the problem?

Venere wrote:
Review some new equipment that has some relevance to your readers.

Each issue of the print Stereophile features reviews of "new equipment." Even if you don't want to purchase the print magazine, those reviews eventually find their way on to our website.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

I think an archive of all prior reviews is a great idea. Hopefully, it will include music reviews and feature pieces, as well.

John Atkinson's picture
Osgood Crinkly III wrote:
I think an archive of all prior reviews is a great idea.

Thank you. I forgot to list a 5th reason for posting these historical reviews and essay: it allows new readers to discover what a pioneer Stereophile's founder, the late J. Gordon Holt, was in the art of audio journalism.

Osgood Crinkly III wrote:
Hopefully, it will include music reviews and feature pieces, as well.

I am slowly working my way back posting the "Recordings of the Month" and am about to reach July 1982. All the "Records to Die For" features and many music features are already available in our free on-line archive.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

corrective_unconscious's picture

I saw this arm and table in high school, and it was one of my formative, first experiences with high end audio along with hearing the Dahlquists and the room dividing Maggies. It's interesting to read such a scathing criticism of various claims made for the arm, because it reminds me how much of my interest in high end audio to this day is based on the industrial design, the gadget aspect, the nerdy coolness of the gear, regardless of how much sense any of it makes in financial or even music reproduction terms.

volvic's picture

I love these old reviews, takes me back, learn new things about old gear and how great some of the old gear was and was not.

Bill Leebens's picture

Personally, I side with George Santayana's epigram, "Those who are unaware of the past are condemned to repeat it"--proof of which can be seen in US military policy, as well as the audio industry, in many instances.

Evidently, some readers side with Henry Ford: "History is bunk." How can one argue with a man who once said, "I've got no use for an engine that has more cylinders than a cow has teats??"

Amazing how pissed off folks can get at something that is offered at NO COST TO THEM, like the historical features.

God bless you, John. You are a patient man.

Alaskagram's picture

As a professional sound engineer I can tell you that the resonance of air is 7Hz the air will not support a wavelength longer then this. Consequently the air can not complete the feedback loop. Above this frequency the wave lengths are huge untill above 40Hz. Most home listen rooms are too small for wavelengths below 40Hz to form air borne resonances and as a result most feedback in turntables come from mechanically coupled resonances. These resonances can come from floors,table tops ,etc.. This why predicting these standing waves is so difficult.
During the heyday of the discos it was standard practice to suspend the turntable or use a sand box to dampen feedback. So it may not be prudent to blame "feedback" on just one part,the tonearm, rather the entire system must be taken into account.
P.S. the reference to being a "sound pro" is that after 30+ years mixing live sound I just might know a thing or two about feedback. Tonearm compliance may not so much, feedback yeah.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Has nothing to do with compressions and rarefactions in the air...well, not until that resonance impacts various parts of the audio reproduction chain and the thus changed result is repoduced in air.

The physical size of a room is one factor of many which determine the longest wavelength effectively supported by that room. It could have an acoustic "size" that is much larger, depending.

SET Man's picture


Is Stereophile having Altzheimer's? Not to me! I'm surprised to see that some people are having problem with Stereophile posting old reviews like this one.

For me, even thouhg this arm came out before I was born... I'm 37 by the way. I do enjoy reading old pieces like this. It is a glimps of how we got here today and it is also useful for those collectors and those whom enjoy vintage audio stuffs. And not to mention that old pieces like this can also inspire what's to come in the future.

And the best parts of these historical reviews like this on Stereophile is that it's free!

By the way I'm listening to Bjork's "Debut" LP on my 1971-72 vintage Transcriptor Hydraulic Reference with SME 3009 II Improved arm and Benz Micro ACE HO cartridge ;)