Transcriptors Vestigal tonearm Reviewer's Addendum

Reviewer's Addendum

Okay, we admit it. We probably were guilty of oldthink in our reaction to the Vestigial arm. There is no doubt but that tracking cleanness and record life are enhanced by reducing total system mass (or inertia) as much as possible, and that in this respect the Vestigial arm represents a substantial advance in the state of the phono art. It is also true of course that the compliance must be very high (as it is in the KLM) in order to place the resonance of the system at the optimum frequency (or frequencies when vertical and lateral mass are different).

But the fact remains that, as of December 1974, there are only about two pickups in existence whose compliance is high enough and whose mass (total mass, not stylus mass) is low enough to take full advantage of what an arm like this has to offer, and both of them leave much to be desired in terms of some other important (to us) aspects of performance, such as transparency and detail. Other cartridges, which are considerably better in these respects, do not have the requisite compliance or lightness to perform at their best in the Vestigial arm under most conditions (we mentioned the qualifications in the report), and are thus best used with other arms. The sound will be markedly better, and record wear will not be that much worse to offset the sonic advantages unless you value disc life above all other considerations.

As for the remaining comments by Mr. Gammon which are worthy of reply, we will consider them in order:

Mr. Gammon is entitled (and rightfully) to feel that his design is better than any previous vertically articulated designs, but that does not change the fact that there have been such arms many years in the past. Whether or not they "remotely resemble" his is a matter of opinion.

Mr. Gammon is correct in stating "infinite-ratio-pivoting" is beyond our understanding. We are in fact still looking for anyone who can explain to us what it is, since Mr. Gammon did not attempt to do so, and no physicist we have consulted has ever heard of it.

Although Mr. Gammon chose not to comment on our worry about the fragility of the lateral pivots, some subsequent investigations on our part suggested that that problem does not really exist. The bearings can be broken by physical shock, as by dropping the arm before it is installed, but excessive lifting of the platform after installation only bends the arm tube. If it isn't kinked it can be easily straightened and no harm will have been done.

Without considering such matters as the change in stylus/groove contact area with change in tracking force, a pressure variation of 1000% would approximate a force variation of about 1/3 gram, which seems likely if a bit on the high side. But it is specious arguing to attribute record wear to inertia rather than to tracking force (or pressure, if you'd rather), when it is inertia which causes the variations in tracking force.

There may be a couple of semantic problems here, too. Despite our suggestion that "Vestigal" might best be spelled with an "i," Mr. Gammon used his own spelling throughout his letter, which leads us to suspect that it may be an accepted spelling in Ireland (His country of origin) (footnote 3).

Then again, Mr. Gammon obviously considers inertia to be something entirely different from mass, whereas all of the reference texts we have on hand define inertia as the characteristic of resisting change in direction or velocity, and mass as the measure of inertia. The units shown below for the "unarguable figures" would suggest that he is speaking of what American texts call moment of inertia. Since we are indeed dealing here with motion about an axis, it would seem logical to use that term in our resonance formula. The only problem is, the formula doesn't work then. We would appreciate hearing from anyone who can explain why.

As for our obscene resonance theories, we too have racked up a respectable number of years of experience in such matters, and have found that regardless of any criticisms that can be leveled at our arguable computations, they still yield results which correspond closely to those obtained from measurements. And as far as we're concerned, that is the ultimate test of any computation.

We did not state that there are two tonearm resonances. We stated, correctly, that there are two fundamental resonances in every pickup system, one at the low end, the other at the high end.

Damping a resonance produces a damped resonance; it does not eliminate the resonance. In order to eliminate the resonance, damping must approach infinity, which is another way of saying it must eliminate the compliance component of the system. This is hardly the answer for a phono cartridge.

Since the frequency at which acoustic feedback begins to set in depends on the frequency response of the speakers, the standing-wave patterns in the room, the resonant frequency of the room floor (or, sometimes, wall), the vibrational period of the turntable suspension and the natural resonance of the tonearm- mounting board as well as the bass resonance of the pickup system, it strikes us as being very peculiar at the least that an engineer with Mr. Gammon's experience would seem to equate it solely with the tonearm resonance. Perhaps that explains the humbleness.

It appears that Mr. Gammon is confused about the weight component in resonant systems. In the classic resonance figure—a weight suspended by a spring—the weight is the mass component of the system. (It has weight simply because weight is defined as the effect of gravity on mass.) In the case of a pickup system, we must deal with mass (because weight is vertical only and is subject to counterbalancing by a counterweight at the rear of the arm). Tracking "weight" affects the situation only insofar as it compresses the spring (the stylus suspension) and thus shifts the center-point for spring movement in response to change of applied force (from the groove modulations).

Compliance will change only as a result of nonlinearity in the suspension system, and the change is slight enough that it lias negligible effect on the resonance computation. If the pickup compliance under normal tracking-force conditions is substantially different from that under no-load conditions, the loaded figure should be cited by the manufacturer as the compliance of that pickup. And that value should be used as C in the resonance computation.

Finally, Mr. Gammon's contention that an object must be moved in order to have mass is patently absurd. And we are still waiting for an explanation of where that 180Hz system resonance came from. Acoustic feedback, perhaps?—J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 3: We recently heard from Michael Gammon, son of the late David Gammon and Managing Director of Transcriptors.—John Atkinson, May 2017

"My late father was born in Coventry, UK not Carlow, Ireland. This was where his factory was located after we moved from the Borehamwood factory in 1973. The same year my late father granted a license to JA Michell Eng. to produce his Hydraulic Reference turntable until this was revoked in November 1977.

"The spelling of the arm was correct and the 'I' was dropped on purpose due to respect of sufferers of the Thalidomide drug that was used in the 1970s. The deformed limbs of new-born babies were often described as 'vestigial' limbs."—Michael Gammon

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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 ;)