Tonearm Reviews

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Art Dudley  |  Nov 20, 2017  |  12 comments
Everything you know is wrong.—The Firesign Theatre

The Swissonor TA10, a contemporary tonearm designed for the Thorens TD 124 turntable (1959–1970), challenged me to set aside some of the things I thought I knew about phonography. On at least one of those counts, it succeeded.

Handmade in Switzerland and modeled on the Thorens TP 14 tonearm of the 1960s, the TA10 ($3990) improves on its predecessor with an effective length of 240mm, which Swissonor says is the longest that can be achieved with a stock TD 124 armboard (the TP 14's effective length was only 210mm), and replaces the non-universal plug and socket of the TP 14's removable headshell with the more common SME standard found on most contemporary headshells, pickup heads, and tonearms.

Art Dudley  |  Jan 24, 2017  |  3 comments
My first attempt at writing this piece began with a list of the Top Ten Audio Products I Wish Were Still in Production. Unfortunately, that proved unworkable. Although some of my selections—the Audio Research SP-6C preamplifier, the Stax ELS-F81 loudspeaker—were straightforward, it turned out that most of the others were burdened with complications. Examples: It's no longer feasible to mass-produce Bakelite headshells for a revival of the original Ortofon SPU or similar phono pickup. It's no longer possible to obtain the precisely correct vacuum tubes and other components required to return to production the Leak Stereo 20 amplifier. And I'm certain that a torch- and pitchfork-wielding mob would prevent the manufacture of an authentic Altec 604B drive-unit, unless those audio villagers were first allowed to "improve" the design.
Herb Reichert  |  Mar 29, 2016  |  12 comments
"Hail, Neophyte!"

That's what members of the Smoky Basement Secret Audio Society would exclaim in unison at the end of each ceremony admitting a new devotee. It was called the Smoky Basement Society not because everyone smoked (though they did), but because its members believed that whenever an audio designer finally got a design dialed in just right, he or she had metaphorically "let the smoke out." They exclaimed, "Hail, Neophyte!" because they believed that the most important aspect of being an audio engineer was to have a fully open "beginner's mind." In Zen practice, this is called Shoshin, or beginner's heart.

Art Dudley  |  Sep 04, 2015  |  1 comments
In a bizarre but happy turn of events, recent consumer trends have given even the most socially awkward audiophile something to talk about at cocktail parties and family gatherings at which normal people predominate: the PonoPlayer and vinyl. These are hot topics; each is among the best-sounding music sources available, and both offer hope for our hobby, if not for music lovers in general. But vinyl has the advantage of appealing to a much wider range of budgets. LPs can be had from anywhere to "We'll pay you to haul these away" to "Your loan officer is on line one." Likewise, vinyl playback hardware is available in virtually every price range, from a second-hand Dual 1229 ($50 and up) to the highly praised Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn ($200,000 and down).
Michael Fremer  |  Jul 09, 2015  |  14 comments
Late in the fall of 1982, Los Angeles turned ugly for me. I'd finished my work on Tron and despite the Academy Award nomination for Best Sound (which went to the mixing team, not the sound supervisor), it was obvious that nothing else was coming my way anytime soon. To earn a living, I had to reinvent myself.

So there I was in Las Vegas, at the 1983 Consumer Electronics Show, schlepping heavy bags filled with press kits, each containing an audio cassette of a dozen radio commercials for a car-stereo store that I'd voiced and produced, along with a résumé-bio and endorsements from clients.

Art Dudley  |  Jun 30, 2015  |  11 comments
Before hitting the Refresh key on last month's column, which was dedicated to the challenges one encounters when evaluating audio cables and other accessories, I'd like to share with you a true story: a cautionary tale, as it were, about the hazards of writing reviews for a living.

Seven or eight years ago, just as spring was returning to upstate New York, I made my annual trek to Montreal for Salon Son et Image: one of my favorite audio shows for a number of reasons, not the least being the fact that I can travel there by train.

Art Dudley  |  Jun 26, 2015  |  3 comments
There's nothing new under the sun, or so we are told. Nevertheless, in the early 1990s, a British designer named Tom Fletcher upset the audio status quo with a turntable that combined otherwise-familiar elements in a manner that was, at the very least, new with a lower-case n. Fletcher's product, the Space Deck, was perhaps the first original design in British phonography since the Roksan Xerxes of 1985; and his company, Nottingham Analogue, went from nothing to something in no time at all.
Art Dudley  |  Jan 22, 2015  |  0 comments
Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is: Never try.—Homer Simpson

Months ago, as we put together the most recent installment of "Recommended Components," Phillip Holmes, of Mockingbird Distribution, got in touch and asked if we would please remove from our list the Abis SA-1 tonearm, which Mockingbird distributes (and which I first wrote about in our March 2014 issue, footnote 1). As it turns out, Abis is making some changes to the arm, and Holmes didn't think it would be right to let the recommendation endure until we'd had a chance to try the new one.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 09, 2015  |  First Published: Jan 01, 2015  |  1 comments
Pear Audio Analogue's Peter Mezek can keep you up all night spinning fascinating turntable tales. Had my mind not been numbed by Sunday evening, October 12, the last day of the 2014 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I might have insisted that he do just that.

Over dinner that evening he regaled Pear Audio's North American importer, Michael Vamos of Audio Skies, and me with turntable stories dating back to the late 1970s and the Linn Sondek LP12, which, until the early '80s, he distributed in Czechoslovakia. In the mid-'80s, Mezek was involved in the development and distribution of the Rational Audio turntable, designed for Mezek by Jirí Janda (pronounced Yeerzhee Yahnda), who died in 2000. For those of you old enough to remember, Janda, a founder of NAD, designed that company's 5120 turntable; among other features, it had a flat, flexible, plug-in tonearm that you could easily swap out, much as you can with VPI's current models.

Michael Fremer, Herb Reichert  |  Jul 06, 2017  |  First Published: Nov 01, 2014  |  12 comments
Palmer Audio's 2.5 turntable, with its laminated plinth of Baltic birch and metallic features, looks Scandinavian but is made in the UK. It shares a few conceptual similarities with the turntables made by Nottingham Analogue, another British brand. The review sample had the optional side panels of cherrywood veneer.
Art Dudley  |  Oct 02, 2014  |  0 comments
". . . with faithfully replicated artwork."

That's how a press release, dated June 16 of this year, described the manner in which the next wave of Beatles LPs—mono releases claimed to be mastered direct from the original analog mixdown tapes, and not the 44.1kHz digital files that Apple Records and Universal Music Enterprises (which now owns EMI) considered good enough for their last wave of Beatles LPs—are being packaged for sale. Hope, as Emily Dickinson once observed, is that thing with the feathers. Which, as we all know, evolved from the dinosaurs.

Michael Fremer  |  May 14, 2014  |  0 comments
In 1995, Harry Weisfeld's son Jonathan was killed in an automobile accident. Jonathan was a charismatic young man whom I had come to know—a genuinely gifted artist and musician who, at the time of his death, was helping his father develop the tonearm that would be named for him: the JMW Memorial Arm. The design of the original JMW Memorial Arm focused on providing easily adjustable and repeatable VTA and SRA via a massive threaded tower that bolted to the plinth. The bearing point, on the other hand, sat near the end of a relatively long and not particularly rigid metal platform cantilevered off the VTA/SRA tower.
Art Dudley  |  Mar 12, 2014  |  4 comments
In the wake of my October 2013 "Listening" column and its negative take on the Pete Riggle Woody tonearm, I was surprised and gratified by the offer of another new arm: a gesture of trust not unlike sending one's children to a sleepover at Casey Anthony's house. The supplier was Phillip Holmes, of Texas-based Mockingbird Distribution, and the new tonearm was the Abis SA-1, the design and manufacture of which was commissioned by the Japanese firm Sibatech, itself a distributor of dozens of high-end audio brands, including Zyx, Mactone, Zerodust, and, perhaps most famously, Kondo.
Art Dudley  |  Oct 01, 2013  |  2 comments
Whether the subject is hi-fi equipment, films, restaurants, power tools, or condoms (see the April 2005 "Listening"), reviewing should be off-limits to the perennially unhappy. I'm reminded of that dictum by the flap over the recent film Identity Thief, which was savaged by reviewer Rex Reed—not because the film is weak, but because its star, Melissa McCarthy, is heavy. Reed, whose career as the Paul Lynde of film reviewing was punctuated by a starring role in a flop called Myra Breckenridge, mentioned in his review McCarthy's size not once but numerous times, thus exposing himself as a bullying hack who wields his harshest criticisms not when they are merited but as unconscious expressions of his own personal anguish. Hate speech of any sort is the crayon of the unhappy; that is doubly true of people who write for a living.
Art Dudley  |  Aug 01, 2013  |  1 comments
Writing is easy. See? I just did it. Three whole sentences, written between breakfast and lunch. (I had to pause and think about one of them.) Payday, here I come.

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