Tonearm Reviews

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J. Gordon Holt  |  Sep 03, 2019  |  First Published: Sep 01, 1967  |  10 comments
Back in the days of pre-stereo high fidelity, when a 6-gram phono pickup was considered to be "featherweight," the best universal-type tonearm we knew of was a bulky, very professional-looking device made by Gray Labs and designated the Model 108. One unusual thing about it was that, instead of using sleeve or cone-face bearings, it had a single up-ended needle—a so-called unipivot—for both the vertical and lateral modes of motion. The other unusual thing about it was that the pivot system was viscous-damped, and it was this, we suspect, that was largely responsible for the arm's ability to make any pickup sound somehow sweeter and cleaner than it did in any other arm.
Art Dudley  |  Aug 01, 2019  |  6 comments
Money, that unreliable buyer of happiness, has at times proven effective at delivering good sound. It can buy other things, as well: Audiophiles can swap cash for products that function as objets d'art, as status symbols, or even as canny investments.

But—do you think money can buy peace of mind for the audio enthusiast who frets over binding voice-coils, leaking capacitors, drifting resistor values, oxidizing connectors, aging or incorrectly biased tubes, and that most pernicious worry of all, distortion and premature record wear from incorrectly aligned phono cartridges? Sadly, most of those neuroses, some quite reasonable, remain unaddressed by cash almighty.

Art Dudley  |  Apr 30, 2019  |  13 comments
There's a noise I make when I'm having trouble with something inanimate: a deep, growly huff that starts in my diaphragm and comes out in one or two quick, staccato bursts. I huff this huff when I drop a tool or can't budge a seized bolt or the bottom falls out of a trash bag. It annoys my family and scares my dog.

I made that noise at least a half-dozen times while installing and setting up the Wand, a unipivot tonearm designed and manufactured by Design Build Listen Ltd., in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Art Dudley  |  Feb 07, 2019  |  4 comments
Peter J. Walker (1916–2003), founder of Quad Electroacoustics and designer of some of the most well-regarded products in the history of domestic audio, famously believed that a properly designed audio-frequency amplifier should have no sound of its own. As for suggestions that his Quad II amplifier (1953–1971) sounded better than most, Walker was unmoved: "We designed our valve amplifier, manufactured it, put it on the market and never actually listened to it."
Art Dudley  |  Jan 30, 2018  |  5 comments
In my youth, I unwittingly trained myself in the art of deferred pleasure. I did this by investing my allowance in every mail-order product that caught my eye—things I saw in the back pages of the magazines and comic books I loved—then settling in for a wait that always seemed interminable. This happened most often in summer months, when extra chores brought extra cash, and when school didn't interfere with keeping vigil at the mailbox.
Guy Lemcoe  |  Dec 14, 2017  |  First Published: May 01, 1995  |  8 comments
I first learned of the Kuzma Stogi at the 1993 Winter CES in Las Vegas. In VPI's room at the Sahara, a portly, black tonearm was sitting proudly atop the new VPI TNT Series 3 turntable. Pointing straight at me from the center of its massive, exceptionally stout frame was a tapered armtube the diameter of a swollen thumb. The fact that this unknown (to me) tonearm was chosen to sit atop a turntable as respected as the TNT told me I was looking at a serious new product. VPI's Harry Weisfeld was standing nearby, beaming as usual, to answer the barrage of questions that sprang from my lips as I leaned over for a closer inspection. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How much?
Art Dudley  |  Nov 20, 2017  |  16 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.

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.
J. Gordon Holt, John Wright  |  May 09, 2017  |  First Published: Feb 01, 1968  |  1 comments
The RS-212 is one of the most impressive-looking tonearms we've seen in many a moon. Our first reaction to it, in fact, was much the same as our reaction to the first big, professional Ampex tape recorder we ever saw: it reminded us of one of those precision-engineered and cleanly styled electronic devices you see in hospitals and industrial laboratories—devices which make no attempt to cater to the current fashion in interior decorating or depth-researched consumer preferences, but which are designed simply to do a job neatly and efficiently. This arm, in short, is practically guaranteed to impress your Magnavox-oriented friends with the quality of your phono system, no matter how oblivious they may be to its actual sound.
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.

J. Gordon Holt, John Wright  |  Mar 16, 2016  |  First Published: Sep 01, 1965  |  1 comments
This is by no means a new product. It was available in a stereo version as far back as 1961, and apart from a couple of minor refinements—the addition of a bias compensator and a new, lightweight shell—it is still the same arm, and it still has the reputation of being the perfectionist's tonearm.
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).
J. Gordon Holt  |  Aug 24, 2015  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1977  |  1 comments
Not the easiest tonearm to set up (let your dealer do it if you aren't overly skilled at such things), this English-designed and Japanese-made device is the best pivoted tonearm we have tested to date, and at a very reasonable price at that. Polk Audio is importing them and distributing to dealers, most of whom sell them for around $130 to $140, and some buyers have managed to purchase them directly from stores in England for as little as $80. We received two samples of this for testing, one directly from the US distributor, Polk Audio, the other from Natural Sound, a Nebraska dealer and (naturally) one of our advertisers. Suffice it to say that both samples were identical in every perceptible manner.
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.

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