Listening #197: Simon Brown & The Wand tonearm Page 2

First, while using the installation/alignment jig to confirm that the overhang was correct—according to the Wand's designer, Simon Brown, the Wand is made with Baerwald alignment—I found the need to loosen the mounting collet and adjust the arm's spindle-to-pivot distance, as described above. To do so requires the user to also loosen the screw that holds in place the cueing/armrest gantry—a component that will need to be repositioned after the spindle-to-pivot distance has been set. That's merely the fiddly part. The enragingly fiddly part comes if and when the mounting collet must be rotated to a position whereby its locking screw winds up under the gantry, making it nearly but not quite impossible to tighten. Here, I contemplated going outside and kicking the neighbor's dog, whose barking was provoking my own dog.

Second, the antiskating mechanism impeded my use of the Wand's cueing lever to lower stylus to record, tugging the cartridge off target—and, in my first, abortive attempt to play music, seeming to produce an audible channel imbalance. As for the latter problem, I reverted to form and decided to forgo altogether the application of an antiskating force, which I've never regarded as necessary with transcription-length tonearms. As for the former problem: Even at its best, the Wand descended to the record surface in an imprecise and slightly wobbly fashion, so from then on I resorted to manual cueing, holding the apex of its snout with the edge of my thumb.

Before the day was done, I was ready to play my first record with the Wand. And when I did, I was honestly shocked at how utterly, amazingly good it sounded.

Wand of youth
The first word that popped into my mind during the Wand's maiden voyage was bounce. I was listening to the Seldom Scene's Live at the Cellar Door (2 LPs, Rebel SLP-1547/48), and that word was appropriate to more than just Tom Gray's agile double-bass playing: the sounds of John Duffey's mandolin and Ben Eldridge's banjo had a combination of great timing, physical presence, and color and texture that made lines of notes come alive, in both their sounds and their musical meaning. I stood up from my settee, walked around, and kept my attention fixed on the speakers: that liveliness, that realism, was filling the front end of my room. Whatever this tonearm was doing or not doing, the EMT cartridge really, really liked it.

I followed that with the only other record in my collection that I know was recorded in the same venue: Neil Young's Live at the Cellar Door (Reprise 535854-1). In the first song, "Tell Me Why," Young's guitar sounded exactly as one would expect from a vintage Martin dreadnought strung with light-gauge strings and tuned down a full step: lively, responsive, and a bit buzzy and rattly. That guitar sound was magnificently real—as was Young's voice and, in other selections, his piano. It was then that I noticed how believably big everything sounded with the Wand in my system; thinking back to the Seldom Scene album, and the realistic way the sounds of the five band members mixed and mingled with those of the evidently close-up and raucous audience, I began to think of the Wand as producing a reliably large and altogether appealing sense of scale.

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That impression endured when I listened to my favorite recording of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, with clarinetist Alfred Boskovsky and other members of the Vienna Octet (Decca SXL 2297). In the days leading up to the Wand's debut in my system, I'd listened more than once to this great record: A close friend visited with his college-age son, the latter a student of composition at the Berklee School of Music and a fellow lover of all things Wagnerian, Brucknerian, and Mahlerian. (The Brahms Quintet was new to him, and he loved it!) With the Wand in my system, replacing the Sorane ZA-12, those five instruments sounded convincingly, realistically larger, the space they occupied wider by a considerable degree—and through the Sorane arm, it hadn't sounded at all small. For all that bigness, the sound was a little less forward than with the Sorane, with a slightly puffier quality on note attacks—yet no less substance, no less flesh and blood. More important, the music was even easier to follow, and I found it easier to identify and follow individual lines. (In this music, it seems to me, the viola provides all the most interesting harmonies.) The instrumental timbres were lush, but it was a lushness well within the boundaries of realism.

In an effort to hear how this large-sounding arm would do with large-scale music, I played the recording of Mahler's Symphony 2 made in 1963 by Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus (2 LPs, EMI SLS 806). With the Wand in my system, this recording sounded more dynamically nuanced than ever before: If I'd ever doubted that the then-ailing Klemperer was still very much in control during the making of this recording, those doubts were dispelled. This performance, which sounds a bit rushed through lesser gear, now sounded angry, and at times triumphal. It was easier to hear how Klemperer shaped each movement, highlighting certain phrases with vanishingly subtle ritards. With the combination of the Wand tonearm and EMT cartridge on my Thorens turntable, this recording was transformed into—or, more correctly, exposed as—a masterpiece (footnote 3).

In time, I swapped out the EMT cartridge for my stock Denon DL-103, chosen in part because it's described on Design Build Listen's website as a popular choice for the Wand. Inasmuch as the Denon has a stylus guard, installing it in the Wand was easier than with the EMT—easier, but not precisely easy. The Denon's plastic body, with screw slots instead of holes, compels the user to insert the mounting screws from below the cartridge, and to apply the nuts from above—which is the only way a small wrench can have access to the nut, to hold it still during tightening. But because that's not possible with the Wand, I wound up slipping a tiny screwdriver blade between the edge of the nut and the Denon's plastic body, to hold it more or less still: a compromise (footnote 4).

With the Denon in place, and the threaded auxiliary counterweight adjusted accordingly, I set about lowering the stylus to a record—and, with thumb on snout, was startled to hear and feel something heavy dropping onto the Thorens's armboard. It was the threaded counterweight: Although I hadn't realized it at the time, to achieve the proper downforce I'd had to screw it so far out from the structural counterweight that its threads no longer had a bite on the arm's threads—and it dropped away the minute I moved the arm. As it turns out, the Denon requires an additional flat-disc weight, which I duly applied.

And even then, my first attempt at listening to the combination of DL-103 and Wand proved frustrating: The sound was fussier, with seemingly poorer bass performance in particular, than with the EMT. Then I remembered the Wand's cartridge spacer: a 2gm piece that the installation manual recommends for use with the low-compliance and thus mass-desirous Denon.

Forty-five minutes later, after reinstalling the Denon with the spacer now along for the ride, and with compensations once again made to the counterweight system, I was in business. Suffice it to say, the combination of Denon DL-103 ($299) and 12" Wand Plus ($1800) proved a relatively low-cost giant killer. Double-bass notes on that Seldom Scene album weren't as tight as with the EMT, vocal plosives not as free of exaggeration—characteristics that, in my experience, follow the Denon everywhere. But with a variety of records I heard the same color, texture, presence, scale, and realism of touch and musical timing as I did with the TSD 15 N SPH in the Wand. With record after record, the music sounded unusually, uncannily alive.

Drawbacks? Only the setup complications I've described above—those and a slight, enduring fiddliness in daily use: On my first day with the Wand, even though I tracked the EMT cartridge at the same 2.5gm that I always use with that cartridge, the record player was now slightly more susceptible than usual to mistracking-like disturbances from footfalls; though never severe, that condition endured, as did the arm's tendency to move sideways when I used its cueing device to lower stylus to record.

In my view, those idiosyncrasies are more than offset by the Wand's extraordinarily good sound—and by its exceptional value for the dollar. In my system, the 12" Wand Plus delivered Class A sound, and now joins the similarly accomplished Schick Tonearm as one of the two least-expensive paths to that level of performance.



Footnote 3: Mine isn't the famous UK Columbia pressing with the William Blake artwork, but the later EMI pressing with the cigar-smoking Otto K. on the cover, and with the early-1980s "large dog" label on the discs.

Footnote 4: In his "Manufacturer's Comment," Simon Brown wrote "We're sorry that Art experienced difficulties in setup, particularly with cartridge mounting. It's unfortunate that both of the cartridges he used have unthreaded mounting holes (and half slots!) in their bodies and require the use of separate nuts. Fortunately, this is becoming less and less common in quality cartridges. I generally place the arm wand on a cloth to solve the rolling complication. Over the course of their first few cartridge changes, our distributors and dealers have found that familiarity overcomes any "fiddliness," resulting in cartridge changeovers requiring less than five minutes."

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Ortofan's picture

... the installation and performance of "The Wand" with that of the similarly priced Pro-Ject 12cc Evolution tonearm.
https://www.project-audio.com/en/product/12cc-evolution/

Said review will incorporate a new metric - the "huff factor" - to help quantify the degree of difficulty encountered while installing and operating a given piece of equipment. A relatively higher number of huffs indicates that proportionally more obstacles and frustration were encountered with the use of a particular component. In this case, The Wand tonearm has achieved a rating of 6 Huffs.

Anton's picture

I hate fiddly and hate "Huff."

I have drifted back to detachable headshells.

jjgr's picture

More info available elsewhere?

DavidCope's picture

For some reason, Stereophile invented a new domain for this review. They must not have liked the one I supplied, which does exist and does work: http://www.oldforge.marketing .

Jim Austin's picture
This has been repaired. Apologies for the error. Jim Austin, Editor Stereophile
jjgr's picture

https://oldforgestudio.com/

DavidCope's picture

That’s the URL for my recording studio.

My distributor site for Wand And Pure Audio is: http://www.oldforge.marketing .

volvic's picture

When I was a lad and got my Dennsen protractor, I spent endless hours stressing if I had the overhang properly aligned. Unscrewing the nuts and screws and starting all over again. Back then we never had digital cameras to zoom in to make sure all was perfect. That headache ended with the purchase of a Shure V15 V MR which had that beautiful installation gauge that took out all the guess work. Double checking with the Dennsen and all was great. Never had to stress again. Then bought SME arms and that took out even more guess work. I read this review and it takes me back to those days of fidgeting with screws and cartridges trying to get everything aligned and mounted and wonder why in this day and age would anyone want to go through this. As good as the arm may be it shouldn't be this strenuous. It's the same reason I never jumped on a Well Tempered table from the 90's and present; beautiful sound, but adjusting that tonearm a dealer friend of mine told me years ago was quite the "huff' factor.

Anton's picture

With my detachable headshells, I can set a cartridge up, align it, etc...and then take it off and toss on another cartridge in under 30 seconds.

Don't try pulling my "finger" about loss of signal, etc.

volvic's picture

Once you have it set, and that is the biggest hurdle you can swap to you heart's content. I do have an SME m2-9 and will start doing that with that particular turntable that has that arm. Just those headshells are a little pricey.

Have a Technics 1200 and swapped a friend's cartridge with his headshell. No loss of info or signal.

s10sondek's picture

Does anyone know if the tonearm wiring on the Wand and Wand Plus is Cardas Standard, or Cardas Clear? I ask because back-to-back swap testing in my tables reveals a dramatic difference between them, with the Cardas Clear exhibiting such superior coherence and resolution in the top octave as to make the Cardas Standard seem a bit blunted in comparision. The contrast is dramatic. It would be great to know which wiring is employed in the Wand and Wand Plus.

Also, how would one best characterize the difference between the Switchcraft 3502A and the Eichmann RCA plugs? It's pretty neat that a simple $2 plug can go up against a boutique plug like the ETI, as well as many more expensive alternatives! I've made up one-shot (cartridge clips to RCA) external tonearm wiring looms using 3502A's as well as those made by Eichmann's new company (KLE) and would say the 3502A provides a meatier tone, while the KLE's (which are very similar to the ETI) sharpen the blade ever-so-slightly reaching into the upper overtones a bit more. The 3502A's are maybe easier to work with in terms of securely soldering things like tiny tonearm wires and loading resistors simply because there's more metal surface area to work with. Would be curious to hear other viewpoints regarding these two wonderful DIY components, as well as other candidates that have proven successful in other people's experience.

dial's picture

Hello everybody . Like Anton, I only use SME mount heads now. It's so much easier to set up cartridge, tonearm ... Unfortunately, the Thorens TP 71 doesn't seem to be available separately.
At last you published the photo of a Denon 103 (mounted) so any new reader could know the test was done.

Pryso's picture

And here I assumed I might be the only one here old enough to remember them! ;^)

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