Tonearm Reviews

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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  |  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.
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.

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.
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  |  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  |  Jul 27, 2008  |  0 comments
I can't help wondering: how did the mainstream audio press, cheered Dynaco and Marantz and McIntosh and Quad for switching to transistors a couple of generations ago, greet the first tube-revival products from Audio Research and the like? What was the reaction when moving-coil cartridge technology, considered all but dead by the early 1970s, became the perfectionist hi-fi norm just a few years later? And what would the same people make of the fact that a high-mass, transcription-length pickup arm—with interchangeable pickup heads, no less—is one of the most recommendable phono products of 2008? The mind boggles.
Art Dudley  |  Mar 29, 2010  |  0 comments
Even katydids are supposed, by some, to drink.—Shirley Jackson, 1959 (misheard)
Markus Sauer  |  Jun 05, 1995  |  First Published: Jun 05, 1993  |  0 comments
When I was visiting Santa Fe last Easter (footnote 1), one of the subjects I raised with JA was Naim's ARO tonearm. This unique unipivot design has languished in Class K of Stereophile's "Recommended Components" listing for far too long. JA explained that the regular reviewers have quite enough to do, thank you, just keeping up with speakers, electronics, and especially digital. The esteemed Martin Colloms is happily using an ARO on his Linn Sondek, and wrote a review for the English magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review in May 1991, but since there is a very small but nevertheless vociferous overlap in US readership between the two magazines, it is Stereophile policy not to have two reviews by the same reviewer of a given piece of gear.
Wes Phillips  |  Feb 09, 1996  |  0 comments
Stuff that works, stuff that holds up/
The kind of stuff you don't hang on the wall/
Stuff that's real, stuff you feel/
The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall.
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.
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  |  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.
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  |  Jul 15, 2008  |  0 comments
It's now been eight years since a Rega P3 turntable passed through my listening room. While the new P3-24 superficially resembles the P3 (and virtually every other Rega 'table), the company has made some significant changes, including upgrading to the high-quality, low-voltage (24V), electronically adjusted motor used in the more expensive P5, P7, and P9. As in those models, an electronic circuit trims the phase angle of the P3-24's motor coils, thus substantially reducing motor vibrations. In 1998, during a factory tour, a Rega engineer demonstrated the circuit's effectiveness to me. As he adjusted the circuit board's pot, vibrations from the motor dramatically decreased, until it was difficult to tell if the motor was spinning or not. Back then, this "hand-trimmed" motor technology was available only in the P9. The P3-24 uses a less sophisticated version of the same basic idea.

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