Comparison of sonic qualities of some tonearms

I’m relatively new to the world of vinyl, listening seriously for probably only 2 years.  Of course, many big picture items (e.g. turntable, phono stage, cartridges) are discussed extensively on this forum, but I haven’t seen much discussion comparing different tonearms.  I would be interested to hear about different people’s experiences with different tonearms, mentioning the audible advantages and disadvantages of each tonearm, realizing that there is no perfect sound, although from what I read about others’ experiences, SAT tonearms may come closest, albeit at a very high price.  


In my opinion, yes some tonearms are better than others intrinsically, but in discussing sound quality it is impossible to separate arm from cartridge. So there will be a wide divergence of opinion, when you ask about how a tonearm sounds.


If not many people change out tonearms for use with the same cartridge, then you would be correct, and that may account for the lack of response in this thread: no one, or very few, has this experience with tonearms…but perhaps some do, and will be willing to comment…although audio dealers would probably be the only ones with extensive experience, switching out tonearms for clients on the same turntable with the same cartridge.

A good tonearm will not have any sound of it's own. It will limit discrepancies so as to minimize distortion into inaudibility. 

In dealing with the imperfect world of records. A tonearm must be designed in a certain way and have specific features to function at the state of the art. The SAT tonearm does not qualify. it is nothing more than a substitute for a "mighty sword" (Randy Newman). A tonearm should have no sound of it's own.

Given the problems with tangential arms, which theoretically would be best, a pivoted offset arm is still the staple of tonearm design. It should have ridged bearings of the lowest friction without any play. It should have a ridged, non resonant wand with a fixed head shell and continuous wiring clips to phono stage termination. Short arms are superior because of their lower inertia and superior tracking abilities.

The arm should have neutral balance as opposed to stable balance. This is easy to see. You should be able to draw a straight line through the center of mass of the counter balance weight through the vertical bearing on through the center of mass of the cartridge and head shell. This usually means that the counter balance will be dropped. If you adjust the counterweight so the arm floats horizontally a neutral balance arm will stay at whatever elevation you place it. A stable balance arm will oscillate until it finds horizontal again. A neutral balance arm maintains the same tracking force regardless of elevation. A stable balance arm decreases tracking force with elevation.  

An anti skate mechanism is mandatory of the lowest friction possible. Magnetic mechanisms are best.  

Appropriate mechanisms must be present to adjust the orientation of the cartridge in all planes. Once locked they should be perfectly rigid. This disqualifies most VTA towers. People who insist on them need to find themselves a good hobby like cooking or basket weaving. 

From an aesthetic view tonearm cables should exit beneath the tonearm board. They interfere less with suspensions and dust covers this way aside from looking much better. People who need to show off their wires need a sports car they can polish. A proper system should have all of it's cabling hidden as best as possible. This business with fat cables and fancy sheaths is again for men with undersized mighty swords. 

The Schroder CB is an example of such an arm. 


Thanks for your comment, but wouldn't you agree that your tonearm theory is the same for all components?  Turntables, cartridges, phono stages, pre-amplifiers, amplifiers, and speakers should "not have any sound of it's own. It will limit discrepancies so as to minimize distortion into inaudibility".  However, reality is really different from theory, and everything does impart some coloration to the reproduction of music.  

However, in the interest of staying on topic, let's please try to just share actual experiences of hearing different tonearms, ideally on the same turntable, with the same cartridge. . . . however, that stipulation might make this a very brief, and sparsely commented thread.  

Dear @drbond  : I owned/own and tested in my system with same cartridges around 25-30 diferent tonearms ( vintage/today ones but the SAT that I listened in other top systems I know ).

The @mijostyn  are theoretical desirable tonearm characteristics and that some tonearms do not mimic those " ideal " characteristics does not means are bad tonearms.

Today and top vintage tonearms all came/comes with first rate not loose bearings ( ABEC 9, at least or jewel type. Both with very low friction and all with unmovable rigidity. ) ).

Normally a medium EM tonearm runs excellent and can be mated with almost any MC/MM/MI cartridge but for my fist hand experiences the 2 main characteristics for the better in a tonearm are the internal quality wiring that must be made with silver wire and second the overall tonearm damping specially at the headshell where the ssue is to " stop " the return/feedback resonances/vibrations that the cantilever will takes as fake modulations that the transducer works with.

My two tonearms in use are self/build designs for me and a close friend and yes those main characteristics are well covered.

Today, tonearms are like the cartridge: does not exist bad tonearms except by unipivots and perhaps tonearms that use wood build material that we must avoid.

Other characteristics out of the tonearm it self is that when be mounted in the TT must be totally isolated from.


Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,


 The SAT tonearm does not qualify. it is nothing more than a substitute for a "mighty sword" (Randy Newman). A tonearm should have no sound of it's own.

What are you talking about-and in what respect is the SAT arm compromised? You write like a chatbot supported by a 1970's Atari computer. 

From an aesthetic view tonearm cables should exit beneath the tonearm board. They interfere less with suspensions and dust covers this way aside from looking much better.

First you claim that aesthetics are best left for show-cars and next you claim that aesthetics are important. And you seem to ignore that dust covers interfere with performance of a turntable. 

This business with fat cables and fancy sheaths is again for men with undersized mighty swords. 

What fat cables? I have seen fat power cords and even speaker cables but not with turntables. "Fancy sheaths"? Are you medicated? What the heck are you talking about? 

I love too that you misspelled "rigid" two or three times and then later spelled it correctly. Wow. 

My experience is to date, that Rega were instrumental in being responsible for the the commonly seen Tonearm Designs to date.

Rega as a fledgling Company had little if any protection for their IP.

This lack of protection and the response of the media to the Rega Products led to a spate of Copycat design and aftermarket modifications becoming seen in the market place for the Rega Design Tonearm and Geometry.

In a nutshell a very cheap Rega Tonearm was unashamedly being reported on in the mainstream media, as trouncing Established Brands Products.

The individuals who lurk with intentions, especially as Carpet Baggers, seeking out opportunist ventures, were very quick to offer their blingy wares under the guise of Upgrades.

Some of these Opportunists have become quite successful in creating healthy revenues, where they have taken the affair to the place where they are now competitors to Rega. Using Rega Design and Geometries to produce a Tonearm with its own Brand name and being a Market Competitor.

Then there are the Established Tonearm Brands not doing so well out of Rega being a competitor, sales are down, Olden Designs are frowned upon by the mainstream media.

Where does the established Brand go from here. 

How about a one piece casting for a Straight Wand, with the Headshell formed in the casting, obviously this is pure cutting edge innovation not heard of previously 😂🤣.

How about a selection of a Material, that is not used by Rega and a few changes to the Geometry, very Bespoke and Unique 😆.

"Viola", and an Arm is produced that Rega has not influenced in any way, well the notion of it is never to be mentioned anyway 🤐 . 

Most importantly, the 'J' or 'S' Wand is no longer king. 

SME, Linn and others all adopted straight cast wands with Headshell formed in the casting.

I moved approx' 30 Years past, from the SME 3009, to a Linn Cast Wand Design and then to a SME IV with the Single Cast Magnesium Wand design.

Prior to selecting the SME IV, I was able to be demo'd the IV and V side by side, where the V was not an arm that was seemingly advanced during the demo'. I have also been demo'd the SME V on many occasion since and have not felt something extra special is in use.

I have heard a selection of variants of the Rega Design Tonearm both modified and New Brands versions. I have even bought into another Model produced by one of the earlier referred to Carpet Bagger Companies.

I have learnt from these encounters, the designs are all much of a muchness in how the end Sound is influenced by the Design or Geometry.

Most encountered have all been very similar and I will claim usually it is easy to detect that there is a unique trait able to be perceived.

Once this trait is discovered and a different trait is heard that is seemingly the antithesis to the Rega Design trait, for myself there is no returning to a TA with a Rega Design/ Variant of Design or Geometry / Variant of Geometry.

The unique trait being the music being produced is able to be perceived as being constrained, inhibited.

The TA with Rega design/geometry is not able to present as a design that creates the perception of having an unabandoned freedom and being with no inhibition or the worse very very little.

Think ? Woodstock with the Venue being the Madison Square Garden Arena or Woodstock at the Max Yasgurs Farm, where would one like to experience their Woodstock.

My own TA of choice today, and only as a result of the design choices made for it,  is something leaning much more towards that from Max Yasgur's Farm Woodstock, there is without doubt, freedom of expression present and this is perceived in bounds. 

My Plagiarised Rega Design TA's are on the Subs Bench or boxed and Shelved, only getting a small dosage of replay time, usually  to demo' to others differences in the presentations between the similar designs and the alternate design in use. 

Note: Many of my evaluations have been done with same TT on a same Support Structure and System, but not all comparisons have been able to include the same Cart'. 

Note: A Rega Design TA will replay music just fine and recent experiences of the Origin Live TA's with a Sumiko Pearwood Cart' has left me quite impressed, but during the demo' of a certain model, there is the perception of being constrained being detected and today for myself that is a detractor and is little different to knowing a Speaker Cabinet Colouration is impacting on the sound being produced, it is not a rattling ornament distraction in any way.

@pindac Your comments not only accord with my experience of the SME V and IV, but they also fit the official story: the Series V came out first, and had selected parts. The Series IV came out later, and had off the line parts that might not quite match the quality of the V's selected parts. If you are lucky, you might buy a IV that sounds better than a V, but even for average arms of each type the sonic differences will be small. The big advantage of the V is ease of adjustment: a screw adjustment for VTA, and a thumbwheel for VTF. Some would say the damping trough is not an advantage for the V. I own a couple of Rega arms along with a collection of SME arms. I don't think the Regas sound worse, but they are more of a nuisance to set up for VTA and overhang. Having easy adjustments encourages me to get it right, rather than saying 'oh, that's good enough'!

Rega was founded in 1973. The AR tonearm and some SME tonearms, and several other “good” British and Japanese designs were on sale before 1973 and have changed very little since. So I wonder what exactly it is that you think was stolen from Rega. Unless it’s the lack of adjustments. And your favorite tonearm remains a mystery. For me, the Triplanar was a seminal design, a milestone in tonearm development whose many then novel features (VTA tower, offset of the CW, azimuth adjustment, bearing quality) were copied through the years by several companies. But I would not want to get into an argument about who did what or about design in general, when the topic is SQ.

Mijo, you are very consistent in maintaining that a tonearm should have no sound of its own, but what does that mean? Since we can’t know how a TA sounds without a cartridge. And different TAs with different cartridges can sound very different.

So my guess would be that no tonearm has no sound of its own, OR the question is impossible to determine. This is based on my experiences with 5 different tonearms all in use for several years and heard with a myriad combination of cartridges. Limiting the generalization to tonearms that are generally recognized to be of good quality to begin with.

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Mijo, you are very consistent in maintaining that a tonearm should have no sound of its own, but what does that mean? Since we can’t know how a TA sounds without a cartridge. And different TAs with different cartridges can sound very different.

Agreed. Or, to put it differently, saying that "a tonearm should have no sound of its own" is in logic terms a tautological contradiction. A tonearm can not be evaluated without a cartridge mounted and playing a record. You now have vibrations going from the record into and onto the cantilever and then into and onto the tonearm. Sympathetic resonances are impossible to eliminate entirely no matter the design, material, and damping.

Vinyl replay is the inverse of loudspeaker transducers. And like loudspeakers, you can go to heroic lengths to eliminate enclosure vibration but the drivers installed in that inert enclosure still vibrate and distort when driven and in the process of doing so the floor and room react to the vibrations as well. This is analogous to what is at play with cartridges and tonearms. You have to face reality and "play the room" by which I mean an ideal tonearm for a given cartridge compliments the cartridge in a euphonic manner.

To put it even more simply, we listen in homes, not laboratories.

To "compare" arms, one needs a 2/3 arm setup with similar cart, plugged into multi input phonostage-both arms on LP playing.

Now you can start talkin...

If there's someone who actually does that, I'm envious you have the time/resources for such an activity.

This disqualifies most VTA towers. People who insist on them need to find themselves a good hobby like cooking or basket weaving.

Either/Or reasoning, common among true believers and propagandists, is a rhetorical fallacy that undermines the force of any argument in which it appears. Reductio ad absurdum is likewise unconvincing.


Yes, that’s why I figure that there is no thread comparing tonearms, as probably only audio dealers have a valid experience with proper comparison of tonearms.  Comparing cartridges is a breeze compared to comparing tonearms.

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I upgraded my contemporary Linn LP12 with a Koetsu Rosewood signature from a Akito to Ekos SE (something like $4K vs $7K) a couple years ago. The upgrade was well worth the investment in terms of sound quality.. Sonic improvement did not involve tonal balance but, as I remember resolution and bass. But I did not take notes and don’t remember the nuances of the differences. So, that is about all I can say.

Thanks @rauliruegas  Mr Tonearm gd. Every one trait that falls off represents a compromise. Compromises are frequently worth it. That is a judgement call. 

@drbond , It is not how a tonearm sounds, it is how it works. The difference in sound quality is so slight as to be made meaningless and subject to psychological overlay. Mis tracking distortion is terrible sounding. How well does an arm prevent that from happening with any given cartridge?

As somebody who has been through a selection of Cart's on the SME IV and lesser Cart's on a variant Rega Design and an TA used in conjunction of a SME version of a Rega Design TA. I have no upset or regret for spending many hours of replaying Vinyl with such a tool.

What is different at present and for the foreseeable future, is I now use a TA that is complete as a design, but also able to be treated with further upgrades of which  a few I am instrumental in encouraging the investigation and resulting realisation of  methods being adopted for both  Mechanical Interfaces and the Signal Path. 

I am thoroughly impressed with the Design for the Tonearm as it stands, when used as a comparison to the upgrade options in place, I am blown away by the changes the few adopted design methods are able to achieve. I don't need the upgrades, I am for my purposes way out in front of my other adopted methods no longer in use for a Tonearm.

The real attraction of the Upgrades is that I know my input to the stimulus that created the curiosity and manifestation of their presence.

As for my posts in this Thread, it is strictly to inform the OP, there are range of TA's as a result of the design adopted. That will impact on the end sound with a similar perception, being a constrained presentation. My conjecture on this, is that it is seemingly being created by the TA's design for a Mechanical Interface, design for the Geometry, or a combination of both.

I will not suggest this is to be avoided, but more to the like that it is to be discovered. Only when discovered will the OP be able to decide if a TA that has a increased perception of being inhibiting or lesser perception of being inhibiting is where they would like their investigations to head.

Note: At no time am I suggesting the noticeable lack of liberty or liberty perceived when a TA is in use, is a perceivable sound signature belonging to the TA design. I do not refer to it as a flaw. I am strongly suggesting that when the perception of a constraining design is discovered, it becomes noticeable, and has a presence as do other influences known for being noticeable. 

For myself it is the electronics that create the sound signature and the failings to manage transferred energies that are the Colouration that can be detectable.  

Leif Johannsen had once made it known the SAT Tonearm used by Ortofon is the only Tonearm, the Company has used that gets out of the way and allows the Cart' to do exactly as it is designed to do.

I am sure I have a much improved understanding of this now I use my most recent  adopted design for a TA.    

@mijostyn You state that between tonearms “The difference in sound quality is so slight as to be made meaningless and subject to psychological overlay.”  
If that were the case, then why would there be so many different types, manufacturers, and grades of tonearms?  It is possible that many listeners are of the same opinion as you, namely that a tonearm makes little difference in sound quality, because very few even discuss tonearms in these threads.  However, in my very limited experience, I would say that a tonearm is capable of making as significant a difference as a pre-amplifier, or phono stage can make.

@lewm The 80's was a time when the MC was beginning to Supersede the MM Cartridge.

MC's are best served with a medium mass arm, well that is what Rega believed and got to work on their designs.

SME were quite focused as a Company of the lightweight arms most suitable to MM's.

The second thing that happened was that Cast Arm Tubes incorporating the form of the Headshell were discovered to be very very attractive by the Press and numerous others, hence Rega's affordable arms were not, according to the mainstream media, just merely a Giant Killer, they singularly decimated legions of Ork's.

Shortly after this nearly all very well established Companies started to make it known about their Cast Arm Tube Designs with formed Headshell and some even had their first MC Cart's produced in conjunction with the debut of the TA.

If Rega had been more protective, the plagiarism would have been a lot less at thei era in time.

Without the Rega on the Market stealing multiple sales from the Big Names, there will not be a SME V and IV chasing its market share.

Anybody who is suggesting a V or IV will trounce a well honed design for a Rega TA is giving very misleading information, the materials used on either might be the only real detectable difference to the produced sonic, the extraction from the Groove are way too similar as a result of the designs for each and how the design allows for the interface with the Cart' set in the Groove.    

The first MC cartridge to make a sizable dent in the US market was the Supex, in 1973-ish. Perhaps your living in the UK gives you a different perspective on Rega and SME, but Rega were a nonentity in the US market until the 80s, and there was no general consensus on materials to be used to build a tonearm back then, just as there is no consensus now.

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@viridian - turns out, we have a mutual friend in our record collecting buddy, Max.

I have no absolute answer to this-- I’ve been using a couple of Koetsu stone bodies in the Kuzma Airline and whether it is the overall mass (horizontal) or the design of the air-bearing lateral tracker, it works a "treat"- the combination is lovely. I’ve always been a mid-range hound (long time Quad Loudspeaker listener), but on the main system, this arm-cartridge combo delivers very filled in, dimensional bass, making double bass recordings on LP (good ones, anyway), sound very lifelike.

How one would construct a controlled comparison would invariably involve what cartridge was in play. Unless I’m missing something.

I’ve mentioned this before here, (I think): at @albertporter 's- comparing on the same SP 10 mk iiii in one of Albert’s plinths, an Airtight Opus and a Koetsu Blue Lace, each mounted on their own respective Kuzma 14" arms. Both playing the same record simultaneously. That told us about the differences in cartridges.

@mijostyn - there’s more than one "way." Why the need to be so dogmatic?

I had a Triplanar before I bought the Airline and have since gotten a Kuzma 4 Pt 9" (No VTA tower). The Koetsu Jade (I also have a Tiger Eye) sounded better in the Airline. Yeah, working with air compressors, air lines and the like adds an additional layer of complexity to the process. But I think there is a level of masochism here that used to appeal to me. These days, I just want to turn it on and play.

Regards to all, including my doppleganger.

Dear @drbond : Even today there are only a few audiophiles with knowledge level on the " fine/critical points " in tonearms design, few know what to look for and that’s why not only in this forum but in other audio forums the tonearm comparisons or threads about tonearms are so low. Tonearm threads came/comes when appears a " new kid in the street " as happened with the SAT or in its times the Graham or the Schroder and the like.

I learned through the years and through first hand experiences some critical subjects of those tonearm fine points " I mentioned.

My first tonearms were unipivots in the 70’s by Grace, Audiocraft, Exel, AT, Stax the Moerch copycat by Highphonic and the Moerch too and even the Graham, Magnepan, Mayware.

After all those years I learned about the " brutal " unstability of unipivots that goes totally against the cartridge tracking those " Everest " recording grooves.

So I changed to gimbal Grace tonearms, Audio Technica, Denon, Technics, Satin, Fidelity Research,Dynavector, Mission The Mechanic, the Breuer copycat manufactured by Jelco: Sumiko The Arm, EMT, Ortofon, SME, the doiuble knife bearing SAEC’s, Victor, Sony.

Btw, owning over 150 MC/MM/MI top vintage and toiday top cartridges.

From those first hand experiences came/comes my own design but more important to have very clear where in the " hell " is or are the " secrets " where in reality there are no secrets at all.

I agree with @mijostyn and disagree with you in those statements:


" The difference in sound quality is so slight ..."


and yours:


" I would say that a tonearm is capable of making as significant a difference as a pre-amplifier, or phono stage can make. "


I think that you need to re-read my first post here where I refered to :


" the overall tonearm damping specially at the headshell where the issue is to " stop " the return/feedback resonances/vibrations that the cantilever will takes as fake modulations that the transducer works with. "


@viridian has a very good point about when posted:


" you cannot compare arms by setting them up with the same cartridges, because different cartridges put different amounts of energy back into the tonearm, at different frequencies, ..."


Now, if the tonearm design is a well damped one that tonearm ( everything the same ) differences against other well damped tonearms will be as mijos posted and if your first hand experiences did/does not showed/shows that it means that one of those 2 tonearms are already off or out to be a well damped design.


Your statement confirms our audiophile low knowledge level on tonearms other that the usual " I like it ":


" because very few even discuss tonearms in these threads. "


I think that in this tonearm topic all of us, inluding me, need to learn deeper to undestand the overall tonearm subject you brougth in this thread and in the OP you confirm it:


" new to the world of vinyl, listening seriously for probably only 2 years "


I learned in audio that does not exist money that can buy ( no matters what ) high knowledge levels in any audio subject: We have to experienced


Tonearm is a " slave " of the cartridge and any today design must be designed to fulfill the cartridge needs , not of any particular cartridge but any cartridge. There are several vintage tonearms that makes that as the Technics EPA-100 MK2 .









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Ha. We had to listen to a few things that Max wanted to hear, including Patto on Vertigo. No problem. Queen sounded pretty spectacular- they made some killer sounding records at their peak and I hadn't listened to them in years. I did play the Patricia track from Art Pepper Today with Cecil McBee-- classic west coast bop, but we didn't go too deep into the jazz stuff. Thank you for the nice words on  TVP-- I've neglected it for a year, and that "stylus life" article by Mike Bodell has a long tail, as does Neil Antin's work on record cleaning. I hope to soon get back to writing. Max has nice things to say about you. 

Dear @whart  : Kuzma 14" 4Point that is an unipivot especial design obviously that what showed  was: "  the differences in cartridges ". I listened to both MSL instead AT and the Blue Lace and are really different performers. I can see that you like the stone Koetsu's , good. Only an appreciation: midrange depends of bass management and its bass harmonics development.

@viridian  Do you know which the Koetsu compliance levels? A medium EM tonearm range is around: 10grs-20gr. I owned vintage and today Koetsu that I do not need it a high EM tonearm because I always was in the 7hz-8hz to 10hz-12hz

resonance FR, that is the range that I like to run my cartridges in that issue.



Your statements presume complete knowledge of a subject. I suppose it could be analogous to someone who has driven a Toyota, Lexus, Nissan, Infiniti, Honda, Acura, Ford, Dodge, and Chevrolet commenting how all cars are pretty much the same. Perhaps…or perhaps a Porsche or Ferrari actually do drive better, and are a markedly different experience to drive.

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@drbond  : No, with all respect to you in any audio subject no one has completee knowledge because it's imposible to have  that when each day we ( at least me. ) in many ways are learning 

I know what I posted and maybe something to add in this tonearm subject is that in audio but specially in analog we are " full " of trade-offs where each one of us room/system quality performance levels depends mainly which trade-offs we already choosed.


@viridian  That 10cu was measured as all japanese cartridges at 100hz so at 10hz means over 15cu. Btw, I owned that Onyx and the Black and Rosewood too.

I think that my first MC was the Denon 103 with 5cu that means over 8cu and my tonearm in those times was a Pioneer in the PL 630 that was away to be a high mass tonearm.


Anyway, was and is part of what you and me learned and it's ok. No problem.



Assuming that tonearms have a “sonic signature” is not helpful. While cartridges sound different depending on its component construction, tonearms are vibration mitigation devices and are NOT designed to sound like anything.  Usually one’s limiting budget and cartridge which determines tonearm options.

Kenny, assuming you had all the money in the world, how would you recognize a tonearm that had “no sound of its own”?

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I currently have 3 tonearms that all have been used with a heavily modified and upgraded Lenco 78 that have been running exactly on speed for several years. It did take me several years to getting it running correctly as I was learning on the go. The recent switch to an Origin Live Illustrious Mk3 arm has been a very enjoyable experience. The OP wanted to have a comparison of arms in the same system as in TT, cartridge, Phono Preamp, and arm. I rather recently had Whest in Great Britain upgrade my Whest 30RDT SE into a 30SE RDT PRO. It was a total gut job other than the chassis with better and more potent partsand circuit board being used in the returned version. The immediate impression with a Charisma Reference 2 cartridge and Andy Kim’s microridge stylus with boron cantilever as upgrades on the retip, was much more stable action of the stylus in the groove along with these sound characteristics: more dynamic with deeper and more powerful bass, consistently excellent across the midband with lucid and transparent sound, and the highs were also very good with the ability to recognize different maker’ instruments from others. The OL Illustrious Mk3 also is VERY easy to use and stays the same once you lock in adjustments. Every album sounds more like live instruments and the soundstage is both deep and wide. Instruments and singers are located distinctly. I’m sure there might be a better sounding arm out there but it will be much more expensive. I’ve had a Maplenoll Ariadne air bearing TT/arm for years that was my prior setup SQ wise of all time. Since, I’ve had 2 Origin Live Silver arms, VPI Classic original, Trans-Fi Terminator w/ Tomahawk arm & all upgrades they offered, Pete Riggle Woody arm. Tiring of the various things that needed occasional adjustment lead me back to the OL Illustrious Mk3. The combo I now use is by far the best sounding analog setup I’ve owned. Hope this was useful.




A very interesting discussion indeed.  Arms definitely matter.  In my opinion a lot. I am amused by Raul's comment that all arms should have silver wire.  Raul is a man who knows his stuff and several years ago, when I first bought my SL1200GAE he advised me to rewire the arm with silver wire and he gave me a source for the kit to do it.  So I did.  And of course it made a noticeable difference.  Be careful what you wish for.  I didn't like the difference and had to re-wire the arm again using Litz wire, which is still in it now.  Personal preference.  At that time I still had a heavily KAB modded SL1200 which had a similar arm, but aluminum.  The G series arms are magnesium.  The latter are much better, due to superior damping.  Damping is important as has been discussed in this thread.  In a vintage system in a second home I have a turntable with two arms:  SME Series II and Series III.  These work well with various Shure V-15s and older Ortofons among others.  It is essential to match arm with cartridge.  Years ago I had a Tri-planar, but tired of it.  The absolute worst arm in my experience was the AR, sorry if that offends someone.  I worked in a high end hifi retail from approximately 1970 to 1980 and set up hundreds of TTs during that time and of course ever after.

Oh I forgot another significant arm in my life.  A Rabco SL8E.  This was mounted on a Thorens TD125MkII and worked well.  It was  a tangental tracking arm, actually it was always hunting, but It lifted at the end of play and it was reliable.  

Bill, No one is saying that the tonearm does not matter.  For myself, I am saying that the tonearm matters, but we can only know the tonearm by mating it with a variety of cartridges.  In doing so, over time, one can make a few judgements, but you/we can never get to the point of saying "this tonearm has no sound of its own".  That's just not even a good question.  You can get to the point of saying that with this or that cartridge, I prefer this tonearm over that or those tonearm(s).

Furthermore, as a scientist, I would caution against making correlations between auditory phenomena and structural elements of audio components, as in ..."The G series arms are magnesium.  The latter are much better, due to superior damping." The magnesium tonearm of the G series Technics probably is much better than the tonearm on the older SL1200 series, but it would take a lot of experimentation to know why and how.  Sorry to pick on you to make this point, but I see this tendency over and over again in posts on this website.

By the way, Raul really likes the silver Litz tonearm wire marketed by Audio Note, as do I.  So there is a Litz wire he would have supported.

One last comment:  Unipivots are inferior to double gimbals in my experience. 

Dear @billstevenson  : Sorry for your disappoint that time and what I gave you was not the silver Audio Note but the silver Zavfino ( I think   ? ? ? ) that I experienced too and that it does not likes everyone ( I like it over any cooper wires that I tested over time. ):


4Litz3Ag Pure Silver Tonearm Rewire - ZavfinoUSA




Arm waving…..

any reasonably scientific evaluation will involve a lot of variables. The Porter controls the as designed arm variables but not the as built. Probably about as good as it gets…. 

I sort of know Max…maybe he is at the center of this gordian stylus knot…

Just buy a Viv Labs Rigid Float, breaks all the rules but sounds glorious with any cartridge I have tried.

I think I'll just stay with my linear arms....short 'n sweet, drawbacks 'n all....*s*

Good read, tho'.

So if it is very problematic to determine the sound of a tonearm what were the goals of the manufacturer's? Did their engineers go for improved tracking?, easier adjustments?, cost variables? Then there is the question of marketing and subsequent reviews. I would side on simplicity and reliability above all. 

@alan60 @tomic601

can you compare your Viv Labs / Porter tonearms to others that you have played that might be more common? What does it do better, and what does it do worse? What do you attribute its strengths and weaknesses to?  (It’s not that helpful to anyone to simply say it’s the best without specifying why and comparing it to at least one other tonearm)

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@drbond You misunderstand me. A tonearm can not improve sound quality. it can only degrade it. The difference in sound quality can be rather large between an excellent arm and a not so excellent arm due to degradation. But, between two well designed arms the differences in sonic quality are as I stated.

@billstevenson The Rabco? The one we had in the shop did not know which direction to go:-))) You bet! Unipivots are a low cost, lazy solution to tonearm design and violate what is perhaps the main principle in tonearm design, holding the cartridge rigidly in position over the record with only two degrees of freedom. I worked in retail during the same time period!

@asvjerry Not so simple. Most of them are examples of the tail wagging the dog. 

@tomic601 I think a lot of audiophiles are waving something else. 

Viv Float +1!

Beware of old guys who once worked in an audio store decades ago. Those memories, shrouded in the mist of time, are not always to be trusted. Even though the Rabco did have its gremlins.