Jelco TK-850L Installation and Initial Impressions

(Before I start this thread, I want to acknowledge the earlier comments and private support from forum member noromance in the decision to acquire this arm.)  

A little over a year ago, I decided to “upgrade” a DIY table I built years ago that used a platter, spindle and bearing left over from an early VPI TNT upgrade, and a Jelco SA-750D arm, an adequate, but not special performer.

Forum participant “noromance” reported good success with his Jelco TK-850L. After reading his comments / review, I searched the web for information on that arm and bought a TK-850L from George Merrill. Also picked up an Easy VTA arm base.  I completed the table last week. Measured and drilled the arm board, mounted the arm base and arm on the arm board and installed a backup AT OC9/II. Aligned the arm parallel with the platter.  Leveled the system. Aligned the cart to Lofgren A. Set the VTF…. All the little things to set up a table. I'm not completely happy with the counterweight, but it doesn't get set that often. The Easy VTA base did bind up a little though was eventually workable.  

(Standard hedge:) In my opinion....

 After an hour or so, maybe a little longer, everything came to life (the cart hasn't been used in over a year). The image snapped in, soundstage opened up, instrumental timbre neutralized. Loose bass that I thought was a combination of bad room and speakers became tight, controlled and tuneful. Deep bass was there. I had some early concerns about the midrange and highs, but they have been resolved as the cartridge and new cables got more play time. Highs are sweet and accurate, mids are well-defined with subtle textures clearly present and in correct proportion. The arm has excellent detail resolution even in the more subtle soundstage ques and instrument nuances. Small and large dynamics are very good with tight timing.  No detectable ringing or resonances to deal with. It’s only been around 15 hours, but I can’t find any warts. Yet.

 The arms seems to execute great control over the cartridge without imprinting any sonic signature or resonance of its own. Just what the cartridge reads from the groove.  

Playing the Mercury Living Presence Antal Dorati "Firebird" reissue, the image and soundstage were excellent. A very broad and deep soundstage with instruments placed in their correct position. Each instrument was isolated in its own space and not mashed with other instruments. Massed strings were smooth and sweet. The dynamic spectrum was complete from the clarinet and flute valves closing, pizzicatto strings, xylophone, to the bass drum and tympany strikes. sharp snap. No smearing or congestion. Typical of the OC9/II timing was crisp and not smeared by arm ringing or overdamping.  No overhang.  I heard no tracking problems. Tonal balance was consistent with my AT OC9/II experience.  

I will have more information on the arm as time goes on. I want to make sure I am satisfied with the turntable set-up before I move on to better cartridges. I have a couple of Lyra carts – a Clavis Da Capo (rebuilt by Soundsmith with a Boron cantilever and line contact stylus) and a Lyra Skala – that will be the final upgrade to the table. I will provide incremental updates to my comments as these carts are installed.  At least if there are differences in performances that are not attributable to the cartridges.  

In any case, the Jelco TK-850L is a very serious arm and worth consideration for any new table or table being upgraded with the caveat that the -850L 12” arm can only be used on a table on which an arm of that length can be installed.  

I'm satisfied.


Additional equipment: Herron VTPH-2A, Herron VTSP-3A(r03), Herron M1 amps, DIY speakers.    

Thanks for that review.   The new Jelco arms continue to be on my watch list for a next arm.   Looking forward to hear how it plays the other carts in your stable.
@bpoletti  Thanks for the ack. Great read. For other readers, I have Decca cartridges on my 2 Jelco 850Ls and 750L. No issues at all and I track light at 1.65. If the arms can do that, they've got to be very good. Don't be tempted to get the cheaper Jelco cable. Get the pink one. It's a lot better.
@noromance ....

Only credit where credit is due. :-)

I bought the hot pink Jelco JAC-501 cables since my other table has a phono connector box and I was just using standard RCA-terminated cables. The Jelco’s seem to be pretty good, but still in breakin. I also have some other well-used Herron cable that’s waiting for a DIN connector to arrive. Though the Jelco cable does seem to be pretty good, using the Herron cable would remove a variable from the evaluation.

That said, the evaluation has become an enjoyable journey through my record collection.
Thank you for sharing @bpoletti. I'm using a Jelco 850L MKII with the same JAC-501 cable. Jelco updated the cosmetic of the 850L and added Rhodium plated contacts to commemorate their 100th year, everything else remains the same. So far, I agree with everything written, it's an excellent performer and no quirks or complaints to mention. Anthony
@scar972 ....   Isn't there a small change to the arm base to allow easier and more reliable VTA adjustment in the MK II models?  Some kind of large diameter nut around the base?  
Yes, base with nut adjustment is an accessory. The Jelco base adjusts the same way my Morch DP-6 and Schick tonearm does.
I must admit I'm a set it and forget it type of guy, I spend a lot of time with the initial installation and check turntable speed every once in a while that's it.
Great to have a Jelco TK850 thread.
Lovely review and discussion!

Ive just upgraded to a Jelco TK850 mark 2, from a Jelco SA750D - 
I love this arm, its a 10" - I listen to a wide genre of music, lately a lot of Jazz - the instruments have a more lively edge, there's an improvement in detail, its all more alive and engaging!, without any harshness.
Im using an Impact SE Din-RCA cable from Audio Sensibility - and have just bought a Jelco (hot pink) JAC- 501 - per recommendations above, but haven't yet tried it.
Im also thinking of trying a Din-XLR balanced cable - any thoughts?

Other equipment - Sota Sapphire with Eclipse motor/AT OC9mlii/Herrom Pass XP 15, VTSP 3a Rev3, Pass XA30.8, Klipshorns.

Was about to resurrect this thread myself.  

I've just installed a Lyra Skala in the arm.  Headshell wires were an issue, clip broke on one lead, the clips didn't QUITE fit the Skala.  I used leades from a Micro Seiki headshell (from a MS-505 arm) and my blood pressure returned to my normal.  

On to latest impressions.... 

It took a bit of time and effort to tweak in the Skala.  Not a problem with the arm, cartridge or table.  Installed the cartridge about a month ago.  Finally dialed in a very good setup this evening.  I use an aftermarket VTA On-The-Fly base with my TK-850L.  

The arm handles the Skala with exquisite precision, well controlled across the vinyl surface.  There are no resonances or noises in the arm.  Only smooth control.  It let the cartridge sing without adding or subtracting from the tune.  Detail was exceptional.  Timing spot on.  NOT completely sure about the dynamics.  The Skala is supposed to have exceptional dynamics.  Micro dynamics were good (not eye-popping) but the macro dynamics didn't blow my hair back.  Maybe I'm just used to that level of performance from my other cartridges.  Or maybe the reviewers were exaggerating (wouldn't be a first in this business).  But it might be a VTF issue (not getting the coils in the best part of the magnetic field).  

The arm was as good as any I've hear, and I've heard quite a few.  

In response to  @saika2 post....  

Congratulations on your new arm.  I expect it will give great service in your Sapphire (a really good table).  That should be an excellent combination.

I used OC9's since the mid-90s with very satisfying results.  It loves medium mass arms like the TK-850 series.  I used one for my initial TK-850L setup and it performed better than the 12" JMW-12 on my Aries Extended.  

I have not heard any disparaging remarks about the TK-850 series arms.  I did purchase the VTA On-The-Fly base because I wanted more convenience for cartridge adjustment.  I'm very satisfied with that option.  I'm not overwhelmed with the TK-850 adjustable VTA base.  It might make adjustment easier than the original arm, but not while playing a record.  

That doesn't mean I find the basic TK-850 arm deficient in critical features, just stating my preference.  

Again..great of you to share your Skala experience.
I have a Denon 103r, a Denon 301ii, and a Shelter 90 iii still to try out on this arm. Still listening to wide variety of music on the AT OC9ii before trying out the other cartridges...The Denon 103r and 301ii should be good test of the arm's ability to accommodate a widely different compliant cartridge...
I'm intrigued by your VTA on the fly base...which one? - The "Easy VTA"?
It looks well made. Im not yet sold on the concept of a fraction of a degree making a sonic difference....but Im open to the concept and I can see how a purist would want to optimize this parameter in the pursuit of that ever elusive state of audiophile nirvana ...I would consider getting a micrometer VTA adjuster just to make it an easier task than what it is without.
I would love to get my hands on a Denon DL S1 one day...

@bpoletti, unlike other Lyras I have heard, the Skala is NOT a very dynamic cartridge. It is warmer than typical Lyras though. I had the skala too but yea it does not have that hair raising macro dynamics nor are the micro-details that special. It just sounds okay. So dont expect much. A Delos is wayyyy more dynamic, like a proper grown up cart.

Thanks for the info.  The Skala is very nice and closer to the tonal balance of the AT house sound.  I find the Skala more detailed with a better soundstage and imaging than what I've experienced with AT carts. 

I expect that my next cart will be a Delos.     

Ive just swapped out my AT OC9MLii to for a Denon 103r....listening to some UB40, Augustus balanced, and the bass is sumptuous ....I like all these cartridges ..its like sampling different vintages...speaks volumes for this tonearm, able to accommodate and extract so much out of such diverse cartridges...I do fear my Denon DL301ii won't sound as good tho'....will try it with trepidation