Over the last 20 years I’ve had a few turntables and tonearms starting with DIY efforts then moving though a few commercial designs and now on to a kit.
The initial DIY experiences taught me a lot but made me realise after a few years that I didn’t have the expertise nor access to machining equipment needed to excede some of the better designs of the day – circa 1980. Consequently I purchased a SOTA Saphire that was later modified a little and it remained in system until about 1987. I still have it.
Up until 1985, I had always used my own design of tonearm. Starting off with Hadcock unipivot ripoff designs, onto jewel/pivot gimble types and finally a beast using 1/2″ aircraft instrument quality ball races – Ittok style in looks. But it did not perform as well as my favourite of the time, the Alphason HR100 MCS.
One day I rang Mike Knowles (the Alphason designer) to chat with him about the arm and we got onto the design of the Sonata TT. I was so impressed with the design of it and the attention to detail that I went and bought one (after a listen of course).
During the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to buy a Triplaner Ultimate III – an arm that as an engineer I had admired for ages but apparently in previous revisions, its sonics were not up to the best. It is a beautiful arm to use and cartridges are so easy to set up. The only pain is the well documented crap cueing device or should that be dropping device.
And then in 2001, I stumbled upon the Teres project. It represented the ideas and plans I had on paper for 10 years to build a top flight TT however in the UK, the machining costs were prohibitive for a one off design. This section will descibe my progress with it.
Cartridges over the years have been Dynavector 23R, Sumiko Talisman, Koetsu Rosewood Signature, Monster Genesis 2000, Clearaudio Gamma and Clearaudio Signature . It is hard to part with friends that have given so much enjoyment over the years so I still have them all except the 23R however …
Was intrigued to hear a Denon 103 to see what all the fuss was about. This thing is remarkable. In this setup I find it involving for playing a wide variety of records. One or another cartridge might be better with a few recordings but overall, I find myself listening to music longer and with less hassle and worry than with any other cart in my experience. The 103 stayed in system, (even getting another as replacement) far longer than any other until I heard a Hana SL. Couldn’t get the sound out of my head for years until 2020 when I finally got one. It is beautiful and such a good tracker that I am yet to detect degradation on the inner grooves. Maybe it does but to such a small extent, it doesn’t detract from being involved in the music.
I have a pet theory that as the arm and TT get better, the differences between records is greater, more are playable, and are able to be enjoyed. It would seem the ability to handle and control vibration brings about a levelling of performance among cartridges as does correct loading. I find aspects such as VTA much less of a knife edge – there is a broader range of good/great performance available. Part of this is also atributable to the amplification – it being more than capable to deal with the huge signal levels caused by various resonances and noise spikes in the analog process. Consequently the whole system is less noisy to the extent where some ticks and pops have disappeared altogether and inner groove distortion has dropped by an order of magnitude and so for the most part, not even noticable. This was confirmed to me when using the 813 PP amps whereby the odd piece of mistracking disappeared using this amplifier in comparison to the EAR509 (when using the ESLs the EAR was under considerable strain).
Some might say that the system can’t resolve too much if there is little difference between cartridges. The best indicator is how the records sound. If the difference between them is greater than the difference between cartridges, then the cartridge becomes a small matter of presentation than ulitmate arbiter of quality. Also, I’m easily able to distinguish between which side of the magnetic tape is used to drive the TT – hardly an indicator of low resolving power. More records sound good these days that used to sound hashy previously – an indicator of the system to handle and deal effectively with extraneous noise that is part of the analog replay process.
For digital I use a Raspberry Pi running picoreplayer with IQ Audio DAC streaming from a LMS server on a Synology NAS. Many others have documented this and as I use it fairly straight out of the box, there’s not a lot to say about it.