12" Tonearm What Have You Heard & Recommend?

OK, SME just came out with their 312S 12" beauty. It is a three series.... at $2200. Anybody had an opportunity to hear this yet? What about anything else you have experienced in the past classic or "Legend" status? I am looking for candidates for my Garrard 301 project with a custom plinth with a high fun per dollar ratio. Possibly with a London Decca super gold....What cha' got there tonemaster?
I have an SME 312 that I bought about a year ago (but haven't mounted/listened to it yet). It came off a JR Transrotor and was branded as such. It looks very well made and has a removable headshell, which I appreciate for ease of cartridge mounting/removal.

I am currently using an Ikeda IT407 which is a great tonearm and probably the best built/most atractive arm around (the quality is phenomenal) and looks so different than most of today's arms, many of which look like kits to some degree or another. The Ikeda also has a removable headshell. I'm using it with a Benz Ruby 3H and it does the job.

I think you'd be happy with either one, but certainly the Ikeda is a superior arm for the money, since you can buy one for around $2700 vs the $2200 for the SME. I bought my used 312 for $650, so at that price it is no contest.
Deccas prefer fluid-damped unipivots, fluid damping practically a necessity, so add the VPI JMW 12.5 to the list. On a heavy Lenco idler-wheel 'table, the combination of JMW 10.5 with the Decca is simply the most awesome sound I have ever heard: slam of Decca added to slam of idler-wheel drive for unheard-of speed, bass and detail. Others trying this combo have reported similar impressions. You'll get similar results from your Garrard, and have a blast.
Do search on relative merits/demerits of lonmger and shorter arms here on at the Asylum.Certain principles of physic say 12 should be better and others thaty a 10 or 9 inch is bter.Know that Stereophiles Fremmer prefers the priciples of shorter arms.A number of factors like rigidity (everything being equal otherwise),azimuth etc come into play.There are two camps but interesting reading when choosing.I have a 12" VPI Memorial and am going to swap decks amd get one of their 9" arms though must admit the biggest difference is tht I'll lose VTA on the fly but there are differences.
Dear Jomoinc: In Theory the long tonearms has, at least, and advantange over the short ones: lower tracking error. Now, this lower tracking error is reflected in an improvement in the quality sound reproduction?, not necessary, because the better quality sound reproduction depends not only of the tracking error but of many other factors like: tonearm design, tonearm build quality, what materials were used for build the tonearm, with which cartridge, etc.
In my experience the short and long tonearms can perform at the same level and usually I can't say if I really can hear the " lower tracking error " improvement. It is really difficult ( at least for me ) and complex to be absolutely precise on this subject.

More important than this is that the tonearm characteristics could match well with the phono cartridge.

I agree with Bigbucks5 about the Ikeda tonearms: great ones!!! and you can choose between short or long one. I am sure that the Ikeda will be a very good match with the Decca London that is a medium/heavy weight and low compliance cartridge.
I don't have any experience with the Decca cartridges in my system but I use my Ikeda tonearm with a " marvelous " Ikeda REX9 cartridge ( that is and MC cartridge with out cantilever ( like Decca ), low compliance and heavy weight. ) and these couple is something that any one that are inerested in the music sound reproduction at home must to hear it !!!!!!!!!!!!!! I never been close to a real live event that when I hear through the REX9, nothing come close to this experience.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Try a Fidelity FR-66s. I just acquired one and the sound is as good or better than anything else i've heard.

I have an Audio Note IO-2v mounted on it and it makes a great combo.
Great points,from Raul!!He seems to get better,with age Best!
You can consider the Schue Classic 12". I've heard them with Denon 103r and AT33PTG and both sounded excellent.
Dear Genesis168: The Ikeda tonearm is an evolution over the FR-66, you have to try it.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Actually the 312 has been available for some time, just not imported to the U.S. (but has been available as a special order item, according to the distributor). I ended up getting a Scheu Tacco for my Garrard 401; not a 12", but (IMO) a better choice for my project.
I’ll second the Scheu Classic II. It sounds excellent and is a very inexpensive arm.
I agree with Raul. The Ikeda is so much better than the FR66x. Though the FR can be considered a classic but so much improvements has been achieved in what, 20 years? Maybe the JMW12.5, 12.6. Clearaudio has a 12" and 14" version of the Unify. Simple design, inexpensive and it does the job
Agree with Bigbucks and Raul on the Ikeda IT-407. A wonderful, wonderful arm.

It has displaced the Graham 2.2 Deluxe, two vintage 9" Ortofons and an Origin Live in my system.

I noticed on their website they have an "upgraded" arm soon to be availible and ebay has been offering the "new old stock" if the web site is current. Mmmm.....
When you want to have the most BftB*, then there is only one choice:

DaVinci Audio 12" Grandezza Arm

(*Bang for the Buck)
"DaVinci Audio 12" Grandezza Arm"

Maybe, but in the USA it is hugely expensive...more than a Schroeder Reference, I think.
Dear Thomas: I don't agree with you about the Davinci tonearm but this does not matter what really matter is that the Ikeda tonearm is a great match for the Decca cartridge that Jomoinc has in his mind. Can you asure that the Davinci is a better match?

Regards and enjoy the music.
Based on my friend's NEW VPI-12.6,replacing a superb linear tracker,I must admit to being quite disappointed.The sound is fairly good in the bass,but the sense of ease is gone!Extended,thin highs,giving a faulty(IMO,only)sense of detail.Some can(do) consider this detailed sound.
Also,there is a constant azimuth "twisting" as the lp plays.Sort of a "tick tocking" action.So far this has not been corrected,and the bearing housing has no fluid damping,to stabilize this.
Yet we are hopeful this will be corrected in time.By an experienced "VPI" 'phile,hopefully.
Easy: put the damping fluid in the housing, it makes a world of difference, the bass simply not there without it. Also makes it behave physically.
Hey Johnnantais, I just got done reading this myself:

"Difference between JMW 12.5 and JMW 12.6 tonearm"

...the 12.6 has no damping capability which they said was changed (different bearing housing) from the 12.5 which was able... may be worth verifying...

Remember how good the (vinyl) on the radio used to sound back in the day... I am becoming more convinced it has in large part to do with the transcription TT's......

Johnnantais, thanks for the reminders!

Enjoy your music!
Yikes!! It must have been a 12.5i I set up then, sorry for the confusion sirspeedy. Still, damping is sooo effective when setting up unipivots, can't imagine having one without it.

Hi Jon, everyone on this forum knows I favour the old transcription/idler decks over the belt-drives, and then some ;-)! Check out this review, which mentions my own nefarious activities on this very forum: Garrard 401.

Here's a mini-review from someone who sold his VPI TNT in favour of a rebuilt Lenco/VPI 12.5i tonearm/Decca Super Gold: "He was building my two-armed monster, a Lenco L75 on a huge (75 lbs) plinth to accommodate an SME IIIs and a JMW 10.5. The JMW was on my VPI TNT Mk II, since deposed -- and sold -- after being sonically demolished by my FIRST Lenco. During the construction phase, Jean tried his own older Decca on the JMW arm and pronounced himself gobsmacked (not the first or only time, as readers of this thread will attest). The Decca, a fairly notorious mistracker and other miscreant -- while sounding heavenly as long as it sounded heavenly -- was a perfect gentleman on the JMW, a damped unipivot. So, long story, short, I ended up with the Super Gold Mk. VII from Warren Gregoire, who bills himself as the only full-range Decca dealer in North America. (www.warrengregoire.com). Cost was around $900. When it came, it looked enormously unimpressive. Cheap plastic fittings, big gap when mounted on the JMW, which I filled neatly with Mortite, cart pins sprouting from the cart in all directions. And the first few break-in days did nothing to lessen my apprehension. Applause sounded like hail on a tin roof, for instance. But there was SOMETHING about it that kept me playing it. And gradually, this ugly duckling became increasingly swanlike, until finally, WOW....Incredible dynamics, great bass, best treble I've ever heard, and an overall AUTHORITY like nothing I've ever heard from my system. Not to mention the ultimate, so far, in musicality and involvement. Oh, and high output to boot. No need for a step-up. Any downside, any mistracking, any noise? No, except for the initial grooves on one side of one ECM Ralph Towner disc. The Decca just skitters over these grooves, no matter what I try -- adjusting VTA, VTF, anti-skating, or what. And that is absolutely the only problem."

And another who went to the same combo: "It's just ... quicker, more detailed, richer, more nuanced & textured, bass crisper. The bass is stunning: taut, articulate. A guitar being strummed has individual strings playing as well as the aggregate. Instruments have more harmonics to them, are more complex. It still boogies and isn't clinical - the musical isn't lost by irrelevant focus on detail, but there is more detail across the board. Percussion is struck, crisp. From Patsy Cline to Keith Jarrett (perhaps my favorite piece of music, Arbor Zena, is just incredible sounding. What pleasure!) to Debussy to Leon Russel to Paul Simon - each record is richer sounding. I can't imagine what the new K&K phono stage with the Granites are going to sound like."

Anyway, the sound of a Decca on a JMW on an idler is pure fireworks, but with no aggressive nasties. Stunning.
Johnannantis,well you don't have to "try imagining" a unipivot without damping of the bearing.It exists,and I did put out a thread(for my friend)addressing the possibility of correcting the "tick tock" action.No responses!!
I cannot believe this is corrected by "counterweight precision",which is what my friend tells me.As of now I can only hope this can be corrected,as the "action" WILL affect performance,as well as lp and cart wear!
Dear Raul,
of course I agree with you that the only real Arm for these Deccas which transmitts boat loads of vibrations into the Arm, the IKEDA Arm is the classic choice based on it's superior rigity.
From the later designs the DaVinci is a very interesting design based on it's very special bearing.
Both we know: Fun counts

Happy Listening
Dear Thomas: Yes,rigity is a plus with that cartridge. I like the " look " of the DaVinci but I only have a brief contact with it.

But, like you say: fun counts.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Dear John: A Decca or Ikeda cartridge ask a tremendous effort to any tonearm and I know for sure that an unipivot ( like the VPI ) is not the best match for those cartridges,. My opinion is that a tonearm like the Ikeda is really a better one where I never had any problem with mistracking or in other way, you have to try it.

+++++ " The Decca just skitters over these grooves, no matter what I try -- adjusting VTA, VTF, anti-skating, or what. And that is absolutely the only problem." "+++++

THis problem between the Decca and VPI speaks for it self about.

Btw, right now I'm running my Ikeda REX9 through the Mission The Mechanic and I can tell you that this tonearm ( if you can find it ) is an excellent choice too.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Hi Raul, let's put that quote in context: "Any downside, any mistracking, any noise? No, except for the initial grooves on one side of one ECM Ralph Towner disc. The Decca just skitters over these grooves, no matter what I try -- adjusting VTA, VTF, anti-skating, or what. And that is absolutely the only problem." So, out of his ENTIRE record collection, there is only one LP which gives the combination a hard time in terms of tracking (warped records is another matter). Hardly a damnation of the JMW pairing. Physics teaches, via the principle of the conservation of energy, that energy cannot simply disappear, but can only be converted. Which is to say that rigidity and high mass alone will not eliminate the Deccas' tremendous energy. Now I'm not saying that the Ikeda tonearm doesn't work with the Deccas, but fluid is one very efficient way of dealing with the Decca's energies, dissipiating them, while you and Thomas seem to be saying that the high-rigidity/high-mass approach is the ONLY way of dealing with the Deccas. Have either of you tried the Deccas with the JMWs? Anyway, here I disagree, though I'm willing to grant the tonearms you recommend also work. Another tonearm which worked very well with the Deccas was the fluid-damped Maplenoll air-bearing toneam (damped at the headshell, where it is most effective), which is also no longer in production, and which anyway was only available attached to a Maplenoll turntable. At least consider alternatives rather than blindly defend what you know to the exclusion of all else (kinda like the idler-wheel debate ;-)!).
Dear John: I only say that the unipivots are not the best match, I'm not saying: ¡ Don't use it ! and I'm saying that the Ikeda is a better choice along with the Mechanic.

I don't think that this position is a " blindly " one, it is?

Regards and enjoy the music.
WELL!!----There seems to be another real "contender" in the tonearm game!I have to assume that the Air Tangent is not available any longer(new).I'm referring specifically to air bearing/linear tracking designs.To my ears(though I love a good number of pivoting designs,and own one)the linear tracking/air bearing designs reign supreme,if you want to hear,and have it all!
If you have NOT heard a very well set up system,utilizing superb components,thoughtfully configured,and set up in a very good room,you will never know the REAL bliss of an air/linear tracker!Maintenance warts and all!I have found it hard go for one,for this reason(pumps and hoses etc)but I will not allow myself to rationalize these designs are not superior in ALL areas of meaningful performance,to their competition.Sorry!And sorry for myself,too!My friend has sold his Air Tangent,but I've heard a good amount of linear trackers,in my time and am convinced they are KING/Queen/Emperor/Pharoh,yada yada yada!
This business of lateral mass,etc, as a potential problem for lower cartridge life is not something I have seen in about ten years listening to the Air Tangent(in a friend's set-up.IT WORKS PERFECTLY!!EVERY TIME YOU CUE AN LP!!His cartridges lasted a really long time,too!

Now the Kuzma seems great,yet, and yet it IS BIG BUCKS!!

There is a very interesting new design(as I understand it) coming from --believe it or not---the "Cartridge Man"!

The looks and finish seem really high quality,as does the design implementation.Yet it is the price that should make this design a contender.Including pump, around "three grand"!
This places this well under the "big boys",in price,yet wait until you view the quality of this design!Looks like half price of the best linear designs,but build and "word on the street" performance should guarantee(at least IMO)some interest here.At least it "should" garnish an enthusiastic following.Unless we are swayed by the "CACHE" of price and a good marketing campaign.

Anybody had any experience with the Decca London International tone arm? Besides Ken Kessler? I noticed one popped up on ebay supposedly NOS (New Old Stock). May not be 12" but...
Jomoinc, yes back in my Decca days I had the Decca arm. I also had the Keith Monk's arm and the SME 312, I think it was. The Decca was clearly the best with the Deccas, although even with it mistracking was a problem. The Decca arm will not impress you with workmanship. I haven't had if for over 25 years.
VPI JMW-12 on an Aries 1 Extended. It's a very nice arm with VTA on-the-fly. Easy set-up and operation. Used it with an AT-OC9ML and Clavis da Capo. Very satisfied.
The Frank Schroeder designed Artemis Labs tonearm is available in 12", and it is an excellent performer. Hopefully, there will be one displayed someplace at RMAF that you can audition, assuming you make it there this year.
I did a direct comparison between my 9" SME V and my 12" SME V-12 arms on my SME 30/12 turntable in June. The armboard can be rotated 180 degrees to facility the comparison. Tonearm cable and cartridge were the same. Both arm/cartridge combinations were aligned using two custom MINT protractors specifically designed for the Air Tight PC-1 Supreme and the two SME arms.

After about 5 LP sides listening to various types of music, it was quite clear to me. The V-12 arm in my system sounds better. Basically, I hear more music and it sounds more natural. I presume this is due to the lower tracking distortion from the longer arm, but I'm not really sure. The analogy I can use to help describe the difference is this: It was like going from a two-way, two driver compact speaker to a three-way, three or four driver floor standing speaker. The sound is bigger and the frequency range is more extended WITHOUT any loss of coherence. Micro dynamics and detail are also better. It is easier to get absorbed in the music and I am less conscious that I'm listening to equipment reproducing the music.

Another interesting advantage that the SME V-12 arm has over the SME V is that it is designed to be balanced with the extra counterweights as close to the pivot/bearing point as possible with a cartridge weighing around 11 grams. My Air Tight Supreme is 11.5 g so the counterweight is much closer to the pivot/bearing than it is on my SME V. This lowers the inertia of the arm and it could account for some of the improved sonics. The magnesium armtube is so light, that the added length does not add much weight to the overall assembly.

I have not heard other 12" arms in my system, but based on this comparison, I recommend the new SME V-12. I have not heard the similar 12" SME 312S arm.
Knowone has mentioned Ortofon. I use the 309D and am very happy with it. I have'nt used any other 12 inch arms though. An additional advantage is it's (relatively) low price.

I tend to agree that the theoretical advantages of better tracking, can be outweighed by the by the mechanical problems of controlling resonance and rigidity, with a longer arm. As with so many other issues in HiFi, it is the execution that matters.