Are linear tracking arms better than pivoted arms?


My answer to this question is yes. Linear tracking arms trace the record exactly the way it was cut. Pivoted arms generally have two null points across the record and they are the only two points the geometry is correct. All other points on the record have a degree of error with pivoted arms. Linear tracking arms don't need anti-skating like pivoted arms do which is another plus for them.

Linear tracking arms take more skill to set up initially, but I feel they reward the owner with superior sound quality. I have owned and used a variety of pivoted arms over the years, but I feel that my ET-2 is superior sounding to all of them. You can set up a pivoted arm incorrectly and it will still play music. Linear tracking arms pretty much force you to have everything correct or else they will not play. Are they worth the fuss? I think so.
mepearson
In the interest of full disclosure, I own a Souther, which is a liner tracker. I further state that I have owned it for years and am very happy with it and have no plans to replace it. However, I cannot agree that liner trackers are of necessity better.
Pivoted arms are well...fixed and steady. The liner arm sort of snakes its way along, never quite being steady. I once had a Phase Liner Turntable which used a servo controlled liner arm. It tracked the records well enough to avoid disaster, but never really sounded very good.
Also, I would like to point out that the Cantilever of many cartridges are very flexible and allow enough twist and general deformity to moot any discussion of exact angle. In short, general statements are not particularly helpful in such matters.
I have had liner tracking arms in the past, starting with the Marantz SL 12 in the 60s and some of the Technics tables in the 80s. Most of the audiophiles I know who have tried them have eventually given up on them. Some of them. like the Mapleknoll were incredibly hard to keep going, If you have the expertise and want to devote the time they give good results but I think for most of us the pivoted are just fine.
I would say linear arms separate the 'set and play' crowd from the 'I must twiddle.. endlessly' crowd. (Endless VTA fiddling is also in the twiddle crowd)
(Sorry to place it in such a negative context!)
I had a chance to buy a nice looking used Oracle with a linear tracker painstakingly engineered onto it. But it was obvious that it was the sort of table one would have to constantly fiddle with for every LP side, just to play.
(The most recent table at that same dealer is a masterpiece of fiddling! It would require at least ten minutes of work just to change a record side. Hand made, it looks like a giant aquarium. And would need two strong men to lift off the dustcover.. or should I call the oversized cover 'the plexiglass BLAST SHIELD'.)
Anyway..I am changing the direction of this post by saying "So what!" the pivoting arm often is far easier to maintain. And folks who need drama when they play records can have plenty with nearly any arm design if they just work at it.
Both linear track and pivot arms have their advantages, just like any two good technologies in high end audio that get compared in the forums here.

I've owned a lot of both types, the first linear tracker for me was the Rabco back in early 1970s. Since then I've had the ET with various pumps, the Versa Dynamics, Air Tangent 10B and Walker Proscenium Black Diamond. There are good and bad about all these, just as there are good and bad with pivot arms.

I currently own only pivot arms, I have four of them right now. I'm happy with the performance they provide but every time I see a photo of the Kuzma or the Rockport linear tracker I get the itch to try one again.

Guess you can put me in the "I like both" camp.
I swapped out a Linn LP12 for the Mitsubishi LT-30 I currently use. Without question, they are different animals. My LT-30 is far easier to set up than a pivoted table. Although my table has had a few upgrades (WBT connectors, extra damping, upgraded caps-transistors-tonearm wire) for higher torque speed control and overall cleaner sound, I hesitate ever going back to pivoted. I have a pivoted as a backup. To each their own.
Have had both too. I used a Souther for quite some time, then went to a JMW 10.5. Both are kinda fiddly. Initial setup on a Souther takes some time, lots of patience and good eyes. The Souther "arm" mount adjusts both azimuth and overhang so moving one can take the other off if you are not careful. Some screaming usually involved. Set up well, the Souther can provide Master tape quality of sound with right cartridge.

My Souther needs some updates though, the pickup wire is old and it could use the upgraded mounting base with standoffs. Clearaudio wants too much money for parts though.

I like the JWM, its pretty easy to deal with. They make setup quite easy with the mounting provided mounting jig. I haven't looked back and when properly setup tracking distortion is hardly noticeable on inner grooves.
Mepearson,

Linear trackers are specifically designed to address the theoretical shortcoming that you raised. They also, by eliminating the offset angle, eliminate skating forces. But, they raise their own set of problems, both theoretical and real.

The short arm tube can be an advantage, in terms of vertical weight, but it also means much higher sensitivity to changes in record thickness as far as VTA is concerned (short arm swings in a greater arc for any given change in height).

Most linear tracking arms have significantly higher mass in the horizontal plain than regular pivoting arms. This mass makes compatibility with the compliance of specific cartridges a bigger concern. Also because of this mass, and because linear arms are not relying on the mechanical advantage (lever/fulcrum) of a pivot, it actually takes more force to move the arm into the correct position as the stylus spirals toward the center of the record. This greater force may mean HIGHER degrees of deflection of the cantilever, hence more instantaneous error, in terms of deviation from true tangency, than a conventional arm (I have heard this argument made by some arm manufacturers).

Hence, even the supposed theoretical advantage of such arms are in dispute. That said, I've heard really nice performance from Walkers, Clearaudio, Kuzma, etc. arms. On the rare instances when my Mapenoll arm was not binding (bad arm pump), it too performed quite well. I currently stick with a Basis Vector arm, because of the very good performance and ease of use, though some tangential arms are tempting. The Kuzma, in particular, looks extremely well built and comes with high quality arm tubing, pumps, air reserve chambers, etc. I bet that is a far cry from the Mapenoll, in terms of reliable performance.
Well, as far as the "twiddle" factor, once my ET 2 is set up correctly, it tends to stay set up correctly. My VPI TNT MKIII sits on a VPI TNT stand which is filled with lead shot. The stand of course has spikes that pierce the carpet to the concrete floor below. Because my floor and turntable stand are so stable, my table stays level and so does the arm. Changing LPs is no more a ritual than changing an LP on any other table. My pumps and surge tank are in an adjacent room where they can't be seen or heard.

What I will admit is that setting up an ET-2 is far more of a challenge than conventional pivoted arms and will drive the mechanically challenged to distraction. I just think the rewards are worth the initial work involved. My most recent pivoted arms I used before I went back to the ET-2 are the JMW 9 and JMW 10. I don't miss either one of them.

I like the idea of an air bearing vice mechanical bearings. I love not having anti-skate to deal with as an issue as well as tracing the LP exactly the way it was cut and not just having perfect geometry at two points on the record. That just makes sense to me, and when you hear it, it really makes sense.

I was never attracted to the Souther arm or similiar linear tracking arms because of the mechanical sled nature of the design.

In this wacky hobby, we tend to throw things on the scrap heap and call them obsolete only to rediscover them at a later date and declare them to be state of art many years later. Witness the resurgence in old Garrard and Lenco tables as well as Technics SP-10 tables. I thought I had moved on from my first ET-2 only to decide it was the best arm I had ever had and I needed to obtain another one. I am glad I did.
Dear Mepearson: It is obvious that you start the thread to tell that you are for the linear tracking tonearms.

There are several threads on this tonearm subject where you can find a lot of opinions about, many of them similar of what the people posted here. I don't want to go on by my self other that point out this:

IMHO the first " conditions " to make the kind of statement that you posted and that truly could help are: to own a full range/high resolution audio system where you can discern even on tiny differences and second to own/owned/borrowed the best of both " worlds " , with out that that statement is a little " poor " statement with no real foundation due to your audio system limitations and limited pivot tonearms you tested in your system.

Btw, I owned that ET-2 and if you want to know I'm for the pivot tonearms, no doubt about.

Regards and enjoy the music,
Raul.
Depends. As you mentioned they are fussy, and require working time for a perfect set up. I have a Sony 800 linear tracker with a Grace ruby. I also have a VPI Aries I with a ClearAudio Victory. I know, 'A Sony' he must be kidding. But, hey, it does sound great, 'computer controlled', no air required. I am sure Sony never made any money on the 800 unit as the R&D just had to be out of sight. Yes, someday the unit will stop working and it will never be repaired. Maybe I will sell it, if someone will pick it up and pay a reasonable price. Hard to tell the VPI and Sony apart, sometimes.
Mepearson-Now that Raul, audiophile's audiophile has deemed your system too full of limitations to fully appreciate the pivots he supports, you no longer have a chance to get your point across. There are enough different pieces of equipment for all of us to enjoy. It becomes unfortunate when the denigration of someone's system becomes part of the mix. If the thread continues, it's unlikely that it will be about personal enjoyment anymore.
Dear Mt10425: Please don't take my post in the way you take it.

He states that the ET-2 beats every single pivot tonearm he owned and reading on the Agon I think that his latest pivot tonearms comes from VPI that are far a way from be a great pivoted one, it is not only that as unipivot type design comes with more " problems " than the best non-unipivot ones but that I think is not a reference arm. Reading through Agon I find that the latest reference to what cartridges he own was a 103R that is almost reference of nothing too.

Everybody has the right ( like you say ) to enjoy what we have and the right to post everything we want but if you come here and tell me that the ET-2 beats any single pivoted tonearm I own/owned/heard then it is my right to questioning about and that's was what I try to do: NOT to denigrate nothing but trying to put things in perspective for all of us, I try to help nothing more.
I don't read a thread/post and give an opinion till I put things in perpestive for me, I like to know of what in reallity we are talking about.

What I post/posted I made it with all respect to any one, I don't have any single reason to offend any one.

Regards and enjoy the music,
Raul.
..... No
I currently use an Maplenoll apollo with its Linear tracking arm (very short wand)and have experience with the arms on the ariadne series. I have modified the ariadne arms to develop a lightweight arm vs the original aluminum arms that were originally offered. Once set up they are outstanding but do take some time to tweak from time to time. I do not have experience with the higher quality pivot arms but the raw numbers tell you that many people feel the pivots are equal to or better than many of the linear tracking arms. That being said, the arm is just one component in a complex system that ultimately makes music. It is difficult to make broad statements about the superiority of one piece of a system without fully testing out the system. A pivot arm on a gyrodec works well but I would not even consider a linear tracker.
Well Raul, I didn't mean to get your dander up. I certainly didn't mean to imply that the ET-2 is the world's finest tonearm. My point to the original post was that I think linear tracking arms have advantages over pivoted arms and that the ET-2 sounds better than any pivoted arm I have owned over the years. And yes, the Denon 103R used to be my cartridge. The 103R replaced a Van den Hul MC2 Special that I owned and paid far more money for than the 103R. I felt that the Denon 103R smoked the Van den Hull in every respect and I got rid of it. I now have a Benz Glider low output cartridge which I am sure is still beneath your lofty standards. However, even though the Benz Glider is overall a better cartridge than the Denon 103R, it does not diminish the fact that the 103R is a great sounding cartridge and another crazy good bargain in this wacky hobby if you have a head amp up to the task. I have made the point before that once your system achieves a certain level of "goodness" that incremental upgrades become a variation upon a theme. I just bought a Mcintosh C2300 preamp. Is it better than my Counterpoint SA-5.1 which has been upgraded by Michael Elliott? Yes, it is better, but I still consider the 5.1 to be an outstanding preamp.

There are far more people that own pivoted tonearms then own linear tracking arms and I would have suspected that those who own pivoted arms would think they are superior to their linear tracking brothers and that is ok.

I am not one who thinks that because something costs more that it must be better than all components of its ilk that cost less. I have been burned too many times over the years and know that you must listen with your ears and not your wallet.

I don't know how much you have to spend on a pivoted tone arm in order to surpass the sound quality of a linear tracking arm like the ET-2 which is a crazy good bargain in this insane hobby. For the here and now, I am hooked. I always reserve the right to become smarter. I bought an ET-2 brand new when it first came out and sold it after years of enjoyment. I went through 3 pivoted arms before I went on the hunt to find another ET-2 in order to get back to the sound quality I used to have.
I own both a unipivot and linear air-bearing tonearm - Scheu Tacco & Cartridge Man Conductor, respectively. For what it's worth, I found the Conductor to be easier to fine tune than the unipivot, but that partly has to do with Scheu's design. Musically, they are two different beasts, both very satisfying.

I own a Grado "The Statement" like Mepearson, spectacular cart when dialed in. I also have a Denon DL-103D.
In 1980 I met Lou Souther when I was living in Boston and in the last days of working in audio as my living. He was referred to me by Walter Swanbon, who now owns and operates Fidelis, a high-end hifi retailer and importer in New Hampshire. Lou was referred to me because he was looking for someone to take an interest in and evaluate his tonearm prototype and get some help refining the implementation and fine-tuning sonic performance along with the user interface. So I got involved and spent the next couple of years helping Lou drive the design to marketable implementation, and I took him to his first CES show for his launch.

When Lou sketched out his design for what became the Souther Linear Tracking Tonearm, it was in the context of "tire-on-roller" (Rabco), pantograph (Marantz) and servo (B&O, Phase Linear, Pioneer, others) designs having been marketed as far as more than a decade earlier, and each having come up wanting in some significant respect. Air bearing designs had noisy, cranky pumps and seals. And most prior options saddled you with a turntable you might not prefer. His design was also thought through in the latter days of low-mass, very high compliance cartridges preferred by most audiophiles in the American market. The Souther Linear Arm was built to allow use of an ADC XLM, so total moving mass had to be exceedingly low, and rolling friction had to be scant.

I spent countless hours with Lou in his basement trying a variety of flange bearings, comparing glass rods to quartz, listening to varying rod spacer materials, experimenting with different resins and cut materials for the "headshell," trying phono leads harnesses, arm tube materials and counterweight metals. It was iterative, trial-and-error, painstakingly subjective work. Very little measurement was performed. We essentially "voiced" the arm for neutrality, agreeing to accept sound on the cool side of objectivity rather than introduce permanent warmth, if such a trade had to be made.

We were also influenced by the Transcriptors Vestigal Tonearm, which I was using at the time, and had been for the prior six years. When I introduced that tonearm to Lou, it woke up a fresh burst of creativity on his part. We wanted to get the phenomenal tracking capability of the Vestigal, with its ethereal presentation, spatial reality, tone density, very wide-array cartridge compatibility, and low tracking force, but without the Transcriptors' higher-than-average angular tracking error and susceptibility to "warp-wow."

The SLA beat the Vestigal altogether, having a sufficiently longer pivot-to-stylus length to tame the warp-wow problem, and the shorter-than-average Vestigal's effective length deficiency in tracking error was dispensed with. Lou's design also matched the Vestigal's elasticity in cartridge compatibility. It worked well with a Koetsu, Denon 103D, Supex, Decca London, Shure V15III and ADC XLM-II. It also worked with an array of more prosaic cartridges we tried, from Stanton 881EEE, Empire 999 and 1000, Shure M91, M95ED, various Pickerings, Grados, AKGs and Nagaokas of the day.

The SME 3009 was the most common high-end pivoted arm then, with a strong showing by the Infinity Black Widow. If I remember correctly, the Linn Ottok was introduced during the development phase of the SLA and of course Rega's R200 and then the RB300 were present too. The SME and the Infinity did not deliver that "anchored" sound that we associate with great tonearms today. The Souther was developed during what became in retrospect an interregnum interrupting the prior prevalence of massy tonearms and the later rise of medium mass and now, again, higher mass tonearms. In the 70s, apart from the vast numbers of Japanese turntables with S arms played through relatively low-resolution systems, the more ethereal sound of the Infinity Black Widow, the Formula IV, the Grace 707 and others of the ilk was a reference of sorts.

The anchored sound of a precision-bearings/medium-mass tonearm carrying a moving coil emerged as a common reference beginnning again in the 1980s in the US, by which time the Souther tonearm was introduced. It's fair to say that circa 1982, listening to a Souther tonearm in the context of its market was a revelation of sorts, and Lou then continued to refine the arm to maintain relevance as notions of the "grail sound" changed, especially after the CD rocketed. Eventually, Lou sold the company to Clearaudio, who predictably managed to engineer what was supposed to be an affordable, simple device into an expensive, fussy one. Not that the original was exactly unfussy. In today's context, an original SLA still retains its signature concise and precise, open sound, but it's less of a dramatic revelation than it was circa 1980 when even in development it could be astonishing.

What's better? Today I have pivoted tonerms in daily use, both modern and vintage. We know so much more about how to isolate and mitigate problems in the turntable itself, that today it's clear that maladies once associated with tonearms actually lay elsewhere. I have two 30+ years old Luxman turntables, one of which had prototype, then production, Souther Linear Arms on it between 1980 and 1990. Most of my test work with Lou was done on that Luxman. Today they have pivoted arms because I get somewhat more compelling tonal density from them than can be extracted from an SLA or its modern iteration. I accept the normal and audible tracking error distortion of a 9" tonearm, and mitigate that by adding 12" arms to my Luxmans. It was interesting to read a recent capsule comment on the Clearaudio Statement, in which the reviewer wrote that the turntable is limited by the Souther arm mounted on it, and that subsequent listen with a pivoted arm elevated it to its rightful ranking of platter rotators. I always liked the B&O 4004/4004 when their top cartridge was installed, too, but the relatively unanchored sound of linear tracking limited its ultimate appeal. Even the more dreadnought Phase Linear, Pioneer, Optonica and Sony linear trackers of the day had some measure of the same detachment. Nothing's perfect, but in today's world, a good-to-great pivoted arm well matched to a cartridge edges out linear tracking, but you'll still grasp that you're giving up a specific desirable quality if you hear both and eschew the straight line tracker.

Lou, by the way, was already retired when I met him. But you wouldn't know it except by appearance. He still road his motorcycle with abandon, and took his wife Nancy on long rides, sidecar attached. He worked tirelessly on the smallest details to perfect his tonearm, sometimes calling me in the middle of the night to tell me he woke up and was in the basement at his tool bench making a new pivot carriage or some such. His enthusiasm in public was infectious and his determination in private was indefatigable. Lou is gone now, but anyone who knew him retains vivid memories of his jocular personality and the intensity of his interest in contributing to audio.

Phil
In 1980 I met Lou Souther when I was living in Boston and in the last days of working in audio as my living. He was referred to me by Walter Swanbon, who now owns and operates Fidelis, a high-end hifi retailer and importer in New Hampshire. Lou was referred to me because he was looking for someone to take an interest in and evaluate his tonearm prototype and get some help refining the implementation and fine-tuning sonic performance along with the user interface. So I got involved and spent the next couple of years helping Lou drive the design to marketable implementation, and I took him to his first CES show for his launch.

When Lou sketched out his design for what became the Souther Linear Tracking Tonearm, it was in the context of "tire-on-roller" (Rabco), pantograph (Marantz) and servo (B&O, Phase Linear, Pioneer, others) designs having been marketed as far as more than a decade earlier, and each having come up wanting in some significant respect. Air bearing designs had noisy, cranky pumps and seals. And most prior options saddled you with a turntable you might not prefer. His design was also thought through in the latter days of low-mass, very high compliance cartridges preferred by most audiophiles in the American market. The Souther Linear Arm was built to allow use of an ADC XLM, so total moving mass had to be exceedingly low, and rolling friction had to be scant.

I spent countless hours with Lou in his basement trying a variety of flange bearings, comparing glass rods to quartz, listening to varying rod spacer materials, experimenting with different resins and cut materials for the "headshell," trying phono leads harnesses, arm tube materials and counterweight metals. It was iterative, trial-and-error, painstakingly subjective work. Very little measurement was performed. We essentially "voiced" the arm for neutrality, agreeing to accept sound on the cool side of objectivity rather than introduce permanent warmth, if such a trade had to be made.

We were also influenced by the Transcriptors Vestigal Tonearm, which I was using at the time, and had been for the prior six years. When I introduced that tonearm to Lou, it woke up a fresh burst of creativity on his part. We wanted to get the phenomenal tracking capability of the Vestigal, with its ethereal presentation, spatial reality, tone density, very wide-array cartridge compatibility, and low tracking force, but without the Transcriptors' higher-than-average angular tracking error and susceptibility to "warp-wow."

The SLA beat the Vestigal altogether, having a sufficiently longer pivot-to-stylus length to tame the warp-wow problem, and the shorter-than-average Vestigal's effective length deficiency in tracking error was dispensed with. Lou's design also matched the Vestigal's elasticity in cartridge compatibility. It worked well with a Koetsu, Denon 103D, Supex, Decca London, Shure V15III and ADC XLM-II. It also worked with an array of more prosaic cartridges we tried, from Stanton 881EEE, Empire 999 and 1000, Shure M91, M95ED, various Pickerings, Grados, AKGs and Nagaokas of the day.

The SME 3009 was the most common high-end pivoted arm then, with a strong showing by the Infinity Black Widow. If I remember correctly, the Linn Ottok was introduced during the development phase of the SLA and of course Rega's R200 and then the RB300 were present too. The SME and the Infinity did not deliver that "anchored" sound that we associate with great tonearms today. The Souther was developed during what became in retrospect an interregnum interrupting the prior prevalence of massy tonearms and the later rise of medium mass and now, again, higher mass tonearms. In the 70s, apart from the vast numbers of Japanese turntables with S arms played through relatively low-resolution systems, the more ethereal sound of the Infinity Black Widow, the Formula IV, the Grace 707 and others of the ilk was a reference of sorts.

The anchored sound of a precision-bearings/medium-mass tonearm carrying a moving coil emerged as a common reference beginnning again in the 1980s in the US, by which time the Souther tonearm was introduced. It's fair to say that circa 1982, listening to a Souther tonearm in the context of its market was a revelation of sorts, and Lou then continued to refine the arm to maintain relevance as notions of the "grail sound" changed, especially after the CD rocketed. Eventually, Lou sold the company to Clearaudio, who predictably managed to engineer what was supposed to be an affordable, simple device into an expensive, fussy one. Not that the original was exactly unfussy. In today's context, an original SLA still retains its signature concise and precise, open sound, but it's less of a dramatic revelation than it was circa 1980 when even in development it could be astonishing.

What's better? Today I have pivoted tonerms in daily use, both modern and vintage. We know so much more about how to isolate and mitigate problems in the turntable itself, that today it's clear that maladies once associated with tonearms actually lay elsewhere. I have two 30+ years old Luxman turntables, one of which had prototype, then production, Souther Linear Arms on it between 1980 and 1990. Most of my test work with Lou was done on that Luxman. Today they have pivoted arms because I get somewhat more compelling tonal density from them than can be extracted from an SLA or its modern iteration. I accept the normal and audible tracking error distortion of a 9" tonearm, and mitigate that by adding 12" arms to my Luxmans. It was interesting to read a recent capsule comment on the Clearaudio Statement, in which the reviewer wrote that the turntable is limited by the Souther arm mounted on it, and that subsequent listen with a pivoted arm elevated it to its rightful ranking of platter rotators. I always liked the B&O 4004/4004 when their top cartridge was installed, too, but the relatively unanchored sound of linear tracking limited its ultimate appeal. Even the more dreadnought Phase Linear, Pioneer, Optonica and Sony linear trackers of the day had some measure of the same detachment. Nothing's perfect, but in today's world, a good-to-great pivoted arm well matched to a cartridge edges out linear tracking, but you'll still grasp that you're giving up a specific desirable quality if you hear both and eschew the straight line tracker.

Lou, by the way, was already retired when I met him. But you wouldn't know it except by appearance. He still road his motorcycle with abandon, and took his wife Nancy on long rides, sidecar attached. He worked tirelessly on the smallest details to perfect his tonearm, sometimes calling me in the middle of the night to tell me he woke up and was in the basement at his tool bench making a new pivot carriage or some such. His enthusiasm in public was infectious and his determination in private was indefatigable. Lou is gone now, but anyone who knew him retains vivid memories of his jocular personality and the intensity of his interest in contributing to audio.

Phil
Phil,
Your post was probably the best post I have ever read on Audiogon. Thanks for taking the time for posting a slice of history for the rest of us. Bob
Happy to post some history and perspective, Bob. Now, if this weren't the analog forum, I could say something about picking up H3aa OTL amps from Julius Futterman at his workship in New York in the 1970s.....

Phil
Wow Phil, thanks for the great ride through a specific point of time in audio history. Reading your post really allowed me to feel a small portion of what it must have been like at the time - very exciting.

Unfortunately, it's just left me wanting to hear more!
>>Unfortunately, it's just left me wanting to hear more!<<

Well, feel free to ask questions. -Phil
Dear Phil, What an beautiful 'holistic story': persistence,
effort, love, friendship and objectivity put together. I wish you were in Europe.

Regards,
Thanks Phil,
My Souther has been a stable, unfussy (after a very fussy set up), reliable tool, perched atop my SOTA Star for a decade. I does require cleaning on occasion (a five minute task) and must be absolutely level. My arm/turntable combination produces so little "grove rush" that on a good quality recording one has to look to see if a record or a CD is playing. Most of us do not live in a cost is no object world. I am grateful to designers like Lou Souther, who make products that give ordinary folks a glimpse of the best for a modest price.
I have owned several linear tracking arms.

Air bearings don't work. I am sure all of you have noticed that the more pressure you put in the arm, the better it sounds. The problem is that there is a violation of a fundamental turntable design rule, which is this: for proper LP playback, there can be no bearing slop between the surface of the platter and the cantilever of the cartridge.

Air bearings by definition have bearing slop, and this is why they sound better as you add more pressure.

The other problem, already mentioned, is that due to the excessive lateral tracking mass, it is the cantilever of the cartridge that defines the tracking error **not the arm**! This is because the cantilever has to flex to move all that mass.

The result is that a good quality arm like a Triplanar or Phantom has lower tracking error than any air-bearing arm!

In order for a straight-tracker to actually do its job right, it cannot have any slop in any of its bearings. Linear tracks do exist that have no slop, so it would not be that hard to devise an arm that also has no slop, using a servo not unlike what the old Rabcos used (updated of course). Arms like that don't exist right now so for the time being, radial tracking arms rule the State of the Art roost.
Ralph, I suspect some of us currently using the Walker Audio
table and air bearing arm may disagree with you: no slop,
exceptional tracking, marvelous resolution and outstandingly
articulate bass reproduction. And, yes, I do very much like
and admire the Triplanar arm.

Overall, way too many generalizations in this thread, folks.
Albert got this right in his comments near the beginning, imo.
.
"Air bearings don't work" is quite a generalization. While I have only compared my Trans-Fi Pro to Graham 1.5tc & SME IV, I have no doubt that the Pro handily surpasses both of these pivot arms. To AtmaSphere's point, the Pro operates by design on low air pressure. A high-pressure bearing may propagate increased turbulence and vibration. This theoretical disadvantage may in turn off-set any theoretical advantage in tracking. Of course it is all about execution.

The Trans-Fi also allows shortening of arm wand length down to 1". While one can debate the theoretical advantage of a short wand, IME the audible improvement is easily detected down to the last 1/4" of adjustment. While a short wand may be considered an ancillary feature of a linear design, this feature is of great sonic significance and is obviously unavailable in a pivot arm.
Bravo Phil! What a well written post.
Geez Ralph, I didn't know my ET-2 couldn't work. Of course I don't believe it because the ears don't lie. One of these days I will buy a top notch pivoted arm and see if my opinon changes as to whether or not I still think linear tracking arms sound better. The first ET-2 arm I had which I bought brand new many years ago I used with a Van den Hull MC 10 cartridge. I used that cartridge for over 5 years and it still sounded great. One of the things I like about linear tracking arms is that I don't feel the sound quality changes as the arm travels across the record like it does with pivoted arms. The closer you get to the inner grooves with a pivoted arm, the less it sounds like the first couple of songs. I know some of this is attributable to how the grooves are cut on the inner part of the record, but you don't hear the same degree of change with a linear arm. And I attribute that to not having any distortion associated with the tracing error that you have with pivoted arms.

And Phil, you talk about linear arms not sounding "grounded" in comparison to pivoted arms. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that? Until I can hear something better in my system, I just can't fault what I am hearing from my arm. The soundstage is wide, deep, and tall. The bottom end is something that has to be heard and if the recording has it, there is tons of air that you hear as both detail from cymbals as well as the air that is being cut by the other instruments. It sounds very much like 15 ips 2 track tapes that I play on my Otari MX-55 through a pair of Ampex 350 preamps. If a pivoted arm can trounce what I am hearing now, that would be very cool.

My experience with pivoted arms is way less than someone like Raul who has 3 turntables and 50 tonearms and 500 cartridges to play with. But then, I don't need 50 tonearms and 500 cartridges. I just need one table, one arm, and one good cartridge. I would drive myself to distraction otherwise and never find time to actually enjoy listening to music. Aside from all of the tables I have owned over the years that came with their own arms like Thorens and a Technics 1600 and too many other tables to list, the only pivoted arms that I have owned have been the Sumiko MMT, Rega RB-300, JMW 9, and JMW 10. Of those arms, the Sumiko MMT was my least favorite arm. I know that none of these arms are state of the art contenders, but the JMW 10 has garnished its share of good reviews. If I was going to be tempted to try another pivoted arm, it would probably be an SME V as I think its engineering and workmanship is superb.

Lastly, Phil-thanks for sharing your story with us. I really enjoyed it.
Aaaah, to be able to afford a high quality table with two tonearms, a phono w/ dual inputs, and two of each cartridge. Then, I could directly compare linear-tracking versus other types.

Now, what about "Bi-Axis Inertia Controlled Dynamic Balance Type Tonearm" like the Dynavector DV-507 mkII?
Well, ET-2 arms are fairly cheap when they come up for sale. So, for around $500-$700 you can try one out. Make sure you use a surge tank with it and an air filter on the output of the tank that feeds the arm tube. You can build your own surge tank for dirt cheap by going to home depot or Lowes and buying a chunk of PVC pipe and two end caps and two air fittings. If you decide it's not for you, you can always put it back for sale on Audiogon and get your money back. The manual is available for down load on ET's website and Bruce Thigpen will answer all phone calls and help out with any set-up problems. You can't ask for better service than that.
Phil,I would love to hear about Julius Futterman. At one point I had the Harvard Electronics h3a. BOb
Atmasphere wrote a very good - and true - comment. That's the way it is.
When you compare those Arms on a table which can hold several Arms and you use a demanding music with a lot of dynamic swings - like the old Deccas, no reissues - you will discover very fast what linear tracking Arms CAN'T do, they are not able to reproduce a Physical Force which is in the recording (has nothing to do with volume).
The silence in the grooves based on that kind of tracking is true, but this is only 1 parameter.
Anyway, it is not necessary to split hairs, today we have pivot Designs which are not outstanding and a linear tracker beat them. The difference is pretty simple, you design a working pivot, the Designer has to think and has to solve some problems, otherwise it won't work properly.
Regular Arms can be hyped much easier, they can be made chap and can be fitted with a generous mark up.
But back to the question:

Are linear tracking arms better than pivoted arms

the answer is: No
i own both types, the Rockport Sirius III linear tracking arm, a pivoted Triplaner, and a pivoted Reed.

my experience is that optimizing a well designed linear tracker can get world class bass performance.....even compared to top level pivoted arms. the character of the bass might be different on a linear tracker than a pivoted arm. subjectively one might prefer one over another.

in my particular case i did think my pivoted arms had more bass slam than my Rockport linear tracker. then i removed the silicone dampening fluid from the Rockport arm, at which point the bass performance really came alive. the dampening fluid had been slowing down the arm, both in the vertical plane but especially in the lateral plane. without the fluid to 'push against' as it tracked sideways down the air shaft the energy level increased by a large degree.

i have 2 Ortofon A90's, one on my Garrard/Triplaner and one on my Rockport. the bass is rounder on the Triplaner, but it does not have more slam than on the Rockport. the Rockport has more articulation and tonality in the bass, the slam and decay are of different character.....more life like. i've had the A90 on the Technics/Reed. there it has more slam than the Garrard/Triplaner, maybe a touch more than the Rockport, but not alot more.

if i were to draw my conclusions from my experience with the Rockport arm with the dampening fluid then i'd likely agree about the differences mentioned above on the difference in bass performance......but not now. and......in all other matters of performance the Rockport arm 'laps the field' over the pivoted arms......but of course, it's not possible to isolate what it does from the tt it resides on.

all air bearing linear tracking arms are not the same; and unless one spends considerable time with any particular arm you cannot assume things.
"Make sure you use a surge tank with it and an air filter on the output of the tank that feeds the arm tube. You can build your own surge tank for dirt cheap by going to home depot or Lowes and buying a chunk of PVC pipe and two end caps and two air fittings."

This in a nutshell is why I have never owned an airbearing linear tracking tonearm. I just don't want to be bothered with tubing, tanks, gauges, and pumps, not to mention the noise from said pump. But if I did seek out one, it would not be the ET2. Since I don't have the scratch for a Rockport Sirius or Walker, I would go for the Trans-fi. But in the end I agree with Mike. The whole argument is specious, because "it depends". Or as Syntax said in simplest response to the OP, "no".

Ralph, servo arms have inherent problems too. The Rabco depended upon the arm swinging in a "micro"-arc so as to activate a relay that then switched in a tiny motor that drove the pivot along a rail. Thus in fact the Rabco (and the copycat Goldmund T3) transcribed a series of tiny arcs across the surface of the LP, which may place even more stress on the cantilever than does a well designed air bearing tonearm.
Hey 213 Cobra (Phil), I too was a friend and customer of Julius' in his end stage as a manufacturer. Over a period of 5-7 years I bought two amps from him, a stereo unit and then an H3aa. I have a vivid memory of standing in his shop space while he helped me box up the H3aa's, so I could carry them to my car. There were home-made power transformers that had been recently wound and "dipped", hanging on a wire to dry. The place smelled like a freshly tarred road on a hot summer day. He was a very sweet guy, a real "class act". Just a month ago I was visiting a record store that is virtually across 72nd St from his Broadway and 72nd St walk-up "factory". I looked for the door that used to lead up to his 2nd floor space, but could not identify it, because the building has been modified since.
Syntax, I have no idea what you mean when you say linear tracking arms can't reproduce a "Physical Force." You need to explain what that means.

MikeL's comments are always very interesting because Mike owns so much great gear and therefore has lots of experience with listening to top notch gear. For people to outright dismiss linear tracking arms based on some theoretical shortcoming without listening to what they can do is just nonsense.

And Lewm, I understand your position. I have been fortunate to have my own listening rooms that have adjacent space available where I could park my pumps and surge tank out of sight and sound from my listening room. If I had to have the pumps and tank in my listening room, I would probably be using a pivoted arm instead.
Dear friends: IMHO trying to achieve a precise conclusion of which type of tonearm is better with out take in count how that tonearm is " surrounded " in the analog chain and in especial with which cartridge(s) is almost useless.

The theory behind that a linear tracking/tangential tonearm is better than a pivoted one is IMHO only that: theory, nothing more. A theory can be usefull when we are talking on perfect " stages " but the analog recording process along the reproduction process through our analog rigs are far away from be perfect.

There are cartridges that could perform better in a linear tonearm than in a pivoted one as there are cartridges that performs better in a pivoted one than in a tangential one.

Could this means that either tonearm design is better than the other?, certainly not only tell us that that cartridges performs better in that tonearm because that tonearm makes a better cartridge matching than the other tonearm design.

Now, through my own experiences ( in my system. ) and through experiences ( many ) in other audio systems I never heard/find any single linear tracking tonearm set up where the low bass ( not low mid bass. ) had/has the tightness , fullness, definition and truest that have in a good pivoted one. Btw, I always think that the mechanical " grounded " on a pivot design is very important part for its performance in this frequency range.
This alone characteristic where IMHO the pivot tonearms are superior makes a difference: this bass range frequency is the foundation of the music and it is here where tiny differences makes the difference of course if we own a system that can play clean in that bass frequency range.

The process/mechanism/relationship to reproduce LP's is really complex and to take a sole characteristic in a stand alone link ( the tonearm ) is IMHO a very simple and " un-true " way to seriously analize the subject.

I respect to all those people that " die for " the linear tracking tonearms but many of them ( Walker, Rockport and the like ) have it because they don't have any other choice with those TT's, the linear tracking tonearm is part of the TT package. It is not possible on that TT's to mount a pivot tonearm and make a true comparison.

Anyway like many other subjects in high end audio always will be different opinions about that one way or the other could help to understand more in deep each one audio subject.

Regards and enjoy the music,
Raul.
Well Raul, I own a system that "can play clean in that bass frequency range." My speakers are the Definitive Technology 7000SC which are rated down to 11 Hz. They have a 14" sub in each speaker (with two 14" passive radiators in each speaker)with a built in 1800 watt amp. They certainly plumb the bottom octave cleanly. Mid bass should never be mistaken for the bottom octave (20-40 Hz). Mid bass will not shake your room. I was told that when I switched from the JMW 10 to the ET-2 that I would be giving up bass response. I found the opposite to be true.

I hope that MikeL chimes in here and states whether or not he thinks his linear arm is incapable of reaching into the bottom octave. It's kind of odd to have people tell us that we can't have what we know we hear!
Dear Mepearson: +++++ " linear arm is incapable of reaching into the bottom octave. " +++++

I never posted that, please re-read my post. Btw, I already heard the Rockport too.

+++++ " It's kind of odd to have people tell us that we can't have what we know we hear! " +++++

like in almost every place on audio: there are different range level for quality performance, I know very well Definitive Technology and for what is surrounded it: that's not the quality level performance I'm talking about.

I don't like to continue with what you posted because this is leaving me ( push me. ) to analyze more in deep what you are hearing and I don't want to do it, at least not in your thread.

Regards and enjoy the music,
Raul.
I have owned Air Tangent 2B, 10B and Reference, ET 2.5 mod. and Goldmund T3F. Furthermore i have intimate experinece with the Kuzma Airline, Forsell and the Versa Dynamics.
While I would never dare to dispute their theoretical advantage of zero tracking error, all these linear tracking tonearms have/had a few shortcomings which ultimately put them off my tt's.
First of all, I yet have to find a linear tracking tonearm which does not put stress on the cantilever/suspension system of the cartridge mounted.
And it does so by design.

No matter whether active progression as with the Goldmund or passive progression as with Air Tangent and other air suspended linear tonearms - the force driving the tonearm in its linear way is applied through an often heavy lever and the force of lever acts right at the cantilevers suspension.
Not good.

I have found that most every linear tonearm shortens the life of the cartridge in use. No matter how careful you adjust all parameters and I am quite fussy with attention to detail in tonearm set-up.....

The theoretical advantage of zero tracking error is undisputed - but the advantage gets quite tiny regarding 10" and especially 12" tonearms.

Last but not least the bearing in air suspended, but also in slide mechanical bearing based tonearms is no match for the tight bearings of conventional pivot tonerams - unipivot, knife-edge or gimball bearings.

All these "old school" - bearings can handle mechanical energy induced into the tonearm by the tracking process much better than any real-world linear tracking bearing applied in tonearm design so far.
Thus they sonically outperform (the best pivot tonearms...) even the best linear trackers in low register weight, punch and brute force - and doing so by quite a good margin.

Yes, - the linear tracking concept in tonearm design has its theoretical advantages, but also its shortcomings inherent in the bearing principles applied so far.
We would either need super high air pressure - which will have some other new shortcomings coming with it... - or very tight (sealed...) linear bearings.
None of this has been brought to the market in lt-tonearm design so far.

And finally we would need to address that problem right at the tip of the cartridge' stylus....

Linear tracking tonearm design is a fine example of great promise in concept but many shortcomings in practice....
Dertonarm-Thank you for your very well-reasoned response. You obviously have an abundance of experience with linear tracking arms and therefore it's interesting to hear your viewpoint.

I have heard pros and cons for 12" arms with the cons mainly added resonance as a trade off for the lower distortion. What 10" arms do you recommend?

Mark
Mark, I would just give the Triplanar, DaVinci, new Ortofon as well as the Phantom II a good listen. These are current production and while not featuring the tightest and most rigid bearings in tonearm history, all four are capable to outperform each and every linear tracker in terms of speed, detail and inner punch in the lower registers. Precisely set-up their maximum derivation from zero tracking error is smaller than 1.6°.
Great contenders from days gone by ( see used market ) - with tighter and more rigid bearings than any of the above current production - are Technics EPA, Micro MAX, SAEC 4xx and most notably (no surprise...) Fidelity Research FR-64s (this has the best energy handling and transfer of any tonearm).
These are all 10" tonearms.

D.
Also look into the Basis Vector Arm. A. J. Conti use to distribute a well known linear tracking arm and he feels his arm sounds much better than a linear tracker.
Dear Mepearson: This " humble " Audio Technica 10" tonearm is a winner and IMHO better than the vintage Technics and Fidelity Research ( that I own. ), it competes with any pivoted tonearm out there. Btw, I'm using it and is a current model:

http://www.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls.pl?anlgtnrm&1270496166&/Audio-Technica-1503-Mark-III-l

if you want it new you can find it here:

http://www.audiocubes2.com/brand/Audio-Technica/product/Audio-Technica_AT-1503_IIIa_Transcription_Universal_Tone_Arm.html

Regards and enjoy the music,
Raul.
How about the Dynavector DV-507 mkII? How does that, and it's "Bi-Axis Inertia Controlled Dynamic Balance ", rate against the other top pivoted arms?
02-19-10: Rauliruegas
This alone characteristic where IMHO the pivot tonearms are superior makes a difference: this bass range frequency is the foundation of the music and it is here where tiny differences makes the difference of course if we own a system that can play clean in that bass frequency range.
02-19-10: Mepearson
Well Raul, I own a system that "can play clean in that bass frequency range."
While many of us may have components capable of producing these low frequencies - I'd guess very, very, few have rooms with dimensions and/or extensive acoustic treatments that allow the accurate reproduction of those lower frequencies.
Dear darkmoebius: Agree with you. There I'm talking more on bass quality than bass quantity: an important difference.

regards and enjoy the music,
Raul.
Agreed, Raul. But clean reproduction of the fundamental note and it's harmonics, across the entire frequency range, is a direct function room dimensions and acoustic treatments. I'd guess that most rooms are subject to serious modal ringing and suckouts without such treatment. Multiple subwoofers placed unevenly around the room can help mitigate much of the problems, but ~4 are often necessary.

Offhand, something like reviewer Mike Levigne's room is what would be needed to for truly accurate response.

It would be interesting to see frequency and decay plots of different reviewer's and audiophiles rooms. I think people would be extremely surprised to see what's really going on in their rooms.
Sure, about everyone of us here do envy Mike Lavigne for that room.
However - in an imperfect world (read: the one we all are living in...) we can still strive for perfection in audio reproduction even if we will never approach it.
Not sitting in an acoustical perfect room should in no way keep one from trying to bring or lure the best possible performance from its equipment.
And then there is the ear ........ and the related processor and hard disk creating the experience of hearing.
Imperfect too......