Audiomods is a company from the UK that specializes in tonearm kits, from various parts kits for the Rega style tonearms, to entire tonearm assemblies, which is the option I chose.
They offer two tonearms, the Series 3 (the original offering) and the Series 5, their most recent addition. Both use Rega Arm tubes in their assembly and that’s where any similarity to their Rega brethren ends. The bearing assembly and counter weight were designed and engineered by Jeff Spall the man behind Audiomods.
I’m not going to go into the technical aspects of this arm since its all available on their web site http://www.audiomods.co.uk
They specialize in arms for Rega turntables as well as the Technics SL1200, which comes with a custom mounting plate specific to this turntable
When placing an order for this arm, Jeff will request details about the turntable the arm is to be placed on and the cartridge used, since he treats every order as a custom fabrication.
The counter weight is configured to your specific cartridge, the arm may be engineered specifically to shave of a little more weight if needed and if necessary head-shell weights will be supplied to increase effective mass. Even the type of RCA connector can be selected from a couple of options, or you can provide your own for installation.
Once complete, the order will take 3-4 weeks to build and then another couple of weeks to go through the mail system, but it is worth the wait. Mine actually arrived a little earlier than anticipated, which is NOT the norm in today’s world.
The arm is shipped in a wooden presentation box with your name and arm details. Inside the arm is securely held in place by the mounting hardware and the various parts like counter weight and anti-skating assembly are tightly packed and held in place with foam packing blocks.
Mounting and setting the arm up was a breeze, thanks to great installation notes that are provided and a little cylindrical spacer that allows for precise setup of the VTA.
You will see from the many photos on their web site that this arm has a very “engineered” appearance, due to the fact that the arm tube is the only part not fabricated from stock material and their finish is superb.
I elected to go with the matte bead-blast finish, but on the series three there is also a polished finish available. I also chose the polished brass counterweight, just to warm up the starkness of the silver and the micrometer VTA adjuster for extremely precise control
My cartridge is the Denon DL 103 moving coil with a brass shim epoxied to it, increasing the total weight to 14 grams. For this, Jeff supplied the heavier counter weight. He also provided a spacer to raise the arm 6 mm should it be required.
So, how does it sound?
First, even though it replaced a Rega RB250 with almost the same mass, everything about this arm just seems smoother and lighter. Audible differences were not immediately apparent, but crept up on me as I selected different albums.
OK, I can hear some of you now asking: how come can an upgrade in this price range not yield more noticeable benefits.
Well, to start with, my RB250 already had the Cardas rewire upgrade, which in itself brought a significant increase in details. The Silver Litz wire should have improved on this and it did to some extent. There were improvements in the audio image, improvements to the upper frequency range and pretty good control in the lower frequencies.
So, was this arm a red herring? Not so fast!
Any component inserted into a sound system with other components that do not match or exceed its own resolution capabilities, will only perform up to the abilities of those components in the audio path.
Even before the arm arrived I had been contemplating the replacement of my Cambridge Audio 640p phono stage with its replacement, the 651p and now seemed like a good time to proceed, so I popped down to my local store and purchased one.
Well, the improvements now being appreciated are indicative of some very fine engineering in a tone arm of premium quality.
First, the soundstage is enormous - Is This Love on Bob Marley’s Legend album exceeds the boundaries of my listening room by a considerable margin. This is also apparent on many of the classical recordings I own. Also the individual instrument placement is amazingly precise.
Next, the smoothness of instruments, especially strings, brings an almost tube-like quality to the music that make them sound so much more enjoyable. The fine details that are now more noticeable, allows the natural timber of each instrument to be clearly heard. An excellent album to showcase this is the classic from Deutsche Grammaphon, Cello Concertos of Vivaldi, Tartini and Boccherini, featuring Mstislav Rostropovich, where his cello seems to breath as he plays.
There is also an extension to the upper frequencies with a level of control that provides excellent reproduction of sibilance. Diana Krall has never sounded so silky smooth on her album All For You, a tribute to the (Nat) King Cole Trio
And down at the bottom end is a new depth never before appreciated on my system. Tocata Terza In A as recorded on the Das Mikrofon album by Tacet has some earth moving lows that can easily rattle windows, even when played at modest levels. The bass control is simply superb.
Each time I listen, the subtleties this arm extracts from each album has me stopping dead in my tracks just to listen.
I’ve lost track of the number of times I have looked up from reading while I listen, to find my foot bobbing up and down in time to the music, as though it has a mind of its own. Who knew I had feet that appreciated music.
For those with older recordings in their collections, like the mono recordings I own, circa 1958-1964, this arm treats them with a “respect” I thought only possible with a mono cartridge setup. But the really surprising aspect of the mono recordings I’ve listened to so far is the depth to the soundstage, which took me very much by surprise, since up to now they had sounded flat.
So, the burning question is — is it the arm that sounds so good or the phono stage?
Well, without the superb engineering in this arm I believe the resulting audio would be far less engaging, since the phono stage can only amplify the signal provided.
On my modest system, this arm has elevated my audio experience to a whole new level of listening pleasure, but I am certain that this arm is capable of achieving significantly more on systems with finer resolution capabilities.
WARNING: Just make sure the rest of your components are as competent performers as the Audiomods Series 3 Tonearm!
The journey continues…