Linear tracking vs. Pivoted tracking tone arms.

After searching all 735 existing analog "threads" I only found one short discussion regarding Linear tracking arms vs. tangential tracking arms. I have been a vinyl collector for over 32 years, and beleive that pure analog is still the "gold standard". In 1984 I purchased a Sony PS-X555ES linear tracking, biotracer, turntable. It is a fully automatic table with direct drive. This table has served me well, with no mechanical or set up issues. It is still in my system today. There are no adjustments other than balancing the tonearm to a netural position, then dialing in your tracking force. Two years ago I installed a Denon DL 160 moving coil cartridge, and am very pleased with its quality. I am considering retirement for the Sony and replacement with a Michell Gyro SE with Rega pivoted arm. Linear tracking arms are not availiable. This is a belt drive, full manual table. I understand that the master LP lacquer is cut on a lathe with the linear method. Should vinyl be replayed in the same manner for optimal sound? I would really like to hear from some hard core audiophile vinyl types on this one. By the way, my system consists of the followinig: Conrad-Johnson PV10B all tube pre-amp with tube phono stage. This is split into a C-J Primer 11 tube amp and C-J MF2250 FET amp, bi-amped into a pair of KEF Reference series 3-2 speakers. The Premier 11 feeds the mids and highs and the MF2250 feeds the bass section. All cables and interconnects are Monster Cables finest. Thanks in advance for any advice.
Lbo, I believe that theories of tonearm design are less important than their execution. I was a long-time owner of a linear tracking ET2 tonearm, with its unique air bearing mechanism, but now I am the happy owner of a VPI 10.5.
I think the Michell/Rega combination will likely yield better sound than your Sony, given its belt drive system and the strenth and rigidity of the Rega arm. Those features are just as important as linear vs. tangential. Of course, you want to assure proper overhang and anti-skating, but those should not be a problem.
There are many linear tracking arms, here are the ones I know of that are currently being produced:

Rockport. (USA)
Walker (USA)
Eminent Technology (USA)
Clear Audio (Germany)
Air Tangent ( Sweden)

I am not certain if all of these may be purchased separately, or even if you would be willing to pay the price (some of these are VERY expensive).

The second part of your question is YES, linear tracking provides better performance than pivotal arms.

The best pivotal arms such as Graham, SME, VPI and others track the LP inaccurately for most of the side. A properly set up linear arm is correct for most of the LP.

I have owned many turntables, and on these at least six linear tracking and more than 15 pivotal arms. The best turntables I owned, were the VPI with Eminent Technology (with upgrade pump), Versa Dynamics (linear tracking) Basis Mk 5, with Airtangent Arm (linear tracking), Walker with Walker arm (linear tracking).

These setups cover a period of more than fifteen years, so consider the era when comparing these setups.
I know I am going to be attacked big time for this, and I am not even going to defend myself, I am going to hit and run, let the insults fly as they will. I cannot begin to understand how Rega has gotten away with selling an arm with no VTA adjustment for all these years. I would by an AQ in a heart beat, even if I knew it had a few flaws, before I would buy what I can only consider a lo-fi arm like a Rega, since it has not real VTA adjustment. I have had my say, blast away!
While i can't hold a candle to Albert's knowledge or experience with vinyl, i do agree with his comments. I currently have three different linear trackers and one pivoted arm TT.

As someone else mentioned in another recent TT / vinyl thread, it is not necessarily the gear that you are using, it is how well it is set up that matters. While this was primarily talking about VTA, it could apply to anything. As such, work with what you have to obtain the best possible performance until you find something that you are sure will suit your needs. There are a LOT of things to consider when looking at TT / Arm / Cartridge combo's. Believe me ( and i'm sure that you already know this ), you can spend a LOT of money moving sideways or spinning your wheels in this hobby. Sean
Lou, you don't have to run. It's true that Rega arms are made cheep and have an alarm wire in the arm tube but they work well. The first goal of arm is to track properly. The sonical performance more depends on turntable and cartridge rather than on arm unless it's realy expencive high-tech arm.
On that reason I've decided to pass on SME arms and wait until I'll be able to hook up myself with Graham...
a couple of points to consider- while it is true that linear designs are technically superior in reducing tracking errors than a pivoted arm,they also tend to be more complex to fully implement,are generally less reliable and typically more expensive to produce than a pivoted design.The reason pivoted arms permeate the market is that they can produce excellent results reliably and at reasonable cost.Success with a pivoted design is closely tied to the skill and accuracy of setup and if tracking errors are heard ,it is far more likely that those are from inadequate cartridge installation, less than precise alignment and deficiencies of the cartridge itself.
for lou-not a blast but to call the Rega arms lo-fi is a mistake.It is the most successful tonearm in its category for good reason: it plays music well and offers exceptional value.The reason that there are so few tonearms available at its pricepoints is because its superiority effectively crushed nearly all the competition for nearly 2 decades.The VTA issue is the result of Rega's long standing belief that stability and rigidity are more important than convenience.You may choose to agree with this stance or not.The downside is that this approach of using machined spacers to accomodate varying cartridge heights and VTA results in fairly large steps. The rigid nature of this approach,while paying off in musical and sonic benefits is less than adequate for use with certain fineline profile stylus profiles and there fore will limit the number of optimal cartridge choices.Obviously the Rega cartridges will perform ideally in the Rega arms as will less VTA fussy
units such as the Dynavectors.The aftermarket VTA adjusters should go a long ways to addressing the more VTA persnickety cartridge options.
My experience owning an ET2/Sota Cosmos and later a Versa Dynamics 1.0, convinced me early on that there is certain 'rightness' inherent in linear trackers that seems to be absent with every pivoted arm i've ever tried or heard. My current reference (Versa 2.5) lives in my buddy's system. And 15-yrs since it's inception, it still handily smokes (sonically) all the latest and greatest 'tables and arms (pivoted) that we've compared it to...It's a damn shame John Bicht ain't in the TT business any longer.
Ok, I have been had, Caterham1700 tossed in a hook that I have to nibble at....

"The reason that there are so few tonearms available at its price points is because its superiority effectively crushed nearly all the competition for nearly 2 decades."

Superiority in marketing? The best selling product, even at a particular price point, rarely is the best product you know! I am sure some others lacked in resources and not in quality, which is where I believe the Rega's are lacking.

I find their argument a hoot too. Better to use a lesser grade cartridge which can never extract from the grove what information is there so that you can have a false sense of superior rigidity! Sounds like an add targeted toward folks in need of Viagra to me.....

No, better to use a superior cartridge and an arm that can, pretty much, infinitely adjust to accommodate it. I’ll pick up a Rega if I need a back, or lower section, scratcher…. Then again, we all know about opinions, and mine like all others, should be seen through that filter….
LBO, the Pioneer PL-800 linear tracking has been talked about as a classic in European audio forums. You might be able to get a used one in eBay if that's what youre into.

As for the Regas--once more--it's a great sounding name!!!

I solved the 'rigidity' problem in my Technics 1200 by placing a Bob Regal Foot to the left of the tonearm pivot(teak side down)and to the rear of the platter. It is absorbing vibrations which would otherwise travel down the tonearm tube and get magnified at the stylus tip. The improvement is so drammatic it seems I have purchased a new TT!!! And I still have continuous VTA adjustment.
The answer to your question is posted on my website:
Just beautiful! Bet would be a great match with one of those oldie Technics DDs (SP-10, SP-25)...

Way out of my means, though.
Djnorth, Nice web site, great images of the Airtangent.

Glad I included it in my list since you (seem) to be connected to the company. The Airtanget 10B is one of the linear track arms I was referring to, among the six I have owned. A truly beautiful arm.

Puroagave. Agree about the Versa 2.5 and John. He is a brilliant engineer. I did much of the photography for him, including the images of the Red Rollers and Wood Blocks. I too owned this table and doubt that there are more than one or two tables ever built that compete with it. In my opinion they would be the Rockport and Walker. I have heard both, and currently own the Walker.

Many great ways to play an LP, I agree with every suggestion here, especially within the price points each one represents. To vote for the one arm I would own again, should I find there were no linear's to choose from, it would be the Tungsten Graham with Ceramic arm and upgrade cables. A remarkable design, VERY difficult to get perfect, as you can clearly hear differences of one tenth of a gram and azimuth changes that are wrought by resting a red sable brush on the side weights. Well worth the effort when dialed in.

Only caveat, this rig requires a perfect foundation and stand, as changes of a few millimeters in floor shift will cause the unipivot to shift azimuth. This is confusing to hear the sound deteriorate and return (say before and after a rain with pier and beam home), until you learn to sight the turntable in with a level every so often, so the arm is realigned "automatically" rather than spending 45 minutes chasing the adjustment, only to have it off when the foundation moves again.

Hope the comments help those who are trying for perfection in their dial in.
Greetings fellow music lovers and equipment junkies. This is LBO (Lou) following up on all of the wonderful responces to my inquiry on linear tracking arms. I am very greatful to all who responded, even the "devil advocates".
Mr.Porter: Your insight and knowledge in this field is remarkable. The Rockport, Air Tangent, and Eminent Technology are way beyond my price range. I am trying to stay below the "diminishing law of returns" curve in my ultimate selection. The Graham pivotal is impressive and a small engineering marvel. At $2,600.00, less cartridge, it is on my selection list. I had considered purchasing the Clearaudio "Revolution or Solution" tables. Their platter bearing design and AC drive motor are not as robust as the Michell. The Revolution does have a linear arm, but I can not get detailed information on the arm, how it functions, etc., and no one in the Detroit, Mi. area stocks them. Perhaps you can add some additional comments on this table combo. Floor shift is in constant flux in my abode. With 16" centers and 2X8 joists supporting .5" plywood, I am concerned about keeping the Graham in adjustment.
Greggey: Your additional overall insight on belt vs direct drive is understood.
Sean: What in the world are you doing with four tables at one time? Let me know when you want to part with one of the Linear trackers.
Caterham: Thanks for the philisophy, cartridge, and marketing lesson. The Dynavector series was my initial choice for the Rega arm.
Psychicanimal: My Sony is a dead ringer for the Pioneer PL-800, and functions in the same manner. The same design engineers must have worked on both projects during that decade/time period.

Keep the follow ups comming.
Best Regards, Lou
If you decide to sell that PS-X555ES, please let me know.

William Gray

Los Angeles, CA
I have also run linear trackers for years. I now run a Triplanar.

IMO, the Triplanar offers a lower tracking angle distortion than most linear trackers due to the fact that most linear trackers have far more lateral tracking mass than their vertical mass.

The cantilever of the cartridge is what the arm has to follow. If your tracking mass is extreme in the lateral mode, the cantilever will flex. If it does that, it becomes the source of the tracking error! If you run a cartridge that has low compliance so you can deal with this problem, the low compliance may be a problem in the vertical mode. The cantilever of the cartridge is quite short- so if you can see it flex at all then the tracking error is considerable.

So a radial tracking arm may well have a lower tracking error!

For this reason if a linear tracker is used, IMO it should be servo controlled rather than some sort of passive air bearing or the like. In this way the lateral and vertical tracking masses can be identical. To my understanding, there are no such arms made right now.
I've got to chime in here. I've been running a Trans-Fi Terminator low pressure air bearing tonearm that is affordable, simple to set up and sounds fantastic. Easily runs with my SME-V which I also love. The music flows so beautifully off the Terminator it is hard to describe. Just sounds so effortless.
Are you familiar with the ET2 arm? Its counterweight is decoupled in the horizontal plane which lowers its horizontal effective mass. I'm not sure if any other linear tracking arms have that feature.
Ketchup, I have heard that before. And you are right, that's a helpful feature and not found in the majority of air bearing arms.

What it does is react to minor perturbations (and is thus an acknowledgment of the issue), but if you think about it, for best results it would have to be tuned to anticipate the compliance of the cartridge (I suspect it introduces LF noise too, translating the subsonic noise generated by the bending of the stylus that otherwise happens to a higher frequency). All that mass is still moving across the LP though, and its all being moved by that stylus. IOW, its a compromise but better than nothing!

There is a different issue that all air bearing arms have. Ever notice that if you have higher pressure pumps, reservoirs and regulators that the arm sounds better? There is a basic engineering problem at play. In LP playback, there can be no play between the platter surface and the mounting of the cartridge. This issue is very much akin to the steering in an automobile. If there is play between the steering wheel and the wheels of the car moving on the road, the result will be uncertain handling and could be dangerous!

In a turntable this sort of play is translated as a coloration in the sound. Anyone with an air bearing arm knows what I am talking about- the pumps and stuff I mentioned earlier. IOW, there is play that is inherent in the arm and there is nothing that can be done about it if the arm is to work.

This is why I favor the servo-controlled approach. Its a pity that there are no arms that have been developed to take advantage of recent materials advances in this area.
Atma-sphere et al, There is one type of pivoted tonearm that exhibits the property of a low vertical inertial mass with a high horizontal inertial mass, a la most SL tonearms. That is the Dynavector DV series. Rather than try to translate what Dynavector says about this feature of their tonearm, I am quoting here the DV505 owners manual:
The verbiage hints at why a high horizontal mass has some advantages as regards low frequency resonance control. As I think I mentioned once before, there are also a few vintage conventional pivoted arms that have obvious added mass on their lateral aspects, added usually at the pivot, e.g., the SAEC, to name only one brand. My point is that there are possibly some theoretical advantages to having a low vertical and high horizontal inertial mass, combined in one tonearm. Ralph, I would be interested to know what you think about this.
I just found this quote in the DV507 MkII brochure:
"The DV507 bi-axis tone arm has a large inertia for horizontal movement and a very small inertia for vertical movement. We shall now explain the reasons why this is advantageous.

It is well known that a cartridge generates an audio signal by the differential motion between the cantilever and the cartridge body. Consequently, if the supporting point of the cartridge (the tonearm) vibrates, the tonearm motion affects the audio signal.

In these conditions, the signal, which causes the tonearm to vibrate is of low frequency and large amplitude.

In the currently used 45-45 stereo record cutting procedure, low frequency signals are almost entirely recorded in a horizontal direction. This means that the low frequency signal, which can cause vibration in the tone arm, exists only as a horizontal force.

The tonearm therefore must have sufficient effective mass and rigidity in the horizontal plane in order to provide a stable platform for the cartridge.

On the other hand, for the mid to high frequencies, the effective mass of the tonearm should not be too large since the combined mass of the cartridge and the head shell need to be taken into account as well. In particular, where records have a warped surface, the vertical effective mass needs to be small enough to ensure a good tracking ability on such surfaces.

To summarise, the tone arm should have a large effective mass and enough damping in the horizontal plane and at the same time a small effective mass in the vertical plane."

I'm just sayin'...
If you look at an LP groove you see that vertical and horizontal motion are both present. Favoring one over the other sounds tricky to me at best. These days most LPs have variable groove spacing so the arm/cartridge combo has to be ready to move without inducing noise.
Atmasphere my friend has a sota table with an ET arm. I think you are right about the excessive horizontal pressure. I have brought my vinyl records to him and when I returned I noticed groove noise. I am using a basis table and basis vector arm. I think he permanently wore the side of the groove. I will not be bringing back any of my records there again.
If the linear tracking arm was to blame, then I guess all of the Walker tables, Rockports, and Kuzma Air Line tonearms are wearing out LPs left and right. Give me a break.
Kinda have to agree with Ketchup. Was going to say the same thing. Check your friend's set-up accuracy and his cartridge, if indeed there is any basis at all for your hypothesis that his playing your LPs on his rig damaged them.
Some of the Sotas had a vacuum system that kept the LP flat. The side that you weren't playing could get damaged by such use. That may have been corrected on later 'tables.
I don't see the vacuum hold down damaging the record. I do have an opinion about using the ET-2 arm on a Sota. I looked hard at that years ago. I had a buddy with the ET-2 on his Sota. In the end I concluded it is not the best match only because of the floating suspension. The mass of the tonearm is moving as the linear arm moves from the outside of the record to the inside. Since the chassis is floating on springs that changing couple causes the chassis to roll, ie. tilt less as the arm moves inboard. So the platter can be leveled only at one position of the tonearm. That is going to put an increased lateral force on the stylus and groove over some part of the record.
Take my word, it sure does do groove damage to records.
I had Vacuum Sota/ET2 for a few years before my Final Audio.
No problems on levelling and maintaining level across the record.
No mistracking whatsoever, particularly compared with pivoted arms on demanding tracks.
I did have a couple of records that were noisy on one side and suspected the vacuum system, but have no real proof.
Had no speed issues either but had knocked out half the Papst motorboard and replaced with on board regulation and external regulated power supply.
The ET2 was stripped of all dampening material, custom arm/bearing tube bracket, air supply consisted on dual pumps ( one running out of phase ) and surge tank and added electromagnetic dampening for horizontal movement. Also tweaked the compliance of the decoupled counterweight in the horizontal mode for each cartridge.
Dover, I do think Tony has a point about mating an air-bearing tonearm with a spring-suspended turntable. I think I have read elsewhere that such a pairing can cause problems. Especially I was dubious how a Linn LP12 would mate up with the ET2. (Someone else on this thread has that combo.) However, your success with the Sota/ET2 would go to show that what is problematic in theory is often OK in practice.
I wouldn't touch a linear tracker if you paid me or gave me one for free. Just because it's cut that way doesn't mean it's the best way to play back. Constant pitch doesn't exist and the feared tracking error distortions created by tangential systems are highly overrated.

Flame retardent suit all zipped up, helmet on...

OK, now blast away...
Steve, one of the nice things about a linear tracker is that for test purposes you can induce constant tracking error in a controlled and calculable manner through a small change in overhang. With my tangent arm I can clearly hear the difference of an induced .5 mm deviation off zenith, as illustrated in the second graphic at:

If this small granularity is perceptible, then so much the more so for the much wider range of errors of a 9" arm as shown in the first graphic. The case is not much different for a 12" arm.

No flame retardent suit is necessary.
Dave, I had not seen those data from John Ellison. Thanks for the URL. Actually, given the premise that one cannot "hear" tracking angle error; one can only hear tracking distortion, I find it surprising in fact that there is so little difference between the pivoted example and the SL example with 0.5mm overhang error, comparing only the red curves for distortion. At worst, when the stylus is between 80 and 90mm from the center of the LP, the pivoted arm gives about 0.7% tracking distortion vs ~0.2% for the very slightly misaligned linear tracker. At other distances from the center of the LP, the difference in distortion is much less and sometimes in favor of the pivoted arm. I wonder at the audibility of this difference (but I know you say you can hear it). I also wonder how many SL tonearms are running with this much set-up error and worse. I would guess it is not uncommon for there to be an +/-0.5mm error in set-up.
Lew, I asked John Ellison to incorporate .5mm error into his model, since .5mm is about as close as I can get the Trans-Fi to perfect zenith on a clear day(i.e. allowing for the tolerance of measurement tools and small changes in overhang that accompany changes in VTA.) I agree that in common practice the typical owner's set-up may be less accurate. However, with or without perfect zenith as an absolute, IME the point stands that it is possible to hear a 3x difference in tracking distortion between .2% and .7%. The only way to knock a non-believer off his pivot is to try it himself.

BTW, it's not really possible to experience a clear perception of tracking distortion by comparing pivots arm of varying length. Even if acquired from the same manufacturer, the longer arm changes resonance and inertial mass characteristics in addition to tracing arc. Only a linear arm can limit the experiment to one variable.
Oh, I'm not arguing against SL tonearms as regards geometry. That would be illogical. I admit I am just too lazy to mess with one. So much else in my audio system requires regular care, and then there is my penchant for tweaking. Sometimes I just want music.
Lewm et al, theET2 definitely goes out of level in my experience on Oracles ( the worst ), Linn's etc.
SOTA at least has the advantage that it is hung from the springs and is inherently more stable like the SME decks. Given the mass and the additional mass loading via lead shot in the corners I think it is the exception to this scenario. Remember the moving mass of the ET is quite low ( 25g ).
Linear tracking arms are in theory superior to radial arms. However the general issue I have seen with radial arms is that the sheer amount of stylus energy vibration
dumped into a tonearm is very difficult to damp without a reasonable amount of mass and a fixed pivot point. Add to that yet another point of movement and you basically have turned whats akin to a 2 body physics problem with platter revolution and a radial tonearm pivot into a 3 body problem with platter revolution, vertical pivot and horizontal air bearing. I'm sure it can be solved but likely at twice the price of a close approximation in radial arm.
Lewm et al, theET2 definitely goes out of level in my experience on Oracles ( the worst ), Linn's etc.

I don't think you can just slap an ET2 on an Oracle and expect it to work well. I bought my Delphi with the ET2 arm already optimized for it which included the counterweight under the chassis (on the front left "arm" between the bearing and the suspension pillar) and a spring adjustment. When my tonearm traverses the record, there is not enough "sagging" of the chassis to causes the tonearm to accelerate. The cartridge leads have more influence, which is virtually nothing, than sagging. I've optimized their placement to have the least effect on tonearm movement. I often wonder how the Kuzma Air Line's thick air tube influences arm movement.

Maybe the performance of my table has to do with the fact that I adjust my suspension while the cartridge is at the middle of an LP. I can see how leveling the platter while the tonearm is at the lead in groove will cause arm acceleration as the arm traverses the LP.
I gave up a SOTA with an SME V because the arm was so heavy, the springs would constantly amount of lead shot removed from the well could properly balance the suspension. Sometimes you win, sometimes not....
Davide256, That's an interesting point, however it may also be that an air barrier has the unique advantage of decoupling earth borne vibration and plinth/motor noise from the arm wand. Whether in a linear or radial tonearm, the vibration flow is bi-directional, a complex system.

In the case of Terminator, mechanical dissipation of vibration into heat at the vertical point bearing interface may also serve to dump stylus energy.

Having empirically determined that the sound of Terminator improves as the wand is shortened, I'm inclined to believe that any mass required to absorb stylus energy is best placed hehind the pivot point. (It's also possible that I'm hearing the lower resonance behavior inherent in a shorter wand.) In any case, it seems intuitively right to design most of the horizontal mass into the sled assembly rather than a long tonearm. Unfortunately with most linear tonearms designs, high horizontal mass is a necessary evil and there is little wiggle room with respect to where to locate that mass.
Davide - I dont see your point with 2 vs 3 body physics. "Radial" arms have split vertical and horizontal bearings and remain 3 body in your hypothesis unless you are using a unipivot.
Ketchup - I dont just slap arms on decks, I ran an Oracle/Zeta/Koetsu Black for a couple of years prior to the SOTA ET2. In my experience you can optimise high frequency extension on an Oracle by setting the height such that the suspension is quite lossy ( highish ). At this point the movement of the ET2 arm unbalances the deck.
In other words to run an ET2 you would have to stiffen the suspension which is suboptimal for high frequency extension. Yes I had the under chassis counterbalance weight.
I have a Technics SL-m3.  It's got a T4p cartridge on it.  Technics EPC-P100C MK4

Preamp: Conrad Johnson 
Amplifier(s): 2 Dbx BX-1. 

Loudspeakers:   Infinity IRS Betas. 

Accuphase CD player.  

I've had my turntable for years. It's got ridiculously good specs.  So good I don't believe them.   What I do believe is what I hear.  I know there are better tables out there but I can't say I've heard better.  I can't directly compare.   I only know that I've yet to be so impressed by a turntable a high end turntable where I think "time to get a new turntable".   I just don't like that my table is a Pmount.   It's limiting as far as cartridges go.   I have to have what I have retipped or rebuilt.  

RJM, There are adapters to convert a P-mount tonearm to use non-Pmount cartridges.  Usually, they are inexpensive.  Check with Sound Smith for a good one.  eBay for a cheap one.