Makeshift tonearm for under $800

I am currently using a SME 3012 S2 with my Verdier. While it is a recommended combination by JC Verdier himself, I find the combo a bit too "dark" for my tastes. Speaking to some of the other Verdier owners it was confirmed that SME-Verdier is a smooth performer but lacks excitement.

Individually I like both of them a lot, very musical equipments indeed, but I am looking for some more life and excitement in the music. So I have decided to sell the SME tonearm.

I want to some serious research before finalizing my next tonearm. In the mean time I need a makeshift arrangement, a relatively low cost tonearm. I may use it as my second tonearm or may sell it once I have decided my next tonearm upgrade.

Even though a makeshift I would still like to have a tonearm which is quick and lively with natural tones. Preferably a medium mass tonearm which can take most modern cartridges. Budget is about $800.
The options are:

1. Jelco SA-750D/E
2. Rega RB-700 (with upgraded Cardas tonearm cable)
3. Scheu Classic (unipivot)

I would request, please add some reasoning around your recommendation so that I can get some idea about each tonearms capabilities.
Anyone ?
The only arm I am familiar with on your list is the Rega. I would not call it dark but I think the cartridge and phono stage will have more effect on this than an arm will. Were you setting SRA correctly with the SME?

What cartridge and phono stage are you using?

I am using a ZYX RS30 cart and RCM Sensor prelude phono. Both are very lively combination.
The Jelco is a very nice arm, and it mates very nicely with a Denon DL103R cartridge , you could do both new for about your budget target.

Good listening

Pani, You might want to use a 9" arm this time. They are known to be more lively than 12" arms. People seem to like the FR-64 but they usually go for around 1k.
I was thinking about FR64 as well, just that I am unable to get to read about its sonics and cartridge compatibility on the internet.
rega is a safe bet.
Audiomods IV. Nothing comes close for the price.
Clearaudio SATISFY carbon/Clearaudio STRADIVARI v1 (used)
For 'about $800' you will never get the FR-64 S . But for this kind of money you may get the Micro 505 or the Lustre 801 which are both excelent tonearms.
The Jelco is competent enough that Ortofon used the company to build their current line of tonearms. Historically, many makers have used Jeloc as their OEM vendor. This includes Koetsu, Grado, Linn and others. Plus, I believe you can get a decent return on the arm when you sell it. It sounds pretty good, too.
Add to them the Audioquest PT9.
Problem is : All very veiled & dark sounding!
The power of Mosin's TT is such that even my finger on his armboard can sound good too.
About taking your money back when you want to upgrade, I agree, but I would never advise about buying a VPI TT either, even if it carries this same advantage also. What people buys is not allways good stuff. Perhaps a good investment has little in common with our hobby.
If you want to bring some life in your set-up thing about replacing the Zyx RS30 at least with a VDH gold LW (priced at $1175 here).
Hi Geoch, Well if one wants to use the expression 'investment'
for our objects of desire you are wrong. I invested in shares and
'some' carts, tonearms, TT's , etc. and lost 50% on shares and made 50% profit on
my carts. According to Lew by selling some of those I can
even afford Netrebko (aka Anna). But beforhand and based
on my own experience this outcome should be the other way
round. That's why people invented the expression 'one can
never know'. Looking from this perspective our hobby may
be even called 'rational'.
You are so right my friend. I'm still schoked with the amount of money I've take when I've had sold a remaining stock of rare tubes, FM tuners and accessories like Stillpoints, Aktyna, Rollerblocks, ART, Boston etc. Who can imagine that.
But it seems impossible to take the third! of the price that I've paid for my Pluto 9A Prestige tonearm(4000euro) or even the seventh!!! (aka 4K euro) for my Symphonic Line RG6 TT.
But rationalistic I'm only with my advices and never to my self in this life in which the passion has the motive power.
Thank you for remind me this.
Dear Goch, I am not sure about Symphonic line but you should start a new thread with the title: 'Pluto 9A the best tonearm ever?' BTW according to me Pluto is more familiar in Saudi Arabia and similar countries than in the West. No idea if ebay exist there nor why should such a kind of market at all exist there. But you can try of course.

Actually this "makeshift" thing was just an impulsive thought, simply because I could not conjure up a valid list of tonearms which I would truly like to buy as my "main" arm. My requirements are simple but sometimes too much of simplicity is not easy to achieve!!

As stated in another thread, I listen to a lot of oldies classics and many of my records are "old" as in not in good condition. At present I use a SME 3012 S2 and I am surprised that with this arm the sound is very composed, refined and silent even on very worn out records (still clearly sounding worn out). Unfortunately in my part of the world (India) records manufacturing have stopped decades back and I always have to depend on used records to enjoy music of this origin. In most cases the records are not in good condition. That is why many people on our side prefer MM cartridges which have the tendency to suppress garbage and present music with fuller presence.

One excellent thing I love about the SME 3012 is its ability to keep the timbre very accurate. It is very important!! When listening to a 50s melody it really paints a "black and white" picture of the music nearly transforming me into that era. It depicts the vintage-ness of vintage in such a convincing manner that it feels like I am watching a movie of that era in a old world cinema theatre. Now that is not easy, let me tell you! I have played these records on many modern vinyl setups with high end tonearms and cartridges and most of them fail to achieve this realism of presenting the era along with the music tones. I agree they sound clean and resolving but when we talk about melody it is more than just clean dynamic sounds. I would also like to point out that the Denon 103pro which I was using prior to the ZYX was even better in painting this picture than the ZYX. In the end I do feel that, may be because we/I have grown up with those classics I relate to every nuance of them much more closely than I relate to something like Diana Krall/Jennifer Warnes kind of music. These newer age music sound good on many setups and the criteria to appreciate/enjoy these music is mostly dependant on detail and transparency.

This is the reason I am unable to prepare a list of tonearms to consider. I am looking for a tonearm which is lively, resolving, good tracker, can handle new age MCs well and is really tone/timbre neutral. Am I looking for too much ?

If not then please help me at least prepare a list of tonearms under $2k (new or used).

BTW, I have an offer on Origin Live Conqueror and Naim ARO at this point (both used).
Maybe you look at the wrong direction.
I know this harmonic organic completeness of your 3012 and that was the reason which directs me to buy my SAEC (as you probably know, there are only these 2 brands that utilise the knife-edge bearings). When I have the 3012 I've matched it with a Decca in order to elevate it's dark personality. But I would never advise you for this once the Decca's demands upon everything in the system, the LPs condition and every day use are a nightmere.
If you dare to experiment with a couple of headshells, then please give a chance to a used VDH Colibri LW gold before you swap your 3012. You really can't imagine what you're missing. Conqueror is not better than a Triplanar (but the cheap Clearaudio Satisfy it really is!) and don't bother for the ARO (just because you trust the firm). I have both in the past and the ARO is a very vicious monster about cartridge match and even armboard & overall TT philosophy. It's not good on handling either, while has an average performance. Some of us we have change over 20 cartridges till we find what works in our set-up. Do you really trust the DL103, RS30 as the upper limit to your quest?
About matching with 3012, I'm not expecting any surprises, but please do not stuck with this perforated heashell. Ask our Raul about the proper one, change the internal wiring and examine the condition of the (unfortunatelly plastic) knife-edge bearing.
My first recommendation to you, if you didn't have a budged limit, it would be the SAEC WE-506/VDH Condor. But the Condor never appears in the used market and the WE-506 (that is the 12" model) is priced from $2850. The 9.5" that I have (WE-308SX) $950 w/o headshell is very different sounding from your 3012. Not a sight of darkness or dullness, but at the opposite side of been at the edge of brilliance. Now imagine that this was not enough for me and I've hardwired from headshell collar till the step-up with VDH MCS 1000M (silver). I've changed the headshell with the Zonotone Z-10 'cause on this tonearm you must swing the cartridge to the headshell in order to align for Baerwald. I'm perfectly happy pairing it with my Colibri XPP & my Thorens TD124 II.
Thanks Geoch for all that information. I am happy to read that you have experience with all the tonearms (3012, conqueror and ARO) we are discussing. I also had Linn Ekos on my mind.

Regarding SAEC tonearms, I never thought about it. But now that you have recommended it so highly I will look for them. There are so many models in SAEC, the 407, 506, 308, 8000 series, it is very difficult to understand which one to choose. Would you be able to give some idea on what each of these series may sound like.

Secondly regarding the WE-308SX, how different is it sonically from the WE-506 ? You say it is opposite to 3012, does that mean it is very bright ?

Last question, is 308 and 506 only two tonearms worth buying from SAEC ? What about 407 ?
Rolf Gemein (the founder of Symphonic Line) has modified an Ekos for his own RG6 TT in his house. He said to me that the Ekos needs all these extra modifications, but even then, it is impossible to approach the performance of a Pluto 5A (5A is Pluto's entry model) and advices to stay in the Pluto family. I don't have first hand experience with Ekos, but it was said that it's bearings were very prompt to misalignment during a short period of use, so maybe it is better to avoid the Ekos at the second hand market.

SAEC has also the 317 but no one has it yet. Raul has the 308 & 506 (and maybe even the 8000 I'm not so sure), Halcro has the 308, Nandric had the 407, Tuchan has the 506 & 8000. I choose the 308SX 'cause of the very elevated quality of parts but I've never heard another model. What I must say about 308 models, is that you must not purchase any of them with the ULS-3X headshell 'cause it is not sloted and therefore you can't align per Baerwald. Keep in mind that all SAEC models (except the WE-8000ST) have come with a wrong angle at their armtube and you have to twist the cartridge at the headshell. Forget the 308N which is the entry model and also the 8000 that is impossible to find. Now the late Allen Wright (1947-2011) of Vacuum State after many years dedicated use of the 407, has returned to the 308SX. Although the 407 demands almost no twist at the headshell and the 308SX needs over 10 degrees! it seems the 308SX has something better in it's form of armtube or bearing housing. Tuchan advices me for the 506 that asks for a minimum twist (the cartridge at the headshell) and I trust his taste and opinion. I'm only want to add, that it is better to avoid the ULS-3X 18gr ceramic headshell. It is very inconvenient, extremely expensive and to my experience is a no-no with the SAEC models due to it's fixed holes for the cartridge. I'm using the Zonotone Z-Shell 10 and I'm extremely satisfied.
Bright? almost. But very vivid fo sure. (prepare your self for a big surprise). But I'm only refering to the WE-308SX. Not the 506. Maybe this 12" is better for your needs.
It is 07:00 and I have to go to my work now.
Have a nice day
Dear Geoch, You have obviously 'something' with the SAEC
I have 'something' with the FR-64s. While my reason is
aesthetic your's is probable mechanical in the sense of
craftsmanship. Many Japanese are known caraftsman but qua
modern technical education their first and second generation engineers are educated in Germany. This may explain the 'mechanical part'.
Kessler and Pisha wrote an article with the title 'Tonearm
Geometry and Setup'( Audio,January 1980) in which they
stated the following about the WE-308 SX: 'SX arm design is based upon research done by the Sansui Electric Co. The AES preprint 1390 (D-5) derived the optimum pivot position from a kinematic point of view,with the mass of the arm ,the location of the center of gravity, and the moment of inertia around the system's center of gravity.Resonance was the the engineering problem beinf solved. For this particular arm, it is not advised to optimize the geometry, or the resonance of the system will change to such an extent that the arm will not track properly.'

Dear Nikola,
I've allready reprint this article over 2 times here.
After making 2 armboards on my TD124 II one for the SAEC recommended alignment and a second for the Baerwald, it is clear the superiority of the second. If you put the SAEC's values for overhang & offset angle to the VE comparator, the curve of the plot does not make any sense. Daniel (Dertonarm) things that the particular geometry indicates some compatibility only for 7" vinyls. Allen Wright also twists the cartridge at the headshell, and the Shun Mook team who uses the WE-308SX doing the same. A local friend of mine who has the WE-308 he demonstrates to me an excellent behaviour on several test LPs, by using the standard SAEC recommendation! (if you see the plot of it below, this is unbelievable!!!)
I think that the superiority of the sealed double knife edge bearing is such that trascends the trackability problems made by a default alignment.
The tracking Distortion plot, can not include the resonance problems of the particular tonearm, but the listening tests go hand in hand with this curve. At times many debates appears in analog forums about the SAEC recommendation and even if most of the users prefer the Baerwald alignment by twisting the cartridge at the headshell, I can not say that the sound is unacceptable with the SAEC recom. alignment. It just don't suits my LPs.
Maybe you have to use a greater value of antiskating force if you twist the cartridge at the headshell, but I don't see any fault by doing this. After some strong discussion full of controversies between Daniel, Raul and me, (in his thread refered to his protractor) I can't be persuaded -neither John (Odyssey tonearms)- and therefore I proceed with my usual prefered customised alignment the plot of it indicates a curve in between Baerwald & Loefgren B (you can see it below as the "original" in which I'm only change the offset angle from the Baerwald values).

And here you can see the SAEC's recommendation designated as "original"

Unfortunatelly the prefered Pivot to Spindle distance of (230mm) does not permitted by the big heavy weight threated stabiliser underneath the armboard of my TD124 II neither it was possible to reach the corresponded Effective Length of 246.736 hence the customised 243.2 that is the maximum Ef. Length permitted by my headshell (since some milimeters of length have been losted by twisting the cartridge).
I've test with SAEC recom. align. & Baerwald also but while the SAEC overhang (only 5mm!!!) looks OK in the eye [according the WE-308SX geometry], the Baerwald's overhang (17mm) sounds really better. If you use the Zonotone Z-Shell 10 headshell which has a circular front surface, the twist of the cartridge is almost out of sight.

Anyway as my friend Tuchan advices me, I find naturally easier the recommendation of the 12" WE-506 model for someone who is in doubt. Me, I have had allready in my possesion the WE-308SX model when this matter of alignment came up and I was forced to investigate the whole story.
But I don't have any regrets for this tonearm ... only wish to find the SAEC WE-8000ST someday.
Dear friends,
Have no fear to improvise upon your beloved tonearm's geometry.

My additional note:
It is way better to stay away from designing on paper your own special 2 null points if you don't have the gift of drawing with absolute composure, uttermost tranquility and total discipline. It is necessary to really love what you are going to do.
In any other case, you must :
Choose any permitted (by your armboard, armbase and headshell) value of Pivot or Eff. Length & Offset Angle that gives you the better results on the VE plot, but strictly on the Baerwald plate, providing of course that you have on hand your 2 point and/or your arc Baerwald protractor by which you can :
Set the Pivot point of your tonearm, reach the corresponding Eff. Length at the stylus tip, align the Zenith of the cantilever at the Baerwald null points, and check for the apparent Overhang with care & precision.

The point is : Whatever you are going to do regarding your tonearm alignment, must primarily approved by your observation (and proper modification) on the VE plot.
Don't get fooled by anything if you don't understand it's method and especially if you don't comprehend fully the result.