I had been running the Aries 3 with a JMW 9 for a while. I had upgraded to the Aries 3 with intention of upgrading the arm afterwards. When I upgraded my Aries 3 I had intended on getting the VPI Super Platter but was told by VPI that they are not able to produce them at the time and there upgrade would be the all aluminum platter on the classic. I just went with that instead of going the route of trying to find a platter on ebay or audiogon. They are available but the aluminum platter was not very expensive relatively and I am very content with it. The reason the platter is so important is because without spacers the Phantom can’t be mounted. There isn’t enough vertical clearance. I can’t say whether this is true with the stock Aries 3 platter but with the Aluminum platter 2 spacers are required.
Unfortunately I don’t get the chance to listen to a ton of different arms and tables. In my area the Hi-Fi shops are more video focused and less analog focused. When I travel I sometimes get to listen to others gear, and have friends whose gear I listen to. At this point, the Phantom II is the finest tonearm I’ve listened to. By a good bit. I have a number of theories on why this is, but I believe a large reason is that it is so easy to make adjustments on that I can dial it in right without much effort. I don’t find this to be true of VPI arms, I’ve listened to the JMW 9 and 10s(not the 12). So, when I was ready to upgrade my arm I decided to go with the Phantom II over any other arms. I emailed Bob Graham and he told me I would need a custom arm board. They had the specs for one but did not have it in stock. It took about 4-6 weeks for them to have one fabricated. Once it was done Bob Fedex’d it. I attempted to mount the Phantom only to discover there was not enough vertical clearance. So Bob sent me 2 spacers. When using both there was enough clearance with a little bit to spare. I’m able to adjust VTA as much as reasonably possible.
The next problem came with the cable. When using the custom mount and 2 spacers there was not room to plug the cable into the arm. So I had to use a jigsaw to cut out space in the spacers for the cable. I measured what I need, figured the exact position that I plug the cable in, and drew it on the spacer. This wasn’t a big deal. The wood that the spacers were made from is very difficult to cut but using a fine blade I got it without much problem. Now I was able to mount the arm and cartridge. I won’t go through the setup procedures as it was pretty easy and the manual covers it well. All I will say is that it is so much more pleasant than dealing with VPI arms.
I just wanted to quickly comment on the sound. I’m using a Sumiko Blackbird and have to say that the set up is fantastic. For my first 20 records after setting up a cartridge I usually list to records that I know will sound good to make it easy to detect any problems with setup. I have a ton of 50s and 60s Jazz which is my main passion but a lot of these records are not flawless and I don’t like to confuse a problem with the record and a problem with setup. After my initial setup I’m about 50 records in and haven’t made any adjustments after the 3rd record. I’ve check the Azimuth with a Fozgometer a few times and after the initial setup with a test record it stays near flawless. I’ve rechecked the cartridge Alignment which unsurprisingly stays the same. I use a digital gauge to check tracking force and it stays the same to the second decimal place each time I measure. I now play my records without distortion that I would occasionally get with my JMW9. The presentation is quiet, not overly bright, and has deep quality bass. Compared to the JMW9 this is a different world.
My next step is to mount my Miyajima Premium mono cartridge. I intend to by a second armwand soon but for now I’m just going to switch out. The Premium is a fantastic cartridge and I can’t wait to see how it sounds with this setup. If there is interest I will follow up with my opinions on this.