Review: Da Vinci Grandezza Reference Tonearm
Da Vinci Grandezza 10 inch arm (2006 model).
I bought this arm because of its physical beauty. It is probably my first audio purchase where I was as interested in the appearance as the sound. This is the earlier generation arm with the U shaped gimbal housing and aged brass with cocobolo wood arm. I like the weathered brass look, and I prefer the appearance of the antique brass over the newer more gilded arms that have anodizing. However, the newer arms are quite beautiful as well.
I am not a tonearm expert. I have never heard a Graham, Wheaton, or Continuum arm, but have stuck with the SME series, having owned SME 10, 20 and now 30 turntables, starting with the 309 arm an now the SME IV-VI on the SME 30. I have heard high end arms in other systems and dealer systems such as Shindo and Rockport.
My comments are about the Grandezza arm replacing the SME IV-VI, with the cartridge, table and all other system components exactly the same. My system is viewable through the link by my moniker.
The Grandezza is not hard to set up. No cumbersome toiling into the wee hours over fussy adjustments that don't pan out correctly. The only instruction with this 2006 arm is a template to get the pivot to spindle distance correct. Setting VTF, VTA and anti skate are easily done with small wrenches. There is built in magnetic screw for anti skate on the gimbal housing assembly. There is no stop when you loosen the pillar for VTA adjustment, you have to hold it to keep it from slipping all the way down, this is the main area that requires some caution. I notice the newer Grandezza arms have a VTA adjustment screw that holds the arm when adjusting the VTA like the SMEs. That would be handy. The headshell is fixed. The newer models have adjustable headshell screw slots to allow some control of cartridge position but my model does not. I have read that no azimuth adjustment is necessary. I don't know what this means exactly about the mechanics of the arm. If it is true, it seems to imply that the arm is able to track the azimuth. That is a pretty good trick if it is true.
Anti skate has no readouts. A digital scale is necessary to adjust VTF. VTF is adjusted by adding the weight rings to the back of the arm and moving them back an forth as necessary, tightening with the wrench. I only needed two of the three copper weight rings included for the Harmony Mg cartridge. I have the impression the the magnetic anti skate is set to taste by listening for right left channel discrepancy and using only if necessary. It does'nt seem to be necessary to use anti skate with the Harmony Mg cartridge. The arm came with an SME base. However, the SME 30 turntable is not constructed for 10 inch arm. I had to resort to a kind of Rube Goldberg rotation of the mounting base to get the correct geometry. This turned out to be no problem, the SME baseplate holder is heavy and adherent enough for a firm, stable arrangement, but it looks a little strange, I will probably have to get a custom baseplate holder machined some day. There is not a lot of information on the effective mass of the Da Vinci arms. I remember reading somewhere that the 12 inch cocobolo Grandezza has an effective mass of 18 g. That would probably make the 10 inch arm somewhere between 14-16g, which should play reasonably well with the Clearaudio Harmony Mg cartridge, according to the resonance calculator spreadsheet from vinyl asylum.
The SME 30 with the IV-VI arm is supposed to be some pretty good kit, with the benefit of synergy between the arm and the table. It is certainly the best source I have heard in my own system. After some listening, I was piqued to find that the Grandezza is an upgrade to the turntable/cartridge system. I am not talking the vaunted diminishing returns type improvement, it is a significant audible improvement in detail, depth, tone, and separation over the SME IV-VI arm. Dynamics are quite sufficient with the IV-VI, but better with the Grandezza. Considering that the IV-VI has the home field advantage, that is a pleasant discovery to me. Some instrumental harmonies that were fused with the IV-VI separated into distinct instrumental voices with the Grandezza. Human vocal articulation became better. The Grandezza also gives the impression of a quieter playback.
Probably most surprising was the presentation of billowing tissues of bass tone that I have just never heard before, better even than the formidable IV-VI/ SME 30 combo. The rich bass from this tonearm/table combo makes the powerful, but arid, bass from digital sources sound sterile by comparison. The higher order of detail recovered by the Grandezza is warm and tonally full sounding, not just an etch edged effect from an altered frequency emphasis. High frequencies are more natural sounding. In spite of the improved bass resolution, nothing is tubby or bloated, just nuanced with heightened tone color.
Right and left extreme imaging also matches the center image in size and fill. On "Soul Box" part I by Grover Washington, there is a ghostly horn section that emerges on the left. At least, it used to be ghostly. With the Grandezza, it becomes a palpable horn section of size, just lower in volume for its background effect.
This tonearm is a notable upgrade on an already high performance vinyl system. The Grandezza arm manages to elevate the table and cartridge up to a new level of playback. It also upsets a preconception of mine that most upgrade improvement tend to come from an improved table, with the arm and cartridge a distant second. I would say the improvement with the Grandezza arm replacing the SME IV-VI approaches the upgrade from the SME 20 table to the SME 30 table.
It is nice to know that vinyl still has more information to be plumbed, that a good table and cartridge can be improved with a tonearm, but with the caveat price bummer that it costs so much. However, considering the cost of the SME 30 turntable, the Grandezza might be regarded as cost effective for the improvement rendered, for those who care about this level of performance. The nine inch arm would mount natively on the SME mounting plate on the SME 30, but the ten inch arm requires my ad hoc arrangement or a custom base plate to allow proper geometry.
It is interesting that the SME 30 turntable has greater potential than is allowed by the SME arm. The IV-VI is not the SME V, but it does have the same bearing and damping tray albeit its own special wiring. I have heard the SME V at a dealer with the SME 30 table and a top of the line Koetsu and wasn't impressed that it was significantly better than the IV-VI, I generally like the IV-VI better.
I bought the Grandezza as tonearm jewelry, but the sound improvement is pretty spectacular. Over the past couple of years, I have been hoping that some of my "upgrades" would backfire, so I could just rest on my laurels and feel that nothing more can be attained. That makes it both rewarding and frustrating to increase the performance bar again.