Review: Technics EPA 100 Tonearm

Category: Analog

Recently acquired this tone arm that was mounted to a VPI HW 19 MKII turntable. Came as part and parcel of the deal with the VPI.

This set up replaced my Oracle Alexandria with the Sumiko Premier FT 3 tone arm, which for years was my main analog system.

Came very close to replacing the Technics EPA 100 tone arm with Bluenote or Graham tone arm, until advice from a fellow audiophile and some research on my own, convinced me otherwise.

Have never been a fan of S or J shaped tone arms, but this EPA 100 has certainly changed my mind in this area. Usually the S or J shaped arms are usually found on Mid-Fi integrated tables relating to cosmetic or price point issues. However this arm is a wide exception in the role it plays on the Technics EPA 100 set up.

The fit,feel and precision of this arm is of a very high standard not often found today and if found the price is very high indeed.To build a tone arm of this caliber today would easily fall into the $2,000.00 range if not more. I know I have looked at todays offerings and to get this type of quality and precision will cost one dearly.

This arm came from a time when Technics was trying to break into the high end game. The produced three tone arms the EPA 100,EPA 250 and the EPA 500. All produced from about 1979 to 1984 or so. The Technics EPA 100 was produced from 1979 to 1981 and retailed for $380.00 in 1979 and later at $399.00 in 1981. Today very good examples that are fully functional will still bring their original retail value easily and most sell for well above original retail in the vintage audio market. Now thats value!!

To say that the Technics EPA 100 Tone Arm is well engineered is a major leaque understatement. Without question this is one of the most finely engineered and precision built tone arms I have seen at damn near any price. Total over kill in all the facets of tone arm construction. For instance this arm has ruby ball bearing in all four planes of movement,employing five ruby ball bearings in each of the planes, for a total of twenty ruby ball bearings being used. The Titanium Nitride process was chosen for the tone arm for a variety of reasons. Very expensive process and the Technics arms are the only ones I know of that used this process past or present. To this day this process is clearly superior to any aluminum or carbon fiber tone arm on the market today and remains as the bench mark of tone arm construction. This process allows the tone arm wall to be very thin, plus will have over a thousand times more ridgity than any convential tone arm of any other material. This reduces airborne and mechanical feed back to vanishly low levels, below any audible or subsonic level.

The EPA 100 tone arm will accomodate any half inch standard mount phono cartridge in an EIA head shell with cartridge weight from 5 to 10 grams nominal.

The dyanmic damping feature located on the end of the counter weight allows the use of any phono cartridge, by being able to dial in the compliance of the cartridge to the tone arm itself. This feature makes a dramatic difference in overall sonic signature to the cartridge. for once you get to hear what your phono cartridge sounds like as they manufacturer intended.

The counter weight itself is the helicoid variety and is extremely precise in its application to balance and applying tracking force to the phono cartridge. Same arrangement applies to the anti skating system as well. One of the most precise anti skating devices I have ever seen.

The VTA on the fly is a feature that was not found on most tone arms in the day and is not often found today. But this VTA on the fly is the most precise I have ever used and you know when the phono cartridge has hit its optimum VTA angle as the sonics of the cartridge literally come to life.

Precision settings for tone arm lift and the tone arm dampening is one of the finest I have ever used. Tone arm has the precise amount of dampening to record. The stylus sets down precisely into the groove. And is one of a handfull of tone arms that have zero drift in cueing. Lift the tone arm, then lower it and it will go to the exact groove from where it left. Damn few can make that statement today.

The Technics EPA 100 Tone Arm clearly exceeds the well regarded Rega RB 300 arm in total sonics,engineering and build quality by a wide margin. As far as the Sumiko Premier FT 3 Tone Arm goes, the Technics EPA 100 is a hands down winner over the Premier FT 3. In fact exceeds the widely regarded RB 600 easily as well as most of the SME arms with the exception of the upper end of SME.

In the day the competition was the Infinity Black Widow,SME 3009,Grace 707 and 714, and Sumiko MMT, FT3 and FT 4. These are the ones that got all the press reviews and were highly regarded at the time. I know because I installed a lot of those arms and maybe only installed one or two of the Technics arms. So while I knew about these Technic arms, never really had the opportunity to use one long enough to appreciate. Thankfully this time I do and this may very well be my last tone arm.

At this point in time the Technics EPA 100 Tone Arm is equipped with a Sumiko head shell with a Denon DL 110 high ouput phono cartridge. This is the best I have ever heard the Denon DL 110 phono cartridge. Also use a Denon DL 160 phono cartridge in another Sumiko headshell for premium and audiophile LP recordings. Use the DL 110 for everyday listening though and have found this to be a stellar combination. I am pleased beyond my wildest expectations and certainly glad I did not go the additional expense of a newer tone arm.

I listen to a lot of jazz and classical and the overall musical presentation is clearly on par if not exceeds most I have heard with the current analog gear of today.

This has bested my Oracle setup with the Sumiko tone arm by a considerable margin and competes quite nicely with the VPI Scout and above. I know I came very close to buying the VPI Scout. To my jaded ears the VPI with the EPA 100 arm is every bit the measure of the VPI Scout and the VPI Scout is considered to be a bench mark of the current analog market.

Without question the Technics EPA series of tone arms were some of the very best made by anyone at anytime and were over engineered and constructed to a fit,feel, and precison that is seldom seen today at any price.

Would I have seeked out this tone arm. Most likely no.Was looking for a really nice Grace 714 in teak wood or at least the aluminum version. And like I said was bout to order a Bluenote or Graham that is current inventory. But thankfully I decided to give the Technics EPA 100 a try and to say I am impressed is to say the absolute least.

If you can find one of these and it is in good condition and fully operational, then you have indeed found a pure gem in high end tone arms. With 47 years of expereince in this hobby, I can totally recommend this fine tone arm. For a wide variety turntable applications, both current and vintage.

Associated gear
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SME,Rega,Graham,Grace,Sumiko,Signet,Audio Technica,Infinity,ADC,Micro Seiki and many others.
I remember Denon producing a series of arms with higher-end aspirations...probably in the same price range as the EPA arm. I think the armwands were interchangeable between an S-shape and a straight arm. And, just like Technics, what do they use on their newer tables? The lower-end stuff. Makes you wonder -- did they chuck the castings and templates? Or are they still around gathering dust? And if they are, why not put them back into production or at least license the designs to someone?

Anyone ever owned one of the Denon arms? What were the model #'s and how did they sound?
Well Ed you did stir a few gray cells here. Prompted me to look into my archives. Did find info on the Denon DA 401 tone arm. Specs are below, but as far as sonics on this arm go, I just do not remember.

Specifications :
Type:Static Balance Static balance type,
integrated tonearm Overall length 322mm
Effective length 244mm
Overhang 14mm
Tracking error Less than 2.5 degrees
Hight adjustment range 41-70mm (from arm board surface to arm pipe center)
Stylus force adjustment system Dial scale system, 2g per rotation (0.lg subdivision)
Acceptable weight of cartridge 4-6g (small weight)
6-10 g (large weight)
Head shell Specially rigitized resin, weighing approx. 4g (excluding screws and nuts) Output cord Low capacitance cord, with 5P connector
Anti-skating system Magnetically controlled (disengagement possible)
Arm lifter Oil damped
Bearings High precision pivot bearings and miniature bearings
Head connector Plug-in type with fixing screw, 4P connector (all contact portion gold plated)

If you need a pic, I think I have file photo somewhere
OOPs just found more info on Denon tonearms. There was a DA 307 and DA 309, which appears to be an upgraded DA 307.Although technical info seems to be sparse on these. Does appear the DA 401 was the flagship of the Denon tone arms. All of these appear to be J shaped tone arms with EIA headshell and are of static balance type with dial in anti skating.

Do remember a local store had a Denon DP 80 with one of those arms listed above with a Sumiko Talisman cartridge mounted to it. Reason this one comes to mind is that it had been a very long time since I had seen a DP 80. It did sell quite quickly. Buyer must have like it, because it did not come back.

Did not hear the this table work, so I have no comparison as to sonics.
Dear Ferrari, happened on your EPA 100 review. I can only agree with all that you say, it has a smothness of operation that I have never experienced before. I was astounded when I could alter the bias setting as I was playing a test record and hear the mistracking of the cartridge disappear.Graham Tricker of GT Audio in the south of England doesn't think it good enough to handle a high end MC cartridge and thinks it not as capable as say the Origin Live,can't say I agree with him. Your comments would interest me.Mine is mounted on the SP 10+Koetsu Rosewood cartridge and sounds wonderful.Regards Colin Mason
One of the importent things that the audio gurus never talk about is bearing friction. The Technics EPA 100 arm, due to the excellent ruby bearings, has a bearing friction of 7mg!!! Yet, it have no give in either plane!!! Most high end arms, aside from unipivots, have bearing friction in the range of 15 to 25 grams!!!
I think that the EPA 100 and the EPA 500 (with inter changeable arm wands of differing mass), are outstanding arms.
There is also an EPA 100 Mk II, that was mated with SP 10 Mk III. Both, arm and turntable, are well worth looking for.
Trust your ears...