The pivoted arm experiment is over

I started the thread titled "are linear tracking arms better than pivoted arms" and as a result of the many thought provoking threads that were posted, I decided to revisit pivoted arms again.

First of all, I want to say thanks to Dertonarm for starting me on this journey and all of the help he gave me in setting up my arm. As some of you recall, I purchased a Fidelity Research FR64s, a NOS Orsonic headshell, and an AQ LeoPard tonearm cable. This was all mounted on a new armboard on my VPI TNT table. After I had removed the ET-2 from the TNT and while I was waiting for the new arm and all of the other parts to arrive, I went ahead and did some maintenance to the TNT. I removed the bearing assembly and took it to a machinist for inspection. He didn't like the fact that there was .004 clearance between the spindle and bushing. He pressed out the old bushings, machined new ones, line bored them, and pressed them in. There is now .001 clearance between the spindle and the new bushings. The machinist also micro polished the spindle, cleaned all of the remaining parts, put in new oil, and declared it finished. Dertonarm was emphatic that I install the FR64s 231.5 mm from the spindle to the center of the bearing instead of 230mm as the manual recommends (as well as the template FR provide with the arm. The machinist made a tool from barstock that fits over the spindle of the TNT and has a hole drilled at the other end with the center at exactly 231.5mm. He machined a tramel point that fits in the hole so you can mark the armboard with the exact spot for the correct distance. This tool was used on my new armboard and the hole was precisely drilled for the FR64s. I used the Dennesen Soundtracker to set up the cartridge as recommended by Dertonarm and VTF was set using a digital scale. I have the SDS for my TNT and speed was checked and set using the KAB strobe. I am telling you all of this so that you understand that I went through great pains to install this arm correctly. The cartridge I used during this time was my almost new Benz Glider SL.

I found the FR64s much more difficult/time consuming to set up compared to other pivoted arms I have used over the years. Some of you may disagree, but this is my experience. Most pivoted arms, once you have the cartridge installed, you slide on the main counterweight, make sure the anti-skating is set to zero, move the counterweight until the arm floats level, set the counterweight scale to 0, and then turn it until you have the correct VTF and bingo-Jed's a millionaire. Then you set your anti-skating for whatever makes your socks roll up and down, and your pretty much done. After that you just start dialing your cartridge alignment in with your favorite alignment jig and readjust your VTF. Not so with the FR64s. The FR64s has a main counterweight, a dynamic stabilizer weight, and an anti-skating weight that all must be installed. I am not going to go through all of the necessary steps to get this arm set up, but trust me, if you have never set up a FR64s, it is more difficult than your average pivoted arm that I am used to. Again thanks to Dertonarm for all of the help during this process and Syntax offered some help to me as well which I also appreciate.

Before I removed the ET-2 I broke out a NOS Maxell UD 35-180 tape (I love this tape by the way). I recorded a selection of songs (at 15 ips 2 track on my Otari MX-55)that would showcase the FR64s arm's ability to boogie in the bass as well as track the many dynamic swings that many of these cuts have. I recorded the following songs:

Lyle Lovett-My baby don't tolerate
Lucinda Williams-Righteously
Herb Alpert-Rotation (from the MoFi version)
Talking Heads-Burning down the house
Herbie Hancock-Rocket (from the 12" single)

After I had the FR64s installed for about a week and had it as tweaked out as I knew how to make it, I re-recorded the above selections in reverse order on the same tape. That way at least I had one cut that would play back to back.

Now some of you had sent me emails asking if I had any preliminary findings to share and I demurred. I never claimed to have the fastest ears in the west so I like to take my time and make sure I know what I am talking about so I don't have to eat a plateful of crow later (which I have certainly done before). Well, the jury is in for me, and it is my opinion that the ET-2 is much the better arm. The only thing the ET-2 gives up to the FR64s is a bit of bass punch, but I don't think the bass from the 64s sounds as natural as that from the ET-2. The bass from the 64s almost seems detached from the rest of the music if that makes any sense. There is a myth that linear tracking arms don't have good bass or can't reproduce the bottom octave at all. This is nonsense in my opinion. I can speak for the ET-2 and tell you confidently that it reproduce great bass.

MikeL and I sort of got into an off-topic discussion on the TP forum. MikeL stated (and please correct me if I not capturing the essence of what you said Mike) that he thought his Rockport linear tracking arm was superior to pivoted arms because it tracks the grooves the way they were cut and that as a result, it doesn't have any phase errors. MikeL went on to say that all pivoted arms only have two null points where the geometry is correct and that results in phase errors across the remaining points outside of the null. I didn't agree with Mike's point about phase-I thought Mike was confusing zenith with overhang. Incorrect zenith will affect phase, but I certainly had never heard that pivoted arms caused phase problems across the record except for the null points. What Mike did say and I agree with is that you can tell a big difference between linear tracking arms and pivoted arms. For me, a properly set up linear tracking arm sounds like a master tape with all that implies vice sounding like a good recording. There is a "wholeness" about the sound of linear tracking arms. Music just flows like it does in real life and it feels right. The FR64s and other pivoted arms don't capture that. They almost seem like they are stitching the music together as they go-almost digital like in comparison to linear tracking arms if that makes any sense to you. Another apt comarison would be looking at a picture taken by a cheap digital camera and comparing that picture to one taken from a top-notch film camera. You really can't compare the two in terms of ultimate sound quality as the linear tracking arm is just cut from a different cloth. I know that will set some people's teeth on edge, but sorry, the truth is the truth. I really do think the secret is the fact that the linear tracking arm is tracing the record the way it was cut instead of tracing an arc across the record with incorrect geometry 99% of the time. You can argue that the errors are slight when using 10" and longer tonearms, but errors they are. Also, the other benefit to linear tracking arms in my mind is no anti-skating is required. That is one less thing to fiddle with and neurose over. The sound of music from a linear tracking arm lives and breathes in a way that music does in real life and it is all cut from the same cloth. Pivoted arms that I have heard can't capture that. Unless you have heard a good linear tracking arm in your system, you won't know what I am talking about and you can be happy with what you have.

In closing, I know that the FR64s is not the most expensive pivoted arm in the world and some of you may sniff your upturned nose and say I should have used a "better" arm. I am really not going to listen to any of that drivel. I spent around $3K setting up this experiment and I know that the FR64s is considered a damn fine tonearm which is why I bought it. I am also finished with discussions about linear tracking arms being harder on cartridges and they can't have great bass. I had many years of great service with my Van den Hul MC-10 in an ET-2. My Denon 103R did develop a slight twist in the cantilever, but that may or may not have been caused by the ET-2. You are supposed to use high compliance cartridges with the ET-2 and not low compliance cartridges like the Denon 103R. The Benz Glider is a much better match with the ET-2 and it sounds way better than the 103R. Even if it is true that linear tracking arms cause greater wear to the cartridge suspension-so what? Most audiophiles change their cartridges more frequently than they change their underwear and they would never know. MikeL has the same experience that I had and that is he saw no wear over years with his Van den Hul. But even if it is true that linear tracking arms cause greater wear and tear to a cartridge, that is a small price to pay for the superior sound over the life of the cartridge.

I reinstalled my ET-2 last night and I haven't stopped grinning since. There is no doubt that if I would have made the recording of the ET-2 with the bearing improvements to my TNT, it would sound even better than it does. My LP setup has never sounded better now that my TNT bearing has been massaged and the ET-2 is back. I stayed up until way-late o'clock last night because I just didn't want to stop listening to music. Over and out.
Excellent test and excellent review. There will be people who would have come to a different conclusion but that's what makes a world.
Nice job! It seems to me that you have gone the extra effort to be fair and objective - excellent update! Now you you please try the Thale for us? Just kidding.
Do you know how to adjust the dynamic stabilizer weight? Any advice would be helpful. Thanks
I just sold my ET2 for my fully decked out TNT6 with rim drive....sniff sniff. I haven't even bought a replacement for it yet but now I'm starting to regret!
I totally agree with linear tracking vs pivoted when it comes to tracking error and distortion. The ET2 eliminated inner groove distortion on every record that we found unlistenable wit a pivoted arm.
I simply got tired of tweaking with the pump and stuff but maybe I should have left it alone.
Although we are looking forward to trying a new arm I already have my doubts
Thanks for the great review and time you took to test this out and although there will be opinions from every bench I'm pleased that you are happy with you combo. Happy listening.....
Mepearson, I was looking for your report as you promised in that "are linear tracking arms better than pivoted arms". Hats off to you in going thru this expensive and obviously time consuming experiement. But I am glad you did that. You would not have realized that Linears arms does reproduce 'complete' notes. I was always wondering what the tracking error advantage these arms have. After reading your report and Mike's input- It is lack of phase errors due to linear tracking that produces the completeness or the whole notes.

I hate to say this..................

But I told you so ;-)

Did not mean to gloat here. Enjoy the music (whole) thru ET2!
Mepearson, congratulations on a job well done. I applaud you for your dedication, and thoroughness. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I must say I am not surprised by your findings; I have used and enjoyed my ET2 for many years. A couple of things:

If you like your ET2 now, I can't encourage you enough to contact Bruce Thigpen and purchase a manifold for use with a higher pressure pump; or perhaps have your manifold modified to be usable with a higher pressure pump. When I installed the high pressure manifold for use with a Medo 30PSI pump, I was astounded at the improvement in sound. Any reservations about bass performance disappear. Bass becomes taut, tuneful, and with a sense of air around it. Overall clarity of the sound is vastly improved, and the biggest surprise was the improvement in dynamics. The arm now allows the music to groove in a way that is wonderful. A surge tank is, of course, also highly recommended. BTW, I am not talking about the wide diameter manifold that makes the arm a ET2.5, there was available a manifold of the same diameter as the one in the ET2 that was designed for use with higher pressure pumps.

You have mentioned that the ET2 should be used with high compliance carts. How did you come to that conclusion? My experience has been that the arm does very well with low compliance cartridges. In fact, one of the classic arm/cart combos, and recommended by many reviewers was the ET2 with the Monster Alpha Genesis 2000; a low compliance mc. A synergistic pairing, if there ever was one.

Again, thanks for the review.
I think it is great that you found you prefer the ET2 linear tracker over the FR 64S.Just curious,did you use an arc protractor to set up the FR tonearm?If someone has trouble with inner groove distortion useing a high quality tonearm I think it is because the alignment is off.Anyway,I plan on trying one of the linear trackers some day.Any recommendations for a good one to try?
I guess my question would make more sense if I ask you if the cartridge used in the FR 64S was aligned useing an arc style protractor like the Mint Lp?After years of useing a DB Systems protractor I found the Mint Lp arc protractor a much more acurate way to align a cartridge.It translates to better sound and no inner groove distortion from my pivoted arm anyway.
Wonderful write up. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I have to agree with recommending the Mint LP. It vastly improved my tracking and I have little to no inner-grove distortion, but then I have not heard a linear tracking arm. I've wanted to hear one for some time.

I'm curious: Did Dertonarm hear the results of your comparison and what are his thoughts? Also, did you reach your conclusions from listening to the tape, or by direct comparison of the arms on vinyl?
Travbrow, "a good one to try"? The ET2, of course. It is available again from Bruce Thigpen, in it's 2.5 version, with other improvements aa well. It also comes up for sale here on the 'Gon on occasion. The typical used price of around $750 makes it is a steal IMO.
"Mepearson, congratulations on a job well done. I applaud you for your dedication, and thoroughness. Thank you for sharing your experience with us."
I heartily agree and just cannot say it any better!
Peterayer, no - I have not heard the set-up in Mepearson home. My assistance was by email only and I couldn't verify the results.
As for the Mint LP traktor tool - I favor the original aluminum Dennesen Soundtraktor as it gives excellent results with any tonearm not calculated on IEC-based geometry.
The original geometry of the FR-64s as given in the manual is NOT optimal. The maximum error can be reduced by another 30% if geometry is optimized.
I have written about this is length in the "oldskool tonearm"-thread which was eventually removed from file.
I can't really comment on the results of Mepearsons shoot-out between the two tonearms.
While I too have owned the ET2 and 2.5 for years and still hold them in high esteem among tonearms in general and linear trackers in particular, I do know that in my set-ups and with all cartridges the FR-64s outperforms the ETs in terms of speed, detail, dimensionality, physical presence, micro-dynamics and especially regarding air, punch and low-level detail in the low and lowest register.
I am too puzzled that the FR-64s was such a pain to set-up in this shoot-out, as to me (maybe due to extreme routine - don't know) this is still the most easy of all pivot tonearms to set-up. But then I have set-up the FR-64s about on 2 dozen TTs and have mounted in the various samples about 5 dozen cartridges.
I applaude your openness to experiment and not pre-judging the results. You have already gone further than most people would.

On the other hand, this one experiment done between two tone-arms does not solve the pivoted vs. linear arm question. All this does is definatively conclude that Mepearson prefers the ET2 over the FR 64S in his system.

I don't have any dogs in the hunt on this issue, I can just see some people exrapolating this result into a generality that does not exist.
Thanks for all the kind comments and I am going to try and answer some questions that were asked. With regards to what device I used to set up the FR64s, I used the Dennesen Soundtracker. It is Dertonarm's opinion that the Soundtracker is the best tool to use for setting up the FR64s. I think this was the only thing I actually owned and didn't have to purchase for this experiment.

Kaput-According to Dertonarm, setting up the dynamic stabilizer is accomplished after you have floated the arm and before you set VTF. With the arm still floating and the antiskating disengaged, move the tonearm across the surface of the record and adjust the stabilizer weight so that any place you move the arm, the arm stays in place and doesn't drift.

Frogman-Bruce Thigpen told me to use high compliance cartridges.

Alun-Why did you have to tweak with your pump? For the here and now, I am using two ET pumps and a surge tank. I am interested in trying higher pressure, but I never have to mess with my pumps or surge tank now which is cool. If you end up with a pivoted arm-let me know how that goes for you.

And Travbow-I agree with Frogman. I know of no better tonearm that you can buy for the price of a used ET-2. I don't know of a better tonearm you can buy at many times the price of a used ET-2. I don't think the word "steal" accurately conveys what a bargain it is. There were two great minds behind the design of the ET-2 (Bruce Thigpen and Edison Price)and it is evident every time you use it. It is definitely one of the most undervalued items in high-end audio today that I am aware of.

Peterayer-No, Dertonarm never got to hear my setup. He lives in Europe and I live in Indiana. I sent him numerous pictures of my setup and lots of email. As for your other question, I came to my conclusions based on both listening to the tape and listening to many LPs. Playing Dire Straits first LP is what finally drove me over the edge and motivated me to remove the FR64s and reinstall the ET-2. This LP is very musically involving if played back correctly. When played back through the FR64s, the only moving I wanted to do was to get up and take the record off.
I didn't mean to place undue emphasis on the work involved in setting up the FR64s. This was my first encounter with the FR64s and there is more work involved in setting it up vice other pivoted arms I have owned in the past and it puzzles me that Dertonarm says it is the most easy of tonearms to set up. I have never owned a pivoted arm that had a dynamic stabilzer weight. The stabilizer weight is one more thing to install and adjust that other pivoted arms don't have. And when your setting the stabilizer weight to the correct position, you have to dork with the anti-skating arm/weight to make sure it stays disengaged. Dertonarm recommended placing a match box under the anti-skate arm to hold it in place and that was a great tip. Now that I understand it much better, setting one up again would go much faster. It doesn't help that the owner's manual covers 3 different arms and is full of contradictions. Dertonarm helped me every step of the way and I really appreciated his help. Do I wish that Dertonarm could have been here and supervised the setup in person? Absolutely. Do I feel confident that I did a good job of setting this arm up? Yes.
What a curious bunch we audiophiles are! Once again, we see that an opportunity (the original linear/pivot arm thread) to express strong opinions, biases, and even to grand-stand a bit, draws a large number (269) of posts. Yet, the follow-up, which is the result of a lot of work, dedication, and which makes a significant contribution to analog aficionados on this forum, draws a comparatively low (15) number of posts.

Sibelius is quite right; ultimately, what Mepearson's results show is that he prefers the sound of the ET2 to the sound of the FR. But, and this is a very big but, in light of the unquestionable thoroughness, and clarity of Mepearson's "process" at arriving at an admittedly personal conclusion, it should cause some to reconsider their positions. Or at the very least, acknowledge that one of the great truisms of our hobby is still relevant. That is, that numbers only tell part of the story. To not honor that truism is to not honor the music.
MePearson, excellent experiment & review-- which as an owner of both a linear tonearm and VPI TNT I particularly enjoyed. Not to over-complicate things, but I wonder whether some of your satisfaction with a linear arm may owe to arm in context of TNT. I took the TNT through a DIY mod process that revealed how much performance is left untapped in stock unit, particularly in control of vibration through bearing housing, suspension footers, and subplatforms. Knowing something of what can be done, I wonder whether the added decoupling available with an air bearing may be advantageous independent of linear layout. I suppose the only way to know for sure would be to compare the arms once again on a different turntable....
Mepearson, excellent work. I think you have shown what I have felt for a long time, which is that time has passed the FR arms by. I do not agree otherwise that this test is conclusive regarding your other thread, but if what you wrote is indeed what happened, I think we can all be fairly confident that the ET took the FR to task.
Mepearson indeed deserves the applause he received.
He conducted a great test in his set-up and with as few variables as possible.
He reached a conclusion for his question and for his individual taste and surroundings.
Some may jump on the carriage now and abuse it to draw universal conclusions.
Mepearson only did so for himself and that is perfect fine and honorable.

The FR6xs tonearms do command a pretty high price on the used market (... no, I do not have any to sell...) since about 2 decades now (ever increasing .... even now as all other audio hardware on the used market is nose-diving in price) and were the core of fierce discussions here on Audiogon between admirers and enemies the past 8 months.

Why I favor the FR-66s (and his smaller brother too) to all other pivot tonearms (in fact - to all other tonearms brought to the market so far....) I have described in length.
Neither me nor anybody else does so for its looks....
I am happy to demonstrate its sonic possibilities to any serious listener in my listening room in a US$250k+ set-up.
We can even arrange that side-by-side (same phono-cable, cartridge, phono-stage..) to a Triplanar VIII and a Phantom 2.
There is a reason why at least a handful A'goners do prefer the FR-66s to everything else they have and had (and they have/had them all.....).
Dear Meperson, I was delighted with your open-mindedness in the first instance, when you decided to temporarily ditch your ET2 in favor of a pivoted arm. Kudos again go to you for the way in which you conducted your comparison. It is unavoidable that some will say you did not choose the "correct" pivoted tonearm, but that's life in the big ether. Your results are fascinating. I've never heard an FR tonearm, but I am familiar with the ET2, so I get half an idea of what you are saying.
Frogman 3/29/10: "What a curious bunch we audiophiles are! Once again, we see that an opportunity (the original linear/pivot arm thread) to express strong opinions, biases, and even to grand-stand a bit, draws a large number (269) of posts. Yet, the follow-up, which is the result of a lot of work, dedication, and which makes a significant contribution to analog aficionados on this forum, draws a comparatively low (15) number of posts"

Well, this may be because the ratio of analogophile favoring (or owning)linear arm vs Pivot arm may be around same number. I bet 1 in 10 owners proabably owns (and favors) linear arms vs vast majority of owners and experts own and favors the highly regarded pivot arms.

How can the all of 5 (ok, really a small number here) audiophiles with linear arms be right?
Folks - it is not linear vs pivot. Why is there always this choose-sides-attitude and mind?
I have owned most - not all - linear tonearms of the past 30 years.
Most of them were good and a few were among the best.
It is as little linear vs pivot as it is tube vs transistors.
It is always the design and whether all issues are addressed.
The first linear tonearm addressing all the issues of the concept will be the best and I will be among the very first to buy it.
Mepearson--Excellent effort in direct comparison with minimum changes. I do appreciate the effort's. I have been following this and the other thread with great interest. As an owner of a airbearing linear arm, i have tried to understand the various issues that relate to this and the other thread you initiate. One in particular is the cartridge impacts from the forces applied by the linear arm vs the pivot arm. By chance did you look at the cantilevier position during your comparison. As I understand the linear arms will put more stress on the cantilever as it moves across the record vs the pivot. Did you see or look for any differences? I appreciate your feedback on setting up the pivot arm. I recognize the importance of the levelness impact on the linear arm as is the tension applied by the phono wires but once you get those issues optimized, they stay optimized. My rb300 on my gyrodec was pretty easy to set also so the arm you used seems to be a tougher arm to optimize. I was very interested in the audio differences since very few (you, dertonarm and a handfull of others), have the opportunity to see direct or side by side comparisons. Thanks again for the efforts!
Dear Oilmanjo, As Mepearson will no doubt also tell you, stress on the cantilever was a hot topic in Mepearson's first thread, which he started by declaring the superiority of linear tracking tonearms.

Dear DT, Since you have such a broad experience with past and present linear tracking tonearms, may I pick your brain regarding the current crop? What do you think of the Trans-fi Terminator tonearm(s), as compared to the ET2 and other linear trackers that can be purchased for ca US$1000? Thanks for any input. I am rather attracted to the Trans-fi products.

The post says that you suggest using a mounting distance of 231.5mm for the FR64s instead of 230mm. What is the overhang then for this mounting distance? Is it still 15mm? And may I know what is the optimized geometry for the FR64s - Bearwald, Lofgren B, Stevenson? I have 2 FR64s and would like your comments on how to get more from them. I too use a MintLP protratcor but it is based on the original geometry as recommended by FR.
the original geometry of the FR-64s is largely due to the misunderstanding of this tonearm in particular among some audiophiles.
When mounting the FR-64s at 231.5 mm distance, the geometry results in the following optimized parameters:
- overhang 14.5 mm (original: 15 mm)
- offset angle is now 21.4°(original: 22°)
- effective length is now 246 mm (original: 244 mm)

As far as I know Mr. Yip does not recommend using his MINT tractor for the FR-64s with this altered mounting distance. And I agree.

This altered mounting distance with consequently altered overhang/offset and effective length does result in a MUCH better tangential tracking error curve.
Here on Audiogon I have stated several times, that the geometry of the FR-64s in particular is quite different from the IEC-based geometry and I can only encourage everyone interested in really getting the very best from this tonearm to use the original 1st version of the Dennesen Soundtractor (aluminum made - beware, there are several fakes around which altered geometry !!).
When optimized, the maximum tracking error curve is pretty impressive and gives a maximum error of only 1.3°.
Lewm, I've not heard the Trans-Fi yet but I have customers that really like it.
dear Lewm, I was hoping that Mepearson may have observed differences in cantilever deflection since he was using the same cartridge on the same table. I have sat in front of my table for several records watching the stylus to see if I could observe any excessive movement or deflections. I could not see anything unusual (except for one offcenter record where the whole arm moved in and out a little) but i did not have a reference point. I understand the mechanics and principles of the stress that Dertonarm shared in the other post and commented several times in the previous post but the key question is whether the stresses will impact the integrity of the music(it performance of the cartridge) or reduce the life of the cartridge. Mepearson's work is the best comparison I have seen short of an earlier work done by a review in sterophile back when the airtangent arm first hit the market. I am heavily invested in the linear arm tables currently owning 3 different maplenoll tables as well as a small handful of cartridges so understanding this cartridge life issue is very important to me. That being said, I do not have any complaints concerning the quality of the sound coming from my system. Could it be better? most likely yes as I have learned best is nothing but a transient state as technologies and human ingenuity continue to improve our systems.

i've been in Syracuse NY though the weekend for the NCAA BB tournament and missed this thread until just now.

congrats on the great effort to figure out what sort of arm is right for you. and we all had fun along the way exchanging viewpoints and biases, as well as some great insights.

regarding our exchange on the TP Forum; i think you related my perspective correctly. i do think that a linear tracker has the potential to be exactly correct regarding the the 'phase' (relative timing of musical pieces) of the music. whereas a pivoted tonearm can only be exactly accurate in phase in two momentary spots. not to say that a properly set-up pivoted arm might not be very close on phase when not on those two spots. furthermore; the clear sonic attribute of a greater sense of space and soundstage stability and completeness with a linear tracker is the clear result of this advantage.

human hearing is particularly sensitive to phase differences as that is what locates things for us. we get lots of practice hearing phase.....every waking moment of our whole life. one big reason PCM digital sounds relatively flat to us is that the decimation process reduces phase accuracy in high frequecies. reel to reel tape has such a solid sound because phase is always perfect.

my idea for this perspective came from hearing Fremer speak in a seminar at RMAF about how the Feikert software used for cartridge set-up has found that getting phase correct is really what causes a cartridge to 'snap-in' to the ideal azimuth. thinking about that, and how a pivoted arm will swing in and out of ideal phase depending on the point on the arc it makes sense that a linear tracker won't have to suffer that. Mikey did not make this connection although maybe he thinks this too. i don't know. and maybe, the simpleton that i am, i'm missing something (or many things) here and i'm (all) wrong.

maybe the word 'phase' is not what i should call this characteristic; if there is a better one then someone please chime in.
Mikelavigne, Mepearson, as the "phase issue" related to stylus polished area deflection is coming up in this thread more and more, let me add a few comments.
Yes, phase shifting and its impact on our listening experience is both - huge and little explored.
And yes, - I think it is the right phrase.
However, phase shift takes place with each and every tonearm and cartridge. If to different degrees. We have lots of cartridges on the market with built-in-phase-shift due to their design. We have a huge percentage of phono stages (tube based and ss based - but mainly tube based, I admit...) and SUTs with considerable phase shift towards the lower frequencies.
All these fountains of phase shift do have a higher impact on the sonic result than the tiny deflection of the tracking error. Especially so as this again depends on the size and shape of the respective stylus.
And - hands down - every linear tonearm NOT graced by an "zero-time-automatic-progression" does by principle do have a phase shift too,- due to declination needed and happening to stimulate its progression.
The answer to the question - when reduced to the arc or line of zero tracking error is within the groove. Lets look at the dimensions of the groove and the corresponding polished area of the stylus and you have the answer.
And now - all the other sources of phase shift, within the cartridge, SUT, phone stage AND - last not least - the huge phase shifts in each speaker, crossover and room resonances (ever with Mikelavigne's fine tuned room...) jump into place.
Believe me - regarding influence, we are talking about a tiny young tree here while missing the whole forrest.......
Phase shift is all around our listening-systems. And the tracking error is the very least and most tiny source of them all.
Say, Mark!

A couple of things:

1. You have some kind of machinist! Congrats.
2. After circa 25 years of vinyl void...I purchased an ET-2, very recently. Thanks Eckart :-)
3. I'll share good, live analogue tape recordings I make, with you (hopefully, I'll be able to make some that are worth a listen...steep learning curve, but I relish it!).


Thanks for details. Will try to see if I can snag the Dennesen protractor.


I too would think that a linear tracker would put more pressure on stylus and thus cause some cantilever deflection. NOt aving any experience with linear arms, I cannot provide any direct experience however. But I was thinking that perhaps cartridges without cantilevers e.g. Ikeda 9REX and Decca London type cartrdiges might be a better match for linear trackers. The Ikeda cartridges though need heavy mass arms whihc is typically not found in linear trackers. Does anyone out there have any experience using cantileverless cartrdiges with linear trackers? Seems to me it could be a great match - the immediacy and dynamics of cantileverless cartridges with the excellent imaging, soundstage and openness of linear trackers due to reduce tracking errors.
Ddriveman, using my (now defunct) old Decca London in my ET2 was one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever had in this hobby. The combination did some things, particularly in the area of micro-dynamics, amazingly well. You want to talk about hearing the subtletlies of a violin player's bowing, or the fine gradations of a string section's crescendo, the immediacy of rim-shots? Fantastically realistic, the best I have heard in my system. Comparisons to my pivoted Syrinx PU3 showed that there may have been, in fact, be something synergistic going on with the ET2 and Decca in this regard. Dynamics with the Syrinx/Decca were good, but not on the same level of realism as with the ET2. This was important because with other cartridges the ET2 could sound VERY slightly polite compared to the Syrinx. Although I think this may have been partly due to the Syrinx's comparatively less even high frequencies. These are comparisons with these two arms only, and not necessarily indicative of any general traits of linear vs. pivot in this respect.

Now, the frustration was the result of what was inconsistent tracking ability with the ET2/Decca. Not bad, but clearly not as surefooted as in the Syrinx. The ET2 was a stellar tracker with other cartridges. Particularly with low compliance MC's (Mepearson??). I was never able to reconcile these results, since logic told me that the fine deliniation of micro-dynamics should be the result of good tracking ability. Perhaps Dertonarm can chime in on this apparent contradiction. Add to this my inability to ever get anywhere to a reasonable amount of grounding noise with the Decca, and I simply gave up trying to make the combo work. But the potential was clearly there.
I am with Dertonearm on this one. There are SO many sources of phase error in a typical audio system and in anyone's listening room that what's happening with the stylus is a drop in the bucket. Plus also the "phase linearity" of a particular linear tracking tonearm would be a product of its mechanism, as well as of its basic topology. So, I think there may be large differences among different linear trackers. But maybe "phase" is the wrong term to describe what Mike might be talking about, as he suggests.
Drop in the bucket, yes. But, have we not shown time and time again that errors at the source turn out ot be the most harmfull? "Garbage in, garbage out", and all that?

Is it too far fetched to assume that the effect of a phase error added to an already phase distorted waveform is, in absolute terms, greater than the effect of the same amount of phase distortion added to a more phase correct waveform? In other words, the effect is more than one of simply cumulative effect. I realize that this may be completely off the wall, especially considering my very limited technical knowledge, but I always keep going back to the idea that there are things going on with music playback that we don't fully understand. The importance of what goes on at the source is always easy to understand.
Frogman, I agree. It is always surprising how obvious a single variable change can be-- particularly at the source.

Ddriveman, you may be onto something: Vic of Trans-Fi wrote me that the Decca Reference is his favorite cartridge on Terminator linear arm.
Ddriveman, Frogman I am familiar with the Ikeda 9 EMPL, 9R, 9 Musa and 9 Omega. They all have in common a very unhealthy correspondence between low VTF, high mass and a very special compliance (to say the least...).
All the Ikeda 9 series cartridges are very special to set-up and to operate.
They work best only with 3 or 4 tonearms and the owner must know about all the special aspects of their alignment and their operation needs and features.
That so few know how to adjust and operate them is the reason why so very few actually are featured in western high-end systems.
Regarding their sonic capabilities, they are hardly matched by any other cartridge.
But their operation is a nightmare.
Certainly the wrong partner for any linear tracker - due to their high mass and very special set-up requirements.
The old DECCAs were far too unstable and indeed did always suffer from what I would call the worst quality control in the history of cartridge manufacturing.
The current production DECCA/London are far better - in all respects and especially regarding quality.
The ET2/2.5 indeed does perform surprising well with a large range of cartridges and compliances. However - it does not perform well with heavy body cartridges (stone body Koetsu for instance).
"Drop in the bucket, yes. But, have we not shown time and time again that errors at the source turn out ot be the most harmfull? "Garbage in, garbage out", and all that?"

Absolutely! Especially in Vinyl playback sources. Isn't that the truth that the signal is magnified like 100's of time thru phono pre? so will the phase/tracking error!

Accepting the fact that there are indeed phase errors down stream, like Dertonearm says.
Dear Nilthepill, I don't think the aphorism "Garbage in; garbage out" applies here. It would be applicable to a situation where one expects a "bad" sounding LP to sound "good", because one is using a $150,000-turntable. In this case, phase distortion can be assumed to be just phase distortion wherever it occurs. However, the question remains whether the distortions that Mike perceives are truly due to phase aberrations or are just the best descriptor he can think of for what he is hearing. If it's not really phase disortion but something else that occurs at the level of transduction, then all bets are off.
Hi Mepearson,

You’ve done some solid work in your experiments, and I applaud your putting it all on the line to relate your experiences - this, in light of the fact that many on this and other lists eat their young.

I find recommendations like those of Dertonearm to be amusing - that of dedicating a specific alignment to a specific tonearm. Me ... I’ve been an unapologetic Bearwaald guy, but that’s what makes horse racing. The key for me is *accurately* setting up the arm - using an arc protractor.

To this latter point, my last exposure to an ET-2 was in the early days, when I was still collaborating with Peter (Redpoint). I had not yet ventured into arc protractors, and the arms under comparison were the ET-2 with surge tank, pressure regulator (set to 6-8 psi, fed by 30 psi pump), a Moerch DP-6/precision red wand, and a Graham 2.2.

I’d love to have that ET-2 back now that I’ve become sold on arc protractors. My takeaway at the time was that of an audible drop off in tracing distortion in the ET-2 (when compared with the two pivoted arms), along with a leaner but very tuneful bass. The ET-2 tracked flawlessly with both Benz and Denon carts.

The reason I’d like to return to this experiment, is that my memory tells me that the order of magnitude difference between the ET-2’s perceived tracing distortion and that of the two pivoted arms was equivalent to the jump I experienced with every arm for which I’ve re-set, used an arc protractor. I noticed another similarity with linear trackers when I adopted arc protractors. The setup is much less sensitive to small changes in VTA (a good thing).

I would not propose that you return to the FR tonearm, but at such time you get the urge to play with it again, contact me privately, and I’ll draw a Baerwaald protractor up for you to play with.

I think the ET-2 is a brilliantly conceived piece of gear, and if you’re dedicated to finding a nice location for your pump (or quieting it down if it’s noisy) then it is a very viable solution.

Regarding the latter discussions in this thread about phase distortion relating to pivoted arms ... well, we might as well be discussing super string theory. There are so many elements that can contribute to the perception of a band playing in or out of time, and while geometry is perhaps the easiest one to pontificate about, my experience is that it has the least effect.

This is yet another example of my basic tenet - that varying architectures, when conceived and executed competently, will converge on a central point of musicality.

As usual however, there are so many other variables to consider. If one’s basic geometry is off (pivoting arm) it will swamp any other effect, and one runs the risk of setting up a straw man argument, shooting down pivoted arms (instead of the real culprit - inaccurate setup), and proving nothing in the process. A Stradivarius out of tune is just an out of tune violin.

The arms I’ve had most recent extensive experience with are the Tri-Planar, Schroeder Reference, and Durand Talea. Never would the words phase distortion come to mind when listening to these three fine arms. The qualifier is - when the geometry is set up accurately - with an arc protractor.

With all due respect to Mike L, I challenge the veracity of your comments due to the probability of a flawed setup which I’d rather not discuss on this forum.

I’d love to demonstrate this to you all at this year’s Audiofest. In both of the rooms we’ll be exhibiting, the phase performance of the speakers (Green Mountain Audio and Daedalus) is extraordinary, and readily exposes flaws elsewhere in the signal chain. Believe it or not, you won’t find a horn in a Galibier room this year. Go figure ...

Thom @ Galibier

First of all, Thom, go figure is my saying. Check the archives. ;)

To the rest of you guys,
Thom is my friend, so I can talk to him that way. Besides, he has his Nomex suit on.:)

All that said, I'll try to be the voice of reason...
To quote Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?" LOL

Seriously, here's the thing; I make a turntable, but I can listen to a YouTube performance on computer speakers and thoroughly enjoy it. Why? It's because what we do at the end of the day is about the music itself. If we can't close our eyes and hear at least some of what the artist intended, we don't get it. (Still, I like good stuff.)

Tonearms? At some point it is all about flavors. The same goes for any piece of audio equipment you can name. Me? I don't have much to add to the conversation, although I suspect that one of the opinions here is the correct one, but I haven't owned all the equipment in question. So, why bother posting at all? Who really knows, but I thought I would toss out a two cent opinion with the hopes that some guys would stop a minute to think about what audio really means. I believe it is sort of about equipment, but not really. It is more about what moves you in a significant way, isn't it?


Your Experiment is flawed!

Neither arm has an "Extreme" height adjustment for setting SRA on MC cartridges which is necessary for optimal sound!

You do not know what the cartridge really sounds like and the comparison is only s "guess" at most!

The arm needs am "indexed" micrometer head height adjustment like the VPI JMW (10 or 12) or Phantom arms.
Lewm, agree. " the aphorism of "Garbage in, garbage out" was probably worng choice of word to illustrate what Frogman was trying to make a point for, Which to me was very clear we are not talkinng really garbage hear, but whenever source importance conversation comes up this aphorism is usually used. I am sure the meaning of what he was trying to say is not misunderstood by many.

I also tend to think that the 'tracking errors' that we are talking may not be (just) the phase distortion, (but I think Mike's interpretation may not be entirely off track)i think it is more like 'reading' errors by stylus due to one channel info reading more than the other or one channel info read abit earlier than the other. Just think of 3D geometry of hills and valleys and groove cuts and how stylus might follow different path with pivot arms than the linear arms. Common sense will tell you that linear would definitely do a better job or exhibit minimal errors vs the pivot arms. However, how worse (in comparison)the pivot arms would read is not entirely proved other than that percieved in back to back listening.

It would be great to find some white paper on this. I am sure it can be easily shown that one arm read more correct vs the other. By converting analog signal in to digital and comparing the results with original digital mastertape?
Don_c55 - I am sure that Mepearson did adjust the respective SRA with both tonearms.
And then the respective SRA is a matter of the cutting angle of groove under track anyway. So the "SRA" should rather be set groove-compliant to the respective record. Which counts for any cartridge NOT fitted with a spherical shaped stylus.
I think Mepearson did conduct a fine experiment with very little variables and did so in a most stringent and straight-forward way.
Most other audiophiles would had a hard time equal the very straight and non-egomatic way he handled this.
"A Stradivarius out of tune is just an out of tune violin". Thom Mackris

"...but I can listen to a YouTube performance on computer speakers and thoroughly enjoy it. Why? It's because what we do at the end of the day is about the music itself. If we can't close our eyes and hear at least some of what the artist intended, we don't get it". Mosin

In case anyone misunderstands. I meant my above comment (?) in the most positive sense. Wonderful commentary from both Thom Mackris and Mosin.
Amen Frogman and Moisin ...

I've spent countless hours ... starting off by looking up someone's discography, and finding myself on Youtube listening to some dusty old performances. It's an incredible resource for the music lover and music historian.

Imagine if we had Youtube performances of Liszt performing the Hungarian Rhapsodies? I doubt we'd gripe about the sound quality.

And ... back to this thread. While I'm a manufacturer and would love to sell everyone something, I encourage more of you to bond with your gear (as time permits and doesn't interfere with your musical enjoyment).

Mepearson sets a fine example for you - to spend a bit more time and a few less dollars ... dollars that can be spent taking your wife out to dinner or buying some records.

Back to our untuned Strad ... I was actually in a music store when a woman tried to return a guitar because it was out of tune and her little darling couldn't play it!

Oh ... and to Moisan ... next time, I'll use "who woulda thunk?" instead of "go figure" (grin).

Thom @ Galibier
I re read Thom's very insightful post. Very articulate and eloquent. A text book example of how to generalize and still make lot of sense(althogh you do site some relevant first hand experiences).
I want to thank everyone for the kind comments. I have been out of town all week on business and just returned last night so this is the first chance I have had to read all of the new comments posted.

Dertonarm-the mailman just pulled into my driveway with the package of screws you sent me. Thanks again for all of your help.

Oilman-I have looked at the ET-2 many times as it tracks a record and I have never seen any stylus deflection. Unless there was something seriously wrong, I doubt you could see this with the naked eye.

Thom-I am mulling your offer of the protractor. I used the Dennesen Soundtracker as Dertonarm was adamant that it was the only available alignment tool that would set the geometry correctly for the FR-64s. I don't pretend to be knowledgeable about the best geometry for the FR-64s and I trusted Dertonarm's knowledge and experience. In the past, I purchased protractors from Wally for use with my JMW-10 and Rega RB-300 arms and used those instead of the Dennesen. The bottom line is that regardless of the method of setup of pivoted arms, I eventually find my way back to the ET-2 (same with the great Counterpoint SA-5.1-I have tried to replace it many times. The latest was with the Mcintosh C2300 and I sent the C2300 packing). I have learned over the years the hard way not to sell a component I love until I am very sure that the "better" replacement is in fact better. There is nothing worse than selling off a component you love in order to fund its "better" replacement only to find that what you just bought is not in the same league as what you had and your system has taken a step backwards. Now sets in the panic of trying to hunt down the same component you just sold and hope that you can find one in as good as shape as what you had.

With regards to phase coherence-I think this is a very interesting topic and it is generating some thought provoking threads here. Maybe MikeL is onto something. Whether or not that special something that linear tracking arms do that both Mike and I hear is a result of phase coherence that emenates from the correct geometry I don't know. What I do know is that there is something very special going on. If a byproduct of correct geometry is reduced phase shift, then it is just one more good thing to throw on the pile.

As for the comment about pump location-as I have stated before, I have a dedicated stereo room which has another small room adjancent to it which is used as an electronics work shop area and storage area for other gear and tubes. My pumps and surge tank are located in that room and are neither seen or heard in my listening room. The ambient noise level in my room is so low that you could literally hear a pin drop.