Trans-Fi Terminator 3 Airbearing Tonearm
I can only add support to Garretson's fine, detailed review of this outrageous piece of equipment; no need to put too much gloss on his review.
As with Garretson, I am also not given to exuberance over mere changes in sound; I know better sound immediately when I hear it. Been around Hi-Fi too long. I have also not heard this $1250 arm's $3K-$9K competitors, but the engineering is such that one cannot imagine those arms, with their relative drawbacks (much higher arm mass, high-pressure manifolds, long arm wands), sounding much if at all better. One never knows, though.
This arm replaced an Origin Live Encounter Mk.II, well up the ladder of top-performing pivoting arms. The arm is mounted on an Origin Live Aurora Gold Mk.II with Ultra motor controller and upgrade powersupply.
While I do not consider myself an audio fetishist who listens to equipment before music, I have been exposed to much top gear over the last 24 years, 9 of which were spent selling mid-fi to high-end gear. Top Linns, Systemdeks, Well Tempered Labs, Regas, Mitchells, VPIs. I have a very keen sense of hearing, but stop listening to equipment after my (usually correct) initial 3-5-minute impression is formed. After that time, I usually know whether I like something or not, and frequently I know it sooner. I prefer neutral, transparent equipment with a smidge of warmth, not overt coloration, but just a minute tendency. My equipment falls within that category. I want to hear what's on the recording, warts and all, theory being when good recordings pass through top performance is achieved.
The arm is finished beautifully, on par with the OL arm, but not at the level of pure audio jewelry like an Air Tangent at $8K, which must be this arm's direct competitor. In any case, it seems better built and engineered than the other competitor, the Cartridge Man Conductor, which looks as if cobbled together hurriedly. The engineering and build quality are rock solid.
The engineering behind this arm is striking. The ultra-short carbon tonearm with the vertical knife bearing is ingenious and jewel-like; the inverted V air bearing is an engineering insight someone should have had ages ago. The high horizontal mass of round manifold air bearing arms is avoided, as it is for vertical loads. Then, the piece de resistance is the VTA adjustment, with beautifully machined gradations in mms and adjustable on the fly. Altogether it is a triumph of simplicity and insight over unnecessary complexity.
Regarding setup, turntable neophytes with ten thumbs shouldn't apply unless they have expert friends. It is fiddly to set up compared with gimballed pivoting arms; but once the issues are worked through, you will know the arm's engineering and functioning intimately, and further adjustment becomes second nature. It is just amazing to see that carrier glide frictionlessly for the first time, changing direction on the slightest adjustment; an order of magnitude easier than even the best gimballed pivoting arms.
The sound? Oh, the sound. The Positive Feedback review by Clive Meakins and Garretson's fine comments herein nail it; no need to add too much, other than to say that pivoting arms are just so wrong. The first impression is how much distortion tracing error in pivoted arms add to the sound of vinyl; it's really stunning. Then, there is the absence of any antiskating forces and the concomitant need for more or less useless adjustment mechanisms of which Goldberg would be proud. It is a free, rock-solid, vibrant, open sound that combines the best elements of CD with those of vinyl for an excellent marriage; it is the sound of records that play through the entire side without increasing/decreasing tracing distortion. And, for what it's worth, the thing plays the 18-db bias torture test track on the Hi-Fi News test LP as if it is a test tone!
There is no arm hiss as the arm is a low-pressure high volume design, and the special 3/4" padded MDF box I made for the aquarium air pump does wonders at silencing the pump.
You should rush to hear this arm if you're serious bout vinyl; I regret joining the ranks so late. Performance-wise, there is little doubt in my mind that this arm belongs in the very top ranks of all arms, regardless of type.
Trans-Fi's proprietor is a fine guy, Vic, and truly dedicated to customer service. He responds quickly and goes above and beyond reason in ensuring you're happy.