Tri-planar vs Graham

What are the sonic differences/characteristics of a Tri-planar versus a Graham arm?

I just acquired a Raven One turntable but already had a Tri-planar arm. I read a lot of posts by Raven One owners that have Graham arms so I’m curious.
The Graham is difficult to set up but Graham consistently has made the best sounding arms decade after decade.

The Graham is so open and quiet with dense harmonics that are a religious experience.

The Tri-planar sounds sparse in comparison.
Duane: I live with the Phantom since a few years and I change turntables very often. I have never experienced an easyer arm to set up, and cartridge alignment is a children play with his clever alignment devices. Once everything is set up correct, nothing changes, even when changing VTA on the fly. I am very admirative to hear how good this arm sounds . It is very important to play with damping fluid, starting from none to the "ideal spot" where sound is the best. Every aspect of arm set up has been widely studied by Bob Graham.
It is even possible to mount it on an SME armboard.
I've owned the Graham 1.5t and the Tri-planar and like them both. I have not owned or heard the Phantom. Of the two, I've owned I preferred the Wheaton.

Duane's wrong on two of his three points. I've owned three Graham's and they're not at all difficult to set up; if you've got half a brain. Tri-Planar's are also easy to set up and while sonically different than Graham, they're anything but "sparse."
Floyd ... try to hold onto at least one component in your system for a year.

When you get the itch to change, scratch it by playing with loading, setup, etc. Try another brand of cartridge - perhaps by starting with a lower end one in a company's lineup (to keep cost of experimentation down).

Most of the good manufacturers have a "house sound", so you'll learn a lot about how a Dyna XV-1t sounds by listening to (for example) a 17D3. The same holds true for the Benz and Lyra line.

Listen to Raul on this one ... there are magical combinations and you need to work to find them.

In my experience, the Tri-Planar has a sound that is very reminiscent of the great Japanese tonearms, with the Micro Max-282 coming immediately to mind. It is very robust, and to call it "sparse" tells me that Duane was very unlucky in the gear combination that accompanied his Tri-Planar. This is the first time I've ever heard anyone call the Tri-Planar sparse (warning ... dealer disclaimer here).

This by no means is intended to cast aspersions on the Graham Phantom. I have limited experience with it and would not even venture into making an intelligent comment about it. This is more about playing out your hand before re-shuffling the deck. The Phantom is a project I intend to pick up in the coming year.

From what friends tell me, the Phantom is a significant leap over the 2.2. People who like myself had difficulty warming up to the 2.2, like the Phantom. It sounds as if Bob has really made significant progress.

Really get to know it your Tri-Planar. Your opinion is the only one that matters, but you have to be willing to get to know a piece of gear in a serially monogamous way. Right now (to follow this metaphor), you're hanging out in singles bars and looking for the love of your life every weekend.

Thom @ Galibier
Dear Madfloyd: Both tonearms are good quality performers and I think that your XV-1s can perform ( different ) but very good on each one.

What do you dislike on your Tri/Xv-1? or what are you loking for/ want to improve?

The results on both tonearm/cartridge combinations is system dependent and your curiosity IMHO maybe can't be satisfied till you try it n your system.

regards and enjoy the music.

I own a Raven AC and I use a new version Ti-Planar Arm with a Transfiguration Orpheus Cart. Before purchasing, I visited Jeff Catalano at Highwater Sound in NYC. Jeff usually has 3 or 4 arm/cart combinations on his Raven AC. I heard at that time the Graham and the Tri with different cartridges in each. The differences? Since there were different cartridges in each arm, that's almost impossible to answer. However, in general, I felt the Graham was very sweet sounding with fine transparency but a slightly narrower soundstage than the Tri-Planar which I found to be more dynamic with a shallower but wider sounstage than the Graham. Take your pick. I agree with Thom M. in that arm/cart set-up are paramount along with cart loading and gain matching. Without close attention to these parameters, it won't matter what you buy since it will not perform to its utmost. I recommend a Wallytractor for your arm, although as threads of the last few days have shown, buying one is next to impossible leaving a Mint or Dr. Feickert as the next best thing. Regarding set-up, the Tri-Planar is relatively easy to set up and while I have no experience with the Graham, most reviews have indicated it is simple as well. BTW, the surface on which you rest your table may have as much impact on sound quality as your arm/cart combo not to mention the quality of your preamp and the rest of your system.

Best of Luck
GI would for the Phantom. The Tri-Planar is way too expensive for it's - limited - performance in comparison. With carts below 10gr and a soft compliance it is fine but with the Graham is a better performer with more cartridges in general.
the VII was a competition for the Graham 2.0 series, but the Phantom is a class above.
I agree, that in some systems these differences can be minor, but they aren't.
UUUps, I was too fast with sending, correction:
I prefer the Phantom.
...but the Graham is a better performer with more cartridges in general....
I just set up a Phantom yesterday and it is (if you have any tone arm experience) a piece of cake. The only thing that needed readjustment was the vta (by sound) from the initial visual set up. Plus Graham Instructions are excellant. The other great thing is the arm wand pops off in a sweet way that really makes cartridge mounting easy plus his set up protractor/cartridge guide is really neat.
Did I mention the sound!
I never heard the Phantom, but I did have a 2.2. I did not warm up to is as it was thin in the midrange and lacked low end weight
Thom made the perfect response and Raul asked the key question which cuts to Thom's point:

"What do you dislike on your Tri/Xv-1? or what are you loking for/ want to improve?"

Well, Ian has never heard his new TriPlanar, not even for a minute. It's sitting in a box waiting for a turntable, so he has no idea what he's looking for or wants to improve. When I got my TriPlanar before my table was ready, I spent four hours investigating it, handling it and learning how all the compenents interact. Such is not Ian's way. He prefers gear-swapping, which he's posted himself is "lots of fun".

Ian, you should dump the TriPlanar and buy a Phantom. I've never heard a Phantom, but whether it's "better" or "worse" or how it differs is moot. As long as it's different (and it's bound to be different from a TriPlanar you've never heard) you'll have scratched your itch one more time. Should the Phantom arrive before the Raven, you'll have time to do it again. I say go for it.
Hello again. I'm sorry I made the differences sound so big. I was referring to the Graham being so textured that other arms do sound less dense in comparison even though they are both incredible.

As far as me having half a brain, I loaned my other half to Rush.

Part of it is that I have always had difficulty messing with omni pivot arms. I have poor eyesight and my hands shake when I'm nervous. LOL
In a way, I agree with Doug. If you've got something that's very good already, there is much more to be gained by optimizing its performance than by starting over with something else that is also very good but built on a completely different design philosophy (unipivot vs gimbal). As for me, I bought my Triplanar in the early 90s, had it upgraded along the way, and am very happy with it. If you already owned a Phantom, I would say keep the Phantom. You're comparing a very good apple with a very good orange.
Thanks for all the responses. Doug is correct - I hadn't even heard the Triplanar and was already wondering about the Graham because I probably read to much into some of the threads here. This wasn't so much about gear lust or desiring something new but wanting reassurance that synergy wasn't going to be an issue. I've made some huge mistakes when it comes to synergy...

In any case, I adore the Tri-planar. I've had it for a few weeks now and while awaiting the table I explored it and got familar with it the best I could. Yesterday I set it up on my new Raven One and was blown away by how easy it is to adjust the various parameters (e.g. you can adjust azimuth without messing up VTF). I was not impressed by the setup instructions and had to cry out for help (many thanks to Jeff at High Water Sound and Doug Deacon for coming to my rescue).

In any case, I've crossed a threshold in terms of analog performance. With my fairly quick alignment (adjusted the cartridge ONCE and once only - that alone should tell you a lot), zero damping, middle of the road VTF/VTA I finally listened last night and my jaw dropped. What I heard was right up there with the some of the best sounding systems I have ever heard. I finally heard beautiful extended highs full of detail. Overall frequency balance was wonderful and all instruments sounded tonally spot on. I could turn up the volume without any grain or harshness. I guess I never really 'heard' an XV-1s before. I admit I'm shocked to find a table and arm could make this much difference. I can only imagine what it'll sound like when I get it setup properly.

I'm pretty close to being 'done' with the wanderlust. I have hours in front of me packing up gear that I've sold or need to sell. My basement feels like a warehouse and I'm tired. But I've finally got a system that gives me enjoyment (both digitially and analog) and apart from deciding between two preamps and some interconnects, I think I'm done.

Oh and Thom: you've been very gracious and always given me great advice - I've been meaning to thank you.
Oh and Thom: you've been very gracious and always given me great advice - I've been meaning to thank you.
send him a bloody nice email & graciously thank him for all the free help he has selflessly offered you. :-) IMHO the situation demands it. Don't thank him BTW in a 1-liner at the end of your post. It certainly looks very "by the way" which his help was not! ;-)
This wasn't so much about gear lust or desiring something new but wanting reassurance that synergy wasn't going to be an issue. I've made some huge mistakes when it comes to synergy...
Getting synergies right is vitally important and can be difficult, as you say. Paul and I have been very lucky in that respect, but if you've suffered through expensive mishaps I understand your desire for reassurance.

As you now hear, there are no synergy issues between XV-1S and TriPlanar. Dan_Ed and others with that combo could attest to that, as I could from hearing the combo in several systems. There are certainly no issues between the Raven and a TriPlanar (or any other arm, probably).

I admit I'm shocked to find a table and arm could make this much difference.
:-) :-) :-)

Table and phono stage first
Tonearm a close second
Cartridge a distant third

This has always been the appropriate upgrade order and probably always will be. Linn has been saying so for 30 years. The number of people who mistakenly believe they will get first class sound just by dropping a first class cartridge onto a second class rig seems to be innumerable - though it just dropped by one. ;-)

Glad to hear you're happy and finally getting sound you enjoy. It may be a bit disappointing to have ditched a first class preamp for a second class one due to problems which had nothing to do with the preamp, but I agree you should enjoy the new front end and work to optimize/maximize it before you go there again. Among other things, your MintLP, when it arrives, should provide another clear upgrade from the alignment you probably achieved in that single effort with the stock protractor.

As Nick says, enjoy music, tolerate equipment!
Hi Doug,

It may be a bit disappointing to have ditched a first class preamp for a second class one due to problems which had nothing to do with the preamp,

To which preamps (make and model)do you refer? Do you think their performance is in absolute terms or system (Ian's) dependent? I know that Ian did recently change his amps and perhaps the old preamp was simply a mismatch.

The Dynavector XV-1s/TriPlanar/Raven should be a very good combination once set-up properly with the MINT Tractor. Congratulations Ian and enjoy that new front-end.
Hi Peter,

Ian's Alaap reproduced harmonic overtones his system couldn't handle without ringing at higher listening volumes. It's possible this change to a harmonically more transparent/less ringy turntable and tonearm might have eliminated the ringing and allowed him to enjoy what the Alaap can do. Now he'll never know (unless he tries another one). :-(

As you say, it's also possible that other components and interactions were contribting to the ringing. I'm unfamiliar with his speakers, amps and wire. IME, most SS amps aren't particularly adept at reproducing higher order harmonics cleanly, or at all, but that's just a generic statement which may or may not apply to Ian's amps.

Just saying it's a pity that due to the short trial he may never know...

Hi Doug,

The harmonics/ringing issue makes sense to me. I did't hear that with his front end in your system with your Doshi. I didn't hear it with his Doshi in my system. The Doshi did'nt sound that good in my sytem. Ian is the third owner of that unit in a year or so, so perhaps it needs to go back to Nick for evaluation. Those listening that day attributed it, I think, to a mismatch (impedence?)with my Pass amps and not my system's inability to reproduce/capture harmonics. It seems to do that pretty well, though maybe not quite to the level of your wonderful system. At least no one mentioned that at the time. Perhaps Dan_Ed could elaborate?

The point of my question is this: I just didn't know which of Ian's few preamps you catagorically consider "first class". I now understand that to be the Doshi Alaap. He has had a few other preamps in the system - ARC Ref 3, H2O Fire, Pass Labs XP-20, to name three. I don't know exactly when he had them relative to the Doshi. Do you consider them all to be "second class" and the Doshi to be in a leaugue of its own? That would be an interesting, and somewhat unique, opinion it seems to me. Just curious to what you were referring when you made that assertion. That's all. Thanks, Peter

as you have probably experienced, no other preamp sounds as good as a PASS preamp with PASS amps. What I heard with the Alaap in your system was not ringing. In fact it was just the opposite as I told you in an email. There maybe the first couple of harmonics coming through, but the rest are squashed into one impulse response or tossed out all together. This is just one other approach to music reproduction and it yields a quiet, pleasant rendering of music. I believe that Ian stated at the time he was using the same amps as you, IIRC.

I'm going by what Ian thought and what I can find online but it appears that the Pass amps are all 30kOhms input impedance which would account for the claims of the Alaap sounding rolled off. That is a less than ideal impedance match. The Alaap is pretty generic in loading and will work quite well with a load of greater than 50kOms, with higher loads even more desirable.

Now, my bass horn rolls off pretty fast below 25 Hz so I can't show an RTA plot of the frequency response that would mean much to this discussion. However, I recently brought in a pair of speakers that I helped acquire for a friend. The frequency response of these is well into the upper teens on the LF side when driven by my Alaap and Lectron amps. That Alaap, with the exception of some mechanical switch issue, is perfectly fine.
I might be mistaken but I think the Pass amps drop down to 15kOhms input impedance when using SE.

When I suggested Ian’s other preamps were less than first-class, I was of course referring to the two I’ve actually heard. I didn’t know he owned any others, including the three you mentioned.

I didn't know you’d tried his Alaap in your system. I couldn’t comment even if I did know, since I wasn’t there to hear it. :-)

Dan_Ed wrote, regarding the Alaap in your system:
What I heard with the Alaap in your system was not ringing. In fact it was just the opposite as I told you in an email. There maybe the first couple of harmonics coming through, but the rest are squashed into one impulse response or tossed out all together. This is just one other approach to music reproduction and it yields a quiet, pleasant rendering of music.
This sounds like what I've heard from much very good SS gear, not to mention many well regarded speakers with soft dome tweeters, one or two very popular cartridges and a vast number of interconnects and cables.

Harmonics that are tossed out altogether are at least bearable (to my ears and Paul's). Harmonics squashed together will send both of us (especially him) flying from the room in literal pain.

Arthur Salvatore introduced a new sonic parameter in his (long) review of his new favorite speakers, the Coincident Pure Reference. He called it "individuation", meaning the ability of a component or system to allow the listener to identify individual voices and instruments during even highly complex passages.

A component which tosses harmonics out makes individuation difficult or impossible. If the stereo plays an "A" and all you hear is the 440Hz fundamental sine wave, you won't know if it was a clarinet, a violin or a human.

A component which squashes harmonics together individuates even worse, since it not only disguises each voice but also mushes voices together when they're playing or singing in concert. Listen to a live choir without electronic amplification. You don't hear an alto voice, a soprano voice, a tenor voice. You hear Mary and Joan and Fred, hopefully singing in harmony, but always as individuals.

Paul and I have been seeking greater individuation from our system for years (without having particularly named it). It is one of our primary criteria for deciding whether any component, tweak or adjustment is an improvement or not. Any component, tweak or adjustment which damages individuation is a downgrade by our priorities. Others listen differently of course. Even Dan, with whom we agree on most things audio, once said he didn't give a d@#% what a harpsichord sounded like or whether his system could reproduce it well. He might think differently now, I don't know, but if a system can reproduce a harpsichord really well (a fiendishly difficult challenge, harder than piano in some ways) then it's probably capable of reproducing nearly anything well.

Heh! We went to a symphony concert the other night and the sound of the Steinway, from just 9-10 rows back, made me despair of ever getting any stereo to work right. The Steinway wasn't even set up properly, but it still embarasssed the best our system can do. I once set up a new rig for George Walker, the Pulitzer prize winning composer. After 5 hours of work I spun up a piano LP and (foolishly) asked him if it didn't sound more real than his old rig. "Well", he replied, "it sounds better. But it still doesn't sound like my Steinway to ME." He proceeded to demonstrate, playing us a piece he'd written 60 years earlier (he was nearly 90 at the time). He was right, obviously.
Dan and Doug,

Thank you each for your clear explanations. I think I understand what you're talking about now. I have not really identified the importance of harmonics as such in my set of sonic priorites (I just listened to the piano hammer-strikes and decays and overal tone), but you both (and Paul) have me interested now in recognizing specific sonic attributes and learning the vocabulary. I like Salvatore's term "individuation" and I have glimpsed what he means since I upgraded my cartridge and preamp, especially when listening to grouped voices on classical recordings, but also to my recent favorite LP, Muddy Water's "Folk Singer". Incredible Blues guitar and mood. Always something to learn and enjoy.

I appologize to Ian for having highjacked his thread about arm choices. Sorry Ian.

Harpsichord, smarpsichord. :-0 Actually, I just don't know what one is supposed to sound like. I see many live, rock and some jazz, shows a year. I know what that sounds like in good venues and in not so good venues. In all cases it is reality in modern music. Nothing but amps and PA systems in between. I'm getting very close to that sound, the in your face dynamics, clarity, detailed and integrated all at the same time. I have heard "my kind" of music on Doug and Paul's system several times and it just does not move me. However, for the music that is more in their preferred genre their system does move me. That is just what I hear coming from my perspective on how I want to reproduce music. And, the only real difference in our systems is the speakers. We just prefer a little different blend of spices, so to speak.

I hope I am not coming off as taking pot shots at Pass, and I do think that Peter's system sounds very good. There is no doubt in my mind about the distinct sound of high-end SS, but beyond that I just haven't listened to his system long enough to offer anything more. Hey, I love my Classe SS amp and Aerial 10t's in the theater. It is just a different way to make sound. There is no doubt about the bass handling capability of a quality, big SS amp. I'm not as sensitive to many things, and it usually takes me some listening time to figure out what I'm hearing. I would like to hear Peter's system again someday to get a better appreciation for what it sounds like to me. I'm sure I never felt the need to stop listening in the time I was there. But as Doug can attest to, I can tolerate some awful, awful sounding things while I'm figuring things out. :-)

The more I think about this load mismatch I tend to agree that this was the cause of all things sounding bad with the Alaap/Pass combo. I mean, that is a pretty bad load mismatch and I would expect that causes reflections in the interconnect cables, and that could sound like what Ian described that he heard. I agree with Peter that I don't think we heard that at his house, but it wasn't pretty. Difference in speaker, perhaps? It would be interesting to me to hear that sound again so I could try to dissect the sound, but I would not subject anyone to that kind of torture. ;-)

I do want to say that this kind of mismatch with a walk-in component has happened several times now with a certain dealer up in this area we know. Not surprisingly, things always sound bad unless all of the gear is something they sell. That is just my personal observation. FWIW.

Well, I guess we've gone way off topic. I used to own a 2.2 before I moved on to the Triplanar. I've heard many good things about the improvements in the Phantom. I hope I get to hear a properly setup Phantom some day.
So, my friends, also me I'm considering if it would be an audible improvement in moving towards one of these two tonearms.
So I ask to your experience which one I can choose?
Please consider that I live in Italy and I can't try them in advance (and I want to purchase one in the used market).
The cartridge is actually a ZYX Airy3 Gold, now it's running on a completely refurbished and rewired Syrinx PU3 on a Scheu Premier MKIII turntable, superb in every way but I suspect that a much modern design may be better.
I do have another tonearm on same turntable, but it's conceived for a much more (vintage) relaxed sound (Fidelity R. FR64S with Kiseki Agaat or Koetsu Red).
I'll wait for your suggestions!
Welcome to A'gon, Marco. Even though I have not heard a Phantom I still feel comfortable saying that you can easily flip a coin, or just get either one that happens to be available at any given time on the used market.

The only issue I can think of is to make sure that you have a mounting option that can handle the tonearm wires coming down through a hole, as is the case with the Phantom, and then mating through a DIN connector. The Triplanar tonearm wires are continuous and don't pass through the armboard or plinth.
The cartridge is actually a ZYX Airy3 Gold...

Your Zyx cartridge is a very good match with the Triplanar.

As Syntax says, a ZYX cartridge is an excellent match with a Triplanar, PROVIDED the cartridge includes ZYX's optional silver headshell weight. If it doesn't, bass response and macro-dynamics will suffer, because a bare 5g ZYX cartridge is lighter than optimal for a tonearm with an effective mass of only 11g.

The Phantom's effective mass is similar to the TriPlanar's, so the same caveat would apply.

You could address this by adding weight to the headshell. ZYX offers one and so do others, though this may have unknown effects on resonance behavior.
I run the ZYX (Universe) without a cartridge weight on the Triplanar, and the cartridge tracks beautifully- getting image stability that I had previously associated only with reel to reel tape. If you've not heard that, let's put it this way- most arm cartridge setups tend to have a slight amount of waver in the image- tape has that locked in. You might have to hear it to know what I am talking about :)

The Phantom appears to be one of the very few arms that operates in the same league as the Triplanar- we are talking about the best of the best here. Either way one will do well :)