TTWeights new Black Onyx Idler drive Turntable

About three weeks ago I drove to Newmarket. It is about an hours drive from Brampton, but I wanted to listen to Larry's 'Christine' turntable. When I got there I found Larry all excited about his newer turntable. A less expensive, more heavily damped version of Christine (and much less expensive). He explained to me how Christine was way overbuilt. There is no reason for a one horsepower motor, way overkill. His 1" carbide main bearing shaft was also way too much, and the shape of Chrisine's plinth did nothing for resonance control. Along comes the Black Onyx, still in R & D, so off I went back to Brampton.

I went back three weeks later, that was a couple of days ago, and with an armful of albums, sat down for a long listen. I will say that a long listen is not necessary. It took about ten seconds to realise this was something very special. Everything from Cat Stevens, Bruce Cockburn and Jeena Lodwick to Dire Straits and YES. Without fail, every single track on every album left me with goosebumps. Singers seamingly playing for me in his office did nothing for my bank account. He now has my deposit, and I wait patiently.

My turntables have all been belt drive. Many years ago I purchased a Heybrook TT2. This was commonly referred to as a baby Linn. My next table was a JA Michell GyroDec (mostly because I thought it looked wicked), and finally to the Teses 340. I will say the jump from the Michell to the Teres was only equaled by the next jump to the Black Onyx. I think I can safely say Idler Drive turntables are a wonderful idea. The Saskia is highly regarded, as is the new VPI. Both idler drive. If you can get to TTWeights for a listen, you'd be doing yourself a favor.

The rest of my system is thus; ZYX Universe cartridge, TriPlanar and Schroeder DPS tonearms, Atma-Sphere MP-1 mklll preamp, Atma-Sphere MA-1 Silver edition amps, EMM Labs CDSAse, Magnum Dynalab MD-108T tuner, and an older pair of ProAc Response 2 speakers. I sold my Coincident TVll'2 and am building speakers using Accuton mid and tweeter, with SEAS 10" woofers. Still months away.

My listening room is almost complete and should be finished about the same time as the Black Onyx. I will get back to you after that.
Photos of Black Onyx?
Maybe TT Weights will let you have some to put up here, if you did not take photos of your own.
I didn't take a camera, but here is their website.

Just click on the link to the Black Onyx. There are a few nice shots.
Above link>>[]
Hifitime, Thanks for the URL. The blurb says that Black Onyx is a "Direct Idler Drive", which is a contradiction in terms, and the photos are all of the intact turntable, taken whilst playing a record, so one cannot really tell about the drive system. I was under the impression, I think from Cousinbilly's post on VA, that their top end turntable IS an idler drive type and that the BO was a direct-drive type. I guess there was a problem of semantics, because in CB's post above, he is clearly calling it an idler. In any case, the BO appears to be a beautiful modern idler drive turntable for a palatable price.... very exciting. They will sell a "ton" of them, I predict, certainly by actual weight at least.
I'm confused about the drive system.But that aside,I can't stop myself from getting a glance at the pictures they do show.I'm not in the market for one now,but I do like what I see.
Their customers sent some nice photos too.Link>>[]
Sorry about that guys. I should have taken a camera. I did see a non assembled table, so I will try my best to describe what I saw, as well as what Larry told me of his machining process

The drive motor sits under the plinth, near the back outer edge, but just inside the outer edge of where the platter will end. The motors shaft protrudes up through the plinth, and is therefore hidden from sight once the platter is installed. The motor can be seen if you look under the plinth.
The motor shaft has 4 o-rings installed with these o-rings driving the outer edge of a sub-platter (idler wheel?). That sub-platter is somehow attached to the main platter. I have no more information since I did not see this sub-platter/Idler wheel installed on the main platter. I believe "Direct through o-ring coupling Idler Drive" may be a more correct description?. The motor is decoupled from the plinth with a carbon fiber mat, and the o-rings further decoupling the motor drive shaft from the sub-platter 'idler wheel'. This is identical to 'Christine', with the exception 'Christine' has her motor in the front left corner as opposed to the back left.

The main bearing housing is first installed onto the plinth, but with no hole drilled. The plinth is then bolted to one of the machines Larry uses to make aircraft parts. He first drills an ~1" hole dead center and true. Into this hole he inserts a piece of cryo treated porous Brass. As the brass warms to room temperature it expands. This brass insert sleeve cannot be removed, nor can it move, and is now drilled by the same machine, but different drill bit of course. A small recess was also drilled in the top of this sleeve for two reasons. To hold excess oil for the absorption by the porous brass, and to have extra oil so that no future oiling be needed. Larry told me that while the platter/bearing are seating themselves, you can see oil starting to show itself along the top edge of this porous brass. Cool.
The main platter bearing is carbide steel, with the thrust ball still being experimented with. Do they make carbide ball bearings?.

The platter is as described on his website, multiple layers of material.

The tonearm mount is decoupled from the plinth with carbon fiber, the bolts holding the TriPlanar tonearm (in his demo unit) are decoupled using brass washers.

The motor controller is a thing of technical beauty. There are three speeds, 33.33, 45, and 78. Each setting has it's own seperate fine adjustment. I do not know how many masters where made slightly off speed, but at least now I can experiment.
So in the most well known vintage idlers (Garrard and Lenco), the motor drives a separate and discrete idler wheel via friction between a driven shaft and the idler wheel. The idler wheel in turn contacts either the inner rim of the platter (Garrard) or the under horizontal surface of the platter (Lenco) and drives the platter via friction. The Black Onyx is more like a formalized version of adding a Teres Verus or VPI rim-drive motor to an existing belt drive. In those set-ups the wheel that drives the platter is an integral part of the shaft of the motor. There is only one interface that depends upon friction, between the wheel and the platter. I guess this is why TT calls it "direct idler drive".

Just to generate a discussion, I would guess that there may be some advantage to the Garrard/Lenco idlers in that the separate and discrete idler wheel provides an additional amount of isolation between platter and motor. On the other hand, the motor in the TT is likely to be so hugely advanced in terms of noise, vibration, and speed constancy over either the Garrard or Lenco motors, that this small advantage is swamped out.
I would agree with you Lewm. The motor for the Black Onyx is probably so quiet, that only one interface is needed. All I know is I feel in love with it as soon as I heard it.
Besides that, it seems the subplatter is used to provide an additional degree of isolation of any motor noise from the platter itself, although we don't know much about how the subplatter and platter are linked. It's pretty cool that in this day and age someone thinks it is worth his effort and investment to even build such turntables. I am excited too. My tweaked up Lenco is certainly competitive with anything I have ever heard.
Hi Lewm,
what are the sonic benefits of direct drive vs belt drive TTs?
Dear Alec,
I really am not qualified to give you a general answer that covers all the bases. I can only say that in my limited experience, highest quality vintage DD turntables sound better than "very good" modern belt drive-turntables at around the $5K cost point. This means I hear better pitch definition, a more "lively" sound, better definition of individual musical instruments. The belt-drive tables in this price range can however deliver a "big" soundstage compared to a DD table. To get the DD tables to compete at big sound you have to experiment with plinths, either heavy dense ones made of slate or hardwood or minimal ones, which I am told also work. IME, my Lenco idler drive in a slate plinth is also quite wonderful and delivers a huge soundstage, bigger even than my Notts Hyperspace was ever able to do. The Lenco beats the Notts in most other ways, too. Piano is divine.
Alec, I too was waiting for Lew's answer. I will say that what I heard at TTWeights is exactly as Lew describes. The pitch control of the Black Onyx was something I have never experienced. Listening to the Black Onyx raised the hairs all over from top to bottom. When listening to Bruce Cockburn's singing, it was as if his voice hung in the air. I swear I could see his vocal cords moving. It was the best I had ever heard bar none.

When I listen to my tape drive Teres, I like the presentation. Up intil now I have never heard better. I will however say there is no comparison, the Black Onyx Idler drive is heads and shoulders above my Teres. I will go on record that I have never listened to an idler design before, so I cannot compare it to any other idler table. I do not doubt that Lew's Lenco is fabulous. The Saskia is, from what I have read, also in that 'fabulous' category. The new VPI idler recently won best of in one of the top magazines.

I should have my new table in the near future.
Thanks Lewm.
Dear Cousinbillyl, looking forward to more postings from you on your forthcoming Black Onyx.
Happy New Year.
I have really good news, and a little bitty bad news. Larry is a man on a mission. He is taking his table design to the nth degree. He is trying out even better motors then the one I heard. He is experimenting with other even more 'processing power' controllers, he is trying even larger plinth's that will accomodate 12" arms. I was suppose to have #0001, but now I have told him to send it to the Europeans, I will wait for the Platunum table. I will get back to you folks next week. Larry will have his prototype of the larger platinum up and running next week, and I have to hear it. I will go with the same albums, listen, and report back.

PS; It pains me to say: 'My JA Michell/Triplanar/ZYX Universe' smokes the EMM Labs CDSAse. I can't wait to hear Larry's new table, which originally easily bested my Teres 340.
look forward to feedback. Let me verify, the onyx is an idler drive? Was your teres upgraded to the rimdrive? BTW, still enjoying the UNIverse you sold to me. I have it mounted on my Maplenoll Ariadne signature.
Hey Oil Man

The Black Onyx is in fact a rim drive. Larry has changed the wording of his little beauty.

My Teres was not a rim drive, it was still a tape drive. It is now sold, so I hope I remember what it sounded like. Maybe I had the setup wrong, but it never produced perfect pitch, if my wording is correct. The JA Michell is not as good as the Teres was, but I remember the differences. When I finally decide on which version of the Onyx to get, I should be able to give a more exact description on my system.

I am also breaking in a few pairs of the Shuguang Treasure CV181-z, so far they are not fairing well.
No offense guys,but after looking at a picture of this drive system,I think it may be big time flawed.There is not much rubber cushion between the shaft and platter.Also,if the O rings get a little bit harder,and you know they will, vibration problems will start.You will have to keep buying fresh and soft replacements.Stocking them won't help because they will still get hard setting around.Just my 2ยข.Picture link>>[]

Time will tell if this drive system will prove successful. The o rings are small and are not bonded to the drive pulley. Will they exhibit any creep as the heat up from continuous use? Would a larger drive pulley suffer from variations in the power of the drive motor size? If so , would the variation be offset by the greater rubber to the road effect by larger o rings.

I'm sure Larry took these factors into account before offering his new table. However, everything changes and never stays the same. Larry has the advantage of state of the art machines and can change his offerings at the click of a mouse.

I feel that Larry will contribute much to vinyl playback and can't wait to see how he succeeds. If I didn't invest as much as I have in Turntables I might just buy one of his tables myself.



You are absolutely correct. Larry has already informed all who look at this table that O-ring replacement will be an integral part of maintenance. This will need to be done every couple of years, or, with extensive play, even bi-yearly. This is not different from changing the tape drive on my now sold Teres, the neoprene drive of my JA Michell, or the tubes in my amp. How many of us check VTA, VTF, Anti-skating, Azimuth (all as the cartridge breaks in), levelling, cleaning of records, etc., etc., on a monthly basis.

An even bigger problem however is getting the platter out of the bearing 'before' changing the O rings. The tolerance's are sooooooo tight, that this is an execise in patience. You literally have to lift the platter, allow the air to enter and pass through the Olite sleeve, and keep lifting. I do not know how long this will be, but seconds are not the time scale used, minutes may also not be the time of this event, we are talking possibly hours. When seating the platter in the bearing, you literally have to install the recommended amount of fluid into the bearing, oil the shaft, get the bearing in place, and leave. This is not a Plug and Play table. It may be hours before the platter has seated itself. This is a design parameter I am willing to live with. From what I heard the first time I listened, I was floored. Nothing could have prepared me for that experience. Changing the O-rings, that's an excercise in passion. It may be needed/better to remove the arm, turn the table upside down, put shims under the plinth and let gravity do the work on releasing the platter, change the O-rings, and start the process over. Remember; It is not the destination, but the journey. I love playing with my stereo (though not as much as listening).

I for one am willing to go through this ritual. With the amount of time I spend retesting and matching 6SN7, 12AT7, and 12SX7 tube's (28 in total between the Atma-Sphere MP-1 and MA-1), in my amp and preamp, changing 4 O-rings on a Sunday afternoon seems not too bad. We are all excessive compulsive's. This is just another thing we get to do on a Sunday afternoon to achieve our ultimate goal; Live Music In The Home.
Well put Ken

Larry is a mad man on a mission. He is just as big a perfectonist as the rest of us. He will read your post, probably start experimenting with larger shaft's and O-rings, and decide if it is needed. I have no doubt having been to his shop, that retrofitting these changes on an existing table will not be a difficult process.

No different then my dealings with Frank Schroeder or Chris Brady, he is a man all about customer satisfaction. I can't wait for my Platinum Onyx, and what ever else Larry has in the wings.
The creeping you mention may be another problem.Also,the continuous pressure against the rubber may cause little dimples in the O rings.It looks like it should have a pivoting motor to release the pressure against the O rings.I guess time will tell,although I wouldn't buy one if I was in the market.It does look good though.
I didn't read your statement about changing the O rings until after I posted mine.
I will be visiting Larry again this week. I will take the same albums, relisten, and get back to you all. But, having said that;

I too will have a second look at the O-rings. Another 'BUT',: having looked at the website, thought, and used my tiny little analytical brain, have come to a realisation:: 1) there are four O-rings, not one. This immediately says to me he has already thought of the torque and possible problems with 'creep', pitting, thermal expansion, bulging, etc.. 2) the O-rings appear in the photograph to be very well seated, and tight. Creap is not a concern to me. 3) Larry deals with Aircraft type tolerence's and products. I will ask, but I highly doubt, that he uses anything less then aircraft quality O-rings.

Case in point, his Olite bearing is used in military helicopters, this is because no other bearing can withstand the stress involved with helicopter rotors. I doubt a turntable will develop the same stresses, but he uses it anyways.

I will ask and querry Larry, but I already know he has addressed this topic in his equally little feeble brilliant mind.

little feeble brilliant mind

Sorry Cpk, you are absolutely correct, mine was an inappropriate comment. Larry is all brilliance. He reminds me of a new age Albert Einstein, and that is why I made the comment. He is both brilliant and simplistic at the same time. He is re-evaluating every decision he has made, and rethinking every aspect of his table. He is making sure, that when his table is ready, no stone was left unturned. My table is not yet ready, through no fault of Larry's. I told him to continue his quest, and to let me know when he is ready. He is a man on a mission, and I like that. He is trying out new combinations of everything.

To answer the O-ring question; He is using a non-molded o-ring. I can't remember exactly what he said, but 'formed' o-rings are much 'truer', they are also more expensive. This is why they are used in aircraft, and the Black Onyx.

These o-rings will not be user servicable. He wouldn't go into details, but these o-rings will not move. The drive shaft will be manufactured to be user replaceable. Larry has told me that this will not occur for a number of years, but replacement assemblies will not be expensive, $30.00 - $35.00. This is no different then replacing tape drives or rubber/neoprene belts.
Albert Einstein was a New Age Albert Einstein. I don't think Larry would want to be raised quite to that standard. By the way, I just bought a couple of sets of the big adjustable TT Weights feet, the ones made for Christine but which are available as separate items. I needed tall-ish and height-adjustable feet for my slate plinth(s). The workmanship and the materials quality are outstanding.
My little Black beauty has finally arrived;

Forget the fact that I have waited 3 extra months longer than I wanted.

Forget the fact that the shipping was UPS proof, with more bubble wrap than bubble boy has.

Forget the fact that upon unpacking even my wife was impessed with the velvet bag acroutements (did I spell that right?).

Forget the fact that I was too lazy to read the instructions and simply assembled it using common sense.

Forget the fact that I had no want or desire to deal with VTA, VTF, Azimuth, or any other parameter that I know is of importance. I just wanted to hear it as a starting point. Everything was lined up as a best guess.

First album was 'eURYTHMICs, touch', one of my wifes favorites.,,,,,,,,are you ready,,,,,,,. UNBELIEVEABLE. My wife gave me that 'what the heck just happened', Annie Lennox was playing for us in our basement. Forget soundstaging, highs, lows, PRAT, depth, etc.,,,,,,,. irrelevant. Annie was in our basement. Can you imagine what will happen when I actually take the time to adjust everything.

Are you ready for this; The screws supplied with my TriPlanar are not the same as Larry's. This simply means the Tri was not securely affixed to the arm board. The M5 screws I used simply held the arm at the proper spindle to pivot length. I AM IN AWE!!. Can you imagine what will happen when the Tri is actually firmly affixed?.

The JA Michell gyrodeck has been obliterated.
From my recollection of my Teres 340,....., no contest.

The roofing season is upon us. I am already really busy. I will take the time to set everything up correctly, but it will take time, and after that give further thoughts.

Larry, I have no objection to the system you have at your shop,....., but,....., you have no idea what you have created!!!!!!!.

Cousin Bill

PS If I wasn't in love with the most spectacular woman on the planet, I would ask you to marry me.

PSS If any of you out there would like to hear just how good the Black Onyx is, my home is your home.
Congrats! Glad to hear that even a ruff 'n' ready setup produced such stellar results.

P.S. No, you didn't spell it right. ;-)

Hi Bill. I have one question. Since the platter belly is carved out in a circle, is the idler wheel touching the outside rim or the inside of the platter? Is it the idler wheel rolling like the Garrard or is it rolling like the Teres Vertus? I can't tell from the picture. If it is touching the inside of the platter then wouldn't be more flexible to have the whole motor assembly being outside of the platter and surely would make changing O-rings easier. Anyway, I'm just happy to see a different approach to idler-drive design and that you are enjoying music through it. Thanks for all the updates.

Thank you Doug and Hiho

I am going to go and do a bit more tuning. I'll let you know how it progresses.

Hiho; The motor shaft is driving the inside of platter, not the inside of the rim. You are correct in saying that an exterior motor driving the outside of the rim would have made changing o-rings easier. Larry may try that in the future.

Larry's next part is a remote arm mount. He is going to send it to me early next week. I will say he is obsessed with resonance control, and it shows in the table. There are way too many little tweaks that deal with this. I may one day sit down and list them all.

I will now conduct an experiment. First I will say I own an RS Labs A1 arm. That arm, when set up properly, is amazing. There is no way of bolting it down. It is meant to simply sit on the armboard. When I put the TriPlanar on last night, I did not have the proper bolts. The Tri reminded me of the RS A-1. There is a clarity in the mids and highs which for me is mesmerizing. I will listen to the Tri unbolted first, and then install the screws.


Thanks for the answer, Billy. Just for fun, here's a Japanese idler-drive design, Epson-Seiko by Mr. Takeshi Teragaki that has the idler-wheel, more like a pinch roller, on the outside of the platter, making changing wheel/roller or maintenance much easier. The Onyx still looks amazing - to be perfectly honest, it's visually more appealing to me than the much more expensive Christine.

More fun pictures.

My Black Onyx is back.

There is now a seperate stand alone armboard. Pictures are on Larry's website. Because my speakers are 17 years old, they are now the limiting component in my system. From memory it is ever so slightly better than the plinth mounted option, though I can't quite put my finger on why.

The large feet of the table no longer sit on carbon fiber pads, they now have a seperate coupling for each foot. I guess the carbon fiber was slippery, so minor movement of the table would affect spindle to pivot distance/alignment. No issue with the plinth mounted arm.

There is now a large copper plate 'under and attached to' the plinth. This probably aids in even more resonance control.

The housing that surrounds the motor is now filled with dampening material.

The things I originally loved about the table are all still there. I will go so far as to say there is even more space between instruments, though I had no complaints originally.

There are a few things I would like to note;

If I am using TTweights largest peripheral ring, the small knob of the TriPlanar arm touches the ring at the end of the album. I simply moved the remote armboard 2mm away, and moved the cartridge slightly further forward in the headshell. Obviously redid all tweaking.

When standing close to the table you can slightly hear the drive o-ring turning the platter. I tried listening for any indication of this between tracks, but heard non.

I remember the first time I read Doug Deacons post about using post-it notes for VTA adjustments. He stated each album had it's own fine setting for his Triplanar. I chuckled inwardly, and thought 'that'll be the day'. Opps!. My wife now gives me the thumbs up, or thumbs down. Thumbs up means raise the arm, too much base, or thumbs down for too much treble. Who invited her anyway!!!!. Post-it notes now on 15 albums. More listening tonight.

Cousin Billy

PS. Larry was over and heard the Atma-Sphere MP-1 and MA-1 combo, and, well, realised his rig at work was not so good. I love Ralph.
Thanks for your impressions CB. Seems like they are very well designed. One impression someone related to me:

"Looks like a pretty amazing deck & I can see the problems he's has developing it & his solutions for them. It is very similar to Salvation, but I suspect he has traded some sound quality for stability with electronic controller he is using. The brushless DC motor & controller is similar to the Verus."

I'm trying to decide, and hopefully Larry and I can work out a trade if I move forward.

The black onyx is I think at least 5 times expenisve the a Michell Gyrodeck, so it should be better.

But grats on your new turntable, enjoy the music.
Congrats on your new table.It's not to often that someone gets to be involved in the birth of a new company.I hope it keeps on making you happy.