What benefits to expect from tonearm upgrade


Dear all,
Seems that it's time to upgrade my 5+ years old ortofon as212s arm.

To be honest I am quite skeptic on the benefits of tonearm upgrade based on some demo that I listened to. Unlike cartridge or table.

If, for example, I upgrade to $ 5,000 or more tonearm, and say it matches very well with my cartride (lyra kleos) and my table (TW Raven One).
Is the benefit audible? In what way?

Thanks in advance for any advice
gondo101
I upgraded from a Rega to a Basis Vector and it made a huge easily audible difference. The greatest difference was in imaging. I think you need to listen yourself to decide in your case.
I have no expereince with your current arm, but with a $5,000 budget both the Graham and Triplanar arms deserve consideration.
Thanks for sharing,
Actually I just use $5,000 as an extreme example (I know there are arms cost much more :)) i meant with that price, users should expect audible benefits. I am just wondering what audible benefits best tonearms can give.

Historically the incremental audible benefits of tonearm (I used rega rb300 before) is less than cartridge upgrade (I used Lyra Dorian before).

Thanks again
I think the first question you need to ask yourself is whether a tonearm upgrade is the best way for you to spend 5K upgrading. It may well be, but maybe not.
I agree with Chayro in thoughtfully questioning where the investment should go. Your current Jelco-made Ortofon looks pretty good. The $5K level arms are certainly nicer, but your current platform seems solid. And don't underestimate the convenience of a removable head-shell, not to mention the tweaking you can achieve with shells of different mass & materials.

I haven't done too much arm swapping, but have had the following in my system:
Fidelity Research FR64fx
Graham Phantom Supreme
Clearaudio Clarify Carbon (temporary w/ Ortofon Cadenza Bronze)

I did a lot of cartridge swapping on the FR64, between various Benz/Ortofon/Koetsu. They were each very distinct in their sonics. When I transferred my Koetsu carts from FR64 to Graham (quite different arm implementations), they each retained their distinct Koetsu sound plus their subtle individual nuances. When I heard the Ortofon/Clarify combo (on an Ovation), again it sounded like what I knew/expected from that particular Ortofon model (i.e. excellent sound in the case of the Cadenza Bronze). In other words, the Clarify was much cheaper (and it looked/felt cheaper) than my usual arm, and that 2-axis magnetic bearing is a pain in the ass, but I didn't get the impression it was holding the cart back too much. I've also played with the newer Clearaudio Magnify (1-axis magnetic bearing), and I like that arm a lot. Seems to occupy a good spot for its price vs. quality, even with Clearaudio's outrageous pricing.

That said, the Graham and FR64fx have a quality and substantiality above what you'll get from lower price rungs. The Graham's adjustability is particularly superb.
I made the same upgrade as Jperry, (i.e. upgraded from a Rega (RB 900) to a Basis Vector M3 tonearm), and the upgrade was well worth it.
The noise floor became really much blacker and the bass response was deeper and tighter, as well as the benefit that Jperry noted.
Well worth the cost IMHO.
Just out of curiosity are you upgrading just simply because you want to or is something wrong with your Ortofon?
I am happy with my ortofon, just wondering if it is really worth it to upgrade to a more expensive one, based on my experience cartridge upgrade proves the best audible improvement after turntable upgrade.
Puting arm/cartridge compatibility aside for a moment....
It would be interesting to have some more comments when we talk about "upgrades".
Most of the time we mean differences(that we either prefer or not) and yes, tonearms sound different from one another.
I'd really like to listen to a tonearm that will trounce a rega rb300 (in every respect) for example.I've tried many tonearms and all were different.
Depends on the tonearm!!
Petermax
I'd really like to listen to a tonearm that will trounce a rega rb300 (in every respect.

Replace your Rega with a Basis Vector. I did and the experience was eye and ear opening.
All high quality tonearms will improve with a better cartridge.The cartridge (correctly matched to a tonearm) will make the bigger improvement.Many years ago, a reviewer (if I remember well it was Alvin Gold in HNRR magazine)reviewed the RB300 and he prefered it to the much more expensive Zeta that was considered a reference back then.He also commended on the reasons why many dealers recommended the Zeta , presumably for profit reasons.Without a listening test on your turntable and cartridge you cannot be certain which tonearm will sound best.Not to mention that if we take vfm into consideration,things are much different,and certainly in favor of a better cartridge,even turntable...
All high quality tonearms will improve with a better cartridge.The cartridge (correctly matched to a tonearm) will make the bigger improvement.Many years ago, a reviewer (if I remember well it was Alvin Gold in HNRR magazine)reviewed the RB300 and he prefered it to the much more expensive Zeta that was considered a reference back then.He also commended on the reasons why many dealers recommended the Zeta , presumably for profit reasons.Without a listening test on your turntable and cartridge you cannot be certain which tonearm will sound best.Not to mention that if we take vfm into consideration,things are much different,and certainly in favor of a better cartridge,even turntable...or phono preamp.
I have set up my system very carefully and that is why I commended as I did.An SME V didn't do it when I was experimenting,as well as other tonearms.When I "tuned" the sme's mass to match that of the rb300 and my cartridges, well, yes the V sounded closer to the rb and for me not worth the extra cost.A tonearm in itself does not sound good or bad,it is the good pairing with a cartridge that does the trick for me,as well as the phono preamp as I said earlier.
By these comments,I must say I do not underestimate any tonearm's qualities , low or high cost.
Many people regard the RB300 as being a very solid foundation, though with some room for improvements due to compromises made to reach its price point. You see mods for these arms more than for any others. Some of these are DIY kits for just rewiring. Origin Live also has more comprehensive mods, IIRC. Currently one of the more highly regarded modded Regas is the Audiomods arm. Had an RB300 and the improvement when I moved to the Audiomods was significant. And I experienced a significant improvement when I moved up to a Moerch DP-6 and then DP-8.

But yes, Petermax does make a good point that it is important to gauge what improvement will get you the most bang for your buck.
Thanks for all of the insights,
How about if I rephrase my question..... Theoritically.... What audible improvement to be expexted from moving from an "okay" tonearm to an "excellent" tonearm.

Jperry has mentioned imaging, does it mean better "placement of instruments" or bigger soundstage? Is there any other else?

Please when somebody mentions in technical/measurement terms, what will be the audible impact of that better technical/measurement.

Thanks again
I found that tonearm improvement - even with the very best arms are not dramatic...better tracking, cleaner, clearer presentation, etc.. differences that will make you smile, not jump for joy.
Without the right tonearm you will never realize the potential of your cartridge or turntable. Unless both are very subpar, get the great tonearm first.
I agree with you Kiddman.

Gondo101, my experience was that images resolved into individual instruments, and there was no smearing. It was easy to follow the musical line from individual instruments. The difference between the Basis modified Rega arm and the Basis Vector arm on my Basis 2000 turntable, using a Shelter 901 cartridge was immediately noticeable and very significant. I was stunned because I did not think it would make a huge difference, but it did.
Some years ago I upgraded (so I thought) my resident cartridge for a well-reviewed and highly recommended replacement. What was all the fuss about the latter I wondered - it sounded dull and uninvolving on my RB300. The I upgraded the RB300 for a Michell Technoarm (a much modified Rega RB250) and immediately heard why the new cartridge was so highly regarded.

Moral of the story: upgrade your arm first and then select a good cartridge to match it.
Gondo101,
If you are happy as you say with your ortofon arm then a logical upgrade could be one of ortofon's own,or even Jelco's 12" versions.
Stringreen, you have not listened to the right arms then. There can be dramatic improvements.
Omsed...I might have missed an arm or two, but I have either owned or have been very familiar with most arms that are mentioned on these pages...yes, the highly regarded ones. Sure...going from a Webcor arm to a Graham arm brings more to the table, but in my experience a change of cartridge to a better one, brings greater rewards than a change of arms.
in my experience a change of cartridge to a better one, brings greater rewards than a change of arms.
This is not correct. I owned a high end store before digital and have owned, sold, set up a huge array of TT's and arms including Sota, Linn, Pink Triangle, Townsend, Goldmund, Roksan, Technics SP10's, Kenwood L07D's, Verdier, SME, Well Tempered, Garrard 301/401, Thorens 124/5/6 and many others. Arms including Linn Ittok/Ekos, Syrinx PU2/3, Zeta, Alphason Xenon/HRS, ET1/2, Well Tempered, SME 3009/3012/iV/V, Odyssey, Hadcock, Naim Aro, Dynavector 501/505, Goldmund T4/5, and many others.

Putting an expensive cartridge on an inexpensive arm is like putting Formula 1 or Indy racing tyres on a family sedan - the handling does not improve, in fact you will go round corners much slower because the car was never designed for these tyres.

Let me give you another example.
Assume I have a Rega RB301 with Exact MM cartridge.
If I put a Koetsu Black or Lyra Helikon on the Rega arm you will hear a significant difference. It may even track ok. An experienced ear will also hear fragility, lack of coherency due to the mismatch.
If I put the Rega Exact MM on a top of the line tonearm it will track better, and you will hear a more stable and coherent sound than the Koetsu/Lyra in the cheaper arm.

Another point to consider - MC's can put a lot of energy into the arm. If you put a low compliance MC into an inexpensive arm you are most likely to wear the arm bearings out in a short space of time.

Kiddman was absolutely correct when he said -
04-09-14: Kiddman
Without the right tonearm you will never realize the potential of your cartridge or turntable. Unless both are very subpar, get the great tonearm first.
Jperry, it not clear ,to me at least, which arm you liked better.
Schubert, when I reread my post I can see it may not have been clear. The Basis Vector tonearm was far superior to the Basis modified Rega tonearm. The difference was to me astonishing because I did not think changing just the tonearm could make such a noticeable difference. This was in my system using the same turntable and cartridge. Kurt_tank earlier in this post indicates he had a similar experience.
Dover...you didn't read my post carefully. I agree with you if you go from a crappy arm to a great arm....however...if you listen to arms of the same relative class, any difference is minimal.
Very helpful Jperry, thanks.
Schubert, are you still looking for a replacement for your ADC LMF tonearm or did you find a new stylus for your ADC XLM cartridge?
Hi Gondo,
I can't help but empathise with what Stringreen says. Tonearms, unfortunately, are like everything else by being subject to the law of diminishing returns.

For you I guess my opinion (and quite a few others here) is most relevant because I'm using the same platform as you. As an R1 user I upgraded from a Linn Ittok/Music Maker III to a Graham Phantom II/Lyra Delos.
The Ittok/mmIII combination is no slouch but if the Ittok were in manufacture today it would cost perhaps 40% of a Phantom. The latter combination is superior in every regard but the differences could never be commensurate with the price differential (or perhaps it might if I applied a massively more expensive cartridge & phono stage but that option is not on the horizon) so it is a difficult decision that you make.

In the early 80s Linn often stressed Dover's point about small poor quality arm bearings risking damage by using them in conjunction with high energy low compliance MCs (such as Linn's own carts) so that is another important point to take into consideration.

It's worth adding that because a tonearm is so fundamental it will bring more to the party than would a correspondingly more expensive amplifier than the one you are using, so it's money well spent...
However, in defiance of my flat-Earth origins, I also subscribe to the "Barnet Theory" i.e. spending massively on loudspeakers! ;)
Cheers...
...Just noticed you are using a Lyra Kleos Gondo...
This probably strengthens your argument for shelling out on a good tonearm.

The Kleos inspires one or 2 varied opinions on this forum but knowing Jonathan Carr as we do, the Kleos wouldn't have been put out to market if it wasn't a worthy performer. :) ;)
All the best...
I am weighing in late because I have been waiting on a new Basis Vector 4 - just put it in last week and as JPerry and Kurt Tank mention it is a huge upgrade. For me, it might be the most significant upgrade I have made in terms of sonic presentation and mechanical also - it is an engineering marvel compared to what I have had.

My table is a Basis 2200 Signature and my cartridge is an Ortofon Jubilee. My former arms were Rega 300 and Hadcock 228.

I noticed immediately way more detail, better imaging, with blacker backgrounds and more purity of tone. I put it off for years but glad I finally got off my ars and did it!