When will we ever hear turntables demoed fairly?

To my amazement after 45years we still have no way of ascertaining the sound of turntable designs.Every stereo store has tables set up with different arms and different cartridges.How then is anyone to determine what is contributing to the sound when an apple is being compared to an orange and then to a pear.It's absurd and to make matters worse you are listening to different phono stages and amps and and speakers.If you can't isolate what is contributing to what what's the point.End of rant.

This is not a rant but a very valid point. Few dealers would do it right. That's one of the reasons why it is so difficult to make the right choice.
After 45 years you are obviously familiar with both vintage and modern TTs. Set up a good vintage DD or idler, add several arms and cartridges, and make your own comparisons. Little has changed for the better.
You don’t seem to own a turntable and you do seem to like Coldplay.

Sorry, that’s all the energy/input I could muster... considering...
Touché ! !
It used to drive me crazy when some (usually British) reviewers would, in a review of a new table, use a different arm and/or cartridge on that table and a reference table, then purport to describe the differences in sound between the two. Duh! A really good dealer of turntables (Brooks Berdan was, and his son Brian still is, at Audio Elements in Pasadena, CA) will set up the same arm and cartridge on two tables. Yeah, it’s a pain, but that’s how they earn their 40 point margin!
Set-up is probably more important than any other variable, because it's critical and invisible. Hence easily manipulated to maximize retail profit.

I can make a good MM sound far better than my big Koetsu, no problem. Just run the Koetsu 30 minutes of arc out of correct azimuth, 1 degree tail up, and half a gram too light. Now you can hear with your own ears that the highly merchandised table and inexpensive cartridge sound better than the exotics. Who but a sucker would pay big bucks?

Do you think that table/arm match is important too in addition to arm/cartridge match?  If it is, putting same arm/cartridge on different tables won't answer the question regarding table differences fully.

Hello Inna. I have no opinion on that - I have neither the experience nor the theoretical framework.
Hello Terry9, nor do I have what could be called an opinion. Tom Fletcher did design his tonearms to be used with his turntables, but I heard that some people get better results, for them that is, by putting different arms on Nottinghams. But they also usually put heavy MCs in those arms, so it's a quite different set-up. Turntables are complicated, another reason why I very much prefer tape.
The TF/NAS tonearm that I had from 1997 was the Mentor. One "set" the VTA by shoving the arm tube up or down in its socket, and fastening a grub screw. It was crude, and not repeatable. The tonearm may have worked well in theory, whatever theory that was, but, since it was virtually impossible to set up precisely, was a poor performer. IMO.

I finally got tired of the whole business and bought a Trans-Fi air bearing tonearm. Quell Difference!

Many “boutique” retailers will only offer 3 (if you’re lucky) turntables to compare.

  • One of these might be a potential candidate.

  • It’s unlikely you’ll be able to compare with the alternates from your shortlist.

  • They might be able to demo same arm & cart but it might involve swapping.

  • If it doesn’t involve swapping the samples might sound different anyway.

  • Even with “identical sounding” samples (an impossibility in my view) the setup will vary slightly for each one.

  • Even if you notice what’s wrong how long is the demo going to take before all setups are optimal?

    (“Setup” also means mechanical support, cable dressing etc)

It's unlikely that you ever will hear an in-store demo that's completely "fair" and this isn't necessarily due to either incompetence or unscrupulous behavior on the dealer's part.

Frequently, confirmation bias sets in, and the dealer doesn't pay as much attention to a setup he doesn't prefer.

Dialing in something like azimuth (on arms capable of it) can't be done by the "numbers" - even if you use the Feickert software, so there's a bit of subjectivity in this area as well.

If you're looking at an arm or a cartridge (not a complete setup), it gets trickier still, as the turntable's attributes can influence the results.  The best example I can point to is when I was developing the new Galibier drive system. 

During the early prototyping stages, I plugged in a Kuzma 4Point and Dynavector xV1S and the sound was overly aggressive.  The Kuzma was new to me at the time, so I didn't have a good handle on its attributes.  By the time the drive system was production-ready the Kuzma's attributes began to show and what was previously aggressive, was now a sweet, extended  treble.

Thom @ Galibier Design
At this level many prefer other cartridges in different arms. Most often I see Koetsu, Allnic, Air Tight and Lyra.
45 years back there wasn't any hype of playing with arms/headshells and other turntable tweaks.
there was only one standard turntable with stock arm that's it.
there was broadcast turntables that had capability of swapping arms mostly from Shure Brothers.
as to fair demo there won't be any no matter how 'proper' it's demoed. you're listening to the combination of arm/deck and cartridge. on decks with headshell standard mount arms you can simply swap headshells pretty quick to a/b between cartridges, but that's about it.
still not sure whatchya'll talkin'bout.
Everyday i demo my turnable fairly.
Here's the point of my original statement.That reviews are essentially nonsense,hyperbolic drivel that is designed to really do one thing.Keep the hamster on the wheel(that's you).If technical data were the sole criteria we wouldn't have this highly variable mess of designs.But it's not because there is an aesthetic injected into designs.Well tempered turntables vs technics direct drives just to name one large differential in design.Add the impossibility of fair AB comparisons and it's just a hot mess of cash flying every opinionated which way.Just one man's opinion.

Let's be fair, it is hard to compare tables/arms/cartridges. But I know one thing - German turtables are severely overpriced, go for British.
So you have a couple tables set up exactly like each other. Terrific. I wonder how they would sound with your phono stage----preamp---speakers----cables----

Just ain't going to happen brucegel 

Just get a doc so much cheaper and could you really hear the difference.
Perhaps but does it sound better, perhaps perhaps not. 
Having worked a time in audio retail, this is just not practical.  This is such a costly business to operate.  Unboxing and reducing the value of even more components, and the additional work of actually switching arms out just makes it an even lower profit business.  Hifi shops would disappear even faster than they are now doing.

A couple of bits of advice. First of all, spend most of your budget on the table itself.  You will be better off, and you can upgrade an entry level arm later on.  Reviews can be helpful, but I find some are skewed, and full of hyperbole.  Forums such as this one are a great asset that we now enjoy.  Finally, see if your local shop will let you take a turntable out on approval.  Hearing it on your own system is the only way to know for sure.  
Reviews are essentially nonsense,hyperbolic drivel that is designed to really do one thing.Keep the hamster on the wheel(that's you).If technical data were the sole criteria we wouldn't have this highly variable mess of designs.But it's not because there is an aesthetic injected into designs.Well tempered turntables vs technics direct drives just to name one large differential in design.Add the impossibility of fair AB comparisons and it's just a hot mess of cash flying every opinionated which way.Just one man's opinion.

We'd have the same problem if every dealer were 100% altruistic. A big limitation of the scientific method is that you can change only one variable at a time. Which one would it be? Would we be comparing turntables, tonearms, or cartridges? What about shelves and platforms? What about inherent compatibilities and incompatibilities (e.g., arm/cartridge resonant frequency matches, best turntable mat for a given design, etc.?) What if you use just one turntable to try out multiple cartridges? One or more may simply be a better resonance match than the others, and one may get (by sheer luck) a better setup with optimized SRA, VTF, and overhang. 

Like pixelriffic, I also worked in a high end audio store and visited many others. In my case it was during the "golden age of hi-fi" in the mid-70s when the LP reigned supreme. This was when audio stores were teeming with people looking for turntables, receivers, and speakers. But I don't remember any store having multiple turntables, tonearms, and cartridges for audition. This function was handled by the audio magazines of the time, which might occasionally have cartridge comparisons, all done on the same turntable, possibly adjusting for tracking angle and VTF, but probably not SRA. 

Most serious turntables today have integrated headshells. Every cartridge swap is a tedious operation and downright perilous when hurried, often vulnerable to 4- and 5-figure catastrophes if an unprotected LOMC is dropped. What store could afford to reserve an audition room for a day to audition a few expensive cartridges? Such a customer could more easily afford to sell his barely used cartridges on Audiogon and try some more in his quest for the ideal cartridge than the store could afford such an extended and labor-intensive comparison as a standard service.

Still, we should be able to compare a few table/arm/cartridge set-ups with the same amp/speakers and comparable if not necessarily the same phono stages.
Still, we should be able to compare a few table/arm/cartridge set-ups with the same amp/speakers and comparable if not necessarily the same phono stages.

That still renders the results misleading. System matching is the crucial element in getting component audio to "sing." Sources, preamps, amps, speakers, and of course the cables in between each. But LP decks are a whole different can of worms. Digital sources generally have nearly the same output impedance and output voltage. You can compare players and music servers pretty much with impunity. You can even then leave these players in place and swap various DACs in and out to look for further improvements.

There is no such equivalent with LP decks. They are truly "analog" electromechanical devices which retrieve the physical source at a microscopic level (the record groove). There's no way to perfectly adjust every aspect of VTF, VTA, azimuth, and tracking angle for every cartridge, and even if you could, there could be various levels of damping fluid for tonearms so equipped, various mats that work well with one but not another, footers, platforms, power cords, cabling. And if you change the phono stage, that by itself doubles the complexity with each swap.
So John, what do you suggest?
So John, what do you suggest?
I was trying to answer the original question, "Why don't we hear turntables demoed fairly?", not to provide a solution. Ironically, the solution is probably the foundation of Audiogon itself. Audiogon was a high end classified ad website before it had forums and member system profiles.

Because there are so many interdependencies in an LP playback system, it is better to evolve the system over time, making one change at a time, do in-home demos where you can (e.g., phono stage, mats, cables, etc.) and when you get a bad match for a cartridge, put it up for sale. If it's a desirable cartridge with minimal time on it, you might recoup 80-90% of the purchase price. Audiogon classifieds offer many such items.

We'll leave it at that - there are seemengly no solutions. Except that one may try all possible combinations in one's system in the hope of finding subjectively the best one. Funny, isn't it? 
A few days ago, I was listening to the advertising video on Pear Audio website. Hard to get into the sound through all this digital. However, I had an impression that the turntable itself and probably the arm were very fine but the cartridge and the speakers were not quite by comparison. Electronics appear at least good. Point is that you can hear the table's performance regardless of whatever else is there. Just because it is difficult doesn't mean that it cannot be accomplished. I might've been somewhat wrong in my example, but one thing I am certain of - that table is excellent. When the foundation of the source is good you know it.
Good luck to everyone on their sound quests.

Another example. Go to Purist Audio Design cables webside, there are some videos of systems's demo. You can hear clearly that those Tidal speakers and electronics are inerior to Classic Aidio/Atma-Sphere system, even though the Tidal system has a digital source you can differentiate. By the way, the analog front end in Classic Audio/ Atmashere set-up was not up to the task. Not bad but not good.
Anyway, Pear Audio tables/arms, Atma-Sphere amps, Classic Audio speakers, Purist Audio cables and probably Pear Audio electronics too are most definitely worth auditioning. Simple, isn't it? Just add a cartridge and you'll be fine.
When I was a dealer I put a brand new cartridge on for a demo. He liked it but wanted one new in the box. I told to forget it and he finally took the demo. You would not believe the crap honest dealers have to go through. I once had someone I knew but who had bought it in Hong Kong and couldn't get it to work. I told him 4 times that he probably had the tape monitor switch on but he would not go check it. He finally did and of course it was the problem. This was early on Sat morning. This was mild compared to some. Like the guy who borrowed some expensive speakers and returned them when I wasn't there by throwing them through the through the door. And another who left a turntable on the porch when I was gone.

He had watched me put the cartridge on.

I started setting up tables in 1961 and it was always difficult. Martin Colloms once set two up for comparsion with identical MM cartridges and found that they did not sound the same. He finally had to change the stylus every time which destroyed any fast AB.

..that's what I suspected Stanwal....that 2 examples of the same turntable, arm, cartridge, on the same supporting table will sound different....then again....the same orchestra in 2 different halls will sound different.  There is no absolute....just enjoyment if you just let it happen.
So my final takeaway on my original question is that you can't achieve any real comparison that means anything objectively.So all claims about the superiority of a given piece of equipment must be taken with a grain of salt perhaps half a grain.As long as the industry and consumers are willing to make what seem plausible excuses about comparisons there will never be a objective reality about audio quality.Quite disturbing when you think about the money involved but that's just me.

I'll tell you one thing if you promise not to tell anyone. There seems to be an objective reality. People with equally excellent hearing will hear exactly the same things. They may and likely will have to a various degree different sound preferences. Most people with great hearing will never become audiophiles because they can't tolerate this garbage coming out of any speakers driven by any amps from any source. I know a few people like that, they appear to be able to hear things that I cannot, two of them are professional classical musicians.
As for choosing turntables, this would not really be a big problem for me, even less so if I were prepared to spend $10k or so on the table/arm. I would easily accept a great sound even if it is not the very best possible at this level. In my case it would be even easier because I only consider British turntables. If cost were almost no object I would consider everything starting with those $10k for table/arm and would go from there.
I would take away another message, Bruce.

You can get good sound, but it takes diligence. Beware.

Lots of retailers can show you good sound. Some can show you the difference between a cheap system, a good system, and a great system. Small differences may be elusive, and some retailers may try to promote the highly merchandized / high margin units, but with some diligence you can get mighty good sound. Perhaps not the ultimate - that's the work of decades of trial and error.


You are pretty close to it. That is one big reason you see so much stuff being sold here on anon. The reviews are great, the ads look cool, gear has no distortion according to the measurements. Should sound perfect. But wait, the bass is flabby and activates the walls, the MC cartridge sounds bright forward and thin, the amp sounds grainy,

I usually start with a speaker that I like and try to build on that. Not that speaker with the shiny cones with cool looking folds in them and the highest grade parts in the crossover but rather the ones that have less crossover with larger midrange drivers that add realism to male vocals and cellos etc. 

Just rambling here. 

****So my final takeaway on my original question is that you can't achieve any real comparison that means anything objectively.****

Your premise is not quite true.   There is value in comparing tables with different arms and carts on them.  There are characteristics of sound that are primarily influenced by a turntable's speed stability which can be perceived no matter what arm or cartridge is on it.  Rotational stability is probably THE most important aspect of reproduced sound as this affects the rhythm and feeling in music.  We tend to focus on frequency response related issues and "detail", and not as much on speed stability.  Good speed stability affects soundstaging and our perception of detail and overall tonality as well.  I think you are correct that a thorough comparison cannot be made with different arms and cart, but paying close attention to speed stability is a darn good place to start.

Yes, Frogman, right on. There is another aspect. Platter mat and record interact, it's like kind of sandwich. Can one hear the differences of this? Experienced good ear can. I myself probably cannot but may still have a feeling that something of that is not quite correct if it is the case.
So true. In the golden age of consumer turntables looks and price was everything. But the problem was the construction of the units. Most units were plastic, or vinyl covered MDF. Better units were cast aluminum. Both of these have there own problems as far a sound is concerned. Most classic units were never made to be very musical in the first place. To have a "musical" capable unit would mean large size and great mass. Not many consumer units weighed over 20 pounds. From my experience the heavier the better. I have found a turntable needs to be 40 or more, this was recently confirmed by Technics with the new 1200GEA model weighing 40 pounds! You can then compare a turntable to a piano or any musical instrument. You cannot expect a budget priced piano to sound the same a Grand Steinway piano. They may both produce sound and have the same basic parts to function, but if you want the sound of a Steinway, you know what to expect when you buy one. So either a turntable can sound musical or it cannot. It depends on how well it's made, and how well it can isolate the platter and tonearm from being influenced from outside vibration. One key factor is keeping the acoustical energy concentrated on the tonearm section. When a turntable is built correctly, the tonearm is then free to keep the signal true and musical. Case in point: Technics SL-1200MK2 series. Many people are familiar with this model that has been around since the late 70's, virtually unchanged. There was one major change only after the first few years or production. The lower section of the turntable was originally a one piece heavy/thick rubber, latter changed to a weighted inner hard compound section and a thin rubber shell to replace the original design, and few noticed. BUT it also killed the sound quality too. So in order for me to make a very musical turntable from the classic 1200MK series I use an all wood design for the base and fill the special made voids with sand for loads of internal dampening for a neutral low resonance tone and high resistance to feedback. Constructing separate sections for the motor and or tonearm (depending on design) that is built from wood with it's own sand filled chambers that can be isolated via sorbothane bushings. The results are stunning when compared to a stock 1200MK in a side by side comparison. You could spend insane amounts of money for "upgrades" to be added to a 1200MK2 that in reality give little to no sound benefit because they do not address the main problem of construction and lack of damping in the platter that rings like a gong, to a tonearm that is mounted metal-to-metal with no isolation. I address all these issues in building a musical turntable and the results speak for them self. Remember, you can put a $1k cartridge on a $300 turntable, but that will not make it sound like a $1300 turntable. Thanks, Roy (roylcraft)