Why do turntables sound different?


Let's consider higher-end tables that all sound excellent. Same arm/cartridge and the rest of the chain. Turntable is a seemingly simple device but apparently not quite or not at all.
What do members of the 'scientific community' think?
inna
It's ALL about the VIBRATIONS! Every part of every TT vibrates! Some more or less than others! And the stylus "reads" these along with the vibrations in the LP grooves. So controlling and eliminating the mechanical vibrations from the TT is a major challenge for designers. And of course some TT's do IT better than others! Rekokut vs. Continuum!
TTs OUT of the room !! In fact all equipment OUT of the room.

Speakers and amps in room.

Long ICs , Short SCs

Does not mean that you will not need a decent rack and some isolation footers, spikes etc. but you won't need to spend big $$.

If your serious about Vinyl ?? At minimum; TT out of room. IMO.
@roberjerman ~ I agree with you, vibrations is where it's at.  Let's also add speed stability in rotating the platter.
I thought about responding but, decided against.

The reason for this thread is of concern?

 I agree it is all about vibration and speed stability. I am puzzled when I see a high priced turntable sitting on a rack between two speakers. The positioning of the turntable to avoid vibration is critical.

 I have my turntable in the corner on the opposite side of the room from my speakers. It sits on a 3" maple block which sits on a  VPI turntable stand filled with sand. I have all my front end equipment in that corner as far from the speakers as possible. I run a pair of 9 meter interconnects from the preamp to the amp which sits between the speakers.


nknor instead of getting the TT out of the room and spending huge $$$ on ic's and speaker cables why not get some great isolation platforms like minus-k or Vibraplane? Problem solved.

 rsf507, What about airborne vibration?


Since the resonant frequencies of the turntable platter, tonearm and cartridge are intentionally designed to be much lower than the lowest airborne vibration frequency you can pretty much ignore airborne vibration. 

@lostbears I have my turntable in the corner on the opposite side of the room from my speakers. It sits on a 3" maple block which sits on a VPI turntable stand filled with sand. I have all my front end equipment in that corner as far from the speakers as possible. I run a pair of 9 meter interconnects from the preamp to the amp which sits between the speakers
Placing a TT in a corner is worst than between the speakers due to the fact that corners collect and reflect acoustic energy which would be transferred to the table. 

The corner is the strongest part of a suspended wood floor.  The corner of my room is approx 22 feet away from my speakers. You cannot feel any vibration when standing in front of the turntable stand. You can feel the floor vibrate a bit when standing behind my speakers. I rather have my turntable and all my front end gear (which is tube) as far from my speakers as possible.


@lostbears, take a spl meter and measure the acoustic energy in the corner, you will be very surprised how much energy is concentrated in the corner compared to other locations in your room
rsf507,

There are multiple options available. I only stated one of mine. I did not rule out racks, isolation footers, spikes etc.
Thank you for including platforms like minus-k and Vibraplane. Let's not forget that Herzan platforms are available too. 
 
ICs and SCs are one of the options that I have chosen.

I do Like to spend $ on Older Whiskey, Faster horses, Younger Women and Audio. The rest; I am just going to Waste.

Best to All on this Journey 
They sound different for two reasons.

1/  The design choices of suspended, lightweight or mass and                implementation of materials choice and the drive method used.


                                                                                                               
2/  The use in the home environment from either proper, or poor set  up, in both basic parameters and adjustment ,and final placement.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    





So far scientists among us don’t participate, and I suspect I know why - they have no idea.
If all seemingly great turntables sound different, than perhaps none of them sounds quite right. Each distorts and colors the sound in its own way.
I would also assume that mechanically matching table and arm could be important. And cartridge is the third element. Maybe all three should be matched ?
"Maybe all three should be matched"

I would add everything thing else in the chain.  One size fits all does not really fit in audio regardless of the ad copy and graphs.
Look at Michael Fremer's set-up in that small room with the Continuum TT and big Wilson speakers! I bet he's not too worried about vibrational interference, since the Continuum is a hefty beast indeed!
Actually, Mr. Fremer wisely gets quite nervous about vibrational interference. That's why he uses the super duper Minus K negative stiffness isolation stand for the Continuum. The new Obsidian version of the Continuum incorporates a lot of vibration isolation in its design, including magnetic levitation for the platter and a dedicated isolation system for the tonearm. The Continuum might be a hefty beast but the Earth is a heftier beast. 

'Taking care' of vibration will have some effect on resolution, which may or may not make the turntable sound better. Given the limitations of analog playback, it's highly subjective and system-dependent.
The phono system of your hi-fi is just that, a system unto itself.  The turntable, its physical relationship to and with the room, the arm, the cartridge consisting of a stylus and electrical generator, and the load on the cartridge together make up a unique and one-of-kind electrodynamic system.  Change any element of that system and you will change, sometimes only in very subtle ways, the final aggregated performance of such a system.

Unfortunately each element of the system is also a bit different than supposedly equivalent or same element.  Replace any element in your phono system with an identical element, say the arm with another arm of the same make, model, and age, and you will be changing the dynamics of the reproduction system.  You may or may not hear the difference, but it is there.

Since the chain of events goes from the room on one end, and the cartridge loading on the other with whole bunch of subtle mechanical links in between, this is a gestalt where the whole is greater than just the sum of the parts.
There is no formula for audio GESTALT, so science is not going to jump on that band wagon.

Mankind science is a finite observation of infinity.  We can only hope infinity in the long run, will have its day in court.

So for this finite point in time, using our ears, is the best final judge for our own gestalt systems.
Bearing friction plays a large role in a decks subjective sound with higher friction designs often but not always imparting a dark, slow signature.  "Stretchy" rubber belts also are responsible for this type of sound. 
Bearing friction..
Anyone experimented with different oil? I didn't. I just use Nottingham's oil that they make for their tables. The sound is on a warmer slightly darker side and there is nothing slow to it. Belt is like new, doesn't feel or look wrong, only about 600 hours on it.
You were wondering why tables sound different. I mentioned the bearing because it is an often overlooked component that enormously contributes to sound quality. 
The bearing design comes into play , after the design of the table and materials and lower or higher mass are given. Then the appropriate bearing is designed for those criteria and used to suit specific scenario. Look at the mass and close tolerance of a micro seiki bearing , and the lead impregnated lube it utilizes for a massive platter and mass record weight ability. You wouldn't use it to spin a rega platter. Even the lubricant on some tables is chosen to offer more friction with the intention it will help with speed stability (+ - drag). As long as the bearing can carry the load upon it, and do it effortlessly with no chatter/vibration, the motor and the power supply will champion or fail the best of tables. Its not about speed accuracy , your ears are much more agile at spotting fluctuation than a steady slight slow or fast rpm. Where the belt rides in relation to the bearing/spindle point is more critical than some tables / owners realize as well.
It all , still , like it or not boils down to the materials chosen as a whole, the design to implement them and the drive used. No matter how much more is spent for better materials, higher quality of machining parts, tighter tolerances and better power supplies/motors and esoteric materials better suited at rejecting vibrations,
and tone arms ......it still is at the mercy of the home environment and the ability of the end user to make it sound "different". Different in these terms would be to that specific user as being "better" as the reason of personal choice.
However, if that user is not truly skilled at set up of the table, the arm , its placement and the treatment of the room the previous means nothing.

As I said in my prior post before, there are 2 reasons. The biggest reason IMO and IME for "different sound " is the end user him/her self. These days many dealers lack real skill with set up . The designers build tables to cost and sound how they think is best (different) . Different is simply the factors of personal taste for looks and sound as well as individual price points of choice.
You don't need a scientist to tell you if a chunk of aluminum will ring louder and for longer than a slab of panzerholz.
Bearings...interesting.  I'm actually considering a bearing upgrade on my SL-1210.  I have a choice of two bearing designs:

* optical grade Sapphire-Ceramic bearing from The Funk Firm

* The Timestep bearing has the spindle as a solid single piece of polished 303 Stainless Steel with a much larger base diameter and the bearing is polished PB102 Phosphor Bronze. A silicon nitride ball and PTFE thrust pad are fitted. The whole assembly is in a captive oil bath so that you can use more suitable thin oil, or any oil of your choice.

Any recommendations?
Without knowing more about it the sapphire/ceramic design should have far less drag.  
Thank you for your thoughts.  I will go that direction then.
There is one table that sounds different from ALL others---the various incarnations of the Townshend Audio Rock. It is the only one ever made to feature damping at the front/cartridge end of the arm, rather than at it’s rear/bearing end. Though now almost impossible to find, Townshend offered it’s damping "trough" separately, to add to any table/arm.
I venture to suggest that quiet bearings are more important than low friction bearings. The two may not be the same. Although air bearings do seem to be best in both respects.

Also important is the resonance of the platter, especially in designs which do not use air bearings.

Just two of the considerations which affected my DIY.

Also, some tables apparently sound 'bigger' than others. Some sound 'bigger but slower', others 'bigger and not slower'. This observation does not come from my experience, I read about it.
I would say that my Spacedeck definitely does not sound 'small' and it is not 'slow' at all. Does it have to do with the platter mass and bearing?

I would suggest that quiet bearings would HAVE to be low in friction, period. The greater the friction the higher the noise. Greater tolerances also lead to higher noise levels. The lubricant will aid in reducing friction between two surfaces, but in thicker forms can raise drag in a design (flaw) that may require such to lessen fluctuation noticeability and to lessen the effects of greater tolerances , i.e. , grease. The platter needs to drain, not reflect back to the cartridge.

Your Spacedeck, of the few I have personally heard is more a lively sound with good detail with the cartridges that were installed on them. Heavier mass tables sometimes (not always, try to avoid generalizing as their are always exceptions) don’t play the subtle details as forward that gives the appearance to some as slow. But to the next guy, they sound correct. One thing to remember, ears don’t function the same from person to person. That’s why we have choices of different styles and sound and what music type will also have a factor in the equation of choice as well.


Now, how exactly do the table designers calculate the mass of the platter ? Or they don't but just listen ?
I think your looking at it the wrong way. The quality of the bearing and its ability to carry weight and force quietly and effortlessly, and the drive system to move it will determine platter weight limits. Mass isn't really thought of just in the platter. Mass is usually describing the weight of the plinth required to counter the force a heavier platter spinning creates from that heavy platter. Materials used will determine how it may resonate / and how it will be dealt with. Some suspended tables actually have reasonably thick/heavy platters such as a Michell Orbe SE but many "mass" non suspended tables have very, very heavy platters that require a much heavier foundation as a platform for that spinning mass and may even require a push to start before its own weight takes over.
Cost will always have the biggest determination over choice of materials and design when someone wants to build something and bring it to market. The better materials and the combination of layering/ joining/ machining a quality , balanced platter can be quite costly. As far as the "sound" goes, perhaps you should think of how easy it is to f it all up with a mat placed on it, or how a lesser platter can be tamed with a better choice of mat. Knowing what "sound" you want usually can steer you to the type of table you should be moving toward, not the other way around.
In terms of vibration control, if you look at my turntable I have the following setup:

* The Cartridge Man Isolator (on top of the cartridge)
+ Koetsu RSP
* KAB USA tonearm dampener (silicone based arm dampener)
* HRS Analog Disk (record weight)
= record=
* Boston Audio Mat (graphite record mat)
* Symposium Super Couplers (feet for my turntable)
* Symposium Ultra platform
* Symposium Rollerblock Jr (isolator for the platform)


I am not looking at it from the right/wrong perspective. I simply wanted to initiate a serious discussion. If the mass of the platter is not determined by calculations and listening than it appears to be BS approach. Of course, it's all connected to bearing and drive. That's what I am asking - how the hell is all that bloody interconnected stuff determined? There are only a few elements but I suspect that mathematics and physics behind it should be quite advanced.
And why would Library of Congress and other establishments use mostly Simon Yorke turntables, that do not seem to be especially popular among audiophiles? I didn't hear them use Technics or Walker or that Japanese shining iron you can put four arms on.
I do not know why, but I have heard that it is like this.

Last year I spent a while in a room at the AAA-Forum in Germany
where Conrad Mas from Avid Audio made an interesting test.

There were three of his turntables equipped with the same tonearm-
cartridge combination combined with a 3 input phono stage. The
rest of the sound system was obviously identical.

So many people were in doubt  before the test if there could be more or
less significant differences in the sound of the 3 TTs.
But there were definitively interesting steps going up the ladder in his
turntable portfolio.
Can you expand on steps going up the ladder? I am pondering my final TT. Avid TTs were recommended as a possible option to consider.
I mentally divide up turntables into categories. First we have belt vs idler vs DD. Among belt drives, we have designs that favor massive platter with weak motor (Walker and Notts), massive platter with powerful hi-torque motor, lightweight platter with usually hi-torque motor, or lightweight platter/weak motor. Then you have suspended vs unsuspended, massive plinth vs lightweight plinth. Then you have platter materials to consider. Then you have bearing design and execution, as noted above. Then you have the possibility of magnetic or air levitation of the platter. Then you have direct or indirect application of torque between motor and platter. Then you have platter mats, which can make a huge difference. So, this only covers belt-drive. Which is why it would be most surprising of all if all turntables with pretensions to excellence were to sound the same. Which is why I cannot get my arms around this topic.
@inna 

When I refer to 'mass of the platter', I am referring to suspended mass. That is, loosely speaking, the mass supported by the thrust bearing, including spindle and mat (usually negligible). 

A physicist would normally speak of the moment of inertia, which is the physical analogue of mass in a rotating system, and which is most relevant to rotational stability. Moment of inertia is maximized when all the mass is on the outer ring, which is why some TT have mass distributed on the periphery.

But mass is easier to understand, and is highly correlated with moment of inertia in a solid object. Also, mass determines the weight which must be supported by the thrust bearing. The remaining forces acting on the spindle are radial, arising from asymmetrical rotation and belt tension, and are sometimes dealt with more casually.

@lewm 

"Which is why it would be most surprising of all if all turntables with pretensions to excellence were to sound the same. Which is why I cannot get my arms around this topic."

Most succinctly stated, Lew. Nevertheless, I think that the question has spawned some interesting discussion.
@has2be 

"I would suggest that quiet bearings would HAVE to be low in friction, period. The greater the friction the higher the noise."

Don't agree. I think that most would agree that the greater the friction the higher the energy to be dissipated. Energy can be dissipated by heat (microscopic motion) as well as by sound (macroscopic motion).
Just borrow the new Continuum Obsidian, you know, the one with the mag lev platter suspension, or Walker turntable, COPY it the best you can and don't worry about it. 
@terry9

I couldn’t disagree more. Your advocating in a turntable of all things that a higher level of friction in its bearing will not create more noise and vibration and the two are not related ? Sorry that’s ridiculous in my view. The whole idea of a bearing is to reduce friction between two surfaces. The better the bearing, the lower the friction and the quieter it spins, period. The best bearings for turntables have tighter tolerances in shaft and ball thus reduced friction AND quieter operation . Friction, that leads to vibration and noise and wear no matter how its dissipated between heat (leads to loss of lubrication , wear and premature failure),... and dissipated as sound, really, below a vibrating stylus that gets amplified about 800 times. Quiet and lower friction in this application go hand in hand. Do you actually suggest that higher friction in a turntable bearing won’t create and amplify vibrations, which is odd since reducing those energies from even being seems to be more a desire than fixing or ignoring its correlation. Most of the best turntables have bearings that certainly are both ruthlessly quiet AND as frictionless as possible. Slightest push and they spin effortlessly for far longer and with less need for the motor, also reducing noise. They reduce it at source , thus the platter and its design is even more effective.

Right. This is a very scientific approach - let the others do the job and steal the design. Some would argue, though, that the one closest to tape sound would be the one to copy. Continuum, I don't know, I heard that that's Technics not Walker.
By selecting a "thick" oil viscosity a high friction ( relatively speaking ) , quiet bearing is not only possible, it is commonplace. The usual thinking behind this design is that the bearing is more speed stable, which it is not . So, accepting that the logical extension is to build a bearing with the least friction as possible for the reasons noted above. The lowest friction bearings are air bearings, but the cost is complexity and potential pump noise.


 
inna OP
Right. This is a very scientific approach - let the others do the job and steal the design. Some would argue, though, that the one closest to tape sound would be the one to copy. Continuum, I don't know, I heard that that's Technics not Walker.

Whoa! What? Yo, check it out! Technics? What the ding dong?! 
@has2be 

"Do you actually suggest that higher friction in a turntable bearing won’t create and amplify vibrations ..."

Got it in one. Almost. I repeat, "The two may not be the same."  I also repeat, "Energy can be dissipated by heat (microscopic motion) as well as by sound (macroscopic motion)."

You say, "... which is odd since reducing those energies from even being seems to be more a desire than fixing or ignoring its correlation." Do you mean, "it is desirable to prevent those energies from arising, rather than fixing them"? Is that what you were trying to say?

If so, then I agree with that. I use air bearings and mag lev myself. But that is irrelevant to the point of how all bearings must function.

You have made categorical statements about how all bearings work: that macroscopic noise is a monotonic function of friction. I don't think so, and it's going to take more than an a priori argument to convince me - this is a matter of physics, not metaphysics.

has2be, In some instances, the design calls for a lubricant that per se creates some drag on rotation of the platter, so the motor has constant small resistance to work against.  This can be devised to improve speed stability. Best example I can think of are the Garrard 301 grease-bearing types.  Friction thus created does not produce noise.  It can also be done magnetically, in some other cases, but you might fairly argue that magnetic drag is not a kind of friction.
@terry9

No , I have not made categorical statements about how "all" bearings work.
I have specifically spoke and used turntable applications with a completely different complexity for use and will not be found in your internet search’s in the generalities of bearing applications from manufacturing sites . The bearing on a turntable is a special consideration and YES , I have made it clear , that the reduction in friction and noise at point source where the bearing contacts IS the ideal. Not an after thought of hit and miss band aids.
The general information your referring to is good to use as a reference. However, bearings in machinery with moving parts are easily reduced of vibration at the point its fastened to the machines frame/body (think plinth) with dampening materials where vibration is the ONLY focus.
You cannot do that with a turntable without not only reducing vibrations, but ALSO deadening/altering the sound. All the physics talk and research you have done , cannot change the fact, the noise and vibration starts at the point of contact where movement is. Everything after that is not the source to remove it, only a band aid to help lessen its origin. That’s common sense. The platter not only sits on but is directly joined to the bearing, with a diamond vibrating on it reading tiny vibrations in the grooves of a record above is simply not the same criteria that bearings for most any other use have . Its apples and oranges .
Stopping vibration from getting to the bearing is not the same as stopping from emitting from the bearing. A turntable is kind of like a seismograph reading the grooves so sitting it on a noisy spinning bearing will not result in anything close to distortion free/less sound.
Since the stylus needs to vibrate free of any interference , even its own not being reflected back how anyone could think friction and noise aren’t related in a turntable bearing is beyond me. Quiet and very low friction are one and the same for a turntable bearing as I hear it. The bearing that some think is quiet even with higher friction , ....after its amplified about 800 times it becomes, sound, sound that distorts or masks the sound you want free of such . That amount of multiplication is harmful to the desired results. 

@lewm

I brought the drag up in a earlier post above, and the grease /impregnated lubes myself. I see it as a flaw and noted that. The drag concept may of been a band aid for cogging but I humbly disagree that friction does not produce noise or that higher friction is as quiet as something with less friction when used in this application. Tighter tolerances, and reduced friction is more desirable to me than an out of round ball/shaft with a wearing surface of greater contact and surface that resembles the moon. Lubrication is made more effective as well on a smaller tighter tolerance contact also. Sorry no offence , I just won’t accept what I sure wouldn’t pay for. No disrespect to any of you.....
Has, I remain wholly unconvinced.