Why Linear Tracking never took off?

Popular in the mid-80s...Linear tracking tables have vanished from the scene...what was the rational behind their creation?...Are there any good used tables to consider...or is this design long gone?....thanks...the simplicity of operation intrigues me...
Ha! Phasecorrect, you will get some posts on this thread for sure.

Actually linear tracking did "take off", and it is seen on some of the best, and most expensive turntables made. Rockport, Walker, Forsell, Versa Dynamics, Maplenoll,Goldmund, Clearaudio are a few of the ones that have the linear tracking type arms on them as a combo/package. Eminent Technology ET-2.5 is one of the more commonly seen separately available linear tracking arms.

The thing about linear tracking arms is, that it takes a high quality, and usually high cost application to make the most of this design. The mass market ones that were commonly seen in the 80s, like HK/Rabco,Pioneer, Technics, etc, were too "loose" to provide what was really needed to make an arm like this perform at top level. The air-bearing types finally showed what could be done with a linear tracking arm, and these are some of the best arms on the planet.

They are not without their problems, especially in set up requirements, but they do perform at a very high standard.
Twl's comments are to the point. As someone who tried several of the linear tracking arms in the mid-1980's, I found them to be a mixed bag. Linear tracking arms are conceptually the "ideal" way to reproduce LP's, since the path of the tonearm/cartridge duplicates the tangential path of the recording lathe cutter head. There are a number of practical and engineering problems, however, in making a good linear tracking assembly that is affordable.

First, the tolerances neeeded to produce a high-quality, air-bearing linear arm are very tight, which means that the manufacturing costs are likely to be much higher than a conventional pivoted tonearm.

Second, if you were going to invest in a good quality, air-bearing linear tracking arm, you needed to have a really solid, stable turntable that would accept the tonearm/bearing assembly. There weren't a lot of TT choices in the early to mid-1980's that were suitable for use with air-bearing linear tracking arms.

Third, the air pump needed for an air-bearing assembly posed additional engineering challenges. The pump must be able to deliver a fairly high volume of air at a very constant pressure (fluctuations in air pressure could lead to jerky movement of the tonearm). Noise was almost always a problem with those pumps, so having them in the same room with your playback system wasn't a good option. The alternative was to place the pump in an adjoining room or closet, and then run a long tube from the pump to the tonearm assembly. Needless to say, this tended to exacerbate the WAF (wife acceptance factor).

Last, not all cartridges were well suited for use with linear tracking arms -- there were either mounting problems, or problems with excessive noise being transmitted from the tracking assembly to the cartridge. There could also be problems with the rather stiff phono wiring harness, which could cause drag as the linear arm moved across the surface of the record.

In short, there was great potential in linear tracking arms, but their cost and the "tweakiness", and the expense of a really good matching turntable was more than most people could afford. With better pivoted tonearms becoming available from 1990 on, air-bearing linear tracking arms became relegated to the very highend market.
One rationale for linear arms was to maintain perfect tangency to the groove, following the track of the cutting head across the lacquer. In comparison, pivoted arms are truly tangent at only certain radii on the record, and this can result in distortion.

Linear tracking arms are far from simple in operation. TWL mentioned air bearing versions with pumps, and there have been others with multiple rotating rods or servo motors to facilitate the arms' lateral mobility, especially as required to track off-center records.
So I assume affordable Linear Tracking models from the 80s, such as Technics SL-10,Yamaha px-2,etc,are good in "theory"...but bad in "practice?"...are there any affordable models that come to mind...maybe the revox b791?
The Revox TT is a pretty good one for their "genre" of TT, which is direct drive, and mediocre linear tracking. If you wanted a TT of this type, you should be aware that the direct drive types will impart a motor vibration into the platter(whether they claim it won't or not) and the linear arm of that type will not really be true linear, but instead, a "crawler", and will be loose enough to lose information at the arm bearing. For the money that you will pay for a Revox 791, or a B&O 9000, you could get a nice, belt-drive, pivot arm TT, that would walk all over the Revox in terms of performance.
Twl, are Regas, VPI HW-19 IV, & Sotas better than Revox B79x?
Poorguy, yes I think they are. The Revox is a very well made turntable with Swiss precision. Unfortunately they decided to use direct drive, which inherently puts the motor vibrations into the platter, even though most DD makers claim it doesn't. The only DD tables that were really good are the Rockport, which is all air-bearing, and the Goldmund. Before Psychicanimal jumps in here, I'll say the Technics SP-12 does a decent job with DD. And so does the Revox. It just doesn't do as well as a good belt drive table does. In addition, the Revox linear arm is not good enough to beat out a good pivot arm. This combination of things puts the Revox a level under a good belt drive like the ones you mentioned. Now I know that some people have these Revox TTs, and I don't want to be disparaging of them, but this is my opinion based on listening tests in the store I worked at, where we sold Rega, Linn, Sota, and many other belt drive TTs, and we also sold the Revox stuff. I did comparison listening on these things when they were brand new. My opinion has been stated above.
I had bought one of those expensive (at the time Linear tracking) I paid $1300 canadian for a Mitsubishi LT 20 their top of the line then and it is in excellent copndition except of course small scratches on the dust cover any idea of value? Thanks Jody
Jody, no I don't know what a table like that would bring these days. I suspect not alot.
Just in case anyone is interested, there's an auction currently on Ebay for an Infinity turntable from 1973 which has an air-bearing arm. Looks like this prototype never got off the ground but it looks interesting (in a retro kind of way). My other 2 cents... the ET2 arm was quite wonderful but the armtube had to be meticulously cleaned and setup for the arm looked daunting.
I own both a restored Yamaha PX-2 and a Sony PSX-800 Linear biotracer. They outperm anything else I've ever heard.

John Kercheval
I also have the Sony PSX-800 with linear tracking biotracer arm, and find that it performs flawlessly. For example, it will play records so badly warped that an ordinary arm gets tossed completely out of the groove.

The reason that I bought it was because I attended a seminar at a High End audio shop on the subject of how to set up a conventional pivoting arm. I never realized how many angles and tracking forces were involved, and how many of these errors can only be approximately corrected because things change as the arm tracks the record from outside towards the spindle.

I think that most linear tracking arms failed because they relied on virtually frictionless bearings so that the arm would move with a very tiny sideways force from the stylus.
The Sony Biotracer arm uses servo motors to move the arm (side to side and up and down) so as to keep all those troublesome angles down to about 1/10 degree. Stylus downforce is also applied electronically, a nice feature which lets you adjust the force while a record is playing so that the sonic effect can be heard.
Hello Eldartford,

I own a PSX800 too. I bought it some weeks ago. It's like new but since today pushinging the starting button the arm doesn't move to the outer groove and won't lower the arm on the vinyl. If I give the arm a little help by pushing it, there's no problem. Every works fine then. I wonder if lubricating the rod will help. Do you have any experience with that?

Henkaudio...The servo system that moves the arm pivot assembly quickly along the track, lowers the arm at the outer groove and picks it up when the record is finished is separate from the system that controls movement during play. I don't think that cleaning or lubricating the arm track will help, especially since you say that the arm plays OK once it gets going. If you try cleaning the track be careful not to use anything that would leave a sticky residue. I think that your unit may need some adjustment to the fast arm movement servo. Sony service centers (one of two in the USA is near Boston) claim to be able to work on the PSX800...I wouldn't let just anyone try. I have a copy of the service manual and let me tell you this is one complex piece of electromechanical hardware, and software. Yes the thing has several microprocessors in it.

This player is a technical masterpiece (I think they must have sold it at a loss) and I would ship mine back to Japan if necessary to get it fixed. In these days of the global marketplace, shipping to Japan wouldn't be much different from shipping across the USA.
I have a ET-2 air bearing linear tracking arm I purchased a long time ago. I still have not heard anything I like better.
my first was a rabco st4 and it was a joy except the wow and flutter.

i have a mapleknoll athena and its a VIVID sounding player but i need a quieter and more reliable pump and now i have a pioneer PLL1000A which is the exact tt as the phase linear 8000a.

the sound isnt what my vpi/.sme IV gives but its fun to be able to change carts quickly.

its too bad linear trackers didnt catch on but it takes effort on the part of the manufacturer and cd came in and the need became less.

some argue that linears are always off tangency and continuously correcting. just hear one and youll realize thats a fallacy, especially the iar bearing arms.
In 1984 I purchased a Sony PS X5555 ES (ES=Elevated Standard) linear tracking, bio-tracer table with the Sony moving coil cartridge. Back then the table cost $1,400.00 new. I re-carted the table with a Dennon unit, then a Benz Micro Glider unit. I used this table into 2003 then replaced it with a Michell Gryo SE /SME V arm and the same Benz cart. The engineering incorporated by Sony to develop this arm was incredible! Full auto operation, direct drive, quartz locked, safety protection features galore! The table still functions flawlessly (built like a tank) and is packed up in its original box. But...I will admit, the later system blows the Sony away at all levels of sound reproduction. The few remaining linear trackers availiable today are of very high quality....but at a very high price tag.
I currently own a Revox linear tracker. I bought it in 1981 and it still plays nicely. Mounting aftermarket cartridges is difficult, and the "String Tensioners" have probably stretched to a degree. When new this unit was a joy to use and sounded good. However, I have since bought the Music Hall mmf-7. WAY BETTER for sound quality.
I just fired up the old Sony PSX-800 for a quick listen. The old Shure V15 pickup tracks perfectly over the complete disc at the minimum downforce setting of 0.5 gram. Try that with your SME! If you have a MC pickup tracking at 2.5 grams I guess it doesn't matter.

Also, review of the service manual tells me that the tracking angle error is held within 0.05 degree, not 0.1 as I suggested in my post. That matters for any pickup.

I have a solution for the Sony PS-X 800 trouble, that the tonearm is not going down over the vinyl. You can do it yourself. Please contact me under MHartmaier@t-online.de
I have a Maplenoll - had different iterations through the years and have gone back to the original Athena with fluid damping trough which, as was said above, sounds VIVID compared to most of the 'tables out there, with great Prat and deep, powerful bass. It is also silky smooth, and of course, has excellent imaging. Once set up, the 'table stays set up, and I would say it has been my most reliable 'table over the years, excepting some recent classic acquisitions. For pump noise, I run two of the older, smaller pumps together, which were very quiet. Low-compliance MCs word excellently in this, and I have managed to overcome the physical problems associated with the 'table, which came down to orientation of the manifold. I am the resident expert on Maplenoll maintenance. I think a brilliant success, it was the aesthetics more than anything which led to its demise. If you are interested, Phasecorrect, I have a friend who is interested in selling his, an Athena (looks kind of like a large oak jewel-box) with updated arm, no damping trough. Works perfectly, with pump, tank and hose. He recently found something he likes better.
There was a big article on linear tonearms in this month's HIFI+ magazine (Issue 28). Kind of interesting reading.

Julie, yeah and there was lots of misinformation! First of all, the first air-bearing tonearm was apparently designed by Infinity, the makers as well of the Black Widow tonearm, as well as speakers. From there, the design went on to Old Coloney, and eventually morphed into the Maplenoll air-bearing 'tables which Bruce Thigpen was involved in before he went on his own and designed the ET tonearms. As I wrote above, problems with the arm bottoming out at the end of a side can easily be taken care of by re-orienting the manifold inside the arm-block on Maplenolls and adjusting the air-ports via the hex-screws, which thereafter never have this problem. And in practice, MCs work very well in this rig, and I have used Grados and Deccas on it as well. So reports of difficulties concerning high lateral mass are simply not audible in practice, so this difficulty is exaggerated in the article and "out there" in general. As always, imporper set-up/understanding is to blame. Of course, MCs with low compliance do work best, but since the scene is currently dominated by such cartridges, then this is not a problem.
Wazzup Everybody!

I had a Revox 791 AND a Maplenoll. The Revox was decent anf the Maplenoll was a killa! But I got tired of the fuss and the pumps and what-have-you so I've been happy for the last 15 years with my LP12.
If a Linear Tracking Tonearm like the ET2 are set up correctly with table/stand being level there are very few ajustments after the initial setup, I have had my ET2 set up for over a year and have only had to adjust it once just last week. Most tables need an adjusting every 6 months just to keep it right (if you use your table alot). I had an Linn LP12 that their was always something to tweak on it and I messed with this more than my current setup that's why I switched to the Teres 255/ET2/Shelter 901 and haven't looked back since. I should have bought the ET2 a long time ago, now I enjoy the music the way it was supposed be with NO inner groove distortion like regular tonearms have.

How did i miss this thread???

I've got a Sota Star Sapphire vacuum platter with an ET II air bearing linear tracking arm on it.

I've got another Sota Star Sapphire vacuum platter with a Clearaudio TQ-I linear tracking arm on it.

I've got a Maplenoll Athena with an air bearing linear tracking arm on the way. It should be here sometime late next week.

I've got an HK / Rabco ST-7 linear tracker.

I've got an HK / Rabco ST-4 linear tracker.

I've got a Revox B-790 linear tracker.

I've got a Pioneer PL-800 linear tracker.

My guess is that the reason that Linear tracker's never took off is because very few people have ever seen or heard one. That's because i bought them all : ) Sean
Sean, what no B & O 4002?!
Bob: I never really liked B&O gear. It is "stylish" and all but i always thought of it as being "gutless". While their TT's might be okay, i have a hard time with any design that is proprietary i.e. support components ( phono cartridge ) has to be bought from them and only them. Sean
Sean, I figured that might be your answer and in general I agree. I found the 4002 to be more than OK, but did run into reliability problems with the lifting mechanism. Got an Oracle Alexandra Mk IV with Rega 300 after that.
BTW, one could fit other cartridges than the B & O on the 4002 using an adaptor, although I never tried that.
Sean, how would you rate the players - from most favorite to least?

Its a shame this never caught on; might have prevented the CD disease. No, not trying to start THAT discussion . . .

Have not read the whole thread, but have heard (2nd, 3rd and/or 4th hand info?) many albums were produced, i.e. the wax masters were cut, on linear tracking arm equipment, such as Ortofon (Ortophon?) systems. Hence, the arguement to play 'em on equipment like they were made.

I had an HK / Rabco ST-7 linear tracker. Nice but not all LP's have the same number of grooves/inch, so tangential tracking goes awry with albums differing from the average.

Currently have a Phase Linear Model 8000 Series Two. IIRC the photo-diode interrupt maintains +/- 0.3° true tangential. You can see it work on an album with an off-center hole, though movement is usually imperceptible. I've heard it was based on or OEM'd from Pioneer, though the unit Sean listed makes me wonder all over again - perhaps it was the other way around?

If anyone has a manual for the Phase Linear, I would be more than happy to reimburse expenses. Bought second hand, and the dealer never came through on the promised owner's and tech/repair manuals.

Had hoped to get a Sota or ClearAudio down the road, though it may be after some monoblocks. Guess I'm an outtadated wanabe, I'll have to read up on the Maplenoll.

Sean, please, let me know if you're selling any "excess" linear inventory!

trimmer@nodomain.net...With regard to groove spacing...it not only varies between records, but varies within a record according to the program. Loud music requires wider groove spacing, and for soft music closer grooves are OK. Variable groove spacing makes it possible to get more minutes of music on an LP.
The servo controlled linear tracking system of the Sony PS-X800 varies the arm movement speed so as to keep the tangential error angle down to nearly zero. (The spec is 0.05 degree).

And with regard to "CD disease" linear tracking would not have prevented that, but DBX-encoded records might have slowed it down.
Eldartford . . Good point, linear tracking alone would not have made a mass market difference. Correction to yesterday's note: though not the Sony's equal, the Phase Linear spec is 0.2°

At one time used a parametric equalizer, SAE 5k impulse noise reduction (click and pop filter) and a dbx 3bx. The remote was nice, but later realized (TAS) how important speaker placement and the minimal approach can be. With two grand boxed up, the unveiled clarity outweighed other benefits (to my wooden ears). Placed using a spectrum analyzer, my pathetic mid-fi two ways placed a realistic upright bass in my room. Recently discovered they can surpass Infinity RS-IIb's on basic instrumental works.

A decent cartridge costs more than Joe Schmo's system, we're stuck with the source material.

Getting late and for now, off this tangent,

As I remember it, the first significant stab at a "linear tracking" tonearm was the one fitted to the 1973 Garrard Zero-100 turntable. This was basically a conventional pivoting tonearm, but with a cantilever meachanism which rotated the headshell as it tracked across the LP, theoretically correcting the tracking error in the process. The arm was made of plastic, and the 'table was idler driven. Needless to say, it sounded pretty awful. The B&O came out a couple of years later and was a commercial success, if not a compelling audiophile performer.

I believe that the biggest obstacle to a satisfactory affordable linear tracking design is the lack of a simple mechanism to drive the arm along its linear bearing. It seems to me that this is where the costs of producing the existing molto expensivo designs builds from.

FWIW, I would expect that above a certain performance level, a linear tracking arm would indeed offer the potential for further sonic improvements. I say this by employing an arm-waving argument that says the geometric magnitude of linear tracking errors is potentially larger than the geometric correction applied by VTA adjustments, etc.
The Garrard Zero 100 got undeserved bad press and was often unfairly maligned - it's a little hard to understand why because it was a leader in much more than just zero tracking error.

It had:

an all-metal sub chassis suspended on foam cushioned coils.

a 5lb, hand balanced, cast aluminum, belt driven (not rim driven) platter running on an inverted, hardened single ball main bearing with the bearing situated at the center of gravity of the platter.

a balanced, synchronous motor so quiet and vibration free that, although independantly suspended, could probably run hard mounted to the sub-chassis without intruding.

a machined aluminum (not plastic) double rectangular (larger on smaller) section low mass tone-arm, articulated to track at zero error across the full width of the record. The cantilever was a thin (2 mm) aluminum tube that added about 2 grams to the overall mass of the arm.

and magnetic anti-skate with graduated scales for both conical and eliptical stylii. The amount of antiskate force applied automatically reduced as the arm tracked across the record.

I bought a Zero 100SB new in 1973 and have been using it ever since. I also own a Rega Planar 3/RB300, a Thorens 125/Rabco SL8E and Linn LP12/SME 3012. I'm a bit of a collector of TT classics and have a few more non-working examples under the bench waiting to join the ranks. I love all these turntables and can say without fear or favour that the Garrard holds its own in performance with the others and is way out in front in terms of character. It certainly deserves its place in this little collection of classics.

The main problems with the Zero 100 were marketing ones rather than performance. It had a clunky, noisy auto return mechanism that looked and sounded cheap and nasty in operation and a plastic headshell that had a non-locking slide out cartridge carrier that looked like it should be a performance weak point, but, in practice, turns out not to be. The auto return mechanism has no connection to the arm when not in use so its operation in no way affects the quality of the arm's performance and it still works today in exactly the same cheap and nasty, clunky, noisy, efficient way that it did in 1973.

If Garrard had incorporated a classier auto return mechanism, a single piece headshell and had charged significantly more for the turntable it would probably have had an easier ride into the high end where it belongs.
Tassiemike, Thanks for the perspective on the Zero 100. I remember looking at one back in the 70s, before I knew anything about hifi. I was intrigued by the nifty solution that the articulating cantilever design provided for linear tracking. I recall the salesman badmouthed it, disparaging the design by claiming the cantilever assembly added too much mass and the extra pivots added too much friction and had too much play to provide satisfactory stability. The clincher was the unrefined auto return mechanism you mentioned, which turned me off as soon as he operated it. I got a Benjamin Miracord Elac 50H instead (still have it!). I'm glad to learn the real story on the Zero 100 from you, after all these years.
Hey James that's a pleasure, I probably paint it as better than it really is, but after 30 years it's still a favourite and I still use it as a serious source.

I love vinyl and a big part of that is the character of the ritual that is such a huge part of pulling the music from the medium. The question of why is vinyl better than digital is often asked and the answers invariably involve warmth, presence, vibrancy and many other terms that describe that unique vinyl mood. I agree with all of that that and those are my reasons too, but a much bigger reason is the connection to the medium that is obtained through the ritual of playing vinyl. No other medium involves such a complex set of proceures before you get to listen to the music, and performing the ritual is so familiar and comfortable. And even after the preparation it doesn't stop - if it's not quite right, you can flavour it a bit by adding a little weight or reducing the VTA. I'm sorry, but chucking a cd into the player and pressing 'Go' is such an anti-climax after years of careful preparation of turntable and record, and what you end up with from a cd is the sound engineer's mix with no chance of influence other than that available through the pre-amp. It might be accurate, but sometimes it's not appropriate.

To come back to the Garrard (no I hadn't forgotten the reason for the post), the fact is that the Garrard was an innovative machine in its time, but I love it because its eccentric character absolutely compliments my love of playing vinyl.

Sorry for the rant, I'm not sure where that came from, especially considering that I'm preaching to the converted - but at least it's out now and I won't have to do it again.
ps. I knew little of hifi in those days also and bought the Garrard for the same reasons that you were intrigued by it. I was uneducated enough not to know that an essential element of 70s hifi turntables was absolute minimalism, and so, also uninfluenced by a helpful salesman, I proceded with the purchase. The innovations of the Garrard were revealed to me as I slowly learned how the music got from the record to me.
AC: I own a Maplenoll Reference that was purchased in the early 1990's. This air bearing table and tonearm can be significantly upgraded to a point whereby it can complete with almost any combo.Air contol is the key as is a slew of simple tweeks. Experimenting with a different null set for placement of the cartridge and VTA setting one can extract some not all of what a schroder arm has to offer. Simply put you need to do a lot of homework , get good advice and get your hands dirty to make this table perform with the finest made world 'round.Few folks want to put that much effort into a TT. Charlie
Well If you own a Kuzma-Airline, you would not
go for the Schroeder Ref. as this Linear
Arm is really a hit.

Best regards
You have already gotten fabulous responses to what is MY love affair with certain linear arms,AND I only own a GRAHAM 2.2,which is not chopped liver,but,compared to what I have heard(on numerous occassions,and through numerous other component changes)the advantages of a Superb linear arm like the AIR TANGENT,which my friend owns,is inarguably superior to any other type of arm.It has certain set up requirments,but,believe me when you hear one there is NO going back to being truly content with Any pivot design.I can almost guarantee that you will soon see a RAVE review of the KUZMA Airline in T.A.S.This design is supposed to improve upon all of it's predecessors,including the FABULOUS Air Tangent.They are very pricey,but,when you consider what some of us have spent on a quality record collection,are well worth it if you decide to make it a final purchase.Also,for those of you who fantasize about how free we could be,to really upgrade to whatever equipment we wanted to buy if the "little Wife" was out of the picture,just let her get a look at the lengthly tubing runs and external pumps(all of which I,myself love)necessary to employ around her precious Yadros and Hummel Figurines.Heh!Heh!Heh!
Kha: Yes ,I do believe that Schroder T/A's are a work of art to sight and sound. The import my remarks is that with a little kutspha one can take a Maplenoll air bearing T/A to higher level of play. Of course other linear arms exist that out perform, and of course ,cost factors into the discussion.No more ,no less.Oh, how did you know that I was refering to the Schroder Ref. ? Cheers Karl
Well Kreml,
after having evaluated the Schroder Ref against a
Kuzma Airline I went for the Airline . Which
I drive with ZYX and Takeda Miaybi System.
Phono is Klyne 7Pxxx.

I think few people had the chance to hear both arm in
a System .
with best regards Karl-Heinz
the linear tracker on the Sirius III is not too bad either (i like mine).....i played with two Kuzma Airline's at CES.....they sounded great (difficult to isolate the arm from other factors at the show)....but the lack of a damping trough could limit cartridge choices and ultimate performance.
Why the lack of a damping limit the cartridge choice?

What's the best cartridge's compliance and weight for non-damping linear tracker like Airline?

Kuzma rec. less than 25 for compliance but how about less than,say, 10?
Kuzma now has a damping trough that is retrofittable to the Airline arm.

I've seen and heard the arm at CES. There is no way for me to make any sonic comparisons under those conditions. However, looking at the fit and finish of the air pump, filters, dehydrators, etc., the arm looks to be well engineered. A far cry from stuff like the old Mapenoll arm/table that gave me so much grief.
If you choose a cartridge carefully ,there is no way "damping"is an advantage.I have had this proven to me on numerous occassions and have finally caved in on this.By the way,Mikelavigne,I also had a room built (dedicated)with dedicated heat and a/c.Do you find the ambient temp.to run generally quite cool in winter?I have added an oil filled elec. heater to make sure the furnace doesn't run too much.
With regards to the Rockport arm,I wasn't aware it is marketed as a stand alone unit any longer,but, it obviously looks like a fine design.I had heard one on an early generation Rockport,some years back,but lacked the system intimacy,or knowledge,at that time to determine it's effectiveness,as compared to the generation of arms of that era.With Andy Payor's track record,it was probably wonderful.I do recall Roy Gregory arguing the SIGNIFICANT superiority of the new Kuzma arm(which I've never heard)over ALL previous competitors,including the Fantastic Air Tangent design,when he reviewed it about a year ago in HI-FI PLUS.
Sirspeedy, I'd have to disagree about the advantages of tonearm/cartridge damping. On well mastered and well engineered LPs (most frequently classical and well recorded jazz), I agree: I don't use any damping. But there are many LPs, particularly pop and rock, where a lot of high frequency hash is encoded in the record grooves adding an edginess and overall distortion that makes the record difficult to live with. On these "bad" sounding records, dialing in just a slight amount of damping (as the Walker Audio tt allows one to do, for example) often will clear up that high frequency edginess and make the record listenable. Add too much and you can over-deaden the sound; but when you find the Goldilocks point, you really hear it positively. I've salvaged "listenability" for a number of LPs that way.

I read:

what was the rational behind their creation?
-strive for zero tracking angle error; not really the case on most designs.
-low effective arm masses

...Are there any good used tables to consider...
Underrated, cheap and really good- sounding: Technics models like SL-5 SL-7 and SL10. Balanced designs IMHO.

or is this design long gone?....
Nononononono..... Njet! There are current models in the Clearaudio and Rauna (Swedish, next street) line:


The rauna (once called "El Cheapo") tangential arms are like all Clearaudio Southern models passive tangentials: the goove delivers the movement- energy.

Still there are many tangantial freaks who have built copies of the famous Ladagaard's Air Arm, a tangential floating on a layer op compressed air.

the simplicity of operation intrigues me...
There is nothing more simple as a passive radial arm. Some tangentials are amazingly simple too. But most active models are not very simple in my point of view.

I own a lovely little Technics SL- J2. A cute capsulated quartz-DD active tangential player. The enclosure is not larger than a LP- sleeve!