A music lover about to upgrade his or her system is faced with some difficult decisions. Would the upgrade budget be best spent on a new amplifier? Better speakers? Adding power conditioning? Higher-end cables?
There are as many right answers as there are systems. But there’s one specific component swap that in my view delivers such a large increase in performance that it will likely dwarf any potential improvement in amplification, cables, and even many speakers. That upgrade is moving up from the Basis Vector IV tonearm to the recently introduced Basis Superarm 9. After happily living with a Vector for the past seven years, I was surprised by just how much better LPs could sound when played through the Superarm. I would liken the overall sound-quality improvement to switching from a mid-priced integrated amplifier to a reference-quality preamplifier and monoblock power amplifiers priced in the six figures.
Describing how much better the Superarm 9 is than the Vector is easy; doing so without denigrating the great accomplishment that the Vector represents is a challenge. In fact, the Vector tonearm is so good that I’ve waited several years to upgrade to the Superarm on the assumption that the Superarm couldn’t be that much better. The Vector is a superlative piece of engineering that introduced a novel type of bearing that eliminates dynamic azimuth error. Indeed, the Vector was Basis Audio founder A.J. Conti’s statement in tonearm design.
But Conti began to wonder, with regard to the ’arm tube, “How stiff is stiff enough?” And about the headshell, “How low in resonance is low enough?” To answer these questions for himself, he started with a group of Vector ’arms as test subjects and experimented with a specific design change on each ’arm. This approach isolated the sonic effects of that change to the ’arm under modification. The experiments took Conti in an unexpected direction; he discovered that increasing stiffness and reducing resonance to levels below those he had thought weren’t significant improved the sound. Rather than ending up with a modified Vector, the research led him to a significantly revised design.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two ’arms is the Superarm’s much greater mass. You can see this just looking at the two ’arms side-by-side, particularly at the pivot point. Everything about the Superarm is heavy-duty, making it the antithesis of the featherweight approach to tonearm design. But Conti found that the combination of high mass and a new “progressive” damping technique lowered resonances and thus distortion. Basis doesn’t publish an effective mass specification, but suggests that the ’arm will work well with a cartridge of any compliance. In addition to the greater mass, the ’arm tube, cup, and pivot assembly are made from a different material than that of the Vector, a dense metal called “superalloy.”
The Superarm 9 also benefits from a novel wiring configuration, along with proprietary tonearm and lead-out wires. Comparing the Vector to the Superarm, the new ’arm’s headshell is thicker and less prone to resonance. The bearing is identical in the two ’arms; Conti contends there’s no better bearing.
The build quality and fit ’n’ finish are superb. Every detail, down to the ’arm rest and its securing mechanism, appears thoughtfully considered. The Superarm 9 exudes a sense of precision and craftsmanship—as it should for the $15,750 price.