The Vector IV is a terrific tonearm, sounding wonderful even at the front end of what are arguably some of the world’s best electronics and loudspeakers. It has never mistracked, navigating even the most challenging inner-groove passages with ease. The Vector has brought me untold musical pleasure over the past seven years on a Basis 2800 turntable, and more recently the superb Basis Inspiration.
But as great as the Vector is, the Superarm 9 plays in an entirely different league. The Superarm elevates the listening experience in so many ways that it’s difficult to know where to begin. But perhaps the Superarm 9’s most salient character is its relaxed ease and sophisticated refinement. The midrange in general, and the upper-midrange in particular, seemed to take a step back in the musical presentation. This impression was a consequence of the Superarm 9’s greater liquidity and freedom from stridency, hardness, and glare. It wasn’t musical information in the midrange that took a step back; rather, it was the significant reduction of midrange grunge. Removing these distortions resulted in lush liquidity and a less forward and immediate rendering. The difference was very much like what I heard when listening to the Magico Q7 Mk II compared with the original Q7—not quite so “up-front,” along with a sound that was simultaneously more relaxed and more detailed.
As a consequence of this reduced midrange grunge, instruments and voices had a bell-like clarity and purity that were reminiscent of analog mastertape. Concomitantly, instrumental tone color was richer, deeper, more saturated, and lifelike. The beautiful and unusual harmonies of the brass and woodwinds on the track “The Visitor” from the LP Urban Ensemble: The Music of Roland Vazquez were more fully revealed with the Superarm, each instrument’s texture more vivid, and the combinations of these textures blending to reveal interesting and unusual harmonies. (The trace of glare with the Vector had masked some of the instruments’ rich timbres and texture.)
These textural qualities alone had important musical benefits. The entire presentation took on an ease and inviting warmth. The sound was relaxed in the way that live music sounds relaxed, with a sense of grace and effortlessness. On some albums the Superarm’s improvement over the Vector was startling. Early in the track “Diga, Diga, Diga” on the 10" EP by the Carolina Chocolate Drops with The Luminescent Orchestrii, Rhiannon Giddins makes an entrance above the other voices, both in register and in level. Her voice was piercing to the point that I would anticipate this passage and turn down the volume. But after switching to the Superarm, the stridency vanished. Her voice was still prominent, but it was so much cleaner and purer, lacking the glassy edge heard previously. The Superarm’s liquidity was also readily apparent on piano, with less of the “shattering” sound on upper-register forte passages. Or take Harry James’ famously amazing-sounding trumpet on the Sheffield direct-to-disc The King James Version. The Superarm conveyed all the life, brilliance, and upper-midrange energy of the instrument without crossing the line into stridency. That’s quite a feat; smoothness and ease are often bought at the price of immediacy and detail. The Superarm gives you both simultaneously, rendering a full measure of verve without the harshness.
Concomitantly, the Superarm 9 is more resolving and detailed than the Vector. Low-level spatial cues were better revealed, and with them, the recorded acoustic’s depth. Reverberation hung in space longer as the Superarm 9 retrieved more of this fine detail. The complex micro-structure of a cymbal shimmering was better portrayed, with greater realism and life. Transient detail had much more “pop” and dynamic life, making the whole system sound faster, tighter, and more rhythmically upbeat. The snare drum is a good example of all these quality working together; the initial transient had greater suddenness and impact; the treble component of the sound was cleaner; the sound of the snares beneath the drumhead had finer filigree.
Image focus was also improved, with greater separation of individual instruments in the ensemble. The whole soundstage took on a tighter and more precise quality. The Superarm’s reproduction of the bass was phenomenal, with more body and texture, dynamic nuance, and pitch definition than the Vector. The bottom end was fuller and weightier, but at the same time better defined. There’s usually a trade-off between weight and definition, but the Superarm 9 delivered both in equal measure.
All these qualities were abundantly obvious on the wonderful Analogue Productions 45rpm reissue of Phoebe Snow’s 1974 self-titled album. On the hit from that record, “Poetry Man,” the acoustic guitar cut through with its transient nature intact, but it was completely lacking in etch or hardness. The gentle maracas that add an almost hypnotic quality to the song didn’t sound like an undifferentiated percussion instrument, but rather like actual beads moving within a wooden enclosure. Snow’s voice had a liquidity and expressiveness that breathed new life into this well-worn track. Incidentally, Analogue Productions’ painstaking remastering and pressing of this album are phenomenal.
If you own a Basis turntable with a Vector ’arm, I can’t imagine a greater sonic upgrade than switching to the Superarm. If you are thinking about buying a Basis and a Vector ’arm, you should seriously consider stepping down a level in the Basis’ turntable line so that your budget can accommodate the Superarm. And if you’re thinking about buying any turntable around this price, you must audition the Superarm regardless of which turntable you choose.
Spending money to upgrade a hi-fi system should result in a clear step forward in sound quality, not simply a lateral move that trades one set of colorations and compromises for another. The Superarm 9 delivers a real upgrade, significantly improving sound quality in just about every criterion, and with those improvements, offers greater musical engagement. Moreover, removing a source of distortion at the very front of the playback chain will allow all your other components to sound their best. The Basis Superarm 9 is truly a reference-quality tonearm that has elevated my system’s sound quality from superb to transcendental.
SPECS & PRICING
Effective length: 239mm
Pivot-to-spindle distance: 222mm
Total mass: 1200 grams
Furnished accessories: Integral 4' cable terminated in RCA or XLR connectors, engraved alignment gauge, cartridge-mounting screws and washers, and all necessary tools
Optional accessories: Mounting flange for non-Basis turntables
25 Clinton Drive, #116
Hollis, NH 03049