VPI Classic 2 10″/JMW 12.5″
Available in 10″ and 12.5″ versions, this beautifully made unipivot may be trickier to set up than some, but its sound rewards the effort. It’s highly revealing without being cold, with deep powerful bass. VTA adjustment during playback allows for exceptional fine-tuning.
VPI JMW 12-3D
A 12″ tonearm intended for the Avenger Reference turntable, the 12-3D is VPI’s newest 3-D-printed design. It has a structure that is so well damped it has less than 1.5dB of resonance in the critical 9–12Hz range. The 3-D-printed armtube takes its name from the additive manufacturing (or “3-D printing”) process used to produce it, creating a single-piece structure from headshell to rear stub designed and made to provide a totally even mechanical resonance response.
Audio Origami PU7
As with the Palmer turntables, with which PS reviewed the PU7, there’s nothing innovative here: a fixed-bearing, gimbaled construction that has all the usual features and adjustments of a quality high-end ’arm such as tracking, anti-skating, azimuth, and height (though not during play). Unusual is that each one is handmade—superbly—and easy to set up. Otherwise, there were no significant dynamic or tonal issues, tracking was outstanding, and it pairs especially nicely with the Palmer turntable.
Helius Designs Omega Silver Ruby
$5225, 10″; $5295, 12″
Designer Geoffrey Owen has significantly advanced his tetrahedral design to produce a captured-ruby-bearing ’arm with extremely low absolute friction and single-point contact on all surfaces. This dynamically balanced ’arm with non-coincident bearings provides a very stable mechanical platform for a wide range of cartridges without adding its own coloration.
Tri-Planar Mk VII U2
$6200 ($7500, SE version)
This classic example of great ’arm design is now in an “Ultimate 2” and SE version. If earlier models were characterized by tremendous solidity, focus, dynamic agility, bottom-end reach, overall neutrality, and transparency to the source, then the beautifully built Ultimate is quite simply all that multiplied.
Basis Audio Vector 4
$6500 ($7600 w/VTA micrometer)
Basis Audio’s A.J. Conti has solved a fundamental problem with unipivot tonearms—dynamic azimuth error. Rather than allowing the ’arm to “roll” when the cartridge encounters record warp, the Vector maintains perfect azimuth alignment via Conti’s simple yet ingenious design. The result is an extremely neutral-sounding ’arm that RH has yet to hear mistrack on any LP.
$7620 ($8750, bi-wire w/RCA box)
This ingeniously designed eleven-inch tonearm from Frank Kuzma uses a unique four-point bearing (two points for vertical movement, two for horizontal). When properly set up (as with all Kuzma designs every adjustment is easily made, although the supplied tonearm set-up jig needs fixing), it is among the highest-resolution, most neutral, most “not-there” pivoted tonearms JV has auditioned, with what appears to be less bearing chatter than any ’arm this side of the straight-line-tracking air-bearing Walker Black Diamond—and for a lot less dough.
Graham Phantom III
$7900, 9″; $8300, 10″; $8800, 12″
The Graham Phantom III is a “stable” unipivot design that is an advancement over earlier models, using knowledge gained from the Phantom Elite. The patented Magneglide magnetic stabilization bearing interface serves to give the Phantom its stable feeling when playing records. The ’arm is available with two mounting options (custom Graham or SME-type) and in three armwand lengths, which gives the end-user a variety of configuration options. The baseline performance of the Phantom III is outstanding. With such a tonearm, connected cartridges are more likely to show their individual characters more clearly—and recorded music is more likely to sound its best.
Graham Phantom Elite
$13,750, 9″; $14,250, 10″; $14,750, 12″ (w/extra counterweights)
Although the basic design principles, thinking, and features of Bob Graham’s classic Phantom unipivot tonearm remain unchanged, the Elite represents a substantial upgrade from previous iterations, with improvements in materials and implementation, constrained-layer damping in the pivot assembly, a new high-density, non-magnetic tungsten insert for zero-tolerance bearing-contact and high spurious-energy absorption. No other ’arm known to PS can be more accurately and repeatably adjusted to extract optimal performance from any suitable pickup. Partner it with the Air Force 1 turntable, and you get a record-playing system that is unlikely to be surpassed.
Basis Audio SuperArm 9 and 12.5
This “swing-for-the-fences” tonearm from A.J. Conti completely realigned RH’s expectations of tonearm performance. As great an ’arm as Conti’s own Vector IV is, the Superarm is in another league. The Superarm’s reduction of hardness and glare fosters the impression of the midrange taking a step back, and with it, an invitation to greater musical intimacy. This purity and “cleanliness” of timbre is alone worth the price of admission, but the Superarm also offers stunning rendering of music’s dynamic structure, from the micro to the macro. Finally, the improvement rendered in the bass—pitch definition, texture, dynamics—is staggering.
Acoustic Signature TA-9000
$27,995 9″ tonearm; $29,995, 12″ tonearm
This fabulous aluminum tonearm is built up millimeter by millimeter via a selective-laser-melting process to produce a resonance-free structure impossible to create by any other means. (Internally, the ’arm has tree-branch-like “limbs” that connect its inner tube to an outer tube, channeling resonances like a grounding wire channels RF). With highest-precision/tolerance ceramic bearings, the TA-9000 is as sonically invisible (and utterly imperturbable) as Acoustic Signature’s fabulous Invictus turntables. Fully adjustable for VTA/SRA, VTF, azimuth, and anti-skate, the TA-9000 (in combination with the Invicti) is one of the most realistic-sounding source components JV has heard; when used with the fabulous DS Audio Grand Master optical cartridge, it rivals the timbral and dynamic continuousness and diorama-like three-dimensionality of reel-to-reel mastertapes.
The SAT, the brainchild of Swedish designer Marc Gomez, will turn almost any LP collection into a veritable El Dorado of sonic treasures. Yes, it’s that good. This nifty device allows top-notch turntables such as the Continuum Caliburn to reach even loftier levels of performance. In every parameter you can think of—dynamics, alacrity, transparency, and refinement—the SAT sets a very high bar, indeed, allying imperviousness to external vibrations with remarkable neutrality through the frequency spectrum. The tracking abilities of this tonearm are phenomenal as it sails through the most treacherous dynamic passages. The treble region is rendered with a finesse that approaches contemptuous ease. It is certainly one of the most significant analog products to emerge in recent years. Note that price stated is in euros.
Tags: ANALOG EDITORS' CHOICE TONEARMS VINYL
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