Groovetracer Mods for Your Rega And Magna Riser Stands for Maggies
As I write this San Francisco is entering its fourth month of shelter-in-place, as our nation’s grim death toll continues to devastate families and communities. During this sad and surreal time for our planet I remind myself that in countless ways we’re among the lucky ones.
I also think about my drawerful of recently cancelled concert tickets and wonder when we might once again safely gather for live music events. At the same time, I’ve come to appreciate a fine home sound system more than ever before. Music is powerful stuff, and in the absence of gathering at concert venues our home systems can bring us much needed emotional pleasure and mental health benefits.
Of course, as many of us now have extra time on our hands, this is also a great time to tweak our systems, especially as it seems that the “new normal” will continue to be defined for the foreseeable future.
With that in mind, allow me to draw to your attention to some impressive mods I’ve recently discovered for two of audio’s most popular—as well as highest-value—brands, Rega turntables and Magnepan loudspeakers. I’m very familiar with both, having used a wide range of their products since I was in my late teens, not only personally but also professionally throughout my years in high-end retailing as well as during my stint as an audio writer.
The items under review here are, not surprisingly, made by men with an unusual passion for the products and companies they’ve dedicated so much of their time pushing to new levels. I can tell you they aren’t in it for the money. Their efforts to achieve excellence, their commitment to craft and customer service, and the relatively modest amounts they’re charging for their wares are aimed at improving what we, the end users, can expect to hear from components we already derive great pleasure from—and to do this at a fair price.
Roughly 40 miles south of my home in San Francisco, Frank Smillie operates an aerospace machine shop. A longtime fan of Rega ’tables, like many of us he loves their musical performance, appreciates their strong value, and also recognizes that in order to achieve that value certain compromises are necessary in the manufacturing process.
Now, Smillie is hardly the only guy out there to recognize, as any user of Rega’s moderately priced models can see, that the subplatter is perfectly fine for what it is, but what it is is an inexpensively molded part made from a phenolic resin material. Other necessary monetary compromises—from the bearing to the platter and so on—have been made too, and via the wonders of cyberspace it’s easy enough to explore a variety of aftermarket options to tweak whatever Planar model you may own. (This discussion does not include Rega’s upper-end, built-to-the-max designs.)
As I researched various other Rega tweaks, the main thing that stood out for me about the Groovetracer mods, which Smillie has been building for some 15 years, was the consistent praise heaped upon them—not just for their sonic improvements but also for the company’s quality of machining and attention to detail.
As its website states: “All Groovetracer products are created using the finest raw materials available. They are designed and manufactured to exacting tolerances using state-of-the-art CAM software and CNC equipment. No compromises are made to produce the finished product. If fit and finish are important to you, Groovetracer delivers!”
This is not mere hyperbole, as I would soon discover.
After a series of email exchanges with Frank I settled on the following items for the P3-24 that’s part of the system installed in my wine shop: Groovetracer’s Reference Subplatter ($275), Delrin Platter ($350), Record Weight ($125), and Universal Counterweight ($189).
As makes sense, rather than install these mods all at once I installed them one at a time in order to gauge their individual as well as their cumulative effect on the sound.
Because Rega’s stock subplatter is molded of phenolic resin, there are natural inconsistencies in the surface contact area on which the belt rides, and that affects speed accuracy and hence pitch stability.
Each separate part of Groovetracer’s Reference Subplatter—the bearing shaft, aluminum hub, and record spindle—is individually machined and inspected for accuracy, and then reinspected as a whole after final assembly. By the way, the top-end Reference Subplatter differs from others Groovetracer offerings because it includes a trio of Delrin pods to further isolate the subplatter from the main platter it supports. Moreover, the kit includes a new Zirconia bearing ball to replace the original steel ball bearing, and thoughtfully includes a magnet with which to remove the stock ball, as well as replacement bearing oil.
Thanks to Groovetracer’s detailed instructions one can swap things out in five minutes or so, and the resulting sonic improvements are immediate and obvious.
Put on any record you’re in the mood for, say, the 50th Anniversary edition of Abbey Road, and from the moment your stylus touches down, “Come Together” jumps to life as it never has before. The bottom end digs deeper and richer, guitars more realistically shimmer and crunch, Ringo’s kickdrum punches with new force, Lennon’s vocal is more expressive, and the whole tune simply rocks harder and, well, comes together as a more coherent musical whole.
Keep spinning the vinyl. Be it Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, the posthumous Prince release Piano and Microphone, pianist Víkingur Ólafsson’s Bach collection, Dylan’s More Blood, More Tracks, and you’ll find that the sonic and musical results are consistent and deeply satisfying.
To improve on Rega’s glass platter, a material prone to ringing, and the felt mat used to dampen said ringing, Groovetracer offers two replacements, acrylic and Delrin. Both materials are well damped and used to excellent effect by a wide range of turntable manufacturers. Not having the ability to compare them, I selected the Delrin platter, because in Frank’s experience its slightly higher mass delivers better high-frequency response and more natural overall tonal balance.
Whichever one chooses, both platters have slightly increased diameter sizes to enhance the “flywheel effect,” further enhancing speed stability. Furthermore, as the platter’s underbelly is precision machined it sits at the same height as Rega’s stock unit, so no adjustment to tonearm height is required, and, if you use the dustcover, there’s no issue there either.
With the Delrin platter in place all of the sonic improvements mentioned above jumped up another notch, especially in areas of air and focus. This was evident with all the music I played, but perhaps most jaw-dropping with outstanding orchestral records such as Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic’s Beethoven set, or Chasing the Dragon’s España, wherein, to put it as simply as possible, the experience was much closer to the sound of a live performance—more ambience, air around and between instruments, three dimensionality, tonal accuracy and richness, as well as dynamic weight and impact.
Although the improvements bought with the Subplatter and Platter were the most impressive, either initially or down the road I would also recommend Groovetracer’s Record Weight and Universal Counterweight, both of which added further to the overall improvements in resolution, dynamic range, air, texture, bottom-end weight, high-frequency extension, and musical expressiveness I’ve described.
Given Smillie’s attention to detail and the variety of options available, I suggest visiting Groovetracer’s website (see above) for a thorough explanation of the various products, their designs, and use. If you wish to start with one product and build from there, I would recommend them in the order in which they were described: subplatter, platter, record weight, counterweight.
Magna Risers for Magnepan Loudspeakers
As it is with Rega mods, plenty of aftermarket stands are made for Magnepan speakers. Over the years I’d not paid much attention to them, until a friend tipped me off to the Magna Risers stands designed and crafted by a guy named Robert Raus, who, like Frank Smillie, is something of a fanatic—that word is meant entirely as a compliment.
As of this writing, Raus builds custom-designed stands for the following Maggie models: .7, 1.6, 1.7. 1.7i, 2.5, 2.6, 2.7, 3.3, 3.5, 3.6, 3.7, 3.7i, LRS, MMG, MMG1, MG12, MG3a, MG1C, SMG Series, and the DWM woofer.
Raus claims that his “designs are the results of dozens of prototypes and hundreds of hours of critical listening.” Over the past 5-plus years he has personally invested in a variety of Magnepan models for design and testing, and has also been loaned speakers by friendly enthusiasts or visited their homes in order to customize stands for the models listed above.
To further illustrate, from the Magna Risers website: “With nearly 50 different prototypes being constructed and countless hours of comparative listening we have fanatically [ah, that word again] sought out which combinations of build materials create designs which truly allow your speakers to more fully realize their inherent sonic potential. We found that everything makes a difference sonically so we researched everything from screw types to metal types, metal gauges and metal shapes. We looked at exotic materials including magnesium, zinc, carbon fiber, composites, various types of woods ranging from hardwood to 7% kiln-dried. We experimented with heat-treating, shot-peening, and stress-relieving metal parts.”
Raus emphasizes that his stands typically combine seven different build materials to reach their level of performance, and each set of Magna Risers includes a pair of high-quality, directional, and cryogenically treated jumper wires to replace Magnepan’s stock nickel jumpers.
His website is chockful of info, but Raus is not only an enthusiast par excellence but also a guy who will happily engage in lengthy email exchanges about his products to guide customers toward the stands best suited for their speakers.
After just such a correspondence, we agreed that the Ascension 1 would be the best stand for my 1.7s. The stands plus jumpers sell for the almost unbelievable price of $295 the pair (plus shipping). That settled, I sent Raus a $25 deposit via Pay Pal to get in line, and he requested patience with the process—delivery is typically eight weeks away.
At a few points during the build process, Raus emails simple but rather charming graphic charts illustrating the manufacturing timeline, with a yellow arrow indicating “you are here,” stating, for examples, that “Your Magna Risers stands are being built,” or “Your Magna Risers are being hand tuned,” or “Your Magna Risers are ready to ship!” Like I said, a fanatic in the best sense of that word.
Once the box arrives, as with Smillie’s Groovetracer packaging, one cannot help but be impressed by the level of care and professionalism contained within. Each part is carefully wrapped and packed with pro-level labelling and the kind of detailed instructions that, frankly, some of our larger audio makers could learn a thing or two from.
The stands are substantial, beautifully made with a powder-coat finish, and, to these eyes, seriously enhance the look of the speakers by their inherent elegance but also because they lift the speakers just a few inches higher off the floor, which adds a visual “breathing” space beneath one’s Maggies.
Installation is easy—each speaker has a specific pair of feet marked for placement to the tweeter or woofer side of the panel—but given that we’re removing and replacing Maggie’s stock feet, and that the speakers are tall and a bit awkward to manage, having a second person on hand isn’t a bad idea. In any case, the screws simply thread into the existing holes on each Magnepan model, and replacing Magnepan’s stock nickel jumpers with Raus’ much heavier-gauge treated jumpers is a breeze. (Forgive me, but I wasn’t into doing a jumper comparison, so I switched everything out a once.)
Having read plenty about the Magna Risers and having waited a few months to receive them I expected to hear improvements. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how large those improvements would be.
Now, if you read my recent review of VTL’s 6.5 Series II Signature preamplifier, you may recall that I’ve already voiced my admiration for my not-even-current Magnepan 1.7s. They retailed for a couple of grand when new, are but a fraction of the overall price of my system, and yet they continue to reveal each and every change in the components placed upstream. In other words, they not only provide exceptional musical pleasure but remain a worthy reference tool to boot.
With the Magna Risers installed, everything that makes Maggies special is taken to a higher plane. That famous lack-of-a-box air, three-dimensionality, and soundstaging, that excellent imaging and realistic sense of instrumental and venue size and space, that top-to-bottom coherence and reach-out-and-touch-it “thereness,” that uncannily realistic recreation of drums, which of course the Maggie’s stretched Mylar membranes mimic.
But other qualities that Magnepans are often not often associated with, such as dynamic power and low-frequency extension and weight, are likewise elevated to new and unexpected levels. You’ll hear it with something like Bernie Grundman’s 50th Anniversary remastering of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland with any track, but imagine Hendrix’s iconic rendition of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” with its chugging opening and hurricane force delivered in a way that, while not exactly Wilson-esque, brings a thrilling added excitement, power, and bottom-end wallop.
Given that improved stands equal improved stability, a firmer grip, if you will, on the Magnepan frame, the above-mentioned sonic benefits make perfect sense. As does something else that’s harder to describe but that is part and parcel of the whole.
With Magna Risers installed, there’s simply a cleaner, less blurred, more dynamic, and “correct”-sounding nature to all recordings—hell, even the soundtracks and dialog in movies or TV series.
As I said, these are not the only tweaks available for Magnepan and Rega products. But after plenty of research I will say they’re ones I recommend with confidence. Fellow Rega and Maggie fans, I’m certain you won’t be disappointed.
Specs & Pricing
C/O Promac Machining
300 Brokaw Road
Santa Clara, California 95050
Prices: Reference Subplatter, $275; Delrin platter, $350; record weight, $125; universal counterweight, $189
18432 Sloane Avenue
Lakewood, Ohio 44107
Price: Ascension 1 stand, $295
By Wayne Garcia
Although I’ve been a wine merchant for the past decade, my career in audio was triggered at age 12 when I heard the Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! blasting from my future brother-in-law’s giant home-built horn speakers. The sound certainly wasn’t sophisticated, but, man, it sure was exciting.More articles from this editor
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