When I bought the Continuum Caliburn turntable over a decade back, it never occurred to me that I would switch out its Cobra tonearm for a different one. But several years ago, I started hearing about a spiffy new tonearm that was designed and manufactured in Gothenburg, a major seaport located in southwestern Sweden that serves as a gateway to the North Sea and the Atlantic. Soon enough, Marc Gomez, the head of Swedish Analog Technologies (SAT), made the journey by air, not sea, to my home in Washington, DC, where he replaced the Cobra with his carbon-fiber tonearm. I was smitten. Not only did the SAT disentangle a wealth of information in the midrange that the Cobra simply didn’t convey, but it also created an immense soundstage. When the late David Wilson visited me a few years ago, he stared at the SAT tonearm with keen admiration. As the redoubtable Alan Sircom of HiFi+ wrote two years ago, “a few who looked beyond the big ticket saw a tonearm design that was a genuine step-change in vinyl replay, something that is all too rare in the 21st century.”
There I thought matters would rest. But it turned out that Gomez was working away at improving his original design. Once again, I started hearing rumblings about a spanking new tonearm. It turned out that Gomez had devised two new lines—one the reference CF1 tonearm, available in either 9″ or 12″ models (the CF1-09 and CF1-12), and the roughly half-the-price LM series.
Could I resist? No, I could not. After I implored TAS editor Robert Harley to give me the go-ahead to review the tonearm, he generously assented. A 9″ CF1, which, incidentally, is priced at a not insubstantial $53,600, winged its way to my home. Upon receipt, I pried open its black Pelican case as slowly and deliberately as though I were Sidney Greenstreet expecting to discover the Maltese falcon. Therein rested my prey. A shimmering armtube, silver ’arm pillar, obsidian headshell, and various tools for installation, including a custom jig, awaited extrication. Mounting this beauty is not for the faint of heart. But the rewards are great. The CF1-09 sounds less like a mechanical device than a musical instrument.
The CF1-09 is said to be much more robust than its predecessor, but Maier Shadi of the Audio Salon in Santa Monica, who represents SAT in America, gave me a number of salutary tips about how to handle it with care, ranging from using your thumb as a lever to pivot the leads on and off the cartridge to taping down the ’arm when adjusting the headshell. Put otherwise, the Hippocratic oath pertains to the CF1-09: First do no harm.
The ’arm itself has been constructed with fastidious attention to detail. According to Gomez, the CF1-09 has been upgraded in a number of parameters, including a larger diameter and improved laminate for the armtube with a higher grade of carbon fiber. “The damping polymer sleeve of the original arm,” he reports, “has been removed…leaving the carbon fiber laminate—made out of 38 plies of epoxy-pre-impregnated carbon fiber—exposed.”
The yokes and ’arm pillar are fashioned from stainless-steel. “The new small yoke,” Gomez says, “is more massive than the one from the original ’arm, providing superior rigidity and damping.” The bearings inside the yoke are pre-loaded and sealed.
For movement in the horizontal plane, the shipping bearing has to be replaced by playback bearings. The height of the ’arm can be adjusted in a range of 30mm with a knurled wheel, and adjustments can be made on the fly during playback if you desire. Vertical tracking force is set by a counterweight and a fine-tuning screw at the rear of the armtube. Anti-skating is adjusted via a fine thread that runs over several pulleys. Last but not least, the silver-coated copper tonearm wire runs continuously from the cartridge to a more reliable set of RCA plugs than were previously employed (XLR terminations are also available). Finally, Gomez lists a number of turntables for which he can supply ’arm boards designed for the SAT tonearm.
The sound that the CF1-09 produces matches the effort that was invested in designing it. After plopping an excellent Parkwood Records LP called The Authentic Art Hodes on the Continuum, I listened to the searing trumpet solo that Doc Cheatham plays on the song “Jelly Roll Blues.” The first thing I noted was more dynamics. Not simply in the sense that the music seemed louder overall but that the amplitude of the individual notes seemed to have increased. Cheatham’s trumpet sounded both more grounded and more expansive—the high C’s he belts out were less constricted. The same for the piano bass line, which simply appeared to go even deeper than I had experienced before. This was nifty stuff, prompting me to go for really propulsive, hard-driving rock music. Guitar solos on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” emanated with a new degree of clarity and ferocity.
I chalked these improvements up to the CF1-09’s improved imperviousness to vibration. The original tonearm always seemed as solid as a rock, but the CF1-09 seemed to perform even more like a linear-tracker as it glided across the grooves. If you’ve ever directly compared a linear-tracker to a gimbal or unipivot tonearm, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s always been my sense that a linear-tracking ’arm injects a mammoth amount of air into the soundstage, delivering a great sense of hall space to vinyl reproduction. The amazing stability of the CF1-09 as it traverses an LP seems to bridge the gap in ways large and small that left me newly impressed by Gomez’s technical wizardry.
For stability is what the new CF1-09 provides in spades. This is no American-style V-8 automobile with a soft suspension, but a Ferrari that grips the road with unrelenting control, navigating the twists and turns of the vinyl road with aplomb. You just get a sense of undeviating control—there’s that word again—when you listen to the CF1-09, which has been designed not as a “tuned” tonearm but as a device that can faithfully extract whatever is embedded in the vinyl.
On the album Country Hits…Feelin’ Blue, for example, Tennessee Ernie Ford’s voice exhibited a granitic authority on songs such as “Try Me One More Time.” There was no wavering, no imprecision, no wobble with the CF1-09. Instead, you revelled in the solidity of the images and the wealth of micro-detail that helps to bring the venue into your listening room.
On a nifty Storyville LP called The Target the marvelous Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen’s bass came oozing into the room with sumptuous harmonic overtones. Then there was KC and the Sunshine band’s rendition of “That’s the Way (I Like It), on the new Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s silver label. The combination of the unprecedented alacrity of the SAT tonearm coupled with sledgehammer bass that came juddering into my room was nothing less than intoxicating. Yeah, baby!
The sheer power of the CF1-09, its ability to ramp up, was vividly displayed on orchestral recordings. On a marvelous LP of Jacqueline du Pré playing Schumann’s cello concerto, it was quite overwhelming to hear the orchestra surge like an ocean at high tide. Throughout, her cello resounded with palpable power as well. Once again, the CF1-09, coupled with the Caliburn, easily delivered the musical goods. For all the reveling in the sonic whoosh that the CF1-09 offers, I am consistently most impressed by its ability to render fine details at pianissimo levels. To me, this is the acme of the absolute sound that we should be striving to duplicate. A few years ago I saw the violinist Midori at the Kennedy Center reach up into the ether as she played a high note at barely a whisper that still carried into the back of the hall. That’s the height of daring. On Dutch soprano Elly Ameling’s recordings of Schubert on the Philips label, I heard that kind of plangency and refinement delivered by Marc Gomez’s CF1-09.
I suspect that there will be more innovative analog products forthcoming from Gothenburg. For now, there can be no higher compliment than to say that when it comes to tonearms, even this superlatively gifted engineer will be very hard-pressed to surpass his latest creation.
Specs & Pricing
The Audio Salon (U.S. Representative)
2525 Michigan Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90404
By Jacob Heilbrunn
The trumpet has influenced my approach to high-end audio. Like not a few audiophiles, I want it all—coherence, definition, transparency, dynamics, and fine detail.More articles from this editor