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.