How Does That $28,000 SAT Pick Up Arm Sound?

The July, 2015 Stereophile included a review of the $28,000 Swedish Audio Technologies pick up arm. Yes, the price is outrageous but it's difficult to manufacture and doesn't come off an assembly line.

So what does it sound like? It is fitted with the new Air-Tight PC-1 Magnum Opus cartridge ($15,000--review in an upcoming Stereophile) going into a Ypsilon MC-10L step-up transformer ($6500) and that into the Ypsilon VPS-100 phono preamp ($26,000). The turntable is the Continuum Caliburn, which sold for $150,000 until production ceased, though the company claims they'll make one if you order five or so.

The recording is the recently released 200g edition of a March 2000 recording by legendary engineer Keith O. Johnson of Eiji Oue conducting the Minnesota Orchestra in a Copland program of the familiar "Fanfare for the Common Man" and Copland's "Third Symphony".

Digitization was at 96/24 via the Lynx HiLo. You can watch and listen on YouTube (see below) or download the file. It's a big file so give it time before you try playing it.


Yes, this is a ridiculously priced analog front end and while digitization doesn't do it complete justice, I think it gives you a good idea, especially of the bass energy that arm is capable of transmitting. Nothing else I've heard manages that.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

I first played it on my desktop. I realized this deserves the big rig. Downstairs I went, plugged in the iPad, cranked the volume to 11 o'clock and boy...did those twin REL subs ever get spanked! And that was just the Youtube version. Couldn't wait for the file download, which I presume is better.

Ortofan's picture

...quotes "Patrick Belton, a Los Angeles-based DJ and music supervisor" as saying that it "helps to have a solid tonearm “made from one piece of lightweight steel.”" If the WSJ used him as some sort of authority on the subject, why shouldn't we believe him? Or was due diligence not done?

Michael Fremer's picture
too bad...
Ortofan's picture

...SME tonearms that use a (stainless) steel tube - the M2 series for example.

In fact, as part of the Analog Corner column in the May 2007 issue of Stereophile, there was a review of the Thorens TD350 equipped with an SME M2 tonearm. The reviewer stated that "I played lots of records over a two-month period, enjoying the presentation for what it was without wondering what I might have gotten from the Continuum Caliburn. That's how well-balanced, relaxed and enticing this combo's performance was." Not too bad for a steel tonearm, is it?

Michael Fremer's picture
i wrote it...
wullymc's picture

Where and to whom do I give my credit card. This sound is unreal. I envy you Mr. Fremer! Enjoy!

ashandger's picture

Spectacular, even on YouTube! Any chance you could post a file or video with some vocals or rock? I am assuming the Ypsilon phono was connected to your Dart preamp for creating this digital file? Many thanks.

Jon's picture

I just bought this LP only last week from my local dealer and only digitised it myself a few days ago! If anyone is interested by way of comparison, I have uploaded a shorter excerpt than Michael (just the last 70 odd seconds of it). Mine is only at 48 KHz / 24 bit though to reduce upload time as I am on an exceptionally slow connection.

My excerpt could definitely be termed an extreme "budget" production by way of comparison - a humble Project RPM 9.1 with an Ortofon Rondo Bronze feeding through Heed amplification with a battery based power supply that I built myself. This all went into a DAW that was also self built. Total cost of my humble setup is far less than the cost of the cartridge here!

Still, you can clearly hear the improvements you get when you do spend up big - it is like all things audio - you can get to about 90% "satisfaction" with midrange equipment but you need to spend about 10 times as much to get that last 10%. But the point is that you do indeed get that last 10% and going back from there is like getting out of a Lexus and back into a Corolla. Still, the difference is not huge and it does illustrate that mid priced equipment is very good value, though I am sure most of us already know that.

Superfuzz's picture

Sounds great! As it should, with the cost of all that equipment. It would be nice to hear a record on that system that we're familiar with, maybe one that many of us might have... something from Chuck Berry's The Great Twenty-Eight would let us know how it sounds with classic R&R...

thomoz's picture

Chuck Berry's Golden Decade is a far-better sounding compilation than the Great Twenty Eight.

This being said, I would think that Capitol-era Sinatra or some Nat King Cole would sound twenty times as good as Chuck on Chess through that rig.

Superfuzz's picture

Hold on now... which mastering of "The Great Twenty-Eight" do you have that you think doesn't sound good? The earlier cut done at Sterling Sound (Jack Skinner, I think), or the one by Phil Austin at Trutone?

"Chuck Berry's Golden Decade" isn't at all common - if you're talking about this record, from 1967: (only one copy available on discogs, for $82). And there is not a single copy on eBay right now, except for some "electronically altered for stereo" copies... surely you don't suggest those sound good. ;) But seriously, I would love to know exactly which version of The Great 28 you have and which version of Golden Decade you have that you think sounds better... because I will start looking for a copy right now. "The Great 28" sounds fantastic to these ears (either cut, but I prefer the one from Trutone).

I love Sinatra and Nat King Cole, but the point was to just hear what a common classic rock record would sound like on a $150,000+ rig... and I'm sure Mikey has a clean copy somewhere.

Michael Fremer's picture
Chuck Berry's Greatest Hits is what I have.... I'll have to play it for condition first.
Superfuzz's picture

Hmmm... well I'm guessing that 60's greatest hits record probably isn't in the best of shape... and not many of us would have a mint copy anyway. I assume you have this tonearm on loan, and it would be a great service to many people to hear what it sounds like, with all that other "top of the line" gear you have... Looking at comments here, at least one person seems ready to buy one of these arms. But it would be helpful to hear a needledrop of a record we're familiar with.... got a copy of Michael Jackson's "Thriller"? You can post 30 second samples, it's "fair use"...

Joe Crowe's picture

I notice the use of a step-up transformer and a phono pre-amp (about $40K total). What is the reasoning here?

Superfuzz's picture

If I understand the question correctly, you're asking why the need of a step-up transformer? (Surely you understand the need of a phono preamp...). The Ypsilon VPS-100 phono preamp only accepts inputs from a moving magnet cartridge, input impedence is 47k. So an external step-up transformer is necessary, and has to be matched to the cartridge's output.

otaku2's picture

Thanks for the follow-up report.

ravenacustic's picture

Recordings. Too mid hall for me and overblown low frequencies. But I was impressed with the well defined pitches of the tympani which often come through as pitch less blobs.

BillHart's picture

is that, after digitization, and running it on YouTube (at whatever resolution that offers these days), and listening to the first 30 seconds or so via a laptop with built-in speakers, you can still hear how big and dramatic that thing sounds. My guess is, you are buying that arm. As to picking the first record I'd want to listen to on that rig, I'd have to give that one some thought....
bill hart

Jon's picture

Actually I don't think you are buying that arm for the low end or "big" sound. Or even it's tracking ability. If you compare it to my own excerpt made with the Rondo Bronze on a 9cc arm, both arms and cartridges are incapable of tracking this music 100% flawlessly - both combinations are just beginning to break out into mistracking which is quite noticeable on a resolving playback system or headphones. If anything, I think the cheaper Rondo Bronze and the 9cc arm are tracking it better as there is less audible breakup distortion than on Michael's extract. And imo there really isn't that much difference in the bass content either. Where the hyper-expensive combination shines, however, is in the rock solid holographic imagining particularly when it comes to the space around the brass instruments and their position within the ambient space of the hall. Secondly, the timbral quality of the instruments is noticeably better and thus more accurate too in Michael's excerpt.

To me, those are the stand-out qualities you are getting in the expensive combination, though I would honestly have to say I think most of those qualities are coming from the cartridge, turntable itself, step transformer and phono amplifier rather than the arm.

Catcher10's picture

The air around the horn is nice and the sustain on the timpani is really nice...But I don't listen to this music, how will this arm sound spinning some Porcupine Tree, Rush, Genesis??

Joe Crowe's picture

Superfuzz, thanks for the response, didn't know the details of the Ypsilon. That does lead to another question though, a $26K phono-stage doesn't take MC, wow.

BillK's picture

Any theories as to what it is about the construction that makes it sound so superior to other arms out there?

For example, I can understand why the VPI 3D printed arm sounds better than the aluminum tube Classic 3, but at this level the construction details escape me and am curious as to whether you have any theories.

TrueGrit's picture

Mikey: Even with an armamentarium costing $200k aren't you searching for something in those grooves that can't possibly have been placed there given the technical limitations of the cutting head and its associated equipment?

BillK's picture

I think the cutting head is putting far more there than anyone even was aware of.

For example, with many Capitol and Reprise Sinatra recordings, there was no way of extracting all the music from the groove that was created in the 1950s - 1960s that we now can with modern cartridges and tonearms.

I had a chance to talk to one recording engineer of that era who told me they knew what they were recording, because they were there at the time the music was being performed, but it's only in recent years that reproduction equipment is good enough to reproduce what they knew they were recording but at the time nothing could reproduce.

This is not unlike the case of film; more detail was recorded by those 35mm and 70mm film cameras in the 1950s/1960s than people seeing most formats could ever see reproduced; it's likely no one other than the original film editors knew The Twilight Zone actually looked the way we can now see it when played from Blu-ray.

Likewise, most today who did not have the opportunity to see an actual Todd-AO roadshow presentation of "The Sound of Music" knew what levels of resolution and color were actually captured then.

mojomickman's picture

That download forced me to register. I'm currently running a AMG v12 with a Benz Lps and have been playing the LP and the download back to back for awhile and I'm BLOWN away. The bass that tonearm produces is amazing! Is there a less then 200k way to achieve this? Maybe the tone arm and a new cartridge??

BillK's picture

That's the whole reason it exists.

However, I suspect there are a number of good tonearms at various price points that can come at least somewhat close.

mojomickman's picture

I was asking how much the table and phone stage adds to that sound. And if I could get a reasonable approximation with just the tonearm.

Jon's picture

I honestly think using this record is a little bit misleading (definitely not Michael's intention) simply because it really is an incredible record to begin with. It's arguably the 2015 equivalent of the early 1980s Telarc 1812 LP in many ways! Then it is expertly cut at half speed and it's an Analogue Productions pressing. I do honestly believe that a far more modest and carefully selected front end could get 98% as good as what we are hearing here and if people still reckoned a far more modest front still fell below that 98% figure, I'd be putting the remaining difference down to a placebo effect. For example, I'd like to hear how it sounds on something like on a fully run-in combination of an EAT Forte with an Ortofon Cadenza Black and a Project Audio RS phono stage. Just as an example of something that a number of people could aspire to realistically speaking and collectively such a combination would still cost less than just the cartridge used here (at least here in Australia where the EAT sells for $9K, the Cadenza Black for about $3K and the RS for under $2K.

mojomickman's picture

I have the record and while playing the 2 side by side over and over its not even close to 98% And my front end is much higher priced then the one you described.

Jon's picture

Wow. That settles it then. Case closed. /end sarcasm/

Jay_S's picture

Impressive. But the background noise was higher than I expected to hear on this premium recording and system. The grooves were not dead quiet, but on the other hand they were not bothersome or intrusive.

Feenix's picture

I would love to hear the Hi-rez version but I can't see how to download it? Help please.

Jon's picture
Feenix's picture

Thanks Jon

Montoya's picture

What makes this particular tonearm worth 28,000? I'm just curious I have an engineering degree and I would love to hear the explanation. Is the engineer behind this product named P.T. Barnum?

Jon's picture

I hear it is Mr. Crosley's estranged second cousin.

Michael Fremer's picture
The engineer's name is Marc Gomez. If you go to his website you can learn a great deal about him. He has a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Material Science. He is not just "some guy".

Go there and check out his work experience. He explains what the arm is about on the website.

As for why it is so expensive: of course it doesn't "cost" $28,000 to manufacture or even half of that.

The realities of high performance audio sales and distribution include 50% margins. That is no secret. So the original selling price was projected to be around $12-$15K, which would have allowed the designer/builder to realize around a $6000 profit on each hand-built arm, which includes time-consuming carbon fiber layering and baking in an auto clave. It is a time consuming and exacting process.

As a relative unknown he was unable to sell a $15K arm directly because he's not a marketer and really not a savvy business person. Once people in the business became aware of the arm, distributors lined up and now he's got distribution in various parts of the world.

By the time the product gets into a consumer's hands, the retail price is $28,000. But that price includes expert installation and set-up and warrranty support should that be needed.

There are many people around the world who can afford such a product and my review in Stereophile has sparked a great deal of interest and sales.

I am buying one. No, I am not paying $28,000. I do get a reviewer break but it will still cost me a lot. I'm taking the money out of my retirement fund. I will tell you: when I went to my friend Bob Reina's viewing at a funeral home a few months ago (he was a long time friend and audio reviewer for The Absolute Sound and then for Stereophile who passed away at 61), it was a sobering moment.

For what am I saving the money for if not to enjoy a special product like this? If I need the money sooner than for the eventual nursing home (hopefully not for decades!) I can always sell it and get back most of my money.

In the meantime, I get to enjoy an amazing sounding product that is equally special to look at and touch. People who see it close up fully understand the price: it's often likened to the finest Leica camera....or to an exotic watch----and it sounds better than either of those!

Jon's picture

For getting it if it makes you happy and it obviously does. And even though I'm probably the only one here who feels the difference between this arm and an alternative is not large I also realise that chasing small improvements (I stick by my 2% quote) is quite important, especially as the calibre of the playback system improves. I am also sure the differences you are hearing on your own system are much greater than what I am hearing on my own (because as someone who does a lot of ADC stuff, I know how much is lost in the digitalisation process).

Personally it is good in a way that I will never be in a financial position to even consider anything more than high end budget stuff to midrange stuff so I never have to wrestle with the decision to purchase extremely high end equipment. Anyway, as a world renowned vinyl and analogue reviewer, I think you really should have the best of the best. Afterall, to me it wouldn't be much fun reviewing all this fantastic stuff time and time again and then going home to something mediocre by comparison!

Michael Fremer's picture
I've reviewed many arms over the years. I was expecting this one to sound very good as did many of the others but what I heard from the very first record took my system to another performance level well beyond expectations and that's what I found every night late into the night. When I brought 96/24 files from that arm to shows and played the files without announcing anything about how they were made the reaction was uniformly "what version is that? I've never heard it sound like that!" And that includes files I sent to Bob Ludwig. At the Munich show an SAT arm fitted with a Lyra Etna and a Schroder arm (not his best) fitted with a Lyra Atlas on the same 'table could be played back to back....everyone who heard the comparison including Frank Schroder himself and Stig and Jonathan from Lyra, articulated what they heard in language similar to what i wrote in my review that had yet to be published!
Jon's picture

Well those anecdotes are certainly compelling. I never doubted the arm would have taken your system to a new level. You obviously wouldn't be investing in one if it didn't. Last night I decided to prepare your samples for playback in my main system with my own vinyl front end playing back the same excerpts. Although I still don't feel there are significant differences in the bass when comparing my "live" playback to your excerpt, I am quite astounded by the solidity of the imaging, the textural detail and accuracy and the sense of space in the hall and around the instruments in your excerpt. Not to mention what sounds to me like perfectly flat frequency response into the stratosphere. You have basically delivered on all the strengths and weaknesses of analogue and digital combined. And although my own front end is ridiculously pathetic by comparison (it doesn't really even warrant a comparison if you know what I mean), it's still a solid mid level rig that many people would be happy to own who aspire to decent quality, good value mid range stuff while being careful with the pennies. But comparing my own sounds to yours is exactly like comparing a DVD to a Blu-ray. I actually never thought that level of detail retrieval was possible from mere grooves in plastic. I had always thought these specific attributes were always something digital was far superior at. I would just love to hear all my Speakers Corner and ORG Decca reissues on your rig!

Jon's picture

I do have to say it really does look impressive when I look at the gallery stills on the website. I appreciate good engineering and attention to fit, finish and detail as much as anyone.

Mark UK's picture

First (to get it over with) a 'minor' comment. People can post whatever they want of course but far too much talk about the QUALITY of the record and too little about the cost of the arm.

Sorry Michael. The cost, even if you EXCLUDE distribution, retail markup, etc. is NUTS. I'm as qualified as him, and due to my other hobby, radio controlled toy planes, I have a small 'hobby' machine shop and can do carbon fibre work as well.

I could make this thing in less than a day. Plus the curing of the carbon fibre overnight when I am asleep so not incurring labor charges while it is curing. Let's say I am well paid - $100 an hour including 'wear and tear on my equipment' costs. So $800 in total. Materials? Less than $100 including the bearings. Even top quality bearings (perhaps ABEC 7) only cost a few dollars each as they are made in millions. So let's say $900 in total, labor plus materials.

Design? A lot of trial and error - 'empirical' design but he WON'T have started from point zero. He would have been doing it in a 'hobbyist' way, thus gaining experience. And this arm is as far as he has got. I doubt it was designed 'especially' for sale, though he may have tidied his best hobby design to date for commercial sale.

So the price remains nuts.

Comparison? Take the Caliburn. Just about price justified. The whole thing is VERY complicated and is unlikely to have been 'hobbyist developed' so that cost has to be included. But this arm? It is a price nonsense even at $15,000.

Superfuzz's picture

If it's so easy to make such a high quality arm... why aren't you doing it?! Surely you realize there is a market of audiophiles who are willing to spend big bucks on high-end products. You could cut right into his market share. Since it's so easy and non-time consuming to make one, maybe you could do it, and send it in to Michael for review... one glowing review by him and you could be selling these things by the case... sell them at a paltry $10k each, and clean up...

To the guy referencing P.T. Barnum above, if someone has $28k they can part with for a tonearm, they are probably not stupid...

Mark UK's picture

I've got far more interesting things to do with my time than make tonearms and I/We don't need the money. She says I spend too much time making toy planes already.

Michael (and anyone else) is perfectly entitled to spend his money however he wants and I heartily agree with his comments on how/why he spends it how he does. We do much the same and have already got the watches/camera he mentions. The Leica is about $9,000 and at least TEN times more complicated thanthat tonearm. It's the best made thing I have ever seen. Not that I'm any kind of good photographer.

We all have our limits and it's NOT necessarily about what we can afford. I have a 'base model' Because I refus to spend more on such relativery simple things but I am NOT saying people shouldn't spend more. Michael obviously thinks the PLEASURE he will get from it is worth the money and that's fine. BUT - 'ENGINEERING and development cost wise' the price is nuts.

Michael Fremer's picture
When you build your arm send it for review.
Mark UK's picture

Oh come on Michael :)

I DID say in my reply to Superfuzz that I have better things to do and anyway don't need the money :). Personally I use a 'base model' Linn Sondek, purchased new (fairly recently) mainly for 'nostalgic' reasons because I couldn't afford one 30 years ago though it is far behind the present state of the art, an SME IV purchased because they don't do a silver SME V, and a Koetsu Black because its price is not too crazy. BUT - I COULD make an arm like this or any other, and so could any competent engineer. I just can't be bothered. I'm not criticising the arm, only its price.

Also I commented that I heartily agr3e with your spending the money on it AND your reasons for doing so. I have much the same reasons as you (basically "You can't take it with you so why not?") with my 'extravagant' purchases.

BTW: I listened to all your samples, including the two new ones on your post today(17th July) and they sound superb. That said, I have never heard any 'home grown' digital transfers before and don't have the facilities to do them myself.


Superfuzz's picture

You're making pretty bold claims, and even smug remarks toward the designer... "I'm as qualified as him" ... how can you actually say that about a person you don't know? It makes you seem really pompous...

As for your excuse "I have better things to do with my time" , you did say, "I could make this thing in less than a day."
I'm sure you can afford it, but I'd be glad to supply the $900 you say it would cost to make this arm.
So for a day's work, you could make something that could profit you something like... 5 grand? 10 grand? I think your wife would approve of this endeavor.

Ok, who are we kidding here... your claims are a joke.

Mark UK's picture

I don't have to know him. I have both academic and practical qualifications in the electronic and engineering fields as good as anyone. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have the same.

And as I said, neither me nor my wife need the money. We don't NEED $10.000 or whatever. We no longer have to do what anyone else wants unless WE want to. I didn't cut the grass today because I didn't want to, for example. And MANY retired people are the same.

So many people say things like you do. They don't understand that we are, for the first time in our lives, 'free' except for obeying the law or whatever. The same will come to you eventually. ASnd once you have enough to live on without working, plus some over for a few 'luxuries', money is simply NOT a motivation at all. You will find that out too later on.

The cost of his thing? I see comments such as "I could get 98% of the performance at a quarter the cost". True, he probably could. BUT WHY BRING COST INTO IT AT ALL? Our hobby/interest has LESS connection between quality and price than anything else I have ever known (once you exclude the obvious rubbish). So why the general 'automatic assumption' that the more expensive it is the better it will be? In our hobby that is a complete nonsense.

Montoya's picture

Thank you Michael that puts things into perfect perspective. I have the same outlook on life after having seen my father suffer and pass from cancer. I do put aside for retirement however I am liberal with money more so than some. I can appreciate the comparison to fine time pieces as I collect them and some find it asinine. Being in the oil and gas industry we target a 15%-20% margin however we are talking in the millions of dollars so I can understand how this comparison isn't relative.

Miro Muzlai's picture

I have to agree with Mark UK,the price is crazy, you can buy a new Lexus for about the same. This thing to me looks about the size of and about as complex to design and make as the light switch or windscreen wiper lever on the steering columnn of the Lexus. Mark, I too have a Linn LP12, same reason, could never afford one 30 years ago. I have the Itok1V arm with a Ortofon Kontrapunkt on it. I love the sound it gives me and even though I can, I would never spend this kind of money on this thing. Agree about the Leica, Now that is engineering. But we are all different, buy it if you want it.

Jon's picture

We can't buy a Lexus here in Oz for that money! I wish we could though! With the cost of the arm, sometimes that is what it takes to have the best of the best though. It then becomes a question as to whether the cost justifies the improvement or not and how important getting the very best music reproduction is to one's life. It's likely the higher the resolution of the system, the bigger the improvement would be with this tonearm. Would I buy that arm and a Toyota Corolla versus no arm at all and the Lexus? No, I'd buy the Lexus! I don't spend as much time driving as I do listening but I would nevertheless appreciate the comfort and relative luxury of the Lexus versus a Corolla more than I would the improvement in the tonearm over what I own now!

Mark UK's picture

Ber honest. If this arm cost $1000 you would likely not be interested in it at all and Michael would likely not have listened to it.

It's the typical HiFi "If it costs a lot it must be good". It's how Magico got started. If their identical speakers sold at £1000 they would not have been noticed at all.

Jon's picture

I think it is very safe to say that your opinions on anything audio related are yours and yours alone.

Mark UK's picture

That's true of everyone here.

Michael Fremer's picture
As someone who regularly does review budget/reasonably priced gear, I have to say that your comment is 100% incorrect as well as being remarkably cynical.
Mark UK's picture

I wholly agreewith you about the light switch. As you say, it's about the same size and compliation as this arm.
We've got a fanct car. About ten times the price of this arm but a thousand times more complicated and several thousand times the amount of materials. It's got a light switch too :)
An it's not 'quantity that makes the difference. They only make a fewe hundred everty year.

The price of this arm is lunatic.

sandyu's picture

I’ve already said this on another thread. Not many got it then, and I can already tell that most of you won’t get me now.
But some will, and you already know who you are.
Back in 1968/9 I had, and drove, a 1959 Ferrari 250 GT California spyder. If you ever saw “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off,” you know what one looks like (though the movie car was actually a Ford-powered kit car).
When I bought my California, through an ad in the back of Autoweek, I paid $2500 for it.
At the time, a new VW Bug would’ve cost me $500 more.
Today, my little Ferrari would run me around $35,000,000. Yes, really. Whether or not it was in restorable, or even driveable, shape.
But I wouldn’t want it, fun as it was the first time around. Indeed, I wouldn’t want ANY car that cost that much!!
A $2500 car is fun. A $250,000 car is ridiculous. I want fun. I choose fun.
Y’know, I drove my little Ferrari everywhere I went. I picked up a pizza, drove my cats to the vet, went on dates. One night, I parked outside the Fillmore West, went in to see Janis (still with Big Brother!), and came out to find my Blaupunkt radio ripped out of the dash. I didn’t mind, the engine drowned out the music, anyways!!
If I had a $35 million car, where would I park it? Would I drive it in a thunderstorm, when there might be hail that’d damage the thin aluminum body? Could I risk it to traffic?
Now, for the same reason I wouldn’t want a $35 million car, I wouldn’t want a $28K tonearm.
Or $30K speakers.
Which doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy my restored, vintage McIntosh MC 30 monoblocs, or my 1950s hot-rodded (by Mapleshade) Scott tuner, or all the vintage Matantz stuff I’ve rescued off eBay and had restored. Or even that ol’ demo Clearaudio Concept I’ve been lately upgrading with an McRU two-chassis power supply, Grado Reference Statement cartridge, unique parts I order from Clearaudio in Germany etc. My Concept is a fun project.
No, I wouldn’t want a $35 million dollar car, or a $100 K turntable, a $15 K cartridge, or a $28 K tonearm -- and all for the same reason: They don’t sound like “fun” to me. None of them.
And the real purpose of our hobby is supposed to be fun.
Remember fun?
You had it as a kid. Surely you remember!!
You know what? I’ve got a dog right now sleeping beside me, and he cost me $1, and he’s fun (when he’s not sleeping). This one cat on my bed with me cost me $98 to rescue, while the other (the one snoring) was free because I found him under my Chevy. My cats are both fun to live with, but the $98 one is no more fun than the free one.
So if I tell you I’d rather hear my old Dylan and Monk and Bach vinyl over my 1950s and 1970s restified (upgraded) gear than over the latest and costliest Stereophile cover queens because that’s how I remember hearing my favorite things back when I was still in my 20s, I ain’t lyin’.
And anybody who thinks I’d be having more fun listening with a $28 K tonearm (or driving a $35 million car) doesn’t know the first damn thing about me.

Kingsleyflint's picture

If they could afford it. Let me suggest something, though for those who have not got such a big budget. I use a Brinkmann Oasis turntable with the 10.5" arm and the Ti cartridge fitted bybthe charming dealer from Zurich, who travelled three hours to demo this excellent table. Recently I replaced my Naim 102/180 + Flatcap 2 and CD5X with Nagra Melody preamp, MSA power amp and CDP CD deck. Every time I listen to this setup I am amazed by how good it is on all my discs. There is a mellifluous sound, strong enough to arouse my original Sonus faber Cremonas, imaging is amazing, the acoustic of each recording andthe slightest detail is picked up by the CD player, and the direct drive Brinkmann delivers surprising bass as welll as exquisite detai. Overall cost? Somewhere in the ballpark of 80 thousand dollars I suppose. To get a finally 'perfect' sound I would evidently need to spend ten times more it seems. That last ten percent is really expensive, and I no longer have any envies, no thoughts of 'could this system sound any better'. I am transported with delight, everyone who hears it isamazed. it never lets me down after a lifetime of hifi, following in my dad's footsteps. Highly recommended forthe perfectionist who is married or has a relatively limited budget. My dear wife reminds me regularly that the new electronics cost 36.000 Swiss Francs ( bought from a matured life insurance policy), but the Nagras must be some of the best value top end gear available. she also loves the Cremonas. However, were I wealthy I would not begrudge spending the money that Mikey suggests to get the very best. I just no longer need better. Thank God. anyone might be thrilled to own such a system as ours. It is truly knockout in every aspect.

sandyu's picture

My point was (and still is): At some point -- and it will be different for different people -- spending “too much” interferes with anybody's idea of having fun. It’s true of everything else, and it’s true of audio, too.

I used the example of my car because what my car was/is didn’t change, but the price of it did, and therefore, as a consequence, its ability to provide me with what I consider to be “fun” did, too: In my example, the exact same thing that was fun at $2,500 stops being fun well before it reaches a hundred times, or a million times, the original price I paid.

Let me also suggest that if you change the equation by claiming that a “better” thing is available at many times the price “for the perfectionist,” you really aren’t changing thr equation all that much, you just imagine you are. Because sooner or later a better tonearm (or amplifier, or tuner, or turntable or whatever) will come along, and if you continue to chase “audio perfection” (which nobody can attain, anyway) by constantly trading up, what you will inevitably find is that you haven’t gotten any closer to something “better” -- but you have definitely become more dissatisfied with what you have, and to get there you’ve spent a lot of money.

Bob Dylan’s father told his son not to be unhappy with what he doesn’t have and wants, but to be happy with what he doesn’t have and doesn’t want. Good advice!!

I often hear audiophiles say about exotic stuff they can’t buy because they can’t afford it that they hope someday to be able to buy more expensive gear. Somewhere along the line, those folks missed having a dad like Bob Dylan’s, I guess. Incidentally, usually those are the same people who take pride in saying that the system they have already is envied by all who hear it.

I just have to shake my head and wonder those people chase audio dissatisfaction with such energy and aplomb. (By the way -- maybe it’s a coincidence, but most of them want to spend more on their system though they haven’t even made an effort to tune their listening room.)

Look, at some point this hobby of ours, which is supposed to be fun, can turn into a search for perfection that becomes just another reason to spend more money. Sad, yes. But true.

When you aren’t really listening to your favorite music and enjoying the system you have already, you have passed the point of “fun.” Time to find a new hobby or find a new you. (Preferably, the latter.)

NOTE: It’s Mikey’s paid job to evaluate audio components, since electronics manufacturers want him to critique their products so they can improve their stuff and sell more of it. So, if he decides he needs some esoteric piece of equipment to do that job well, or just better than he can now, what does that have to do with you? Absolutely nothing. Keep calm and play your music.

Mark UK's picture

You are absolutely right about the cars. But you can never tell with vehicles. Cars have reached crazy prices.

In the 1970s I had an MV Agusta '750 Sport' motorcycle. About £4500 UK pounds then. The most expensive motorcycles on the market but not my much, there were others close.

I sold it, as it was just my routine to change every couple of years.

Now they are worth £50,00o UK pounds minimum. But you can never know that at the time.

A friend ha a Lamborghini Miura. He says it's rubbish compared to the Volkswagen he usually drives. Standards change and ALWAYS get better.

sandyu's picture

Mark UK, I believe you’re missing several points expressed earlier by myself and others:

1.) Price ALONE can take the fun out of something, no matter how much you might like it on its other merits. Which would suggest that those who are saying “I don’t care how good it is, I can’t enjoy it because it costs too much to be fun for me,” do have a legitimate position, despite the naysayers;

2.) Standards may or may not change over time. That depends. But standards DO NOT “always” get better as you suggest. For example, Shakespeare isn’t a lesser writer now than he was in his day just because we have spell checkers and grammar checkers now.

(As for the Miura: That was an experimental car, unlike your friend’s VW; and the Miura wasn’t “rubbish” though it had many faults due to engineering and production difficulties at a new company in a new factory, as well as inexperience among the workers, including the test drivers. In our audio hobby, we see that sort of thing all the time!!)

Again: While I want Mikey to have (and use!) the best tonearms available for my own selfish reasons -- I want his tests of cartridges and phono stages to be the best in the world so I won’t waste my money buying stuff that doesn’t work well -- it’s also true that I myself wouldn’t want a $28 K tonearm because it would interfere with my fun whenever I played a record.

And there are others who feel the same. All I was trying to do was to help explain their (and my own) legitimate position to the unbelievers.

Mark UK's picture

Except for a few points on the Miura (which wasn't really 'rubbish' of course) I agree with everything you say. My friend was the sole UK concessionaire for Lamborghini since the day they started (1959) until they were taken over by VW a couple of years ago, and tells many funny stories.

He's a good salesman too, as I discovered. One go from the typical English 'pub' to ten miles away Winchester and back, alone, so you are not diverted by him, you are hooked for life. :)

The arm? Woul I buy one? No, but not for the same reasons as you, I just think the price is a bad joke or a serious 'rip-off'. Lots of us have plenty of money and will pay ANYTHING to get what we are 'told' is the best, though in this case it probably is.

Michael? I would trust him on ANY HiFi stuff, not just vinyl. Though I have VERY different views about high-priced cables than many, having spent all my working life in top quality electronics - computers, civilan an military aerospace, including satellites and probes. .