"Listen" to SAT's Original Pickup Arm And Compare It to the new LM-09 and CF1-09

In a July 2nd story, we announced four new costly arms from SAT(Swedish Analog Technologies): two models each available in 9" and 12" versions. The least expensive of the four, the LM-09 was reviewed in the just shipped October, 2018 Stereophile (photo is of CF1-09 on left, and LM-09 on the right).

In the review I wrote that files would be posted on AnalogPlanet that would allow you to compare the LM-09 ($25,400) with the original SAT arm, which by the time it went out of production after a run of more than 70 units sold, cost more than $30,000. I wrote in the review that much to my surprise I thought the new less costly arm outperformed the original.

Now I've had a chance to spend time with and review the more expensive CF1-09 ($48,000). I know some of you probably think this is just the craziest, stupidest pricing you've ever heard of, without understanding what's involved in the design and manufacturing of these limited edition products (etc.). I can't argue with you other than to write that the people who bought the original arm—at least the ones I've heard from—all thanked me for helping to convince them to buy the original arm (I bought my review sample at a reviewer discount but it was still well into five figures).

Without giving away the as yet unpublished review of the CF1-09, I've decided to post here the same record three times. It's a 96/24 transfer of the title track to Davy Spillane's album Atlantic Bridge (TARA 3019) that I really wish someone would reissue. It features Bela Fleck on 5 string banjo and Jerry Douglas on Dobro, plus other well known Irish musicians. Spillane plays Ulleann pipes. The track depicts the connection between Irish music and American folk and Bluegrass and how Irish music and musicians who emigrated to America helped bring that about.

Here are three files, all recorded using Ortofon's Century MC cartridge reviewed in last month's Stereophile, the 3 SAT arms (original, LM and CF) all mounted on the Continuum Caliburn turntable and the CH Precision P1/X1 phono preamplifier. The A/D converter was the Lynx HiLo, an excellent pro-audio piece. If you are listening on computer speaker level gear, I'm not sure you'll hear much of a difference but even with that stuff these files should sound incredible. Not saying which file is which arm.

I hope you enjoy the tune! And the sound. Though the files are labeled "1", "2", and "3", that does't mean "1" is the original and "3" is the most costly, though that might be the track order!

There's a fourth and fifth file too: the fourth is the same track using the same Ortofon cartridge but on turntable "X" and arm "X"—good products but I think you'll heard a big difference between that file and the other three. There's also a recording of The Lovin' Spoonful's song "Full Measure" from Hums of The Lovin' Spoonful, which was engineered by Roy Halee. That was transferred using the CF-1 with the Lyra Atlas SL cartridge. It's the final track on the side, proving that 9" is all you need (when it comes to arms, otherwise it's way more than needed).

File "1"

File "2"

File "3"

File "4"

File "5"

COMMENTS
volvic's picture

Listening at work through my PSB headphones on a Win machine I can hear no noticeable difference between tracks 1-3. Will try tonight on my ipad.

Michael Fremer's picture
Nailed it. Identified which was which and chacterized file 4 as I too heard it. He used his iPad speaker so maybe tonight you will fare better!
volvic's picture

Clearly, I don't have Malachi's golden ears but I preferred the first one, there was just more of everything; fuller. I thought track 2 was the weakest and track three was better than two albeit not as good as one. As for the fourth, it was a distant second (or fourth?) There was just not enough there and found my concentration wandering a bit. Say turntable X isn't the latest Technics is it?

Ohjoy50's picture

Thank you for posting. I am anxious to know which is which but the first file is the clear winner for me. Much more detail. I heard the original arm last year and was shocked how good it is. People need to get over the prices of equipment and just except it for what it is. Yet people can justify the prices of Ferrari's and exotic cars and never complain. They dont understand the costs and time it take to make state of the art audio equipment.

saronian's picture

The only thing wrong with making exclusive products, at such high prices, is I'm not part of the small customer base. Still appreciate getting a chance to compare the sound.

yuckysamson's picture

Mikey,

Thanks for posting these.

I'm actually quite surprised at the differences. Track 1 seems to have (not literally, but in some ways) twice the information as Track 2. At least it seems on several listens through a decent computer set-up.

I went back n' forth until listening fatigue set-in, but as far as I can figured tracks 1&3 are the closer pair and track 2 is the clear winner with a massive dynamic range and just greater sense of presence, realism, and just flushing out more of the music.

Between 1&3 I'd give the edge to 3.

My guess is that it's:

1 - Original SAT
2 - CF
3 - LF

But that's all just a guess. If I'm dead wrong about #2 then I just saved myself $25k in fantasy dollars I'd never have to spend anyway!

Best,

Glickman

yuckysamson's picture

Sorry I believe I mixed up 1&2 in the final numbering.

isaacrivera's picture

Prefer track #1 followed closely by track #3.

annalog's picture

I couldn’t detect any difference between the for tracks. Strange enough, having had to convert aiff to flac the resulting format is now 16/96. Most strange.

BillK's picture

It's amazing how on arm X/table X the transients are noticeably softer and less immediate than on tracks 1-3. It's not at all subtle if you're listening for it.

JanS's picture

Great sounding Ortofon!
Does track 3 have a slightly lower noise floor, or am i just dreaming this.
Tracks 3 and 1 did it for me, but 1/2/3 do have a similar signature sound for me.
Great tracks btw...

CG's picture

First, it's really amazing how turntable playback keeps improving. New materials, better manufacturing, and the advances in computer aided design really help. How far can this go?

Second is a little bit wider.

Mikey converts these tracks into digital format through a relatively modest analog-to-digital converter. Certainly, it's something that every real studio in business to make money could afford to use. There's probably even better units out there, too.

Even after this conversion, the differences between tracks can be heard even through modest digital playback gear. (I listened just now with a Dragonfly Red and some Emotiva powered desktop speakers. Hardly state of the art)

That suggests that maybe "digital" isn't so bad, after all.

So, what's the deal?

I'm thinking that in the process between the the microphones and my iMac, there's something bad going on. Whether it's crappy mixing and editing through software, bad analog-to-digital conversion, or whatever, something quite different is taking place than with Mikey's set-up.

Here's my conclusion.

All the best recording quality was done in the analog era. The reason why is out of our control. The real archive is vinyl. Even tape deteriorates over time.

Christian Goergen's picture

Iphone 6s and JBL E50BT, connected with a tiny cable:
1) most natural clicks and pops
2) no difference I would pay for
3) slight shift to the right channel?
4) 50 hz hum

Under the conditions mentioned above Amazon Unlimited Stream of the song isn't worse.

Christian Goergen's picture

How much time did you spent to change the arms and cartridges and record the result. At least 5 hours I estimate. Thanks.

ashandger's picture

Michael, many thanks for all the effort you have put into preparing these files. Very interesting comparison indeed. Have this great album as well.

Chris F's picture

3rd place 2
2nd place 3 (brings better bass than 2)
1st place 1 (keeps the good bass and adds better mids/texture solidity)

Using cheap laptop DAC with good IEM. Order might change with better gear but I doubt it there is a decent gap between 2nd and 1st IMO.

The pricing is still stupid and IMO is set at what a very small subset in Asia are willing to pay with plenty of margin left for the dealer to knock of 10 or 20%....

Elubow's picture

I agree. Michael Fremer’s comment “. I know some of you probably think this is just the craziest, stupidest pricing you've ever heard of, without understanding what's involved in the design and manufacturing of these limited edition products” certainly rings a bell for me. Sorry, but even considering design and manufacturing costs, I have trouble believing he still wouldn’t make a hefty profit if his prices were $10,000 less. How do other well-known tone arm manufacturers survive at prices a fraction of what these cost? Clearly these tone arms are designed to sell to a very limited and wealthy group of audiophiles.

And where’s the limit as far as pricing here? How about $50,000? $75,000? Fremer’s comment would still apply, wouldn’t it? Ultimately, the only true arbiter of a fair price is the consumer. If the buyers are happy and the tone arms sell well, what can one say? I guess a “ripoff” to some may be a “bargain” to others.

nagysaudio's picture

is the best by a good margin IMO. Track 3 would be my second favorite. That Ortofon has to be the best MC cartridge that I have ever heard and I'm not even an MC fan.

nagysaudio's picture

the Lyra.

MrGneiss's picture

I liked the bass of #2, especially at the beginning of the track, but I think I liked the last few minutes of 1 and 3 better. No idea which arm is which, but I know I love that track and need to get that record!! :-D

Bobfitz1's picture

Michael,

I want to take a minute to thank you for introducing me to Atlantic Bridge with your 24/96 download.

Less than a minute after starting it on my rig, without any thought about trying to describe the sound, the thought “this dances!” popped in my head. I think it would be hard to come up with two words that could sum it up better.

No doubt you enjoy AB playing on your analog system over even this fine digital high res copy.
May I ask what CD player or transport/DAC you use when you play your digital high res files?
I would imagine they are high performing choices but perhaps not in the very top price range for
digital gear.

Since you enjoy Irish instrumentals and music (updated from traditional) I recommend checking out
the group ‘Flook’ if you have not listening to their music. The musicianship of Brian Finnegan on Irish
whistles and flutes and Sarah Allen on flutes and accordion is pretty stunning.
Floor’s two best albums are titled ‘Haven’ and ‘Rubai’. Finnegan’s solo album ‘Ravishing Beauty of Bones’ is likewise exceptional.

Best regards,

Bob Fitzgerald
Ludlow, Vermont

P.S.
I’ve always strived to assemble the best sounding system I could for the price point I could afford. The past 10+ years that goal has been helped greatly by Ric Schultz (tweak audio.com) Ric upgrades players and DACs in myriad ways based on his years of experience and countless hours listening. His customers who have serious money invested in very high end DACs report that Ric’s modded Oppo UDP-205 outperforms some high end DACs which cost 3 - 5 times his modded Oppo.

ashandger's picture

For those who are enjoying this music, I would suggest trying Moving Hearts album Storm. The opening track "Lark" which is 13 mins long is worth the money alone. I suspect it will sound spectacular on Michael's system.

Lincoln Matt's picture

This was very interesting. #1 and #3 sound most alike. #2 had much more bass and more dobro harmonics, so I'm going to say that is the CF1-09. #1 was slightly better than #3 so it must be the LM-09. Leaving #3 to be the Original SAT arm.

The first three have it all over #4. It is just lacking detail and focus.

Chatham7's picture

I think track one is clearly the best, followed by track three.
Track two is quite a long way behind!
So, I presume the order is:

1: CF1
2: original SAT
3: LM

I listened to all tracks on my ipad only.

shawnwes's picture

Track 1 by a mile
Track 3 is the runner up
Track 2 had boomy bass

Are you able to upload something we'd all be familiar with and many of us would have? Legacy version of Kind of Blue for instance or perhaps something from the OJC version of Sunday at the Village Vanguard? Then we could compare our own rigs with the high priced spread.

lgoldman's picture

I hear #1 as simply more air, definition, perhaps because of that slightly steely on high notes. As per other comments #3 is close but overall smoother, less etched and for many less 'tiring' (think tube vs transistor. #2 less defined overall. Heard via macbook air.

yeti's picture

I used Airplay to send the tracks to a Naim ND555 from my ipad, I’m fairly new to streaming and don’t know if the stream still goes through the pad or if it’s switched directly to the 555, I suspect the former. Of the 3 versions the 3rd had me more involved and the music seemed more expressve. The other two had elements that stood out more but whole was the less for it.

Karlos5000's picture

Using Roon on my iMac to play the files through an Audioquest Dragonfly Red, Schiit Lyr2 to Hifiman HE-560.
Track 1. Best leading edge attach and metal quality to the strings. Best instrumental separation. My favorite.
Track 2. Very very good but not quite as dynamic as track 1 or 3. Mellower.
Track 3. Second favorite. Like track 3 but just a little less of everything.

Thanks for posting!

I love the Lyra track too!

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