The Phono System Chain

What Should I Purchase first?

by George Merrill

The audio system chain is comprised of individual components. Each one of these components adds to the final outcome of the chains flavor or thumb print in the form of detail, tonal balance, three dimension imaging and noise. Each component has what I call a “sonic personality”

  The component that  has the most pronounced sonic personality is the speaker. One of the reasons for the wide range of its sonic personality is that the speaker performs a triple transition of electrical to mechanical to acoustic energy. The speaker component will have the most influence on the final sonic personality of the system.  

 Electronic amplification  components ( phono stage, preamp and power amp) will have a major influence on the sonic personality.   The speaker and interconnect cables are components. Again these cables can and will render a large change in the sonic personality.

 The final component, the turntable system consists of three parts, the turntable, tonearm and cartridge. The cartridge turns mechanical energy (stylus movement ) into electrical energy. Cartridges vary in design, an example of these variations is in the different materials used in the cantilever (aluminum, boron, ruby, ect ). These variations in design have a major effect on shading the cartridge’s sonic personality.

 The turntable and the tonearm are the only pure mechanical parts to the whole system. The cutting lathe that produced the master is damped to the best possible degree to remove every trace of self generated energy and even to the point of it being mounted on a isolated concrete pad.  Allowing only the undulation from the cutting stylus to carve out the grooves in the master. During playback the stylus traces the undulations in the groove and transfers this movement to the cartridge electrical generator. The only movement the stylus should experience is the movement caused by the grooves. The turntable and the tonearm should add nothing in the way of energy reflections or noise to cloud this process. The turntable and tonearm should have NO sonic personality.

 An article called Thoughts on Turntable Design  will go into greater detail about design. The first components to purchase in your quest for sonic nirvana is a “Energy Management Design” turntable and tonearm. This is the start of the signal chain and is the heart. The right choice will allow the maximum performance from the  entire chain  The cartridge you choose can be a super performer or it can be of the get me started type which can be used as a backup as you move up. You are now on your way!                 

Always remember

“The Heart of the System is the Start of the System”

The master record cutting lathe moves in a stright line. Obviously the best method of recovering the groove information is to memic the lathe. A tangent tracking tonearm is expensive and extreamely fussy.

The reason older turntables (also todays less expensive) use 9 inch arms is: the overall size grows thus the cost and the turntable may not fit the average component rack.

The 12 inch radial arm is 3 inches longer than the 9 inch. This difference as shown in the diagram above (it may look like a small amount but when dealing in microns it is huge) relates to about 25% less tracking distortion. The longer the arm the shallower the arc.

One difference is the 12 inch arm's moment of inertia is slightly higher due to the extra length of the arm tube. But the arm tube is extremely light. The effective mass of the 12 inch is very close to the 9, the reason is effective mass is derived by a complicated equation that uses mass and inertia. If your turntable will accept a 12 inch arm the proformance difference will be very apparent. When you are ready to move to a 12 inch arm look at the PolyTable SUPER12 or the Merrill-Williams 101.3