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Directions in SPUs - Tonearms, advice sought, reflections on gear...

Discussion in 'classic' started by naimnut, Dec 22, 2021.

  1. naimnut

    naimnut Deep in the Mines of Soul

    I continue to be sorta fascinated by the idea of an SPU. Not sure why. I suppose it's the same reason I do anything in my system. My buddy said it well. He asked, "What's your favorite food?"

    Regardless of the answer he says the same thing - "Would you be willing to eat that for every meal for the next fifteen years?" So, no. Tweaks, different flavors, different approaches, tube-rolling. Seems to be what's its all about.

    First off, regarding tone-arm recommendations. There are some obvious choices. Seems like most of them tend to be expensive. Does that just go with the territory? Are the design characteristics of SPUs so unique that only a high mass arm like an Ortofon RS309, Groovemaster or Schick or FR-64 can reveal whatever sonic flavor the SPU can contribute?

    I have a Jelco 750L. Seems like the max cartridge weight it can take (with the heavy counterweight, which I have) is 22g. I see on one of the websites the Expressimo after market heavy counterweight. Brass, I think. They have multiple options for the "half moon" counterweight and will do custom weights on request. Would one of those be sufficient to adapt the Jelco for use with an SPU?

    Second question - A local shop has a used Ortofon RS309 (list ~$3,000 USD/used ~$1,500USD). How easy/hard is it to balance that arm? One of the things I love about the Jelco is the simplicity of the counterweight arrangement. It works great. I've also installed a custom VTAF so I can raise and lower the arm pillar very easily.

    'Nother question - I picked up a Shelter 901, which seems to be more beautiful in presentation than my Dynavector 17D3. In the generic black semi-teardrop headshell it gives me some a that vintage appearance that's so appealing on the G-style SPUs. I'm wondering if an SPU is sort of a side-step and a distraction. Unless maybe I step up to one of the more expensive models.

    Geez SPUs are expensive. Having NEVER heard one I can't help but wonder whether they're worth the hype. I mean, there are so many excellent cartridges out there at the relative price points. For instance, the Dynavector 10x5 in whatever the latest revision is. The Hana cartridges. The various other Ortofon options. The Ikeda cartridges. Many others. The EMTs, for instance.

    Yes, a better tonearm would make a big difference. I'm keeping my eye open for a Jelco 850, but I need a 12 inch version. There are other excellent options out there which would be both better, as a tonearm and allow for use of any of the other excellent cartridges out there, not just an SPU.

    So. SPU-users/lovers. Tell me what you think? I'm I wasting my time thinking about this? From what directions did you come to arrive at an SPU? Please feel free to share your advice and opinions. That's what I'm here for.

    Markus no longer really the Naimnut. More of a tube-guy nowadays.
     
  2. awl

    awl pfm Member

    I'm using a SPU #1 on a Jelco 850L / Garrard 301 and arm setup is super straightforward, no need for anything other than the standard counterweight. I bought the arm shortly before Jelco ceased trading. Sounds great to me, and looks good too.
     
    naimnut likes this.
  3. naimnut

    naimnut Deep in the Mines of Soul

    @awl Thanks so much for your response. It is much appreciated.
    How do you like the sound? What other carts have you used? And when you balance the arm are you able to get it to float at neutral before dialing in the tracking weight?
     
  4. daytona600

    daytona600 Registered User

    naimnut likes this.
  5. naimnut

    naimnut Deep in the Mines of Soul

  6. awl

    awl pfm Member

    I think so but can't actually remember. The only issue I think was that the tracking force markings on the counterweight don't go high enough for the standard SPU VTF.

    I've used the arm with an AT 33EV too which also worked well.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2021
    naimnut likes this.
  7. InSides

    InSides pfm Member

    Not at all. There is something romantic about SPUs which I cannot really explain. They are not the end-all-be-all of cartridge design, nor are revolutionary anymore (they may have been when first came up 60+ years ago). There are better cartridges than SPUs, but there are no other cartridges like SPUs (I really hope this makes sense outside my mind).

    If you are in a position to own one, I wholeheartedly recommend it. It is a very musical experience.

    I've been a Denon (DL-103) "whore" for most of my audiophile tenure. I've enjoyed higher end Ortofon's (Kontrapunkt), some Lyra's (AudioQuest branded) as well as EMT's, but my system would never be without a DL-103. As the traditional pairing is with transcription arms, I've gravitated towards 3009s, and then (SME) 3012s.

    And I figured, if I have an arm that is pretty much designed for it (SPU), why not try one? Luckily, it was about that time that Ortofon gave us blokes with cheaper tickets a lower cost option in the guise of #1. Apparently, it is pretty much the Classic, except it uses bonded styli as opposed to nude ones. It was (is) a welcome opportunity by Ortofon to bring the SPU magic for a fraction of the cost.

    To get your feet wet, I would say try the #1. It is an excellent entry, and for some, the final solution. I still very much enjoy mine. It cannot be said it is a detailed cartridge, but it is a musical one, so it has that going for it.

    As far as higher end SPUs, I am kind of on the ledge about them. Almost all SPUs in the current lineup rely on spherical or elliptical styli which kind of is part of their magic. I listened extensively to a SPU Royal (not in my system) but I ultimately chose an EMT over it. Still feel like the Classic E (elliptical) is a great value for a typical SPU. Or even better, the #1, if you are not a "nude stylus" snob (I seem to be turning into one slowly).
     
    montesquieu and naimnut like this.
  8. naimnut

    naimnut Deep in the Mines of Soul

    @InSides
    Thanks man. I enjoyed reading your perspective and thanks for the encouragement.
     
  9. InSides

    InSides pfm Member

    Speak nothing of it. There is a local saying that says, very roughly translated, "if you are in a hole (spending hole), take the chance and pull someone else in".

    But joking aside, any SPU would be a very enjoyable experience, provided you have the system to support it - this means an appropriate arm, and a suitable headamp / SUT. Most of them linger between 0.18mV and 0.5mV, although the mono SPUs (*) tend to be a bit hotter at 3mV.

    I thought I should also elaborate why an elliptical stylus and not the spherical. The most traditional one is, of course, harboring a spherical (conical) stylus. They even made the ultimate traditional expression in the guise of SPU Wood A with a spherical stylus. But I do believe that the elliptical helps bring out a bit more detail, and the difference in price (when both are offered) is miniscule.

    Additionally, to me, elliptical made sense due to the fact I felt I have the ultimate expression of a traditional spherical design in the guise of the DL-A110 (DL-103 110th anniversary edition), and I thought a bit more variety would be beneficial. YRMV.

    (*) I always get a bit peeved when I use the words "SPU" and "mono" together - the "S" does stand for "stereo". :)
     
    naimnut likes this.
  10. andvinylly

    andvinylly hit that long lunar note

    ]From what directions did you come to arrive at an SPU?[/QUOTE]

    I acquired a Garrard 401 a couple of years ago, as I had always loved its looks, and wanted to hear one for myself.It came fitted with an old Ortofon SMG 212,which looked the part,classic if you like, but practically useless unless you use an SPU on the end of its it has no anti-skate,and is laterally balanced for SPU cartridges, so I took the chance and bought an SPU GME mk 2,and I'm really glad I did,is it detailed no,is it extended at the frequency extremes no,does it sound good yes, very good,its focus is the midrange, where most music is made, and it allows a cohesion, that many cartridges try to tease apart,sometimes not for the better.

    Another caveat you may need to consider,is that not all phono stages match SPU's particularly well,so I have had to invest in an SUT,to feed mine into the MM input, but again, its been worth it

    I'll be looking into a 12" arm in the future, and one that can accept both an SPU and more conventional cartridges, something like a Jelco,or a Bokrand,which both seem affordable

    Hi Fi is more a journey, than a destination sometimes, best of luck
     
    Darmok and naimnut like this.
  11. naimnut

    naimnut Deep in the Mines of Soul

    @InSides @andvinylly Thank you gentlemen, for continuing to contribute your thoughts and encouragement to spend money I should not spend on a cartridge I should not need. It is much appreciated.

    Regarding a step-up-transformer. My Supratek Cortese with LCR phono has so much gain (and is extremely quiet) that I will not need an SUT. (I do not care for that acronym, but wanted to spare myself the need to type step up transformer again. I've failed at that. But feel some satisfaction that I've explained myself.)

    A good friend whose ears I trust, from whom I purchased my used Shelter 901, has advised that, IHHO the 901 is a more sophisticated and refined cartridge than any SPU he's heard. He's at least heard them. I haven't. He does say the SPUs are lovely cartridges and are classics for a reason.

    Now for a question(s) regarding these Ortofon and SME arms. 1. How easy or hard is it to tweak the height of the arm pillar? I've invested in a VTAF for my Jelco 750L and can adjust it easily, even while a record is playing. Hard to imagine letting go of this capability. 2. How about adjusting tracking weight? I appreciate that the Jelco weight has the handy "dial" feature and I've found it pretty accurate for setting the weight. 3. If you were going to buy an SPU-specific tonearm, would you go with A) an Ortofon RS309, B) 12"groovemaster or C) Thomas Schick? Or would you simply continue on with the Jelco 750L? I'd love to find an 12" Jelco 850 but they're hard to find.

    @InSides - who is your Avatar a picture of? You? or some sax player I should recognize...
     
  12. InSides

    InSides pfm Member

    I may agree with that statement. Several of us have concurred that the SPUs are not the champions of resolution. But it hardly matters in the long run.

    This is precisely why I designed and machined a VTA/SRA-on-the-fly adapter for SME cutout arms. You can see the details here:

    https://pinkfishmedia.net/forum/thr...-build-a-turntable.241635/page-6#post-4412363

    I can provide you with drawings / models so you can either have it 3D printed, machined or machine it yourself if you have the capability to do so. Having lived with several SME 3012, I've lost any will to search and live with any other tonearm.

    Also, since you mention you have bought the Jelco VTAF, I remember the author of that device also makes one for the Groovemaster. So you have that option with the Groovemaster as well.

    More cumbersome than with the Jelco but a simple tracking force gauge fixes any and all issues.

    Either of the three options would be lovely.

    Note that (as I wrote above) for the Groovemaster you already have a working solution that you can purchase for VTA-on-the-fly, and I believe that you can also have a custom version made for the Schick tonearm by the same producer as the Jelco one - it may just be the case of a different pillar diameter.

    I wish it was me. Alas, it is Roscoe Mitchell, a key figure in avant-garde jazz, and the founder of both the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and more importantly, the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
     
  13. montesquieu

    montesquieu pfm Member

    I've had a lot of experience with SPUs over the last what, 13-14 years - I've had just about all of the mainstream ones and one or two special editions.

    My main advice would be to try and hear one before you splash any cash, just to be sure you like what you hear. From cheap models to expensive, they all have a big, bold, energetic quality which can be quite addictive, but no matter how far up the price list you, an SPU will quite never satisfy someone whose ears prefer the detail and neturality of, say, a Lyra or even a top AT. A Shelter 901 is a reasonable compromise between both positions. Miajima, by contrast, takes the SPU sound and adds something more refined.

    I don't own any SPUs at the moment. The last two I sold are the SPU Century - the ultimate SPU, its titanium body making it the most solid, most detailed, unequivocally the most grown up and audiophile-performing of all of them, while retaining its SPU gestalt - and a vintage, alnico-magnet SPU G with a standard conical stylus profile, probably the most characteristic and 'typical' SPU sound - the elliptical version merely adds a bit more detail. All the others slot in somewhere between. One of my current cartridges, a MySonicLab Hyper Eminent, has all of the SPU's bounce and musicality, but also all the detail of a Lyra, it comes with a hefty price tag though; this is similar also to my Miyajima Madake. Both make owning an SPU superfluous, but there's no question who their daddy is.

    If buying new, be careful - Ortofon quality control isn't what it was and there are widespread reports of suspension failures in just a few weeks, particularly of the cheapest ones, the SPU#1S and SPE#1E, and of the SPU A Wood.

    On tonearms, SPU will work fine on a Jelco if you have the correct counterweight (have a chat with Hugo at Ammonite Audio who I would say is about the closest person the UK has to an SPU specialist). A heavier arm is better - a Groovemaster/Timestep is probably the best value for money out there at the moment. I had great results with SME M2-12R (and have heard similar good match with the M2-9R) also the old SME 3012 (this is probably the classic SPU combo) and with a Schick 12in arm which I also had for a bit - haven't heard the shorter Schick arms. Also with Ortofon RMG 309i (a vintage, 12in japanese-made arm), and with Fidelity Research, Ikeda and Glanz tonearms (I have a pair of Glanz, 12 and 10in, at the moment and previously has a 9 and 12in pair of Ikedas). Out of the lot, for 9in I'd go FR, Ikeda or Glanz, for 12in I'd go 3012, Ikeda or Glanz.

    The RS309 by contrast is, as I understand it (happy to be corrected) made or at least was formerly made for Ortofon by Jelco, which of course are now defunct - I personally would not take a punt on it unless at well below dealer asking price - I'd stick with a Jelco. Also note that a Jelco can be considerably upgraded by fettling the bearing or having it replaced with high-quality ceramic bearings, and rewired, though of course it's always going to have less mass for SPU purposes than some of the dedicated high-mass alternatives mentioned.

    I won't labour the points made by others on system matching but they are spot on: most (though not quite all) SPUs are low output and low impedance, and generally like a high-ratio step-up transformer into a MM phono stage (at least one of Ortofon's own dedicated step-up transformers runs a ratio of 1:86, though most SPUs will work fine as low as 1:30-1:40 depending on gain levels elsewhere in the setup) - don't expect simply to plug it into a bog standard MC phono stage without adjustment and get top results. A poor gain/impedance match will result in a flaccid, 'meh' sort of noise that defeats the whole exercise.
     
  14. Hook

    Hook Blackbeard's former bo'sun.

    Came to SPUs just a few years ago. Refurbed a Thorens TD-124 Mk. 1 with Ortofon RMG-212 (circa 1958). Added a Royal GM Mk II, and have been very pleased.

    [​IMG]

    Listening now to Gerald Wilson’s “Moment of Truth” (1962), a wonderful mono recording.
     
    Nagraboy and Johnjo like this.
  15. Nagraboy

    Nagraboy How’d all these people get in my room?

    I’m keen to try an SPU (a G-type or maybe the Wood A) too, but it seems so difficult to find an off-the-shelf turntable & arm to use one with. It seems like a good knowledge of DIY and turntable/arm/cart setup skills is required too - which I don’t possess! Shame there’s no dealer who specialises in getting things like this sorted for customers.

    From what I’ve looked at lately, it seems there are possibly a few options that look relatively simple to use:

    The SME Model 6 ‘Classic’ version comes fitted with the M2-9R. Shame they don’t make a stretched version fitted with the M2-12R. The deck itself looks a bit underwhelming in photos but is probably nicer up close. The benefit is that you get the M2-9R arm which I’ve read works well with SPUs:

    [​IMG]



    The new Thorens TD-1500 DD (£1999) has direct drive and what looks a lot like a new version of the EMT 929 (or a similar Thorens design). There’s also a cheaper Thorens TD-403 with the same arm. Looks like they’d be able to take an SPU:

    [​IMG]

    There’s also the Thorens TD 124 DD which you can buy with a special SPU 124 cart. The £8000 (w/o cart) price seems pretty ridiculous though.

    [​IMG]
     
  16. montesquieu

    montesquieu pfm Member

    I've heard the M2-9R with several SPUs (fitted on an original TD124 MkII), sounded very nice but you do need the heavy counterweight.

    I saw the TD124 DD at Munich 2019 (the last time it was held) and wasn't impressed, it's not a patch on the original for quality feel (including the arm which seemed to me to be a bit of a throwback, not really on a part with other modern arms), though they weren't demoing it anywhere at that point, it was just on a static display. Be interested to compare the sound between idler and DD versions though I doubt Thorens would be very keen on the answer that emerged!

    If I were going DD for SPU, I'd get a new Technics and stick a better arm on, Hugo at Ammonite has a 1200GR with a Glanz 9in and it's perfection (and he often runs it with an SPU).
     
  17. Nagraboy

    Nagraboy How’d all these people get in my room?

    Interesting Tom. I’ve actually got a 1200G here which I bought new last year. I’ll have another look at Hugo’s website to see if he still has the Glanz arm.

    * Just had a look at the MH-9B arm but it says it takes carts from 11-28g inc headshell so according to this it seems like it’s not able to take an SPU.
     
  18. montesquieu

    montesquieu pfm Member

    I have the 10in and 12in Glanz arms myself on my TD124. I know someone not far from you in Northampton running an SPU Synergy on the 10in Glanz.

    SPU G on 12in Glanz:

    [​IMG]
     
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  19. naimnut

    naimnut Deep in the Mines of Soul

    Just so's you know, I'm listening to and participating in this discussion on two levels. At least two levels. To keep it simple I'll describe these as the high-priced and the low/mid-priced options. The Glanz arms look very nice and I'm sure they're superb. But the price! Holy criminetly! I doubt that I'll be able to afford one any time soon.

    My dear, departed mother used to say something like, "any problem can be solved if you throw enough money at it. But what's the fun in that? Finding a way to do it without spending a lot of money - that's the fun part." Hence my interest in non-expensive/used/innovative approaches. More and more these days I find myself intrigued by what the DIY and boutique-builder communities are doing. I don't fancy myself as a DIY-er but I enjoy looking at pictures and reading accounts of those who have those skills. Yes, I appreciate that my system is a bit of a contradiction in terms, since I'm running JBLs and Quads, and neither of them could be considered boutique or DIY. I think either the Schick or the Groovemaster could eventually be possible, and I think they look very cool, which is a big part of why I like the whole SPU thing. It looks cool and retro. There, I've said it. Does that make me shallow? I suppose. I don't care. I still am intrigued by the SPU "thing". N' one a' these days I'm gonna' be able to hear one.
     
  20. Nagraboy

    Nagraboy How’d all these people get in my room?

    @montesquieu

    Very nice setup there. Those Glanz arms are now £6995 each, I see.

    Hugo does an armboard for the 1200G that would take one of those arms but I think it’s a bit too pricey for me!
     

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