AOM Logo October 1997


The LP Lab Carbon Fibre Armtube
Blair Roger reports on an upgrade for the Well-Tempered Tonearm


Blair Roger

Simplicity appeals to me. I like simple answers to complicated problems because simplicity is elegant. About eight or nine years ago I read a review in a print audio journal of a very unconventional arm and turntable combination. It was the Well-Tempered Turntable and Tonearm and, of course, I was fascinated by the simplicity of the design. I was convinced that I had to have one, if for no other reason than to see that freaky paddle-floating-in-silicone-goop arm bearing.

The way I figured it, the platter and arm bearings would never wear out. Sure, I'd have to stock up on drive belts and have a spare bottle of silicone wonder-honey handy (hey, STP works too!) but with any luck I'd be teaching my grandchildren how to set the azimuth on this unit, even without a 'scope.

The Negatives
Nothing is perfect, not even William Firebaugh's Well-Tempered designs. From an engineering perspective, he got it right on the money. It spins records without a rumble or a flutter, day in, day out, around and around with no hokey power supply or line conditioner. Pretty boring. Well try listening to a Luxman direct-drive PD 121 with rosewood plinth when the stylus has some heavy sledding to do for a taste of my idea of audio hell! And the arm? Well it just goes about its best supporting actor role, tracking anything that comes its way with eerie composure.

So what did Firebaugh get wrong? The materials specification. After about six months of aural bliss you start to itch. And its an itch that's hard to find, but it's there, somewhere in back of the synapses that connect to the fine hair cells of your inner ear.

The thing is hot! Yeah, that's it! Its got this simmering pot-lid edge that hisses and fizzes and starts to drive you mad. Maybe new cables? Nope. VTA, that's it! Nope, sorry bud. Ah-haaah! Tracking force! This is getting outta hand...sigh.

The LP Lab Carbon Fibre Armtube

The Answer
Lucky for you, Oh-Addicted-One, an amiable fellow in California by the name of Lary Pedersen realized the armtube was made of the wrong material. Steel bad, carbon fibre good. Especially because carbon fibre is half the weight of aluminum and has twice the tensile strength of steel. Think about it. Less resonance means more music.

So while he was at it, Lary whipped up a proper two-bolt mounting, machined aluminum headshell, did some good things at the counterweight end of things and decided (what a guy!) to hardwire the cartridge clips right through to a neatly finished pair of interconnects that plug directly into your phono jacks. Wire choice is yours - Discovery copper (my pick) or van den Hul silver at extra cost.

Associated Components

Analogue: Lyra Lydian cartridge, Well-Tempered Turntable with black damped platter, Well-Tempered Tonearm
Preamplifier: Audio Research SP9 Mk.II with Seimens gold pin 6922 in phono section
Power Amplifiers:Amplifier: Sonic Frontiers SFS-50 with factory KT99a tubes and Seimens gold pin 6922s in the input stage
Loudspeakers: Martin-Logan Sequel II, Edison Price music posts
Cables: Discovery 32 awg phono leads; Kimber PBJ; Purist Audio Design Aqueous bi-wire speaker cables
Accessories: VPI 16.5 record cleaning machine; Torumat cleaning fluid; Benz-Aesthetix MC cartridge demagnetizer

Messy Issues
I didn't think I could stomach handling the silicone-coated arm bearing. I would have to do this if I wanted to change the arm tubes. But obsessive-compulsives like us will do almost anything for better sound, so I put my slime phobia behind me and did some West Coast pre-visualizing while I read the directions over and over. I visualized a sleek, black, slightly fat armtube suspended from those two little threads of fishline and me groovin' to the new sounds, exhausted but satisfied. I also thought of the status I would gain with my Japanese audio dudes being able to describe my turntable as toku betsu mi kaiso sh'ta (specially modified, like a special attack force).

If you want to go for it here's what to do. Think zen. Be patient. Remove the cartridge from the old, shiny steel armtube after installing the stylus guard. Set it aside. Lift the paddle/bearing out of the silicone fluid (NOT BY THE FISHLINE, OK?) and tilting it to the side, wire it to the gantry arms and let it drip into the bearing cup for at least twenty-four hours. After that, you just need some rubbing alcohol to wipe off any excess silicone fluid which will almost certainly be on your fingers by now. That's the worst of it. Well, not quite.

At the critical last moment of re-assembly you will have to call your wife to help you. She will deftly line everything up while you tighten that last allen head screw. Thank her profusely. As Dale Carnegie said: "Be lavish in your praise and hearty in your approbation." She just saved your bacon and might not even ask what the thing cost. Tell her the equivalent would be a Graham 2.0 at $2000+; and it's true. Or mumble something about Wilson Benesch and roll your eyes upward to the right.

The Sound
The first time I dropped my Lyra Lydian into the lead-in grooves of the blueback Campoli/Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (London FFSS CS 6011) I thought I'd lost the top octave of my hearing. It scared me, honestly. No noise, no vinyl roar. And then the music started: what a jaw-dropper. Truth to timbre is what this carbon arm is all about. Campoli's technicolor violin sang above the orchestra: all wood and gut and varnish and rosin, as real in timbre as it ever could be.

And there's more. Timbre and timing. Throw on the ultimate test of classical swing, The Royal Ballet Gala (Classic's Reissue LDS 6065). After you get over the freshly revealed sweetness of the strings and woodwinds and the suddenly powerful, rich foundation of the bass contingent, you begin to feel the pulse of the music and the superb ensemble playing that was The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden under Ansermet's baton. For the first time, with this new carbon arm, you sense that the musicians are playing all together, tight, on the beat. And listen for that breath they all take together at the very end of Pantalon et Columbine on side three!

Want some great blowin'? Spin Kenny Dorham at the Cafe Bohemia (Blue Note BLP 1524 - Toshiba EMI [mono]) and time warp back to 1955 with this underrated trumpeter. Luxuriate in the ambiance of the club while Kenny and his brilliant side men, J.R. Montrose, tenor, Kenny Burrell, guitar, Bobby Timmons, piano, Sam Jones, bass and Arthur Edgehill, drums, lay down a passionate riff on 'A Night in Tunisia'. Yes, mono has depth too.

Conclusion
All the fiery resonances are gone, especially that one smack in the middle of the midrange. Everything flows effortlessly from the speakers. The highs are sweet, the bass powerful and the soundstage wider and deeper. The background can be dead quiet on many, many pressings. Clicks and pops are reduced to raindrops on leaves.

OK. I admit to being biased, after all, I'm not borrowing this gear. I bought it. And why? Because it brings me closer to the moment of musical creation and that's why I'm keeping it. And then there's the simplicity of it all, like a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth or a triode amp schematic.

If you've got a Well-Tempered Turntable and you don't pop for this armtube, you're not hearing all that this unique design has to offer. The LP Lab's carbon fibre armtube transforms the Well-Tempered Turntable into an entirely new one - a vastly better one.

Carbon Fibre Armtube for Well Tempered Tonearm
Manufactured by The LP Lab
208 Pepperwood Street, Hercules, CA, 94547
phone: (510) 799-3858, e-mail: breeze3@flash.net
Price: US$395 (money back guarantee; tools and telephone support included)
Source of review sample: Reviewer purchase
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