The Tri-Planar Ultimate 12” Tonearm

Photo: Wes Bender Photography

Photo: Wes Bender Photography

Tri-Planar has been producing some of the world’s finest tonearms for the past fifty years. The late Herb Papier, the founder of the company, introduced the original Wheaton Tri-Planar arm at the 1981 Consumer Electronics Show, but he had been making tonearms for some twenty years for family and friends. It is not surprising how many high-end audio manufacturers are musicians, and Herb was no exception—he expressed his love of music as a trumpet player—and he turned his talents as a precision watchmaker to the manufacturing of tonearms.

The name Tri-Planar is derived from Papier’s design goal of addressing the three planes of tonearm geometry—azimuth, vertical tracking angle (VTA), and vertical bearing at record height. The result of these efforts is a tonearm that is highly adjustable, with superior trackability and resolution. In 1989, the company was purchased by Tri Mai, the current owner and designer. Tri has continued the tradition of exquisite precision and build quality with the current Tri-Planar Ultimate Mk.VII. The new Ultimate 12-inch arm, or U-12, is the second completely new tonearm released in the company’s long history.

The advantages of a 12-inch arm are well known. The offset angle is less than that of a 9- or 10-inch arm; resulting in a significant (27 percent!) reduction of tracking error. This results in better trackability and lower inner grove distortion. The U-12’s arm tube is made of carbon fiber and outfitted with silver wire. All parts are rounded for better noise rejection. Even with its increased length, the U-12 is a medium-mass arm at 13 grams. The bearings are military spec, of a fixed-gimbal type that results in better arm stability and superior imaging. The purchaser has a choice of terminations. Price: USD$9,800.00.

I had an opportunity to hear the U-12 tonearm recently. The arm was mounted on the fantastic Redpoint Model MG turntable ($39,000) with the Transfiguration Proteus cartridge ($6,000). I was immediately struck by the arm’s rock-solid imaging and its wide soundstage, with images clearly fixed within the stage. One example was the excellent Speakers Corner reissue of Lou Reed’s Transformer (Speakers Corner / ALSP 4807). ‘Take A Walk On The Wild Side’ is a particular favorite. Not only were the images truly palpable, but the tonal solidity and textural detail of the vocals was astounding.

Chad Kassem has been producing very high quality reissues for a while now. His 45rpm reissue of Cannonball Adderley’s Something Else (Analogue Productions ABNJ 81595) is among the very best releases on his Analogue Productions / QRP label. Two cuts, ‘Autumn Leaves’ and ‘One For Daddy-O’, demonstrated the superior ability of the U-12 to resolve rhythm and pace. The Redpoint turntable is known for producing rock-solid bass, but the U-12 was able to take its bass performance to another level. Drum and upright bass lines were more clearly delineated, in fact the best that I have heard in this regard.

Analogue Productions’ pressing is Shelby Lynne’s ‘Just A Little Lovin’ (AAPP 041). This recording offers palpable presence like few others. The vocals are close miked, and can harden on some systems during the loud passages. Not here, though—there was a total lack of hardness or edge. The breathy textures were audible, but not overdone.

The Tri-Planar U-12 handled everything thrown at it with no sweat. It will allow you to extract the very best performance that your cartridge and turntable can produce.  The Tri-Planar Ultimate Mk VII is one of the world’s best 10-inch tonearms. As good as it is, the U-12 is better, and deserves to take its place as one of the best tonearms available today. Yes, it is expensive, but its jewel-like precision and build quality more than justify the purchase price. If you are in the market for a tonearm of this quality, and you have a turntable that is capable of utilizing this arm’s extraordinary sonic performance, you owe it to yourself to audition the Tri-Planar U-12.

Further information: Tri-Planar