Tonearm technology

DIY Pickup-arms

The Altmann Arm
As simple as a DIY tone arm design can get, the Altmann Arm is a slightly oddball unipivot wooden arm that looks like junk although it could be fabricated to look a bit better than the original authors example does, and since it only costs about € 5 to make, but works reasonably well it is probably the right place to start for those beginning their turntable & pickup-arm DIY adventure aspecially since this is a proper pickup-arm despite the looks, most other simple DIY arm designs are knife edge designs that use reclaimed bearings (video recorder heads etc.) and usually have problems with the counterwheight mechanism due to the knife edge.

The Ladegaard Arm
A pickup-arm that was designed by Paul Ladegaard in the early 90’s but built on experience gained from on older computer controlled design he had done in the 70's, but in the years beforehand Hr. Ladegaard had been doing research into the effects of mechanical resonances on the performance of turntables for Danish measurement equipment manufacturer Brüel & Kjær and became convinced that a tangential was the only solution to some of these problems.

The Ladegaard Arm was designed in response to the Kolibri Arm as a simple but effective arm that could be built on a kitchen table and it is really this that sets it apart not only from other tangential DIY arms but also from the more advanced pivoted DIY designs, is that it is simple enough for you to be able to make and assemble without requiring machining skill and equipment. This is mostly due to the basic air-bearing design itself that unlike round bearings as are most common on commercial air bearing arms uses a V shaped bearing which does not need to be cut or formed very precisely but still returns a very good performance.

There has built up a small community around this design including a couple of commercial arms like the Trans-Fi Audio Terminator tonenearm and a whole host of minor and major modifications to the original designs can be found by placing “ladegaard arm” into your favourite search engine, note though that not all mods shown on the net are an improvement and that you should reserve some judgement before jumping into anything. The link in the second paragraph above has most of the relevant info you need and if you can read Scandinavian and have access to a local library that participates in international inter-library loans or photocopying services you can find the original construction article in the Danish magazine High Fidelity, issue 6, 1991, pages 20 to 25.

Soundfontain Arm
Another knife edge unipivot design, unlike the bulk of those that are commonly found on the net the Soundfontain arm is a properly designed unit and performs to a reasonable standard. It is also not a design that is set in stone but rather gives you a certain freedom to do things as you want them to be done.

It is a bit time consuming to build and can be a bit on the expensive side for a DIY project, but in most cases you will be able to purchase a Rega, Pro-Ject or a Jelco derived arm that will perform as well or better for a similar outlay as the parts for this arm will cost you. However this unit has an unusual feature in that it is dynamically balanced much like a Dynavector arm is and this allows you to adjust the effective mass of the arm to a degree which can in turn help with older pick-ups that were designed with arms in mind that had a much higher effective tonearm mass than most current designs.

Bernhard Kistner’s IT-1
This was a very ambitious project to build a high performance tangential tonearm, it appears not to have been finished and there has nothing been heard from the author for over 5 years, so it appears dead for all intents and purposes but some of the pages make for an interesting read nonetheless. Page archive here.

Tonearm Cables

The following companies supply you with wires that are specially intended for use in rewiring pickup arms, with tonearm cables and/or with complete wiring harnesses. Most of those are fairly expensive specialised cables that are ideally suited for use in or with tonarms, them being of the right hardness, inductive and conductive characteristics, corrosion resistive and with a thin insulating layer. Pure silver is ideal for tonarm wire and cables which is not necessarily the case with normal interconnects. Plese note that there has been an explosion in the number of companies that offer pickup arm wire and cables in the lst few years to the list is now far from complete.

However if you rewiring your arm on the cheap you can uses any thin flexible solid or Litz wire that has a reasonably thin insulation, the problem there is that most of them that are sold in DIY and electrical shops are either too stiff or too soft with a very thick insulating layer (intended for probe like applications). Using either of those can lead to tiny but measurable changes in the resonance characteristics of the tonearm, so if you can afford to use a specialised cable buy one of them instead or ask your local electrical dealer for the softest wire he has.

If your budget is zero, try finding a discarded Logitech mouse, the quality requirements that the company asks of its subcontractors are much higher that what is normal in the computer business so the copper in their mouse cables are much better than the industry average, makes for a resonable tonarm wire, not ideal but close enough for 0€.

The rough amounts you need for rewiring are 1.4 metres for a standard 9" arm, 1.6 metres for a 12" and about 2M for a 16" one. It is normally recommended that you buy a little bit more so that you can experiment with it but on the more expensive cables the difference between 1.6 and 2 meters can be over 50 € so use your own discretion.

A tonearm wiring harness is basically all the cables and hardware you need going from the pickup on one end and ending up in either in an output on the turntable or in an input on the amplifier on the other end, a tonearm cable is what goes from your turntable to the amplifier, these sometimes are for all intents and purposes the same as other interconnects but in other instances use a DIN or other multi-pin plug on the turntable end so they can carry earth or balanced signal from the pickup, they are sometimes also of a lower impedance than a normal interconnect, while a tonearm wire is what is used inside the pickup-arm from the pickup to the output connector of the tunrntable.

Analog Tube Audio
Makes a pure silver tonearm wire that is not very expencive for such an item, at the least if you buy it direct, more info here.

Makes a pure silver wire that is very popular with certain audiophiles, but note that it is not made in Denmark but by Ortofon Japan so not all Ortofon distributors will stock it and it appears that it is not even a standard catalogue item. The Japanese division also makes pure silver interconnects that are ideal as tonearm cables. The main Ortofon company also makes available excellent quality tonearm wire and harnesses that are dirt cheap compared to most of the stuff out there but then again, not all distributors carry it. They also have a variety of cables and all the other stuff you need.

Van Den Hul
Has a variety of tonarm and headshell cable systems, considering how expensive the interconnects from the company are these are surprisingly cheap, well not "cheap" exactly, make that inexpensive.

Audio Note/Kondo
Makes the Kondo KSL which is made out of aged pure silver, a tonearm wire that is revered but scarily expensive.

Offers pure silver tonearm wire in a variety of lengths, expencive but of a very high quality, same grade of silver that they use in the coil windings of their most expencive pickups.

Nordost are now one of the better known suppliers of tonearm cables, thir product range is though priced to put a frown on your bank manages face, and a smile on theirs .... Kimber Kable is slightly cheaper but not much .... Audio Quest offers cables in the lower/mid price range and headshell wires as well but no tonearm wires .... Audio Note UK Ltd. ... Mundorf offers an unusual wire that is 99% silver and 1% gold some report exellent results with this wire for re-wireing arms, this is not a cheap option but not terribly expencive either .... Cardas offers tonarm cable and wire in addition to headshell cables ..... Sound West Analogue offers tonearm cables made out of silver Litz wire in in a variety of versions ....

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The site was last compiled on Sun Nov 10 2013 at 9:15:00am