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Thoughts and Observations on Tonearm Design

Analog vinyl is my favorite mode of sound reproduction. I liken it to an oil painting while a digital CD can be compared to a newspaper photo: the dots are very precise, but they can't "flow" like the brushstrokes on an oil painting. Hence, analog vinyl has, I think, a warmer sound. Others must agree, accounting for the increased sales of vinyl gear in recent years. Vinyl refuses to die.

Many years ago I bought a Thorens TD-124 and a high quality tonearm to go with it. They served me well for decades. Then, about six years ago, the tonearm wiring came apart and couldn't be repaired. Buying a new tonearm seemed to be the only solution. Never having looked for tonearms, I had no idea what to expect. Needless to say, I was shocked by the high prices and puzzled because a tonearm appeared to be a basic, straight-forward, simple instrument that should sell at a reasonable price. Why did all the arms look so complex? Were all those parts and pieces really necessary? Did they contribute to better performance? I found no answers.

Further investigation convinced me that designing and building a tonearm was, indeed, possible. I had never done this before but, as an industrial designer, I had spent a career designing or re-designing products I had little or no familiarity with or, in the case of a new invention, that no one had even seen. The first question was always the same: what is the desired end result? For a tonearm, the desired end result would allow the cartridge to move horizontally (swivel) and vertically (fulcrum) through the record with the least possible friction. Other things such as adjustable tracking force, adjustable azimuth, and VTA were necessary, but these were features, not functions.

What was it going to look like? I had no idea and, at this point, I really didn't care. What mattered was fulfilling the functions.

So I started work on a prototype.


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