"What a refreshingly honest blog about listening to music through hi-fi. So happy to see views based upon the enjoyment of music rather than so-called sound 'quality'." - Peter Comeau, Director of Acoustic Design at Mission / Wharfedale

Monday 18 August 2014

Musings Goes Analogue Part 3 - RD11s Build

See Part 1 here
Part 2 here

Having had some experience messing about with set up several times on a Thorens TD160BC MkII with different arms and platter mats (very successfully), and with an LP12 (not so successfully - got it close but ended up at a Linn dealer for a full service and set up), I approached the RD11s reasonably confidently, but also in the knowledge that if set up was a problem I'd just do a bit more research and then go back to it.  This is a project for fun and experience building, not as a serious source for my system.

So here's the starting point, a several decades old plinth, suspension and motor unit, sourced through the classifieds at hifiwigwam.com:

Starting point - an Ariston Audio RD11s

Sitting on the workbench in the garage, I started by giving it a quick clean, which wasn't too hard as its in such great condition and came packed with copious amounts of bubble wrap and with the bearing plugged, inner platter and main platter removed, as it should be.

The underside of the deck has no base plate - its lost this somewhere in its no doubt long and varied life.  Still, I think this could be a good thing on 2 counts - first it means easy access to all the relevant suspension adjustment options, secondly, because it is no longer effectively a box, there should be less chance of resonances building up inside which may affect the sound quality.

First was to check the alignment and fitment of the newly arrived soundsupports.com SME to Rega armboard adapter.

Armboard adapter offered up to the existing SME mount

ISOkinetic (Rega) RB202 tonearm, unpacked from its box. Note the low cost "captive" arm lead to carry the signal to the pre-amp
The RB202 is reasonably well made - its very recognisably part of the Rega RB250 family.  The arm tube is nicely cast, the bearings are super smooth with no discernable play and the cueing mechanism is smoothly damped and feels much more expensive than some I've used.  Looks like the main compromises to save money are the plastic moulded thread counterweight mounting and the basic looking captive signal output lead, which looks to be no better than the kind of freebie interconnects you tend to get inside Japanese hifi component boxes.

Armboard fitted to the three-point mounting with countersunk bolts
In order to reduce stress on the tonearm bearings, once the armboard was mounted to the arm, the cartridge was unpacked and installed to the arm, with the mounting bolts only tightened enough to hold the cartridge in roughly the right place.  The stylus guard and stylus were removed prior to fitting the cartridge body to the arm.  The bolts that came with the cartridge were used for this - they're metal, unlike some budget cartridges that come with very flimsy plastic bolts.  The signal cables were connected too, using the correct colour matching of each cable to the each pin on the back of the cart.

Unboxing the Goldring Elektra Cartridge
Stylus removed from cartridge body prior to mounting

Cart  loosely mounted in the headshell and connected up

Armboard adapter then mounted onto the SME armboard using the 4 supplied countersunk self tapping screws.  Note how the arm sits nicely parallel with the side of the deck.  Despite the optical illusion of the photo, the arm isn't too long for the deck and the lid closes with plenty of clearance

Next up, using ISOkinetic supplied oil, I ensured that all the existing oil was soaked up into kitchen towel and then refilled with the new oil.  Before fitting the inner platter I laid a small amount of kitchen towel around the bearing to catch any overflow - of which there wasn't any.

Having given the inner platter edges, outer platter engagement surface and the spindle a clean with alcohol and then a polish with a dry lint-free cloth, the inner platter was gently lowered into the bearing shaft - being careful not to "drop" it into the hole which could damage the bearing surfaces.  The last few mm of travel took about 10 seconds or so as the oil was pushed out of the way.  No excess oil at this point, so I'll remove it again later and put a little more oil in there.

Inner platter installed
The belt was then installed - fitting around the smaller part of the stepped pulley for 33rpm, then wrapping around the outer edge of the inner platter.  Unlike every belt driven turntable I've worked on / owned in the past which had flat ground belts, the RD11s uses a very narrow (2-3mm) square section belt, which is extremely easy to twist during fitting.  I took care not to touch the belt and inner platter surfaces to avoid getting finger grease in there.  Then on went the outer platter (which weighs around 2.5 kg).

Arm and complete platter installed - note the huge gap between platter and top plate
The outer platter should force the suspension down and allow the platter / bearing / subchassis / armboard / tonearm assembly to "float" freely whilst hanging from the suspension springs.  However, the previous owner had diligently wound up the suspension springs pretty tightly to avoid any movement in transit, so although the assembly did drop a little, it was still a long way up above the top plate of the deck.

Setting up and first play is in Part 4.
Part 3 is here
Part 2 is here
Part 1 is here

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Musings Goes Analogue Part 2 - Ariston RD11s Basics

Following on from the first post in this short series.

The first deck up for comparison is an Ariston Audio RD11s.

Do a Google image search for Ariston RD11 and you'll get a lot of pictures of what looks like a Linn Sondek LP12, like this one:

Ariston RD11 with Rega Arm (but judging by the hole in the armboard, its probably had a Linn Ittok fitted at some time - image from www.canuckaudiomart.com)

This is probably because of their shared origins, as explained in articles such as this one (note, I don't know the accuracy of content from external sites, posting here for interest):
Is It An Ariston Or Is It A Linn?

The main difference between the designs seems to pivot around the bearing design (sorry for the pun).  Linn's is a very expensive to make single point design, the Ariston uses a captive ball bearing in much the same way as many many other turntables.

Anyway, I don't have an original RD11.  I have the slightly later (and manufactured in a different factory to the LP12)  RD11s produced by Ariston Audio, rather than Ariston - the s stands for "superior", apparently. See the link above to read a bit of history on the Ariston name /company.  For £140 in very good condition with a nicely kept lid, it fits right into the plan to try a low cost but more credible turntable in the system, with scope to play.

Ariston Audio RD11s

This deck has a kite shaped suspended sub-chassis, three suspension springs, an AC motor, captive ball main bearing and a small circular armboard which is currently cut for the SME style mounting.  The belt is square section and the speed is changed by moving the belt between the stepped pulleys.  It comes with a lightly smoked plastic hinged dust cover and is in remarkable condition for something that is several decades old.

There's no arm so I tracked down a new Rega RB202 which is a low cost, "OEM" version of the RB250.  This was supplied by ISOKinetic who also supplied me with some fresh oil for the turntable bearing.  But then the deck is fitted with an SME armboard, so something needed to change to accommodate the Rega mount arm.

Through the help of the big hifi tent - hifiwigwam.com - I discovered Sound Supports who can supply a SME  to Rega armboard converter.  So this was ordered up and duly arrived.  However, it's designed for the older single post mounting arms, not the 3 point mounting design of the RB202.  I really must say that Sound Supports were absolutely superb in handling this.  They asked for dimensions information and I sent off the pictures below:

Arm and post mount armboard resting in place to show positioning

Along with the pictures I returned the armboard and what came back was this, pre-drilled, threaded armboard complete with the mounting bolts which fits the deck and the arm perfectly:

Drilled / threaded armboard in position on the deck
Arm and board mounted on the deck.  Position is the correct 222mm from the spindle and the arm sits parallel to the side of the deck when parked
Absolutely superb service from Sound Supports - highly recommended.

The next post will deal with the build and set up of the RD11s - Part 3 is here.  Part 4 is here

Musings Goes Analogue - Part One

Regular readers will know that the Musings home system is dominated by streaming, using a Linn Klimax DS as the main source.  Prior to streaming the main sources were a mix of CD using a Meridian 508.20 and vinyl on a Linn Sondek LP12 / Ittok / Dynavector 20HX.  Both of these primary sources were sold to fund the Linn streamer as it offered a far better musical experience than either CD or vinyl.

Linn LP12 on the left and Meridian 508.20 on the right - the peak of vinyl and CD in Musings' home system approx 3 years ago
Current main source - Linn Klimax DS streamer

I then sold the majority of vinyl to fund the purchase of the Majik 140 speakers, but retained a few albums that are either of sentimental value or are part of a small collection which took a while to build.  So a turntable was still required for those very rare occasions when I wanted to play one of those albums, or someone else brought some vinyl along to sample some music.  Besides, any decent system needs a turntable or it just doesn't seem complete to me (now, pass me the pipe and slippers please...).  So a few weeks of browsing on ebay netted a very dusty but fully functional Thorens TD280 MkII which I cleaned up and fitted with a brand new Goldring Elektra MM cartridge.  The cart cost nearly 3 times what I paid for the deck, even though its very much a budget cart!  There's a bit more information on the Thorens in this post.  So Thorens is the current state of vinyl replay in the system.  Its very much a plastic, low cost, functional piece of kit that makes a reasonable sound and nothing more.

Current state of vinyl replay - Thorens TD280 MkII and Goldring Elektra MM cartridge
The Thorens is very much plug and play - you put it on the table, hook up the belt, set up the cartridge and away you go.  It even has auto lift / stop at the end of play.  It looks respectable and descreet, so I suppose it fulfils my needs for a turntable pretty well.  And yet...

Although the streamer is an amazing piece of kit - producing the best SQ I've heard in several systems, once you've spent time (around 18 months of elapsed time in my case) ripping CDs, correcting metadata, sourcing good quality album art etc. etc., its a pretty uninteresting bit of hifi.  There's nothing to mess about with, it just gets on with the job of playing music superbly, and looking pretty (to my eyes at least).  Turntables are more interactive and involving (I mean physically, not necessarily musically).

Here's the premise then:  is there a low cost way to mess about with a "proper" turntable for a while, something that is more in keeping with the rest of the system, that doesn't break the bank and offers the opportunity to "mess about a bit" with it as a piece of kit?  And how will it compare to the super budget priced Thorens?

Some will know about the controversy that surrounds the birth of the Sondek LP12 turntable.  I think there's less doubt that Ivor Tiefenbrun really lead the "source first" campaign in the hifi World in the mid 1970s and his LP12 turntable definitely contributed to that message.  But there is more controversy about how original the LP12 design is, when it looks so conceptually and mechanically similar to the original AR turntable.  And the Thorens turntables.  And the Ariston turntables.  Now I wasn't interested in hifi at the time (I was more interested in riding my bike, playing cops and robbers and avoiding kids who wanted to play football at the time) so I wasn't there and I don't know the whole story, but it adds a bit of context.

What happened next was the availability on the market of a couple of very reasonably priced turntables that just happened to come from the same manufacturer.  Both are suspended sub-chassis designs with precision bearings, a wood plinth and a stainless steel top plate.  Both also have high mass platters and belt drive from an AC motor.  But given that the LP12 retains its value ridiculously well, neither of these turntables are from Linn.  In fact, they are from Ariston Audio.

So I now have an RD11S turntable with no arm, and an RD80SL fitted with a Linn LVX (Basik) tonearm.  I've sourced another 2 new Goldring Elektra cartridges, a Rega RB202 arm and some enthusiasm to build them up and to compare them against the Thorens.

I'll document in posts here about the builds of each turntable, then the comparisons between the 3 decks.

Part 2 here
Part 3 here
Part 4 here

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Linn Lounge - Chic

Being in London Village on the same evening of the latest Linn Lounge event gave me the opportunity to listen to an Akurate DSM and Akubariks.  Aided by an England game in the World Football Cup thingummy, a ticket was reasonably easy to obtain. Daft Punk were on the menu.

The Kensington Studio is a long term Loewe and B&O dealership and has just opened a Linn section at the rear of their High Street showroom. The room is a sensible size and is something akin to a decent domestic living room. There is a Linn Majik / 109 system on the back wall and the Akurate system on the other wall, tonight complemented by a TV. A few light snacks were laid on.

I think the soccer ball game had taken its toll. Only 7 attendees.  Hope this doesn't deter them from other events.  The Linn presentation team were delayed at an install, so the shop team took us through the Daft Punk story, interlaced with music and video, including some unreleased promo stuff. Given their lack of rehearsals they did a great job.

Sound wise? I have to say that I was a little underwhelmed.  The first time I heard Akubariks was on the end of (non-Exakt) Klimax electronics about 10 months ago and it was an excellent experience.  The Akurate level DSM isn't expected to be as good, but it didn't wow me in the way I was expecting.   I think the proximity of the speakers to the rear wall wasn't helping - the bass sounding a little less than fleet of foot.

Regular Musings readers will know that I dont get on with Linn's 350 speakers.  Here, again, my view is that the Akubariks are just so much more musical and coherent in comparison.  Unfairly, they particularly upstaged the Exakt 350s that played in a furniture shop in London just a few days earlier.  I say unfairly because I think this was 10% down to the Akubariks and 90% down to the room this time!

Thanks to the Kensington studio and Linn for another musically educational evening.