The Return of the DIY Tonearm
Recorded on March 13th, 2016
I got the bug again and bought an Audio-Technica AT120Eb to go with the DIY tonearm I made last year. I had given up on the arm because I didn’t want to move the Denon DL-110 from the Dual 1219 stock arm and all I had otherwise was an old used Stanton 681EEE cart of unknown lineage. I was actually afraid to play records with it because the stylus was in such bad shape, but I tested it on the wooden arm with a few LPs I didn’t care about. I knew the Stanton was hiding what the DIY arm could do. It sounded dull and unbalanced. Tonight I installed the AT120Eb and was blown away.
Everything about this tonearm was purposefully un-optimized because I wanted it to be a proof of concept. But even with the cheap/temporary choices and materials used (unvarnished cedar arm, a vise holding the Parker pen refill, a zip tie for a finger-lift, wiring cannibalized from an old FireWire cable, and a Craftsman wrench socket acting as a crude counterweight), this arm completely overwhelms the stock Dual arm (where the Denon cart still lives). I’m now a unipivot believer. Cymbals and vocals are focused and smooth, mistracking is gone, and there’s an air above everything where before it was suffocated. This setup sounds more like a Lenco L75 with an expensive arm than I thought was possible.
I’m positive that all the improvements are not just because of the AT cart. It’s regarded as a great tracker, maybe even better than the Denon, but the huge correction in time alignment is something the cartridge can’t be responsible for by itself. The arm is just getting too many things right that the old arm couldn’t.
The only thing I think it’s missing for now is in the low end. It’s not as strong as with the Dual arm, but I think that once I shellac it or varnish it a bunch of times, it will firm up. It’s amazing that the soft cedar wood is able to sound decent at all. With some tweaks and with some break-in hours on the cartridge, it can only improve. There will be many more details to come, but for now, this project is a complete success. Everyone should try it. I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner.