Souther Linear Tonearm on A TD-124

kevinkr

Administrator
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A friend of mine recently gave me his old and disused early Souther Tri-Quartz linear tracking tone arm.

I spent a few hours cleaning and detailing it. This one was built in Canton, Ma. and has a number of modifications recommended by Lou Souther. It does not have the plastic cover - I will need to get something to protect the bearings and quartz guide rods from dust.

I improvised a tone arm interconnect until I can get something better. The strainrelief interferes with the arm lift and caused an offset in the lifting rod from one end to the other which I will only fix when the new cable gets here.. It works so..

I have a bunch of mounting accessories but because of the arm board height I had to go with the bare bones installation.
 

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kevinkr

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I've installed a disused Benz Ebony H HOMC cartridge on the arm, and have to say it seems to be a very good match to this arm. This cartridge has never sounded terribly involving to me, but on this arm it seems to shine.

I stuck the arm on my TD-124 MKI which is largely restored and will be its permanent home going forward. The combination actually works quite well, finding the space to install this arm is not complicated but there is no room for all of the accessories either. I installed the arm so that it clears the 124 mounting hardware and castings. It's a rather unfussy process to mount the arm, setting it up is another matter, but I did it successfully on the first try.

I'd love to hear from others with Souther LTAs regardless of the TT they stuck it on.
 

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kevinkr

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Day 2 and it definitely gets to stay. Surprised to say this combination works really well and I suspect in direct comparision to the Schick/SPU A95 would give it a good run for the money. I am not sure of the outcome either. I've been listening for over 12hrs now, which is a record for this table and electronics combination. (Muscovite Mini III treated elsewhere on this part of the forum) My opinion of this set up has increased significantly. I'm a bit surprised.

Strange as it sounds this is actually a pretty good route to follow from my admittedly limited experience.
 

BlownRx7

Member
2004-09-07 11:46 pm
CT
Kevin,
Congrats on scoring this tonearm!
It baffles me that people have dismissed linear trackers. Granted, they have their own setup issues but, after arm installation, what is so hard about setting up a cartridge perfectly straight in line with the center of a record?
After experiencing tracking error and anti-skating issues on my Well-Tempered, I appreciate going back to my linear tracking Phase Linear/Pioneer PL-8000.

I'm curious to know what the mods are to the original Souther arm.
Can you offer a sound comparison to the Schick?
 

kevinkr

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Paid Member
Given that I just bought a NOS Souther SLA-3 for my other TD-124 I'm obviously suddenly and violently biased.. LOL

The Schick and SPU A95 will go on my as yet unrestored 401 which I am not yet contemplating sticking a Souther on.. ;)

The setups are so different it would be hard to fair. I find at this point that I prefer the Souther/Benz Ebony H/Muscovite Mini III to the Schick/SPU A95/LL1941/Muscovite. It is a little more relaxed sounding, which is a characteristic of the Benz I think. The thing that is most striking is the increase in apparent depth which is entirely the arm/cartridge. Not much else is different enough to account for this.

I had a very negative opinion of the Benz on a Schroeder and an SME 3009 Series II (not a good match) so I had no expectations of being wowed by this combo. As I got things a bit more dialed in it became evident while not perfect it was performing a lot better than I expected. I believe ultimately it will prove that the Souther is a pretty neutral arm.

Sorry this is all so subjective, but we are talking phono cartridges and arms.. I have no effective means to measure what are both very good arms and cartridges.

I am going to move away from heavy long arms and SPUs and there may be other arms in the future.
 

kevinkr

Administrator
Paid Member
There actually is an option to do that, but unfortunately I don't have the space to install the optional support hardware on this arm board.

I bought an NOS SLA-3 arm for the other table and could get an extended arm board and install that support on the other table.

The 124 bearing is recently rebuilt and is very quiet, I've not noticed any noise issues I would ascribe to the arm configuration, but it's early days and I'm going to be learning quite a bit I suspect.
 
Hi kevinkr,
I'll be interested in how this all works out. I know that liner is better, but the amount of hardware to get there, must have some detrimental effect to the sound. I had a Koetsu in a Grace 707 and it was too light for the stiff suspension. I never heard what it could do. Keep us up with what you find. If anyone can do it you can!
 

kevinkr

Administrator
Paid Member
Thanks, Freddy!
The funny thing is the business end of the thing is very simple - it is everything else that is so complicated. I have noticed a few shortcomings but in general I am rather pleased by what I am hearing.

The gifted arm is not pretty and has some quirks. Interestingly enough an occasional wipe down of the bearings and rods with a water wetted swab does seem to help. It sat for more than a year and seems to be waking up with use.

I'm listening to it now in fact.

I should have the new one middle of next week and am hard at work trying to identify the right cartridge for it. I'm gravitating towards an Ortofon Cadenza, Blue, Bronze or Black, but there are others with compliances, tracking force and mass in a suitable range. Clear Audio and Lyra both make ones that would match nicely but all but the entry level models are too expensive to consider.

The Ebony L would seem a natural, but finding one looks near impossible.
 
Hi Kevin,
Greetings from 20 miles SW of you and another confirmed linear tracker user. I have been following your posts for a number of years and have come to regard yourself as a Guru in this arena (pardon the mixed metaphor). Your recent description of becoming enamored of/by the Souther seems to parallel my experiences with several DIY linear trackers and I hope that you will continue using and writing about the genre. What should prove enlightening would be for you to build up a clone of the ultra simple 4 glass tube 2 ball tonearm I have been using for more than a year with great success and doing some listening comparisons with your Southers and the Schick, or anything else in your stable. Great to hear that you are joining the fraternity.
BillG

Thanks, Freddy!
The funny thing is the business end of the thing is very simple - it is everything else that is so complicated. I have noticed a few shortcomings but in general I am rather pleased by what I am hearing.

The gifted arm is not pretty and has some quirks. Interestingly enough an occasional wipe down of the bearings and rods with a water wetted swab does seem to help. It sat for more than a year and seems to be waking up with use.

I'm listening to it now in fact.

I should have the new one middle of next week and am hard at work trying to identify the right cartridge for it. I'm gravitating towards an Ortofon Cadenza, Blue, Bronze or Black, but there are others with compliances, tracking force and mass in a suitable range. Clear Audio and Lyra both make ones that would match nicely but all but the entry level models are too expensive to consider.

The Ebony L would seem a natural, but finding one looks near impossible.
 
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A little more tweaking last night seems to have solved the skipping problem. I've not had any skips at all. Carriage movement is smooth and imperceptible except during lead in/lead outs. I reduced the tracking force a little with no issues.

I have a second one on the way for the other 124 and working on cartridge choice, keeps pointing to an Ortofon Cadenza.

The Benz works far better on this arm than it has on anything else and actually shines - enough so that I immediately developed a strong liking for the arm. It was over in minutes. LOL

Bill, I'd be delighted if you dropped by sometime. Drop me a PM and we'll talk. I'm active in a number of local audio groups which you might also enjoy.
 
New addition to the family

The NIB SLA-3 I purchased on eBay arrived today, days early. The extended armboard for the other TD-124 is on order and should be here in a couple of weeks hopefully.

I need to give some thought to the cartridge I will run on this arm.
 

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The Souther survived a full run through of "The Drum" by Soul of Man without mis-tracking, held its own fairly well against the Schick/SPU-A95, neither clearly better than other, but different.

The Benz is a little smeary on the top end compared to the A95, the Benz might have won on the bottom end.

This is not a particularly great recording except that it is pretty good at inciting mistracking in the bass with styli leaping out of the groove - none of that here.

The Muscovite is the better phono pre and the A95 should have the edge in resolution, despite this it's not winning; not loosing either; a tie of sorts.
 
The fact that this thing acquits itself as well as it does is particularly amazing in that I have $0 in this arm and cartridge, and yet I am daft enough to think it competes against an arm and cartridge combination that costs infinitely more, and that I had to work hard to pay for! I guess that should serve as some sort of recommendation.

The couple of caveats living with this thing for almost a week now (lol!) is that you must keep things scrupulously clean at least compared to what I am used to, and attention to detail is important. Lead dress of the lead out from the cartridge is critical. I've not had any skipping since I figured these things out.
 
Hi Kevin,
Thanks for sharing your experiences. I always learn from your posts. I have a SLA-3 in storage that I plan to use on my TD124. The one you have shows a clear glass or plastic bar on the support plate. Mine does not have this. Was this a factory feature or was it one of the many mods that was done on your arm? Could you describe the other mods that was done? I'd like to try some of them. You mentioned a factory option to eliminate the use of the spindle support so that the arm would hover over the record supported only on the end on the plinth. One last thing, how about trying the SPU on the Souther?
Regards,
David
 
Hi David,
As far as I am aware all SLA-3 and indeed the Tri-Quartz all came with a clear plastic cover right from Souther. Many people remove them because the tonearm wiring hits the cover and causes mis-tracking.

My Tri-Quartz was a gift from its original owner and he related many problems with the plastic cover and its ultimate demise.

My NIB SLA-3 is complete as the factory packed it, and clearly was never used. Came with one of the optional arm wands that is made of bronze and has an extended cartridge mounting plate. I'll photograph and post it one of these days.

Choosing the right cartridge for one of these arms is a bit of a balancing act. The Ebony H seems to behave quite well on this arm with a suitable vertical compliance (not disclosed) and a lateral compliance of 14 cu. Tracking force of 1.6 - 1.9gms works, but I suspect that higher tracking forces are better, reducing likelihood of tracking/skipping issues. I'm aiming for a cartridge for the SLA-3 of vtf > 2gms..

There are some allegations that the adhesives used to secure the quartz rods are soluble in solvents like alcohol. I needed to clean things thoroughly and did in fact use isopropyl alcohol, steering clear of the areas with adhesive and the carriage/bearings. YMMV and caveat emptor. Not recommended; in my case it was necessary to get the grime off.
 
I've decided not to try the Royal N on the SLA-3, the compliance of that cartridge is really low and I'd rather not risk damaging the cartridge if it misbehaves on the arm. There is some question even with the weights out at the far end of the back of the arm whether there is sufficient effective mass to get the resonances down below the point where problems ensue.

I'm looking at cartridges with compliances of 12 - 16 cu and fairly high tracking force which is the one area where the Royal N might be interesting.

The suspension on this cartridge is so stiff I am concerned it will just result in bearing rattle. I had some problems with this even with the Benz during set up, it doesn't sound too nice when it happens.

Clear Audio produced a support that gets installed with the base that allows you to support that end of the arm and disable the spindle support. I did not have the space to install it with the current set up. I will install on the other table with the new arm board. There is a support block that goes with the whole thing, but it is too thick to use on a TD-124 so I will have a friend make me one.

All of that said I have not been able to determine that there is any problem noise wise with the spindle support on the Tri-Quartz. I will note that it is quite a bit different from that on the SLA-3. Note that the Tri-Quartz is not an SLA-3 and the third quartz rod is one of several things that set it apart from the SLA-3.
 

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I am planning on some modifications to my newly acquired SLA-3 including adding the third rod found on the Tri-Quartz.

Here is a potential source for the rod: Technical Glass Products: Fused Quartz Rod

It looks like either 6mm or 6.4mm O.D. quartz rod would be suitable. Length would be about 5.25 inches. (Minimum order is $50 unfortunately)

Another option 4ft minimum: https://www.waleapparatus.com/product/clear-fused-quartz-rod/ This would be under $30...

https://www.fdglass.com/products/details/50
 
An entire afternoon of playing records without a single skip, anyone who owns one of these arms might recognize that as a significant landmark.

Arm looks pretty rough still, some work required to fix it up, but it does sound really good. I guess I've never heard an arm as free of resonances.. I am rediscovering old and very familiar vinyl; what? I never heard that before moments are frequent, and not expected.

There is some bearing noise at the lead out, not sure whether further cleaning will address that issue or not, but given the age of the arm I think I will start looking for a replacement set of bearings.
 
Still no skips, so this seems a resolved issue. As I have become more familiar with the arm it does appear that the mechanical noise floor of this design is significantly higher than a good pivot if for no other reason the carriage bearings are in very close proximity to the cartridge.

In the case of record eccentricities I can very occasionally hear noise that is clearly from the bearings on silent passages. On the lead out where velocities are high it is pronounced.

I am going to look for replacement bearings and have contacted Clear Audio's U.S. distributor about replacement bearings amongst other things. (Should that not work out there are a number of flanged bearings available, one of them ought to work.)

I have applied three small blobs of blu-tack on the carriage behind the bearings and this seems to help a little wrt to bearing noise, more interestingly the noise floor dropped audibly on the lead in and between cuts. Also in audiophile speak there seems to be somewhat more "air" and a quieter background. Note this could all be placebo effect, uncontrolled experiment, yada, yada, yada. Very subjective, and because these are the sorts of improvements I would expect to hear, I might just be hearing them whether or not they are in fact real.

Regardless I am still pretty impressed that a freebie arm and cartridge on the clunkier of my two TD-124s is able to acquit itself well in direct comparison to the Schick. Sighted or not, this isn't what I would have expected. It's clearly a very good if quirky arm in the right hands and with the right cartridge, all installed on the right table.

There are obvious trade offs, I think to some extent you trade distortion for more background noise with this design; that's my impression after considerable listening.

All things considered it's pretty brilliant, and improvement is possible. I see a lot of experimenting down the road..
 

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