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Tonearm choices for "new" Empire 208: Help??

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Posted on April 26, 2012 at 11:01:51
CometCKO
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Joined: August 9, 2002
My current project is rebuilding an Empire 208 turntable. Mine was mostly stock, with an SME 3009 s2. tonearm.

Just for background, the Empire dates from the early 1960's and is a heavy, unsuspended belt-drive table. The central bearing and platter and motor are all outstanding. That's all that I'm keeping. Everything else will be redone for the rebuild. My Empire rebuild includes a whole new baseplate. I'm machining a new one using 1-1/2" aluminum cast plate. Cast plate is more stable and stress-relieved compared to extruded "aircraft" aluminum. I'm retaining the original design, suspending the motor from rubber bushings from the top plate. The plate will rest on a bed of Isodamp C-1002 glued to a laminated baltic birch plinth. Eventually, I plan to build a new motor controller for the 3-phase Papst motor. The Papst motor is being rebuilt, and I've just finished cleaning up and polishing the ball on the platter spindle, which will ride in oil on a lignum vitae thrust plate in the original main bearing well. The original cast aluminum platter (rings like a bell for more than 30 seconds) is getting a damping treatment of 3M DP-105 Epoxy, and I'm machining the top flat so I can use a Herbies 3.7mm mat and a titanium record weight or a clamp (tbd). The Empire is unsuspended, so I can fit arms of different mass with no issue.

Anyway, that's the background. My question is about the ideal modern tonearm for THIS table. The existing SME 3009 will end up going elsewhere. I don't plan on using a vintage arm (I've got one of those already that I like on another table).

My timing is a bit critical, since I'm at the point in the machining when I need to decide what kind of mounting hole to drill for the tonearm.

If I were rolling in money, I'd buy a Graham Phantom II. I love the one my best buddy uses in his system (on a TW Acoustic Raven). Instead, I'm looking at buying a used arm, or maybe a cottage industry arm.

The arms I'm looking at now include:
* An SME V, earlier version, not silver-wired
* An SME 309, practically new
* An SME IV.Vi, practically new, with upgraded bearings (equiv. to SME V)
* A Funk FX-R (new)
* A Kuzma Stogi(used)
* An Origin Live Illustrious (almost new)
* A Graham 2.2 w. carbon arm (used) w. SME base
* An Audiomods (new) w. VTA adjustment

Which of these should I be looking at, and why? Most importantly right now: should I be drilling a mounting for SME, for Rega or for ???

I have other tables, including a VPI Scout, a Thorens TD-150 w. Fidelity Research arm, Technics SL-Q2, etc. but I have very limited experience with different tonearms. Surprisingly, after 50+ years playing analog, I have never before purchased a tonearm by itself.

All help & advice gratefully accepted!




"Knowing what you don't know is, in a sense, omniscience"

 

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RE: Tonearm choices for "new" Empire 208: Help??, posted on April 26, 2012 at 12:25:41
dancingseamonkey
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I used a Jelco 750 L 12" and dampened my platter and plinth with a rubberized plastic that resulted in tighter deeper bass, better sound stage and imaging. I posted a link below that you might find interesting.







"Trying is the first step towards failure."
Homer Simpson

 

RE: We use the Triplanar. Its the easiest to install., posted on April 26, 2012 at 13:46:32
Ralph
Manufacturer

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Location: Minnesota
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We did something similar to you, see the link.

You don't have to machine the plinth, just drill three small holes and use a tap to thread them. Easy!

 

That is one beautiful Empire. nt, posted on April 26, 2012 at 14:18:18
dancingseamonkey
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ny


"Trying is the first step towards failure."
Homer Simpson

 

RE: We use the Triplanar. Its the easiest to install., posted on April 26, 2012 at 15:18:53
dancingseamonkey
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Did you have to machine a "pocket" where the motor mounts so the spindle would have enough hight top side?




"Trying is the first step towards failure."
Homer Simpson

 

well, it uses Emprire parts but the plinth is new , posted on April 26, 2012 at 15:24:11
Ralph
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Location: Minnesota
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So are the motor mounts and the belt.

 

RE: Tonearm choices for "new" Empire 208: Help??, posted on April 26, 2012 at 16:13:08
JayD


 
I have a modified 208 (see link). I've tried the SME 3009, a Origin Live Encounter, and my current arm, a Moerch UP-4SE (edition with gold=plating and silver wiring). I liked the Origin Live and it definitely did better in the bass region, but find the UP-4 much more enjoyable. Usually you can find them used for reasonable prices. The Origin LIve is easier to live with though in terms of set-up.

 

Your Atma-208 was my inspiration!, posted on April 26, 2012 at 17:41:32
CometCKO
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Unfortunately, I can't afford a Tri-planar at the moment. So I'm plumbing the market for an under-$2,000 arm that will help me achieve some of what you've been able to accomplish with yours!

Thanks!
"Knowing what you don't know is, in a sense, omniscience"

 

Getting a 12" arm on that chassis is quite a feat!, posted on April 26, 2012 at 17:43:30
CometCKO
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I guess the question is... How does it sound?

Thanks for the link!!




"Knowing what you don't know is, in a sense, omniscience"

 

The Moerch wasn't even on my radar screen, posted on April 26, 2012 at 17:51:04
CometCKO
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Thanks for the suggestion. In what ways do you prefer the Moerch UP4se?

I had fun with the SME 3009. I even ran it for a while with a heavy counterweight and an Ortofon SPU (mono) which I really like a lot. But if I'm putting this much effort into the rebuild, I'd like a tonearm that will help me get all that I can out of it.

The Analog Engineering rebuild obviously owes a lot to Ralph at Atma-Sphere. Doesn't Mike buy his plinths from Atma-Sphere? It looks like a fantastic piece, altho I'm not so keen on the black finish. Very Darth Vader!

best...




"Knowing what you don't know is, in a sense, omniscience"

 

RE: Getting a 12" arm on that chassis is quite a feat!, posted on April 26, 2012 at 19:48:13
dancingseamonkey
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It sounds great! Very detailed 3d imaging and a big sound stage. I think with the mods you want to make the sky is the limit for tone arms. I have a nice piece of slate I want to do the same thing you are planing with aluminum for my other Empire. If you like the finish I had it bead blasted it is like sand blasting but they use fine glass beads.




"Trying is the first step towards failure."
Homer Simpson

 

RE: Your Atma-208 was my inspiration!, posted on April 26, 2012 at 20:01:01
mosin
Manufacturer

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Considering the budget you have, the Graham 2.2 is an excellent choice.

 

I'm leaning that way myself, posted on April 26, 2012 at 20:07:54
CometCKO
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Again, I LOVE the Phantom, but my wallet does not.

Maybe if I sell some of the piles of vintage hi-fi stuff around here...


thanks for the recommendation! it means a lot coming from you! (Admire your posts)


Frank

"Knowing what you don't know is, in a sense, omniscience"

 

I like the bead-blasting idea!, posted on April 26, 2012 at 20:10:45
CometCKO
Audiophile

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Joined: August 9, 2002
I've been playing around with diamond hones too, which give a nice finish after a pass through the Bridgeport milling machine.

Did you use any other coating? It DOES look nice!


Frank

"Knowing what you don't know is, in a sense, omniscience"

 

I assume everyone knows to remove the motor cover when playing a record., posted on April 27, 2012 at 06:07:16
Dave Pogue
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This made the biggest sonic difference I can remember, when playing my own Empire 298. The motor cover looks great but does pretty awful things to the sound. Don't remember who told me this but I'm sure glad he did.

 

I've seen you post this before, but, posted on April 27, 2012 at 06:29:24
CometCKO
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Thanks Dave! But when I tried it, I didn't really notice any difference. Maybe I just have tin ears. And maybe it will show up big-time when I get back to playing with my hopefully more resolving, newly re-built Empire?

What was the nature of the improvement that you noted? Maybe I'm listening for the wrong things? It is certainly easy enough to set the cover aside. But really, I listened and didn't hear anything. The noise floor didn't change, and I did not note any differences when playing a few LP's either. Yet you noted a huge difference, which I believe you did, especially since you've been very good about sharing this with other Empire owners. So obviously you found something important. Mystifying!

But thank you for the tip!

Frank




"Knowing what you don't know is, in a sense, omniscience"

 

I remember now that it was ..., posted on April 27, 2012 at 07:14:05
Dave Pogue
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... Pierre Sprey (Mapleshade) visiting me one evening to hear some then-new SET amps in my system, who spotted my Empire and asked if I took the motor cover off when playing it. I use this TT to play mostly 78s and mono 33s. He quickly demonstrated the difference -- cover on, off, on, off. It was clear that the cover (he called it a resonance sink) added a layer of grunge that I hadn't really noticed before. His demo made it very obvious. It's not a night-and-day thing, but quite evident, to me at least and my ears are really ancient, once you focus on it. I guess I should append the usual YMMV, IMHO, etc :-)

 

RE: I like the bead-blasting idea!, posted on April 27, 2012 at 07:32:52
dancingseamonkey
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Here is another picture in better light. I had first had it powder coated and did not like it at all so I stripped it and took it to a metal refinisher and he did the bead blasting and put a satin finish on it. I like it much better, the powder coating made it look like plastic and took away the sharp lines of the metal.








"Trying is the first step towards failure."
Homer Simpson

 

RE: Tonearm choices for "new" Empire 208: Help??, posted on April 27, 2012 at 07:38:33
AudioSoul
Audiophile

Posts: 3516
Location: north central AZ
Joined: July 9, 2005

I had a 208 once. It is a very nice table. I mounted a Jelco 750D 9" tonearm on mine and it was a very easy install. If you decide on a Jelco arm make sure you get the heavier counter weight for it. It opens up your cart. options. The heavier counter weight alone is $95.00. You save about $60.00 getting it with the arm. Sonicaly it is a great match and estheticly it looks great to. I never heard a difference in sound with the pully cover off though.....

 

An audio iconoclast, posted on April 27, 2012 at 07:56:38
CometCKO
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Pierre has quite a reputation as a boat-rocker in the audio world. He certainly brought respectability back to HH Scott tube amps, and thin wires. I don't agree with many of his ideas, but he does force one to think and listen objectively (listen with your ears, not your head).

Good stuff!

Thanks!




"Knowing what you don't know is, in a sense, omniscience"

 

RE: An audio iconoclast, posted on April 27, 2012 at 08:48:51
Catastrofe
Audiophile

Posts: 79
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If you decide to go with a 12" arm, I may be able to help. . .

 

Yes., posted on April 27, 2012 at 09:03:01
Ralph
Manufacturer

Posts: 2544
Location: Minnesota
Joined: April 24, 2002
The plinth has the least amount of machining to accommodate the Empire parts- motor with mounts, power switch and platter bearing.

 

With the new plinth the motor cover really doesn't make a difference, posted on April 27, 2012 at 09:07:12
Ralph
Manufacturer

Posts: 2544
Location: Minnesota
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But that is good advice if you have the stock Empire plinth....

 

RE: The Moerch wasn't even on my radar screen, posted on April 27, 2012 at 10:33:14
JayD


 
Compared to the Origin Live, the Moerch has better 'flow' for lack of a better work; the Origin live seemed tight, stiff in sound in comparison. In general, I've tended to like unipivots in my somewhat limited experience. Since I heard the Origin Live they've made some interesting changes in their arms that make them look more intriguing to me.
No, Mike's plinths are different from Atma-sphere. IN person the black actually looks quite nice, imo - especially looks good with the gold tonearm.

 

I recommend the 309. , posted on April 27, 2012 at 10:44:21
richardl
Audiophile

Posts: 2958
Joined: September 5, 2002
A friend has one on his empire and that inspired me to get a 309 for myself. His sounds great and so does mine on my idler. I replaced a heavily modded rb300 and it was a big improvement.

 

I only miss the "turning" marks of the original, posted on April 27, 2012 at 13:53:43
CometCKO
Audiophile

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I like the original surface faux "engine turning" swirls. Short of using a diamond-bit hone, I wonder how one could create those for real, concentric with the center spindle.

Your finish is one of the nicer ones I've seen vs. just plain aluminium.




"Knowing what you don't know is, in a sense, omniscience"

 

I too like unipivots on unsuspended tables, posted on April 27, 2012 at 13:56:54
CometCKO
Audiophile

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The two VPI's I've owned converted me from a skeptic to a believer. I still think the JMW arms have too much monkey-motion. I favor the better control of the Graham for that reason.

As you say, the new bearings and broader support structure of the Origin Live arms is appealing, but they don't seem to have the same apparent quality as the SME's. Where does the Moerch fit in that spectrum?

Thx!




"Knowing what you don't know is, in a sense, omniscience"

 

I thought about 12", posted on April 27, 2012 at 13:59:12
CometCKO
Audiophile

Posts: 741
Joined: August 9, 2002
But I kept the same plinth footprint as the original, so it would be difficult to fit (see the posts below from dancingseamonkey to see one approach).

Thanks for the thought tho!




"Knowing what you don't know is, in a sense, omniscience"

 

I've heard that the Jelco's nearly fit the OEM '98 arm dimensions, posted on April 27, 2012 at 14:03:35
CometCKO
Audiophile

Posts: 741
Joined: August 9, 2002
But I've never actually listened to one. How does the Jelco compare to other arms in your experience?

It seems that I saw somewhere that Jelco is the actual manufacturer of some other high-end arms too? I've always been somewhat suspicious of the resonant behavior of most of the Japanese arms, based on my early experiences with Technics and Pioneer tables (albeit not high-end tables by any stretch of the imagination).

Thanks for your suggestion!



"Knowing what you don't know is, in a sense, omniscience"

 

Have to admit, I really like the appearance of the 309, posted on April 27, 2012 at 14:11:01
CometCKO
Audiophile

Posts: 741
Joined: August 9, 2002
It's one of my favorite arms aesthetically. I definitely would consider one!

I've never heard one though. I have long-term experience listening to a friend's SME V, which he recently replaced with a Graham Phantom. I'm in love with the Phantom! I also have somewhat less experience with the Rega's, but only on Rega tables, so I can't really say what is the arm and what is the synergy with the table. I thought the Origin Live Silver was a nice improvement over an RB300, but I have not heard any of the other OL arms. The only other arms I know well are Thorens arms. My SME 3009 seemed better for the cartridges I was using compared to the stock TP13a arm on my TD150-II Thorens table.

Do you have any sense of how the 309 works relative to any of those? I'm looking for some points of reference (not that it is any real substitute for hearing it yourself, in your own system). With so few bricks and mortar dealers around, this seems to be the best way to start narrowing down alternatives!

Thank you!



"Knowing what you don't know is, in a sense, omniscience"

 

RE: Tonearm choices for "new" Empire 208: Help??, posted on April 28, 2012 at 04:12:34
rockets63
Audiophile

Posts: 4
Location: Las Vegas NV
Joined: April 9, 2012
Did you the Smooth On clearflex 95 mixed with the powdered brass for your platter and plinth damping? Is it self-levelling? Was 1 lb. of brass enough? The 12" Jelco looks great! How does it sound and track compared to the stock Empire 98 or 980 that it replaced?

 

RE: I only miss the "turning" marks of the original, posted on April 28, 2012 at 12:15:20
dancingseamonkey
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Take it to a metal plater/refinisher and see what they can do some of them are great craftsmen or see if there is a place that does anodizing, that is what is on the original.




"Trying is the first step towards failure."
Homer Simpson

 

RE: Tonearm choices for "new" Empire 208: Help??, posted on April 28, 2012 at 17:07:20
dancingseamonkey
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I leveled the platter with carpenter shims and made a pencil mark for the depth I wanted the Smooth On to be, between 1/8" & 1/4" after pouring the platter I filed the rim. The Smooth On is self leveling but I did not use the brass powder because the spindle bearing plate on the Empire is made of plastic and I didn't want to add more weight that it wasn't designed for, but thats just me. The tone arm tracks beautifully and the sound is far better than the original 98 both were worthwhile up grades.




"Trying is the first step towards failure."
Homer Simpson

 

RE: Tonearm choices for "new" Empire 208: Help??, posted on April 28, 2012 at 17:21:57
rockets63
Audiophile

Posts: 4
Location: Las Vegas NV
Joined: April 9, 2012
Thanks! I saw pictures of the underside of your platter and plinth, the color of the Smooth On was light brown. That's why I thought that powdered brass was added. Which particular Smooth On product did you use?
I had been advised to use the Clearflex 95.

 

RE: Tonearm choices for "new" Empire 208: Help??, posted on April 28, 2012 at 19:26:21
dancingseamonkey
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Yes I used the Clear-Flex 95 and it does dry clear, the pictures you saw were from an article where they used the brass powder recipe. I may have some pictures of the underside of mine, if I can find them I'll post them. When you do the plinth you have to form a dam around the holes I used a plumbers stop leak putty that worked well.






"Trying is the first step towards failure."
Homer Simpson

 

RE: Have to admit, I really like the appearance of the 309, posted on May 1, 2012 at 14:51:03
richardl
Audiophile

Posts: 2958
Joined: September 5, 2002
Most recently, I had a highly modded rb300 on the table. the rb300 was very good but, the 309's dynamics blew it away. The 309 is also a good deal quieter. The SME V is similar. I have not hear the OL tonearm recently.

The Phantom I have not heard.

Good luck,

 

RE: Have to admit, I really like the appearance of the 309, posted on May 2, 2012 at 15:26:30
CometCKO
Audiophile

Posts: 741
Joined: August 9, 2002
Thanks for sharing your experience! I wish it was easier to demo tonearms, but this is a helpful surrogate.

best,




"Knowing what you don't know is, in a sense, omniscience"

 

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