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Artemis Labs TA-1 Tonearm Review

A Tale of Three Tonearms, Part I

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Enough already, how does it sound?

Here comes the difficult part of the review where writers are often accused of playing verbal gymnastics with words, and in many instances deservedly so. As with all the reviews I have done in the past, my goal will not be to tell you this is “yet another best sounding” tonearm I have ever heard, which in my opinion, is meaningless information. My goal will be to provide a sonic description of the tonearm versus other tonearms I have on hand, so that you can determine for yourself whether the Artemis Lab TA-1 will be suitable for your own setup.

Let’s begin with one of my desert island LP favourites, which is none other than Dvorak’s New World Symphony performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and conducted by Istvan Kertesz (SXL 2289 ED1). Since sonic quality is the subject at hand, rather than a critique on classical interpretation, I shall focus on the former and leave the latter to the music critics. If you do not own a copy of this LP, I would highly recommend getting your hands on one because this is one of the finest recordings every produced by Decca, both interpretatively and sonically. The wide band early pressing (ED1/ED2) or the Esoteric reissue is preferred to Speaker’s Corner reissue, because I find the former to be sonically superior in terms of dynamic contrast and tonality. Unfortunately, used copies are now fetching stupid money on eBay, upwards of $500 dollars for an early pressing. The frequency extension of this recording will test your analog equipment to the fullest, and the sheer dynamic range will squeeze every ounce of energy from your system; sonically only very best of Mercury Living Stereo recordings can keep up with this LP. On a lesser system, the performance will sound abrasive and in-your-face while the instruments will be woefully disorganized on the sound stage. In other words, this is one tough LP to play successfully, a true torture test.

Compared with the Schroder Reference which sits beside the Artemis Lab TA-1 and the Durand Talea II which previously occupied the same spot, the most notable sonic difference which sets the TA-1 apart from the others, appears to lie with the mid to low frequency performance. The performance is decidedly more solid and weighty, and this holds true with both the Clearaudio Goldfinger and the Lyra Atlas cartridge. The bass drum on this Decca recording in the first and final movements is one of the most prominent and lively bass drum passages you will find on any recording. Played through the Artemis Lab tonearm, they had more slam and carried a holographic image which was better defined and sharper focused. The superior bass performance does not end with simply having a better impact, the entire mid to low frequency presentation is more full bodied, deeper and better defined. The Artemis Lab is sonically closer to the DaVinci Grandezza in this regard, albeit not as solid the Kuzma 4 Point which I consider to be the most stable and solid tonearm on the market, both sonically and mechanically.

The positive aspects of the TA-1 does not end there, as the sound stage and 3D imagery rendered are of an equally high order. Running through a series of large scale orchestral performances such as the New World Symphony mentioned above, the Power of the Orchestra (Leibowitz conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on RCA Living Stereo, VCS 2659), Pictures at an Exhibition (Ansermet conducting L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Decca SXL 2195), or the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D (Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Philips 6500 513), the soundstage and 3D imagery were always solid, realistic, stable and never once disorganized. The same cannot be said of some Unipivoted tonearms which can run into trouble when complex passages are played, especially when they are fitted with heavy cartridges such as the Clearaudio Goldfinger, where complex passages can become fragmented and disorganized.

Moving onto something more delicate such as the violins on the same Beethoven Violin concerto in D mentioned above, or Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole (Ricci, Ansermet conducting L’Orchestra de la Suisse Romande on Decca SXL 2155, ED1), the Durand Talea II and the Schroder Reference seemed to render a presentation both one notch livelier and faster than both the TA-1 and the Grandezza. Though the upper frequency extension is by no means handicapped, the Schroder Reference and Talea II delivered more palpable ambience and transparency. The TA-1 rendered a violin performance which was more conservative and less nimble. It was, however compensated by a bottomless pool of lush, richly textured, smooth warm tonality which suits my taste.

When it comes to vocal presentations, I find myself having a much stronger preference towards the Lyra Atlas versus the Clearaudio Goldfinger. But regardless of which cartridge I mounted onto the Artemis Lab TA-1 tonearm, it has the ability to deliver human voices which are more organic and with it deeper emotions relative to the other tonearms I have on hand. One of my favourite tracks to use for demonstrating human voices is Ian and Sylvia’s Four Strong Winds (Vanguard VSD-2149, Cisco Reissue). You can get a feel of the song on YouTube here. Because this is a vintage closed-mike recording, the voices emanate directly from the speakers with very little sound stage or holographic imagery to speak of. When the song is played through the TA-1 and Lyra Atlas cartridge, there is an organic musicality to the sound which makes it very realistic and life like. Vocal presentation is one area in which tonearms with wooden armwands excel, but the Artemis Lab TA-1 and the Schroder Reference have the ability to deliver musicality and realism to a higher level. The key words to be used here are again, lushness, richness, lots of body and weight. Regardless of whether I am listening to folk songs such as Joan Baez’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” from Diamond & Rust in the Bullring, or pop oldies such as Prince’s “When Doves Cry” from Prince and the Revolution (soundtrack to Purple Rain), I felt like I was listening to real organic voices coming from the live presence of the singer, and not sitting in front of a music system. This is especially true when I paired the tonearm with the Lyra Atlas cartridge.

No audiophile review is ever complete without the mention of a full scale grand piano performance. When piano keys across the entire frequency spectrum are struck, there is literally no place for any piece of equipment to hide. From tonal accuracy, frequency extension, coherence, and holographic imagery, every single component of the music is put to the test. The sonic quality of Michele Campanella performance on Franz Liszt’s “Fantasia on Hungarian Folks Tunes” (Philips 6500 095) is a recording worthy of this task. Make no mistake about it, the stability of the Artemis Lab TA-1 tonearm combined with its musicality and solid performance passed the grand piano test of this LP with flying colors. When the felt-covered hammers struck the steel strings during intense passages, the impact was felt across the room with weight and solidity, while maintaining a natural harmonic decay. The upper notes were crisp and with complete forte. With four tonearms sitting side by side, I’ll have to conclude that Artemis Lab TA-1 more than held its own against the DaVinci Grandezza when it came to piano performance, with the Artemis Lab being more musical, the Grandezza more accurate and analytical. The bottom end performance was more robust than either the Schroder Reference and the Durand Talea II could manage. With the Schroder Reference and the Durand Talea II, the sound of the piano resembled a Yamaha. With the Grandezza, a NY Steinway and the Artemis Lab TA-1L, a Concert Grand Bosendorfer. The TA-1L was the richest, darkest, and the most full bodied.


Reviewing the Artemis Lab TA-1 has been a laborious task. If it wasn’t because I enjoyed what I was doing, you could not pay me enough to repeat this exercise. Unlike an amplifier or a cable where you can simply swap them in out and, comparing tonearm and cartridges require you to realign the cartridge all over again which is not an easy task. This is why this review took much longer to write than I had hoped, to the point where I felt embarrassed to inform Sean Ta that it would be delayed yet again and again. But in terms of delivering a thorough review, I believe I have satisfied my desire to deliver a thorough critique.

If price is an accurate indicator of performance, then the Artemis Lab TA-1 is clearly handicapped versus the three tonearms which I have mentioned because it is the cheapest out of the four. Yet, this is clearly not the case. While I would not go so far to say that any one of these arms are “better” or “worse” than the other, because that has never been my goal from the start, I will tell you that I have decided to purchase the review sample from Artemis Labs. Each of the arm and cartridge combinations I own excel in their own way with a particular type of music, and for my setup I have decided to pair the TA-1 with the Lyra Atlas cartridge and the Burmster PH100 phono stage. When it comes to large scale orchestral and piano presentations, the TA-1/Lyra Atlas combo would be my first choice. My conclusion is that it is a full bodied and tonally rich tonearm. It may not be the fastest, the most delicate or the most nimble, but its solid mid to low frequency performance gives it a distinctively rich sonic flavour and warm character to the sound.

While the Artemis Lab TA-1 does not offer repeatable adjustments with any one of the setup parameters, all the parameters are at least adjustable. And if offered a choice between having a mechanically more complex arm with repeatable adjustments versus a less complex arm but with repeatable adjustments such as the Artemis Lab TA-1, I’d always choose the latter over the former. The reason is simple: I would rather spend more time fine tuning the arm at the beginning than to live with complex clunky mechanisms. Experience tells me that simpler is always better, both sonically and aesthetically.

So if you are looking for a tonearm that can hold its head high when placed side by side with the big boys in terms of performance and adjustability, but do not want to endure the long wait time nor to break the bank, the Artemis Lab TA-1 may just be the ticket. It is a fine example of a tonearm which is simple, elegant and sonically exemplary at the same time.

One Response to Artemis Labs TA-1 Tonearm Review

  1. Gerhard says:

    Hi, a great Review from a Music Lover. I´m from Austria the land with the great “Sophien hall” for record the best records from DECCA.
    So i´m a classsical music lover and have now the possibility to buy a used 4point or a Schroeder CB. It should present big Orchestra without compression, or small quartets, tonal real instruments, fine breathe & air of the music
    What would you suggest?
    many thanks Gerhard

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