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Tri-Planar Ultimate II Tonearm Review

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Tri Planar Tonearm

Installation and Set-up

From the moment I opened the shipping box, it became instantly evident that the Tri-Planar is indeed something very special. So much thought, attention to detail, and care has gone in to the entire package. The tonearm wand, base, and wiring are all carefully nested in five inch thick foam as are the array of four different counterweights. The tonearm comes with a set of tools for adjustments needed to be made and a plexiglass installation jig that enables you to accurately determine the exact location of the tonearm base assembly. The Tri-Planar also comes with a mirrored glass alignment protractor that would be the envy of many aftermarket units in sheer usability and simplicity, and it even comes with a rudimentary counter-balance type stylus force gauge. Lastly, there is a very thorough installation and set-up document that walks you through the entire process. The guide may be a bit much for any true vinylphile novice, but is certainly refreshing for those who know their way around a tonearm. (Note: if you’ve never owned a turntable or have never installed and set-up a tonearm, do yourself a favor and let a pro do it or at least assist you in the effort.)

Installation of the Tri-Planar Ultimate II is really quite straightforward. The tonearm is a surface mount design, so everything remains on the top of the plinth. There is no intrusion into or below the plinth other than three machine screws that secure the tonearm in place. Locating the tonearm onto the plinth again is quite easy thanks to the tonearm’s installation measurement guide that guides you to the exact location where the tonearm base should be mounted for proper geometry.

The next step in the Tri-Planar’s set up process is to assure that the tonearm’s base azimuth is correctly null by resting the flat machined aluminum tonearm head either directly onto the platter or onto an old unwanted LP. If the tonearm is skewed, then you can adjust the azimuth simply by loosening two yoke clamps and twisting the front portion of the tonearm until the head correctly lays flat on the surface. Then tighten the clamps.

The rest of the tonearm set-up process is all about optimizing the Tri-Planar Ultimate II for the phono cartridge to be used on it. This includes: mounting the cartridge onto the head, setting stylus down force through use of the provided series of counterweights, adjusting and verifying pivot to stylus distance or overhang, verifying and adjusting stylus azimuth if needed, setting Vertical Tracking Angle, setting anti-skate, and lastly setting level of dynamic damping.

I’m going through these steps in an effort to confirm the fact that the Tri-Planar Ultimate II is indeed fully adjustable and configurable for whatever turntable or cartridge environment it is called upon to perform with.

Is it cartridge-friendly?

The designer of the Tri-Planar Ultimate II went to great lengths to assure that the phono cartridge is provided a quiet, stable, low resonance and vibration-free environment. In order to get the full sense of what can be achieved through use of the Tri-Planar Ultimate II vs, a three-armed system like the Technics R&B Series EPA-500, I decided to conduct a series of listening tests on not one but all three of my current favorite go-to phono cartridges. These proved to be optimized in sound on my reference tonearm through use of three wands of differing mass and resonance characteristics. While obviously, the Tri-Planar cannot match the sheer convenience of the plug and play hot swapping capability of three pre-balanced tonearm and cartridge combinations, my goal was to verify the Tri-Planar’s adaptability. In this particular instance I chose three very different cartridge designs and tasked the Tri-Planar to extract the very best of their performance capability through optimizing the use of the combination of features it possessed such as dial-up VTA, adjustable SRA, and adjustable dynamic damping.

For this particular stage of the evaluation I called upon three very different phono cartridges, two of which are vintage designs, a National/Technics EPC-205CIIL (low output Moving Magnet), and the Nakatsuka-San designed Accuphase AC-2. The third of the trio is the superb ZYX Yatra that I recently reviewed. Each has a very familiar signature sound that I have been able to optimize through use of three tonearm wands of different masses and resonance points on the Technics EPA 500 System. In addition, each of these let you know immediately through their performance when there is a mismatch.

Well, it literally took a few months to do this (Thanks again for your incredible patience Tri Mai!). With nearly an entire spiral binder of scribbles, notes, and settings, the effort proved to be well worth it. I did indeed come to some truly remarkable conclusions, not only regarding the tonearm, but also regarding each of the three phono cartridges. In each and every case, the Tri-Planar was remarkable in its total adaptability and invisibility. Not only was I able to configure the tonearm to be an ideal environment for each of the three phono cartridges, but once optimized each delivered sonic performances exceeding and in some respects far exceeding that of their respective performance on their associated Technics EPA-500 wand. In my book, the Tri-Planar had handily launched itself over a hurdle that no other tonearm had previously come close to doing. The Tri-Planar Ultimate II is indeed not only a fine tonearm but is also a superb carrier and enabler for any cartridge, regardless of its dynamic parameters and design.

One Response to Tri-Planar Ultimate II Tonearm Review


  1. Veto says:

    Ray,
    Can you describe what the nature of the improvement was from the correct paddle adjustment?
    Also, you mentioned a partial playlist in the article but I did not see it post at the end of the piece.

    Thank you,
    Veto

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