This hybrid tonearm concept has been spinning around in our heads for some two and a half years. One thing after another kept it on the back burner until March of 2020, when we spoke with Franc Kuzma about it.
… and then COVID struck.
Brew a fresh cup and sit down for a story …
The Concept and Some Background
What if we were to mount an 11″ 4Point arm wand to a 4Point-9’s bearing tower? Would it work? How would it perform? Who is this arm for?
The idea initially came to us as a solution to address challenges mounting Kuzma 4Points to some turntables.
More and more owners of idler and direct drive turntables have been approaching us, and many of their after-market bases are designed with long tonearms in mind. Arms with a short (9″) mounting distance will not work.
This presents a problem for the 11″ 4Point which was designed for compatibility with a smaller chassis. The 4Point has the mounting distance of a short, 9″ tonearm (212mm). With its offset VTA tower, it achieves a pivot to spindle distance of 264mm.
This brilliant solution allows owners of turntables with small footprints to install a 4Point. If our hybrid concept worked, it would expand the 4Point’s compatibility range to accommodate these larger turntable bases.
March 2, 2020:
We approached Franc, and after explaining the requirement, his creative juices began to flow. Franc confirmed that the 4Point-9’s bearing is compatible with the 11″ arm wand.
He pointed out a few potential compatibility issues we would need to explore. None of these were potential show-stoppers, but the possibility existed we might have to do some machining. Franc encouraged us to prototype the concept.
COVID and a Workaround …
March 12, 2020:
Colorado’s ski areas had shut down, along with basically the entire state.
Machine shops were closed, and for every two shops that re-opened their doors in the late Spring of 2020, one shop permanently ceased operations. The backlogs were dreadful, and we needed an armboard to test our theory.
It became obvious to us that we’d have to mock this up in order to to test the basic concept.
We started with a solid maple armboard. We have been previously unimpressed with hardwood armboards, but this mockup would serve to validate the implementation concept as well as test the potential pitfalls Franc pointed out.
All of Franc’s concerns were successfully addressed. So far, so good.
It was no surprise that the sonics with the maple armboard were dreadful – both with this new hybrid variation as well as when we moved the armboard to the 9″ position to compare against our baseline (the standard 4Point-9).
Armboard materials and energy transfer is a subject that deserves extensive treatment, and we’ll follow up on this at a later date.
So now the wait began for a “proper” machined armboard. We waited … and we waited …
Finally! A Working Prototype.
April 15, 2021:
Six months passed, and we finally received an armboard from our machinist.
In early listening sessions, we’re finding the 4Point arm (11″) and this hybrid to be very much alike.
Since we’ve been running a 4Point-9 for the past few months, we’re taking a few weeks to recalibrate our brains to the mass of the 11″ wand before making further assessments.
Our small listening circle is mostly vaccinated, and we look forward to hosting our first group listening session since the COVID shutdown (March of 2020).
So What’s the Big Deal?
Of course, the main driver for this is to allow for mounts that would otherwise be impossible. This configuration sacrifices VTA on-the-fly in order to accommodate longer mounting distances.
Audiophile consensus has it that VTA on-the-fly is a mandatory feature for any tonearm having high aspirations.
We’re not convinced of this, and we’ll discuss this below.
Note that the impeccably designed and executed azimuth adjustment is implemented in the 4Point arm wand so this hybrid variation includes this highly desirable feature.
Laying Out Our Preferences
We prefer the simpler 4Point-9 bearing tower, primarily for aesthetic reasons.
If you’ve been following us, you know that we subscribe the principle of Occam’s Razor, which brings to mind one of our guiding principles as stated by Antoine de Saint-Exupery:
A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
One could argue that the 4Point-9, being the most recent expression of the 4Point architecture embodies its greatest capacities for elegance and simplicity.
Feature Comparison, Ergonomics & Operation
The hybrid variant (like the 4Point-9) does not have VTA on-the-fly, but adjustment is repeatable, via a 3mm set screw.
This hybrid version sacrifices the damping feature of the 4Point (11″) and the 4Point-14.
Note that the ungainly position of the standard 4Point (11″) arm when parked in it’s rest is a non-issue with the hybrid variant. Like the 4Point-9, the the hybrid implementation allows you to orient the arm’s parked position where it works best for you. We prefer to orient the arm so it points “front to back”, so there’s more space between the headshell and the platter.
The hybrid arm includes the counterweight set of the 11″ arm wand and we absolutely love this. Not only does it accommodate cartridges of different mass, but it allows for mass tuning (resonant behavior).
For the same tracking force, a heavier counterweight combination (mounted closer to the pivot) will sound different from a lighter combination mounted further from the pivot. You will prefer one over the other. We demonstrate this when setting up 4Points for our customers.
The standard setting azimuth adjustment is common to all 4points.
Vibes – Good and Bad
A key improvement in our Mk-II turntables, was replacement of our heavily damped, pivoting armboards with a rigid mount.
Since then, we’ve looked at any cantilevered (overhanging) structure with suspicion.
So for us, we find something very elegant about the direct simplicity of the 4Point-9’s bearing tower.
It’s for this reason that we also love the Schröder CB tonearm.
So, Why Bother?
Of course, this solution was developed to solve a mounting problem. What about ergonomics and aesthetics? We’ve been through that. What about engineering simplicity? Perhaps this matters.
As you read this, please recognize that we consider the 4Point’s VTA tower to be an engineering tour de force. It addresses a need that many audiophiles consider to be mandatory.
We would never steer you away from the 11″ 4Point. It’s a world-class arm. Period.
Do I Want the Hybrid?
- If your turntable will only accommodate a longer mounting distance, then this is your ticket to a 4Point, unless you fancy the 4Point-14, of course!
- If you’re an Occam’s Razor person like we are (and your turntable base will accommodate a 264mm mounting distance), then yes.
- If you know your way around a turntable setup (or hire us to set it up for you – either in person, remotely, or via remote Skype coaching session), then quite possibly.
At the end of the day, it’s just another choice. There are no absolutes here, and we’re the last ones to enforce our preferences on you.
We do however want you to make an informed decision.
Is VTA On-the-Fly Necessary?
Recent advances in setup tools and procedures have changed the landscape.
Assisted by USB microscopes, it’s much easier to arrive at an unambiguous, “universal” VTA/SRA setting – one which doesn’t have you considering record by record adjustments.
VTA on-the-fly is a great feature, and if it’s important to you, we’d never steer you away from it. If you’re interested in our reasoning for “set and forget” VTA, check out the “false nulls” discussion in the free setup guide we offer. You’ll have to subscribe to our mailing list to download it, but we think you’ll find this to be an enjoyable, provocative discussion.
If you’re a member of the “set VTA for each record” crowd (you know who you are), take a step back and re-visit your VTA setup procedure (escape the false nulls trap). Once you do so, your VTA fever will subside. We promise.
We look at VTA on-the-fly as a training device. We’re reminded of bicycle computers with a cadence monitoring function. People quickly gain an awareness of their pedaling cadence, and after a few weeks, they turn it off – never using it again.
We need to restate this: we’ve never seen a more robust implementation of VTA on-the-fly than that of the 4Point. It’s a marvelous piece of engineering and an arm we can in good conscience endorse.
Just because we consider VTA on-the-fly to be nonessential, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you, and of course, with many turntable chassis, you have a choice of implementing either version.
What began as an attempt to solve a mounting problem ended up being our favorite 4Point, and resulted in more choices for you. How does it get better than that?
Comparing With the 4Point (VTA on-the-fly)
Update (May 22, 2021): As mentioned above, we took some time to better familiarize ourselves with the hybrid design before comparing against the standard 4Point with its VTA on-the-fly feature.
We just published this update in part-2 (click this link).