Vertere Reference Tonearm review

Different value attached to a Tonearm

Many analogue enthusiasts that I have the pleasure to share with do not put the Tonearm as the highest priority or the main determining factor for ultimate analogue performance. In the 70s', Ivor Tieffenbun of Linn (UK) successfully proved and emphasized the great importance of a good turntable in any analogue playback performance, hence the famed Linn LP12 turntable(s) that changed the analogue scene in those days. Some claimed that the cartridge is the most important because it is the first in contact with (grooves of) the recorded music media which is the vinyl record. "What is not gain at the front cannot be gain at the end", is the famous quote that I hear here. Another claimed that the phono stage is of extreme importance as it deals with the micro signal to be amplified for the rest. There are those that promote the transformers used for the Moving Magnet (MM) stage in the phono stage. Most will agree with me the importance of a good Tonearm needed for a good analogue set up but most that I know of may not choose to prioritize and/or emphasize the Tonearm over the other components in an analogue set up, especially one costing US$35,000-00 or £25,000-00 even for the ultimate analogue set up. The main school of thought here is still the turntable, hence the "turntable set up" (I have not heard of the 'analogue Tonearm set up').

Different importance attached to a Tonearm
Do not get me wrong, we still appreciate the value, in term of the gained performance, of a Tonearm in an analogue set up. It is just that I do not encounter any that prioritize and/or emphasize the Tonearm, whether in term of gained performance or any other gain, in an analogue set up.

I was impressed with what I heard from the TechDas Air Force One turntable with my Graham Phantom 2 and the attached cartridge, ZYX Omega Gold. I knew this set up is a huge jump or of a different (higher) league from my previous set up with the same Tonearm and cartridge on other turntables, notably the SME 30/2, the TWA AC-1 with Night Raven 3 motors and footers, and the Sperling L-1. I was still confident with that set up to hold its end even after hearing some other really top end analogue set up with higher priced Tonearms. Thus, my confidence in an analogue set up is very much concentrated on the turntable, the TechDas Air Force One. Quite a number of audiophile guests came by for a listen and shared the same confidence.

One faithful day, the local distributor of Vertere Acoustics, the Absolute Sound Distribution Sdn Bhd, informed me that Touraj Moghaddam is touring Asia with the Vertere Reference Tonearm and that if I be interested to allow him the pleasure to set up that US$35,000-00 Tonearm on the TechDas Air Force One turntable. They told me that Touraj has some wonderful experience in setting up his Tonearm on the same table at CES (USA).  I was thinking that it would be interesting to have the designer of the Roksan TMS turntable and Vertere Acoustics to come by to share with me and my guests some tips in furthering my analogue set up's performance. The thought of the performance of the Vertere Reference Tonearm did not come to me. My audiophile friends and I believed that a better Tonearm will surely improve the ultimate performance of an analogue set up but will not top it all.

Tonearm's contribution to the overall analogue performance

That day, Touraj came into my audio room with a big smile  and after a brief chit chat, he went to work installing the Vertere Reference Tonearm and explained to my guests and I the design, materials, objectives and manufacture of the Tonearm. After about an hour, the set up with the same cartridge (even to this day, the ZYX Omega Gold) is ready for its first drop. As the first tone emitted from my reference loudspeaker then, the Egglestonwork Ivy Signature, our jaw dropped and in awe. My guests whispered to me,"you are dead!". They signaled me that this is a must in my analogue set up.

I admit that I underestimated the contribution made by the Vertere Reference Tonearm in my analogue set up's performance. In all my audio journey, I was taken by storm with other audio components in an audio chain but never a Tonearm. At that time, I was not even looking for a Tonearm since I was having the Breuer, SME V, Cartridge Man Linear arm, Graham 2.2, and Clearaudio Statement Linear arm. You can imagine what was going on in my head then. In advance I testify that the Vertere Reference Tonearm is in a league of its own in term of performance. It only took my guests and I the first note played to realize the above!

The first note?

The first on duty is Music Matters' Blue Note's Hank Mobley Quintet "The Feelin's Good" (MMBST 84401). Here, Hank's saxophone comes into life in a way no other Tonearms in my set up and experience ever come close. The palpability of the instrument took on a certain weight and density that is almost real to the touch. The texture of the metal on that saxophone is just there as the air flow along that surface. I know that this is descriptive and that is not easy to accept.  Each tone also carry with it such dimension and boundary that add up to the almost real ness of that tone. The artistry of Hank Mobley is clearly played and understood as a middleweight champion, as noted in the album. Here, the resolution picked up clearly portray his tone to be smooth, round and agile in contrast to the trumpeter, Donald Byrd's sizzling effort. As I have mentioned in my other writing (the Gryphon Pendragon loudspeaker system's write up here in Mono & Stereo) that  this audio system with this Tonearm is able to dig deep into that level of detail buried in the grooves that the comment of those at the date of recording can clearly be heard, understood and appreciated.

Another is that first piano note played that I heard with this Tonearm. Many other Tonearms will pick it up as a note floating within a soundstage. That note may be round and three dimensional, but it is still like a floating dot compared to what the Vertere Reference Tonearm  is able to dig out with the right recording. I played Music Matters' Blue Note's Herbie Hancock "Takin' Off" (MMBST 84109) where the leader of that date is Herbie Hancock who is also the pianist. Even when the piano is not at the centre of attention but in the background, I experience the piano notes not as a dot but a full note covering the actual recorded bandwidth. The low key can actually be played back and be heard with weight and low that touched the ground. I like to paint such piano notes that it had a (descriptive) 'leg' or 'anchored'.

Note be anchored!

I believe that the way this Tonearm is able to dig up more or enough detail to allow the rest of the components in the chain to present each note in its full bandwidth or 'totality' that a listener will have the sensation of the note not floating but anchored or 'legged' to the ground thus give the musical instrument, it's essence. In addition, this anchoring of the note allow me to know the occupied space of the instrument and the space between instruments in the recording venue. I noticed that when played T.Misago And His Tokyo Cuban Boys, "Excitin' Latin!" (Toshiba Pro-Use Series LP 95013), I appreciate this gained higher resolution more as the complexity of the music increased or when there are more musicians at play. I find that this anchoring of notes and spacing clarity really showcase each musical instrument as an entity with individual character and not just a total sum. I really appreciate this (especially) when the piano is at play, even when it is not at solo or centre of attention, but yet it portray a space dedicated to the size of the piano, which is larger than most musical instruments, and maintain its presence.

Musical sense of the recorded sense...

It's to me, an amazing feat of this Tonearm to be able to show the different instrument occupy different size of space within the recorded soundstage. It's this clarity that allow the listener to make musical sense of the artists' intention and artistries. This recorded 'space' also allow the artists' instrument tempo to be appreciated. I realized that on many occasions, not all musicians in a set are supposed to be playing at the same tempo. I noticed that there are occasions when a piano is purposefully played at a slower tempo to tame down or against the wave created by the other musicians in the play. To my ears, many other lower resolving Tonearms tend not fast enough to capture these difference in tempo of each musician in the score. Thus, resulted in a stale presentation that lack spontaneity of the musicians.

The sudden explosive thwack will come but at a second or two later thus resulted a lost of dynamism and transient energy. The Vertere Reference Tonearm is great at picking up these sudden explosive thwack that give sudden "surprise" and life to the music as intended by the musicians. I love it when they do it at big band score!

The decay of the tone...fully satisfied

The above result may be contributed by the fact that the Vertere Reference Tonearm, with the right recording, is able to catch each tone fully from its start to its end thus allowing each tone to decay fully before the next tone comes into the music. The tempo will be clearly heard and felt. The feel is that each tone is able to ripe to its natural core or fully bloom to the recorded detail. At this level of retrieved detail, each musical instrument will take on a whole new level of life that I have yet heard from any other competitors (but, of course, I have not hear them all).

The recorded human element in the music

The Vertere Reference Tonearm's unusual retrieval ability does give each tone to fulfill its designated position in a score. Hence, I wish to add that it also allow the listener to appreciate the artists' artistries in creating, directing and manipulating each tone to form the music. The listener cannot miss the human element, whether it be artistry or emotion, that bind those tones into music. I remember an audiophile friend whom have visited my audio system on many occasions, whispered to me that other Tonearms did sound broken compared to the Vertere Reference Tonearm. Whenever I played a vocal album here, I noticed the human voice does sound fuller with clearer expression and emotion into the words or lyrics. The vocal is always at the right height with the accompanying instruments at the appropriate height. The piano is almost always lower in height compare to the vocal. The trumpet is at a higher position compare to the saxophone. The violin is at a higher height than the guitar. This does lend realism to the playback of the musical event. I am sure you will agree with me that Lyn Stanley's "Potions-From the 50's" (A.T. Music LLC 3103) is one of those good recording that is able to showcase an audio system.

The Vertere Reference Tonearm allow me to hear deeper into her voice and believing in her emotion as she sang the lyrics. I have always believe that emotion is crucial to bind the tones into tunes then into a piece of music. Thus, it is important that my audio components must be able to retrieve that layer of information that is emotion recorded. There are some audio components that sound analytical but without emotion and musicality, but there are those that sound emotional and musical but lack certain details. This Tonearm is able to retrieve more detail than I am used to hear from my heavy rotation records and allowed me to realize that the recorded emotion in the music is another level of detail or resolution.

Vertere beats all other challengers?

There are quite a few Tonearms came my way but none is as expensive and perform as well as the Vertere Reference. The other competitors do not surprise me but may impressed me in a number of areas. Whereas, the Vertere Reference Tonearms can surprise me and make me wonder what have I been listening with the other Tonearms. I am not saying that the Vertere Reference will shock you with detail of a hidden instruments not heard of from the other competitors. Mind you, the other worthy competitors are no slouch in term of detail retrieval. It's just that they may not allow the tone to bloom to its recorded max and decay at the right time and some tone may just decay fast. This affect the ultimate tempo. The Vertere Reference is able to present rich and well textured and layered tones (as per recorded) without sacrificing tempo. You can expect a real dynamic performance with the cleanest low and the highest high, at a scale of almost real to the actual event (that I have yet heard).

At US$35,000-00?

This is not a price point that allow Vertere Reference Tonearms to land in hundreds of turntables. I would say that Touraj Moghaddam is very adventurous, daring and bold to embark on such a project to design and built the Tonearm to the best of his knowledge and experience with available technologies and materials, knowing that he would never be able to make this product a commercial success. The best he can do and hope is to create a name and brand for the product, and to trickle down the technologies learnt to his other products. This is a long term plan with much hope, effort and finance on the line.

I do not think that there are that many Tonearms at this price point. I will not say that this Tonearm worth the money for you. That is a decision for you to make. I say this, even though I am not thinking of looking to buy another Tonearm for my TechDas Air Force One turntable, the Vertere Reference Tonearm convinced me otherwise. So far, the few (Tonearms) competitors that came into my system, have yet to prove to me that they are near in performance to that of the Vertere Reference.

Dato’ Danon Han


Each individual part of the unit is bespoke and has been specifically designed to complement the overall philosophy, design and purpose of the Vertere Reference Tonearm.  

In one crucial development, the limitations of all conventional tonearm bearing systems have been overcome. In the Vertere Reference Tonearm, the arm’s vertical and horizontal pivoting motion is provided by non-rotating polymer-metal laminate films. 

Because there are no sliding surfaces, the change-of-direction friction of conventional bearings is eliminated. The result is the first truly ‘noiseless’ tonearm bearing.

However, every other part of the arm has been given equal attention, in a design where each detail contributes to the excellence of the whole. 

At the rear of the arm, the main counterweight is articulated in the vertical plane through a pair of precision ball race bearings, while the counterweight support beam is in turn articulated in the horizontal plane, again using a ball race bearing. 

This helps to ensure proper tracking even on warped records, automatically compensating the effective tracking force with the rise and fall of the warp.

While the polished stainless steel standard counterweight, with additional discs, gives optimum matching for most cartridges, an alternative weight with tungsten carbide insert is provided for use with heavier cartridges.

For ideal rigidity, the arm tube and headshell are both machined from solid titanium, then fuse-welded together to form a homogeneous single component. 

Dynamic stability is assured because the arm's vertical-motion bearing plane Is coincident with the stylus contact point at the surface of the record, while the counterweight's centre of gravity is set below this plane.

Horizontal and vertical motion bearings are offset by 23mm, so that the arm's effective length is different in the two planes, and correctly optimised for tracking accuracy and information retrieval. 

Internal wiring is a special version of Vertere Hand-Built Pulse cable, in one continuous run from the cartridge tags to the exit cable connector at the base of the tonearm. All connectors and contacts are custom made with three times the standard thickness of gold plating.

Regarding the Vertere Reference Tonearm;

This piece of design and precision engineering is the Best tonearm on the planet primarily because of its unique design addressing issues that have both never been quite understood and never tackled. One of which being the effective length of the tonearm.

It has been wrongly assumed that the main contributing parameter to tracking error, mainly towards the end of a vinyl record, is the tracking angle of the cartridge.

This change of tracking angle occurs when using pivoted tonearms. With a linear tracking tonearm, the stylus travels along the radius of the record, and so the tracking angle is kept constant. On the other hand with a pivoted tonearm, the stylus travels along an arc and thus the tracking angle changes along its path.

The error in tracking angle is always measured by the angle between the tangential line to the record groove at the stylus and the actual line of the stylus to the groove. This angle, on well-designed pivoted tonearms, changes as follows:

Approximately 1.0 -2.0 degrees at the outer edge of the record

Reducing to Zero about 120mm from the record centre

Then reducing further to about -1.0 degrees at about 90mm from the record centre

And then increasing to be Zero again at about 65mm from the record centre

Then increasing to approximately 1.0 degree at the inner part of the groove

As you can see the error is actually highest at the beginning of the record whereas ‘tracking error’ is mostly heard at the end of the record!

In fact a cartridge mounted on a linear tracking tonearm with an error of say 0.5 - 1.0 degree angle, does not lead to the kind of ‘tracking error’ heard when using pivoted tonearms. It sounds more like a miss balance. If this angle was as critical as it has been made to be then the performance at the beginning of the record would be totally unacceptable as the error is double what it is at the end of the record!

There are many contributing factors to why tonearms limit the performance of a record playing system. These factors must first be identified, then analysed and finally addressed in the design.

The invention of the 12” tonearm was believed to address the issue of ‘tracking error’ heard by marginally reducing the tracking angle error with the increased length of the arm. You can see below why that’s not really the case! The only contribution of the 12” arm is actually to increase the pressure on the stylus/cantilever/suspension to direct the arm to where it needs to go. This causes unnecessary deflections and excessive low frequency movement of the stylus/cantilever while doing their job.

You can see below diagrams for the SME.V, SME.V12 (12”) & the Vertere Reference Tonearms showing tracking angle error and distortion from the Inner groove to outer groove part.

From these diagrams it is quite clear that although the 12” SME shows reasonable improvement in distortion and tracking angle error over its SME.V counterpart, it really does not have anywhere near the same advantage over the Vertere Reference! Instead the 12” has an increased resistance to movement some 30% higher than the Vertere Reference! 

Major contributing factor to tracking error is the combination of reduced track length to store the music data and the continual increase for anti-skate near the end of the record due to the overhang of pivoted tonearms plus the ‘change of direction’ friction force of any sliding bearing.

Near the end of the record the track length per given time is half that of the beginning of the record.
Also as the arm needs to track the ‘mean-line’ of the groove, with normal bearings the suspension of the cartridge will compress almost twice the amount before it can push and change the direction of the arm movement. This occurs, both side to side & up and down. But not with the membrane bearing of the Vertere Reference Tonearm! The resistance to motion remains extremely low constant as there is sliding.

As shown in the diagrams, the Vertere Reference has almost identical tracking and distortion as the SME.V12 between 65mm – 125mm and marginally deviates outside of those. And this is achieved without the unwanted extra mass of the tonearm and thus the counterweight increasing the resistance to motion.

In the Vertical direction the Vertere Reference is actually longer than the Horizontal – hence the term split geometry. The effective length in the vertical direction is actually 263.0mm (10.36”) minimising any vertical tracking angle error. In fact for a 2mm vertical movement, the difference in VTA error between a 12” tonearm and the Vertere Reference would only be 0.059° which is immeasurable!
The Counter weight is also 23.0mm further away from the Horizontal Motion Axis thus providing higher inertia at audio band low frequency range. This ensures maximum signal pick-up and dynamics where tonearms are most vulnerable resulting in unsurpassed solidity with ultrafine detail at the bass frequencies.

Horizontal Motion Axis being at 240mm (Effective length) while the Vertical Axis is at 263mm ensures minimum resistance for the arm to move up and down and side to side below the audio band. This, almost resistance free characteristic of the arm, ensures the cartridge can move the arm to track the ‘mean-line’ with least disturbance and pressure on the cantilever/suspension.

In conclusion, the Vertere Reference Tonearm reduces the tracking error and distortion where it matters most without increasing the inertia of the arm where it is most disturbing to the cartridge.

There are many more unique features and design parameters that clarify why this tonearm achieves the highest level of performance which we will cover in other discussions.

Touraj Moghaddam


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