Terminator – Linear Tracking tonearm (Pt 1)

(Updated 31 Oct 2015)

The ‘Terminator’ tonearm is a product of Trans-Fi Audio in the UK.

Based originally on a concept by Poul Ladegaard of Denmark, it has been significantly developed and refined by Trans-Fi Audio over approx. 10 years. IMG_7968bThis is a tonearm with an air-bearing Slider for horizontal movement and twin ‘unipivot’ bearings for vertical movement.

The Terminator air-bearing tonearm does not use a concentric sleeve and tube with a fixed-tolerance gap.  This air-bearing uses two alloy L-angle sections separated by an air film.  Thus,  the air gap is variable and a bare minimum tolerance gap is possible.

Very low air pressure, less than 2 psi, is needed to levitate the top Slider – which reduces pump noise, air hiss noise, vibration and cost.IMG_7974a The Air Manifold, as in Ladegaard’s design, comprises two alloy L-sections, spaced apart and sealed to form a thin air plenum with air holes.  The Slider horizontal bearing surface (180mm long) is longer than in most air-bearing tonearms – this helps to increase bearing stability.

Twin unpivot points, used for the vertical movement, are a simple, proven, zero tolerance bearing.  One audible characteristic of rattle-free unipivot bearings is clear treble tone without harshness.  Unipivots benefit from some mass-loading and this has been addressed in a recent Terminator arm-wand upgrade.

So, the Terminator concept is a different approach, one that arguably offers some advantages – aside from reasonable cost.

Advantages of Linear Tracking Tonearms generally – the most obvious advantage (over pivoted tonearms) is reducing tracking error to zero, effectively.

Tracking Distortion - 9 inch tonearms

Tracking Distortion – typical 9 inch pivoted tonearm

Eliminating Anti-Skating forces is another advantage, which is under-rated I think.  Skating side-forces generated by pivoted tonearms are not constant and vary with groove friction – ie. stylus profile, tracking weight, groove radius (groove speed), groove modulations (music variations).  Constantly varying and unbalanced side-forces, affect groove tracing stability.  Improved groove tracing seems to allow a linear tracking tonearm to audibly retrieve more energy from the grooves – this appears as increased music energy, power and dynamic range

IMG_7988

Alignment gauge for a Linear Tracking Tonearm (see Update below)

Disadvantages of Linear Tracking Tonearms – air pumps are usually noisy.  Even low pressure pumps, as used on the Terminator, need to be housed inside an enclosure or in another room.  Pumps also require a ‘surge tank’ to damp pump pulses and to smooth the air flow.  One simple Surge Tank seems to be adequate for the Terminator pump.

Plastic 'surge tank'

Plastic ‘surge tank’

Sera 275R air pump

Sera 275R air pump

Dust – is often a maintenance problem with sleeve-type air-bearings.  This does not seem to be a problem with the Terminator style air-bearing.  Additionally, the Slider is easily lifted out for inspection and/or cleaning.

IMG_7994

Short arm length – is a feature of the Terminator, to help reduce arm mass.  However, the cartridge tends to be more sensitive to VTA variations, than on a longer tonearm – eg. record thickness variations and record warps.  Especially with high-end, narrower, line-contact type stylii.  Fortunately, the Terminator has a conveniently-designed VTA adjuster (below).

IMG_8008

Effective Mass – is quite high in the horizontal axis (90-100gm depending on cartridge) and quite low in the vertical direction (5-10gm).  This asymmetry would seem to be problematic.  Although stereo record groove channels are cut at 45º vertical angles, there may be some phase inaccuracy.  However in reality there does not seem to be any audible or resonance problems.

Update 2015 – see Ladegaard’s Thinking – his experiments on Effective Mass and resonant frequency.

Cost – Linear Tracking Tonearms historically have been costly, partly because of the need for a high quality air-pump and fine tolerances on many air-bearing designs.  The Terminator works well with an inexpensive, low-pressure aquarium pump (UKP20).  There are now a number of Linear Tracking tonearms offered at reasonable cost – eg. Advanced Analog MG-1, Opus 3 Cantus, Trans-Fi Terminator.

Sonic performance – overall…vivid, lively and powerful.

  • Low distortion, without variation across an LP side
  • Sweeter, more natural tonality
  • ‘Open’ and large scale ‘sound picture’
  • Powerful and stable dynamics, no insecurity at dynamic peaks, eg. piano
  • Wide bandwidth – low frequency power + high frequency extension
  • High resolution
  • Music energy and SPL (sound pressure level) seem to be increased! (1-2dB?)

I have had this Terminator tonearm in use since Mar 2013.

(Tonearm references include – Fidelity Research FR64, Apparition 12″,  Hadcock GH228, Linn Ittok, Zeta.  Cartridges in use – Transfiguration Temper W, Koetsu Rosewood Signature.)

Update 11 Jan 2015:

There is some interest in the simple alignment Template that I use.  It was drawn with CAD software so should be nice and square.  I have uploaded a PDF file here (below) for you to open and print.  Hopefully it makes your alignment swift, easy and accurate.  (It’s formatted A4 size, but should print satisfactorily in US Letter size.  The platter spindle hole is drawn 7mm square, which is easier to cut out than a circle.)  I’ve found that some care in checking and re-checking alignment pays dividends, such is the resolution of this tonearm.

* Terminator alignment gauge

Update 31 Oct 2015:

  • Back in 2013, Trans-Fi Audio supplied the Pivot Weight upgrade – brass weights located over the Tomahawk pivot points.  2 versions are shown below, to suit Tomahawk 1 or Tom 2 arm wands. As you can imagine, during high power/energy music, there would be greater bearing stability – I recall improvements in bass authority and overall clarity.
IMG_7255a

Earlier 2-piece arm wand (top) and current 1-piece arm wand (bottom).

weights

(Lower photo from Transfi Audio website)

  • Arm Counterweight – you can see above (top) and on this Jan ’15 post, that I replaced the original counterweight Delrin block + threaded rod with ‘stacked’ counterweights – this provided a more ‘taut’ sound with less resonance, fullness or ‘bloom’ – you may prefer either, depending on system.
  • More recently, the stacked counterweights were replaced with a single large weight (for heavy cartridges, similar to below) – greatly improved crispness, treble presence, ‘leading edges’ – there must have been considerable resonances in the stacked weights, absorbing some HF energy.
  • counterweight-160615

    (Transfi Audio photo)

Any comments welcome!

See also later posts:

Terminator Tonearm (Pt 2) – Ladegaard’s thinking

Terminator Tonearm (Pt 3) – stop the chatter

Terminator Tonearm (Pt 4) – new arm mount

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18 thoughts on “Terminator – Linear Tracking tonearm (Pt 1)

  1. I also use Vic’s Terminator tonearm (on his Salvation turntable)–it’s a great choice!

    I was wondering where you found or if you made the alignment gauge? I use a gauge based on a HIFI News lp, but this gauge would be an improvement. Could you let me know?

    Thanks.
    Alan Simes

    • Hi Alan,
      As I use CAD software in my work, I drew up this simple ‘gauge’.
      Happy to email you a PDF – let me know if it works OK!

      PS. My Terminator is now also installed on a TransFi Salvation TT! (Since mid-this year.) This rim-drive TT performs very nicely indeed in all respects.
      Thanks for checking in, Owen

  2. Pingback: Trans-Fi Salvation turntable | D a r k L a n t e r n

  3. Tom Turner

    When you assemble this tt/tonearm it’s immediate diy creativity becomes apparent. So nice to see simple yet effective method for linear tracking. I don’t think I have had a single cartridge mistrack since it was leveled correctly.

    • Tom – thanks for your feedback, experience.
      – Yes an air-bearing avoiding a shaft + sleeve, neatly avoids the air-gap high tolerance cost & also requirement for high pressure pumps.
      – I had some wire dressing issues causing mis-tracking in early days, but note Vic’s latest wire dressing update that addresses this.
      Interested in what associated equipment do you use with your Terminator?
      Cheers, Owen

  4. Pingback: Terminator tonearm – Ladegaard’s thoughts | D a r k L a n t e r n

  5. Pingback: Miyajima MC cartridges – fresh thinking | D a r k L a n t e r n

  6. hi,
    i have the terminator set up on a notts analogue hyperspace,and after a few attempts have finally to my ears got it sounding sweet. a bit scared to alter anything at the moment though!. the first thing that struck me was the quietness when the needle hits,really happy with the sound. just thinking of trying a decca / koetsu. but would welcome your thought on the miyajima.great web site by the way.
    cheers
    mark.

    • Hi Mark – many thanks.
      I have no experience with Deccas unfortunately (I think Vic used one previously).
      The Miyajima is a really enjoyable cartridge, more ‘meaty’ & weighty than a Koetsu & most other hi end carts IME. I like (i) its warmth & low end power & (ii) its midrange clarity & ‘intelligibility’, without edginess (a characteristic of the unique Miyajima ‘fulcrum’ design I reckon).

      With the Terminator, I find it best to remove the arm wand, let the slider float & adjust it level – before replacing the arm wand.

      Let me know if I can help with anything else in particular.
      Cheers, Owen

    • The Koetsu (Rosewood/Signature) paints a more ‘impressionistic” picture, more emphasis on harmonic/ambient detail, the ‘trailing edges of sounds. The Miyajima is more ‘direct’, visceral, less HF presence – yet achieves better clarity, vocal ‘intelligibilty’ to my ear. Optimal loading is a bit higher (~250 ohms) & benefits from being run at the recommended ambient temperature(!) – 20+ deg C (68+F).

      Not sure if this is helpful – please let me know.

      • Hi Owen,
        thanks for the feedback and evaluations of the cartridges, very helpfull with not being able to hear and demo them. I suppose i am after a harbeth sound as opposed to an atc speaker sound , if that can make any sence to you ! More of a whole balanced sound rather than a super resolution sound.
        cheers
        mark

    • Hi Mark – I have not had Harbeths, but I have had a set of Spendor SP1s for a long while! (If that’s any relevant reference.)
      Both carts lean toward richness & warmth, although modern Rosewoods seem to have more neutral balance. The Koetsu emphasises ‘beauty’, space, ambience. Koetsus benefit from a idler/rim-drive (perhaps DD) TT – as Sugano had.
      The Miyajima (Kansui at least) impresses with LF weight, dynamic power, ‘liveness’, without losing definition.
      Importantly too, what tonearm do you have?
      Cheers, Owen

      • Hi Owen,
        I have the T3PRO tonearm and have just got it sounding better by removing the rod with the counter balance weights and putting on the 3 brass discs, forgot i had got them with the arm ! Think it is going to be a hard choice with the cartridge, so many options. I do like the thinking behind the Miyajima though. Thanks again for your evaluations, much appreciated.
        Cheers,
        Mark

    • Hi Mark – I found the same c/wt improvements myself (I have added an update & pics above).
      Cartridge preferences are of course very personal – what cartridge/s do you have presently/recently?

      • Hi Owen,
        I have a benz wood sl on the T3Pro , a Denon DL-103PRO on a thorens TD 125mk11 with sme arm and a spare Denon DL-304 for back up. I might have to look into getting the single large c/wt. I think i am leaning towards a Koetsu for the next cartridge, but if honest i am happy with the benz but you know how it goes eh!
        Cheers,
        Mark

  7. Pingback: My music system | D a r k L a n t e r n

  8. Pingback: Terminator tonearm (Pt III) – stop the chatter | D a r k L a n t e r n

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