(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. This 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. 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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
- 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.
Any comments welcome!