Sometimes we all will look at something and think “that’s really clever” or “I wish I’d thought of that”; and in the case of audio there’s always a hope (often dashed) that something cleverly designed is going to sound better than one’s established references. So it was with the Reed 3P tonearm – even though it’s been around for a few years it only recently came to my attention and its multiple on-the-fly adjustment provisions immediately caught my eye. Clever stuff, I thought, and that was enough to risk buying in a 12″ version with Cocobolo arm wand and cryo’d copper cabling.
The arm arrived after a wait of around 5 weeks (they are typically made to order in Lithuania) and it immediately impressed me with its solid, workmanlike packaging, which consists of a neatly dovetailed plywood box with the arm very securely packed in layers of laser cut foam. The only other new arm I’ve seen so well packed is a new SME, although they come in cardboard outer packaging. It’s somewhat refreshing to see such functional packaging that clearly is not intended to add bling and to elevate/justify the price!
Once I’d received a new offset alloy armboard from Magna Audio to mount the Reed 3P on my Kenwood KD-990 truntable, it was a very simple matter to establish its correct position in relation to the platter spindle and to correctly align the arm tube at rest using the supplied template. It’s quite nice that the Reed 3P is totally surface mounted – no part of it sits below the arm board.
It’s worth describing what makes this arm different. At first sight it looks pretty much like any other tonearm, albeit one with a beautifully crafted wooden arm wand. The clever stuff is all to do with the magnetic bearing design – a magnetically suspended cradle supports the arm wand, which pivots vertically on the cradle using two tiny points (see the second picture below showing the cradle and its two tiny ‘cups’ where the points locate). So, we have the near-zero horizontal friction of a magnetic bearing combined with near-zero vertical friction of the twin-pivot arrangement, hence Reed’s claims about it working like a unipivot, but with much greater security. The 3P adds a neat trick, in that the top of the bearing yoke is held by a small lever that enables on-the-fly azimuth adjustment, designed so that when the cradle is tilted by that lever, it rotates around the stylus point, so adjusting azimuth does not upset any of the setup geometry. Clever stuff, which works with ease and precision.
The Reed 3P also has on-the-fly VTA adjustment (or SRA adjustment if you want to be pedantic). Nothing new about that, but this design has a small lever at the back of the pillar that you use for on-the-fly adjustments, and a knob on top of the pillar that is used to set the arm up initially, eg the normal level arm tube. I’ve never handled a tonearm that it so easy to adjust accurately and quickly. Never mind on-the-fly capabilities – with a Reed arm you get to your level starting point in moments. I like to use a small circular bubble level on the headshell to establish the starting position, before fine adjustments.
Fitting a Miyajima Shilabe stereo cartridge was easy because the arm tube can be dismounted from its cradle and put carefully to one side (the wires are still attached though). I aligned the cartridge using the Acoustical Systems SMARTractor, to their recommended UNI-DIN alignment. Setting VTF is easy because the counterweight moves and is locked into place easily and it has a secondary threaded insert that means it’s really easy to dial in the correct downforce. I keep using the word ‘easy’ because it really is ‘easy’. Simples, even.
So, having got the Reed 3P set up and dialled in, it was time for a listen via my headphone vinyl rig consisting of:
- Paul Hynes Design MC2 Moving Coil Head Amp, or Miyajima ETR-KSW stereo SUT
- ANT Kora 3T SE Phono Stage (re-boxed and powered by Paul Hynes Design PR3 regulated PSU)
- Beyerdynamic A2 headphone amplifier
- Denon AHD-7000 Headphones
- Epiphany Acoustics Atratus III interconnects
I’ve been (happily) stuck in a Beethoven rut for some time, oscillating between Piano Sonatas, String Quartets, Triple Concerto and the odd symphony. Leaving aside my musical tastes, this is good music to evaluate something like a tonearm, because there is much going on, musically, and real instruments being played in real acoustic spaces. I started with the Beaux Arts Trio and Haitink playing the Triple Concerto Op56 (Philips 9500 382), which I know quite well having played it a great deal before, on the same Kenwood deck and Miyajima Shilabe, but with a Fidelity Research FR-64S tonearm. I thought that it would be a tall order to improve on the FR-64S which has to be one of the Greatest Tonearms Ever Made. But, from the first notes the Reed 3P brought out the body sounds of the instruments so much better, with a musical grace and natural portrayal of ‘space’ that is utterly compelling. The Shilabe already demonstrates its low distortion character in pretty much any arm with sufficient mass to get it going, but in the Reed 3P string sounds and fine details are rendered with absolutely stunning purity – beguiling stuff. There’s a similar story with Alfred Brendel playing Beethoven Piano Sonatas (Philips 9500 077) where the piano takes on a resonant magnificence that the old FR-64S never quite manages in comparison. I also played some Dire Straits (Love Over Gold), Lou Reed (Transformer) and even Lene Lovich (Flex) with similarly impressive and expressive results. It’s difficult to summarise the Reed 3P’s sound in words, but it is truly lovely – low distortion, great handling of low level details and which such a nice feeling of ‘body’ to the sound, all of which comes together to make (to my ears) a truly realistic, organic and very analogue sound.
Are there any downsides? The two little pins that form the arm’s vertical pivots locate in tiny cups on the magnetically suspended bearing yoke (hence Reed’s words about it working like a unipivot). It is initially quite easy to dislocate these pins when moving the arm in and out of the rest clip. It’s only a matter of a second or two to put everything back, and you do learn quickly how to handle the arm to avoid doing this, but it is initially disconcerting. The arm would not sound as good as it does without this particular design compromise and you do very quickly get used to handling the arm correctly, so this really is not an issue apart from during initial acquaintance, a bit like familiarising oneself with a unipivot arm. Absolutely not a problem in use, just something to bear in mind when first using the arm.
In summary, the Reed 3P has to be the finest sounding tonearm that I have ever heard, and it’s a truly magical partner for a Miyajima stereo cartridge. That the sonics are matched by inspired design, flawless quality and intuitive operation are all bonuses. These days a price tag starting at £3200 for the 9.5″ version is not exactly cheap, but the physical quality is stunning and I shudder to contemplate how much you’d have to pay for a better sounding arm. At the moment I’m not sure that there is a better sounding arm.
If you would like to hear the Reed 3P tonearm for yourself, get in touch (contact details at the head of the page). We will be showing it at the North West Audio Show 24-25 June 2017, so please come along to hear for yourself why I am so enthusiastic about this remarkable tonearm.
See our product page here: https://ammonite-audio.co.uk/product/reed-3p-tonearm/
Reed’s website: http://www.reed.lt/products/tonearms/reed-3p/all/reed-3p