Work In Progress…

The SupaTrac Blackbird continues to evolve.

By Roy Gregory

I’ve been thoroughly bowled over by the performance of the SupaTrac Blackbird tonearm, as well as intrigued, amazed and befuddled by turns, over its constructional concept and installation (it definitely demands a mental re-boot). Even during the review period I was astonished at just how quickly the company could respond to observations or suggestions with simple, in-series revisions. When I suggested that a vertical screw be used to allow more precise adjustment of VTA, it took about a week for a revised arm pillar incorporating the mod to arrive. More importantly, I loved the fact that each and every change was retro-fitable to earlier ‘arms, should owners so desire. Please don’t take this as an open invitation to contact SupaTrac with requests for every weird adaptation under the sun, but it is indicative of just how responsive and open-minded this young company is.

In part this is a function of the arm’s materials and construction. Its conceptual clarity translates into simple forms, manufactured in carefully chosen and off-the-shelf materials, combining traditional machining with the latest manufacturing techniques to allow an adaptable approach to production engineering. As well as side-stepping many of the (expensive and mission critical) precision sub-assemblies used in conventional tonearms, the Blackbird also allows what is possibly an unprecedented degree of user choice/tuning when it comes to the ‘arm’s mechanical characteristics. Effective length and geometry can be user defined, while effective mass is user adjustable.

But as well as allowing for development and adaptation, the same physical qualities and materials choices allow the arm’s existing structure and components to evolve. One significant revision has been the introduction of the Farpoint geometry. This moves the pivot point back by one cm, allowing for a stiffer and stronger arm pillar while also potentially increasing the effective length of the ‘arm by the same amount: this in turn increases the ‘arm’s compatibility with a wider range of decks and mounting arrangements. Meanwhile, the junctions between the armtube(s), cartridge and thrust-box have both been stiffened and reinforced. Shorter suspension filaments are used and ride height and azimuth adjustments are now separated, making ‘hot-swapping’ of arm-tops (always a possibility from day one) a far more practical proposition.

Lighter ‘saddle’ effective mass adjuster weight on left, tipped on its side to show the felt layer that protects the arm and decouples the weight. The VTA screw shows the socket head and soft ‘nose’.

Alongside the significant changes to the arm pillar, there have been other running changes too. I’ve received an updated VTA screw: it is topped with an allen socket (which is way easier and more precise to use) and the contact point has a soft head to prevent scoring of the arm collar. It replaced the ‘rush job’ that I originally received with a properly executed part that is now standard. In addition, the sliding cradle to adjust effective mass that came with the review arm has been augmented with a far simpler but much more elegant, decoupled and non-magnetic ‘saddle’, which weighs roughly half as much. All of which makes perfect sense to me. Finally, as well as the set of three, small, medium and large steel counterweights that originally came with the arm, SupaTrac now offer a heavier, Tungsten Carbide weight for use with longer arms and/or heavier cartridges. The increased mass means that it can be placed closer to the pivot point for lower inertia, while tucking it under the thrust box looks neater too.