The Supatrac Blackbird Tonearm – Part 2
By Roy Gregory
Splitting a review between the design and practicality aspects of a product and the way that it performs, is only really necessary if that product challenges convention, accepted thinking and current technology or constructional approaches. The SupaTrac Blackbird tonearm qualifies on all counts. So much so in fact, that it took the best part of three-and-a-half thousand words just to describe the way it’s put together and the thinking behind it. Even after all that, I’ve had a flurry of questions seeking further clarification. But if the Blackbird is different when it comes to concept and construction, those differences are also reflected in its musical qualities. This is an arm that sounds as different as it looks, but the way it looks/works and the way it sounds are intimately connected. So before plunging into Part 2 of this review in order to see how the tonearm sounds, it is worth making sure that you’ve absorbed Part 1 (https://gy8.eu/review/breaking-the-sound-barrier/) so that you’ve got the background as to why.
Now that we’re all on the same page…
With the string-suspended, horizontal uni-pivot concept now firmly planted in your mind, it’s time to actually start playing – and playing with – the Blackbird. But before we do, it’s also time for a significant update: the arm pillar with the promised VTA adjustment post that I mentioned in Part 1 duly arrived and was installed, a process that further underlined how familiarity with the Blackbird makes handling it and setting it up significantly easier. I swapped out the previous arm pillar, remounted the arm-wand and re-set the arm’s alignment in around 15-minutes. I was futzing around for most of an afternoon the first time I installed the Supatrac. As alien as the Blackbird’s construction might seem at first, it’s remarkable how, once you get your head round the internal logic, all the parts fall into place. The VTA adjustment is (as you might expect) simplicity itself. A long, Delrin tipped screw is inserted vertically through the platform that supports the cueing device. This rests on the arm-mounting collar, so that turning it clockwise gradually raises the arm, turning it anti-clockwise lowers it. Obviously you need to slacken the arm-height locking screw slightly to allow free movement, but not too much, or the arm-pillar flops sideways. Just like the cueing device, Supatrac saw no sense in reinventing the wheel. This approach is familiar from a number of different arms, including the recently reviewed Alphason HR-200S. It’s an ideal solution for one-time set up and can even be used ‘on-the-fly’, on the right ‘table and with some care and a little practice. My early sample had a slot head on the screw, although I understand that a socket head will be used in production, which will make using the VTA screw even easier.
Talking of turntables, I used the Blackbird on two different decks: the GPA Monaco v2.0 and, initially, the VPI Avenger – although the arm quickly outgrew that ‘table. Thanks to the variable effective mass, I also got to play with different cartridges, including the Fuuga and the Lyra Dorian, although ultimately I settled on the Lyra Etna Lambda for most of the listening, which suited the arm extremely well without the application of additional mass. But the Blackbird’s inherent character and qualities were immediately apparent, irrespective of partnering turntable and cartridge. This arm is Fast, dynamically Unfettered and Naturally expressive. Yep – it’s just plain FUN.
You can break the sound down in a number of ways. It is quick, clean and lucid. It is rhythmically sure-footed and incredibly articulate. The soundstage is wide open and uncluttered, with clearly defined space between performers. Micro-dynamics and instrumental textures are beautifully resolved, separating instruments and voices tonally as well as spatially. Its leading edge definition is exemplary, placing a note and its amplitude with certainty and clarity. Which, taken together, adds up to quite the sonic laundry list. But what makes the blackbird so instantly engaging is the way in which it combines those qualities to create a meaningful musical whole.