Talking to one interested party about the arm’s character, I described it as “frictionless”. I was talking about the musical quality, its natural sense of pace and flow, its uninhibited dynamic response. But that un-intrusive character, the way the arm seems to get out of the way of the signal and its dynamic demands, suggests that it is as frictionless in operation as it is in performance and presentation. It’s as if the signal passes and the arm leaves no audible obstructions in its path.
“Welcome To The House Of Fun…”
The Blackbird’s sprightly musical vivacity certainly lends itself to more quixotic music, like the Shostakovich Concert for Piano Trumpet and Strings (Argo ZRG 674) with a sonorous vibrance to John Ogden’s left hand, beautifully poised against the dashing forays of his right, the interjections of John Wilbraham’s trumpet, part echo, part inversion part almost jokey, portentous fanfare and behind it all, Mariner and the Academy of St. Martin-In-The-Fields. With so much happening, the arm’s inherent sense of pattern and organization really comes into its own, while its sense of space, separation and lack of compression adds further drama and musical contrast. It’s the same balance of musical virtues that played so well on the Sarah Jarosz, but this time latching on to the shape and patterns of a more sporadic and disjointed piece, with its rapid shifts in pace and mood. Where so many products are described as fluid, the Blackbird is in a different category. Where ‘liquid’ carries associations of smooth or damped motion, the Supatrac arm is quite capable of sudden angular response, when the signal demands. What makes it special is that it achieves that response without audible strain or distress.
The Blackbird might be characterized by its sure-footed, responsive and articulate delivery, but there are two other aspects to its performance that need mentioning. The first is its low-frequency performance. The arm’s bottom end is quick, precise and transparent, full of texture and attack. Bowed bass has a real sense of the bow dragging across the strings, with a natural sense of bite and body, while pizzicato passages have a real sense of pluck and release. Synth bass, from electro-pop to soundtracks, has surprising shape and substance, from the motive push of the deep bass pulse that animates ‘Mustt Mustt’ (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan/Daddy G on DJ Kicks, !K7 170 LP) to the moody, layered, almost subterranean textures that underpin the Arrival OST (DGG 479 6786). If you are expecting the fat, rounded chunks of thud that pass for bass from many turntable/tonearm combinations, you are going to be surprised.
First response might be that the Blackbird is bass-light, but listen longer and you realize that all the bass is there, it just isn’t dragging a whole load of baggage with it. The 4Point goes deeper, with more weight and the same absence of padding, (which likely accounts for the greater sense of overall acoustic and individual dimensionality it produces) but it can’t match the textural subtlety and shape that the Blackbird brings to bass notes. Just listen to ‘Elektro Kardiogram’ from Kraftwerk’s Tour De France Soundtrack album (EMI 591 708 1): appreciate the subtle contouring of the ‘heartbeat’ that sets the track’s tempo. So much more than simply a double thud, it’s organic quality contrasts directly with the grating rasp of the breathing. These guys are cyclists and it shows. This is more than just sound – it’s an almost physical expression of effort that is transmitted through the familiar shape and texture of the bodily sensations. That’s pretty impressive for a track that’s entirely electro-synthetic.