The other aspect of the arm that is immediately noticeable is its clearly illuminated soundstage. The space is lit: that’s not bright – it’s clean and clearly defined, with locational edges to instruments and voices. Nor is it the cold hardness of the spot-lit stage typically generated by over-damped, high-feedback amplification. It’s more an expression of uncompressed mid and treble energy. The arm suffers no roll-off or excessive damping as the frequencies climb, but nor does it ring. It simply sounds lucid and uncluttered. But it also sounds very different to a lot of other arms, with their muted high-frequencies and softened dynamics. Far from being problematic, once you get over the shock of the new, you realize that the Blackbird’s character can play to significant advantage, dovetailing perfectly with and counteracting the limitations of the likes of the LP12 and too many heavy-weight decks. On a ‘table like the Monaco, the sheer clarity and musical immediacy it brings is as engaging as it is refreshing. But then, if you’ve signed up to the Monaco you are already over the ‘analogue is all about rounded warmth’ thing.
The Supatrac tonearm is not for everybody. There are those that will be disconcerted by its freedom of movement just as there are those who will dismiss its ‘alien’ design and materials. You can’t please all the people all of the time. For those seeking a more traditional solution, executed in what might be described as ‘engineering’ materials, the Alphason HR-200S is a worthy alternative that treads a far more familiar path. But if you take engineering to mean “the creative application of appropriate materials to generate a (more) efficient solution” then the Blackbird scores on all counts. In the search for a more affordable alternative to established tonearm designs from long-standing companies, Supatrac produced something that isn’t just cheaper, it is in many ways fundamentally superior to all but the best of those existing designs.
It also offers an unprecedented range of geometrical and mechanical versatility/adaptability. It will work with almost any cartridge with a twin-bolt mounting and it is light enough and can be dimensionally adapted to fit on almost any deck.
I mentioned the 4Point and the Alphasons advisedly: they are in many ways the cream of the existing crop, irrespective of price. The Blackbird is very comfortable in that company… Where does it fit in the great pantheon of predecessors? You can point to arms like the Well-Tempered and the 4Point – and the Blackbird certainly embodies aspects of both, sonically and mechanically – but the arm that it most resembles to me, is the original ARO. It has the same sense of life and energy, the same easy range of musical expression and clarity. I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison and can’t remember the last time I heard an ARO that wasn’t on an LP12, but I suspect the Supatrac Blackbird betters the venerable Naim in every respect. But what makes me equate it to the ARO isn’t that they sound alike. Despite some shared characteristics, they sound very different to each other. What reminds me of the ARO is the way that the Blackbird stands against embedded orthodoxy.