Breaking The Sound Barrier:

The internal weight and external ‘saddle’ weight , either of which can be used to modify the arm’s effective mass.

One of the critical aspects of any tonearm’s performance is the extent to which it allows proper alignment of the cartridge in all axes. Bear in mind that the Blackbird hails from the UK, where for years, dogma has dispensed with azimuth and effective VTA adjustment. Allowing rotational adjustment at the headshell is generally felt to compromise rigidity to such an extent that it rendered azimuth adjustments undesirable if not inaudible, while a similar logic was deployed by Rega to justify the fixed height of its tonearms, adjustable only by using shims beneath the mounting collar. Those arms that do allow users to set VTA generally treat it as a set and forget parameter. Thus we see flagship arms such as the Linn Ekos and SME 5 which offer users neither azimuth nor easily variable VTA. Frankly, this is unacceptable. Variations in record weight have made adjustable VTA a more pressing requirement, with increasing numbers of users applying VTA on the fly and on a record-to-record basis. Meanwhile, the increasingly specialist nature of cartridge manufacturing has also created greater variation when it comes to consistency and geometrical alignment. Getting a cartridge straight and level is simply no longer enough.

It’s once you start mounting a cartridge that the particular nature of the Blackbird really comes to the fore. The arm allows extremely precise adjustment of all alignment parameters (save VTA – but I’ll get to that) – but none of those parameters are calibrated. That means that dialling in the set up is a question of listening and ‘feel’ – with no nice, comforting sliding scales to set or indication of the settings you’ve adopted. That makes the Blackbird an arm that will respond to (and be loved by) those listeners confident in their own judgment. You are going to need the music to tell you when things are right, ‘cos there’s nothing on the arm to do it for you! Normally, I’d consider this a limitation: I like the repeatability of adjustment offered by an arm like the 4Point or Thales Statement. But in the case of the Supatrac arm it actually seems like a natural state of affairs, fitting not only the ‘stealth’ appearance of the arm, but also its inherently enthusiastic musical reproduction.

Starting at the front end of the arm, the first thing to appreciate is that the cartridge mounting slots are not off-set as they are in almost all other arms. They’re staggered to allow for the off-set angle you’ll need to apply to the cartridge, but they are also (necessarily, given the arm’s structure) parallel to the arm-tube itself. That means that whereas in most cases, you arrange a cartridge perpendicular to the mounting slots and slide it forwards and backwards to achieve correct overhang, in the Blackbird, you need to monitor overhang and zenith simultaneously, never setting one without checking the other. On the face of it that could be considered an added complication, but in practice, as long as you do check both parameters, it’s likely to lead to superior alignment, as it undermines the tendency to set zenith using the cartridge body or the position of the screws in the head-shell slots. You need to set zenith by viewing the cantilever itself and the Blackbird forces you to do that, whether that’s your normal approach or not.