The second coming of the Alphason (HR-200S) tonearm
By Roy Gregory
Long, long ago, in a land far, far away, the hi-fi market was dominated by the twin pillars of Linn and Naim, companies that cast a long, long shadow. So much so that each new product had to fit into a price-point dictated by and face direct comparison with the equivalent offering from Linn or Naim. It was a situation that had an extremely distorting affect on product design and development, pricing, marketing and sales. Back then, if you made a serious tonearm, it was going to be placed alongside and up against the Linn Ittok, to all intents, a universal benchmark.
Think I’m exaggerating? If I pull out the digest-sized Hi-Fi Choice No. 30 and turn to page 212, I find an advert for my then employer, KJ Leisure Sound (as was). Headline is, “The Arms Race” – very contemporary – and the text boasts of the fact that the store offered comparative demonstrations of the Linn Ittok and Basik(s), Zeta, Syrinx PU2 Gold and PU3 and the Alphason HR-100S, all permanently mounted on LP12s, of course! We also had the Sumiko MDC800, FR64fx and Koetsu, although those were mounted up as required. Even so, that’s eight LP12s on permanent demonstration. How times have changed…
It’s interesting to take a look at that list of ‘arms. Some have passed into legend and become collectable (the MDC800, FR64fx and Koetsu), while others have simply passed on. The PU3 is still with us in spirit at least, in the shape of Audio Origami’s PU7, but by far the most interesting tonearm here, both historically and currently, is the Alphason. The original HR-100S definitely broke the mould. When arms like the Ittok, Zeta and Syrinx were establishing the straight arm/off-set headshell hegemony, the Alphason was elegantly and resolutely curved. What’s more, that S-shaped tube was formed from titanium and terminated in an integral headshell, an arrangement that pre-dated (“inspired” might be a more accurate term!) both the SME 5 and the Rega RB-300. The curvature and dimensions of arm and cartridge mounting platform were also carefully modelled to optimise stiffness and vibrational modes. Nor did the distinctions stop there. Where the majority of arms were using high-spec ball-race bearings, the ones in the Alphason were zero-play designs. It’s an important difference: most ball races are designed for high rotational speeds, and allow for thermal expansion as a result – meaning that they suffer play or looseness in the effectively static situation represented by a tonearm.
Many of these features – integral headshells, FEA or computer modelling, zero-play bearings – are now far more common, but the Alphason wasn’t just the first arm to include them, it was the first by a country mile. The result was an arm that was arguably more neutral and better behaved than anything else in the list above – although given the bizarre strictures of the UK market, that didn’t always play to its advantage. It’s worth noting that in the US and other foreign markets, where it was permissible to own a turntable other than the LP12, the Alphason was very highly rated indeed. In fact, it secured top spot in a comprehensive comparative survey of tonearms conducted by the abso!ute sound magazine, while still under the auspices of the late, great HP. It was praised for its clarity and tonal purity, the natural precision of its soundstage and it went on to enjoy a successful partnership with SOTA ‘tables amongst others.