Leveling Up?

One of the things I always keep a sharp eye on is the contents to be found in the toolboxes of my friends, Roy Gregory and Stirling Trayle. New toys appear with regularity, and they forget to share those discoveries with equal regularity. Each time I see them open their tool-box it’s like seeing someone else’s Christmas presents: this year, the High End Show in Munich was no exception. Stirling’s kit has long included a digital inclinometer, Blu-toothed to the display on his phone. It’s a tool he uses for speaker setup and general leveling and is accurate enough to cover all bases. But this year, the item that really caught my eye came from Roy’s tool bag. Level Developments’ Precision Engineer’s Level (“PEL”) is definitely an eye-catching instrument – but then at around £200 + tax and duty, it better be. Even a quick glance suggests that the PEL is built to deliver a much higher level of accuracy than the Starrett, a conclusion confirmed as soon as you handle it. Like the Starrett, it is a spirit level, but that is where the similarity ends. Talking about “motion” in something as inert as a precision spirit level might seem strange, but the bubble, its sensitivity and most importantly of all, the smooth way in which it moves puts the PEL in a completely different category.

The Level Developments device comes in several flavors. First, the PEL is available in two lengths—125 or 200 mm. The bubble vial is identical in both lengths, with only the length of the base being different. Second, the PEL comes in three sensitivity options – 0.10, 0.05 or 0.02 millimeters. These sensitivity ratings refer to the shift in gradient required to move the bubble by one of the marked divisions on the vial – making the actual accuracy greater still. The sensitivity or accuracy figures published by Sola, Starrett and Level Developments may or may not have any comparative value, as the descriptors and specifications are so different. But you don’t need to consult an engineer or scientist, or comparative specifications to appreciate that the PEL is light years ahead of its less expensive brethren.

For a small-scale device like a turntable, the smaller and most sensitive PEL (0.02-125) model seems like the obvious choice. Among the PEL’s more obvious attributes is the length and overall design of the vial holding the leveling bubble. The vial is large, and the bubble’s extremities are easy to read. The device has a granite base, and if you want to leave the house with it, you get an aluminum carry case supplied with it. The unit can be adjusted by the user (?!), of sent in for (re-)calibration if necessary

In practice, the results are brutally clear. I set up my turntable to be level using the Starrett, then set the PEL down next to it – with the rather chastening result shown above. Before you jump to the (wrong) conclusion – the one that claims that the Starrett was either out of adjustment or that the Starrett was correct all along and the fancy PEL was wrong – here is a photo of the table set up to level using the PEL. Put the Starrett and Sola next to it and now, all three levels read level.