Adjusting my turntable to the PEL’s level of accuracy takes a little more time than with less accurate devices. Near the end of the process, you are simply nudging the turntable leveling feet rather than actively twisting them up or down. Furthermore, you need to stand back from the turntable and read the vial from several feet away, as your weight on the floor alters the table’s level. This will vary with the stand supporting your turntable, and the type of floor construction in your listening room. With a box or Starrett engineer’s level you might not notice this, but with the PEL the amount of give in my hardwood floor moves the bubble a couple of division on the vial. Fortunately, that big, clear bubble is easily visible from some distance.
In my older, wood-floored house, not only does the level change when I move a couple of feet from the turntable, it changes from day to day. With hardwood floors suspended on a frame rather than a concrete base, there is a lot of room for tiny shifts as a result of changes in temperature and humidity: this IS San Francisco! So turntable leveling has now become a daily routine.
Can I hear the difference between PEL level and Starrett “level”? Of all the components in my system, I find that changes to the front end, beginning with the phono cable and ending with the phono cartridge are the easiest to hear. For that reason, I clean the connections on the phono cable and turntable a couple of times a week and check the turntable speed daily. Even so, I was pretty surprised by the scale of the musical benefits that the PEL delivers: it banishes grain and haze between instruments, it brings a greater sense of ease, flow and musical grace to the playing, it makes dynamics more immediate and they jump further. Level the ‘table as precisely as the PEL allows and the whole performance, the players and the way they play, gain definition and snap into focus.
One thing that I have not compared is the PEL to Level Developments digital level, the LD-2M. It costs around the same as the PEL, but as an inclinometer does things that a bubble level cannot do, like measure in two axes simultaneously, measure degrees of inclination or measure vertically, a skill set needed by those who set up speakers. Is it more precise? The Inclinometer has “Accuracy” specifications while the PEL has “sensitivity per division” specifications, so they’re not exactly comparable. And of course, it has large, readable numbers rather than a bubble in between lines, so it provides discrete, numerical readings. RG has both, so I’ll leave it to him to discuss the relative virtues, but for me, the PEL is now an absolutely essential part of my tool kit, something that I use daily and something that has contributed directly to improving the musical performance of my system – and keeping it that way.
Why slum it with bubbles when you can have an LCD too?
By Roy Gregory
It’s not hard to figure out why leveling a turntable matters. It’s not hard to figure out why there’s level and then there’s really level – and you can really hear the difference. Pretty much any turntable bearing will have a vertical thrust pad and some form of horizontal restraint or sleeve. Rubbing or friction between the moving and stationary surfaces will cause vibration – vibration that will be picked up as noise by the stylus – which does after all, measure vibration: The greater the friction, the greater the noise and the bigger the problem. It’s why turntable designers go to such lengths to produce ‘quiet’ bearings, with tight tolerance components and technology like magnetically floated platters (to reduce vertical load) or Teflon thrust pads (to reduce rotational friction). But no matter what type of bearing or technology you use, one thing is a constant: The more accurately leveled the platter, the more stable the self-centering gyroscopic effect and the less the lateral thrust force required. Even so-called zero-contact bearings (like bi-axial air-bearings for instance) require to be level, if the air ‘membrane’ between the two parts of the bearing are going to stay perfectly concentric and contact free. It’s why all turntables should have a proper leveling system incorporated in their plinth. It’s why having the right tools to get a ‘table precisely level is essential to maximizing its performance. But then, the same is true of hi-fi systems in general…