Yamaha PX-3 and Linear Trackers

Discussion in 'Vinyl Nutjob World: Turntable and Related Gear' started by Merrick, Apr 13, 2022.

  1. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    As I mentioned in the post a pic of your turntable thread, when I got the Mani 2 I realized it was good enough to justify an upgrade in my turntable. At first I was eyeing the Pioneer PLX-1000 as a solid SL-1200 clone. Then I thought, hell, for the price of a new Pioneer I can probably find an actual used SL-1200 in decent shape, which led me to eBay and then craigslist. While searching for turntables on Craigslist, I found something interesting...a listing for a Yamaha PX-3 linear tracking table from 1983. The seller was the original owner, and he was only selling it because he owned 14 linear tracking tables and was looking to slim his collection down. He had been using the PX-3 as his daily driver for many years. He also mentioned he had all the original accessories for the table, which by themselves have become coveted commodities.

    I did some checking online. It was always my impression that linear trackers were regarded as interesting experiments that never quite hit the mark. The idea behind the linear tracker is that in removing the arc of a radial tonearm, it removes tracking error, allowing for a much tighter alignment of the stylus in the record groove and reducing or eliminating distortion (IGD in particular is pretty much non-existent with linear trackers). Linear arms also don't have side-thrust and thus don't require anti-skating. The arms can also be shorter and lighter than comparable radial arms, allowing them to ride more easily in the groove without risk of being bumped by intense bass or dealing with excessive up and down motion from warped records. Sounds pretty great, right?

    Well, while linear tonearms do solve a lot of problems, they also introduce new problems, mainly in implementation. The arms require complex mechanisms to do their thing, and that can adds a whole lot of additional moving parts, belts, electronics to monitor the movement of the arm, etc. Various options for linear tracking tonearms exist, including using air pumps! Many of the lower end linear trackers were just garbage and also gave the whole enterprise a bad reputation. And a table with a good length arm and solid anti-skate can potentially keep tracking error within the margin that a linear tracker does, so for many it was a solution in need of a problem.

    I wasn't sure if it was worth it to put my eggs in the linear tracker basket. Then I looked into the Yamaha PX-3 specifically. Yamaha produced three PX linear tracking turntables in the early 80s. The PX-1 was the flagship but was never distributed outside of Japan. It's essentially unobtanium. The PX-2 and PX-3 were released worldwide and are considered some of the best linear trackers that don't cost a gajillion dollars. The most common issue these tables tend to encounter are bent belts if they are left inactive for long periods of time, which can prevent them from tracking correctly left to right. As the owner of the one I saw for sale was using it as his daily driver, I was guessing this wasn't an issue. The other most common issue with these is that the stock spring-loaded rubber feet fell apart over time, and that had happened to this one. The owner had replaced them with SL-1200 feet instead.

    The owner also had attached an AT33/ML cart with an Orsonic AV-1 headshell, but he had the original cart and headshell (and spare second stock headshell!) included. Based on my research, this seemed like a good deal, so I went for it. The stock rubber mat was showing its age a bit so I replaced it with a GEM Dandy rubber/cork composite mat and a thin deer hide mat on top for killing static electricity, as unfortunately the GEM Dandy mat produced a ton. The GEM mat was recommended to me by a PX-2 owner who had tried multiple mats so I felt solid in that swap.

    As a linear tracker, the table is fully automatic, which normally we don't associate with audiophile playback, but it is so convenient to let the record just run out and watch the arm pop up and shuttle back to the starting point. There are buttons on the face of the table to control power, speed (33 and 45 only, quartz locked), the left and right motion of the arm (at two speeds), up and down motion of the arm, a repeat button if you want to hear a side again, a cut button to end playback, and two start buttons, one for 12" discs and one for 7" (for a 10" you'd need to manually cue it using the left/right and down buttons). The plinth is made of a composite material that is extremely dense and looks like matte metal but is actually a plastic polymer. The dustcover is molded around the edge of the platter so the control buttons are accessible while the cover is closed and it just looks so darn cool.

    My main turntable up to this point had been a 1979 Technics SL-1800 MK.1 with a Denon DL-103R cart. For about a year I also had a VPI Classic 2 with center weight and peripheral weight as well, with the same Denon cart. I didn't get a chance to use the VPI with the Mani 2, just the RSA Nighthawk, which was my main phono prior to the Mani, so not a totally apples to apples comparison. I also didn't get a chance to try the Denon in the PX-3 because I sold it with the Technics.

    All that being said, the PX-3 is easily the best turntable I've ever heard in my system. Despite being a direct drive, I hear absolutely no motor hum. In fact, with clean vinyl it often sounds quieter than I thought vinyl could between tracks. The micro line stylus of the AT33 picks up every last detail but it doesn't sound delicate. The thing that perhaps most impresses me is the sense of dynamics and rhythm the PX-3 imparts. I was never much of a PRaT believer but this table has me believing. The music sounds precise, like it could stop on a dime. However, if the music has long transients the PX-3 will impart them.

    The FR sounds neutral to me, with no major emphasis on one area or another. I will say though, I was genuinely shocked at how low the bass could go on this thing. One of the big benefits of digital was in bass, which didn't have to be summed to mono for playback and could extend far lower without risk of disturbing the playback mechanism. However, I've heard bass on this that is as deep, impactful, and textured as any digital recording or release I've ever heard. Maybe the 1812 Overture would throw this table off its game. Maybe. Of course dubstep would probably wreck it, but I'd never listen to that on vinyl.

    The biggest thing for me is that there is an inherent "rightness" to the sound that I cannot quantify in any specific technical term, it just sounds like music should sound to me, and I didn't grow up listening to vinyl so it's not a nostalgia thing. I've yet to hear any DAC that can produce the level of "rightness" I hear even from lower end turntables, although of course many DACs sound great and produce beautiful music.

    It's not all roses though. I still hear sibilance on some tracks. I'm not sure if this is an issue with the stylus and cart, or perhaps having the Mani on high input and output gain to accommodate my MC cart, or mastering on the disc, or the pressing of the disc, etc. etc. With digital it's a lot easier to pinpoint where something like sibilance is coming from. And of course the PX-3 can't correct for dirty vinyl, or scratched vinyl, but I have played several records with warps and haven't heard any significant distortion in the sound. The VPI really required the peripheral weight to flatten those records out before they'd sound their best.

    The real testament to how good this is is that it perfectly plays the 30th anniversary pressing of Dark Side of the Moon, a notoriously difficult pressing to track and one that has vexed many record enthusiasts for its significant IGD. With the PX-3, I don't hear any of that, just Pink Floyd's timeless music.

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    If you've heard, have, or had a linear tracker, let's discuss them here!
     
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  2. k4rstar

    k4rstar Britney fan club president

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    I have heard and have had a few. The best sounding example is the Rabco SL-8E tonearm which, while servo-controlled, is not as sophisticated as later Japanese market entries. But this is to its advantage. I find microprocessor controlled tonearms to lose something in the music. This was true for the Sony PS-X800 and certainly true for the Revox B790. They are just a bit sterile sounding compared to what I know analog can sound like. Very cool stuff to play around with but not something I would own again. I have never tried your Yamaha.

    My Sony is pictured below. I thought it was pretty good until I tried a 50% broken Lenco and felt like I was hearing music for the first time. I then fixed the Lenco and never looked back.

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    One of the more interesting combinations I've seen on the net is this user who put a Rabco on his Dual 1019, which despite it's reputation as an automatic consumer machine is actually a sublime turntable. The Rabco does not have the sterile characteristic but as you can see below is not for the faint of heart to configure.

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  3. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    Holy crap, that Rabco arm looks like it could double as a 3D printer! I bet it sounds amazing.
     
  4. k4rstar

    k4rstar Britney fan club president

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    One I forgot to mention is the Harman Kardon ST-7, also made by Rabco. These can be commonly found for not too much money, but the problem is that a) if you ship it, it will break and b) if it breaks, good luck. They have reliability issues, though for this table the issues are mostly mechanical. The problem with fancier machines like the Sony and its Bio-tracer is that the issues are mostly electronic and not something an amateur can diagnose. So be really careful about buying one of these tables without the opportunity to inspect and play with it in person. The ST-7 sounds very good for its time and in my opinion is beautiful.

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  5. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I agree, beautiful minimalist design. One of the reasons I went for the PX-3 is because most of the issues are mechanical in nature and Yamaha thoughtfully put the entire arm assembly in a single removable unit so you can get to any part of it relatively easy (relatively meaning you still have to remove the assembly out from the chassis). They're one of the easier linear trackers to maintain and repair, but they do still have electronics.
     

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