Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm

Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm

Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm

Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm

In this test, everything is new: both the Transrotor Alto player, and our own tonearm made from scratch - the company did not produce tonearms before. By the way, the Transrotor Figaro pickup head, which was not included in the main title, is also a novelty. It is difficult to say which of these is more interesting in the first place.

Perhaps I would be the first on the list to name the tonearm. In general, making a tonearm from scratch is not an easy task. Many turntable manufacturers have never even tried to make their own tonearms, perfectly managing the products of the world's leading manufacturers. Too different materials, different production chains, and development requires different knowledge and skills.

But some time ago, a difficult situation developed on the market: at first, after the change of ownership, SME stopped selling its tonearms separately from its own turntables - and not only at retail, but also to other turntable manufacturers. And at the beginning of pandemic times, the Japanese company Jelco stopped production.

Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm
Transrotor Alto paired with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm and Transrotor EINS power supply

Thus, the market lost two key players, who not only produced a lot of independent tonearms, but also supplied many manufacturers with tonearms. In the average demanded segment ($2,000–4,000), a hole has formed that has not yet been filled with anything.

The budget and the oldest segments were not affected, but here many player manufacturers had to think hard. Those for whom turntables are not the main product, but rather an addition to the set of equipment, even thought about removing the turntables from production.

For the Transrotor, customized Jelcos and various SME models were stock. But necessity is the mother of invention, and it is a matter of respect that Transrotor decided to take such a step. It is a pity that the tonearm is not cheap and will be paired with medium and older models, while the younger ones will be supplied with Rega tonearms, which I cannot approve of under any circumstances.

Alto

By itself, I first perceived the Transrotor Alto player as a secondary device in the test - the manufacturer has such well-established approaches and technologies that it is difficult to surprise with something other than a new form. However, earlier the younger Transrotor Max pleasantly pleased me with the possibility of assembly and customization, and I decided not to draw hasty conclusions only from the pictures. Practice has shown that this was the right decision.

Externally, the player is unmistakably identified as Transrotor. Heavy, all-metal, polished - everything is with him. The body in the usual rectangular sense is completely absent. The supporting role is performed by a round base mounted on three adjustable metal legs. There are no spikes on the legs, but there is some damping of its own and silicone spacers on the bottom surface that will not harm the rack. 

The base of the tonearm is attached to the base with the help of two bearing screw-in pins. In total, three such bases can be installed, two pairs of mounting holes in the standard configuration are closed with metal plugs, which in this case perform an exclusively decorative function. The base of the tonearm here is generally curious in design, but for now let's deal with the table.

In addition to the bases, the bearing base, its pulley and an oil bath are attached to it, the oil from which is mechanically taken by a spiral groove in the bearing and pumped through the entire massive structure. In addition, our test vehicle has a proprietary TMD system in its design.

Its meaning is that there is a magnetic decoupling of the bearing from the main subdisk. That is, a massive cup body is installed on the bearing pulley, but on the part that transmits rotation to the disk, the rotation itself is already fed through a magnetic coupling.

The body of the glass and the main subdisk are mechanically connected by their internal bearing, but are separated by a rotation transmission system. This was done in order to get rid of the motor and belt as much as possible and to stabilize the rotation. It is not as complicated and overall as in the older models, where the details are completely untied, but if you listen in direct comparison to related models with and without TMD, the difference in the perception of dynamics will be noticeable.

Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm
Base plugs for mounting the tonearm

The main disk is heavy, all-metal, complemented by a thick acrylic mat, traditional for the manufacturer, which is recessed into the disk a little below its outer edge. This should be taken into account in the sense that the installation of third-party mats is only possible on top, and the installation of a replacement may be either impossible or difficult. However, it is not known whether it is worth changing anything here - in conjunction with the native aluminum clamp, the system works predictably and does not raise any questions.

Rotation from the motor pulley is transmitted to the bearing cup housing with the help of a belt. In our case, the set includes one motor (of course, remote and not connected to the table in any way) and the Transrotor EINS control unit, designed to work with one motor. But the system allows the use of a two-engine scheme, and judging by the three landing belts, a three-engine version is also possible.

There is a place for installing motors even with three tonearms. Power and control units designed for synchronization of two and three motors are available in the catalog. Further - only a matter of the owner's desire to invest in these improvements.

From a technical point of view, there is certainly a sense in the scheme of several motors - this is clearly audible in direct comparison. But in the basic version, everything works very well. Looking ahead, I’ll say that there is no feeling of a sluggish motor at all, and the EINS unit also has basic speed adjustment functions.

And from a purely aesthetic point of view, I like the round EINS, in which the entire upper rotating “lid” acts as a speed switch, and besides, it is devoid of any light indication at all, I like it more than the older blocks, made in the form of a familiar “box”.

Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm
Attachment for additional tonearm base. Up to three tonearms can be installed in total

Now let's move on to the base of the tonearm. The prerequisites for this design can be found in previous models. Fastening to the base on two pins, curved shape. But otherwise, everything here is new and very interesting. The first feature is the modular base. To install some other tonearm with a different type of fastening, you only need to replace the base ring to which the tonearm is attached. This is a custom item, options are possible here.

The base is universal: for tonearms from 9 to 12 inches. You can simply loosen the mount and move the platform along the axis to the desired distance. This is very convenient in case of changing the tonearm. And the base has a full-time smooth height adjustment that does not violate any other settings. There is a locking screw so that you can secure the desired position, but even if you keep it loose, the height will not go anywhere.

The adjustment mechanism itself is screw. The handle is the lower ring under the base of the base. It is not very easy to turn it - there is also the resistance of the mechanism smeared with thick silicone grease, and the handle itself is not very conveniently located. However, if you get used to it, you can not only easily make adjustments, but also adapt to plates of different thicknesses.

There are no micrometric divisions or a scale, but you can navigate well by the notches on the handle itself - especially since the shift is very smooth. And the most remarkable thing about this whole design is that it does not play. Nowhere at all. So the base as a “tool” for tuning is not only functional, but also accurate.

TRA 9

Now let's move on to the tonearm. There is a noticeable external resemblance to the same SME 309, but you should not pay attention to this, because the tonearm differs significantly in details. Perhaps, in addition to the external resemblance, we can mention very similar landing dimensions and three tonearm attachments to the base - the dimensions are similar to the SME (however, to many other 9-inch tonearms too).

And the “SME mount” has become something of a standard in a few decades, and many manufacturers make a platform of a similar size as a base or option. True, there is no proprietary shift of the tonearm relative to the base, but the base in the standard configuration of the tonearm has the ability to shift relative to the mounting screws.

And one more very important point. The tonearm itself, which arrived in the box, has an SME-shaped mounting pad. But to install the tonearm on the Transrotor Alto, this platform is not needed - it has its own mounting ring, where the tonearm can be inserted and fixed. However, this did not surprise me at all - the base has so many degrees of freedom that one more additional site is simply not needed here.

Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm
New tonearm mounting base - internal construction

According to the principle of operation, the tonearm is statically balanced, without viscous damping. The main material used in the construction is aluminium. And the tonearm has a fairly large effective mass, equal to 18 grams. Still, now many tonearms are made “lighter”, although there are also much more “heavy” ones.

The TRA 9 is well thought out and comfortable to set up. There are enough slots to move the head, the shell is non-removable, with inseparable wiring, but it has a screw clamp that can be loosened and corrected in azimuth. The clamp is adjusted by a counterweight with a screw shift, and you can also change the total weight by screwing or removing additional weights from below.

The weight range of the cartridges is quite large, and it’s not at all difficult to get into the downforce value when setting up. But only if there are scales - this cannot be done by eye. Anti-skating is magnetic - it is regulated quite accurately.

The only thing that is not convenient here is that there is a regular red division indicating the setting for 1.75 grams, and then everything should be done only on test disks. However, even for tonearms with a bunch of all sorts of divisions, if any decent pickup head is installed, you need to tune and check the result on test disks. And it's better to do it all the time.

Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm
Transrotor Figaro

The height adjustment is familiar - shift up and down relative to the mounting platform. But a convenient mechanism is provided, somewhat similar to how it is done with SME V.

Two long screws are screwed into the base of the rotary assembly (and not one like in SME) - by resting them on the base, you can loosen the mount and, by turning the screws, precisely change the height of the tonearm in any direction. True, in the case of our test subject, I didn’t even take these screws in my hands - everything necessary for the tonearm already installed by eye was allowed to adjust the base.

Now about the unusual moments and features of TRA 9. I liked the wiring. Van den Hul wire is claimed inside - since it is exceptionally thin, the exits from the tonearm tube are complemented by flexible silicone tubes that protect the entire structure. Head connectors are silver and very good. I myself buy these for the bulkhead of serious tonearms, when you need to use something close to ideal.

The tonearm output cable is removable, on a classic DIN connector - and here you can use whatever you want. It’s hard to say what the standard cable will be in the delivery - our tonearm came in the form of a silver Van den Hul with an SME DIN connector (which are not sold separately, which means it’s just a cable from the SME tonearm), but with WBT RCA connectors rewired.

Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm
General view of the base for attaching the tonearm. Notched ring at the bottom rotates and adjusts the height

And one more interesting point regarding the behavior of the tonearm. Its design is swivel in all planes. There are no questions at all about the horizontal bearing, everything is familiar here. But the movement in the vertical plane is not quite usual. You can find photos of the internal structure - it shows that two swivel bearings are used on the sides of the tube.

And interestingly, this is not a rigid structure, it has a certain degree of freedom. This does not affect the quality of the tuning in any way, but the tonearm behaves at the same time both as a design on conventional bearings and as a knife tonearm. Obviously, it was meant to be. 

Figaro

The included Transrotor Figaro pickup head is based on the Goldring Ethos, but structurally differs from it in its body and stylus sharpening, and, most likely, in the coil winding material. The collaboration between Transrotor and Goldring is not new in itself, and this head is by far not the only model made. But they always differ from the basic ones both in design and, alas, in price.

This is an expensive head in the Transrotor catalog, but not the most expensive - the older custom model with a price of more than one and a half million is made by the Japanese My Sonic Lab, which makes its own heads, and Air Tight, and TechDAS. So when it comes to heads, Transrotor has good taste.

For the test, I decided to take three heads: the complete Transrotor Figaro, Van den Hul The Frog and Ortofon Cadenza Black. Still, the tonearm is completely new - it is interesting to see how it behaves in different combinations and with different settings. But first, of course, native head.

Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm
Transrotor TRA 9 based

By the way, everything was set up conveniently, although the rounded cases do not benefit this process. But the tonearm is quite pleasant to work with, including from the point of view of the tuning process. According to the tests, everything is quite smooth, the resonance coincided with the calculated one, the anti-skating has rebuilt decently. There are no problems with switching, background, interference - none of this.

Listening

He was the first to put on the Oscar Peterson record “Motions & Emotions”. And I was immediately surprised: the sound turned out to be softer than I expected. I did not hear the strict delivery characteristic of transrotors. But this is not the kind of softness that can be equated with blurryness. Not at all.

This is softness, which is obtained due to high detail, when the sounds do not stick together, but remain independent. There is no roughness in such presentation. And the detail is really quite high. The dynamics are smooth, without a sense of haste or force. Feelings of tightness also do not arise at all. 

The bass is not bad, it has fullness, texture, and what I liked - there is no excessive bloat, "reinforced concrete". With solidity, everything is in perfect order, but there is no feeling that this foundation is too heavy and presses. And everything is very consistent with the recording.

The middle is beautiful. It seems to be not raised and not bloated, but there is a certain emphasized prettiness in it. It is difficult to attribute it to any one feature in the sound, but I could not find any unevenness or protrusion either. There seemed to be a bit of softness in places, but it shows up on the recording from the beginning.

The upper frequencies do not seem bright or accentuated, they are in their place and consistent with the sound as a whole - nothing is taken out of context here. It’s impossible to call the top bright, but to say that they are dull or clamped will also fail. Everything is somehow smooth and natural.

The stage is correct, medium in size. No intimacy is observed, but it does not become especially large either. Localization of sounds is correct, natural, but without holographic sharpness. Air is present in sufficient quantity.

Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm
Transrotor TRA 9, swivel and armrest

The sound as a whole turned out to be very harmonious, "analog" in a good way, with good detail and dynamics. There is a little warmth and a little softness, but all this is expressed very moderately. Plasticity and musicality, which, of course, are present and well felt, are not the result of coloring or smoothing-blurring. Both the sound and the atmosphere of the recording play out better than I expected.

The next disc is JJ Cale & Eric Clapton "The Road To Escondido". The signature sound of this record, large-scale, solid and expressive, is rendered quite close to the original. But with good bass control and sound in general. Nothing sticks out anywhere, does not overload, but restraint is not visible in restraint. But some warmth is heard, but it is not emphasized or enhanced by the tract. Volume and dynamics are present, but they look quite natural. The detail is quite sufficient for this record.

The scene turned out a little less deep than I expected, but everything is in perfect order with the width. And more than the rest, I liked the presentation as a whole. It is even, natural, without severity, but without rampant unbridledness. There is a little warmth and softness, and nothing more. But with plasticity, transitions from fast fragments to quiet ones and back, everything is worked out very well. In general, you hear a lot - the sound is informative, but you don't get tired of it.

Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm

Then I put on the record Bersarin Quartett "II". I really liked the immersion in the atmosphere of music here. Detail and dynamics are great, but the ability to play almost silence and almost emptiness between sounds is a valuable quality, not every player is capable of this. But in our case, everything turned out very decently. And also volume, air, a good scene without intimacy. Perhaps, on all counts, the assessment is “good”.

Although the warmth was a little in the way. It is already clear that the combination of the tonearm and head has it (clearly not the table, which has not undergone sufficient changes in design to change the sound in such a way) - and if it did not interfere with previous recordings, and sometimes it could even be a small decoration, then here personally for me it rather gave a slight dissonance. However, it is very easy to disconnect from it - this warmth does not become intrusive. 

Another disc is a recording of Debussy's works. This is where the limiting possibilities for dynamics are needed, and other qualities also do not interfere. The sound turned out to be natural, timbre quite reliable, and only the most complex fragments have a bit of smoothness.

But not porridge, not the state when the sound loses harmony and begins to crumble. Just as if through the very depth of complexity, the sound gently steps over. But only. At these moments, it seems that there is a little less air and transparency. But if you do not peer into the details and nuances, you can listen to it quite fully, without feeling deprived of anything. An unexpectedly positive result.

And if you listen to classical works with fewer instruments, then there are no noticeable shortcomings at all, except for that slight warmth. The same The Well-Tempered Clavier Bach performed by Svyatoslav Richter simply did not want to be turned off. As well as the harpsichord performance of the same work by Karl Richter - a full-fledged harpsichord sound, without fussiness, without excessive sonority or brightness.

Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm
Transrotor Alto with disc removed

Then I changed the head and put the Van den Hul The Frog - so it turned out to be combined with the tonearm on the verge, the resonant frequency is around 7 Hz, almost at the lower limit of the norm. But otherwise, in terms of parameters, everything was set up smoothly and the tests passed. 

On the example of Oscar Peterson's recording, the sound turned out to be lighter and more airy, and the stage - more intimate: smaller in width, but almost the same in depth. There is less warmth in the supply and a little more colors and air, the sound is brighter.

A little less bass, but what is there is more elastic and emphasized. On the rest of the listened records from the selection, the impressions are approximately similar: you can hear that the head is different, that it plays differently, but in terms of the system, everything is predictable, without oddities.

And the interpretation of the musical material turned out to be very good. It is more precise, more thoughtful, with more attention to nuances, with a slight feeling of looking at the music through a magnifying glass. Yes, and with some coloring of all the colors of the spectrum. This presentation is more suitable for more chamber genres. However, I also listened to any psychedelic and electronic music with good results.

The effect of immersion in music is more pronounced on any genre, but on metal or symphonic music, there may be a lack of fundamentality and harmony. However, the rest of the connection is both predictable and interesting. The sound is significantly different from the standard head - but that's good.

Transrotor Alto player test with Transrotor TRA 9 tonearm
Transrotor EINS speed switch - the entire top cover of the block rotates. There is no indication, only metal engraving. Through a small hole above you can get to the speed adjustment

Then I installed Ortofon Cadenza Black. Docking is normal, all the tests the bundle passed. And the presentation for the third time is different, its own. Dense and larger than the previous bundles, quite strict and slender. Without warmth or coloration, one might even call such a sound cold, and that wouldn't be far from the truth.

The scene is more sharply holographic, the air is dry - as if frosty. For my taste and hearing, the music of Mahler, Sibelius or Wagner is just right. And the detail and dynamics are excellent. Precise, analytical and honest. But this is a different polarity in the sound style, which, like the previous versions, will find its connoisseurs. 

And in the test, the most important thing is that we were able to get three different distinctly traced sound pictures, three characters within the same system. And in all cases, everything is predictable and stable. Which way to go next is a matter of taste. More importantly, the turntable and the new tonearm allow you to choose directions, rather than set rigid boundaries.

Conclusion

The new tonearm turned out to be quite good. Even adjusted for a significant price, it does not look awkward, unfinished or raw. It works - and it works quite interestingly.

I don’t know if there will be a continuation in the form of a line of tonearms (so far this is still one model with a different finish) - maybe there will be younger and older models. It would be nice to have 12-inch models, but otherwise the experiment can be considered successful.

The player in terms of the table, disk, drive and possible combinatorics of motors is not something new for the manufacturer - everything is already familiar here. But the base and its implementation is a significant step forward. And these two components in total gave the device a different sound, already slightly different from that familiar and familiar branded one.

You can always argue about sound, but in my understanding this result is a step forward, not backward or to the side. I personally like this Transrotor a little more. It is more convenient to set up, more flexible, but more importantly, it has become more careful in relation to the subtle nuances of sound and more neutral in terms of genre.

musical material

Bersarin Quartett - II / Denovali records - den128 / Stereo

Debussy - La Mer, L'Apr├Ęs-midi d'un faune, Jeux - Pierre Boulez, The New Philharmonia Orcestra / Sony SOCL 15 / Stereo

JS Bach - The Well-Tempered Clavier BWV 846-893 - Sviatoslav Richter / Melody, Victor - VIC-4072-6 / Stereo

JJ Cale & Eric Clapton ‎— The Road To Escondido / Reprise Records, Duck Records ‎— 44418-1 / Stereo

Oscar Peterson - Motions & Emotions / MPS Records - MPS 15251 ST / Stereo

Pros:

High-Quality Build: Transrotor is known for its craftsmanship and attention to detail. The Alto Player and TRA 9 tonearm are likely to be well-built with premium materials, ensuring durability and longevity.

Excellent Sound Quality: Transrotor turntables are revered for their exceptional sound reproduction. The combination of the Alto Player and TRA 9 tonearm is expected to deliver a detailed, dynamic, and immersive listening experience.

Precise Tracking: The TRA 9 tonearm is designed to offer precise tracking, minimizing distortion and maximizing the accuracy of playback. This can result in clearer audio and better fidelity, especially when paired with high-quality cartridges.

Adjustability: The TRA 9 tonearm likely offers various adjustment options, allowing users to fine-tune settings such as tracking force, azimuth, and vertical tracking angle. This level of adjustability can optimize performance and compatibility with different cartridges.

Stylish Design: Transrotor products are often praised for their aesthetic appeal. The Alto Player and TRA 9 tonearm are likely to feature a sleek and modern design that adds elegance to any listening space.

Cons:

High Cost: Transrotor turntables and tonearms are premium products, which often come with a high price tag. The Alto Player and TRA 9 tonearm may be out of reach for budget-conscious consumers or those looking for more affordable options.

Complex Setup: Setting up a high-end turntable like the Alto Player with the TRA 9 tonearm can be complex and time-consuming. Achieving optimal performance may require careful calibration and adjustment, which could be challenging for less experienced users.

Maintenance Requirements: High-end turntables typically require regular maintenance to ensure optimal performance and longevity. This may include cleaning, lubrication, and cartridge alignment, which can be tedious tasks for some users.

Limited Compatibility: While the Alto Player and TRA 9 tonearm are likely to offer exceptional performance, they may have limited compatibility with certain cartridges or accessories. Users may need to ensure compatibility or invest in additional equipment to achieve their desired setup.

Potential Fragility: Despite being well-built, high-end turntables can be delicate and sensitive to external factors such as vibrations and dust. Proper handling and care are essential to prevent damage and maintain performance over time.

Specification

Transrotor Alto

Drive type: belted, with the possibility of using one, two, or three motors

Configuration: One, two or three tonearms from 9" to 12"

Dimensions (WxDxH): specify mm (may vary depending on the configuration of the bases)

Mass: from specify grams. 

Transrotor TRA 9

Type: rotary, statically balanced

Material: aluminum alloy

Effective length: 232.8mm

Drop: 17.8mm

Effective weight: 18 g

Mount: compatible with SME base mounts

Output connector: DIN

Transrotor Figaro

Type: MC

Frequency response: 20Hz - 30kHz ±1dB

Channel unbalance: no more than 1 dB at 1 kHz

Channel separation: 27 dB ±1 dB at 1 kHz

Output voltage: 0.28mV

Compliance: 16mm/N

Needle holder: aluminum

Needle sharpening: Vital Fine Line

Recommended impedance: 100 ohms

Recommended capacitance: 100-500pF

Downforce: 1.7-2.0g (1.8 recommended)

Weight: 8.8 g

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