- TTSuperWeight Stainless Version 1.8 lbs Internally dampened $289
- TTCopperCarbon ULTIMATT – 1.570 KG/3.5lbs $469
- TTOuter Stabilizing Ring 600 Gram Version Solid Copper Nickel Plated-Silver Finish $569
- Package deal at $999
Vinyl playback just never seems to go out of fashion among audiophiles and it’s often remarked that this is in fact a golden era for turntable design with new models reaching previously unimaginable heights of accuracy and musicality. It’s certainly a golden time for expensive tables, some can cost more than a house or a luxury car, but one lives in hope that the engineering insights gained eventually trickle down. While there are mods and extras one can add to almost any component in the audio chain (see my Aug review of HAL’s special dampers for interconnect cables), tables and vinyl reproduction generally have always been a playground for those who want to eke out the last bit of performance from their electro-mechanical toys. Mats, cleaning fluids, anti-static guns, software set-up tools, counterweights, VTA shims, motor controllers, vibration-killing rubber balls and so forth, from stylus tip to plinth, there’s a product somewhere to help you fine tune your table’s ability to trace those grooves. I don’t know who invented the first periphery ring but it’s not unusual now to find tables with these extras, most noticeably the higher end VPI tables, but their application still seems in its infancy. Adding a ring to my rig has intrigued me in a way that simultaneously made me a little uncomfortable. Just what could adding a weighty ring to the circumference of an LP actually accomplish? I understand the possibility of flattening a slightly warped record, though I am not sure this is really the best way to do it, but I could not easily overcome my anxiety about piling on weight to a spinning motor, or worse, the possibility of having my precious stylus find itself in intimate contact with unforgiving and non-compliant metal.
TTWeights Audio is the unambiguous name of Larry Denham’s company that produces an ever-increasing range of tweaks aimed at improving the performance of vinyl rigs and even CD players. Originally producing heavyweight clamps in beautifully finished brass as a sort of side-product from his company, LJT Manufacturing’s main business, which provides tightly specified precision components for the aviation industry, TTWeights has marketed itself guerilla-style through the various audio forums on the ‘Net and built up a reputation for eye-catching yet wallet-friendly tweaks for audio geeks. Having purchased via auction on A’gon one of the heavyweight brass clamps for my VPI Aries, I fell in love with the elegance of the look and feel of a non-screw clamp who’s spinning edges caught the light and the admiring eye of anyone who watched as I played records. While I had no reason to believe a clamp could make much of a difference, I found that LP’s on my VPI Aries just seemed to render more clearly and with a more solid bass with this rather than the stock screw-down clamp VPI provided. Since VPI itself offers heavier, non-screw downs of similar kind to TTWeights as upgrades on more expensive tables, clearly Larry is not alone in thinking that the extra weight matters.
TTWeights products review
After a brief back and forth with Larry via email, a review for A$$A was agreed. The three-element upgrade package from TTWeights that I received consisted of the CopperCarbon Ultimatt, a 3.5lb combination of carbon fiber and copper that is slightly smaller than an LP which sits directly on your table’s platter allowing the LP to extend slightly over its edge; the TT Outer Stabilizing ring, nickel coated, 1.35lbs, 13.5inches in diameter and 0.125″ thick, which is placed over the circumference of the LP; and a stainless steel, internally damped, 1.8lb Superweight clamp that rides over the spindle on top of the record. All told, the package provides almost 6.5lbs of stability-inducing but platter-loading extra weight for my VPI Aries. All arrived in two packages on the same day, with the periphery ring housed in a protective plastic holder that serves as a placement guide (more later). The nickel finish on the ring and clamp gives them a classic elegance and the set has such heft that I initially had worries about straining my turntable. This immediate impression of substance, both in terms of look and feel is an abiding characteristic that has remained with me over the months. These products are just plain pleasurable to use. I know this has nothing to do with sonics but it bears mention here. You pay your money, you hope for improvements in sound, but it’s a real added bonus when you can gain pleasure from just watching and touching your gear too. With TTWeights, you will add a tactile joy to the process of listening to records that will make you smile.
Weighting and waiting
If you read about rings and clamps you’ll learn that the claims for their benefits are pretty consistent across major manufacturers. In essence, the ring is said to better couple the record to the platter, offer potential flattening for minor warps, and lessen movements in the platter and record/platter interface that can induce distortion. Despite my fears of damage to my Aries by piling on close to 7lbs of copper and steel, in use I’ve had no problems, though I am always sure to give the platter a little push start with my finger just before powering the motor. TTWeights makes a range of rings and clamps with different weights for suspended and non-suspended tables so you can surely find one that works for you and I’d recommend a quick word with Larry in advance to make sure you are getting the optimal set up for your rig.
Use of these products is fairly intuitive, though I say this knowing that some on the various audio forums have asked questions or raised ambiguities about exact procedures involved so there’s room for some argument, but then, this is audiophilia, nothing is ever without argument now is it? So, mat first, I placed this copper side down, carbon side up on my VPI Aries. To ensure a clean fit on the platter, I took off the VPI supplied gasket/washer that usually sat around the spindle under LPs offering some counter to the original screw-down VPI clamp. It’s worth noting that on my platter, this mat fit perfectly and there is no play around the spindle, once more, a confidence-inducing sign of quality. On goes the LP and then the ring is placed over it’s edge. Finally, the clamp is placed over spindle. Task complete. I admit, sometimes I put the clamp on before the ring, but in non-double blind tests, I never heard a difference as a result!
So, it’s not rocket science but, and I do reserve a couple of buts here. First, the TTWeights platter mat adds some height (0.125″) to the platter, so you will probably want to make appropriate VTA adjustments. Thankfully, this is about as convenient as can be on the VPI with JMW 10 arm with its built-in adjustability wheel. Second, the periphery ring fits over the record in such a way as to offer slight room for movement and, if you were casual, you might not set this in an appropriately balanced manner. No, it won’t wobble and fall off when you spin the platter but you might worry about some of the lead-in grooves being masked by the ring’s edge. Thankfully, TTWeights has got you covered if, like many vinyl addicts, you sweat the tiny placement details. The ring comes with it’s own storage plate, a simple looking and working plastic disk that serves to both store the ring flat and safe should you need to do so, and contains its own spindle hole that allows you to place it over the ring once it is on the record and in so doing, center the ring perfectly. Of course, should you take this step, you will certainly need to be a clamp-last user. If you feel you need more instruction, you can even find Larry himself demonstrating the procedure on a YouTube video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnzDGGAmtDo. The final step is perhaps the most precarious for new users, the lowering of your precious diamond onto the vinyl without allowing it to touch the ring. I figure if you are not sure-fingered enough you probably gave up on vinyl anyhow but still, the first few times you use the TTWeight ring, you might find yourself squinting, holding your breath and only letting go when you are sure. In this case, be reassured that with repeated use, this process really is quite painless and automatic but there’s always the chance of an accident with records.
The final assembly really looks super, and will have your friends gawking at your rig with admiration (though the possibility that your non-audio friends will think this the final evidence confirming your insanity cannot be ruled out). The spinning nickel oozes quality and provides a visual elegance to the sonic improvements that flow forth. You feel the quality of the parts as you put the pieces together but these take on a further refinement when the platter spins. To give you an idea of how elegantly coupled the lp and ring become, even a wipe of my trusted Hunt EDA brush across the grooves is hardly hampered by the periphery ring, so even and low profile is it.
So how does it all sound?
Yes, it’s true, this combination of platter, ring, and clamp really does take the sonics forward, offering in my VPI rig a level of reproduction previously unheard from LPs I’ve owned for decades. Immediate impressions are that the bass is far better articulated and the soundstage just became clearer. Within a minute of putting on Paul Brady’s Hard Station, I heard a bass drum in all it’s thumping glory where before there had been a dull thud in the nether bass regions. Instruments across the range were clearer and the music came through against a much quieter background. Not bad for a 25 year old record that I’ve known intimately since its release and hauled across two continents with me as I moved home several times in the intervening years.
Listening over time I would characterize as major the change in speed of transient reponse. No matter what I played, everything just seemed snappier, faster and cleaner, almost as if the band had done a retake and tightened up their playing. From rock to jazz, orchestral to folk, all recordings sounded that little bit fresher and faster with the TTWeights combo in place. Clearly the table was not running faster but it seems as if the ring and added weight of the mat and clamp might be doing as claimed, reducing the vibrations and tiny oscillations in platter rotation so as to give the cartridge a more level playing field, so to speak, from which to extract the information in the grooves. The net effect for me was to cause me to pull out LP after LP to enjoy those old familiar sounds, the sort of impact that usually only follows a new cartridge or major component upgrade. The impact was obvious on LPs old and new. Heifitz’s delivery of Bach’s Concerti in A minor and E major on old RCA red label, John Lee Hooker’s The Healer, U2’s The Joshua Tree, The Borodin Quartet’s Shostakovitch String Quartets, from original new purchases to thrift store used items, all sounded better with the TTWeights combo. Bass stopped and started quicker, acoustic guitar and cello strings sounded truer, vocals floated freer, and the music just had more life.
Careful listening convinced me that one specific change, which might seem sacreligious to some, came at the upper frequencies. Vinyl has always had to my ears a slightly softer top end, with music sounding more relaxed but perhaps a little muted in comparison to digital versions of the same recordings. I was a late adopter of CD, only buying my first player in 1994, having heard and considered players for at least 8 years before finally admitting defeat, or so it seemed to me at the time, to the inevitability of technological change. Over the next decade I slowly came to shift from LPs to CDs, later SACDs, as further generations of players finally convinced me that digital had come of age. It took my ears some time to adjust to what I found to be the rather tilted up nature of digital sound but eventually I found set ups that gave me real pleasure and caused me to leave LPs for those evenings when nostalgia, and the time to really listen, coincided. All this is to say that I still found the differences between analog and digital to be real, but for the first time, rather than imagining I was trying to find a digital player that sounded more analog, I find with the TTWeights system in place I might have moved my analog rig a little towards the digital side. I know it will be more than platters that spin in outrage at the suggestion but details abound, the upper registers are alive with the sort of high frequency information CD’s routinely highlight, and freshly cleaned LPs have a sort of clarity with the TTWeights products that suggests a narrowing of those differences between the two media, at least in my rig. That’s not to say LPs now sound the same as CDs, they remain different, but one touchstone of the differences between the media seems lessened to me with the TTWeights in place, and this is no bad thing either.
Because enquiring minds want to know, I started to play with the set up to determine if I could apportion the sonic improvements to one part more than another. The short answer is you really need the mat, ring and clamp working as a system to get the full benefits but if you are trying to invest over time, my recommendation would be to start with a clamp. On the VPI I notice an immediate improvement with the heavyweight replacing the standard screw-down clamp provided, and you can test the differences for yourself easily. I am not sure I would purchase the mat without the ring, and vice-versa, the two just seem to belong together as a synergistic pair. That said, the mat has such a smooth clean surface that seems to repel dust so it offers its own advantage which you should not underestimate. Put all of them together and this three-way upgrade offers the best possible bang for the sonic buck. Sometimes you just get what you pay for and if you have a good table and a collection of vinyl you wish to enjoy in the years ahead, this investment seems worthwhile to me. For the price of a decent cartridge (and definitely not an ultra expensive one) you can purchase a TTWeights combo that will outlive any cantilever or stylus in your rig. What other component, other than a good rack, can you say that about?
Clearly an upgrade, be warned that the combo cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Damaged or less than pristine vinyl will still sound like damaged or less than pristine records. Nothing, in my experience, improves vinyl like a good cleaning, and for me of late that has meant steam cleaning which really does work well in combination with a couple of rinses on my VPI 16.5. However, once clean, the addition of the mat, ring and clamp marks a noticeable upward step in the ongoing pursuit of music extraction from those old grooves. And for VPI Aries 1 and 2 owners, you have the added advantage of being able to employ the TTWeights ring as is. You cannot do that with VPI’s own periphery ring which requires a platter and bearing upgrade! Now that’s what I call a distinct selling point for Mr Denham’s products.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever, and most turntables just look so much more interesting than their digital rivals. TTWeights’ ring and clamp are themselves a beautiful marriage of form and function which further amplify the joys of reproduction, so to speak. Since I started employing the ring I’ve moved from tentative to automatic in my use. Contrary to my initial expectations that it would add a further complicating step to vinyl playback, I’ve actually found that I enjoy the process even more, and I just cannot help myself admiring the look of my newly clamped up Aries. The non-screw type clamps also load faster, so the actual process of setting vinyl up or changing sides takes no longer with this combo than with the supplied clamp and ring-less Aries. Indeed, it now seems as if I am missing something if I don’t add the ring on to the LP before dropping the needle in the groove. So what’s not to like? Better sound, better looks, and no extra time in use. Welcome TTWeights the ‘table tweak zone has a new reference product to beat. Definitely recommended.
- VPI Aries, JMW-10, Binz Wood SL, PS Audio GCPH phono stage
- PS Audio GCP 200 with external PS preamp
- Spectron Monos with Bybee upgrade
- PS Audio Transcendent XLR and MAC Silver Braid RCA interconnects
- Elrod Remote Sense Speaker cables
- PS Audio PPP Line conditioner, Virtual Dynamic David power cords
from aﬀordableaudio, By Patrick Dillon