Ikeda IT-345 CR1 Tonearm Review

Discussion in 'Vinyl Nutjob World: Turntable and Related Gear' started by purr1n, Jun 10, 2022.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    When I picked up the VPI Classic 4 more than six years ago, the plan was to install an additional tonearm (the Classic 4 has spots for two armboards). I just never thought it would take me this long. I actually had several arms on hand, a JMW 12" 3D and a metal JMW 10.5, but I never got around to doing so. I hated the sound of the 3D arm, so I got rid of it. The 10.5 was of interest because it had an oil cup for dampening fluid so I could running lower compliance carts; but the fact was, it was more or less the same design as the metal JMW 12" arm. (I was very familiar with the 10.5 as I owned a Classic 1 before the 4). I thought about Tri-Planar and almost pulled the trigger several times when I saw good deals, but I wasn't sure this was the direction (sonically) where I wanted to go. The Kuzma 4Point was intriguing, sort of like a unipivot on two axes; but ultimately I kind of felt what's the point? I'd just be chasing that few percent and I would probably double or quadruple what I spent on the Ortofon Cadenza Bronze MC to take better advantage of it. If there's anything I've learned over the years, it's that moar detail, moar faster transients, that just leads to disappointment. Well, there's no problem to this. Except for me, I wanted to pay off my mortgage before I reached a certain age. Priorities ya know. I get don't get free expensive shit like the guys at Stereophile or Analog Planet.

    In hindsight, the reason I never added a second arm was because I was happy with Classic 4 and the JMV 12" metal arm. I know the high-rollers will scoff at this. Surely the VPI isn't True High-Endâ„¢! Except that I've heard this arm on another VPI table (from the golden age of VPI) hold it's own against two other very expensive set ups, each of them four to six times the cost! This in the same listening room with the same records! This is just like DACs, spending more doesn't necessarily mean better, but rather different. Sure there is better by 1-2%, but mostly it's different. I will acknowledge that the VPI stuff doesn't exactly look like audio jewelry and that their approach is more brute force rather than elegance, so perhaps VPI isn't True-Endâ„¢ in this respect. FWIW, it doesn't matter anyway today. The best tables from VPI (outside of the all-out magnetic platter stuff) where the TNT-6 Hotrod and the Classic 3/4. The best arms were the metal 12" JMV unipivots. These are no are no longer available.

    I ended up with the Ikeda tonearm because all I wanted was to play with different carts with greater ease. So I went shopping for used metal JMV-12 arms. Except there are none available. I missed a few chances to scoop up used 12" metal arms back in the day and ended up kicking myself for not doing so. I'm sure many fellow VPI TT owners realized how good these arms were and bought them all up. Meanwhile, VPI who sells the 12" arm in the printed 3D form, has jacked them up to $2500. No wonder high-end audio is dying.

    The Ikeda IT-345 CR1 recommendation came from a friend. I think it was an easy recommendation for him to make as he sort of read my mine. He had heard my main TT setup from six years ago and he also knew that I didn't change things much. The 2M Black to the Cadenza Bronze MC (stayed with Ortofon because I was able to get deals back then), one EC 45 protocol SET amp to another (this time where I got to pick both the interstage and output transformers), and one Fostex BLH to a Frugel-Horn (with FE168NS instead of FE168EZ). The changes were slow and deliberate, incremental improvements, tweaks to shift things here or there, but the essence of the system remained the same. Also, the Classic 4 is the Classic 4. With a neutral cart, it's very neutral, almost dry sounding table. My goal was to put together a neutral and detailed sounding system where I could come back again and again, putting another record on well into the night until I could no longer keep my eyes open.

    Now I wanted something different, something with a little more character, but one that still sounded "correct". For digital guys, think NOS DACs, that tone, but without the NOS soundstage (because that's just all sorts of fucked up). But this is really very much oversimplifying it. I wanted different, not as replacement because I was tired of what I already had, not as side-grade, but as something complementary to exist at the same time.

    This is where the Ikeda IT-345 comes in. Of course! Low compliance carts. The classic carts like the SPU (where there is now a modern take with the elliptical needle), the DL-103 which is dirt cheap, and if I wanted to go mono, the Miyajima. There also seemed to be quite a good selection of under-the-radar low-compliance carts in Japan where the price hasn't gone through the roof. I decided I was going to get this arm and use it with my DL-103 and enjoy it for long as I can while I put on the roadmap an eventual SPU purchase. There's no need to rush. High-end audio is journey for me where it's best to really appreciate what one has on-hand, to maximize that pleasure, before moving on. Besides, I can't find an SPU for a good deal right now. Needle Doctor is dead. Soundstage Direct is long dead. SPU carts seem to be special order items. I wished companies like Ortofon would say just FU to the dealer model and sell direct.
     
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    Last edited: Jun 11, 2022
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    I don't do unboxing videos nor do I talk much about the unboxing process. But holy moly, this thing is impressive. I wasn't out for audio jewerly. And for what I paid, I really didn't expect this. This is impressive machined stainless steel. Knowing a small bit what Schiit had to go through to get the parts of their Sol turntable (now discontinued) to proper tolerances, Ikeda can't be making much money from this. Labor isn't exactly cheap in Japan even though they've maintained precision processes on ball bearing manufacturing (unlike the US where we just sold out). And this ain't for chintzy looks either (Dartzeel and CHORD, cough cough). It's form follows function with elegant aesthetics that only the Japanese can pull off. Put it this way, my wife commented this was the most beautiful piece of audio gear that she's ever seen.

    PXL_20220607_013800811.jpg

    So a little bit about the history. I won't bore you with too many details and you guys can do your own research. Isamu Ikeda founded Fidelity Research in the 60s. The company manufactured tonearms for anybe two decades until the CD age put an end to all that. Check out FR-64 and FR-66 tonearms on eBay to get a sense of their history. The IT-345 is a direct descendent of those designs. Ikeda resurrected his ideas and in 2000 started Ikeda Sound Labs. I don't know if he's still around. If he is, he would be in this 90s. The legacy lives on though.

    Here's some turntable porn:

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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    • VTF or tracking force is set via the dial on the side. There's a spring loaded mechanism that allows us to set the VTF from 0g to whopping 5g in quarter gram increments. The SPU runs up to 4g tracking force or more. This makes things super easy!
    • After the headsheel/cart is mounted, we set the counterweight so that that arm balances, and then adjust the VTF dial. I kind of had my doubts on the bearings considering the weight of the arm. The length of the arm very sturdy. Remember, it's a stainless steel shaft that can be used as a weapon to smack people without break, not a thin walled alumimum, carbon, printed epoxy deal that I could snap between the two outer fingers on just on hand.
    • I balanced the arm, lifted up the stylus with strip of paper, and was impressed how the arm would return back into the balanced position after a few cycles instead of binding. C'mon, something this heavy is supposed to bind somewhere! Nope. The feel and movement of a heavy gimbaled arm is very different from that a unipivot which wobbles all over the place. Heck, it's even quite different from a medium mass gimbaled arm.
    • The counterweight is an interesting design. It's actually two different weight counterweights in one. Think about it.
    • Not shown: the tonearm wires terminate at the bottom of the vertical shaft into a DIN jack. Ikeda provides a DIN to RCA cable.
    PXL_20220608_204255860.jpg
     
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    Last edited: Jun 10, 2022
  4. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    THE SOUND

    So how does it sound? Well, I would say that it met my expectations. I had high expectations going in, I wasn't expecting miracles, and I knew that my other arm/cart were already very good. The Ikeda IT-345 provides a great complement to the metal JMW-12 / Cadenza Bronze. The 12" arm as equipped is more flowly, highly detailed, nuanced, responsive. Unipivots are just going to sound a certain way. I don't want to say that the IT-345 is any less so especially toward the latter qualities (the DL-103 does have its limitations), but this arm with the DL-103 possess more authority, boldness, heft, structure. The attack is stronger, powerful, sort of smacks you out of nowhere, but not sharp or edgy (It's downright slammin' with The Cap installed on the DL-103, too much so that I removed it). There's more foundational body to vocals. The imaging is more precise and centered, but surprisingly, the soundstage is expansive at the edges in both width and depth. Bottom line is that think muscle car (at least modern muscle car that can take the turns).

    The tonal signature of the IT-345/D-103 is more mid-centric than the Metal JMW-12/Cadezna Broze. By the way, I've never heard the DL-103 sound sooo good. The urban legends and myths that the DL-103 really need a heavy arm are true. (The next best I've heard the DL-103 was from the Sol, which actually had a fairy heavy arm, on the upper end of medium mass.) By good sounding, I mean expressive and responsive. The DL-103 has always been an expressive cart, but the IT-345 just takes it to whole 'nother level.

    In a sense it's somewhat like moving from an OS DAC to a one of those NOS DACs that specialize in tone density (the high-end Metrum DACs, before Metrum's meltdown, convey this best), except without the deleterious effects on soundstage. However, even this analogy doesn't fully convey what going on. The effect is more sublime, more inner, than outer. As I said, it's different, but it's still normal or correct. It's not a "freakshow" presentation that tries to be different for the sake of being different. Although so far I have to admit I am deeply enjoying this setup because it is something new. I'm going through a ton of my records to get a new perspective and enjoying it a lot. I'm sure in time, things will balance themselves out and I'll go back the unipivot more often. New toy syndrome does wear out.

    Couple of side notes:
    • The DL-103's conical needle is much more forgiving of surface noise, imperfections, crap deep in the grroves. etc. Not only that, I'm also kind of digging that detail isn't being highlighted as much.
    • I only optimized VTF, VTA, azimuth later. Conicals are much more forgiving of setup. TBH, I don't think I hear much of a difference between "just-slapped in so I could hear something quick" vs "precisely set up by anal retentive vinylhead".
    • Some older records, 'Stones - Sticky Fingers, 'Stones - Some Girls, Talking Heads - Speaking in Tongues, etc. sounded better on the IT-345 / DL-103, as if they were mastered for the DL-103. (Note that these LP masterings are very different sounding from CD masters/remasters).
    • Mono records do sound better from the IT-345 / DL-103. As in appreciably better rather than just different. I don't know why. I do know that mono records, at least the ones cut on mono cutters, have no vertical deflection and wider grooves.
    • Reminder that this is the 9" IT-345, not the longer 12" IT-407. I've been told different sound. Most audio rag reviews seem to be on the IT-407, because "longer is always better", or maybe that's where the market is. I was given strong advice toward IT-345 and this was consistent with my own instincts.
     
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    Last edited: Jun 12, 2022
  5. 9suns

    9suns [insert unearned title here]

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    Congrats, that's an awesome piece of audio gear!!
    Great to read your take on the Ikeda tonearm, super clear and concise compared to reviewers and ORFAS forums (as always).
     
  6. shaizada

    shaizada Friend

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    That is how you do a good review! I knew this would be the right tonearm for you based on our conversations and I am so glad you made this transition. Those bearings in the Ikeda tonearm are very special. They are so finely made that the slightest hint of vinyl groove and stylus movement is translated. If you want to see the magic, just zero balance the tonearm with the cartridge mounted and leave it still in free air with the cuing lever lowered...then just gently blow on it and see how beautifully the arm reacts to that! I love the Ikeda tonearm. Congratulation on owing an heirloom piece.

    You can now experiment with headshells and headshell lead wires to further tune, enhance, massage the sound of any cartridge you like, to your listening taste, your system sound, your speakers in your particular room and setup.

    That is what I love about analog. If you approach it with a certain mindset, you can increase the pleasure you derive from records and music that you truly love.
     
  7. wbass

    wbass Almost "Made"

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    Awesome review. Definitely been super curious about the Ikeda/Fidelity Research arms for a while.

    I use a GrooveMaster 12-J banana shaped-arm on a Garrard 401 set-up. Also good for the DL103(R), SPUs, and other high-compliance carts. There are some ergonomic/build issues though. Small stuff but annoying.

    For SPUs, I own and enjoy an SPU #1S and an SPU Synergy G. Both are excellent. The #1S (and #1E) are closer to the classic SPU philosophy, I believe, as the Synergy (and other higher-end SPUs) use more advanced/modern stylus profiles. A good source for SPUs is George Merrill with GEM Dandy. A real gent and very knowledgable. But I think they're pretty much special order wherever. Hugo at Ammonite Audio in the UK sometimes has them in stock.

    Having directly compared a Jelco 850 10" and 12", I prefer the 12". It seems a more relaxed, bigger listen. (But that's just my experience with Jelco, and plenty of folks find shorter arms "faster," I think.) I also find the Kuzma 4-Points truly excellent. They are ergonomically a real joy, especially for fine-tuning cart set-up.

    Analog is insane but fun.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2022
  8. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Light blow at around 2 seconds (very light deflection - remember heavy arm with high inertial) followed immediately by a strong blow (oops, a bit too strong - it takes a lot to move). This was trippy because I've never had a heavy arm like this before, or at least one this heavy (guessing 30-35gm). Note how the low-compliance needle on the DL103 pretty much doesn't move as it hits the deck. This is why it needs a heavy arm.



    In case anyone is wondering, I aligned the cart according to the Ikeda manual and included cardboard template with pivot to spindle at 120mm. Turns out Ikeda is using the Stevenson alignment. Note that I used Conrad Hoffman's free template creator, found here: https://www.conradhoffman.com/chsw.htm. The program works under Windows, including Windows 10.

    PXL_20220614_172039094.jpg
     
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  9. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    I believe this is the general experience between longer and shorter arms. Longer arms, more relaxed, more flowly, grander. Shorter arms more focused, tighter, faster, more reactive. Kind of like the difference between cars with a long wheelbase and short wheelbase. @shaizada recommended the shorter IT-345 over the IT-407, but I would have intuitively opted for the shorter arm anyway with where I wanted to go.

    The thing that sucks is that there's this peception that longer is always better. With respect to tracking error, sure the longer arms are better. But really, a tracking angle of a quarter degree at the first third and half a degree at the end of the record isn't going to matter. Besides if we screw up overhang on the longer arms, there's more error than if we did the same on shorter arms.

    What sucks is that the high-end audio industry has it everyone's heads that longer is always better. A high-end 9" arm may be $5500, but the 12" version of it will be $9300. This is stupid because that longer arm won't necessarily sound better, but rather different. I doubt the price difference in material is that much. Most audio rag reviews of the Ikeda arms have been with the longer IT-407 because this is the market. This is what audiophiles think they want.

    At least some some manufacturers get it. One manufacturer of high-mass arms, Schick, charges the same for their arm regardless of length, whether it be 9", 10", or 12". This is the way it should be.

    But hey, when there's an oligarch willing to pay almost twice as much for 3" longer, why not take their money?
     
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  10. wbass

    wbass Almost "Made"

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    Yeah, analog pricing has gone bananas. Maybe even more so than the overall hi-fi world. Jelco, with their eminently solid, reasonably priced arms was a real loss.

    Agree that there's no good reason to crank up the price on the longer arms. I prefer my 12" Jelco to my 10", but it's not like I've done tons of AB'ing. The price differential was not huge, and life's too short to be swapping carts around all over the place. It's such a PITA to dial in a cart that I just live with it for a while.

    The longer arms definitely look the business. Whether an extra inch or two translates into better performance for most people, I really dunno. Maybe some of the mystique comes from the days of the SME 3012 and the long Ortofon arms. Japanese analog nuts, with their repurposed broadcast decks, vintage tonearms, and SPU-mania really do inform a chunk of the current landscape. SET amps, Altec and JBL horns, SPUs, the emphasis would seem to be on relaxed, big, and dynamic. I guess the longer arms gesture toward that overall aesthetic. Very different than, say, Brit-Fi or American high-end (Wilsons with tons of drivers and big, brute power amps, etc.).
     
  11. sfoclt

    sfoclt Friend

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    The Glanz 9, 10 and 12 inch versions all cost the same.
     
  12. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    It's very sad what happened. I wanted to put together an SBAF guide on putting together a relatively affordable table with good sound. Obviously Jelco tonearms were on the list. Ultimately COVID, aging manufacturing equipment, and aging engineers did them in. I was hoping that at least we would see existing stock Jelco arms still on Ebay going for at least a few more years, but this is not the case.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2022
  13. wbass

    wbass Almost "Made"

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    Sorane has brought out their TA1, which is sort of in the same space as the Jelco. Similar design and price range. Slightly more expensive. I've read that it's a good arm. No experience myself.

    http://www.hifigem.com/sorane-tonearm.html
     
  14. deniall83

    deniall83 Acquaintance

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    Always wanted to try the 103 but with a Technics table and Jelco headshell, I'm not sure it'll be a great match. Might just pull the trigger and find out. They're cheap enough.
     

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