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At a Glance

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If ever there was a battleship tonearm, the Zeta is it. Launched in 1982 at £399, build was heroic, with a huge arm pillar housing top class bearings, large diameter armtube cut from 20-gauge alloy and a solid, one piece HE30 alloy headshell with a milled flat underside.

The direct coupled counterweight comprises an alloy housing with three mild steel weights inside. Wiring is copper Beyer microphone cable, although later Zetas came with the option of vdH MCD502 for a £90 premium. Physically, the arm resembles the Mission 774SM, which was also made in the same London engineering works, GB Tools.

A classic example of a heavyweight tonearm, its 16g effective mass makes it best suited to low compliance moving coils. A removable counterweight insert allows a total cartridge weight range of 17g. Setting up is a tad fiddly, as there’s no spring-applied tracking force adjustment. This is good news from a sound quality point of view, as there are no extra bits of metal inside the bearing housing to vibrate. But it also makes setting the tracking weight a more fussy business requiring a decent stylus balance.

The counterweight is locked in place by a Allen-headed grub screw. Likewise the arm height adjustment, while bias is applied by a thumbwheel on the arm pillar, but is also uncalibrated ? meaning it’s test tones a go go trying to get the settings right.

On audition the Zeta is a gem. It’s a great all rounder with a very strong, even and taut bass, superb midband performance and clean, extended treble. Dynamics are superb, with a tremendous feeling of power and grip. Also top class is the Zeta’s resolution, letting the listener focus on one single strand in the mix and follow it effortlessly right through the song.

This, plus its superb dynamics and commensurate rhythmic ability, mean it’s always a compelling listen.

The Zeta has few weak points. You could say it lacks the tonal richness and warmth of some rivals - in fact, detractors call it dull. There’s also a sense that its upper midband is a touch coarse, and its critics would draw attention to its overlarge bearing housing as a source of unwelcome resonances.

Critics also claim, wrongly in my opinion, that it’s a very hi-fi sounding device. True, it’s big and butch and pulls no punches, but it‘s also a real music maker, if not quite as beguiling is the best unipivots.

The Zeta is popular second-hand, with a robust construction that’s done no harm at all to residual values. This, plus the fact that it was one of the most expensive around until the advent of mega arms like the SME V, means it‘s pricey.

Early samples go for around £250, but sample consistency was patchy in its early days. Although the vdH wiring does little for its sound quality, these later versions are the ones to go for. Pay £350-£450 depending on condition and provenance.

Superbly dynamic, powerful sound. Fiddly to set up though, and too heavy for some decks.

Article written by David Price

Source Hi Fi World

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