Acoustic Sounds
By: Michael Fremer

March 4th, 2024


Editor's Choice

New! SAT/Atlas Vs Supatrac/Atlas

a level playing field

It is only fair to give you an "apples to apples" comparison. So, here's the same Bill Cunliffe Live at Bernie's Direct-to-Disc track recorded twice: once with the SAT CF1-12/Lyra Atlas Lambda SL combo into the just reviewed van den Hul The Grail SX and again with the Supatrac Blackbird/Lyra Atlas Lambda SL combo into the van den Hul The Grail SX.

The only variable this time is the tonearm. It's now "C" and "D".

BUT: This time I'm sharing it with a Dropbox link so you can hear it at full 96/24 resolution!

So here's the link.


  • 2024-03-05 12:15:51 AM

    Zaphod wrote:

    To me they sounded pretty close, but I preferred “C” over “D”. Not sure which was which, not that it really matters since I was just listening to it on my iPhone.

    I wish there was a local dealer of any kind so I can have that kind of comparison on my own system in my own environment!

    Otherwise, it can be hard to justify spending any amount of money on any newer gear.

  • 2024-03-05 01:00:46 AM

    SUPATRAC wrote:

    This time I have my suspicions.

  • 2024-03-05 01:50:24 AM

    Anton wrote:

    I admit to preferring C.

  • 2024-03-05 03:04:53 AM

    Shep wrote:

    I'm going with "D" cuz I wanted to listen thru to the end...not so much with "C".

  • 2024-03-05 03:56:56 AM

    DL wrote:

    I liked D a LOT better!

  • 2024-03-05 06:18:56 AM

    T68 wrote:

    Whaaat?! Audio nerds having different opinions about how something sounds?!?!

    • 2024-03-05 11:28:35 AM

      cracking resonance wrote:

      That’s an oxymoron, nerds make their points about things you can’t hear, which means non-audio. ;-)

  • 2024-03-05 08:01:08 AM

    T68 wrote:

    After a listening session I first have to say this: Shame on you Mr Fremer for publishing these recordings of this stellar quality!

    Now I have to drag all my sorry audio gear into the backyard, burn it, shave my hear, become a monk, move into a monastery and never listen to high fidelity recorded music ever again.

    With that said. Hard to pick a favourite. Both are so good. But maybe C has the edge for me. But as stated above: I may not have good enough listening gear to be allowed an opinion here :-).

  • 2024-03-05 10:53:02 AM

    Patrick Brennan wrote:

    I prefer D cause it sounds more dynamic, but they both sound spectacular!

  • 2024-03-05 11:27:36 AM

    cracking resonance wrote:

    D, clearly, more information, faster, more grunt = more fun to listen, a few times C, nice, normal as expected sound = typically more boring to me, wouldn’t listen to album again that quick.

  • 2024-03-05 01:02:05 PM

    John G wrote:

    C is more tuneful.

  • 2024-03-05 05:00:41 PM

    miguelito wrote:

    I am curious as to whether you use AnalogMagik for cartridge setup. Thx.

    • 2024-03-05 06:50:59 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      I do not use software-based set up. I have seen very mixed results from it. I prefer microscope for VTA/SRA, digital oscilloscope or voltmeter for azimuth

  • 2024-03-05 05:13:33 PM

    Kevin Jones wrote:

    Both sound great…lost in the music… hope I win either setup. … opps wrong story… D maybe?

  • 2024-03-05 06:25:02 PM

    PeterPani wrote:

    Hi Mike - please, can you send both tonearms and the cartridge to Vienna, so that I can test both configurations in my hifi? Thanks!

    • 2024-03-05 06:51:50 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      in the mail!

      • 2024-03-06 04:45:05 PM

        PeterPani wrote:

        I hope, you wrote "C" and "D" on the boxes. I want to do a blind testing!

  • 2024-03-05 07:20:03 PM

    Ian Southall wrote:

    I imported the files into ROON and played them back on our lounge system (Chord M-Scaler / DAVE, Benchmark ABH2 and Quad 2805). We thought that file D was more dynamic with clearer bass notes but also more subtle in terms of timbre of instruments.

    The ROON dynamic range - o - meter gave both files a decent score of 11.

    I thought D was probably the SAT arm.

    It would be interesting if Michael would do a further listening test himself. Please let us know how close the 24/96 files played back through his DCS gear gets to the direct analogue playback quality he usually experiences.

    Thanks you for taking the time to set us these challenges.

    • 2024-03-06 09:51:56 PM

      Ian Southall wrote:

      I listened again this evening alone, using headphones, and I have changed my mind. I now think that C has the best sound quality - basically reversing the sound quality judgements I made yesterday! This is my final choice and I will not look or listen again until the big reveal!

    • 2024-03-07 03:51:03 PM

      SpaceManSpiff88 wrote:

      This is probably a revealing setup

  • 2024-03-05 07:35:08 PM

    Tim wrote:

    Short answer: 'D' was better to my ears : better bass and low-mid clarity, with more natural / less-taxing highs.

    Long answer: I am glad you did the additional comparison Michael. This time around the 'gap' was less noticeable. I had to listen a few times to come to a final landing on this.

    I believe D is the SAT -> but I would be very happy to be wrong.

  • 2024-03-05 10:26:54 PM

    James Blast wrote:

    I do not so much try to differentiate between the two, but enjoy your recordings as a level of performance I aspire to. They both sounds BONKERS good! The high res file is fed into an Accuphase DAC via USB, through a headphone amp into my Dan Clark Audio headphones. The two files sound quite different. Although C sounds more sophisticated to me, I think I prefer D for having more pizzazz. Thank you!

  • 2024-03-05 10:34:25 PM

    Tomato Sandwich wrote:

    I prefer D.

  • 2024-03-06 03:12:22 AM

    David Hicks wrote:

    I find C to be a bit more dynamic, like it has a higher volume, though I know that shouldn't be the case with the identical cartridge into the same phono stage. D just sounded a bit softer and less dynamic. Is the higher volume due to the arm tracking forces that differ between the two arms due to the Supatrac's design which causes it to hug the record during passages in the groove with greater stylus drag? Or did I just imagine a volume/dynamics differential?

  • 2024-03-06 03:22:26 AM

    Sam Casanzio wrote:

    C has more weight to the presentation. I hear the fullness of the opening piano notes better with C. A little more well rounded.

  • 2024-03-06 05:49:10 AM

    T68 wrote:

    A member over at pinkfishmedia has done a rms measurement and C is indeed about 1db louder than D. Interesting considering everything in the setup being equal except for the tonearm. I've reas somewhere that some users have found cartridges on the Supatrac play louder than on their other arms. Hmm, maybe a clue...?

    • 2024-03-06 06:30:28 AM

      SUPATRAC wrote:

      At the Bristol Hifi Show in 2023 I demonstrated a Blackbird on a Technics SL-1210 Mk5 against the stock magnesium arm on the SL-1210G. Both had the same cartridges and phono stages. Many visitors to the demonstration agreed that the Blackbird sounded louder. I subsequenty measured it at around 2dB. Many Blackbird customers have commented that their new arms are louder. So far I have not determined whether this is due more to the bearing or the other structures. I intended the arm to absorb as little energy as possible by making it as rigid as I could within the mass constraints. The bearing is a crucial part of that rigidity. I deliberately took the opposite approach to Well Tempered, whose arms are designed to absorb energy, as I felt their politeness was one of their very few weakness. I wanted a more exciting arm, and I take the apparent extra loudness as evidence that the arm has sacrificed less signal energy to flexion. HTH.

  • 2024-03-06 06:57:32 AM

    Mikael O wrote:

    Thank you Michael, for these excellent needle drops! I prefer C with a slight "but"... C simply sounds more like the real thing to these ears, but with a slightly "wandering" sound stage, tendencies of a unipivot? D is more focused, and to be honest "flat" and less engaging to me.

    Please let me know how you record your sound snippets? I use a simple Linear PCM recorder but it is a bit crude with volume adaptation etc.

  • 2024-03-06 05:45:17 PM

    Come on wrote:

    This was easy. C is better by night and day. More open, more extended, more 3D, more resolution, better fine dynamics, much better defined bass. D is comparably damped, dull, slow and restricted in impulses.

    • 2024-03-07 05:29:06 PM

      Come on wrote:

      It’s also interesting how much both are still better than the DSD from the SACD, which again sounds like a shadow of D with also little narrowed stage. Don’t tell this folks like Paul McG.

  • 2024-03-06 11:20:04 PM

    Tim wrote:

    Listening to these files again and again, I have to say the differences are really not night and day. That said, my preference for 'D' remains.

    There are just a few segments of music where I think 'D' has the edge. It's probably best highlighted at timestamp 2:05 through 2:11, namely the nice piano line. The piano sounds more "piano" in file D, whereas File C has a slightly more "smudged" presentation (for lack of a better word), and the piano gets lost in the drums a little (although this is nit picking).

    Perhaps file D is indeed Supatrac!? If the marketing is true, it is meant to be more time-accurate / less temporal-jitter than other designs, which piano is normally allergic to!

    • 2024-03-06 11:53:03 PM

      Nicholas Paredes wrote:

      “Smudged” is a good word. I felt the bass was smudged in C and more articulate in D.

      I preferred the upper and some of the mids of C. D felt a little too airy.

    • 2024-03-06 11:53:04 PM

      Nicholas Paredes wrote:

      “Smudged” is a good word. I felt the bass was smudged in C and more articulate in D.

      I preferred the upper and some of the mids of C. D felt a little too airy.

  • 2024-03-07 03:56:55 PM

    SpaceManSpiff88 wrote:

    Cannot tell the difference, or at least its not meaningful, via laptop and apple earbuds. Both sound great. Kudos to the builder of the 'attainable' arm sharing his innovative idea with enthusiasts. Even if the pricey arm is marginally, or maybe even 'i can't quite tell,' better, doesn't say everything about the "value" of a tonearm costing as much as a luxury car? Insane to me but to each his own.

    PS thanks for sharing these awesome high quality rips.

  • 2024-03-08 02:04:07 AM

    Sloan Lamb wrote:

    What is the deal with the purple front of that cartridge? — looks like it fell into a dumpster or had a run in with a hair curler?

  • 2024-03-08 05:17:32 AM

    David Terry wrote:

    My preference vacillates. That’s quite an achievement for Supatrac vs SAT. I love when some one proves that cost no object sound can be had for relatively modest costs.

  • 2024-03-08 08:46:04 AM

    Martin Straub wrote:

    It's C. But really, they are both so good. C is a bit louder I think. This may be fooling my ears, but... I would say C is the Supatrac.

  • 2024-03-08 10:33:04 AM

    Will wrote:

    I'm loving this thread - Bravo Michael! can't wait 'til I get my system back and running after room decoration to try the files.

    Maybe the next A/B will be an AP or OJC 180gm vinyl compared to a WaxTime edition? 😁

  • 2024-03-08 03:41:19 PM

    Jerome Sabbagh wrote:

    I just listened, admittedly only off the computer, using Etymotic Research ER-4SR in ear headphones. I don't know which arm is which and I also don't know which arm is more faithful to the recording but to me, as a listener and a musician, C is far more engaging and musically "right". It swings more. C sounds like the real thing, D sounds like a recording. It's a huge difference ... When I have a minute, I'll listen in my regular system but if C is the Supatrac, I'm impressed!

    • 2024-03-08 07:24:06 PM

      Come on wrote:

      Ha, one more with this kind of clear preference (whatever arm it is). I especially like your album „Plugged in“, great stuff!

      • 2024-03-09 01:21:33 AM

        Jerome Sabbagh wrote:

        Thanks a lot, much appreciated!

    • 2024-03-08 10:18:18 PM

      Come on wrote:

      By the way, how did you manage to add a profile picture? This site not only needs hard coded text formatting, it also has no profile properties for users.

      • 2024-03-09 01:23:00 AM

        Jerome Sabbagh wrote:

        Click on the round tracking angle icon once logged in (upper right corner), then select "upload a new avatar". Worked for me!

        • 2024-03-09 10:58:41 AM

          Come on wrote:

          Thanks much, got it! My problem was, that the icon upper right corner just appears in landscape mode on a tablet.

  • 2024-03-08 05:56:04 PM

    John G wrote:

    Thanks Mike for making the recordings. When will we know which was which?

  • 2024-03-08 09:09:27 PM

    Oz wrote:

    D is the better recording, more detail, better definition and decay.

  • 2024-03-08 09:24:31 PM

    Tim wrote:

    Total backflip time:

    With all the stir that this comparison has caused, I made the brave decision to setup my DAC on my "main system" (normally a vinyl exclusive system!), and my preference is now 'C' -> all day long...

    The difference between the files is certainly more apparent on the main system (which is more "high end" and precisely setup).

    Although there are aspects of D which I still appreciate, C kicks it out of the park with dynamics, life.

    The results of this shootout have me on the edge of my seat!

    • 2024-03-08 10:41:46 PM

      Anton wrote:

      I share your enthusiasm!

    • 2024-03-09 03:58:47 AM

      Jerome Sabbagh wrote:

      You inspired me to listen to the files on my main system to see if I thought the same thing as on headphones ... and I do. I still prefer C. I appreciate D, in a hifi kind of way: it's detailed, precise etc. It's high level sound reproduction and it's good. But C still sounds fundamentally more right musically to my ears. Even as it perhaps doesn't present across the board better than D, it makes the music more engaging, and that makes all the difference to me. It's more coherent, it feels more like what I imagine the performance was like in the room. Now, as to what is the better reproduction of this particular record, which is somewhat a different question, I still don't know. But I do know which file I prefer to listen to, and that's C, for sure!

      • 2024-03-09 04:53:38 AM

        Anton wrote:

        This is such a great hobby!

  • 2024-03-10 04:12:18 PM

    Martin Straub wrote:

    Having now played both files on my home system, it is still C. I think C sounds the better of the two

  • 2024-03-10 09:04:21 PM

    SUPATRAC wrote:

    I can now reveal that I emailed MF with my preference, C, and guess, C=Blackbird, and he congratulated me on sticking my neck out! The reasons I gave have been well summed up by Jerome Sabbagh above.

    In D the introduction piano chords sound beautiful, pure, detailed but smooth, almost soothing. In C they sound jarring and a little queasy. Listen to the notes. Those notes are not meant to soothe. They are not meant to be nice, or detailed or subtle. They are meant to make you say "ouch, this is a bit weird", and in C that's exactly what they do. Welcome to reality!

    Sometimes what's in the grooves may be a bit of a shock, but I would rather hear it. You can always buy another record.

  • 2024-05-02 11:46:30 PM

    Paul Arnold wrote:

    The dropbox folder seems empty when I click