It was all the fault of David, the turntable guru from the
Sound Organisation, York. As a member of his caring
profession he was paying a domiciliary visit to introduce
me to some different loudspeakers. "While I am
here", he said, "Just let me try one of my new favourite
gadgets on your Linn turntable."
This is how I came to be aquainted at first hand with the Tiger Paw, sKale. A brief listening session made it irresistable.
I ordered one, costing a not insignificant £195. Essentially it is a counterweight (available in black and aluminium) which replaces those on the Linn Ittok, Ekos and Ekos SE arms. The picture on the left shows what you get - I was a bit surprised not to find any written instructions in the homely little tin, but I suppose if it is not obvious what goes where, one ought to seek help.
It comes in a businesslike looking kit form. There are two sets of screws, a key, and two counterweights. The idea is to find a combination which allows the counterweight to fit closely to the bearing. Remembering my school physics, that a fulcrum is balanced when mass times distance equals mass times distance, it seems clear why the heaviest combinations must be used to place the sKale as near as possible to the arm bearings.
I had a telephone chat with Roger from the Tiger Paw company. He told me that the sKale had been developed as a necessary counterweight for heavy cartridges, and his team were delighted to discover that it improves all weights of cartridges. I suspect that adjusting the weight-distance ratio will become a quagmire of fixation for inveterate tweakers. For the time being at least I fitted the single heavier counterweight and plodded on.
The two illustrations below show, firstly, the counterweight fitted as standard to my Ittok LV II; and, with the sKale fitted.
Roger, of Tiger Paw, told me that the benefits of this counterweight over the orgininal are threefold: firstly, its mounting hole is off-centre so it hangs below the arm, reducing the centre of gravity of the counter-weight mass. Among arm designers, this is supposed to be "a good thing." Secondly having the counter-weight mass near to the bearing means that the mass of the counterweight has to move around less as the arm tracks the records. More smiles among arm designers I gather. Thirdly, there are sonic advantages in the way this counterweight has been designed to sit on the arm to reduce "resonant" reflections.
So how does it sound? In simple terms it sounds like
a significant cartridge upgrade. It changes the
overall sound of my system - it has a different signature,
a different presentation. Vinyl sounds newer.
Treble and bass seem slightly enhanced, but not in an
impressive sock-it-to-you hifi way. In a funny sort
of way you want to listen at lower volumes - it is all
there, why have it louder? It also seems to do what
a good phono preamplifier is able to do - to allow the
notes to breathe. You can hear long notes from
saxophones, harmonica and church organ start up and close
down in a way I have only associated with live
performances in the past.
My wife insists David will be chaperoned the next time he calls.....
AFTER THE HONEYMOON, or AFTER-MASS:
When you undo the sKale's packing tin - which for a
previous generation might also have contained rough pipe
tobacco - you are also unleaching a genie, which is in the
main benevolent but, at times mischievous and
As I suspected, the temptation to try different settings with this gadget was irresistable. I am using an Ittok LVII and a Dynavector DV-20x2 (pictured above). Firstly, I tried attaching both weights and found the effect a little bit over the top - lots of detail but almost too much on some tracks - a definate loss in musicality - an almost forensic examination of the music.
As I installed the sKale again, it struck me that there are three ways to do it.
Firstly, there is what might be regarded as the conventional method. For this you set the arm's own adjustment to zero (and don`t forget always to also adjust the lateral compensation dial to zero until you are ready to turn the deck on again). Then you carefully waggle the sKale up from the back of the arm until the arm remains free in the air, like a see-saw not touching the ground at either end. The you simply adjust the tracking pressure on the arm as you would if you were fitting a standard Ittok. I find it always safest not to totally trust this method of setting the tracking pressure - I check using digital scales. (I have found the best tracking weight for my cartridge to be 1.9 gms).
The second method is to set the arm's adjustment to zero, and use only the positioning of the sKale to arrive at tracking weight of 1.9gms. This means that the spring mechanism in the arm is not used at all, and the digital scales is necessary for all tracking weight adjustments. This could have the benefit that the arm's spring does not add any sonic characteristics of its own to what is going on. On the other hand, the presence of a slack spring in the arm could produce detrimental effects.
The third method is to choose exaclty where you want the sKale to be positioned on the arm and use the spring to arrive give the correct tracking weight on the digital scales. This will have the disadvantage the arm's tracking force dial will almost certainly be very misleading. But is seems to me that this, third method, is the only way those users who insist on the sKale sitting as closely to the arm bearing as possible will be able to reliably use.
Recent weeks have seen the sKale change weight a number of times, and move up and down the arm quite a bit. To be critical of it - results are a bit unpredictable. While it is true to say that if you configure it so that it sits as near to the arm bearing as possible, the results will be detailed and very revealing; perhaps a bit harsh. The instruments will sit in a precise row between your speakers - but they will not talk to each other. Move the sKale too far out and the sound can present as almost dull. But this is not a linear change - there are sweet spots on the way. And you have to find them. And you are left wondering if there are any sweeter spots.
It is worth noting that the sKale without any extra weights is actually lighter than the counterweight that comes with the Ittok. It is also worth noting that if you use the standard Ittok counterweight in method two above you get an interesting result. Set your tracking weight scale to zero, and adjust the counerweight until the tracking weight measures, in my case 1.9 gms. Now listen. It sounds better than the conventional way of setting up an Ittok. An audible step on the road towards the sKale effect. So to my mind, some of the problem with the standard Ittok is caused by the use of the spring in the tracking weight scale. Perhaps it adds an internal reverberation.
BEST SETTING FOR THE SKALE After continued fiddling and pondering, my sKale has been set up in the following way to give the most musical results for my ears with an Ittok LVII and a Dynavector DV-20x2:
Set the scale on your Ittok to 1.0 gms.
Put the smaller weight on the sKale.
Adjust the sKale until you have a measured tracking weight of 1.9 gms
Waggle the sKale around until you feel it has bedded in whilst remaining perfectly vertical (i.e.the heavier bit exactly downwards) and perpendicular with the arm (not twisted on the arm).
Check tracking weight - this can be fussy.
Do not use the arm's scale for minor adjustment - it is not accurate if not properly set up (i.e set up to read zero when perfectly balanced like a see-saw not touching the ground.)
It will sound better still the following day, and checking the tracking weight again would do no harm.
Or you could get your dealer to help.......
I still have some nagging doubts about what the sKale does to the way in which the tonearm works when it tracks a record. The Ittok manual says:
"It should be noted that the counterweight is used only to balance the arm, never to apply tracking force. Tracking force is applied by a spring that is controlled by the tracking force arm adjustment dial. Because of this, the arm is always dynamically balanced and any disturbances that reach the arm will tend to affect both the rear portion of the arm and the front portion of the arm equally, thus minimizing their effect."
So setting up the sKale in the way most individuals and vendors are suggesting contradicts what Linn advise. I remain unhappy about a spring mounted inside a tonearm when it is not under any strain. It could behave a bit like a spring reverb inside a guitar amplifier.
If you have any comments or questions about the above, do please get in touch. Also any comments on how you are using your sKale would be most appreciated - I am happy to publish them.
I have no business connections with Tiger Paw or The Sound Organisation York (other than that I have spent my hard-earned cash with them).
© Don Lodge 2012.
THE FINAL WORD, 2013:
I have now removed the sKale from my arm, and prefer Linn's original counter-weight. It has recently been sold.