This is a FAQ I put together on the differences between the two generations of Talea:
First, I’ll try lay out the differences between the introductory Talea (v1) and the current model (v2). Secondly, I’ll try to put this together in an overall comparison of the two models. Thirdly, I’ll attempt to ascribe a relative “value” to the two versions, while discussing mating equipment.
The evolution of the current version was a direct response to the ergonomics of the initial version by the installed user base, but the design exercise resulted in considerable sonic improvements as well as design changes to the two key parts I referenced above. Here’s a breakdown of the two versions. Forgive the boilerplate nature of this text:
The VTA locking screws :
The introductory model uses 3 set screws to lock down the VTA tower after an adjustment is made. In beta testing, we added two screws to the single lock screw, and this increased the stability of the entire assembly. I have to wonder if this change wouldn’t be beneficial to the Schroeder Reference and the Tri-Planar, which use similar but not identical VTA tower locking techniques.
The response to this initial design was mixed. The fellows who are prone to adjust VTA for each record were not enamored of having to loosen and then tighten 3 set screws. They appreciated the benefits of the extra two screws (which is easily demonstrable and audible), but did not like fussing with it. They were conflicted.
The new design uses an intricately shaped support pillar and a mating main bearing tower assembly. It employs a single, larger bolt which locks down the assembly more easily and more effectively while significantly improving rigidity and energy transfer. The effect is an extension of what we experienced in moving from 1 set screw to 3 set screws, with the benefit of improved ergonomics.
Each improvement - moving from 1 set screw (beta units) to 3 set screws (v1), and then to the single bolt/locking collet (v2) solidified the presentation, extended the bass, and cleaned up some “dirt” in the highs.
Believe it or not, designing an integrated arm rest was quite a challenge, and Joel didn’t expect this to be realized for well over a year. He arrived at an elegant solution for this. The benefit here is purely ergonomic.
The initial version resembles the Schroeder Reference in that it relies only on the cueing support bar when the arm is in its “parked” position.
The current release has a C-shaped arm “lock” which locates the arm wand in the rest with a magnet. Strictly speaking, it is not a lock, but the holding force of the magnet is strong enough to prevent a light, casual bump from dislodging the arm wand. It’s a nice touch.
The development of the VTA locking mechanism design took Joel back to the drawing board. The tolerances involved in producing the new pillar and main bearing tower were so demanding, that he had to revisit his choice of materials. While the earlier gold plated brass pillar and mounting base worked well (and rendered the improvements noted above), maintaining sample to sample consistency in the tolerances proved to be a machining challenge.
The change in materials (from brass to stainless) proved not only to result in sample to sample consistency, but also improved the sonics further, in the ways I’ve noted.
As a result of this materials research, Joel revisited the unipivot support structure (lower bearing assembly), and a change to stainless rendered further improvements of a similar sort. He then turned his attention to the rear arm stub, where the counterweight rides. This too is stainless (changed from aluminum). The stainless counterweights now have direct metal to metal contact with the arm stub, where there previously was a bushing between the counterweight and arm stub.
Unipivot Support Pillar (lower bearing):
See above (materials change).
Arm Wand Material:
All of the above improvements mandated a return to evaluating the numerous arm wand materials which had been rejected for various reasons.
In the first version, the top two contenders were Jatoba and Pernambuco. They were very close to each other in sound quality, and ultimately Jatoba was selected. In the context of the current version, Bolivian Rosewood is an even better match. All of them are very, very good, and this particular change is perhaps the one where we’re splitting hairs.
Putting it all into perspective
In considering all of these changes, I think it’s important to realize that the difference between the 1st version of the Talea and the Schroeder Reference SQ and Tri-Planar was not in the least bit subtle. The 2nd version expands on this difference.
Within 10 bars of music, everyone who heard the arm during the beta test period (Tri-planar and Schroeder owners) was smitten by it. Extended listening only further separated the Talea from the pack in their opinion.
I need to be careful here, because I realize how fickle we can be as audiophiles. We’re frequently attracted to what’s different, whether it’s better, equal (but different), or worse. You need to take this into account as you read this.
You further need to keep in mind, that the Tri-Planar and Schroeder Reference SQ are still extraordinarily good (world-class) tonearms. This has not changed.
Having said that, each of the beta testers (remember – the version-1’s sonics improved over the beta version) all said that they needed time to forget how good the Talea was, before they could “tolerate” going back to their Schroeders and Tri-Planars. On average, they didn’t want set up their old arms for three weeks.
What are we all hearing:
The best way I can put it is by anthropomorphizing. If the Schroeder Reference SQ and the Tri-Planar married and had a child, and they sent it to the best school where he learned martial arts, piano, and studied the classics along with the Rolling Stones, this would be the Talea. There is no form of music where either version of the Talea is challenged. This is not a jazz lover’s arm or an orchestral lover’s arm or a rock and roller’s arm. It sails through intricate orchestral passages with the same aplomb that it handles Keith Richards’ guitar. It is a music lover’s arm. I hate these “reviewer generalizations”, and I’m struggling with a better way to say this - in a non-cliché manner.
The Talea (to all of our ears) builds on the strengths of both arms while addressing their weaknesses.
The Tri-Planar: Great foundation for the music (bass energy and raw power), and resolution of inner detail.
The Schroeder Reference SQ: Naturalness in the midrange – especially massed strings and woodwinds.
In writing the above analysis, I’m reminded of the development process of my new Stelvio-II turntable and how this trickled down into the Gavia-II design. As Joel and I shared our development discoveries over the past 8 months with each other, we found ourselves using the same words to an uncanny degree.
I was selecting words like “less nervous sounding”, lower noise floor, better tone color, more powerful, quick and harmonically rich bass, better tracking of the leading and trailing edges of the notes, and Joel remarked “that’s exactly what I’m hearing over here”.
Neither of us considered our earlier work to be flawed in comparison with other top rated equipment we heard, but our own work continued to raise the bar. You don’t know better until you hear it.
The energy, speed, and bandwidth of the Talea has challenged a few phono stages where the Tri-Planar and Schroeder have not. In one phono stage I employed, I was unaware of a fading 12AX7 until I plugged the Talea into the system. One would be mistaken if they were to blame the messenger (the Talea). Your patience and perseverance will be rewarded.
To date, the Herron, Atma-sphere MP-1, the Quicksilver full function preamp, the Nick Doshi Alaap, Hagerman Trumpet (I & II), K&K Audio, Jeffery Jackson (Experience Music), and Einstein phono sections have worked wonderfully with the Talea. Some other highly regarded phono stages fell a bit short of the mark. In general, most phono stages that the perspective owner of a Talea owns will work nicely.
The Talea has been fit on several Galibiers, Saskias, TW Acustics, TT Weights Black Onyx, Garard 301, Technics SP 10 MK3, and Basis turntables with no regrets by any of the owners. There have been other turntables, but these come immediately to mind. I suspect that there will be a turntable that won’t work with the Talea, but we have yet to encounter it.
Which one to choose?
This is a difficult one. The version 1, at $4,500 for the demo (likely the price for trade-ins as well) is a game-changing component. One person called the version 1 a gift to the music loving community. The new version raises the bar.
Ultimately, the choice between the v1 (either the demo or the new in box one), and the v2 is more about you than it is about the arms.
Is stretching from a demo-priced v1 to the v2 (at $7,900) worth it for the notable improvement over an arm (the earlier v1) that easily surpasses the Tri-Planar and the Schroeder Reference SQ? It’s a question only you can answer for yourself.