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Reviewer: Edward Barker
Analog: Scheu Premier II with Schroeder DPS arm and Allaerts MC1B MK II cartridge, Garrard 301 (custom plinth) with Hadcock 242 SE and Music Makers models 2 & 3; Systemdek Transcription with Mission 774 and Empire MC1000; Thorens 160/Thorens/Shure ED75; SME 20/2 turntable with
SME 5 arm; Audiomeca Model 3 arm; Sansui 719 Tuner
Phonostages: Tom Evans Groove Plus; Loricraft Missing Link Mk II [on extended loan]; Gram Slee Era Gold Mk 5 [on extended loan]
Digital: Audiomeca Mephisto 2.X
Preamplifier: Canary 803 four-box preamplifier with NOS valves
Amplifier: Rogue 150 Monoblocks with Siemens EL34s; Rogue 88 Magnum; BBC AM84A Monoblocks restored & recapped
Speakers: Marten Design Coltrane Altos; Living Voice OBXR2 [on extended loan]
Ancillaries: Clearlight Audio NFT cabling; Audiomagic Mini Stealth conditioner for digital
Review Component Retail:3000 Euros | $3,950 US

Any new Schroeder arm is going to be an exciting event within the analog world and the DPS proves to be something of a milestone. Designed as a natural partner for the DPS turntable (short-hand for der Plattenspieler, German for simply the record player) which has been making waves in Europe, it replaces the Model 1 though in practice it should be understood as a smaller Reference, delivering what Schroeder thinks is 98% of the sonics for a considerable savings, though at the cost of some convenience. It certainly incorporates much of Frank Schroeder's latest research. All three arms share the same unique and patented string/magnet bearing. The top of the arm wand at the pivot point is held by a short string and the bottom part contains the strongest commercially available Neodym-Iron-Boron alloy magnet which is attracted to another one on the arm base. They create an attracting force of 8 -12kp to resist deflection and to provide damping through induction of eddy currents.

The main difference between the Reference and the DPS? The former is capable of fine and repeatable adjustments of VTA and Azimuth, with VTA being set through an allen key via the arm support column. On the DPS, the arm height is adjusted via the more traditional and simple grub screw in the cylindrical arm base. Not being an exponent of the "Let's change VTA with every record" school, I'm more than happy with this arrangement. The mass of the arm support mechanism is therefor smaller. Another significant difference is in the bronze counterweight which is smaller than the Reference version and lightens the arm's total mass. Attention to detail is obvious everywhere. Look into the arm base where the arm shaft comes down. You will see a small clump of what looks like fine wool (merino or shatouche?) which is there to keep the assembly from falling once the grub screw is loosened.

There is no provision for adjusting overhang from the cartridge end and indeed no finger lift. Instead, the base of the arm can be moved in an arc around a single through bolt. The counterweight is decoupled from the alloy rear end of the arm wand with a ring of delrin-like material which allows for a certain variability when coupling the counterweight to the arm stub by tightening the counterweight grub screw. It proves to be a particularly effective solution to deadening resonances. In fact, tapping the counterweight will produce almost no ringing from the cartridge even at high volume, which is remarkable. The power of the magnets which form the bottom end of the bearing has been increased while retaining the single string from which the wand hangs as in the Reference and Model 2. The divided string version which characterized the Model 1 has now been discontinued. Bias adjustment is particularly ingenious. The string is attached to a knurled set screw at the top of the arm, and the string can be turned to provide greater or less bias. It is remarkable how accurate this mechanism proves to be without adding any extraneous mechanisms to the arm. This accuracy is also a testament to the power of the magnet, which holds the arm firmly in place while bias is adjusted.

The DPS exudes quality from every pore and the arm is a tactile masterpiece. The arm-lift mechanism is damped and rides remarkably smoothly. The arm wand proper is made of wood. Wood choice depends on the effective mass desired and is chosen to compliment specific cartridges. My example arrived in a handsome Bokote at 12gms, a striped reddish/brown hardwood with a density similar to Jacaranda (15gms) for a 9" arm to therefore fall into the medium mass category. Either of these arms will accommodate 80% of today's high-quality MC cartridges.

The wood itself is carefully treated with many layers of three proprietary oils to dampen resonances and stabilize the material from aging and humidity. Arm length, wood type and wiring are all determined on order, making each Schroeder effectively unique and custom. My example uses a proprietary thin copper wiring encased in colored varnish, with a through run to the Incognito RCAs. Each arm is hand-made to remarkable tolerances and will last a lifetime with no bearing wear. Build quality as a whole is as high as any I have seen on any arm, more than rivalling the SME.

An interesting point regarding the bearing? It isn't clear to me where the arm's center of gravity actually lies but apparently, it is below the pivot point. Whatever its geometry, it is important to note that with the Schroeder, arm height has a significant effect on VTF. Changes of even 1mm or less will have a measurable effect so if your cartridge has only a narrow band of VTF tolerance (the Allaerts for instance plays at 1.8 grams [+/-.1gm] and should never be played above 1.9), you do need to be careful. As an example, if you have calibrated the VTF for a standard 120gm record at 1.8 grams, the VTF with a 180gm record will actually come out about .5 out. So of course even for those of us who do not adjust VTA micro-metrically with every record, it is obvious we are still going to get a change in the quality of the sound due to the new VTF altering the tension in the cantilever etc.

This kind of accuracy combined with the micron level quality of finish translates directly into sonic heaven. The sound is utterly natural, open and unforced. The arm feels like it is trying to convince you that it is virtually invisible sonically while reproducing live acoustic instruments with astonishing realism, power and incision. Dynamics (as heard for instance in harmonic rise and decay) are lightning-fast and it soon becomes apparent that many other arms may well be muddying this information. The three-dimensional walk-around effect is particularly present and all instruments are presented with absolute stability. This natural presentation has a whole series of effects on the quality of reproduction. It's as if a series of sonic aberrations simply fall away, revealing something that we can instantly recognize as being closer to the actual recorded medium. This is obvious from even a cursory listening. The sound appears to open up so that harmonics decay with a life-like quality. The sense of air and space is unparalleled in my experience. Images are not so much rock-like (which again is an aberration) but they are utterly and completely stable and centered.

Some people have expressed a fear that the Schroeder, being a variant of the unipivot, might lack bass. In fact, I find the DPS bass to be stunning and unrivalled among arms I know. But let's forget other arms for the moment. I don't usually like comparing vinyl to CD but it was surprising to listen to Sade's Lovers Rock album on the Audiomeca Mephisto II and comparing it to the Schroeder/Allaerts MC1B MK2. I had thought that the Mephisto II was pulling out all the bass available on the recording. However, substituting the vinyl brings what seems like an entire extra octave of bass into the picture, with much greater heft and immediacy. This completely alters the architecture of the songs, not to mention the low to mid harmonics. The experience becomes considerably more involving on rhythmic and emotional levels. The CD, good as it is, sounds like reproduced music. The vinyl? Well, I'll leave that to your imagination.

The Schroeder's virtues are so complete that it's slightly misleading to pinpoint sonic characteristics. Playing Larry Carlton's Sleepwalk for instance, the things that might stand out -- like the exceptional tonal purity of each of the different guitars or the spaciousness and definition of each instrument in their recorded space that always avoids that slightly over-etched rendition plaguing lesser tone arms -- are there of course but in reality, there is so much more contributing to the total sound: the lightning speed, the complete absence of grain, the superb timing all work together to produce a most extraordinarily convincing cohesive whole. In fact, by the "10PM "track I'd gotten so completely involved in the music that out went the notes and review thoughts. Whatever descriptions I come up with seem an inadequate expression of the sound this tone arm helps produce.

The reputation of Schroeder arms has been growing in recent years and currently, they are some of the most desirable arms available. The patented string/magnetic bearing in particularly solves the biggest problem bedevilling arms in general very effectively, and all this without the complexity and mechanical compromises inherent in air-bearing and linear tracking arms (not to mention their high lateral mass). Of course being pivoted, the arm is subject to tracing error but in practice, a pivoted arm may well be the best compromise given the delicacy, mistracking, warp sensitivity and accelerated cartridge wear that can plague even some of the finest air-bearing arms. When set up properly, the Schroeder will take anything from badly centered to seriously warped records in stride and with a complete minimum of fuss.

How much do I like it? "Inordinately" is the answer. In fact, it's such a cherished and indeed indispensable part of my analog life that I realized recently that if you offered me a swap for one of the megabuck super tables, say a Walker, Pluto, SPJ, Rockport or whatever while asking me to give up my DPS, I'd have to say no. So if it's that good, you may ask me, has it got any serious competition? As with any component in the chain, without going through a side-by-side with all the other contenders, that's a question that
simply can't be answered. All I can say is that it is my favorite of all the arms I've heard. I did recently hear the Kuzma Airline that I was also very impressed with, so of course I did the standard thing under the circumstances, e.g. asking around among the usual suspects to see if anyone had compared both. It turns out that a pro in the field who prefers not to be named had the Reference and the Kuzma in for an A/B. He came out preferring the German arm.

That is a reliable but far from conclusive anecdote, of course. The reality is that every audiophile is going to have different sonic priorities, making the concept of an "objective best" a dubious chestnut from the word go. As a reviewer, one can go on for ages singing the praises of a particular piece of equipment, but in the Schroeder's case, its virtues are so obvious and so total that frankly, it speaks better for itself. I would just say that in my opinion, the Schroeder is one of the most significant developments in vinyl reproduction in the last 30 years, and anyone who takes analog seriously simply must hear what it is capable of. It's worth going well the hell out of your way to hear. How far? Across a continent. Go ahead, even an ocean - it's worth the longest journey because that's what it will take you on once you have it.
Frank Schröder comments:
Dear reviewer, editor and reader,
Thank you for your efforts in describing what sets my tonearms, in this case the DPS model, apart from others. Your (and many other customers') obvious liking of the sonic results of an appearently simple design prove that less can be more when properly executed. This is not to say that more complex designs have no reason to exist. There are many paths that lead to Rome and mine is just one of them. The brief reference to the Kuzma Airline, a very well designed and executed tonearm, should be ignored as it expresses one person´s opinion based on a system we don´t know. There will always be people who have preferences better served by other arms than mine, even if that preference relates to the higher "toys for boys" factor (I´m not referring to the Airline arm), pride of owning a "classic" or rare component or just liking the looks better.

If this review managed to whet your appetite, then go out and find a dealer or representative, attend a show where one of my arms is used in a demo or, best of all, try one at home. At least you´ll know what the reviewer is talking about. And even if you decide to spend your money elsewhere, I won´t be disappointed since that´ll give me more time to go and fly a kite with my son...

Greetings from Berlin,

Frank Schröder

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UK distributor's website
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