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The concept of diminishing returns is seemingly hardwired into the minds of audiophile hobbyists. Many spend vast sums of money and countless hours in search of a subjective level of sonic bliss which they feel escapes them. This translates to purchasing not only more expensive speakers, amplifiers, CD players and turntables, but equipment stands, cables – little stands for cables – Shakti sound field optimizers, and that somewhat esoteric accessory: the record weight (to barely scratch the surface of the many ’tweaks’ available).
If you’re not familiar with this device, it is puck-shaped with a hole to ride the turntable spindle at the centre of the platter. It is designed to provide (through application of mass) vibration damping of the vinyl disc itself, assist in flattening any warp an LP could possess and eliminate possible slippage between the album and the platter surface or mat – which in theory could influence wow and flutter.
All righteous objectives in analogue playback, but of such minimal improvements as to be mostly unrecognizable on anything but a very revealing sound system (other than the obvious pancake factor of a presumably warped LP). But, since many record weights can be purchased for as little $35 through online sellers (or, conversely, for the non financially-challenged, as high as $5,000), it’s a rather minimal outlay for what, ostensibly, could be seen as a path to tangible sonic improvement, regardless of how perceptible those benefits might be.
It has been my experience over the years that record weights have the most effect upon lighter-weight pressings (think those skinny ‘70s and ‘80s pressings) of about 100~120 grams, as opposed to the heavyweight, ‘audiophile’ ones tipping the scale between 180~200 grams. On lower-mass LPs I would characterize the result as a greater solidity to the overall presentation, which can be considered, logically, as a result of the extra mass imparted to the disc by the application of the weight. As in all things hi-fi, YMMV.
Photo above: The weights await their turn. Clockwise from top left – MasterSounds, Pure Fidelity, custom, and Varia Instruments.
Since I had several different record weights on hand at various price points – and well, weight – for amusement I thought I’d give each a listen on a few different pressings (an early ’80s Japanese pressing of Roxy Music Avalon, a Grundman 5xLP remaster of Kruder & Dorfmeister The K&D Sessions and the Classic Records remaster of Sonny Rollins A Night At The “Village Vanguard”). I’d estimate the floppy Avalon clocked-in at 110 grams, Sessionsat 180 grams and Vanguard at 200 grams.
The weights I engaged were the $80 USD MasterSounds 405g Black Edition, the $250 USD Pure Fidelity SS-10 Record Isolator at 760g, the $130 USD Varia Instruments TTW10H at 808g, and a one-off custom weight I scored online for $25 that tips the scales at 867g (I have also used the $130 USD, 630g Fern & Roby record weight which is an outstanding piece of engineering, but alas, had lent it to a friend when I got around to writing this).
All feel good in the hand, and had excellent fit and finish – in particular the Varia’s gravity drop-out 45 adapter. All use different alloys, or combinations of alloys, Delrin, rubber and felt/polymer. All worked exactly as promised… which is to say they sat on the record imparting their mass to an LP and not moving. The system in use for this article consisted of a Technics SL-1210GR with a few different vintage cartridges, an Audio Note M3 Phono all-valve preamplifier, an Audio Note Conqueror Silver 300B stereo power amplifier (and at times, a late ‘60s QUAD 303 stereo power amplifier) feeding a pair of ‘60s Altec A5 Voice of The Theatre loudspeakers fitted with 515E 15-inch bass drivers, 288-16k high-frequency compression drivers mated to 805B sectoral horns and Vitavox crossovers. Cabling was by OJAS.
After a few hours of swapping out various weights with the three LPs mentioned earlier, I found that all imparted a slight improvement in bass extension and tightness, with more mass presenting greater awareness that this was happening. It was most noticeable on the Avalon pressing, and became less distinguishable on the heavier-weight vinyl, which it seems, were less affected by the addition of mass. I could not perceive differences in wow and flutter (even in a system as revealing as I’d like to think this one was). Spectral decay and shimmer off high hat or cymbal seemed unaffected, as did timbral and tonal colouration – perhaps a bit more midrange heft to bass/guitar (acoustic and electric) and piano with lot’s of pedal pounding in the lower-mids, but that could have simply been how I was perceiving it. Remember, product reviews or fun comparisons like this are not scientific documents, they are flawed journals recollecting an individual's experience.
So, is accessorizing your turntable with a record weight a must-have? I’d say yes and no. It depends what you’re trying to accomplish or achieve more than anything else. If you love to collect warped LPs, one could be a godsend. On the other hand, the benefits they claim to impart, while not practically quantifiable, can nonetheless be intuited. How important these sonic effects are remain entirely subjective, and like all aspects of the tea ceremony we practice when it comes to playing records, if one feels they make the music flow better, then who can say otherwise?
Remember, if you have a suspended turntable design, weights aren’t necessarily going to jive with the engineering parameters of a Linn, Michell or Thorens (to name but a few sprung designs), and keep in mind that the heavier the weight the more you need a ‘table with a robust bearing assembly. In a hobby rife with rabbit holes that can go on forever, a record weight barely rates as a mouse burrow, and its modest price of entry should encourage fledging analogue hobbyists to experiment and find out for themselves whether there’s anything to them.
Article courtesy of Rafe Arnott - Resistormag