So then I unpacked the Uniarm. Audio Origami offers a standard matt silver, beadblasted, finish on its tonearms – the silky black anodised finish of the PU7 is an extra cost option. The Uniarm came in this standard finish and I have to say, much as I love the look of the black, the silver is so beautifully done I personally would be entirely happy to take either arm in this basic finish.
The Uniarm addresses some of the shortcomings of unipivot designs by machining the arm, with pivot bearing cutout, and headshell from one piece of aluminium (including the finger lift), for unimpeachable rigidity. Thus, a unipivot has the ability not only to trip along lightly with the best of them, but the potential to deliver scale, weight, and authority to boot. The pivot bearing is sapphire, seating into a tungsten cup. Audio Origami supply a small phial of sticky silicone damping fluid whose use is optional, but seems to aid stability.
Setup was barely more complicated than the procedure for the PU7, indeed the unipivot’s lack of need for azimuth adjustment more than offset the slightly tricky matter of aligning a cartridge in an arm with more degrees of freedom than a gimballed design. The Uniarm also comes with a very clever baseplate which replicates the Linn mount, and both types of Rega mount (threaded tube and three-hole) within the same, beautifully machined, collar. This will make it much easier to accommodate one’s arm on turntables of differing types (but, ironically perhaps, meant I needed an adaptor from Avid to convert from its standard SME mount).
Going back to the War of the Worlds, Richard Burton’s voice was more natural, still sonorous, but devoid of any hint of emphasis on any particular part of its frequency envelope. The opening theme, when it entered, still had that portentous feel, but with a lightness of touch, and a subtlety, I’d hitherto not noticed. The opening chords resolve a cadence where the last note is sustained. What I’d not noticed before was the subtle crescendo on that sustained note. It is there of course, when you go back, but to have it pointed out on music I’ve played to death over the years is enlightening. And enlightening is a very good way to describe how the Uniarm goes about its business, both in terms of the degree of insight and musicality it brings forth, and in the way the music seems so light on its feet.
Percussion, in particular, is lively, fast and detailed, with subtle inflections brought out to great effect. The closing section of Mike Oldfield’s Incantations [Virgin, VDT101] uses a repeated motif played on vibraphone, and for many years I’ve been trying to replicate a memory of hearing this piece on a friend’s top-end Linn LP12 back in the 1980s. The woody sonority of the vibraphone, the feeling of rhythmic solidity yet with a sense of ‘bounce’ has proven elusive. But here it was again, yet more than that, there was also an inflection on the off-beat which I had not been properly aware of. This extra pulse contributed to the momentum of the piece, keeping up a subtle pressure and driving the music forward.
Pitch and tunefulness are also exemplary, no doubt this is a corollary to the natural and unforced sense of timing the Uniarm allows. Music drives along when necessary, and it is propulsive without being relentless, while bass is both agile and tunefull. Dave Grusin’s Mountain Dance [Arista, GRP5010] skips along, yet is constantly underpinned by a repeating ostinato bass riff. It is easy to ignore the contribution this bass makes to the coherence of the piece, focussing instead on the piano and the effortlessly subtle percussion, but via the Uniarm this bass riff is just so darn tuneful it takes its rightful place at the heart of proceedings. Guitar and bass on Joni Mitchell’s ‘God must be a boogie man’ from Mingus [Asylum, K53091] explodes with a speed and precision which takes the breath away. Charles Ives’ A Symphony, New England Holidays [CBS, M42381] has all the scale, drama, dynamics and impact I could wish for, yet its complex timing is rendered intelligible, and tonal colour and subtle detail is beautifully expressed. I’ve heard criticism of the bass quality from unipivot designs in general, to the extent that unipivots are all about midrange and concede bass depth and weight to gimballed designs. Yet here was bass with utterly sufficient scale and weight, while remaining fluid and agile, and supporting rather than dragging down the music.