OK, so regular readers already know the score here. We’ve loved the Kuzma 4Point tonearm in all its guises since first we saw it. And the 4Point 9 – the latest, smallest, cheapest, and possibly the best version of the 4Point – already won an award in the last issue even before this review was published.
This isn’t a ‘tail wagging the dog’ review, though. We had already performed the listening tests required by the time of the award, even if those listening notes weren’t fully written up. From the outset though, it was clear that this was something special, and deserving of that award up front.
Kuzma presently makes 11 arms using four basic configurations; three unipivots, four gimballed bearing designs, an air-bearing parallel tracker, and now three models using the company’s unique four-point bearing design. The first of these was the 11” 4Point launched a decade ago, and this was followed by an even larger 14” arm. Both arms received some of the highest praise for their performance, but that performance came at a price; both financially, and by placing heavy requirements on the turntable itself. The unique offset arm design on the first two arms allowed for a spot of geometric magic (meaning that a 14” arm could be mounted in a turntable capable of accepting a 12” arm, for example), but the physical construction of the arms meant they automatically limited the number of compatible turntables.
The 4Point 9 redraws the map. As the name suggests, it retains Kuzma’s four-point bearing. This features two points to allow vertical movement, in a manner similar to a double-unipivot design, the second pair allow horizontal movement. All four are designed to have minimal starting and moving friction, and zero play in any playing direction. For those of us more used to conventional tonearms, there’s a feeling of slack in the bearings in some movements that feels a little alien, but is perfectly normal for the design. This also gives the arm a sort of bulls-eye look from the top, with the aluminium arm-tube (with its vertical spike and cup bearings) fitting around the (rather than over) the arm tower with its horizontal bearing assembly. The main difference between the 4Point 9 and previous 4Point designs, is this arm tower now sits directly on the Kuzma arm base, where the larger designs place a VTA adjustment tower at the arm-base point and the arm itself sits on an outrigger.
With no offset VTA tower, the 4Point 9 takes up no more space and adds not much more significant mass than any other 9” tonearm. Of course, with no offset VTA tower, the 4Point 9 can adjust VTA, but not while a record is playing, and I suspect the removal of layers of additional components needed to build that VTA tower help make the 4Point 9 sound so good. In saying this, I realise I may unleash the Wrath of Gregory, as the former Editor of this parish is extremely keen on tonearms that adjust VTA on-the-fly (and in using a VPI, I can see the point of this, too), but the rigidity and solidity the removal of the tower brings to the party is attractive enough to overcome any issues over per-album adjustment.
Not having on-the-fly VTA adjustment also promotes a slightly less anal-retentive way of listening to albums, where microscopic changes to VTA for each album you play can lead to a more OCD approach to the record playing ritual. I am in two minds about this – a lot of the joy of playing records is that ritual process. You engage with the music in a more physical way when you take the album out of the sleeve, place it carefully on the platter, give it a swipe with the record brush (and possibly a zap with a Zerostat), let the record come up to speed, then carefully cue up the stylus. Carl Jung would approve, and would probably also like the additional listen-stop-adjust-repeat machinations required to get VTA ‘just right’. However, the downside to this is you can spend so much time on the adjustment, you run out of time to play the record, or you hear the opening bars so many times in the adjustment stage, you tire of the recording by the time it comes to playing it. Sometimes, the simplest approach is the best.