His process is analytical and iterative, running through those four steps in the chain methodically and with extremely focused precision. Naturally, he gets the turntable level, but there’s level, and ‘Trayle level’. Most might make a couple of cursory nods to a spirit level on the chassis and platter; Trayle will take his time, using ball bearings to make sure the turntable is absolutely level. He will dress the power and signal cables with the kind of obsession that is normally considered ‘unhealthy’, and then he will turn his attention to the arm and cartridge.
This begins by a rough alignment using a protractor, using a SMARTractor, of course. A VPI arm is not ‘big’ on anti-skate, so one of his main pillars of turntable set-up is not an adjustment here, but the others – overhang, downforce, azimuth, and VTA, are each adjusted in sequence, slowly working down to a super-precise set of custom adjustments made for that cartridge in that arm for that turntable. This takes time. A lot of time. Set aside maybe as much as a day to get this absolutely correct. It’s an almost endless cycle of adjust – listen – tune – repeat.
And it’s here where you begin to realise why Stirling Trayle charges a healthy amount of money for his services (you might spend a couple of thousand pounds plus travel expenses for a visit) and why his repeat business is so solid. Few of us have the time to do this level of precision in our installations and set-ups, and of the lucky few that do, most of them will not have the inclination to take the process to this level of precision. About two hours into the process, on the 35th iteration of getting these elements in a perfect dynamic balance, most would have screamed something Anglo-Saxon and when the red mist lifted, there would be bits of turntable stuck in the wall opposite. Others would last longer, many would give up after about 10 minutes. Stirling doesn’t give up. It’s a relentless, obsession with getting the installation perfect.
The problem is, it is perfect, and when it is perfect it sounds damn good. It makes the VPI Prime sound a lot better than I can make a VPI Prime sound, and I can make it sound pretty good. He takes it to new levels, and the Prime is relatively low on the list of products he can transform, in part because anti-skate is off the radar. Give him a deck with a lot of adjustment and even more potential, and that’s an opportunity for Trayle to shine. He might be there for a day and a night and another day, but that turntable will sound like it was always supposed to, but never did. And he does this without suddenly trying to sell the listener some magic beans, or baffling them with science and test equipment.
Stirling Trayle is not a wizard, because what he does is not magic. It’s pure empiricism. Just pure empiricism applied to a level that only a handful of people will ever achieve. That’s what people pay for!
Audio Systems Optimised
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