A Bona-Fide Review by User-Owner
A bona-fide upgrade deserves a bona-fide review by our customer (user-owner). The reviewer is an analogue veteran and has been faithful to this playback device since his teen years. Modular Audio is very thankful, fortunate to have him (as customer) and for this write-up and the interesting view points he has offered. Indeed, in this tonearm shootout Vector Model 4 (challenger) has to offer a lot better sonic to beat this ever popular, high-end SME V tonearm. Considering Vector Model 4 comes with its very own high performing PSTT phono cable at no extra cost, that to us is the knock-out punch.
Like all things mechanical (analogue wrist-watch - anyone?), minor fine-tuning is expected after you’ve played it for many months. We do not see this would be any different from any other tonearms. Once set and caliberated, you can expect it to work like clock-work which this veteran player would also be happy to tell you.
Now the un-edited words from the user-owner...
Vector Model 4 Review
It started with an innocent question to Modular Audio’s Martin “Is there a SME mount version of the Vector 4 arm?” The answer was NO, but it did start a series of related events. 1 month later, the Basis Vector 4 had displaced the standard SME V arm from my much loved SME 30 turntable.
How did it happen? Well Martin and Oyster from Modular Audio could not resist a challenge to get a Vector 4 on my SME and score a world’s first. What followed were 2 home visits by Martin. The first suitably armed with measuring tape, vernier calipers and Clearaudio’s turntable ruler. And the second visit was with an actual Basis Vector 4 to check for clearance as the arm swung about its intended mounting point.
The Vector is longer than the SME V, but of greater concern is the long rear overhang of the Vector. The arm’s rear stub may hit the SME30’s right rear suspension pillar while swinging. If the pillar got in the way, we would not have looked any further and cancel the whole exercise. The measurements showed that the arm will just about fit into the space available, but it would have to be mounted slightly to the right of the SME V mounting point. There was also a concern that the main phono cable could not be dressed properly as it left the arm the clip at the bottom. Too tight a curve or a touch of the chassis will not optimize the installation. It needed a bit of ingenuity on Martin’s part to solve this challenge.
Martin designed a new arm-base, CNC machined from a polymer called Delrin. The new arm-base replaced the SME supplied steel arm-base for the V arm. The Vector has its own unique mounting geometry and none of the common arm bases will match the Vector arm geometry.
Fast-forward 3 weeks from the measuring day, the CNC machined arm-base was finally ready. It is lighter than the steel arm-base and feels smoother, but nonetheless well made and finished. The arm-base came in 2 pieces, as it had to perform both as an arm-base and cable support duties.
Installing the arm was a challenge and a hiccup occurred while doing so. The arm-base could not fit and slide for fine adjustments on the table. The base had to be modified and so back to the machine shop it went on the very same day.
Mounting the Vector arm was a 4-hour job, as Martin wanted it to be perfect in overhang, HTA, VTA and azimuth. Finally it was time to tighten the screws. I dressed the cable into the SME30’s in-built cable clips, taking care not to let any part of the cable flowing from the arm touch the chassis.
I have been using a SME V over the last 3 years. The same arm first seeing service on a Notts Hyperspace and later on, the SME30, which replaced the Notts. During this 3 years, there was never a moment when I doubted the V’s quality from the time I unpacked it from its wrapping. It was way above the Space-arm costing less than half the price it displaced. When the stock SME cable was replaced with the Purist AK phono cable, its performance was elevated to another level, which I considered one of the very best.
The V has always enchanted me with its superb bass definition, mid-range bloom and smooth if somewhat curtailed high. Add to its virtues of ease of use, ruggedness, and ease of tuning VTA / HTA, it is an absolute gem. This is an arm that I can happily continue to use forever. Had not an innocent question sparked the activity for installing the Vector, I would still be contentedly playing with the SME V for the next few years.
The V produces good PRaT, clean highs (albeit a tad restrained), and stupendous bass when it’s there on the recording. Due to its rich bass capability, even badly recorded thin and bright LPs were made tolerable. For this, I give the V full marks for its pleasant and easy going sonic nature.
Finally it was the moment of truth for the Vector. We lined up a record and fired up the highly anticipated first notes. My expectations fell flat. The sound was lifeless and compressed. PRaT was weak and the stage was at dwarf height. Were my expectations that the Vector will comfortably surpass my very respected SME V with Purist Audio AK phono end in disappointment?
This thought will cross my mind repeatedly over the next 3 weeks as I painfully ran in the arm. Thankfully my Dynavector cart is well run-in and could not be faulted for the terrible initial sound.
The Vector had high expectations to fulfill in order that I will consider it a success and a bona-fide upgrade. Being different will not be good enough for me. However an unexpected bonus that came straight away was that the low-level, but irritating hum I was experiencing with the V and PAD in combination with ASR phono completely disappeared. The hum had been a thorn in my flesh. I managed to reduce it with lots of tin foil around the various cables. But despite numerous attempts, the hum could not be defeated into silence. I had been living with it reluctantly but it’s now gone completely by accident!
Subsequently, hours were spent running in the Vector 4 the traditional way. I did not listen much while running in, as I wanted to keep my sanity and keep disappointment away. I only listened after 30 hours of running in using bagpipe music and closer to 70 hours before I did any serious listening.
How does the Vector 4 sound after the bagpipe treatment and run-in? In a single word, superb. It betters the SME V in most areas except at the lowest of bass notes. The lowest bass is where only the V is able to dig out and paint such lovely bass powerfully.
The Vector reproduces trebles with a clarity, sparkle and air that the V can only hint at. The Vector’s mid-bass has a lightning quick response with a very fast leading edge with natural decay. All this improves the PRaT. On Dick Hyman’s Age of Swing, the boogie tempo was played in an absolutely delightful way that had my fingers tapping along. I caught the infectious rhythm like never before.
The Vector’s bass is tight and fast, delivered with a boxer’s punch. I could feel all but the very lowest of bass notes hit me. The mid-bass is also very highly resolved where I could discern textures and decay with ease
Cymbals and hi-hats reproduced with a zing and shimmer. Staccato notes start and stop very quickly with no overhang (Shadow’s Foot Tapper). Tom-tom drumbeats hit with an impact that reveals how the skin has been hit, not just which skin was hit. Such is the added level of resolution this arm elicits from the very same record, cart and phono.
Low level resolution is so good that I can hear within each note. This was facilitated by the very very quiet ASR battery powered phono that I am using. The way cymbals are struck differently on each stroke can be discerned easily when if was not obvious with the SME.
The Vector soundstage is big, though not as large as the SME’s. But it is very focused with a well-defined image. The musicians are placed in space with their instruments. Singers are about human height and the instruments in the correct perspective. The SME may give a wider, deeper and higher stage with orchestral works. But it’s neither as well defined nor as focused.
I am now enjoying the ear-opening experience the Vector is giving. I am hearing more ambient details especially in live recordings where the hall reverberations, audience participation are much more apparent. As I play record after record, subtle nuances that I never heard before are now apparent.
On Tracy Chapman’s Talking About A Revolution, there is a line, which I always heard as a whispered “whisper”. With the Vector, I heard the line is “like a whisper”.
The Vector 4 arm is a bona-fide upgrade over SME V in my system. However I will caution interested parties to only buy from a dealer who will support the installation of the Vector. The reason being this arm demands perfection in alignment, and its cause is not made easier by the unhelpful instructions and rudimentary template supplied by Basis. Most turntable makes other than Basis themselves do not offer arm-bases for the Basis arm geometry. Hence you have to design and order your own, or depend on the dealer to do so. In this aspect Modular Audio gets my full marks for their determination to make it work on my turntable by going all the way to custom design and machine a suitable arm-base.
The Vector is a double-edged sword that demands very good tables, cartridges and LPs. Play with something sub-standard and all the weaknesses of that piece will be revealed, or the arm’s potential gets curtailed. Get everything right and the reward is a highly resolved, tight focused sound with excellent PRaT from top to bottom.
The Vector’s performance is very dependent on the table’s character. But the arm’s clarity lets more of the table’s excellence shine. The SME30 has excellent PRaT, dynamics, quietness and a true-to-life quality that is hard to describe. The Vector did not hinder any of these and managed to let more of the goodness shine through. It is as though a dirty lens has been cleaned. Everything sounds so much cleaner after the arm upgrade.
The SME V does have its strengths. It is a classic arm backed by SME’s excellent customer support. Spares are guaranteed and they respond promptly to e-mail questions. Its comprehensive instructions, tool-kit, template, ease to use and forgiving nature which makes this arm almost idiot proof to get more than respectable performance. Highly recommended when there is no strong dealer support, and for newbies not yet dexterous with DIY turntable alignment. It is very easy to get 90% of its full potential. Add to it the ease of getting arm-bases and widespread support from independent TT makers like Oracle, Avid, Nottingham, and Mitchell, make this a versatile long-lasting arm a carry-over item when upgrading to a table from a different make. Just remember to upgrade the stock Vanden Hul phono cable, and you will find out the true potential of this excellent arm.
I am fortunate to have owned both. For now, the Basis Vector 4 is my arm of choice. I foresee this arm being with me for a long time. It will take something even more special to outperform the Basis Vector 4.
LPs Used to Evaluate
Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out
Tracy Chapman – Fast Car
Judds - Heartland
Linda Ronstadt – For Sentimental Reasons
Harald Winkler – Guitar on the Shore
Shadows – 20 Greatest Hits
Enya – Watermark
Kunzel - Round-Up
Michael Jackson – Thriller
Dick Hyman – Age of Swing
Steely Dan – Can’t Buy a Thrill
Trini Lopez – Live at PJs
Jazz at the Pawnshop
Cartridge – Dynavector XX-2 mk2
Phono - ASR Basis Exclusive
Turntable – SME Model 30
Pre-amp – Audio Research Ref 3
Power amp – Goldmund SR150
Cables – Purist Audio, Ecosse
Powercords – Acrolink, Audience with Furutech Rhodium plugs, LAT2 with Furutech Rhodium plugs
Distributor – Oyaide MTB
Accessories – Harmonix Room Tune, Harmonix Tuning Feet, DH cones, Totem Beak, Acoustic Revive GC-77