Audiophile Question: Linear Tracking vs Standard Turntables

I was looking on ebay, and noticed they have quite a bit of old stereo stuff for sale. IN the days of analog stereo, record turntables came in two styles-standard, where the tone arm would describe a slight arc as it traversed the record. Then there were the very expensive “linear tracking” type (made by Bang and Olufson)-thee tone arms were advanced by a worm gear mechanism, such that the arm stayed perfectly parallel to the direction of the stylus.
My question: did all of this complexity actually buy you anything? Or was the so-called “liner tracking” a benefit that existed mainly in the minds of its adherents? (as I suspect)?

This could turn into just another digital vs analog thing, but given the inherent crudity of dragging an industrial diamond across a piece of bumpy vinyl and amplifying its vibrations, I fail to see how the tiny change in the tangent angle from the beginning of the groove to its end could possibly make any perceptible difference in sound (considering that the needle’s point of contact is just that, a nearly length-less point).

Best thing linear tracking turntables gave you was auto-track finding…

IIRC, it was mostly woo. Also, IIRC, it only provided a difference with records that hadn’t been played a lot on a radial turntable - their grooves had been affected. :stuck_out_tongue:

Linear tracking died off shortly after the CD became available and has not been revived by any of the really high-end manufacturers. I’m thinking it was an audio fad invented to delay the complete takeover of digital media. It may have had some benefit but not enough for the audiophiles to keep it around.

Many of the linear tonearms used a P-Mount cartridge. I dumped mine about five years ago because I couldn’t find cartridges any more. Still have a nice conventional turntable.

I’m sure there is a very small set of people with incredibly sensitive hearing who could hear a difference between one method pf playback and another. I dunno, 1 or 2 percent of the population, maybe less. For the vast majority of listeners, the distinctions were to small and subtle to be noticeable.

And a third group was the marketing geniuses, whose genius idea was to convince the 98% of listeners that they were in reality among the 1 or 2 percent of the most discerning audiophiles that would truly benefit from the pricey audio gear that you would need to appreciate the difference.

Really, it is the same issues with changing from analogue to CDs. With a very high end system and scrupulously recorded and maintained disks, some people could clearly hear difference between analogue and digital. Most people couldn’t, or didn’t care enough to invest in the kind of system it would take to appreciate the best qualities of vinyl over digital.

Being an audiophile I remember those linear tracking turntables well. Regardless of their claims we knew they were less an ‘audio’ improvement than they were an ‘interface’ one. IOW you didn’t have to manually pick up & move the tone arm anymore (audiophiles did NOT use clunky, mechanical ‘record changers’, we had direct-drive, revolution-speed fine-tuning, strobe light measured manual ones). The linear tracking arm was now electronically controlled with a groove-space reading track sensor, which *was *a big improvement.

What **was **a huge (and rather ridiculous) marketing gimmick were vertical turn tables. Yes, you mounted the record onto a latching, vertical platter and the tone arm hung down like a pendulum. They were also linear tracking but were even more expensive. I forget the supposed logic to them being ‘better’, put less stress on the vinyl maybe? Nothing more than $700 Monster Cable, pure bullshit…

So how many times could a vinyl record be played before the sound degraded? My guess is that audiophiles avoided playing their treasured records…to avoid “destroying the sound”!

Linear trackers were less susceptible to skipping due to general thumps and bumps that would make a regular turntable skip.

I paid $500, a fortune, for a *used *Bang & Olafson Beogram 4002 linear tracking turntable back in… Well, I forget. Late 70s, probably. I still have it, still use it. Bought a new cartridge in their Las Vegas store a few years ago.

I have no idea whether I can hear any difference it would make. But it’s a wonderful piece of machinery. It’s never had any problems in those 30+ years, and that’s without any maintenance. (I don’t know what you could do or would do, for that matter.) It’s my favorite toy of all time. Every time I move the tonearm to a specific spot on the record I marvel anew.

Everybody should have one.

Audiophile-rific! Do you know if it has value as a desirable component today?

I was never a high-end audiophile, but records did noticeably degrade after only a few plays. Plus, every time you handled them there was always the risk of more dirt and scratches. Nothing sucked more than a treasured record developing a pop or skip that you couldn’t clean.

I instead had a high-end cassette deck that I’d record my vinyl on, and then play the hell out of the cassettes, only pulling out the vinyl if I needed to record another tape.

There are a few for sale on eBay, all around that same $500 point. I don’t know anything more than that.

That’s what I was looking to understand. Thanks.

We had cassettes. So you only had to play the record once every five years. I wasn’t an “audiophile” but for a time I did have fairly expensive equipment. For all my work keeping my vinyl pristine, most of it went to the landfill because it was too much to move and too hard to sell. The rest was eventually sold off for less than a dollar per record.

Now I’m again stuck with thousands of CDs that nobody wants. That’s not a problem yet as I haven’t embraced the mp3/ipod culture either. I think I’ll ride this wave out and wait for whatever is next on the audio technology front. things are moving more rapidly than the thirty years we got from the LP.

My dad was a pre-CD audiophile, and recorded his LPs onto reel-to-reel tapes.

I loved my Phillips GA-212 manual turntable.

I think the main thing about a linear tracking tone arm was snob appeal. But if you had the proper equipment (not talking about very good speakers and amplifier and pre-amp, but audio lab test equipment) you could probably measure some difference in the sound. Not enough to hear, but enough to see on an oscilloscope.

When CDs went mainstream in the mid-eighties the popular format they actually replaced was the cassette. Cassettes had overtaken vinyl sales years earlier, due in part to the popularity of quality sounding portable players (i.e. Sony’s Walkman), and quality car stereos, plus their general greater convenience. Interestingly, in the early 90s before CD burners were around and car CD players were still like cellphones, toys for the rich, I would buy everything on CD but still have to record them onto cassette for playing in my car. I would always use Type IV Metal blank cassettes because with CD source material it made a very noticeable difference in sound quality.

I didn’t see it that way. I feel that CDs replaced vinyl.

In my experience during the 8-track era, very few people that I knew had recorders. Both vinyl and CD were not user-recordable. When CD recorders came out, they were expensive and required media that was much more expensive than cassettes. So cassettes had a unique niche for quite a long time. Once you could cheaply install a CD-RW in your home computer, it was all over. Shortly afterward, you couldn’t find car audio that accepted cassettes. I used cassettes up through about 2000, partially because I had two very nice cassette decks and I was reluctant to write off the technology as obsolete.

I read a review a few years back complaining that the 2006 Ford Crown Victoria hadn’t had an interior redesign in so long that the standard stereo system still contained a cassette deck.

One of the benefits, as explained to me, was that as a standard tone arm moved across in an arc, the wear on the stylus would change its shape such that it was presenting a bit of a new edge against the groove each time it began a new pass. With linear tracking, the wear was consistent and presented the same face against the groove, so that there was less wear on the vinyl over time. There were far fewer pops, and it rarely skipped, even on a less-than-loved album.