The Wand Tonearm
Leave preconceptions at the door when you meet The Wand tonearm. The Wand is designed by Simon Brown (DesignBuildListen Ltd) in Dunedin, New Zealand. This is a unipivot tonearm incorporating Simon’s own take on this concept. This introductory model, The Wand Classic, is ‘no-frills’ and offered direct at attractive pricing. Geometry is Rega-style, effective length around 240mm (9.5″) and medium mass. (A 12″ variant has just become available and a Wand Plus model, with more elaborate engineering and features, will be released through retailers.) DesignBuildListen also offers dedicated SME, Technics SL1200/1500 and Lenco style mountings.
In the flesh
The Wand is more substantial than publicity images suggest. Firstly there is the abnormally large (22.5mm) diameter carbon fibre composite arm tube. There is no headshell, a metal cartridge platform nestles under the tapered end. The arm tube embeds into a bearing ‘boss’ machined from 52mm (2″) round, solid stainless steel. Most of the arm mass is concentrated around the ‘defined contact’ bearing. Cartridges are balanced by a combination of plates added to the rear. The stainless steel parts have a silky sandblasted finish. Tracking force is applied by a large, finger-adjusted hex bolt – simple and effective (I applied grease to smooth and damp the threads). Antiskating is accomplished by a compact thread and weight.
The Wand Classic is devoid of an arm-lift mechanism. I prefer an arm-lift but cueing using the projecting tip of the arm tube is surprisingly easy. Arm wiring (single length) and phono plugs are Cardas.
In line with DBL’s computer-aided philosophy, a nifty laser-cut stainless protractor-tool is supplied. It doubles as a spanner and cartridge protractor – alignment is Baerwald but tweaked “with consideration given to real world inner groove dimensions” – ie. lower distortion across the majority of records which do not extend in to the ‘standard’ 60.3mm (2.375″) inner groove radius. The arm tube obscures the cartridge more than traditional headshells, but an alignment arc on the protractor-tool can be used instead of the usual 2-point protractor.
Riding the grooves
The Wand was immediately engaging. It plays consistently with an open, expansive sound ‘picture’, a beguiling, reverberant acoustic. (eg. Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto 2, Postnikova, ’82 Decca). Elsewhere, electric guitars brimming with power and reverb, pedal steel and tremolo are deliciously resonant, treble has an attractive decay.
Lovers of rhythm-driven music might look no further – The Wand loves kick-drum, string bass, tympani. The low spectrum is powerful, another trait, startling at times. Reggae is fat and bold (Third World - 96° In The Shade).
If your speakers, or system, are short on warmth and scale, The Wand could be a godsend.
Disregarding The Wand’s relatively modest cost, I was using a familiar Koetsu Red Signature on my trusty Aura turntable. Consistently, the musical mix is writ large. Voice is fleshed-out and up-front. Concert hall perspective is Row C, not Row P.
Surprised by the strong presence of The Wand. I wanted to dig a little deeper…
I know it’s excessive to employ cartridges of multiple times the cost of a tonearm but The Wand is not easily embarrassed. I had on hand, a high-end MC pickup of an entirely different ilk – a ZYX Ayame (thanks Andrew). Loaded 90 ohms via a Fidelity Research transformer, there was extraordinary delineation, tautness and ‘speed’. Leading edges and upper harmonics almost exceedingly clear. Violin upper registers could approach discomfort in some digital recordings (Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, Chung, ’81 Decca). The bottom octave was not so prodigious and dynamic swings, emotional ‘horsepower’, less compelling. However, this combination was capable of, at times, spot-on neutrality. The Wand, tellingly revealing.
Back in the real world
I cued up a Denon DL103 (loaded 400 ohms). Although the 103′s resolution is arguably poor and treble dull by todays standards, voices frequently had convincing presence (Dusty In Memphis Plus), energy, delicacy (Linda Ronstadt - Simple Dreams). Vocal harmonies readily separated (Lyle Lovett - Pontiac). Rhythm was notable again, effortlessly flowing, richly ambient (Kate Bush - Lionheart). There is some synergy here.
The Wand has an engaging persona. Nit-picking at this price level, The Wand arguably infuses a little ‘flavour’ of its own - slightly prolonged ‘overhangs’ aid warmth and sonorousness. Leading edges, focus and dynamic contrasts, ‘drama’, (ever so) slightly softened sometimes. An occasional forwardness at dynamic peaks. Or…just my biases, preconceptions? Audition it in your system (DBL have a Wand Classic home-trial plan for NZ residents).
Regardless, I have little doubt that The Wand is an exceptional design. Many hours were spent exploring and challenging this tonearm. And vice versa. Such is its compelling signature. The Wand’s impressive repertoire of calling cards includes, a large sonic presentation, rich bass tone, sweet timbres.
The Wand tonearm, $804.