NIH; the acronym that stands for “Not Invented Here” might better be expressed as “Never Invented Here” when it comes to hi-fi. For every company that rejects out of hand any idea that they didn’t come up with, sheltering behind entrenched dogma, there must be at least a dozen that have never come up with anything original. They sit back, wait and see which way the wind’s blowing, keeping a weather eye open for any passing band wagon and ready to execute a philosophical Uturn with the alacrity of a London cabbie (and just about as much consideration for others).
But real progress depends on the combination of all available information and thinking, with a few novel twists added for good measure. The resulting steps are often significant, either extending the notion of what is possible or bringing new levels of performance down to much lower prices. And because they so often build on existing thinking you can also often trace their “family trees”. So, one might think of the Zeta which spawned the Kuzma Stogi, Mission Mechanic, SME 5 and ultimately the Rega RB300 (et al). Then there’s the line that stretches back from the Phantom, through the other Graham arms to the Michell Focus One. But the lineage that concerns us here starts with the Tri-Planar, evolves through the VPI JMW designs and emerges in the form of the Kuzma 4POINT.
It was the Tri-Planar that established the tandem benefits of an out-rigger (or offset) mounting for the main-bearing, coupled to a vernier type VTA tower that allows for record-by-record adjustment. It also established the practicality of mounting a longer, 10.5” tonearm within the compact dimensions of the decks then currently fashionable. The fact that a refined but otherwise virtually identical design is just as popular now, some 25- years later, speaks volumes. No surprise then, that when Harry Weisfeld at VPI wanted to create his own tonearm, he adopted those groundbreaking ideas himself, adding interchangeable arm-tops sitting on a damped uni-pivot bearing into the mix, allowing users to change cartridges on a recordby- record basis too. For the first time, a cartridge and tonearm could be removed from a deck in a matter of moments, with all critical settings preserved intact. And while he was about it, Harry raised the stakes in the cable game too, offering a purpose built Nordost Valhalla internal wiring option. Which brings us to Franc Kuzma’s latest design, a tonearm that takes cues from his previous models and combines them all with the developmental path established by the Tri-Planar and VPI. And furthering the tradition, he has introduced a third bearing configuration, but one that’s unlike anything that’s gone before, in this or any other family tree! But before we get to that, let’s look at the major structural features of this new arm. Starting at the front end of the arm, we find the compact and heavily triangulated headshell first seen on the AirLine. However, even this has undergone a series of refinements: the shell itself is mounted on a stub extension with hexagonal profiles at each end and an allen grubscrew through its shaft. Slide the headshell into the end of the armtube and the hex sections achieve a positive mate, while a small hole in the top of the tube allows the grubscrew to be nipped up to lock the assembly firmly in place. Note that the arm cabling exits the tube behind the headshell junction; this is not a removable headshell in the true sense of the word and if you want to swap cartridges you will need to disconnect and reconnect their pins – but that beats the hell out of setting up from scratch. More importantly, the arrangement allows users to mount cartridges directly to the headshell, which eases the process considerably. There is also a threaded rod that can be screwed into the right hand shoulder of the shell, providing a finger lift or cueing aid.
The arm tube itself employs Kuzma’s familiar two-piece tapered construction, allowing incredibly precise adjustment of azimuth, although in this case the effective length is actually 11”. This mates to a massive and incredibly deep bearing yoke, from the rear of which extend two threaded rods to carry the counterweights. The lower, thicker of these carries the composite balance weight, constructed from a single large “drum”, a set of five discs of different weights and interleaving hard plastic locators to help damp the assembly. This mix and match approach ensures that the main mass can sit as close to the pivot as possible. The thinner, top rod carries the long, narrow, locking downforce weight, familiar from the AirLine. The internal cabling exits from the inner side of the yoke, a short flexible section linking to a delrin cylinder that supports the arm-cable proper. Permanently attached to the arm tube, a small stub on the yoke allows the cable to be safely “parked”, the aluminium termination cylinder being clamped in place by a small grubscrew. Finally, a small but deep well on the side of the yoke allows fluid damping of the arm tube’s vertical motion.
The integration of the arm tube and tonearm cable means that the cueing platform and VTA tower arrive as a separate assembly. This mounts using a simple post and collar arrangement which is compatible in terms of fixing and geometry, with the Linn three-bolt arrangement used by the Ittok, Ekos and others, albeit with a 40mm (not 30mm) central hole. That means that in theory the 4POINT can be mounted on any deck capable of supporting a Linn tonearm – providing it can also support the Kuzma’s not inconsiderable weight. And if no armboard exists, the manufacturer supplies both a mounting template and positioning jig, as well as a comprehensive toolkit and hardware for the arm. In fact, every aspect of this arm, from the superbly clear and comprehensive instructions through the fit and finish to the packaging elevates this product into the very highest echelon.