SAT-Swedish Analog Technologies
The man behind SAT (Swedish Analog Technologies) is Marc Gomez. A mechanical engineer by profession, his intention was to create a tonearm capable of providing a high level of performance and also acting as a stable platform for the pick-up cartridge.
From his vast working experience with high performance products like the Porsche Carrera GT, the Ariane rocket engine and Astra Zeneca medical devices, the SAT tonearm design was conceived as a precision instrument, instead of some kind of tuned musical instrument, as preferred by some in the industry.
Working with space-age materials and the latest CAD & CAE tools, he created and manufactured arms of the highest rigidity and structural integrity. This design philosophy, according to Gomez, provides a more stable platform for the cartridge to perform better and which ultimately translates into better reproduction of high fidelity.
What got me interested?
Recently, I acquired a TechDas Air Force One turntable after a local presentation by none other than Nishikawa-san. I was impressed with the technical aspects of the turntable and more so, with the extreme low level noise. Layer upon layer of details flowed out from well-known records and well-versed ancillary audio components. I was extremely pleased with the results of this turntable (coupled with the Graham Phantom 2 tonearm) that I raved for days to my fellow members at the Analogue Fellowship. A few members actually went out and bought the turntable. And after a few listening get-togethers, we came to the conclusion that the combo was as good as it gets.
At this juncture, Marc Gomez contacted me (after checking us out at the Analogue Fellowship FB page) to enquire if I would be interested to give his creation a listen and review. My reply to him was a big “YES”.
I would like to state that this wonderful experience led me to realize the importance and the role/effect of a tonearm in an analogue system. I have a few formidable and well-known tonearms in my collection, but not at same price point of the SAT. That they did not show and prove to me their effect (and value) as the SAT did was perhaps the most interesting and illuminating part of this experience.
After living with the SAT tonearm for some months now, with all components settled in, the following is my impression of the product:
(The Miyajima Kansui cartridge provided the pick-up)
What do I get from a simple human voice?
Music can invoke certain emotional responses from the listener, whether ‘live’ or reproduction done right. I always start my listening sessions (especially when there is a new addition to my audio system) with a certain music of choice that suits my mood at the given time. Here, I began with something simple and easily recognizable, the venerable human voice.
The human voice, to me at least, is a medium that carries the inner realm of the person (in this case, the singer). It can be an ‘acted emotion’ or a true essence of oneself. It is rich and multi layered and is a facet of one’s self at the moment of recording.
There are few instances when I listen to familiar passages of a vocalist, accompanied by a few musicians, that I am taken ‘in’ to the presentation in a whole new way. I would say these are rare occasions. Achieving a new level of emotion in the same song (or music or tone) that you know so well, is suddenly given a new level of emotional suspense and surprise; now that’s real magic.
Starting with Nah Youn Sun’s “Voyage” (Silk Road Music SRM008LP) album when the first instance the stylus drops onto the groove, her expressions took on a new level of presence. The voice carries a certain weight that embodies a lovely tonality throughout. You will notice how freely and clearly a particular word or sentence is being voiced and articulated. Emotions flowed and ebbed at the right instance. Some may call this “detail retrieval”, but to me it’s not that simple.
This SAT tonearm, coupled with a cartridge that I know, is able to dig out the grooves in a certain manner that tones are presented with layer after layer of rich tonality. It is not bloom or weighty mids here but tones that present a new level of expressiveness. Just listen to the way a particular word is sang/voiced/articulated and you will get my drift.
Next up, “Amina Claudine Myers Salutes Bessie Smith” (Leo Records LR 103), especially track three of side A, “Jailhouse Blues”. Here, she sang with such clarity and emotion that one is able to slice and size up her emotion at that particular moment. To me, it may be the hidden information that allows the voice to enjoy such palpability; so much so that the emotional content therein rises up to the surface to highlight the whole presentation. In other words, I just want to say how beautiful her voice is as she takes us through her ‘emotional’ journey.
On the same note, we listened to a local artiste, Singapore’s Kit Chan, in her debut album on vinyl (NCKCLP001). On track two, the title track of a famous Hong Kong drama series, “Triumph in the Sky” which involves a simple vocal accompanied mainly by a piano, a guitar and bass.
The richness of her vocals and expressions was fully exposed here. This set up allows me to understand and feel what the artiste felt for the characters in the TV series (hey, it’s a soap drama anyway…). I have to admit that I fully comprehend the ups and downs of the drama series better than my other half…
On a more serious note, the vocals seemed to float in a jet black and quiet background, adding to the realism and ever changing dynamics of the storyline. On track four, the singer was asked to wait for her queue as the musicians got ready; here you can literally hear and feel the atmosphere of the recording session before the realism of her voice sets in. The feeling of being transported to the recording studio and being there while all this was going on is surely an incredible experience for anyone.
On a faster pace?
A number of my friends requested me to play Bruce Katz Band’s “Crescent Crawl” (AudioQuest AQ-LP1012) at “live volume level” (If not, they exclaimed, “it wouldn’t be fun”). And so we set out to hear and experience the full presentation at auditorium levels…
“Presence”, to me, requires a good or right amount of (controlled) bass or low energy that stays within its boundary, without unwanted overhang and drag, and will not “disturb the treble region”. Here, on each and every one of Lorne Entress’ drum hits, I hear and experience different strength and energy. Even the transient of the lowest note to the highest note is so clean that one can literally follow the flow and pace, as intended by Bruce Katz in leading the team.
“Presence is not lost even in the most complex and congested passage, even as the pace picks up!”.
On every track of this album, I notice that each musical instrument enjoys its exclusive space, moment and atmosphere. Even in a heavy and congested passage, every musician is in his rightful/intended space. When the moment came for the exclusivity of a musician, one can literally hear and experience the start and end of a blanket. Throughout, the atmosphere surrounding the whole recording session is palpable and energized. It was a highly charged session with my bunch of friends enjoying every last bit of music emanating from the speakers. A clear indication that the majority have given approval and thumbs up for the SAT tonearm.
What about something bigger?
An orchestra like the Dallas Wind Symphony led by Howard Dunn in “Fiesta” (Reference Recordings RR-38) is summoned. This album contains tracks with loud and complex passages coupled with soft and simple ones. With orchestral or big band recordings, I love to play them at peak levels, around 100db (“live volume level?”). The SAT tonearm allows the cartridge to track really well that during congested passages, with a sudden “grand slam” of the lowest region, it admirably maintains its definition and directivity. I have heard many combinations (of arm and cartridge) fail at this crucial point.
Another area that I wish to draw attention to is that, through this combo, the big orchestra is able to be presented with a clean wave of subsonic presence. The lower low is so clean that it stays at your feet level and never disturb the higher low. Thus, one is able to receive and pinpoint the source of this lower lows from the depths of the grand soundstage.
The truth of the matter is when you play “big music”, it is usually done in a big space most home audio set up can’t replicate. We shall leave the intricacies of that notion for another discussion time.
A big and grand audio system, with the help of an active and imaginative mind, can help fill in the gaps where our audio system fails. To illustrate this point, I played “Count Basie/Live at the Sands (before Frank)” from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs (MFSL 2-401) which was recorded with a live audience.
The SAT tonearm with the Miyajima Kansui cartridge managed to play it way bigger, broader and deeper than any other tonearms I’ve come across so far. I am hearing wall to wall, and floor to ceiling, of a soundstage with depth that easily distances the band from the audience with a layer of atmosphere. Throughout the whole presentation, the clear and distinct presence of the audience members is so vivid that one can almost feel wine being poured into glasses and drunk with relish. Let me order something here…waiter?
At this point, it is abundantly clear that the SAT tonearm is able to carry the Miyajima Kansui cartridge to a level that I have yet to hear.
A Solid Performer with the ZYX Omega Gold cartridge…
We continued, with a switch from the Miyajima Kansui to the ZYX Omega Gold. I wish to state from the start that the ZYX allows the SAT tonearm, or vice versa, to present music with a solid and controlled mid and low bass. Each tone is solidly played with clear definition, delineation and closure.
I hear the same amount of detail and resolution and can surmise that though both cartridges are of equal footing, they differ much in tonality and presentation. I have set up both cartridges on other tonearms such as the Graham Phantom 2, SME V, Cartridge Man Linear Tracker arm and the Breuer.
All the above mentioned did allow both cartridges to present their attributes well but not at the level of difference offered by the SAT tonearm. To me, the SAT tonearm is so much more transparent in overall performance but at a slightly, more pleasing price point.
A detailed impression of the SAT tonearm, with the same cartridges on the TechDas Air Force One, is available in my upcoming review of a full Vitus Masterpiece components system that comprised the MPD-201 DAC, MPP-201 Phono stage, MPL-201 Pre amp and MPM-201 Mono amp.
The SAT tonearm sits at a price point that is not easily reachable by most. The same can be said for most products at the upper echelon. This is indeed a “tonearm of tonearms” and I am afraid there aren’t that many tonearms competing in SAT’s realm. I dare say its nearest competitor comes at almost double its price(!) and much to my chagrin, did not even come close to challenging it.
Dato’ Danon Han