An Interview with Micha Huber of Thales

Terence Wong: Mr Huber, what is your background and how did Thales tonearm come about? Explain the strengths and weakness of the Burne Jones and Garrad Zero 100 design and how do the Thales original and Simplicity similarities and differences begins and end?

MH: My background is the Swiss machine- and watch-industry. After my training in mechanical engineering I have worked together with Andreas Strehler in developing watch-movement for five years. My job was building the prototypes, and regarding this I have built several famous movements part by part: Moser & Cie Cal 321/341/342, Harry Winston “Opus 7”, Maurice Lacroix “Le Chronographe”. Two years ago, I left the watch industry and concentrated in building tonearms only.

I have studied a lot of solutions regarding tonearms. Since I was 17 years old, I tried to combine the perfect geometry of the tangential tracking with advantages of the pivoted tonearm. The most popular samples in history are the BJ and the Garrard Zero, perhaps there are more if you do some research. However, I was not satisfied with the compromising tetragon-solutions. They allow a little tracking error, and my first goal was to create an absolutely tangential tracking pivoted arm. That’s how the Thales was born. The main innovation is that I use a triangle-based geometry instead of a tetragon. For the shortly launched Simplicity, I stepped back to the tetragon-solution, but I found a new version, which comes up with three times less tracking error than all solutions published so far.

If we do an overview:

Burne Jones: Tetragon solution, non parallel arms, needle-tip between pivot points, +/-0.030°
Garrard: Tetragon solution, parallel arms, needle tip under bearing point, +/-0.024°
Thales: New triangle solution, working along the Thales’ circle, absolutely tangential
Simplicity: Tetragon solution, non-parallel arms, needle tip under bearing point, +/- 0.008°

You see, the difference regarding geometry is significant, but not huge. But the bearing quality of the Thales and Simplicity is much more developed, that’s why the theoretical advantages have been brought to an audible better result for the first time.

Terence Wong: Describe the intricacies of the arm design and assembly for its high retail price. In other words, what goes into a Thales tonearm to justify its asking price?

MH: Only manufacturing without compromising makes it possible to realize a more complicate solution to top the established sound quality. The Thales tonearm consist of more than 100 parts. Every part is designed according to its specific function. We use finest sapphire and ball bearings to reduce the friction to the lowest values possible. The arm-material is cut out of solid blocks, we do not use stressed material like sheet or tube. All steel parts are stainless and polished to the best quality available worldwide. The assembling is done by my employee, Daniel Schmid, who is a well-trained watchmaker. Beside the traditional craftsmanship we work with most modern equipment to reach the best quality in engineering and manufacturing.

Terence Wong: Tracking error can be reduced with longer arms eg 10-inch or 12-inch, a less complicated design option? Or put it another way, how is the Thales design superior to longer arms?

MH: You cannot compare the reduction in tracking error of traditional 12-inch arms with our products. To reach the precision of the Simplicity for example a traditional arm needed to be 1,500 inches long, while the Thales original defines the reference, which cannot be topped theoretically.

Terence Wong: While it may be true a shorter arm would introduce less resonance, wouldn’t the dual arm tube design of the Simplicity or the additional horizontal arm tube of the Thales Original tonearm increases the amount of resonance introduced into the arm structure?

MH: You are absolutely right; this task needs a specific solution. But by finding this, you can turn the handicap to a benefit and top the damping properties of traditional single-tube design. I am afraid I cannot publish all details regarding this, but basically the dodge is to tune both arms in harmonically and make them damping each other instead of amplifying their resonance-frequency.

Terence Wong: I noticed the counterweight is also split for the two parts of the tonearm, please explain the workings of the counterweight, if there is anything to it that is different from conventional tonearms? If I am not mistaken, the counterweight arrangement also takes care of the anti-skate requirements?

MH: This now definitely touches on one of the secret of WHY the Simplicity does work that smoothly… But basically, the divided counterweight has little magnets embedded which makes it possible to a) balance the side forces (anti-skating), b) reduce the friction and c) damp the tonearm-tubes.

Terence Wong: At what point is the amount of tracking distortion considered unacceptable? Is there a correlation of the size of the record grooves vs the distortion level?

MH: This is quite interesting and starts to touch the limit of today’s knowledge. In Munich 2010 I have discussed this with some friends of the industry (Helmut Brinkmann, Frank Schröder) and we have come to the same conclusion independently:

Basically the tracking error affects the music-signal and adds a distortion to it. There is a correlation between the tracking diameter and the signal frequency. The narrower the tracking-diameter and the higher the frequency is, the better you can hear audible distortion. Besides that, the tracking-error has another influence to the tracking-properties: As soon as it leaves the tangential position, the diamond is touched by the left and right side of the groove a little out of phase. This occurs in less needle control.

Taking in consideration both aspects, we can say there can be audible distortions if you have more than 1° tracking error at the inner groove. But the audible difference between 0° and 0.1° is much more than between 0.1 and 1°, because the lost of needle control is audible as soon as you leave the tangential position.

Terence Wong: On the Simplicity tonearm – how effective is the arm design/bearing compared to the Thales Original? How does the bearing design compared to traditional pivoted bearings?

MH: After playing with three prototypes now, we have improved the double cardanic bearing of the Simplicity and reach about the same friction values as for the Thales original. All my design is based on very little clearance, as my philosophy is not to allow any movement except horizontal and vertical. Our tangential pivoted construction can compare with any ball bearing design regarding friction, but not with unipivot tonearms as they have only one contact point. But in my point of view, we do not only need as less friction as possible, but rigidity and the correct balance to compensate the in-side forces caused by the friction between record and diamond.

Terence Wong: Is the Simplicity and Thales original as easy to setup and use as a conventional tonearm?

MH: The Simplicity is even easier to setup, as the headshell can be taken apart and the cartridge is to be adjusted in a special tool delivered with the tonearm. The Thales original needs a little more love, because of the fine mechanics, which needs more space as well.

Terence Wong: Thank You Micha!

Article contributed by Terence Wong from MOD AV magazine.


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