The sound is [expletive deleted] fantastic,
and I would be happy to have a Woody
at probably twice the asking price. Where
else can you get a 12 inch, fully adjustable
on the fly, lovingly crafted tonearm for $1600?

Below is a review of a Woody tonearm loaned by John Hoffman for review by a few members of the Southeast Michigan Audio Club. Members Rob, Jeff, and Dave participated. I wish to express my deepest appreciation to all three. The listening was done in one of Rob's systems. Rob and Jeff did the set-up work. Rob and Dave prepared independent reviews, both greatly appreciated.

Dave's review is presented below in its entirety. Dave seems to understand the virtues of the product. Thank you Dave.

How I Came to Love the Woody
Dave Millon



As I had expressed interest to fellow audio-nuts Jeff and Rob about being included in listening to the generously loaned Pete Riggle tonearm, I was excited when asked to come over to Jeff's to help set the damned thing up. Tools in hand and Scotch flask in pocket, I left my lovely bride and drove the 2 miles over to see the "twig."

[Pete Riggle says: I'd rather not have the Woody tonearm referred to as "the twig." But . . . when we send our beloved creations out into the world, things happen that are beyond our control.]

As I had seen and heard a Woody at AXPONA, I thought I knew what to expect. Oh no, there was the woody thing in all its glory, but so were instruction after instruction (I think 18 pages plus supplements) as well as baggie after baggie of small parts!

[Pete Riggle says: The manual is well organized. The most important sections of the manual are 1) a list of parts shipped, 2) notes on how to set up for different cartridge compliances, 3) installation instructions (which are possibly complete to to a fault), 4) trouble shooting notes, and 5) instructions on repackaging for reshipment. The dreaded list of included parts is as follows: Woody owners manual, VTAF owners manual, tonearm assembly, brass counterweight, bronze bushing for the mounting hole, headshells and headshell adjuster plates in brass, aluminum, and mahogany, small aluminum spacer used in rare cases, headshell mounting screw and knurled nut in brass and in lightweight materials, finger lift, guide assembly, alignment gage, overhang gage, caliper and scale for pivot-to-spindle distance, containers of damping oil and wood polish, syringe for damping oil, precision cartridge shims (which allow the armwand to be level if the cartridge needs to be low in the rear).]

Jeff had done a fine job setting up his new Lenco to handle the duties, which was both good and bad. Good, as in this was a good stable place to work without risking his main rig. Bad, as I have heard the rig without the Lenco many times before, and, while I have the audio memory of a flea on Lewis or Clark, I am, in theory, familiar with the system in stock form, and a very nice set-up Jeff has. No over the top gear, but built with love, careful consideration, and far greater than the sum of its parts!

The first thing upon placing the arm in its mounting collar was the rattle and looseness that Art Dudley noticed in his review sample armboard. Well, that wouldn't do, and I remembered from my use of Riggle's VTAF that the hole size is sort of arbitrary, and adjustments need to be made. This merely required a wrap of Teflon tape to correct. I wish Art Dudley had done this instead of assuming that this was how designer Riggle had wanted it. As I mentioned in the AudioKarma thread, if a big name manufacturer had submitted a mal-working product, it would have been sent back to the builder and a new sample requested. Notations, of course, would have been published, but the review would not have continued with a faulty set-up!

[Pete Riggle says: I greatly appreciate the above observations made by Dave. Although it is optional, I encourage an intentional and minor amount of looseness between the bronze bushing and the armboard. There is no rattle. If the hole is imperfect (many drill presses do not make a vertical hole), there is a risk that the bushing flange will end up not resting flat against the armboard or plinth. Leaving the bushing slightly loose in the mounting hole has negligible impact upon alignment accuracy, assures that the bushing rests level with the armboard, and provides an intentionally lossy connection, which helps to kill needle-talk vibration of the tonearm. Art Dudley was provided with a working product. He simply objected to the concept that minor play of the bushing in the armboard can be beneficial. Art praised the sound of the Woody. I personally fabricated the armboard that Art Dudley used in his review, and indeed, intentionally left a few thousandths of an inch of play between the bushing and the armboard. If I had realized Art was going to get his panties in a wad, I would have epoxied the bushing into the armboard. For anyone else objecting to minor play of the bushing in the armboard (we are talking about something like .003 inches of radial clearance), I would recommend a wrap or two of masking tape around the barrel of the bushing, or a few dabs of Blue Tac between the bushing flange and the armboard, pressed out thin. But for Art it would have been epoxy. One more point: The radial clearance between the VTAF Adjuster Screw and the VTAF Bronze Busing is typically less than .003 inches, the thickness of a piece of bond paper. This intentional clearance, necessary to the function of theVTAF is not "coarse machining." In fact it is quite precise, contributing negligibly to tracking error, and very positively to good sonics.]

After we were happy with the stability of the mount, we then proceeded to slog our way through the rest of the set-up. There were lots of stumbling points, some due to the coarseness of the machining, some due to the resistance to travel to the hardware store, as the weather was brutal, some just due to the confusing instructions, and finally, some due to the fact that this tonearm had the proper weight and mass for a cartridge we were not using. Peter had supplied hardware to customize the arm to the purchaser's particular range of carts, and we had no way of determining the exact combination of pieces that would produce the appropriate resonance.

[Pete Riggle says: The instructions urge the user to contact me if they need help selecting the components to get the preferred tonearm effective mass. Also, the owners manual includes examples of setups for low, medium, and high compliance cartridges.]

So, after many hours of frustration, we thought we were close in our set-up and tried a few actual records. Pretty good in my honest opinion, especially considering the complexity of set-up.

[Pete Riggle says: Once the mounting hole has been drilled, the headshell and adjuster plate decided upon (to get the preferred effective mass) and installed, installation of the Woody is a snap. It takes me about 15 minutes to install a cartridge, and get tracking force, overhang, alignment, and lateral balance set. I do adjust lateral balance, but am not overly fussy about it, because I get glorious sound without lateral balance being spot-on.]

I had to leave after a side or two, but my colleagues played on into the night. Both seemed more judgemental than I. One did not care for the "steam punk" look of the Woody, and one didn't care for the courseness of the machinework. In thinking about the set-up, the thing is incredibly adjustable on a level that is not really reflected in the fineness of the machining, and that is certainly worth noting, as it presents frustration to those setting it up. In the next few weeks, the set-up was dialed in by my cohorts, and another invitation to have a listen was extended.

[Pete Riggle says: I don't know where the commentary on coarseness of machining comes from. The machining is completely up to the task. I think some of the participants became a touch jaundiced or prejudiced by having read Art Dudley's review, which was sour in places, although kind in others. In particular, the machining of all circular parts is done on numerically controlled lathes, which hold tolerances to within +/- .0005 inch. This applies to the VTAF Adjuster Screw, the VTAF Adjuster Wheel, the counterweight (except in cases where I cut the counterweight down to lower mass for use with high compliance cartridges), the counterweight stub, and the base of the VTAF Guide Assembly. A complaint regarding the percieved coarseness of the VTAF Bronze Bushing happens to be completely off base. The complaint suggests that this is a cast part which has not received final machining. The truth is that this is a part manufactured to very tight tolerances using powder metallurgy. The tolerances are within +/- .0005 inches. The very precise powder metallurgy process does leave minor surface roughness that has nothing to do with the function of the part. Regarding appearance, many, many people have commented favorably on the beauty of the finish method used for the brass parts.]

Jeff wanted confimation that we were satisfied with his adjustments, and Rob and I gave them a once over. We set anti-skate, which we had neglected to do the previous time, but forgot the test record for setting azimuth using the Fozgometer. VTA was set level, and the tracking force was confirmed. It was time to spin away and on with the show with the Ortofon Bronze cartridge.

Wow, a very fine sound erupted from the speakers! We played a bit of rock and jazz, commentintg on how nice the midrange and bass were. Rob detected a bit of upper end harshness or distortion that I didn't pick up, but my high frequency hearing is not all that great compared with my friends. Still, it was a very fine spread of sounds, and the ease at which the music came through is not heard often! Eastern Sounds is a record Rob likes to play because the music is haunting, but there are some passges that are hard to get right. Finally I heard the distortion he was referring to. Remember, this is still not a fully optimized set-up as azimuth was an unknown, as well as SRA.

When we tried the Graham Slee phono stage instead of the Jolida, things got a bit hectic for me. Timing seemed to be off or something, almost too fast and edgy. The other two agreed, and out the Slee came, and bliss was restored with the Jolida. Matching of arm/cartridge/stage will probably pay off, and luckily, Peter customizes the resonance frequency needed for your cartridge when you order. He can and does supply a range of differing weight parts if you want to change cartridges later.

The next step was to add a touch of dampening fluid to the azimuth trough, and I do mean a touch. The amount that was dropped into the trough was just enough to touch the bottom of the paddles. We tried again. Holy crap, that's the ticket! Smoother, quieter, and with an even better mid-range. Bass deeper, and even I could pick up that the break-up in those few of Yuseff's notes was gone, gone, gone! Lovely glorious sounds were forthcoming with everything we played.

So this leads me to my criticism. The arm is difficult to set-up, due to the interplay of all parts involved, and the craftsmanship of said parts. For instance, the resonance of the arm is adjusted with different combinations of plastic, brass, aluminum, and wood headshell pieces. Why not make them as light as reasonable, and add weights to adjust?

The headshell requires shimming to compensate for the taper of the arm (it appears). Why not taper the headshell itself?

[Pete Riggle says: Shimming is not done to compensate for taper of the arm. Shims are provided only to allow the arm to be level for those not uncommon cases in which the cartridge needs to be a little low in the rear, or to adjust cartridge attitude in the not uncommon cases where the turntable design provides little elevation difference between the top of the record mat and the top of the armboard or plinth, which can result in a cartridge being too high in the rear. The shims are provided to solve a problem most tonarm manufacturers fail to address.] 

The azimuth on the fly is way cool but you then need to balance the arm using the brass weights of the lateral balance screw.

[Pete Riggle says: Azimuth on the Fly is way cool. And it turns out that the user does not need to be excessively fussy about redoing lateral balance after minor azimuth changes. The arm is not sensitive to minor amounts of lateral imbalance. But don't try to tell that to Art Dudley.]

The tracking weight is painful to adjust as there is no threaded mechanism for small adjustments and since the weight is offset, any side to side movement effects azimuth. All in all the adjustments are a bit coarse for the accuracy of the changes that need to be accomplished.

[Pete Riggle says: The counterweight is touchy to adjust, but it sounds really good. Also, it is the same system used by Orign Live on all their arms (I'm just saying). And I've included a nice little micro-adjuster on the back of the counterweight to allow sneaking up on the last little bit of tracking force adjustment. Many arms with easily adjustable counterweights end up with poor sound attriubtable to the counterweight system. Regarding lateral balancing, the instructions suggest using the counterweight for coarse adjustment of lateral balance, with the lateral balance weights for fine adjustment. The truth is that I get glorious sound using the counterweight for trimming lateral balance, never touching the lateral balance weights. The lateral balance weights are somewhat vestigal, but for users who seek theoretical perfection, they may be of value. After tracking force has been set, the counterweight may be rotated for lateral balance (without loosening the finger tight set screw), and with insignificant change to tracking force.]

However, the sound is [expletive deleted] fantastic, and I would be happy to have a Woody at probably twice the asking price. Where else can you get a 12 inch, fully adjustable on the fly, lovingly crafted tonearm for $1600?

If you are an audiophile who expects easy set-up, expects that things will be a "plug and play" endeavor, run, don't walk away. If on the other hand, you don't mind the basement workshop feel of the twig (as I don't, I have and love my Trans-Fi Terminator, as well as my SME-V, which is as different from either one of the two as can be), then this arm is as close to perfect as you could want. The looks are a bit "steam-punk" as someone said. So if looks matter to you, you will need to decide if that look is acceptable - but the sound is anything but punk, it steams!

[Pete Riggle says: Thank you Dave, you are the best!]