FIDELITY RESEARCH: FR-64S tonearm – owner observations

Howard Popeck:

I sold loads of these. Always new, because nobody ever traded one in with me. They were 100% reliable, beautiful to look at, magnificently engineered and looked like $1m. However, truth be told, sound quality was good, very good in fact – but not terrific. Not terrific in absolute terms nor indeed for the asking price of around £250 in 1980 when the market-leading SME 3009 IIS was around £85.

Having said this, the 64S could do things that virtually no other tonearm of that era could do. For example, it could accommodate the very heaviest MC cartridges with ease. A Koetsu Black, or Rosewood, an Audio Note, or a Supex would always deliver the goods, sonically.

Tonally, with those cartridges I preferred the Breuer Dynamic 8 which provided a spectacularly dynamic sound. On the other hand, the 64S with those cartridges could (providing feedback on the typical decks available then could be controlled) produce a frightening thunder. It was around this time I recognised that a tone arm was in essence a sophisticated but not entirely predicable tone control.

The 64S was mounted on a series of decks including a Linn LP12. This was damn difficult because damn heavy. Even the headshell weighted 35g. It was a fine sound on the Linn, especially with a Supex SD900 or SD901. But frankly, good as it was, it wasn’t worth the hassle. So for a Linn, and not withstanding the poor finish and occasionally questionable engineering fit, the Syrinx PU2 and PU3 were the sensible choice. But actually, this isn’t a commentary on the Linn. So back to the 64S.

A typical partner at that time was a Micro Seiki DX-1000 (pre-cut arm boards were available or DDQ500 (for which you had to machine your own arm plate from a blank) or best of all, the Michell Electronic Reference or Hydraulic Reference. I had these decks built for me with a solid marble base. The combination looked terrific. The fact it played music was, in more than one end-user’s words “a bonus!

Nevertheless given the prodigious bass output of the arm, careful partnering with the rest of the system was crucial. If one used Spendor BC3s – which could accommodate the bass energy – then unless your had a power amp with phenomenal bass ‘grip’ it would be too much in any sensibly sized room. Consequently I never used this arm with any transmission-line speaker.

However with other speakers of that era with a restricted or inherently tight bass, such as the Gales 401a, the Lentek S4. Harbeth HL1, Mission 770 and so on, the resulting sound could be jaw dropping.

The 64s is a high effective-mass arm as well as being a overall physically heavy arm. My examples always had what seemed an agonisingly slow descent time. Things like that were important back then. Looking back on my notes, now over 26 years old, I did from time to time observe a slightly splashy treble. My notes tell me that in such situations, the use of the Grace F9E cartridge (one of the best magnetics of all time, I feel) was sensible.

I also noted back then that I had to avoid anything that might be termed as a high-compliance cartridge. I know from memory that it was very easy to set up (other than on a Linn) and that I could generally rely on the downforce calibration reading.

All in all I have fond memories of this device and note that a 12” version, mint and unused sold on eBay in the USA for $3,500. Crazy, really. In summary then, in mechanical engineering terms, a true reference standard. Sonically, very good but probably a bit off the pace by today’s increasingly high performance / lowish cost alternatives.

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