Product: Fidelity Research FR-64S tonearm,
produced from 1978 to 1985 (give or take a year)
Availability: s/h only
Manufacturer: Fidelity Research - JP, closed
Approx cost: around 700 EUR for good samples
Some history: Ikeda on Fidelity Research, via waybackmachine
On Thomas Schick's wonderful website there are some interesting Internal pictures.
1. Mario Groezinger
2. Heiko Wingender Gartenstr. 40 76133 Karlsruhe Tel: 0721-8305810, ebay name: stereolux, email
in Europe: Audio Origami
Worldwide: I read that Ikeda is servicing FR tonearms, but the Ikeda website has been down for longer now.
You might have noticed from some of my previous reports, that I use a Fidelity Research FR-64S from time to time. Well, currently there are even samples #3 and #4 here in my listening room. Previous sample had been resold. It took some time to assess the character of this tonearm, and it also took some time to learn how to get the most pleasure and best sound out of it.
I already had contact with FR-64S and FR-66S in the 90ies. It was in a system of a friendly afficionado. He had bought a boxed FR-66S with golden Ortofon SPU for 1500 DEM (750 EUR). I was curious to listen to this at that time, but when I heard the FR-66S and Ortofon SPU combo in his system, it was way inferior to his SME 3012/2 (modified with new cables) playing with the same cartridge. Midrange and treble were playing sharp and annoying, when the SPU played with the FR-66S. Not so with the SME3012/2. I thought to myself, that the SPU puts large amounts of energy in FR-66S. If the energy cannot be dissipated, it will cause ringing.
Another experience in the 90ies was a comparison of FR-64S against Linn Ittok LVII. Well the FR-64S simply killed the Ittok, using the same cartridge. Unfortunately, this was before internet market places came up, so I had to wait for years, before I could try this tonearm at home.
Fast forward to this decade. Fidelity Research tonearms are available every week on ebay or audiogon. If you are patient, you can buy a FR-64S for below 700 EUR (below 1000 USD). Collector items, with original box etc. fetch at least 50% more, but you cannot listen to a cardbox, and the original cable is sounding crap, and the original headshell is sounding crap, too. So better leave the collector items to the filthy rich collectors. Same with the FR-66S: it is more rare, and fetches prices above 2000 EUR, but it is a lot heavier than the FR-64S, and it does not play in harmony with the Ortofon SPU, so why bother? Simply leave these tonearms to the filthy you know.
My first FR-64S I bought without cable or headshell. I already had a lot headshells for my vintage SME or Ortofon tonearms, but I thought it would be a good idea to buy a wooden headshell. You can buy wooden headshells from Yamamoto or here in Germany from Kirschner. I installed an Ebony Yamamoto headshell, and had pretty good results with Koetsu and Lyra cartridges. I also had an Orfofon SPU, but similiar to my experience one decade ago, this combination did ring in my ears.With Lyra Helikon and Dorian, fine resolution was less than with a SME-M2, bass was more generous, but less textured. I thought it was nothing special, and sold the FR-64S again.
You can read that the FR64-S has 32g effective mass with its own headshell. The good news is, if you use a lighter headshell than the original headshell, you get much less effective mass.
My second FR-64S had silver cables inside. I never really liked silver cables. When I compared the silver wired Audio Consulting Silver Rock TVC (a several thousand bucks thing) to the copper wired Dave Slage TVC, the Silver Rock was to go. And the silver cabled FR-64S had to go, too. Or do you like that artificial silvery shimmer? Not my cup of tea. For me, it is crucial to respond to the tension in the music. But when there are components in the listening chain which create an artificial tension, this is impossible rather. I find that inadequate, and artificial tension conveys listening fatigue, too.
OK, a short time later, I wanted to try it again and bought two more samples, without the "Silver cables inside" marking. With the lighter version of Orsonic or the cheap Empire headshell, these FR-64S play very satisfying, and show better resolution than with wooden headshells, or other flavour-of-the-month headshells. Currently, I use Ortofon, Kiseki and similiar vintage MC cartridges with these tonearms. When playing rock music, the FR-64S tonearms perform like the song and dance brigade. Plus, they are very robust, and can survive a party in your house. Service is seldom necessary, and in case of mishaps there are tonearm service stations around the world.
I already described above, that the choice of partners play a big role for getting the best sound of the FR-64S tonearms.Headshells are a real hit-or-miss. The original headshell or the Sumiko/Jelco magnesium headshells are not the best matches for the FR-64S. If you like overetched or mechanical sound, just try those headshells yourself. Wooden headshells do something different, they show a loss of detail and impact when combined with the FR-64S. Best are soft metal headshells with a bit of damping. The cheap Empire headshell - it looks like a variant or the SME headshell with its lots of holes - is the best I tried up to now.
You cannot play every cartridge with the FR-64S. Ortofon SPU is acceptable only in a setup with single speakers producing no treble above 8kHz, because it injects too much energy into the tonearm. The FR-64S SPU combo ring rings like hell in high resolution systems where full treble information can be reproduced. Lyra and similiar cartridges can be used, when lossy headshells are used or other damping methods can be applied. Jonathan Carr of Lyra cartridges used a special damping tape around the tonearm wand of his FR-64S to make it stop ringing.
I had good results, when placing the FR-64S on an unmodified Garrard 301 mounted on a solid plywood plinth. The overall sound was pleasing and made a lot of fun, especially when playing rock music. Though, for classical music or Jazz, I prefer one of my other top-flight tonearms playing on my Micro-Seiki with big bronze platter, or on the modified Loricraft-Garrard 301.
There is a VTA base available for the FR-64S, and it is the same as it comes with the FR-66S. It is rare and costs about 400 EUR on the second hand marketplaces. This is the only accessory from FR, which is worth buying. Forget all the cables, headshells, step-ups from FR. The VTA base is it.
The FR-64S delivers a big amount of bass energy. Thus it plays great in system with not so great bass extension. But in systems with loudspeakers which sport full bass extension, the overall result may less great, as the loudspeakers might expose the FR-64S overripe und unarticulated bass. My advice in those cases is: Use a turntable, which does not go really deep in bass. An unmodified Garrard would be good cure.
In September 1980 there was a single test in German "hifi exklusiv" magazine, when they put a Shure MM cartridge in the FR-64S and got excellent results concerning cartridge tracking abilities. This may have left the impression that bearing friction of the FR-64S was second to none at that time. Unfortunately, around 1980 new tonearms were introduced nearly every month. Not a full year later, the FR-64S bearing friction myth was busted. It was in August 1981, when German magazine "stereoplay" measured bearing friction for about a dozen tonearms. The FR-64S was just in the middle of the field, and its friction number was judged "average" in this test. Other tonearms in this test came from Ultracraft, SME, Dynavector, Technics, Denon, ADC, Audio Technica.
FR-64S has a distinctive sound of its own. I try to describe its sound of its own here, without the influence of partnering components. The overall sound is pretty well balanced with a meaty bass that is neither fast nor particulary well structured but that joins nicely lower midrange. Soundstage is good, but lacks detail and air. Midrange itself leaves a lot to be desired. Lack of inner detail is apparent. Also, treble could have a lot more air. In midrange and treble region, almost any unipivot can better the FR-64S. But hey, a Harley-Davidson ain't no Ducati.
But when it comes to listening fun, it holds its own well even against some top-flight tonearms of today, especially those of the lean-and-fast brigade, mostly of US provenience.
As the FR-64S has a distinctive sound of its own, it is difficult to list alternatives. If you like the FR sound, but want something less coloured respectively more neutral, and need a 12 inch for the price of a used FR-64S, the tonearm from Thomas Schick is worth thinking about. Unlike the FR64S, the Schick tonearm can handle the SPU.
The Ikeda tonearms are further enhancements of the FR tonearms, and also made by the same man. So far, three generations of Ikeda tonearms have been produced. Second hand prices are slightly above FR prices, but not that much.
If you look at vintage tonearms, there a many heavy tonearms from Micro-Seiki, Audio Technica, Mission, etc. which are worth considering, but they all have a sound different from the FR.
Again, it is horses for courses. This tonearm may or may not fit your listening preferences. You can do a lot worse than buying a FR-64S tonearm s/h for 700 EUR. The good news is that thousands of these tonearms have been produced around three decades ago. Thanks to the internet, they are easily available on international and regional marketplaces.
You might ask where to buy this tonearm for not too much money. Well, ebay and audiogon are high price level markets for collectors and typical high-end customers. If you want to buy a FR-64S for less than collector prices, you have to investigate local markets. These exist in every country, and while I cannot speak e.g. Swedish or Dutch, this is not a barrier to buy interesting hifi from there from time to time. One of my FR-64S I bought with two counterweights and non-standard phono cable, the other with original headshell and original phono cable. I wish you good luck while hunting.
© Copyright 2010 Hartmut Quaschik - www.tnt-audio.com