The tale begins at the end of the nineteen seventies, with the arrival of Linn’s Ittok LVII tonearm. It put the cat amongst the pigeons in an analogue landscape dominated by the SME 3009S2, which appeared on virtually every turntable motor unit at the time. There was also the Grace G707, which had been Linn’s tube of choice (and indeed imported from Japan by them) before the Ittok hit the shops, but this had achieved only limited success. If you were a ‘superarm’ in 1979, then the Ittok was your nemesis…
It came as no small surprise then, when a number of people started raving about Scott Strachan’s Syrinx PU2. The word was that this curious creation was outperforming the hitherto unassailable Ittok in straight A-B dems in dealer showrooms. More surprising was the Syrinx was neither from the established English ‘old guard’ such as SME, or the new Glasgow establishment embodied by Linn. Rather, Syrinx Precision Instruments manufactured pregnancy scanners and ultrasonic measuring equipment about fifty miles down the road in Edinburgh.
The Ittok was always a coloured device. It sucked out some of the richness and tonal vibrancy from recordings, and replaced it with an addictive boom-tizz that made rock music sound exciting, but wasn’t so hot with classical or jazz where greater subtlety was required. The Syrinx by contrast, was an altogether sweeter and more beguiling affair with less braun and more brain. It was a curious design. Whereas SME and Linn arms were sensible and straightforward to set up and get the best from, fettling a PU2 into optimum alignment was a task bordering on the Herculean. Part of the problem was that the bearings responsible for lateral movement weren’t on the same axis and the vertical ones. Even more unusual was the fact that one side of the horizontal and vertical bearing sets was rubber mounted, and the opposite set was not. The idea was that this provided a single ground path for the energy in each bearing set.
The brass arm tube was a long spindly affair that was completely devoid of a headshell. Again, Syrinx figured that headshells are nasty, bendy, resonant things that were best avoided. To wit, the PU2 featured an aluminium headlock, threaded to take cartridge mounting bolts, complete with a fingerlift of sorts. Cartridge alignment was facilitated by pushing it up and down the end of the armtube. In this respect, as in many others, a more annoying design you could not find. Still, in terms of optimising sound quality, it worked a treat. By contrast, the hitherto ‘minimalist’ Ittok felt like a Sony Biotracer arm complete with remote control stylus pressure and height adjustment!
If this all looks decidedly Heath Robinson, Syrinx surpassed itself with the Mass Ring. Essentially a heavy weight that bolted – by means of three fiddly little allen bolts – onto the rear of the bearing housing, it was a half-hearted attempt to raise the effective mass of the PU2 for it to get the best out of the new breed of moving coil cartridges which were coming into favour at the time. Attaching the Mass Ring onto the PU2 was a process fiddly enough to make neurosurgery look like a quick bit of fun with a scalpel. Come back Hadcock unipivot, all was forgiven!
By the time the Syrinx was generally available in 1980, it cost £198.38 plus an additional £22.54 for the Mass Ring. That put it close to the £253 Linn Ittok and far above its home-grown competition. Properly set up, many believed it to be better, with a far more ‘unipivot-like’ sound that made vinyl sing like nothing before. To my ears it sounded superb – for about ten minutes until it went out of fine adjustment again. The Syrinx PU3 was a major redesign that addressed the variability of the PU2, and sounded better still. While secondhand Linn Ittoks go for over £400, you’ll find old PU2s popping up for as little as £100 – making them a bargain, but only if you’re an inveterate fiddler! Saner souls might like to buy a PU3 for around £200, and just enjoy their music.