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Positive Feedback ISSUE43
Time Line strobe and clamp
as reviewed by Peter Davey
During CES this year, I was with a colleague while he mentioned a new toy by Ron Sutherland. He spoke of a device to show visually if your motor on your turntable was running too slow or fast. I thought to myself, well why not just use a strobe disc / light? I then heard that this thing used a laser and all rationale left the window! I had to see this thing.
While meandering, I stumbled upon Sutherland's room and saw the device first-hand. Of course, it was quite a site which seems to follow suit with just about everything else that comes from Ron. First look, one can tell it was nicely machined out of Aluminum, with a switch on the top to choose two speeds, the obligatory 45 and 33 RPM. On the side, is a little peephole where light is emitted. Flipping the switch one can see the laser blip in accordance with the speed selected.
Here's where it gets interesting… timing where the laser is going to be emitted to takes trial and error: there might be a method to this but I've not figured it out yet. I've just had to keep stopping/starting it (by clamping with my hand) until the line appears visibly on my rear wall. This could also effectively be done if you have a pitch or speed control for your motor, simply speed or slow it down enough to cause the line to eventually catch up to your wall. Once this is done, you should start to see about a 1" line. Since it's a laser and accurate up to 2 parts per million you have up to about 15 feet of distance between the turntable and the place you want the light to be reflected on. My table is only about 8" from my rear wall so this part was easy.
Anyone that listens to vinyl can attest to pitch change ruining the entire music experience. Not every listener can detect such minute pitch changes though. This pretty much falls in line with those who can hear up to a certain frequency and those who can't. My table has a built-in strobe, so I usually used it as a measure. I noticed I had to adjust accordingly depending on the record being used. You know what I find fascinating about the high end world of turntables? Most of the expensive ones don't come with a way of speeding/slowing the motor to adjust pitch. I suppose you could pull the motor further apart causing less friction on the belt however that will usually only effect torque, not speed. I'm lucky enough to have an adjustment on my table but I can't tell you how many $5000 + turntables don't offer such a feature. This completely baffles me… I don't care how perfect a motor is, things can alter their speed depending on their rotational mass.
The Time Line can really open one's eyes! I've used it on a few turntables and as soon as the listener sees visibly that the line moves on the wall it's reflected on, they scoff at it stating that it's just not accurate. I feel the opposite; perhaps they are just worried that their super-table isn't as super as they thought it was? Oh well. I verified its accuracy against the light-strobe that I have and it was dead on.
See the tiny red dot that I encapsulated with a square? My camera can't pick up the line it creates but you can get a feel for how it works. If this dot moved to the right, it's spinning too fast, and vise versa.
Ok… so what are the cons on this device? A few things I noticed while using it… one, I was paying too much attention to the light being reflected on the wall, more so than actually listening to the music. I'd see the light start to drift one way and immediately wanted to get up and adjust the motor speed. Even if I couldn't audibly hear any difference (this is subjective of course.) Depending on one's table the speed can adjust quite often while listening, it matters on the equipment (and playing material.) The other thing is getting it to shine the beam where you want it but I already went into that. Once I got the unit dialed in, I was able to tweak the pitch to almost perfect, and let me tell you things started sounding really good. I quote from the included pamphlet:
“A great orchestra depends on a great conductor to keep the note of every instrument playing exactly at the right moment. The pluck of a string, or the trill of a flute just a fraction of a beat off can ruin a performance. The emotion that touches the soul of the audience depends on this precision. It was with this precision the timeline was born. As an instrument designed to keep the finest of turntables running at exactly the correct speed, there is simply no equal. With a time-base accuracy of 2 parts per million, the Timeline is the very definition of precision."
Oh, I almost forgot… this device also doubles as a really slick record clamp—made of Delrin materials. The batteries are N type and last about 800 hours. Who do I recommend this to? Everyone that enjoys squeezing every last drop out of their system, one that is prepared to be humbled by the fact that this device can point out flaws on your multi-thousand dollar turntable. Leave it up to Sutherland to go where no one else has gone before, with unmatched craftsmanship and simplicity! Can the human ear pick up the differences? You be the judge, I sure did. Peter Davey