Illustrious MK4 Tonearm

Tony Sharman, Restek UK

My Mission Mechanic was a very hard act to follow, it had numerous updates and innovations that propelled it to the very top echelons of tonearm hierachy. So it was with some trepidation that I replaced it with the Illustrious Mk.4, I already use an O/L Silver on another deck with a Silver hybrid cable so am eau fait with the effect of the better cable over standard so the Illustrious came with that upgrade, also included in my order was the new multi unit balance weight which I’ll test out at a later date, for now I want to get to grips with the basic arm.

As my chosen deck is my own design and build, a few specific extras had to be made to accomodate, so a new armboard was machined up and installed, the arm fixed in place, because of the arm board and the tonearms abilities for easy fine adjustment setting up is a breeze, the only slightly tricky area being attaching and setting the cartridge “Benz-Micro Glider” because of it’s nude design is very open to damage.

All set up and ready to rock, no pretence to run the wiring in, I like to guage the improvements over a period of time, apparently this can take 40 hours plus and in my estimation very few people are going to bother to pre-run a tonearm for this period. Anyway from what I’m hearing from the off I suspect no-one is going to be dissapointed, the arm shows an absolute iron grip that lends the cartridge a new confidence it hasn’t displayed before, at least not to this level.

First thing you notice is complete silence on the run in, and records that have displayed surface noise suddenly don’t, proof the cartridge is digging into the groove more positively and being held there, I wouldn’t have expected there to be so much difference, it’s like a new cartridge and this is only a few minutes in, impressed with this I decide to throw something difficult at it, the opening track to “Magazine” Ricky Lee Jones manages to fit a concert grand into my front room between the speakers and then she explodes into song right in front of me, I play the whole album, it’s almost a new experience, next up is my new favourite “Yello, one second” this seems to take up my entire room, in front, behind, past the speakers in every direction, Shirley Bassey then sits on a stool at eye level and sings just for me, this is an absolute tonic, if this arm gets better over time (which it will) it’ll probably blow my mind.

Of course one way to upgrade a tonearm is to clear a path from cartridge to phono stage the most transparent cable that I know of is the O/L silver hybrid S, this can transform a system, it neither adds, subtracts or hides anything which makes it a double edged sword. Fitted and up and running I go through the same records again, now it’s not a night and day difference but everything is clearer and cleaner, bass is better formed and deeper mostly it’s the realism that gets you right between the ears, the silver hybrid 2 is a brilliant lead, the silver hybrid S is just that bit better at double the price it should be, having said that it’s staying put, the combination of the Illustrious Mk4. and the silver hybrid S are pretty well unbeatable, if it was four times the price this combination would still be a sonic bargain it’s that good. I have another deck with an O/L silver Mk.4 arm on it that sports a cartridge over double it’s price and the cartridge doesn’t phase the tonearm one bit the O/L arms really do perform way above their price points and what’s great is you can specify serious upgrades to propel the arms into another category, very few other manufacturers offer this service for fear of stifeling sales of their more expensive products. Anyway one of these upgrade products is a new range of compound arm balance weights which replace the standard versions, these are found as standard fitment to the top two tonearms in the range, whereas their inclusion to lesser arms won’t propel them to the top but will significantly improve performance, I know these products well and have been testing them over a two year period, they can transform a tonearm, most notable is a rock steady platform that allows the cartridge to sing unhindered by any reflections down the arm, it’s one sided which forces the cartridge to stay straight in the groove, is constructed in such a way as to absorb any stray micro vibrations that travel down the arm thereby not allowing those to travel back to the cartridge in short it successfully removes the majority of interferance allowing the cartridge to perform to it’s best.

So to sum up you have a standard tonearm which outperforms virtually everything at up to four times it’s price, will take very expensive cartridges and make them sing and has the ability to be upgraded out of recognition, what’s not to like?

Products used in this evaluation.
Illustrious Mk.4 tonearm with 5pin connector £2,130.00
Silver hybrid 2 tonearm cable with 5pin connector £580.00
Silver hybrid S tonearm cable with 5pin connector £1.220.00
Compound arm balance weight £450.00
Cartridge enabler £27.00
Gravity one (not a record weight or clamp) £210.00
Benz-micro Glider cartridge £995.00
Rickie Lee Jones “The Magazine”
Rickie Lee Jones “The Dark Side of Desire”
Yello “One Second”
Suzanne Vega “Tales from fhe Realm of the Queen of Pentacles”
Suzanne Vega “Solitude standing”
Ry Cooder “Jazz”
Ry Cooder “The Slide Area”
Eric Clapton “Unplugged”
Eric Clapton and BB King “Riding with the King”
Tony Sharman, Restek UK