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Enjoy the Music.com Review MagazineAudiolics Anonymous Chapter 24
Walker Audio
Article By Bill Gaw
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Walker Proscenium (Gold)

  This column marks the beginning of my third year of writing for Enjoy the Music.com and Iím still finding things to say. Amazing! And Iím still learning, too. The most important thing Iíve discovered this month? That no matter how good your system sounds it can be improved. There is no absolute to the ďabsolute soundĒ. Corollary: Once you have heard an improvement you can not go back, so do not try something expensive in your system if you can not afford it.

If you had have asked me last month how my system is, I would have said that I was satisfied that it was at its ultimate, that I was happy with it, that I couldnít believe that any tweaking would improve it. Well guess what! It has been improved in the last month, and in a way I wouldnít have imagined. How? Through updates to my turntable of all things.

 

 

Walker Proscenium

Which turntable do I have? The Walker Proscenium Silver (Gold version pictured above), developed by Lloyd Walker and Fred Law, of Walker Audio of  Audubon, PA., www.walkeraudio.com. One of the big strokes of luck in my life was finding this beauty, and in turn, Lloyd Walker, one of the true geniuses in high Walker High Definition Links end audio, developer of this turntable, its Motor Drive, High Definition Links (seen right), etc. About five years ago I saw an ad at rec.audio.marketplace for this unit from a poor soul in Georgia who was involved in a legal problem, and needed cash fast. I got the unit for a song, compared to its then list price of about $16000, and took it sight unseen. I had seen only one article, I believe in Absolute Sound, which had briefly mentioned it as being a superb unit, the writer was known to be pretty accurate in his evaluations, and I had the $4000 cash. How much could I lose? Only $4,000 and a strained back. The unit arrived by freight, in four boxes, two of which required a hand truck to get them in the house. Assembly required two individuals for the heavy duty lifting. Why?

Because the Proscenium base weighs about 135 lb., and the platter weighs another 70 lb.. The whole system as delivered to me at the time consisted of several parts:

1. A 2 foot cubed black box containing an air pump and four pressure cylinders made out of plastic sewer pipe, a condensate release valve and two air outputs for the platter and tonearm.

2. About 50 feet of clear pressure tubing.

3. Turntable base with tonearm, wire and female RCA box.

4. Two platters.

5. Turntable motor with dental floss drive band.

6. Enough packing material and wooden boxes to float a battle ship.           

  

 The base is a black painted marble-lead-cement composite which acts as a platform for:

 1. An air bearing tonearm consisting of a large silver manifold, two carbon fiber hollow tubes, one to slide in the manifold, and one that holds the headshell, connected by a metal joint that also acts as the control for tonearm height, VTA, azimuth and damping, and a long bolt with weights to adjust tracking force.

2. A rectangular container for damping fluid.

3. The two air inputs for tonearm and the platter air bearing.

4. A pressure valve for adjusting the air pressure for the platter air bearing

5. Three Walker Valid Points with lead bases.

6. A screw type record clamp

7. A metal plate holding two female RCA plugs attached to the tonearm wire.

 

The platter consists of a 2Ē thick 11 3/8Ē diameter lead 70 LB black behemoth which fits on a 1/2Ē thick smaller aluminum platter which contains the male bearing which fits over a third aluminum platter with female bearing which is embedded into the base. This third one contains three holes through which the pressurized air escapes, floating the other two platters. The small metal bearing contains a small amount of Mobil 1 oil. Thus the platter floats on air, but rotates around a metal bearing. On the platter there are one or two thin 2Ē diameter lead discs over the spindle. A metal record clamp, which when pressed down against the record and screwed tight, presses the record against the lead disc, which forces the surface of the record against the platter, thus acting like a vacuum hold down to bind the record to platter and flatten warps, without the harmful vacuum effect.

 

Precision Motor

The motor runs on 120 volts AC, which when I first received the turntable, ran by power cord directly into the wall. There is a cap on the spindle that has two sizes of discs very similar to the old AR turntables, to change from 33 to 45.The motor was connected to the platter by a dental floss band.

The air pump is very quiet, but should be placed away from the listening area, thus the 50 feet of tubing. It puts out about 30 lb. of pressure, which is used on the tonearm, and this level is decreased to the platter by a valve on the turntable which is opened until the platter just  floats and rotates freely. The metal bearing must be super smooth, because when the platter is allowed to rotate by itself, itís the Everready Bunny: it just keeps going and going.

Before going further, I must mention, that even with the updates I have, I still do not have the Proscenium Gold Turntable. Mine was one of the first he produced under the Proscenium label, and it was his Silver edition. As far as I can figure, the difference between my updated table and the Gold is a new brass manifold and tonearm, which allows higher pressures with lower airflow. Iíd update to that model, but that would mean shipping the whole table back, which is too much of a pain for even this tweaker. So no matter how highly I praise this unit, there is a better one available.

From day one I was ecstatic with its sound. I have owned a Gem, Sota, AR, and Basis, and have listened extensively to VIP, Clearaudio, Simon Yorke and Sirius turntables in other systems, and this one was top notch right from the start. Absolute Sound for a couple of issues was recommending it as their best table until they formed an alliance with Clearaudio, and complained that there were too many adjustments that could be made with the Walker that changed its tonality. Well, they were right. The Walker is a tweakersí dream.

Initial setup is a pain in the back, literally as the damn thing, if not lifted correctly, will send you straight to the chiropractor. I wonít go into details here, suffice it to say that every adjustment that can be made on any other turntable can be made on the Walker, and about 10 more. And this is one turntable that I guarantee you need two very strong men to mount. Even the platter is a real bear for one person. But once it is set up, it is very stable and just runs without adjustment, except maybe for VTA. The one gripe I have is that VTA and azimuth cannot be adjusted on the fly, and is somewhat of a pain in the ass to change, although Lloyd say that the new arm is much easier to adjust. On the other hand, damping can be changed even while playing a record, and adjusting the height of one of the feet by a simple rotation of a screw mechanism does adjusting anti-skating. The one hassle I have is with the drive band, which must be just taught enough to turn the table without being too taught, and again, the new table has a simple mechanism for this.

Over the years, Iíve done just about every update LLoyd has thrown at me, as long as it didnít mean shipping the whole thing back. First was a change to a silk drive band from the dental floss. Next, some updates in the caps in the motor. Then a damping trough filled with motor oil. Next, an arm lift, and new solid silver tonearm wire that I got in an extra long length with male RCAís on the ends to directly run to my phono stage. The previous last major update ( I donít know whether thatís proper English, but when one is dealing with multiple updates, syntax takes a back seat)  was the Walker Motor Drive, a solid state amp that produces a pure 60 cycle sine wave that can be used to improve the stability of any AC turntable motor. Steve Klein, distributor of the Simon Yorke turntable, recommends it.

Then I did some tweaking of my own. First was removing Lloydís air compressor, which, while very quiet, could be heard when the music wasnít playing. I had run a pressure hose to my home air compressor with 275 gallon tank that I had gotten for my Vibraplanes and my compressed air tools, tire pump, well pump, etc. This allowed me to increase the tonearm pressure to 45 to 50 lb., which tightened up the image. Then I placed the turntable on an Arcici Suspense Rack, which added isolation of floor born vibration to the table. I donít know whether these improvements, that I talked over with Lloyd, tweaked him, but he has since come out with air isolation feet replacing the Valid Points, costing $2,000, and is now recommending higher tonearm pressures.

When I elevated the tonearm pressure it also increased the platter bearing pressure. This was not good, as I noted that each time the pressure increased, the rotational stability suffered which gave just the least little bit of wow to the platter movement, decreasing pitch stability. Again I mentioned this to Lloyd, and lo and behold, heís come out with another tweak discussed below.

Each change improved upon the sound of the unit in ways that were unimaginable before they were in place. As with other ultimate audio equipment, the sound is so good that one thinks it cannot be improved upon until the next advancement comes. Then one hears that indeed there is an improvement in clarity, or soundstage, or frequency extension or unwaveringness of pitch that one couldnít previously imagine was possible.

Enter the latest of Lloydís tweaks: Updates to the Motor Drive and platter suspension mechanism. He called me about three weeks ago to let me know about these updates and guaranteed a 7.4% improvement in the sound.( This is a running joke with us as I usually ask how much of an improvement Iíll get for my money, and he gives me a figure which is ludicrous, but usually not far from correct.) So I sent back the drive, and waited for about a week. Waited because with the Motor Drive out of the system, the turntable didnít sound good enough to listen to. Funny how before I had the motor drive the turntable sounded great, but the closer one gets to Nirvana, the harder it is to return. (But thatís normal with any perfectionist addicts, especially Audiolics.) Without it, the pitch stability, that is the hallmark of the Walker, decreased. Remember, it still sounded better than any other table Iíve had in my system, just not as good as before. Luckily, we had to go away to a wedding for a few days, and I still had pretty good digital, so you donít need to feel too sorry for me, for my audio withdrawal symptoms werenít too severe.

Ultimate Valid Points

Anyway, seven days later the motor drive arrived with a new pressure chamber, two very sensitive pressure valves, and a set of his new style Ultimate Valid Points (seen above), listing for $425, compared to the original costing $295 per kit of three points and 5 lead-brass discs. Also included was a package of very small pieces of led sheet to glue to my present Valid Points, which were supposed to improve their abilities (by 6.8%). So I spent the next hour gluing three of those little lead pieces to each of my Valid Point Lead footers, which were then placed back into my system for a listen. And there it was, a slight improvement in the image and tightness of the deep bass. (Not 6.8%, more like 3.2% Lloyd. probably due to the fact that all of my equipment is on Vibraplanes or Arcici Suspense Racks). But it was definitely worth the time and effort.

Next I put the Motor Drive into the system and listened, for about thirty seconds, after which the damn thing shut down, and wouldnít drive anything. Under Lloydís tutelage, I opened the cover, did some testing and couldnít find the cause of the problem, so the unit went back. In the meantime, I did nothing with the platter improvements, as I knew it wouldnít be a fair evaluation without the drive. So there I was in withdrawal hell again.

Five days later it was back and in it went. Turns out one of the fine silver wires he uses to the speed control had fractured and was intermittent. This unit is also a tweak to set up. First leave it on for an hour or two to allow the unit to warm up. Next, listen to a record, flick the AC polarity switch, and take whichever way is best. Lloyd also recommends reversing the fuse direction to see if there is any difference in sound. While the AC polarity change made a difference, the fuse polarity did not on my system. Next, adjust the rotational speed for 33 and 45 using a strobe light and record, such as the KAB unit, which can also be purchased from him. This is super critical, but very easy to do. Once these adjustments were made, they remained perfectly stable. So much for further tweaks with the Drive.

Even without break-in, and just warmed up, the improvement was self evident - more pitch stability, and a cleaner sound stage - one more veil removed. And the improvements have continued over the past two weeks, as it has broken in. Just leave the unit on and plugged in, as, like any solid-state amplifier, it works better if left on and warm.

But the biggest surprise was yet to come. Remember, he had included those two needle valves and pressure chamber for the platter air bearing. Looking at them, with the improvements I had made in the air system with my 275 gallon tank, large compressor that rarely cycles on while Iím playing a record, thus no air pressure vibration, I thought what can they improve. Well Iím telling you, they made the biggest improvement in the turntable since the original motor drive went in. I should have known this as I had found that high air pressures in the turntable bearing had worsened the tableís sound. What the two valves do is decrease both the pressure (voltage) and the amount of air (amperage) elevating the platter, by increasing the resistance to flow. As the platter has a surface area of about 75 square inches and weighs about 70 lb., it only need a little more than 1 lb. per square inch of flow to support it, which is much finer than can be obtained with the valve built into the unit originally.

While the updated motor drive improved the pitch stability, the new pressure tweaks have eliminated any perceptible wow or flutter. If itís one thing that digital does well itís pitch stability. Analog record playback now matches it.  I have a Shaded Dog record, a CD, and had a second generation tape of a piano recording, which has a sustained note about 20 seconds long that slowly fades out. Until now, the sustain had a slight wow with the record playback, just perceptible, but annoying, on every turntable Iíd played it on, but not with the original tape and CD.  No more. Perfect pitch stability.  There has also been a firming up of the soundstage. Again, previously everything sounded wonderful, but with the improvements, I can now perceive that there was some bloat to the form of individual instrumentsí outlines. Again, you canít tell the problem was there until you hear the improvement. The hall space has also opened and solidified, with the hall soundfield in stereo on the best recordings extending a little more behind the listening chair.

What does the Proscenium sound like? With my Alan Wright phono stages, and Kondo IO cartridge and tonearm-interconnect wire, just like master tapes. Thereís just no other way of describing it. Except for my second-generation RCA, Columbia and London master tapes, which I foolishly sold off a few years ago, playback with this combo is supreme.

This is by far the most expensive piece of audio equipment I own, at $21,000 list, which does include the tonearm wire, Motor Drive, and Valid Points, unless you place the costs of all of my speakers together, and comparable in price to my top of the line Electrohome Video projector. Iíd place it as being equivalent in quality to the Sirius, which is over $70,000, and far more complex, thus easier to damage. The Motor Drive can be purchased separately for $1,500-1,750, and in an Ultimate edition with Teflon boards, nude resistors, etc., for $2,995.

It was well worth the money I have put into it, and I believe it to be well worth the full list price if you can afford it. The only way of getting better audio reproduction would be to have first generation master tapes from the major labels, and an old Ampex 351 or equivalent high end tape machine, and gone are the days when those are available. Maybe the new Sony SACD system will be the equal, or better, but I havenít had the chance to compare them in my system, and Iím sure you wonít be able to get all of those wonderful analog recordings done by the truly great artists of the middle third of the Twentieth Century, remastered to SACD any time soon. Besides, I bet if you add up the cost of all of those records on your shelves, and the hours of pleasure available from them, the cost wouldnít be prohibitive.

 

Valid Points

I also should mention two other products that Lloyd has invented and sells, which are well worth their cost. First are his Valid Point Feet and Weight kits. These consist of three large brass feet, with 2 ď lead pucks under each, and similar lead weights to be placed on the top of the piece of equipment. His newest Ultimate edition has heavier, longer brass cones with three small projections on top instead of a flat surface of the old cones. The lead pucks also have the above-mentioned three small lead pieces on them to decrease the surface area touching the shelf. These are the best feet-cabinet resonance suppression system I have evaluated, and the feet can also be used under loudspeakers to uncouple them from the floor. While fairly expensive at $ $295 for the regulars and $425 for the Ultimate kit compared to other feet, you get what you pay for. I havenít had the time yet to compare the new feet to his older ones, since he only sent one set, but Lloyd suggests a 6.5% improvement (there we go again with the numbers), and from past experience Iíd have to believe him (plus or minus 1.6%).

Second, and of even more value in my system, are his High Definition Links. These are little wooden blocks about 1Ē by 2Ē by 1/2Ē with two silver wires protruding which are attached to the speaker input posts, costing $$295 per pair. While he is mum as to what they contain, Iíd bet they are a form of cap-resistor network to bleed off RFI carried on the speaker wires. I have been using them for two years now, and probably should have discussed them previously, because they do a wonderful job at cleaning up signal grunge. While Lloyd claims their biggest improvement is in mid range and high end clarity, I have found them to make the biggest improvement in my woofers, which operate in the 50 to 350 Hz. range, and I have no idea why if all that they are doing is cleaning out RFI.

I went crazy a couple of weeks ago when my center channel started sounding edgy and unbalanced compared to the two main speakers. After doing everything imaginable, I looked at the speaker posts and found that one of the legs of the mid-tweeter driver inputís HDL had disconnected. Once replaced, the image took on its original beauty. See, you may not note differences in new stuff, but if it works, youíll notice the difference if itís removed.

Moral of the story:

1. The HDLís do what theyíre supposed to.

2. Theyíre worth the price especially if you have high end speakers as they do their best work on the best.

3. You canít go back once youíve heard the best.

 

For more information, go to Lloydís web site, www.walkeraudio.com, or give him a phone call at 610-666-6087, or contact one of his 20 dealerships. Be forewarned, if you call him directly, he is very enthusiastic about his products, loves talking, and will be able to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. Donít take one of his products for evaluation unless you have the money to pay for it.  Also if you look at the first three numbers of his telephone, you may recognize where he get his powers from. Again, selling your soul for the sound one gets from his turntable is better than selling it for anything else I can think of.  But, honestly, believe him, as each of his products works as described, are the best of the best, and, while expensive, are worth every penny. Plus theyíre not much more expensive than being addicted to heroin, and twice the fun for the Audiolic. Until next monthÖ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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