A New Step Forward in Vinyl Playback Technology
At Axpona 2019, in Chicago, Tien Audio was showing off some world class turntables and tonearms. At the show we learned they are made in Taiwan, and now distributed in the USA. Today we have a Tien Viroa tonearm in our hands and here is our unboxing video and product review.
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From the beginning, dedicated audiophile purists have been convinced that vinyl provides the absolute ultimate listening experience. Unfortunately, until now, the technology required to extract the best performance from vinyl has been complicated and expensive, placing it far out of reach of many audiophiles. To make matters even worse, as the spotlight of public attention has shifted from vinyl and analog audiophile gear to digital audio equipment, fewer and fewer companies are willing to expend the time and effort necessary to continue to make real advances in analog audio reproduction.
As a result, designing truly innovative turntables and tonearms is literally becoming a lost art, much to the dismay of dedicated vinyl fans and audiophiles. And, much as we hate to say it, many modern designs are excessively complicated, exorbitantly expensive, and even worse, don’t actually do much to make your system sound better.
We’re pleased to find that there are still a few companies out there, like Tien, with a laser focus on developing and introducing truly innovative turntable and tonearm technology to the market. This is indeed, technology that actually advances the art of analog audio reproduction. So here is all the information you will ever need on the Viroa Tonearm by Tien Audio.
Tien Audio Viroa Tonearm Design
First of all, it is clear that the Viroa tonearm combines a simple yet elegant design, the latest high-tech materials, modern production techniques, and impressive attention to detail. The result is truly advanced tonearm that combines simplicity, technical superiority, and, best of all, truly superb performance that can actually deliver an improvement in sound quality to the owner of an already high-quality vinyl playback system.
The tonearm design is to service the cartridge not the groove
With the Viroa tonearm, Tien Audio started by going back to basics. The primary purpose of the turntable is to support the record, while rotating it at precisely the proper speed, and not adding anything else to the audio signal path that doesn’t belong there. The purpose of the tonearm is to support the cartridge, in the exact and proper position in relation to the surface of the record. This allows the cartridge do the best job it possibly can. All of the engineering and manufacturing knowledge that go into designing a tonearm should serve this one critical goal.
Choosing the Right Materials to do the Job
A lot of modern turntables and tonearms have become needlessly complex, as if there was some sort of contest to include the most cutting edge materials or the latest manufacturing technology. Here again, the engineering at Tien Audio demonstrates what we consider to be a much better set of priorities – to actually use the materials that work the best.
The arm wand serves the basic but critically important function of supporting the cartridge. The ideal material to accomplish this will combine several important characteristics. It must have the strength and stiffness needed to hold the cartridge in precisely the correct position, excellent internal damping characteristics to help suppress unwanted flexing and vibrations, and it must be able to be formed into the complex shape required for a tonearm. Tien Audio chose carbon fiber for the arm wand on the Viroa tonearm, not simply because carbon fiber is popular this year, but because it really is the best material for the job.
In direct contrast to modern carbon fiber composite used in the arm wand, the bearing in the Viroa is almost prosaic in its simplicity. It features materials and construction that would be right at home in an expensive wrist watch, a precision ground tungsten steel point resting in a machine-polished sapphire cup. In this situation, traditional materials are the best choice for the job, so that’s what Tien chose.
There are other examples of this design philosophy scattered throughout the Tien Viroa. All materials have clearly been carefully chosen simply because they are right for the job. It’s this type of attention to detail that makes the Viroa such an exceptional performer.
A Simple Bearing
The job of the main bearing in a tonearm seems deceptively simple. All it has to do is to allow the arm to pivot smoothly and precisely, both vertically and horizontally, without adding any unwanted friction or other stresses.
However, while the basic idea is simple, designing an arm bearing that can actually achieve this goal has proven to be somewhat elusive. Many modern tonearms use complex assemblies, with separate vertical and horizontal bearings, which are stable, but tend to introduce an unacceptable amount of friction. Other designs achieve low friction, but suffer from stability issues, or fail to hold the arm firmly in position.
The Tien Viroa uses a simple yet elegant uni-pivot design. A single superbly sharp tungsten steel point, sitting in a polished sapphire cup, allows for movement in both dimensions with the least possible friction. This design uses the fewest possible parts and does the job it’s designed to do remarkably well.
Magnetic Damping and Anti-skating System
One of the problems that vinyl playback systems face is called skating force. Skating force is a force that is generated by the interaction between the stylus and the groove in which it rides as the record rotates.
The bearing below the main shaft allows the magnets in the uni-pivot to adjust for azimuth and anti-skating
The skating force a cartridge experiences varies depending on the geometry of a particular tonearm and where you are on the surface of the record. This variation makes skating force very difficult to handle properly. However, if you fail to properly compensate for this skating force, the results can include mistracking, increased distortion, and even increased record and stylus wear.
Many tonearms resort to complex anti skating solutions, often including complex combinations of springs, or counter-weights and pulleys. While some of these are able to provide reasonably effective skating compensation, they also add a lot of complexity and extra moving parts, which are themselves subject to friction, vibration or even failure. Even so, many still fail to provide anti skating compensation that varies as it should, based on the position of the cartridge on the surface of the record at any given time.
Some of the main components in the box. Tonearm, counterweights, additional counterweight shaft, main shaft and ground cable
Once again, in contrast to popular design patterns, the Tien Audio Viroa tonearm uses a patented magnetic system that provides true adaptive anti-skating compensation, as well as magnetic damping to resist unwanted movement and vibration, and effective stabilization with its unipivot bearing. As Tien point out, anti-skating methods need to be adaptive because the groove of the record is spinning faster nearer the centre. Therefore any anti-skating technique needs to be applied differently and adapt as the record plays through the tracks.
This system works very well, is simple to set up and adjust, and seems much less likely to degrade or require adjustment over time than complex systems that use weights and pulleys.
All in all, the Viroa’s magnetic anti-skating and stabilization system is yet another simple and elegant solution to a well-known and difficult problem.
Tien Audio TT3 turntable and Viroa tonearm with Hana SL MC Cartridge
The output of a phono cartridge is a very tiny but critically important electrical signal. This signal must be carried from the cartridge to the phono preamp. Many tonearms fail to pay proper attention to this important detail, trusting the all-important audio signal to plain copper wire, which may or may not be up to the task.
The Viroa tonearm uses high quality VanDenHul pure silver Litz wire to carry the signal from the cartridge to its gold plated output connections. Litz wire combines superb high frequency performance, and excellent flexibility, and helps ensure that nothing happens to the precious audio signal between the cartridge and your phono preamp. High quality gold plated copper RCA connectors complete the signal path, and allow you to connect the Viroa to your favorite phono preamp using any high quality interconnect you prefer.
While this review focuses on technical performance, we should mention that the Viroa tonearm includes:
- Un-pivot tungsten tip bearing with polished sapphire bearing housing
- Patented magnetic azimuth & anti-skating mechanism
- Dutch made Litz silver signal wire
- Efficient, hydraulic manual arm-lift mechanism
- Easily adjustable fully dampened counterweight
- Additional heavier counterweight
- Additional longer counterweight shaft
- Gold-plated RCA connectors
- High-quality precision screwdriver in the box
- Carbon-fiber tonearm wand
- Arm wand available in 9″, 10″ or 12″ lengths
- Precision cartridge install kit included
- Arm ward can be purchased separately
- Type : Single pivot with magnet damping system
- Effective Length : 240mm
- Overhang : 17.5mm
- Offset angel : 22.9
- Head-shell : Aluminium
- Wand : Roll carbon fiber tube
- Internal wiring : Van Den Hul silver Litz wire
- Ouput : RCA
- Earth or Ground terminal
Mounting And Assembly
Mounting the Viroa on a turntable is relatively simple. The Viroa is easier to setup correctly than more complex designs. The result is that you will spend a lot less time setting this up. Therefore, the time to achieve excellent results with the Viroa is much shorter than with other more complicated tonearms.
That said, we should stress that proper mounting and setup is essential to getting the best performance from your turntable, tonearm, and cartridge. Unless you are an experienced DIY Audiophile, then we recommend that you ask your dealer to do the setup.
Installing The Viroa Tonearm
Having of course, thought his all through, Tien include a cartridge fitting kit in the box. This neat, perspex kit includes a jig and template for fitting and aligning your cartridge to the absoluteley correct angle. As Tien say "The Tonearm design is to service the cartridge not the groove".
Fit and Finish
The machining and finish on the Viroa were impressively good. We would, of course, expect a quality appearance and finish on a product this technically impressive, and we are not disappointed.
Packaging and Presentation
The Tien Audio Viroa came extremely well packed in professional compartmentalized foam packaging inside the box. The components are well protected for shipping. There is also a nice embossed diagram on the box that explains the position of each component in the assembled tonearm.
Those familiar with how to mount and setup a device like this will know you should have an excellent assortment of tools to configure and align the tonearm. On the other hand, because the Viroa setup is so simple, they actually include a high-quality precision screwdriver, and three small hex wrenches to adjust the grub-screws. In any case, we highly recommend that you ask professional dealer do the job. These are high quality, delicate and expensive components and unless you really know what you are doing, it would be easy to make a mess of things!
The Viroa inner box with compartmentalized high-impact foam
Rating & Summary
As you can probably tell, we really like the Tien Viroa tonearm. To our way of thinking, it features the ideal combination of innovation and modern materials with plain old, great engineering and design. Even more important, this is a tonearm that actually works superbly well. It can actually deliver on its promise to make an already great system sound even better. We have full confidence to give the Viroa a 5 star rating.
Win this Tien Audio Viroa Tonearm Worth over $2,500!
Complete a short quiz to get the chance to win this amazing audiophile tonearm.
Regarding the analog audio world in general, many believe the tonearm is like a magic wand and that the turntable is the stable platform and both together they allow your amplifier and speakers shine. If you get the components right and correctly setup, then this is absolutely true. So, If you want to take your vinyl audio playback to the next level, we can’t think of a better place to start the chain of components than the Viroa tonearm.
Once again, though, we should point out that proper mounting and alignment is critical to getting the best performance from your turntable, tonearm, and cartridge.
If you have any doubts about your ability to install and calibrate a tonearm, you should seriously consider having it done professionally.
On the other hand, you could also order a matched turntable from Tien. They also offer several incredible turntable models all of which can be ordered pre-configured to work perfectly with their Viroa tonearm.
Contact Tien Audio directly to enquire: https://www.tienaudioltd.com/contact-us/
Tien Viroa Turntable Tonearm Unboxing : Best Audiophile Tonearm Under $3000