Mike New Audio is based in Australia and has for a number of years been making high quality upgrades for the Technics 1200/1210 turntables. These include a platter, originally made from metal with brass inserts or topped of with a copper mat, but now only offered in ETP, a beautifully made, heavy weight bearing, a mounting plate for that bearing (an optional extra) and an armboard made from copper, which can be cut to suit most 9 inch arms.
This review has been in gestation for a very long time – several years now – and is part of the series of reviews I have been working on relating to the upgrade/modification market focussed on the venerable Technics 1200/1210 direct drive turntables.
With the recent announcement of and a final release date for Technics new turntable, a direct drive (no surprise there) called the SL1200 GAE (initially a limited edition model) to retail for £2700, many might suppose there is no longer any need for upgrades to the original model. However with many good quality 1200/1210’s still available, albeit with increasing cost, on the used market, but still much cheaper than this new Technics even with upgrades and modifications, thus in my view there is still a market for these upgrades.
Alongside upgrading the arm, platter mat, feet, taking the power supply outside the deck (see my recent PSU reviews 1) the bearing was a logical item for upgrading, and a number of companies offer upgrades. Of those companies that do this, a few companies offer modifications to the structure of the original bearing – the easier path perhaps – but only two (that I know of) offer completely redesigned engineered from the ground up, new bearing, Mike New Designs being the first and the Funk Firm the more recent (2).
Originally it had been my intention to directly compare the Mike New bearing to the Funk Firm ‘Spin’ bearing while doing the Funk Statra platter review, but alas an original incompatibility with the Funk platter’s sub-platter hub (3) with the Mike New bearing (now not the case with final production platters) mean’t this could not happen.
The listening system was as follows: Balanced Audio Technology VK52se pre-amplifier (earlier listening BAT VK31se pre-amplifier), Music Reference RM200 mk1 power-amplifier, Pass Labs Xono phonostage, Anthony Gallo Reference 3.5s (earlier listening Anthony Gallo Ref 3.1), Atlas Mavros XLR interconnects, Atlas Mavros speaker cable. Audience AU24 mainscables, Analysis Plus Power Oval, Mark Grant mains distribution strips. Clearlight Audio Aspekt racks, Mana Reference table. RDC platform, SSC platform, M8 cones, Telos caps.
Turntable: Technics 1210, SME 5 tonearm + Audio Technica AT33EV MC cartridge, Graham 2.2 tonearm + VDH MC10 MC cartridge, Graham IC70 armcable, Paul Hynes SR7 PSU, Technics original platter + Oyaide BR one, Oyaide MJ12 mat, Funk Firm MK1 platter, Bruil Record Weight, Michell record clamp, Isonoe Isolation feet.
Bearing Design and Specifications.
On first seeing the Mike New Designs bearing, one can’t help but be impressed. Its large, heavy, substantial and makes the original bearing look, poor, and flimsy. Of course the original Technics bearing was made to a price, and works well within its design parameter, but there are negatives which Mike New outlines below, negatives that can addressed – albeit at a cost – worthwhile ? Lets see later on in the review, but first lets see what Mike New Designs say this about these issues …..
‘This completely new design of bearing for the SL1200 arose from an evaluation of the shortcomings of the present bearing, and the realisation that this bearing could not be effectively improved on by modifying any friction pad or spindle end, owing to a number of factors.
The main spindle is only 7.1mm in diameter and has a separate brass taper piece, which locates the platter. Now this taper component is held in place by a ‘circlip’, which fits into a groove machined into the main shaft where the taper sits, exactly where you do not want any weakening of the shaft.
This groove effectively reduces the diameter of the main shaft to just less than 6mm!!! and more importantly has the far more serious effect of potentially causing micro vibrations at this point which will travel down the shaft and be reflected by any modified rigid pressure pad arrangement, causing harmonics to be generated which will travel back out across the platter to the cartridge resulting in sonic coloration of the replayed sound.
Additionally a second groove is machined into the bottom of the shaft just above where the support ball is located, which produces additional problems of rigidity and sonics.
Further the very light cast aluminium housing of the bearing cannot ever offer the rigidity required for the superior sonics which the excellent Direct Drive Motor is capable of.’
What Mike New decided to do to address these issues……
‘The foregoing and the relatively loose fit of the main shaft to the bearing, are the reasons why it was considered necessary to design a completely new bearing assembly, taking advantage of the maximum available envelope afforded by the current motor/coil assembly and which cannot be changed or modified.’
‘In order to maximise the length of the bearing consistent with the dictates of engineering physics, and to obtain optimum rigidity of the ‘system” a shaft length of 36mm was chosen together with a diameter of 12.8mm. Consistent with the need to maintain these ideals, the taper has been designed into the shaft as an integral part of it. (no push-fit Brass taper or grooves)
In order to obtain optimum shaft length and at the same time use a ball/pad combination in keeping with the overall design concepts, a 6mm deep counter bore has been cleverly machined into the end of the shaft in which an 8mm Silicon Nitride ball floats. This ball rests on a ground carbide pad. The locating spindle has been made 3mm longer than standard to allow for those people who require to use the thick copper mats and centre clamps now available.
The bearing material is a special sintered bronze and filled with a very thin synthetic oil.
The bearing shaft is fitted to a substantial housing machined from solid brass and which has designed into it a totally sealed oil cavity for the ball/pad assembly. This Oil cavity is filled with a special Synthetic Oil to which a very Extreme Pressure Additive has been added. The top of the bearing contains a shallow oil reserve for occasional re oiling with the much thinner oil.’
‘ The Bearing Housing is machined from a solid billet of machining quality brass bar 65mm dia. by 45mm long.
The three locating posts on the Bearing Housing have been made as large as practical (allowing for the manufacturing tolerances of the SL1200) so as to provide the largest possible mechanical contact between the housing and the main chassis and also for maximum accuracy of concentricity with the Magnet Rotor and Motor coil assembly to which it attaches.
The centre column of the Bearing, which fits into the centre of the printed circuit/motor coil assembly, has been made as large as possible for maximum rigidity.
The bearing bush is made of close sintered bronze impregnated with oil and honed to fit each spindle as a set, to a nominal clearance accuracy of 0.008mm (less than 1/2 of a thousandth of an Inch) There is a procedure to honing sintered bearings A course stone is used on the hone in order to keep the pores of the sintered bearing as open to oil as possible.’
Fitting the Bearing
Fitting the bearing is a relatively simple process, but it does require some care, or else a number of things might go wrong. All work must be done with the turntable switched off and the mains plug or PSU disconnected from the mains – remove the plug from the wall socket. Protect your arm and cartridge, stylus guard in place and arm secured, so it can’t come free of its rest.
Firstly because of the size of the bearing the long solder points on the underside of the main circuit board could make contact with the bearing, thus a danger exists that the bearing might short the board. In order to avoid this Mike New gives a step by step guide in his fitting instructions and using tin sheers or the cutting edge of a pair of pliers will take care of this, but obviously its important not to break the solder joint by snipping too low. If the fitter of the bearing has no confidence re doing this then they should get an electrical engineer to do this aspect of the work or the whole fitting.
Getting access to the original bearing requires disconnecting the board’s power connections, three, removing the screws that hold down the circuit board and removing the screws holding the motor dust cover (not required with the Mike New bearing fitted) which also hold the bearing to the turntables base plate. Once this is done one then carefully lifts the circuit board clear, and then carefully lift the original bearing out of the turntable.
When the board is free like this, one then trims the underside solder spikes, and then fits the Mike New bearing taking care to position the bearing correctly relative to the screw holes in the turntables base plate. It must be stressed at this point that when refitting the screws don’t over tighten them as you could strip or damage the threads in the base of the turntable, thus making it hard or even impossible to re-tighten the screws which hold the bearing in place.
It should also be pointed out that the bearing needs to be level and care must be taken to make sure it is, otherwise the platter might rise and fall slightly wile rotating and a rubbing sound might also be heard.
Once fitted and the platter replaced, either the original or in my case a Funk Firm mk1 platter listening could begin.
Yello – One Second
Dead Can Dance – Into the Labyrinth
Thomas Dolby – Aliens Ate My Buick
and numerous others.
Swapping from the original Technics bearing to the Mike New Designs bearing was a major shock, even with the original platter in place – as was the case early on during this review project – it was simply as if the noise floor had dropped away to leave greater access to the music. The width, depth and height of the soundstage increased, it was more holographic and walk into than before, and the bass gained more weight and articulation with an increase in scale, but also control. There is with a vanilla Technics, a degree of strong bass, which at times is lacking fine control, articulation and delineation, a kind of almost one noteness, which upgrading the PSU, bearing platter mat or platter addresses. This is most obvious on acoustic bass instruments, double bass, cellos etc and after upgrading the increase in articulation, definition and detail was marked.
As well as the increase in weight and scale in the bass, there was also a more fleshed out mid range with a slightly sweeter and more detailed treble. Details that had been buried in the mix or just not that obvious before stood out more and the greyness and somewhat clinical aspect in the stock Technics presentation was much reduced, though it must be made clear that the clean and somewhat analytical nature of the Tecnics 1200/1210 still remains to a degree – more on that later.
This greyness aspect found in the vanilla Technics is really only dealt with fully by replacing the Technics platter – also the original arm too – for the likes of a Funk mk1 (only available used now) Mike New ETP (I have still to hear or see this platter) or a Funk Firm Strata though its presentation along with its own bearing is slightly lighter, less rich than the older Funk platter with the Mike New bearing (4).
When reviewing the Funk platter and bearing I found that this combination didn’t sit so well with the Graham 2’2 and VDH MC10 cartridge I was using at the time, and worked much better with the Funk tonearm, and here in lies an issue that exists in all audio, synergy. It would be my assertion based on extensive listening around this that the Mike New bearing and say the likes of the Funk Mk1 platter sit better in the context of tonearms and cartridges that sit to the more neutral, controlled side of thing’s, such as SME’s range of arms (309, 4 and 5)and the Graham 2.2. The Funk bearing, Strata platter with slightly warmer richer pairings, and their own tonearms (FX3 in the context of the review), no real surprise there. Of course different systems, rooms and music choices may contradict this, but within my system and what I tried this was my finding.
Having written the above I can hear the voices asking, ‘which is better ?’ I am afraid I can’t answer that question because both bearing are excellent products, well made, albeit following a different design path (5) and as such they bring different strengths to the party, strengths that will as I said above suit some setups better than others. For me in my set up the Mike New suits better than the Funk Spin, but its a matter of taste not that one is absolutely better than the other as I can see the Spin suiting some listeners and their systems better than others and I am not one of those others, with the Mike New suiting me better.
I realise for some this isn’t enough, and I am sorry if they feel let down, I have done my best regarding this matter.
There is no doubt that the Mike New bearing is a fantastic example of what small scale specialist engineering can achieve, upon taking it from its packaging one can’t help but be impressed by the weight and solidness of the thing, compared to the original bearing it is like comparing a crushed car to a feather.
If you are looking to upgrade an original Technics 1200/1210 and the bearing is an area you want to look to then I would without hesitation recommend the Mike New bearing (6) but its worth taking into account, as one must for any item in the audio world, any potential synergistic issues, such as those I have mentioned in the body of the review.
Manufacturer/distributor/Reseller – Mike New Audio Designs
Location – Australia
Website – http://www.mikenewaudio.com/
Contact – http://www.mikenewaudio.com/contact.php
Item Reviewed – Mike New Precision Technics 12100/1210 Bearing
Retail Price – $685 Australian Dollars
Availability – Often in stock, but there can be lead times while orders are gathered up to permit batch production. Contact Mike New for details and current stock levels/availability.
Source of Loan – Reviewers own item – purchased
(3) This platter was a pre-production example and despite Funk sending a new sub platter hub with a deeper hole – which did fit the Mike New bearing – I was unable to do the review as I originally intended because the sensor cog on this new hub was badly fitted, and was off enough to introduce some issues with the turntables speed. As such I did not use this hub, but stuck with the first and could not do the comparison.
It should be pointed out this second hub was rushed, not QC checked and in no way shape or form reflects the Funk Firm’s normal product quality, this was an unfortunate blip.
(4) Though one could say it is more open sounding, though the price for that is a little less weight and scale. I guess this is best described as being airier and more open, with a less rich tonal palette, but only slightly less so.
(5)The Funk bearing is much lighter than the Mike New but is equally well made and heavier than the original bearing but is made from a lighter material, and it is also different in that it isn’t a higher drag design.
There have been assertions made that this higher drag aspect is a factor that works against the Mike New bearing, but in my experience I don’t believe that to be so, as I have never heard any issues, whether spinning the original metal platter or the lighter Funk mk1 platter.
(6) It would have been wonderful to have been able to compare the Funk Spin bearing to the Mike New in the original review, rather than do so with broad brush strokes here, but in saying that the differences in tonality sat out obviously and as such I feel my thoughts expressed here are relevant.
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