Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Sony PS-X800 Linear Tracking Turntable
Here are some photos of Sony's PS-X800 turntable, a masterful linear-drive turntable from 1981-84. Hailing from the final golden days of Japanese Direct Drive, before CD and digital arrived on the scene. This may even be Sony's masterpiece; it's certainly among the giants, like the PS-X9 and the PS-X75 Biotracer.
All of the features that make Sony's turntables brilliant are on display, including the gel-filled adjustable feet, the SBMC (Sony Bulk Mold Compound, a composite of polyester and fiberglass) frame with piano gloss finish, BSL (brushless, slotless) motor, Xtal Lock and Magnedisk, and the latest version of the Biotracer tonearm. This is a spectacular feat of computer engineering.
The Biotracer was Sony's unique design, and was their solution to the challenge of dealing with tonearm resonances. Japan's engineers at the rival companies tried different solutions and made remarkable progress. But the Biotracer was unique in that it sought to solve the frequency resonance issues between tonearm and phono cartridge. In theory, Sony's arm could accept any cartridge, of any weight and compliance. This is an amazing feat.
Biotracer first appeared on Sony's PS-B70 in 1978, and then was refined on the great PS-X75. I do believe the PS-X800 was the third-generation model. The PS-X700 was the final refinement of the X75, and the X600 and X500 continued the smaller, sleeker design. The expensive tonearm was finally retired after that point, which is where Sony's decline began to accelerate.
The PS-X800 is considered one of the finest, if not the finest, linear tracking turntables ever built. The idea is that linear tracking would eliminate tracking errors and inner-groove distortion that is common with traditional tonearms. This approach more closely follows the cutting arms in record pressing plants, and promises the highest quality sound.
These tables do appear on eBay every once in a while, but it's becoming harder to find. Sony remains a hidden gem among turntable fans, as Technics and Denon and JVC get all the attention. Perhaps Sony's reputation simply isn't what it was a generation ago. But I think the word is getting out. Finding a mint table is going to become more and more expensive.
I think the PS-X800 is Sony's last truly great turntable. This is the peak of the design, before the arrival of compact disc took all the best engineers, and by the end of the 1980s, Japan was churning out cheap, plastic junk. It's almost as though they deliberately sabotaged vinyl records by making crummy tables. This remains a mystery to me. Another mystery is why Sony can't seem to dust off their classic designs in the wake of the vinyl revival. True, the prices would be enormous - the Biotracer tables are $2,000 quality tables, easily - but there is a market out there, and you must begin somewhere.
Every time I see those cheap, plastic USB turntables at Best Buy, I want to cry. Sony should know better. Then again, these are the same guys responsible for a $600 Playstation 3.