I first learned of the Kuzma Stogi at the 1993 Winter CES in Las Vegas. In VPI’s room at the Sahara, a portly, black tonearm was sitting proudly atop the new VPI TNT Series 3 turntable. Pointing straight at me from the center of its massive, exceptionally stout frame was a tapered armtube the diameter of a swollen thumb. The fact that this unknown (to me) tonearm was chosen to sit atop a turntable as respected as the TNT told me I was looking at a serious new product. VPI’s Harry Weisfeld was standing nearby, beaming as usual, to answer the barrage of questions that sprang from my lips as I leaned over for a closer inspection. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How much?
As I tried to inconspicuously wipe the drool from my lower lip, a now smiling Harry told me that the tonearm I was ogling was the Stogi Reference, which is manufactured in the small Eastern European country of Slovenia by a company known as Kuzma Audio Komponente. That was the last I heard or saw of the Kuzma Stogi.
Until the 1994 WCES, when I strode into the Acoustic Sounds room to chat with Chad Kassem. It was there, in this vinyl-lover’s Tiffany’s, that I spotted the less-expensive Stogi mounted on a beautiful, solid-oak–plinthed Kuzma Stabi turntable. The combination was serving as the source for some of the most natural, compelling, and visceral sound I’ve ever heard from a pair of Sound-Lab electrostatic speakers. I stayed—to enjoy not only Chad’s recent reissue of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ 1963 bare-to-the-bones blues on Goin’ Away (Prestige Bluesville, now Analog Productions AAPB 014—just buy it!), but the striking naturalness of its presentation. That sound remained in my memory for months after the last audiophile-approved AC-power cord had been unplugged from a wall outlet in a small room somewhere in the Sahara Hotel’s bi-level complex.
Not long after my return home from Las Vegas, I phoned Tom Norton in Santa Fe and Muse’s Kevin Halverson to arrange the loan of a Stabi and Stogi for review.
Within a few months, a large carton arrived at my door in San Diego. As I eagerly but carefully unpacked the boxes and sorted and identified the parts, I recalled Muse’s Kevin Halverson’s assurance that setup of the Kuzma Stabi was a snap. It was. In fact, the most time-consuming aspect of the operation was the adding, drop by drop, of the viscous silicone oil to the four spring reservoirs (it took about half an hour). I used a toothpick as a depth gauge to ensure that the surface of the oil was the recommended distance (10–15mm) below the top edge of the reservoir.
I encountered no problems in this or subsequent stages of setup. The instructions were clear, and the many illustrations will guide even hamfisted audiophiles error-free through the process. The pre-drilled mounting board rendered installation of the Stogi tonearm similarly stress-free.
The 23¾” W by 15¾” D top shelf of a RoomTune ClampRack was just the right size for the Stabi centered on the top plate of a Bright Star Big Rock. With the Stabi so situated, it took only a few minutes to level it via its three pointed feet, route the tonearm cables, fine-tune the suspension, and adjust the tonearm and cartridge. I located the power supply, which controls the turntable and is connected to it via a long cable terminated in a five-pin DIN plug, on the lowest shelf of the ClampRack. This placement ensured that I’d get some exercise, since each time I wanted to change or flip records I had to bend down to turn the motor off, stand upright to make the change, and bend down again to turn the motor back on. During the course of my evaluation, I figure I went through this routine more than 4500 times. Funny thing, though—my waist size has remained the same.
With a record clamped in place, the platter’s height should be adjusted to where it rotates between 1.5mm and 2.5mm above the plinth. I settled on 2mm (the thickness of seven Stereophile business cards), and made final adjustments by turning the motor on and twiddling with the four top-mounted spring assemblies until the bottom of the platter was just touching the top of the stack of business cards as I moved them around its circumference.
The Stabi’s record clamp is one of the most effective I’ve used. A 1″-diameter, hard-plastic (Delrin?) washer with a convex top surface is placed over the threaded spindle and left there. When you go to play a record, you place it on the platter, where it teeter-totters over the washer until the 3¼”-diameter, saucer-shaped record clamp is screwed down, forcing the record down on the washer and flat against the composite material covering the surface of the platter. Different record thicknesses and severities of “dish” determine the degree of clamp tightening. Most of the records I played required from five to seven half-turns. With the exception of a hopelessly edge-warped Thelonious Monk LP, every record I played in this evaluation became a flat record.
The Stabi’s motor has sufficient torque to keep the platter turning even during a heavy-handed cleaning of a record with a Discwasher preener. Changing speeds is as simple as turning the speed-control knob on the power supply from 33 to 45—neat and foolproof, since there are no drive belts to move about on a pulley, or any other such ministrations. Fine-speed adjustments are controlled by a DIP switch inside the power supply, accessible by removing the power supply’s front right rubber foot. With a strobe disc on the platter, speed is adjusted, in small stages, according to the position of the switches.
Cartridge installation and alignment went without a hitch, due to the Stogi tonearm’s straightforward design. I used a Dennesen Soundtractor protractor to set overhang on all the cartridges used in this review (footnote 1). This step was facilitated by the small etched circle in the top of the tonearm frame identifying the exact pivot point of the arm. Tracking force was easily set using the one-piece counterweight, secured by tightening one of the three small set screws. Checking settings against my Shure SFG-2 stylus-force gauge indicated that accuracy within a fraction of a gram can be obtained by following the guidelines set forth in the instruction manual.
I adjusted bias using a simple nylon thread and sliding counterweight arrangement. Kevin Halverson and the manufacturer recommend (and I concur) that bias be set with the stylus actually riding in the tracking bands of a test record instead of on the surface of the usual blank band. Adjust bias until you get equal mistracking from each channel on the heavily modulated bands, and you’re set (footnote 2). Another adjustment and a tweak—both of which can be made to the tonearm without fuss—are, respectively, cueing height and removing the finger lift.
Arm height and/or VTA is adjusted by loosening a set screw in the tonearm base and physically raising or lowering the arm. Unfortunately, fine VTA adjustments made while a record is playing aren’t possible with this arrangement. However, you can make repeatable VTA settings with little effort. Here’s how I did it: After reading in the instruction manual that raising or lowering the tonearm pillar approximately 3mm (1/8“) will change the angle between the record surface and stylus by 1°, I established a zero-point reference, with the bottom of the tonearm parallel with the surface of a “standard” record. Using a General No.300 stainless-steel machinist’s rule, I measured (and made a note of) the distance from the surface of the armboard to the top of the armrest.
This was my zero-point reference, which I marked on the arm pillar with a red Sharpie Ultra Fine Point marker. I then added 1/8” to this initial reading, raised the tonearm the prescribed amount, and marked the pillar with a black Sharpie. By so doing, I had marked the pillar, indicating the height to which the tonearm should be raised to change the VTA by 1°. I continued to raise the tonearm and mark the pillar in 1/8” increments until I had increased the VTA by 3°, then repeated the process on the negative side of the zero-point reference. Finally, I made marks between the 1/8” steps. When finished, I had a scale on the tonearm pillar indicating changes in VTA in 0.5° increments from –2° to +3°.
Footnote 1: I wish other tonearm manufacturers would follow this practice. In my experience, few pivoted tonearms indicate just where the arm’s pivot point is, making cartridge overhang an educated guess at best.
Footnote 2: I found that an additional counterweight was needed to optimize bias on cartridges weighing less than 6gm.