Thursday, 10 May 2012

Empire 598 III Troubadour starts to sing again

I have had the Empire turntable at home for about a week now, and I've been using it the last few days as the restoration has come along nicely.

Empire 598 6

Some of the things I had to work out were excess motor noise and vibration transferring to the alumium plinth top. This was related to the speed adjustment knob being adjusted way too high and in fact it rubbed the plate you see in the lower left corner above. At the same time this caused the motor pulley to lean toward the platter significantly. The pulley has 2 steps to it and each of the steps has a slightly convex shape. Adjusting the pulley angle causes the belt to ride on a different diameter portion of the pulley, which will slightly change the speed.

Empire 598 3

The belt on here seems like it might be a bit long as the platter does not come up to speed as quickly as I think it should. There seems to be some inconsistency as to what the proper length is, but it is something in the 33" +/- area. The belt width also has impact on the speed adjusting as the belt needs room to to move on the convex pulley; narrower is better. The rubber motor bushings should also probably be replaced, again to help reduce vibration.

I had to clean all the surfaces, but held myself back from being too aggressive on the metal surfaces as some of the anodized or plated areas are already a bit tarnished and or scratched and I don't want to make it worse. The wood finish is quite good but cleaning and treating with orange oil made a big difference in beauty of the wood. The clear top pieces are plexiglass and also cleaned up pretty well. I may eventually get around to either really polishing the lid or, even better, replacing the plexi with glass.

Empire 598 5

The tonearm is a rather massive thing but balances nicely and to quite low gram ratings too. The cuing was a bit tricky to figure out, but eventually I found the missing pad that a little screw pushes against to lift the arm.

At the right of the headshell there is a light, in the brass column that also serves as the tonearm rest, which throws via a mirror a beam across the headshell area, probably useful when cuing up a record. However the bulb is missing and I could not get one at Main Electronics today so ordered a couple on ebay. It's an odd size and rating so I was not that surprised.

Empire 598 7

In the next 2 pics, you are looking at the tonearm pivot area, one of them before cleaning. The large knob to the right is the vertical tracking force adjustment knob (VTF), and the smaller knurled nut above the tonearm tube is for adjusting anti skate. I am not sure if this is working properly yet as the tonearm drifts a lot to the outside as I drop it with the cuing lever. This is often an indication of the anti-skate being adjusted too high, but even with it all the way "off" it still does it. The cuing itself may be causing this but that will take more investigation.

Empire 598 9

Empire Tonearm pivot

The brass column to the left of the tonearm pivot is the "Dyna-Lift". This acts as an end-of-record arm lifter, and can be turned off by tilting it back. When in it's active position it uses a magnet to lift the tonearm off the lead out groove. It is supposed to work smoothly when you find just the right spot for it, but so far it is quite abrupt and literally throws the tonearm up. It's just a bit startling to see it in action the way it is now, but apparently if I work at it I can find the right spot to make it more gentle.

The most potentially problematic area of this turntable is the proprietary cartridge mounting device (often called a sled). Empire was not the only company that did similar things; Dual was famous for it. Dual however was much more mass market and their parts are still common and Empire are not. The little piece that holds the cartridge can sell for over $200! That's if you can find it, so I am glad this turntable has it and it appears to be in good shape. It may be just a pipe dream but I may start looking into trying to copy the design by molding or machining and try to bring it to market. It's not something I could sell hundreds of but maybe enough to make it worthwhile.

Empire cartridge and sled

I've been playing some records with the cartridge that came with the turntable and performing the cardinal sin of doing it with a stylus that is probably shot. In fact I know the cantilever is a bit bent, but it actually sounds ok.


  1. Beautiful turntable!!!!

  2. Style over substance.

    Obviously you don't really care about music otherwise you wouldn't abuse your records with a stylus like that.

    Besides, even with a new stylus, I'd imagine that something like that would chew up your records. No thanks, I'll stick with a modern one.

  3. Thanks for your opinion, anonymous expert.

    Did you ask what condition the records were that I did play? And what experience do you have with a turntable like this? What in your imagination causes it to chew up records? Yes I care about my records and music. They are not all new & pristine though but they don't get any worse as I play them.

    As the turntable has been sold for $600 already at least one other person has disagreed with you as well, and I think there are a few more.

    I have owned and/or worked on several dozen turntables, including "modern" ones. I like some modern turntables too, but they do don't much if anything better than this one does.

    1. Stand up for your opinion! This has been a long time favourite turntable, and one that I never could but dream about owning myself. I still remember how I stared in awe at the sheer beauty of the player while listening to it playing Pink <Floyd's then brand new Wish you were here album through a showroom system in Baltimore. Must have been somewhere round 1975! Time flies, and as it happens one of these players just turned up at an auction site I visit regularly! Maybe there's still a chance to add it to a decent amp in my own home!
      Thanks for the detailed information and interesting points of view!

    2. Thanks! This a very desirable turntable for a lot of people and still holds up well even in comparison to new tables that can cost several times as much and are 50 years younger.

      I still have a 598 II that I will work on eventually. It's quite similar but has a motor issue to work out.

  4. nectimeonecsperno25 May 2013 at 19:40

    Thanks for this. I just inherited a 598III from my favourite uncle and this article will prove valuable getting it up and running. I am missing the ever elusive tone arm output cable. I am giving a Hammond organ cable that supposedly has the same 5 pin male end a try- en route from e-bay. I hope I get the channels right. I will let you know if it works.

    1. Glad I could help. Check out my other post article where I describe a couple of other options for the cable you need:

  5. Beautiful restoration. I'm completely new to vinyl and sort of fell into ownership of a Troubadour 598. I've downloaded the manual to set everything as best possible but am getting a bit of distortion or bloated sound. I can't speak to the condition of the stylus and was thinking of replacing that but I can't find any markings on the cartridge to get a sense of where I'm starting from. Not sure how much change is in order (stylus change, cartridge change) but will also continue trying to tweak the tracking weights to see if there is any significant improvements. Any thoughts based on your experience with the 598 would be most welcome.

  6. Well an old stylus of questionable condition is potentially a real problem area and the best bet is to assume that it is worn out and replace it. Even a new but inferior after market replacement might not be a good idea. Without a picture I can't say what your cartridge might be, but if you are willing to remove it from the headshell sled you might find the model # on the top. Most Audio Technica are like that for example.

    Another area of potential distortion is dirty or corroded contacts. Once again the headshell can be removed and the contact pads cleaned on it and inside the end of the tonearm. Under the turntable check the fit of the wire that exits the tonearm. Be careful with it but it will easily unplug so you can clean it too. Also clean the other end at the RCA plugs. Gentle scrubbing with a mild abrasive like Magic Eraser can do quite a bit.

    Magic Eraser is also useful for cleaning the stylus. You simply lower the stylus into a small block of ME a few times. Don't rub it or drag the stylus through it.

  7. It's a beauty for sure. Wish I had one for my maggies.

  8. Do you know where to find the hinge pieces to hold up the cover on a turntable like this? I am missing one.