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HiFi Newsletter - 2009-11

Ortofon today: heritage and the new technology

We continually seek new technologies to apply either to the product itself or to the manufacturing of the product It is our philosophy that even a traditional product like the cartridge can benefit greatly from a new technology and industrial competences.

A new technology can take various forms. We now use computer simulation systematically when developing new cartridges, and we consider the computer simulation to be an amazing tool for selecting components and devising the magnetic fields. Secondly, we also look at new technologies that are specifically product related, such as the Selective Laser Melting manufacturing technique. The SLM technique applies to our new MC A90 cartridge, the body of which has an individual texture completely impervious to resonance.

CHN webkomprimeret NL 03

     Christen H Nielsen, CEO

Thirdly we use the knowledge learned from other products (for instance our BtB products) when developing and manufacturing our cartridges. Recently, Ortofon made a license agreement for the manufacturing of conventional bone conductors according to the BEST principle for the hearing aid industries. The bone conductor is a product that requires a very high level of fine mechanical precision to obtain its uniform quality. We firmly believe in manufacturing in Denmark for several reasons. In Denmark there is a strong acoustic branch infrastructure with many other companies involved in acoustics, such as loudspeakers, hearing aids and acoustic measuring equipment - all supported by research and higher education. There is a lot of knowledge spin-off from the manufacturing process itself; several of the recent improvements of the Cadenza Series are based on learnings from the manufacturing of the former Kontrapunkt series.

The industrial capacity of Ortofon is based on specially designed machines, that produce small precision components for our cartridges, that in turn have several advantages: we have volume capacity and can produce large numbers of cartridges with a relatively short lead times. By applying reproducable measuring techniques we achieve the uniform quality necessary for the industrial production. Finally we have a portfolio of suppliers, with whom we exchange information, troubleshoot and solve problems, in order to constantly hone our skills and be able to address new challenges.

 

MC A90 - the worlds first cartridge made with SLM technology

MC A90 Cartridge, frontal and side views

With the introduction of the new MC A90 Ortofon takes a leap forward in the cartridge technology. Expanding upon the success of the well-received MC Windfeld, the MC A90 not only stands as a contender of the best cartridge of all-time, but it also rewrites the criteria by which moving coils are judged.

Listeners will enjoy a clean precision sound all the way with quick, impactful bass extension along with a clean and fast high frequency reproduction. As another side-effect of SLM, cartridge/tonearm matching concerns become far less stringent, as the typical influences of resonance as they are fed back into the tonearm assembly are eliminated.

Another positive side-effect of the SLM, is that the cartridge/tonearm matching concerns become far less stringent, because the typical influences of resonance as they are fed back into the tonearm assembly are eliminated. Also when taking into consideration the cartridge weight and compliance (in this case 8 gm and 16 µm/mN), the traditional wisdom as it relates to cartridge matching, suggests a range of compatibility that not only finds itself at home with modern contemporary medium mass arms, but also with a wide range of both low-mass and high-mass designs.

With SLM being the centerpiece of the MC A90 design, each component has been built directly onto the A90’s one-piece body, including an optimized generator system and split pole pins. The cartridge has been fitted with a Boron cantilever, possessing an extra-polished version of the acclaimed Ortofon Replicant 100 diamond. As with previous designs (like the MC Windfeld), the replicant has an exceedingly high contact area with a bare minimum of rounding, allowing for superior reproduction of even the finest of groove modulations. Michael Fremer noted, “The MC A90’s transient performance was ultrafast, clean, and precise, and its resolution of microdynamics was absolutely astonishing".MC A90 cartridge

Of course, the A90 includes Per Windfeld’s Wide Range Damping (WRD) system, in which a small platinum disc is sandwiched between two rubber dampers of different resonant properties, another method which provides perfect damping throughout the entire frequency range. Additionally, the superb generator system, known already for its remarkably neutral and honest character, includes the Field Stabilizing Element (FSE), consisting of a small cylinder of silver plated copper inside of the magnetic system. FSE prompts significant sonic improvements – a reduction in dynamic distortion and intermodulation. This plays a tremendous part in the A90’s remarkable dynamics, ensuring that every detail will be delivered with striking accuracy and separation. Fremer added, “the MC A90 maintained the Windfeld’s tonal neutrality while adding unsurpassed rhythmic swagger, dynamic exuberance, transparency, and three-dimensionality unmatched by any other cartridge I’ve heard. Low level dynamic gradations were revelatory, while the big ones were unrestrained and positively energetic. The MC A90’s attack was faster, cleaner, more precisely defined than that of any cartridge I’ve known, and with no hint of brightness or unnatural edge. Its decay was equally clean and effervescent, fading quickly to inky-black backdrops.”

Finally, the MC A90 is the first cartridge to benefit from a specially designed armature, which aids in achieving extreme precision during the coil winding process. This yields a higher degree of channel separation, and offers lower distortion and better channel balance. In fact, the resulting channel balance specification has been reduced to a value of less than 0.2dB. The MC A90, a cartridge of many firsts, establishes a new standard, not only for an analog performance, but for the reproduction of recorded music in general. Music lovers will take note of a truly organic, encapsulating experience which transcends the limits of recording and undeniably blurs the distinction between what is live and what is recorded. Even Michael Fremer agrees, “This cartridge is a genuine game changer”.

 

2M Series – Bronze and Black

2M bronze2M black

Ortofon’s premier Moving Magnet cartridge line, the 2M Series, has been given ample praise by both the HiFi press and by vinyl listeners all around the world. The 2M Red and 2M Blue have frequently been heralded as a “best buy,” delivering a level of performance that puts high quality vinyl playback into the hands of even the most budget-conscious audiophiles. For those that thirst for more resolution and detail beyond that of the respectable Red and Blue, Ortofon has created two exceedingly high performance models, the 2M Bronze and 2M Black.

True vinyl connoisseurs will appreciate the 2M Bronze and 2M Black’s attention to detail. Firstly, both models share an upgraded engine, including silver-plated copper coil wire, resulting in superior channel separation and channel balance figures, along with increased high frequency transient capability. Both cartridges have a modified suspension which provides them a slightly higher compliance, reducing VTF to the 1.5g range. This also makes way for the premium stylus profiles employed by these models.

The 2M Bronze dons a Nude Fine Line diamond, known for its ability to track even the highest frequency information, making it a must for discerning listeners, while its longer footprint ensures reduced distortion and record wear. For those who care to add a more analytical and forward perspective to their system, the 2M Bronze will easily rise to the task. As HiFi World’s Noel Keywood comments, “The 2M Bronze is distinctive, that’s for sure – and sounds unlike rivals… It is fast, detailed, and insightful”. Although not constrained to a valve-based system, the Bronze is a fantastic way to turn up the detail on an otherwise warm system.

The top model in the series, the 2M Black, makes use of the superior Nude Shibata diamond, which is the same profile used on the now-famous MC Jubilee and the brand new Cadenza Black cartridge. The Shibata diamond, known for its ability to resolve the most minuscule detail, also keeps record wear to a bare minimum. The result is a detailed-yet-balanced presentation that ultimately compares favorably to even some Moving Coil cartridges. A departure from its brethren, the 2M Black is known not only for its finely detailed presentation and dynamics, but for having a smoother character despite its outstanding high frequency resolution. HiFi World even remarked “A masterful design for anyone keen to get the best from LP, without moving up to the complexities, cost, and delicacy of moving coils.” In fact they liked it so much, they made it their Cartridge of the Year in 2008, proclaiming that “…the Ortofon 2M [Black] is one of the most cohesive sounding moving magnets we’ve yet heard. It sounds natural and unforced in a way that makes listening a pleasure, bristling fine detail and totally engaging on a musical level.” 

Whether you opt for the scantily-priced 2M Red (which Neil Gader of Absolute Sound claims is “one sophisticated and musical cartridge – for the price of a nice dinner for two”), the remarkable 2M Black (whose best attribute, according to NG, is “how it provided a more transparent window into the world of micro-energies, plumbing the complexities of orchestral depth and dimension), or any of the models in between, you too will experience the deep satisfaction of owning one of the finest cartridges at any price.

 

Interview with Per Windfeld   

This month we would bring an interview with the legendary Per Windfeld, the former chief engineer, who for more than 30 years has been a feature of the high-end culture as Head of the company's R&D and who has been responsible for many of the cartridges that made Ortofon famous. 

How many years did you work for Ortofon?

I was employed by Ortofon from August 1976 until the end of 2006 as chief engineer at the cartridge development laboratory in Copenhagen.

 

Per Windfeld

 

How many cartridges have you developed?

Oh, that’s really a good question. Because, basically a new cartridge design involves new housing design, a new inside motor system and name, etc. But besides these new developments there is always an ongoing upgrading process of the well-known cartridges of both MC and MM models developed over the years, that for either marketing or technical reasons have to be re-presented with the same name in the same housing in a MkII-version. A typical reason for such upgrade is the demands for new productions methods, the upgrade of the diamond, the cantilever material, the magnet, the damping components or exceptional pure winding materials in copper or silver, where each component can be crucial for the cartridge performance. These re-developments are as important as the Real News because Ortofon is the company with the broadest cartridge program in the world. My estimation of the number of cartridge I have developed and influenced since I started at Ortofon could roughly be about 50 models.

How does one develop a cartridge?

Developing a cartridge is based on the knowledge of a big number of physical laws and maths concerning the behaviour of oscillating systems, their resonance, magnetic circuits and the data for various materials involved. But new ideas and theories have to be followed by experiments to prove their validity and to make sure that new concept goals can be achieved. Besides golden-ear listening, tests performed are just as a decisive and a very important part of the cartridge development at Ortofon. Many hours are also spent with all people involved around the table about expected and suggested need for new production methods, tools and equipment to be implemented by our own people. The developement of a new cartridge takes between a few months up to two years depending on the concept.

Where do the ideas for new cartridges come from?

Over the years this has typically been either a demand from our marketing people or proposals from me, based on possible new technologies or materials observed through our network of sub-suppliers, technical institutes and universities we often use for special material investigations. Following the material market and new technologies in processing is a very important part of research in development works and has often resulted in thorough new in- and outside designs for the cartridge models. When it's time to look for a new cartridge housing design we rely on our highly experienced industrial designer to provide a fresh outlook as well as new ideas. Red-hot discussions about the completion of the cartridges and how to agree upon names, colors, materials etc. will arise between colleagues from different departments such as marketing, the lab or the production, who all have ideas for the design layout. All the creative ideas are put on the table for several days or weeks and, ultimately, a final decision about the new product will hopefully start to take shape

Which cartridge do you personally like the best and why?

The Ortofon cartridge program, whether you choose MC or MM models, is very diverse in sound performance and price to fulfil the very broad requirements among customers. One part wants to pay the price for a linear, more than 30 kHz frequency range MC cartridge to play their precious recordings on an upscale equipment. But for the customers who feel strongly about the hi-fi music reproduction within a variety of music genres, the lower priced MC- as well as the MM cartridges will also perform a 20Hz to 20kHz frequency range. The replaceable stylus-unit on the MM phono cartridges is also much appreciated among our customers.Most customers have also realized that different cartridges will respond differently depending on the quality of the LP-recordings, the type of music and the overall individual taste of each person when listening. So, that's why you won't get an answer from me about which Ortofon cartridge I like the best. A review from a cartridge magazine can give you some basic characteristics about a cartridge performance, but it will never give you the full story, this depends on your own ears, the speakers, players, amplifiers, etc.

How would you describe the special company culture at Ortofon?

Right from the beginning I found the Ortofon company culture completely different from what I had experienced with earlier employments.

Here I found an almost flat hierarchy and leadership, where you can ask questions, apply ideas and ask for assistance directly to all the enthusiastic, obliging colleagues including the managing director. I imagine that this deep-rooted team-spirit has been inherited from the creative founders of the company.  For me and many other colleagues in the organization that have been employed for more than 20 -30 years, this daily inspiration working among enthusiastic people inspires everyone to find the best way out of problems. The many HiFi-magazine cartridge awards received over the years that are hanging around the factory also serve as a reminder of the flattering rewards the Ortofon products have received for their superb analogue performance.

What is some of your favourite music?

That's very easy to answer, because I was brought up with music around me, with my parents playing the piano and the violin. I enjoy listening to live music as well as analogue recordings collected over the years with all kinds of music from 16th century composers to traditional jazz to modern composers, on my old lab equipment using Ortofon cartridges selected by my ears.

Why is Denmark so strong in acoustics?

I think Ortofon came to be one of the pioneers among Danish acoustic companies, when the two founders of The Electrical Phono Film Company Axsel Petersen and Arnold Poulsen presented their invention, the world's first Synchronized Sound Film system, at the Copenhagen Palace Cinema Theatre in 1923 and further, when the world's first Mono moving-coil system was presented in 1948. Nor should we forget how the 1820 discovery of electromagnetism by the Danish physicist H.C. Oersted made possible the invention of acoustic transducers etc. worldwide.

So, maybe a DNA gene was spread from those gifted people to all the Danish companies, established to produce microphones, speakers, hearing-aids, acoustic measuring instruments, tape-recorders, radios and the famous acoustics in opera houses and concert halls.

Which music and cartridges would you take with to a deserted island?

Before going ashore with all my gear I think I would make sure there was a usable mains socket on the only palmtree I had observed from the ship. And if there were one, I wouldn't miss the 1st, 4th and 5th of The English Suites by Bach played by Glenn Gould with the MC PW cartridge.

What does your family think about your passion for cartridges?

My passion is still there, but as a retired person I can now concentrate on listening to the music – instead of testing the sound from a new cartridge. My wife and family are still wondering how I managed to shift my thoughts away from cartridges and Ortofon. But it's not a problem – besides music I've always had lots of other passions that my family is well aware of, so I think I am safe.

What do you think about the revival of vinyl?

After the frustrating years for Ortofon in the early eighties where the CD - within a few years - conquered the market from vinyl and obliged Ortofon to develop a number of substitute products against the declining sales of cartridges – it was really astonishing, at the end of the nineties to witness a sort of revival of the analogue sound. Old as well as young customers began to find sound weaknesses in the digital format when listening to CD recordings made from the master tapes used for the Vinyl’s, they remembered having played years ago. We all hope this situation will last for a new long period of time. At least new analogue master tapes for record cutting are made again, precious record-players, amplifiers and loudspeakers are on the market again in big numbers – and Ortofon is still on the track with new cartridges for the enthusiastic customers.

How would you like to see Ortofon 25 years from now?

I can only hope that we will keep on developing and producing the Ortofon cartridges for many years to come – and I still believe that the 90 years of experience of developing and producing miniature transducers and parts will be a foundation stone for all the skilled and enthusiastic colleagues that continue their work in the company. If there is an Ortofon company secret, I think that reaching the 90th anniversary in itself tells of a company secret of surviving.

What is your favourite pastime?

As mentioned I'm lucky to have a lot of other pastimes other than music. As an engineer I have always enjoyed to put ideas into practise, whether it was renovating the house, the garden or the cars. I enjoy using my hands as a sort of relaxation from all the paper-work. So, now I can revive these useful pastimes, reading my unread books, visiting theatres and concerts and doing some travelling, if there is enough time – so don’t worry.

 

In the Newsletter to come

  • Measuring techniques
  • Mr. SPU Robert Gudmandsen
  • New products