Follow-Up September 2011

Art returned to the EMT TSD 15 in September 2011 (Vol.34 No.9):

Love them though I do, I can't imagine there's very much money to be made in the manufacture of spherical (as opposed to elliptical, hyper-elliptical, or just plain fanciful) phonograph styli; consequently, I can't imagine there are many people left in the world who ply that trade. In fact, until recently, I would have guessed that all contemporary spherical tips come from the same place—like meals at any of the fine Indian restaurants on New York's E. Sixth Street, which are rumored to share a single tandoor.

And therein lies a tale: When I wrote about EMT's long-lived TSD 15 phono cartridge ($1950) in the May issue, two characteristics in particular stood out. First, the EMT sounded quieter in the groove than other low-compliance pickup heads fitted with spherical styli: I heard a little less hash, crackle, and steady-state roar. Second, according to the folks at EMT, the TSD 15's spherical tip is measurably smaller than the one used in the similarly long-lived Ortofon SPU Classic A: 15µm for the former (hence the model designation), 17µm for the latter.

During a visit to my local friend and engineering advisor Neal Newman, the obvious and ideal solution was broached: Let's look at examples of both under the microscope—and photograph them. So we did (fig.1).

Fig.1 Ortofon SPU Classic A stylus (left); EMT TSD 15 stylus (right); both from beneath.

In this first photograph, the stylus of my own Ortofon SPU Classic A—the motor unit of which I purchased brand new last year—is on the left, the stylus of the review sample of the EMT TSD 15 on the right. (These images were enhanced in Photoshop only by opening up the midtone levels, increasing contrast, and applying an "unsharp mask," in order to better show minute details. I was consistently surprised by the distinctness of the Ortofon's stylus tip—it came out that way in every shot!—and though I cleaned both styli prior to taking these pictures, a bit of hair or fiber persisted in clinging to the EMT's cantilever. Ewww.) The Ortofon's diamond shank seems to have been ground at a different and somewhat blunter angle than the EMT's. For its part, the very end of the EMT's cantilever has been rounded down, presumably after the stylus shank was installed. In both cartridges, the shank appears to have been punched into the crimped and flattened cantilever from above, then secured in place—also from above—with a drop of cement.

Fig.2 Ortofon SPU Classic A stylus (left); EMT TSD 15 stylus (right); both from in front.

In the second photo (fig.2), the differences are even more visible. (So is that damn hair!) As far as I can tell, the shanks of both styli are perpendicular to their flattened cantilevers, suggesting that at least one of the ingredients needed for good channel balance and good wear characteristics was in place. It does seem that a greater portion of the EMT's shank has been dressed away by its maker, with facets that extend closer toward the cantilever. Also, it appears that the very end of the EMT's cantilever was finished with a minute smear of solder. Although this photo doesn't show it, the dabs of cement on both products were neat and clean.

Lacking a reliable means of making and illustrating comparative stylus measurements that are accurate to the micron—I sympathize with those who wonder just what the hell qualifications Stereophile is looking for in their reviewers!—I can't say whether the EMT's stylus tip is indeed smaller than the Ortofon's, although its shank does look different from the Ortofon's, and there's little doubt that the EMT's cantilever tip is of lower mass, given the amount of alloy that's been dressed away. Whether any of those differences can be linked to one or another audible difference is anyone's guess.

Consequently, although much of the preceding may seem like yet another subtle ploy to interest normal people in the wisdom of having an analog rig with a massive tonearm and a low-compliance pickup head (it is), it seems safe to say this: Today, as 50 years ago, not all spherical "needles" are the same—and it may well be that the EMT TSD 15's very low groove noise is related to that distinction.—Art Dudley

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