Listening #118 Page 2
Count me among the hobbyists who think that 12" tonearms and old-fashioned, low-compliance pickup heads such as the EMT OFD series and Ortofon's own SPU series go together like cucumbers and Hendrick's gin. True enoughbut that's where the surprises come in.
The new Ortofon is that rare 12" tonearm that comes packaged with a plug-in headshell, intended for use with standard-mount phono cartridges. Hoping to take advantage of that, I decided to begin my TA-210 experience with the Miyabi 47, a moving-coil cartridge of low but not terribly low compliance. In doing so I used my DB Systems DBP-10 protractor: still my favorite tool for establishing Baerwald cartridge alignment, and one that's uniquely adaptable to Keith Howard's more recent formulaeor virtually any other, for that matter. The accuracy of the Ortofon installation jig was confirmed: the Miyabi exhibited perfect Baerwald alignment when installed close to the headshell's frontmost extreme. In that position, the stylus ended up between 51 and 52mm from the arm colletwhich is also the stylus-to-collet dimension of Ortofon's G-style SPU pickup heads.
Balancing the 9.2gm Miyabi cartridge didn't require the Ortofon's auxiliary counterweight. Still, before setting about to play music, I confirmed the match using the cartridge/arm test track on the Hi-Fi News & Record Review Test Record (HFN 001), observing a pronounced lateral resonance at 11Hz and a milder resonance at 12Hz: both above the warp-wow region.
Musical performance confirmed that clean bill of health. In addition to avoiding any undue sensitivity to footfalls and record warpsamong the flaws to be expected from a mismatchthe combination of Ortofon tonearm and Miyabi cartridge sounded unfailingly smooth and open. While the latter has sounded more dynamic in other arms of my experience, the TA-210 seemed to find in the Miyabi an even sweeter, more organic top end. Good-sounding classical records benefited more from this combination than modern rock: The performance was more about texture, sweetness, openness, and purity of tone than it was about taut bass and timing. (That said, I also tried the similarly specified Miyabi Mono in the TA-210; it sounded especially nice on the new mono LP version of Paul McCartney's Ram, released by MPL Communications in a numbered limited edition.)
Even better was the combination of Ortofon TA-210 and Denon DL-103. The 8.5gm Denon also worked well without the need for the extra counterweight (in my experience so far, an Ortofon SPU is the only pickup that needs that extra mass), and exhibited lateral and vertical resonant frequencies of 9 and 10Hz, respectively. The DL-103 is also a lower-compliance cartridge than the Miyabi, and it worked with the Ortofon tonearm to produce a tighter and, especially, punchier bass register: The timpani and very deep orchestral bass drum in my favorite recording of Mahler's Symphony 3, with Jascha Horenstein and the London Symphony Orchestra (Nonesuch HB-73023), had tremendous impact with this combinationnot to mention the same pleasantly clear, open performance I'd begun to associate with the Ortofon arm.
A Wise Choice
With each different cartridge I've tried so farfive and counting as of this writingthe TA-210 has sounded more refined than either the EMT 997 or the Schick Tonearm: The Ortofon's performance has been consistently smooth, serene, and uncolored, with no apparent stressing on dynamic peaks. (I've relied on a Yamamoto HS-1A headshell in order to use the Miyabi and Denon cartridges with my own Schick and EMT arms.) On the other hand, the EMT and Schick both sound bigger, more present, and more impactful than the Ortofonqualities one associates with transcription-length arms (and low-compliance pickups, and idler-drive turntables) in general.
Viewed in that light, the Ortofon TA-210 may be a wise choice for a newcomer to the world of vintage-style phonography, in the same sense that a Mazda Miata presents a reliable, refined, and uniquely economical entrée to the otherwise rawboned world of two-seat sports cars. Given the flexibility posed by its well-chosen mass and dual-counterweight system, the Ortofon allows the record lover to experience a 12" arm without the need to abandon his or her existing cartridge collection. Besides, one can't help noticing that the 4gm limit of the Ortofon's downforce calibration is exceeded by the gnarlier requirements of some low-compliance pickup heads that have survived to this dayalbeit not as long as horseshoe crabs and paisleys.
That the Ortofon also incorporates a modern-style antiskating mechanism (the Schick has none, and the EMT has a thread-and-falling-weight system that, I dare say, most owners leave in the box) can also be seen as a plus: That, too, will be more in sync with cartridges that track at 2gm than with those that require higher forces. (Though controversial, the idea is held by some that the need for antiskating diminishes as downforce rises. Count me among them.)
Of course, the TA-210's excellent installation jig and owner's manual also recommend it to the newcomer: Anyone with a good eye (one will do), a steady hand, and a drill of reasonable quality can install this arm with excellent results.
In the uncrowded field of 12" tonearms, the Ortofon TA-210 has little competitionand none, save for the above-mentioned and enduringly recommendable Schick, at its end of the price scale. The TA-210 is well made and an excellent value, and I imagine it will last far longer than my lamented paisley shirt, which is now so tattered that I am forbidden to wear it outside my listening room.