Art's Last Afternoon at High End 2018

2018 marks the 100th year of business for Danish cartridge manufacturer Ortofon A/S—the actual birthday is October 9th—so it came as no surprise that Ortofon's head of product development, Leif Johannsen (on the right in the photo above, next to Lou Dorio of the company's American subsidiary, Ortofon Inc.) cooked up three special, limited-edition products to celebrate the milestone: the anachronistic and ostensibly DJ-friendly moving-magnet Concorde Century; the ultra-high-end MC Century; and the cartridge that most appealed to me, the SPU Century (estimated price: €5000).

The SPU Century continues Ortofon's recent trend of making cartridges that mix traditional SPU characteristics with more modern touches—in this case, a Shibata stylus (the first ever in an SPU), and a headshell that mates an aluminum upper body with a lower body that's laser machined from hardwood, then impregnated with a polymer for stability. (And because the lower body is made from wood with a distinctive grain pattern, each SPU Century will be one of a kind.) This limited-edition SPU goes on sale in the fall, and Johannsen has assured me that a review loaner will be coming my way. (Speaking of which: just days before leaving for Munich, I received a production sample of Ortofon's new SPU Wood A, which is built into a Japanese-sourced urushi body and stands as the company's first A-size SPU in nearly a decade. Review to come!)

For phonophiles with more modern tastes (and deep pockets), the limited-edition MC Century will be released this summer, and features a titanium body, manufactured via selective laser melting (SLM), and a magnetic system based on Ortofon's successful MC Anna, as well as a polymer armature. Specs include a 6 ohm internal impedance, a 0.2mV output, and a specially polished Replicant 100 stylus profile.

Elsewhere in our High End 2018 coverage, Herb Reichert will report on the new Harbeth Monitor 40.2 40th Anniversary Edition, which sounded remarkable with amplification by Magnum Dynalab, and looked drop-dead gorgeous in olive wood veneer. But even more of a highlight for me was meeting, for the first time, Harbeth's Managing Director Alan Shaw (on the left, next to me in the photo above). Almost instantly we bonded over our love of classic Decca and EMI recordings in general, and the music of Benjamin Britten in specific, and I think we could have chatted away for the rest of the show, if not for our respective professional chores.

Naim Audio took advantage of High End 2018 to introduce three new dedicated streamers, all with onboard DACs; from the humblest to the dearest, they are the ND5 XS 2 (£1999), the NDX 2 (£4999), and the ND 555 (£12,999, pictured above). The first two make clever use of dual-parallel power-supply technologies-switch-mode, for use during standby, and toroid-based linear, for playback-while the 555, which requires an outboard power supply, uses all linear technology. The 555 also makes extensive use of smartly executed Faraday shielding, and its circuit boards are fixed to brass plates and endowed with isolation suspensions that are tuned to 10Hz.

High End 2018 gave me the first chance in years to say hello to Dr. Eunice Kron, proprietor of KR Electronics and one of Earth's last manufacturers of original vacuum tubes. I gave a quick listen to KR's 200W VA200 monoblocks (€49,500/pair), used with their P130 stereo preamp (€5290) and a pair of Acoustique Quality Passion loudspeakers (€17,980/pair) …

… but I was no less intrigued by the gargantuan KR Audio Kronzilla SX1 integrated amp (€22,500) on static display.

I also had a chance to meet Mario Canever of Canever Audio, maker of the ZeroUno DAC I reviewed last year. This year, Canever and his partner, Rainer Israel, introduced Canever's first amplifier, the 100Wpc class-A La Scala (€18,500), seen here with its outboard power supply.

And finally in my Munich show reporting, I'm delighted to report on one of the show's most anticipated product introductions. Seen above is the Funk Firm's Arthur Khoubesserian, who in the 1980s co-founded the iconoclastic turntable company Pink Triangle, known for pioneering the use of DC motors, lightweight-composite subchassis, battery power supplies, and other cutting-edge ideas. (Someday, while sunning myself on the porch of the Home for Retired Audio Reviewers, I'll probably still be telling the story about how I bought the last Pink Triangle Pink Link power supply to be imported into the US—but since it had been broken in shipping, and additional samples were never made, I was not able to use it, so the purchase was cancelled.) For High End 2018, Khoubesserian revived the name, the aesthetics, and the iconoclasm of his earlier company …

… and introduced the Pink Triangle Preference turntable, with a projected price of €70,000 and a projected shipping date of September. Here, too, shipping damage cast a bit of a shadow on the premiere, making this a silent Preference. But from its vacuum hold-down platter to its zero-gap bearing (I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement before getting a closer look—and, believe me, the thing is remarkable) to its very artsy, high-mass stand, the new Pink is unlike anything you or I have seen, and I expect that, when the time comes, it'll be unlike anything you or I have heard.

Ortofan's picture

... your impressions of the SPU Century.

Given your expressed preference for relatively higher levels of second harmonic distortion, one might predict that you would find the sound quality from a cartridge with a more advanced stylus shape (such as the Shibata) to be less appealing than one with a spherical stylus.

jimtavegia's picture

Maybe one day before I kick I will own a smaller pair of their speakers where I know there is tons of work and research, but simpler seems better to me and why my old, Large Advents and AR-58's (the last remake of the famed AR-3a) still provide me with hours of pleasure.

A year of so a go JBL came out with what appeared to be something similar (no longer available) to the P3ESR in size and weight and they were so affordable I bought them and even my wife liked the sound coming out of a diminutive little box. High praise coming from her.

I think that many would do well to buy smaller and if you really want and need more bass, add a sub for those times you really need it. Harbeth has always seemed to combine smarts with somewhat simple designs and beautiful cabinetry.

Love your writing and reports as always.

Ortofan's picture

... final iteration of the AR-3a?