Listening #192: Koetsu, Ortofon, EMT Page 2

The SPU Wood A transcends that unfortunate event by having its body custom-machined, in Japan, from solid hardwood, then given its own thick finish of urushi lacquer; the result is the most physically beautiful SPU since the line's earliest days. (The Wood A also has the best, snuggest-fitting stylus guard of any SPU—perhaps another windfall of such precise machining.) It was while admiring the SPU Wood A's build quality that I noticed that it's very slightly larger than earlier A-style Ortofons, while preserving the 30mm stylus-to-socket dimension. Other specs include a spherical stylus tip with a radius of 18µm, an internal impedance of 2.5 ohms, a recommended load impedance of 10 ohms, an output of 0.18mV, and a VTF range of 3–5gm, with 4gm recommended.

Installing the Ortofon SPU Wood A was simpler than installing the Koetsu: I positioned my adjustable arm-mount board for use with an A-style pickup head—a setting that brings the pivot of my EMT 997 tonearm 21.6mm closer to the turntable's spindle—and set the VTF to the recommended 4gm. As with the Koetsu, I directed the Ortofon's output to the Hommage T1 step-up transformer.


It was a few days before the SPU Wood A began to break in, before which it hadn't sounded as limber or as liquid as I'd expected—and after which it played music with an excellent and altogether natural-sounding sense of flow. That said, the Ortofon's dynamic, impactful sound was there from the word go. As I noted during the Wood A's first night in my system, while admiring the physicality of Gerald Moore's piano playing in the above-mentioned Galop, "This sounds so SPU!" And while using the Ortofon to play Ella Fitzgerald singing "Little White Lies," it was the beat that caught my attention—and the freewheeling bang of Mel Lewis's drums.

The Ortofon SPU Wood A excelled at conveying instrumental and vocal colors and textures, though in those regards it didn't match the even more saturated sounds of the Koetsu Onyx Platinum. Where the SPU reigned supreme was in its ability to communicate nuances of musical performance, and in doing so tease poetry from mere sound. Early in the 1961 recording of Strauss's Death and Transfiguration by Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra (LP, UK Columbia SAX 2437), this cartridge did better than all of the others described in this column, and even bettered my Shindo SPU, at suggesting the heaving of sighs in the music. The orchestra's sheer sense of sweep was also greatest with this generally large-sounding pickup, and the Wood A produced the most physical-sounding timpani taps of any stereo pickup in the house.

Heaven knows I admire the great 1960 recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto by soloist Leonid Kogan, with Constantin Silvestri leading the Paris Conservatoire Orchtestre (LP, EMI/ERC SAX 2386), but it wasn't until I had the Wood A in my system that certain musical nuances became clear: the deftness of the timpanist, the sloppy timing of one or more trumpeters in the first movement, the precision with which Silvestri and the orchestra re-enter at the end of the first movement's cadenza. And listening to the Ansermet recording of Ravel's Mother Goose Suite, I was impressed by the SPU's ability to pull me into the performance and never falter in fostering the illusion that I was hearing human hands stopping and bowing those strings, and not a bumpy plastic valley being dragged past a subminiature rock.


The Wood A's timbral balance was consistently lovely. Brass had bite, but not too much, and stringed instruments, fretted or bowed, were warm but not excessively so. Its treble range seemed a little more extended than that of other spherical-stylus pickups I've heard—indeed, though it wasn't as good at stereo imaging as more modern designs, it did a fine job of suggesting the spaces between orchestral players—yet the Wood A's highs were substantial, never pallid.

The Ortofon, which tracked like a champ, turned in slightly surprising numbers when measured with HFN/RR's Test Record: In the lateral plane, the combination of SPU Wood A and EMT 997 tonearm exhibited a mild but distinct resonance at 7Hz, while the combo's vertical resonant peak, also subtle, was at 10Hz.

The Wood A's sound was tactile, dynamic, meaty, and colorful, with a great sense of scale. Notwithstanding its spherical stylus, the Wood A strikes me as the most accessible SPU I've heard—even more so than the comparatively affordable and enduringly recommendable SPU #1 S. At $1699, the Wood A's price isn't high enough to deter SPU newcomers, yet its musical and sonic strengths were enough to satisfy an SPU connoisseur. A distinguished new member of a very fine family.

A brief interlude
At one point during these proceedings, I reinstalled my EMT TSD 15 moving-coil pickup head ($1950), which for years has been my primary reference stereo cartridge even more than has my Shindo SPU. The TSD 15 is truly the greatest phono-cartridge all-arounder I've heard: It could please the most neurotic, soundstaging-concerned audiophile you've ever met, while at the same time satisfying the most discriminating of vintage-audio fanatics (though the latter would surely never admit it).

To put things in perspective: My TSD 15 didn't communicate substance as well as the SPU Wood A, and it didn't have as much color or texture as the Koetsu. And with the EMT pickup at the end of my EMT arm, plucked double-bass notes weren't as plucky as with the Wood A—but they had more force than with any other cartridge I know that's this compliant (the EMT tracks at 2.5gm).

But with the TSD 15—the model number derives from the radius, in microns, of its spherical stylus tip—those notes had the most gorgeous and believably colorful sustain, often endowed with an actual sense of the note blooming and developing, even if note decays were sometimes slightly overlong. Also, the EMT TSD 15 provided very good soundstage depth and reasonably good image specificity, if not up to the Koetsu's standards—and nothing else in this column exceeded the TSD 15's incredibly good sense of musical flow.

And now . . .

EMT HSD 006 phono cartridge
The modern-day remains of EMT, which stands for Elektro-Mess-Technik, recently split into two divisions: EMT Tontechnik, which designs and manufactures moving-coil phono cartridges, and EMT Studiotechnik, which makes electronics for recording studios. The latter remains in Mahlberg, Germany, but the former has been moved to Winterthur, Switzerland, where it is now a division of HiFiction AG, makers of Thales tonearms and turntables. These changes have been in the works the last three years, during which veteran employees have trained their younger counterparts in the art of building new EMT cartridges, and refurbishing cartridges that have been in service for up to 60-plus years.

To mark the occasion, EMT Tontechnik has introduced a number of new standard-mount cartridges, including two entry-level products: the HSD 006 stereo cartridge ($1595) and the HMD 025 mono cartridge ($1495). Both have sleek, semi-open bodies precision machined from aircraft aluminum, and both are based on the same stereo motor that debuted in 1965, in the very first TSD 15 pickup heads. This motor, in which an aluminum cantilever drives coils wound with more of turns of wire than in the average MC, is straddled by two tiny circuit boards, used as an intermediate contact point between the fragile coil wires and the heavier-gauge wires that take the signals to the cartridge's output pins. Mounted on those teensy boards are even teensier capacitors, used to electrically damp the coils.


The HSD 006 weighs 12gm and has threaded mounting holes, a Super Fine Line stylus tip, an alnico magnet, a recommended VTF of 2.4gm, an internal impedance of 24 ohms, a recommended load impedance of 200–300 ohms, and a higher-than-average output of 1.05mV. The HMD 025's specs are mostly the same, though it's fitted with a spherical stylus tip with a radius of 25µm (hence the model name).

Fitted to an Arché headshell, attached to my EMT 997 tonearm, and driving my EMT-specific Auditorium 23 Hommage T2 transformer, the HSD 006 at first surprised me by being unsurprising: It sounded very much like a TSD 15. The newest EMT was characterized by a natural warmth—not a timbral tilt, but an exceedingly subtle richness of tone, in voices and instruments alike. Its tonal balance was neither bright nor dull: very good bass extension was balanced by a treble range notably more extended than the TSD 15's, but not excessively so. There was never anything metallic, plasticky, tizzy, or glassy about the HSD 006's sound. One of my first notes: "It sounds like a TSD 15, but a little more modern. All of the old model's strengths are here, but with an increase in detail."

The extra detail was of the good sort. I used the EMT to play my nice, clean copy of the Beatles' Revolver (Parlophone PCS 7009, presumably pressed in the late 1970s), and was startled by the realism of the cough heard before the start of "Taxman." Thankfully, the music itself was equally convincing: clear, punchy, and reasonably colorful. Add to those praises the word noiseless: Had I feared that the '006's hyperelliptical stylus would transcribe surface defects with a little too much enthusiasm, it dispelled those fears with its smooth, unfussy performance.

The EMT's reproduction of touch and force were very good. The sounds of George Harrison's electric guitar and, especially, Ringo Starr's softly played floor tom in "Here, There and Everywhere" were delightfully convincing. And the combined fingerpicking and flatpicking in Jerry Donahue's first electric-guitar solo in "Nothing More," from Fotheringay's eponymous debut album (Island ILPS 9125), had great tactile nuance—and, as a consequence, sounded more passionate than usual. Pat Donaldson's electric bass sounded a little too prominent, but not to the detriment of the musical timing or the sonic balance in general. In fact, I really liked it.

The EMT was no match for the Koetsu Onyx Platinum in terms of tonal color and texture—two reasons anyone would buy a Koetsu in the first place, I'm sure—but not by an embarrassingly wide margin. The HSD 006's reproduction of space was more accomplished than the TSD 15's or the SPUs'. Sandy Denny's lead vocal in Fotheringay's "The Sea" was precisely centered, with a decent illusion of physical substance, and good senses and convincing portrayals of stage depth and width. More pleasing still was the EMT's spatial performance with classical recordings, in which the sounds of voices and solo instruments stand proud of their surroundings by natural as opposed to electrical means. Peter Pears's voice in his recording, with Benjamin Britten on piano, of the Schubert song cycle Die schöne Müllerin (Decca SXL 2200) was solidly, warmly there—a perfect example of what Herb Reichert and I mean when we talk about flesh and blood in music reproduction.

Not long before the end of my time with the EMT HSD 006, I received a copy of the latest LP from the Electric Recording Company: the well-known and almost universally well-regarded recording of Elgar's Cello Concerto by Jacqueline Du Pré, Sir John Barbirolli, and the London Symphony Orchestra (originally released as EMI ASD 655). This most recent title surprised me, if only because original copies aren't as rare as with ERC's previous limited-edition reissues. But ERC apparently decided that the recording was worthy of the extraordinary efforts they make to get things right, and of their all-vintage, all-tube mastering chain: Lyrec TR18 tape console, Ortofon GOS amplifiers, Lyrec SV8 cutting lathe, and Ortofon DSS731 stereo cutter head.

The newest EMT cartridge proved them right. The HSD 006 suggested—and my own TSD 15 later confirmed—that the original recording of the Elgar is far better than I ever thought. (My own UK original is, I think, an early-1980s pressing.) Dynamic peaks were free of strain, textures deep and utterly natural, and Elgar's marvelous scoring was illuminated with a beautifully clear, grain-free sound, as was Du Pré's muscular, passionate, altogether miraculous performance. Playing that record with that cartridge was a "stop there—I will never again, as long as I live, need to change anything in this system" moment.

Measured with the HFN/RR Test Record, the combination of EMT HSD 006 and EMT 997 tonearm exhibited a mild 9Hz resonance in the lateral plane, and an almost imperceptible resonance of 10Hz in the vertical. A setup note: When I first installed the HSD 006 for running in, I used my homemade G-style alignment fixture to make a coarse adjustment—but when I later dialed in the '006 for Löfgren A DIN alignment, a trace of harshness on dynamic peaks was eliminated.

In a direct comparison, the HSD 006 was more detailed, more spatially accomplished, and perhaps a little more tactile than the TSD 15—good things all—and blessed with no less clarity and musical momentum. In some systems, its combination of enjoyably generous bass and extended treble range might make it sound a bit more hi-fi than the TSD 15; but use the HSD 006 with gear that will honor its natural flow and complete lack of mechanicalness, and it will sing.


georgehifi's picture

@JA (John Alexander)

Why can't bench test results be performed on cartridges? I had Shure and Sheffield Labs test records, that gave a whole gamut of test that can be seen on test gear and graphed out?

Cheers George

Anton's picture

I'd also love to see speaker measurements done upon arrival when new and then after "break in."

Cables would be cool, as well. It would be cool to see the differences.

I love Stereophile's listen, measure, and follow up philosophy.

Ortofan's picture

... following is a link to a HFN review, which includes a set of measurements:

georgehifi's picture

Yep ditto, "if" the reviewer gets it right, then it can be seen sometimes in the measurements good and or bad.
A hypothetical to me, if there was only room for one, "subjective reviews" or "test bench measurements", I would opt for the latter.

Cheers George

georgehifi's picture

Was with a Stax CP-X electrostatic cartridge, on a Linn LP12 with Stax UA7 arm.
It took 10-15mins to tune in with it's POD-XE Oscillator/Demodulator and oscilloscope and got about 15-30mins of listening before drifting needing re-tuning.
But what a hyper detailed and dynamic sound, imagine a cantilever with no magnet or coil mass attached to it, and you get the idea of how it traced/tracked the groove, every tiny microscopic bump of recorded info was pickup and presented, without any magnet or coil mass to schlep around to slow things down.

Why doesn't someone bring back the ESL cartridge with solid state oscillator/demodulator

Cheers George

Anton's picture

Forbes: "A 163.41-carat D-color flawless diamond sold for $33.7 million at Christie's Magnificent Jewels sale in Geneva Tuesday. Known as the β€œArt of de Grisogono, Creation 1,” the rectangular shaped gem is the largest flawless D-color diamond ever to come to auction."

The buyer has said he will be having it made into a flawless cartridge body.

I look forward to the review!

I'm sure that "If you can afford this sort of thing, you won't be disappointed by its sound."

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Ortofan wants it measured ........... Just kidding Ortofan :-) ..........

Anton's picture

Color D, 163.41-carat, 33.7 million.

What more can I measure?


Bogolu Haranath's picture

Frequency response, output voltage, tracking ability, weight etc.etc, for the cartridge ........ unless, it is an 'ink cartridge' ;-) ..........

There are numerous other types of cartridges :-) ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

One carat weighs 0.2 grams ........... 5 carats weigh 1 gram :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May I suggest a better use for that diamond? .......... Why not make a necklace with that diamond and, let a person like the heroine in the movie 'Titanic' (wearing nothing else) wear it, take a picture and/or a painting of that person wearing that necklace, and let us see it :-) ......... It may be a great centerfold spread for Stereophile :-) ............

Indydan's picture

I love the close up photography of the cartridges in this article. Very nicely done!

tonykaz's picture

How many Plays ?

Can we expect to get 500? more?

Some time ago, I collected Koetsu Phono Cartridges, I owned over 10, I don't recall them to have a Useful Life Span compared to many lesser Phono PUs.

But, they're addictive making their $,$$$ Price justified. ( silly thought )

Who buys these things ? for 10 grand?

I can't imagine the 12,000+ Vinyl Collector owning Pricy Koetsu stuff if they intend on playing all their Albums. ( like Todd the Vinyl Junkie or Chad Kassem might )

That Picture of the Onyx is gorgeous, that's gotta be a Pro Studio Shot, Civilians can't do that kind of image. Can they?

Tony in Michigan

ps. My Koetsu warrantee experience is that there isn't one to speak of.

ps.2 Koetsu : Still have those shitty little boxes. Phew!!!

Indydan's picture

I have photographed my cartridge with a 1:1 macro lens and could not get that close. Canon makes a 5:1 macro lens. I suspect this is what the photographer used to get that close and show the stylus that big.

A shot like this has to be taken on a sturdy tripod. The smallest vibration is amplified in the image. The lighting needs to be perfect as well. Nice work!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If somebody could come up with a DAC with a frequency response like the Koetsu Onyx Platinum and with a heavy dose of 2nd harmonic distortion, they could make lots and lots of money ........ Of course, they are not gonna send a review sample to Stereophile because in addition to listening, Stereophile also does measurements :-) ..........

tonykaz's picture

a Koetsu DAC?

Kinda a tuby R2R device made to make RedBook sound like a vinyl 33.3.

Just a tiny bit of reverse engineering to get 21st Century back to 1975ish. Hmm

Tony in Michigan

ps. maybe the clever lads could clone the Shindo "sound" signature profiles & dam the measurements ..... ( sorry Mr.JA )

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Tuby? ........ Tubes are like politicians ........ They always tell the truth :-) ........

...... and you guessed it, they both tell 'sweet little lies' :-) ............

tonykaz's picture

I can't think of anything clever to say in response to your Politicians comment.

Tony in Michigan

ps. how do you know about Politicians?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

We see them everyday on TV news ......... I know few politicians :-) .......... Yes, I also know few tubes :-) .......

johnnythunder's picture fact I think Border Patrol, Lector, Cary, Aesthetix and Audio Note make some. Asking for enjoyable music to be played without a little euphonic coloration or enhancement is like asking for enjoyable writing to be dry and clinical, unimaginative and without a creative use of language. If you want that, read the instructions to a prescription drug. If I wanted razor flat measurements and 100% dedication to the source - which 99% of the times was recorded with euphonic colorations oh and by the way the acoustics of Carnegie Hall would be considered coloration to these numbskulls - I would work and live in a laboratory. Luckily I don't and will continue to enjoy music that is artificially enhanced and colored. Like the sound of a sustained tone on a Stradivarius and I can go on and on.

ok's picture would probably be a case of painted ugliness vs natural beauty.

tonykaz's picture

Hmm, a ROLEX Watch takes a year to make. They have tiny components, they seem to last a Life-time and come with a Factory Warrantee, are 100% Hand Made by Skilled Craftsmen and Craftswomen. Fit and Finnish is impeccable !!! Service on everything they ever made is available, including Full restorations. ( for a price, of course )

Yet they cost under $10,000

The $10k Koetsu Onyx has a Gold painted plate that doesn't properly fit the Body.

Isn't it rare for something with "ROLEX" quality to be less pricy ( cheaper ) than something so obviously inferior?

Seems like "The Vinyl" Manufacturers are "Playing-us" for suckers.

Are Audiophiles Suckers?

Tony in Michigan

Ortofan's picture

... of the Ortofon Cadenza Red, would anyone but a "sucker" spend about eight times its price for a different cartridge - especially one whose frequency response starts rolling off at about 2 or 3 kHz, instead of being flat out to about 15kHz?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Koetsu got 89% for sound quality and Ortofon got 80% for sound quality :-) .........

Whole 9 yards :-) ..........

Wonder whether the $15,000 Koetsu phono-cartridge will get 99.999999% for sound quality? :-) ......

That would be equivalent to a 'touchdown' or a 'home-run' :-) ...........

John Atkinson's picture
tonykaz wrote:
Hmm, a ROLEX Watch takes a year to make . . . Service on everything they ever made is available, including Full restorations.

Not any more, I am afraid. When my wife and I got engaged in 1987, we bought each other second-hand Rolex "bubbleback" watches. (Mine is a 1939, hers a 1940.) We had the watches serviced by Rolex up to a few years back, when the Rolex service center in Manhattan told us that the company would no longer support "legacy" models. :-(

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Apple Watch is a better investment ........... Apple Watch has taken over as number one best selling watch in the world :-) ...........

tonykaz's picture

a TimePiece and much more.

A ROLEX is a Statement made out of Jewelry.

The person wearing the ROLEX has people to do the technical stuff, who then report back on progress.

The Apple is a better watch but not as good a watch as a Indiglo Quartz Timex Easy-reader watch ( for $29 ).

The Apple is a Computer ( 17% of Global Smart watch market )

The ROLEX is Status

The TIMEX is Time

Tony in Michigan

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"The person wearing the ROLEX has people to do the technical stuff, who then report back on progress" ........

Wonder whether JA fits that description of person wearing ROLEX? :-) ..........

tonykaz's picture

... he certainly has people reporting to him.

I wonder if JA now wears one of the new Yachtmasters or GMT?

ROLEX have a Rail Watch that our JA might wear whilst commuting on the NY Subway system. Hmm.

I suspect that our JA now wears one of the newer Apple devices ( the one with the heart monitor ) :-)

Tony in Michigan

Bogolu Haranath's picture

JA is wearing the Apple Watch which plays ...........

"So Alive" ........... Goo Goo Dolls ........ on Bluetooth headphones :-) .........

JA is also asking Siri for directions to the Taylor Swift concert on his Apple Watch :-) ........

Jack L's picture

... Rolex watches." quoted J. Atkinson.

In same 1987, I bought my wife a new Rolex Oystersteel/yellow gold watch to make up the cheap tiny diamond engagement ring that I could only afford to give her 20 years back then.

So Rolex is for status.

Koetsu cartridges are for status or for sound or for both ????

Unlike my broke old times, I can afford any cost-is-nothing audios today.
My question: do I NEED to drop a bundle for a costly MC cartridge, like Koetsu when I am so happy with mine of low-status ? Does it really make such temptingly superior sonic difference ?

Jack L.

Jack L's picture the world." quoted Bogolu Haranath.


Yes, Apple Watch outsells its watch competition in quantity.

Yet, I recently read in the newspaper about its durability: its glass face tends to break even with normal wearing.

Apple standard warranty does NOT cover smashed glass watch face for whatever reason.

So wear with caution!

Jack L.