The Korf Blog

The inside story: our research,
development and opinions

18 September 2019
Headshell Performance ⁠— Listening, Part II
We've done a whole lot of headshell measurements. Now is the time to see how our observations translate into subjective reality.

In our previous post, we've seen and heard how the best and the worst headshells among those we've measured performed with a moving magent cartridge. The differences were not subtle at all.

Today, we'll examine their measured and subjective performance with the typical low-compliance high-energy moving coil cartridge: Denon DL-103.

A quick reminder of the headshells that we are testing. They had the best and the worst IET measurements in our series (click the pictures to see full reports):
CNC aluminium + steel rods
14.5 grams
One low amplitude resonance at 480 Hz
2mm stamped aluminium alloy sheet
7.3 grams
Peak at 300 Hz, ringing for more than half a second
The cartridge we're using today is a Denon DL-103. When it comes to mechanical vibrations, DL-103's profile is representative of a typical moving coil cartridge.

We haven't changed anything else from the last 2 posts:

  • GrooveMaster II tonearm
  • TechDAS AF 3 turntable
  • Playing back the vertically modulated 20 Hz to 20 kHz sweep from a test LP
  • 2 accelerometers are recording the vertical acceleration: one at the headshell, and one on the armtube.

The first chart shows the measurements taken at headshells. To add another angle to the comparison, we have decided to include the results we got with the AT7V cartridge. Drag the red vertical line to reveal the measurements done with the MC or MM cartridge.

(please ignore the 150 Hz peak, it's the 3rd harmonic of 50 Hz on a noisy DAQ channel)
With the Denon, it's more of the same differences that we've noticed before with the Audio Technica AT7V. The only notable exception is lack of a prominent 1000 Hz peak with the Denon. I have no explanation for its sudden disappearance, especially given its re-appearance when measured at the arm tube.

The high frequency resonances are predictably a lot more pronounced with a moving coil cartridge.

The second chart shows the accelerometer readings at the arm tube. We have included the results from the last post too. Drag the red vertical line to reveal the measurements done with the MC or MM cartridge.
The measurements at the arm tube are so close they might've been part of the same series. The only difference is the frequency of the counterweight stub resonance. We've used a different heavier counterweight with a Denon, and it had to be positioned a lot closer to the tonearm's center of rotation.

The high frequency vibrations from the moving coil cartridge do travel a bit farther down the armtube.
Subjective Evaluation
The OEM headshell gave a lot of glare and sibilance to the normally subdued DL-103
I have 2 Denon DL-103s with close serial numbers. To get a better sonic comparision, I've mounted one on the OEM headshell, the other on the Orsonic, and kept swapping them back and forth.

Again, I've started with the OEM headshell. It introduced a lot of glare and sibilance with the normally quite subdued in the highs DL-103. Listening back-to-back with the Orsonic, the collapse of the stereo image depth was uncanny. The Denon isn't a master of detail retrieval, but the relative lack of them with the OEM headshell was quite striking. The timbres were simplified a lot too.

With the Orsonic headshell, the 3D effect is exactly the same as it was with the Audio Technica. Sudden appearance of depth where previously there was none.

I think we have enough experimental evidence and listening time to present a few conclusions. Here's what I think we can say with some certainty:
Headshells impact the measured and subjective performance of the tonearm in the materially significant way
The measured performance difference between headshells is dramatic. It cannot be fully predicted by examining the materials and construction of the headshell
The simple IET measurement is a good predictor of both measured performance of the installed headshell, and of how pleasant it would subjectively sound
The measured and audible differences between headshells remain broadly the same with different types and makes of pickup cartridges
This concludes our headshell examination series.

But, given how important the headshells are, isn't it tempting to try and improve on the wonderful Orsonic that performs so well? Is it at all possible to build a headshell that would be significantly better? Say, twice as good?

Stay with us, and you'll find out!
Please subscribe to receive blog updates in your inbox!
comments powered by HyperComments