The Korf Blog

The inside story: our research,
development and opinions

6 December 2019
Building a High-Performance Headshell, Part III
In this series of posts, we describe some of the design process steps we use at Korf Audio, from material selection to the use of 3D printing in prototyping.

And today, we're presenting the end result. The ceramic headshell done the way nobody did before.

The 3D printing and subsequent IET allowed us to perfect the shape of our ceramic headshell. But what's next, how do we go from the CAD model and material choice to the actual prototype?

A few approaches are possible. You can contact a specialized universal prototyping company, but prepare to pay a lot. Typically, even the simplest prototype like our headshell would have a 5-figure budget.

Alternatively, you could use an aggregator like Alibaba and select a company from the Far East that would build the prototype cheaply in hope of getting a mass production contract. But, there is a communication barrier. Most likely, the first prototype you receive (and pay for) would significantly deviate from your requirements. Multiple iterations are usually needed, and the costs do add up quickly.

The second problem with the Far Eastern approach is the safekeeping of your intellectual property. If your products is reasonably simple (like our headshell here), chances are someone else would start producing it before you've even finished evaluating your prototypes.

There's a third approach—contact Korf Audio! We maintain a list of trusted specialist partners, largely based in the EU. Many don't even have websites, or don't advertize their prototyping services. And we always design with cost-effective prototyping and manufacturing in mind.
As luck (and experience) would have it, our list contained 4 specialist alumina ceramics manufacturers. All provide quotes on the basis of CAD files, and in a week's time we had all the data we needed to choose one.

And, just a month and a half later, our prized new old stock Shure V15V had a new and very smart-looking home. Alumina ceramics has a very pleasant matte texture, and the headshell looks (and feels) like a precision engineering device that it is.
Of course, we are not the first to introduce a ceramic headshell. In 1970s, SAEC ULS-3X and similar Victor (JVC) ceramic headshells became available. The Victor one wasn't a sales success, and is very rare now. The SAEC sold well, has a reputation for good performance, and can sometimes be found on the second-hand market for about $200.
The SAEC ULS-3X (catalogue picture on the right) and the Victor (JVC) ceramic headshells share a common design approach. Back then, the options to shape ceramic castings were extremely limited. So both use the simplest L shape. The connector barrel is the usual alloy Ortofon/SME one, fixed in a ceramic part. There's no strengthening of any kind, and the headshell works like a simple beam that we have simulated a few posts ago.

The mechanical interface between the connector barrel and the ceramic part compromises the rigidity and prevents the headshell from realizing its potential.

The advances in ceramic production allowed us to integrate the connector and the headshell into the single seamless casting. The only non-ceramic structural part is the stainless steel locking pin. It is 9mm long, spreading the load over the entire diameter of the barrel.

To further increase rigidity, we've designed a rib supporting the 90 degree "bend" in the headshell. Having this rib decreases the effective length of the flat headshell part, and thus moves its resonance frequency up and the deflection down.

There's not a single point where the headshell is structurally weakened by a connection or use of lesser materials. Further technical data and the measurements are in the first post of this series.

The contact pins on our headshell accept the "Ortofon-style" leads with 1mm pin connectors on the shell side and 1.3mm pin connectors on the cartridge side. We are currently using it with simple high-quality OFC leads featured in the photos. No rubber washer is necessary for the headshell to lock tight in the connector.

But, I guess, what you really want to know is...

Is it for sale?
A very limited number of these ceramic headshells was made. Most would go to our existing private and corporate clients. If any are left, we would first offer them to the readers of our mailing list. So if you want one, please subscribe!

We might build another batch in a few month's time, but then it would be a slightly different design. In particular, the weight will go up to about 13 grams. If you specifically want a lightweight ceramic headshell, act now. No more would be made.

With this post, we are ending the year 2019, and going on a Christmas break. The next posts would appear starting from the second decade of January.

The Korf Audio team wishes you a happy holiday season, and all the best in the coming 2020!
Please subscribe to receive blog updates in your inbox!
comments powered by HyperComments