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Ortofon Phono Cartridges
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Ortofon Phono Cartridges

In today’s ever-changing retail electronics market, Ortofon is almost unique as a company that has remained at the forefront of its niche for nearly a hundred years. From its manufacturing plant in the heart of Denmark, the company produces a wide range of phono cartridges and associated products for record players. Some of the models bear a striking similarity to the earliest designs and are still greatly sought after.

Ortofon first began operating in 1918, producing audio equipment for the film industry at the beginning of the era of the ‘talkies’. They spread out into manufacturing products for the domestic audio market around the 1940s, an area they still specialise in to this day. In the early days of electrical record players, the cartridge was based on a piezo-electric system. In these early models, electrical signals are generated by a crystal, energised by the record stylus, or needle as they were known in those days, picking up vibrations from the record. These designs were comparatively efficient, however, they suffered from relatively poor sound quality and a high level of distortion.

This problem was noted by engineers at Ortofon, who came up with the solution of using an electric coil to produce signals, activated in this case by a magnet. The magnet is fixed in the body of the design and the coil moves, coupled to the stylus. The advantage of this design is its inherently excellent sound quality across a wide range of frequencies. However, the signals produced by this method are extremely low level. Ortofon therefore devised a miniature transformer, which was incorporated into the ‘shell’ holding the cartridge. This first model was called the Ortofon SPU, which stands for Stereo Pick Up. Although in a somewhat different form, the SPU is still in production and renowned as one of the best record playing cartridges in the world.

This technology was (and still is) comparatively expensive and difficult to manufacture, but remains the industry standard for the highest quality playback devices. In response to increasing popularity of vinyl records in the 1950s and 1960s, Ortofon were at the leading edge of developing the moving magnet design of cartridge. In this, the magnet is attached mechanically to the stylus and the coil which generates electrical signals is fixed in place. Although sound reproduction is not quite as good as with a moving coil design, it is still excellent and the design has a number of advantages. Primarily, as the coil does not need to be moved, it can be made larger, with more wire windings. This means the cartridge is far more efficient than a moving coil, leading to a reduction in the cost of associated equipment. The moving magnet design is also simpler and cheaper to manufacture.

Vinyl record sales dramatically reduced once the compact disc and other media gained popularity. However the market still existed, and to this day remains the medium of choice for audio enthusiasts and disc jockeys. Ortofon survived these trends and remains at the forefront of the market. In fact, vinyl records have made somewhat of a comeback of late and the market is now comparatively buoyant once more. Ortofon is also held in high regard as it continues to support older models and supplies replacement styli for many cartridges.

Currently, the models manufactured and supplied by the company run from the low-cost Ortofon 2M moving magnet design, through the high performance moving coil Ortofon Rondo range and up to the superb Ortofon SPU models. They also produce a small number of ‘extreme’ models aimed at the ultimate enthusiasts which are very costly, but made to incredibly high standards. Almost uniquely, and in line with its ethos, they also continue to support people with old record collections by manufacturing various cartridges specifically designed for playing 78rpm records.

Whilst the market for consumer electronics is a fickle one, there is little doubt that this is one manufacturer likely to be around for a long time yet!


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