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Price: 5144 zł

Distribution: Mediam Sp. z o.o.

ul. Wadowicka 12, 30-415 Kraków

tel.: 12 269 29 74
fax: 12 269 21 51


Polish language: ORTOFON

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

Gus Portokalos, the father of the main character of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, (dir. Joel Zwick, 2002) was able to derive all words, any language, from a Greek word. He was even able to connect the Japanese “kimono” with the Greek “himona”. How? Here the introduction to Greekology by Portolakos: „Kimono, kimono, kimono. Ha! Of course! Kimono is come from the Greek word himona, is mean winter. So, what do you wear in the wintertime to stay warm? A robe. You see: robe, kimono. There you go!”. He would have no problems with the name of the manufacturer of this cartridge – Ortofon means in Greek exactly that, what it means: precise (adequate) sound’.

But Ortofon wasn’t Ortofon from the beginning. Founded in Denmark, in 1918, during the restoration of that country after WWI, the company was named Fonofilm. This was due to the fact, that at that time, it made audio system for the film industry. As you can easily count, the company had its 90th anniversary last year, which was celebrated in Nakskov, where the headquarters is located. A beautiful age! The event, that lead it in the direction it keeps till today, happened during the WWII, when the Danes designed a vinyl cutter, which used moving coils instead of moving magnets. And that lead to the sale of the first moving coil cartridge in 1948. Let me state this again: Ortofon is the inventor of moving coil (MC) cartridges, and has about 60 years of experience in making them. In the late 50-ties the company changed its name to Ortofon, and already in 1959 the first cartridge of the SPU - Stereo Pick Up - was manufactured, a breakthrough at that time. From the very beginning the body of the cartridge was connected with the headshell, what formed a rigid, resistant to resonances, combination. However that approach required the usage of special tonearms with removable headshell. Until today the diamond has a spherical or elliptical cut, a Bakelite body and a short, aluminum cantilever. SPU has also low compliance. Similar to the company EMT Ortofon produced – and does it till today – the SPU cartridges in two versions: ‘G’, where the distance between the diamond and the mounting place is 50mm and ‘A’, where this distance is 32mm. We can also encounter the version SPU-N (N=nude) without the protective body, and SPU-T (T=transformer), where a step-up transformer is integrated, which increases the output voltage. Art Dudley writes in his splendid test of the Synergy A („Stereophile”, Vol.32, No.2, February 2009, p. 41; online version HERE), that while EMT manufactured in time only the ‘A’ version of their cartridge, Ortofon continued to make the ‘A’ and ‘G’ versions simultaneously. And yet, at a certain point in time, the ‘A’ version disappeared from the company catalog. It turned out, that when the company moved to another location in 1971, vital components to manufacture that version got lost. Only recently, those were recovered, and the company resumed production for a while. And the SPU Synergy A is a summary of the whole history of those cartridges. Let me just add, that for the 90th anniversary, the company manufactured a limited amount of SPU 90th Anniversary type ‘G’. You can read about those in another Dudley article, in April 2009 issue of Stereophile (Vol.32, No. 4, s. 39-45) as he is a vintage lover.

Like I said, the cartridge SPU Synergy A is integrated in a body, that replaces a classic headshell. It is mounted in the classic way, using a bayonet mount and four signal pins. The case is, that the tonearm has to have a removable headshell, and it has to be mounted closer to the platter than usual, what means, that it needs a special mounting hole drilled, or that you have to use an SME tonearm, which can be adjusted by moving the complete arm in a special mechanism. And finally, the tonearm should be quite heavy, as the cartridge is heavy and has low compliance. I had luck, because I had the newest SME M2-12R tonearm at my disposal, with 12” length and “J” shape, what means it is absolutely classic for the time, the SPU concept was created.


  • Top ‘84, Polskie Nagrania Muza, SX 2217, LP.
  • Bajm, Bajm, Pronit, PLP-0004, LP.
  • Clifford Brown&Max Roach, Study in Brown, EmArcy/Universal Music Japan, UCJU-9072, 180 g LP.
  • Count Basie&Tony Benett, Basie/Benett, Roulette/Classic Records, SR 25072, 4 x 45 rpm, special one-sided pressing, 180 g LP.
  • Eva Cassidy, Songbird, Blix Street/S&P Records, S&P-501, 180 g LP.
  • Frank Sinatra, Sinatra&Sextet: Live in Paris, Reprise/Mobile Fidelity, MFSL 1-312, No. 238, 2 x 180 g LP.
  • Frank Sinatra, Sinatra&Strings, Reprise/Mobile Fidelity, MFSL 1-313, No. 199, 180 g LP.
  • Frank Sinatra, The Voice, Columbia/Classic Records, CL- 743, 180 g LP.
  • Klaus Mitffoch, Klaus Mitffoch, Tonpress, SX-T40, LP.
  • Kombi, Kombi, Pronit, SX 1857, LP.
  • Kraftwerk, The Man Machine, Mute/EMI, Stumm 306, 180 g LP.
  • Kult, Kult, Polton, LPP-030, LP.
  • Lady Pank, Lady Pank, Tonpress SX 126, LP.
  • Lokomotiv GT, In Warsaw, Polskie Nagrania Muza SX 1384, LP.
  • Pearl Jam, Ten, Epic/Legacy/Sony Music, 88697413021, 2 180 g LP.
  • Slayer, Live Udead, Polskie Nagrania Muza, SX 2986, LP.
  • Tori Amos, Abnormally Attracted To Sin, Universal Republic Records, B0012906-01, 2 x 180 g LP.
  • U2, War, Island, 205 259-320, LP.
  • Vijay Iyer Trio, Historicity, ACT Music+Vision, ACT 9489-1, 2 x 180 g LP.

Cartridges with a spherical cut sound different than those with an elliptical or super-elliptical cut. The sound of those two kinds of cartridges is so distinct, that we can decide what we like best, and then search for something within a given group. However it is different with Ortofon. The sound is different than with Air Tight PC-1 or with Benz Micro Wood S H, which I had for comparison, but also different to Denon DL-103, DL-103R and DL-103SA. This is a completely different world. I will come to the detailed description in a moment, because first I would like to share something else with you – the stream of emotions. Because the Synergy A has some magical (I do not believe in magic, but when we cannot describe something, then we tend to perceive it that way…) power, to convert the light pressed in the grooves into something, that passes around the conscious parts of the brain and touches directly the emotional portion. Although the first disc I listened to with the Ortofon was the Frank Sinatra concert Frank Sinatra: Live In Paris, nicely issued this year by Mobile Fidelity, I quickly reached to a shelf, carefully hidden from the eyesight of others… There I keep my embarrassing secrets: the debut disc of Lady Pank, the first disc of Kombi (where Skawiński sings like a grown girl), Kult from Kult with Krew Boga, Bajm from Bajm and the debut disc of Klausa Mitffoch with the incredible Strzeż się tych miejsc. And in addition – I will burn down from shame completely in a moment – discs from Marek & Wacek and the coup de grâce, Lokomotiv GT… All those discs were almost shaved by me with a heavy piezoelectric cartridge mounted on my first, GDR made turntable, and those are in a far from mint condition. Multiple washing runs in the Okki Nokki , helped a little – but let me be frank – in many cases it helped nothing. I mentioned only a few discs, because I listened to many, many more during two days. Because the Ortofon Synergy A played them in a way, that the sound engineers, who created the discs, could dream of.

The sound was full, incredibly saturated, and had a very well articulated bass. The first plane was immediately occupied by the vocals, as it turns out, the light of the eye of the designers of this cartridge. This was not such warm sound like from the Denon DL-103, or older EMT, or even Ortofon itself (saying “old” I mean those having more than 30 years of age), but the sound had more weight here, was fuller and was better differentiated. Like I said bass was top notch. Usually on Polish discs, pressed on some garbage – those should not be called vinyl – bas is almost nonexistent, and the sound is flat and light. But not with the Ortofon. Everything sounded incredibly strong and well. Equally incredible was the reverb – the quality of the acoustics placed me on alert already with the Sinatra, but the way the Danish cartridge got out the depth of the stage, how it showed the planes, how it differentiated the instruments on the axis of listening, was for me something incredible, regardless of the price. For all those pleasures we have to pay with a higher tracking noise than with narrower diamonds, a much higher one. But that what we get is real music, and we do not have to think about anything to choose that presentation, even at the price of higher noise. This the more, as thorough cartridges cannot bring those discs to life.

Air Tight played them splendidly, with the Transrotor Argos they gave a true show of discovering new “spaces”. Even then, the Ortofon went further, with the relatively cheap tonearm SME M2-12R it skipped the technical aspects of playback and went directly to music. This is for sure attributable to the higher than usual tracking force of the cartridge, but also to the shape of the diamond. Because the clicks were also not very perceptible. Those were audible, but as background, and not in the front. This happens because the Synergy A clearly shapes sound. It could be described best using the word ‘vintage’. But it would not be a full description. The vintage character of the Synergy A is visible in the form of withdrawn upper treble and underlined midrange. This is why less well recorded discs, old and worn out ones, sound so well – the whole garbage, which other cartridges usually place on equal level with music, is discarded. With new discs, where there is more of the treble, this will be heard as a modification, that there should be more in that subrange. But because that what is a bit lower, in the range of 5-10kHz sounds incredible (and I know what I am talking about) in a full, vivid and coherent way, we have the impression, that it is the Ortofon, that shows the sound in a way it should have been shown. This is something similar, as with life’s own priorities. Treating everything in an egalitarian way, equally, we receive something like a information and emotional “noise”. Superficially everything is OK, we are open to reality and people, not discarding anything upfront. But because we are limited by our perceptive abilities, in reality this results in exactly the opposite. But if we set a level of our sensibility, if we know (or at least assume) what is important for us, what is less, and what is not important at all, then that what reaches us is fuller, juicier, and we are more relaxed. But there is one, a very basic one, problem with all that: we have to choose our priorities right. And the Ortofon did it well.

But, like I said, this is a certain “interpretation” of the sound, and not the reality. Each element of the sound path interprets the sound in its own way, this is clear. But the Ortofon does it “stronger”, does it “more”. We have to take a look at how this Danish cartridge behaves with new, high quality, pressings. The result will be ambiguous – and that taken literally. In the end, this is not a cartridge, that gives any special insight into the recording, because it lacks resolution in the lower level signals, where other cartridges, with a different cut – also from the same price level, excel. This was audible well with the disc The Man Machine from the newest Kraftwer re-edition. This resulted in lower energy of the treble, and especially the harmonics, and a slight hardening of the attack on the mid bass. The bass itself is strong and full, but its differentiation is only good. In general it is hard to talk about high resolution of the Synergy A, especially when it is about low signals. It is different with the strong ones, those are shown stronger, that in most other cartridges I know. The virtual sources are big and natural in their mass and volume. That was the case with the original pressing of the U2 War disc and the Japanese edition of Study in Brown Clifford Brown and Max Roach. The sounds on those discs were just right and had sense. And that would be hard to achieve, if there would be something “wrong” with the sound. The mentioned disc of the Irish group is quite light in its sound, and that is not masked with the Ortofon. But the cartridge showed the energy of the guitars and bass, as if that was recorded that way. Something like a musical “nerve” was connected directly to the tonearm, as if there would be no diamond, and all those complicated machinery in-between. Listen to Sunday, Bloody Sunday and you’ll have pins and needles all over. Or Alive from the re-edition of Pearl Jam’s Ten - the same thing. And in absolute terms those are no quality masters, we could even say that those are only mediocre.

As it seem, elements like: reproduction of spatial relationships between the instruments, reverbs, vocals, or the organization of the sound as a whole are just plain brilliant with the Ortofon Synergy A, when it plays older discs, they give no other cartridge, of those, which I know at least, no chance, there is no comparison. This is a congenial combination of technology and music, that should become the basis for every music lover, who owns such discs in his collection. It would be best, if this Danish cartridge, mounted on this tonearm (SME M2-12R), would be a second, optional one. If we would have a possibility to mount two tonearms – even better, then you should do it as soon as possible, and you would have so many discs to listen to, that you will have for sure not enough time to do it, as life is short. This can also be the basic cartridge, but then you will have to reconcile a few things. With new discs, and I mean pressing, and not recording date, the resolution will not be as good, as with other good cartridges. Small details, envelope, three dimensionality within a given virtual source, etc, will not be as unanimous. Also the limitation of the frequency response at the top end will not allow the cymbals to reverb fully, other instruments sounding in that region will also not be sounding as clean and open way, as with for example with the Benz Micro Wood S L or even the S H. Also lower bass will be rather homogenized than differentiated. It will not boom, it will not stretch, it will have splendid timbre, but it will be rather the background for the midrange. Yes, midrange… This is the clou and the strongest point of this cartridge. The voices sound more natural than usual, those are bigger, and it does not matter, that it is a mechanical reproduction. This alone would be justification enough to buy this cartridge and forget about the outside world. And in addition the fact, that the clicks are almost inaudible – this is a thing, we cannot omit. At the end of the test I listened to the bad, Polish pressing of the disc Live Undead Slayer and now I know, that I will recommend the Synergy A not only to lovers of music from years ago, not only vocal music lovers, not only good people, but also to metal lovers – that way metal played only once, on the SME 30A with Dynavector DRT XV-1S cartridge, in the RCM system (here). But never for this money!


The cartridge SPU Synergy A from the Danish company Orfofon is quite an atypical proposition. Its roots reach as far as 1959, when the engineer working for that company, Robert Gudmandsen, designed the first SPU type cartridge (Stereo PickUp). This is a MC cartridge (Moving Coil), integrated with the headshell, which usually is a part of the tonearm. Here the connection is total – tuning of the sound, compliance and weight are made for the whole system, and not for the cartridge alone. The body is made from a new compound – epoxy resin and wood fibers. Until recently the company used pure Bakelite, which is even mentioned in the Synergy A manual, but in reality, this is a composite. In the ‘A’ version of the SPU the diamond is mounted 32mm from the mounting place, and in the longer ‘G’ version – 50mm. This means, that the tonearm with the ‘A’ version will be shorter, that is why it is best to use it with 12” tonearms, which will be longer than 9”, and secondly, the mass of the tonearm will be a better match for the cartridge.

The diamond has an elliptical cut – Ortofon calls it Nude Eliptical. The mounting element to the generator is made from one piece, which is gold plated. The element for raising the cartridge is also gold plated, as well as the round name plate, placed on top of the cartridge. Also the wires used for the coils were gold plated, the mounting pin and collar. The output from the coils is also interesting – there solid, silver, rigid wires used. Although this is a MC type cartridge, the output voltage is quite high – 0.5mV. Its low internal impedance suggest the usage of step-up transformers, or using preamplifiers, which utilize such on their inputs. I tried the Ortofon with the Air Tight ATH-2 transformer and the Manley Steelhead. The latter faired best, and was used for the whole test, besides my faithful Sensor Prelude IC RCM Audio. Because in fact, the Ortofon will sound well with most good preamplifiers, given we load it with low impedance. The instruction tells about the range of 10-50Ω - for me 40Ω was just right. The company recommends the tracking force at a level of 3g, but for me, as well as for Art Dudley earlier, everything sounded better, when the force was set to 3.4 – 3.5g.

Technical data (according to manufacturer):
Output voltage: 500μV
Channel balance (1kHz): 1.5dB
Channel separation (1kHz): 23dB
Channel separation (15kHz): 23dB
Frequency response (-3dB): 20-30 000Hz
Frequency response (-2dB): 20-20 000Hz
FIM distortion: 1%
Compliance: 8μm/mN
Tracking force: 2.5-3.5g (25-35N)
Recommended tracking force: 3g (30N)
Tracking angle: 20°
Internal impedance: 2Ω
Recommended load: 10-50Ω
Cartridge weight: 29 g

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  • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Prime (tested HERE)
  • Phono preamp: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Preamp: Leben RS-28CX (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Polaris II, tested HERE)
  • Power amp: Luxman M-800A (tested HERE)
  • Integrated amp: Leben CS300 (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • headphones: AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • interconnects: CD-preamp: Wireworld Gold Eclipse 52 (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Velum NF-G SE (tested HERE)
  • speaker cable: Velum LS-G (tested HERE)
  • power cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9100 (CD; reviewed HERE) and 2 x Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC7100 (preamp, power amp (reviewed HERE)
  • power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • audio stand Base
  • resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE ) Turntables change continuously, as do cartridges. My dream setup: SME 30 with Series V tone-arm and Air Tight PC-1 cartridge (also in the PC-1 Mono version).