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7/14/2017

The Analog Dept. - Component Review:

Technics EPC 205C mkII moving magnet phono cartridge

Date: 7/14/2017

Author: Steve Clarke

 

Cartridge specs:

Type: Moving Magnet

Output Voltage: 3.5 mV
Frequency Response: 10Hz - 40 kHz
Tracking Force: 1.0 - 1.5g
Mass: 6.5g
Channel Separation: 25 db
Load Impedance: 47k ohms
Stylus: EPS-205ED
Stylus Tip: elliptical 0.2 x 0.7mil
Cantilever: titanium
Dynamic Compliance: 10 x 10-6cm/Dyne
FYI: 10 x 10-6 cm/dyne is the same as 10-um/mN.

In the beginning……

I searched for one of these cartridges because I had heard, from another vinyl nut, that this particular model has been very well regarded, often overlooked, and back in the day was moderately priced. Maybe I could find a used sample in good shape, and for a reasonable price.

Motivation #2: Over the past few years I have been looking for ‘exceptional’ examples of vintage moving magnet cartridges that can be used on my Thorens TD124 turntable without having any issues of the magnet within the cartridge pulling itself toward the cast iron flywheel beneath the upper clutch-operated aluminum platter. Moving coil phonograph cartridges have much larger magnets within them than do moving magnet cartridges. Therefore the smaller magnet of the moving magnet type will produce a lesser magnetic field and does not try to pull itself down toward the iron flywheel of the Thorens.

However, this does happen when using some moving coil  cartridges on the TD124. Indeed there is a downward pull. Example; I have measured a Denon DL-103R that exerted 1/2gram of pull toward the iron while using a digital scale that puts the stylus at record height. This magnetic pull can be compensated for in at at least one way I know of to accurately set vertical tracking force on the original TD124. Yet, and no doubt, this magnetic pull from beneath does modify the magnetic field surrounding the moving coil cartridge. What effect this modified magnetic field may or may not have on sound quality remains an unanswered question. Then again, moving coil cartridges have been in use on the TD124 (with iron flywheel) since its early days. Think Ortofon SPU for example. And I have used a few different types of moving coil on it to good effect. Yet, there is this nagging doubt.

Another motivating factor for me is that I want to get familiar with some of the more notable moving magnet cartridges from the past 30 to 40 years. Yes, the elastomer donut that provides the suspension to the cantilever of these old cartridges can and have deteriorated with years of exposure to whatever atmospheres they were in. Other examples might be found to have survived the years intact and still be serviceable. Two years ago I was lucky when I found a new old stock (NOS) Sonus Blue. And then there was that ADC ST XLM-II, still sealed in its factory package when I bought it in 2013. Could I have similar good fortune in my hunt for a healthy EPC 205C MKII? Well, it helps when you buy from reputable sellers that know their business. In this case I purchased my sample from Samurai Electronics over eBay. They’ve been selling on eBay for several years and maintain 100% positive feedback with over 3347 feedback. It just seems likely that they are not going to risk any negative feedback. So I bought a sample from their eBay store at $99.50 usd. Plus $10 to ship from Japan to my location in Washington State. Delivery time was less than a week. The cartridge arrived intact and appeared just as described. Off to a good start.

Some have asked the question; is it really true that moving coil cartridges sound superior to moving magnet cartridges? I had already embarked on a path to explore this when I reviewed the Sonus Blue and ADC ST-XLM II cartridges. There are a few more vintage moving magnet cartridges I want to sample, but for now it is this Technics model that I have in front of me.

When it comes to matching tonearms and cartridges there are some math tools available to help make reasonably accurate predictions prior to spending any funds. And one of these will be discussed in this article down the page. For now I can say that of the four tonearms in my possession I have tried this cartridge in two of them. The first being a Graham 2.2. Then I tried it in a very different and much lower mass Infinity Black Widow. As part of my setup regimen I used the HFN-001 test record to measure tonearm/cartridge system resonance in both of these arms. In the Graham the arm/cartridge resonated at 8 Hz. In the Black Widow tonearm the arm/cartridge resonated at 11 Hz. Both of these measures indicated a match that should have worked well enough. Although, in the Graham, the EPC 205C-II sounded somewhat restrained.

Listening. A summary of observations:

Note: This was carried out over several days and conclusions were drawn after listening to a long list of familiar albums within my collection. In many ways these Lps are ‘the usual suspects’ that I am familiar with and will often use to evaluate various system attributes.

BW/205C-II vs. Graham/205C-II:

In the BW tonearm, the cartridge sound quality opens up.
Transparency. A sense of openness and clarity that wasn’t there in the Graham..
Tone, more lifelike than in the Graham arm.
transients, the speed of attack seems more apparent and lively
details, micro & macro. Become sharper.
Bass weight is good. More weight than I heard from this arm when it carried the ADC ST XLM-II, or the Sonus Blue.
Bass tone texture and tightness. It is well described. Not loose like at least one of the more expensive moving coil cartridge I’ve owned. Not as tight or texturally articulate in the bass frequencies as I have heard with a Shelter 501-II in the Graham tonearm.  
Mid-range: Coherent, of a whole with the upper and lower frequencies. Nothing added. Good.
Upper frequencies: cleaner more articulate than before.

Don’t blame the Graham arm. Blame the guy that mounted the cartridge with too much compliance to it. Something in that setup just did not work well. Perhaps the suspension and tensioner wire within the stylus assembly were under too much strain to carry the higher mass when under the dynamic loading of the Graham which, by design, works well with medium and even low compliance phono cartridges. The Black Widow in this review makes a better match. While this may or may not be the optimal tonearm for this cartridge, it certainly sounds very good to my ear.

At this point I can, with good confidence, report that this EPC 205C-II cartridge does indeed make a good substitute for the conical tipped Denon DL-103R. In fact, with its elliptical shaped stylus, it reproduces greater detail. This is as expected. It also produces that sense of drive, the visceral thrust that the Denon also does. Albeit, though, in different tonearms. The Denon I have no plans of trying in the Black Widow. I’m just noting that this Technics cartridge, I feel, is a viable option and deserves consideration. But by all means put it in a lower mass tonearm!

Let us keep in mind that this Technics model cartridge was introduced in 1976 and (almost) any sample you find will be used, old. There is some moderate financial risk involved in the search. However the parts that wear out reside within the stylus assembly and these plug in / pull out and can be renewed. With a brief google web search I have found some replacement stylus assemblies coming from Jico. At this point in time Jico produces three versions of replacement stylus for the EPC 205C-II. One is reasonably priced that features an elliptical diamond. It looks close to original except it lacks the Technics logo on the front facia. The SAS version, with a boron cantilever and Jico’s version of a micro-ridge shaped diamond* is no longer produced. (rats!) The older SAS has been replaced by sapphire and also  ruby cantilevered versions called the Neo SAS/S and the Neo SAS/R. You still get the Super Analog Stylus as before, but these two Neo SAS versions cost quite a bit. The S version has a retail of $211.00 usd and the R is going for $412.00 usd. Just for comparison, the original stylus assembly in my sample uses a titanium cantilever with a (as previously noted) nude mounted elliptical diamond. I’d expect either of the NEO SAS replacement assemblies to reproduce a superior sound due to the stylus profile. Down the road I may try one. Likely I’d try the SAS/S at half the price of the Ruby.

*(note that the SAS identifies the diamond stylus as being their in-house shape known as Super Analog Stylus)

Getting down to the nuts and bolts of it.

There is at least one thing this Technics EPC 205C-II and a Denon DL-103R have in common. Their rated compliance value is achieved through the same kind of test procedure where: dynamic compliance @100hz is measured by determining the minimum VTF at which the onset of mistracking occurs when playing a 50um amplitude 100Hz frequency modulated groove. We can find reference to this explanation from noted tonearm manufacturer H.H. Moerch at his website where he has published a downloadable pdf we can refer to..

Here’s a link to that document:

http://www.moerch.dk   then go to: homepage/instructions/cartridge armtube combination list)

In his paper, Moerch offers a simple means to translate from the dynamic @100Hz value to the more common 10Hz rating that many/most cartridges use. Simply take the  rated "dynamic"  value and multiply by anywhere from 1.5 to 2. The Technics rated dynamic compliance of 10 * 10^6 cm/dyne, multiply by 2 = 20 at the 10Hz method. And this is a value that can be plugged into a formula offered within the same Moerch paper that can be used to predict the tonearm/cartridge system resonance. Here it is:

Where:

C = cartridge compliance in either ( __* um/mN or __ * 10^6 cm/dyne) (the same)
Ma = tonearm effective mass in grams
Mcar = cartridge weight in grams (add also the weight of fastener screws and nuts, etc)
Fress = system resonance frequency in Hz

Using the above formula and plugging in the required values from the Black Widow spec list  I came up with a predicted arm/cartridge resonance at 10.9hz. This proved to be close to reality as when using the HFN-001 test record, side 2 track 2 the measured resonance was 11Hz. The formula appears to work and so did H.H. Moerch’s simple method of conversion (times 2) noted above.

At this point I need to add an important note about fitting the EPC 205C-II into the Black Widow headshell. As it was, the cartridge body was approximately 1/16” too wide and would not clear the portion of the headshell comprised of a cylindrical hub that slips over the carbon fiber armtube and then is clamped by means of a small machine screw to tighten down over said arm tube.  

Other words; it would not fit and could not be mounted to the Black Widow tonearm without doing the following:  I used a small fine-cut swiss pattern file to remove material and make clearance both to the hub on the headshell as well as a similar amount that was removed from the plastic mounting body adjacent the two cartridge body M3 mounting holes. When done the cartridge mounted with enough clearance to adjust zenith correctly without the cartridge body making contact to the edge of the armtube. It is a close fit, but everything cleared after the business with the fine-cut file.  In this way I was able to proceed.

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HFN 001 test record; Lateral tonearm/cartridge resonance measures at 8Hz in the Graham 2.2 tonearm.  Link to movie of the test.
HFN 001 test record: Side One, Bias tracks (torture tracks) 6 thru 9.  Passes track 8 in the Graham 2.2 tonearm.
 
HFN 001 test record: Lateral tonearm/cartridge resonance measures at 11hz in the Infinity Black Widow tonearm with a rated effective mass of just 3grams.  Link to movie of the test
HFN 001 test record: Side 1 bias tracks (torture tracks) 6 thru 9.  Passes track 8 in the Infinity Black Widow tonearm.

Note about the videos.  File type is ".mov" .  These will play back in either Window Media Player or Apple Quicktime.  Using the Firefox browser is problematic.  In my experience the sound does not play when using Firefox.  However when using IE11 or Google Chrome the movie plays without any issue.  You are welcome to download the video to your local hard drive.

Associated equipment:

Speakers: NHT 2.9
Amplifier/pre-amp: Classe’ CAP-151 integrated amplifier/pre-amplifier (150 wpc rms at 8 ohms)
Phono stage: built-in solid state within the above noted Classe’ CAP-151 47ohm at input.
Turntable: Thorens TD124 sn# 13943 with recent refurbish, mounted via:......fresh mushrooms from Audiosilente, plinth; repaired open box plywood, re-inforced internally with mdf. Heavy rubber feet, on Neuance platform, over cork level adjusters, over heavy wood turntable base stand.
Room treatments: none. I’ll be working on that.

Other notes: I just operate the formulas in this article. I don’t devise them. Thanks to H.H. Moerch for providing this useful tool and also for his explanation of the '@100Hz compliance' method.  And this reminds me, I need to try one of H.H. Moerch's tonearms...Word is that they are very good.

end of review