Since its founding as the Electrical Phono Film Company in 1918, Ortofon (whose name is derived from the Greek words for “correct sound”) has gained a reputation for its innovations, product development prowess, and precision manufacturing capabilities. Among numerous industry firsts, Ortofon is credited with developing the first mono cutterhead in 1946, and the moving-coil cartridge in 1948. The company has also been producing tonearms for the past sixty years since it released the A212 tonearm in 1953. The new TA-series tonearms are the latest in this venerable firm’s rich analog history. The combination of the Ortofon TA-110 tonearm and Cadenza Black moving-coil cartridge that I used in my review of the Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 turntable impressed me so much that I thought both merited more extensive commentary.
Ortofon TA-110 Tonearm
As is often the case in high-performance audio, looks can be deceiving. Although quite attractive and well finished, at first glance the new Ortofon TA-110 looks somewhat “old school” with its detachable headshell and standard 9-inch, s-shaped aluminum armtube. While it doesn’t sport an exquisite, integrated, one-piece magnesium armtube/headshell like the SME 5 or features like fine VTA adjustment during play such as the Tri-planar u II or Graham Phantom II, as with those other ’arms it utilizes advanced technology to dampen the vibrations in the armtube. At less than one-third of its competitors’ cost, the Ortofon TA-110 is not only far more affordable, but its sonic performance comes surprisingly close to those “super-’arms” in a few key areas.
To help keep costs down, most of the tonearm’s parts are produced by Jelco, an OEM manufacturer in Japan with a long and influential analog history of its own. Jelco has earned a reputation for developing praiseworthy, modestly priced tonearms for many audio companies such as the classic Sumiko MMT and the Graham Robin, among others. In contrast to Jelco’s house designs, the bearings used in the 9" TA-110 and 12" TA-210 are specially made and polished for Ortofon and are higher in quality, producing less bearing friction—another of the keys to the TA-110’s superior performance. Other desirable additions include a custom-machined extra-mass ring for use with cartridge/headshell combos exceeding 28 grams, a Baerwald (IEC) armtube, a high-quality phono cable using 6N high-purity copper, and an attractive leather-bound case.
While these additions are noteworthy, the major design enhancements made by Ortofon at its factory in Denmark before final assembly elevate this tonearm’s performance to even greater heights. Aided by its computer-modeling tools, Ortofon has been able to effectively apply its extensive knowledge of vibration reduction, gained from its development of bone conductors for the hearing-aid industry, to the TA-110. A precision-machined slit is placed in the middle of the aluminum armtube of the TA- 110 and one of Ortofon’s unique rubber compounds, produced at its own technical rubber facilities in Nakskov, is injected. Besides breaking the symmetry of the armtube, the specially shaped rubber has high vibration-damping characteristics.
Measurement graphs, available on the Ortofon Web site, show that the vibration damping on the TA-110 is most effective between 1kHz and 4kHz, the key areas of the midrange and upper midrange/lower treble. This helps account for the TA-110’s sonic purity and naturalness on vocals, for example, as well as its ability to preserve the leading edge of transients on percussion. Other images show the dramatic differences in armtube stress between a standard armtube like the TA-100 and the TA-110’s rubber- injected armtube. I would suggest that less stress in the armtube means less stress in your listening sessions, reducing aural fatigue while also enhancing clarity and image stability.