Effective vibration dampening, less armtube stress, and high- quality bearings yield a tonearm that gets out of the way of the music, without inserting its own colorations. Its midrange performance comes close to that of its more expensive competition, with much of the openness and freedom from smearing and distortion one hears when listening to mastertapes on a great reel-to-reel deck like the uHA-HQ Phase six. Bass is well controlled and provides a solid foundation to the music, and the highs are smooth without becoming overly aggressive.
While the TA-110’s performance belies its relatively modest price, moving up to the latest version of my reference Tri-planar u II was instructive. Both arms have a remarkable neutrality and freedom from grain in the crucial midrange and lower treble, yet the Tri-planar digs out more fine details. The differences were more apparent at the frequency extremes where the Tri- planar produced more extension and definition, as well as greater overall authority in the deep bass. However, the TA-110 was no slouch in these areas. Admittedly, the Tri-planar’s ability to make repeatable micro-adjustments to VTA is arguably as good as it gets, and if you’re someone who changes VTA between 180 and 200 gram albums, the Tri-Planar u II or the Graham Phantom II are definitely hard to beat, but you’ll pay a premium. To put this in some perspective, I did not find adjusting the VTA on the magnificent SME V that much easier and repeatable than on the Ortofon. Another benefit is that the TA-110’s detachable headshell makes it easier to swap cartridges on the TA-110 than on the integrated headshell designs (except for the Grahams, where one swaps out the entire armtube/headshell).
With more manufacturers selling complete turntable system packages under their own badges, the TA-110 may have a difficult time finding a home, but it is definitely worth pursuing. It mates superbly with the Merrill-Williams 101 turntable, which also makes extensive and effective use of elastomers to control and reduce resonances, and the Ortofon Cadenza Black (and reportedly other high-performance Ortofon cartridges). What is striking about this analog front-end is its clarity and transient speed, lack of distortion and smearing, broad and deep soundstaging, engaging transparency, and smooth but detailed presentation. I was shocked by how close this combination came to the sound of mastertapes in the critical midrange.
The TA-110 is a welcome addition to the ’arms race, leveraging Ortofon’s experience in technical rubber and vibration management into an affordable separate tonearm that controls and dampens spurious vibrations quite effectively. These innovations produce a highly musical, natural, and pure sound that is surprising in this price class. If you prefer to “set-and- forget” your tonearm, you can save a bundle, get soul-satisfying performance, and come closer to the music than you might expect.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: 9-inch, static-balance tonearm
Effective length: 231mm
Tracking force adjusting range (direct reading): 0–3 g
Height adjustment range: 35 to 55mm
Effective mass (without headshell): 3.5g
Offset angle: 23.9˚
Ortofon Cadenza Black
Type: Moving-coil phono cartridge
Output voltage: 0.3 mV
Stylus type: Nude Shibata on Boron cantilever
Recommended tracking force: 2.3g
Recommend load impedance: >10 ohms
Cartridge weight: 10.7g
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UHA-HQ Phase Six Reel-to-Reel Deck; Merrill Williams R.E.A.L 101 and VPI Aries turntables (TNT V platter & bearing), Tri-planar U II and Graham 1.5 tonearms (w/2.2 bearing), and Koetsu Black cartridge; Esoteric SA-50 CA/SACD player; MFA Venusian (Frankland modified) preamp; Audio Research DS 450M and PrimaLuna DiaLogue Seven monoblock amplifiers; Quad ESL -57 (PK modified) and Sonus faber Amati futura loudspeakers; REL G-1 subwoofer; Silver Circle Audio Pure Power One 5.0 power conditioner; Nordost Valhalla or AudioQuest Niagra interconnects, AudioQuest Metro speaker cables, etc.