Simple Done Well…
By Roy Gregory
Those with audio memories that stretch back to the days when Linn’s LP12 was king and playing CDs generated micro-fractures in your main-bearing spindle will remember the Alphason name. They may well remember an elegantly curved and beautifully engineered, gimbal bearing tonearm, with an integral headshell formed from flattening the titanium armtube. And that in the days long before the arrival of the SME V or Rega RB300…
As interest in and the popularity of record replay waned, the company broadened its product base with a range of audio-specific furniture and equipment racks – with such success that it soon became a furniture manufacturer rather than an analogue specialist. The rest as they say, is history, with original owner Mike Knowles selling the (extremely successful) enterprise in the year 2000 and moving on to pastures new.
But now he’s back. With the resurgence of interest in things vinyl, Alphason Specialist Audiohas re-launched an updated and re-engineered version of the original tonearm, now available in 9“, 10.5” and 12” effective lengths. I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with a product that I first encountered back in my early days in retail. But before then, here’s a little taster of what you can expect from this distinctly no-nonsense, engineering-led operation.
All too often it’s the simplest parts of any product that lead to disappointment, frustration and compromised performance. Cheap spikes cut with rough threads on a loudspeaker; badly designed binding posts that won’t stay tight on an amplifier; a remote control receiver with an acceptance angle so narrow that you need to stand directly in front of the product for the remote handset to work. We’ve all been there – but is there anything quite as frustrating as nasty, cheap cartridge tags fitted to a tonearm? Anybody who has owned a Rega arm will know exactly what I’m talking about! Those nasty bits of bent metal that seem to tarnish overnight and break for fun if you try to adjust their fit – and those are far from the only offenders. Even exotic and expensive tonearms can be let down by their cartridge tags: too loose to make a firm connection; too tight to fit without bending in half; so heavy they add to the arm’s effective mass; so flimsy they don’t make proper contact. Of course, the fact that cartridge pins vary so much in size doesn’t exactly help!
Time to meet the Alphason Pin-Jack, a simple, beautifully executed, universal cartridge tag, fitted as standard to the company’s HR-200S tonearm, but available as a separate part as well, priced at £24.99 (inc. 20% VAT) for a set of four. These deceptively simple metal tubes are actually micro engineered precision collets that ensure consistent contact pressure whatever the size of the cartridge pins. Inside the business end of each tag are six angled fingers, tapered together and mounted on a single ring – just like the chuck on a drill. Push the Pin-Jack onto the cartridge pin and the pin slips through the ring and forces the fingers apart, ensuring a consistent circumferential contact. The Pin-Jacks are small enough not to adversely impact the tonearm’s effective mass, big enough to get hold of with pliers or tweezers and robust enough never to get crushed. So clever; so simple; so effective!