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EMT TMD 25N Mono Cartridge Review

Jack Roberts savors unparalleled treasures dug up by the $1,800 mono cartridge

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EMT TMD 25N mono cartridge

The Question and Explanation

Why would anyone go to the trouble and expense of putting together a mono vinyl setup? The answer is simple; there is a lot of great music out there available only on mono and it sounds so much better on a true-mono cartridge. By a true-mono cartridge I mean a cartridge designed from the ground up to play monaural records.

First, a true mono cartridge is wired and built only to pickup signals off the record in the horizontal plane. You see, the grove of a monaural recordings is modulated only in the horizontal plane. Stereo recordings are cut into the vinyl at a forty-five degree angle with a separate channel of information on each of the grove walls. This requires the stylus to pick up signals in both the horizontal and vertical plane. Just summing the channels internally will not keep a cartridge from picking up noise from the vertical plane of the record grooves. By the way, on a mono record noise is all there can be in the vertical plane.

So, if you design a cartridge to be a stereo cartridge and simply wire it internally as a mono cartridge, you will have done little more than a mono switch on a preamp; even a Y-connector will do. If you have a cartridge that is designed from the ground up as a mono cartridge, then the coils or magnets will be placed and designed in such a way to only pick up the signals from the horizontal plane. You should be asking at this point, who cares? Well, anyone who owns a lot of great monaural records cares, because most physical damage to records occur in the vertical part of the grove for obvious reason. Thus, by not even picking up or amplifying this information you eliminate a lot of the noise from mono records that you hear when played back through a stereo cartridge.

Another thing you get from a real mono cartridge is a sound that is more substantial and bigger than when the same recording is played back on a stereo cartridge, even one as good as my Benz TR. Stereo cartridges have a way of making monaural recordings sound small and wispy. If you are like I was, you just think that’s the way they sounded and thus avoided them.

A Learning Experience

My education about and then, love, for monaural recordings began about eight years ago. It was a direct result of buying a Sony SCD777ES back in 2000. As an early adopter, the pool of SACDs to pick from was really small, but there were a good many old jazz classics available. I discovered that a lot of these were mono and they sounded just incredible.

My next learning experience about playing back these old mono recordings came over at Pitch Perfect Audio in San Francisco. I had taken over my modded 777 over to compare to the wonderful Shindo vinyl setup. As good as the SACD was, it was falling short every time and then it happened: The Verve 60th Anniversary special SACD of Ella and Louis, in my opinion, had just bettered the vinyl setup. It was the first mono we had played. It was then that Matt said, “give me a minute and let’s do that again.” He unscrewed the head shell with the built-in Shindo cartridge. He put on an EMT mono cartridge, also built into on of those old Ortofon looking head shells. We did the comparison again and I was so disappointed: my 777 lost again. We quit comparing SACD and vinyl and started comparing the differences a mono cartridge made on a mono LP. All of the things I mentioned above about the sound of real mono cartridges versus the sound of monaural recordings on stereo cartridges was very apparent to both of us.

EMT Phonograph Cartridges

While EMT may not be as well known in America as Garrard, SME, or Thorens, there are few companies in professional and broadcast vinyl replay as highly regarded as EMT. Wilhelm Franz founded the company in the year 1940 in Berlin. After World War II, EMT, Thorens and Studer became leaders in this field. To audiophiles, they are best know for turntables, tonearms, and cartridges.

In 1989 EMT was sold to the Belgium BARCO group and became BARCO-EMT. Under this arrangement all that seemed to be left of EMT was that they still serviced customers’ cartridges and tonearms, as well as the manufacturing of a few cartridges. Late in 2003, EMT was sold by BARCO and thankfully began to create new products again under the name EMT-Studiotechnik.

Description

The EMT cartridges, designed for medium-mass tonearms, were the first of what we now call naked pickups that I am familiar with. Most of the EMT cartridges have been built into dedicated headshells that mount directly on EMT or SME type tonearms. They still make a good many cartridges this way. The TMD 25N we are looking at is of the naked variety with its big blank, white, billboard in front and totally open sides with all the coil and wire open for us to see. You get a choice of two or four output pins. If you are using it in an all mono system or if you plan to play your mono records over just one loudspeaker, then you would definitely want just two pins. Personally, I like to listen to my mono recordings over two speakers so I went with the four-pin version.

This version of the EMT mono cartridge is designed to work with more modern arms – they still make the lower compliance mono cartridge in the integral headshell for use with higher mass arms, like their own tonearm. I am thankful they make this version with a compliance of 15 um/mN which, by the way, is the same compliance as my Benz Ebony TR. This compliance seems to work beautifully with the Clearaudio Satisfy tonearm, thus making it possible to get into a very good mono setup for a lot less money than I had originally thought it would cost.

Setup

Speaking of the output pins, they remind me that the setup was anything but straightforward and easy.

This cartridge is not pre-threaded for mounting screws and the magnet and coil are right there where you are trying to work with small screws and nuts. Then there is the fact that this cartridge has no back for the output pins to mount to. So, what you have are these incredibly fragile looking wires coming out of the sides of the cartridge with the pins on them. I was scared to death I would pull one of the wires off and I have no idea how I would have gotten one of them put back on. Now, having gotten that off my chest; I must confess after I got my nerve up and went to work, it all went fine. It mated wonderfully with the Clearaudio Satisfy Carbon Fiber tonearm just like they were made for each other.

After getting it mounted in the Clearaudio CFS tonearm, I used it with an Auditorium 23 standard step-up transformer. The tonearm wire was Clearaudio’s, and the interconnect from the step-up to Shindo Masseto preamp was Shindo Silver. The amp was my Wavac EC300B and the speakers were the Teresonic Ingenium Silver with Lowther DX4 Silver drivers. I used this setup for the entirety of the review, though I did listen to the lower-compliance EMT cartridge in an EMT arm in an all-Shindo system, including the Latour speakers. It took place at Pitch Perfect Audio in San Francisco when I picked the TMD25N up from Matt.

Use and Tracking

The EMT TMD 25N was an outstanding tracker. It seemed to track mono records much better than my Benz Ebony TR. As I have already explained, it not only tracked them better, but much quieter. After installing, it was a very easy cartridge to use. It had two little tabs that looked a lot like they belonged on a beetle, which were centered on the front of the white billboard front of the cartridge. These marked the placement of the stylus and made it very easy to lower the cartridge to just the spot you wish on the LP.

The Sound

Every EMT-made cartridge I’ve ever listened to has sounded like beautiful music, full-bodied with great colorful textures that are still truly musical. This mono cartridge had all of this along with great musical scale, exceptional dynamics, very quick micro-dynamics, and it did all that while bringing a sense of exciting drama to the appropriate music.

To me, the midrange is where the heart of the music is and a cartridge has to get this right. The EMT brought music to life in the midrange. It let the music just flow into the room. Yes the transients were fast, very fast in fact, but at the same time the timber and tone of the instruments was so right. I want to say again, with the EMT, the midrange is just plain alive, beautiful, big, and it brings the vivid colors of live music to your listening room. The great thing about the EMT as well as all I’ve said about its color, is it also gets the tone and timber of music as close to perfection as I have heard.

Voices were lush but not too lush. They just flowed with this cartridge. The timing and cadence of voices was very convincing. I have never heard, male or female, sounded more alive. They sound was pure, simple, and lifelike. The cartridge was so organic that voices never sounded detached from the body, instead you would feel like there was a whole person up there singing just for you. Listen to Ella, Louie, or Frank and you will be amazed at how their unique phrasing comes through into your room. With all this, you also get bass that is tight, dynamic, powerful, and big.

I’m not going to go through a blow by blow account of listening to different LPs with the EMT. No, what I need to most to say about the EMT TMD25N can be said in much fewer words. It just makes listening to my mono LPs a whole lot more fun then I ever dreamed possible. It makes them sound dramatic, they have great scale, and they just plain sound alive. By comparison, a stereo cartridge, even one as good as my Ebony TR, sounds small on mono recordings.

Conclusion

I have no idea how the EMT compares to other true mono cartridges; there are so few of them. I do know it blows away mono cartridges that are just adapted from fine stereo cartridges. I also know how it compares to some of the very best stereo cartridges.

Let me close by just saying three things about this cartridge. First, it will hold its own against any cartridge at any price, because it sounds like live music. Second, I don’t know of anything I have added to my system in a long time that I have enjoyed as much, because it makes listening to my monaural records so much fun. The result of all this is when I’m at a used record store or on the web, I never avoid mono recordings anymore. ‘Nough said’.

December 3, 2008. Editor’s Note: Jonathan Halpern of Tone Imports, the U.S. importer of EMT, informed Dagogo of factual errors contained in the review in the following:
The actual model number is TMD25N;
The correct weight is 10g;
Sensitivity should read “Output ….1mv@5cm/sec;
EMT was founded in 1940, not 1938;
Under DESCRIPTION, EMT cartridges should be described as medium mass tonearms, not low-mass.
We would like to thank both EMT and Tone Imports for bringing the above information to our attention.

Dagogo sends review drafts routinely to companies and/or their U.S. importers for fact-check before publishing them, and this review on the EMT mono cartridge by Jack Roberts was no exception.

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