Fremer's review of the Anna cartridge


Fremer reviews the $8499 cartridge very positively, but it takes three different samples of the cartridge for him to get there. The first sample exhibited "an incompatibility between the adhesives used and the elastomer of which the cartridge's damper is made." Fremer notes "[e]vidently, however, this problem didn't affect every Anna that left the factory." Wow, what a relief. In the second sample, apparently "some the glue that secures the stylus in the cantilever had dripped." The third sample, after 100 hrs of break-in finally delivered. Fremer suggests buying and using an USB microscope as part of the cartridge buying process.

Does anyone else think this is absolutely nuts? It seems to me, at this price level, every single cartridge should be absolutely perfect. Haven't Ortofon heard of quality control? This also applies to Lyra whose $9500 Atlas cartridge had the stylus affixed to the cantilever at an angle that made it virtually impossible to get the SRA of 92 degrees.
actusreus
Does anyone else think this is absolutely nuts?

That's High End. On the other side he never checked the speed stability from his turntable recommendations...

It seems to me, at this price level, every single cartridge should be absolutely perfect.

Don't be so picky. Koetsu has normally a non straight cantilever and get one huge recommendation after the next ...

... Atlas cartridge had the stylus affixed to the cantilever at an angle that made it virtually impossible to get the SRA of 92 degrees.

Hm, cheap cartridges are bought mainly from persons who need some time to get the money for it and they are critical...other customers don't care and can afford that. They prefer stoning the messenger instead... that is much more fun :-)
A few comments about the Atlas:

In the original article, Stereophile managed to get the SRA photos mixed up. Stereophile put someone other than Michael in charge of matching the photos to the captions, and they dropped the ball. I believe that Stereophile published a correction in a later issue.

Despite the impression which you may now have, there is no industry standard for SRA. None. There is more of a standard for VTA (originally decided as 15 degrees, which is the origin of Shure's "V-15" name, and later gradually revised upwards until it reached 20 degrees) than there is for SRA. The only documentation for the 92-degree SRA that I have been able to find in any language is the John Risch article, and that never became part of any industry standard.

I have written more about SRA on the "What's Best" forum, on a thread called "The Importance of VTA, SRA and Azimuth".

From page 13 and on:
http://www.whatsbestforum.com/showthread.php?536-The-importance-of-VTA-SRA-and-Azimuth-pics/page13

hth, jonathan carr
Actusreus, I also read this review and thought along the same lines as you. IMHO any manufacturer who is "beta" testing on the public has no right to be in business. The cartridge in question had better produce and produce from the get-go. OTOH, I have to wonder if MF was 'pulling his punches' as a lot of reviewer's are known to do. What would MF have said if instead of the third Anna being just right, it took say fifty or more before they got it right? Would that have been ok??
I know one thing, If I as a consumer, received one of these high priced cartridges and it was eliciting the same problems as the first two that MF received, i would be one mighty mad girl. Would I then go on to recommend this companies products even if they finally got it right after a few tries....I don't think so.
Jonathan,
Thank you for weighing in, and clarifying the Atlas issue. I was not aware of the correction. I know Lyra is known for the high quality of their cartridges, and I myself am a very happy owner of a Delos, so it's good to hear it was a mistake.

Your linked posts were very informative on the issue of the RTA and SRA as well, but perhaps also disheartening to those, like me, who do like the idea of an industry standard that would allow an optimal setting for most records, rather than having to adjust for every record in one's collection.

To me, the fact thefirst two copies were bad means the item is worthless.
Agree if a company cannot get the most expensive item it makes to be correct for EVERY buyer, then it is not possible to recommend.
Fremer tells the reader to 'own a microscope to check these things" yeah right.
If I were sending a cartridge to Michael Fremer for review I would have it triple checked by the guy who designed it, the guy who makes it, and the head quality control guy.

I would make sure it was burned in and listened to by the best ears in the company until everyone was sure it sounded as good as it possibly could. I would then have it hand delivered to Michael and I would check with him regularly to see if he was having any problems or had any questions. I guess that's why I'm not rich.

If it takes them 3 tries to get it right for Michael Fremer, you can guess how much care they take in making the one they sell you.

Digital keeps sounding better all the time.
Despite the impression which you may now have, there is no industry standard for SRA. None. There is more of a standard for VTA (originally decided as 15 degrees, which is the origin of Shure's "V-15" name, and later gradually revised upwards until it reached 20 degrees) than there is for SRA.

Yes. But now we have a "Standard": Fremer
That replaces everything.

If it takes them 3 tries to get it right for Michael Fremer, you can guess how much care they take in making the one they sell you.

The customer gets the most respect, the maximum care, the ultra quality control, don't worry.
Yes, nuts anyone would be buying such high priced junk. That Fremer did just not return the original cartridge and be done with it, suggests it was the price point that seduced him. Fremer fell into the hi end trap of 'the higher the price, the greater the product'. What all this tell us is that 'value' is never part of Fremer's mind set.
Thanks for the info Jonathan.

It is disturbing that a reviewer has to go through 3 samples to get a good one.

There may be no official standard for SRA but somewhere around 92 degrees has worked best for the carts and records that I own. Using ones ears is obviously required to dial it in after that. It is important to pay attention to SRA and not just expect that the SRA is in the ball park when the arm is level IME.
Thanks, Actus.
I saw the review by Fremer and just cut to the chase by reading his concluding remarks. Therefore, I missed his description of the issues you have raised. It is very surprising to me that Ortofon would be guilty of such sins of omission (quality control, mainly). Over the years, I have come to think very highly of their capacity to produce beautifully made products, whether one likes their sound, or not. I own an MC7500, arguably the father of their subsequent TOTL cartridges, down to and including the Anna. It is beautifully made. All Ortofons I have owned fit that description, and I never saw or heard of one with such glaring defects right out of the box. So, I don't really know what to do with Fremer's report. However, for me it is moot, since I am not a customer for cartridges in that price category, just as a matter of personal choice.
Perhaps to make matters worse, in the Manufacturer's Comments section, an Ortofon rep offers absolutely no explanation or even a mention of the problems, which Fremer spends a good portion of the review on. Seems like an awful PR job on Ortofon's part.

I agree with Lewm that for most analog audiophiles the review might be of little practical interests given Anna's price category, but if the top of the heap cartridges exhibit such defects, it makes you wonder about cheaper models, and whether you actually have to get lucky to get a defect-free cartridge, rather than the other way round. That's a pretty depressing thought.

Another interesting topic Fremer writes about before he goes on to review the Anna is the stylus lifespan, and effects of playing records with a worn stylus. Extreme profile styli such as the Replicant or line-contact apparently last for not longer than 1000 hrs under ideal conditions, which seems very short to me. Fremer actually says this is the situation with most styli. For someone who listens 20 hrs a week, which I think is on the low side for many Audiogon members, that would mean that they should retip or replace their cartridge after a year! Again, that seems nuts!

Finally, Fremer says that the proposition that a worn stylus tears up records is a myth since the edges of the stylus get duller, not sharper, with use (I guess that assumes no chipping or other damage to the stylus). I regularly hear right channel noise from used records, which I've always attributed to no anti-skating being used by the previous owner, so as much as I like what he is saying, I'm not sure whether I believe it. What's everyone's take on this?
Retipping once a year is no big deal if your cartridge manufacture does it for a reasonable cost. Unfortunately most of these uber expensive carts cost at least half the retail price to be retipped by the original manufacture if they will do it at all. If you have someone else retip it then it likely wont sound the same. That could be good or bad.

Personally I'm with Lewm on not spending this much on a cart. I've heard both the Atlas and the Anna in other peoples systems and they are good but I'm not convinced they are worth the money.
Sarcher,

Good points. In fact, to your point, Fremer had his Ortofon A90 retipped at a cost of "a few thousand dollars, close to the A90's original price of $4200." To me, that's absurd. In my opinion, if indeed most styli can only perform best for about a year with moderate listening habits, which is an awfully short length of time compared to other equipment, one retip should either be offered if not gratis, at least at a fraction of the original price.
It is the 1200 - 1500 hours life span of the replicant 100 stylus that has me staying clear of buying another Ortofon cart with this extreme stylus profile.

The Lyra micro line stylus luckily will last at least double that.

The rebuild prices are not unreasonable as they have to virtually rebuild the cartridge.

For me my A90 is unlikely to be rebuilt, however my Atlas surely will.

Cheers
The cart producers get the whole cantilever/stylus combo from their supplier. The so called 'retip' is usually a simple substitution of this combo. The 'real retip' by which a new stylus is glued in the existing cantilever seems to be much more difficult job to do. So the solution of the 'stylus problem' is obvious. To 'virtually rebuild the cartridge' and ask unreasonable price make no sense to me. If one need to change the tyre one will rarely rebuild the whole car because of the tyre. No wonder the most of us use repair cervices like Ledermann , Axel Schurholz, Van den Hul, etc.
"IMHO any manufacturer who is "beta" testing on the public has no right to be in business"

I would agree, but what you don't know is how many of the supposed "great names" essentially do this exact thing! Little scientific testing, designs by guys who are little more than garage tinkerers, thrown out there with a high price tag. It's all over the industry.
Speaking of poor QC ,a friend bought a brand new Graham Phantom tone arm. This tone arm had wiring problems right out of the Box! The Magna Glide system was loose, both magnets were touching! Ordered two tone arms, one was .060 thousands longer than the other! 5K retail , what a big joke.
Jeb, .060 variance in length is hardly something to worry about considering the headshell has slots to adjust the overhang. Wiring problems are not good though. The magnets are adjustable I assume. Those problems may have happened in shipping or someone had a bad day. I assume the issues were addressed in a timely manner?
Kiddman, Good points. The smaller the industry the more likely this will happen. We are the guinea pigs. What's even worse is when there is an obvious design flaw that the company ignores that is a cheap fix. I've seen people complaining about the same problem for years. You would think the company would have solved it by then.
Arm wand replaced, wiring problem found and repaired . Magna Glide magnets were just loose. None of these conditions were caused by "shipping" .
Nandric
The cart producers get the whole cantilever/stylus combo from their supplier. The so called 'retip' is usually a simple substitution of this combo. The 'real retip' by which a new stylus is glued in the existing cantilever seems to be much more difficult job to do. So the solution of the 'stylus problem' is obvious. To 'virtually rebuild the cartridge' and ask unreasonable price make no sense to me. If one need to change the tyre one will rarely rebuild the whole car because of the tyre. No wonder the most of us use repair cervices like Ledermann , Axel Schurholz, Van den Hul, etc.

I agree. Generous trade-in programs can be a partial answer to the retip problem as well. I know Lyra offers a pretty good trade-in deal with their cartridges, regardless of their shape. That's just good business as it provides a strong incentive for ownership continuity. But I still think a retip should not cost almost as much as a brand new cartridge given that the stylus will wear out even with very responsible listening habits and utmost care taken, possibly quite quickly if someone plays their records a lot. It would be unthinkable to have to pay nearly as much as the cost of an amplifier every time power tubes had to be replaced. But then I guess you can't just replace the stylus yourself...
But then I guess you can't just replace the stylus yourself...
By jove, I think [s]he's got it!!!
Swampwalker,
No, I don't think I do. It still does not justify the cost. And where do you stand? I think the issue warrants a serious discussion.
Nandric hit the nail on the head. Up until a few years ago, I took the purist approach; if the cartridge needed retip or repair, it needed to go back ONLY to the original maker, regardless of cost. However, at present I have done a "one-eighty"; I would happily use Sound Smith in the US or any number of others to rebuild my cartridges. Not only is the cost markedly lower but also the repaired product might be as good or better than the original, such is the quality of the work done by SS, Axel, etc. (There is some element of chance involved, and the option of a trade-in/trade-up is also to be considered ahead of rebuild, IMO.)

After further thought, I wonder whether the Ortofon Anna debacle occurred because of the very novel way in which the cartridge body is manufactured. Ortofon seems to have gotten very experimental in that realm. First, the A90 broke some new ground, and now the Anna adds another complex wrinkle to constructing the body. Moreover, they've also produced that very novel SPU-type. Perhaps they've strained their resources. But, as someone else mentioned, they were really remiss in sending a defective product, nay, TWO defective products in succession, to Fremer of all people. That is kind of scary.
Dear Actusreaus: Last June I received this comment from a very good friend:

+++++ " With respect to the MC Anna, Ortofon experienced problems with the adhesive that they used to secure the damper and will only ship when the problem is resolved. " +++++

seems to me that today they not fixed at all.

I own, owned and heard almost all Ortofon top cartridges and I can say that the Ortofon QC normally was second to none.

Agree that at the Ana asking price the cartridge build quality must be first rate/excellent and no excuse about.

Now, on the Fremer suggestion about the USB microscope well this is a suggestion that has nothing to do with this cartridge or any other one other than to have an additional toy.

That SRA of 92 degrees he is self promoting is only a Fremer number because 90 0r 89 could be good numbers to start. As J.Carr pointed out there is no single standard about and certainly 92 degrees is not that standard but only a number to start with as could be other number, so don't get crazy about that 92 degrees. At the ned trust in your music knowledge level through your own ears and not on that " 92 degrees " that means almost nothing.

Regards and enjoy the music,
R.

Dear Lewm: ++++" However, at present I have done a "one-eighty"; I would happily use Sound Smith in the US or any number of others to rebuild my cartridges. Not only is the cost markedly lower but also the repaired product might be as good or better than the original, " +++++

with out of production cartridges I could agree with you but on current top and pricey LOMC cartridges my advise is to go with the manufacturer that's the only one that knows exactly how to fix it wit out changing its quality performance and in the other side normally the cartridge designers makes small improvements on the original design that they don't give publicity but that they affix in your cartridge when the re-tipped works ends. The re-tippers can't do it because they don't know nothing about those cartridge up dates.

Other important thing is that with some cartridge parts only the original manufacturer has access to them and the re-tipper can't do nothing about but to fix your cartridge with " lesser " parts or even with out change the parts but left it inside even if needs to be changed.

No, I don't think that if I was an Atlas, Ana or a Goldfinger owner I will send to Alex, SS or the one re-tipper you name it to fix it.

Well, that's me.

Regards and enjoy the music,
R.
Raul,

I do understand what you're saying and you make a good point. I'm simply bemoaning the fact that apparently there has never been A standard for cutter heads. I find it as frustrating as befuddling. And indeed it means that only individual evaluation and close critical listening record by record can result in an optimal setting that renders best sonic results. That to me is perhaps not unacceptable as an audiophile, but very disheartening nonetheless, and not something I ever considered getting into vinyl. I cannot possibly imagine spending months if not years adjusting the VTA to change the SRA to find out which setting sounds best for a particular record in my collection. Perhaps those with tonearms allowing on-the-fly VTA adjustment might find it manageable, but to me it is just not feasible, and frankly, well, nuts.
Raul, I kind of agree with you on cartridges at that price level. But I am not so sure (any longer) that there is much that is proprietary regarding cantilevers and the styli that are attached thereto. It seems there are only a few businesses in the world that make these as replacement parts, and even the high end brands may be reliant upon them. Ortofon may be an exception, if indeed the replicant 100 and previous replicant styli are unique in shape. Also, each high end cartridge maker may separately contract with these few sources of parts, for exclusive production of a particular cantilever/stylus that is then not made available to independent re-tippers. And too, if the cartridge needs a total rebuild, for example, if its been stepped on or otherwise physically damaged, then yes, obviously it must go back to its maker.

I guess I have lost faith in the price/performance gospel, which is why I have become more cavalier about cartridge repair.
Acutusrex- Sorry to have offended you; I was just trying to light-heartedly say I agreed w you. The cost is very high compared to the cost of a new product. However, rebuilding/re-tipping high end MC carts is a sub-niche of a niche market and one that cannot be accomplished on a DIY basis. Tube power amps are a sub-niche market but most can be easily re-tubed at home and in most cases, the materials are readily available from a range of vendors. So you have a classic case of constrained supply which is going to keep prices high. However, I also freely admit that I have no idea how much of the cost of building a new cart is labor vs. materials and how much of the materials is in the body vs. the stylus/cantilever/motor assembly and how much can be re-used. I do believe that a rebuild/retip would be much more "customized" for each unit, which would drive labor costs up per unit, even when compared to a new build.
That's not to say that I do not believe that the costs of these services, like much of the high end, is totally out of control.
Raul, Since you have experience with more cartridges than most people, what SRA do you think is the best starting point for an unknown cart? Do you feel some carts are better at a different SRA than others? If so how big of a variance is there?
Swampwalker
Acutusrex- Sorry to have offended you; I was just trying to light-heartedly say I agreed w you.

Swampwalker,
No offense taken; I gathered as much. To the rest of your post, I agree with your points, and I would too very much like to know what dictates those very high costs of retipping. This really had me scratching my head in light of the recent work I had done on my speakers. One of my tweeters failed, and I had it fixed (essentially rebuilt) by an experienced professional who does these things for a living. That entailed not only new materials and labor, but also "aging" the new tweeter to match the other tweeter. I was also told even things such as the tension of the screws matter and affect speaker performance and specifications. Those were things you just can't do yourself, if you want to have them done right. But the cost of the rebuilt was still a fraction of the cost of the speakers. So perhaps someone in-the-know can explain to us why a retip of a cartridge should cost nearly as much as its price when it's brand new.
Actus, The short answer is, it shouldn't, and it doesn't reflect the actual cost to the manufacturer of that repair. That's why SoundSmith and many others can do the same repair for much fewer dollars. The manufacturer is counting on audiophilia nervosa to drive the consumer back to him no matter what the cost. Or, at a less cynical level, the manufacturer is often giving you a new product in return, which probably does justify the cost, when that is the case.
Dear Sarcher30: First than all I would like to speak about VTA and not SRA and this because is more " practical ".

Now, for me is very " easy " an almost in " automatic " because when you are testing or trying different cartridges you learn where that start VTA/SRA is.

I have a process to make the cartridge set up that I use always. Inside that process I use always the same LPs recording tracks, this help me a lot because I know those tracks better than my " hands " ( I know even how should be listen to the clicks and pops in any of those trracks. ).
Btw, in the past I bought additional samples of those recordings but for my surprise the music information/presentation in the new ones ( that came from a different batch. ) was a little different so I been sticky with the old ones.

Now, with MM/MI cartridges normally I start with positive VTA ( tail up ) 2-3mm and from there things goes up/down depending on what I'm hearing. On the cartridge set up process first than all I want to fix both frequency extremes through my selected tracks: this is my main target on the starting set up and these is what I'm looking for from the start VTA. I don't go on till I'm satisfied with and if I can't fix both extremes I look to fix ( at least ) the bas frequency range and from here started again with VTA changes till with out loosing the bass extreme achieve better performance at the other frequency extreme.

With LOMC normally I start with even VTA followed by the same MM/MI process.

In both cases after that first frequency extremes set up I start the fine tunning process where azymuth set up is critical as is cartridge loading.

My cartridge set up process is a simple long one that through the day by day " excersice " converted in an easy tool for me, even there are some times that I jumped two-three steps on that process because the experiences I have.

In some ways each one of us have its own set up process some process more elaborated than other but I think we all have it. Mine works and worked for me with today 98% efficiency thank's to continuous process up dates.

The whole process involves not only the VTA/SRA but VTF, overhang, azymuth, tracking habilities, AS, etc, etc.

My reference is live music and in my home system I have 2-3 cartridges that functioning as references that are the cartridges that after " severe " fine tunning showed the higher overall quality performance level.

Anyway, I think you have the idea about.

Regards and enjoy the music,
R.
... doesn't reflect the actual cost to the manufacturer of that repair. That's why SoundSmith and many others can do the same repair for much fewer dollars. The manufacturer is counting on audiophilia nervosa to drive the consumer back to him no matter what the cost.

The manufacturers get the same money. The difference is the mark up for the Importer and the Dealer. Both want money for writing a new address and buying some stamps for shipping.
The estimated lifetime of 1000-1200 hours has held true in my experience. Most recently I had my Benz LP retipped by SS after it developed some mistracking. I calculated that it was in the 1200 hour range. SS reported that the stylus had significant wear. The good news is that the retip was fast and inexpensive compared to a new cartridge. And it sounds and tracks like new.
Thanks Raul, It's interesting to read how people do their setup. I've got a good system down that works for me but I'm always willing to learn something new. Cheers.
Dear syntax / Thomas,

That's not always true. I have asked the German distributor and also Soundsmith directly for a for a replacement cantilever for my StrainGauge. There was no price difference including import sales tax and p&p.
This cartridge is a big turkey!!
I read the review and thought it was good reporting. Fremer clearly outlined all the problems he had with the product and gave a description of what he heard. I would catergorize the comments in this thread about price, cost to retip and cartridge life as besides the point. This is a cutting edge product reaching for state of the art performance and either you can afford it or you can't.

Ortofon is probably the largest cartridge manufacturer in the world. I applaud Ortofon for trying to advance vinyl performance. The cutting edge has never been plug in and play.
This is a cutting edge product reaching for state of the art performance ...

Interesting how easy any product gets such merits.
All it needs is a high price and most fall onto their knees?

Ortofon is probably the largest cartridge manufacturer in the world

Quantity is not Quality and Ortofon is mainly known for low price Systems. But time will tell how good it really is. The A-90 was transformed from a hyped swan to a duck after 1000h. Great Design indeed.
I would like to hear it in a very controlled setting with familiar music. I'm sure it is one of a handful of top cartridges that is reaching for new levels of performance. The technology is kind of cool and I'm sure we will see more audio items like the VPI arm made using this laser melt process.
Onhwy61
I read the review and thought it was good reporting. Fremer clearly outlined all the problems he had with the product and gave a description of what he heard. I would catergorize the comments in this thread about price, cost to retip and cartridge life as besides the point. This is a cutting edge product reaching for state of the art performance and either you can afford it or you can't.

Ortofon is probably the largest cartridge manufacturer in the world. I applaud Ortofon for trying to advance vinyl performance. The cutting edge has never been plug in and play.

It might be a cutting edge product on paper, but as long as you need several units to get what you paid for, it's still a dud.
I don't think even Ortofon would find the issues that occurred with Anna cartridges lent to M Fremer to be acceptable in terms of quality control. There is no excuse for his having received two consecutive defective samples. "Plug and play" is one thing; selling defective product is another. The point is that Ortofon deserves a break in this case, because of their track record and longevity in the business. But if I were to read that actual customers are finding similar problems, I would advise anyone else to stay away.
Actusreus, if there wasn't an issue with faulty components would you be placing an order for an Anna?
My rebulit A90 will arrive from Ortofon within a few days. I'm going to inspect it very carefully.
Onhwy61
Actusreus, if there wasn't an issue with faulty components would you be placing an order for an Anna?

How is this relevant to the discussion? Who in this thread is placing an order for an Anna?

Fremer's a character, and his review is sort of a "comedy classic" for all the reasons described above. I have no idea how many extreme high end cartridges are sold but even in the Serious Audiophile world I assume very few...so it's all irrelevant to me anyway except for entertainment value...I feel the analog "state of the art" resides in great sounding cartridges that cost a lot less than my motorcycle.
Give me a break when you say "The cutting edge has never been plug in and play".

That's a joke. Contrary to the pure crap about new technology and advancing the state of the art that you hear from some manufacturers and reviewers, this is a phono cartridge, a basic thing that keeps on being built about the same way despite visual changes to bodies. This is not rocket science.
The question about whether you were ordering an Anna goes like this -- if you are someone who can afford and/or own this cartridge, or a similar class cartridge, then your opinion about its build quality, stylus life and Ortofon's quality control and service is informative and meaningful. If you are someone who cannot afford and/or does not own this cartridge, or a similar class cartridge, then your opinions on these subjects is, shall we say, less informed and less meaningful.

Being the oldest continuous manufacturer and largest volume producer of phono cartridges is in no way correlated with the quality of their product. It's a coincidence, right?
Who in this thread is placing an order for an Anna?

I've owned an Ortofon MC Anna for 14 months. it's the best sounding cartridge I have heard and I've had zero issues.

I unconditionally recommend it.

amazing sound.

btw; I have a number of friends enjoying the Anna who are similarly impressed all with zero issues.