By Don Lindich
Week 47, 2020
Q. I got out my Bang & Olufsen 1602 turntable after over 10 years of inactivity. It sounded good except for scratchiness from the worn-out needle. I’m pretty sure a new MMC20E cartridge would greatly improve the sound, but it costs $275. I saved one of your column recommending a $350 Audio-Technica turntable package and thought it might be a much better investment. What do you advise?
-M.M., Minneapolis, MN
A. I would stick with your Bang & Olufsen (B&O) turntable. It’s a beautiful piece of Danish modern art and with a new cartridge it should sound and look better than any new $350 turntable.
Most B&O turntables use either an MMC or MMC20 series cartridge, the latter being the older model. SoundSmith (sound-smith.com) manufactures brand-new B&O-compatible cartridges that are widely regarded to be better than the B&O originals, which were discontinued decades ago. The SoundSmith SMMC20E sells for only $249, which is a bit less than the $275 you referenced in your question.
I feel it necessary to mention that I once tried SoundSmith’s cartridge retipping service and did not have a good experience, and do not recommend it. Despite this, I have heard nothing but good things about SoundSmith phono cartridges and am comfortable recommending them.
Here is a related tip for readers who do not have a turntable or who would like to own something cool enough to be curated by the New York Museum of Modern Art. Used B&O turntables can frequently be found in working condition for under $100 used, with the caveat they need a new cartridge (often called a needle or stylus by the seller.) Most take the MMC design, and the SoundSmith SMMC4 is $199. This gets you a neat, great-sounding turntable for under $300. Most B&O turntables are automatic, too, which many owners are sure to appreciate .
Visit https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1786 to see the Bang & Olufsen museum exhibit.
Hifiman Deva planar-magnetic headphones: This week’s gift highlight is perfect for those seeking the very best possible sound from headphones, but with wireless connectivity. Open-back planar magnetic headphones are considered by many to have the best possible sound quality. They use a very lightweight piece of flat material suspended in a magnetic field to produce the sound, and are known for great transparency, detail and extremely fast transient response. The open-back design allows you to hear what is going on around you while giving the planar driver the ability to radiate without any interference from the back side of the driver, which enhances the sound quality. Planar-magnetic headphones tend to be expensive and typically only work with a wired connection and not Bluetooth. The cost and the lack of a wireless connection can be a dealbreaker for many purchasers.
Hifiman Deva headphones solve both the cost and wireless parts of the equation, selling for only $299 (which is quite low for planar-magnetic headphones.) They include a “Bluemini” Bluetooth receiver/amplifier that plugs in and instantly converts the Devas from wired headphones to wireless Bluetooth headphones. I found the sound to be excellent with both the wired connection and the Bluemini. They are not quite as pure-sounding as the more expensive, wired Hifiman Sundaras, but the Devas provide lovely, open sound that will thrill any music lover. The open-back design may not make them the best choice for planes or public spaces, but whenever you listen to the Devas you will be swept away by the music.