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Ortofon - Living the Legacy
The AS-309S (retail $1,749) is a 12-inch tonearm built in the Denmark company's Tokyo plant. The tone arm's detachable head shell (SME type connector) makes cartridge installation a no-brainer even if the lack of an accurate manual makes it difficult to know if you are correctly adjusting VTA or anything else for that matter. Ortofon's US rep Louis Dorio agrees that the company needs to do a better job translating the manual (really just a foldable single sheet), allowing that a $1,749 tonearm deserves a dedicated manual with diagrams explaining VTA adjustment, head shell connections, counterweight adjustment and the like. Thankfully, Louis offers his services to all customers in need of setup advice and instruction at his direct line: 914-762-8646 ([email protected]).


The AS-309S' material construction consists of an aluminum tonearm and a die-cast zinc shaft. The AS-309S comes standard with the TD550 from importer Acoustic Sounds but you can also order the table with the SME309 arm, bringing the total cost sans cart to $12,369. The AS-309S lies in the middle of Ortofon's audiophile range (they're even bigger in the DJ world). The AS-212S, the nine-inch version of this same arm (why the 12-inch arm is labeled 309 and the nine-inch arm 212 is one for the ages) costs $1,649. Ortofon's static line is comprised of the AS-309S and the aforementioned AS-212S. The RS dynamic line offers the RS-212D, a nine-inch arm selling for $2,349 and the RS-309D 12-inch arm at $2,449. Primarily, the dynamic line can accommodate a wider weight range of carts.


What me worry, I'm no tonearm guru but I did wonder why the 309 came with what would seem to be an inferior detachable head shell. It's all about the history Louis explains: "The 309 is being used for modern vintage-type turntable restoration projects, like Art Dudley did with the Thorens TD124 restoration. He used the 212S, the nine-inch model of this same arm. Customers want an arm that doesn't deviate much from the original arm design. We feel that there is not a measurable amount of signal loss with a removable head shell; these were meant to be used originally in the '60s with the SPU type carts and the integrated head shell. These were the first moving coil designs. This combo of tonearm and cartridge produced a great degree of synergy. And there have been improvements in materials, manufacturing, internal wiring and other features which further optimize the ability of the tonearm."


Back in the day when Ortofon manufactured tone arms in Denmark, the company produced the highly coveted Ortofon RF-309, the RMA-309, RMG-309 and the RMG-212. The AS-309S was introduced in the US in 2006. Whether it will live up to its predecessors is yet to be seen but it tracks well, reacts quickly to setup changes and made cart installation practically child's play.


Setting up the Ortofon arm was standard stuff once I figured out the VTA adjustment that is. Anti-skate, which I generally prefer not to use, was enabled via a big knob positioned to the immediate right of the arm base. Counterweight adjustment was achieved traditionally using my trusty Shure Precision Stylus Force Gauge. The detachable head shell made cartridge installment a real breeze.


Thorens on Thorens
Thorens owner Heinz Rohrer was kind enough to speak with me at length regarding the TD550's design. In advance of our chat, Heinz emailed the table's specs:
  • Chrome-plated platter with a mass of 6.2 kg
  • Combines the advantages of mass-turntable and suspended sub-chassis
  • Belt drive by the outer rim of platter
  • Electronic speed control
  • Electronically controlled start-up, 33 and 45 rpm
  • Interchangeable tonearm boards for 9-inch or 12-inch tone arms; prepared for tone arms from Ortofon, SME or Rega
  • Easy adjustment of suspended chassis by means of thumb screws
  • Adjustable feet for secure and firm positioning
  • Electronic sensor buttons for operation
  • Equipped with balanced XLR as well as unbalanced RCA jacks
  • Fine-adjustment of speed at rear panel of plinth
  • Infinitely variable brightness of display
  • Acrylic dust cover with hinges
  • Side cheeks available in various finishes
  • Plinth available in black piano lacquer or noble Makassar wood
  • Chrome-plated front panel available also

The TD550 is a beautiful piece of machinery; its gorgeous piano black and chrome finish a stunner. The table quickly gets up to speed via two front panel buttons, one for 'power', the other to 'start'. But as with the Ortofon arm, setup was less than easy.