One of a series of new cartridges from the UK audiophile outfit, Paul Rigby reviews the company’s entry-level moving coil
UK-based AVID Hi-Fi now has three cartridges in its pick-up stable: the Reference Ruby (around £6,000) with a ruby cantilever and Micro Ridge stylus, the Boron (around £4,000) with a boron cantilever and the same stylus tip plus the Ionic (around £2,000) with an aluminium cantilever (shouldn’t that be the ‘Aluminium’, then?) and elliptical stylus tip.
The Ionic is thus the entry point to the range but at £2k, is not to be dismissed as cheap nor cheerful.
According to Conrad Mas (company founder and owner plus designer of this cartridge), the mass is relatively low with a reduction in coils to enhance the tracking and the overall nippiness of the cartridge. The magnet has been beefed up a tad to prevent the Ionic from entering too low an output figure, which is 0.32mV.
What struck me about the design is that, although it’s not ‘naked’ (a chassis does cover and protect the coils and magnet unlike some van den Huls I could mention) the cantilever is about four foot long.
This is a quite an extraordinary configuration. The idea is to balance that performance target mentioned above. The cantilever length is just one factor.
AVID produces a lot of components these days and it likes to keep involved in all of them. That is, unlike some outfits out there, it’s not happy to have a third party design and construct a component and then for AVID to slap its logo on it and call the thing its own.
Saying that, it recognises expertise in others.
PICKY, PICKY, PICKY
So AVID has gone half way with the Ionic. It’s approached a Japanese company to do the specialised cartridge-design work but AVID has built the chassis. AVID is particularly good in the area of metal construction. In fact, it produces metal parts for other companies, hifi and non-hifi. More than this, AVID has also been particularly picky in choosing exactly what parts will be contained in its cartridges. So there was a lot of back and forth testing when selecting the right gear.
Once the specialist parts were chosen, AVID then made the chassis and yokes for the cartridges. The latter were then shipped off to Japan for final construction.
The final moving coil design weighs in at 9.1g and prefers a loading around 100 Ohms – depending on your system and ears – with a tracking force of 2g. The chassis is formed from aluminium. Oh and one final thing, I like the stylus guard. Firstly, it supplies plenty of room between it and the stylus with cut outs to prevent accidental knocks but, more than that, I like the finger pull tab which provides more control during removal and vice-versa. Most stylus guards demand that you get to grips with the entire guard structure which can possibly result in you touching the stylus with the thing as you move it – oh the irony. Not here.
I began my sound tests by playing a track from Eydie Gorme’s CBS LP, Cuatro Vidas and the Spanish language track, Vereda Tropical in which she is backed by Y El Trio Los Panchos.
Apart from Gorme’s lead vocal and double-tracked backing you’ll find a Spanish guitar, bass and conga drums plus secondary percussion.
What the Ionic does here is focus hard and fast on the tonal realism. There’s no frequency accentuation no extra bass power or lower frequency mass or heft here. This cartridge is all about detail and clarity.
Sticking to the grooves like glue – that tracking is fine indeed – I found the lead vocal particularly effecting because the minor details from the vocal cords were easily tracked by the ear. The more of this form of information that came through, the more sincere sounded Gorme’s performance. The husky delivery of the the lead vocal spoke of underlying emotions that really plugged into the heart.
Now Gorme was singing in Spanish, a language that’s not one of my portfolio of connective communications, I have to say but that didn’t really matter. Her earnest and rather candid intonation meant that it really didn’t matter if she was reading the rear of a packet of Cheese and Onion crisps, I fell in love with her delivery. That was down to the Ionic and how it went about its business.
What the Ionic didn’t do here was bigger, bolder, louder or any other sense of the obvious. Instead, it provided quality. Hence, the slaps of the conga drums were not slaps in the strictest sense but slightly hollow-handed strikes that, when hit, had a distinctly indented, concave reverb effect. Acoustic guitar string plucks were accurate and precise while the overall noise floor dropped like a stone, allowing nuance and delicacy to be detected and savoured.
So much for detail and delicacy. What about power and grunt? I played Jethro Tull’s Living in the Past and the track Locomotive Breath which starts out all delicate piano and then hits the electric guitar and big drums.
The focus and precision around the electric guitar and drums especially gave this track a pace and inertia that prevented any sense of dragging. This was a song with an aim, a target and a place to go and there was no way to stop it. And yet, the bass was strong enough and firm enough to offer a firm and solid foundation.
The Ionic not a bass hound, yet it remains bold and impressive. There’s nothing tentative here. Trying a slice of Metallica, you can see that the Ionic is not the metal fiend’s friend. The bass is there but it sits in the mix, it doesn’t try to impress. It never strains. Bass doesn’t blow out, bloom or boom. It’s more naturalistic.
Don’t think it swings in the opposite direction either. There is no cooling upper midrange output resident here. The Iconic is all about balance and neutrality. Midrange and treble are all about realism.
The soundstage itself, meanwhile, is one of the most open and broad that I’ve heard from any cartridge for a long time.
In this manner, listening fatigue will never be a problem with the AVID Ionic.
The AVID Ionic cartridge doesn’t grab you by the throat when it performs. It’s not one of those hifi elements. Instead, it does what every piece of high-end component does, it allows you to come to it and it waits patiently while you nervously edge toward it.
Unlike some cartridges that can bite with edge or thump you with booming bass, the Ionic never takes this course. In fact, the longer you listen, the more you trust the design and the further your ears delve into familiar album tracks, the more you will hear.
Give it a good quality turntable and a suitably informative hi-fi chain and the AVID Ionic cartridge will not only open up a word of detail and information, it will be your sonic friend for life.
AVID IONIC MOVING COIL CARTRIDGE
GOOD: broad soundstage, tonal realism, clarity, stylus guard
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Jon21st February 2022 at 1:57 pm
Very poor value for money.
£2000 for an aluminium cantilever and elliptical stylus?
For half that money, the Benz Micro Glider SL (which, in spite of the reported Japanese provenance, seems to be providing design cues here) offers a boron cantilever and advanced stylus.
That said, a listener may, of course, prefer the alu/elliptical sound, but Avid are overcharging for those materials, IMHO.
Why not take less money directly to Audio Technica , Dynevector, or whoever, for broadly similar performance? Or spend £1000-1500 for a cartridge with better materials? – materials that Avid will ask £3000 for!
I appreciate that the old, classic Denon MC designs with elliptical styli continue to garner affection. But surely most listeners willing to drop £2000 on a cartridge will have, downstream, hifi components that would do justice to the tonal/timbral retrieval only possible with more advanced styli? I also appreciate that some listeners may prefer the ‘tuning’ of an aluminium cantilever, but still… overpriced.
I’m not being reductionist here concerning the materials/construction versus the design as a whole, but I do contend that there are many storied cartridge manufacturers out there who’d deliver the goods with superior value.