Replacing a removable headshell can work wonders for sound quality. Paul Rigby reviews the Timestep T-01HS Ebony headshell
A tonearm toting a removable headshell can and has been the core of many a heated discussion in hi-fi circles. Some people love them, others believe that they are sonically compromised. There are, of course, pros and cons for both, room in the market for both and, in terms of pure sonics, a lot depends on build quality and fit for both.
Some of the great things about a removable option includes an easier cartridge installation routine plus it’s far cheaper for the dedicated analogue enthusiast who likes to, as it where, spread themselves around.
For example, you can stack a batch of loaded headshells with varying cartridges at a fraction of the cost of doing the same with varying arms – even hot-swop type unipivots.
Imagine a nicely presented rack toting a range of loaded headshells filled with a top end MC cartridge, 1mil tipped mono, 0.7mil tipped mono, 78 and so on. To do so with removable headshells is actually achievable for an average hi-fi nerd. You try doing the same with loaded arms or the tonearms of a hot-swappable unipivot and you’ll be adding noughts to the cost in no time at all.
All of that said, there are other reasons to buy a replacement headshell. Top of the list is to replace one of lesser quality that you already have in your possession. Even if you only have one cartridge and have no intention of buying, erm 27 others (cough). If you have a turntable which features an arm with a removable headshell then there is a distinct possibility that the default headshell that arrived with the arm will be perfectly fine and reasonable but, because the company was working to a turntable build budget, is no more than that. That is, there may just be room for improvement.
I recently tested the Technics SL-1200G. Now, here’s a £3,000 turntable which is undeniably superb in terms of its core engineering but which leaves the quality of its inherent accessories trailing in comparison. So, it has issues with its mains cable, its interconnects, its platter mat, no spindle stabiliser when it really needs one and, you guessed it, its headshell. Improving all of these improves the sound quality of this turntable. I assumed that the basic headshell supplied by Technics was good but possibly not the very best. So I decided to target that machine as my test platform for this replacement sample via Timestep.
The T-01HS headshell is made from Ebony. A rigid material. In fact, let me just take a moment to emphasise just how meaty and strong this thing is. You’re not talking wimpy thin wood here. There is no sense that an interior designer has got his hands on this one. This is a headshell produced by a bridge builder or someone who makes Sherman tanks in the evenings as a hobby. There’s nothing delicate with this headshell which, to be honest, gives you confidence. After all, a typical cartridge reacts to the tiniest of movements and any micro-flexing in a headshell will react negatively with it. Just looking at this Ebony slab, I can’t imagine it being effected by micro anything. But we’ll see in the tests of course.
Toting silver leads, the T-01HS presents a weight of 15g in mass terms. Useful for low compliance cartridges. I loaded it with an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze (£1,400) to see what happened.
Be aware that, because the headshell is thicker than most standard bayonet headshells, it will require longer screws and, for the SL-1200G at least, you will need to add one of the supplied extra weights on the rear of the tonearm to balance the extra weight of the headshell.
I began with the ballad People, sung by the bassy tones of Earl Coleman with Billy Taylor’s orchestra on the original Love Songs album from Atlantic (1968). The sonic change from the original Technics headshell to the new Ebony version was, frankly, immense.
How to describe the change? It’s like…it’s like having your friends over to your house, as a kid, and the whole ensemble degrades into messing about, unruly behaviour, paper dart throwing, shouting, swearing…and then your Dad walks in. All of that stops and everyone sits up straight and is suddenly on their best behaviour.
And I mean this is a good way.
Hence, with the Ebony headshell added, the Coleman vocal was very confident indeed. Strong. Even mature. The vocal had real and unbridled authority that commanded the music. The Coleman vocal leant real weight to the singing, giving the delivery gravitas. The upright bass also solidified and focused during its tenure within this track, giving the lower frequencies a solid foundation. It never forced itself onto the mix and created any sense of unbalance, that was reigned in successfully. What it did give was an assertive presence.
Other instruments such as the flute and piano were also focused but stronger in their delivery with a new found clarity due to lower noise in and around the upper mids. This clarity also provided added complexity. In short, great detail spewed forth.
I moved to the goth-like atmospheres of Andreas Gross and Rain Without You from the LP, Close To Home (KS), a more dynamic affair, this one.
Here, the Timestep allowed the direct drive deck the freedom to ‘do its thing’, giving the bass a real fillip and enhancing the timing of the same, adding focus and enough precision to blend an organic feel to the bottom end but alongside that a crisp, powerful impact. This was not a crash, bang wallop thing, each bass hit was one of some significance and with purpose.
In terms of the upper frequencies, the track provided a calming, quite open array of frequencies, presented in a composed, smooth manner. This opened up the soundstage, creating a sense of stillness across it, giving the musicians more elbow room to do their thing and adding a relaxed atmosphere to the presentation.
Adding a new stability and stiffness to the headshell brings about a whole array of benefits to the Technics SL-1200G I used as part of my review but it will be perfect for any tonearm with a SME-type bayonet connector. The Timestep T-01HS Ebony headshell allows the music to speak with great confidence, giving the soundstage a commanding influence. Upgrading is a real no-brainer here, this headshell can transform a turntable, that’s how effective it is.
TIMESTEP T-01HS EBONY HEADSHELL
Tel: 01803 833366
PROS: commanding bass, midrange control, low noise, smooth upper frequencies, build
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