Is Tonearm Manufacturer JELCO a Covid-19 Victim?

This morning I received an email from Simon Brown designer and manufacturer of the innovative The Wand tonearm and new The Wand turntable telling me that Jelco tonearm's parent company Ichikawa Jewel Co. Ltd had announced it would be shutting down the business.

Mr. Brown's email included a general distribution email purportedly from Takako Ichikawa, the company's President and CEO announcing the closure. Everything about it seemed legitimate but I hesitated to "be first" with an unsubstantiated rumor (Brown wrote that he couldn't substantiate the rumor, despite passing on the email from Ichikawa-san) and a visit to the Jelco website at this time says nothing about the company closing though there is a message at the top of the home page saying that as of April 2nd, 2020 due to production and transportation delays caused by Covid-19 the company was not accepting any new orders.

I've now heard back from a number of industry insiders who have heard the same news so I feel it appropriate to pass this along to you. The email from Ichikawa-san is dated today, May 11th. Here's what it says:

Dear Sir.

It is with deepest regret to inform you this sad announcement.

The novel corona virus pandemic continue to have a significant impact on our production lines, and so I have decided to terminate our business effective immediately.

For the past few years, the business has endured a decline in labor productivity due to health issues arising from our aging skilled engineers. Furthermore, due to our obsolete mechanical equipment, performing maintenance on them has become difficult.

I sincerely ask for your understanding on the following points:

• No new orders will be accepted.
• Repair of products will not be accepted.

I would like to thank everyone for their warm support that was extended to us throughout the years. I would also like to express in writing my deepest gratitude for your kindness and wish you all the best for your continued development.

Sincerely yours,

Takako Ichikawa
President & CEO

If this is true and there's no reason to believe it's not, it sucks big time! First SME announces it will no longer sell to OEM customers and now this. While it may present opportunities for other manufacturers, Jelco especially was the reasonably priced high quality "bread and butter" "go-to" tonearm choice for many and for very good reasons.

Now what?

Anton D's picture

After your recent review of another knife edge tonearm, I was 'planning' an impulse buy of the Jelco 950L or 950S but had hesitated...and you know what happens to he who hesitates.

Thanks for that update.


mraudioguru's picture

I have owned a LOT of Jelco and Jelco sourced (OEM) tonearms over the years. They have all been excellent performers and at wonderful prices.

This is really sad news.

Hopefully, (fingers crossed) someone will buy them out and return them to the marketplace...

SeagoatLeo's picture

This is very unfortunate timing as SME has also ceased operations. Does anyone have experience comparing the SME IV, V or 309 to a Jelco, such as the Wand? I haven't read any comparisons although they share profiles. Thanks Two of the most dependable arm manufactures gone in one year. Very sad.

PAR's picture

SME have not ceased operations. They decided a couple of years ago to stop supplying arms on an OEM basis to other manufacturers and latterly to stop individual sales of their arms which remain available if bought with one of their turntables. Otherwise they are still very much in operation in the audio, aerospace, medical and other specialised light engineering markets.

The Wand is not a Jelco arm. It hails from New Zealand not Japan.

SeagoatLeo's picture

Yes, I did know that SME was still in business, just that they are not selling their arms any longer (apparently available on their turntables). I love the simplicity and great sound of my modified SME IV (rewired, RCA termination box & internal closed cell damping)

BillK's picture

I am just praying that during this trying time Lyra is keeping Yoshinori Mishima in a hermetically sealed, germ-free plastic bubble…

ArcAudio's picture

Just curious

grey17's picture

Yes or they subcontract the work locally. They are likely to be the primary fallback for Jelco's OEM customers since the arm geometries are the same. Hopefully they don't make an SME decision and decline further OEM business.

volvic's picture

To the analog/vinyl industry. They made tonearms for quite a few manufacturers. If I am not mistaken the Linn Basik & Basik Plus were all Jelco arms and Linn recently came back with the Linn Majik tonearm which was quite an improvement over the shoddy in comparison Project arm. Depressing news, the WSJ reported yesterday on permanent factory closings here in the US. I fear this is only the beginning of bad news on the hi-fi front. Very distressing news.

Jim Tavegia's picture

They make good to great quality arms and they might consider new options of super precision arms not that the market has a void. Is Ortofon still in the Tonearm business? There are still many great arms out there, regardless.

volvic's picture

When I bought my Linn Majik LP-12 I was shocked to see how poorly made the Project arm was, no comparison in quality to the old Basiks or Jelco arms of the past. Linn smartly switched back to Jelco for their entry-level Majik arm which is much better in quality than the Project. But with this sad news means Linn will have to revert back to Project.

They were good arms and reasonably priced. If I were in the market I would gobble up one or two. Just have too many tonearms and not enough tables.

Jelco said retooling and retraining were too great an obstacle to overcome. I wonder how much outsourcing they did to China over the years that contributed to this. A very disappointing day for the tonearm world.

Glotz's picture

I really dig my high-value Jelco ST-750! (Thankfully, it's new.) I mounted it on my HW-19 all by myself! (Lol.. silly but a point of pride.)

Michael is obviously right here, the industry suffers hugely, and probably to a much greater effect, given Jelco was a price firmly in the entry-to-mid-level market and an arguably a better-value tonearm than Rega at it's price point (and/or Project, as Volvic states above). SME is just amazing, but again thousands for a great tonearm.

There is VPI as well. I will commit to a Prime in the next year to take advantage of the that platform's excellence, but for value-minded music lovers, most are stuck now.

I wonder if Ortofon could fully engage themselves in their own (fully) tonearm game? I know they base almost all of their designs on the Jelco... but perhaps this could mean something great, by way of necessity?

Jim Tavegia's picture

I have not heard one, but I will bet the Ortofon arms are worth the cost.

I am glad I put the Rega RB 202 on my old Dual 502 as the motor and platter were and are fine, but the Dual arm was not. Pulled out the arm and linkage and install the Rega and was quite pleased. I have a Q-up on it so all is well at the end of play.

doak's picture

Many/most parts of the Ortofon tonearms are/were manufactured by Jelco.

doak's picture

Sorry,, I should have read more carefully.

Anton D's picture

Mounting your own arm is way cool, dude!

Not silly, wonderful!

Glotz's picture

Lol... thank you.

Anton, you are awesome!

MarcovS's picture

A decade ago I decided to buy the Jelco then top model SA-750D. One model lower was the SA-250ST, later a S version came along the product range as well as 10" and 12"versions and they succeeded in getting popular as fairly low priced quality products.

Some short while ago Jelco had expanded their arm business with a whole range of new models. The latest TS-550S is the successor of the SA-750D, however with one big difference: the TS-550S is no longer the top model the SA-750D was although in reality they look exactly the same. The TS-550S hovers somewhere below the middle as we now have a 350, 550, 850 and 950 and L versions of them, all at once...

So if someone now is looking for a quality tone arm, my guess is that this someone don't start to look at their 2nd one on the ladder, but the 3rd and finally 4rth are priced way more then the 750D once was, with the 950 double the price of the 750.

Its my speculation that this might have something to do with it as well...

OldschoolE's picture

Get ready to see more of this, sadly. First of all, “reasonably priced” is relative. Example: $1200 may be reasonable to one person, but a small fortune to another.
Be that as it may, the indirect effect of Covid-19 is personal economics. With many losing jobs and other incomes, there is no discretionary funds for expensive or in some cases, even relatively inexpensive audio gear. It is a harsh reality.
So, should these manufactures reduce prices by large percentage? That is entirely up to them, but in most cases I would think it highly impractical. Sure, there are those that gouge and are greedy, but by and large, most aren’t that way. Realistically there is a laundry list of expenses. If an item cost $100 to make, it simply can’t be sold for $130, that is not enough to cover anything but the parts, but then who is going to make it? There are many other costs to making anything, more or less depending in the business model.
Sadly, many folks can’t even afford a $99 Schiit Magni at this time, so prepare to hear a lot of manufacture complaints and / or shutdowns unless the 1% can sustain all of them, but that is also unrealistic.
Is it sad? You bet your life and we can only hope things will get better, but none of us have crystal balls. Even if some makes can adjust prices a little, in the immediate history it won’t help unfortunately. I would hope that those companies that would attempt that find a way to hang on and hopefully have it pay off. I hate to lose any decent audio company.

PAR's picture

It is clear from the email that Jelco had neither made any provision for training younger employees to take on the legacy nor had they invested in up to date manufacturing equipment.

So I regret that Covid-19 or not this vulnerability means they would have had to close down in the short to medium term anyway.

Let us hope that their failure may leave a gap in the market that someone will fill to our benefit.

DaveyF's picture

Unfortunately, a lot of high end companies were simply a few folks working out of their garage, Probably not destined for a long business existence, or a long term profitable enterprise; the virus has shortened that time considerably, maybe the silver lining is that these folks are no longer essentially bearing a dead horse!

Fsonicsmith's picture

when he asked me a bunch of questions about getting into vinyl, the Japanese audio enthusiasts are largely responsible for the survival and re-emergence of vinyl playback. We owe them a large debt of gratitude. They kept the faith and supplied the demand when most of the rest of us thought that vinyl playback was not worthy. The Covid crisis is not going to last forever and other manufacturers will likely fill the void left by Jelco. If Jelco's business model was not sustainable-and I suspect it was not-the new alternatives will be higher priced. That is just the law of basic economics. What remains unforeseeable is whether future vinyl enthusiasts will gravitate towards the old fashioned S-shaped metal arm with bayonet mount collette. You can argue about design virtues all you want, but marketing and reality don't necessarily align. My perception is that Jelco arms were the subject of a niche market within a niche market. I would not own a Pro-ject arm myself, even their best model, but young emerging vinyl-philes are likely to buy with their eyes. Can old fashioned arms compete with carbon fiber and 3D printed arms and the like?

Dr. Frankenheimer's picture

Does Origin Live make its own arms, or are they made for them? In either case, they're yet another outfit from whom one can get arms.

Andrei's picture

I installed an Origin Live Conqueror on my Technics SL1210. Went back to the Jelco750. In fact the stock technics tonearm is better.

volvic's picture

How much did the Jelco improve the 1210? Was it worth it?

Andrei's picture

Short answer is Jelco a clear step up. But there are 3 reasons to keep the Technics Arm. Cueing action and VTA adjustment make it easiest to use and least likely to damage a cart. Cost (and add the cost of an armboard). Other upgrades, especially the feet should be done before the arm.

volvic's picture

I have one collecting dust on my shelf for the last 4 years. Armboard is in the drawer and spare tonearm to install sits and waits. Just not sure if the cost, time, and money is worth it. Some say yes others no. Guess I have to decide.

jahnghalt's picture

manufacturers will likely fill the void left by Jelco.

One supposes one of those will get that "obsolete mechanical equipment" for "a song" - and perhaps the designs and carry on at least the OEM business.

ctbarker32's picture

I am fan of often reasonably priced Jelco tonearms. This is sad news. I am also a fan of Audiomods and Wand and a few others that build fantastic arms below the $1k price point.

I am concerned that there is a big gap between under $1k tonearms and the uber priced $5k tonearms.

I also wish more turntable manufacturers marketed products that made it easy for the end user to swap tonearms. The vast majority make this difficult/costly/impossible. Tonearm swapping should be as easy as cartridge swapping.

I recently upgraded a VPI HW-19 and installed a custom made Audiomods tonearm. The results were spectacular. I own more than a dozen turntables and my upgrade competes with the best.

Jim Tavegia's picture

Anyone who has read reports of installs of arms by the late AD and Michael know that installing(drilling) is an exact science if to be done right.

I often thought about just buying a new table to replace my old Dual 502, but loved the high torque AC motor. The metal plinth WAS an issue as much harder to drill than wood to get the distance right.

I'm glad I did it and put a Rega RB202 on it as I think the cost of the arm was the right mate for this used table. I thought about an SME, but at multiple times the value of the table, I gave up that idea. Most would have probably bought a Project Debut Carbon TT and been over it.

There is great enjoyment in doing something like this that comes out well in the end. Enjoying vinyl takes some effort.

my new username's picture

My Comet still has the original (OEM-supplied) Jelco SA-250ST on it, and while it "looks high end" I am aware that it does not have the best bearings, for example. Wondering if the least-expensive 9.5" "Wand" should be a decent lower cost upgrade.