Analog Corner #100

The Mørch DP-6 tonearm's pillar

This is the 100th "Analog Corner" I've written for Stereophile. Thanks to all for reading the column, and for taking the time to send me and the magazine so many letters, complimentary and otherwise, over the eight years and four months it's taken to reach 100 installments. In that time we've witnessed one of the greatest resurrections since...well, I don't want to get into John Lennon's trap, so let's just say the unlikely survival and rebirth of analog in the age of digital everything has been one of the most gratifying phenomena I've witnessed in my life as an audiophile. If I've played some small part in that, all of the hard work has been worthwhile.

I especially want to thank Larry Archibald and John Atkinson for hiring me in the first place, and for giving me valuable space in their magazine to write about what most people in the industry considered to be a dying format. They have been true gentlemen and friends throughout.

On to "Analog Corner" No.101!

I was recently turned on to an interesting Canadian musical outfit called Godspeed You Black Emperor!. The group makes what are being called "post-rock" instrumentals—intricate, dramatic, filmlike music not associated with any particular movie. A review is best left to another venue (guess which), but what amazed me when I went looking for their stuff is that all the albums I could find were available only on Constellation Records vinyl: two double LPs, a single LP, and a 12" EP mastered at 45rpm on one side, 33 1/3rpm on the other. And not just vinyl, but exquisitely packaged and produced sets using high-quality paper and printing, some featuring intricate embossing and all including carefully crafted inserts—the way that music that consumers used to be happy to buy was once produced. The pressing quality is so-so, but given today's limited runs, that's pretty good.

The care that has gone into the packaging of Godspeed You Black Emperor!'s LPs is amazing, but how many of their fans, who I'm sure are relatively young, can be into vinyl? Probably more than you, I, the CEA, or the RIAA think. The sound quality, for the most part, is quite high; the latest 2-LP set, Yanqui U.X.O. (Constellation CST024-1), was recorded by Steve Albini. The music is instrumental!

Two Calls, Two Arms
I've been intrigued by the Mørch tonearms for a few years now. The UP-4 is a unipivot, while the more expensive DP-6 ($1390) is a dual-bearing design. They look like tiny toys, and thus appear flimsy to some (they're not), which is enough for some audiofools to dismiss them. But with so many people I respect saying so many good things about the Mørches, I needed to check one out for myself.

But according to Hart Hutchens, of American importer Audio Advancements, Mr. Mørch, who builds the arms himself by hand in Denmark (much as Bob Graham does here with his tonearm), has had a difficult time keeping up with demand. As you know, analog is a dead, outdated technology, and Mørch just couldn't spare one for a review. Finally, a DP-6 arrived last winter, just in time for me to not drop everything and review it.

I also received an Omega tonearm from Helius Designs, a UK tonearm manufacturer whose earlier models, the Orion (introduced in 1982) and the Cyalene (in production for a decade), were apparently quite popular at one time. But the advent of the CD forced the company to shift its focus skyward, to computer-controlled astronomical telescopes. With the recent vinyl resurgence, Helius has returned to the good groove with the Omega, a modified version of which appeared on Max Townshend's intriguing-looking Rock Reference turntable. The original arm I was sent, which looked like a prototype, was simply not ready for primetime, and importer Dan Meinwald, of E.A.R./Sound Advice, took it back. Much later, a far more finished-looking edition arrived.

With a fresh double armboard from Simon Yorke on hand, I set about drilling holes—or, rather, my next-door neighbor did. He's got a well-equipped wood- and metalworking shop, complete with drill press and all the accessories.

The Helius proved somewhat tricky to install: it requires drilling a large 45mm hole, then three screw holes around it close to the edge, these needed to hold the base ring in place. Complicating matters was that the screws holding the base ring protrude up from the bottom of the armboard and into tapped holes that don't go all the way through the ring. It makes for a neat appearance when installed, but the two sets of supplied screws aren't nearly enough to ensure compatibility with all armboard thicknesses. Too short and the screws won't reach through the board to the threads; too long and there won't be a tight fit. I had to visit my local hardware store, and even then I needed washers before the ring would fit snugly: one set of screws was too short, and the next size up was too long. Not a big deal, but unless you really know what you're doing, this is one arm you'll probably want to have professionally installed.

The Mørch was far easier: just a single 20mm hole for a threaded insert, held in place with a large nut. While both arms offer adjustable vertical tracking angle (VTA) via grub screws in the collar or bush, as Mørch calls it (short for bushing), neither of these arms offers the kind of easy, repeatable micro-adjustability you get with the Graham, VPI, Tri-Planar, Eminent Technology, and other arms. If you're a set-it-and-forget-it kinda VTA guy or gal, no problem. I'm one myself—I set VTA for a 180gm record and leave it there for every thickness of record. Maybe you're more finicky—but I got into this hobby because I wanted to listen to music in sonic style, not because I wanted to diddle with mechanical devices. Believe it or not.

Helius Omega tonearm: The information Dan Meinwald sent me about the Helius Omega ($2000) states: "The name Omega is derived from the so-called Omega Point. Physicists argue about the definition of the Omega Point. It depends on whether you take Einstein's, Penrose's, or the time-reversed Eddington-Lemaitre-Bondi model of the universe. In essence, however, the Omega Point represents the ultimate evolution of the universe—spatially, temporally, and, more importantly, with respect to observers within this ultimate state of the universe." I don't know which model you take, nor do I understand what that has to do with anything involving LP playback, but it sure sounds intriguing—and the bearing housing is even sort of shaped like an Ω.

That fat, curvaceous bearing housing makes the Omega look almost like a 78rpm changer. But, according to Meinwald, there is function in its form, and it has to do with energy dissipation. He says, "a wavefront will lose amplitude as it enters a larger spatial volume," and therefore the housing's sectional surface area increases the farther you get from the armtube.

The bearing system for both lateral and vertical movement consists of four hardened-tungsten balls set into a compact, central aluminum housing, the whole assembly shrouded by the Ω-shaped covering. Another point made in the importer's one-sheet is this: "A point often overlooked in tonearm design is that as a wavefront exits the bearings, it should exit both sides simultaneously. Otherwise there will be a time delay, and the one wavefront will split in two and appear twice in the next component along the trail. This is the closest we come to a phase error in mechanics, and can result in an echo in the music. The new design places both the vertical and lateral bearings on the same component, ensuring the highest efficiency of mechanical coupling." Just passing that along.

The tracking force is set via a combination of a threaded counterweight and a secondary, gold-plated sliding weight suspended below. You first screw the threaded weight all the way back, then loosen a plastic clamping knob and slide the hanging gold weight back until the arm balances. Finally, you screw in the counterweight to set the appropriate tracking force. Overhang is set with the supplied two-position template.

Setting up the Helius Omega was fairly straightforward, though I was surprised that I needed to use the supplied headshell weight designed for "very light" cartridges. I don't consider the Transfiguration Temper W, at 7.6gm, to be "very light." With an effective length of 254mm, the Omega is a 10" arm which would make the effective mass hanging that far from the pivot point even greater than with the more common 9" arms. The supplied extra weight did the job, however. Using the WallyTools VTA adjuster before permanently affixing the cartridge made it possible to accurately set the Omega's tapered armtube parallel to the record surface. Without the Wally, you're just guessing—there's no reference line inscribed on the armtube, as there is on the SME arm, for example.

When I set up the Graham 2.2 and Immedia RPM2 arms on another Yorke armboard some years ago, I found that the distance from the board surface to the platter surface was so great I had to raise both arms' VTA adjusters to almost the tops of their travel to get the armtubes parallel to the plane of play. I didn't consider that to be a particularly good thing, so I had both base mounts built up to raise the arm mounting height so that the armtubes were parallel in the middle of the VTA adjustment range. That allowed both greater adjustment range and greater stability.

While the Omega's massive and rigid VTA adjustment shaft sat well down in the collar when the arm and cartridge body were parallel to the plane of play, I found that the thicker end of the tapered armtube rubbed against the outer edge of the record. I had to raise the shaft for it to clear, but that put the lower surface of the cartridge body above parallel—not desirable.

Looking at the arm's profile made the cause of the problem obvious: the headshell's mounting surface is well above the top of the armtube. I don't understand why the designer chose to do that. I ended up using the extra headshell weight as a spacer by putting it between the cartridge and headshell surfaces, which effectively raised the front of the arm relative to the back, and thus made the cartridge body again parallel to the record surface. A tall cartridge, such as a Clearaudio Insider, might be better suited to the Omega, but the Transfiguration Temper W is more typical. I'm not sure what the designer intended here, or if my being "spatially challenged" (which I am) has led me to miss something that might have solved this problem some other way.

The Omega's internal wiring is dressed down the main shaft and terminates in a small box containing a pair of RCA jacks. With a set of interconnects linking the box to the ASR Basis Exclusive phono preamp, and overhang, tracking force, and antiskating set (the latter via a knob on the cueing-arm platform), it was time for a listen.

I found the vestigial fingerlift on the end of the headshell nearly impossible to use (it kept slipping off my index finger), so I relied exclusively on the cueing lever. The bearing system felt tight yet with low apparent friction when I manipulated it with my hand. Lowered into the lead-in groove, the cantilever's behavior seemed extremely stable—a good sign.

I started with Davy Spillane's Atlantic Bridge (Tara 3019), to check out the Omega's bass performance. It was outstanding on this record, which has prodigious deep bass, and on subsequent LPs with deep bass as well. The arm's bass extension, articulation, control, and freedom from bloat, overhang, and other obvious problems were impressive. Image stability, solidity, and overall soundstaging were equally fine. The Omega committed no gross errors that I could hear, nor did it have any major deficiencies. Its strong suits were at the frequency extremes, as the transparent top end was also notable. Transients had unmistakable clarity and speed; this, in combination with the Omega's superb bass control, gave its overall sound an unusual compactness and rhythmic authority, along with outstanding resolution of inner detail.

Lateral and vertical resonant frequencies were right where they belonged, at between 8 and 10Hz in both directions, indicating that the Helius Omega should offer an outstanding ride for any medium-compliance moving-coil cartridge. If I had any complaint, it would be of a less than rich midrange.

The version I tested, wired with copper, sells for $2000. The Omega costs $2200 with silver wire, $3000 with ruby bearings, copper wire/ceramic journals, $3200 with silver wire and ruby bearings; add $150 for bronze finish, another $125 for a bimetal armtube. I think the Omega offers outstanding sonic performance for the price. I'm not sure I'd want the fully tricked-out version for $3000, given the competition and some of the problems I encountered—especially the armtube hitting the record. If that issue can be worked out, and if you use low- to medium-compliance cartridges, and if you have someone who knows what they're doing cut the armboard, the Helius Omega offers impressive and very enjoyable sound—and a somewhat unusual appearance.

Mørch DP-6 tonearm: The Mørch DP-6 ($1390) is a compact, elegant-looking design offering numerous technical and user-friendly features. After an easy installation of the collar that holds the arm, I got busy with the setup, only to be stymied by some very confusing instructions:

1) They've been translated by someone whose native language is Danish.

2) The instructions are plain confusing.

3) There are some glaring errors. The section dealing with which mass of armtube to use with which weight of cartridge, and which counterweight to use with the combination, was titled "Weight of Counterweight in Grams when Using." It made absolutely no sense to me. I read it over and over, then gave up and e-mailed Mr. Mørch, who e-mailed me back that someone had made a mistake and replaced the word cartridge with counterweight. "Weight of Cartridge in Grams when Using" then made complete sense.

"You are right!" he assured me. "I don't know why no one ever pointed that out before." Neither do I.

The instructions also fail to tell you to actually mount the armtube on the bearing assembly, or how that might be done. This is what happens when someone too close to the design writes the instructions. These errors have been corrected. Thank you.

The DP-6 uses a silicone-damped, precision ball-bearing assembly for lateral motion, and two sapphire bearings for vertical. The vertical motion can also be damped by injecting silicone into a well. (Mørch says that vertical damping may not always be a good idea, and tells you how to get the damping fluid into the well, but doesn't tell you how to get it out.) Thus, horizontal and vertical damping are independent, the vertical damping easily adjusted via a threaded screw that sits in the well. Azimuth can easily be adjusted at one of the sapphire vertical bearings. The circular bearing housing's main cavity is offset toward the front to provide asymmetrical mass distribution, which is said to prevent symmetrical barrel resonances. Despite its small size, the housing itself is surprisingly heavy.

Mørch makes four color-coded armtubes of different masses (light, medium, heavy, extra heavy), to accommodate every cartridge mass and compliance and in two grades, Standard and Precision. The armtubes are easily changed out by unscrewing a round knurled nut at the top of the bearing housing and lifting off the tube and its round housing, which also conveniently includes the cartridge-wire contact points. Spring-loaded contact points built into the bearing housing make firm contact when the new armtube is pressed into place and secured with the knurled nut. This choice of armtubes allows you to go from a high-compliance moving-magnet cartridge to a low-compliance moving-coil monster in seconds while maintaining the proper fundamental resonance.

The one-piece DP-6 armtubes are slender, internally damped, and angled in two places. The standard tubes are flattened on the end: the underside accepts the top surface of the cartridge, and the upper side accepts the fingerlift, forming a rigid sandwich. The Precision tube features a standard, slotted headshell. The arm's effective length is 9 1/6" (230mm); a 12" armtube is available for those who feel the need.

Three counterweights with eccentric holes are supplied, along with a tracking-force adjustment weight with a centrally positioned hole. Various combinations of counterweight are suggested, depending on armtube and cartridge weight. All weights are fitted with dreaded dual O-rings, which, in my humble opinion, operate only as high-frequency-resonant springs.

The weights are pushed onto a long shaft protruding from the back of the bearing housing, placed below the pivot point for greater stability, while the pivot point is designed to operate in the plane of play to minimize warp wow. Antiskating is set via a watch spring and string, and is adjustable during play.

Mørch doesn't supply an overhang alignment gauge. Instead, the instructions say that, provided the tonearm is mounted precisely as the template indicates (better be sure), overhang will be correct when the stylus is "right under the front edge of the black plane of the armtube (with the Precision armtube correct is 4mm behind the front edge)." Now, you tell me how one is supposed to make that measurement. The stylus tip is well below the headshell, and I found it impossible to visualize or physically measure this. When I e-mailed Mørch for clarification of the points already mentioned, he improved this instruction too, but his translation made understanding the procedure very difficult. So I improvised, putting a small ruler on the platter and making sure the stylus literally overhung by the specified 18mm.

This is no way to run a railroad. Given all of the care that went into this design, why not supply a template? If I owned a Mørch DP-6, I'd get a WallyTractor gauge in a minute.

Small quibbles aside, using and listening to the Mørch DP-6 was nothing but pleasurable. In fact, I fell in love with its sound. Other than the deepest bass—which was reasonably good, but not quite up to the best I've heard (could it be those damn O-rings?)—everything else about the sound was exceptional. I don't use that word lightly. The DP-6 produced the most glorious, rich, coherent midband I've heard yet from the Lyra Titan cartridge. It had a natural, unforced, velvety yet detailed overall presentation that was as inviting and nonmechanical as any arm I've heard. Wow.

I'm gushing. As I write this, I'm listening to Cisco's fabulous-sounding reissue of Ian and Sylvia's Northern Journey (Vanguard VSD 79154), and it sounds as good as I've ever heard it. The acoustic guitars have the ideal balance of metal string and wooden resonance, and Ian's and Sylvia's voices sound as convincing and natural as I've ever heard them.

The DP-6's top-end performance sounded extended and flat, with nary a trace of brightness-inducing mechanical peaks. That top-end performance reminded me of what a non-peaky tweeter sounds like: At first you might be fooled into thinking it's rolled-off and lacking detail, but over time you come to realize that what you're missing are peaks, and what you're hearing is truly amazing resolution of inner detail. On Northern Journey, I heard the knocks of a guitarist's fingers hitting the instrument's body with greater clarity than I ever have. With the arm mass optimized for the cartridge's compliance, the lateral and horizontal resonant frequencies were in the expected ideal range. And with the choice of tubes, if the results aren't ideal, they can be made so.

In brief: In terms of overall frequency balance and freedom from mechanical sound, the Mørch DP-6 ranks at or near the top of what I've experienced. It is as musical a tonearm as I've heard. I've heard greater bass extension at the very bottom (I verified this with 24-bit/96kHz Alesis Masterlink recordings), but otherwise, the DP-6's bass performance was on a par with the best. If you're used to false detail and brightness, you might find the sound closed-in, and while the DP-6's macrodynamic slam is not quite up there with that of my reference Graham 2.2 and Immedia RPM2 arms, I found the Mørch's delivery of instrumental and vocal timbres and harmonics as good as I've heard from any arm. And its overall presentation had a coherence and believability that kept me up listening all night.

The instructions need re-writing. I'd like to hear the DP-6 with set-screw attached counterweights, without O-rings. I'd like to know how to get the silicone out of the vertical damping well. If you need instant adjustability of VTA, the Mørch won't be for you, but given that a DP-6 in chrome with a standard 9" arm will set you back a mere $1390 ($1690 with Precision armtube), with additional armtubes priced at $290 ($550 with Precision), I consider the Mørch to be an entry-level tonearm that competes in the most important ways with empty-your-pockets-level arms.

Next month, phono sections—the Ming Da MC767 RD, the Graham Slee Products Era Gold Mk.V, the Perreaux SXV1, the Musical Fidelity XLPS V3—plus the Sumiko Bluebird cartridge, and maybe some other stuff.

Sidebar: In Heavy Rotation

1) Ron Sexsmith, Cobblestone Runway, Diverse 180gm LP
2) The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds, Capitol/EMI 5.1-channel DVD-Audio
3) Jefferson Airplane, Volunteers, Speakers Corner 180gm LP
4) The New Pornographers, Electric Version, Matador 150gm LP
5) The Incredible String Band, The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion, Sundazed 180gm LP
6) Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel, Classic 200gm Quiex SV-P LP
7) The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo: Deluxe Edition, Columbia/Legacy CDs (2)
8) Wire, PF456REDUX, pinkflag import LP
9) Café Tacuba, Cuatro Caminos, MCA CD
10) The Thrills, So Much for the City, EMI UK LP/CD

casperghst42's picture

This arm was for many years one of the most interesting things we (I) dreamed about, sadly it was out of our financial reach.

davip's picture

FWIW Mikey, I never knew (back in 1983) about the since often-cited deficiencies of unipivot tonearms in the bass as I had a Hadcock GH228 and never wanted for anything better in that dept. That was, until I tried putting silicone damping in the Hadcock's trough only to hear the bass go in the toilet. On removal, it all came back (both this and changing my hard rubber TT mat for a floppy silicone one produced the same low-frequency losses, so I'm inclined to believe that there's something in overdamping and bass performance). Not getting that damping out of the Mørch's trough might colour your view of its trouser-flapping capabilities...

PeterPani's picture

On my Thorens TD 124 I went up the ladder to parallel track arms and also a Graham was mounted to it. At the end I went back to the old Hadcock from 1990's. Most musical with my music-system when playing stereo vinyl (Ortofon MC jubilee) and best tracking results compared to other arms. No damping. I stopped searching for other tonearms. I have a second arm Ortofon for mono replay (EMD Mono 25) and a third no-name arm for 78's (Ortofon CG 65) mounted on the TD 124. No need to improve further.

hiwattnick's picture

Congratulations, Michael for writing your 100th “Analog Corner”! That’s no small feat, and you should be proud of that and everything else you have contributed to the world (or planet) of analog playback. I highly doubt my enthusiasm would be so high without your writings and videos. I humbly thank you for that.

My most sincere gratitude,

- Nick

mraudioguru's picture

...this 100th Analog Corner 15 years ago. Wonder what that number is up to now?

hiwattnick's picture

Thanks for the correction. I thought it seemed a bit late for that one, and didn’t see the 2003 original date.
My bad. I’ve got egg all over my face, but my congratulations still and always go to Mr. Fremer for everything he’s done for analog playback, vinyl, and how he’s inspired me nonetheless.
Thank you, again.

- Nick

Michael Fremer's picture
Will be #280!