Nasotec Swing Headshell 202A1 is a novel approach to achieving better results from your vinyl replay system. It costs £305 and here Janine Elliot gives it a try for Hifi Pig.

It has been a life-long objective of turntable manufacturers to create a system where the cartridge stylus tracks the record as close as possible to the way the grooves were originally laid. With a conventional pivoted arm this is not easy. At two points on the record the stylus will be perpendicular to the groove, but at all other times, it won’t track to grooves in the same manner as the record was created, using a tangential cutting lathe such as Neumann VMS80. At the start and particularly at the end of the record the stylus will track the groove at an angle. Doing so not only means that one leg of the signal will be slightly earlier adding phasing issues, but it also adds distortion and is not so good for the stylus. Luckily tangential arms have been around since Edison’s first cylinder player. Models from Harman Kardon, B&O, Revox, Clearaudio and Pre-Audio amongst others, have been a panacea for this lifelong conundrum, however, these can add other flaws that conventional arms don’t have to such a degree.

Some have devised other means of tackling the problem, including the famous Garrard Zero 100SB (and which led to their GT55P) Introduced in 1971. This turntable had a dual arm with zero tracking error by virtue of the constantly changing angle of the head-shell as it traversed the record due to the pair of parallel arms. Actually, that was an idea copied from an earlier arm design from another British company Burne Jones from thirteen years earlier. Much more recently this idea has been bettered by Thales. But, no one has yet succeeded in creating a device that can be retrofitted on any turntable using the universal SME head-shell connector. Until now.

What the Nasotec Swing Headshell 202A1 has done is allow the friction from the groove itself to force the head-shell to change angle as it plays. All this comes in at £304.99 and a choice of red, blue gold or black (but no silver). Constructed out of aluminium it is fairly heavy at 11.5g, but ideal for today’s low compliance arms and cartridges. Using springs it can change angle fairly easily and comes supplied with Cardas Litz copper connectors, screws, and nuts coloured to match the head-shell (mine was bright red), Alan key and miniature screwdriver.

THE COMPANY

The Nasotec Corporation is a South Korean company run by Dong-Chan Son since 1999. This company sells DIY parts for audio including OP amps, amplifiers, connectors, spike shoes, record clamp, tweezers, headshell alignment block, loudspeaker Binding Posts, isolation spikes and shoes, and of course the Swing Headshell.

CONNECTING

Connecting the unit did not give any problems and is well supplied with instructions to help you. Good quality Cardas Litz copper cables to connect to the cartridge are supplied and which have different size connectors at each end; the cartridge side is 1.2mm and tonearm side 1.0mm. My designated tweezers came in invaluable as always in these situations. It is important to make sure that the leads are carefully affixed to the cartridge and headshell, as off-centred records will cause a lot of movement of those delicate Litz connectors. I loved the 4 gorgeous colours with matching screws and nuts. I remember my excitement at purchasing an ADC Magnesium headshell back in the 70’s, but this one was even more exciting in looks and design. It is supplied with a screwdriver to loosen the springs at the back that control the swing movement. It is suggested that you loosen these before connecting your cartridge, and then tightening it up once you have affixed the headshell to your turntable arm, making sure that there is an equal tension of movement on both sides, otherwise swing movement won’t be equal. It is also important that the wiring between cartridge and headshell is not done in a way that prevents movement of the Swing arm. If the cable catches to one side it will give an incorrect movement of the Swing headshell. All this is not so easy bearing in mind the short distance between the pins of the cartridge and those of the headshell. Fixing the headshell on the arm was interesting as the headshell wobbles about like jelly, obviously intentional but looked entertaining! It meant being careful when lifting the headshell by the handle, so best do it all by the viscous damping lifting mechanism if your arm has it.   My initial set-up was the excellent Technics SL-Q2 direct-drive turntable from my youth. The arm is nothing to write home about, but my test was to see just how good the swing action was and connecting my high-compliance 1g VMS20E cartridge would be interesting to see if a lightweight playback would hinder swing movement, bearing in mind it is operated by friction from the stylus on the groove.  I connected it to a Creek OBH-15 phonostage and Elliot solid silver connectors to an Earmax headphone amp. Listening on cans I would hear phasing or noise problems greater than with speakers, though later I connected it to Manley phono-stage and the excellent Burson Bang power-amp via MFA Baby Reference pre.

IN USE

Whilst using the Nasotec Swing Headshell depends on your arm having a universal SME headshell (and there is available a version for the SPU mount cartridges), I realised that the results depended on several other factors. Firstly, the stylus contour and playing weight will affect the amount of drag that will change the profile of the headshell. For that reason, I tested the unit on low and high compliance cartridges. One also needs to bear in mind the record you are playing. Stereo records rely on vertical movement of the cantilever whereas mono discs have horizontal movement, meaning that changes in a horizontal movement will alter the effect of the Nasotec headshell.  Also, the result also depends on whether the centre hole of the record has been placed correctly in the centre. Another factor is where the record is being tracked; at the start, the velocity will be greater than at the end of the disc, so the swing will be more effective where the record is traveling with more friction (faster movement). Even the type of record will affect the playing weight of your records (thicker 180-220g could cause the cartridge to play slightly heavier if a very low centre of gravity at the weight-end).  Finally, angle of change required by the Swing headshell depends on the size of arm (the smaller the arm the greater the angle of adjustment to ensure 90 degree angle between record groove and centre of record).  Dong-Chan certainly has a lot to consider when creating this lovingly engineered vinyl product and I needed to determine whether it was an accessory or a necessity. For my tests I used two turntables; one with a straight arm and one with an S-shaped arm. Cartridges were Ortofon Kontrapunkt b (2.5g) and VMS20E (1g), and an aged Stanton 681 EEE (more on that one later)

Horizontal resonance was reduced in my playing of albums, just as the Trough on the Rock intends to do, though the latter is aimed at vertical resonance. Asia was one of my favourite bands from the 80’s, largely because of its links to “Yes” with Steve Howe, plus Carl Palmer from ELP. This album can sound complicated and phasing issues with its thick orchestration. Amazingly all was allowed to play and breathe with greater ease, just as I notice the difference between going from my pivot arm on my Rock 7 to the tangential arm on my Pre-Audio turntable. Top frequencies seemed clearer and better timed, with a tight and well-mannered bass end. Only that the swing itself wasn’t as great as I hoped at the end of the record, in that the swing of the headshell wasn’t able to cause the cartridge to sit 90 degrees to the radius of the record. But the accuracy of performance was still surprisingly good. I checked this more thoroughly with an old 45rpm 7” disc that runs nearer to the central spindle. This was ‘A Walk in the Black Forest’ by Horst Jankowski, the intro being the signature tune for my own broadcasting station that I had in my bedroom as a 9-year-old child. I haven’t played it for decades and so it brought back some memories!

Playing my mono Schubert Unfinished symphony (Rudolf Kempe – The Bamberger Symphony Orchestra) – my favourite of all symphonies – the Nasotec working well to cope with the horizontal grooves and my stereo cartridge. However, on all the music I played at 1g the movement of frictional-based ‘swinging’ was more of a slow waltz, with less ability to travel at that perfect tracking angle consistently across the record than I had hoped, despite some audible improvement in sound. For fun I decided to play a record I didn’t mind scratching, ‘Rainbow’ from Peters and Lee, using an old Stanton 681 EEE cartridge which I ramped up to 4.5g, much higher than suggested playing of 0.75-1.5g.  I played blindfold; I just didn’t want to listen to it tracking at thrice the suggested playing weight, and not that I was in sympathy with Lennie Peters who was blinded in one eye age 5 in a car accident and lost sight in the other eye when a brick was thrown at him age 16. Some will remember Peters and Lee appearing in Opportunity Knocks. I do. I shouldn’t have admitted that. Now, that certainly allowed a much greater swing of the headshell and the amount of swing at both ends of the record was near to ideal. This proved to me that the headshell, if set up correctly, can do fully as its name suggests.

Turning to my Kontrapunkt b tracking at 2.5g the movement was improved on the original high compliance VMS20E. Playing Bowie Legacy thicker 180g records the weight was slightly higher (0.05g) and musically the sound was close to my tangential turntable. I did notice that also adjusting azimuth had an effect on the amount of swing. The ease of movement of the Swing was, however, not as great as I had hoped initially but it did improve significantly as I played during the first few weeks. I did wonder if removing the springs would improve it, though that would bring with it its own problems. I did loosen the springs which did help. The improvement in tracking angle near to perpendicular did mean a much more open and real performance creating better timing and ‘air’ between each instrument in the soundstage.  Also, it meant that a record without the centre hole exactly at the centre would cause the angle of stylus to the record to change very slightly adding slight phasing, BUT it didn’t mean so much wow and flutter. My Bowie Legacy double album has a rather large centre hole, meaning the record can be seated badly on the platter and wow like mad with a conventional or tangential-arm turntable! Also, badly seated or incorrectly centred discs can add pressure to one side of the groove, which the Nasotec prevents. Indeed, they claim that there is a longer lifespan of the stylus, equal pressure on both sides of the groove, and of course better tracking ability. Listening to Tonto’s Expanding Head Band (on this expanding headshell) with its associated tracking difficulties due to extremes in frequencies from bass to treble, the Nasotec coped admirably, creating a spacious and open sound when the music warranted it. I was quite impressed just how effective this £300 device was in improving the music; much more than I felt when I first set up my ADC Magnesium headshell back in my youth.

CONCLUSION.

This is a very unique and clever product. £304.99 might seem a lot to pay for a headshell, however, if your arm can fit it and your cartridge warrants the expenditure, then this could be a good investment. When I was young and played my Trio KD1033 turntable I longed for the day I could have a tangential B&O turntable. If the Swing had been round in the 70’s I perhaps wouldn’t have needed to worry.

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: Well engineered and good looks

Sound Quality:  Effectively helps to straighten cartridge close to perpendicular with the groove, pertaining to more focus and improved soundstage of music, reducing phasing and tracking the record almost as it was cut

Value For Money: £304.99 is not cheap but helps to replicate a tangential arm at a fraction of the price, so it is good value and unique 

Pros:

Improved imaging

Reduced phasing

More space between instruments

Cons:

Wish a greater angle could be possible

Not cheap

Price: £304.99

Janine Elliot

Review Equipment: Pioneer PL-12, Technics SL-Q2 Turntables, Creek OBH-15 phonostage, Elliot solid silver connectors to an Earmax headphone amp and AT W1000 headphones. Manley Steelhead/MFA Baby Reference/Burson Bang amplification to Wilson Benesch Arc speakers (Ecosse and Townshend cables)

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