Ortofon is a Danish brand created in 1918 by two engineers: Axel Petersen and Arnold Poulsen. The company’s original purpose was to develop a sound recording system for the cinema, which was still silent at the time. Ortofon went on to become a major player in the world of sound and has developed close to 300 phono cartridge models since the brand’s debut.
Famous for its iconic phono cartridges, such as the 1984 MC cartridge premier the Mono-A, as well as SPU cartridges, Ortofon is the world’s largest turntable cartridge manufacturer with around 300,000 units sold a year. Most of Ortofon’s current activity is dedicated to hi-fi products, whereas production had formerly been tailored to the needs of DJs just a few years ago. The company also develops hearing aids under the brand name Ortofon Microtech.
Once based in Copenhagen, Ortofon was relocated in 1972 to Nakskov, a small town located two hours south of the capital. A government program designed to encourage companies to move to the country’s rural areas was the driving force behind the company’s decision to move its headquarters to Nakskov. Ortofon is currently one of Nakskov’s leading employers with around 100 employees.
The Ortofon factory opened its doors to us and we’d like to take you along for the tour.
But first, a quick overview of cartridge design is essential as it will help you understand what you are about to see.
The working principle of a cartridge is simple. A diamond attached to a metal pin (known as a cantilever) transmits the infinitesimal vibrations created by a groove carved in the polyvinyl chloride (material used to make records). These vibrations are then relayed to a generator, which transforms these vibrations into an electric signal.
Generators make use of one of two existing technologies: moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC).
The first technology is the most common. A magnet at the end of the cantilever is placed near the coils, where the magnet’s movements then generate an electrical signal.
Moving coil technology is mostly used for high-end cartridges and relies on the movement of a magnet placed at the tip of a cantilever. This technology is more difficult to implement and also more expensive while providing a lower output level. The use of a compatible phono preamplifier is therefore necessary with this type of cartridge.
Manufacturing a phono cartridge begins with the production of a part fundamental to its proper functioning: the suspension. This component is located at the top of the cantilever, above the cartridge’s electromagnetic generator. This extremely small part (less than 2 mm) dampens the movement created by the fluctuations in the groove. The suspension is essential to the proper functioning of any phono cartridge.
The assembly line for MM cartridges is semi-automatic. Certain steps, such as the production of coils, are entirely carried out by machines specifically designed for this task.
The diamond is the part which is in direct contact with the record and is also an essential element of a phono cartridge as it transmits information regarding the fluctuations in the groove. Diamonds are attached to the cantilevers under a microscope lense as this process requires a great deal of precision.
The cantilever is then installed, after which the cartridge is placed in its shell and is ready to use.
The factory also produces all the plastic parts used for its cartridges. The parts are then painted to match the color of each model, as shown below on styluses (pieces on which the cantilever and diamond are installed) destined for the OM range of Ortofon cartridges.
The production of MC cartridges is carried out on the factory’s second floor. As each cartridge is artisanally crafted, an Ortofon MC cartridge’s coil is put into place by hand by a qualified worker under a microscope lense.
On the second floor of the Ortofon factory, there is a small museum reminding us of the company’s nearly hundred-year history in which some past models of cartridges are displayed.
Acclaimed for the quality of its cartridges and its technical skills, Ortofon proposes several cartridge ranges. OM, 2M, Quintet, SPU … all are very comprehensive and comprised of both MM and MC models offering excellent sound restitution. In addition, the company also produces tonearms, headshells, and cables.
Watch a video of our visit to the Ortofon factory.French