Needles are hard to review. If you are a DJ who uses vinyl, needles are arguably the piece of gear that gets the most use in your setup, but they tend to be the most static. Unlike mixers or any number of accessories that we replace every few years based on our growing needs or simply keeping up with the new hotness, once we find something that we like, we tend to stick with what works. As well, most needle designs are based on 20-40 year old designs, and there is only so much to be said for a change in paint job.
A few years ago I made the switch to Ortofon from Shure, as I found that, for me, they held better than my old 447s, and sounded better to boot. I’ve loved the convenience of plugging them into a tonearm as well with no adjustment needed. The fact of the matter is though that, even though I was trying new models frequently, they were iterations of an old design.
So, when Louis at Ortofon sat down with me and went over the actual differences between generations, I got excited in a way that is usually reserved for space flux quantum faders and laser guided midi knobs. If you only get one thing out of this post, know that these aren’t a new paint job — they are reengineered from the ground up.
CURE FOR A BROKEN ARM
The most obvious (but not on first glance) difference is the removable lift. It’s a small thing that makes a huge difference. In the past, if your arm broke, you would go without, get some glue or (recently) purchase the Play Again lift. Now, if the lift arm breaks, you can swap it easily. Very smartly, the arm also acts as the rubber washer of old at the connection point, hopefully saving some of you from licking the needle contacts in the future.
Sonically, these are not just new designs from a needle standpoint, but down to the coils (to the point that the old styli will straight up not fit on the cartridge, or the new on the old). This may not seem exciting at first, but think about this – Ortofon basically built the first DJ cartridge actually made for modern DJs, as opposed to repurposing old designs or making adjustments to the styli to make it suitable for modern play styles. Given that the Hi-Fi market is currently larger than the DJ cartridge market, an engineering effort like this extra special. It’s a labor of love, which gets kudos by itself.
So, I guess the most important thing is, do they scratch? I was able to play with the Digital, which, spec wise is very similar to the Scratch. While I can’t comment on the whole line from one session, I can say that they stick like glue. There is slightly more lateral play than my S120’s or Qbert’s when doing quick stabs, etc, but the wacky thing is that the needle itself was holding better than either the Qbert or S120, both of which are far more purpose-driven scratch needles. Keep in mind that this is the most “all around” needle of the bunch, which bodes well for their more scratch-oriented line.
No matter what brand of needle you use, you have to tip your hat at the effort here. It isn’t just making an existing formula work a bit better for new DJs, its asking what modern DJs actually WANT and building something really new for them. Name another needle company that has done that in the last 20 years. For that reason alone, you should consider making the switch.