Jack of all trades:
Imagine a cartridge, which can transform some of the most demanding Rock titles to an experience close to the live adventure while sailing smoothly through the grooves with such a stunning silent ride, that you doubt an electro mechanical transformation occurs. And if that is not enough – minutes later the same cartridge can deliver an astonishing realism while playing some classical music. The EMT JSD5 is one of the very rare breeds of transducers which do not have their favourite music. If you ask me which cartridge I would pick if I could only have one – it might be a good chance the EMT would lead my list….
EMT was one of the leading suppliers for the broadcast industry. The legendary indler wheel truntables EMT 927 and 930 come to mind, as also the famous 997 tonearm or some of the best CD players money can buy. The company was founded in 1940 by Wilhelm Franz as Elektro Messtechnik Wilhelm Franz Kg residing in Mahlberg near Lahr in the German Black Forrest region. Since 2016 the company is now part of EMT International GmbH, which is located in Switzerland.The EMT JSD5´s origin dates back to the famous EMT TSD 15 cart, which was one of the most used pick up systems within the broadcast scene during many decades.
The EMT carts are not the typical low output high end transducers we will find today – instead of producing output voltage figures around 0,2 – 0,4mV – they deliver a very strong 1mV while having a coil resistance of 22 Ohm. This 1mV figure is on the one hand a blessing for those of us, who use a phono stage with a very low gain structure (30db for example) – but on the other hand, almost none of us audiophiles have a step up transformer at hand which can deal with the technical data of such a cartridge. Historically the EMT turntables with their built in tubed phono stages used transformers with a turn ratio of 1:7 made by Neumann (BV – 41) or Hauffe. Those capsules are very, very rare in todays used market and not available any more. EMT´s own stand alone Step Up device, the legendary STX – 20 has also vanished from the used market – and if you are lucky to find such a gem on ebay – be prepared for a very steep price tag. As only insiders might know – there is a cheaper solution from Thorens. They used long time ago some parts from EMT for example the 929 tonearm – or the TSD 15 cart….these Thorens step up devices share the same capsules as the STX -20 from EMT itself – but are housed in a cheap plastic compartment and are not near the quality standard of the beautiful crafted originals – but if we spend a weekend with some do it yourself work – we can transfer the capsules into a nice enclosure with some good cabeling and professional RCA sockets….
One other very, very good option would be a Cotter PP step up transformer….These extremely good transformers are configurable to fit the EMT carts – the only thing you need is a solder iron and not more than 20minutes of your time. The configuration schematic of the Cotter PP can be downloaded from the web and is completely straight forward. Last but not least EMT International, which is aware of the precarious situation, brought the new STX 5/10 to us – designed by Micha Huber, the father of the well known Thales tonearms, who is actually also the man behind EMT International. The only disadvantage of the wonderful STX 5/10 is a very, very steep price tag of over € 7000,-!
If you have an active phono stage which features adjustable gain, as well as variable loading – you are ready to play….with no further investment. The EMT works best with loading figures beyond 200 Ohm and needs around 50db of noise free gain, which is not be a big deal for most of the modern transistor phono stages. Nevertheless – the more classical and historically correct way to play music with an EMT cart, would be a tubed phono stage mated with a 1:7 or 1:10 SUT – depending on the gain structure of the preamp. Regardless of using an active transistor or a tubed phono stage teamed up with a suitable step up transformer – please keep in mind, that the EMT features a tremendous amount of output voltage. Listen carefully while you are preparing your setup. If your phono stage will compress during the most dynamic passages of your hottest vinyl cuts, you might want to change the gain setting of your transistor phono pre – or change a 1:10 SUT to the originally recommended 1:7 turn ratio type…..With a tubed phono stages a gain structure around 30 – 40db MM gain is a good starting point for an uncompressed sound performance.
The JSD5 features a boron cantilever with a Fritz Gyger cut, one of the most elaborated diamond cuts in todays market. This needle construction together with the EMT damping system is one of the reasons, why this cart can track a record with nearly no limits while being extremely silent in the groove. EMT changed the compliance of the cartridge during the last years – the original EMT carts were all designed to feature around 15cu – the more recent Swiss made transducers now share a compliance between 10 – 12cu and will be a better match with heavier tonearms. With my example of the JSD5 I hit the sweet spot around 18gr effective mass using my Frank Schröder CB tonearm, which is – as you might already guess an amazing solution for this cartridge.
The EMT JSD5 more so than his stablemate JSD6 which is made by using a Fineline stylus cut – is very sensitive to the correct VTA adjustment. If the cart is set “tail up” the musical reproduction becomes strident and not fluid anymore. Too much of a “tail down” adjustment and all the fine details are gone and the amazing dynamic performance which the EMT JSD5 is capable of is restricted. My advice would be a parallel arm position as a starting point – and 2.4gr of downforce as also a minimum of scating compensation. Adjustments of antiscating might be a little different than you are used to – because there is a good chance that the cart sails through all torture bands of you test record without starting to generate distortion – and even if it does distort slightly at the last test band – it is completely wrong to adjust the scating compensation accordingly – you will end up with a dramatic overcompensation, which will deflect the needle and ruin the perfect phase response of the transducer and its dynamic abilities. Set the cart between the outlet groove of your record and start with such an amount of compensation, that the cart will not move in any direction – till it catches the groove. This might be an undercompensation – but it is a very good starting point – from there you have to listen to the most demanding passages of your record collection and adjust accordingly – while doing that – listen carefully!
The body construction of the cart is milled of a special aluminium alloy, which is treated with a sort of sandblasting technique to harden the surfaces even more. The design is laid out as a half naked enclosure to avoid reflections or standing waves inside the body shell. It is made in such a way, that the user never gets sweaty while handling the cart and mating it with the tonearms headshell – there is always a large degree of security. The front of the cartridge housing feature a sort of triangular shaped “nose”….which gives the design its unique silhouette. But this “nose” is not meant to be just a design gimmick – if you try to place a Koetsu exactly at the beginning of a record track, you know what I mean….with this triangular shaped “nose” tracking a certain song on your vinyl is a breeze. The cartridge pins are color coded and of high quality, while the body shell is fitted with drilled mounting holes, which makes the installation very straight forward.
One very interesting detail of the cartridge design is the technology EMT used to place and fix the cart to its housing. The cartridge “motor” is fixed with three threaded cones which allows the manufacturer to adjust the “motor” in alignment to the enclosure. The needle azimuth is also adjustable, because the whole construction is located in a tube, which is housed in a radial frame and fixed with one setscrew. The whole construction enables the manufacturer to adjust the cart with aid of a jig and a microscope to a degree of perfection rarely seen today.
The cart comes in a wooden box of the highest quality and is packed with some goodies also rarely seen today. You will get 3 pairs of precision engineered hex screws of different sizes to mount the cart – together with the suitable hex screwdriver. Additionally EMT encloses a measurement protocol from your specific cart with your specific serial number to the package – a rarity in todays high end scene!!!!!!
The first thing we might detect, while listening to the EMT JSD5 is a tremendous ability to render dynamic swings. This cart reminds me of a DECCA cartridge in its merciless way of kicking your butt;-))) While doing so, there ist a sort of presence that makes you smile. This thing can sound very, very big! The bass performance is one of the best you ever will hear – it sounds a tiny bit over ripe in the 100 – 200hz region – but instead of masking the really deep base – it does the opposite. The bass gesture is astonishing – fast, full of tone and not boomy or fat – it is a spectacular experience but without that typical artificial punch we might find for example in carts like the My Sonic Lab designs. It is more a stringy bass gesture with a lot pf energy and an amazingly fast attack response. There is nearly no colouration in the midtone spectrum – it is rendered as natural as breathing, which is one of the reasons, why you can listen for hours to your favourite music without any fatigue. Treble and air is so well integrated – this is not a warm cart – nor is it analytical or shiny. It is exactly that amount of treble which blends seamlessly into the whole frequency spectrum of this outstanding design. There is always enough analysis while being able to let the music breathe in a wholistic gestalt – amazing! In nearly every parameter this cart is designed to be “on the edge” not a tiny bit to the left nor to the right – it sounds in its own right completely natural!
The spatial information the EMT is able to render is as astonishing as the rest of its outstanding performance. While drawing the sound picture stringent from the mono center onward – it is able to draw a wide stage with also a realistic depth in such a relaxed way, that you never start questioning the realism of the performance. While the center stage is always a tiny bit up front, which reduces the distance to the vocalist and gives you this sexy attitude – the JSD5 is always able to let you forget that you are just listening to a vinyl record – well done EMT!!!!
In todays high end market we witness a growing number of super carts in the €10 000,- range. If you compare one of these extraordinary constructions like the Air Tight PC1 Coda or the Lyra Etna SL with the last generation of the EMT JSD series – you begin to ask yourself – is it worth it….??? Yes – a Lyra Etna SL is able to draw a higher amount of detail – and its ability to start and stop in an instant is maybe unmatched (even more so with the Atlas SL) – the PC1 Coda can distill more micro dynamic information from the record grooves and is an easy match for any phono stage be it a tubed design or a transistorised construction – but the EMT is so well balanced and delivers so much listening pleasure, that you never miss anything. And I mean ANYTHING!
A true classic – and in todays market one of the best buys.