A couple of years ago I acquired a pair of large floor standing speakers from a non-single friend that was getting new furniture. This led me on a trip down memory lane until I ended up back in the days of vinyl and large stereo power amplifiers dominating my living room. On one eBay excursion I acquired an extremely nice looking turntable from a little known brand called Micro Seiki. It was a beautiful component (Model DQ-41, circa 1979) and appeared to be brand new with the cords still wrapped in plastic, the manual and original shipping fasteners (“remove before use”) still in place. However, it was lacking the headshell assembly that fit the end of the tonearm.
The headshell is the part of the assembly that interposes the needle (cartridge/stylus) and tonearm. It is the piece with the handle that you physically manipulate the arm with. In many cases these are modular so that owners may have multiple units and easily swap different cartridge/styli depending on the record currently being spun. Unfortunately, some of the approaches employed by manufacturers throughout the years have been highly proprietary.
A search of the internet quickly showed that headshells for Micro Seiki CF-1 (Carbon Fiber) , MA-707 (Machined Aluminum), and MA-701 tonearms (I am the proud owner of a MA-701 on my DQ-41) were considered literal “unobtanium” by anyone’s standard.
The gentleman that I received the turntable from was extremely helpful and provided an original, damaged headshell for physical evaluation.
I enlisted the aid of a close friend and Mechanical Engineer that happens to have a background in designing complex geometries specifically for production via the molding process.
The design goals were to maintain or improve the rigidity of the original piece (noting the fracture point of our damaged original) while keeping the overall finished mass as low as possible and avoiding resonances until well outside the audio band.
We knew that we were only going to get a single attempt at getting it perfect when sent to production so it was decided to have our model 3D printed for design validation. It failed on all counts miserably and was missing several necessary features.
A second pass was made utilizing a “ground up” model improving on the first pass in every way. This version was a perfect fit into the tone arm when 3D printed. We were ready for prime time.
We both have had experience from our professional lives using Proto Labs and it just felt like a natural fit for our low to medium quantity, high quality product business model. Proto Labs was able to turn this mold around and the parts delivered in just two weeks. Form, fit, function – everything was perfect. We couldn’t be happier with the end product.
It also doesn’t hurt that we are manufacturing in the U.S.A. as we feel that the molded features of the product are our key intellectual properties and it helps to protect them by staying on “home turf”.
In the end, all of our design goals have been achieved with a final product mass of 2.68 grams. The original was 4 grams.
None of the above can adequately convey the satisfaction of playing a 40 year old album on a 33 year old turntable for the first time ever.
Todd Felege, co-founder of Groove Echo (which is the inspiration of this creation).
* The headshells are currently available in an eBay store (groove_echo) as well as via private sale (email@example.com). At the time of this writing the product has been available for approximately five days and ten have been sold. Groove Echo is currently expanding to other audio projects as well as larger scale undertakings.