Ortofon SPU cartridges

Praised for their refined linearity and full body, these cartridges have remained a favourite throughout the years, both for modern and vintage high-end applications.

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The Ortofon SPU – 57 years product story

No other company has ever retained a phono cartridge model in their product range for so many years. The SPU was used by early broadcasting companies among whom the Ortofon brand name was already well known from the first moving coil system - the Ortofon mono system in the small black A-housing. The so-called “Ortofon sound“ became synonymous with the sound from the SPU, at an early stage.

View the Ortofon SPU catalogue online »

The sound of the SPU cartridge is characterized by a rich bass and a transparent treble range plus those extra qualities which are so hard to define, but so easy to appreciate when they are realized.

Back in 1958 the Ortofon SPU sounded like no other cartridge because it was way ahead of its competition. Today the SPU still has a sound that is definitely its own and it enjoys a remarkable following - in particular among audiophiles whose systems are comprised of vintage valve equipment and horn or reflex speakers.

But with no other cartridge over the course of half a century, have we ever had to take so much care in respecting this original sound when improving technical data, as with the SPU model. As a result  and in order to show considerations for this goal, you will after 57 years still find the basic visuals, the original design, as well as the original elements in the construction of the magnetic circuit kept fully intact.

Evidently the product has changed throughout its evolution. New possibilities in regards to housing materials, diamonds and magnetic system have been employed to improve the SPU and its performance whilst at the same time we remain faithful to the original concept. It is also clear that in a period of 57 years certain components will be changed as the suppliers no longer make them and replacements must be found.

But let us for a moment return to where it all began, when the SPU was launched back in 1958.

Robert Gudmandsen on the right and then-CEO of Ortofon Eric Rohmann on the left

The term "SPU" stands for "stereo pick-up" as phono cartridges were called "pick-ups" in the 1950s and 1960s.

The original SPU was introduced in response to the demand for cartridges to reproduce the new stereo records. Based on Ortofon’s already 10 year old technology and experience in mono cartridges, the SPU immediately set the standard for professional and audiophile applications.

Mr. Gudmandsen, one of Ortofon’s then leading engineers took a principal part in developing this cartridge. 10 years before, Mr. Gudmandsen had been deeply involved in the basic Ortofon Mono MC system. At that time Mr. Gudmandsen of course did not have the elaborate facilities that now make up the company’s development. Nevertheless his flair for a musical sound reproduction and the touch of a genius enabled him to create THE CARTRIDGE to survive all others.

← Mr. Gudmandsen on the right and then-CEO of Ortofon Mr. Rohmann on the left.

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Parallel to this development, Ortofon developed a stereo cutter head for mastering records, and the Ortofon expertise and development activities in making transducers for analogue reproduction equipment made new standards for the area in those days. It is also important to remember that Ortofon during and after the second world war had specialized in making silver spraying of lacquer discs and equipment for high speed nickel electroplating of matrices for gramophone record production.

A very important element based on technologies from said nickel painting process was right from the beginning incorporated into the SPU as a very fundamental part, responsible for the suspension of the oscillating system. This element consisting of cantilever and armature has never been surpassed by any cartridge manufacturer, and we are convinced, that the aforementioned “Ortofon Sound“ to a great extent was influenced by this element. Because of the very low impedance and the very low output, the first SPU cartridge, the SPU-GT, had a small transformer integrated with the cartridge units in the GM- housing, yielding about 7mVolt at 5cm/sec suitable for an MM input sockets with 50kOhm loading.

The SPU cartridge unit was also available without transformer in the original A-housing from the mono-systems. For the two different A and G housings Ortofon developed a program of tonearms among which the RMA/RMG 212 and 309 became very well known.

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The SPU Gold and Gold Reference

For more than 20 years the SPU cartridge models were kept unchanged.

In 1980 however, a luxury model for connoisseur, the SPU Gold, was introduced in a mahogany box with a 24 carat gold plated name plate inside the box. The cartridge was featured a gold plated finger lift and Ortofon logo. Silver windings were used on the armature as well as for the terminal leads. The system was awarded in Japan with “the component of the year prize” for best foreign product. But still, nothing that could change the performance and “Sound” from the basic image was made.

In 1989 the SPU Gold Reference was introduced, and the first step of improving the “sound” by utilizing the modern Ortofon developed Replicant stylus was taken. This stylus shape, very close in cross section and radii to the cutting sapphire, reproduced the modulations in the groove with an unheard amount of details in the sound.

The SPU Meister

In 1992 Ortofon wanted to celebrate Mr. Gudmandsen, because of his 50 years of work for the Ortofon. At that time he had already got the nickname Mr. SPU in Japan, because of his basic and innovative work on the mono moving coil and later stereo cartridges.

Mr. Gudmandsen was also personally awarded by the Danish Queen Margrethe II, and Ortofon decided in honor of Mr. Gudmandsen to launch the SPU Meister cartridge with Mr. Robert Gudmandsen signature printed in both A and G-models.

The new features for the SPU Meister cartridge, again fully respecting the original concept, involved a wooden box of noble tree - a dedication from Mr. Gudmandsen to the owner of the cartridge. An important new technical data was a raise in output of about 75%, by introducing the Neodymium magnetic circuit. Further the very pure 7-Nines copper was now used for the armature windings.

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The SPU Royal

When the SPU Royal N, SPU A and GM models were released in 1998 it was also done not to forget the basic Ortofon product in 40 years among the great number of other successful MC models - all being highly indebted to the original ideas in the SPU cartridge.

The SPU Royal N cartridge with its half inch adaptor has provided a new flexibility and ability for the customers in mounting the unit in headshells, as well as in a wider range of tonearms.
 
A key SPU feature is an integrated headshell, designed to mount directly into classic tonearms with detachable headshells - tonearms such as the SME 3009 and 3012, and other tonearms with similar "universal" tonearm mounts. Quite simply, there is no finer complement to a classic tonearm with a detachable headshell than an Ortofon SPU.

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The SPU 85th Anniversary

The faithfulness against the sound from the ancestors is still there, whether it is using a new silver/gold alloy for the armature, using the Replicant stylus, or using Selective Laser Melting manufacturing technique.

The SPU 85, from 2003, was a limited production of 500 units.

SPU 85's unique characteristics included an outstanding housing made of Japanese Hida Beech wood, famous for its strength and hardness.  For the exclusive surface treatment, the 6000 years old Japanese Urushi lacquer method was chosen in order to achieve a hard, resistant and beautiful multilayer surface in dark maroon colour.

In order to influence sound from the motor system, a new wire concept for the armature windings called “AUCURUM” was developed. The basic material here is a specially developed composite consisting of a very pure copper and gold, creating extraordinarily high conductivity and environmental resistivity.

The SPU 90th Anniversary

The SPU 90th Anniversary, from 2008 was limited to 500 units.

What makes the SPU 90th Anniversary unique is the combination of following four elements:
- a completely new patent-pending magnetic system
- the inclusion of the renowned Field Stabilizing Element (FSE) system
- the direct connection between the generator system and the wooden housing (ensuring extremely high internal damping)
- and finally the use of the revolutionary Selective Laser Melting (SLM) manufacturing technique.

SPU 90th Anniversary provides reproduction of sound that is unsurpassed in its neutrality, detail and dynamic range.

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SPU Collector box

In 2011 we decided to give our SPU fans around the world an opportunity to get a collection of the four most famous SPUs: SPU Classic, SPU Gold Reference, SPU 85 and SPU A90 - each of them being a very special collector's item.

These four most famous SPU cartridges represented the diversity of technical solutions and materials, and reflect the continuous technological development thoughout the past 50 years. These 4 cartridges were made exactly as the original models, and are as genuine as the original production units. All materials and techniques have been preserved during the manufacturing process.

Download the SPU booklet here.

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The SPU 95th Anniversary

The SPU 95th Anniversary from 2014 has gone to the next level by reducing unwanted vibrations in the cartridge. Our extensive knowledge of vibration properties, characteristics in different shapes and materials, competences in magnetism, mechanical design and new technologies has been applied for optimization of the SPU A95.

Being the inventor of the world famous SPU stereo cartridge in 1958, most music lovers, even today, find that there is no name like Ortofon which is more involved in the history of analogue reproduction. The fact that Ortofon has kept the SPU in production for half a century says a lot about the enduring rightness of its design.