Welcome to the latest addition to the LJC Hi Fi Toys Collection: a moving coil cartridge demagnetiser, from US manufacturer Aesthetix. Delve into the murky and sinister world of hi-fi accessories. Forget which pressing sounds best: make them all sound better!
If you already own an mc cartridge demagnetiser, or don’t have a moving coil cartridge, or don’t have a turntable, just listen to music on your phone, or are here due to a Google search error looking for London Jam Collective, look away now. If you own an mc cart and haven’t had it demagnetised, read on.
Magnetism is a problem I didn’t know I had, until one of these came along and solved it. I was sceptical, but Man-in-a-Shed convinced me simply by demonstration. You may not be in that fortunate position, in which case an act of faith is required, but it will work for you just the same. After unplugging the tonearm leads from the back of my phono amp, and hooking them up to the demagnetiser for the required 10 to 15 seconds operating cycle, the change in performance of my system was immediate and frankly, laugh-out-loud astonishing. This is not a subtle improvement, it is audibly significant.
Science or Voodoo?
A moving coil cartridge acquires magnetism in the course of normal use, which gradually impairs the performance of the cartridge’s purpose – converting stylus movement in the vinyl groove to electrical information to pass on for amplification. It affects high frequencies most. You are unlikely to be aware of the impairment, as it develops slowly over time, but it is there.
How far cartridge manufacturers recognise magnetism degrades cartridge performance is mute. Harmon mute. A number of phono amplifiers, like this one from Air Tight have a demagnetisation function built into the box. Hi Fi News reviewers said this:
“Regarding the demagnetising facility, I’m not in the mood to debate its worth after its presence in the audio community for at least a couple of decades. I realise, though, that the topic is moot in some quarters. I’ve been a fan ever since Gryphon released the Black Exorcist, and have used others over the years. I find them most audibly effective…”
LJC, as ever, a couple of decades behind the curve…
Demagnetiser in operation
The Aesthetix unit is about the size of a packet of cigarettes (if you can still remember cigarette packets). It runs on a couple of 9v batteries, and is fully free standing in operation. You simply connect up to the leads coming down from your tonearm, push the power button, which lights up, then press the activate button, and the unit sends a sine wav up into your cartridge, which rises and descends, and then switches itself off, job done. It is the same process as degaussing tape heads, only for moving coil cartridges.
You see above the highly complex phono interface in the back of the unit. Two plug connectors, one for left and one for right channel. Not technical enough for hardened tweakers, is it? No soldering, or wire-winding, or anything. Just plug and go.
The before and after performance on the same LP track was illuminating, a lifting of veils, lots of them. The clarity and precise definition of my Dynavector TKR was immediately restored to its original beauty. What I realised with hindsight was that over time the sound had become muddy in comparison, the bass tending to bloom. Back came the tuneful bass, liberating the middle and top end to sparkle.
The manufacturer recommends a demag session every couple of weeks, keep your mc cart in top performing condition. I’m not convinced you need it more than monthly. Unlike the promise of new and better equipment, a demagnetiser doesn’t add anything, it merely restores the performance of what you have already bought. If you bought a sow’s ear, there is no silk purse. Caution: It doesn’t work with moving magnet cartridge, obviously, you don’t want to demagnetise a magnetic system. Obviously
I have a moving coil cartridge and I now consider the demagnetiser an essential part of my musical armoury. (If you want a home demonstration, after my call-out fee, mileage and hourly consultancy rate, it is cheaper to just buy one)
The US-made Aesthetix ABCD-1 currently costs £200 , around $300, or whatever the hyena hedge-funds have decided the GBP/USD rate should be today. (Brexit! Oh the uncertainty!)
The Japanese developed a similar device, the Luxman X1A, whose operation is described thus:
The coil bobbin of MC cartridge is always susceptible to magnetism. The magnetised bobbin can respond to large movement of stylus tip and cantilever, but cannot generate electricity according to minute movement, thus degrading reproduction of subtle music signal and treble frequencies.
The Luxman is found as New Old Stock located in Japan, on eBay around $150 . Looks a lot chunkier, and gold colour, not out of place in a ’60s sci-fi movie. Full warp speed ahead, Scotty, degauss!!
Gryphon Black Exorcist MC cartridge demagnetizer: $230
Made in Denmark, The Black Exorcist uses a similar sinewave sweep tone to demagnetize a cartridge’s coils. “The Gryphon is very nicely made and works as well as any demagnetizer I have tried,” said Michael Fremer
“Gryphon recommend heavy vinyl users demag their cartridges once a month. They suggests that the demagnetising process take place with the stylus resting on the record. Not rotating, of course. This device restores the magnetic properties of your cartridge to a near-new state”. Warning: excessive use can cause 360º head rotation.
The UK has only one main distributor of the Aesthetix, Cool Gales in Bath. The US manufacturer also has other distributors worldwide. The Gryphon Black Exorcist is also available as whole system demagnetiser, which sounds to me a bridge too far.
The Aesthetix Demagnetiser is not exactly “cheap”, but in terms of what it delivers, it’s a steal compared with other hi-fi improvements, such as high-end cables or those five foot high speakers you keep promising yourself.
I did a double-demagnetise today – a few days after the last, just a couple of minutes to hook up, operate, and reconnect. The uplift was spine-tingling, more detail, more definition, more excitement, sharper imaging, beautiful. Is this an mc-cart owners best kept secret?
Magnetism also affects the composition of vinyl records. I have heard the Furutech Vinyl Demagnetiser at work, at a high-end hifi show. It amazed a room full of sceptical high-end audio listeners. The workload is extensive, you have to demag every LP before every play, and at around fifteen times the cost of a cart demag no one was rushing to buy one. Me neither, but there was no question it made significant improvement.
This is not a demo review sample. I bought the product myself, and I have no financial interest, merely passing on an experience you may not have known about or considered. It is a good and very cost-effective product which gives you more enjoyment from your investment in records.
Back to more music, soon.
If you have got any favourite hifi toys you want to recommend, the floor is yours.