Q: I got out my Bang & Olufsen 1602 turntable after over 10 years of inactivity. It sounded good except for scratchiness from the worn-out needle. I'm pretty sure a new MMC20E cartridge would greatly improve the sound, but it costs $275. In the past, you've spoken highly of a $350 Audio-Technica turntable package, and I thought it might be a much better investment. What do you advise?
A: I would stick with your Bang & Olufsen (B&O) turntable. With a new cartridge, it should sound better than any new $350 turntable.
Most B&O turntables use either an MMC or MMC20 series cartridge, the latter being the older model. SoundSmith (sound-smith.com) manufactures B&O-compatible cartridges that are widely regarded to be better than the originals, which were discontinued decades ago. The SoundSmith SMMC20E sells for $249, which is a bit less than the $275 you referenced in your question.
I feel obligated to mention that I once tried SoundSmith's cartridge retipping service and did not have a good experience, and I do not recommend it. Despite this, I have heard nothing but good things about the company's phono cartridges and am comfortable recommending them.
Here's a tip for readers who do not have a turntable: Used B&O turntables frequently can be found in working condition for under $100, with the caveat they need a new cartridge (often called a needle or stylus by the seller). Most take the MMC design, and the SoundSmith SMMC4 is $199. This gets you a great-sounding turntable for under $300. Most B&O turntables are automatic, too, which many owners appreciate.
No strings attached
For those seeking great sound from headphones with wireless connectivity, check out Hifiman Deva planar-magnetic headphones (hifiman.com).
Open-back planar magnetic headphones are considered by many to have the best sound quality. They use a lightweight piece of material suspended in a magnetic field to produce the sound and are known for great transparency, detail and extremely fast transient response. The open-back design allows you to hear what is going on around you while giving the planar driver the ability to radiate without any interference from the back side of the driver, which enhances the sound quality.
Planar-magnetic headphones tend to be expensive and typically come only with a wired connection and not Bluetooth. The cost and the lack of a wireless connection can be a deal breaker for many purchasers. The Hifiman Deva headphones solve both the cost and wireless issues, selling for only $299 (which is quite low for planar-magnetic headphones). They include a "Bluemini" Bluetooth receiver/amplifier that plugs in and converts the Devas from wired to Bluetooth. I found the sound to be excellent both ways. They are not quite as pure-sounding as the more expensive wired Hifiman Sundaras, but they provide lovely, open sound.
Send questions to Don Lindich at email@example.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.