Jun 242017
 

Back when Yazaki-san sent me a set of headshell leads made of vintage Western Electric WE24GA wire to try, it came as a bit of a surprise to me that headshell leads made such a substantial contribution to overall musical & sonic performance.

Vintage Western Electric WE24GA wire as headshell leads.

The difference in sound & musicality between the stock & WE24GA headshell wires was at least as big in magnitude as the difference between different interconnects or speaker cables, and maybe even more.

The WE24GA headshell wires soundly trounced the stock Yamamoto Sound Craft headshell wires, bringing the same sorts of gains in richness, texture, tone color, emotional connection, etc., that I have come to associate with the ‘vintage tone’ of tinned-copper conductors used in the Belden 8402 microphone cable interconnects, the vintage Western Electric WE16GA, or the even better Duelund DCA series of tinned-copper ‘tone wire’ that I’ve used in all sorts of applications now.

Vintage WE24GA headshell wire with vintage Shure V15 III.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all that the choice of headshell leads makes such a big difference to performance, given the big difference it makes sonically & musically when you change interconnects, speaker cables, crossover wiring, or internal loudspeaker wiring.

I remember reporting my results with the WE24GA headshell leads to tonearm artisan Pete Riggle (Pete Riggle Audio Engineering), and he was aghast that “a one-inch length of wire” could make such a large difference, but it does!

When I think about it, it makes sense to me that headshell leads would make such a big contribution to overall performance, given that they are the first bits of wire the music signal sees coming out of the phono cartridge.

Headshell leads looked to be a bit tedious to make, so I shied away from making DIY sets of my own. Instead I tried to buy more sets of WE24GA headshell leads from Japan, unsuccessfully, and as I was disappointedly told, they don’s sell them outside of Japanese market.

Oyaide Ag & silk headshell leads.

Then, I thought I’d try the silver/silk Oyaide headshell leads, which turned out to be complete crap from a quality control standpoint, which is very uncharacteristic of the other ultra-quality Oyaide products I’ve tried or bought in the past.

I’m really ecstatic with how my DIY Art Of Tone headshell wires turned out, they’re extremely musical with the exotic Sumile phono cartridge.

So, what to do?

I decided to try building a DIY set of headshell leads out of the 22 gauge Gavitt cloth-covered tinned-copper vintage-style guitar pushback wire from Art Of Tone ($7.10 USD for 12-feet from Amazon) and a set of Cardas PCCEG cartridge clips, which Chris at Parts ConneXion recommended to me.

The Cardas cartridge clips are made of stamped gold-plated brass, and are $6.44 USD for a set of 4, so I ordered two sets of 4 from PC for my first attempt at DIY headshell leads.

It turns out headshell leads are a relatively easy DIY project, even easier than interconnects, in spite of the small size of those itsy bitsy teeny weeny cartridge clips you solder the wires to.

My DIY headshell leads experiment was a complete success, and my Art Of Tone headshell leads completely trounced the stock Schick headshell leads both musically & sonically, and that was with zero run-in time on them!

Once you try a DIY headshell lead project, you’ll never be able to go back to stock headshell wires, as the improvement to performance you can realize is just too large too ignore – just when you thought you were safe!

I’ve got a couple of things in mind on the DIY front for headshell leads, and I’ve got two immediate DIY headshell leads projects coming up, the first being with the new Duelund DCA26GA tinned-copper solid-core wire when it arrives, and the second is using some 28 gauge solid gold wire in a silk dielectric.

But before I tackle those projects, I decided I’d first try to hack & repair the disappointing silver/silk Oyaide headshell leads.

The Oyaide headshell leads had numerous QA/QC issues out of the box, so I decided I’d address each issue one lead at a time.

Oddly enough, on the side of the Oyaide silver/silk headshell leads that attaches to the headshell pins, all of the headshell lead clips had all been squished together so tightly during assembly that they couldn’t be mounted on the headshell pins, the inner diameter was just too small.

Compounding the difficulty was the heavy & stiff black plastic shrink wrap tubing Oyaide used to cover the ends of the headshell clips on the end that mounts to the headshell.

Much to my annoyance I discovered these untenable issues with the Oyaide silver/silk leads while trying to mount the first headshell lead, with the result being breaking off a clip while trying to install a lead on a headshell pin.

A much better choice would have been for Oyaide to have left the clip exposed so customers would at least have a chance at getting them mounted on the headshell pins.

Ironically enough, all the headshell clips were right-sized to fit on the cartridge pins on the side with the colored plastic shrink wrap tubing. Go figure.

The first step is to circumcise the black plastic shrink wrap tubing from the black side that connects to the headshell pins.

The first step in remedying the issue with the Oyaide silver/silk headshell leads is to circumcise the heavy & stiff black heat shrink tubing Oyaide used off the end of the pin with an X-ACTO knife.

At this point the squished clips were still too small to fit over the headshell pins, and compounding matters were that the clips themselves are stiff and not very flexible, so they have to be pried open with the edge of an X-ACTO knife blade to open them up enough to fit on the headshell pins.

It took a surprising amount of force to accomplish opening the clips up with an X-ACTO knife. I think the clips Oyaide used for their headshell leads are a poor design compared to the Cardas clips I used for my Art Of Tone DIY headshell leads.

Hacked Oyaide silver/silk headshell lead mounted on the pin of a Denon DL-103.

One by one, I circumcised the overly stiff black shrink wrap tubing from the clips on the Oyaide silver/silk headshell leads, and spread the clips apart with an X-ACTO knife so I could get them to fit on the pins of my Denon DL-103.

One by one, I circumcised the overly stiff black shrink wrap tubing from the clips, spread them with an X-ACTO, and fitted them on Denon DL-103 pins to make sure they fit OK.

The final challenge was to repair the broken clip on the white Oyaide silver/silk headshell lead. The clip snapped off right where it was soldered to the silver wire, and I had to very carefully solder the tiny clip back onto the silver wire with a bit of WBT silver solder. It took me a couple of tries to accomplish it, but I finally got a sturdy solder joint.

A set of hacked & repaired Oyaide silver/silk headshell leads.

Now that I have a set workable set of hacked & repaired Oyaide silver/silk headshell leads, I’ll be able to give them a try and see how they sound. I hope they were worth all the effort it took to make them usable!

Next up I’ll be building some solid-gold/silk headshell leads (not as expensive as it sounds), and some Duelund DCA26GA tinned-copper solid-core headshell leads.

Stay tuned for more DIY headshell leads adventures!

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 2:32 pm

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