The SteinMusic Ametrin-1 is a headshell that fundamentally differs from all other headshells — and we’re not just talking about the material.
Cheaper headshells with an SME connector and coupling nut are available by the dozens from DJ equipment suppliers. They fit well, are nicely made, and fulfill their purpose without having to make any compromises. They work so well that Technics, the brand name of the global corporation Panasonic, for example, has even stopped making its own. Yet despite all that, the market for high-end accessories features an almost excessive variety of these headshells. And this isn’t as crazy or eccentric as it might sound at first. The initial contact that delicate phono signals have with the unyieldingly material world takes place precisely at the interface between headshell and cartridge.
The makers of the SteinMusic Ametrin-1 have created a headshell that fundamentally differs from all other headshells I’ve ever known — regardless of the material from which they’re made. To be honest, this poses no real surprise: The products that emerge from Holger Stein’s think tank in Mülheim are often the result of new ways of thinking outside the box or taking unconventional approaches.
Warp resistance usually has top priority, as ultimately steps should be taken to prevent the cartridge’s housing from diluting the stylus’s impulse. The SteinMusic Ametrin-1 is, however, rather flexible — which is not to say it is bendable, though. The construction, composed of five layers made from three materials, is stable but not as solid as aluminum. The core consists of a layer of pear-tree wood, which is enclosed both above and below by a layer of carbon fabric; the external layers consist of rosewood, a material that fulfills its main function while also going very easy on the eye. This CNC-milled sandwich is bent into shape over several days with the help of steam before being forced to merge under two tons of pressure at 400 degrees Celsius. And then the SteinMusic maestro lacquering achieves just what it set out to do.
Stein informed me on the phone that there was no blueprint for this mix of materials but, after long listening sessions, pear-tree wood had turned out to be the perfect choice in terms of sound quality. The idea of adding stability to the design by introducing carbon was an obvious solution, as other industry sectors had already successfully done this. By combining them with rosewood, Stein believes he has found a way to complement the warm tone of wood with transparency through swift energy dissipation over the carbon inlay.
The quality of the workmanship immediately impressed me at the start of the listening test: All contacts sat with no play, yet the cartridge’s delicate stranded wires fit so tautly I had no need to worry about bending the connectors or pins. The elongated holes for incorporating the cartridge were manufactured cleanly and everything was at the correct angle to the vinyl. Without the finger lift, the Ametrin-1 weighs a mere 6.0 grams, and two alternative lifting handles weighing 2.3 grams and 1.15 grams and made from bronze and aluminum, don’t make much of a difference either. As a first step, I swapped the 12-inch Jelco’s counterweight for a smaller one. With Clearaudio’s MC Jubilee freshly removed from its packaging and mounted, Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” sounded so unshackled and vast, so unmuffled and lacking dullness, I immediately felt a deep sense of inner satisfaction in two respects: Getting my hands on the hefty reissue of Lady Soul had cost me a pretty penny, and the first time I listened to it on another turntable I was bitterly disappointed. However, this time, “A Natural Woman” was suddenly full of life, spirit, melodiousness, and soul. Congratulations, Clearaudio! But hats off to SteinMusic as well: What I heard there made a lasting impression on me!
For me to classify everything rationally and sensibly, I need to let our longstanding workhorse, the Ortofon MC 30 Supreme, have a go. Due to the design, it didn’t sit flush with the headshell, but when I gave the screws a good tighten, the Ametrin-1 yielded a little. Stein states he has solid little mounting plates available for such cases. They are, of course, also suitable for increasing the moving mass in case the headshell can not be properly adjusted when using a very light cartridge.
My next step was to place an audiophile live recording from the legendary Hamburg jazz club “Onkel Pö” on the Seismograph. The dry Bohne BB-15 loudspeakers diligently assisted in maintaining the atmosphere, and the ol’ Ortofon proved exactly why it’s such a sought-after classic. Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis must have had the tiny club really swinging in 1975. With side two and “Stomping At The Savoy,” it even felt like the FIDELITY listening room had been turned into a basement jazz club. I’d never experienced the Seismograph turntable like this before. The feverish saxophone solos of the two jazz giants literally jumped between the loudspeakers, I felt the live atmosphere almost coursing through my veins, and the powerful Bohne Audio loudspeakers played as if they couldn’t help but hurl the quintet, complete with their snappy original dynamism, into the room, as if they had to fill the dance floor in the blink of an eye. With the Ametrin-1, Stein has managed to achieve something that far exceeds standard stability and geometry requirements. The Ametrin-1 gives the cartridge a basis that hugs it, supports it, and stimulates it.
SteinMusic Ametrin-1 headshell in accordance with SME standard | Five-layer construction using pear-tree wood, carbon, and rosewood | Weight: six grams (without finger lift) | Price: €400