Technics EPC-205C MK3

The nineteen seventies vinyl world was awash with high compliance moving magnet cartridges. Shure’s M75ED – introduced in 1974 – dominated the scene. With its super light body and high compliance, the company claimed it could track securely down to 0.75g. Ortofon’s VMS20E was another iconic design that further pushed the market towards low mass. SME duly launched its Series III tonearm in 1978, and further drove the trend towards low mass, high compliance moving magnets. This was the high watermark of the genre – from then on things began to go the other way.

By the end of the decade, the hi-fi world was now fascinated with moving coils, which needed more massy tonearms to deal with their stiffer suspensions and heavier bodies. A new wave of Japanese-built high end designs from the likes of Supex, Dynavector and Koetsu fell into favour, with a new generation of heavy ‘battleship’ tonearms being launched to best exploit them – such as the Linn Ittok LVII and Zeta. For this reason, the launch of the Technics EPC-205C MK3 moving magnet cartridge in 1979, couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Costing a modest £69 – half the price of a Supex moving coil – it may not have been fashionable, but it was surely the most advanced moving magnet of its generation. Made at the peak of the vinyl LP format’s harvest years, by a great innovating Japanese company at the top of its game, it proved to be a complete underachiever in sales terms. In designing the EPC-205CMK3, Technics engineers had affixed their sights on making an extremely fast, clean and accurate moving magnet cartridge. They believed that key to this was an ultra responsive cantilever and highly effective suspension system.

To this end, the new moving magnet sported a cantilever with an effective moving mass of just 0.149mg, which was just one sixth of the company’s first ever modern moving magnet – the EPC-200 of 1968 – and under half its 1973 EPC-205CMK2 predecessor. A pure Boron design, it was made by a chemical vapour deposition process that had far greater elasticity than other materials, said Technics; it was over twice as compliant as more commonly used aluminium designs. Also fitted was a carefully designed suspension system – dubbed the Technics Temperature Defense Damper, no less. This was made of a special polymer compound, and claimed to maintain stable frequency response, compliance and tracking ability across a wide range of temperatures.

This cartridge turned in a staggering claimed measured performance for its day, with Technics claiming a ruler-flat frequency response from 20Hz to 15kHz (-0.5dB) , and an overall response of 5Hz to 80kHz. This is largely down to the aforementioned light but very hard Boron cantilever, but the high quality 0.2×0.7mm elliptical stylus played an important part, too. Unlike its movie coil rivals, this was easily replaceable – the part number being EPS-205ED3. Other notable design traits include Technics’ precision-ground, mirror finished HPF core in the electromagnetic generator system – said to give a flatter frequency response – and the use of a high energy, disc-shaped Samarium cobalt magnet, complete with single-point suspension system. The latter gave greater sensitivity for less weight; likewise the bridge yoke structure made for smaller cantilever dimensions, and therefore reduced mass.

Prospective purchasers of this cartridge could choose between standard half inch mounting bodies, and the integrated headshell EPC-205CMK3 version you see here. There was also a low mass EPC-205IIIL version that was built for the Technics SL-7 and SL-10 compact parallel tracking turntables. This version sported a lightweight diecast aluminium headshell, with visco-elastic damping to reduce resonance. To deal with the different tonearm lengths it would find itself working in, both overhang and angle are adjustable – the neat screw adjustment system makes setting up very easy compared to trying to align a conventional cartridge in a standard slotted headshell. The profile of the product helps here too – it’s not too bulky and has no abnormal protrusions, and the finger lift is satisfyingly large and tactile for those of us who like to hand cue their vinyl. Overall compliance for the combined cartridge and headshell is quoted at a moderate 12×10-6cm/dyne at 100Hz, and its 2.0mV claimed output voltage is respectable for that period, albeit a little low now. Technics recommended that the EPC-205CMK3 be tracked at between 1g and 1.5g, with the suggested force being in the middle.

The two key sonic traits of this radical Technics moving magnet are its sweet tonality and its stereo soundstaging. Put these together and you’ve a cartridge that serves music up in delightful way. It’s also very fast, and this innate speed makes for a very intimate and expressive sound, with great dynamics and emotional force. Yet the Technics’ refinement means you’re not listening to the sound of cartridge struggling to keep its needle in the groove – it’s relaxed and composed at all times. The EPC-205CMK3 may lack the glassy clarity and low level detail resolution of its pricier moving coil rivals, but wants for none of their charm. Indeed it’s highly accomplished for a moving magnet cartridge – not just by the standard of its day, but even now. So sad then that this great moving magnet – arguably one of the finest – never came to enjoy universal acclaim.

These days it’s still possible to find a decent example, because many were sold around the world – although do expect to get it rebuilt and/or give it a new stylus assembly for optimum performance. Prices start at just £200 or so for a good, boxed example; buy carefully and/or get it rebuilt, and you’ll see why those who have them tend to hang on to them. It remains an interesting and worthy cartridge even today. Its combination of refinement, detail and speed is really quite special, giving a sound that’s more often associated with high end moving coils.

Technics 205C

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