€ 301,65 (€ 365,00)
The Funk Firm Houdini decouples the cartridge from the vibration of your tonearm. Three years of development went into creating the Houdini. The result is more information, better fidelity, and better sound. The differences are immediate and are not subtle. In Hi-Fi terms… More Pace / Better Mid clarity / Blacker Space / Greater Dynamics / Stronger Bass Attack. Houdini cartridge isolators provide an enhanced sense of pace and greater dynamic range, allowing for higher volume settings. Harshness and brashness is removed with an increase in resolution. Audio Creative Funk Firm Houdini Review
Ton Goossens –
Excellent upgrade for my Linn LP12 with Jelco 250ST arm (VTA adjustable) and with a Denon DL-110 cartridge. I just wished I had opted for this Houdini already years ago, since I never could really enjoy the sound of my deck. Until now. Have been listening for evenings in a row and can’t stop listening. It’s like magic. Soundstage, ease, finesse, segregation of instruments and voices and on top a very clean and extended bass line. Unheard of for this kind of money. I’m considering of ordering the Achromat too.
Marco and Dick, well done for offering these products in your webshop.
Christian Rintelen –
King Arthur of FunkFirm nobility did it again. First I thought the Houdini was just another gimmick, albeit a rather expensive one. But since King A. in a former life studied physics, things that come from his court are based on science, not on (audiophile) voodoo. I know that from first hand experience after having owned a Pink Triangle and to this day using a Achromat on my EMT’s glass platter.
Too bad, The King comes up with brilliant devices like the Houdini, but does not properly explain its inner workings. However, I trusted my instincts that once again he might be up to something and I ordered a Houdini from his website. (I was stooopid enough to order the wrong version. After calling the FunkFirm and having the phone answered by The King himself, we agreed that I first put the wrong version thru its paces and then decide whether i want to swap it for the one I’d actually need.)
So here I was with a bolted Houdini – and in my collection of 30+ cartridges, I found exactly one that would fit: The bone stock Denon DL-103 that I keep around as sanity check.
To refresh my acoustic memory, I first played some music and some test tracks with the DL-103. It was mounted in a panzerholz head shell on a Groovemaster III. As I don’t trust my memory (any longer), I digitized some test signals at 192/24 – just in case. The DL-103 sounded like a stock 103 sounds in a good head shell on a good arm: dynamic, engaging, frolicking, a bit rough at the edges, convincing – and not overly obsessed with finesse and details.
Mounting the Houdini is not complicated, just don’t clip the nylon screws too short… (I’m glad I had some left in my grab box of M2.6 head shell hardware). After re-adjusting the DL-103’s geometry and the arm’s VTA, I first used the same tracks to check a/ for the precision of my alignment and b/ for obvious, objective and quantifiable differences. And there were plenty. I expected some of the improvements halfway (why will be explained later, hang on), some came as a big surprise.
The most impressive was, unsurprisingly, the lateral and vertical arm/cartridge resonances. The DL-103 and the Groovemaster are not a marriage made in heaven; together they can produce peaks high enough to literally (and laterally) wobbly the stylus out of the groove. The Houdini put an end to this non-compliant behavior and made the same DL-103 in the same head shell on the same arm and tracking at the same VTF sail thru these tracks with very little audible and visible resonance. The difference is not slight, not at all. No surprise either that the Houdini also improved tracking ability – the Houdinied DL-103 tracks one level of modulation higher cleanly than without.
What I didn’t expect: The massive improvement in channel separation where the stock DL-103 with carefulliest adjusted azimuth fared mediocre at best (as usual). With the Houdini, I not only measured 3 to 5 dB less crosstalk, but also consistently less across the entire frequency range.
So far the highly impressive objective improvements. Some came as no surprise because they are the effect of a tuned suspension (everything that deals with tracking and resonances), others left me clueless but pleased nonetheless (the channel separation). However, test signals are one thing and often do not translate into music.
So how are the results of listening to real music with a Houdinied DL-103?
In a nutshell: astonishing.
Treble resolution has never been the strongest side of a stock DL-103 with its spherical stylus: lacking the ultimate refinement, a bit rough, splashy and on highly modulated tracks at the inner radius sibilant. The Houdini is a game changer in this regard. Cymbals no longer splash, but simmer. The Houdini adds a level of delicacy and transparency to the reproduction that shows how good a cartridge the DL-103 actually is.
Depth layering and holographic 3D soundstages are not crucial to me (i have spent plenty of time in recording studios and know how a pan pot works…). What *is* important to me, however, is the size and solidity of voices and instruments placed center stage. Very often, their size and contours will vary with frequency and loudness. Which I find annoying, because in reality, a singer doesn’t grow by 20 centimeters just because she or he sings a higher tone louder. Like many other cartridges, the stock 103 is no champion in this regard. Acoustical guitars balloon and shrink ad lib.
With the Houdini, centered images have clearer contours and vary much less in size. This was not surprising after registering the much improved channel separation. After all, any signal in the center means it’s registered in both groove walls and tracked vertically.
I noticed many other improvements, some in details, some over the entire frequency range. To sum them, and for lack of better words, I’d describe the Houdinied sound as much cleaner, more transparent from top to bottom. All cartridges tend to congest and muddy the sound of orchestras playing loud – some more, some less. The DL-103 qualifies for the “some more” category as it is known for transmitting huge amounts of energy into the tonearm. The more complex the signal and the higher the modulation, the more good and not so good vibrations. The usual road taken to improve the DL-103 includes modifications such as removing or clamping the flimsy plastic shell, potting the generator with epoxy, encasing the generator in aluminum, wood, polymer, or graphite bodies. this is often topped (literally) with a sliver of a hard(carbon, graphite) or soft (polymer) material placed between cartridge and head shell with the aim of either absorbing, attenuating or filtering the vibration. This helps, but more often than not also robs some of the 103’s exuberant character.
With the Houdini, the DL-103 keeps its character, but performs like a much better, more refined cartridge. It sounds like a DL-103 that sells for 10 times the price.
Why is that so?
Because the Houdini takes a different approach by adding a true suspension to a hitherto pretty much unsuspended drive stock.
To understand what I mean by “true suspension” one needs to look at the purpose of a suspension. Take your car or motorcycle. If the wheels were directly attached to the chassis, the car or bike would bounce all over the road and ultimately end up in a ditch or tree. It would also be a highly uncomfortable ride. Okay. Let’s add some springs between the axles and the chassis. Depending on their stiffness, the springs will either compress entirely and bottom out or refuse to give in even a millimeter or, ideally, compress just enough to have some leeway up and down so they can guide the wheel to follow the surface. A correct spring will compress when the wheel drives over a rock and to expand when encountering potholes. However, the ride will be less firm, but still unpleasant. Because the spring will not return to its neutral position after hitting that pothole or pebble – instead, it will keep bouncing up and down. And the chassis will follow the spring. And ultimately, you will no longer be able to control the bouncing car or bike – and end up in the same ditch or tree.
To make the ride safe and comfortable, the springs need to be damped. The function of the damper is to admit rapid excursions of the spring, but force them back into their neutral position once the obstacle is cleared. In other words: the springs lets the wheel navigate obstacles, the damper keeps the wheel on the ground. (The damper alone wouldn’t be able to carry the weight of the car or bike.)
Now take a look at a record player. The tonearm has bearings that allow vertical and lateral movements, slow and fast alike. At the other end of the tonearm is a cartridge that essentially consists of a magnet, a coil, and a cantilever that has a stylus attached to one end and a piece of piano string to the other plus in the middle either a coil or a magnet. The piano string is attached to the cartridge body. Once the record spins, the stylus tries to follow the moving groove walls. By doing so, it moves the coils or magnets in the magnetic field and thus creates an electrical current. Please note that I describe the stylus’ intention as “trying” to follow the groove. In reality, the situation is different – and very similar to our car on its springs-only-suspension. The piano wire acts as a spring. On one end of the spring sits a tiny diamond that makes very small excursions in a circle around its fulcrum. On the other end of the spring is a comparably huge and very heavy dead mass.
But the mass isn’t dead at all, because it is limited in its movements by the arm bearing. And on the other side of the bearing sits a stub with a lot of weight that serves to balance the busy end of the arm so, that it exerts a precisely set downforce. Like the car bouncing all over the road, the only spring in our set-up will happily follow the much bigger mass of the arm and thus let the stylus happily leave its prison that consists of two slanted walls. Hold on … something’s missing … oh, yes, I forgot to mention the most important part of a cartridge: the small ring around the cantilever consisting of rubber or a high-tech polymer. This is the damper that controls the spring a.k.a. piano string. A suspension consists of a spring and a damper … so we do have a properly suspended system guiding our stylus through the groove. But on closer inspection, the purpose of the cantilever suspension is not to bounce the arm. The piano wire and the damper are a suspension that allows the cantilever to follow the miniscule excursions of the stylus. And the suspension only has to be that stiff because of the big mass it has to balance.
What the Houdini does (and why it had to be a physicist that invented it): it treats the cartridge as a whole that needs to be suspended, whilst to this date, the generator part of the cartridge and the arm have always been lumped together. In other words: the Houdini treats the entire cartridge as a wheel that needs to be isolated from the chassis err: tonearm. Once the resonances created by the cartridge can no longer rattle and unbalance the arm, both subsystems – arm and cartridge – can fulfill their tasks much better. The arm guides the cartridge across he record. Without the arm’s mass, the cantilever move the cartridge in unison and not produce any current. The cartridge in return no longer has to deal with an unsuspended mass attached to it that prevents it from navigating small obstacles like dust in the groove, record warp or the cannon shots of Telarc’s 1812. Once these vibrations no longer fight each other, they also no longer mask the effective signal picked out of the groove. Hence the sound is unmuddied and clean. And once the 315 Hz sine wave used for tracking tests no longer excites the resonance of the sprung mass, the resonance peaks are gone, and the stylus can track the modulation unimpeded.
As for the improved channel separation, I can only speculate. Channel separation is a function of purely lateral movement as the signal is cut only into one wall of the groove. An unsuspended cartridge will transmit this asymmetrical movement partially into the arm and excite the arms own resonance modes – with the effect that the generator is not steady in relation to the cantilever and thus generates an additional signal on top of the stylus movement. Since this additional system will be monophonic, it will affect both sides equally, left and right and thus add a signal to where no signal should be as well as to the modulated side. Since this monophonic add-on signal will partially be in phase with the groove modulation, it will subtract from the correctly generated signal. If that sounds incomprehensible: The channel separation will be reduced because of the added signal.
It just goes to show how an open mind like King A.’s can improve a technology that has for ages been considered as “mature”. How immature!
In short: Unless the cartridge or tonearm industry jumps on the train and comes up with proper suspensions for its product – the Houdini is the way to go if you want to hear how good your cartridge and your tonearm really are.
Highly recommended and worth every cent. Hail to The King!