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TONAR 267 STYLUS (SHURE N447 Replacement): Review

After an unfortunate accident this spring, the monkey had to break open the very last pair of Shure N447 stylii he’d been hoarding since the catastrophic decision by Shure (for vinyl hip-hop and funk djs at least) in 2018 to discontinue production of the legendary N447 stylus – and indeed the rest of its phono products. This prompted a flurry of googling for the best alternatives and regoogling of old stuff I’d read back in 2018. Back then, if you wanted to maintain any semblance of your old setup, all roads pretty much pointed to the Jico N447 stylus copies which came with a significant step-up in cost due to import duty from Japan. Still, surely after half a decade that problem had been surmounted? Er – nope. Currently a pair of Jicos (depending on which exact version of their N447 replacements you get) is way more than a pair of original Shures – and rivals the price new old-stock Shures are going for on the web – both typically going for well in excess of £100 for just a single stylus.

After a bit more googling, it seems that besides Jico there were actually two new players in town in terms of N447 replacement these days: Tonar and Ortofon.

Ortofon, recognising a gap in the market when they see one, have been producing their VNL product for the last couple of years. This isn’t an attempt to retro-engineer the N447 (which is pretty much what Jico have done) but rather a brand new product. However, while they are compatible with, say, a Technics headshell, a VNL stylus will require the initial outlay for a VNL cartridge – (it’s currently around £80 and upwards for a cart plus stylus package) though once you have carts, a replacement stylus will only set you back £30-odd quid. Nevertheless, reviews of the VNL have been been very complimentary about stability for scratching along with playback sound quality. Happy days! And the tracking force is just 4g. Wait, what now?! 4g!!! Shure N447s had a recommended tracking force of 1.5 – 3g and stick like shit to records in that range! An email to Ortofon support confirmed that of the VNL that, “The increased tracking force will cause more wear,” than the M44-7/ N447 Shure setup. Probably ok for 12″s (and Serato 12″ platters) but the number of 12″s being played these days is vastly outweighed by the number of 7″s being rocked globally. And, despite the excellent things I’ve been hearing about Ortofon VNL, I still couldn’t quite face that heavy tracking force tearing up my vintage funk and early reggae 45s.

Which left Tonars. Rumours about these on the web are rife, ‘they’re actually rebranded Jicos,’ ‘they’re great,’ ‘they suck,’ ‘Tonar is a German company,’ ‘Tonar is a Dutch company,’ and it goes on. For the record, Tonar is based in Amersfoort in The Netherlands. On the other hand, try finding their two N447 replacements the 267 and the 6546 on their website and as of the time of writing you won’t be able to. Is that because they’re not manufactured by Tonar but are actually rebranded Jicos? Perhaps, who knows? And what is the difference between the 267s and the slightly more costly 6546s apart from the price? Again, rumours are rife and, as of the time of writing there doesn’t seem to be anything conclusive, or if there is, it’s well hidden on the web.

Having watched a video by DJ ForceX, I decided to take the plunge. If Tonars were wack, I’d only be £40 odd quid down for a pair of 267s from Juno Records and would have to reconsider the Ortofon VNL.

When they arrived, I did what I did with my last pair of Shures that I broke out the previous day and put them straight on my Shure carts at 2g tracking force. I deliberately didn’t leave the tonearm on the record overnight to help break in the stylus suspension by letting gravity do its thing but back-cued straight off and did a bit of scratching (babies along with my pathetic scribbles and even more pathetic chirps). I can report the following:

1. Visually, they look pretty similar to N447s but without a stylus guard
2. The Tonar 267s both back-cued fine, no jumps or skips.
3. The Tonar 267s both scratched fine too, no jumps or skips
4. The cantilever is slightly bigger than on an N44-7 however and they are so they are tight to insert into Shure carts that you need to watch the hell out when you remove them (as some have reported) – at first they don’t budge and then give suddenly which could be a recipe for disaster.
5. The sound output (again as some have reported) was about 3db lower per channel than with an N44-7 – this is problematic too given how quiet a lot of new 45s are being cut.

CONCLUSIONS: My experience hasn’t been the horror story some have reported (i.e. skipping even on a back-cue) and that’s without any wearing-in of the stylus whatsoever.

PROS
>They work at the same tracking force as N44-7s which means less record wear
>You don’t need to buy a whole new cartridge/ headshell set-up – they’ll fit right in with whatever your Shure N447 setup was – in my case Shure M447 carts and Technics headshells
>They are very reasonably priced

CONS
>The sound output is slightly quieter than Shures (but anecdotally, I hear the same about the VNL) so I imagine really quiet 45s will be on maximum gain
>There is no stylus guard and the cantilever is a much tighter fit in the cart
>They are only a bonded diamond tip (I suspect Shures were full diamond but having trouble confirming that)

RECOMMENDATIONS for the manufacturer (whoever that actually is) – I think people would be happy to pay slightly more if any or all of the following can be achieved:

1. See if you can increase the sound output by 3db
2. Have a look again at the cantilever dimensions and improve the fit
3. Put a bloody stylus guard on!
4. Go for a full diamond tip instead of bonded (if N44-7s were)

3 responses

  1. Hi, Excellent text my friend!
    It cleared up a lot of my doubts about needles.
    I bought Jico and ended up selling it. The sound signal is very low. I play funk45 so I need more gain on the channel.
    I ended up getting 3 sealed N44 Shure (gold)
    In my opinion, for those who don’t have Shure, it’s the ORtofon Dj E blue
    This model generates little wear and tear and has better gains than others on the market.

  2. Hi guys,
    Have you tried the Tonar Diabolic E cartridge?
    It comes with an elliptical stylus and you can get a Tonar conical for it too.
    It has an 8mv output and tracks at up to 4g, but l have used mine at 2 to 2.5g and it tracks like a demon and with no record wear.
    Its only drawback is that it’s flourescent pink in colour, and both stylus types are as well!

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