The Funk Firm Houdini Cartridge Decoupler Review
Jay Garrett grapples with this fascinating new vinyl upgrade…
The Funk Firm
Houdini Cartridge Decoupler
AUD $550 RRP
This is the practical realisation of an idea that's been growing in the mind of a physicist named Arthur Khoubesserian for about a decade-and-a-half. Following a further three years of analysis and modelling, it is now ready to meet its adoring public – or at least they will be when they hear what it does…
Lest we forget, Arthur was key to the success of the legendary Pink Triangle turntables. He's an experimenter extraordinaire and a hugely gifted designer in this quirkiest of fields. After two decades of success with PT, he formed The Funk Firm in 2005 and launched – yes, you've guessed it – another brilliant but eccentric record player. His typically terse-and-to-the-point mission statement was, “to get the most from the tiny groove containing musical information”.
The Houdini cartridge decoupler is designed for those who can't fit a Funk tonearm to their turntable, or those looking to eke out a bit more from their current set-up. It is, in essence, a universal Funk Firm tonearm – rather than a shim or absorber. Those may improve things to a certain extent but could well impact elsewhere – moving the issue to a less prominent place – whereas The Funk Firm describes the Houdini as a decoupler with high dynamic stability, complete with a suspension system and torsion-tether.
It's a fully suspended design but, as Arthur told me, “the trick is that it has to be kept stable at the same time. It can't just be left free to roam”. This design, therefore, incorporates a “virtual anchor” and the aforementioned torsion-tether, both of which are now Funk Firm patented. The mechanics of this alien skull-shaped device are such that you have a rigid, fixed plate attached to your tonearm, while the cartridge is affixed to the suspended section, eliminating any transference of vibrations down the arm tube. Furthermore, no vibrations are sent from the arm back down to the pick-up.
Mounting the Houdini is achieved via four Delrin threaded bolts. Depending on your cartridge type, the Houdini you use will either have slots to slip the head of the cartridge-side bolts into or threads. These two types of Houdini will pretty much cover every cartridge and/or headshell fitment out there.
Once you have connected your cartridge to the Houdini, it's now just a case of fitting that assembly to your tonearm. The 6mm thick Houdini will require you to make some adjustments to your system's VTA and tracking force, as well as your tonearm lifter if you have one. After fitting the Houdini between the arm of my VPI Prime and Sumiko Songbird, my Tru-Lift struggled to do its job at first – so it's not a guaranteed shoo-in…
Dropping my Songbird moving coil's stylus down into the groove of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds, the increase in dynamism from my record player was seriously impressive. It was as if I was hearing the Sumiko relaying the information directly, without the VPI tonearm adding or subtracting anything. Don't get me wrong, it still sounds like an LP but what the Houdini does is turn the arm into a cartridge delivery method rather than having any particular sonic say in the matter at hand.
Any concerns that the Houdini would take away the joys of the vinyl format were well and truly put to bed, as the music retains the associated warm allure that we vinylistas so enjoy. However, there is so much more revealed from the groove. Speaking of which, both Herbie Flowers' bass playing and the actors' dialogue revealed extra body and presence. Additionally, there also appeared to be more energy than pre-Houdini listening, with even the most nuanced communication between instruments now laid bare for all to enjoy. Perhaps more interestingly, the overall soundstage opened up, with effects being thrown much wider beyond my Marten loudspeakers than before.
It is as if The Funk Firm Houdini helps your cartridge escape the intrusion of the tonearm, then. Granted, some might have selected their current arm/cartridge combination precisely because of how they sound together. Yet for those considering upgrading either or both items, I suggest you try the Houdini first because it will improve the sound of your vinyl front end, and could save you money. Moreover, with Funk Firm (and its Australian distributor) offering a 30-day no-risk trial, you have nothing to lose and only improved record-playing performance to gain. Escape that!