Benz Micro cartridges have been in production since the 1980s, earning recognition throughout the world as one the top brands in the field. Ernst Benz, founder and designer of the original Benz-Micro cartridges, retired in 1994 and sold the cartridge production to Albert Lukaschek, his close associate and designer of the Benz-Micro PP-1 phono stage.
Albert relocated and modernized the factory, employed a highly skilled workforce, introduced many new models, including the ACE which we are looking at here. Though best known among audiophiles as a cartridge designer and manufacturer, Ernst Benz was also a well respected watch designer. He also developed and manufactured a high temperature vacuum oven for bonding diamond to steel that resulted in a line of diamond cutting tools.
Hand-building a phono cartridge is a highly developed skill, requiring specially trained technicians working with microscopes and ultra small-scale manufacturing. A competitive global business environment and technically demanding jobs have made finding skilled workers a major concern. On-going changes in the Swiss workforce, including the growth of both the high-end watch industry and high tech, have reduced the pool of these skilled technicians and the potential for new trainees. Benz Micro’s current production team represents the best of the best for producing state-of-the-art phono cartridges. These changes in the labour force, combined with further advances in design and materials, have resulted in new Benz-Micro models that surpass all previous versions in music reproduction.
The Benz ACE S-L has become one of our favourite phono cartridges. It is a low output device (.4mV) based on the generator system and stylus assembly of the Benz Glider with a protective acrylic body, The ACE is the first handmade cartridge in the range and one of the only hand-built cartridges at this price point! The Benz ACE is simple to install thanks to the inclusion of threaded mounting holes, no nuts were needed during set-up, which was welcomed as, with its exposed generator and lack of stylus guard, any mistakes could have been costly. The translucent shell projects the vital parts inside. This low output version is distinguished by its red casework, and features a solid boron cantilever and line contact stylus, rather than conical or elliptical profiles. It is also available in both medium and high output versions
The Swiss pedigree is obvious from the packaging and accompanying accessories alone, which include a circular bubble level and stainless miniature screwdriver. Albert Lukaschek listens to every Benz Ace cartridge before it leaves the factory ensuring that they all meet the high level of sound quality he demands.
To describe it as both warm and neutral might sound contradictory but that’s exactly what it is. There is never a sense of “character”. The Benz micro is a pure musical tool; it delivers exactly what the record intends, whether it is life and propulsion or calm and introspection and without even a hint of harshness. Instruments are portrayed realistically and with occasional surprise; sounds sometimes leap out that you wouldn’t expect, giving that spine tingling sensation. This is a true music lover's cartridge, warm and natural through the mid-range, with great bass extension and silky smooth high frequencies. If you just want to play record after record with a big smile on your face...the ACE is the cartridge for you.