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From Hi-Fi World - August 2009 issue


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Four Tips

Smuggled into the UK under the gaze of circling vultures, Noel Keywood makes it home safely with Ortofon's new Cadenza Blue and Bronze moving coil cartridges.


Hot from the High End Show in Munich come the two brand new Ortofon Cadenza series Moving Coil cartridges reviewed here. Good MCs are so in demand these days I virtually had to smuggle them out and onto the plane home, worried that someone - no names of course - might do a luggage swap or something similarly nefarious to spirit them away. I half expected to arrive back in London to find Shure M3Ds sitting in the boxes instead, so was relieved to find a Cadenza Blue and Cadenza Bronze had made it back with me and were still sitting there in the factory's unmarked, early sample cartons.

The new Cadenza range is aimed at serious LP listeners who want uncompromised Moving Coil quality, without paying silly prices, meaning little more than £1000. Yes, good MCs don't come cheap but if you want to hear what vinyl can sound like and enjoy the magic of good analogue then this is the starting point, because at this price Ortofon produce an MC free of the compromises that afflict budget MCs.  For me it's also an end point because I use an Ortofon Kontrapunkt b out of choice, for which the new £1000 Cadenza Blue is a replacement. The Cadenza Bronze at £1250 sits above it. You have to appreciate that different materials and construction techniques result in differing tonal 'colours' even within the framework of similar measured performances. So my Kontrapunkt b is "fast and precise", I recall Leif Johannsen of Ortofon telling me as he explained the thinking behind the new range amidst the hubub at the High End Show. Suggesting its replacement Blue, also boasting a ruby cantilever, will have a similar sound.

Some people want a more romantic sound" and for them we produced the new Bronze Cadenza,  were his words. This cartridge has a conical aluminium cantilever to help achieve this. The styli used are different too, between the two and in relation to the Kontrapunkt b. The latter had a nude Fritz Gyger 80 (um, major radius) whilst the Blue has an FG 70, so the Fritz Gyger profile is retained  but the major radius (across the groove) has come down slightly. However, the minor radius, which traces wiggles in the groove has increased from 5 to 6um. So Ortofon have tweaked the Kontrapunkt b stylus it seems, for the Cadenza Blue, but by little.

The Bronze is quite different. It gets a nude Ortofon Replicant stlyus of 5um minor radius, but 100um major radius, which sets it clearly apart from the other Cadenzas, so the Bronze appears to be tuned for a different type of presentation. You can get some idea of where these two cartridges stand by looking at the top Cadenza, the Black. Like the 2M Black Moving Magnet cartridge we rate as the best MM available, the Cadenza Black uses a nude Shibata stylus with 6/50 minor / major radii, mounted on a Boron cantilever.  That cuts the Bronze and Blue adrift on the quality ladder it seems, since neither shares critical parts with the Black. But we are paddling in the higher echelons of MC quality here, a rarefied realm where differences exist but are small and difficult to categorise;  it's more a matter of 'different' rather than better or worse. To date Ortofon's Kontrapunkt b that I use has easily defended its position before all else, so the new Cadenzas come from a comfortable position ahead of the pack in my view Even Ortofon make eight less expensive models, right down to the £140 Tango, although rationalisation of their thirteen model range may prune a few of these I suspect.

Why do I recommend you spend £1000 or thereabouts on an MC? It's always been accepted that moving coil cartridges, as difficult to use as they are - more later - offer the best sound quality. However, this gets a bit arguable at budget levels. Cheap ones often, if not always, track poorly, sound glassy hard in the upper midband and have spitty treble, attributable to the treble peak that afflicts most - a good 90% - of designs. Even the £3k Van den Hul Canary I reviewed recently suffered this problem. Cheap styli ignore fine detail and over-wound coils, to get signal level up, help lose the lovely sense of spaciousness a moving coil should possess. In the £450 region it's a trade off between a good MM like the Ortofon 2M Black and a half-decent MC like the Audio Technica  AT-OC9 MLII, the latter definitely sounding MC like but with excessive treble from the usual treble peak (albeit of good quality due to a fine Microline stylus), whilst the moving magnet Black is cheaper to use and run, and also smoother in its treble.

Ortofon are able to make technically near-perfect cartridges, free of blemishes and limitations, and this is what you get with their more expensive MCs I have found. I use a Kontrapunkt b because it fully displays the famed qualities of a Moving Coil cartridge, without suffering poor tracking, spitty treble, excessive distortion due to incorrect vertical tracking angle or blurry treble due to substandard stylus geometry. The Kontrapunkt b gives me spry upper treble, full of fine detail but free of unnatural emphasis or spit, a sound stage that is wonderfully expansive and deep, and bass that is firm and fast. So why did Leif Johannsen of Ortofon gently suggest a "more romantic sound" is wanted by some?

Transistors! They're likely to blame. I use the b with a 'dark' sounding Icon Audio valve phono stage feeding a largely component free, minimalist and tuned 300B valve amplifier, and neither add hardness or glare.  Through a transistor phono preamp and amplifier the Kontrapunkt b may well not suit, and I have heard it described as cool and emotion free, if technically perfect in such circumstances. Is this the raison de etre of the Bronze then? That's a proposition I had to test for this review by using a solid-state system, including MC preamp., in addition to my usual set-up which adopts a quite different approach and has a commensurately different sound.

I've tried to position these cartridges for readers baffled or bemused by what Moving Coil cartridges are all about, as well as those who want a clear picture of what a decent Ortofon offers in comparison to the rest, especially a swathe of cheaper alternatives. Technically, an MC cartridge has a tiny coil inside with very few turns of wire, far fewer than the thousands of turns of fine wire in an MM. The sensing coil sits on the cantilever itself, at the top end, so it is tightly coupled to what the stylus is doing. The result  is a clear, immediate sound with walk around sound staging. The drawbacks are a non user replaceable stylus; bend the fine cantilever and it must be factory replaced - at high cost, often around 75% of new value.

The small coils result in a flat midband frequency response, but also peaky treble in many models. And then you need an MC phono stage which, for these Ortofons, will cost £775 for an ANT Audio Kora or £1399 for the Icon Audio PS3 valve phono stage with valve power supply I use. Like electrostatic loudspeakers, I don't pair good MCs with solid-state because their innate openness is compromised, so forget using the Blue with a budget MC stage from Cambridge or suchlike to save a few bob: you are better off staying with MM cartridges.

If the cost takes your breath away, a three-grand cartridge like the Canary that comes without a stylus guard will do nothing to restore it! Happily, Ortofon fit a decent guard to the Cadenza series, and this is quite important as it prevents nervous first time owners bouncing their one grand wonder before they've even heard it! It also makes me feel a little less fearful when constantly fitting and refitting the units for measurement and listening tests.

All Cadenzas weigh 10.7gms, which is a little heavy, 10gms being a common upper limit. Most arms will balance it, but check first. Since all Cadenzas except the Black need 2.5gms tracking force, where the counterweight applies downforce both Blue and Bronze may still suit an arm that won't quite balance them, but a tracking force gauge will be needed; counterweight calibrations become useless.

Good MCs need a good arm - natch - but a Rega RB300 or 301 will do (not an RB250). Don't get a bright sounding silver wired arm though; they're for warm sounding MMs. Use something that's solid and doesn't ring like a bell, as many arms do, especially old designs - meaning e-bay 'bargains'. Modern, high technology cartridges like this deserve a modern high technology arm, not an old clonker. Think SME or Ikeda.

Ortofon use two 3mm deep blind tapped holes in the aluminium body for screw fixing, so you must use a screw no longer than headshell thickness plus 3mm, and not much shorter either! However, it's a very convenient method as no nut is needed and fixing is both easy and stress free. Sadly, there are no parallel sides to aid easy and accurate alignment in the headshell, necessary to minimise distortion.



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