Ortofon 2M Bronze 2M Black - Sound Quality

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I used these cartridges in a new Rega RB300 chosen to adorn my little Vestax turntable mod. on p92 of this issue. I wanted an RB300 for this project because it is still a great arm, with fantastic stereo staging and clean, well defined low frequencies. It is arguably less impressive in the midband, where SMEs are smoother and dimensionally deeper, all of which I mention because these characteristics are relevant when running the 2Ms.


Both the Bronze and Black have a measured frequency response that mimics the Red and Blue, with a steady upward trend toward high frequencies. This is unusual and results in a distinctive presentation that gives swathes of detail and seemingly impressive insight, but also a sound diametrically opposite to that of yore; instead of warm and cuddly, you get a brightly lit midband that isn’t kind to old, worn discs in particular, nor to older recordings, although the Black curiously transcends this basic characteristic of the Red, Blue and Bronze, I found.

Spinning a new 180gm pressing of Elvis singing 'It’s Now or Never', with the Bronze in place, I was struck not so much by the depth and expressiveness of his voice, but by a lightness of balance and sense of hardness in the recording. Okay, it was recorded back in 1960 and the Bronze is actually picking up on the deficiencies of the recording equipment, but I have never heard Elvis presented like this before; we likely all think of Elvis as having a rich, mellow voice, but the Bronze wagged its finger at me and suggested otherwise.


Playing the same track on my Garrard 401 + SME312 combo fitted with the Ortofon Kontrapunkt b (that I am eternally happy with!) was interesting. Yes, the recording is a bit clanky, but not that clanky, it told me; the richness and warmth of his voice returned. The emphasis of the Bronze didn’t flatter Elvis.


Alright I know, you don’t listen to Elvis - your mum does. But it was the same result with Marianne Faithfull singing 'Sweetheart', from her 1981 LP 'Dangerous Acquaintances' and an even less catholic song, 'Down in the Sewer', from the Stranglers' first LP, 'Rattus Norvegicus'. This track resolved the issue. Jean Jacques Burnel’s driving bass line was well resolved but tonally lightened by the Bronze; the Kontrapunkt b restored its power and - especially - the richness of the instrument. In its favour, the Bronze clearly picked out the background percussion work; successive short, quick drum rolls across the sound stage were deftly portrayed. This was partly down to the RB300, which is brilliant in this respect, unlike my long SME312 arm with Kontrapunkt b, but it also underlined how the Bronze lifts details from a mix, which can be more forensic than flattering.

The picture changed with modern LPs, like Kate Bush’s 'Aerial' or the Scissor Sisters 45rpm 'Ta Dah'. Then the balance of the Bronze became far less obvious. It sat on the borderline with a new Led Zeppelin 'II' in 200gm Quiex SV-P vinyl; again there was a midband glare and some hardness I am not accustomed to, but also fantastic insight, Page’s guitar work cutting through the room with a vigour few cartridges could muster.


The 2M Bronze is distinctive, that’s for sure - and sounds unlike rivals. With modern LPs in particular, which are often on the warm side of the fence in terms of their balance, it is fast, detailed and insightful. Bass comes across as light but tight, although the Bronze largely missed the bass guitar line on Eric Clapton’s 'No Alibis' from 'Journeyman', which left me unimpressed. With older LPs, or just heavily played ones, its strengths will suit dull hi-fi systems, but I don’t think the Bronze is best suited to a modern, solid-state system with loudspeakers that, in themselves, have midband and treble emphasis. The clean midband of an SME arm will suit this cartridge a little better than the Rega too.


All this being the case, and taking into account the similarity between the Bronze and Black in measurement, I was expecting the Black to sound like the Bronze, but with better differentiated treble from improved stylus geometry. So I was taken aback by the difference between the two. The 2M Black has a silky smooth presentation with no glare or treble emphasis at all. In fact, its Shibata tip is, compared to Goldring’s Fritz Geiger S, relatively mild in its treble delivery - and very Kontrapunkt-like too. Suddenly, with the Black in the RB300, music started to flow with the liquid smoothness and sophistication I am used to from my Kontrapunkt b. I ran through the same list of albums mentioned so far and all slid by as masterful performances.


Elvis was back in human form, not as a clanky recording from 1960, Jean Jacques Burnel’s bass strode masterfully through my lounge as the Stranglers put music to life in a sewer(!) and Alison Goldfrapp sounded as laconic and seductive as ever on the 'Supernature' album. Pressing the 45rpm button of the Vestax, I pulled out Goldfrapp’s 'Ride a White Horse' 12in 45rpm single and got a fabulous result: the synthesiser twisted sinuously through the song, the throbbing bass had a thunderous presence and Goldfrapp’s voice had  the gentle, caressing quality that makes this Dance track so hypnotic.


Apart from being finely detailed, silky smooth and completely engaging at a musical level, the Black also has the peculiar quality of sounding totally cohesive, just like the Kontrapunkt b. Specific properties don’t stand out in relief; it operates as a whole and as such moves beyond simple reductionist criticism. Some might say it is too smooth, preferring more boom and ting, but I’d describe this cartridge’s presentation as pure class, devoid of obvious weakness. It does not have the walk around dimensionality of a good moving coil, but it otherwise gets frighteningly close, at a fraction of the price. After running a Goldring 2400 I noticed also how I had to turn volume down when  using the Black, so high is its output.



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