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Ortofon A95 MC cartridge
Page 2
Sound Quality
Conclusion
Measured Performance
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SOUND QUALITY
We rejected two samples of the A95 before a problem identified by our measurements was cured by changes in production and this review refers to the improved update.
    I ran the A95 into an Icon Audio PS3 valve phono stage with input transformers, so hiss wasn’t a problem. The PS3 was connected directly to a Sudgen Sapphire FBA-800 Class A power amplifier and thence via Tellurium Q cables to a pair of Tannoy DC10Ti loudspeakers. The stylus was left running for 24 hours in a locked groove test record to run it in.
    Initially, before running in, the A95 sounded quite “bold”, shall I say. With hard-etched and obvious treble it made a strong statement, throwing cymbals at me.
    Yet I could hear some impressive underlying properties, a great sense of control and sharp timing being one of them as well as firm bass and masses of fine detail. After a 24 hour run-in, the slightly forward balance remained but the hard edge had gone and treble was starting to sound silky.
    Generally though, the new A95 does not remind me of – say – the Cadenza Black, for example, and certainly not the Bronze I favour (although mine is wearing out and sounding gentler these days).
    I mention all this to get the new A95 into context. It does not offer a warm or retiring performance; in fact the boron cantilever is, I suspect, responsible for its clinical delivery, one that is forensically clean.
    And what you have to bear in mind with any cartridge is that they do soften out as they wear out: the balance changes over time.
    Spinning Mark Knopfler’s 'True Love Will Never Fade' on the quiet 200gm vinyl of 'Kill To Get Crimson' (a great cut), his vocals were forward on the soundstage with every intonation made very specific. The strumming of the metal strings was vividly outlined and fine detail fairly shot from the big Tannoy loudspeakers. Treble energy was also strong.
    The solid bass line behind this track was easy to follow and here – at low frequencies – the A95 showed it had grip and was fluid in its presentation.
    Kate Bush’s 'King of the Mountain' from 'Aerial' is another quality cut on quiet, flat vinyl and this too was forensically analysed by the A95. As the strong reggae bass line strode along, underpinning the track, high cymbal crashes sprang out at me and fine detail formed a rich tapestry within the sound.
    The overall presentation was a cool, but accurate one. I admit to being used to the lush tonality of Ortofon’s Cadenza Bronze and by way of contrast the A95 is more controlled, more detailed and dry in its sound. But at the same time it offers greater grip and insight.
    Upping the tempo and modulation velocity somewhat, I put on Carol Kenyon’s 45rpm, 12in single 'Dance With Me'. These old 12 inchers were cut high and hard for 1980s disco use and they more strongly stress a cartridge than 33rpms. The A95 was rudely exposed!
    In fact, what I heard was fascinating: the opening synth drum beat was faster – and also kick-ass hard; the A95 has enormous punch. A solo hand drum floated at left, its position perfectly outlined. Carol Kenyon’s delivery was clearer than I have ever heard it; the A95 puts focus into every image: it pulled Kenyon’s richly modulated vocal out of an-at-times dense mix. What I got was a machine gun delivery – great stuff!
    Spinning a far newer LP, from  2L of Norway, made from a DXD 352kHz sample rate/24bit digital recording onto a Direct Metal Master, stamped onto 180gm flat vinyl of Marianne Thorsen playing 'Mozart’s Violin Concerto No4' again highlighted the A95’s sense of massive analysis and control.
    Thorsen’s violin was rendered so clearly it fairly floated in front of the loudspeakers; isn’t it wonderful how vinyl images! By any standards this is a great recording and a lovely LP and I was mesmerised by the sheer clarity of the whole performance.
    I will note a few things at this point. Low output from the A95 was not an issue through the silent input transformers of our Icon Audio PS3 phono stage; even at high volume there was neither hiss nor hum in our system.


    However, potential owners will have to pay attention to this issue because output from the A95 cartridge is very low, too low for many solid-state MC inputs.
    Also, the A95 stylus is quiet in itself, but especially on modern low noise vinyl such as that of the 2L LP, where I heard no groove noise either. But to appreciate all this Ortofon’s new cartridge does need especially good matching equipment.
    Punching the 45rpm button on our Timestep Evo upgraded Technical SL-1210 Mk2 turntable, I again heard the grip and punch of this cartridge as Amy Winehouse’s 'Tears Dry on Their Own' opened – another 45rpm 12in single. More synth bass admittedly but it was strong and yet delivered with enormous grip on time-domain progress; I was aware of every small note change, every little noodle.
    I only hand cue – can’t stand lift/lower platforms! – and the A95 was superb for this. Ortofon have chamfered the front face to reveal the fine boron cantilever so it can be dropped precisely into the groove; beats a CD skip button any time.
    There was no problem with end-of-side groove reading, as expected from measurement. Modern stylus geometries read the short wavelengths of inner grooves without difficulty, so when I span 'This Boy' from 'Mono Masters' within 'The Beatles in Mono' box set, John Lennon’s every intonation at the microphone was conveyed with vivid clarity and sharp analysis.
    Again, there was no groove noise either, these LPs being cut onto very quiet vinyl.



 

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