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Ortofon Cadenza Blue & Bronze (MC)
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Well crafted moving coil cartridges are always a special experience – and Ortofons especially so. I was in heaven reviewing both these units because by the time you spend this sort of money on one of their MCs it will show the art behind their technology. Ortofon's expensive MCs, including those here, combine beauty with accuracy, a combination that has me enthralled whenever I listen to them, which is quite often because I choose to live with a Kontrapunkt b, with its ruby cantilever.  It's fast and concise, has a liquid clarity, sweet treble that is sonorous beyond the ability of CD by reproducing cymbals and triangles that ring, not clank, and it has an unerring sense of balance too. The b digs into the groove to reveal a wealth of detail, it sets up a wide sound stage and populates it convincingly with lively images of performers and instruments. It's viscerally engaging – but our Editor David Price observes it's a coolly accurate rather than romantically engaging. Since Leif Johannsen of Ortofon insinuated the same at the High End Show, as he pressed the boxes into my grasping hands (oh, the symptoms of addiction!) I was a bit deflated by the thought that somehow the Kontrapunkt b wasn't quite the object of desire I had come to assume; it's a bit like confusing Kate Moss with a Fresian I suppose.

The new Cadenza Blue suited my system nicely – but the Bronze did too quite frankly – although it was fairly obvious that the Bronze will better withstand solid-state 'shout' whilst the Blue is arguably too forthright for a solid-state phono preamp followed by a solid-state amplifier. My system uses a 300B valve  amplifier designed and tweaked to avoid harshness and shout, so the Blue could stretch out and show its mettle, as could the Bronze which was just as impressive, if in a different way. In a nutshell then the Blue and Bronze sound different in detail only,  and which is 'best' may come down to the system and personal preferences.

Both cartridges are, aurally, a fantastic experience. Think deep sound staging, a sense of precision that challenges CD, wonderfully wide timbral resolution and beautifully sonorous treble that lacks the monochromatic, jittery quality of digital. They are also supremely even and svelte: the sound stage stretches wide, instruments and singers have vivid life – even a practised and critical pedant like me can't find fault in a wonderfully engaging panorama that is supremely fluid and easy to enjoy, yet exciting too. At this price level Ortofon engineer flat, accurate frequency response, devoid of the treble peaking that afflicts so many MCs, making them very obviously – almost painfully – overbright. Both Cadenzas here avoid this problem.

I started off with the Blue in our office system comprising SME M2-10 arm on a Pioneer PLC-590, Eastern Electric Minimax valve phono stage feeding a Creek OBH-22 passive preamp, followed by Icon Audio MB845 power amplifiers connected to our Spendor s8e loudspeakers, quite a balanced system where the forward and detailed Minimax is contained by the smooth Spendors.  The Blue was challengingly fast and deeply detailed, giving drums in Phil Collins 'I don't care anymore' on a 200gm vinyl re-release of 'Hello I Must Be Going', deliciously resonant impact, as they roll across the sound stage. The initial impact is hair trigger fast and the decay of the drum kept dry and controlled. With a torrent of fine detail from cymbals and rim shots tumbling out with a sweetness of tone that only good analogue can manage I was as impressed as ever by this cartridge (referring to its predecessor). Forced to consider it, I could see that the new Blue, like the outgoing Kontrapunkt b, put speed and revelation ahead of richness of tone. My usual way to decide whether this goes too far is to spin bright / hard recordings and see whether they become unacceptable in these properties. So out came some newly pressed oldies, like The Who's 'My Generation'.  By no means a great recording I still found the LP enjoyable, even if the Blue is analytically revealing and I did find myself wondering what studio equipment it was that produced such a clanky sound, rather than listening to the music.

Bolting the Bronze in changed this. It has more presence in the lower midband, making for a texturally richer and more enveloping presentation that better drew me into the music, rather than encouraging me to sit on the sidelines and analyse it. Now My Generation thundered out into the room – helped a little by a judicious increase in volume I'll warrant! – and I stopped wondering about what they were using in the studio and enjoyed the music. The Bronze is every bit as revealing as the Blue but fuller and a little more vivid with hand drums, cellos and male vocals in particular.

At home differences between the cartridges were much the same as those I heard in the office. However, with a smooth sounding SME312 arm on a Garrard 401, an Icon Audio PS3 phono stage feeding my 300B amplifier direct, and tuned WAD KLS9 loudspeakers as well as B&W 683s to represent mainstream, the Blue was more at home and less obviously off balance in any sense. It still had striking insight and a vividly fast and detailed delivery, although a little less so than the Kontrapunkt b I had to remove before it, surprisingly. It seems that Ortofon are keen to steer away from the glassy and bright balance of rivals, so the Blue is a little more even keeled than the Kontrapunkt b whilst the Bronze offers a richer and even more musically engaging experience. It has the same beautifully formed bass of the Blue, that is both tight and powerful, a richer lower midband that seemingly knits bass to midrange better to make for an enveloping sound stage that's a trifle more expansive than the Blue. I only had doubts when Glenn Gregory from Heaven Seventeen sang "kith the boy's goodbye" in 'Come Stay With Me'.  Why it missed the sibilant content of kiss I'm not sure, since its stylus traces right out to 20kHz our measurements show, but the Blue captured kiss with surgical precision that left me in no doubt about the word.

Both cartridges beautifully captured the rapid playing of Bouzoukia on Cat Steven’s ‘Rubylove’, throwing an illuminating light on the instruments that lifted them into the room. The ease yet resolute ability of both cartridges to do this was in keeping with their general level of quality that sits close to the top when it comes to pickup cartridges, I feel. I worked through old originals from the 1960s onwards, right up to new recordings and pressings and with all, both cartridges were simply a great experience. Even on my home system after many changes between the two the Bronze did eventually show itself to have better stage composure and more atmosphere than the Blue, homogenising musicianship made apparent by the Blue into full blooded performance. So good is the Bronze it is a cartridge that would have any owner running through their LP collection to reassess it, because every LP I played sprang from my loudspeakers with such a beautifully honed clarity, yet vivid dynamics that I spent evenings happily transfixed. OK, the Kontrapunkt b I am used to isn’t that much worse, but I still didn’t quite realise that from LP there is even more to come and vinyl can sound even better. But then that always was the case with analogue, digital being constrained by fixed specification. From the outset I noticed that groove noise is quite low from both cartridges and with good, modern vinyl there were almost no ticks and pops, very good news for those that listen to classical on LP.



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