David Price cues up a great ‘affordable high end’ moving coil cartridge from this illustrious manufacturer…
Cadenza Black MC Phono Cartridge
AUD $3,959 RRP
One of the most successful cartridge brands of all time, Ortofon began its moving coil story with the legendary SPU-GT of 1958, a hugely popular, pioneering product. Even now, some enthusiasts rate it as one of the greats, despite its quirky design – complete with a built-in step-up transformer set into a purpose-made headshell. The Cadenza Black is a dim and distant relative and shares little in common apart from a name.
This is the flagship model in the mid-priced Cadenza range and is a thoroughly designed modern moving coil – with all the boxes ticked, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve long since thought that the fitment of aluminium cantilevers spoils the sound, so happily, the Cadenza Black employs an excellent boron type, which is lighter, stiffer and less resonant. Affixed to this is a nude Shibata stylus, which offers far better groove tracing and contact than cheaper standard elliptical types. Like the boron cantilever, this ushers forth a more stable, delicate and intricate sound.
The cartridge body is a pretty conventional painted aluminium and stainless steel design. It makes for a total cartridge weight of 10.7g - on the heavier side of medium. Inside is tech that’s ‘trickled down’ from the expensive MC Anna – Ortofon’s Wide Range Damping system is said to control high and low-frequency damping separately. The coil windings use the Danish company’s own Aucurum wire, made from gold-plated 6NX copper. The result is a quoted output voltage of 0.33mV, which is low for a modern moving coil but not totally off piste; you’ll certainly need a quiet moving coil stage in your phono preamplifier, though.
In my AudioMods 6 tonearm, mounted on my Michell GyroDec, I found the Ortofon easy to mount, and it tracked very well at the recommended 2.3g. This didn’t come as a complete surprise, nor did its ability to work in a good range of tonearms – thanks to a quoted 16 µm/mN compliance, which puts it firmly in the medium category. Recommended load impedance is greater than 10 ohms. As always with Ortofons, the packing is simple and purposeful, while the cartridge itself seemed very well made and finished.
Unsurprisingly, the Cadenza Black has a characteristically Ortofon sound – which means smooth and clean, subtle but detailed, delicate but musically engaging. It’s not as intense sounding as price rivals such as Lyra’s Delos, for example. It doesn’t machine-gun out vast amounts of detail at the listener but instead has a slightly smoother, darker tonality – although you’d never call it dull or warm. Soundstaging is expansive and three dimensional, with images in the mix located precisely. I think the best way to characterise this cartridge is ‘suave’, a sort of moving coil phono pickup equivalent of Bryan Ferry!
Give the Cadenza Black a densely recorded piece of rock music, for example, with lots going on in the mix, and its apparent ability really shows. It proved able to dig through the busy recording that is Judie Tzuke’s Welcome to the Cruise in a way that few moving coils at or near its price can – and was way better than more affordable designs like Audio-technica’s AT33Sa in terms of composure and dimensionality.
Tonally pretty even, with perhaps the slightest upper midband lift, it doesn’t shout at you, but nor does it have a particularly thumping bass. Everything is measured and subtle with this cartridge; it tries and largely succeeds to step aside and let the music move you. With gutsy, pile-driving eighties pop music such as Fine Time by Yazz, this cartridge really gets a shift on. It’s very good rhythmically, without trying too hard – it never sounds busy or frenetic, yet somehow still weaves all the musical notes together convincingly and enjoyably.
This highly polished nature gives you the full luxury experience; the Cadenza Black sounds expensive, doing all the right things in terms of subtlety and poise. It did a lovely job of Roxy Music’s Avalon, proving super subtle yet very musically engaging. It was even fun with the early nineties drum’n’bass of Nookie; the thumping club anthem Give a Little Love was great fun. The Cadenza Black kept its cool and retained its composure while tracking this highly modulated record like a limpet and never showing signs of losing control. Its sound isn’t as excitable as some, yet it is highly enjoyable.
Ortofon’s Cadenza Black is a great real-world moving coil, being super-accomplished in absolute terms without being crazily priced. It has a calm, measured but highly detailed and intimate presentation that many will love. As such, it’s well worth taking it for a spin.