Ortofon MC Century Phono Cartridge

Rare Gem

Equipment report
Ortofon MC Century Phono Cartridge

Other trumpeters have moved to the fore since André’s time (by now you can probably tell that I have a weakness for trumpet). One of them is the Swedish virtuoso Håkan Hardenberger. On his debut album which was recorded in 1986 on the Philips label, the MC Century displayed its superb ability to excavate and resolve low-level detail. On a fairly obscure concerto by the composer Johann Stamitz, the Century revealed layer after layer of the accompanying orchestra, reaching deep into the back of the hall, while providing some of the blackest backgrounds I’ve heard on vinyl. 

That ability to probe into the recesses of a concert hall without highlighting detail in an obtrusive sense also came to the fore on more complex works. On an Archiv digital LP recording of Bach’s concertos for three and four harpsichords, the MC Century displayed a sovereign sense of control. It simply tracks the grooves like a fiend. The various harpsichords seemed to whiz around in the air as the MC Century threw a large soundstage. What was compelling about playing these Bach concertos on the Century was the finesse with which the cartridge successfully depicted each harpsichord in its own space rather than creating the sensation that they were colliding into each other like bumper cars at an amusement park. This perceived collision, in my experience, often results in a homogenized sound, the last thing you want when listening to intricate classical works.

When it came to sheer wallop factor, the Century was no wallflower, either. On Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” or Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” it hit quite hard. Bass was full, rich, and resonant. But it has to be said that the Century was never as overtly exciting as the Lyra Atlas SL. Nor was it quite as detailed as the latest version of the DS Audio optical cartridge that I also had on hand. It was fascinating to compare directly all three cartridges to each other on Swedish Analog Technologies designer Marc Gomez’s remarkable new CF1-09 tonearm, which I recently received for review and mounted on my Continuum Caliburn turntable. 

The DS cartridge, coupled with its proprietary phonostage, pulls off more detail than any cartridge I’ve heretofore sampled. But it is a bit thinner tonally than the Century. The Atlas has an inimitable jump factor; it just wants to play. None of these cartridges is inherently better than the other. As always, you have to pick your poison. What I can say is that the Century splits the difference between the Atlas and the DS; it is a superbly silky and transparent cartridge that appears to be almost perfectly balanced from octave to octave. 

How many MC Century cartridges are left to be had is a question I’m not qualified to answer, but there are apparently dealers who have a few precious samples stashed away for those who only want the best. And if the Century is too much of a financial stretch, Ortofon will surely incorporate a number of its alluring features into future, more modestly priced cartridges. For now, in seeking to push the state of the art, Ortofon deserves credit for artfully making a statement with the MC Century.

Specs & Pricing

Output voltage: 0.2mV
Channel balance: 0.5dB
Channel separation: 25dB
Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz +/-1.5dB
Tracking ability: 80µm
Stylus type: Special polished Nude Ortofon Replicant 100 on diamond cantilever
Tracking force: 2.4g (24mN)
Tracking angle: 23°
Internal impedance: 6 ohms
Recommended load impedance: 10 ohms
Weight: 15g
Price: $12,000

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