Ortofon MC Windfeld Ti Phono Cartridge

A Balanced Portrayal

Equipment report
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Ortofon Inc. MC Windfeld Ti
Ortofon MC Windfeld Ti Phono Cartridge

The Ortofon MC Windfeld Ti is the newest version of the original MC Windfeld cartridge. Ten years ago, Ortofon’s chief engineer, Leif Johannsen, created the original MC Windfeld as a tribute to Ortofon’s former longtime chief engineer Per Windfeld. This was Johannsen’s first high-end cartridge using the Replicant 100 stylus and a completely new (for Ortofon) motor design to improve dynamic capability. At that time, the 80th anniversary MC Jubilee was the second highest model in the Ortofon lineup. The following year, 2009, the Cadenza series was introduced. The Cadenza Black was a revised version of the MC Jubilee with a new armature to aid in more precise coil winding. The shape of the outer housing of the Cadenza series, being a descendant of the MC Jubilee, has some resemblance to the MC Windfeld, which is a few grams heavier due to the use of different materials.

The $4390 MC Windfeld Ti’s body structure is SLM (Selective Laser Melting) titanium and stainless steel versus the original MC Windfeld’s stainless steel and special alloy mix. For comparison, the Cadenza uses stainless steel and aluminum, while the MC A95 and MC Anna both use SLM titanium. Ortofon says that the MC Windfeld Ti, while not completely made from SLM titanium like the MC A95 and MC Anna, benefits from the self-damping properties of SLM titanium as the motor system is encased in the material (it is also used in the top mounting plate of the cartridge).

According to Ortofon, “the Windfeld Ti shares a similar motor design to the MC A95, where Ortofon did a lot of work to create an alloy that could be used for the armature with the least possible magnetic effect. This idea originally came from the Anna cartridge, as the armature was completely polymer based. The reason for this is because on a traditional MC cartridge, the armature’s magnetism raises the output slightly, but whenever the armature moves, it tends to distort the magnetic field that each coil sees. In the Cadenza Black, the original Windfeld, and the A95 we use a field-stabilizing element to help fix this (technical details at ortofon.com). In the A95 and Ti models, the FSE is less active and this is thought to offer a positive benefit in the linearity of the cartridge. Of course on the Anna, it’s not needed because the armature is not metal at all.”

The technical specs of the MC Windfeld Ti are actually closer to the MC A95 than they are to the original MC Windfeld. In fact, if compared, they are identical with the exception of build material, color, weight, and high-frequency channel separation. This tends to explain why the sound/performance of the MC Windfeld Ti is closer to MC A95, with one exception noted in the listening comments below.

The MC Windfeld Ti was evaluated using the Basis Audio Debut Vacuum and 2800 Vacuum ’tables with three different tonearms (Basis SuperArm 9, Basis Vector IV, and Graham Phantom III) along with five different phonostages (Zesto Audio Andros Téssera, Ayre P-5xe, Musical Surroundings Phonomena II+, Lamm LP2 Deluxe, and a custom-designed and modified unit called The Raptor). All five phonostages with moving-coil gains from 57.5dB to 71.1dB worked well, with no phonostage-induced noise or gain issues when the MC Windfeld Ti was used—the signal was clean. With that said, the listener should still be mindful of overall system gain to achieve enough amplitude to play music at the desired volume. These multiple combinations of components were used to aid in more closely identifying the character of the cartridge under evaluation and minimizing (to some degree) the effects of support components in a single cartridge set-up scenario.

In all cases, the cartridge installation proved to be straightforward without any unexpected set-up issues. Once alignment, azimuth, tracking force, and VTA/SRA were optimized, the MC Windfeld Ti met all of its stated specifications, including channel separation, channel balance, and frequency response (up to the tested limit of 20kHz). In all combinations of the setups used with the MC Windfeld Ti (mentioned below), the ideal tracking force was 2.31 grams—close to the recommend value. Once dialed in, the MC Windfeld Ti tracked everything without any audible hint of distortion or mistracking.

The MC Windfeld Ti is all business with a buttoned-up and reserved presentation. No-nonsense performance comes to mind. While it doesn’t offer the whopper (for Ortofon) dynamics and punch of the MC A95 or the unraveling of string tone of the MC Anna, it is well balanced and reserved. Transient attacks are slightly rounded with a slightly shortened decay. This balance around the start and decay of notes allows the cartridge to maintain very good pacing and timing without either of those attributes standing above the other. To some degree, this shortened time on a musical note can sometimes allow more perceived elements within the music to be heard. Given the Windfield Ti’s very good frequency response, musical performances came through on an even keel with nearly every LP played. This ability to remain balanced in its capabilities allows you to play your entire catalog of music without exceptions.

For example, on the Scherzo from Chopin’s Opus 31 [Reference Recordings RR-2] Steven Gordon produces a sound through the piano that is wonderfully beautiful when sourced from the MC Windfeld Ti. The soundstage sounds as if it is freed up from the speakers; the piano is centered slightly to the right, with room-filling harmonics and echoes off the walls of the recording venue. While the dynamic capability is not as big, extended, or forceful as that of the MC A95, and the upper octaves aren’t as forward as they would be through the MC Anna, the whole of the performance is still captured with the loveliness it should have. Piano strikes are slightly softened compared with the best cartridges, but the Ortofon’s coherence is as good as that of many others. A simple test of timbre by changing absolute phase at the preamp (or speakers) quickly tells you (through easy identification of which phase is correct) that this LP was recorded well. The ability to discern the wholeness of the recording is completely system-dependent, but it can’t be done well unless the cartridge is able to retrieve the all-important harmonic structure of the piano across the entire frequency spectrum and maintain proper phase throughout, which allows the rest of the system (most importantly the speakers) to present the music in proper phase. The MC Windfeld Ti does this well and if the system and speakers are up to it, the listener is rewarded with excellent reproduction of piano.

“Many Rivers to Cross” from Joe Cocker’s Sheffield Steel album [Island Records IL 9750] was reproduced with a warm and full tone. When played back through the MC Windfeld Ti, the soundstage filled the space between and beyond the speakers with precise imaging of guitar and synthesizer overlays. While slightly soft on transients, Joe’s voice (with no hint of intrusive sibilance) showed good dynamics as did the accompanying instruments. The balanced nature of the MC Windfeld Ti made the remaining songs on the album, which had a similar sound characteristic, just as enjoyable.

The “Hopak” from Tchaikovsky’s opera Mazeppa is one of the tracks from Exotic Dances from the Opera [Reference Recordings RM-1505] I sometimes play at audio shows to observe how a cartridge handles full-range orchestral sound when time is limited. In this instance with the Ortofon MC Windfeld Ti, it serves as a short thrill ride of full-range orchestral entertainment. Like the tracks above, the dynamics are good but not as explosive as they are with some other offerings. For starters the instrumental transients aren’t as forceful and the bass drums don’t hit as hard. However, the Windfield Ti is more than good enough with these characteristics to reveal the message within the music—big, full orchestral sound. What are of notable quality are imaging, soundstaging, and instrumental separation. These attributes allow the sound to completely decouple from the speakers, reveal instrumental interplay, and provide the listener with nothing but the presence of the orchestra within the space of the listening environment.

Sade’s Diamond Life album contains a healthy amount of energy on percussion instruments. Playing “Cherry Pie” allowed the MC Windfeld Ti to display its more restrained character. The cartridge remained completely poised throughout the entire track (and the remaining tracks as well). Instrument separation and imaging were very good. Sade’s voice was a bit warmer than usual but any hint of sibilance was nonexistent—a good thing in many systems. This resulted in a smooth vocal (easily heard when overdubbed) supported by synthesizers and percussion throughout the track. Most interesting was the clear separation of the electronic cymbals spaced around the soundstage from left to right and in between. Additionally, the electric guitar playing around the left speaker had good clarity. This is one example where restraint and poise were welcomed attributes.

Going further away from pristine audiophile recordings moves me to Lou Reed—specifically, the RCA LP titled Lou Reed Live [APL1-0959]. The LP is non-audiophile and raw. This live recording—with appropriate crowd cheering at times—has an infectious rhythm and timing that were revealed by this cartridge. The MC Windfeld Ti reproduces the record well by preserving the essence of the performance and its live energetic feel. While the bass drum is slightly less dynamic with the Windfield Ti, the pacing of the beat is complete and on time. Lou Reed’s voice is present, real, and raw. Soundstaging and instrument placement are solid. At the beginning of “Vicious” there are sections where the drum hits are doubled closely together. Less precise cartridges can blur these strikes, but the MC Windfeld Ti presented the double percussion hits of the drum very cleanly. Additionally, the guitar separation and playback were as enjoyable as they are from other very good transducers. The album is raw but toe-tappingly good when played back well—which the MC Windfeld Ti did.

The MC Windfeld Ti is a well-balanced cartridge within its performance envelope. If it’s considered a jack-of-all-trades, it would have to be called a very refined one. While it’s not going to give near-maximal dynamics, or dig the smallest details out of a record, or have the exceptional transients and decays of champion cartridges, it doesn’t command their high prices either. What you do get is a cartridge that performs well in all areas with nothing standing out; that is what most listeners want from a transducer. The exceptional part of this cartridge is that the listener can play nearly every album in his catalog and not be bothered by any off-putting sins of commission that make music-listening uncomfortable. This ability to play whatever, whenever, is the MC Windfeld Ti’s biggest asset. It’s certainly worth a listen when well set up—and bring your albums with you when you do.

Specs & Pricing

Output voltage at 1kHz, 5cm/sec.: 0.2mV
Channel balance at 1kHz: 0.5dB
Channel separation at 1kHz: 25dB
Channel separation at 15kHz: 20dB
Frequency range at -3dB: 10Hz–50kHz
Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz +2dB/-1dB
Tracking ability at 315Hz at recommended tracking force: 90µm
Compliance, dynamic, lateral: 13µm/mN
Stylus type: Special polished Nude Ortofon Replicant 100 on boron cantilever
Stylus tip radius: r/R 5/100 µm
Tracking force range: 2.0–2.5g
Tracking force, recommended: 2.3g
Tracking angle: 23°
Internal impedance, DC resistance: 7 ohms
Recommended load impedance: >10 ohms
Coil wire material: Aucurum
Cartridge body material: SLM titanium and stainless steel
Cartridge color: titanium/black
Cartridge weight: 11 grams
Price: $4390

ORTOFON INC.
500 Executive Blvd, Ste. 102
Ossining, NY 15062
(914) 762-8646
ortofon.com

Associated Equipment
Analog vinyl: Basis Audio Debut Vacuum, Basis Audio 2800 Vacuum ’tables; Basis Audio SuperArm 9, Basis Audio Vector IV (x2), Graham Phantom III, Lyra Atlas, Lyra Atlas SL, Lyra Etna, Lyra Etna SL, Lyra Titan-i, van den Hul Colibri XGP, Hana SL
Analog tape: Otari MTR-10 Studio Mastering tape deck (¼" 2-track) with custom Flux Magnetic Mastering Series repro head and secondary custom tube output stage
Phonostage: The Raptor (Custom), Lamm LP2 Deluxe, Ayre P-5xe, Musical Surroundings Phonomena II+, Zesto Audio Andros Téssera
Preamplifier: Dual Placette Audio Active Linestage, Lamm L1.1 Signature, Lamm L2
Reference Amplifier: Custom/modified solid-state monoblocks
Loudspeakers: Vandersteen Model 3a Signature with dual 2Wq subwoofers using M5-HPB high-pass filter
Cables: Assortment of AudioQuest, Shunyata Research, Tara Labs, Acoustic Research, and some custom cables
Racks/Accessories: Minus-K BM-1, Neuance shelf, Maple wood shelf, Symposium Ultra, Aurios Pro, Walker Audio, Klaudio RCM, VPI RCM
Listening room dimensions: 18' x 8' x 43'

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