Ortofon Quintet Cartridges

The Red and the Black

Equipment report
Ortofon Inc. Quintet Black,
Ortofon Inc. Quintet Red
Ortofon Quintet Cartridges

It’s hard to believe but it’s been over five years since the Ortofon 2M collection of moving-magnet cartridges was introduced—cleverly color-coded to indicate entry-level to top-tier pricing. I reviewed the 2M Red and 2M Black in Issue 182 and walked away shaking my head in admiration at the performance of these modestly priced mm’s. The Red was a paltry $99 for goodness sake—roughly “the price of a nice dinner for two,” I said at the time.

As with a hit cable TV series, popularity bred spin-offs, and Ortofon has taken it to the next level with Quintet, a set of five low-to-midpriced moving-coil cartridges that replaces the aging Rondo Series of moving coils. (See reviews of the Rondo Red in Issue 206 and the Rondo Blue in Issue 199.) The Quintet line mirrors the 2M series with the same color-coding, beginning with the least expensive Red, ascending to the Blue and Bronze, and topping out with the Black. A mono version is also offered. The Red, Blue, and Mono have a 0.5mV output that’s compatible with most mc phonostages. The Bronze and Black benefit from a lower 0.3mV output—fewer windings save weight and often yield sonic benefits, particularly in speed and dynamic nuance. The entire line uses neodymium magnets.

Ortofon parcels out the upgrades progressively at each level. Hot-rodding includes coil wire-quality, which ranges from copper to Aucurum (a gold-plated six 9s copper), and most particularly stylus type. Quintet carts use a nude elliptical, while the Black gets the royal treatment with a nude Shibata, known for its asymmetric front-to-back profile. The other key difference is that the Black uses a boron cantilever. Typically found on higher-end offerings, boron is preferred over aluminum for its stiffness and lower mass. (Maintaining the lowest possible moving mass in the stylus/cantilever assembly is key to allowing the cartridge to pick up the finest groove modulations.) Ortofon recommends >20 ohms loading, which makes practical sense given that lower-priced phonostages often feature a single 100-ohm setting. The weight and compliance on these models have been optimized to mate with all medium-mass arms.

Setup was a breeze. The biggest adjustment required was raising my SME V tonearm a few millimeters to accommodate the relatively tall cartridge bodies of the Quintets. I settled for a VTA just south of neutral—a slightly negative rake. Ortofon lists the tracking force range as between 2.1 and 2.5 grams, and I ultimately chose the suggested 2.3 grams. Note: Don’t forget to check your cartridge lead-wire connections carefully for fit and wear. Ortofon offers upgrades in three versions, and made its LW-7N lead wire available for this review (high-purity seven 9s copper with rhodium-plated terminals, price $59).

Truthfully I’m not loyal to any particular camp of phono cartridges. Moving magnet, moving iron, or moving coil...I’m happy to give each an equal shot with no agenda on my part. In that spirit, the Red does a more than respectable job of living up to the values that fans of moving coils have come to expect. It’s damn responsive, rhythmically lively, and especially light on its feet in transient response. Imaging is stable, and soundstage cues and overall dimensionality are well defined.

It never fails that whenever I receive a couple of fresh cartridges for review I begin cueing up my old 45rpm LP dance remixes. Why? These studio-contrived sonic spectaculars with their wide-open groove-spacing are not only a nostalgic hoot but also present tracking, bass, and dynamic hurdles that challenge the “can-do” of any cartridge from cantilever to coil. Favorites (don’t laugh) are Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” [Motown] and Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love” [Chrysalis]. The former’s got a blazing brass section, an army of hyper-busy percussion players, and background partying like you’ve never heard before. The Red tracked very well and reproduced a soundstage that stretched from edge to edge of the Audio Physic Classic 30 and ATC SCM19 loudspeakers’ enclosures (reviews to come). It was responsive to the ever-deepening layers of multi-tracking that drives this dance tune forward. Brass cues, however, though clearly EQ’d, were still a little hotter than I’d encountered with my reference carts. Moving to the Lewis track, the Red grew a little looser in the midbass trying to corral the Godzilla-scale of the electric bass doubled by kick-drum from the remix, but once again it tracked without a whimper.