POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 28
as reviewed by Graham Abbott
Are you crazy?
That is what all my friends said when I told them what I paid for my Ortofon Kontrapunkt B. How could a needle, they reasoned, be any different from any other needle? I mean really, it is just a hunk of rock perched on the end of a stick. Isn't it? In defense of most non-audiophiles their collective (you can unclench your jaw muscles now and exhale) experience with a cartridge was something that just came along with the turntable/tone arm package. Things were simple for most people back then in the heyday of vinyl. Down to the local retailer for an all in one solution (automatic only please) and home to play music. MC versus MM? A phono preamp? These just weren't questions that most people asked or more crucially, even cared about.
Crazy? Crazy like a fox maybe.
I have run an Ortofon Kontrapunkt B for over a year now and I can honestly say that it represents amazing value for the money. Crisp and articulate, it is a very easy cartridge to listen to and live with. Perhaps not a standout in any one area it nonetheless manages to do a very good job playing music in an honest and unforced way. From a purely critical standpoint, (you know you want me too) the B lacks top end shimmer, air, and the seemingly unlimited extension that the best can muster. It sounds slightly closed down on top, and although this effect is ameliorated slightly with more time on the cartridge, it is definitely part of the nature of the beast. Bass is deep and presented with ample body and good texture but just doesn't start and stop as well as cartridges that are more expensive. This is particularly evident on leading edges that sound slightly blunted (almost as if the body of the note pops out of nowhere) and trailing edges that seem to blur ever so slightly into whatever comes next. Where the B really shines is in the midrange, where it is shockingly close to the big boys, articulate, detailed, and full-bodied. Human voices sound particularly vivid and real. Overall, the B is like many a tube amp, a little soft on top and loose on the bottom but that golden midrange makes up for all.
Here come the warm jets.
The Jubilee is the top cartridge in the same range as the Kontrapunkt B and a not inconsiderable C$2200 (as compared to the B's circa C$1400) up north here. The Jubilee's output is .34mV versus the B's .47mV and both have 5-ohm internal impedances. Instead of the lower priced cartridge's ruby cantilever the Jubilee uses Boron and a nude Shibata stylus ensconced in a stainless steel and aluminum body finished in an appealing black and (no matter how many times Ortofon's literature says purple) RED. Both cartridges like between 2.3 to 2.5 g's of tracking weight and seemed happy loaded at 100 ohms. This review sample was brand spanking so it went through 100+ hours of break in and like the B before it really came on song with around 110-120 hours.
From the moment this cartridge hit the vinyl I knew it was many leagues ahead of its baby brother. Bass is absolutely first class, body and texture are simply luscious, and the start and stop missing from the Kontrapunkt B is all here. You can here the subtlest detail in the front end of each note with nice truncation when called for or the most sensual of decay trails out back. Acoustic bass is wonderfully resonant and the electric stuff has nice warble and detail, kick drums fairly detonate and yet remain distinct from the bass notes.
Moreover, distinction is what this cartridge is all about. Like a true gentleman, it is organized, very, very clean, and extremely detailed. Instrumental textures are spot on, nicely balanced with the weight of each image. However, the really special trait of this cartridge is its ability to make each instrument and the space around it distinct. Even in the most frenetic passage, the most complex music, this cartridge will not muddle things together or let things collapse into one another. Another reviewer has pointed out that it is amazing the way you can turn your head and almost "look" at the instrument and I for one second that emotion. I've heard a few cartridges (read not every cartridge in the world) but I don't think I've yet heard the Jubilee's equal in this regard. Add to all of this a wide and very deep soundstage and your left with a cartridge capable of producing some pretty impressive music.
I tried all kinds of the stuff trying to trip it up. Heavy rock was served up hard and heavy (maybe AC/DC was a little cleaner than is strictly necessary) and orchestral music had fantastic flow and coherence and the scale of the performances was spot on. However, acoustic jazz was just sublime and had me concentrating on the music and being really drawn in hook, line, and sinker. If you like this kind of music, and I'm a sucker for it, this may be your long-term friend. The Jubilee catches the swing of the players and their sound with such nice top to bottom coherence and the tonal and textural portraits are so intrinsically right that it is really hard to fault. There is no part of the sonic picture that seems outspoken or suddenly apparent but rather a nicely interwoven sonic fabric that is beautifully integrated across the entire frequency range.
But no product is perfect, and though I don't think the Jubilee is less than impressive in most categories, there are some areas where some may want more or different (better, to me anyway, seems irrelevant when cartridges meet a certain rarified level in terms of performance and rather than use the term better let's just say different). The very top end lacks that certain shimmer that some cartridges have, and though the treble detail and extension are fantastic maybe that last smidgen of air is missing... It's very good but maybe a bit behind the very best (and considerably more expensive). If for instance you like the romance and tone colour of a Koetsu then the Jubilee will appear more austere, valuing structure and organization over sparkle and glamour. This isn't to say the Jubilee is somehow threadbare, but it isn't going to lose its head toward one extreme or the other (surprisingly for a metal bodied cartridge, if you had to call it a little to the warm or a little to the cold, the Jubilee tends toward the warm side). Moreover, if you like to be on the edge of your seat or if you want a dynamic upfront sound above all else then this is not going to do it. The Jubilee has pace but takes its time with the musical line and lets the music forth in a very fluid way. It exerts a certain self-control that is part of the character of the cartridge, slightly soothing as opposed to demanding your attention.
The Jubilee put a smile on my face every time I listened to it and that's a good thing. It has all of the attributes of the best cartridges; great bass, almost flawless midrange and detailed and extended treble. The imaging is downright scary and the tonal and textural qualities are first class. Rather than blow you back in your chair, the Jubilee sneaks up on you when in a sudden epiphany you realize just how great it makes the music sound. The Kontrapunkt B is a great cartridge for the price but the Jubilee makes it virtually impossible to return to. To me that's the hallmark of a great product, something that is special enough to make you want it real bad and make the prospect of returning to the old stuff seem like a giant step back. You can call me crazy but at C$2200 the Ortofon Jubilee represents a staggering bargain in the world of true High End cartridges and one that I for one don't think I can ignore. Graham Abbott