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Positive Feedback ISSUE
as reviewed by Larry Cox
When I first heard the name Ortofon mentioned in high-end circles, I thought it was a poor cousin amongst more refined phono cartridges. I conjured up an impression of Technics turntables trying to compete with the likes of Rockport, Oracle, etc. In short, I thought Ortofon was out of its league. I've now heard four of the company's high-end cartridges—the Rondo Bronze, the Rohman, the Kontrapunkt A, and the Jubilee—and liked them all (though I feel that they belong in different systems). This is a follow-up to Graham Abbot's review of the Ortofon Jubilee. I heard the same Jubilee sample that Graham wrote about and ultimately purchased.
Ortofon cartridges belong in the high end. I think of them as artisan products, without the uneven sample-to-sample and product-to-product variations that often characterize small business ventures. The artisanship of Ortofon cartridges is reflected in their packaging as well as their sound—check out the Jubilee's Jetson-like casing. If you're a typical audio nut, you probably have one or two extra cartridges lying about. Is there a better showcase for your quiver of cartridges than this container? I think not. Although the container acts as a showcase, note that the cartridge is not exposed to dust, children's prying hands, or, in one instance, the fumbling fingers of a houseguest who had no idea he was holding a $2000 item. Some of your guests may not even realize that it's a phono cartridge.
This well thought out storage container is the sort of thing you come up with when you've been in business for a long time. The Jubilee was created to celebrate Ortofon's eightieth year in business! That's certainly a counterpoint to the many audio companies that come and go in a season. For their birthday, Ortofon reconsidered the basic shape of a phono cartridge, resulting in a new design for their entire reference lineup, including the Kontrapunkt B, A, C, and H cartridges (notice anything about those letters?) as well as the Jubilee. A number of other innovations became part of Ortofon's development of the Jubilee. The body of the cartridge is made of a polymer mixed with fine metal powders under pressure in a mold. The intention was to limit vibrations that might affect the sound. Ortofon also deployed what it calls wide-range damping to separately address high- and low-frequency vibration.
The Jubilee's sound was essentially without flaw. During my six weeks with the cartridge, I detected no frequency dips or peaks, and heard nothing lacking. Neutral without being musically dead or analytical, the Jubilee had a bit more sparkle than my Koetsu Rosewood, and by sparkle, I mean that the Jubilee was able to leap dynamically in musical passages that called for it. It would be a shame to describe my experience of the Jubilee by parsing out the bass, treble, and midrange, because its musical aplomb invited any and every type of music to my turntable. Big musical crescendos in the opening of Grieg's Piano Concerto No. 1 or the climax of Ravel's Bolero did not collapse. Instead, they blossomed into awesome musical experiences.
Ennio Morricone's The Mission is a favorite album of mine, one that makes me wish he'd written extended versions of the music. From the brilliant oboes to the haunting flutes to the deep, thumping tympanis, the Jubilee made the album a joy. I've seen the movie seven or eight times, and while I'm not sure that the story warrants that many viewings, the music makes a somewhat flawed film seem stronger than it is.
The Jubilee was also no slouch at rock. I pulled out all manner of rock music, from big, silly songs like Van Halen's "Jamie's Crying" to "The Great Curve" from Talking Head's Remain in Light to Oingo Boingo's "You Really Got Me," from Only a Lad. Van Halen's big bass line and pounding drums conjured up the experience of a live event. "The Great Curve" was propulsive and hypnotic, and the Oingo Boingo tune provided a really fun counterpoint to both Van Halen's version and the Kinks' original.
The Jubilee did not fall down in any area. Its performance was equally excellent across all frequency and musical spectra. Inner detail—the small artifacts that cue a listener into the musical event—were easily perceived, without strain. As with live music, it was easy to hear each instrument within complex passages. And yet, while revealing all that detail, the Jubilee did not emphasize the noise a cartridge can make when dropping into the groove. Transient attack and decay got their proper time, without the overemphasis that can drown out the sustained tones that are the heart of music's harmonic structure. Another way to say this is that the Jubilee is well balanced without sounding that way. It just worked. Having said that, if there was an area (with an emphasis on "if") in which I have heard the Jubilee exceeded, it was in the top end, where it can be bettered in silkiness and openness by some (with an emphasis on "some") cartridges of a much more expensive variety. Make no mistake, however—the Jubilee commits no sins of commission.
If you're wondering how the Jubilee compares to other Ortofon cartridges, I can report that I've heard (briefly) the Kontrapunkt B, own a Rondo Bronze, and have borrowed the Rohman. The Kontrapunkt B is very close to the Jubilee, with a similar though slightly less refined and open sonic signature (read: a larger grain structure). Though the B falls a bit short of the Jubilee, it is an excellent cartridge, and not just for the money. The Rohman has a very laid-back sound, and is best suited for the bleeding ears of the listener who owns Martin Logan speakers with Krell electronics.
Though its shape is unusual, the Jubilee is remarkably easy to set up, certainly easier than my Koetsu Rosewood. The Jubilee is a bit taller than the Koetsu, so I had to raise the back of my Moerch tonearm, and the counterweights required dramatic repositioning. Although the Jubilee's cantilever appears to be extra long, I think this is an optical illusion, and can report that I never caught the cantilever while swinging the arm across a record.
If you're wondering if an Ortofon cartridge should be in your future, I'd say that it is worth thinking about. Ortofon offers a broad array of cartridges, not just in price but in style. Check out the company's website where it is possible to find brief descriptions of the sound of the various cartridges, most of which seemed accurate to me. Do I recommend the Jubilee? Absolutely. If you can swing $2000 for a cartridge, or even $3000, the Jubilee should be on your radar. Larry Cox