Cadenza Bronze cartridge
as reviewed by John Hoffman
Searching for a way to improve the efficiency of the telegraph machine, Thomas Edison discovered that a fast replay of the telegraph tape resulted in a sound that resembled spoken words. Edison then attached a telephone diaphragm to a sharp needle, which traced the surface of a tin foil cylinder. The words "Mary had a little lamb" were spoken, and the phonograph was invented. Rumor has it that Ortofon began producing phono cartridges the following week, but I am afraid this is just an exaggeration.
In 1918 the Electrical Phono Film Company was established by Axel Petersen and Arnold Poulson for the purpose of developing film making equipment. In 1946, the company changed its name to Fonofilm Industri A/S; and released the first mono cutter head capable of producing a 5 kHZ signal for the recording industry. Two years later, Fonofilm produced their moving coil cartridge, which was designed to take advantage of the extended frequency range made available by their recording cutter head. Then, in 1951, Ortofon is formed as a trading company, and proceeded to become one of the major players in the world of analog playback.
The previous Ortofon product line contained the Ortofon Jubilee and the Kontrapunkt series of cartridges, which consistently won high praise from the audio community1. The life cycle of these cartridge designs has come come to an end, and Ortofon has developed a series of refinements that results in a significant enough departure from the previous generation to warrant a new line of moving coils. The Cadenza family of moving coils is larger than the previous Kontrapunkt series, and also contains a cartridge that is equal to the quality and price of the Jubilee. A color based hierarchy has been developed to rank the four cartridges in the Cadenza family. The Red is the entry level cartridge, which uses an aluminum cantilever and line contact stylus. The next moving coil in the line up is the Cadenza Blue, which is fitted with a ruby cantilever, and a Fritz Geiger 70 stylus. One step from the summit is the Bronze, whose design has some very unusual aspects that make it unique to this family. The top of the line Cadenza cartridge is the Black, which sports a boron cantilever, and a Shibata line contact stylus.
Ortofon claims that the cartridges in the Cadenza lineup have to some degree been tuned to offer a slightly different presentation. While the Black is a no holds barred performance cartridge, its fellow brothers have a somewhat different purpose. The Red is reported to excel at dynamic contrasts, and is well suited for energetic and vibrant music, such as pop and rock and roll. The Cadenza Blue has a reputation of being highly detailed and focused, and is directed for use in a system that will see a large degree of symphonic or orchestral music. The Cadenza Bronze is tuned for a slightly more romantic and full bodied sound, which gives it an affinity for jazz, folk, and other types of modern acoustic music. Each cartridge in the Cadenza family is a high performance machine, but the subtle differences in their personality will allow a person to chose a cartridge that integrates well with their equipment, musical preferences, and their personal taste. In the process of choosing a cartridge of the Cadenza family to review, I finally selected the Bronze due to both its unusual design, and its reputation for a robust presentation of music.
The Ortofon Cadenza Bronze is a .40mv moving coil cartridge, with a selling price of $1960. The body is an elegantly sculpted combination of aluminum and stainless steel, and weighs in at a chunky 10.7 grams. The shape of the body is clean and uncomplicated, with parallel sides that are an asset in achieving a proper alignment geometry. Installation on a tonearm is quite simple, due to the tapped holes in the body, although care must be taken not to use a bolt that is too long. A stylus guard is provided, which is relatively easy to get on and off of the cartridge2. Every aspect of the Cadenza cartridge appears to be designed to aide in the set up ritual. I found the installation of this cartridge to be a straightforward process, and this is clearly a benefit when dealing with an expensive moving coil.
Ortofon has updated the motor assembly in the Cadenza line, and these cartridges are not just a simple refreshing of the previous lineup. A revised cobalt-iron pole piece assembly has been designed, and the wiring process of the armature has also been reworked. The Cadenza Bronze uses the Aucurum wire, which is a gold plated 6NX copper wire. A Field Stabilizing Element (FSE) has been incorporated into the design, which deals with the non linearity attributes of a moving coil cartridge during complex and energetic passages of music3.
The Cadenza Bronze has one unusual characteristic, which is the diamond that has been selected for it. This cartridge comes with the Replicant 100 stylus, which is Ortofon's proprietary design. This stylus had been used on the renowned MC 3000 MK II and 5000 cartridges, and is also can be found on the Windfeld and A90 moving coils that are currently in production. This is a sophisticated stylus that is capable of extracting an astonishing amount of information from a record, and Ortofon has had a great deal of experience with integrating this tip into a cartridge design. The only drawback to the Replicant stylus is its sensitivity to VTA; proper set up is crucial to the performance of this cartridge due to the need to achieve proper rake angle.
The choice of cantilever material for the Bronze appears to be a departure from the current philosophy of designing modern high end moving coil. A person who purchases a $2000 cartridge, usually expects the cantilever to be made of an exotic, low mass materials. The Bronze has been fitted with a conical aluminum cantilever, which is a material that is no longer in vogue by high end cartridge manufacturers. Let us not forget that aluminum has an excellent stiffness to weight ratio, and not all aluminum cantilevers are comparable to one another. There are degrees of quality when it comes to aluminum cantilevers, and many highly regarded cartridges have employed this technology. Do not assume that the Bronze is inferior due to the fact that it appears to use an old school cantilever technology. The overall performance of this cartridge is really a synthesis of how all the parts of the design work together. Aluminum was chosen for the Bronze for a specific reason, and the end result of how this cartridge reproduces music is really all that matters.
The vinyl playback system that I installed the Cadenza Bronze into consists of a Townshend Rock MK III turntable, which uses an outboard silicone dampening trough for the tonearm. A modified Rega RB 251 arm is mounted to the Rock. Modifications consist of a Pete Riggle VTAF adjuster, and Counterweight for the Common Man. The arm has also been rewired with the Incognito wire kit, which is a single run of Cardas wire from the cartridge clips to the RCA ends. Tracking weight for the cartridge is set at 2.4 grams, and VTA angle was set with a magnification eye piece, and verified through listening sessions4. The cartridge received fifty hours of break in before engaging in any critical listening sessions. The phono stage is a Hagerman Coronet II, which is used in conjunction with an Ortofon T-3000 step up transformer. My personal reference cartridge is an Accuphase AC1 which has recently been refurbished by the Expert Stylus Company.
Given the romantic emphasis built into the Cadenza Bronze, I began my evaluation of this cartridge with a small jazz trio. "Let There Be Love" by Bell, Duran, and Getz [Dee Bell Eddie Duran Stan Getz; Let There Be Love Concord Records CJ-206] really caught my attention during my first listening sessions. The saxophone has a richness and warmth that is is simply a pleasure to listen to. Vocals are clean and crisp, with a natural presentation that is refreshing to hear. Dee Bell has a direct and unadorned style to her singing, and the Cadenza Bronze faithfully reflects this attribute. The output level of Eddie Durans guitar is lower than his fellow musicians, but his part is still clearly defined. The tone of the guitar is robust, and has an easy flow to its passages. The lower registers are neither exaggerated, nor ponderous. In looking at this song as a whole, the music just smoothly flows from beginning to end, and is a real joy to listen to. The Cadenza Bronze has a personality that is easy on the ears, but does not gloss over the subtle nuances of the recording that provide a realistic feel to the music.
One interesting record in my collection is the "When the Saints Go Marching In" [Preservation Hall Jazz Band; When The Saints Go Marching New Orleans Volume III CBS FM 38650] by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The Preservation hall was formed in the 1950's to save New Orleans jazz music, and to support the musicians who performed this style of music. The efforts of the hall were successful, and a renaissance of this style of music soon ensued. Side two of this record consists of "When the Saints Go Marching In" and three variations of "A Closer Walk With Thee". These big jazz bands produce some high energy music, and it is a quite an undertaking for an analog system to keep it all sorted out and properly balanced. Ortofon designed the Field Stabilizing Element to ensure that the Cadenza cartridges had linear high frequency performance during complex musical passages. This record does offer insights into how the Bronze handles complex passages, and its tracking capabilities. The Bronze presents "When the Saints Go Marching In" a powerful dynamic signature, and preserves the upbeat tempo of the song. Even when the music gets busy, the upper registers of the instruments remain evenly balanced, and never gets aggressive or strident. The various versions of "A Closer Walk With Thee" also reinforces notion that this cartridge is evenly balanced from top to bottom, and is unfazed by dynamic and upbeat passages of music. In fact, the Bronze displays a surefooted character, and its tracking abilities appear to be beyond reproach. From my listening sessions, this cartridge is at home with both large and small scale types of music, and preserves the dynamic elements to music so that a wide variety of music can be appreciated.
When evaluating a component, one question I always ask is "What is the fun-factor of a particular product?" When all the audiophile approved evaluation criteria are set aside, a component must stand on its ability to articulate the emotional and engaging aspects of music. In short, this is what I consider to be the fun side of music. I have always found the Beach Boys music to have all sorts of fun contained in it, so I took out my copy of Endless Summer [The Beach Boys; Endless Summer Capitol SVBB11307] and gave the Cadenza bronze a chance to find the frivolity buried in those grooves. Upbeat songs such as "Be True to Your School", Surfing U.S.A.", or "Little Deuce Coupe" were a kick in the pants with this cartridge. The songs were dynamic and brash; presenting all the energy of the of one of the historic rock and roll bands near the zenith of their career. The bass guitar is large and full of energy, its contribution to the music simply cannot be ignored. The Bronze also excels on the slower songs such as "Warmth of the Sun", Brian Wilson's vocals are finely textured and subtly nuanced. This cartridge clearly reaches the emotional content of this definitive collection of Beach Boys songs. The Cadenza Bronze certainly has tons of fun packed into its 10 gram body, and should provide perspective owners with an all encompassing perspective of their music collection.
The ability of a cartridge to deal with surface noise, and less than perfect records is vitally important to the modern listener. While new records are still being produced, many collectors have turned to the used market in order to get the titles they need. Also people may have a collection that in years past were played on substandard turntables, and a degree of record wear may have set in. From my vinyl collection I chose a handful of pieces that showed varying degrees of wear. The Accuphase AC1 is fitted with a Paratrace stylus, which is a variation of a Fritz Geiger line contact profile. In every instance when I compared the two cartridges the Cadenza Bronze came out as the clear winner in terms of having a lower noise floor. Any clicks or pops in the record were of lower intensity, and in some cases completely absent. The presence of rice crispy type crackles were also reduced with the Ortofon cartridge. On records with significant groove damage, the Bronze showed superior tracking abilities, but in some cases could not overcome the degree of damage that was done to the vinyl. In my experience the Cadenza Bronze is an excellent tracking cartridge, and its ability to minimize surface noise will be an attribute that can be appreciated by any perspective owner.
The Cadenza Bronze is certainly a top flight cartridge, and its performance reflects Ortofons substantial engineering resources and manufacturing experience. The $2000 plateau of analog cartridges is ultra competitive, and a product needs to be a solid performer in order to thrive at this point. The Bronze certainly has the ability to extract all the fine detail contained in a recording, and excels at all the audiophile approved tasks. Performers are clearly defined, tonal balance is evenly reproduced, and dynamic contrasts are faithfully recreated. The touch of warmth that Ortofon have infused into the design, results in a cartridge with an easy going nature, which invites a person to listen for hours on end. This cartridge also appears to be relatively unfazed by record wear, and can effectively deal with vinyl that is in less than pristine condition5. There are more expensive cartridges in the analog world than the Cadenza Bronze, with the upper range extending above the $10,000 mark. However, this cartridge is going to offer the lions share of what is capable from the high-end of vinyl playback, and is a solid performer at its price point. Place the Bronze in an appropriate turntable, and be prepared to experience the auditory pleasure that high-end vinyl playback has to offer. John Hoffman
1. These cartridges were around a lot longer than many people might realize. The Jubilee was released in 1998, while the first Kontrapunkt had a release date of 2000.
2. I am a religious user of stylus guards. I appreciate one that is easy to handle, but also does not interfere with set up during cartridge installation. I keep the guard in place when I rough in the initial alignment of the cartridge. Only then do I remove it to finalize the set up.
3. Even as late as the 1990's moving coils were famous for having a rising high frequency issue. The use of field dampers in moving coil design is one way designers solved this issue. This is a important advancement in technology, which is largely responsible for the improvement in linearity of the modern moving coil cartridge.
4. Ideally it would have been nice to verify VTA settings through a scope. However my method is practical, and most likely would be used by any perspective owner of this cartridge. So the results I achieve should be indicative of what any one else can achieve.
5. This does not mean that its OK to play a severely damaged record with this cartridge. Deep scratches are still going to be heard, and offer the real possibility of damaging a cartridge. However, I suspect that any person willing to pay the asking price of this cartridge is going to be experienced enough to know what level of vinyl is safe to play with a $1900 cartridge. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, which is why this footnote is necessary.