Ortofon 2M Black review: A Cartridge for Audiophiles
The Ortofon 2M Black cartridge is the best sounding cartridge in the entire 2M line. It’s meant to give you true audiophile sound.
But the 2M Black costs over a little over $700. And so in this Ortofon 2M Black review, I’m going to not only cover the 2M Black’s features and setup process, but also how it compares to not only the Orotofon 2M Red, Ortofon 2M Blue and Ortofon 2M Bronze, but also the Ortofon Quintent Black to help you know whether the sound and detail you get with the 2M Black is worth its high price tag.
Below, please take a moment to view our interactive guide, which allows you to directly compare the Ortofon 2M Black with other notable cartridges on the market:
|Nagaoka MP-200||High End Details and Sound Quality|
|Nagaoka MP-110||Moving Magnet Cartridge|
|Nagaoka MP-150||Japanese nude diamond stylus|
|Sumiko Moonstone||Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge|
|Audio Technica AT-VM95SH||AT-VM95 cartridge body is interchangeable w/ any VM95 series stylus|
|Sumiko Amethyst||MM Cartridge; Tracking Force: 1.8 to 2.2g|
|Rega Elys 2||Audiophile grade moving magnet cartridge|
Why Buy the Ortofon 2M Black?
The 2M Black is the premiere cartridge in the 2M line. It’s meant to provide you with high fidelity playback—but it’s not without a high price point too.
Let’s quickly revisit the entire 2M line.
- The Ortofon 2M Red costs about $99.
- The Ortofon 2M Blue costs about $250.
- The Ortofon 2M Bronze costs about $450.
And the Ortofon 2M Black costs approximately $700 to $750.
So what are the big differences between these cartridges? Why would someone purchase the 2M Black over the 2M Red, Blue or Bronze?
Well, the 2M Red features a bonded Elliptical diamond stylus. The 2M Blue, however, features a Nude Elliptical diamond.
The 2M Bronze features a Nude Fine Line diamond stylus, while the 2M Black comes with a Nude Shibata diamond stylus. This is the same diamond that’s found on the MC Cadenza Black (keep in mind that the MC Cadenza Black is a Moving Coil cartridge that costs over $2,000).
The 2M Black’s slim profile ensures that its reproducing as much groove information as possible—including high frequency groove information.
In short, this allows the listener to hear incredible sound with minimal distortion (and reduced record/groove wear).
Who is the 2M Black Aimed At?
In my opinion, the 2M Black is aimed at two kinds of people:
- The first set of people are longtime vinyl enthusiasts. These are the people that have been fans of vinyl for several years (perhaps several decades) and are always looking for ways to get the best sound reproduction possible. You’ve tried various amps, tons of different speakers, and have installed several different cartridges. You’re now looking for a high quality cartridge that’s going to bring impeccable clarity and resolution to your music experience.
- The second group of people are those that, regardless of how long they have been spinning records, have a big enough budget to splurge on the one piece of equipment that they think will make the biggest impact.
In my opinion, if you’re curious what’s going to be the one upgrade you can make that will improve your sound quality significantly, I think it’s either the cartridge or the speakers.
That doesn’t mean you can have a terrible turntable, but I think you can have a solid turntable and an outstanding cartridge and hear a more noticeable difference in your sound than if you had an outstanding turntable and only a solid cartridge.
I also want to address who the 2M Black is likely NOT for. I don’t think you’ll appreciate the Ortofon 2M Black if you’re brand new to the vinyl hobby and you have significant weak points in your system.
If you have very cheap or ineffective speakers, or if your phono stage is sub-par, you’ll probably be a bit disappointed that this $700 product isn’t knocking your socks off.
On top of that, the 2M Black can be somewhat finicky to set up properly. If you don’t have any experience with connecting leads to the back of your cartridge, or doing any kind of cartridge alignment, it would probably be smarter to start off with a cheaper cartridge like the Ortofon 2M Red. Because if you made a mistake in the installation process, at least you would only be sacrificing $100 instead of $700.
I also think it’s best to upgrade your vinyl system slowly over time, because it gives you an ability to not only learn how to set up different audio components, but also acquire a better “ear” for slight differences in sound quality because you slowly progressed from enjoying $99 cartridges to ones that are creeping closer to the $1,000 price point.
2M Black vs 2M Black Verso vs 2M Black PnP
There are a few different versions of the 2M Black that you can buy, and each one depends on the kind of tonearm and/or headshell mount you are using:
- Ortofon 2M Black
- Ortofon 2M Black Verso
- Ortofon 2M Black PnP
The first is the 2M Black standard model. This is designed for top mount headshells. You’ll know this cartridge is designed for top mount headshells because the top of the cartridge will be flat.
If, however, you have a bottom mount headshell, you’re instead going to need to buy the 2M Black Verso. The Verso allows for quick mounting on tonearms which don’t afford the option for screws to pass through the top of the headshell.
And lastly, for direct mount S-Shaped tonearms with universal mount, you’re going to want to get the 2M Black PnP.
Setting up the 2M Black cartridge onto your headshell is something you can do manually, but I would advise taking your time with the process and being as relatively gentle as possible.
To install the cartridge, you’re first going to want to remove the stylus guard. Next, turn the cartridge around to reveal four colored channel indicators. This is where you will connect the four colored leads (wires) that you see coming out of the tonearm.
Be fairly gentle with these leads, as damaging the leads will severely damage the sound quality you’ll get coming out of the speakers.
Next, take a look at the Ortofon packaging. You’ll notice that the packaging contains a pair of screws with a thread length of 5mm. These screws are for connecting your 2M Black cartridge to the headshell. It’s important to be aware that the screws should be used with a head shell thickness that’s a maximum of 3.5 mm.
The Weight of the 2M Black
The weight of a cartridge is always important, as certain tonearms are best equipped to handle cartridges of certain weights better than others.
The Ortofon 2M Black weighs 7.2 grams. However, if you plan to use the 2M PnP MKII cartridge (ideal for S-Shaped tonearms) with the integrated headshell, the overall weight increases from 7 grams to 20 grams.
Ortofon 2M Black Specs
Beyond the weight of the cartridge, here are a few additional 2M Black specs that are worth knowing:
- Output voltage at 1000 Hz, 5cm/sec. – 5 mV
- Channel balance at 1 kHz – 1 dB
- Channel separation at 1 kHz – 26 dB
- Channel separation at 15 kHz – 15 dB
- Frequency range at – 3dB – 20-31.000 Hz
- Frequency response – 20-20.000 + 2 / – 0 dB
- Tracking ability at 315Hz at recommended tracking force – 80 µm
- Compliance, dynamic, lateral – 22 µm/mN
- Stylus type – Nude Shibata
- Stylus tip radius – r/R 6/50 µm
- Tracking force range – 1.4-1.7 g (14-17 mN)
- Tracking force, recommended – 1.5 g (15 mN)
- Tracking angle – 20°
- Internal impedance, DC resistance – 1.2 kOhm
- Internal inductance – 630 mH
- Recommended load resistance – 47 kOhm
- Recommended load capacitance – 150-300 pF
- Cartridge colour, body/stylus – Black/Black
2M PnP MkII cartridge with integrated headshell length – 52 mm
Replacement stylus unit – 2M Black (interchangeable with 2M Bronze)
Setting Up Tracking Force
It’s vital to set the correct tracking force for the 2M Black (or any cartridge that you purchase) when playing your records. If you set the tracking force too high (or heavy), the stylus may dig too far into the groove. This can damage your stylus and record groove, as well as create a nasty noise that emits from your speakers.
If you set the tracking force too low (or light), the stylus can actually jump out of the record groove. This can cause your record to skip or potentially have its record surface be scratched by the stylus. So making sure you have the correct tracking force is important.
The tracking force is never one specific setting—it changes depending on the cartridge you buy. For the Ortofon 2M Black, the tracking force range is between 1.4 and 1.7 grams (or 14-17 mN).
With that said, the tracking force that’s recommended by Ortofon is 1.5 grams (15 mN).
Break In Time for 2M Black?
Many potential customers often are interested in the break in time for a cartridge. Many wonder “how long will it take the cartridge to really bloom and show off all of it’s built in potential?”
Well, just like there is a burn in time for speakers, there can be a burn in or break in time for cartridges. For the 2M Black, that time range can vary quite a bit. However, it’s probably a safe bet to assume somewhere between 50 and 100 hours.
Cleaning the Stylus Properly
It’s always important to maintain a healthy stylus, especially one that’s as expensive as the 2M Black. So here’s how you do it:
To maintain optimal stylus health, you’re going to want to regularly remove dust from the stylus tip. To do this, you can use the supplied mini toothbrush that comes in package (please refer to a picture from the 2M Black user guide below):
To clean correctly, you can either remove the cartridge or keep it connected to the headshell. Then, taking the brush, gently brush forward in the direction of the diamond tip.
Keep in mind that you don’t need any rubbing alcohol or other cleaners to clean the stylus tip. Doing so could damage the suspension system or diamond cement.
- You can also learn more about how to clean vinyl records properly here.
How Does the 2M Black Sound?
So now we get to the important aspect of this review—how does the Ortofon 2M Black sound and is it worth the money?
Well, the biggest positive I can say about the 2M Black is the impeccable sound and detail that this cartridge pulls from the record groove. And the biggest negative I can say is that this massive advantage or “positive” can sometimes become a disadvantage or a “negative.” I’ll go into that a bit more in detail soon.
Let’s first begin with the positives—the 2M Black provides the listener which much more vivid detail in the music than ever before. You’re going to notice layered vocals, instruments, and overall aspects of the sound production that you never heard before.
The 2M Black opens up your room, making you notice instrument separation. It feels like every instrument has it’s rightly place in the music.
One thing I sometimes can feel with lesser cartridges is that there can often feel as if there’s cover or veil over the music. That the music being played through the speakers is behind some kind of invisible wall.
Well, when listening to the 2M Black, it feels as if the veil has been lifted. This allows the music to feel fully free.
The music is also much more vibrant with the 2M Black. If feels much more present and alive in the room, particular the highs and the mids.
Treble is probably the biggest winner when using the 2M Black, as this is a fairly bright sounding cartridge. It’s really going to accentuate higher pitched singers in particular. So if you want to throw on your Minnie Ripperton or Mariah Carey records to really appreciate a singer hitting the high notes, make sure you board up all your windows because the 2M Black is going to blow you away.
On top of good quality sound, you also want a quiet cartridge when you’re playing your records. I think the 2M Black is certainly a quiet cartrdige, as you won’t hear many pops or crackles—especially if you’re playing brand new or newly cleaned vinyl records.
2M Black Negatives?
Well, nothing is absolutely perfect, and that’s of course the case with the 2M Black.
When you get an immense boost is sound resolution, it’s probably inevitable that, for some listeners, the music may be too bright and potentially fatiguing to listen to. If you’re someone that’s not a fan of high treble in your music, the 2M Black might be something you want to pass on.
Ortofon 2M Black vs 2M Red
I would describe the Ortofon 2M Red as a great beginner cartridge, while the 2M Black is an audiophile level cartridge.
The 2M Red is for someone that wants an easy entry point into the world of high end cartridges. It’s for those that want an energetic, fun, and warm sounding cartridge. It’s also for those that probably don’t have much experience buying new cartridges in general, and frankly might not appreciate the difference between a higher end phono cartridge and one that only costs $99.
Once you do have that familiarity, however, I think upgrading to the 2M Black would be an excellent choice, as it’s a vastly superior cartridge in almost every way possible,
Ortofon 2M Black vs 2M Blue
The Orotfon 2M Blue is a very nice cartridge for the money. It has good highs, although I’d argue the highs are a bit too bright on the Blue than the Black.
Vocal and instrument clarity and separation is going to be better on the Black, as well.
The 2M Blue is a very good cartridge but doesn’t quite have enough to fully compete with the 2M Black. That’s why the 2M Black costs almost $500 more than the 2M Blue.
Ortofon 2M Black vs 2M Bronze
The 2M Bronze, however, is where things get interesting. And I think there’s certainly an argument to be made that while the 2M Black is technically a better cartridge, the 2M Bronze provides enough positives to satisfy the average vinyl enthusiast (allowing him or her to save a little bit off money in the process).
The Ortofon 2M Bronze just might be the best cartridge in the entire 2M line, when you factor in both performance and cost. For $450 on average, the 2M Bronze provides you with an excellent sounding cartridge that brings stunning detail to your music listening experience, while also limiting things you never want to hear, like distortion and surface noise.
I do think that the Ortofon 2M Bronze is a bit of a bright cartridge (although I think one could argue quite effectively that the 2M Blue—yes the Blue, not the Black) is the brightest sounding cartridge in the entire 2M line.
Is the 2M Black going to extract more detail, provide an even wider soundstage, and create immense vocal clarity? Absolutely. But, when it comes to vinyl, the more money you pay for one component, the more money you likely have to pay for additional components in the chain in order to maximize the higher caliber quality of the product(s).
And so, you may need to ask yourself the following question: If you’re willing to pay close to $300 more for the 2M Black to hear stunning sound quality reproduction, do you feel your additional components (your turntable, phono preamp, speakers etc) are equally matched when it comes to this quality upgrade? If there’s no doubt about it in your mind, I would definitely go for the Ortofon 2M Black—it’s a fantastic cartridge.
However, if you have some hesitation, it might be better to go for the Ortofon 2M Bronze and save a couple hundred bucks, because the Bronze is an excellent cartridge in its own right, and it’s quite possible that you wouldn’t be able to hear the sonic differences anyway.
Ortofon 2M Black vs Quintet Black
Now, we have come to the part of this review where we compare the 2M Black to a MC or Moving Coil cartridge. In this case, the Quintet Black.
While the 2M Black costs between $700 and $750, the Quintet Black costs approximately $1,000.
The first thing to keep in mind when comparing these two cartridges is this: the 2M Black is the premiere Moving Magnet cartridge that’s sold by Ortofon.
The Ortofon Quintet Black, on the other hand, is merely the the best MC cartridge from the more affordable line of Moving Coil cartridges. Ortofon also has a MC Cadenza line, the best of which is the MC Cadenza Black , which costs almost $3,000.
The second thing to appreciate here is how much more refined the mids and highs are on the Quintet Black. There’s a certain sense of elegance that’s brought to the sound dynamics with the Quintet Black, along with a deeper bass response when compared to the 2M Black.
With that said, it’s also worth noting that both cartridges can be a bit challenging to set up, especially the Quintet Black. In fact, the Quintet Black really requires you to correctly set up Vertical Tracking Adjustment.
If you don’t, you’ll definitely know it, and may be highly disappointed in the sound quality you hear. If, for example, you are disappointed in the high end of the sound on the Quintet Black (perhaps the high end of the music or vocals aren’t shining or soaring like you’d expect), then it’s worth double checking that your VTA isn’t set too far down.
While you can of course rely on certain products or hardware to properly set the VTA, don’t be afraid to use a bit of trial and error too. Set the VTA once, then play a record and use your ears. Does it sound right? If not, stop the record and re-adjust.
The Ortofon 2M Black is one of the the best of the best when it comes Moving Magnet cartridges. Music shines, instruments are well separated rather than muddled together, the soundstage is open and airy, vocals soar thanks to a stunning high resolution treble, mids sound great, and the bass response in the lower end is very satisfying (and if you aren’t satisfied, that can be fixed by swapping out the default power cord that comes with your phono preamp and purchasing something like the Pangea Power Cord).
While the Ortofon 2M Bronze might provide better value for your money, and the Ortofon Quintet Black might be the best choice if you want a Moving Coil cartridge, the Ortofon 2M Black is an incredible product that’s aimed at audiophiles seeking impeccable sound quality from a moving magnet cartridge.
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