Ortofon 2M Red vs 2M Blue: Best Budget Cartridge?

Ortofon 2M Red vs 2M Blue: Which cartridge should you buy?

The Ortofon 2M Red and Ortofon 2M Blue are both very good cartridges.  But they both sound quite different from one another, as you can notice subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes in the sound between the Red and Blue.

There is also a difference in price.  The Ortofon 2M Red is considered to be the standard moving magnet cartridge in this 2M line, as it tends to come pre-installed on turntables like the popular Pro-Ject Debut Carbon.  If you want to purchase the 2M Red separately, it costs about $99.

The Ortofon 2M Blue price, however, is a bit more expensive.  Costing between $200 and $250, many wonder if the 2M Blue is justified in having its price be considerably higher than the 2M Red.

Well, as someone that has owned both the 2M Red and 2M Blue, I’m going to give you my thoughts on both of these cartridges.  I’ll cover their many similarities and notable differences, how I think using one over the other alters how your records will sound, and help you determine if it’s smarter to purchase the cheaper 2M Red, or if you’re better off in the long run upgrading to the 2M Blue.  

And, to better help you, please take a look at the interactive guide below, which will help you not only compare the Ortofon 2M Red vs 2M Blue, but help you see how well these two cartridges stack up to other notable cartridges that are on the market:

PhotoModelPriceKey Feature
Ortofon 2M Red$MM Phono Cartridge
Ortofon 2M Blue$$MM Phono Cartridge
Ortofon 2M Bronze$$MM Phono Cartridge
Ortofon 2M Black$$$MM Phono Cartridge
GRADO Prestige Black3$Cartridge w/Reconfigured Coil Design
GRADO Prestige Blue3$Cartridge w/47K Input Load
GRADO Prestige Gold3$$Cartridge is 5.5 ounces
Nagaoka MP-100$Load resistance: 47KΩ
Audio-Technica VM540ML$$Tracking Force: 1.8 to 2.2g

Ortofon 2M Red and Blue Specs

Before we move forward in this comparison of the 2M Red and 2M Blue, I first wanted to cover some of the notable specs of both cartridges.

Here are the specs for the Ortofon 2M Red:

  • Output voltage at 1000 Hz, 5cm/sec.  –  5.5 mV
  • Channel balance at 1 kHz   –  1.5 dB
  • Channel separation at 1 kHz  –  22 dB
  • Channel separation at 15 kHz  –  15 dB
  • Frequency range at – 3dB  –  20-22.000 Hz
  • Frequency response  –  20-20.000 Hz + 3 / – 1 dB
  • Tracking ability at 315Hz at recommended tracking force  –  70 µm
  • Compliance, dynamic, lateral  –  20 µm/mN
  • Stylus type  –  Elliptical
  • Stylus tip radius  –  r/R 8/18 µm
  • Tracking force range  –  1.6-2.0 g (16-20 mN)
  • Tracking force, recommended  – 1.8 g (18 mN)
  • Tracking angle  –  20°
  • Internal impedance, DC resistance  –  1.3 kOhm
  • Internal inductance  –  700 mH
  • Recommended load resistance  –  47 kOhm
  • Recommended load capacitance  –  150-300 pF
  • Cartridge color, body/stylus  –  Black/Red
  • 2M PnP MkII cartridge with integrated headshell length – 52 mm 

And here are the key Ortofon 2M Blue specs:

  • Output voltage at 1000 Hz, 5cm/sec.  –   5.5 mV
  • Channel balance at 1 kHz  –   1.5 dB
  • Channel separation at 1 kHz  –  25 dB
  • Channel separation at 15 kHz  – 15 dB
  • Frequency range at – 3dB  –  20-25.000 Hz
  • Frequency response  –  20-20.000 Hz + 2 / – 1 dB
  • Tracking ability at 315Hz at recommended tracking force  –  80 µm
  • Compliance, dynamic, lateral  –  20 µm/mN
  • Stylus type  –  Nude Elliptical
  • Stylus tip radius  –  r/R 8/18 µm
  • Tracking force range  –  1.6-2.0 g (16-20 mN)
  • Tracking force, recommended  –  1.8 g (18 mN)
  • Tracking angle  –  20°
  • Internal impedance, DC resistance  –  1.3 kOhm
  • Internal inductance  –  700 mH
  • Recommended load resistance  – 47 kOhm
  • Recommended load capacitance  –  150-300 pF
  • Cartridge color, body/stylus  –  Black/Blue
  • Cartridge weight  –  7.2 g
  • 2M PnP MkII cartridge with integrated headshell weight  –  20 g
  • 2M PnP MkII cartridge with integrated headshell length – 52 mm 

You’re going to see a lot of similarities between the 2M Red and 2M Blue because both share the same cartridge body.  We’ll cover this a little bit more throughout this article, but this largely means that the 2M Red and 2M Blue are interchangeable with one another.  

In fact, if you owned the 2M Red and were interested in saving a bit of money on a 2M Blue upgrade, you’d be wise to simply purchase the 2M Blue stylus (not the entire 2M Blue cartridge), and just pull off the 2M Red stylus and easily insert the 2M Blue stylus in its place. 

This is not only easy to do, but it saves you from having to pull out a screw driver (or Allen wrench), along with a pair of pliers, and remove the cartridge from the tonearm/headshell, as well as disconnecting the four colored leads that plug into the back of the cartridge.

If you need a better visual of how this works, please take a look at my video below that covers this topic:

Weight of the 2M Red and Blue

Both the 2M Red and 2M Blue weigh the same.  Both the standard 2M Red and 2M Red Verso (along with the standard 2M Blue and 2M Blue Verso) weigh 7.2 grams.  However, if you’re using the 2M Red PnP cartridge, or the 2M Blue PnP cartridge (with an integrated headshell), the weight increases to 20 grams.

2M Standard vs 2M Verso vs 2M PnP

In the last section, I mentioned the terms “Standard” and “Verso” and “PnP” when it comes to Ortofon 2M cartridges, so I wanted to take a quick moment to explain what these terms mean.

The Ortofon 2M Red or 2M Blue standard cartridge is probably the cartridge a majority of people will end up using.  Essentially, this is the cartridge you buy if you have a top mount headshell.  A top mount headhsell is one in which the screws that secure the cartridge to the tonearm’s headshell are inserted at the top of the headshell.

Next up with the 2M Verso.  Whether you get the 2M Red or the 2M Blue, you would purchase the 2M Verso version of either cartridge if you have a bottom mount headshell.  In short, this is for tonearms that don’t allow screws to pass through the top of the headhsell.  

And lastly, we have the Ortofon 2M PnP.  You would buy the Ortofon 2M Red PnP or 2M Blue PnP if you’re installing your cartridge to a S-Shaped tonearm.  Many vinyl enthusiasts love S-Shaped tonearms, and you’ll often find them on direct drive record players.

Setting Up the 2M Red and 2M Blue

I touched a little bit on setup earlier, at least as it pertains to installing just the 2M Red (or 2M Blue) stylus.  In short, if you already have the 2M Red cartridge installed on your tonearm, and you’re ready to upgrade to the 2M Blue, simply buy the 2M Blue stylus and swap out the Red stylus for the Blue stylus.

If, however, you have a completely different cartridge, you will need to not only unscrew the cartridge from the tonearm, but you’ll need to safely remove the four colored leads from the back of the cartridge.

You’ll then need to screw the 2M Red or Blue onto the tonearm’s headshell (using an Allen wrench or screwdriver, which will come supplied in your package).  You’ll also need a set of pliers to connect the four colored leads to the back of the cartridge.  Perform this task very slowly—take your time.  You don’t want to damage any of the four wires.

Ortofon 2M Red vs 2M Blue in Sound Quality

Let’s now get into the meat and potatoes of this review—how do both of these cartridges sound, and is one clearly better than the other?

Well, let me first talk about the sound quality of the Ortofon 2M Red.  Despite the 2M Red only costing about $99, and despite the fact that this cartridge comes pre-mounted on many turntable tonearms, I really do love this particular cartridge. 

Getting Ready to Play a Record Using the Ortofon 2M Red.

Even though this is clearly the cheapest Moving Magnet cartridge in the 2M line, I’d argue it’s the most fun to listen to.  Music sounds very warm using the 2M Red—if you were to play a live recording album, for instance, the instruments and vocals would sound very lush, enveloping, and highly engaging.  

The 2M Red gives you a little bit of bass output, but it’s not overly strong.  And thankfully, nothing about this cartridge was fatiguing for me to listen to.  

In fact, because this is not a “bright” sounding cartridge, I think that factored highly into my overall enjoyment of this product.  

On the high end or treble, I felt the music was a bit more “rounded off,” giving you engaging sound without feeling like you’re getting overt sharpness in the music. 

When a singer tapped into her falsetto (think Mariah Carey or Minnie Ripperton, for example), I felt pulled into the music more as opposed to repelled by an overly bright sounding cartridge.

However, as content as I was with the Ortofon 2M Red, I have to say that the Ortofon 2M Blue is surprisingly better.  But, they do sound quite different to my ears, and so it’s worth diving deep into why I believe the 2M Blue is a better overall cartridge despite sounding so different.

You can check out my complete reviews of Ortofon 2M cartridges here:

Ortofon 2M Blue Sound Differences

After installing the Ortofon 2M Blue, one of the first things I noticed while playing a record was the wider soundstage it created.  In short, it felt like the music was able to breathe more.  This allowed for better instrument separation, as well.  One of the things I appreciate about the 2M Blue is that I was able to pick up on individual instruments on a given record much more than the Red.  And as mentioned before, the 2M Red is a very nice cartridge.  And it certainly is a more “fun” cartridge due to its lively, lush quality.

However, the 2M Blue sounds like a much more precise cartridge.  It helps to dig into, and bring out, more detail from the groove, allowing you to hear more of the music that perhaps was a bit more muddled or constricted when listening to the 2M Red.

Ortofon 2M Blue and a vinyl record from Vinyl Me, Please

Beyond that, I also noticed that the clarity of the vocals and music overall improved with the 2M Blue.  Just like how there was an improvement in the refinement of the video picture image when jumping from DVD in home entertainment to Blu-Ray discs, I see a similar improvement when moving to the 2M Blue from the 2M Red.

Any Negatives for the 2M Blue?

One thing I both like and dislike about the 2M Blue is its emphasis on brightness in the high end of the music.  I think, on one hand, that it’s fantastic that the treble gets accentuated with the 2M Blue.  That brightness, mixed with the clarity and the wider soundstage that comes with the 2M Blue, allows the music to feel much more engaging to my ears.  Everything sounds sharper, crisper, and more accurate.  

I do think, however, that this can have a bit of a drawback.  If you listen to a lot of high energy, punchy music, or if you listen to a lot of singers that tend to hit the high notes with regularity, you might find that the 2M Blue accentuates the high notes a bit too much.  The brightness of the cartridge, as well as the detail it provides is, can start to feel a bit fatiguing to the ears (depending on the volume at which you listen to your music).

I didn’t quite feel this was the case with the 2M Red, partially because the Red wasn’t able to extract as much detail from the groove.  And because this is a more warm sounding cartridge than the 2M Blue (and is a neutral sounding cartridge overall), I found the high end of the music to be more rolled off and less sharp to the ears.

In the end, it really comes down to personal preference.  If you prefer a warmer sound to your music, but are willing to sacrifice detail and a wider soundstage, then the 2M Red should be the cartridge you go with.

If you absolutely require more precise tracking, better detail, and more instrument separation (and you also prefer your music to lean more heavily on treble than bass), then the 2M Blue is probably the right cartridge for you.

 Conclusion

In a battle between the Ortofon 2M Red vs 2M Blue, the truth is that either cartridge would make a great purchase.  Both are excellent budget friendly cartridges that will satisfy your needs when it comes to listening to vinyl records.

However, I would personally recommend the Ortofon 2M Blue.  Despite costing a bit more money and being a bit of a brighter cartridge than I’d prefer, I think the benefits of a wider soundstage, better sound clarity, instrument separation, and an overall cooler and more precise sounding cartridge makes this the one to get.  

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