Ortofon MC 7500
The MC7500 is a rather special cartridge. That much is obvious when you see the way it’s packaged. It isn’t supplied in a cardboard box. It doesn’t even come in a giant sized, stylus-shaped perspex case like the MC5000, the last expensive Ortofon I reviewed. This beauty arrives in a miniature Gladstone bag: a real leather, Bosboom bag corporately personalised with Ortofon’s logo engraved in a brass plate. Male enthusiasts will discover that their wives and girlfriends encourage them to buy an MC7500 purely so that they can snatch the chic packaging, which, I’m assured, makes an excellent accessory for those smart-casual evenings out.
I’m certain, however, that even audiophiles bursting with post-recession glee will still need something more than the gift of a £100 handbag and a neat set of tools and fixings to persuade them to part with £2,000 for a cartridge. To entice buyers the MC7500 needs designer performance on a par with its plush presentation, which, thankfully for Ortofon, the cartridge has.
Ortofon has released the cartridge to commemorate the company’s seventy-fifth anniversary. Pedants should note that it began making cartridges in 1948 but has been involved with audio since its inception in 1918. The MC7500 contains all the technological trickery the company has developed since it began making moving coils, but refined to the highest degree.
It is housed in a pure titanium body, chosen for its hardness, which places unwanted resonances out of the audio band, as well as its non-magnetic and aesthetic qualities. The body’s top-plate features a two-bolt but three-points-of-contacts mounting arrangement for stability. You can’t machine a cartridge or a headshell to be perfectly flat, so conventional “flat” tops don’t provide a perfectly stable, secure mounting if you’re being really anally retentive about mechanical integrity.
The stylus is a Fritz Gyger type, called an Orto-line, whose profile is designed to give, in its maker’s words “a somewhat more soft and not as sharp, analytical sound compared to the MC5000.” The latter used a Replicant stylus, which has an extended line contact profile. That cartridge was a marvellous information retriever but, as I noted when I reviewed it for Audiophile, I didn’t feel its startling insight and transparency were adequate recompense for the fact that it was emotionally less involving than other cartridges that it outperformed significantly in other respects. The MC7500′s stylus is affixed to a tapered aluminium cantilever; Ortofon’s investigations into more exotic materials have shown that extruded aluminium tubes still offer the best performance. The cantilever attaches to a non-magnetic, carbon-fibre armature wrapped with “the purest and most noiseless copper available,” – eight nines, if you’re interested, which gives an output of 130 microVolts. Not enough to give you a jolt and definitely not the sort of voltage to allow using this cartridge with a pre-amplifier that has a naff or noisy mc input.
I listened to the MC7500 bolted into my Naim ARO tone-arm on my battery-powered, Pink Triangle-modified Linn Sondek turntable. Setting up the cartridge was eased by its threaded top plate, which negated the need for nuts and bolts. Do note, however, that the screws supplied by Ortofon aren’t paradigms of structural wonderfulness. I replaced them with cap-head tensile steel bolts and suggest purchasers do the same. Fellow ARO-users should consider fitting the heavy counterweight to their arms: the MC7500 is a hefty little transducer, which tracks at a robust 2.5 grams. The rest of the system was my regular set-up of Naim electronics – NAC52 pre-amplifier and a brace of NAP250 power amplifiers – driving active SBL loudspeakers, now supported by custom plinths designed by Mana Acoustics’ John Watson.
I never pre-judge products but I was sure that the MC7500 wouldn’t be a woolly-sounding cartridge that had trouble digging out detail or discriminating between a bass and a kick drum. That much was confirmed when I dropped it onto the first album to allow it to warm up. I was more concerned with ascertaining whether it would boogie, groove and bristle neck hairs. It didn’t; at least not for the first four days. I’d been told that it needed a run-in period but I wasn’t quite prepared for how much fore-playing it required. After it had shaken off its initial sloth and limbered up, its character improved markedly.
The effect was most noticeable in the bottom octaves. What had begun life as a fat, excessively pronounced bass register turned into a driving, tight low end that hustled rhythms along at gun-point. The momentous bass of Björk and David Arnold’s Play Dead (Tim Simenon twelve-inch mix) that had alerted me to the un-warmed cartridge’s excess, also signalled that the MC7500 was prepared to do serious post run-in business. The bass line had lost no weight but notes started and stopped with real precision; timbral and note-shape information was clearly focused and the bass no longer overwhelmed less powerful elements in the mix. The cartridge delivered body-blow bass and simultaneously portrayed the decay of percussion instruments with admirable elegance.
The MC7500′s top end was equally pleasing because it was explicit but never conspicuous. On the superbly recorded Art Pepper album, Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section, the cartridge created an impression of Philly Joe Jones’ brushwork that was near palpable and intricately resolved – the dynamics and intonation of his cymbal playing were as realistically sculpted as you could wish. The cartridge was similarly sympathetic to Paul Chambers’ acoustic bass, Red Garland’s piano and Pepper’s sax, imbuing each instrument with natural timbre and character. It was also sympathetic to the music and the expressive techniques employed by the players. In short, it was emotive and “musical”. While it was clean sounding and scrupulously detailed it was also capable of grabbing your attention and not letting go until a song’s final note had faded.
Much of the cartridge’s ability to generate excitement centred on its natural scaling of dynamics. It seemed utterly faithful to dynamic differences, completely unwilling to add a dash of hype to enliven subtly gradated changes yet keen to exploit the full drama of vivid differences. I readily appreciated this control on predominantly acoustic recordings, tracks such as World We’re Living In from the Violent Femmes’ album 3.
The Ortofon’s naturalness extended to its treatment of vocal tracks. It made singers appear convincingly human and eloquent, although its finely detailed nature readily exposed any tweaking or deviation from a straight line in the recording chain. It showed up, for example, artificial reverb masquerading as a wall reflection even when it was applied carefully. Again, though, this insight didn’t detract from the music. It was presented such that if you wanted to ignore it and simply follow the music you could easily do so. The MC7500 is peculiar in this respect being a real information scavenger but at the same time an extraordinarily easy cartridge to live with.
Regarding its boogie and involvement factors, the MC7500 is streets ahead of the MC5000 that preceded it, sounding considerably more energetic when the music calls for high octane timing and tempos. Just how good it is in absolute terms I can only guess at the moment. Every time I played this sucker it seemed to be improving and I suspect that a little more tweaking and perhaps a change of input boards on my pre-amplifier might yet bring more from it. As things stand now, I’ll venture that even if the MC7500 doesn’t emerge as the ultimate Linn Troika-like party animal it’ll never be the kind of cartridge that hangs around in kitchens on festive occasions.