Make Way For The
Re-listen to your vinyl collection -
First of all, because of its name, Benz-Micro is the closest I will ever get to a Mercedes Benz. But I imagine that the qualities which endear the automobile to its owners are similar to those which endear Benz cartridges to their owners. Benz, the automobile, offers durability, silence, great handling, excellent brakes, fast acceleration, the ability to ride all day without fatigue and handsome, if not inspiring appearance. I discovered that the cartridges do much the same. That said, how can improvement be possible? Well, you could make the car even more forgiving in handling on ice or on high speed maneuvers.
The moving coil Benz L2, fits into the middle of the Benz Micro range of cartridges. Like the Ruby and the Reference, the L2's chassis uses a carapace of wood, vented, machined Bruyère. It weighs a relatively heavy nine grams. The cantilever is a solid boron rod with a diameter of 0.28 millimeters. The stylus is a nude, line-contact diamond which is mirror polished. Its radius is 6x40 µm and its vertical tracking angle is 20 degrees. The coil is pure iron cross.
Its output voltage is rated at 0.3 millivolts at 3.54 centimeters per second. Its internal impedance is 12 ohms. The manufacturer says its frequency response is 20 - 20,000 Hz (+/- 1 dB), its channel balance is better than 0.5 cB and its channel separation is better than 35 dB at 1 kHz For the serious techno-dweeb, know that its tracking ability at 315 Hz at a tracking force of 2 grams: mm with a dynamic compliance is 15 µm/mN. The recommended loading is 100 - 47,000 ohms, so that it should work with a huge variety of phono amps. Benz recommends a tracking force is 1.8 to 2.2 grams. For this review, I used a force of 1.8 grams and it worked very well. Recommended tonearm mass is medium to high. The recommended break-in period is 40 hours and, as is so often the case, the recommended break in made a big change. The cartridge continued to improve for a long while after that.
Its optimum working temperature is 23°C, that is, about 73.4 degrees Fahrenheit. So, a warmish room is good. Fortunately, in the several months in which I broke in and used the cartridge, nothing happened where I had to try out the service one might expect from the two year warranty. From local dealers, I understand that their re-tipping service is good, with a regular 10-day turn around. Thus, I presume that their warranty service is comparable.
You Sure That's A Record?
I love to play vinyl for the disbelievers who know that CDs are perfect sound. On the one hand, they are important for the economy. Otherwise, when "near CD quality" is touted as a selling point, or "All our viewing rooms feature DIGITAL sound" is the big draw at the local movie palace, people would stay away in skeptical droves.
On the other hand, they are such easy fodder and often provide an opportunity to play some good music despite my partner's desire for a sound-free environment. However, what I really love is the awakening of musically sensitive people to the possibility of musically satisfying listening.
The L2 is a prefect vehicle for this kind of demonstration. Last night, I used Elvis Presley's "Fever" from Elvis Is Back! [RCA Victor Living Stereo LSP-2231, re-issued as DCC Compact Classics LPZ 2037]. As usual, the imaging was superb, the percussion and bass were immediate and fast and Elvis stood right there in the family room for our benefit. Cousin Bill was suitably impressed.
Even more so, reviewer Neil was impressed. But then, after listening to the Johann Strauss Jr.'s "Vienna Blood, Op. 354" and his "Thunder and Lightning Polka Op. 324" on Strauss Waltzes played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Fritz Reiner [RCA Victor Living Stereo LSC-2500, reissued by Classic Records] why would I ever expect anything different. The strings on "Vienna Blood," so smooth and light, can thin out badly with the wrong cartridge. The L2 played them realistically and easily - not a trace of harshness. With the "Thunder and Lightning Polka," the transients were fast and powerful, the full orchestra commanding and well imaged.
Of course, maybe I am just hearing too much of my youth in this old stuff. Maybe this is just a nostalgic kick, right? So I played Cold Cut's Let Us Play!, especially "Noah's Toilet" [Ninja Tune, Zen 30]. Same thing here and in the preceding cuts. Smooth, immediate, tough sound for tough music. Since I was still listening through the Oskar Heil Kithara speakers, I still had genuine 25 Hz bass and a very smooth treble. St. Germain's Tourist seems to have captured a lot of cd listeners. Play the vinyl through the L2 and you discover new realms of sound and meaning. In "Montego Bay Spleen," the bass percussion has a round fullness, which I had not previously noticed. The plucked strings are a separate overlay. And this leads to the other great quality of listening with the L2. The cartridge separates instruments into what each of them is. With this cartridge, there is a kind of truth in ensemble that I loved. As the sounds pile up in this piece, you enjoy the structure of the music because you are actually aware of it. In "Rose Rouge," the line "I want you to get together," repeated at the very end, leave a half second between repetitions. The silence is deep. Then on "La goutte d'or," you could hear the inner resonance of the drums, a neat trick of high definition and sensitivity.
While listening to the saxophones of Sonny Stitt and Paul Gonsalves on "Salt and Pepper" on the album of the same name [Impulse IMP -210], I realized why the saxophone is so beloved by jazz fans. When it speaks to you, you hear it with preternatural acuity. When Gonsalves and Stitt step into the room and give you the same preternatural sound, all the way from 1963, courtesy of the L2, you get shivers. Why? The fullness of the sound is there. You hear every part of the sound, every bit of reedy resonance, the human breath, the wood, the metal. And you hear the music, greater than the sum of these parts.
Finally, I guess the one time the emotion this cartridge pulled off the disk made me feel I had been sent for, it was while hearing Gary Peacock play "Snow Dance" on his album December Poems [ECM 1-1119]. I heard presence and depth in this record which I had never heard before. It was rhythmically right, the bass hit hard in the lower registers, the upper melody danced across the pulsating drone of the bass lines. I cannot explain it any better. It made something happen which was new in this record, "something wonderful," he said in his best imitation of Dave Bowman.
Do I recommend the Series 2 L2? Aha! You skipped the boring parts where I talked about the whispering violins and skipped to the end where the summary advice appears! If you can afford the price of admission, absolutely. It matched very well with the Audiomat Phono 1 phono amp. The Arpège amplifier and the Heil Kithara speakers were well up to the task of revealing this cartridge's strengths: presence, analytical, accurate reproduction, no harshness in any of the music I tried with it. Magic? Yes because of this cartridge's ability to provide enough drive across the spectrum, enough sensitivity to the nuances of this record, and enough responsiveness to make a sound begin and end where it really begins and ends. I love my new vinyl collection.
PS: Value for the money? 100 if you compare the cost of a new vinyl collection to the cost of the cartridge. Otherwise, a conservative 85 just because anyone who spends $1,300 on a phono cartridge either earns too much money or has not undertaken sufficient of his or her duties to creating a good, just, and well-peopled society. Like driving a Mercedes S series when all you really needed was a Volvo. Either way, I cannot wait to review the Ruby, the L2's senior partner in the Benz line-up.
Output Voltage: 3 mV
Price USA: $1,295