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December 2014
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Ortofon 2M Mono SE MM Phono Cartridge
The future is mono!
Review By Clive Meakins

 

 Ortofon very sensibly launched a new version of its 2M Mono cartridge to coincide with the release of the Beatles Mono vinyl box set. Only available through the Ortofon web shop, this cartridge builds on the standard conical tipped 2M Mono. The SE version adds a Nude Shibata stylus profile, an updated generator with silver plated coils and a white Lexan body which is said to be very rigid and eliminate unwanted resonances.

In the world of record decks, I regard myself as relatively sane as I only have two decks. Most people, however, regard anyone still playing LPs... sorry, vinyl... as being totally out-dated even though there is growing recognition for the format. Even so, two decks make me weirder than one-deck owners but nowhere near as bad as those with five, ten or twenty plus decks. But it doesn't stop there, one of my decks is given over to playing mono, both 1950s and 1960s microgroove and Shellac 78 rpm records.  To many this must be worth a good ten record decks in terms of my weirdness.

There now follows a monologue covering my thoughts about mono playback to set the context for this review of the Ortofon 2M Mono SE cartridge.

 

Monologue
My mono deck is a Garrard 301 with an Origin Live Encounter MK3 arm. For over a year I have used an Ortofon 2M Mono cartridge body with both mono microgroove and 78 rpm styli. I simply swap over the stylus carrier depending on the type of record I want to play. I've been very happy with the results, there's so much fantastic music available on mono microgroove and 78. It's clear that for 78 you need a special stylus due to the wide grooves. You can however play mono microgroove records a modern stereo cartridge, results will normally be good but they can be bettered. A "real" mono stylus tip out be a 1 mil conical, for compatibility with stereo 0.7 mil is typically used, as with the 2M Mono (standard version). The Nude Shibata used for the SE is fine for both mono and stereo so we can say this equates to a 0.7 mil tip though of course the profile is a lot more sophisticated than a conical. Here's a quick word of warning about vintage mono cartridges. Don't use these with modern mono records as their stylus tip will be too large and stereo records will be badly damaged due to the lack of vertical compliance from these pre-stereo cartridges.

When using a mono cartridge, we avoid slight differences being picked up by the left and right channels of a stereo cartridge. You can sum the channels of your system via an amplifier equipped with a mono switch but it's so much more elegant to start out with mono at the beginning of the reproduction process, i.e. the cartridge; this way you don't expose your phono stage to a lot of surface noise unnecessarily. Very often mono records sound much quieter when played back as mono. I even find some annoying severe scratches are almost silenced. When I talk about playing mono, I'm still using two speakers, I find listening to mono via one speaker on a hi-fi system a strange experience simply because I'm so habituated to stereo. Another benefit of a mono cartridge is that you get a rock solid central image, using a stereo cartridge just isn't as good in this respect as any slight imbalances are often quite audible.

Ortofon 2M Mono SE MM Phono Cartridge

Listening in mono via two speakers results in all the action appearing to come from between the speakers. I find this sounds very natural, it's like listening to live concerts and gigs.  Switching back to a stereo recording I find the soundstage seems gimmicky at first after hearing a good mono recording.  Likewise playing music that was originally recorded in mono and then processed into stereo invariably is improved when played back in mono. You know the sort of thing vocals centre, some instruments totally on the left and drums on the right. These processed stereo recordings I find invariably sound thin and contrived but playing them as mono brings back a solidity and richness, as well as resolving the strange instrument placements. Just one such example record is Cannonball Adderley Sophisticated Swing on Wax Time Records but just about every mono recording processed to be a stereo LP is better replayed in mono, in my experience anyway.

Mono playback, overall, I find produces a stable central image and a very realistic soundstage with a solid and meaty sound with particularly robust bass. Wrapped into all this is the simplicity of the recording techniques used pre-digital and pre-1970s. You even had bands playing together for a take allowing for interplay between musicians; it's hardly surprising these vintage recordings often sound so vibrant and musically satisfying.

 

Enough About Mono Madness, What About The Cartridge?
Having used and enjoyed the standard 2M Mono cartridge for around year I was sweet-talked by the Ortofon marketing for the new SE version and along with the buzz around the Beatles Mono box set.  In went my order and the cartridge was soon with me. It arrived with a note to try 1.65 grams tracking weight, I duly complied.

Ortofon 2M Mono SE MM Phono Cartridge

A couple of LPs I used for direct cartridge comparison purposes were The Beatles albums Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt Peppers. To recap; The 2M Mono SE has an upgraded generator, high rigidity body material and Shibata stylus profile instead of the conical tip on the standard 2M Mono. I found the SE showed a good improvement in clarity and is smoother on the really raw parts of recordings too. Cleaner, more detailed yet more sympathetic, the Shibata tip would appear to be a better "tracer" than the conical tip of the non-SE. It'll not be the ultimate of course; the likes of a SPU Mono would be interesting to try. I justified the purchase of the SE due to my having collected a lot of mono LPs and my mono collection is growing rapidly, most of the last the last 100 LPs I've bought have been mono.  By spending money on LPs I justified spending yet more on a better cartridge. It is logic my wife might use, but not about hi-fi! The 2M Mono standard and SE were on my Garrard 301 / Origin Live Encounter MK3, the deck of course is from just the right era. I also compared Revolver played via my Trans-Fi Salvation with my $5000 London Reference cartridge. Certainly the 2M Mono SE was not shamed in any way; it sounded every bit as sophisticated as the Reference. The main difference with the (stereo) Reference was a slight loss of the really solid mono central image on vocals and a reduction of bass solidity with the stereo cartridge.

I compared Sgt Peppers from the box set with my first pressing (dead wax shows it as 5N), this LP was originally purchased by my sister so I know its history, it is in great condition. The new version is a little clearer with less bass bloom. I slightly prefer the box set version pressing but not by a lot  I have a 1st pressing of With The Beatles too, I reached similar conclusions with this. Overall I'm very surprised by the quality of most of the Beatles recordings. It's the first time in decades I've sat down and listened to early and mid-years Beatles; the recordings are a little raw at times but they are very alive and energetic, no matter whether I use the 2M Mono or 2M Mono SE.

I found with Rubber Soul the SE version of the 2M Mono had better top-end definition, overall the sound was cleaner but not clinical and hi-hat cymbals were significantly less splashy. On the track Norwegian Wood I enjoyed the more feathery treble the SE gave. I would say the bass with the SE is tighter, more modern sounding than with the conically tipped 2M Mono. "Nowhere Man" is another example where the improvements with SE showed up easily; Ringo's light tapping of the hi-hats is more distinct which on this track is a very important aspect which drives musical timing.

Some of the earlier Beatles LPs feature "clangy and twangy" guitar sounds; the SE made these sounds made more pleasant to listen to without removing the raw and fresh nature of what I believe was originally recorded. The same is true for vocals too. Another Rubber Soul track, "Think For Yourself" benefited from the SE and in addition I felt the bass was more propulsive on this track. Overall detail with the SE was an improvement yet I enjoyed resulted in a more sympathetic listening experience.

Ortofon 2M Mono SE MM Phono Cartridge

I love the Beatles Mono box set; it's a fabulous addition to my collection though if I were only allowed to listen to one genre it would be Bebop jazz. John Coltrane's Blue Train sounded sublime with the 2M Mono SE. I could wax lyrical about this era of jazz and having acquired the 2M Mono SE I'm now even more focused on buying up as many mono Bebop LPs as I can. The great thing about a mono cartridge is that what look to be less than perfect records usually play acceptably quietly, once cleaned with a record cleaning machine. Surface noise with a stereo cartridge detracts from my listening pleasure quite considerably; I know I'm listening to old recordings and well used records. With a mono cartridge I'm transported to a time when the records were in much newer condition. Another aspect to take into account is that the sound is musically more coherent due to necessarily simpler recording methods of the time. Artists playing in the same studio at the same time has to be beneficial, I sense the interplay going on. My hunch is that the Shibata tip of the SE results in better tracing of the groove so the sound is cleaner yet smoother, more detailed and presumably more accurate. I expect the other improvements with the 2M Mono SE contribute and balance things too but the tip is probably the most significant contributor. The 2M Mono SE costs 499 (including tax) or $650 depending on whether you buy from the European or USA shop.

The standard 2M Mono with its conical tip is a very fine cartridge. At a little over half the price of the 2M Mono SE it makes a lot of sense for playing mono LPs, if however you can stretch to the SE version you will be rewarded. Ortofon's 2M Mono SE cartridge has made a deep impression on me; it is an incredibly cost effective addition to my system which unlocks a massive quantity of mono music for my enjoyment. Of course I'm inquisitive about mono cartridges further up the Ortofon range but I give the 2M Mono SE a resounding recommendation to anyone interested in music from the mono post-78 era. It is "all about the music" and the 2M Mono SE is all about the music.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Imaging (For Mono)

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Monophonic moving magnetic (MM) phono cartridge
Output Voltage @ 1000 Hz: 5cm/sec. 3.5mV 
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 25 kHz
Tracking Ability a@ 315Hz: 70 m
Compliance, Dynamic, Lateral: 22 m/mN
Stylus Type: Nude Shibata
Stylus Tip Radius: r/ R 6/50 m
Tracking Force Range: 1.4-1.7g (14-17 mN)
Tracking Force: 1.5 grams (15 mN) recommended
Internal Impedance: 600 Ohm
Internal Inductance: 300 mH
Recommended Load Re: 47 kOhm/23.5 kOhm
Recommended Load Capacitance: 150 to 300 pF / 300 to 600 pF
Tracking Angle: 20
Cartridge Body Material: Lexan DMX Piano White
Coil Wire Material: Silver plated copper wire
Cartridge Weight: 7.2 grams
Price: 499 in Europe and $650 within the USA

 

Company Information
Ortofon A/S
Stavangervej 9
DK-4900 Nakskov
Denmark

Website: www.Ortofon.com

 

USA Stock Available At
Acoustic Sounds, Inc.
Voice: (785) 825-8609
Website: www.AcousticSounds.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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