The Ortofon Cadenza Black is now on the table and breaking in. So far, the sound is worthy of a lacquered string of superlatives hung around the neck of an exclamation point. More on that front soon.
The Black is replacing a Sumiko Blackbird. No, there’s nothing wrong with the $900 Blackbird — as far as I can tell, the cartridge is in fine shape and sounding wonderfully. The problem is the phono stage. At 2.5mV, the output of the Blackbird just doesn’t match the low-output setting on my Joule-Electra OPS-2 very well at all. To get realistic volumes out of it, I have to crank the dial to 11 and beyond and even then there’s just not a lot of headroom — the difference between 1 o’clock and 3 o’clock is pretty negligible and both are far from deafening.
Using my trusty KAB Pregain Calculator, it seems that I’d need about 42dB of gain for that cartridge and on that setting and on the low-gain setting, my phono only puts up 36dB. Which explains my problem pretty well, I think — I’m under powering it. According to the calculator, I need a 5mV cart to match that setting. My other option would be to change to the high-gain setting on my phono stage and opt for a more audiophile-esque low output moving coil, shooting for something in the .25mV+ range.
I got scared, though, by the only review out there on the OPS-2. Seems that that the reviewer had really bad luck with a .25mV Dynavector, a fact he blamed on the phono’s mere 62dB of gain in the “high” setting. In talking with Jud Barber, the manufacturer and designer for my Joule-Electra gear, he suggested that I look at .35mV or better “just to be sure”.
After 6 months of research and agonizing, I finally bit the bullet on the Ortofon. I think what did it for me was seeing the $2300 cartridge mounted on a $5500 TW Acustic tonearm, which was in turn mounted on a $45k TW Acustic Black Night. At RMAF this year, I spoke with TW himself at some length about the cartridge and why he picked it to show off on his new reference turntable and not an Allaerts cartridge or the Airtight PC-1 Supreme. He laughed at me, told me that those were great cartridges, and then said that the Black had “nothing to fear from them”. Yes, he said, they do have the edge in treble refinement or bass extension — but far less than their 5x price tag would suggest. He just grinned and called The Black a “lucky find”. Jeff Catalano of High Water Sound was nothing but enthusiastic, too. And after going back and forth on the merits of this or that particular cartridge, he said that, sure, I could spend more, but why? So, I didn’t. Jeff shipped it out last week and it’s here today.
My biggest fear, that the OPS-2 wouldn’t be able to drive the Black, has proved groundless. As the KAB calculator showed, 62dB is plenty of drive for a .3mV cartridge. Volumes are realistic and the volume knob now does what it’s supposed to. 3 o’clock is, again, off limits as the ear-bleeding section of the dial. LOL.
Let the rejoicing commence!