Lockdown has us all a little frustrated - with lot's of us wanting to head out, meet family and friends, open up our businesses as well as enjoy our hobbies.
In our case - our hobby is also our business, and we're blessed with having access to many different products and add-ons when required to do some testing.
We said it'd be fun to play around with the new Debut Carbon Evo from Pro-Ject Audio, exploring the mods as well as the different Ortofon 2M cartridges that we have on offer.
For the purpose of these recordings, it should be noted:
- The first recording is on a base Debut Carbon Evo with an Acryl-IT upgraded platter, no dust cover, OEM phono cables running into an ifi Audio ZEN Phono stage.
- The second recording is the same as above except with a Pro-Ject Audio Tube Box S phono stage.
- The audio is recorded in Audacity, 192Khz FLAC. The original files are available as a download as I believe some compression is taking place in the conversion to this media player.
- The 2M Red is the OEM cartridge
- The 2M Bronze is a replacement cartridge with new stylus
- The 2M Black is a replacement stylus which fits onto the 2M Bronze body
- Our 2M Blue is currently out on a customer demo, so we couldn't use that in this initial test
2M Series styli interchangeability:
The 2M Series' engines, coils and magnets configurations are not identical: Red and Blue are identical, so are the Bronze and Black and so are the true mono variants 2M Mono and 2M 78. Likewise, 2M series styli are interchangeable within the below combinations:
- 2M Red, 2M Blue and 2M Silver
- 2M Bronze and 2M Black
- 2M Mono and 2M 78
Our first track was "Time Out" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet that was released in 1959. It's an original pressing and had been cleaned prior to starting the test.
Although the theme of Time Out is a non-common-time signature (the very such as 9/8 6/4 and 5/4) that are often unseen in Jazz, it does blend really well different genres such as cool Jazz and West Coast. We felt it brings enough variation and tests the bass and the high frequencies really well.
The second track, a little more fun, is Mr Blue Sky by Electronic Light Orchestra.
This has great layering of both deep and high vocals, a full band and some great left/right panning.
A little about the range as have on test
The 2M Red features a tipped Elliptical diamond and split pole pins with a copper wire configuration, as is in part common with the wider range.
The 2M Bronze features a Nude Fine Line diamond, which is particularly suited for demanding applications. The slim profile of the Fine Line stylus will track even the highest frequency information, making it a must for discerning listeners. Additionally, its larger footprint ensures reduced distortion and record wear.
It also uses a special upgraded engine, featuring split pole pins with a silver plated copper wire.
The 2M Black is graced with a Shibata diamond which slim, highly polished profile allows an exceedingly wide contact area to the groove walls and ensures notably detailed reproduction throughout the spectrum, including even the most high frequency groove information. It shares the same engine as the 2M Bronze mentioned above.
So what did we discover?
First and foremost - the 2M Red cartridge is exceptional value for money.
It is by no means an entry level cartridge either compared to the default item on other brand of turntables.
We detected more noise/distortion in the quieter regions of the tracks we demo'd side by side with the other cartridges, as well as a muffled sound at transitions at various points throughout the recording.
The sound however is still very dynamic - with the track in full flow, the mid-top end range is very detailed and energetic though we felt it lost rhythm at times.
A few minutes into Time Out, however, we detect some harshness in the saxophone solo - not that it had us covering out ears up, but a subtle difference was seen in both the 2M Bronze and 2M Black at the same point.
In the earlier phase of Mr Blue Sky, the clapping was less distinct and later on with the high and low level vocals layered, we found there to be less punch - the audio was less forward and it all blended somewhat.
The 2M Bronze in comparison however, provided immediately improved instrument separation in the music, significantly tighter bass response and control and a high frequency / mid range that was both smooth and detailed at the same time.
As you upgrade to the Bronze, a whole new cartridge is installed (replacing the 2M red as it has upgraded internals and silver wire). Even with no burn in, immediately there was a wider, more dynamic and forward soundstage with individual instruments being identifiable. We certainly enjoyed the entire listening of Mr Blue Sky, though we noted some brightness again on Time Out. The overall sound imaging however was altogether better across the two tracks, with fantastic detail and a really enjoyable listening experience. Individual instruments seemed to leap forward - the vocals in particular were vastly improved too.
It must be said, that although the overall experience was significantly more enjoyable, there were still some hot spots in the high frequency range - with a particular brightness being detected. This wasn't fatiguing but could be easily tuned out with the Tube Box S - and thus the benefit of the "warmth" (i.e. the distortion being added) helps curve these bright spots down - subsequently, the second track was altogether more pleasing than the first with the Bronze.
Now onto the 2M Black cartridge which does everything that the 2M Bronze does, but it just does it so much better.
It does so thanks to the Shibata with a really slim profile and great contact area. It will, however - expose floors in your records and your setup end to end. A lesser quality phono stage or records that aren't in "very good" graded condition will certainly start to have the defects exposed with the Black.
That's not a bad thing at all - as with the greater detail comes a substantially greater experience when all the components are working together. The bass is tighter still, the instrument separation is greater and more satisfying to listen to, the high frequency appears more dynamic with a better audible range which just makes you feel like you're in the recording studio with the band.
Even on the Debut Carbon Evo with a few upgrades, it performs really well. It does however, perform better with a table with more mass, a greater tonearm and upgraded cables etc which allows that extra detail to really expose itself.
For this reason - the 2M Bronze for us in the office with this combo is the perfect balance of cost and reward as it stands right now. Just be aware that you'll need to match your components appropriately - the additional top end brightness and detail can become a little tiring a few hours in. A valve/tube based pre-amp may help you in this domain if you're not running a valve amp in your system.
We hope you've found this useful and informative.
Be sure to give us a call in the office if you require any further assistance when deciding on your Ortofon MM cartridge!
Original files below (right click, Save Target As ...)
Detail as articulated above per colour (high level summary).