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In the Forum: Analog Playback
In the Thread: The Softer Side of a Hard-Tracing Cartridge
Post Subject: The Softer Side of a Hard-Tracing CartridgePosted by Paul S on: 5/24/2009
I started in hi-fi with LPs and I have never stopped using them as my principal source for hi-fi.  Some time ago I decided that master tape was better than vinyl, but I could not afford to go that route; so I settled on the next best thing: a cartridge, TT and arm that got as close to master tape as possible.  Rather than refer readers away, I wll say (again) that I use the Ortofon MC 3000 II cartridge with its matching T-3000 transformer, a Sota Star (vacuum) TT, and a weighted-down Well Tempered Reference arm.  I am presently pleased with a modded, hot-rodded, mm-only K & K SE phonostage and a Bent Audio TAP TVC pre-amp.  You could say that all of my gear is there to help make the most of this most-tape-like cartridge.

So, what do I mean by, "make the most of"?  To begin with, I want to address this in generic terms, so it doesn't really matter whether or not Ortofon still sells the MC 3000.  One way or another, the idea I want to put forward is the potential of the "hard-tracing", "objective-sounding" cartridge, and how to use it.

I never cared for any of the early MCs I heard, dispite their obvious "advantages" with respect to clarity, detail, transients, impact, imaging, etc., etc.  The main reason I did not like them was that they always sounded artificial, and then they went and shouted their artificiality from the rooftops.

The MC 3000 is the first MC I heard that could actually be confused with master tape, or even, at times, with live sound.  Not all the time, but it could do it, and I figured that was a start (but it was hardly the end of it...).

It has taken me several years to finally arrive at the point that I can consistently get the best of the MC 3000.  And the trouble I've had with it - what is "wrong" with it - is probably one of the best things about it, namely its hard-tracing "Replicant" stylus, which Ortofon developed specifically to trace as closely as possible what the cutting stylus cut into the master.

It is ironic and grimly amusing that it has taken me most of the life of this cartridge to really start figuring it out, to develop an effective means of measuring records and correlate this information to repeatable arm height/VTA settings.  And all other operating parameters are also critical for the best results, so all bear regular check-ups.  Just last night I discovered I had been running the thing for some time at sub-optimal azimuth.  And so it goes.  What a pain!

But what beauty and expression, and pitch, timbre, inflection, etc., etc., when it's right, as it is most of the time now, at long last.

Setting the records themselves aside for a moment, the main thing I wanted to say here is the the MC 3000 proves by example that a hard tracer need not be simply hard, but it can come as close as possible (with another format) to the exquisite quality of master tape, in case anyone thinks this is worth pursuing.  Yes, it takes scrupulous attention to settings; but the stress is gone now that I have developed a simple, effective system for dealing with it.

I just bought a Poang chair and footstool to relax in while I listen to music, and I don't plan to be getting up except to change sides.

Paul S

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