Analogaholic

Ortofon Cadenza Bronze

Spinning Anya Garbarek’s Smiling and Waving on staffer Earle Blanton’s system, I’m blown away by how neutral, clean and airy Garbarek’s voice flows through his towering Magnepan 20.1s.  Why a remote review, you ask?   After purchasing[1] the cartridge for reference duty at TONE, Blanton took a real liking to the cart, and it never returned to the mothership.   But it’s a system I’m well familiar with:  Conrad Johnson ACT2/series 2, McCormack DNA-750s, an AVID Volvere SP and the luscious Mangnepans, beefed up on the bottom end with a pair of JL Audio 112 subwoofers.  It’s a killer system in a big room, making for a soundstage that’s slightly exaggerated, but oh so inviting.

Overall tonal balance on the system is smooth, fast and extended, so the Bronze is a perfect fit, mirroring the same characteristics.  The electronic effects on the Garbarek record float distinctly a few feet in front of the speakers, feeling much like something from a David Lynch movie, almost eerie in their effect, with Garbarek gently cooing in the background.

Next up, the MoFi copy of Aimee Mann’s Lost in Space. Again, this favorite puts Mann slightly left of center, but much larger than life, the massive 20.1s disappearing completely, and again, the fun ethereal background sounds now zooming past my head, feeling like I’m listening to a surround mix – but I’m not.  The distorted guitar at the beginning of “Guys Like Me” has just the right amount of texture and bite as multiple layers of Mann’s voice enter the mix.

The Cadenza Bronze excels at throwing a very deep, three-dimensional soundstage, with a generous helping of decay to further create the illusion that Ms. Mann is right here in the room with us.  Female vocals, check.

Moving on to some classic rock, the self-titled Santana gives the Cadenza Bronze a bit more of an obstacle course, mixing in Santana’s complex guitar work with a wide range of acoustic instruments and percussion.  Thanks to the extreme speed of this cartridge and its ability to start and stop cleanly and precisely, bongos sound like bongos, and the drums are locked solidly down.   As the drums pan back and forth during the intro to “Evil Ways,” all of the overdubbed vocals are easy to pick out of the mix, while the Hammond organ is well out on the periphery.  Often a great track to play while listening to headphones (especially if one is slightly herbally challenged) a similar, spacey, otherworldly experience is within your grasp with the Cadenza Bronze.

However, the parlor tricks are meaningless without accurate rendering of tone and timbre – another area in which the Cadenza Bronze excels.  The cymbals in the same Santana recording come across as neutral and correct, yet fade into nothing with an extremely fine tonal gradation.  This is the analog magic at its best, my friends.  This recording also demonstrates the Cadenza Bronze’s ability to unravel a dense studio recording, revealing all of the buried treasure within, something that does not come easy to all MC cartridges.  The Cadenza Bronze can deliver the goods on heavy rock recordings.  A similar experience is achieved with this cartridge mounted on the SME 10/SME V tonearm combination; the Bronze is able to extract minute details at both loud and soft levels without the soundstage collapsing.  Impressive.

While many rely on female vocals to judge a component’s mettle, I submit that the male voice is often tougher to reproduce accurately because of the additional weight and increased range at times.  Sinatra’s reissues on MoFi provide an excellent obstacle course here, especially apparent when one observes the difference in recording quality between the title track on his Nice and Easy album and the second track, “That Old Feeling” – with the second track having more depth and body, Sinatra’s voice smoother than ever.

The piano and strings on this album are reproduced exquisitely. Swapping through a range of phonostages from the Monk Audio, all the way up to the $65k Qualia Indigo, (which the Ortofon mates with quite spectacularly, though perhaps a bit overkill) the sonic signature of the Cadenza Bronze remains constant.

Perhaps the only aspect of this cartridge that may be off-putting to some audiophiles is its lack of embellishment, one direction or the other.  It does not offer a lush midrange like the Grado Statement 1 (or Ortofon’s own SPU cartridge), nor does it render an overly detailed presentation like my Lyra Titan i.  The Cadenza Bronze is really a “just the facts, ma’am” transducer.  It neither romanticizes the presentation nor adds an artificially goosed high end, suggesting a false sense of resolution.  As one who sees the cartridge in an analog system as the ultimate tone control, the Cadenza Bronze will probably be more at home in a system somewhere between a neutral tonal balance and one that leans slightly to the warm, romantic side.

With a .4mv output, the Cadenza Bronze works well with any phonostage you might have on hand with about 60 – 65db of gain.  Of course it is a perfect match with my ARC REF Phono 2SE and the Simaudio MOON 810LP, yet we achieve equally good results with the Monk phonostage and even the Lehmann Black Cube currently under review.

The range of tracking force is 2.2 – 2.7 grams, with Ortofon suggesting 2.5 as optimal.  This proves perfect in the SME tonearms at my disposal, however 2.6 gram is the ticket in the Rega RP8.  As always, we suggest making small adjustments up and down from 2.5 grams to achieve the best balance of high frequency response and trackability.

Which leads to the final aspect of the Cadenza Bronze: in the true tradition of Ortofon MM cartridges, the MC Cadenza Bronze is a fantastic tracker, showing no signs of inner groove distortion, or an inability to handle highly complex musical passages.  This should be a delight to classical and heavy rock music users alike.

For $2,199, the Ortofon Cadenza Bronze is tough to beat.  Most other cartridges offering this level of performance, revealing this much music in such an unobtrusive way, tend to cost at least a thousand dollars more – hence our willingness to bestow one of our Exceptional Value Awards.   While not offering as much resolution as a few of our favorite cartridges with a five-figure price tag, the Cadenza Bronze gives you more than a peek into what the mega cartridges offer without an insane price tag.  I suggest an audition.  --Jeff Dorgay

Ortofon Cadenza Bronze

$2,199

www.ortofon.com