Ortofon MC Vivo Cartridge

MC Vivo is not the latest hip-hop sensation, but it’s sensational nonetheless. With MC cartridge prices spiraling into the clouds like a missile that lost its ground link to Earth, it’s a relief to hear this aural much value for $400.

Ortofon has manufactured moving-coil cartridges in Denmark since the 50s. While many audiophiles are after the 2M series of MM cartridges, I’m still an MC fan first and foremost. But this cartridge is completely different, made from Lexan DMX (another hip-hop reference!) that reminds me of the MC 20 moving-coil cartridge that in the early 1980s attracted a massive following.

Eschewing pedestrian packaging, the MC Vivo slides out of the standard red-and-white Ortofon box. Mounted to the forthcoming Zu Audio rendition of Technics SL-1200 turntable, replete with techie tricks and a Rega RB-700 arm, the MC Vivo had the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie” flowing with ease. Eyeballing the setup with the MoFi GeoDisc works well, and after making any needed adjustments, you’ll be spinning more records in ten minutes. If you have access to better tools (like the Feickert complement at the TONEAudio studio), fine-tuning further improves the performance.

The MC Vivo uses a standard aluminum cantilever with nude elliptical diamond stylus. Seven-nines (99.9999% pure) copper wire is used to wind the coils. Output is .5mv and suggested loading is 500 ohms, the sweet spot with my Pass Labs XP-15 phonostage. Stumped by the specs? You’ll understand them the second you lower the stylus on a record. This cartridge is an excellent tracker, and the stylus profile rides the groove in a manner that doesn’t accentuate groove noise.

While MM cartridges often offer more in the dynamics department, the MC Vivo knocks out even the Clearaudio Maestro via its low-level detail retrieval and grain-free delicacy. Listening to Mobile Fidelity’s recent remaster of Billy Joel’s Piano Man illustrates these strengths. Joel tends to pound the keys, and this record quickly exposes any cartridge lacking in dynamics.

The 45RPM 12-inch single of “The Heart’s a Lonely Hunter,” featuring David Byrne with Thievery Corporation, reveals the MC Vivo provides punchy dynamics and killer bass groves. Moreover, synth riffs that sound like those featured on Mr. Scruff’s “Sweetsmoke” seemingly float around my consciousness, akin to the little pies hovering in the song’s video.

I don’t really care how Diana Krall’s Live in Paris sounds on the MC Vivo, but Doug and the Slugs Cognac and Bologna is awesome. The tom fills in “Soldier of Fortune” go beyond the left speaker’s boundaries, and lead-guitar breaks feature plenty of meat. Should you not have Doug and the Slugs records, any LP rife with multiple layered harmonies and studio trickery will show what this cartridge can do.

Male and female vocals get fleshed-out to satisfactory levels via the MC Vivo. Vide, Amy Winehouse’s posthumous Lioness: Hidden Treasures, which will make you a believer. Revisiting Stevie Nick’s voice on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours displays her signature breathiness with ample depth and texture; it feels as if a much more expensive cartridge is doing the work. OK, the Meatmen’s We’re the Meatmen and You Suck still sounds terrible, but you can’t win them all, and it isn’t the cartridge’s fault.

Extension at both ends of the spectrum is better than one might expect from a $400 cartridge. Bass response, as well, is excellent, with abundant low-frequency detail accompanying the weight. Just cue up the hard-hitting beats of Run-D.M.C.’s Kings of Rock. Maybe MC Vivo is a hip-hop star after all.  -Jerold O’Brien

Ortofon MC Vivo Cartridge

MSRP: $399