Clearaudio Virtuoso Ebony Wood or Ortofon 2M Black Cartridge?

First post here, but I've been lurking and soaking up the knowledge. Thank you all for sharing your opinions.
I recently purchased a new turntable after a long absence. I bought a Marantz TT-15S1 which comes with a Clearaudio Virtuoso Ebony Wood cartridge.

 A friend of mine would really like that cartridge from me and is willing to buy me the under $900 cartridge of my choice in trade for the Virtuoso. He recommended the Ortofon 2M Black, and in doing some research it seems like a great cart, but how would it compare to the Virtuoso?

 I should mention that my listening is mainly Rock (70's, 80's, 90's 00's) with some Jazz here and there. (Sometimes fairly aggressive hard rock / metal as well).
 While I know that the Virtuoso is an excellent cartridge I've heard it described as "soft" sounding. I've also heard the Black described as "aggressive" sounding which might better line up well with my source material(?) I've also heard that the black is harder to "dial in"

 I have not yet set up the Marantz so I'd like to pick a cart quickly and get that bad boy playing.
Anyone have experience with this table and both (or either) cart?
Or general takeaways on the differences between these 2 with any table?
Is any possible advantage of the black worth any added trouble in setup?
Thanks for your help!

this is so odd to me....the Virtuoso wood is 900 dollars...why doesn't your friend just get his own?  He probably could get a discount and pick it up cheaper.

this is so odd to me....the Virtuoso wood is 900 dollars...why doesn't your friend just get his own? He probably could get a discount and pick it up cheaper.

Well he is trying to "help us both out" by guiding me to the Black, which of course he could buy me for less than he could buy himself the Virtuoso (though he really is a close friend so I dont think he is trying to take advantage).

There has been no negotiation beyond the Black and for the purposes of this conversation I'm just trying to get opinions on whether I would be better served by the Black.

I had the Marantz with the Virtuoso and it's a good combo.  I only had the Virtuoso cart with that table so don't know how the Black would be with it.  But the Black is excellent on either arm of my now Vpi Signature.  I too like rock and the 2m Black is head banger friendly!

I had the Marantz with the Virtuoso and it's a good combo. ... I too like rock and the 2m Black is head banger friendly!

Thank you so much for the response this was just what I was hoping for. Since you had the Marantz with the Virtuoso and you like the heavy stuff how was that combo for heavy rock? Did it sound "Soft"? That's really the only thing I'm afraid of with the Virtuoso.

I may PM you for more information if thats cool


One of my first records on the Marantz was Queensryche Empire, it rocked out!  The bass guitar kicked ass!  Not soft, not hard, a touch warmer than the Black.  Pm if you like.  
The 2M Black is more clinical. It depends on the rest of the chain and your personal preferences. I prefer more body and warmth, so would stick with the Virtuoso, in my system, but YMMV.

Shayatin, You might want to rethink this. If you have a $900 budget there might be a better choice. What kind of phono stage do you have?


Shayatin, You might want to rethink this. If you have a $900 budget there might be a better choice.

I'm thinking that perhaps I should rephrase this to read more like he will purchase me a comparably priced cartridge. I'm the one who used the $900 number based on the approximate retail of the Virtuoso. I wouldn't ask my friend to spend more on a replacement cart for me than he could pick up his own virtuoso for. I just don't really know what that real world price is.

Having said that if you feel that there are other cartridges in the same price range as a Virtuoso that you think would be a better fit to my listening tastes I'd love to hear it! 

What kind of phono stage do you have?

Well this is kind of the rub right now. I'm just getting back in to analog so for the moment this will be going into the phono input of my elite AVR. A dedicated phono stage is the plan, but I cant really swing it all at once. 

Also ochremoon- Thanks for the input, I appreciate it!

First off I admit I have no direct experience with the Clearaudio Virtuoso Ebony or Ortofon 2M Black cartridges. However, based on many decades of audio experimentation, my instinct says to stick with the included Clearaudio Virtuoso Ebony cartridge.

First of all, you're new to this, and the less you have to monkey around with something as a newbie, the better. Better to play what you have and get to know it, get comfortable handling it, etc. before swapping and aligning and all that.

Second, and I think this is worthwhile: Marantz is on the badge, but this is a Clearaudio package. They designed and made the turntable, and of all their cartridges, selected their Ebony Virtuoso. Under these circumstances, you can be pretty sure that this cart is an ideal match for that turntable and tonearm in terms of weight, compliance, and resonance control, and it probably comes with a better factory alignment than you could do yourself, esp. if these things are new to you.

I'd enjoy the heck out of that package, and when you've had it awhile and maybe you're due for a stylus retip or a new cartridge, look into your options.

See if you can find any info on the quality of your AVR's phono stage. Who knows, maybe it's pretty good. But chances are you'll get more sound for your dollar sticking with this Ebony Virtuoso and upgrading the phono stage.


All of what you said above struck a chord with me and I think you are right. I should probably just enjoy the system the way it was designed (for a while), get more knowledgeable, and then be able to make better educated decisions a little further down the road.

Thank you all for your advice, much appreciated.


+1 johnnyb53 !

Shayatin, I was thinking about what you might be able to get in that price range and if it was a little more, you'd be able to pay the difference. This could be a little complicated in your situation I guess.

I don't have experience with an Elite AVR phono, but I knew of someone who did. He said the MM side was remarkably good, but the MC was not and he used a head amp. Maybe it's better, at least for now, to stick with a HO cart.

You're choosing between 2 overpriced carts IMO, but most of the great ones are vintage. I think the descriptions of their sounds are accurate. The 2M Black has an aluminum cantilever and nude shibata tip and a replacement stylus is $500 (gulp). Clearaudio will tell you the stylus has to be replaced by the factory, but it's BS. All the Clearaudio MMs are modified AT-95E. I doubt if you'd be able to tell my V1 Virtuoso from my modified 95, if I used the same stylus in both. That said, if you send the cart to Soundsmith for stylus upgrade you'll have an excellent MM. You can also use AT95 upgrade replacement stylus if you trim off excess plastic.

Thought you'd like to know a little more about these.


If the stylus can be replaced that easily (and evidently it can be if you know how), you could also upgrade it from the standard elliptical stylus to a Vivid Line or Shibata stylus from LP Gear.

One thing that puzzles me a bit, however, is that Clearaudio states teh Ebony Virtuoso as having <0.2dB difference in channel balance and >30dB channel separation. This is significantly more than the 2dB and 20dB figures from Audio Technica for the AT95E. Maybe the Clearaudios are selected from units that test to tighter specifications?

Johnnyb, Clearaudio is creative with specs without necessarily lying. When V2 series was released, output was bumped up on top models due to stronger magnets. Last I looked this was scaled back to be the same as all the others. Maybe they didn't like the higher output?

AT is/was OEM for about a jillion MMs, but I would guess Clearaudio buys in batches and sorts it themselves. Look at the entry MM and check the separation spec. I don't doubt that Clearaudio sorts them. My Virtuoso has virtually identical resistance/inductance in each channel. An AT95 might vary more and that's indicated by limited sample testing, but I suspect it's true.

I'm quite sure that AT makes the stylus also, because of manufacturing similarities. The Maestro could be a boron/ML, but I don't know this as fact. I'm not trying to make a case against this choice as I think it has nice potential. A Soundsmith cantilever/tip is less expensive than a 2M stylus and those Jico or Vivid Line replacements sound good.

There are pages of discussion about this in the MM/MI thread. Clearaudio made a good choice using AT, IMO. BTW, my 95 is potted and has a custom aluminum top plate. I like to tinker.


^^^ After all, look what Zu accomplished by recasing the DL-103? But they were totally upfront about it.

I suspect the ebony enclosure is a significant plus over the thin plastic of the AT95E. That's why I spent a little more money to get the AT150MLX instead of the similarly wired and tipped AT440MLa. The 150 has a cast aluminum body and very thick and rigid plastic supporting pieces.

The enclosure of the 95 is mostly aluminum. The top is plastic. Some people disagree with your body material assessment, thinking the 150 deluxe body is unnecessarily heavy and the plastic is better damped.

Some others say the CA V2 has too much wood.  I wouldn't know.

The AT 150 and 440 are entirely different in both generator and stylus. Lowest inductance is TOTL, but you can get similar motors in the 100E and 5V bodies - same stylus fitment. The 120/440 body has the same basic motor as in the 160ML, 155LC and many of the AT classics. The 490mH generator was their go-to TOTL for years. It's generally easier to get flat response with it. Put a 150 stylus on a 440 and it's silly good.

CA makes a $15K cart. Why would they want to reinvent the MM ? The 95 is the perfect candidate for modification. Its 400mH motor splits the difference between the 150 and 440 and is a dream come true in the budget category. AFAIK CA never lied about their MM origins and they can't be expected to advertise it.  I like my Virtuoso. You can even use a trimmed 3472 series P-mount stylus on there and it's even better than the 95 replacements, but I read that Soundsmith now offers boron/micro so you can turn it into a virtual Maestro/Virtuoso.


What Johnnyb53 says makes a lot of sense to me.  I have a Clearaudio concept TT with their basic MM cart.  It's nowhere in the same league as the Virtuoso Ebony Wood. 

I've been kicking around upgrading the cart, and a local shop is pushing me towards the Ortofon Quintet Black.  In the back of my mind I'm thinking I should stay with a Clearaudio cart such as the MC or  Virtuoso Ebony Wood since the carts were designed with their TT in mind.   Am I being silly and limiting myself?