Review: Ortofon Kontrapunkt B Cartridge
Decided to up-grade from my Shure V15VxMR and Gardo Sonata to a higher end cartridge. I find myself listening to more and more vinyl in order to get the full enjoyment out of recorded music. CD's just seem to wear me out if I am actually listening to the music rather than having it in the background while I do other things. So vinyl is the only real choice since I am unwilling to replace 500 CD's with SACD's and also buy an SACD player. Maybe when the watermark issue is settled.
So I started reviewing some better cartridges. If you are into vinyl you know that this generally means buying the cartridge on faith (or Michael Fremer's say so). But, I was lucky enough to find someone on-line who would actually send me a Lyra Helikon to audition. So I did. It was great, but I decided to see if it was twice as great as the Ortofon Kontrapunkt B ($1950 versus $950).
My musical listening runs to older jazz (Miles, Monk, Coltrane, etc.), classic rock (Stones, Little Feat, Santana - sure hope those new Stones SACDs get ported over to vinyl), blues, female vocals (Barber) and classical (mostly violin and piano). Probably listen to equal amounts of each. Lots (~1,000) of older albums and starting to get a good selection of new ones that are superior to the old. Like comparing CDs and SACDs, I guess.
So I had a comparison between the Ortofon and the Lyra and guess what? To my ears the Ortofon was every bit as good as the Lyra with one very small exception. The Lyra seemed to shimmer on that last one thousandth of the highs on which the Ortofon was merely outstanding. A barely perceptible difference and then only on select recordings. Not $1,000 worth of difference. And I did listen to a friend's Benz Glider for an extended period. While a step up from the Shure or the Grado, it was a clear step down from the Ortofon. Not as smooth and not as detailed.
What I look for in my equipment is a smooth, fast and detailed sound. I want to hear what is on the recording, be that good or bad. I don't want bright highs or blotted bass. Just give me the musical facts. Make that recording engineer earn his keep. If it is a lousy recording, then let me hear it. And that is what the Ortofon Kontrapunkt B does. Smooth, fast and detailed. It truely makes my Soliloquy 5.0s speakers sing.
Other than the shear musical "presence" (timing, pace and rhythm) offered by the Ortofon (and Lyra) the most noticeable difference between this cartridge and the Shure and Grado was the amount of music and information it got out of the vinyl. Such a joy listening to my old albums again. Was like getting new recordings in many instances.
I've been listening the Kontrapunkt B for about six months. I used to trade back and forth between the V15VxMR and the Grado Sonata, depending on my mood. Shure for the detail and speed. Grado for the smoothness. But no longer. In fact, I sold the Grado and sent the Shure on to my brother. I do not need. I have the Ortofon. It is smoother, faster and more detailed than either. More musical and provides more information. And offers all of this against a much blacker (quieter) background.
While I may not have beaten Sam Tellig to the reviewing punch on this, I found it first and can prove it by my receipt. I now pay more attention to Sam's writings as I see that he has good taste in most of his equipment.
If you are looking to up-grade your vinyl listening I can't recommend any single piece more than the Ortofon Kontrapunkt B. Based on my vinyl listening over the past several years there was a big gap in cartridges going from the $300 range to the $2000 range. Not that much to choose from in between. I think the Ortofon Kontrapunkt B has done a great job of filling that gap.
Denon DP-59L turntable, Rowland Concentra integrated amp, California Audio Labs CL-10 CD changer, Sony STS-730ES tuner, Soliloquy 5.0s monitor speakers with matching stands.
Lyra Helikon, Shure V15Mx, Grado Sonata, Benz Glider.