REVIEW: Ortofon OM-30 vs. OM-10 First impressions

Category: Analog

Thanks to a wonderful Audiogoner, I was able to get a good deal on a slightly used OM-30 Stylus ($229 list price). Those familiar with the previous Ortofon MM line will know that the cartridge body on the OM series is the same for all models. Only the styli differ as to type and quality.

Several years ago, I restructured my home rig so that I could make better use of my Thorens TD-166 MkII, which I bought new in 1984. I have used many pickups in this table over the years, but in my current configuration, the Super OM-10 is it for about three years. I found the sound from the OM-10 to be fairly detailed, bright but not overly etched, with good extension at both ends. On the down side, I found the bass a little light compared to the rest of the spectrum. Also, on heavily modulated passages, the sound became congested, losing definition and shrinking the soundstage.

I have always attributed these deficiencies to something in the rest of my system (C-J PV11 pre w/phono, Odyssey Audio HT3 amp w/cap upgrade, Vandersteen 1C/2Wq combo), and/or the room. In just 20 minutes, I realized that the OM-10 had a great deal more to do with these issues than I had thought.

Playing the Reiner/Chicago recording of Scheherezade (a later RCA el-crappo pressing, in only good condition) was a great test. This composition shifts repeatedly from very soft to very loud passages, and, with the OM-10, the loud passages did indeed get congested and a bit harsh, begging me to ease off the gain. Swapping in the OM-30 (which has the same 1.5-gram recommended VTF) was instantly revelatory. The highs were all still there, but much, much smoother throughout the presence range and higher. Probably because of this smoothness, details in and outside of that range became easier to hear and follow. The bass range sounded fuller and more pronounced, although I still would not call this a warm-sounding cartridge. The soundstage seemed to expand slightly verses the OM-10. Also of note is that surface noise seemed much less intrusive with the OM-30 (there are both ticks and static-like noises easily heard on this copy during the softer passages).

I have much more listening to do with the OM-30, but my initial impression is most positive. I will post a follow-up once I have listened more. I am beginning the process of digitizing my vinyl so I can listen in the car, and the OM-30 upgrade will undoubtedly enable higher quality CD-Rs than the OM-10.

Although the OM-series is history, I would bet there are thousands of OM-series owners out there using OM-10 or single-digit OM styli. If my experience is any guide, upgrading to the OM-30, new or slightly used, is an extremely cost-effective upgrade to your vinyl playback system.