Ortofon Concorde 40th Anniversary

Type: Moving Iron (MI)
Stylus: Nude Elliptical
Compliance: Medium
Price: £185 (2M Blue), £235 (Concorde 40th Anniversary)

RECOMMENDED

Background

The Ortofon Concorde 40th Anniversary is a special celebratory Hi-Fi edition of the famous Concorde integrated headshell/cartridge. Internally, this is an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge in the guise of a Concorde and, therefore, this review also serves as an assessment of the 2M Blue. As a fan of Ortofon’s Concorde STD (an early Hi-Fi edition), OM20 and 2M Red, I could not resist purchasing this special-edition Concorde. I use the cartridge on my Technics SL1200 Mk5 (the Concorde cartridges have fixed alignment for use with the SL1200 and other turntables with the same geometry). Since the 2M Blue is by far the most common incarnation of this cartridge, this review will often refer to the 2M Blue.

Equipment

Turntable: Technics SL1200 Mk5
Phono Pre-amp: Musical Fidelity M1 ViNL (with 100pF capacitance)
Amplifier: Yamaha A-S501
Speakers: Q Acoustics 3050

Sound Quality

Having experience of the cheaper 2M Red, as well as other Ortofon cartridges with nude elliptical styli on par with the 2M Blue, I had a fair idea of what this cartridge would sound like. I had high expectations and wasn’t disappointed.

Treble: The treble is incisive and detailed, and injects an airy quality into the sound, allowing individual instruments their own space. On a good-quality recording, high-frequency detail emerges with great clarity and refinement. However, on a poor-quality recording, this same treble can expose the rough or edgy characteristics of the recording (I noticed the same effect with the 2M Red).

Midrange: The mid-band is open, clear and nuanced, lending a great sense of presence to vocals. Sibilance on vocals is handled amazingly well. Generally, the midrange has a feeling of substance and is amongst the best I’ve heard.     

Bass: The bass is much in evidence and well-extended but not as forward as with some cartridges. What it may slightly lack in quantity, it makes up for in texture and punch. The bass is also tight and agile, able to effortlessly navigate fast beats and rhythms. There is no sense of this cartridge being bass-shy.

My overwhelming impression of this cartridge is of a big, clean, spacious, dynamic sound. On decent material, there is no doubt that you are listening to a Hi-Fi cartridge of some quality. The sound is well-balanced, perhaps just on the bright side of neutral but not overly bright for me on most material. The treble is important in giving this cartridge an ambient and detailed presentation, but can be revealing of surface noise and faults – this is not a cartridge for papering over the cracks. Dynamics are very lively across the entire frequency range and there is an almost tangible quality to the sound. The whole sound is well-integrated and involving – this is a cartridge that draws you in and takes you on a ride.

Tracking

The tracking-force range for this cartridge is 1.6-2.0g with a normal value of 1.8g, which is the setting that I use. Tracking is exemplary, as evidenced by the handling of sibilance, which is negotiated with little fuss – perhaps not quite as accomplished as Audio Technica’s MicroLine stylus but surprisingly good for an ordinary elliptical. However, I cannot say whether the observed tracking ability is particular to the Concorde edition.

Compliance

The dynamic compliance of the stylus is 20 cu (at 10Hz), which is on the borderline of medium and high compliance – I have classed it as medium-compliance above, as my feeling is that this cartridge is best suited to medium-mass tonearms. Using the Concorde edition on my Technics SL1200, I estimate that this is equivalent to using the standard 2M Blue on a tonearm with an effective mass of almost 16g – so, comfortably medium-mass. However, since the 2M Blue weighs in at 7.2g, a little more massive than the average MM cartridge, I dare say it could be used on low-mass arms that are not in the extremely light category.

Capacitive Load

The recommended range of capacitive loads for this cartridge is 150-300pF, so relatively low. This is do-able using a phono-preamp of low capacitance. I use a setting of 100pF on my phono pre-amp, giving a total capacitive load (including 125pF cable capacitance) of ~225pF. However, the cartridge still worked well with a phono pre-amp capacitance of 200pF, corresponding to a total of ~325pF.

Note that the above assumes a phono-cable capacitance of 125pF for the Technics SL1200 Mk5. This value may be higher (likely) or lower for other turntables. Typically, a value in the range 150-200pF is assumed.

Comparison

On auditioning this Concorde manifestation of the 2M Blue, it came as no surprise to me that it is related to the 2M Red, having a similarly dynamic and detailed sound on the bright side of neutral. As one might expect, the Blue brings a little more refinement, particularly in the treble and midrange, and possibly better bass extension. The Blue also offers superior tracking.

Prior to debuting this cartridge, I was using the equivalent cartridge from the old Ortofon VMS range, the classic VMS20E MkII. The open and dynamic sound of the Concorde / 2M Blue immediately made the VMS20E sound dull and lethargic by comparison. Its equivalent in Ortofon’s OM series is the OM20, and in the 500 series is the 520 Mk II (aka Vinyl Master Red). Here there are differences perhaps for the better. The OM20 trades some of the detail and air of the 2M Blue for a warmer balance with a more prominent bass, while the 520 MkII is somewhere between the two. On the whole, I slightly favour the OM20 (but not the Super OM20) and 520 MkII over the 2M Blue, but this is really a matter of taste.

Comparing with my cartridges from other brands, the much more expensive Goldring 2400 delivers a not dissimilar performance to the 2M Blue but with a slightly more relaxed and subtle presentation – the 2M Blue is arguably better value for money.

Availability

For those who are keen to own a new Hi-Fi Concorde, there are limited options. The Concorde 40th Anniversary, reviewed here, is a limited-edition cartridge released in late 2018 to celebrate 40 years of the Concorde, so stocks will eventually dwindle and it may become a rarity. Higher up the ladder and much pricier, the Concorde Century was also issued as a celebratory limited-edition in 2018 to mark 100 years of Ortofon – it has a nude fine-line stylus and looks to be similar in specifications to the 2M Bronze, but has a lower compliance stylus with a slightly higher recommended tracking force. Lower down the ladder and much more economical, the Concorde 10 R has recently been introduced as an exclusive product for William Thakker in Germany (but can be ordered via Amazon). This cartridge seems to have a similar body to the Concorde 40th Anniversary containing the same generator as the 2M Blue, but with a bonded (rather than nude) elliptical stylus.

Another possibility is to assemble a Hi-Fi Concorde from the body of the Concorde Pro S (DJ cartridge) and a Hi-Fi OM stylus, which would approximately give the Concorde equivalent of an OM cartridge – for example, fitting a Stylus 20 will yield a Concorde version of the OM20. The cartridge and stylus would normally need to be purchased separately, although the Technics specialist website Kabusa sells such combinations ready-assembled as “KAB Custom” products.

Note that the above Hi-Fi Concordes have delicate styli that cannot be used for DJ practices such as back-cueing and scratching.

Conclusion

The Ortofon Concorde 40th Anniversary is internally a 2M Blue and, as such, is an obvious progression from the 2M Red. It features a nude elliptical stylus and does a sterling job of tracking, uncovering an impressive amount of detail from the groove for an ordinary elliptical. It paints a very vivid sonic picture and my feeling is that this cartridge lets the contents of the groove shine through, good or bad. The sound is well-balanced with commendable quality across all frequency bands to achieve a very well integrated whole. With excellent dynamics, the sound is highly engaging and this is what I suppose some people would call a ‘musical cartridge’. If the conventional 2M Blue achieves exactly the same performance, I am a fan.

If you need help with any of the turntable and phono-cartridge terminology used in this review, please visit the Terminology & Concepts page.