Ortofon Concorde STD

Type: Moving Iron (MI)
Stylus: Bonded Elliptical
Compliance: Medium
Price: Mid-priced (vintage)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Background

The Ortofon Concorde STD was one of the early Concorde integrated headshell/cartridges and is a Hi-Fi model (while most modern Concordes are DJ cartridges). The Concorde STD was suggested to me on inquiring about a replacement stylus for a rather obscure Glanz cartridge in the early 1980s. I bought the Concorde for a Trio turntable but didn’t appreciate at the time that its fixed overhang was intended for certain Technics turntables, including the famous SL1200 Mk2. Nevertheless, the cartridge proved very enjoyable on the Trio. Unfortunately, my original Concorde STD went when the Trio was sold, but I have more recently acquired another one – in fact, I first bought a couple of NOS styli on eBay and then searched for a cartridge body. I now use it on my Technics SL1200 Mk5, the set-up on which this review is based.

Equipment

Turntable: Technics SL1200 Mk5
Phono Pre-amp: Musical Fidelity M1 ViNL (with 200pF capacitance)
Amplifier: Yamaha A-S501
Speakers: Q Acoustics 3050

Sound Quality

The Concorde STD has a bonded elliptical stylus and was a budget-to-mid priced cartridge in its day. With my current experience of cartridges, I now see its sound characteristics as typically Ortofon and realise that it is remarkably accomplished for the price.

Treble: The treble is crisp and precise, carrying with it a good deal of detail – in fact, high-frequency clarity is quite remarkable. It also contributes to the sense of space and scale of the overall sound. Sparkle takes priority over delicacy but the treble is not too forward, resulting in a very satisfying top-end. 

Midrange: The mid-band is open and detailed, bringing reasonable nuance and presence to vocals. Sibilance on vocals is also handled pretty well for a bonded elliptical stylus.

Bass: Low-frequency content is portrayed exceptionally well. The bass is forward, weighty and punchy, and digs very deep. All this is coupled with a tight, agile presentation in terms of timings. There is also a good level of texture to the bass, giving it a quality feel. My only (minor) criticism is that the bass could be accused of being over-enthusiastic on material with pounding beats.

In total, the Concorde STD delivers a substantial, clear, clean sound with a sense of immediacy about it. The balance is a step on the warm side of neutral which is largely down to its forward, dynamic bass. The treble is slightly restrained in the overall scheme of things, but offers sparkle and detail. So, this cartridge doesn’t present a warm, comfy sound, but rather a weighty, exciting sound. As I have implied, dynamics are excellent and they combine with wonderful all-round clarity to lead to impressive separation of instruments, as well as a nice texture across the entire frequency range. I feel that all of this is beyond the call of duty for a humble bonded elliptical stylus. However, while the cartridge presents the information in the groove in a very clear and explicit manner, perhaps a lack of subtlety gives away its true nature as a cartridge of modest budget. Nevertheless, the Concorde STD is a highly entertaining and involving performer that cannot fail to impress.

Tracking

The recommended tracking-force range for this cartridge is 1.7-2.3g and I employ the mid-point of 2g. The clean, detailed sound suggests formidable tracking ability for a bonded elliptical stylus, with even sibilant passages being handled without too much ado.

It should be noted that the fixed overhang of the Concordes is intended for turntables that share their geometry with the Technics SL1200 Mk2 and above. Use on other turntables may result in significant stylus mis-alignment with associated tracking distortion.

Compliance

The stylus has a dynamic compliance of 15 cu (at 10Hz), so right in the centre of the medium-compliance range. It therefore works well with medium-mass S-shaped tonearms, such as that of the Technics SL1200 and its many clones.

Capacitive Load

The recommended capacitive load for this cartridge is 400pF and I use a capacitance setting of 200pF on my phono pre-amp, giving a total capacitance of 325pF (after adding in cable capacitance). However, this is not a fussy cartridge in terms of loading and can be used successfully with other phono-stage capacitances, although a low capacitance results in a little less open sound.

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

When I bought my original Concorde STD for a Trio KD1033, the latter was my secondary turntable and I had a Rega Planar 3 fitted with an Ortofon VMS20E MkII as my main turntable. Despite the better pedigree of the Rega with VMS20E, I found the Trio with Concorde STD a much more exciting combination, with better dynamics. Having said that, it didn’t occur to me to try the Concorde on the R200 S-shaped arm of the Rega (although I now realise that this may not have been a good combination in terms of stylus alignment). I now know that the cartridge was a critical factor here, the Concorde STD being a more entertaining cartridge than the supposedly superior VMS20E with nude elliptical stylus.

In terms of performance, the Concorde STD is actually not far from the Ortofon F15E MkII (also with bonded elliptical stylus), both having a solid, precise, dynamic sound – it is not difficult to believe that they come from the same stable and the same era.

The equivalent cartridge in Ortofon’s latest 2M range is the 2M Red, which is not dissimilar in terms of detail and dynamics, but doesn’t quite have the weighty balance of the Concorde STD.

Today, there is no widely available Hi-Fi Concorde in the same price-bracket as the STD, the nearest being the Concorde 40th Anniversary which is internally a 2M Blue – this cartridge has a lot to offer but the same comments about balance apply as for the 2M Red. Having said that, the less expensive Concorde 10 R is a new model that is exclusive to William Thakker in Germany (also available via Amazon) – this also has the internal generator of the 2M Blue but a bonded elliptical stylus (again, I imagine it will have a brighter balance than the STD).  

The Ortofon OM5E and OM10 are Concorde-derivatives at about the same level as the STD with bonded elliptical styli. However, my feeling is that neither of these models nor the Super OM5E/OM10 editions can compete with the performance of the Concorde STD – for this, we need to look towards the OM20 with nude elliptical stylus (but not the Super OM20, which is much brighter). The Ortofon 520 MkII (aka Vinyl Master Red) is another good alternative in terms of dynamics and detail.   

Amongst modern cartridges from other manufacturers, in my experience little comes to mind at the budget end of the market that can match the performance of the Concorde STD. The sound of the Audio Technica AT-VM95E is weighty with good dynamics, but doesn’t quite deliver the crispness, detail and excitement of the STD.

Availability

The Concorde STD is now a relative rarity and NOS STD styli are also not very common. Aftermarket styli do exist for this cartridge but I cannot comment on their quality. Ortofon’s current range of OM styli will fit the STD body (Ortofon recommend the Stylus 10 for it) but it is a very loose fit and I wouldn’t attempt to play a record with such a combination. So, there are actually quite limited stylus options if you have a Concorde STD body. It is also worth noting that the STD stylus does not fit the current range of Concorde and OM cartridges.

If you are keen to own a Hi-Fi Concorde, I would speculate that the nearest that can be achieved to the Concorde STD in terms of sound quality is a Concorde Pro S (DJ cartridge) fitted with an OM Stylus 20 (or the much cheaper Stylus 10 may be worth trying). 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.

Conclusion

The Ortofon Concorde STD delivers a solid sound with a forward bass and crisp treble, and an overall balance biased towards the bass. Dynamics, clarity and detail are also impressive, making this cartridge an exciting and entertaining listen. All this amounts to a magical combination that modern cartridges (in my experience) from a similar price bracket do not quite attain, even from Ortofon. If you own a Concorde STD with a genuine working stylus then cherish it!