Ortofon OM30

Type: Moving Iron (MI)
Stylus: Nude Fine Line
Compliance: High
Price: £240-255

Background

I already had an Ortofon OM20 when an opportunity arose to buy a used Stylus 30 with a mere 40 hours on the clock for a fraction of the ‘new’ price. This stylus features a nude diamond with ‘fine line’ profile (supposedly superior to the ordinary elliptical profile of the OM20). I have used this stylus on the standard OM body and on the ‘Super OM’ body. This review is largely concerned with the standard OM30 but also refers to the Super OM30.

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 sound of the OM30 is not widely dissimilar to the cheaper OM20 but there are some significant differences.

Treble: The treble is relatively delicate with a sense of restraint and refinement. This gives the cartridge an easy, inoffensive character but results in a lack of atmosphere on some recordings, with high-frequency detail often struggling to show itself.

The more forward treble of the alternative ‘Super OM’ body certainly removes any veiling of detail, allowing high-frequency clarity to shine through and injecting a sense of air into the sound.

Midrange: The mid-band is full-bodied but is not particularly open. As a result, vocals can sometimes sound a little flat or closed – this is probably connected with the restrained treble.

The ‘Super OM’ body opens up the mid-band, making it more textured and nuanced with better presence.   

Bass: This is where the cartridge excels. Bass is very weighty, deep and firm, while at the same time tight and fast. Bass lines are therefore easy to follow. The bass gives the sound a very solid feel.

Pulling together the above elements, the balance of the (standard) OM30 definitely ventures onto the warm side of neutral, an inevitable result of a subtle treble and forward bass. The downside is that some recordings miss a sense of air. However, dynamics are good and delivery is agile, bringing spirit to the sound. The OM30 is likely to appeal to those who favour body and refinement over explicit detail and sparkle.

Putting the same stylus on the ‘Super OM’ body, the warmth and treble subtlety mentioned above disappear with the Super OM30. The sound is brighter and more dynamic, exposing the high-frequency detail extracted from the groove by the fine-line stylus. There is obviously more texture to the sound than with the standard body. However, the brighter balance coupled with lively dynamics can eventually prove tiring on some material – at least, this is my experience of it on the Technics SL1200, while I have found it to be more even-handed and enjoyable on other turntables (Luxman PD-282 and Yamaha YP-511).

Tracking

The tracking-force range for this cartridge is 1.25-1.75g with a normal value of 1.5g, which is the setting I use. Tracking ability is good but the navigation of sibilant passages is not amongst the best (and probably no better than the OM20) – the fine-line stylus is disappointing in this respect and certainly cannot compete with Audio Technica’s MicroLine stylus on tracking.

Compliance

This cartridge has a dynamic compliance of 25 cu (at 10Hz). As such, it is a high-compliance cartridge designed for low-mass arms. I use it on my Technics SL1200, with an effective arm-mass of 12g at the low end of medium-mass. I therefore wouldn’t rule out this cartridge for medium-mass arms as well as low-mass arms.

Capacitive Load

The recommended range of capacitive loads for the standard OM30 is wide, being 200-600pF. I use a setting of 200pF on my phono pre-amp, which puts the total load capacitance (including 125pF cable capacitance) at ~325pF. This is consistent with using one of the many 200 or 220pF phono pre-amps available on the market. I feel that the capacitance needs to be around this value in order to achieve the most open sound with the standard OM body.

The Super OM30 is naturally open-sounding but in order to tame the treble, I would recommend using a phono pre-amp of low capacitance, ~100pF, to achieve a total capacitance at the low end of the recommended range.

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

So, what are the differences between the OM20 and OM30? The OM30 has a tad more bass weight than the OM20 as well as a more delicate and refined treble. The delicacy to the OM30’s treble actually results in a loss of the crispness compared with the OM20, removing some of the air and producing a darker sound. For me, it loses some of the magic of the OM20 and, in my mind, the OM20 is the more entertaining and satisfying performer. So, I would question whether the price jump from the OM20 to the OM30 brings sufficient rewards, if any. However, if treble subtlety is your priority then the OM30 may be preferable.

The Super OM30 is noticeably different from the standard OM30, opening up the sound and giving more for your money in terms of top-end detail and air. This results in an expansive, captivating sound that the standard OM30 lacks, but there is the risk of listening fatigue on bright/edgy recordings.

The two variants of this cartridge leave me with a dilemma – I find the OM30 to be a touch dark and the Super OM30 to sometimes be a touch bright. However, the OM30 may suit a bright system and the Super OM30 may work well in a dull system. I would certainly choose the Super OM30 over the Super OM20, which is even brighter, but not over the standard OM20, which to me is the ‘Goldilocks cartridge’ of the OM range (just right).

Availability

The Ortofon OM30 is no longer promoted by Ortofon on their website – they prefer to push the 2M Bronze instead, which would be the equivalent (with nude fine-line stylus) in the current 2M range. The OM30 cartridge is not generally available in the UK, although it is in some territories (such as Germany) in the form of the Super OM30. However, it is actually fairly easy to obtain a standard OM30, as reviewed here.

The ‘Stylus 30’ is readily available in the UK and elsewhere, as are the cheaper OM cartridges (1S, 5S, 5E). Some vendors even sell the OM body alone (without a stylus) and a used OM cartridge can also be easily procured via eBay. Thus, an OM30 can be assembled from the body of one of these OM cartridges and the Stylus 30, bought separately.

It is also worth noting that many modern turntables (particularly from the Pro-ject brand) come fitted with an OM5E or OM10 as the stock cartridge. It is then a simple and effective upgrade to replace the stylus with a Stylus 30 to achieve an OM30 (and set the tracking force to 1.5g).

Conclusion

The Ortofon OM30 is a competent performer with a tight, agile delivery underpinned by an extended, weighty bass and topped off with a treble of some delicacy and refinement. Dynamics are good but not over-powering, making this cartridge fairly easy listening. However, I’m not sure that the OM30 is a true step-up from the OM20 – it loses the crisp, precise quality that I find so endearing about the OM20.

Using the Stylus 30 in the ‘Super OM’ body certainly adds sparkle and air, with treble detail more explicitly presented. On the whole, I feel this body is the better host for the Stylus 30, bringing out the benefits of the fine-line stylus. The Super OM30 is certainly a very entertaining performer, with the caveat that it can sound a little pushy at times.

Depending on tastes and the rest of the system, I’m sure some people would be happy living with the OM30 while others would be happy with the Super OM30. My preference is for the more economical (standard) OM20.

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