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Ortofon 2M Red moving magnet cartridge Review

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Last year I gave a very positive review of the Ortofon MC1 Turbo, a high-output moving coil phono cartridge ($240). During the review I compared it to the popular Ortofon 2M Red moving magnet cartridge ($99). I found the MC1 Turbo to have a nice, relaxed sound, whereas the Ortofon 2M Red was very bright and forward sounding with excessive noise. The manufacturer felt I did not give the 2M Red enough break-in time, but I have to respectfully disagree. First of all, break-in will not eliminate all of the noise. Second, break-in time may improve the sound of the cartridge, but it will not change its primary characteristics enough to make a poor sounding cartridge become great sounding. I felt the noise problems with the Ortofon 2M Red, with its 5.5 millivolts of output, may have resulted from a system mismatch with some of my existing components. I decided to switch components around and use the Wyred 4 Sound mINT integrated amplifier, which has much lower gain in its line stage section than my Antique Sound Lab line stage. I also compared the Ortofon 2M Red to other phono cartridges that were closer to it in price.

The main turntable used for the review was my AR “The AR Turntable” with the Sumiko Premier MMT tonearm that is currently played through an NAD PP1 phono stage. I replaced the Antique Sound Lab line stage and the Quicksilver power amplifiers with the Wyred 4 Sound mINT. I continued using my Acarian System Alon speakers. AudioQuest speaker cables and interconnects were used throughout the system. The records were cleaned with a Nitty Gritty vacuum record cleaning machine.

The Ortofon 2M Red has threaded holes on top to make cartridge installation very easy. The manufacture’s recommended tracking force of 2 grams seemed to get the sound about right. I set the anti-skate to equal the tracking force. The compliance on this cartridge is a little high, but the cartridge was still compatible with my MMT medium mass tonearm. The stylus protector is nicely designed and protects the stylus very well. This cartridge is solid, well built, and looks way more expensive than the $99 asking price.

What a difference matching the right components can make. There was a significant improvement over my previous experience, especially with the excessive noise disappearing. I am surprised the manufacturer did not point out that the Red’s high output might have overloaded my stereo system and that component matching is critical.  Once the noise was reduced, wonderful clarity became apparent. The bass was fairly deep. The midrange is a little more forward than my Sumiko Rainier ($149) and Olympia ($199). The previously-excessive highs were gone and balance between channels was even. The Ortofon 2M Red, as well as my other inexpensive phono cartridges, does not have as much of the midrange bloom you can get from higher-priced cartridges — the bloom that delivers a gratifying musical experience and connects me to the music by transporting me to the concert. Nevertheless, it was still very good. Tracking is very good and I heard no inner groove distortion. With the reduced gain of the Wyred 4 Sound mINT, most of the record surface noise was gone. The 2M Red’s 5.5 millivolts output is fairly high and I expect that may contribute to the cartridge having a big sound with dynamics that are, frankly, astounding for a cartridge at this price. This is really great if you play a lot of rock. My Emerson Lake & Palmer Brain Salad Surgery really came alive as did LPs from Electric Light Orchestra and Stevie Wonder.

In comparing the Ortofon 2M Red to other cartridges, the Red had similar bass extension to my Sumiko Olympia and Sumiko Black with the Deft 1 stylus. The Sumikos were quieter than the 2M Red, but the Red had no hum. When I switched to the Sumiko Olympia, I heard a midrange bloom or lushness that was much more evident. The Olympia is a much warmer sounding cartridge and exceeded the performance of the Ortofon 2M Red, as it should at twice the price. The 2M Red is still a fine cartridge, especially for $99, and some may actually prefer its more analytical sound.

Changing your cartridge is an easy way to make big changes to the sound of your turntable system. I have an inexpensive Goldring turntable and when I changed the phono cartridge from the Goldring Elektra, which is a fine $100 cartridge, to the Talisman A moving coil, it made a huge improvement in resolution and musicality, even on this modest turntable. I now understand why a number people have so many phono cartridges.

My opinion of the Ortofon 2M Red has drastically changed. It is a phono cartridge that can now be recommended, especially if you play a lot of rock or music where your stereo needs some “pop.” I prefer the twice-the-price Sumiko Olympia at $199, but I still enjoy listening to the Ortofon 2M Red and I consider it a wonderful-sounding phono cartridge and, for $99, a fantastic bargain.


Copy editor: Dan Rubin


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5 Responses to Ortofon 2M Red moving magnet cartridge Review

  1. Tim Claflin says:

    I have the exact same Turntable with a Sumiko FT3 Arm and with a Nagaoka phono cartridge I love the sound I also have a Sumiko Oyster and Grado Black Prestige in my collection

  2. AtomicDog says:

    The OrtRED2M comes stock with Pro-Ject Carbon turntables. I’m really impressed by the tight bass and rich mids. I might try the Blue just to hear the difference, but I have no complaint.

  3. Randy Hathaway says:

    This is an excellent review, helpful in choosing a cartridge. Can you comment comparing this item with more focus on handling classical/orchestra and deepest organ tones? (Sadly, right now my budget says no more, “What’s the best at maybe $500 or $1000?” The $100 or so range is good.)

  4. Byron Baba says:

    I preferred the Sumiko Rainier ($149) to the Ortofon 2M Red on orchestra music. There are a number of cartridges in the $500 price range, however, the two cartridges I enjoyed the most were the Hana EH ($475) reviewed October, 2018 and the Grado Platinum which was my primary cartridge for 18 years. I have not heard the newest version of the Grado Platinum the Timbre Platinum3 ($400). Turntable/Tonearm compatibility is important as the Hana is fairly low compliant and needs a heavier tonearm and the Grados may hum with certain turntable/tonearm combinations. My Jelco sourced MMT tonearm worked well with all of the above cartridges.

  5. hifitommy says:

    I find the 2M Red to be uninvolving and uninteresting. The 2M Blue is SO much better as is the Audio-Technica AT95E at nearly half the price of the Red! From the AT95E, I would go to the Nagaoka MP110 in the bargain range. Much more for your money.

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