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Ortofon MC Anna Diamond moving coil cartridge Review

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Introduction

At the beginning of July, 2020, I shipped my three-year-old Lyra Atlas SL to the US importer to take advantage of a program that allowed owners to have their existing Lyra cartridge upgraded to Lyra’s new lambda technology. At the time I was hoping that the rebuild of my cartridge would take 8-12 weeks. Unfortunately, this proved to be highly optimistic. I decided at that point that it would be nice to own a second cartridge as a spare; however, I wanted whatever I purchased to be of reference quality appropriate to my system. The review that follows focuses on my listening sessions with that cartridge, the Ortofon MC Anna Diamond.

 

Nuts and Bolts

The MC Anna Diamond is unique in that it uses a diamond cantilever, which is strong, light and highly resistant to bending, flexing and torsional modes, in combination with Ortofon’s proprietary Replicant 100 stylus, which has an extraordinarily large contact surface that provides superb tracing accuracy. The housing and the body of the cartridge are made by using a laser to selectively melt titanium to build the body. The bottom cover assembly is constructed from a thermo-plastic elastomer, claimed to provide additional damping properties. As a result, the Anna is relatively heavy at 16 grams but also relatively non-resonant. Select parts of the magnet system are formed from high performance iron-cobalt alloy, which is used in conjunction with an armature damping system that helps to eliminate unwanted resonance. The output at 0.2 mv is quite low and requires either a high gain/low noise phono stage or an outboard step-up transformer. The Anna requires about 100 hours of playing for proper break-in and peak performance. Note that the cartridge never sounds bad but becomes more open and detailed and better able to recreate space as it breaks in. The emphasis here is on using cutting edge technology to recreate the music as accurately as possible.

Listening

All listening for this review was accomplished after the Anna had been run-in for 100+ hours. As usual, the notes are indexed by the particular musical selection in chronological order of listening.

U2, Joshua Tree (Japanese pressing, Polystar, R28D-2066). This Eno/Lanois production seems designed to impart a haze of mystery to the aural experience. By now the production is three decades

old. So, when we listen, there is always the danger that we’ll hear gimmickry that might not have been evident at the time. Ideally, the product of the time will have been done with a quality that can withstand the scrutiny of increasingly resolving gear, and our gear today will be more “musically” resolving than it is ruthlessly resolving.

From past experience, I had some concern that the Anna would lean toward the “ruthless” category. Happily, that concern was dashed almost from the moment the stylus hit the grooves of Joshua Tree. First, the energy of the performance was absolutely gripping from start to finish. We played it fairly loud, of course. I was sweating bullets before it was over.

And, yes, the music did seem to resolve itself out of a mysterious pool of ambiance, but it resolved with exceptional clarity. The soundstage, artificial though it no doubt was, spread across the space between the speakers and beyond, such that the speakers disappeared. The placement of the images was pinpoint except when it seemed designed not to be, and the difference was clear.

Bono’s voice was a marvel of clarity. I understood all of the lyrics (I think!) and could hear all of the nuance. And yet there was a warmth to the edge of Bono’s voice that I don’t often hear— a warmth amid the detail, which gave me a shiver of recognition from the warmth of a really human voice. I would not call the presentation warm, but it was not cold or clinical, just neutral. All in all, it was a very satisfying experience.

Anita O’Day, Anita (Verve MGV-2000). This 1957 mono production afforded an opportunity to see how the Anna would handle a classic of the mid-20th century. I believe this was O’Day’s second session for Verve. The engineers put her voice up front in such a way that you don’t miss a thing. You’re in a small club, in the second or third row, and you’re dealing with a singer with great personality and nuance, and, yes, she does sing just a bit flat occasionally, but with terrific style and expression.

As with the best mono, it doesn’t really seem like mono. The soundstage was quite wide. With this pressing, there was an occasional edgy sibilant, but the Anna didn’t make a big deal of it. Indeed, I rarely was aware of the fact that the recording was only slightly younger than I am. It just seemed like really good listening, well worth searching out.

Steely Dan, Gaucho (Japanese pressing, MCA Recordings, VIM-6243). This has for many years been a standby test record that I hadn’t heard in a while until a friend pulled it out to hear “Babylon Sisters” as a test on his own recently altered system. That offered me the opportunity to size it up against a Koetsu in a somewhat more darkly configured system. After a certain point it all depends upon what you want. The Anna gives you great top end air, and I love it — the background voices in “Hey Nineteen” simply reach out from upper space and tickle your ears in the most sensual way. I’ll follow wherever they lead me . . . except I’m too old for this.

Again, as with the U2, the energy is terrific, very present. It’s not that the bass drum is punching my lower intestines the way it did at the Sarah McLaughlin concert I almost had to vacate some years ago. It’s just that the timing is so perfect. The bass is utterly in sync with the drums, and the rest follows from there. And as with the U2, I would not call the presentation “warm.” That’s for my friend’s Koetsu/vintage conrad-johnson system. Koetsus, by the way, in fairness, earn their fan base. I don’t consider myself inclined toward the clinical. Maybe others would. If they did, they need to hear Gaucho on my system.

Mendelssohn, Scotch Symphony (Maag, ORG 106, re-issue of London CS6191). ORG generally does a great job with their reissues of some of the masterpieces of the Decca/London classical catalog in 45 rpm format. In particular, you can enjoy these recordings without strain in the loud spots. The sound tends to be slightly less silky than some of the originals can be, but not as bright as some of the legendary Blueback versions.

In this case, the Anna allows some real magic to happen with the space and the air. The soundstage is huge. The placement is about what you would expect close-in in a concert hall and so is the top end, which is open and fresh. Best of all, there is not the least bit of clotting or edginess in the loud moments. The different lines play out with utmost clarity. Peter Maag’s control at the podium is fully reflected in the results.

This feels very close to the experience of a live concert, with all the crackle and snap of the excitement in the air.

6 Responses to Ortofon MC Anna Diamond moving coil cartridge Review


  1. rl1856 says:

    Excellent review. It is interesting that you noted the vocal forward nature of Anita O’Day’s Verve recording. Verve seemed to highlight vocalists in ensemble recordings. I have called this the “Verve Halo Effect”, as if the vocalist is dead center on the stage, with a bright spot light shining on the singer. The band is in darkness behind and around. This effect is most noticeable on many Verve/Ella Fitzgeral recordings. Regarding Mono- it takes a very good system to truly hear the benefits of mono. People are often surprised to hear a soundstage, depth and musician placement in a “mono” recording. The engineers knew what they were doing, and it took about 5yrs or so to catch up on the stereo side of things. Ortofon does make several true mono cartridges. May be worth your time to investigate.

  2. Jack Pot says:

    The Demise of a God

    Neither Wagner nor Shakespeare. But still Danish.

    Two years ago, my official Ortofon dealer convinced me to buy an Ortofon MC Century cartridge. There was no chance to audition the cartridge, but my dealer assured me it would be a major upgrade from my Ortofon MC Anna cartridge. I have been an Ortofon fan all my life, slowly moving up the food chain of Ortofon cartridges. The investment and risk were considerable, but the MC Century would be the culmination of my lifelong loyalty to the brand. Empathy played a considerable role in the decision.

    The upgrade was disappointing. The Century improved on the Anna in the lower registers but at the cost of an incisiveness reminiscent of digital playback. Detail at the cost of musicality. Over the course of the next 2 years, my dealer reset the cartridge/ arm combination a number of times, because I kept complaining that it did not deliver on its promise. To no avail.

    Finally, after more than 300 hrs play-back (closer to 500 hrs by my estimation), the Century revealed its true character. At long last, the Century delivered on its promise: thunderous but always musically accurate bass, life-like mids, soaring highs and an expansive and wholly coherent sound stage.

    A few months later, early January 2021, and quite suddenly, it died. The cartridge would no longer track. My dealer rushed it to Ortofon. They had long exchanges. I highlight the most notorious ones (my highlights).

    Feb 12th, 2021,
    The cartridge has a lot of dust that has almost cemented to the cartridge and you can also see that the cartridge has a bit of rust on the bottom.

    Best regards / Med venlig hilsen
    Anders Bentley
    Sales Department


    Feb 17th, 2021,

    The diagnostics made by our operator sounds like our recommendations for stylus and record care have not been observed, and that is how it had happened. The physical condition of the cartridge doesn’t align with the story customer has told, whilst we only rely on facts.
    To avoid it would happen again, I’d recommend refer to our HiFi FAQ, p.1 Stylus and record care here https://www.ortofon.com/support/support-hifi/faq-installation/, very shortly:
    1. Remove dust carefully from record surfaces by using Ortofon antistatic Record brush before every use.
    2. Use Ortofon Stylus fiber brush a few times along the cantilever in the direction of the stylus tip, whenever you play a new record or change sides.
    Ortofon do not recommend the use of solvents of any kind for cleaning of either record surface or stylus
    Best regards/Med venlig hilsen
    Katarina H. Nielsen
    Technical support Web Marketing

    Unbelievably, these are the very words of Ortofon.

    It is obvious from Bentley’s remarks that there was a serious quality control issue at Ortofon when my cartridge (nr 16) was assembled.
    Rust? Rust!
    Cemented dust? Cemented!

    I live uphill in a cork dry climate (Greece). I religiously clean all my records in a Glass Vinyl Ultrasound Cleaner before their first spin, use a microfiber brush to remove any dust before playing, and apply a Furutech DeStat-3 before lowering the diamond into the groove. Besides, during almost 50 years of playing vinyl almost exclusively with Ortofon cartridges, I NEVER had ANY issue, let alone with either rust of cement.

    Obviously, the rusted(!) part was rusted “ab initio”. And probably contaminated during manufacture with some cutting or hydraulic oil. Which in turn contaminated the cantilever and attracted/ attached the dust, which turned to “cement”. Or some variation of the above. Ortofon itself identified and recognized the problem! It sent a microscope picture illustrating the issue. But then Ortofon went Hamlet-crazy.

    According to Ortofon, the condition of the cartridge does not align with the “story” (?!) customer has told. Obviously, the customer and the Ortofon-dealer connived to deliberately rust and cement the cartridge. My official Ortofon-dealer and myself are liars.

    These are the “facts” and here is the “proof”: the customer uses a Glass Audiodesk Vinyl Cleaner (which uses water as a solvent, but then thoroughly dries the record). By the way, the use of any “solvent”-based record cleaner invalidates the warranty! And this, unashamedly, by the world’s leading manufacturer of cartridges!

    Ortofon dismisses the self-evident explanation – its own glaring shortcoming – to go on a rant against its most loyal customers. Ortofon devises a crime involving customer and dealer. It throws credibility out of the window. A crime needs:
    1. a victim: the cartridge
    2. a motive: why would 2 Ortofon loyalists make up a story? One is its official dealer for 30 years, the other a loyal customer for 50 years, both with an impeccable track-record.
    3. a weapon: how did the suspects manage to “rust” a cartridge? And in such short time! To cement dust to the cantilever? If the use of an ultrasonic vinyl-cleaner or other “solvent” vinyl cleaner rusts cartridges or cements dust, the WHOLE vinyl-community, incl manufacturers of all feather, should put Ortofon in its place: stop the b*s*!
    4. a causality: absent motive and weapon, there is no causality.

    If we apply the above fact-based reasoning to Ortofon, only one conclusion imposes itself: Ortofoon is the guilty party!

    The God has fallen off his pedestal.

    What would I like to achieve with this letter?
    1. an apology: Ortofon has no idea how hurtful its baseless allegations are; it seems to have lost track of its mission, which is to provide musical enjoyment to its customers and revenue to its dealers. Instead, it is content to insult them.
    2. a redress: Ortofon repairs or replaces the MC Century at its own cost and provides a 5-year warranty, independently of the customer’s use of a vinyl-cleaner.
    3. a warning: it is impossible for a customer to check in-depth a piece of brand new HiFi when he buys it; if defects are present, they might appear with time; a customer must then rely on the reputation of the vendor for a reasonable outcome; in fact, in such cases, HiFi enthusiasts rely solely on the manufacturer’s reputation. Ortofon failed the test ignominiously. I can only hope that the vinyl-community, led by its most trustworthy opinion-makers, puts the company in its place. Otherwise, any Ortofon customer will fall prey to the company’s predatory practices. Any problem with an Ortofon Blue? Your fault: only use blue vinyl. Ortofon Ti? You “rusted” it. Ortofon Wood? You “rotted” it.

    The rot is elsewhere. It is in Denmark.

  3. Great review. The Anna D and the Atlas Lambda Sl , both are state of the art cartridges. When you get up in this range, it comes down to flavor and system matching. There are a few other excellent cartridges out there . I use the Lambda Sl into a Thrax Trajan step up transformer in my system. Incredible sound. I bet the Anna D would be outstanding also. Playing LPs, a whole lotta fun.

  4. Barold Huang says:

    Fantastic review! I also have an Anna Diamond, and I wholeheartedly agree with the impressions here. I find that this really raised the limit on the capabilities of vinyl, both with dynamics (large and small) as well as with insightfulness. Crazy enough, I’m already considering a rebuild, because ever since buying this cartridge, my vinyl listening hours have gone way up (and my DAC hours, unfortunately, not as much).

  5. Fred Crowder says:

    First, thanks for the kind comments with respect to the review. Sometimes you wonder whether the time and effort which a good review requires is appreciated or even if the finished product will resonate with readers.

    The remainder of my comments are directed to Mr. Huang: My experience with Ortofon as a company has been limited to two cartridges, The MC Anna Diamond and an earlier A-90 which I owned for over three years and sold to a friend who continues to use it in his system. With respect to the Anna, it is a phenomenal cartridge which mated well with my system after the initial 100 hours hours of break-in. With respect to the earlier version of the Lyra Atlas SL which I owned, I believe that it retrieves more low level detail and handles transients better. The Lyra on the other hand was somewhat warmer and kinder to less than perfect records. With respect to using the Anna and your comments, the Lyra stylus seemed to scour the grooves for any dirt. Even though I clean records with an Audiodesk ultrasonic cleaner and then use a second Audiodesk with laboratory grade water to rinse them, the Atlas particularly on first plays seemed to “gunk up”. This meant that I cleaned the stylus after each side. I will note that for many years I have only used the Lyra SPT cleaner which is alcohol free and which definitely improves the sound of their cartridges. With the Anna, I get much less build up and generally brushing the stylus seems to do the trick; however, I do on occasion use SPT with good results. Many years ago I did use an alcohol based cleaner which dissolved the glue on the diamond and caused it to fall off, so I do understand why the manufacturer takes the position which it does.

    Finally, I have noticed that even when I am playing vinyl on a regular basis, it takes at least a side of playing for the Anna to come up to its best and if I have gone a lengthy period since listening, it may take several sides for the cartridge to sound its best. If I were you (which I am not), I might consider trying to work a deal with the folks at Ortofon to trade in the Century for an Anna Diamond. Note that it is highly unlikely that they will repair the existing cartridge and give you a five year warranty and that if we are honest may not be a reasonable expectation; however, I do hope that they will stand behind their product. I have only dealt with the US importer and he has been topnotch.

  6. Fred Crowder says:

    I should have been more clear, it is the Anna Diamond that is somewhat more detailed with better transients. Also, I have noticed that the body of the Anna which rides above the record has an annoying tendency to attract dust etc. almost like a magnet collecting iron filings. I would rather that any dirt collect on the body than on the stylus as it is easier to clean and suspect that this may result from electrostatic attraction.

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