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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.

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