Starting around $300, you can get a nice quality turntable. While the sky’s the limit (we sell turntables that cost well into the thousands of dollars), $300-$500 is a great budget for a turntable that will produce a great sound, won’t damage your records and will last for decades....
Ortofon 2M Phono Cartridges
Ortofon 2M Phono Cartridges Series Overview
Company & Product Overview
When you think about the great, great grandparents of today’s world of HiFi, you’d be hard-pressed not to put the Danish company, Ortofon at the top of the list. This world-renowned manufacturer of phono cartridges, turntable accessories, and medical devices has the largest selection of phono cartridges of any brand.
The fact, they invented the moving coil cartridge in 1946 and to this day still make all of their cartridges at their factory in Denmark is a testament to their 100 years plus history of moving the bar forward for great sound. Another mark of success is the large number of turntable brands that choose Ortofon cartridges for their turntables. From Pro-Ject, to U-Turn, to EAT and more, these brands select Ortofon because of their consistent performance and great sound for the money.
Once you decide you’d like to try an Ortofon cartridge, you’ll soon figure out they have (as of this article) 55 different models, yes 55! If you have a very specific cartridge need, Ortofon probably has a model just for you.
In today’s overview, we will dive into their most popular range, the 2M series. These cartridges are modestly priced, have plenty of output for most systems, and offer a heck of a lot of value for the money.
Technology Shared by the 2M Models
First, we thought it might be interesting to clue you in on how the name of this series came about. Take a look at this phrase: Moving Magnet. Do you see the two-letter M’s? Yes, the 2M series are all moving magnet phono cartridges designed to work with just about any phono preamp.
Split Pole Tech
Back in the heyday of CD’s Ortofon was developing a new technology to allow moving magnet cartridges to have a flatter response at the top end of their range. If you were to chop apart a typical moving magnet cartridge, on the end of the system that generates energy, you’d find what are called pole pieces which then get wired to the connections on the back of the cartridges. Historically these were tiny hollow cylinders.
Ortofon found if you put a tiny slit down the length of the cylinder, it would reduce eddy current losses caused by magnetic hysteresis. This is called split pole pins. That’s a lot of tech talk, but the end result is a more flat frequency response with greater extension and more accurate phase between the two channels. All of the 2M models share this tech.
Almost all 2M models are made from the same pretty neat polycarbonate material called Hopelex. This is an environmentally friendly material with very high rigidity that also is almost resonant free. Using Hopelex means no external resonances will make their way into the sound the cartridge is pulling out of the record grooves.
Universal As Can Be
Ortofon designed the output of the 2M series models and the size and weight to be compatible with as many different turntables and amplifiers on the market as possible. This along with their great sound value for the money is another reason you’ll see 2M models on many different turntables.
Easy Stylus Replacement and Possible Upgrade
When your stylus wears out, you will not have to take the cartridge off as all of the 2M models have a user-replaceable stylus. This leads into another really great feature the 2M models have.
If you have a Red or Bronze, these have identical insides as the next models up, the Blue and Black. The big difference between the Red and Blue or Bronze and Black is the stylus assembly. You can easily upgrade your sound when it's time to buy a replacement stylus if you have a Red or Bronze, by simply installing a Blue or Black stylus. This is pretty cool, especially for all of those Red’s that came with pretty decent turntables like the Debut Carbon. We should point out you can not jump from a Red to a Bronze or Black as the internal workings are different.
Or if you are into mono and 78’s, those two cartridges also have interchangeable stylus assemblies, pretty neat!
Three Different Configurations
While most people will use the standard 2M type, Ortofon does offer two other versions of these great cartridges, just from a mounting standpoint. There are some vintage turntables out there that require the cartridge to mount from the bottom side of the tonearm. This is called the 2M Verso. If you have a turntable with a bayonet-type mount where the entire headshell comes off, you can get any of the 2M models premounted to a specially designed Ortofon headshell which uses a very nonresonant compound Ortofon developed for the Medical industry. This is called the “Plug & Play MkII” model.
The Ortofon 2M Models
2M Red Phono Cartridge
The 2M Red is the first model in the 2M series and is considered by many to be one of the best values in HiFi. It uses the trademark split pole pins design and delivers great channel separation. This cartridge is warm, rich, and forgiving, yet has the ability to extract a lot of information from the record grooves with pretty good dynamics. These characteristics are the main reason you’ll see it as the factory choice on a lot of turntables in the $300-$600 price range. It uses a specially designed Ortofon engine, with an elliptical stylus, and the polycarbonate Hopelex body.
If you have a turntable in the sub $5-600 range that came with what you may feel was a more entry-level cartridge, the 2M Red will be a great upgrade over most of the giveaway cartridges you see on some entry-level tables. It is a serious HiFi cartridge that will bring a new level of music to your vinyl.
Please feel free to reach out to our experts to see if the 2M would be a good fit for your table. Usually, if your turntable has an adjustable counterweight, it’s a pretty easy upgrade as the size and shape of all of the 2M’s are very universal. The 2M will also have plenty of output to work with just about any phono preamp, whether it is a separate component or built into your receiver or amp.
Many of you reading this may have a 2M Red that came on your turntable and wonder about the 2M Blue, which is the next model up.
2M Blue Phono Cartridge
When you move up to the 2M Blue, it's all about the diamond! If you were to look at a phono cartridge up close, you will see the round piece coming out of the cartridge body. This is called the cantilever. The diamond stylus, which then traces the grooves of your record, gets mounted to the cantilever.
With the 2M Red, the diamond is mounted to a small metal shank, which is then mounted to the cantilever. Starting with the 2M Blue and up, the diamond is mounted directly onto the cantilever which is called Nude mounting. This method reduces tip mass which means the stylus can respond faster to those tiny changes in the record grooves.
The benefit you hear with this is pretty big. Just about everything related to the sound is improved. You’ll hear many more tiny little details in the music and it will seem more effortless and open. With the 2M Red, you might have been able to tell there were two drum sticks playing with a cymbal, with the 2M Blue, you’ll hear a lot more into the sound of that interaction.
You’ll also hear more resolution, so those harmony parts will be better separated and your music will take on more life as the 2M definitely steps up the dynamics over the 2M Red.
Our advice is if you have a table with a 2M Red, buy the 2M Blue stylus either now or when it's time to replace it. You will be very surprised at the difference just a Nude elliptical stylus can make!
2M Bronze Phono Cartridge
When you move up to the 2M Bronze, you’ll be taking things to a new level. First, the internal engine is upgraded over the one used in the 2M Red and Blue. The internal wiring also goes from copper to silver-plated copper. The stylus used on the 2M Bronze is a Nude Fine Line elliptical type. It has a slim profile that allows it to get deeper into the record groove. And as you might imagine, when you reach further down into those grooves you pull out, guess what? More music!
If your records are clean, we hear less surface noise with the 2M Bronze as well as the stylus rests deeper in the grooves. This can be especially beneficial for used records that were played on a cheaper stylus that has never made it down to that level of the groove walls.
The benefit you hear is a much more open sound with a greater level of resolution over the 2M Blue. Many times when you think about components that have more resolution, you may think they might also sound bright or shrill. This is not the case with the 2M Bronze which has a very well balanced sound. All those little details that draw you into the music come out much more with the 2M Bronze.
2M Black Phono Cartridge
The 2M Black has the same engine, body, and wiring as the 2M Bronze but with a highly polished Shibata diamond. This type of stylus has a very wide contact area which means it pulls out even more information from the grooves. As a matter of fact, it's the exact same stylus they use on their high-end Cadenza series of moving coil cartridges. The 2M Black is Ortofon’s best moving magnet cartridge from a company that has been making phono cartridges longer than just about any other.
When you compare the Black and Bronze, you immediately notice the Black just sounds a lot faster and more open. Dynamics jump out like you would not believe! On a great recording, you’ll think your turntable just got a shot of espresso, the music just comes to life.
Just like with the 2M Bronze, if your records are clean, you’ll have even less surface noise.
Now there is just one catch, the 2M Black is very revealing of what is in the grooves, it hides nothing. It also needs to be set up very well from an azimuth standpoint to get the best performance out of it. If you want to stay with a moving magnet and extract every ounce of music you can from the grooves, the 2M Black is a wonderful choice. However, if you are a more casual listener who just loves great, involving sound, the 2M Bronze might be a better match for your tastes, especially if your turntable is not on the higher end side of things.
Special Application 2M Models
The people who make Ortofon cartridges do not want to leave any type of vinyl lover left behind, so they even make some special application models for 78’s and vintage or new release mono records.
2M Mono Phono Cartridge
The 2M Mono uses a Nude mounted spherical stylus in what is pretty similar to the body of the Red/Blue series with a mono engine. It is a really good choice for listeners who want to hear their mono records the way they were intended to be heard.
2M Mono SE Phono Cartridge
In 2014 the Beatles re-released their mono collection and at the same time, Ortofon introduced the 2M Mono SE as a tribute to this collection. The 2M Mono SE is basically a 2M Black in a white Lexan body (which funny enough matches the color of the 2014 boxed collection) and a mono engine. It has a special Nude mounted Shibata stylus that will guarantee you will hear every tiny detail present in the re-release. This is the way to hear this great boxed set! And better yet, you’ll have another great collection to listen to with the Beatles 2019 22 singles mono collection! We think it's pretty cool of Ortofon to develop a cartridge this way.
2M 78 Phono Cartridge
If you collect those shellac 78’s, Ortofon has a great cartridge for you with the 2M 78. It uses a Spherical diamond. This type of stylus is ideal for 78 rpm shellac records, which require a larger stylus profile. You can even interchange the stylus on the regular 2M Mono and 2M 78.
If you have made it to the end, you can tell Ortofon is going to make a cartridge for every type of application. And this article only covered the moving magnets! They make a huge variety of moving coils for those of you wanting even higher performance.
Every time you move up, you will hear more music from your record grooves, but it is a matter of getting the cartridge that is best matched for your turntable and system. We are here to help you on your vinyl journey with both advice and set up help.
And speaking of set up, Rega owners who want to try out an Ortofon will be happy to know you can now source the special Acoustic Signature Spacer Set. Ortofon recommends for Rega tables from Audio Advice. These are pretty simple to install as you do not have to remove the arm, they just slide underneath the arm collar to raise up the VTA to match up with the Ortofon 2M series.
We hope our article has helped you understand the differences in the 2M models and that you have learned something about this great Danish company who is now pushing towards their 110th anniversary!
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