Ortofon Quintet Black Moving Coil Cartridge: Fast, Clean, Nimble and Detailed

Ortofon's new moderately priced Quintet MC series duplicates the color designations used on the company's highly regarded MM line. That was a smart choice. Analog enthusiasts have an instant tiering picture. The $314 Quintet Red is at the line's bottom, the $999 Quintet Black at the top.

The Quintet Black features a Boron cantilever to which is attached a nude Shibata stylus. The coil wire is of Aucurum (gold-plated 99.999999% oxygen free mono crystalline copper). Magnets are Neodymium. Output voltage is a modest .3mV while internal impedance is 5 ohms. Ortofon recommends loading >20 ohms (a good rule of thumb is 10x internal impedance or in this case around 50 ohms). Compliance is a moderate 15µm/mN. The body is of ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) to which is bonded a tapped aluminum top plate. The Quintet Black's innards resemble in many ways those found in the far more expensive Windfeld and A90, though don't for a second think you're getting either of those for $999!

Setup

The line's square body makes initial set up easy though you should never use the body to set overhang or zenith angle. Instead use the cantilever (and even that's somewhat problematic since we've discovered using the USB microscope that styli are sometimes not "squared" upon insertion into the cantilever). Setting the cartridge body parallel to the record surface is again made easy by the body shape but that is only a starting point for setting SRA/VTA, which in the case of a Shibata stylus is critical.

The Quintet body is tall and so in most cases when you replace your current cartridge with the Black you will be raising the back of the arm to get it parallel to the record surface (which again is not usually the final VTA/SRA setting point, especially given the sample to sample SRA variations found throughout most cartridge manufacturer's offerings. I used a digital microscope (AMT 313) to set SRA and in this case the arm ended up slightly below parallel to the record surface but should you buy a Quintet Black don't use that as a guide.

Tracking force was 2.3 grams while final loading was 100 ohms though for whatever reason or reasons the Quintet was not as sensitive as some MCs to small loading changes. If you like to play around with fractions of an ohm or even 10s of ohms, be my guest. I tend not to be so obsessive once in the "ballpark".

Smooth MC Sound

The 2M Black's $775 price tag makes it awfully close to the Quintet Black's price tag, though I realize that for many people $225 is a lot of money and probably what they might budget for a cartridge in the first place. Still, while the 2M Black is an amazing MM cartridge, for an additional $225 the Quintet Black offers a significant performance upgrade in terms of speed, extension, overall nimbleness and timbral accuracy particularly in the midrange where the 2M good as it is, sounds somewhat clogged though one person's 'clogged' is another's 'rich' if you know what I mean.

There's simply no getting around the fact that compared to a MM cartridge, a lower mass MC cartridge, where the lighter coils not the heavier magnets do the moving is going to be faster and nimbler. Add the Quintet's lighter more rigid Boron cantilever and you have in the Quintet a cartridge better able to delineate space, dig out reverb trails, and produce overall greater detail retrieval, though the 2M Black is not all that far behind thanks to its Shibata stylus.

MM advocates who find MCs bright on top need to hear the Quintet Black. It's top end is anything but "bright". In fact it's well-burnished and reminded me of the top end of some of the premium MySonic Labs cartridges. Top end detail is "in the pocket" tight without exaggeration or edginess. I spent an evening comparing an original pressing with a Light in the Attic reissue of Lou Adler's oddity Dylan's Gospel (Ode Z12 44018 vs. LITA 106) and though the LITA is especially well packaged and nicely pressed (review coming) and the record is tonally very good, the cut by John Golden omits the original's spatial perspective and image focus. I'm betting it was cut from a 96/24 digital source. If it's analog I'll eat a CD.

Of course the Lyra Atlas produced the spatial differences with startling ease but the Quintet was not all that far behind. This studio recording was miked by Armin Steiner (who I believe is still alive and deserving of an interview!) with direction from Adler to make it staged like a church setting so that the lead singer was in front of "the pulpit" with the large male and female chorus arrayed behind. The drum kit mixed to sound well behind the lead and surrounded by plenty of room sound "pops". The individual chorus members are startlingly present and easily to delineate from the group.

The Quintet does an impressive job separating out these elements and of producing a vast three-dimensional space, though not equal to that of the 10X more expensive cartridge. Though Ortofon conservatively rates separation at 'greater than 23dB', I measured 28 dB, which is very good.

When I switched to the LITA reissue, while the overall presentation was very good and it could be argued that the tonal balance was somewhat more linear and the sound "cleaner", the lead vocalist's presence was diminished and focus somewhat blurred. The drums so clearly delineated in space on the original is pressed against the lead singer's image. There's nothing "digital" about the sound, it's just spatially "lossy" compared to the original—much like the sound of the Led Zeps cut from 96/24 files.

I know, this is a cartridge review so I'll get back to it! The point I was trying to make is that the Quintet's spatial abilities are outstanding even compared to a 10X the price cartridge and its tonal balance is very accomplished, particularly in the all important midrange where it is supremely linear.

So from bottom to top: the lower octaves are nimble and "faster" than my recollection of the 2M's, but if the Quintet has any shortcomings its less than fully extended and/or expressive bass response (remember I'm auditioning on a full range speaker system). But what's not there in full weight is more than made up for by the cartridge's bass detail and excellent textural presentation. I covered the midrange. The top end, though slightly burnished has plenty of snap and "chimey goodness" on cymbals where it counts (I remember hearing my first cymbal hits on the first MC cartridge I ever owned—a Dynavector Ruby—and that was an unforgettable ear opening experience). The Quintet's macrodynamic presentation is good but not much superior to that of the 2M Black. It is much better than the 2M Black in the micro-dynamic region—the small dynamic shifts that make recorded music sound more "live", which is to be expected given the cartridge's faster response time.

Summing it All Up

If you are looking for a MC cartridge that unravels large amounts of transient, harmonic and spatial detail without being overly analytical and one that is "fast" without moving so fast it misses the textures, then the Ortofon Quintet is a great good choice to consider. It's especially neutral tonally, with a rich but not overly rich midrange component—contrary to the bad rap MC cartridges get in some quarters for being "thin and overly analytical". The Quintet is neither.

Its reproduction of the piano is particularly impressive capturing well the initial transient without metallic overlay, and the sounding board sustain and generous decay—all aided by excellent tracking and of course with the Shibata stylus tracing as well. I pulled out the Volto Incitare LP reviewed here recently and can confirm that the Quintet can do justice to edgy electric guitar transients and it was equally good on the drum kit's kick, snare and especially cymbals.

Interestingly, the Quintet shares the far more expensive Windfeld's tonal and textural superiority with its less than fully expressive macro dynamics. In my opinion I'm happy to give up some dynamic capabilities in exchange for near tonal perfection especially at $999.00. Just remember that with its .3mV output you need a quiet phono preamp capable of at least 53dB gain. Feeding an MC stage with those capabilities the Ortofon Quintet is an all around great performer for all musical genres. $999 is not chump change but if that's your budget and your phono preamp can do it justice and your tone arm's VTA/SRA is adjustable to optimize the Shibata stylus, the Quintet is recommended without reservation.

COMPANY INFO
Ortofon US
500 Executive Blvd. Suite 102, Ossining, NY 10562
Ossining, NY 10562
(914) 762-8646

COMMENTS
Jazzfan62's picture

The sound characteristics you described are somewhat the same experience I'm having with my new DV-20x2. How do you think they compare?

vinyl listener's picture

the dv is a nice cartridge, do you have the high output or low output version ?

ps - where did the linn no-future-in-this-turntable story go ?

Jazzfan62's picture

Thea Ortofons were just coming out. When you get to the $1000(ish) price range, there are a lot of cartridge options. I wanted a smoother sound more than a clinical characteristic. I'm really pleased with the DV. I have about 50 hours on it and it is still improving.

Was still curious how they stack up against one another.

Michael Fremer's picture
Haven't compared so I don't know.
Michael Fremer's picture
Haven't compared so I don't know.
txcannonball's picture

Mr. Fremer,

Just wanted to check if you were planning to review the latest batch of Led Zeppelin reissues on analogplanet.com (and by the way - do you ever plan to review the Led Zeppelin III reissue?- I'm curious to hear your opinion of how it compares to the Classic Records version.)

Best regards,

Michael

Michael Fremer's picture
Not sure about the value of reviewing the others since I think the set cut from 96/24 files will more likely than not be consistent throughout.
Ortofan's picture

...is there any chance that they might bring out a moderately priced step-up transformer? Maybe they could revive the old STM-72 or even the little T-5?

Cartel's picture

An excellent cart at a v. reasonable price then.
Which tonearm would you recommend, Michael? Ortofon's own (isn't it a Jelco)?

John G's picture

Looks like a nice line of MC cartridges at nice price points. Looks small enough to fit on smaller head shells too!

MonetsChemist's picture

Mr. Fremer,

Thank you very much for always taking the time to review "affordable stuff", and for comparing it to the "really good stuff".

I don't see myself affording a VPI Classic Direct with a Lyra Atlas at any time in the near future. However a Quintet Black on my VPI Classic 1 is certainly a possibility, and knowing what to expect from it, thanks to your detailed description, and knowing what I am "giving up" (haw haw by not selling both family cars, all the computers, the TV, the dishwasher and the dog) is the reason why I do not fail to read your reviews, columns, Analog Planet, ...

Thanks!

ERIKINNORWAY's picture

It look dirty at the front already! What did you do with it Fremer? Oh, no this is the Atlas scandal all over again! :-D

Catcher10's picture

I know that I,II,III were created from 192/24 digital transfers of the original analog tapes.....Were IV and HoH done from 96/24??

airdronian's picture

Well written. I echo MonetsChemist's comment on reviewing cartridges in this price range.

It's not often that a cartridge manufacturer comes out with a new MC range; I think Ortofon has been smart with their development.

Reddy Kilowatt's picture

Wonder how this Quintet would differ from my low output
Benz Glider S, newest version? Anyone have experience with
the Benz and Quintet both?

AnalogJ's picture

I have heard Ortofon's MM, Quintet, and Cadenza series, as well as the Anna. Boy, does the Anna blow the others away, and it should at $8000. But to my ears (and it's system dependent as well), the Glider gets closer to the Anna than the lower level Ortofons. The thing that is common to most Ortofons is they're about speed, tautness, and detail retrieval. But only the Anna feels like real people playing real music. The Glider gives you that. There is a sense of confident ease with the Glider, in my opinion, that you don't get with the Ortofons until you get to a really high level. I even listened to the A90 and it just didn't do it for me.

So unless you just find the Glider to sound too relaxed, stick with the Glider. The Glider may not wow you in any particular area, but it's such a good all-arounder, and that ease is important to me. On the other hand, if a cartridge sounds boring or just doesn't do it for you, rightly look elsewhere.

tbromgard's picture

Hi Michael-
I would love to read your impressions of Zep 3 - 5.Do you plan a review?

alphaGT62's picture

Am I in the market for a thousand dollar cartridge? I know that is a hard question for you to answer, and I know there are exceptions to every rule. But, it seems that it would be a waste to put a $5000 cart. on a $350 record player, or hook a $5000 preamp to a $150 cartridge. So where does common sense break? Personally I have a $2000 record player, I'm guessing about half is table, and half is tonearm. And my preamp sold for a grand when it was new. So, each piece cost a grand. Seems like a thousand dollar cartridge would fit right in? Right now I've got a $500 cart that I'm very happy with. Am I missing out? Should I have a thousand dollar cartridge on my rig? Would it make sense if I shopped in the $2000 range? Or is it likely the rest of my rig, unchanged, wouldn't provide the best sound from the $2K cart? I feel like I'm answering my own question. Has anything I've said made any sense? Does anyone else have these thoughts? Or should I seek therapy? Or spend the grand on new records and be happy? Thanks for the review, the Ortofon has great appeal, I feel like I want it! But that's not unusual.

Ken Wood Jr.'s picture

The question is if the product that interests you sounds better than what you have, and if that improvement is worth the investment. Personally, I don't subscribe to the application of the phrase "law of diminishing returns" in the endeavor of High Fidelity. If the improvement a product brings to your system is obvious and you can't bring yourself to spend the money, then whatever it is that's diminishing ain't the product.

alphaGT62's picture

Your point is well taken Ken. What I need is to do some driving, find some salons that can educate me on products in my price range.

GFaulk's picture

Hi Mike,
Thanks for a great site. I'm a daily visitor. After reading your review of the Quintet Black(and other reviews of this cartridge) I decided to make this cartridge my first MC cartridge. I'm thrilled with the purchase. Your description of its sound mirrors what I hear. An additional improvement is a reduction in surface noise. My previous cartridge was the excellent 2M Bronze, which sounded very good. For some reason, I assumed MC cartridges would add noise. My next purchase will be a phono pre-amp. I am currently using a Pro-Ject Tube Box S or the built in pre-amp in my Emotiva XSP-1. Once again, thanks!

FatElvis's picture

Bought the Black a few weeks ago, and I'm in love. This replaced a Linn Adikt (no slouch)... I'm blown away. This is my first MC, and I'm using the Budgie SUT (at 1:20).

VTA is critical. Didn't adjust at first, and bottom end was very puffy sounding. Raised the tail a bit and it all came into focus. Setup is a breeze thanks to the Quintet's boxy design.

mitcho's picture

Will the Quintet Black be in the Stereophile recommended components? If so any indication at what level? From the review, I would think it would be slotted in either A or B. Thanks

wadeh911's picture

Enjoyed this well written review as well as your monthly Stereophile column. My new JC3+ will need a MC to mate up with. Would you think a medium mass tonearm would be a good fit with the Quintet Black?

Michael Fremer's picture
A medium mass arm would be a good fit but it also must have adjustable VTA/SRA and you must set it carefully because the Shibata stylus is very sensitive to SRA..92 degrees give or take a degree...
rockit's picture

Hi
Thanks to the review I've also decided to make the Quintet Black my first MC cartridge.
Just had MC modules fitted to my phono stage and am expecting my cartridge on Monday.
I'll feedback after they've both had some time to settle.
Eager to say the least.

mitcho's picture

was there a break in period? did you notice any change from when you first used it to later after some hours were on the cartridge?

thanks

rockit's picture

Hi
Yes. Most definitely needed about 30 hours before i realised i wasn't disappointed.
No I'm really impressed and would highly recommend it.
Got it on a Pro-ject 6 Perspex.
Upgraded from a 2M Black and it is an upgrade.
The MC modules on my Whisper phono stage need another couple (about 50) of hours...

andrew wilson's picture

hello to all.I would have to agree with everything that you said in your review.The thing is though here in the U.K.we get it pre-fitted on the project 9 superpack.thats what its called here Mike.Have you done a review of the project 9?.ANDY.

JanH6's picture

Andy, for what it's worth . I scored a great deal on a project 9 recently and got the Q Blk cartridge for free :). The 9 is a serious piece of kit and comes packed in a crate. It's a breeze to set up. At first it sounded congested with bloated bass but after about 30 hrs the cartridge really started to open up. Michaels' review on the Quintet Black is spot on and so are the reviews you can find online for the 9. For me it's a step up from an Xpression III with 2M bronze and it's really no comparison. The 9 just does everything better......a lot better.

wadeh911's picture

Michael I enjoy your column in Stereophile and the launch of Analog Planet. As a multichannel guy I also enjoy Kal Rubinson's love of MCH music, Between Art Dudley and you, my interest in vinyl was reawakened. Yes vinyl sounds different, not better or worse, that DSD files. If one of your websites goals is to introduce your readers to new analog offerings, mark me down as a very satisfied subscriber who parted with some hard earned money and purchased the Parasound Halo JC3+ phono preamp and the Ortofon Quintet Black after reading about first reading about them from you. Thank you very very much. I am extremely satisfied with my analog and vinyl pairing!

hankaberle's picture

I bought a new Ortofon Quintet mono cartridge through an authorized online dealer and the cartridge fell apart after 7 months. This should not happen with a quality cartridge! Especially when it cost more than $400!! Obviously Ortofon is not a quality company any more. I will NEVER buy another Ortofon product and I urge others to think twice about an investment in one.

LarryRS's picture

According to their website, Ortofon has changed the cantilever on the Quintet Black from boron to sapphire due to the limited availabilty (and presumably cost) of boron, changing the name to Quintet Black S. Has anyone had a chance to compare the S version to the original?

Rantz's picture

Would love to know if any one has heard the difference or can tell me the pro and con's of the Sapphire cantilever over the boron?