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Ortofon Rondo Red Cartridge Review

Ortofon Rondo Red phono cartridge

After a good few days, I’ve finally got round to penning the review for this cartridge. It was here over Christmas, but with all the festivities and a nasty bout of something, I’ve only now managed to get the write up done.

I normally hate trying alternative cartridges, as it involves the drama of removing and re-fitting them to the deck from hell, and inevitably that means breaking one of the cartridge tags, losing my temper, wrecking the setup and generally being in a foul mood for a while. However, I’d used a Rondo for quite a while in the past and the opportunity to try one again was one I’d always been interested in, so the offer of a Rondo Red on loan was too hard to turn down. Actually, fitting was relatively simple as the cartridge is nicely threaded. Alignment was straightforward and, praise be, I managed to accomplish the job without breaking any of the cartridge tags. In practical terms, the flip-down stylus guard is practical and useful, but can be removed for those who consider it might have any affect on the sound.

According to Ortofon, the Rondo series have bodies made from a wood and resin composite for good damping properties, which is then lacquer coated. The internal bits comprise neodymium magnets and the coils are wound with gold-plated copper wire. There are three models in the Rondo series, all moving coil: the red, blue and bronze. They differ only in the stylus and cantilever (and obviously, the price and colour!) the ‘red’ is the entry-level model, currently retailing for a not unreasonable £350 or so.

As this was a demonstration model, it is probably safe to assume that it has had at least a little run time, so although it might change a little over some more hours it is probably sounding about right. A little fiddling with alternate settings on my system and down to some listening. Right from the off, the Rondo exhibited an even-handed presentation without any apparent rough edges or over brightness. Bass was particularly pleasant, with a decent degree of ‘speed’ to the presentation and a lack of softness. It appears as though the designers have deliberately avoided the trap of emphasising anything to make a good first impression, and have instead concentrated on a more natural presentation. Something that I personally find very enjoyable. Over time, this proved to be true and extended listening confirmed the initial impressions. The cartridge tracks very well and had no issues with quite challenging test records. The recommended tracking weight of 2 – 2.5 gm also means that it will get plenty of information from the groove, without the risk of excessive wear. The dynamics are very good, the mids are really quite lovely and the top end is clean without being overblown. Soundstage and overall presentation are also surprisingly competent and surface noise seems well suppressed. Once again, listening with some friends here elicited the same sort of comments. Very good bass reproduction and a lovely treble that avoids any trace of harshness, yet is ‘all there’.

I ran through my stock selection of ‘music I know on vinyl’ and the Rondo never failed to deliver. Dynamics were always clean and had a pleasant ‘edge’ without becoming false sounding. The cartridge was also far better than I had expected at portraying stringed instruments and piano, and even very complex works seemed not to put it off in the least. The output is reasonable for a moving coil, at around 500uV and the recommended load impedance is between 10 and 200 ohms, so most MC phono stages and step-up transformers should present no problems.

My Ortofon Rondo Red was kindly loaned by BD Audio, who can supply the whole Ortofon range. Although £350 is not beer money, in terms of moving coil cartridges this has to be considered something of a bargain. Definitely a firm recommendation at the price.

Reference system: Well Tempered turntable, Hashimoto step-up transformer, Art Audio Vinyl One phono, Pure Sound L300 pre-amp, 845SE power amp, Living Voice OBX-RW speakers.

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