04 January, 2011

Talk Vinyl: Air Tight PC-1, Ortofon MC-5000 (and MC3000MkII)

Talk Vinyl: Air Tight PC-1, Ortofon MC-5000 (and MC3000MkII)

HiFi Letter from NYC 2010 (9): Magnepan 1.7 Redux
Clearaudio Concept Part IV

Right before I left NYC, I invited newly acquainted AL, a vinyl expert, to listen to my new cartridges (he had expressed interest in the Ortofon MC-5000). He brought a friend and my friends Mark and princetonsound also came. I barely had time to set up 2 systems for them to listen to.

Air Tight PC-1
I first heard the Air Tight PC-1 at ML's place several months ago (report here). I liked it but did not scrutinize it too much as we focused on comparing the Continuum and Clearaudio flagships.

Fortuitously in NYC I acquired a used, but low-hours, sample (not Supreme). I swapped out the Koetsu Black (mentioned previously here) on my Linn LP12 and the sound was instantly captivating through my reference balanced system, similar to that reported before :

Analogue Source: Linn LP12 Lingo/Ittok/PC-1
Phonoamp: BAT P5
Preamp: BAT VK3i (reviewed here)
Amp: Audio Research VT130
Speakers: Magnepan MG1.7
Cables: Fully balanced Gotham GAC-3

The PC-1 has a healthy output of 0.6 mV and did not cause the Phonoamp undue distress. Its internal impedance is 2.5 ohm and I loaded it at 30 ohms on the P5.

It excels in mid-range presence, and with its well-controlled yet full midbass yields a very live and direct sound not unlike horns, or a little reminiscent of Decca cartridge if you will (funny that JV in his TAS review compared it to a Decca). Its bass control is obviously superior to the sometimes rowdy Koetsu Black (the LP12/Ittok may be to blame too), but the treble and high-midrange is a little more clinical than the Koetsu. All in all, all my friends, including Princetonsound and AL, were impressed.

Just a brief word on the Maggies. They sound better in my new room, like all other speakers. Bass is more robust and the top smoother. I am pleased.

Ortofon MC-5000 (and MC-3000MkII)
This time I brought both the Clearaudio Concept TT and Ortofon MC-5000 to NYC. The MC-5000, like the similar MC-3000 MkII, has a ceramic body, uses the replicant stylus (same as in the previous Ortofon statement product, MC Winfield, as well as the current A-90!), an has a very low output of barely over 0.1 mV, mandating the use of step-up transformers. Installation on the Verify arm proved a breeze, and I was immediately rewarded by the sound through the more casual setup:

Source: Clearaudio Concept/Verify arm
Step-up transformers: WE 285L and Langevin 402B (into AN silver cable)
Phonoamp: Linn Kairn (using tape out and Gotham GAC-4 cable)
Preamp: Langevin 102 preamp (vintage cable)
Amp: McIntosh 2200 (Acrotec cables)
Speakers: Magnepan 1.7
As I'd expect the sound was wonderfully detailed, dynamic, and with very wide bandwidth. No frequency called attention to itself. I had actually worried whether the 5000 would be a good match with the crisp sounding Concept. There was no trouble whatsoever. In this different system it did not quite project like the PC-1 did, but in terms of neutrality it was well nigh perfect. By neutrality, please do not think of the clinical kind. Percussion were reproduced with all their sheen, not tinged with whiteness as in lesser analogues (not to mention digitals).

I am also very pleased by the Concept, particularly the arm, which seems to work well with everything, and I still have room to spare in the counterweight for a somewhat heavier cartridge (these now are around 10 gm).
America, in music
Mr AL evidently liked the reproduction of one of his favorite LPs, Varese's Amerique (Vanguard). My copy was an early one, not a re-issue. If you don't have it, I'd urge you to get it for the strangely beautiful music that still sounds modern after all these years.

Words about the 5000 must have spread fast! Despite my protest, my copy was snatched up by AL's buddy, guru TM who merits a separate report all by himself.

A brief note before I stop: In HK previously I had installed the "legendary" MC-3000 MkII on the same TT and if my memory is correct, the 3000 is a little smoother and richer, particularly shining on massed strings. Both are cut from the same beautiful cloth and would be great buys. There are out there a lot more users of the cheaper 3000, and very little info on the later 5000. I hope my little bit helps. You'd be sure to hear more of these beauties in the articles to come.
Addendum on PC-1:
reviews by Ken Kessler; TAS

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