POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 17
Ortofon Pro S40 cartridge
as reviewed by Ed Kobesky
Ivor Tiefenbrun has his LP12, Roy Gandy his Rega. Kevin A. Barrett, the KAB in KAB Electro Acoustics of Plainfield, New Jersey, has his Technics SL-1200. Unlike Tiefenbrun and Gandy, he didn't invent it, but he reintroduced it to a small legion of audiophiles eager to hop off the hi-fi rollercoaster and enjoy their records again.
The SL-1200 is far from perfect, but it's a very stable and well-made turntable. Unfortunately, Technics has long forgotten its audiophile roots, and that's where Kevin comes in. He picked up the torch and ran with it, introducing performance-enhancing accessories like an SME-inspired fluid damper for the SL-1200's tonearm, an outboard power supply, and a series of cartridges with integrated headshells that have had their DJ needles extracted and replaced with audiophile styli. Eliminating the headshell not only improves the sonic equation but smakes mounting a snap.
If you're an SL-1200 owner attracted to the three-bolt installation systems favored by Linn and Rega, one of KAB's cartridges may be right up your alley. The KAB version of Ortofon's Concorde Pro S is particularly interesting. Known as the KAB-Ortofon Pro S40, it requires no alignment whatsoever, provided you agree with Ortofon's ideas about alignment (see below). It costs about the same as a Rega Elys and much less than a Linn Adikt, and it comes with the very fine OM40 stylus, which features a low-mass cantilever fitted with a Fritz Geiger line-contact diamond.
Talk about plug and play! Unpack your SL-1200, slide the platter and mat onto the spindle, plug the table into an AC socket and the arm into a phono stage. Screw on the KAB-Ortofon Pro S40, adjust the arm height, set the tracking force and anti-skating, and you're done. You'll be playing records in the space of about five minutes. Unfortunately, you must have an SL-1200 to take proper advantage of the Pro S40. It will work with other arms and tables, but ideal geometry is only guaranteed on the Technics.
Everyone has an opinion on cartridge alignment. Rega has theirs, which differs from that of Baerwald and Lofgren. Technics has theirs, too. It is designed to minimize distortion on the difficult-to-track inner grooves, and works as well as any. The Ortofon scheme mimics the Technics scheme. Since there's no such thing as perfect alignment with a pivoting arm, it all comes down to which points along the arm's travel achieve the least distortion? Ortofon's compromises were well chosen. I never noted any untoward distortion, and never felt any need to tweak. With its tracking force set to 1.75 grams, the Pro S40 was an athletic groove tracer. It stayed firmly planted during the most heavily modulated passages of old Mercury Living Presence LPs, and performed commendably on my Hi-Fi News test LP as well as the old Stereo Review test record.
I've always found Ortofon cartridges to be on the dull side of neutral, and the KAB-Ortofon Pro S40 is no exception, but don't let that dissuade you,
It's a matter of personal preference, and has nothing to do with the Pro S40's otherwise commendable performance. After a few hours of listening, I came to appreciate the S40 as one of the most musically truthful cartridges in the $200 to $300 range. It's also the most detailed moving magnet design I've yet heard, extracting tons of subtleties without ever being harsh or analytical. It's very easy to listen to.
The Pro S40 has one of the deepest soundstages I've ever heard. It's like 3-D glasses for your ears, but—there's always a “but” in this price range—the soundstage is much narrower than I would like. Fiddling with speaker placement alleviated this to some degree, but the soundstage never grew to the Cinemascope proportions offered by the Denon DL-110.
The Pro S40 turned in a remarkably smooth and nuanced performance when playing jazz, classical, pop, folk, even reggae. The only exception was rock music, on which I found the S40 unmoving. Whether you'll like it or not will come down to your musical tastes, as well as how you like to listen. If you enjoy short bursts of moving-coil type thrills and chills, you'll be better served by another cartridge. If you like a detailed, non-fatiguing, and neutral musical experience that can be enjoyed for hours on end, the KAB-Ortofon Pro S40 may be for you.
Is there any advantage (aside from ease of installation) to choosing the integrated Pro S40 over a standard-mount Ortofon OM40? To find out, I bought an Ortofon OM10 Super cartridge, which is internally similar to the Pro S. Swapping the OM40 stylus unit between the two, I found the Concorde to have clearer sound, a richer midrange, and a very slightly quieter background. The differences are subtle but noticeable. If you compared these cartridges back to back, as I did, you would choose the integrated version in a heartbeat.
The Pro S40 rates very highly on the value scale. You could not assemble one yourself for that price—an OM40 stylus, if you can find one, sells for $225. The Geiger stylus will last for at least 1000 hours, up to three times the expected lifespan of more conventional styli. If $249 is too rich for your blood, KAB also offers the Pro S40 on a special-order basis with the more affordable 20 (nude) or 30 (fine line) styli. I tried it with the 10 stylus, a basic elliptical design, and while the Pro S40's sonic signature remained, the sound was grainy and unrefined, and surface noise was exaggerated. My advice is to splurge for the 40.
KAB Electro Acoustics has created a clever Frankenstein of a cartridge with the KAB-Ortofon Pro S40. It is exceptionally detailed yet forgiving. It tracks well, and as a bonus, installs in seconds. It sounds noticeably better than the equivalent standard-mount version. At $249, it's a solid value. Combined with the Technics SL-1200, it makes for a premium plug-and-play solution for those so inclined. Ed Kobesky
KAB-Ortofon Pro S40