Ortofon Hi-Fi 2M Black LVB 250 MM Cartridge Review
Could this be the best moving magnet cartridge ever made? David Price takes this new Danish design for a spin…
2M Black LVB 250 MM Cartridge
AUD $1,799 RRP
To analogue addicts like me, cartridges are a never-ending source of mystery and wonder. Choosing the right one is critical because they have a major effect on the final sound of any vinyl front end – yet it’s hard to audition even a few, let alone all of them, before buying. For yours truly, knowing what’s what at the affordable end of the pick-up cartridge market has become a life-long obsession. I’ve either reviewed, owned and/or heard a great many of what’s been commercially available since the early eighties. Whilst this might sound like a hi-fi reviewer boasting, I can assure you that it is purely for selfish reasons!
High end moving coils are all well and good but largely unaffordable – so I’ve always been fascinated with high end moving magnets. I’ve had a fair few over the years, including icons like the Supex SM100, Nagaoka MP11 Boron, Goldring G1042 and Shure V15VxMR. More recently, the Ortofon 2M Black has been my ‘go to’ high-end MM, until I heard the even more expensive Nagaoka MP500 not so long ago. The latter costs a lot at £759 in the UK (AUD ~$1400), but such is its beautifully etched, musical and sweet sound that it still seems good value. Indeed, until the arrival of the Ortofon 2M Black LVB 250 you see here, it was the best moving magnet I had heard…
Announced in 2020 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, the LVB 250 costs a cool $1,799 RRP and adds to the 2M Black package a new boron cantilever. Like practically every other moving magnet on sale, the stock 2M Black uses an aluminium cantilever. This is simply for cost reasons, but if you’re paying this much for a moving magnet then lighter, stiffer and less resonant boron is what you want. Only the fifth element in the Periodic Table, ‘B’ is way lighter than ‘Al’, which has an atomic number of thirteen.
As with car suspensions, lower unsprung mass makes for better tracing of the groove – or holding of the road – and boron’s stiffness confers benefits too. The result is the stylus can more closely follow the undulations of the record groove. It’s no coincidence to me that nearly every excellent moving coil cartridge – plus the Nagaoka MP500 moving magnet mentioned above – have boron cantilevers. For me, it’s a sign of a serious cartridge design that’s not constrained by cost considerations.
The Ortofon’s slim profile Shibata stylus is highly polished for excellent resolution of high frequencies and low wear; Ortofon puts the latter at over a thousand hours. Both cantilever and stylus are held in check by a new suspension system. The company says that a new rubber compound has been developed, based on the Multi Wall Carbon Nano Tubes (MWCNT) nano filler compound. This is said to deliver better damping and is more environmentally friendly. The MWCNT powder is applied in a rubber polymer matrix and not in a powdered form, which makes the production process cleaner and less polluting. Speaking of recycling, owners of 2M Bronze and 2M Black cartridges will be interested to know that they can upgrade to 2M Black LVB 250 spec just by changing the stylus.
And so to vital statistics. With a weight of 7.2g and quoted dynamic compliance of 22μm/mN, the cartridge should work with most modern tonearms and/or turntables. Output voltage is a healthy 5mV, and Ortofon quotes an almost ruler-flat frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz, ±1dB; the latter is the sort of thing that would get digital audio fans hot under the collar, not so long ago. Hi-res digital fans should know that the upper-frequency response of this cartridge doesn’t fall off a cliff at 20kHz, either.
Channel balance at 1kHz is put at less than 1dB, another impressive stat. Recommended load impedance is 47k ohm, recommended load capacitance is 150 to 300pF, and recommended tracking force is 1.6g, ±0.1g. I found the 2M Black LVB 250 to be easy to fit, set up and use. The stylus guard is better than many, but the body shape makes alignment in the headshell fiddlier than some.
Anyone who’s heard the standard Ortofon 2M Black knows it to be a clean, detailed and open cartridge by the standards of most moving magnets. Few in my view, do better, aside from special and expensive designs like the MP500. Where you can mark the standard 2M Black down is its slightly opaque low-level detail retrieval, and a subtle lack of natural rhythmic swing. This is when compared to a decent $1,800 moving coil by the way, not to the standards of most moving magnets. Yet the 2M Black LVB 250 is a big improvement, opening up the soundstage, throwing light onto the back of the recorded acoustic. It adds subtlety, detail, nuance, texture and speed too.
If you take a processed sounding slice of electronic dance music, the difference been the standard 2M Black and the LVB 250 is not as pronounced as you’d think. The Prodigy’s Your Love, for example, was great fun with both cartridges. To this middling recording, the new cartridge brought a slight increase in speed and dynamics; there was a better sense of focus and a nicer timbre of to the keyboards. Yet still, the cooking 2M Black gets most of the basics right.
It was only when I moved to more subtle recordings such as Band on the Run by Wings, that the 2M Black LVB 250 pushed ahead in leaps and bounds. This isn’t a great technical tour de force by any means – as you’ll understand if you’ve ever read up about the circumstances in which the album was laid down – yet the newer, more expensive Ortofon better unlocked the song’s production. It opened up the soundstage, letting me peer deeper into the mix. I could really hear things like the sound of the vocal booth and the crisp, rich timbre of the lead electric guitar.
The boron cantilever does a fine job honing in on the groove. A recording that I’d thought sounded quite mediocre with the stock 2M Black – and almost all other moving magnet cartridges I’ve ever heard – was now a vibrant, living, breathing entity. There was a wealth of detail, loads of little production clues popping out from the mix, plus a lovely sense of rhythmic flow. The LVB 250 is more fleet of foot compared to the cheaper cartridge, yet this doesn’t manifest itself by making it harder, more forward and in your face. Instead, it’s almost the exact opposite. The cartridge is smoother and more natural in its tonality, yet better able to capture the timing of the music. Paul McCartney’s phrasing was more organic sounding and less processed; his voice was more lilting as if he was singing a lullaby.
This effect was also easily noticeable on jazz. Herbie Hancock’s I Have a Dream is a beautiful piece of music that’s really atmospheric and moody when played with a decent moving coil, but most moving magnets make it sound opaque and lacking in atmosphere. The 2M Black LVB 250 was again a revelation, conjuring up a really wide soundstage inside which the instrumentalists were better etched. Depth perspective was excellent, and the finesse with which this cartridge did its stuff was startling from a moving magnet perspective. Tonally the LVB 250 isn’t that different to the stock 2M Black, but there’s a bit more delicacy to the treble and articulation in the bass; it’s still an ever-so-slightly dry sounding cartridge compared to the MP500 though, which has sweetness in spades.
Dynamically the new Ortofon is a great performer, yet never comes over as forced. It’s better at communicating the natural accents of the playing than pretty much any other moving magnet I’ve heard. It made REM’s Welcome to the Occupation seem more expressive – I no longer felt as if I was sitting in the cheap seats, yearning to upgrade to something that would be more comfortable, and with a better view. Tracking was super-secure, almost limpet-like. I loved the finesse that the LVB 250 brought to the cymbal work and taut, thumping bass drum.
Ortofon’s new 2M Black LVB 250 cartridge is at the top table of moving magnet cartridges – it’s so good that it gives mid-price moving coils something to worry about. It’s more of an improvement on the already very good 2M Black than you might think and is head-to-head with its arch-rival, the Nagaoka MP500. The Danish design offers a slightly cleaner and less romantic sound but is still a honey to hear. It certainly has a worthy claim to being the best sounding moving magnet around.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.