Ortofon MC Quintet Black S Follow-Up

Though my initial February review of Ortofon’s $999 MC Quintet Black S cartridge was quite favorable, one part of my system wasn’t best optimized for the cartridge: the Rega RB330 tonearm’s lack of adjustability meant that my VTA was off by two degrees (90 degrees instead of the preferred 92-93). To combat this issue, AnalogPlanet editor Michael Fremer and I installed Acoustic Signature shims underneath the back of the Rega tonearm. However, with sufficient shims installed to increase the VTA to 92 degrees, unless the tonearm was raised from the record surface, the dust cover wouldn’t close. Since in my house a dust cover is absolutely necessary, I sacrificed having ideal VTA and we only ended up installing a set of 1mm shims to increase the VTA by half a degree.

Because of the negligible VTA change, without the shims under the tonearm, I honestly can’t hear the difference. I didn’t think that increasing the VTA by half a degree would change the sound much (if at all), but if it did, it would be very minor. To compare the two, I took my 44.1kHz/24bit transfer of George Harrison’s “Sour Milk Sea” demo (The BEATLES and ESHER DEMOS, Apple/Universal 180g 4LP half-speed mastered box set) done without the shims and compared it to another transfer I did with the shims. Despite the nearly four month time span between these transfers, I still think it’s fair enough as the cartridge was probably fully broken in by the time I transferred it without the shims last February.

I put both files up in Audacity and switched between the two, and though I think Imight have heard a slight difference, it could’ve been my brain playing tricks on me. Maybe the transfer using the shims has slightly more clarity on the acoustic guitar and more space surrounding the percussion, but Harrison’s vocals sound identical. But, as I wrote, the differences I might have heard could be subconscious confirmation bias. Below, you can stream samples of the transfers and hear for yourself (1 is without the shims, 2 is with).

”Sour Milk Sea” 1

”Sour Milk Sea” 2

Regardless, the Ortofon Quintet Black S is a fantastic cartridge and now that I’ve been spoiled by its smooth, detailed, and naturally extended moving coil sound, I don’t think I can go back to budget MMs. With the Ortofon, I always feel like I’m hearing as much of the music as possible considering its price point and the rest of my system. It reveals the best in recordings excellent and mediocre alike. I played the original 3LP set of Kanye’s 2010 masterpiece (yet not even his best album) My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam/Universal B0014695-01), and despite the mediocre sound (cut by Ray Janos presumably from the commercial Vlado Meller-mastered CD that is so dynamically crushed and clipped to the point of being nearly unlistenable), I still felt that I heard every subtlety that can currently be found in, among other brilliant songs, the grandiose “Runaway” and “Power”. I also played the all-analog Blue Note Tone Poet edition of Wayne Shorter’s Etcetera (Blue Note/Universal LT-1056 180g AAA LP), and the Ortofon easily reproduced the natural reverberation of Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs, NJ studio along with the intense energy displayed by Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Cecil McBee, and Joe Chambers during that June 14, 1965 session.

Likewise, the cartridge reproduced as well ORG Music’s recent limited edition RSD reissue of the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s 1969 LP The Spiritual (ORG Music ORGM-2121 180g red vinyl LP), especially its solid, superb imaging and dead quiet backgrounds. Each instrument had its own definite place on the soundstage, and the cartridge replicated as well, the LP’s stunning dynamics. All of this, even though the SST-cut Pallas pressed red vinyl LP was digitally sourced. Below, I’ve attached a 44.1/24 AIFF transfer of the opening track “Toro” for you to enjoy:

Art Ensemble of Chicago


The Ortofon Quintet Black S is an exceptional cartridge that I highly recommend to those seeking excellent moving coil performance in this price range. Over time it retrieved more details from my records than I previously thought possible on my system, despite the slightly less than perfect VTA/SRA. In addition to that, it plays mono records easily and without distortion, making unnecessary a designated mono cartridge. The Quintet Black S is an outstanding value, and because of that, I will buy it and for the foreseeable future happily keep it in my system.

Jonno's picture

so I replaced the counterweight with an after market type. The new counterweight has its hole off centre, so it sits lower. Now the lid shuts ok.

Jonno's picture

just remembered the counterweight is an ISOkinetik ISOweight £49.99 here in the UK. I have the same RP3 turntable as you. See the photo.

PeterPani's picture

could have been a landmark recording. It is really sad that the sound engineering is done so poorly.

MalachiLui's picture

I think the actual recording quality is decent, not great, but good. It's just the mixing and mastering is awful. Talk about an album that desperately needs a remaster and even a remix (tho a remaster could do the trick well enough).

At least I prefer Yeezus, which has FAR better mastering.

PeterPani's picture

how the tunes mingle together sounds right to me. That is the reason I love this one. But the voices sound very "digital" and compressed.

MalachiLui's picture

Vlado Meller mastered "MBDTF" which he really compressed and clipped. the mixing is probably okay enough, but the master is totally crushed. I don't usually trust DR numbers though they really show how bad the sound is in this case.

PeterPani's picture

Would really like to read a review from you of this one!

JEB-42's picture

I prefer 2. Seems to have a little more sparkle and shine. More clarity. Nice comparison!

Vinyl On Tubes's picture

I use a Michell Tecnoweight. It's a bit pricey, but with the included end stub replacement, you can make quick adjustments without using spring loading one in the arm.

Lazer's picture

Review and follow up Malachi. Despite our age difference(I’m much older), I think we are at about the same level in our audiophile journey. I enjoy your contributions to this website very much. Currently, I have an Oracle Delphi TT, SME series IV arm, and a Nagaoka mp200 cart. Because I respect your opinion, I’m going to take the mc leap with the Ortofon you so highly recommend. Thanks for your insightful and precocious review.

Lazer's picture

I’ve watched MF do his TT set live twice and also on you tube and I’ve also watched his dvd a couple of times. Despite that, I’m still nervous setting up an mc cart.

MalachiLui's picture

don't worry... you'll do perfectly fine. be confident in yourself and you will likely do a better job than if you are extremely nervous!

Ortofan's picture

... an option, then either the Audio-Technica AT33Sa or the Hana SL (both are low-output MC type with a Shibata stylus) would have an overall height 3-4mm lower than the Quintet Black S.

The Quintet series is the tallest of all Ortofon cartridges, except for the discontinued MC Rondo series.

Richard Pickup's picture

Malachi, thank you for an enjoyable review. Coincidentally, I bought my Quintet Black shortly before you acquired yours and wrote your review. My impressions are in keeping with yours: I hear a smooth and balanced sound with engaging detail and sparkle. Nothing feels out of place, bass is well extended and there is good separation of instruments. I'd recommend it to readers at this price point too.

Toptip's picture

...to change the VTA by using some other type of headshell shims — say, “thinner in the front and thicker in the back” rather than lifting the arm and causing interference with the cover? I have to believe it results in the same VTA correction, any reason why it would not?

EdAInWestOC's picture

I originally bought it for my new VPI Prime turntable. The salesman told me it was very good with the 10.5 inch VPI 3D unipivot tonearm. He was right.

The stylus on that cartridge is a Shibata and that makes it pretty sensitive to VTA setting. I leave the thumb screws on my tonearm platform loose and use the VTA tower adjustment as a VTA on The Fly setup and it works very well. Adjusting the VTA while the LP is playing does not cause any wobbling of the tonearm. It is a very well made setup.

With the VTA optimized the Quintet Black S takes on a deeper resolution, with instruments being very real sounding. Well recorded cymbals sound like a cymbal and not like someone spitting into a microphone. If you know what I mean.

The Quintet Black S reminds me very much of a VdH retipped Denon DL-103D, which is a cartridge I am familiar with and fond of. The Quintet Black S has a very full and fleshed out midrange with all other parts of the frequency range being perfectly balanced. If is very good for a $1000 cartridge and I have been told is better if you remove the body.

Unfortunately or fortunately, by the time I could have removed the Quintet Black S's body I got financially lucky and upgraded to the Ortofon Windfeld Ti. I don't think I need to make any comment on that cartridge. I sold my Quintet Black S very quickly and enjoyed my time with it.

Anyone considering a LOMC cartridge in the $1000 USD range should be very happy with the Quintet Black S. It is a neutral cartridge that does not seem to prefer any particular type of music...and that's what a transducer should be.

drobin71's picture

am poised to take the leap with a Q Black on my Planar 3. So thanks for sharing the experience, it was helpful. One of the many well engineered low slung counter weights should work well and let the lid close; I use one from Groovetracer.

John Walsh's picture

the second one with the shims is definaitly better on Harrison's voice ,if it is Harrison's lol

wilego5576's picture

This is very interesting for Bridgeport Drywall Contractors to hear about your experience with the Ortofon MC Quintet Black S cartridge and the challenges with VTA adjustment on the Rega RB330 tonearm.