by Oliver Amnuayphol
Way back in August I wrote about cartridge wear n' tear and mentioned sending my beloved Ortofon Jubilee to the Soundsmith for a much needed re-tip (specifically the re-tip only, "Optimized Contour Nude Contact Line stylus"--or "OCCL" service). A three month wait and $450 later, Soundsmith proprietor (and sole cartridge rebuilder) Peter Ledermann kindly called to inform me he had finished re-tipping my cartridge; he also recommended new tracking force figures and provided some VTA suggestions as well. I received my cartridge in October, along with detailed notes on the aforementioned tracking and VTA info (very thorough, thanks!). Using my suite of Wally Tools and a digital tracking force gauge, I promptly went about installing my shiny new cart into my spare VPI JMW arm wand.
After about 20 minutes of setting up the cartridge, a bit more time optimizing VTA, and a few hours of letting the cartridge settle in, I was satisfied with its alignment and ready to listen. Brimming with anticipation, I set about clamping my first LP to the platter, Classic Records' reissue of Fritz Reiner conducting the CSO playing Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade.I cued up the second track from side one, "The Story of the Kalender Prince," and instantly I remembered why I fell in love with the Jubilee in the first place: The sound was so vividly colorful I'd have sworn I was listening to a live performance at times. Strings displayed a natural, silken sheen; brass instruments were imbued with a burnished yet appropriately blatty timbre; bass and percussion sounded full, articulate and weighty while avoiding any muddiness, bloat or overhang; and orchestral images were realistically layered on a wide and deep soundstage.
From there I tried a veritable plethora of records--everything from the Beatles to Art Blakey to The Shins to Mahler--and the Jubilee was absolutely divine on all of them: Here was a supremely neutral cartridge, always poised and well-balanced, with a fine sense of rhythmic continuity, rich textures and natural tonality. In fact, every record I played sounded better than it did played through the Ortofon in stock guise; and since the only change I've made to my system is the change to the cartridge, I can only conclude the re-tip is responsible for the consistent improvements I heard from one LP to another. Mind you, the differences I heard weren't huge in the quantative sense, but their overall impact certainly was. No doubt about it: the Soundsmith'd Jubilee is an even better cartridge than the stock version.
Even more importantly, with the re-tipped Jubilee in the analog rig, music was more emotionally communicative--something I never dreamed possible, given the stock Jubilee's prowess in this regard. Countless times I've listened to my LP of Le Trio de France playing Ravel's Trio pour Piano, Violon, et Violoncelle (l'Archet d'Or Series III), but it's never been performed quite like this: Musical lines were now clearer, more distinct and easier to follow, and I could hear the significance in every subtle yet important technical nuance. Listen to how Jeanne Gautier precisely bows every note without ever making it sound the least bit clinical; or how Geneviéve Joy confidently strikes every key with a natural vibrancy and flow; or how André Levy pulls tons of color, nuance and character from his cello. With the re-tipped Jubilee, listening for the music was effortless: I could easily hear how the Trio's individual playing styles and artistic choices impacted the overall musical message of Ravel's Trio.
What more can I say about the OCCL-fitted Jubilee? I'm over the moon for it! The Soundsmith treatment has made one of the finest cartridges around sound noticeably better and gives it a new lease on life. Of course, I enjoyed my Jubilee in stock form for many years: It's definitely one fine sounding cartridge that holds its own vis-a-vis much costlier ones. But now, thanks to the Soundsmith, my cherished Ortofon is better than ever and delivers the most musically expressive kicks I've yet heard from my vinyl rig. Every time I set needle to record, living, breathing performances magically appear in my room, drawing me deep into the treasures buried within my records for one enthralling experience after another. The Soundsmith'd Jubilee makes blissfully beautiful music regardless of the vinyl quality or the musical genre--A truly impressive feat by any measure. If you have a premium MC cart that's getting a little long in the tooth, do yourself a favor: Send it to the Soundsmith and let them turn your vinyl pleasure control all the way up. Wildly, enthusiastically, positively recommended!