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Ortofon MC1 Turbo - high-output MC stereo cartridge

Smooth operator

[Italian version]

Product: Ortofon MC1 Turbo stereo cartridge
Manufacturer: Ortofon - Denmark
Approx. price: 110 $/€ (YMMV)
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Reviewed: December, 2003

[Ortofon MC 1 Turbo]

Among audiophiles it is quite common wisdom to consider moving coil cartridges the best way to play vinyl (with some notable exception, though). MC cartridges are normally expensive and require high gain phono preamps or step-up transformers.
Moreover, the stylus is not replaceable, unlike in a MM cart, so maintenance costs of a MC-based vinyl-playback system might be higher.
Enter the world of high-output MC carts: these devices are still based on the moving coil principle, but no longer need high-gain phono preamps nor step-ups, as they can be connected directly to a standard MM phono stage.
MC-traditionalists might dislike the idea but high-output MC carts do have some interesting feature.
Ortofon has a long and well established tradition in making some of the finest MC carts in the market. This MC 1 Turbo is their less expensive offer in terms of moving coil carts. The name "Turbo" stands for "high output" and actually this MC1 produces a sano 3.3 mV output, more or less like any standard MM cartridge.
Hence, it can be connected to any MM phono stage. They get such an unusually high output simply increasing the number of windings in the moving coil. This choice has some drawback (more on this later), but avoids the use of expensive step-ups and MC preamps, and also minimizes interface problems.
The MC1 Turbo uses a non-replaceable elliptic stylus, while the better MC3 Turbo uses a fine line profile.
The Ortofon MC 1 Turbo has a quite low compliance (13 mN) which means the cantilever suspension is quite on the stiff side. For this reason - considering also the very low weight of the cart (4 grams!) - I'd suggest it for medium-high mass tonearms (SME 3009, Linn Basik LVX, even Regas).
The carton box includes a complete owner's manual (with tips and tech specs), a set of mounting screws, a stylus guard and an elegant plexiglass cartridge box.
I've tested the Ortofon MC1 Turbo on different arms and my findings have always been quite similar. Tracking weight has been set at 2 grams.
These are some of the most relevant (claimed) tech specs:

Smooth Operator

I'm quite familiar with the Ortofon sound, having owned several cartridges from this manufacturer (both MMs and MCs). Hence, the tonal balance of the MC 1 Turbo didn't come as a surprise to my ears.
The cart sounds quite on the warm side, with an excellent bass range: full, deep and quite articulated. The mid range appears to be smooth and refined, even shy, from time to time. The high range is detailed though relaxed most of the times, and not exactly crisp. Cymbals, for example, seem to lose a bit of their typical metallic "note". In other words, they are reproduced in a gentler way, without that splashy character they possess in real life.
This attitude makes the MC1 Turbo a smooth and relaxed performer. When compared to the Ortofon MC 20 Super and Supreme (way more expensive!) the sound of the MC1 appears to be smaller in size and less involving. The price difference is huge...and so is the quality gap, as one might/should expect.
The soundstage created by the MC1 is smaller and lacks depth, especially when compared to the aforementioned "sisters". The virtual scene appears reasonably developed from left to right, but not back and forth. The focus on the instruments and players is good but the lack of depth doesn't help to make this cart sound involving.

From the point of view of pure dynamics there's a remark to be done. A high output MC cart uses more windings to get the proper MM-like output. This, somehow, causes an increase of the "moving mass". Hence, the cart appears to react slower to groove modulations. Overall, I'd rate the MC1 Turbo (despite its name) quite slow and, dare I say it, calm. Not exactly the cart that one may wish to make his friends dance on the floor :-)
Rather, it should be used for hours and hours of relaxed easy-listening. Its lazyness may appear disturbing on groovy rythmic tracks, especially when some trace of dynamic compression can be heard on the most demanding drum patterns.
For example, on the complex Stewart Copeland rythms (cf. Police albums) the MC1 seems to lose control and fails to put everything into the right temporal perspective. It doesn't sound bad, it simply fails to communicate energy and pace, as required by many groovy musical genres. I'd say it feels more at home with light jazz and Classical music (not the Berlioz kind, though :-)) than with rock, hip hop or dance.
"Root of all evil" (from "Unleashed", a GREAT hip-hop double LP by Paris - FARLP 415 - 1998 Unleashed Records) sounds lifeless and uninvolving, while the same track makes you stand up and dance when played, for example, by an Ortofon MC 20.
"Runnin' with the Devil" (from Van Halen's first album, WB 56470 - 1977) doesn't make me feel that shock in my spine I usually get when listening to this track at full blast.
Things get better with Sade's "Smooth Operator" (guess why? :-)) where the MC1 can sound intriguing and sensual.

Overall, I'd rate this cart as very good for relaxed and relaxing Music, but slightly boring when pace, rythm and energy are required.


The quality of the construction is exactly whet you'd expect from a manufacturer like Ortofon. The box looks (and probably is) very expensive, especially when compared to the cart's cost (around 100 €). I've seen much more expensive carts with lesser boxes. Perhaps some saving on the whole "package" would allow a lower selling price and hence a higher quality/price ratio.

From a purely sonic point of view, the MC1 Turbo lacks authority, depth of image and pace. It sounds smooth and relaxed so many listeners may find it very attractive, especially on poor recordings.

Some advice

The recommended tracking weight is 2 grams. Slightly more than that and the cart will sound warmer with more bass, less than that and it will sound thin.
Being quite stiff, antiskating doesn't influence tracking like on softer carts. Set this accordingly to tracking weight and experiment different settings by using a test disc. Results may vary.
Connect it to a standard 47 kOhm MM input. Do NOT use a MC input.
Considering its low mass and compliance, I'd recommend it for medium-high mass tonearms.
When stylus life will come to an end, remember you can get a trade-off (discounted) price for a new cart if you return the old one to the dealer.


Though not exactly my cup of tea, this Ortofon MC1 can be the right choice for many audiophiles (Music lovers) who are in the market for an inexpensive high-output MC cart with a warm, relaxed sound, with good bass and tracking ability.

© Copyright 2003 Lucio Cadeddu - www.tnt-audio.com

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