The Charisma MC1 Cartridge
My Funk Firm Little Superdeck, which I’ve owned for over a year now, has been a gem of a turntable, and has brought me hours of pleasure (see here for a full review). On delivery I had it fitted out with a Clear Audio MM Performance cartridge, and this combined with the Whest 2 phono amp, has given a great performance, with a warm, open sound.
Recently however, the curse of all audiophiles, Upgraditis, or the nagging curiosity to see if even better sonic performance can be achieved, had started to kick in.
For many months I had resisted the temptation but as a cartridge should be a critical part of the analogue re-production process, I caved in to the addiction and started to look at MC cartridges in earnest and got on with making a purchase decision.
Choosing an MC Cartridge
After setting a budget, and looking on-line for reviews, I sent an email to the friendly and helpful guys at Modular Audio for some recommendations. They came back with two in my price budget, the Ortofon Quintet Black, and the Charisma.
Choosing a cartridge must be one of the most frustrating of audio purchases, as very few, if any dealers, will allow you to home demo, which is not surprising considering the challenge in installing them and their fragile nature. Coupled with that is the price, MC cartridges are typically much more expensive than an MM, and can cost as much as the turntable itself if you really want to push the boat out.
So you are very much choosing with you ears closed, with only on-line reviews and the advice of a trusted dealer to go on. Modular Audio described the Ortofon as being an all rounder, well balanced, an open soundstage, and doing everything well, with the Charisma having more dynamics and punch, with an extended upper frequency, with great rhythmic ability and speed. At this point it really just is ‘go with your gut’, as descriptions of sounds can be subjective, so after a bit of prevarication I went with the Charisma, mainly on the basis of it having a bit more punch than the Ortofon.
Sound Quality – open, airy with great dynamics and speed
The recommended run in for this cart is around 50 hours, and at the time of writing I’m about half way into that. However, burn in is another one of those debatable hi fi topics. Personally, I’m not at all convinced that burn in does anything meaningful, and there is little scientific fact or measurement to say that it does. Perhaps though, with a diamond’s physical contact with the vinyl, there maybe some subtle shifts in tone, as the tip wears in.
Initial impressions are that it is substantially, and noticeably different from the previous MM cart. There is a lightness of touch that the MC brings to all of the recordings I threw at it and an increased spaciousness of sound. The upper register is extended, with treble notes having a marked increase in resolution and airiness, but never sounding harsh or overly bright.
Listening to Coltrane’s Blue Train (Blue Note re-issue), all of the subtle timbres of the sax, trumpet and trombone are faithfully and meticulously re-produced, while presenting the set as a cohesive whole. Switching to Frank Sinatra’s “Nice ‘n’ Easy”, reveals even more depth and resolution to the great singers vocals than I have ever heard before.
At the other extreme, the cartridge get’s a solid grip on Massive Attack’s “Blue Lines” which is full of rumbling dub bass. Each bass note is individually rendered, and dynamically punched out, with the rhythmic gusto worthy of a Naim product.
Sticking with more electronic vinyl, like La Roux’s “Trouble in Paradise”, or Chvrches ‘The Bones of What You Believe”, and the MC not only maintains it’s control on the bass and rhythm, but can render female vocals beautifully. With electronic music though, the overall sound, especially with bass synth can sound a bit lean. I prefer a fatter, bigger sound. Most of the time this leaness is not noticeable, but sometimes it becomes very apparent. Human League’s “Dare” album is a case in point, the analogue synths sounded magnificent on my old MM cart, but on the MC they sound a bit weedy.
Perhaps Charisma Audio’s greatest achievement is that this cartridge not only such a good all rounder – extended upper frequency, authoritative bass, and rhythm – but can do all of this in a wonderfully cohesive manner, and is a supremely musical performer. My only two negative, if I really had to search for some, is that the mid range is a little leaner than my previous MM, noticeable in the mid-range, and surface noise is more pronounced.
Whether this performance is a better or worse difference than a very good MM cartridge is very much down to the ears of the listener. To my ears, it was worth the upgrade.
If you’re looking for a great MC cart in this price range, then the MC1 is worthy of serious consideration.