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Sound Test: Ortofon 2M Red vs. Ortofon 2M Blue Comparison Review

I recently spent a few weeks reviewing and comparing the Ortofon 2M Red and the Ortofon 2M Blue turntable phono cartridges. I’ve been excited to see how some of the most popular entry-level and midrange cartridges compare for a long time. So, eventually, I bought a few cartridges to do my own testing. 

I have also compared the Ortofon 2M Red and the Ortofon 2M Blue against the Audio-Technica AT95E and the VM540ML. You’ll find links to those articles towards the end.  

I found that both the Ortofon 2M Red and Ortofon 2M Blue are cartridges that are highly detailed and transparent. They are often categorized as bright cartridges, something I found to be true in my testing. I also found that the Ortofon 2M Blue reproduce noticeably more details than the Red. In my opinion, the Blue sounds very crisp and analytical, even on smooth recordings, whereas the Red sounds a bit more rolled off. 

The Ortofon 2M Red and Blue share the same body but have different styli (needles). The 2M Red has an elliptical diamond stylus, whereas the Blue has a nude elliptical stylus that are able to bring out more dynamics and resolution. And it certainly does. The Ortofon 2M Blue is the by far the most detailed and analytical sounding cartridge that I have tested. 

The Ortofon 2M Red can be upgraded with an Ortofon 2M Blue stylus, their styli are universal. 

I think the most important criteria for comparing and choosing audio gear is enjoyment. How much do I actually enjoy listening to music with one cartridge versus another? Is it engaging? Is it fun? Do I want to keep on listening to music? 

I actually found that I enjoyed listening to the Red more than the Blue. This is of course down to personal preference, but the Blue is too crisp and forward in the midrange for my taste. For someone that looks for a cartridge that can add more openness and details to their system, the Blue might however be the perfect cartridge. Many vinyl enthusiasts love the 2M Blue for its ability to reproduce highly detailed and open sound. If you are after warm and smooth sound, I believe there are better options at this price point. Such as the Audio-Technica VM540ML. 

We’ll get into more details later, but first a few words on how I did my testing. 

My Testing

To be able to quickly swap between cartridges for back-to-back comparisons, I had all the cartridges mounted on separate headshells. I used my Audio-Technica AT-LP120USB turntable that has a tonearm with a “quick-release” that makes it easy to quickly swap between cartridges.  

I used audiophile-graded headphones instead of speakers to make for a more “isolated” listening experience without background noise and negative effects arising from “less than ideal” listening room acoustics. (I am currently between houses and temporarily live in a medium-size hotel room so bringing in my speakers wasn’t really a valid option anyway…)

My “reference” turntable is currently a $700 Rega Planar 2 with a $600 Rega Carbon cartridge. I had the performance of that reference setup in the back of my head when I did the reviews and comparisons. To have a “reference” benchmark for the testing.  

Here are the key components of my test setup: 

Turntable: 2018 Audio-Technica AT-LP120USB (with preamp removed) 

Preamp: Rega Fono Mini A2D

Headphone amp: Schiit Magni 3

Headphones: Focal Elear 

I used a protractor and a stylus force gauge to make sure that the cartridges were set up correctly and operating according to their specifications. I also gave the new cartridges a decent amount of playing time before my testing, but I cannot guarantee that they broke-in fully. 

The Ortofon 2M Red 

The Ortofon 2M Red is one of the cartridges I bought solely for the purpose of these cartridge comparisons. It is the budget option from Ortofon’s popular 2M range of cartridges which (save for the mono versions) consist of the Red, Blue, Bronze and Black. 

PRICE

You can check the current price on Amazon by clicking here (affiliate link). 

KEY SPECIFICATIONS 

Stylus Type: Elliptical 

Weight: 7.2 g

Rec. tracking Force: 1.8 g

Rec. load capacitance: 150-300 pF 

Output level at 1 kHz: 5.5 mV

Channel Separation at 1 kHz: 22 dB 

Link to complete list of specifications. 

The Ortofon 2M Blue 

The Ortofon 2M Blue is also one of the cartridges I bought solely for the purpose of these cartridge comparisons. It sits between the Red and the Bronze in 2M range of cartridges which (save for the mono versions) consist of the Red, Blue, Bronze and Black. 

The Blue has the exact same body as the Red but it features a Nude Elliptical stylus. Its specifications are very similar to the Reds, one difference is 3db higher channel separation, which can be credited the more sophisticated stylus. 

PRICE

You can check the current price on Amazon by clicking here (affiliate link). 

KEY SPECIFICATIONS 

Stylus Type: Nude Elliptical

Weight: 7.2 g

Rec. tracking Force: 1.8 g

Rec. load capacitance: 150-300 pF 

Output level at 1 kHz: 5.5 mV

Channel Separation at 1 kHz: 25 dB 

Link to complete list of specifications. 

Comparison: Ortofon 2M Red vs. 2M Blue 

Sound and enjoyment factor

Before I start, please let me set the record straight. I am a huge fan of warm, smooth and rolled-off sound. I plan to move my vinyl setup significantly in that direction when I eventually get settled in a new house. My current dream setup includes a Primaluna integrated tube amplifier and Tannoy speakers. Old school. Far from bright and analytical. 

So, the bright and analytical personalities of the Ortofon 2M Red and 2M Blue are not really my cup of tea. I will nevertheless try to keep this comparison as objective as I can. 

Ortofon states on their sale page for the Ortofon 2M Blue that “the 2M Blue adds more dynamics and resolution, sounds more open and reproduces more details compared to the 2M Red model”. 

I really don’t need to add anything to that. It sums up my experience completely. 

The Blue definitely adds more details and texture compared to the Red. 

Can more become too much sometimes? 

The question I have is if the Ortofon 2M Blue has the soul and smoothness to balance out the details and resolution without becoming too harsh sounding. The answer on that is probably 100% down to personal preference and system matching. 

I love the extra texture and snap the Blue gives in the low-end, but the Red has a more enjoyable midrange in my ears. The Blue becomes a tad too forward in the midrange for my taste (and system). 

On a super-smooth setup like my dream setup above, the Ortofon 2M Blue might be a perfect match. On a brighter system, I believe some of us will feel that it might become too sharp in the midrange.  

The 2M Red is more forgiving than the 2M Blue. It provides a smoother and more rolled-off sound character, but (obviously) doesn’t bring out as much details and dynamics. On a bright system or if you are a big fan of smoother sound, you might prefer the Red over the Blue. I did. With a smooth tube amp and warm Tannoy speakers, that might not be the case. In such a setup, the extra details that the 2M Blue provides would probably add life and dynamics to the listening experience without becoming fatiguing at all. 

Music Volume 

The 2M Red and the 2M Blue have exactly the same output level so there was no difference in music volume between the two. 

Sibilance and IGD 

I did not manage to provoke sibilance or inner groove distortion worth mentioning from either the Ortofon 2M Red or the 2M Blue. 

I did put a lot of efforts into adjusting tracking force and VTA so that the carts operated according to their specifications. With ideal operating conditions, these cartridges should not give major sibilance or IGD headaches. 

Conclusion

We all buy Hi-Fi gear based on personal preferences. In that regard, I hope this review and comparison gave some value to you. Both the 2M Red and the 2M Blue have very distinctive personalities in my opinion. And should, first and foremost, be selected by those that are looking for those characteristics. 

Don’t forget to check out my other cartridge comparisons as well. You find the links below. My comparison between the Ortofon 2M Blue and the Audio-Technica VM540ML might be an interesting follow-up from this article. 

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to share your experience with these cartridges. 

Related Articles 

Sound Test: Ortofon 2M Red vs. AT95E Comparison Review

Sound Test: Ortofon 2M Blue vs. VM540ML Comparison Review

Sound Test: AT95E vs. VM540ML Comparison Review

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