December 26, 2010

My Benz! Benz Micro LP MC Cartridge.

The Benz Micro LP, not to be confused with the American LP-S. The American version is much heavier at 16 grams or so, and have more bass response to suit American taste. However Albert Lukaschek(Benz designer) still have much to recommend for the LP model.

As I've written earlier in an earlier article, "Is Your Vinyl Playback Optimised? Clearaudio Azimuth Optimizer." I have a new cartridge in the form of the Benz Micro LP. I have detailed my cartridge set up on the Linn Sondek LP12's Ittok arm in the earlier article and will just touch on the sound quality.

The Benz LP flagship cartridge has been around for a long, long time, hence it could be easily forgotten or taken for granted. However, I am one of those guys who likes a proven product, and feel that the Benz LP must be doing something very right to with stand the test of time. Now that I've logged nearly 200 hours of play, it's sound has stabilised considerably and I can report more confidently.

The Benz LP seems to have very similar chassis construction as per my old Benz flame, the Benz Glider L, but adds on a black Ebony wood body, for a warmer sound presentation. Also differing from the Glider is the micro polished, ruby stylus tip and cross coil windings in the signal generator. The Benz LP is also quite a heavy cartridge, weighting in at 10.6 grams.
The Benz Micro LP will accommodate more expensive turn table arm combos, over the Linn LP12. Hmmm..... the Clearaudio Innovation turn table sure looks nice with it!

The sound of the Benz LP is classy to say the least. It does not quite have the ultimate micro detail and dynamics resolving power, so obvious as with the latest Clearaudio Stradivari V2 cartridge(it's most natural price range competitor). The Benz however, makes up for it on the tone colour department. It's clearly the richer(not to the point of lushness though), and fuller sounding of the two cartridge.

The Benz LP is still considered neutral in tonal balance, despite the presence of a slight warmness, just enough to prevent it from sounding cold, and analytical at least. The highs are extended and smooth yet will bite when the recording demands it so. The mids has a slightly rich presence range that always puts the vocals in front of the staging. The bass is not particularly outstanding(this is perhaps, more of a Linn LP12 characteristic?), but is firm and tight enough, yet can remain supple should the recording ask of it.

I love the way this cartridge proves it self to be utterly transparent because it picks up so little of the LP's surface noise. It responds well to dynamics contrast and transient speed, but only to lose out to the above mentioned Clearaudio, obviously. If anything however, it's the way the Benz LP puts everything above together, so cohesively, that not one particular aspect of it's hifi performance stands out in any way. I find it to disappear from the audio chain, mostly except for the slight tinge of warmness, that the Benz LP will always allow the music and the recording to speak for it self. There is also an element of forgiveness, not found on the Clearaudio, is that when playing poorly recorded or re-mastered LPs, the Benz does not really punish you for doing so, but merely let it be known. In other words, it's less pain full to hear poorly pressed LPs on the Benz, of which I have many. Some of my high end analogue buddies have argued that I am shooting the messenger, rather than the source of my problem, and the only reason that the Benz does better in this respect is because it's less transparent!

Good or bad? The matter of forgiveness, in hifi equipment, I leave for you to ponder over. In the mean time, I'd like to summarize this review by saying that the Benz Micro LP, retailing at RM$8,200/pc, is quite possibly a bargain of a cartridge at the sub RM$10k price range. It does pretty much most of what the current flagship of other more costly brands of cartridges does at more than double the out lay, and punches way above it's weight in the context of my Linn Sondek LP12. The Benz will probably survive up grades to turn table and arm combos that cost more than 3 times it's own price, yet will certainly make no fool of it self. This much I am confident. As a fellow audio reviewer and Benz buddy said to me the other day, "Once a Benz man, always a Benz man!"

Benz Micro is sold by Audio Image, contact Adrian at 03-79563077.

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