The original SL impressed me with its even-handed and really 'classy' reproduction. It was delicate when needed, detailed etc it's a really 'nice' cartridge. The ML is not a 'nice' cartridge – it's a far more dramatic beast. I was just taken aback by how much more dynamic it was – the best in this respect that I've ever heard. My son is at conservatoire studying jazz and his comment was 'dynamics is at the heart of big band jazz' and you could really hear what he meant as 'King James' went from the full blooded horn section to a whisper in a split second.
The classic example of this is jazz trumpet – the King James (Sheffield Labs) is a direct-to-disc acoustic recording and the power of Harry James' horn slices through the mix with power and body better than anything I've heard. My 2nd son (Sam) plays in a big band and he said it just sounded like a live instrument so authentic was it. The drum-kit backstage left, sounded bigger and more prominent especially the handling of the ride which seemed to gain a couple of inches in diameter.
After a while I suddenly realised that the ML reminded me greatly of what I'd experienced with the Pro-Ject Signature turntable and arm – as with that combination the ML just made everything sound so much fun! One example - I'd rather neglected Nirvana of late and that dynamics fest of 'Nevermind' just reminded me of what I was missing.
If all this makes the ML sound like a 'party' cartridge then yes it is, but it does all the other hi-fi stuff too. Left/right imagery was excellent and depth pretty good if not up with the DRT – after all with so much going on some subtleties have to take a back seat. Fine detail was truly excellent despite the sound-stage being full-of-stuff and the timbre of instruments really spot-on. Vocals were beautifully handled (or not as with Cobain) keeping the vocallist front-of-stage as it should be – Nina Simone being as large and powerful as in real life whilst her piano bounced along ('Baby just cares for me') again showing size and yet keeping the subtleties of the pedal and key strikes.
The ML kept the SL's superb ability to crush surface noise, and though perhaps I just got lucky as from the off it never miss-tracked or gave a hint of letting go at the end-of-side, thus I didn't spend hours trying to set the thing up... I just listened to music.
When I started this review I expected it to be a short piece mainly describing the sort of incremental improvement I thought the manufacturer probably was attempting. What has emerged is a review of a quite different cartridge and one that (having already stretched my vocabulary with the SL) leaves me struggling for superlatives. Circa 1000€ is not cheap, and cartridges are hard to value, but in my limited experience if you want a full-blooded cartridge of this sort of quality nothing else comes close. It isn't going to be perfect for everyone and obviously few components are as system dependent as a hifi cartridge. Be warned, this is the full-fat, high carb offspring of more reserved parents. It'll clear your ears out and make you get up and dance - and it I absolutely love it to bits;-)
Read the full review here.