Otello is a high output medium to high compliance model with an output of 2.12mV and a frequency response of 20-20'000Hz +/-2.5dB. The Otello weighs 6.8 grams and its aluminium cantilever carries an elliptical diamond. Its tracking range is 1.2 to 1.4 grams and I applied 1.2 grams and a loading of 50kΩ that worked well. Perceived build quality given the Otello's entry-level status is stunning and the styling is on par with the much dearer Zephyr MMIC. Trust me when I say you'll feel pride of ownership as you install your Otello.

Ortofon Cadenza technology. This medium compliance moving coil cartridge produces an electrical signal via the movement of coils fixed into position on the stylus assembly end of the cantilever moving within a fixed magnetic field. The Cadenza Bronze's conical aluminium cantilever is fitted with what Ortofon call "a nude replicant diamond". Output voltage is 0.4mV, frequency response is 20-55'000 Hz +/-3dB and recommended tracking force is 2.2 to 2.7 grams. I used 2.5 grams and 500Ω loading without a glitch. Perceived build quality is front rank and typical of Ortofon's level of professionalism.

Garrott Brothers P77i technology. Moving iron and moving magnet cartridges belong to the moving magnet family of cartridges. The Garrott creates an electrical signal using a small magnet fixed to the end of a cantilever. As the magnet moves within a pair of coils fixed inside the cartridge body, an electrical current is created. The P77i has two models above it in the range. The output voltage is 4mv, compliance is medium, weight is 5.8 grams and the frequency response is 20-20'000Hz +/-2dB. On the end of the P77i's twin aluminium cantilever sits an exquisite Garrott Microscanner diamond. Garrott recommend a tracking weight of 1.7 to 1.9 grams and I applied 1.8 grams with 50kΩ loading. The Garrott's styling can be described as retro. But looks can be deceptive because underneath the microscope, the P77i displays a level of craftsmanship and quality control that easily equals the Zephyr's and the Ortofon Cadenza Bronze.

The music. Mingus by Joni Mitchell [Asylum Records], Arbos by Arvo Pärt with the Hilliard Ensemble [ECM New Series], Atom Heart Mother, Pink Floyd [EMI] and Astral Weeks, Van Morrison [Warner Records] made for four albums which I bought in the year each was released; and each one has been part of my audio odyssey over several decades. Mingus was a natural choice to kick the review off with the Zephyr for one abiding reason: the album first came to life for me with a B&O SP7 moving iron cartridge. This model had the uncanny ability to allow one to hear how Mitchell's guitar was being used as a percussion instrument throughout. From the opening resounding and emphatic strikes of the guitar on "God is a boogie man", the Zephyr displayed much more attack and string shimmer than I recall with the SP7. The Ortofon Bronze Cadenza reproduction of the guitar string's attack was the equal of the Zephyr's. The Ortofon lagged behind the Zephyr that preserved the fine detail in the resonating strings.

Neither the Otello nor Garrott P77i came close to the dearer cartridges' ability to startle me with their speed and level of working dynamic range. But of the two, the Garrott had greater composure and refinement. The Otello was more neutral, showing up the Garrott's ever so slightly warmer tonal character. "The Wolf That Lives In Lindsay" is one of Mitchell's bleakest compositions. Those who know the album describe this song as a harrowing listening experience thanks to the intrusion of the baying of a pack of wolves whilst an insistent percussive guitar is struck. It's a track that tests the upper limits of tonal neutrality, transparency, dynamic range, imaging and the preservation of an ambient soundstage. By that I mean a component's ability to give silences shape and structure within the musical landscape. The Zephyr delivered all the above. The Ortofon came close to the Zephyr. But surprisingly, it engendered a more realistic ambient landscape populated by all the scary things the track throws into your lap. With the same track, the Otello leaves you in no doubt that it belongs to the Soundsmith family by delivering a taste of the Zephyr's attack, neutrality and transparency. But it was the Garrott that caught me off guard because it nearly equalled the Ortofon's ambient prowess.

Arvo Pärt is one of the most nuanced of contemporary composers, so much so that  cartridges, no matter how delusional their price or pedigree, usually labour to reproduce his more demanding compositions. "Stabat Mater" occupies the whole of side two of Arbos and provides 23 minutes and 25 seconds of audio deception. It uses one soprano, one counter tenor, one tenor, one violinist, one viola and one cello to weave what superficially appears to be a mesmerizing and atmospheric minimalist composition. Repeated playings reveal that on the contrary, it has a complex, subtle and sophisticated structure presented within a working dynamic range that's usually a torture test for all but a handful of cartridges. Both the Zephyr and Ortofon came close to retrieving the wealth of detail hidden in the Arbos groove.