Phono Cartridges - Your favorites and least favorites?

duke86fan

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Okay, three tracks. I randomized which cart is A and which is B. Let's see if you can discern.

Grado Statement Platinum2: 1.75 grams tracking force, 47k loading, 58db phono gain.
Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC Star ES: 2.1 grams tracking force, 1k loading, 64db phono gain.

Note: tracks are normalized for maximum amplitude to remove any preference for the louder cart.

Download Link

needles&grooves
track 1 (courtney barnett).. A is a little sibilant.. i noticed a bit of static that was pretty noticable... B was maybe a little brighter.. there was possibly more grain but then again short term memory is not amazing... the right side pops were a bit more noticeable... nothing really amazing... maybe i just am not huge on this song... but i THINK i will go with A, but i didn't really sit with either of them for that long...

track 2 (carly rae jepsen) - A has a pretty tight bass.... nice and catchy... a little bit on the refrained side though... a lot of decent start stops though and carly is clear as day.. maybe a bit too clear.. not enough of a grit to it.. i think B has that harsher tone a bit more. the bass had more of a reverb to it.. it didn't feel like it had a start stop but more of a natural decay... also carly is not as clear.. she is definitely noticeable but she is not at the very very front like on A, and the dynamics are a bit more on B... im split because i love the bass on B but A has some wonderful vocals. MAYBE i will go with B but it could honestly be either and i'd be nitpicking both

track 3 (ed from ed edd n eddy)- A has that nice echo, and a good amount of clarity on the vocals... its bright and punchy, thats really nice to me, the drums are crisp and bright. and there is no real issue with sibilance, the reverb on this is great for this songs very much 80s rock drums and the gated reverb, the guitar seems like the more prominant part but its not really a big deal, nothing really dynamic either... B seems to have a bit less of that vocal flair to it, a little more when the harmony comes in though... also the drums are the main priority for this cart, as it almost drowns out the vocals, not quite in the sibilant range but it definitely is blurring a part i care about in the music, the guitars a little more burried too.... easily giving this to A


Peeping Tom A - Soundsmith
Peeping Tom B - Grado
Too Much A - Soundsmith
Too Much B - Grado
Your Love A - Grado
Your Love B - Soundsmith
hmmm... i didn't expect any of that...
 

kvetcha

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track 1 (courtney barnett).. A is a little sibilant.. i noticed a bit of static that was pretty noticable... B was maybe a little brighter.. there was possibly more grain but then again short term memory is not amazing... the right side pops were a bit more noticeable... nothing really amazing... maybe i just am not huge on this song... but i THINK i will go with A, but i didn't really sit with either of them for that long...

track 2 (carly rae jepsen) - A has a pretty tight bass.... nice and catchy... a little bit on the refrained side though... a lot of decent start stops though and carly is clear as day.. maybe a bit too clear.. not enough of a grit to it.. i think B has that harsher tone a bit more. the bass had more of a reverb to it.. it didn't feel like it had a start stop but more of a natural decay... also carly is not as clear.. she is definitely noticeable but she is not at the very very front like on A, and the dynamics are a bit more on B... im split because i love the bass on B but A has some wonderful vocals. MAYBE i will go with B but it could honestly be either and i'd be nitpicking both

track 3 (ed from ed edd n eddy)- A has that nice echo, and a good amount of clarity on the vocals... its bright and punchy, thats really nice to me, the drums are crisp and bright. and there is no real issue with sibilance, the reverb on this is great for this songs very much 80s rock drums and the gated reverb, the guitar seems like the more prominant part but its not really a big deal, nothing really dynamic either... B seems to have a bit less of that vocal flair to it, a little more when the harmony comes in though... also the drums are the main priority for this cart, as it almost drowns out the vocals, not quite in the sibilant range but it definitely is blurring a part i care about in the music, the guitars a little more burried too.... easily giving this to A



hmmm... i didn't expect any of that...
I enjoyed reading your listening experience, Dukey! Thanks for taking the time to write it out.
 

HiFi Guy

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track 1 (courtney barnett).. A is a little sibilant.. i noticed a bit of static that was pretty noticable... B was maybe a little brighter.. there was possibly more grain but then again short term memory is not amazing... the right side pops were a bit more noticeable... nothing really amazing... maybe i just am not huge on this song... but i THINK i will go with A, but i didn't really sit with either of them for that long...

track 2 (carly rae jepsen) - A has a pretty tight bass.... nice and catchy... a little bit on the refrained side though... a lot of decent start stops though and carly is clear as day.. maybe a bit too clear.. not enough of a grit to it.. i think B has that harsher tone a bit more. the bass had more of a reverb to it.. it didn't feel like it had a start stop but more of a natural decay... also carly is not as clear.. she is definitely noticeable but she is not at the very very front like on A, and the dynamics are a bit more on B... im split because i love the bass on B but A has some wonderful vocals. MAYBE i will go with B but it could honestly be either and i'd be nitpicking both

track 3 (ed from ed edd n eddy)- A has that nice echo, and a good amount of clarity on the vocals... its bright and punchy, thats really nice to me, the drums are crisp and bright. and there is no real issue with sibilance, the reverb on this is great for this songs very much 80s rock drums and the gated reverb, the guitar seems like the more prominant part but its not really a big deal, nothing really dynamic either... B seems to have a bit less of that vocal flair to it, a little more when the harmony comes in though... also the drums are the main priority for this cart, as it almost drowns out the vocals, not quite in the sibilant range but it definitely is blurring a part i care about in the music, the guitars a little more burried too.... easily giving this to A



hmmm... i didn't expect any of that...
What’s interesting here is that you’ve compared a cartridge with a $1999 retail to an another with a $350 retail. and your assessment is pretty much split down the middle.
 

duke86fan

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What’s interesting here is that you’ve compared a cartridge with a $1999 retail to an another with a $350 retail. and your assessment is pretty much split down the middle.
It means law of diminishing returns

And certain cartridges have a certain sound signature that some may like more.. no such thing as objectively better
 

HiFi Guy

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It means law of diminishing returns

And certain cartridges have a certain sound signature that some may like more.. no such thing as objectively better

When I listened to the files, I didn’t go for “preference” but rather identity. I was 100% correct and didn’t guess. I didn’t have to.

Do diminishing returns happen in audio? Sure- all the time, as in most things. I’m not convinced the Soundsmith makes a good argument. You’d have to go up in price to hit the point of diminishing returns.

I’m comparing a Grado Gold3 to a Hana MH right now. The Hana is substantially superior in every way. Whether or not the Hana is worth $940 more is something only the end user can decide. It’s also going to come down to the system: someone with a less resolving system may not hear the Hana’s superiority. A more resolving system will make the differences obvious.

You have made numerous negative comments towards Grado in the past. This test (and your preferences) show that your opinions regarding Grados were more than a bit skewed.
 

AnthonyI

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Let's start the day on a positive note, shall we ;)

UPDATE: Goldring E3 MM Cartridge

What’s better, going into something with high expectations and then not having those expectation quite met completely or going into something with no particular expectations and being hugely impressed? I would say the latter and it is definitely the case with the Goldring E3……. absolutely floored.

I hate the word “budget” in our hobby because it implies something of lesser quality, which the E3 is not, it’s best in its price range in my opinion and honestly outperformed some higher priced cartridges I’ve used. As usual, we gave the cart due time to get warmed up, we went 60ish hours on the E3, but honestly, from the first needle drop the sound got my attention, there was no mental note to not be too critical because it’s fresh out the box and needs some time, nope, it became “critical” listening from the get-go and only got better over time.

Goldring-E3.jpg

The E3 has a nice full, robust sound, full of energy and range. Beautiful separation and dynamics, clear clean highs and punchy lows, just a beautifully balanced cartridge. The E3 has an aluminum cantilever with a “superior bonded” super-elliptical stylus featuring a dual magnet design utilizing two low mass magnets interacting only with their paired pickup coil angled to match the cutting head arrangement enabling the cartridge to accurately trace the record groove resulting in better stereo separation and a more musical soundstage. Yes, a bit of technical jargon from the Goldring press release, but it delivers, it all comes through in the listening experience.

Goldring-E3_B.jpg

When listening to a range of genres from singer-songwriter fare with defined vocals to heavier classic rock and some punk, the E3 was solid across the board. Bringing vocals to a perfect pitch and tone while keeping any background vocals or harmonies smoothly delivered. Percussion and bass had impact, stood out really well against a black background giving a lot of the subtle details in a track a distinct place and position. Albums like St. Vincent’s stripped down MassEducation delivered smooth powerful vocals, from the near whispers to the high notes, the E3 did an amazing job of holding it together. Thomas Bartlett’s beautiful piano work shinned with every hammer hit and pluck being defined and resonating, each in their respective positions in the track. Going to a more classic rock album like Cheap Tricks Heaven Tonight, with hard guitar riffs and rapid-fire drum lines, the E3 again did an amazing job of bringing out the detail of each instruments, pluck, hit and range, Robin’s sometimes high, sometimes guttural voice had texture and presence, and nothing ever got muddied in the middle, with the same being said for The Clash’s Combat Rock, raw, present, everything in its place and sounding full of energy and life. The E3 does an exceptional job at grabbing and placing highs, mids and lows in their place and showcasing each one’s tone and position, truly a pleasing balancing act. The E3 leans ever so slightly to the warm side, showing remarkable clarity and character in its sound signature, and has become one of my favorite cartridges, its musical, accurate, fun and plows its way through most pressings with its chest out and chin up.

Fitting the cart is quite simple, the threaded body is always a plus and its angled design helped with alignment and stylus placement greatly. The E3 has a user replaceable stylus in a “plug and play” set up, pop the used cart off and pop on the new. Going back to my opening statement, even with all that I’ve mentioned about the E3, I still feel I’m not expressing how impressed I am with this “budget” cartridge, it is an amazing value for its price point and easily one of the best among other cartridges not only in its price pool, but even some higher ones.

Highly, highly recommended bang for your buck. Big sound with a small price.



I want to thank Goldring for lending out the E3 for me to play with, the Goldring line is distributed in the US by American Audio & Video, the Goldring line and E3 are available at LP Gear and other retailers for $170, with replacement styli running $125. For more information on Goldring visit their Official site at www.goldring.co.uk.
 
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duke86fan

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I didn’t go for “preference” but rather identity
Can I ask what you mean

I used a personal sound preference because I want to have the best sound for me, so I focused on the sound
You have made numerous negative comments towards Grado in the past. This test (and your preferences) show that your opinions regarding Grados were more than a bit skewed.
I mean yeah.. the black on my system was either too bassy or not dynamic enough for me... Maybe it's partially my headphones that are the main issue but I just found that the mix of headphones and cartridge and preamp and turntable and records didn't work for me... I now know grado has good carts.. I just don't click with the very budget of them
 
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kvetcha

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just wanted to mention that I've actually adjusted the VTA on the SoundSmith since making those needle drops - I found that the cart was very slightly tipped forward, which is known to exacerbate sibilants on the cart due to the stylus profile. I've leveled out the tonearm and things are sounding better.
 

NewsFedora

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I've been using the cartridge that came with my AT-LP120 for the past two years and it's definitely starting to show its age. Before getting the LP120, I used to use a Shure M97x that was great, but it got discontinued a few years ago. I remember paying about $70 for it at the time and thinking to myself, "Man, this is so expensive. I can't believe how much I'm spending on this thing."

So ummm... there's no such thing as a good cartridge for under $100 anymore, is there?
 

dansomeone

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I've been using the cartridge that came with my AT-LP120 for the past two years and it's definitely starting to show its age. Before getting the LP120, I used to use a Shure M97x that was great, but it got discontinued a few years ago. I remember paying about $70 for it at the time and thinking to myself, "Man, this is so expensive. I can't believe how much I'm spending on this thing."

So ummm... there's no such thing as a good cartridge for under $100 anymore, is there?
If you like the way your deck sounds, you could replace your stylus for $49

Or, LP Gear sells replacement styli, like this one for $37, which they claim is an upgrade

Or, you could get the newer model of your cart, the AT-VM95E for $69. The reviews I've read say it's an upgrade over the AT95E

The Grado Black3 is popular with U-Turn Orbit owners and runs $99

But outside of Audio-Technica and their economies of scale, there aren't many well-regarded carts under $100.
 

Joe Mac

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If you like the way your deck sounds, you could replace your stylus for $49

Or, LP Gear sells replacement styli, like this one for $37, which they claim is an upgrade

Or, you could get the newer model of your cart, the AT-VM95E for $69. The reviews I've read say it's an upgrade over the AT95E

The Grado Black3 is popular with U-Turn Orbit owners and runs $99

But outside of Audio-Technica and their economies of scale, there aren't many well-regarded carts under $100.

Can’t use Grados on AT LP120, hums

 
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kvetcha

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There was an update on Wednesday - he’s out of hospital and recovering at home. It will be some time before he’s fully recovered, but he seems to be out of the woods.
 

NewsFedora

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If you like the way your deck sounds, you could replace your stylus for $49

Or, LP Gear sells replacement styli, like this one for $37, which they claim is an upgrade

Or, you could get the newer model of your cart, the AT-VM95E for $69. The reviews I've read say it's an upgrade over the AT95E

The Grado Black3 is popular with U-Turn Orbit owners and runs $99

But outside of Audio-Technica and their economies of scale, there aren't many well-regarded carts under $100.

I've wondered if getting a better cartridge would improve some sibilance and other occasional issues I've noticed in playback. I might be willing to look at something in the $100-$200 range if can provide noticeable sound improvement...
 

Joe Mac

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I've wondered if getting a better cartridge would improve some sibilance and other occasional issues I've noticed in playback. I might be willing to look at something in the $100-$200 range if can provide noticeable sound improvement...

I think given your table is stick with the new AT-VM95 but if you’re willing to spend more then maybe look to explore the more advanced stylus profiles like micro line or shiabata
 
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