Phono Cartridges - Your favorites and least favorites?

kvetcha

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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
 
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Joe Mac

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

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

Download Link

needles&grooves

Maybe it’s because phones are shit but I can’t hear much difference. If you were to tie me to a choice I’d say B was the Grado.
 

kvetcha

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Peeping Tom A - Soundsmith
Peeping Tom B - Grado
Too Much A - Soundsmith
Too Much B - Grado
Your Love A - Grado
Your Love B - Soundsmith
 

Joe Mac

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Peeping Tom A - Soundsmith
Peeping Tom B - Grado
Too Much A - Soundsmith
Too Much B - Grado
Your Love A - Grado
Your Love B - Soundsmith

Well that box of boxes inside boxes inside boxes sure fucked with my head, so congratulations on that 😂
 

displayname

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Peeping Tom A - Soundsmith
Peeping Tom B - Grado
Too Much A - Soundsmith
Too Much B - Grado
Your Love A - Grado
Your Love B - Soundsmith
This is my new favorite forum joke that will be hard to explain to people who don't use forums. Bravo.
 

kvetcha

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My own listening notes using a pair of planar headphones (might give it a go on my speakers today):

The Grado’s midrange is, in direct comparison, a bit more emphatic, a fullness that helps make it a very pleasant companion on older, drier recordings. This fullness sometimes comes across as a slight flabbiness, at least on my headphones, so if your system leans midrange-rich it’s possible this could turn into too much of a good thing. Bass extension is good, highs are sweet, but not emphasized.

The Soundsmith brings more detail across the board, thanks to its line contact stylus, and reaches a bit deeper on the bass, with a leaner, more neutral presentation. The recordings sound more ‘live’, and the very high channel separation broadens and deepens the soundstage - the Grado’s got a bit more crosstalk, which concentrates the image a bit more toward the middle of the listening space.

I like both these carts a whole lot. The Soundsmith is a no-nonsense detail monster, with wonderful balance and imaging. The Grado is a more forgiving, more easygoing, says ‘grab a beer and throw on those worn old dollar records, I won’t tell anyone.’

I really appreciate @HiFi Guy giving me the opportunity to listen to this Grado over the last few weeks. I will be paying it forward to a friend who has a pair of Dirty Weekends and an Ortofon 2M, and will look to pick up a wood body for myself as a backup cart once the Soundsmith is closer to retipping.

Hope you guys had fun with the experiment!
 

HiFi Guy

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My own listening notes using a pair of planar headphones (might give it a go on my speakers today):

The Grado’s midrange is, in direct comparison, a bit more emphatic, a fullness that helps make it a very pleasant companion on older, drier recordings. This fullness sometimes comes across as a slight flabbiness, at least on my headphones, so if your system leans midrange-rich it’s possible this could turn into too much of a good thing. Bass extension is good, highs are sweet, but not emphasized.

The Soundsmith brings more detail across the board, thanks to its line contact stylus, and reaches a bit deeper on the bass, with a leaner, more neutral presentation. The recordings sound more ‘live’, and the very high channel separation broadens and deepens the soundstage - the Grado’s got a bit more crosstalk, which concentrates the image a bit more toward the middle of the listening space.

I like both these carts a whole lot. The Soundsmith is a no-nonsense detail monster, with wonderful balance and imaging. The Grado is a more forgiving, more easygoing, says ‘grab a beer and throw on those worn old dollar records, I won’t tell anyone.’

I really appreciate @HiFi Guy giving me the opportunity to listen to this Grado over the last few weeks. I will be paying it forward to a friend who has a pair of Dirty Weekends and an Ortofon 2M, and will look to pick up a wood body for myself as a backup cart once the Soundsmith is closer to retipping.

Hope you guys had fun with the experiment!
Good point on crosstalk. The JoLida XT-R shows the Grado Gold3 has some as well (left channel leaking into the right channel). The Hana MH has almost none either direction.
 

Splunders

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My own listening notes using a pair of planar headphones (might give it a go on my speakers today):

The Grado’s midrange is, in direct comparison, a bit more emphatic, a fullness that helps make it a very pleasant companion on older, drier recordings. This fullness sometimes comes across as a slight flabbiness, at least on my headphones, so if your system leans midrange-rich it’s possible this could turn into too much of a good thing. Bass extension is good, highs are sweet, but not emphasized.

The Soundsmith brings more detail across the board, thanks to its line contact stylus, and reaches a bit deeper on the bass, with a leaner, more neutral presentation. The recordings sound more ‘live’, and the very high channel separation broadens and deepens the soundstage - the Grado’s got a bit more crosstalk, which concentrates the image a bit more toward the middle of the listening space.

I like both these carts a whole lot. The Soundsmith is a no-nonsense detail monster, with wonderful balance and imaging. The Grado is a more forgiving, more easygoing, says ‘grab a beer and throw on those worn old dollar records, I won’t tell anyone.’

I really appreciate @HiFi Guy giving me the opportunity to listen to this Grado over the last few weeks. I will be paying it forward to a friend who has a pair of Dirty Weekends and an Ortofon 2M, and will look to pick up a wood body for myself as a backup cart once the Soundsmith is closer to retipping.

Hope you guys had fun with the experiment!
I just did the comparison blind and got them all right. I've lived with Grado and Soundsmith cartridges and it was really easy to spot the Grado, due to that fuller midrange. Just more punch there.

I don't know if the qualities of the Soundsmith are nearly as easy to spot in this situation. That cartridge spreads a huge, very defined soundstage with loads of detail, without being clinical. The music is sort of presented without commentary in a way.

Both are great cart brands and I'm thrilled to have turntables sporting one of each! Thanks for the fun test @kvetcha !
 

kvetcha

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I just did the comparison blind and got them all right. I've lived with Grado and Soundsmith cartridges and it was really easy to spot the Grado, due to that fuller midrange. Just more punch there.

I don't know if the qualities of the Soundsmith are nearly as easy to spot in this situation. That cartridge spreads a huge, very defined soundstage with loads of detail, without being clinical. The music is sort of presented without commentary in a way.

Both are great makers and I'm thrilled to have turntables sporting one of each! Thanks for the fun test @kvetcha !
Yeah, I love the Soundsmith for its effortless detail and accuracy, but I 100% understand the appeal behind the Grado. Makes me wish I had a table with a removable headshell so I could swap them around more easily!
 

Sonicpharmacist

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A question for you fine people....

I recently upgraded my cartridge from an Audio Technica VM95E to the VM95ML, and for me the most noticeable difference is how much higher I have to crank up the volume, so much so that there’s a hum. Yeah, the sound is great, but since I have to turn up the volume so much, I also notice more pops and ticks. Is this normal? I don’t have a preamp, my turntable is an Audio Technia 120, and I have an Onkyo receiver with a dedicated phono line, and the switch on the back of the table is switched to phono.

thanks in advance
 

AnthonyI

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Cart, carts and more carts :)

UPDATE - Ortofon 2M Blue:
So after about 30 hours of just spinning albums one after the other, we started settling in and started paying attention over the next 15-ish hours or so. The Blue tracks well, presents a nice dynamic sound and has depth and separation.

Ortofon-2M-Blue.jpg

Overall, the cart has good tonal balance, the highs are clean without become shrill, the midrange is acceptable if not slightly pushed back, and the bass is accurate without getting too “thumpy” or muddy. The sound signature is appealing and tends to lean more towards the analytical/detailed side. The cart ran smooth and quiet with its possible limitation showing up on some "well loved" albums. Truth be told, after the initial burn in time of 30 hours, the cart did seem to continue to settle in through the next 15-ish hours, so there may be more to pull from this cart over time.

Mounting and setup are a definite plus when it comes to the Blue, like all the Ortofon carts, the Blue has a threaded body for simple mounting, the shape, angle and stylus split in the plastic housing make aligning the actual tip of the stylus a simpler project than some others.

If you’re looking for that first upgrade from an entry level cartridge the Ortofon Blue should more than fit the bill, appealing in sound, price and quality making it a great overall upgrade option.

Just a note, the Blue was running on my PLX system.
 
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displayname

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A question for you fine people....

I recently upgraded my cartridge from an Audio Technica VM95E to the VM95ML, and for me the most noticeable difference is how much higher I have to crank up the volume, so much so that there’s a hum. Yeah, the sound is great, but since I have to turn up the volume so much, I also notice more pops and ticks. Is this normal? I don’t have a preamp, my turntable is an Audio Technia 120, and I have an Onkyo receiver with a dedicated phono line, and the switch on the back of the table is switched to phono.

thanks in advance
The ML does put out a lower voltage, but is still high at 3.5mv. But that should explain the need to turn up the volume slightly. But it shouldn't be that much.

First you need to figure out if the hum is from the amp, or somewhere in the vinyl chain. To do that, simply turn up the volume to what you are using for the TT, then switch to another input (with none component turned on). If the hum is still there, it's your amp.

More than likely though, it's the built in phono that's not up to task. It might be time to consider upgrading to an external.

As for pops and clicks, are you cleaning your records? That ML is getting that detail from much deeper in the groove. A microscopic piece of dust that the E couldn't reach can be a huge speed bump for the ML.
 

displayname

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Peeping Tom A - Soundsmith
Peeping Tom B - Grado
Too Much A - Soundsmith
Too Much B - Grado
Your Love A - Grado
Your Love B - Soundsmith
Finally listened to these. Although I have heard both of these carts, it was more than a year apart. However, when I heard the Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC Star ES I was stunned by how well it handled surface noise, pops and clicks, etc. That was the giveaway for me in these recordings, and I was able to identify all of them correctly based on that single element.

Great captures by the way. These sounded really good. It would be fun to upgrade my headphones and do these again to see if I could detect even more.
 

kvetcha

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Finally listened to these. Although I have heard both of these carts, it was more than a year apart. However, when I heard the Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC Star ES I was stunned by how well it handled surface noise, pops and clicks, etc. That was the giveaway for me in these recordings, and I was able to identify all of them correctly based on that single element.

Great captures by the way. These sounded really good. It would be fun to upgrade my headphones and do these again to see if I could detect even more.
I connect the phono stage to a Behringer UMC202HD (with a Schiit SYS and a bypassed Schiit Loki in the path) and record directly into Audacity. Works well!
 

Splunders

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I connect the phono stage to a Behringer UMC202HD (with a Schiit SYS and a bypassed Schiit Loki in the path) and record directly into Audacity. Works well!
Is the Loki always in the chain? Other than the tweaks you make with it, do you notice it impacting the sound at all? Diminished soundstage or anything?
 
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