AudioQuest 7000 Fe5 MC phono cartridge Mikey's System
To compare cartridges I used two different tonearms on the VPI TNT Mk.3: the Graham 1.5t unipivot, and the Rockport Capella air-bearing linear tracker, which is silicone-damped horizontally. (Such damping is a must, in my opinion, for any linear-tracker to perform properly with a high-performance cartridge.)
With the Graham's interchangeable arm tubes, changing cartridges took but a few minutes. It would normally take somewhat longer to switch cartridges in the Rockport; however, since both the AudioQuest and the Lyra Clavis DC place the stylus tip the same distance from the mounting screws, overhang is the same. And both designs place the stylus tip the same distance vertically from the mounting base, meaning that VTA (Vertical Tracking Angle) was essentially the same, all things being equal. Thus, only VTF (Vertical Tracking Force) had to be changed. In other words, with either arm, I could go back and forth within a few minutes. And because these are both precision-built cartridges, azimuth was identical: with the cantilever dead-center perpendicular to the record.
I used the Audible Illusions Modulus 3A preamplifier with its Gold MC phono board loaded at 47k ohms. Toward the end of the extensive listening sessions, I inserted the Audio Research PH-3 phono section into the system, but more about that in another review.
Other components included: Cary CAD-805 single-ended triode tube amplifiers, the OCM 500 solid-state stereo amplifier, Audio Physic Virgo and ProAc Response 2.5 loudspeakers and, towards the end of the audition period, the Audio Physic Terra powered subwoofer. Cabling was A.R.T. and Yamamura Systems (both designed by Be Yamamura) throughout, with the exception of the phono cable which was XLO Signature Type 3. Accessories included Power Wedge line conditioner, Audio Physic cartridge demagnetizer, Shakti Stones, A.R.T. "Q" dampers and Harmonix tuning feet, Bright Star sand boxes, and Townshend Seismic Sinks.
While I played dozens and dozens of records in my listening sessions (such torture!), I focused on a few revealing ones, including Mel Torme and Friends Recording Live At Marty's New York City (Finesse W2X 37484), Used Guitars by Marti Jones (A&M SP 5208), Jackson Browne's Saturate Before Using (Asylum SD 5051, white-label original mastered by George Piros at Atlantic), Joan Baez In Concert (Vanguard Stereolab black label VSD-2122), Belafonte At Carnegie Hall (RCA LSO-6006/Classic reissue LSO-6006), The Missouri Breaks original soundtrack (United Artists UA LA 623-G), Miles Davis's Saturday Night In Person At the Blackhawk San Francisco, Volumes I & II (Columbia "6 eye" original), Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie, Ella Fitzgerald (Verve V6-4053 original/Classic reissue), Live and Pickin', Doc and Merle Watson (United Artists UA LA 943-H), Davey Spillane's Atlantic Bridge (Tara Records 3019), Janis Ian's Breaking Silence (Analogue Productions APP 027), Doris Day's Listen To Day (Columbia DDS 1), Benjamin Britten, Noye's Flood (London OS 25331), Pulse: Works for Percussion and Strings (New World NW 313), Albeniz, Suite Espanola (Decca/Alto SXL 6355), Tchaikovsky "Pathetique" Symphony, Monteux/BSO (RCA LSC-1901/Classic reissue), and España (Decca SXL 2020/reissue).—Michael Fremer