Grado Prestige Gold1 phono cartridge Page 2
The Grado's healthy output and relatively high internal resistance5mV and 475 ohms, respectivelyforestalled the use of a step-up transformer. Instead, I directed its output straight to the moving-magnet inputs of my Shindo Masseto preamplifier, the impedance of which is 47k ohms.
Closet techie that I am, I began my listening tests with the irreplaceable Hi-Fi News & Record Review Test Record (LP, HFN 001): Its sits on my record shelf right next to my original copy of the Casino Royale soundtrack. Seriously.
Old-timers speak of something called the Grado jitter dance: a reference to the cantilever's tendency to wobble under stress. (Don't we all?) Though much tamed over the years, that quirk persists in the form of a resonant frequency with very wide shoulders: The HFN/RR resonance test requires the user to see and to hear a certain instability on the cantilever's part, but in the Grado's case, that behavior was spread over a much wider range of frequencies than usual. The peaks I observedboth of them sufficiently severe that the stylus seemed on the verge of leaving the groovewere at 9Hz in the lateral mode, 12Hz in the vertical mode.
Judged with the HFN/RR Test Record, the Grado's tracking performance at the recommended downforce was less accomplished than that of other budget cartridges, most notably the Benz-Micro MC20E2-L ($199) that I wrote about in the September 2007 issue. Judged with real music, the Prestige Gold1 also exhibited some audible coarsening during the loudest piano chords on a new reissue of Byron Janis performing the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto 2, with Antal Dorati (Mercury Living Presence/Speakers Corner SR90260). Likewise, the Grado wasn't at all comfortable with some of the singingor the anvil hammeringon Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic's classic recording of Wagner's Siegfried (London OSA 1508).
In its favor, the Grado was always forgiving of surface noise: steady-state groove grunge especially, but random clicks and clacks, too.
Sonically, the Prestige Gold1 had the same thickness I associate with Grados pastonly more so. Much more so, in fact: The Prestige Gold1 was tonally rich, and on stringed instruments in particular it suggested note-envelopes that were densely packed with natural overtones. Violins sounded intoxicatingly rich, cellos almost aphrodisiacal. And the brass instruments at the end of Richard Strauss's song "Im Abendrot" (Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Angel 36347) were almost indescribably pretty: dark-Gold1 pastel tones, softly radiant. Similarly, the saxophones in the introduction of Vaughan Williams' Symphony 9, with Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic (Everest SDBR 3006), were lovely, albeit not as brilliantly distinguished in texture from the other instruments as they should have been.
The Grado's timbral richness was not, however, accompanied by textural complexitypleasantly rich though they were, stringed instruments sounded too smoothor harmonic clarity and insight. For all its beauty, the Grado proved less musically interesting and insightful than the moving-coil cartridges I'm used to. Within the sound of the Grado, there was a lack of differentiation or distinction between the various threads of sonic color.
Throughout Frederick Fennell and the Eastman Wind Ensemble's Winds in Hi-Fi (Mercury Living Presence/Speakers Corner SRO90173), and especially in Richard Strauss's Serenade for Winds in E-flat, the reeds were insufficiently texturedinsufficiently reedy, really. And on Ruggiero Ricci's famous recording of Sarasate's Carmen Fantasie and similar showpieces (Decca/Speakers Corner SXL 2197), I kept waiting for the solo violinnot to mention the various percussion instrumentsto leap forth from the rest of the music, as happens with most first-rate analog gear. It kept not happening.
Dynamic nuancethe lack thereof, reallyalmost certainly had something to do with that: Switching to virtually any of the good moving-coils I had in-house, I heard more expressiveness in singing and playing. With the Grado, my "acceptance," if you will, of the wonder of the sound of an orchestra was automatic; with a Denon DL-103, while the music was no less listenable, I was also consistently, pleasantly befuddled by the apparent difficultythe titanic, ongoing challengeof getting that many people to play in tune, in time, and with the same emotional and intellectual motivation.
Yet it must be said that the Grado's thick, smooth sound had the benefit of making overly bright LPs sound downright nice. The Grado handily tamed the excess sibilance on badly recorded, badly mastered pop vinyl, such as Tom Verlaine's nice if pretentious Words from the Front (Warner Bros. BSK 3685). And the first copy that I ever bought of John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band (Apple SW 3372), which I've cherished for nearly 40 years, became all the more listenable and lovable.
Incidentally, the Grado's spatial performance suited my tastes quite well: In fact, I'd forgotten how big a Grado cartridge can sound in a system that's tuned to allow such a quality. On every orchestral record I tried, the Prestige Gold1 reproduced a soundfield noticeably larger than average, and while the instruments therein weren't as substantial as through the finest cartridges and pickup heads I've owned or used, the results were more convincing than I had any right to expect from such an affordable thing.
In 2009 as in 1984, Grado's moving-iron cartridges are a distinctive lot. Now as then, based on the sound of the Prestige Gold1, their success depends heavily on the system, the records, and the tastes of the prospective buyer.
Nostalgiaand an admitted love for the brandmade me to want to love the very affordable Grado Prestige Gold1 ($220), and I regret that I didn't. I'd much rather spend my money on the aforementioned Benz-Micro MC20E2-L ($199)or, better still, on the Denon DL-103 ($229). Granted, this is from a person who already owns more than one moving-coil step-up transformer (a requirement for good performance from any low-output MC cartridge), and can't seem to imagine himself in the position of someone who does notso you may wish to take those counter-recommendations with a grain of salt. Be that as it may, the Grado Prestige Gold1 just didn't do it for me; shoppers should approach it with more than the usual care and consideration.