Gramophone Dreams #3 Shure SC35C
Over and over, I'm listening to John Coltrane's tenor-sax solo in "I Wanna Talk About You," from The Gentle Side of John Coltrane (LP, Impulse! ASH-9306-2). I keep asking myself: Have I ever heard a recorded sax sound this realistic? The tenor I hear in my room is the exact size of a real oneand I can hear it moving in front of the microphone. Is this possible? I think these thoughts because I'm using a Shure SC35C cartridge (list price $75 but available for as little as $35) on the Pioneer PLX-1000 ($699), driving a Schiit Mani phono stage ($129, review underway). Believe me, I know this is not possiblebut I'm hearing what I'm hearing.
I was clear in my review of the PLX-1000 that the Shure M44-7 cartridge (included with the Pioneer) was unlikely to satisfy many audiophiles. The M44-7 is a killer at the job it was designed to do: make people feel good, keep the party going, and not break down under extreme abuse. I couldn't live with it for as long as a day.
Shure's SC35C (footnote 1) is currently billed as a "DJ Record Needle" on Shure's website, but it's more than that. A broadcast-quality cartridge introduced in the 1970s, the SC35C was created to be used with a BBC MP1-18 tonearm fitted to the BBC-spec Technics SP-10 turntable (see photo). Shure calls the SC35C a "professional" cartridge designed to have excellent "tonal balance and clarity throughout the audio range."
It sure as hell does. I've been using the SC35C for about six weeks now, and it does so many things so well that it feels like one of the best entry-level audiophile cartridges I now know of. Depending on your taste, many of you might prefer it to the Ortofon 2M Red (I do), the lower-priced Grados (I do), the Dynavector 10x5 (maybe yes, maybe no), or my old-school "friend with benefits," the Denon DL-103 (sometimes yes, sometimes no). The only certainty here is this: Like the PLX-1000, this totally overlooked, built-like-a-truck sleeper of a hot-rod cartridge is a budget force to be reckoned with. It's of relatively low compliance for a moving-magnet design, and sounds best tracking at 4.5gmwhich I promise will not harm your records, but will keep surface noise and groove misbehavior to a minimum.
Analog maven Phillip Holmes, of Mockingbird Distribution, hipped me to the SC35C's giant-killer potential. He urged me to try it on the Abis SA 1.2 tonearm, which I did. (I know you won't believe me if I tell you how good it sounded, so I won't.) Blogs and cartridge forums fanned my curiosity about the SC35C to the boiling point. I had to try it.
I bought my SC35C, with standard "Black Label" stylus, for $34.95 from Amazon. Holmes said he liked the N35X styluswhich, so far, seems the best all-around choice. On eBay, I bought a vintage NOS SS35C stylus, which a few forum posters clamed was the best, and which I found perhaps the smoothest-, most-refined sounding of the three.
I used the SC35C with a wide variety of phono stages, beginning with the Schiit Mani ($129) and going all the way up to the extraordinary April Sound GB-1 ($3000). With every upgrade, it sounded better.
A word of caution: The SC35C's output of 5mV could overload some higher-gain moving-magnet phono stages, and its inductance of 425mH could make it sound bright (or rolled off) driving some phono networksespecially avoid RIAA circuits using 12AX7 tubes.
The Shure SC35C plays opera: Instead of "Turn down that screeching!," it will make you feel like turning the volume up. Highs are surprisingly smooth and ridiculously grain freeespecially with the Whitelabel SS35C and N35X styli. The standard SS35C stylus sounded very good, but a little harder and less refined than the others. The sound quality of all Shure cartridges is defined by the choice of stylus. Therefore, I look forward to trying the SC35C with Shure's N70EJ, a 0.4 by 0.7mil elliptical diamond stylus; or the N75HE, a nude 0.2 by 0.7mil hyperelliptical stylus. Both will track at 1.5gm, and probably sound like my old Supex 900: fast, lively, and highly detailed.
The SC35C plays classical: I played Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo, in a recording by Ernest Ansermet and the Suisse Romande Orchestra and mezzo-soprano Marina de Gabarain (LP, London STS-15014)the SC35C did an exceptional job of sorting out this complex, superdynamic work.
The SC35C plays Bootsy's Rubber Band: Specifically, This Boot Is Made for Fonk-N (LP, Warner Bros. BSK 3295), and in such a way that I thought, It may cause high butt pleasures. This classic funk LP sounded better than I have ever heard it.
Finally . . .
All you need to understand is this: The Pioneer PLX-1000 turntable and tonearm, with Shure SC35C cartridge and Schiit Mani phono stage, play music unbelievably welland cost under $900 total. In high-end audio terms, that's virtually free. I have owned a $30,000 turntable, a $30,000 cartridge, and a $30,000 phono stage with a $10,000 step-up transformer. But today, I could live the rest of my music-loving, record-collecting life quite happily with this addicting $900 front end.Herb Reichert
Footnote 1: The Shure SC35C lists for $75. Shure Inc., 5800 W. Touhy Avenue, Niles, IL 60714-4608. Tel: (800) 257-4873, (847) 600-2000. Fax: (847) 600-1212. Web: www.shure.com.