Phono Cartridge Reviews

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Art Dudley Posted: Nov 24, 2015 1 comments
Just as John Atkinson has a special telephone on his desk, by means of which the late J. Gordon Holt expresses his displeasure at this magazine's continuing decline into latitudinarianism, my own desk is littered with a dozen or so windup timers, each set to remind me how long it's been since I last wrote about this or that hi-fi eccentricity. Each timer has its own distinctive ring: The one labeled "LOWTHER" is a bit shrill, especially at certain humidity levels, while the one marked "QUAD ESL" can be heard to best advantage only when sitting in a particular spot—and even I have to admit that my "CARTRIDGE ALIGNMENT" timer seems to go off rather too often.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Sep 10, 2015 Published: Dec 01, 1979 6 comments
The Shure Brothers have been making magnetic cartridges since the early 1950s (they had been exclusively microphone manufacturers prior to then), and their continuing R&D program has resulted in new, improved models every few years rather than every 6 months (as seems to be the rule these days). As a result, Shure has the appearance, to most audiophiles, of a stodgy, plodding, rather "establishment" manufacturer that can be trusted to make a solid, reliable product but nothing brilliantly innovative or—for that matter—nothing remarkably good either.
Thomas J. Norton Posted: Aug 14, 2015 Published: Feb 01, 1989 0 comments
While the AT-OC9 bears the Audio-Technica logo, you won't find a sample of this moving-coil cartridge at your friendly Audio-Technica dealership. The US distributor of Audio-Technica products has apparently decided that their market does not include high-end cartridges. A quick perusal of the latest Audio directory issue (October 1988) lists the most expensive AT cartridge at $295, with no moving-coils in sight. When I first heard of the AT-OC9, the only reasonably accessible source, short of Japan, was Audio-Technica in the UK. A quick phone call and follow-up letter resulted in a review sample. Since that time, Music Hall in the US importers of the Epos loudspeakers, among other items) has begun importing the AT-OC9 (along with the less-expensive AT-F5). Mail-order company Lyle Cartridges also stock it, I believe.
Herb Reichert Posted: May 27, 2015 3 comments
So, audiophiles, riddle me this: What does a DAC actually look like? I don't mean the box it hides in—I mean the little doodad that does the actual converting from digital to analog. Is it bigger than a phono cartridge? Is it made of rain-forest wood, gemstone, or porcelain? Do people show it to their friends, who gawk in awe and envy? Does it have an exotic, geisha-sounding name like Jasmine Tiger, Koetsu Onyx, or Miyajima Takumi? When it breaks, does a watchmaker type rebuild it for a not-insubstantial fee? Do people hoard them in vaults, like NOS tubes? Can you trade a DAC for a rose-gold Rolex Oyster Bubbleback ca 1945?
Michael Fremer Posted: May 21, 2015 3 comments
Clearaudio began making moving-coil cartridges in the 1970s, and only later got into the moving-magnet business. Moving-magnet cartridge designers must now be mindful that most of today's tonearms are of medium to high mass and that therefore, to be compatible, their MMs must be of low to medium compliance and of higher mass than those of the 1960s and '70s.
Art Dudley Posted: Mar 24, 2015 0 comments
"Too much Stokowski."—Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1940, reacting to a demonstration of a stereo recording of Leopold Stokowski conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra

I don't remember when, but at some point during the past few years I realized that, in my home, mono cartridges outnumber their stereo counterparts. A few weeks ago, my collection of phono equipment took another step in the same strange direction: After receiving from Ortofon a sample of their CG 25 DI Mk.II mono pickup head ($902) for review, I was so impressed with its sound that I asked if I could buy the review sample. Now, having put check in mail, I own twice as many mono cartridges as stereo ones. Take that, multichannelism.

Robert J. Reina Posted: Dec 08, 2014 0 comments
The call I received from Music Hall's Leland Leard surprised me: "Hey, Bob, I think you'd be the perfect guy to review our new Ikura turntable!"

Hmm. It had been four years since I'd reviewed a record player: Pro-Ject's Debut III, in the February 2010 issue. And with the surging popularity of vinyl—hell, Rough Trade NYC's enormous new record store, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, even sells turntables—the thought of a plug-and-play turntable-tonearm-cartridge combination for $1200 intrigued me. Sure, Leland—send it on.

Michael Fremer Posted: Oct 08, 2014 3 comments
I've lost track of how many Transfiguration cartridges I've reviewed over the years. In all that time I've never met their designer, Immutable Music's Seiji Yoshioka, but every year he sends me an exceptionally tasteful holiday greeting card. I've never reciprocated. The truth isn't always pretty.

The Transfiguration cartridges I've reviewed, too, have always conveyed a midrange musical truth that hasn't been flashy or pretty. But it's always been honest and convincing, particularly of the reality of voices. If you said that the Transfigurations lacked character, you wouldn't be wrong—unless you intended it as a criticism.

Michael Fremer Posted: Mar 05, 2014 2 comments
Is the high-performance audio industry stagnating? Are designers simply repackaging the past? Cynics claim so, but to me it seems that making that case gets harder by the day, as a parade of veterans continue to produce their best work.
Dick Olsher Posted: Feb 13, 2014 Published: Mar 01, 1992 1 comments
666kiseki.jpgKoetsu. Kiseki. Keebler. Products from all of these firms are shrouded in at least a bit of mystery. Do I believe that Koetsu cartridges are hand-built by an octogenarian samurai swordsmith, or that Kisekis are imported from the planet Vulcan, or that Keebler's cookies are baked by elves? Not really. But it does help to liven up the domestic audio scene.

"Look, son—see what Scottie just beamed down."

"Gee, Dad, it's big and blue with a gold spot on the front, and it kind of looks like a cartridge."

"Nice guess, son. No ordinary cartridge, this one. Let me tell you about the Vulcan analog freak in Hong Kong..."

Michael Fremer Posted: Feb 14, 2013 Published: May 01, 2012 2 comments
At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, I spoke with Lyra's Jonathan Carr about the Atlas. He told me that, rather than having started as a blank sheet of paper, the Atlas is an outgrowth of the Kleos ($2995), which I reviewed in January 2011, when I thought it Carr's best balanced design yet, even if it didn't have quite the resolution of the Titan i. Like the lower-priced Delos ($1650, reviewed in August 2010), the Kleos included Carr's New Angle technology, which mechanically aligns the coils to be perfectly positioned relative to the front and rear magnets when the stylus is in the groove.
Stephen Mejias Posted: Nov 08, 2012 6 comments
It was around 7pm on Tuesday evening when I bumped into Nicole and Ms. Little on Newark Avenue, in downtown Jersey City. The girls were on their way to Kristen's shop, Kanibal Home, for their weekly book-club meeting. (Or was it Writing Club? Knitting? Screen printing? Butterfly pinning? I can never keep track.) I was on my way home, not to read, write, or listen to music, but . . .

"Hi, honey," Ms. Little said. "Going home to play with your cartridge?"

I made a face, nodded, sighed. Sensing some sharp-witted remark forming in Nicole's filthy mind, I beat her to the punch: "Yup, that's what I call it."

Martin Colloms Michael Fremer Posted: Jun 20, 2012 Published: Jun 01, 1995 0 comments
London phono cartridges still carry the famous Decca name (even if only in parentheses), but they are now produced by John Wright, a precision engineer and ex-Decca employee. Wright (not to be confused with his IMF and more recent TDL loudspeaker-designer namesake) was assigned the rights in 1989 by Decca's Special Products division (footnote 1), when the company's new owner, Racal, decided that they didn't want to be involved in the manufacture of audio equipment. Wright worked for 20 years in Decca's phono-cartridge division, where he gained a wealth of experience. As well as manufacturing the current range of London cartridges, he is also responsible for servicing and overhauling older Decca models.
Art Dudley Posted: Feb 21, 2012 1 comments
Phono cartridges—along with mothballs, hobnails, laundry bluing, hot-water bottles, lighter fluid, fur coats, and typewriters—are among the most outdated of consumer goods: To most people who make their living in the world of consumer electronics, every new cartridge that hits the shelves is little more than a coughing spasm from the death-room down the hall. You can imagine, then, the welcome accorded new samples of the even more anachronistic pickup head, which combines phono cartridge, headshell, and barbell into a product one seldom sees outside the school librarian's junk drawer. New pickup heads, which tend to look the same as old pickup heads, are manufactured in pessimistically small quantities, and seldom get much attention.
Art Dudley Posted: Dec 15, 2011 1 comments
I set out on a fishing trip but returned less than an hour later, empty-handed. You asked me, reasonably enough, "What happened?"

"I spent a half-hour digging in the garden for worms, but couldn't find any."

"You could have driven to Mr. Zetterstrum's farm, knocked on his door, asked his permission, and spent a few hours overturning the cowflops in his pasture. I'm sure you would have found one or two worms that way."

"You're right. I guess I didn't want to go fishing that badly."


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