Fidelity Research FR-1 Mk.3F phono cartridge

A couple of issues back, we mentioned in passing that the Fidelity Research FR-1 Mk.3F was the only moving-coil cartridge we had heard (as of then) that we would give house room to. (The others had frequency-response problems which so colored the sound that their other strong points were not worth the tradeoff.) That first observation about the FR-1 was based on a couple of hours' listening. Now that we have had an opportunity to live with one of them for a while, we can essentially confirm that first reaction, but with a few added qualifications.

This is in fact one of the few MCs that doesn't suffer from a brightness suckout and a high-end sizzle. In fact, it sounds rather like a Shure V15-IV elliptical in tonal balance, even to the point of sharing that cartridge's slight hardness. (The spherical G version of the Shure sounds more neutral.) But there the resemblance ends.

The F-R has a fairly high degree of internal damping, which holds the low-end resonance in an un-damped arm to around 6dB. (Arm damping reduces this further.) Compliance is moderately high—closer to 15cu at 12Hz than the 10 figure cited in the specs—which rather narrows the field when it comes to compatible arms. Even with the SME 3009 III, which is one of the lowest-mass arms available, the cartridge's 10-gram weight places the arm/cartridge resonance at around 10Hz, which is close to ideal (12Hz is better). With most other arms, including Fidelity Research's rather massive ones, the resonance drops to below 8Hz—into the range where the system is responding excessively to some record warps. The resulting subsonic interference can be filtered out, but the filtering sacrifices some low-end tautness, and cannot restore the imaging accuracy that gets messed up by the excessive stylus flexing.

We are also a little dubious about the FR-1 Mk.3F's required 2-gram tracking force. This is nothing to worry about with a spherical-tipped cartridge, but with a biradial stylus, even a line-contact one such as this, contact pressure at 2 grams will be high enough to cause some groove wear with repeated playings. (With a spherical, disc and stylus wear virtually cease at tracking forces of below 1½ grams—assuming, that is, that the cartridge can track cleanly below that force.)

Because of its high compliance, the FRl-Mk3F is one of the few MC cartridges whose low-frequency tracking ability rivals that of the Shure. Unlike most MCs, it sails through those ridiculous' cannon blasts on Telarc's 1812 with nary a trace of distress. But, even with the SME tonearm's highly effective damping system, we were forced to agree with some other reviewers who reported that the cartridge's low end seemed a little lacking in impact. We could not ascertain a reason for this, and thus report it only as an unsupportable observation.

The F at the end of this cartridge's model number is supposed to stand for Flat. Neither of our two samples was. Our response measurements (fig.1), made with the CBS STR-100, STR-130, and B&K 2010 test records were in fact in sharp contradiction to the "calibration" curves supplied with the cartridges. They sounded more like our curves than like F-R's. What more can we say?


Fig.1 Fidelity Research FR-1 Mk.3F, Frequency response (top) and crosstalk (bottom) (10dB/large vertical div.).

Sound Quality
The FR-1 Mark 3F has remarkable inner detail, a very stable stereo image (in a low-mass arm), and a moderate coloration consisting of a rather bright overall sound and a tendency to lighten the "weight" of tonal balances. The extreme top, on the other hand, sounded rather subdued—not because it was down in level but because of the subjective masking effect of that broad circa-7kHz hump (footnote 1).

Sooo...While recognizing what it is that turns people on about moving-coil cartridges—their uncanny clarity (similar to that of the Decca cartridges we were high on some years ago, but minus the upper-middle glare) and detail, we have yet to find a MC that does as well below 10kHz as does our comfortable-old-shoe Shure V-15 IV. We know there are other cartridges that image better, have finer detail-resolution, and provide more of that delicate airiness at the high end, but our first criterion for a cartridge is how tape-like its sound is through most of the musical middle range, and—to date—the Shure stands unsurpassed in that respect. We must however reiterate, to the point of utter tediousness, that our preference is for the G version of the Shure, with the spherical tip. To us, the elliptical simply sounds hard, and when we want to listen to records for the music, that is something we find even more irritating than the (to us) minor shortcomings of the Shure.

Summing Up
It is our feeling as of now that, while the Fidelity Research FR-1 Mk.3F is no paragon of perfection, it is nonetheless one of the more–agreeable-sounding moving-coil cartridges we've encountered. Its flaws, such as they are, are less irritating than the deadness and the high-end sizzle that we hear from comparably-priced MCs. And we hesitate to consider recommending the $1000 ones (as good as some of them nay be) because, at that price, a buyer has a right to expect that his cartridge will remain current for longer than six months, which is probably asking too much. (We will test a couple of the high-priced ones anyway, just to see what we're all missing by having to settle for the cheaper ones.) Meanwhile, if you like some of the things MC cartridges do but not others, this one might just be what you're looking for.

Footnote 1: In case you're wondering about this "masking effect" that we mention from time to time in our equipment reports, it refers to our ear's tendency to gauge the strength of very low and very high frequencies on the basis, not of their strength relative to the middle range, but relative to those adjacent ranges which are closer to the middle of the audio band. For example, if a system's output at 35Hz is as strong as at 1kHz, and the intervening range (35Hz–1kHz) is flat, it will sound flat to 35. But if the 40–50Hz range is elevated, relative to 35 and 1kHz, it will not only sound bass-heavy, it will also sound substantially attenuated in the 35Hz region. The higher output closer to audio-band center tends to mask response further removed from audio-band center.
Fidelity Research
Company no longer in existence (2019)

John Atkinson's picture
Back at the beginning of the 1980s, this Fidelity Research and the Supex 900 were the moving-coil cartridges to have. But after a dalliance with the Entre 1 MC (designed by Matsudaira-san, now of My Sonic Lab), I lost my heart to the Dynavector Karat 17D Diamond, which I used mounted in an SME 3009 Mk.III tonearm on a Linn Sondek LP12.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Ortofan's picture

cartridge, which had a very short cantilever, Bud Fried would have been proud of you.
However, at audio shows, he typically used a moving-iron/induced-magnet type cartridge with a line-contact stylus - usually an ADC ZLM or an Ortofon M20FL. Turntables were either Thorens or Linn and tonearms were either SME or ADC.

Of course, the cartridge from that era which reproduced LPs with a sound quality closest to that of the master tape - in the opinion of mastering engineers - was the Stanton 881.

jimsusky's picture


Thanks for reprinting this review by the redoubtable J. Gordon Holt.

A friend, closer to your age than mine, fondly remembers the various Supex 'coils. He estimates getting 2,000 hours from a Fidelity Research FR-2 (sic).

(this is strong evidence in favor of the religious use of "Stylast" - which seems to be not so-well-known these days)

I operated an FR-1 Mk 3F before I left college - and have operated (mostly "low-output") moving coil pickups since.

About 10-12 years ago another friend got his FR1 rebuilt - which we used with the contemporaneous (1979) Audio Research SP-6 preamp and (1978) "L-strapped Cotter Brick" (properly known as the Verion - then Cotter Mk2L moving coil pickup transformer).

I could swear that it sounded very similar to my 25-year-old audio-recollection.

I was not acquainted with Holt and Sterophile until ca. 1986, so never got his take on this pickup (unlike TAS and The Audio Critic - both of whom convinced us to try it - along with our local audio dealer). We never tried "those ridiculous' cannon blasts" but in the JVC servo-armed direct-drive 'tables it would readily "track 80" on the Ortofon Test Record.

(and I have never, ever, considered 2-grams to "cause groove wear" - believing that mistracking is the real "bad thing" for playing records - plus we routinely used LAST for our costly treasures - another "essential" that also seems to be not-so-fashionable these days)

So, I missed JGH's "distant" evaluation and comparison to the V-15 of the day (! - Really?).

I quite agree, however, that the FR-1 was (is) soft at the extreme top - and detailed like crazy.

JGH implies that there was more than one $1000-pickup in 1980. I only ever heard of the first Koetsu (no model number/name) to be imported to the 'States. What were the others?

(Even the Fidelity Research FR-7 was "only" about $550 in the late 70s)

Anyway, once aware of moving coils - even the "zippy" ones - the various Shure MM pickups have always seemed "boring". Around 2006 I tried a brand-new V-15 Type V-MR and was reminded why I never bothered with MM's post-1980.

Ortofan's picture

... back in 1980 - besides the Koetsu Onyx Black - would have been the Dynavector DV-100D (aka Karat Diamond), the Signet (by Audio-Technica) TK-100LC and the Sony (Esprit) XL-88D.

Herb Reichert's picture

my Supex 900

I even tried it a few years back


volvic's picture

Call me crazy, I found it too bright. Went straight to the Shure V15 MK V which I still use today. I do think it’s time for an MC though.

Ortofan's picture

... try the Audio-Technica VM540ML.

volvic's picture

But already have four Shure V15 MK V cartridges mounted on all four tables, also have several JICO SAS backups, so after all these years, I do want to try an MC. The last time I had an MC was in the 80's with the Ortofon MC20, after I returned the Supex to my then retailer. Bought the Shure when the Ortofon wore out after 7 years. The Shure was the only cartridge I knew that had a great stylus that also didn't smear highs or sound zingy at the top end, and tracked like no other, which is why I still use it. I would still seek a second hand Shure rather than the AT for that reason and the JICO styluses are very good. I am sure a good Lyra MC will sound great but will it track as well as the Shure. I listen to mostly classical so tracking is quite important.

Ortofan's picture

... "zingy" top end, then you won't want a Lyra.

Instead, the Ortofon Cadenza Red would be a better choice.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Lyra Etna's FR looks like Mount Etna in the treble ....... Can you imagine if any DAC's FR looked like that? ....... May be that is the secret sauce? ....... MF praised Etna's sound quality :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Wonder what Tony in Venice would say? :-) .......

volvic's picture

I meant that most budget MM cartridges I have owned, always used to smear the highs; cymbals sounded like a loud screech rather than a sharp sound with a focused attack then quick decay. The only two MM cartridges I have heard that didn't were the Shure and the Linn K18 MKII. I suspect the better Goldrings are good in that department as well. Given the tables I have I would think the Lyra might brighten them up a little and that would be a good thing.

Ortofan's picture

... have some form of line-contact type stylus, so you might expect good reproduction of high frequency sounds from them.
What stylus types were on the other cartridges you tried whose performance you found to be unsatisfactory?

volvic's picture

But the first ever cartridge on my then first ever proper turntable was the entry level Grado, not very impressive. Later on - in between the Ortofon and Shure, I switched to the Denon DL-160, that thing was a horrible tracker and nearly drove me to give up on vinyl as I was just a starving student at the time. It is no exaggeration to say that it was the Shure V15 MkV that kept me into vinyl, it did everything right and while the K18 MKII had a more robust sound the Shure was a better cartridge overall. It is amazing now that I look back that I bought my first one in 1990 and now own several more and still use it. However I would like to dabble in MC again.

Ortofan's picture

... do you already own a step-up device?

Does the JICO replacement stylus for the Shure V15-V have a beryllium cantilever?