Grado Prestige Gold1 phono cartridge Page 2

Indeed, the Grado Prestige Gold1 sounded best with the Rega 'table and arm, and that pairing formed the basis for all the performance comments that follow. But there's one more caveat: The Grado was susceptible to mild hum as the tonearm moved closer to the turntable's motor. It was hum-free at the outermost groove of any given LP, with hum then building to a level I considered still unobjectionable by the end of the modulated area. From that point inward, across the record label, was where the hum really gained in strength.

The Grado's healthy output and relatively high internal resistance—5mV and 475 ohms, respectively—forestalled 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 observed—both of them sufficiently severe that the stylus seemed on the verge of leaving the groove—were 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 singing—or the anvil hammering—on 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 past—only 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 complexity—pleasantly rich though they were, stringed instruments sounded too smooth—or 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 textured—insufficiently 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 violin—not to mention the various percussion instruments—to leap forth from the rest of the music, as happens with most first-rate analog gear. It kept not happening.

Dynamic nuance—the lack thereof, really—almost 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 difficulty—the titanic, ongoing challenge—of 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.

Nostalgia—and an admitted love for the brand—made 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 not—so 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.

Grado Labs
4614 Seventh Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11220
(718) 435-5340

Et Quelle's picture

Well you gotta like the "G" on the front? cheeky

stereophilement's picture

Hey Art why'd you go all the way into the city, was'nt there a Harvey Sound in White Plains? There used to be anyway. Thanks for the review. For myself I am impressed with Grado Gold 1 sound with Rega. I think the Grado cartridge and the Rega arm is a special combination to play and enjoy records. Grados are among the more divisive cartridges around. There seems to be a camp that really like them a lot, and others that adamantly hate them...the hum due to lack of shield, the less than superior tracking etc. From an objective measurement standpoint, they are a little compromised. Technically and sonically they have some weaknesses along with some class beating strengths. For those reasons I myself confess to having a somewhat rocky relationship with Grados, but yet I've long held one in my stable. Why? There are a few things Grados do exceedingly well...they do this better than other cartrdiges in the class, and even on into higher sectors. Acoustic instruments and voices can be captivating with a Grado (play Michael Hedges solo acoustic guitar on title track "Aerial Boudaries" Lp or listen to Joni mitchells voice on "people's parties" from "Court and spark" Lp. Incredlbly natural tone and harmonics on Hedge's guitar, and Joni's voice sounds more real than any cartridge I've used). Grado also work wonders with old prestige and blue note jazz recordings. With classical music they have a nice "woody" tone, but lack the uber resolve a coil might bring. I have a Rega, I also have a Denon DL 103. And this listener finds the Grado gold 1 to work  better than the the Denon 103 with Rega arm/table. The quick and slightly lean Rega sound being almost perfectly tempered by the Grado cartridge. While there are some upper range details that both cartridges don't get (at least in part to their diamond profiles). The denon is more clear and "delineated" on top, while  the Grado has a beautiful and "lifelike" midrange. The Grado bottom is slightly loose, but full and punchy. Transients will seem slow compared to "fast" cartridges, but not really any slower than live music sounds to me. In short I think the Grado sounds more like live music than the Denon. Grados moving iron design does some things that are to use a stereophile qualifier "musically satisfying", stuff that other budget coils and magnets don't manage to quite match. While there is "information" Grados leave out, the music is still presented with plenty of heart. This is why Grados are known to "move" listeners (either by the music being played or onto another cartridge lol). Grado's are sometimes called "music lovers" cartridges, and I'd say that's true, you are'nt going to get razor transients, detail and stage out of a Grado. At the same time I find Grado's to have that undefinable "it" factor, they can bring some moments of bliss. But as you said the tracking and hum are  yellow flags. Apart from those caveats, musically I give the Grado/Rega combo the green light.

As an aside I was a little puzzled by your statement that the newer Grado Gold 1 is much more warm and thick than older Grados. I have'nt heard a great departure in tonality- Grados always sound like Grados. Grado actually claims to have made steps in the other direction with less mass and wire in the "1" incarnations.

Audiolad's picture

I also have the Denon 103, and it does very well with higher frequencies, but I don't think the bass is as good as it should be. Do I like it? Of course I do. On my Denon DP300F, I use the Grado Red, and even though its not the gold, it has similar sound. Sometimes the the only TT I use is the 300F because music on the Grado simply pleases my soul without the attack the 103 gives on violins. I like both of them, but like tires, each has its own use.

UPDATE: I finally bit the bullet and bought Gold1 stylus, and to my surprise, the detail was improved over the red. I will give it a good 50 hours to ensure the movement is fluid before making my final judgement, but already the sound is better than the red.

Audiolad's picture

I have Audio Technica AT440MLa & AT7V, Rega Bias2 for my Rega turntable, and the AT7V is the best all around sound. The Grado Prestige Gold1 is on my DP300F turntable (just replaced by the Audio Techica AT-LP3 turntable because its better). I listen to the Gold1 probably 2 to 1 because music simply sounds better most of the time. There are some Classical records such as the Four Season where I want the detail bordering on the bright, but not quite. I guess you can say when I want special I turn on the Rega, but when I want soothing listenable music it is always the Grado. One man's trash is another man's treasure which it is with cartridges. I highly recommend the Grado as well as the AT-7V (LP Gear import from Japan only). They are not microline, moving coil, nor do they cost $1000s, but they allow me to enjoy any music I own or will own.