Gramophone Dreams #3 Shure SC35C

Shure SC35C moving-magnet cartridge

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 one—and 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 possible—but 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 4.5gm—which 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 stylus—which, 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 networks—especially 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 free—especially 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 well—and 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.

COMMENTS
volvic's picture

I gave the Pioneer's arm bearings a quick check and discovered they were way loose. Turntable guru Mike Trei was in the house, so I let him do the honors; in short order we fine-tuned and triple-checked the bearings on the Pioneer -

How was this done?

jmsent's picture

complete with a a half gimbal carrier for the horizontal bearing, an outer locknut, and a screw type needle bearing. Loosen the lock nut on the outside, slowly tighten the screw while rocking the arm at the bearing back and forth to feel for play. Tighten until all perceptible play is gone, hold the screw in place with your screwdriver while tightening the outer locknut. Check arm movement for friction. Should move absolutely freely with no binding in vertical and horizontal. If necessary, readjust. This is something we did as routine when repairing Dual TT's back in the '70s. It takes a degree of "mechanical feel" to get it right, but it's not rocket science.

rtrt's picture

Thanks for the description JM.

Ideally i'd like to take a look at some video/pictures showing how to perform this task.

Any pointers to something useful out there on the web?

volvic's picture

Hello JM, just curious if any special tools are needed to loosen the tonearm lock nut.

jmsent's picture

Usually the outer lock nut has a couple slots in it where you can insert the ends of a pair of small needle nose pliers. You turn that counterclockwise. Then you adjust the play with the internal screw which should now be loose. Re-tighten the lock nut with the needle nose while holding the adjustment in place.

volvic's picture

most helpful.

deckeda's picture

Stanton ST-150, Reloop RP-6000/7000/8000, AT-LP1240 ... they share the same "Super OEM" motor and basic design with this Pioneer, if Craigslist is all out of $350 1200's in your area. Of course the devil's in the details.

Origin Live is one of a few companies who make "audiophile" upgrades for the 1200 ... it would be interesting to know if any of these others could also be tweaked. http://www.originlive.com/technics-1200-1210-series-power-supply-2.html

Especially when review samples arrive with loose tonearm bearings!

And I don't mean for the above to appear snarky. I enjoyed the review, love reading Herb and as a terminally BROKE audiophile it's gratifying to read that a cheaper, "DJ" deck can in some ways outgun a more expensive one. Just need a little more info, is all.

blownsi's picture

I have a fully modded KABUSA Technics 1200 & a stock VPI Traveler (version 2). The VPI is better in every way to my ears.

g.kolbeck's picture

Having grown up using the two red suitcase record players handed down to me from my older twin brothers (it was great, I got two of everything they didn't want!) to play my Monkees and random records (all hand me downs from my two older sisters and oldest brother), I graduated to hand me down Panasonic stereo "systems" that all consisted of an AM/FM receiver with a built in turntable on top and two tiny speakers in some weird 1970's design, (the completely round ones I remember the most) All the systems I had from then on were still just low end junk from Technics,Sony and JVC and I never did get a good set of speakers... at least not anything that sounded as good as my friends JC Penny system! My system today is made up of stuff that was being thrown away. A set of SANYO speakers model SS-540 and a set of Pioneer speakers model CS-99 (these speakers were both out for trash collection when I got them... the Pioneers sat under the Sanyos for ten years before I hooked them up last year to see if they worked... they are still working jut great!) The receiver is a Sony home theater monstrosity model STR-K502P that I have set on two channel stereo flat EQ (no sound field) I don't know what the wattage is, but it seems to be very loud... playing a cd through it using the Pioneer speakers has been a big improvement for me. I have a JVC dubbing cassette deck that is dying from old age (model TD-W354), a Sony CD recorder model RCD-W500C (with only the single recording/playing side working) I actually bought those two items new. Last but not least a mint condition Technics turntable model SL-QD22 (?) given to me when two friends got married and switched over to cd's in the early 90's! They actually gave me two of the exact same model that were pretty much unused, I also use this system to play sound from a VCR machine for concert films. I guess it's time for an upgrade, but this junkyard system has been a big improvement over the red suitcase systems!

David Mansell's picture

I have to agree with Herb Reichert about the misplaced denigration of Japanese direct drive turntables, particularly by the British hi-fi press (nostra maxima culpa, I am a Brit). I started my hi-fi trip in the 70s with a Rega 3 and graduated to a Roksan (I missed out on Linn because of the excessive hype). Then one day I went to audition a Grado cartridge a fellow audiophile was selling (Signature 6, I think) and heard a Garrard 401 for the first time. Sell the Roksan, over to idler drive. Since then have acquired a Garrard 301, a Thorens 124, Thorens 135. Did improvements to the Garrard, new stainless steel thrust bearing for the spindle ; for the Thorens a new thrust bearing for the motor, and so on.
Then a couple of months ago, on a whim, having seen good reports on the Technics direct drives in the hi-fi press, I bought a Denon DP37F on eBay for about £120 all in to see what the fuss was about. Inserted it in the system and was blown away by the improvement over the Garrard, another octave of bass, better transients, better soundstage with stereo. I don't know how much this was down to the direct-drive motor and how much to the "dynamic servo tracer" (is that right?) micro-processor-controlled tone-arm, which will track badly-warped discs that other turntables give up straightaway. All this and it's automated too, just press the button and go. Enough said.

kelven's picture

It is nice to see a budget priced rig receive such high praise.
Unfortunately, the closing paragraph has either a glaring typo, or Herb owns a product I never knew existed: a 30,000 dollar cartridge!?

clydeslyde's picture

I just bought a N.O.S. Citronic PD-2s turntable. The PD-2s is a manual 3-speed direct-drive turntable from England. It was fun opening the carton, assembling the TT, and balancing the tonearm--felt like Christmas morning! It was intended for the British market so the voltage selector switch (located under the platter) will need to be switched to "115" (from "230") and the British 3-prong power cord will need to be replaced for U.S. playback. A Stanton 505 cartridge is pre-installed on the headshell (which I replaced with an Audio Technica DR500LC). There does not seem to be much information on this TT--except that it is popular with DJs in the UK--but I will say that this is an EXCELLENT record player. The PD-2s looks attractive, and feels well-built and fairly solid (it weighs 22 lbs). Curious to know how this turntable compares with the Pioneer PLX-1000 that Herb Reichert reviewed in STEREOPHILE.

Christian Goergen's picture

Dear Mr. Reichert, the Internet pages didn't offer sufficient informations. Do the mentioned alternative styluses fit into the body of the cartridge?
Thanks for your answer (I strongly intend to follow your proposed path to the pioneer-Shure-mani near to nirvana)
Pps: did you use interconnects, that are comparable to the budget of the main components?

Preddy's picture

Hi Herb,

First of all many thanks for this article, helped me a lot in selecting my back-to-analog-music turntable. I got myself PLX1000 and for the moment have Ortofon 2M Blue and Concorde Pro S. As soon as budget available for expansion, will probably get myself the 2M Black. All supported with Yamaha RX-V3800 receiver (yup, I know, not by high standards of Audiophile, but is majestic piece of all-arounder that I need and what my budget could support) and set of 5 off JAMO speakers E6 series.

Am reading your posts almost religiously and really enjoy them. Please keep them coming!

Have one question for you: lot was written about what good turntable systems should do and how they work, but that is only "consequence" part of the story of the vinyl. Meaning: all this turntable systems are trying to replicate the original source signal recorded on the vinyl. but, what is the guarantee that recording device was accurate (while making vinyl) when replicating reality in studio or wherever the recording took place? Hope that the question is clear?

JRCD's picture

There is a store on Ebay that sells wood bodies to improve Shure cartridges, also for Denon and Audio Technica, but the commenting application does not allow me to put the address.
Please do a search on Ebay for 'Exclusive Wooden body for Shure' and you will find it, is very interesting.
In the text you say that it does not support the Shure M44-7 more than one day, for listening at home is better the M44G, it is sweeter.

DougM's picture

In the seventies when we rockers could afford our first good audio system we much preferred the lively, dynamic sound of a good Pioneer or Technics direct drive table with a good MM cartridge (think Shure V15, Stanton 681EEE, Pickering XSV3000, Empire, AT, or my favorites- ADC XLM MKIII and ZLM) to the bland sound of a Dual or AR and MC cart, just as we preferred JBL, Cerwin-Vega, M&K and Klipsch to the bland AR and Allison and similar speakers. It's good to see the rest of the world catching up, as the good loudspeakers today seem to be closer to the sound of the best balanced CVs, JBLs, and the like to the soft east coast sound.

JRCD's picture

A question. The problem with all these record players seems to be the tonearm, it is what most limits their sound quality, To the Technics SL-1200/1210 can be changed, and often does. Is it also possible to change it in the PLX-1000? For example, for something good and economical like a Rega RB220 or an Origin Live Alliance.

SystemShock's picture

Despite Herb's assurances to the contrary, 4.5gm of tracking force *does* make me nervous about record wear and damage. Aren't cheap Crosleys excoriated for having tracking forces in that range, and are complained about as 'record destroyers'?

I hope this comment does not inspire Herb to review and love a Crosley now, LOL. =]

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