Monster Cable Alpha Genesis 500 phono cartridge Genesis 500 ($650) is the baby brother of Monster Cable's top-of-the-line Genesis 1000 cartridge. It is almost identical in physical appearance, differing only in its use of green body trim (the 1000 sports red pinstripes). All of the functional differences appear to be in the stylus and cantilever. The cantilever of the 500 is a hollow sapphire rod tightly attached to an inner aluminum tube (the 1000 has a diamond-coated boron tube cantilever). Its stylus is a 6µm x 35µm line-contact (3µm x 60µm for the 1000). Monster claims a stylus life in excess of 600 hours for the Genesis 500, more than 1000 hours for its higher-priced sibling. This strikes me as peculiar. Everything else being equal, the smaller–cross-sectioned stylus of the 1000 should have the shorter service life. But, to its credit, the Genesis is the only cartridge in this survey making any claims as to stylus longevity; most manufacturers ignore the issue (footnote 1).

The Sound
First, the good news. The Genesis 500 is a strikingly detailed cartridge. High-frequency details are dramatic—but without hardness or edginess. It is extremely clean through the top end. Bass and midbass are tight and lean—there isn't an ounce of extra fat in the sound of this pickup. Depth could, with the right recording, be absolutely stunning. (That's the word which appears in the first line of my listening notes on For All the Saints.) Stunning depth and spaciousness, fine detail within the choir, tight, well-defined organ. Even recordings with no audiophile pretensions could provide a dramatic sensation of depth, space, and atmosphere—my unfortunately slightly noisy copy of the Enemy Mine soundtrack (Varese Sarabande STV 81271) was a striking example (footnote 2).

But I was a bit put off, in the final analysis, by the Genesis 500's balance. Not enough to override its positive traits, but enough to be noticeable in comparison with, particularly, the Krell KC-100 and the van den Hul MC-One. The Monster was lightened in timbre. By this I do not mean that it lacked bass. Its deep bass was as taut and deep as any in the survey—arguably the tightest of the bunch, though with less sheer drive than that from the Krell. But instruments and voices lacked a degree of body which (as long as it isn't overdone) adds an important spark of life to the sound. The general result of this balance was to subtly shift the timbre of the sound upward, making the upper partials more prominent.

Musique Arabo-Andalouse was highly detailed, more so than on even the best of the other pickups here, with a fine depth and sense of layering within the overall fabric. But instruments were lightened (more noticeable on the occasional non-percussive instrument in the ensemble, notably the violin). Tape hiss was more obvious. James Galway and the Chieftains in Ireland (RCA 5798-1-RC), a delightful recording, is usually rather subtle in sound, even slightly soft but with natural, unexaggerated detail. It was far from being overbright through the Genesis, but had a degree of sparkle which is not typical of its sound with other top pickups. Pleasing, but not entirely accurate. The chorus on Flojten spelar-dansen gar . . . (Proprius PROP 7759) was very open, with strikingly good separation within the chorus and excellent soundstaging, yet the male choir seemed lightened—lacking in body and less convincingly real because of it. The violin accompanying the chorus in several selections seemed tipped upward in timbre. None of this precludes overall praise (and recommendation) of the 500—it does too many other things too well. But it does, I feel, keep it a notch below the best.

The Genesis sounded best with the cartridge body raked slightly down at the rear. I would have liked to have tried a more pronounced tilt, but there was simply not enough space between the bottom of the cartridge and the record. At one point, in fact, the suspension sagged to the point where the cartridge grazed the top of the disc. This occurred at the recommended 1.8 grams tracking force. I backed off to 1.6 grams and had no further problem (tracking was fine at the lower force also), but clearance was still tight enough to encourage occasional checking.

The Genesis 500 tracked through 70µm, registered the very subtlest trace of mistracking at 80µm, and clearly mistracked at 90µm. The subjective tracking was excellent; in fact, it marginally outpointed the Krell KC-100 in lack of a sense of strain on high-level, high-frequency–rich material. It preserved, for example, the shimmer of the cymbal crashes on Church Windows (Reference Recordings RR-15), which were hardened somewhat by the Krell. The Genesis did encounter some minor LF tracking problems on The Apocalypse Now Sessions—Rhythm Devils (Wilson Audio W 8521). The last band of side 2 ("Hell's Bells") is a low-frequency torture test. The Genesis exhibited some minor rattling in the right channel—not serious, but clearly audible. Recordings presenting a similar LF tracking challenge are extremely rare.

Against the Monster Genesis 1000
How does the Genesis 500 compare with the 1000? On my own reference system, I cannot say, not having a sample of the latter on hand. But I did get the opportunity to compare the review sample of the 500 with a friend's Genesis 1000 on a recent trip to the East Coast. The system was unfamiliar, but hardly modest: VPI turntable, Eminent Technology arm, modified Adcom electronics with bi-amped GFA-555s driving Infinity 9 Kappas. The sound was, at the same time, brighter and less forward than on my own system, with a stronger deep bass but noticeably more prominent midbass. Large-ensemble material at high levels was more exciting and dynamic than on my own system, small and medium-scale material slightly less three-dimensional. I found the added HF output of this system bothersome at first, but adapted to it so long as the volume was kept within bounds.

Through this setup the timbral balance of the two cartridges was very close; sibilants on both were more prominent than on my own system. Some recordings favored one cartridge, some the other, but the differences were not in any way dramatic. The minor differences, such as they were, tended to slightly favor the 1000. I'd need longer listening exposure, using more familiar components in aˇ20more familiar environment, to fully sort out these differences.

If you do find the Genesis 500 to be your cup of tea, should you hold out and save up for the 1000? I'm inclined to say yes. Better than to constantly wonder if you should have popped for the extra $150 (the dreaded, audiophile "I wonder if I should have bought—" syndrome).

The Genesis has enough positive traits—detail, depth, imaging, tight bass—to make it a near–top-rank pickup. It might well be truly stunning on the right system, and some of you are going to love it. System matching will, however, be the name of the game here; the 500's light, delicate, but also bright and rather lean tonal balance requires a careful match. And a careful match with program material also. Recordings with clearly excessive treble (and there are plenty to go around), combined with top-heavy loudspeakers, will not be an easy listen through the 500. You can't really blame the cartridge for that. Yet I honestly feel its timbre to be skewed, lacking fully natural flesh-and-blood body; this will contribute to undesirable results in the wrong system. Recommended, but with that caveat.

Footnote 1: As well they might. Stylus replacement costs for all of these pickups are high. They have nondetachable stylus assemblies (as do all moving-coils). Replacement means, in effect, a whole new cartridge, for which the maker will charge you something over half of the new price. Not a bad deal, perhaps, for a whole new cartridge, but still not a negligible expense (especially for a frequent listener).

Footnote 2: When you think about it, it's not surprising that a Monster cartridge would take to this recording.

Monster Inc.
601 Gateway Blvd. Suite 900
South San Francisco, CA 94080
(415) 840-2000

Glotz's picture

Smokin' cartridge!