Recommended Components 2024 Edition Phono Cartridges

Phono Cartridges:


Aidas AG-CU series Malachite Silver: $5850
Aidas CU-series Durawood: $4595
These hand-built, low-output moving coil cartridges from Lithuania use the same basic generator, boron cantilever, AlNiCo5 magnet, and nude MicroLine stylus, but differ in the wire used to wind the coils and the material used for the cartridge body. The Durawood uses copper wire and a body made from multilayered wood; the Malachite uses silver-plated copper wire and a heavier, green, Tru-Stone body. The first thing that struck MT about the Durawood was how quietly this cartridge sat in the groove. "Minimal groove noise is usually a good indicator of a well-aligned stylus, sitting square and true in the groove," he wrote. On a track featuring John Coltrane playing soprano saxophone, the sound never devolved into screechiness: "It remained prominent but smooth." Art Davis plays a bowed solo on the same track, "which demonstrated just how embodied and rich the Durawood's bass can be when given the right material." With the Malachite Silver, MT found that the sound remained similar in overall tonal flavor but with a noticeable improvement in microdynamics and power. "Both of these cartridges are easy to like, with a smooth, refined sound and gobs of detail and precision," he concluded. "The Malachite Silver sounds similar to the Durawood but adds some dynamic impact and slam. ... If you can swing the additional $1255, the Malachite Silver is a clear step up." (Vol.47 No.2 WWW)

Analog Relax EX1000: $17,750
The top-of-the-line cartridge from Japanese company ZOOT Communication has a higher output voltage and a higher output impedance than typical moving coils. Nevertheless, not only did MF find that the Audio Relax was a superb tracker; he also wrote that "Velvet Fog" Mel Tormé had never been better served on record than through the EX1000: "The sonically sensual vocal presentation oozes 'velvet' without sounding at all soft, warm, or muffled, nor does it sacrifice transient articulation. This cartridge gets more of that correct than any other cartridge I've heard." (Vol.44 No.12 WWW)

DS Audio DS-W3: $15,000 (includes optical equalizer)
See Michael Trei's Spin Doctor column in this issue. (Vol.47 No.4)

Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua: $3650
AH described this low-output MC as "a superbly transparent transducer with a lovely extended top end, gobs of detail, outstanding speed and separation, and a huge, billowy soundstage . . . The Kaitora had a way of making every record—whether Brian Eno or Schubert or Godspeed You! Black Emperor—sound really good, and of cutting straight to its musical essence." He described it as "more rhythmically propulsive" than the Miyajima Shilabe with which he compared it. (Vol.46 No.7 WWW)

EMT JSD Novel Titan MC: $6995
This high-output (1mV at 5cm/s), low-compliance MC cartridge features silver coils and a diamond-plated titanium body, and has a relatively high 16 ohm internal impedance. MF noted the generous low-frequency transient textures combined with smoothness, refinement, good timbral balance, and commendable transparency. (Vol.45 No.5 WWW)

Grado Lineage Series Aeon3: $6000
This low-output (1mV) moving iron cartridge is housed in a broad cocobolo-wood body that, according to John Grado, allows more of the cartridge's 12gm mass to be balanced around the stylus point, stabilizing the motions of the cantilever. HR was surprised that when the Aeon3 was mounted on the J.Sikora Initial turntable, it out-Koetsu-ed the psychedelic Koetsu Rosewood Signature. "The Koetsu sounded slightly brighter, punchier, and sprightlier–but not more full-power dynamic than the Aeon3," he wrote, though he felt that the Grado was less corporeal than the Koetsu in the upper registers. After comparing the Aeon3 with other cartridges, both on the Initial and on the Dr. Feickert Blackbird turntable, HR decided that the Grado appeared to be "uncovering new, previously buried deposits of recorded microdata. That trait alone is making LPs extra-engaging and more pleasurable," he concluded. (Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

Hana Umami Red: $3950
The Umami Red features a gloss-red Urushi-lacquered Duralumin body with an ebony wood inlay. Stylus is a nude MicroLine diamond mounted on a boron cantilever. High-purity copper coils are wrapped on a square permalloy armature centered in a magnetic circuit that combines a samarium/cobalt magnet and an iron pole piece. Loaded with 80 ohms, this low-output moving coil impressed HR with the intensity with which it endowed familiar recordings, as well as the enhanced intelligibility of vocals, "natural-feeling contrast levels, grain-free clarity, and lifelike solidity." The Umami Red displayed sharper, more precisely focused images than the much less expensive Hana ML, he decided. (Vol.44 No.4 WWW)

Haniwa HCTR-CO MarkII: $10,000
The original version of this moving coil cartridge tracked everything cleanly at 1.2gm downforce, found MF. Used with the HCVC01 passive current-to-voltage converter (see "Phono Preamplifiers"), its presentation was on the cool side, though MF noted that "warm records did not lose their warmth altogether. The bottom end on everything I played, while not as prominent and rich-sounding as I've heard it, was taut, well-defined, and all there." He described the combination's presentation as "superfast, clean, transparent, and transient-precise" with excellent rhythm'n'pacing. Since that review was published, Haniwa's Dr. Kubo came up with what he considered significant improvements that included higher compliance and a new damper. He felt that anyone who'd already spent $10,000 on the cartridge deserved the upgrade free of charge. Compared with the original, the CO Mk.II "delivered a texturally and timbrally enriched sonic performance and overall greater transient finesse and delicacy," MF found. He concluded that when used with the HCVC01, the CO Mk.II offered "absolutely honest spectral balance and remarkable imaging solidity and stability, combined with "textural delicacy." (Vol.42 No.10, Vol.43 No.7 WWW, original version; Vol.44 No.6 WWW)

HiFiction X-quisite ST: $13,160
The high-mass, low-output X-quisite features a unique, patented "monobloc" transducer element consisting of a one-piece, high-strength ceramic cantilever and a square coil body that eliminates the joint almost always found in cartridges using aluminum, boron, sapphire, or diamond cantilevers. The stylus is an "X-diamond" MicroRidge, the armature is wound with silver wire, and the ST's body is made from layers of titanium, aluminum, and wood. The manufacturer recommends loading the cartridge at 400–800 ohms and setting the tracking force between 1.9gm and 2.1gm. Despite the usual low-frequency resonances having a higher Q than usual when the ST was mounted in a Kuzma 4Point arm—or maybe because of it—MF found that the X-quisite was the fastest, most direct and flat-out exciting-sounding cartridge he'd heard, with among the most natural, open, silky-smooth upper octaves. "Its sound was free of artificial ingredients—no hyperdefined edges or peaky, tipped-up top end to produce fake excitement; no resonant tricks that create 'sensuous warmth' not found in actual music." MF bought the review sample but the sound continued to change, finally settling in with a "shelved" quality in the upper octaves that worked for some recordings but not others. "The easily noticed character was disconcerting," he wrote, but was minimized when he used the X-quisite with the matching SUT X-20 step-up transformer. (See "Phono Preamplifiers.") (Vol.44 Nos.3 & 9 WWW)

Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum: $8495
Designed by Fumihiko Sugano, son of Koetsu founder Yoshiaki Sugano, the Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum exhibits moderately low output (0.3mV), moderately low resistance (5 ohms), expects a downforce of 1.8−2.0gm, and is priced more or less in the very middle of Koetsu's product line. Of his time with the Rosewood Signature Platinum, HR wrote that "this Koetsu, with its lacquered rosewood body, silver-plated copper coils, quadrahedral stylus profile, boron cantilever, and platinum magnet, gave me a sixth-row seat for [a] long-cherished recording." When Herb loaded it with 100 ohms, "the result was an exceedingly rich and unaffected sound," and the Koetsu "seemed engineered to do nothing but hold my attention–my pleasurable fascination–as it showed me the art behind the music." Later comparing the Koetsu with a budget Audio-Technica moving magnet, HR wrote that he heard sublime ease and dramatic understatement: "Immediately, I grasped how unsubtle the VM95C was. I also received what felt like infinite amounts of micro-level information." However, although he felt that he didn't get closer to the living performers, as he had with the cheap cartridge, the Koetsu "did what it was designed to do: transform the quotidian into the marvelous." (Vol.41 No.12, Vol.44 No.1, Vol.45 No.10 WWW)

Linn Ekstatik: $7295
Low-output moving coil. See Linn Klimax LP12 in Turntables. (Vol.45 No.6 WWW)

Luxman LMC-5: $2695
This low-output, aluminum-bodied MC cartridge uses a Shibata stylus and a samarium/cobalt-energized motor. Recommended downforce is 2.2gm and the specified dynamic compliance of 8×10–6cm/dyne means that the LMC-5 will work best with a tonearm of reasonably high mass. With the Luxman mounted in a Kuzma 4Point tonearm KM noted that he was impressed by the rich tone and "pure, detailed, hugely illustrative sound ... right out of the box." Break-in made it better, he found: "Lovely clarity and openness in the upper midrange and treble resulted in textural shading, touch, and illumination of inner detail." KM felt that the LMC-5 "produced fewer thrills" than Pure Fidelity's Stratos when mounted in an Encounter Live tonearm on the Pure Fidelity Harmony turntable. AH used the LMC-5 for his review of Luxman's PD-151 Mark 2 turntable (see Turntables) and commented that the LMC-5 provided a richer sound and more relaxed presentation than the Ortofon Cadenza Blue. (Vol.45 Nos.8 & 12, Vol.46 No.3 WWW)

Miyajima Shilabe: $3150 ★
The Shilabe is a low-output (0.23mV), low-compliance design with an unusually high recommended tracking force of 2.5–3.2gm. Its Shibata stylus is attached to a large-diameter, old-fashioned–looking cantilever. The Shilabe uses a patented "cross-ring" construction that centers the generator's fulcrum within the coil. The Shilabe had a sound that was "full-bodied, deep, and extremely well-defined," and offered "superbly coherent transient and harmonic presentation from top to bottom," said MF. AD also enjoyed the Shilabe's "consistently present, colorful, and downright chunky" sound. "It was the closest I've heard a stereo cartridge come to delivering the meat, the force, the sheer solidity of mono," he said. AH was also impressed by this cartridge: "After spending several weeks listening to the Shilabe, I had to admit that its tonal density, harmonic richness, and vivid textures made my beloved [Dynaudio Te Kaitora Rua], and frankly most other moving coils, sound a bit flat, bright, and electronic. The Shilabe . . . played records with much of the body and presence of my favorite old-school conical-stylus cartridges like the [Ortofon SPU Classic G] but added scads more detail, extension, and refinement." (Vol.32 No.9, Vol.33 No.10, Vol.46 No.7 WWW)

My Sonic Lab Ultra Eminent Ex: $6995
Notably, the titanium-bodied Ultra Eminent Ex moving coil cartridge mates an output level that's only moderately low (0.3mV) with an exceptionally low internal resistance (0.6 ohm). It does so thanks to the discovery by its maker, Yoshio Matsudaira, of a new magnetic material that allowed him to use fewer turns of coil wire–yielding lower moving mass, and the potential for greater detail retrieval–while maintaining a healthy output level. Recommended tracking force is 2gm. As HR wrote, "what struck me was how much the Ultra Eminent Ex's presentation sounded like analog tape," adding that the cartridge "excavated so much microlevel information that it seemed to reach some perceptual limit where recorded detail . . . begins to materialize into the person, instrument, or environment the information represents," and in doing so sounded "less mechanical than any other MC I've experienced." (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

Ortofon MC Windfeld Ti: $5999
Derived from the first Windfeld model–which was designed by Ortofon's head of R&D, Leif Johannsen, and named for his predecessor in that position, Per Windfeld–the new Windfeld Ti MC cartridge differs from the original in its use of a titanium body core that flares at the top to form its mounting platform, which is drilled and tapped for cartridge bolts of the usual sort. (The Windfeld Ti's outer body is made of stainless steel.) The Ti's armature is also less magnetic than the first Windfeld's: a windfall (sorry) of the new cartridge's more sophisticated magnet structure. Other pertinent specs include an output of 0.2mV, an internal impedance of 7 ohms, and a specially polished, nude Replicant 100 stylus tip. According to MF, the Windfeld Ti, with which he used a vertical tracking force of 2.3gm, "retained all of the sweetness and lushness of the original Windfeld." He added that "no one will be disappointed by the Windfeld Ti's reproduction of space." Mikey's conclusion: "[$5159] buys you a piece of the highest echelon of cartridge performance for thousands fewer bucks." (Vol.40 No.8)

Ortofon MC Xpression: $6199
A unique blend of new and old technologies, the Xpression derives from Ortofon's cutting-edge MC A90, but is designed as a drop-in replacement for any G-style pickup head. It uses a Replicant 100 stylus, has a recommended downforce of 2.6gm, an impedance of 4 ohms, and a low (0.3mV) output. Compared to AD's original Ortofon SPU, the Xpression sounded just as solid, colorful, and forceful, but was more detailed, open, tactile, and revealing of nuance and technique. "The difference was real: Love my older Ortofon though I do, the Xpression was clearly more dramatic, with no penalty in texture or color," said Art. Not long after AD's review, JCA tried an Xpression with his combination of vintage Thorens TD 124 turntable and Schick 12" tonearm; for various reasons–at the time he felt it "cost way too much for what it was"–he set it aside, returning to it only recently. Improvements, in the interim, to his system and a better listening room left JCA "better prepared to hear and describe" the Xpression, which he now believes is "clearly and significantly better" than his own Ortofon 90th Anniversary SPU, with "less SPU-ish coloration" and "none of the attenuation of high frequencies that I [hear] from classic SPUs, but no extra tizz, either." (Vol.35 No.2, Vol.41 No.9 WWW)

Ortofon Verismo: $6999
Housed in a titanium body produced by Selective Laser Melting, the low-output Verismo moving coil features a diamond cantilever to which is attached a Swiss-manufactured Replicant 100 line-contact stylus shaped to resemble a cutting stylus as closely as possible. MF found the Verismo's sound "fast," with sharp, finely drawn high-frequency transients yet with a lush and generous midrange and a tight, nimble, well-controlled bottom end—"knit together into a coherent sonic package." He found that the Verismo "deftly places well-focused, three-dimensional images in a natural-sounding space." (Vol.45 No.1 WWW)

Phasemation PP-2000: $8999
This Japanese manufacturer's top-of-the-line, low-output moving coil cartridge features an Ogura line-contact stylus mounted to a boron cantilever. The Duralumin body is attached to a stainless steel mounting base, both finished with a diamond-like carbon coating. MF wrote that "Even before break-in, the PP-2000 produced an expansive soundstage and a smooth spectral balance that was free of obvious defects or easy-to-hear limitations. . . . Instrumental attack was not overly sharp, but neither was it soft." MF found that electric bass sounded slightly soft, but the Phasemation did everything well enough to make it an easy and enthusiastic recommendation for classical and jazz lovers. Rock fans, he warned, are probably best off elsewhere. (Vol.44 No.2 WWW)


Aidas Audio Gala Gold LE: $5500
This "midline" cartridge features coils wound with 99.5% pure gold wire. A Namiki MicroRidge stylus is attached to an "Adamant boron composite" cantilever. Recommended VTF is 1.9–2.1gm, and the suggested loading range is 100–1000 ohms. MF described the Aidas cartridge's timbral balance as "neutral, particularly in the midbass and midrange, and well-extended from bottom to top with a subtle, slightly warm sonic signature (no lumps and/or bumps)." "It did everything well and nothing poorly," he decided, noting that if rock is your main music, you might want something with a slightly harder edge. (Vol.44 No.1 WWW)

Benz Micro SLR Gullwing: $3500
MT used this cartridge for his favorable review of the AMG Giro MK II record player–see Turntables–noting that its highish 40 ohm source impedance was too high for his Sutherland Loco phono preamplifier's current-drive input. HR wrote that this "fragile little beast that's been around for a while, but it can reproduce recorded textures with an overtly tactile, right-there-in-front-of-me intensity that most other cartridges can't match." The Gullwing does need to be loaded with a relatively high impedance. HR again: "With a 550 ohms load, the Benz Micro delivered an exceedingly smooth and precise response that wasn't just pretty and flat; it excelled at presenting the vigorous drive, lifelike tones, and extra-dense, in-my-room presence I crave from the best-engineered 1950s mono discs." (Vol.45 No.12, Vol.46 No.9 WWW)

DS Audio DS-E1 optical cartridge and equalizer: $2750
MF was not a fan of the original DS Audio optical cartridge, but he was impressed by this version version. An elliptical stylus is attached to an aluminum cantilever, and the DS-E1 tracks between 1.6gm and 1.8gm. MF wrote that the earlier version's "plasticky sound" was completely gone, and the low-frequency balance was "in the pocket"–not at all overemphasized. He added that even with its elliptical stylus, this optical cartridge was fast and remarkably transparent. The price includes the necessary equalizer module. (Vol.44 No.2 WWW)

DS Audio DS003: $2500, plus price of equalizer which is $3500
This "optical" cartridge operates by projecting light from an LED onto a tiny "shading plate" mounted at the center of the cantilever. As the stylus moves through the record grooves, the cantilever and shading plate move and varying amounts of light reach the photodetector, which generates an electric current in proportion to the amount of light it receives. All optical cartridges need to be used with an energizer; HR started his auditioning with the $1500 E1 energizer, then upped his game with the 003 energizer ($3500). With the E1, HR felt that the DS003 was quieter and more 3D-lucid than the DS-E1 cartridge with the same energizer. (MF reviewed the DS-E1 in Vol.44 No.2.) However, when HR connected the 003, he realized that the E1 sounded dry and slightly gray. HR concluded that the DS003 and the more expensive energizer "specialized in producing a vivid clarity framed in a beguiling chiaroscuro" coupled with "super-silky silences" and "taut, tuneful, textured bass." (Vol.44 No.11 WWW)

Dylp Audio NATURE Ruby 1 MC FG II: $1200
The review sample of this MC cartridge was fitted with a Swiss-made Gyger FG II elliptical stylus mounted on a ruby cantilever. MF found that the Ruby 1 MC tracked the Ortofon test record's 70µm band without distortion, which he felt was acceptable trackability. He concluded that the combination of a stiff ruby cantilever, a Gyger stylus, and a wood body produced an attractive combination of warmth, detail, and speed. Images were nicely focused and the cartridge's "satisfying attack and generous sustain and decay produced the kind of sonics that can keep you listening for hours." (Vol.45 No.4 WWW)

Dynavector DV-20X2L: $1250 $$$
HR's search for a phono cartridge that would "dance on the roadhouse bar or burn rubber in the parking lot" led him to the Dynavector DV-20X2L, a low-output (0.3mV; a higher-output version, the DV-20X2 H, is available), medium-high-compliance moving coil cartridge with a MicroRidge stylus. Says Herb, "I loved it right away—the DV-20X2L was everything the [Ortofon] 2M Black was not: fast, clear as water, and expressive." His conclusion: "[I]t became my new budget reference phono cartridge." Seven years later HR returned to the DV-20X2, commenting that it plays the way he likes phono cartridges to play: "clear, fast, and insightfully. It's got enough mojo-vivo to make high-energy recordings with sword-sharp transients sound gunshot explosive and utterly relaxed at the same time." (Vol.39 No.6, Vol.46 No.3 WWW)

Dynavector XX-2 MKII: $2150
HR noted that at $2150, the XX-2 MKII low-output MC is probably the "sweet spot" in Dynavector's cartridge lineup. It's the lowest-priced Dynavector that uses a solid boron cantilever, tipped with a Pathfinder line-contact stylus. HR characterized Dynavector's house sound as "Formula 1–fast with sticks-to-the-track handling, bright-eyed awake and superlucid, especially through the top octaves." He wrote that the XX-2's lively, easy-flowing free-spiritedness made him want to play records: "At the end of every side, I needed another." Used with the Sutherland SUTZ headamp (with a shunt resistor load) and a Tavish Adagio phono preamp, HR's perception that the XX-2 had a top-octaves emphasis was converted into a balanced, harmonically rich, quiet and smooth, 10-octave musical expanse: "Sparkle was retained, but glare was banished" (Vol.46 No.3 WWW)

EMT JSD 6: $3195
This low-output, aluminum-bodied MC cartridge uses a boron cantilever and a high-polish Super Fine Line (SFL) stylus. Weight is 10gm, compliance is a low12µm/mN, source impedance is 24 ohms, output voltage is 1.05mV at 5cm/s, and recommended tracking force is 2.4gm. HR used the JSD 6 in EMT's 912-HI tonearm (see Tonearms) fitted to a Dr. Feickert Blackbird turntable (see Turntables) and noted a relaxed and naturally toned sound. "The more hours I put on it, the more it relaxed, opened up, and gained color," he noted. HR concluded that "the EMT 912-HI arm and JSD 6 cartridge made every music genre seem like my latest favorite discovery, and that's exactly the trait I'm looking for when auditioning source components." (Vol.46 No.11 WWW)

Goldring E3: $189 $$$
Goldring's budget E series–"designed in the UK, made in Japan"–consists of three versions: the conical-tipped, carbon-cantilevered E1 ($100), the conical-tipped, aluminum-cantilevered E2 ($129), and the elliptical-tipped, aluminum-cantilevered E3 ($169). When HR auditioned the E3, he commented that "It brought out every note with a precision I never imagined a moving magnet could muster." He added that the E3 "played [music] with much of the realism and complexity it does with a Koetsu" and noted the cartridge's superb PRaT (pace, rhythm, and timing). (Vol.44 No.1 WWW)

Goldring Eroica Hx: $899
This high-output moving coil design weighs 5.5gm and uses a nude Gyger II stylus and 256 turns of fine enameled-copper wire wound over Goldring's signature iron-cross armature. Comparing it with Grado's Platinum3, HR noted how much brighter and more sharply focused the Eroica HX played, setting instruments farther back on the stage. He found the Goldring more detailed and sharply focused than the Ortofon 2M Black and concluded that the Eroica HX "generated its excitement via clarity, resolve, and balance." (Vol.45 No.12 WWW)

Goldring Ethos: $1599
See Herb Reichert's Gramophone Dreams column in this issue. (Vol.47 No.4)

Grado Labs Platinum3 High: $400
HR called the Grado Labs' low-output Platinum3 moving iron cartridge "a poor person's Koetsu because it produced so much 'lush, spacious, color-saturated sound," and wondered if he'd lose any of that beauty or lushness using the 4mV high-output version. He fond that he didn't lose anything, and when he compared it with the Denon DL-103, he found that the Grado was a quieter, more transparent transducer. "The Platinum3 made all forms of orchestral music seem splendorous and showcased the 21st century virtues of remastered, reissued LPs," he concluded. (Vol.46 No.9 WWW)

Grado Platinum3 Low: $400 $$$
HR described this wood-bodied, low-compliance, moving iron cartridge, which weighs 9gm and is fitted with an elliptical stylus, as "a poor man's Koetsu," because it produces lush, spacious, color-saturated sound. Compared with Grado's more expensive and controlled-sounding Aeon3, however, the Platinum3's response sounded "slightly tipped up at the frequency extremes." Even so, HR wrote that it reproduced opera and early classical music with "ease, elegance, and dramatic subtlety." He concluded that "if your taste in music runs toward acoustic jazz, ambient, or classical, the Platinum3 could save you from spending $4000 on a fancy-pants MC. It's that good." (Vol.45 No.12 WWW)

Hana EL MC: $475 $$$ ★
Commissioned by Sibatech Inc. and manufactured by Excel Sound, both of Japan, the Hana EL is a low-output (0.5mV) moving coil cartridge built with alnico magnets and fitted with an aluminum cantilever and elliptical stylus. (A higher-output version, the Hana EH, is available for the same price but has not yet been tested.) Compliance is medium to medium-low–and thus well suited to the SME M2-9 tonearm used by HR, who declared that "the EL's basic sonic character was highly musical and exceptionally nonmechanical." (Vol.39 No.8 WWW)

Hana ML Moving Coil: $1200 $$$
Forget that the new Hana ML is the costliest Hana so far: This low-output (0.4mV) moving coil cartridge is nevertheless priced lower than the perfectionist-audio average. The Hana ML boasts a Delrin body topped with a brass cap, the latter with threaded inserts for the mounting bolts; an aluminum pipe cantilever; an alnico magnet; and a nude Microline stylus. Specs include a lowish compliance, a weight of 9.5gm, and an impedance of 8 ohms. HR heard from the ML a tendency to smooth out those natural textures that more expensive cartridges are paid to excavate, but it was also capable of letting music sound "brilliant and conspicuously in the room." HR loved the Hana's "beguiling, tubelike sound," but he noted that it "could not out-rock or out-reggae the Zu/Denon [DL-103]." His conclusion: "a stunning-sounding, artfully engineered phono invention that loves all music, and a fantastic bargain." (Vol.42 No.8 WWW)

Hana SL Mono: $750 $$$
Like the standard Hana SL, the Hana SL Mono is a low-output (0.5mV), highish-impedance (30 ohms) moving coil cartridge with an alnico magnet, an aluminum cantilever, and a nude Shibata stylus. That last spec surprised HR, most of whose favorite mono pickups have spherical styli–yet during an afternoon of playing 45s, he was won over by the SL Mono's "unprecedented ability to hear everything that had never before been exposed by my spherical-tipped cartridges. Single after single, the Hana SL Mono made sound that was decidedly present, punchy, finely detailed, and liquid." Unlike those cartridges regarded by purists as true mono pickups–such as EMT's discontinued OFD models–the Hana SL Mono does exhibit vertical compliance, and the output signal appears on both its pairs of output pins. (Vol.41 No.10 WWW)

Hana SL: $750 $$$
Herb Reichert wrote about the Hana SL almost immediately after reviewing a slew of $5000+ cartridges, and observed that switching to the $750 Hana "did not feel like a depressing step down." At the business end of the Hana's aluminum cantilever is a Shibata stylus–cause, HR says, for the user to give "more-than-usual care" to cartridge alignment and downforce and antiskating settings–and deep in the Hana SL's plastic-bodied heart is an alnico magnet, to which Herb attributes the cartridge's timbral realism and ability to make "singers and instruments sound denser and more real." Pertinent specs include a low (0.5mV) output, a recommended downforce of 2gm, and a recommended load impedance of over 200 ohms. Like its stablemate, the Hana SL Mono, this moving coil cartridge impressed Herb with its "naturally supple viscosity and glowing vivid tone." (Vol.41 No.10 WWW)

Miyajima Kotetu mono: $655
The Kotetu is a low-output moving coil cartridge with internal impedance of just 4 ohms. It's a true, dedicated mono cartridge that's impervious to the stylus's vertical movement. MT found that this significantly reduced groove noise with his mono LPs, writing that he was astonished by how quiet the surfaces sounded. He was also astonished by the Kotetu's overall ability to play music with focus and clarity, concluding that "if you have a significant collection of mono records, this is something you need to check out." (Vol.46 No.6 WWW)

Ortofon 2M Black LVB 250: $1099
Compared with the basic 2M Black, the LVB uses the low-mass boron cantilever/nude Shibata assembly found on Ortofon's Cadenza Black. The new rubber suspension compound is based on a multiwall carbon nanotube nano filler compound for which Ortofon claims "desirable mechanical properties" as well as greater environmentally friendly production characteristics. Used with the SME Model 6 (see "Turntables"), the 2M Black LVB "sounded detailed, open, and extended on top," wrote MF. (Vol.44 Nos.5 & 9 WWW)

Ortofon Cadenza Black: $3359
Playing a 1997 test pressing of Ahmad Jamal's Alhambra, MF found that, with the Cadenza Black, SME's Model 6 turntable "exploded to life." It offered "drum slam, transparency, and bass finesse." (Vol.44 No.5 WWW)

Ortofon Cadenza Bronze: $2689
This low-output moving coil is the second from the top in Ortofon's Cadenza series. It features a stainless steel and aluminum body, an output of 0.4mV, and a lowish compliance of 12µm/mN. The tapered conical aluminum cantilever terminates in a nude Replicant stylus. AH was intrigued by the fact that the Bronze has a deliberately "flavored" tuning. According to Ortofon, the Bronze is claimed to offer "a touch of 'romance and "warmth." AH noted that the Cadenza Bronze's "warm" tuning "proved admirably subtle, lending recordings body and presence while dialing down sizzle and hi-fi artifacts like 'air.'" He was never aware of missing deleted highs or finding the bass overripe. To AH, the Ortofon simply sounded more natural than many moving coil cartridges and bested every cartridge he'd heard in one important respect: its ability to reject surface noise. (Vol.47 No.3 WWW)

Pure Fidelity Stratos: $1995
KM used this duralumin-bodied MC cartridge for his review of Pure Fidelity's Harmony turntable—see Turntables. It looks like a rebranded Hana, but Pure Fidelity says that the Stratos is built to their specifications by Goldnote in Italy, using a cantilever and stylus sourced from a Japanese company. KM felt that the EMT TSD15 N cartridge provided more weight in bass lines than he heard with the Stratos, though the Stratos produced more thrills than the Luxman LMC-5 cartridge. (Vol.45 No.12 WWW)

Sculpture A.3l: $1955
Based on the venerable Denon DL-103 moving coil but "heavily modified," this French cartridge features a body of vaporized and impregnated wood and a nude, line-contact III stylus attached to a boron cantilever. MF found that the Sculpture cartridge, used with the Sculpture A SUT (see "Phono Preamplifiers"), was "magic" on a Bill Henderson LP, commenting that with fairly dry, closely miked recordings with acoustic instruments, the listenability was off the charts. But he cautioned that with other kinds of recordings—hard rock and especially ambience-rich, distantly miked ones—the cartridge had a "wet kiss from your least favorite aunt" quality that, while still magically liquid, artifact-free, and you-are-there enticing, could swallow detail and transient information in a sea of warmth and atmosphere that was not, strictly speaking, on the record. HR agreed. (Vol.44 Nos.5 & 11 WWW)

Sumiko Songbird: $899 (available in both HIGH and LOW Output Variants, same price for either model)
With its aluminum cantilever and elliptical stylus, the high-output Songbird moving magnet reminded HR of Sumiko's famously high-value Blue Point that Stereophile favorably reviewed in 1993. "In lower-priced cartridges, I look for accurate tone and some type of natural vitality. Which is exactly what the mildly broken-in Songbird exhibited," wrote HR, concluding that the Songbird, "with its sweet tone and subtle textures, is cut from the same sonic cloth as its Reference series sibling, the Starling." (Vol.44 No.7 WWW)

Sumiko Starling: $1799 (Low Output)
Sumiko's newest high-compliance (12 × 10–6 cm/dyne), low-output (0.5mV) moving coil is specified as having a 28 ohm internal impedance. It weighs 9.5gm and has a boron cantilever fitted with a MicroRidge stylus. Loaded at 200 ohms, the Starling's sound was sweet and smooth. "Less obviously, it showed a quiet, grainless, highly spatial character that made it feel luxurious," wrote HR, adding that "in my room, through my system, the Sumiko Starling played my records with a dark, nanodetailed refinement that elucidated whatever sophistications the recordings and the music had to offer." (Vol.44 No.7 WWW)

Sumiko Wellfleet: $449
MF noted that this affordable MM cartridge's most attractive qualities were "see-through transparency, transient clarity, and precision in the mid and upper frequencies" and found the sound "completely free of edgy artifacts, grain, and grit." (Vol.45 No.8 WWW)

Zu/Denon DL-103 Mk.II Rev B: $791–$1319 ★ $$$
The Zu/DL-103 Mk.II cartridge replaced the original Zu Audio DL-103 (see Stereophile's October 2007 issue), itself the first modification of the classic Denon DL-103 to achieve widespread recognition and commercial success. For the Mk.II version, the basic formula remains—Zu strips away the Denon's plastic housing and repackages its motor and output-pin block in a precision-machined aluminum body—but here the body has been reshaped to make better contact with the motor and better resist the buildup of sound-sullying resonances. Also new are an improved epoxy for holding the motor in place and a body shape that permits the use of the Denon cartridge's original stylus guard. The Zu DL-103 Mk.II is available in three versions, the differences between them determined by the tolerances Zu observes while hand-selecting stock Denon cartridges: Grade 1 ($791), Grade 2 ($959), and Grade 2 Prime ($1319). AD, who regarded the original Zu Audio/Denon DL-103 as a giant-slayer of Homeric proportions, thought the Grade 2 Premium Zu DL-103 Mk.II went even further, offering fine musical timing and "an ocean of tone." Compared with the original Mk.II, the Rev B generator was moved slightly farther forward in the body and a notch was added above the stylus position to make cueing easier. MT auditioned the Grade 2 Rev B, noting that with the cartridge mounted in the Korf tonearm (see Tonearms), "gone was the typical, slightly-soft-and-comforting Zu/DL-103 sound, replaced by something significantly more nimble and lighter on its feet." (Vol.41 No.4 WWW, Vol.46 No.12 WWW)


Audio-Technica AT-VM95C, E, H, ML & SH: $39–$199 depending on stylus $$$
A series of cartridges based on the no-longer-available Audio-Technica AT95E, the VMs all use the same body with a choice of interchangeable styli. Comparing the top-model, the Shibata-tipped AT-VM95SH ($199), with his reference moving magnet, Ortofon's 2M Black, HR felt the A-T had more push and bounce, keeping the beat and carrying the tune better than the Ortofon. Switching to the elliptical-stylus VM95E ($49), he wrote that "the sound had even more pulse, presence, and genuine reggae-music energy. . . . It made the Shibata-tipped VM95 sound overly smooth and polite." Changing to the conical-stylus AT-VM95C ($34), HR found that it sounded "cool, fast, and powerful but also detailed and invigorating." He concluded that the cheapest A-T with its conical stylus was, music-pleasure–wise, the most satisfying cartridge of the family. (Vol.44 No.1 WWW)

Denon DL-103: $349 $$$ ★
In production since 1962, the DL-103 is a resolutely old-fashioned cartridge with a two-piece plastic body. Its two-piece aluminum cantilever drives a cross-shaped armature wound with several turns of fine-gauge copper magnet wire. Its nude, square-shank diamond stylus is ground to a spherical tip. Though the Denon offered excellent bass depth and impact, with an overall exciting and "pleasantly forward" sound, its high-frequency response peak made bright recordings "a bit more forward than ideal." Nonetheless, AD deemed it "a superb cartridge and a remarkable buy." Compared to Denon's DL-A100 100th Anniversary moving coil cartridge, AD's old DL-103 was tubbier in the bass but just as dynamic and dramatic. Performance with the stock spherical stylus tip squeaks into low Class B, he adds, saying that, "apart from various Miyajimas and the always-recommendable Miyabi 47, it's hard for me to think of another standard (non-pickup-head) type of cartridge that has this much impact and drama." KM's go-to cartridge. HR tried the DL-103 on Music Hall's Stealth turntable, commenting that the DL-103 remains one of the most flat-out enjoyable-to-use cartridges he knows. It brings "vibrancy and spirited dynamics to every type of recording." Borderline Class B. (Vol.3 No.9, Vol.30 Nos.10 & 12, Vol.34 No.12, Vol.39 No.9, Vol.45 No.10 WWW)

Dylp Audio Windbell MC100 MkII: $350
"Out of the box," MF wrote, "this modestly priced cartridge, which outputs 0.3mV and tracks at 1.8gm, sounded lively and kept a firm, exciting grip on the music's rhythmic thrust." He concluded that "Even though it's an MC, the sound reminded me of what MM lovers love and claim MCs don't provide: linearity." (Vol.45 No.4 WWW)

Dylp Audio Windbell MC100 Mono: $325
MF described this true mono cartridge, fitted with a spherical stylus, as the "home run" of the three DYLP cartridges he reviewed: "The MC100 Mono doesn't come close to my mono reference $3475 Miyajima Labs Infinity's nuanced sustain and generous decay, or to Ortofon's $1379 Cadenza mono, but for $325 you can explore the joys of mono without breaking the bank." (Vol.45 No.4 WWW)

LP Gear Carbon Fidelity CF3600LE: $49.98 $$$
Based on Audio-Technica's ubiquitous and universally heralded AT3600, the CF3600LE replaces the AT3600's aluminum cantilever and conical diamond stylus with a 0.0003" × 0.0007" elliptical stylus and a carbon-fiber cantilever. HR found that this moving magnet initially failed to satisfy–but after 12 hours of continuous play, the CF3600LE sounded quiet, lushly detailed, and engaging, especially on female vocals. (Vol.44 No.1 WWW)

Ortofon 2M Black: $695 ★
Partnered with the budget-priced Audio-Technica AT-PEQ3 phono preamp, the "ridiculously good" Ortofon 2M Black produced a bright, open sound with "surprising heft and slam." Because its Shibata stylus is sensitive to rake angle, the 2M Black should be used only with tonearms that permit adjustment of VTA and SRA, Mikey advised. HR used the Black on the Music Hall Stealth turntable, writing that compared with the Ortofon 2M Blue, "tone quality, and the illusion of force and forward momentum, were enhanced to a degree that made me think I could live happily forever with this setup." (Vol.32 No.12, Vol.45 Nos.10, 11 & 12 WWW)

Ortofon 2M Blue: $239 $$$ ★
Affordable moving magnet cartridge with user-replaceable elliptical diamond stylus. With the Blue mounted in a Music Hall Ikura turntable and arm, BJR found that "the transients and bloom of the string quartet were reproduced with no trace of coloration or smear. Superb transient articulation and dynamics. Competes with cartridges at double its price. Also an excellent match for both the Music Hall Ikura and VPI Nomad turntables." HR auditioned the Blue on Music Hall's Stealth turntable and noted that the 2M Blue was more passive than propulsive-sounding. "Its best trait was how it emphasized fine textures and the atmospheric aspects of recordings," he concluded. (Vol.37 No.12, Vol.45 No.10 WWW)

Fuuga, Grado Epoch3, Lyra Atlas λ Lambda SL, Ortofon 2M Red, Ortofon MC A Mono, Tzar DST, Tzar DST (wood-bodied), not reviewed in a long time.

Auditor's picture

The links to the various types of products seem to be missing.

Auditor's picture

They're there now!

Dorsia777's picture

Rotel & Michi nabbed some Class A recommendations. Nice!

Rick57's picture

Can you remind me what it means when there is a star next to the name of a recommended component?

John Atkinson's picture
Rick57 wrote:
Can you remind me what it means when there is a star next to the name of a recommended component?

The star signifies that the product has been recommended for more than 3 years, due primarily to continued experience by one of the review team.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile