Recommended Components Fall 2021 Edition Phono Cartridges

Phono Cartridges

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Air Tight PC-1 Coda: $9500
Manufactured for Air Tight by Yoshio Matsudaira of My Sonic Lab, the PC-1 Coda MC cartridge has a very low impedance of 1.7 ohms and an output of 0.5mV, the latter higher than the moving coil norm. Its body is made from an alloy of aluminum, magnesium, and silicon, plated first in nickel and then in chrome. Compliance specs aren't supplied for the 12.7gm PC-1 Coda, but the tracking-force range is given as 2-2.2g; MF found the lower number insufficient and declared the cartridge's tracking capabilities only "moderately good" at best. Yet the PC-1 Coda impressed him as a "masterfully voiced, low-coloration cartridge that worked well with all musical genres." (Vol.42 No.4 WWW)

Audio MusiKraft First Series DL-103: $899-$1409 ★
MusiKraft started business making precision-machined metal shells for the classic Denon DL-103 cartridge, but soon found themselves selling shells with stock DL-103s installed, and shell-only sales ended in late 2019. These "First Series" products are sold direct only and are distinct from the company's Nitro Series products, which use modified Denon cartridges, and which we have not auditioned. The MusiKraft shell is machined in such a way that its two pieces, when assembled, tightly clamp the Denon cartridge's top plate; each shell is predrilled with five sets of tapped mounting holes, thus making cartridge mounting and alignment easier than ever. Prices start at $1499 for a clear-anodized aluminum shell in which a new Denon DL-103 has been installed. A MusiKraft Denon with a polished aluminum-lithium shell ($1689) impressed AD all to hell and back: The MusiKraft lacked "the slight treble glare" associated with his stock Denon 103, and provided "pitches and pitch relationships [that] were steadily, solidly right," and "vocal textures and tones with real meat and color." In 2019, MusiKraft introduced a bronze shell ($1959 with DL-103); whether or not because the higher-mass material is more suited to the low-compliance 103, the new version impressed AD with an even more nuanced, impactful sound. Even in light of a recent price increase, AD felt the MusiKraft combinations of high-tech shells and stock DL-103 cartridges offer very good value. (Vol.40 No.8, Vol.42 No.10 WWW)

Audio-Technica ART1000: $4999 ★
Audio-Technica describes their new flagship, the moving coil AT-ART1000, as a Direct Power System design: its coils are attached to the front of its cantilever, directly above the stylus, and not to the inside end of the cantilever, as in most MCs. Thus does the AT-ART1000 carry the torch first lit by the coveted Neumann DST 62 pickup of 1962—and thus does it ensure that every deflection of the playback stylus results in a proportional change in signal amplitude, theoretically resulting in the lowest possible degree of compression among all phono cartridges. Sure enough, from the low-output AT-ART1000 (0.2mV) MF heard "microdynamic expression [that] was absolutely phenomenal: small shifts of emphasis in the strumming and drumming were clearly delineated." Mikey also praised the A-T as "one of the most tonally neutral cartridges I've heard," concluding that, "If you can afford it, you need it!" In the May 2018 Stereophile, AD added his thoughts to our coverage of the AT-ART1000, compelled as he was by his own experiences with another Neumann-inspired cartridge, the Tzar DST (see elsewhere in this edition of "Recommended Components"). After using the Audio-Technica to play his favorite LP of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, he wrote, "I expected a better sense of touch from the strings, and that I heard. What I hadn't expected was how much better a sense of [the clarinetist's] breathing and tonguing techniques the A-T now provided. Legato phrases were more so—something as easy to enjoy as to hear." His conclusion: "one of that small handful of pickups I'd care to live with." (Vol.39 No.10, Vol.41 No.5 WWW)

DS Audio Master 1: $22,500 with equalizer
The Master 1 is no longer the top model in DS Audio's line of three optical cartridges—transducers that use the vibrations of a phonograph needle to modulate the otherwise steady output of an LED instead of generating an electrical signal from scratch (sorry). The Master 1 replaces the DS-W1, which MF reviewed in the September 2015 Stereophile. Because the vast majority of phono stages are designed to cope with signals produced by velocity-sensitive cartridges, the amplitude-sensitive Master 1 requires a very different sort of stage, and so a dedicated equalizer is included in its not-inconsiderable price. In his review of the DS-W1, Mikey had wondered if the "distractingly overemphasized bass" he heard was attributable to a flaw in that product's equalizer; that guess became a near certainty when he tried the Master 1 with its all-new equalizer: the latter offers three different output curves, and one offered enjoyably flat, unboosted bass. The verdict: "In the Master 1, DS Audio has fulfilled the promise of the original DS-W1." Pertinent specs: The Master 1 weighs 8.1gm, sports a MicroRidge stylus on a sapphire cantilever, and requires a downforce of 1.6-1.8gm. (Vol.41 No.10)

EMT TSD 15: $1950 $$$ ★
The EMT TSD 15 is an A-style pickup head weighing just over 17.5gm and available with either EMT's proprietary diamond-shaped output-pin pattern or the more common SME square pattern. It has a high impedance of 24 ohms, a high output of 1.05mV, and a moderate recommended downforce of 2.5gm. The EMT's overall sound was open, clear, and transparent, with above-average presence, body, and color, and an outstanding sense of momentum and flow. "A fine all-arounder, combining starkly honest music-making with the sorts of refined sonic attributes most audiophiles cherish," said Art. Examining the EMT with a microscope revealed its distinctly small, sharp, spherical tip, which, AD conjectured, may be the reason for the stylus's exceptionally low groove noise. For special systems only, as it is a complete pickup head, not just a cartridge. (Vol.34 Nos.5 & 9 WWW)

Etsuro Urushi Cobalt Blue: $5750
Etsuro Urushi's Cobalt Blue moving coil cartridge—the least expensive of its three models—features scantly wound coils, a samarium-cobalt magnet with soft-iron flux-director pieces, and a sapphire-pipe cantilever fitted with a Microline stylus, all in a Duralumin body covered with blue Urushi lacquer. Specs include an impedance of 3 ohms, output of 0.25mV, and a weight of 8.1gm. HR got the best from the Cobalt Blue by pairing it with the 1:10 version of the EMIA Phono step-up transformer, writing that during the time it was in his system, "I never once took the Cobalt Blue's beguiling occupy-the-room presentation for granted. Every day it pleased me. Every day I thought, This cartridge could compete with any cartridge at any price." HR's closing thoughts: "I could dream away my sunset years listening only with the Etsuro Urushi Cobalt Blue: It does everything I desire." "Analog is sensuous and tactile by nature, as is the character of the Etsuro Urushi Cobalt Blue," he subsequently wrote. (Vol.42 No.8, Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

Fuuga: $9275
The creators of the Fuuga—its name is Japanese for "elegance with flair"—were inspired by the classic Miyabi cartridges designed and built by Haruo Takeda, now retired. The low-compliance Fuuga retains the semicylindrical body of the best-known Miyabi models but exchanges their trademark alnico magnets for neodymium types. Output and impedance are both low—0.35mV and 2.5 ohms, respectively—and the hyperelliptical stylus tracks at 2.0-2.2gm. In his original review, MF praised the Fuuga's neutral tonal balance, lack of harshness/hardness, and "startling macrodynamic slam." His conclusion: "The Fuuga is, without a doubt, among the handful of highest-performing, most-enjoyable cartridges I have heard." In a Follow-Up, MF concluded that "Its spectral balance is as neutral as that of any transducer I've experienced, and its transient performance satisfies on every musical genre and maintains its consistency from bottom to top." (Vol.38 No.10, Vol.43 No.9)

Grado Epoch3: $12,000
Mikey wrote that the original Epoch, a moving iron design with a sapphire cantilever that pivoted at its innermost end and a body machined from the tonewood cocobolo, "glided silently and smoothly through the groove like no other cartridge I've heard." He also heard from the Epoch "a harmonic and textural richness laid on without too thick a coating of aural honey." The Epoch3 includes a newly developed four-step shielding technique that, according to Grado, "allows for the isolation of the wire turns in the four coils." MF found that the Epoch3 was similar in character to the original (and measured and tracked equally well), but "gets a better grip on everything, particularly in the bass and midbass, and is better focused." (Vol.40 No.12, original Epoch; Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

Grado Labs Lineage Epoch mono: $12,000
Based on the original, stereo version of Grado's Lineage Epoch (see elsewhere in "Recommended Components"), the Epoch Mono is a moving iron cartridge built into a bulky body carved from cocobolo, a dense tonewood. Although equipped with the usual two pairs of output pins, the Epoch Mono has only one pair of coils (the stereo version has two pairs), configured to respond to only the horizontal modulations of a single-channel groove. Those coils are wound from 24K gold wire; other precious substances in evidence are the Epoch Mono's diamond stylus and sapphire cantilever, the latter a first for a Grado cartridge. It tracks at between 1.5 and 1.9gm and wants to see a load of 47k ohms—and a healthy amount of quiet gain. That seen to, per Mikey, the Epoch Mono "beat every other mono cartridge I've heard in terms of effortlessness, harmonic transparency, and … harmonic expressiveness," and its "dynamic expressiveness was also unmatched." (Vol.42 No.3)

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 Onyx Platinum: $10,995
As AD noted in the December 2018 issue, "To compare the specifications of Koetsu's 15 different models is to glimpse little in the way of variety: all Koetsu cartridges have the same recommended ranges of VTF and load impedance; all of their platinum-magnet cartridges have the same 0.3mV output, while all their samarium-cobalt magnet cartridges output 0.4mV." That said, it turns out the Onyx Platinum's nominal mineral was the first nonwood, nonmetal material used in a Koetsu cartridge—and its nominal element went on to be used for the magnets in all of the company's top-end cartridges. Whether that makes the Onyx Platinum the pivotal model in Koetsu's line is anyone's guess—but AD was smitten by its abilities to let music sound colorful, forceful, well textured, and downright human when called for. (Vol.41 No.12 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 WWW)

Kuzma CAR-50: $7540
Kuzma CAR-60: $16,750
The first cartridges from Kuzma are the moving coil CAR-50 and CAR-60, both of which have a chunky machined-aluminum body with a brass coupling plate machined with three pairs of threaded mounting holes; the CAR-50's MicroRidge stylus is fitted to a sapphire cantilever, while the CAR-60's cantilever is made of diamond. MF observed that the two models "[both] sounded smooth without ever sounding soft—smooth like skating on ice." That smoothness, MF wrote, "prevented percussive transients on top and bottom from developing excitement-generating bite and textural grip." Mikey admitted to regarding the CAR-50 as "bland" and noted that the far more expensive CAR-60 "lacked the slam or bass grip … to do rock'n'roll justice." One issue later, Mikey reported that the Kuzma-recommended load of >100 ohms for both CARs was intended by the manufacturer to read <100 ohms and put his earlier remarks into perspective, noting that "my 'excitement' is someone else's ear-bleed," and reminding the reader that the CAR-60 in particular offers "what you should expect [for over $10,000]" in terms of bottom-end extension and resolution of low-level detail. (Vol.41 Nos 3 & 4)

Lyra Atlas SL λ Lambda: $12,995
It's a Lyra tradition that the company often follows up their standard cartridges with low-output versions of same; so it goes with this most recent version of the Atlas SL, whose low output is accomplished with fewer turns of wire, resulting in less moving mass, lower internal impedance, and, presumably, faster response. Upon auditioning the new λ Lambda version, in which "the tapered dampers of the original cartridges are separated into flat, elastomer damping discs, while an additional support 'pillow' has been added to serve as the cantilever preload element," MF wrote that it "sounds like an entirely new cartridge," possessing a "quality of top-to-bottom, luxurious textural suppleness, sustain, timbral generosity, and midband warmth, while losing none of the speed, slam, and detail retrieval for which the Atlas SL (and the brand in general) is best known." (Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

Miyajima Labs Destiny: $7600
As with other Miyajima models, the Destiny is a "cross-ring" MC design that places the cantilever's suspension dampers in front of the coil former: Thus is the motor's fulcrum positioned for maximal dynamic swings as compared with other designs. Other specs include an African blackwood body, a 16 ohm internal impedance, output of 0.23mV, a recommended downforce of 2.5gm, and a line-contact stylus that's nude-mounted in a metal ferrule, itself bonded to a tapered-bamboo cantilever. In addition to praising the Destiny's build quality—azimuth and SRA were both spot-on—MF reveled in the new cartridge's sonic presentation, which "takes the [Miyajima] Snakewood's speed and detail, backs it off slightly, returns some of the early [Miyajimas'] bottom-end richness and weight, and makes everything bigger and bolder, yet well-proportioned." His conclusion: "the Destiny is for now Miyajima Labs' best performing cartridge." (Vol.42 No.12 WWW)

Miyajima Labs Infinity mono: $3475
Miyajima makes no fewer than five single-channel cartridges. The most expensive, the Infinity Mono, can be ordered with either a 0.7 mil or a 1.0 mil stylus attached to its aluminum cantilever. Carved from African blackwood and fitted with a robust magnet, the Infinity Mono is big and, at 14.8gm, more than a bit heavy. Specs include a 0.4mV output and a recommended downforce of 34gm (Mikey had good results at 3.5gm). Of the Miyajima monos Mikey has heard, the Infinity Mono struck him as "the line's fastest and most linear and neutral sounding." (Vol.42 No.3)

Miyajima Labs Madake Snakewood: $7500
Like the Miyajima Madake moving coil cartridge (see elsewhere in this edition of "Recommended Components"), the Madake Snakewood has a cantilever made in part from a strain of bamboo that grows only in the mountains surrounding Kyoto, Japan. Unlike the Madake, the body of which is carved from African blackwood, the Madake Snakewood's body is made of—get ready for it—snakewood, a substance so difficult to carve that it takes months to produce a single usable body. The Madake Snakewood has an output of 0.23mV, a suggested downforce of 2.5gm, and a low-compliance suspension. Describing the Snakewood as "a meth-infused Madake," MF praised its "faster, cleaner, leaner" sound, and opined that the Snakewood has "a more neutral midrange … and a faster, cleaner bottom end" than one usually associates with Miyajima cartridges, and that the Madake Snakewood performed well "with every kind of music." (Vol.41 No.4)

Miyajima Labs Saboten: $2575
Setting aside matters of performance and appearance, the most distinctive thing about the Miyajima Saboten moving coil cartridge is its cactus-spine cantilever (saboten is the Japanese word for cactus), the business end of which is capped with an aluminum ferrule fitted with an elliptical stylus. Points of note include a lower-than-average output of 0.18mV, a higher-than-expected-for-that-kind-of-output impedance of 15 ohms, and Miyajima's trademark cross-ring motor, tuned for a medium-compliance suspension. Given that the cross-ring motor doesn't require a taut tie-back wire of the usual sort, Miyajima is freer than most to experiment with nonmetallic cantilevers—and, as HR wrote, "[t]hat little sprig of cactus … could be why higher female voices sounded so pure and naturally toned." Herb also praised the Saboten's "grainless, liquid transparency, its unique sense of intimacy, and its decidedly tactile focus on vibrating acoustic surfaces. All of it drew me in and held me close to the music." (Vol.41 No.4 WWW)

Miyajima Saboten L: $4975
A low-compliance version of Miyajima's distinctive Saboten cartridge (see elsewhere in this edition of "Recommended Components"), the Saboten L also features a slightly higher output—0.23 vs 0.18mV—and is built into a body made from Cameroonian ebony instead of lignum vitae. Used in AD's high-mass (and thus low-compliance-cartridge-friendly) EMT 997 tonearm, the Saboten L impressed him with its good color, touch, and sheer substance. Art added that the Saboten L "was the rare stereo pickup that sounded good, if not quite mono-pickup good, on mono LPs." His conclusion: "this beautiful-sounding product embodies everything that's special about this brand." (Vol.41 No.6 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 A Mono: $5039
The MC A Mono ($4999) is an Ortofon A95 moving coil cartridge (reviewed in May and June 2015) with the cross-coil armature rotated 45° and wound only on the lateral axis so that it only reads horizontal (mono) groove modulations. It retains the stereo version's boron cantilever and Replicant 100 stylus profile. While MF still heard a few pops and ticks when listening to a mono album that had suffered from some "wear crackle," he found that the "wear crackle" was gone. "Not just diminished: gone," he wrote, adding that while the stereo A95's smooth, even, spectrally balanced persona was also evident, "standing behind that was the stability and black backdrop that only a true mono cartridge can provide." He described the MC A Mono as producing a more intense and forward picture (though neither cool nor bright) than the Miyajimas or the Grado Epoch3, concluding "It's one to consider if mono rock albums are in your mix, but not if you want more romance—in your phono cartridge, that is." (Vol.43 No.4)

Ortofon MC Anna Diamond: $10,499
Ortofon's MC Anna phono cartridge, introduced in 2013, apparently remains a popular choice for analog perfectionists who can afford its $8924 price, but it has now been joined in the line by a newer, more expensive variant, the MC Anna Diamond, into which has downtrickled the diamond cantilever of the company's limited-edition MC Century cartridge. In the MC Anna Diamond, the business end of that cantilever is fitted with Ortofon's Replicant 100 stylus, said to be the closest of any playback stylus to the lacquer-cutting stylus. Additionally, the new cartridge features a specially tuned suspension, an SLM-formed titanium body, and a nonmagnetic armature; specs include an output of 0.2mV, an internal impedance of 6 ohms, a weight of 16gm, and a recommended 2.4gm downforce. Used in his SAT CF1-09 tonearm, the Anna MC Diamond rewarded MF with sound that was "joltingly fast, clean, and transparent, yet with solidity, weight, and body." (Vol.42 No.9 WWW)

Ortofon MC Windfeld Ti: $5159
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: $5639
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 SPU Wood A: $2519
Earlier this century, fans of Ortofon's SPU pickups were saddened when the company ceased building their historically long-lived A-style SPUs: the stubby, squarish ones in which the distance from stylus tip to mounting socket is a relatively short 30mm—this in contrast to the longer, sleeker, G-style pickup heads, which endure. Yet 2018 saw the first new A-style model in over a decade, the descriptively named SPU Wood A. Built into a hardwood shell with an urushi lacquer finish, the Wood A has an internal impedance of 2.4 ohms, an output of 0.18mV, and a short aluminum cantilever fitted with a spherical stylus; recommended downforce is 4gm. AD wrote that the Wood A sounded "tactile, dynamic, meaty, and colorful, with a great sense of scale," and that it "excelled at conveying instrumental and vocal textures." The SPU Wood A offers tremendous bang for the buck. (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

Phasemation PP-2000: $6999
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)

TechDAS TDC01 Ti: $12,500
Created for Japanese turntable specialists TechDAS by Yoshio Matsudaira of My Sonic Lab—he has also made cartridges for Air Tight, Haniwa, and others—the titanium-encased TDC01 Ti is notably heavy at 17gm, notably pricey at $16,000, and combines a low internal impedance of 1.4 ohms with a surprisingly high output of 0.45mV. Also notably, TechDAS recommends for the TDC01 Ti a higher-than-expected load impedance of 100−200 ohms—something that MF sidestepped by directing its output to the current-gain inputs of his CH Precision P1/X1 phono preamp. Used thus, the TechDAS cartridge rewarded Mikey with "an authoritarian dynamic slam" not generally associated with its designer, coupled with the more typical "sheen of Matsudaira's house sound—a pleasing smoothness that made strings sing [and] revealed buttery textures in women's voices." Build quality, MF noted, was "as high as you'd expect for that kind of money." (Vol.41 No.4)

Tedeska DST201ua: €5600 (approx $6370)
Made in Berlin by musician Hyun Lee, the Tedeska DST201UA is a hand-built moving coil cartridge encased in a hardwood body to which shellac has been applied using a traditional French polish technique. Its copper-wire coils are wound on an air-core former, bathed in the flux lines of a samarium-cobalt magnet; a line-contact stylus is fitted to the business end of its boron cantilever. Specs include an output of 0.3mV and an impedance of 18 ohms: a curious combination, as the latter seems much higher than the former would lead one to expect. Recommended downforce is 2gm. With the Tedeska in his system, MF expressed some disappointment that macrodynamics were less than fully expressed—"I wanted more oomph"—but praised the DST201UA as "a well-balanced, high-performance cartridge that bridges the gap between being too soft and too analytical." (Vol.42 No.1 WWW)

Top Wing Suzaku (Red Sparrow): $16,500
Described by its manufacturer as employing "coreless straight-flux" technology, the Suzaku moving magnet cartridge has a very low output (0.2mV), a moderate internal impedance (12.3 ohms at 1kHz), and a downforce range of 1.75-2gm, and is said to be nonsensitive to load capacitance. Because it's an MM design, the Suzaku's stylus is factory-replaceable for a mere 19% of the cartridge's total retail price; unfortunately, because that price is over $16k, a new stylus will nevertheless cost $3135: more than the price of many Class A phono cartridges. MF's first review sample of the Top Wing Suzaku, which performed disappointingly, turned out to be defective; a second sample impressed Mikey with its "smooth, airy, velvety, and vivid" sound, "with a particularly rich midrange that I wanted to sink my ears into." (Vol.42 No.5)

Tzar DST: $10,000
Tzar DST (wood-bodied): $11,000
Whereas most moving coil cartridges have their stylus at one end of a cantilever and their coils, wound on tiny coil formers, at the other, the Tzar DST—like the vintage Neumann DST 62 cartridge on which it's modeled—says to hell with the formers: Its coils are glued right to the cantilever just behind the stylus. The theoretical result is far less dynamic compression than with traditional MC designs—and reduced compression is precisely what AD heard from the Tzar: "The Tzar DST is the most incredibly tactile, forceful, and altogether open-throttled pickup I've ever tried." He added that the Tzar "allowed strings to sound sweet and utterly huge, with extraordinarily good, snappy, vibrant note attacks." Created under the direction of tonearm designer Frank Schröder, the Tzar DST differs from the Neumann in its use of an aluminum body and a carbon-fiber cantilever. Its compliance, though unspecified, was observed by AD to be very low—recommended downforce is 3.2-4gm—and its output is a mere 0.25mV. (Schröder recommends pairing it with a step-up transformer of moderately high inductance; AD had best results with a borrowed NOS Neumann Bv33.) AD asked, "Is there a place in the market for a $10,000, Siberia-made phono cartridge?" The Tzar DST answers with a resounding Yes. In a Follow-Up, MF echoed AD's praise for the original Tzar and said about the wood-bodied version, which also has a brass top plate, that it produced "all of the aluminum-bodied version's weight and 'straight from the groove to your body and brain' musical communication, but it lightened the heaviness somewhat, with some rounding and airiness where the original was angular and literal." (Vol.39 No.1, Vol.43 No.9 WWW)

B

Aidas Audio Gala Gold LE: $5000
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)

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)

EMT HSD 006: $1760
Subsequent to moving their phono-cartridge division from Germany to Switzerland, EMT introduced the new entry-level HSD 006, built into a semi-open aircraft-aluminum body with threaded mounting holes. Inside is a version of EMT's classic TSD-series motor, characterized by high impedance (24 ohms) and output (1.05mV), with an alnico magnet and an aluminum cantilever to which is fitted a Super Fine Line stylus. Recommended downforce is 2.4gm. In AD's system, the HSD 006 sounded "like a TSD 15, but a little more modern. All of the old model's strengths are here but with an increase in detail." The HSD 006 impressed AD as "more spatially accomplished and perhaps a little more tactile" than the TSD 15, and suggested that, when partnered with the right tonearm and phono stage, "it will sing." (Vol.42 No.12 WWW)

Goldring E3: $169 $$$
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)

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)

Koetsu Rosewood Standard: $3995
Among moving coil cartridges that bear the Koetsu brand—products as reliably boxy in shape as they are exotic in the materials used for their bodies—the Rosewood Standard is among the most affordable. Mounted inside its rosewood housing is a motor built with samarium-cobalt magnets, 99.9999%-pure copper coils, and a boron cantilever, to which is bonded a stylus with a hyperelliptical tip. Specs for the Rosewood Standard include an output of 0.45mV, an impedance of 5 ohms, and a recommended downforce of 1.8-2gm. After using the Koetsu in his system, HR praised the Rosewood Standard's tight imaging and "slam-dance excitement," while noting that "[m]ost impressive was how the Koetsu exposed extremely subtle, almost subliminal instrumental textures … while making nearly imperceptible changes in those instruments' tonalities seem beautiful and important." (Vol.41 No.4 WWW)

MuTech Kanda: $5000
Like the Transfiguration Temper before it, the MuTech RM-Kanda Hayabusa moving coil cartridge uses a yokeless system in which a mu-metal coil former is precisely positioned within a powerful neodymium ring magnet. The proximity of coil to magnet and the coil's position at the magnet's center is claimed to produce a uniformity of magnetic flux field—and, in MF's words, "more linear frequency response and greater spatial coherence." That this low-impedance (1.5 ohm) cartridge outputs a relatively healthy output (0.45mV) is further evidence of its magnetic efficiency. Other specs include a boron cantilever, a semi-line-contact stylus, and a recommended downforce of 1.8-2.0gm. In Mikey's system, the RM-Kanda Hayabusa was "more linear and honest than flashy or wow-inducing," and its top-to-bottom response featured "well-controlled, unbloated bass, a smooth, full-bodied midrange, and satisfying top-end extension and air." (Vol.42 No.3 WWW)

Ortofon 2M Black LVB 250: $999
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: $2879
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)

Ortofon CG 25DI mono pickup head: $959 $$$ ★
The oldest product design from the second-oldest audio manufacturer on Earth (Quad gets the nod for having lasted even longer), Ortofon's CG 25DI pickup head is a single-coil monophonic MC motor of high output (1.5mV) and low compliance (the recommended downforce is 4gm). Its spherical stylus is made with a full 25µm radius—hence the model designation—thus restricting the CG 25DI's use to records mastered with a true mono cutter head. As AD observed, "This is among the hallowed few cartridges that really communicate everything that's special about 1950s and '60s mono LPs from the likes of Verve, Prestige, Clef, [and] Columbia." With its three-figure price, the CG 25DI also offers exceptionally high value. (Vol.38 No.4 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 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. (Vol.44 No.5 WWW)

Sumiko Songbird: $899
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: $1899
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)

Zu Audio DL-103 Mk.II: $499-$1099 $$$
The Zu/DL-103 Mk.II cartridge replaces 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 ($599), Grade 2 ($699), and Grade 2 Premium ($999). 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." (Vol.41 No.4 WWW)

C

Audio-Technica AT-VM95C, E, H, ML & SH: $34-$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: $299 $$$ ★
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 new DL-A100 100th Anniversary moving coil phono 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. Borderline Class B. (Vol.3 No.9, Vol.30 Nos.10 & 12, Vol.34 No.12, Vol.39 No.9 WWW)

Dynavector DV 10X5: $750 $$$ ★
Besides subtle changes in magnet material and coil-winding techniques, the latest iteration of Dynavector's classic moving coil design has threaded mounting holes for simple installation and alignment. It weighs 7.3gm, has an output of 2.5mV, and uses an elliptical stylus tip and aluminum cantilever. Recommended load impedance is anything greater than 1000 ohms; recommended tracking force is 1.8-2.2gm. Thanks to the Dynavector's clarity, immediacy, and presence, "music was consistently more dramatic and involving, while never sounding unnecessarily harsh, aggressive, or forward," said SM. One of ST's favorite cartridges. AD: "This colorful, well-balanced, chunky-sounding cartridge played music extremely well, with a bonus of very fine stereo imaging….More money can buy more drama, impact, scale, and transparency….But the Dynavector 10X5 should give you most of what I think you need at a bargain price." (Vol.26 No.10 WWW; Vol.35 No.11 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. (Vol.32 No.12)

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," he adds. (Vol.37 No.12 WWW)

Rega Elys 2 MM cartridge: $295 $$$ ★
See the Planar 3 entry in "Turntables." Price is $200 when purchased with that turntable. HR is not a fan, however. (Vol.31 No.7, Vol.34 No.12, Vol.40 No.2 WWW)

D

Ortofon 2M Red: $99 $$$ ★
The least expensive of Ortofon's 2M moving magnet cartridges (the series name is shorthand for MM), the Red offers a 5.5mV output, a replaceable elliptical stylus, highish compliance, a recommended tracking force of 1.8gm, and a square-front body with threaded mounting holes, for ease of installation. SM declared the 2M Red's dynamic range "vastly wider" than that of the less expensive Ortofon OM 5E, and praised the new cartridge's clean, fast, grainless sound. SM's verdict: "If you're looking for a high-value cartridge … the 2M Red is an excellent place to start." Borderline Class C. (Vol.37 No.5, Vol.38 No.2 WWW)

Deletions
EMT TSD 75 SFL, discontinued. Ortofon SPU Century, no longer available. AMG Teatro, Koetsu Rosewood Mono, Miyajima Labs Madake, London Maroon, MoFi Mastertracker, Ortofon SPU #1E, Ortofon SPU #1S, Rega Aphelion 2, not auditioned in a long time.

COMMENTS
MatthewT's picture

Not much for me here, being a vintage gear fan first. Please bring back the entry-level column, there is a lot of gear at that price-point worth getting reviewed.

Anton's picture

Budgetwise, I think I would be most like a "Double A" audiophile.

Same with me and wine.

I do admit to seeing some of the top end prices for either wine or Hi Fi and thinking that there are people who have checkbooks that are 'better' than their palates/ears.

Like JA1 described in the past...there are already parts of my own hobby that are beyond my budgetary event horizon.

_

If we did have audiophile classes, from minor leagues to major league, I wonder what the price points for each step would be.

MatthewT's picture

Lets me play every now and then in the Majors. Nothing depreciates faster than audio gear. I have to admit being somewhat happy at seeing a dartZeel break while listening to it, while my beloved Sansui keeps making music.

Anton's picture

I like showing gear in the reviews to my wife and asking her to guess the price.

When I saw the OMA turntable in the latest issue, I guessed 15,000 dollars. When she saw it, she guessed 12,000 dollars, and we've been playing this game for 25 years!

Next, I asked her if I were able to purchase it for 90% off retail, would she let me. She said, "Only I promised to flip it immediately."

Then, she threw me a bone and said, "You could buy it and keep it for the 12,000 dollars that I guessed."

I'd need a 97.5% discount to have a chance at it. And even that would be wildly extravagant. I'm happy with life, this is just for scale.

tonykaz's picture

Above the PS Audio level is the world of Status & Ego. !

Which has me wondering if Stereophile is a Status & Ego type publication ? Is this a Robb Report mag that belongs on the coffee tables of private Jet Airports ? ( I've never seen it there )

Does an Anodized Red $200,000 Amplifier belong on the Front Cover of a magazine like ours ? None of us will ever have any chance to experience Velvet Rope Gear so why are we bothering with it? It being better is probably one person's opinion ( and that person probably doesn't have to buy it or own it ).

Reviews of these $100,000 +++++ pieces are man-speaking to us how our gear is deficient and unworthy, we are reading Hubris & gas lighting.

There is a World of $1,000 bottles of Wine, $25,000 Rolex Watches, Super pricy First Class Seats on UAL Flights and Political Leaders that are wealthy from insider trading. We shouldn't be reading about those things here.

Ours is like the world of our modest Canadian, revealing a new form of music discovery and writing one of Stereophile's most insightful pieces of literature about it. ( nice writing Mr. Robert S.)( is that the door bell? )

Tony in Venice Florida

rschryer's picture

Thanks, Tony

tonykaz's picture

Annnnndddd :

Thank You to the Editor that gave you the Word Budget and turned you loose.

Stereophile keeps raising the Bar !!!

Tony in Venice Florida

Anton's picture

Where on Maslow's Pryamid is a half million dollar record player?

I'm curious to see....misguided 'esteem?'

I prefer to use Swanson's Pyramid....

https://external-preview.redd.it/5cDe4MZ9E0ZfvcS10kmAUd2ynTkp6b3wfU-fYsxyNfg.png?width=960&crop=smart&auto=webp&s=be478d54ccedc0bd3a8ea8428e368fe10ed78c60

(Second from bottom left.)

tonykaz's picture

A most expensive record player would service the Ego needs of someone needing to establish themselves as the very Top of Analog Audio's Caste System.

The widely recognised Top Level Analog Format has been Tape.

I grew up in a Performing Arts household, my mother was an Operatic Performer and one of my older brothers was a Horn Player for our local Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

So, from my point of view, no Analog Audio System has ever come close to performing like a Live Audio Performance from a listening distance position.

Super pricy Audio Gear is about Status & Ego !!! ( I hear that Bob Carver still laughs at this stuff )

Tony in Venice Florida

tonykaz's picture

Yes, Brilliant Observation! ,

of which, of-course, I completely agree .

Proving the old maxim: when two people agree on something - only one is doing the thinking.

Now that I'm living in the Deep South, Swansons Pyramid is where I'm slowly migrating to. Hmm.

Y'all have a Grate Day

Tony in Venice Florida

ravello's picture

The introduction to recommended loudspeakers states that "Candidates for inclusion in this class [i.e. Class A, limited LF extension] must still reach down to at least 40Hz, below the lowest notes of the four-string double-bass and bass guitar." The Falcon LS3/5a, for example, most certainly does not reach down to 40 Hz, unless you define "reach" to include a -10 or -15 or even lower dB point, which cannot be construed as useful bass etension. This is probably true for several other speakers listed in this category. So what is happening? What is the thinking behind this inconcistency?

smileday's picture

Perhaps about -7 dB at 40Hz in this room. Fig. 6, https://www.stereophile.com/content/bbc-ls35a-loudspeaker-harbeth-measurements

It might be -3 dB at 40Hz in a broadcast van, the intended usage at the design stage.

tonykaz's picture

...performance level for all Great Transducers?

It was the very loudspeaker that brought me and my English partner into the Audio Business. ( back in the early 1980s ) -- ( my business partner and I begged Raymond Cooke for this design to import to USA - he said NO! )

Isn't it still a "Reference" for comparison ? , doesn't any new design have to match or exceed it's super high levels of performance?

This little device and a well matched sub builds an outstanding Desert Island System.

But, it's still outstanding without the Sub.

It may not be Full Range but it well earned a Lifetime Class A+ transducer system rating. ( four Decades + )

Tony in Venice Florida

Ortofan's picture

... like antique furniture, but the KEF LS50 Meta is a much more highly evolved successor.

tonykaz's picture

I'm sure that I agree with you.

I seem to have a deeeeeeeep seated feeling that the LS3/5a is the grandfather of High End music Gear.

Even during the 1980s, my little shop : Esoteric Audio in Farmington Frills, Mi. stocked most of the small mini-monitors including the LS3/5a, Linn Kann, ProAc Tablette, Spica TC50, Quad ESL63 and the whole range of other hopefuls. Performance wise, the ProAc Tablettes were the musical leaders, the Quads were the Sales leaders, the Spica was the Reviewer Favourite . We had them all on permanant comparison using a VPI player, Koetsu Rosewood, Electrocompaniet Electronics and MIT Music Hose cable interfaces. It was an exciting adventure for any and all customers to take part in the ongoing comparisons. People bought scads of 'all' of those small speakers types.

With great or outstanding supporting gear, the LS3/5a can Scale up to amazing levels of music reproduction.

Tony in Venice Florida

ravello's picture

@ smileday: With due respect, the link you posted is not to the current Falcon "Gold Badge" reviewed in 2021, which I was talking about, and which is about 12 dB down at 40 Hz (ref. 1 KHz) in JA's listening room on the evidence of Fig. 6 and Fig. 8 (red trace). This, as I was saying, cannot and should not be construed as useful bass extension at 40 Hz, so listing this speaker as "Class A, limited LF extension" is misleading (to say the least) in light of Stereophile's own stated criteria for inclusion in this category. Perhaps Editor Mr. Austin would like to take the stand on this. Furthermore, most of us don't listen to music in a broadcast van. Mind you, I am not saying that these are not truly great speakers. Indeed, I used to own the Harbeth P3ESR, which I found as nearly flawless as I suspect is possible in a loudspeaker, except for bass extension and volume (SPL) capability -- admittedly an inevitable design constraint given the size of the midbass driver, the size of the cabinet, and the benign impedance. This is why I eventually replaced them with a pair of the Harbeth C7 (40th Anniversary), which turned out to be game-over speakers in my small, 12 sqm study. Perfectly solid bass to 40 Hz and possibly below.

TowerOfPower's picture

It's surprising to not see a single Soundsmith cartridge on this list. Would like to know why.

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