Shure V15-III phono cartridge

The Shure V15-III is the latest of Shure's top-of-the-line "Super-track" pickups, earlier versions of which we scorned because of their dished-down response in the 6kHz range and their consequent "dead" sound. (We were unimpressed with Shure's suggestion that the pickup cable capacitance be increased to a total of around 300pF, since few audiophiles are equipped to measure either cable capacitance or frequency response).

The V15-III's specifications (unlike those for the earlier models) include a statement about cable capacitance, calling for "400 to 500 picofarads total capacitance per channel," which did not look encouraging to us. Almost perversely, it seems, the pickup, no longer needs a specific value of capacitance across it in order to produce linear frequency response, and it is less susceptible to response changes as a result of capacitive loading than any previous V15 model.

But immune, it ain't. With the manufacturer's recommended maximum shunt capacitance of 500pF, there is a barely audible brightening of the sound which virtually obscures the rolloff that sets in above 10kHz (fig.1). With shunt capacitance of less than the minimum-recommended 400pF, there is still none of that suckout in the 6–10kHz range which disqualified the previous V15 models from consideration by perfectionists. It is the first Shure high-trackability pickup with the breath of life to its sound. It is also somewhat better than the V15-II Improved in several other respects.

666ShureV15fig1.jpg

Fig.1 Shure V15-III, measured response and separation with 170pF shunt capacitance (R & L) and with 500pF of shunt capacitance (L channel). Separation measurement may have been invalid (See "Addendum").

Trackability
The high end is smoother and more extended than before, and surpasses both the Decca Mark V and the Ortofon M-15 Super in this respect. Trackability is even better by a small but significant factor than the previous V15, although this may not always be evident in a direct comparison between them. The broad response trough around 7kHz in the previous model (which the recommended additional cable capacitance helped to correct) tended to reduce the audibility of mistracking distortion, making the pickup sound cleaner than it actually was. The "Era III" V15. with no such trough, reproduces whatever breakup there is more noticeably, so although there is less (on a given segment of overcut groove), it may be equally if not more audible. So the V15-III's substantially more-realistic sound does have its price.

On the other hand, there seems little room for doubt that the V15-III is the best-tracking pickup that money can buy. It will handle exceedingly high modulation velocities a shade better than the Ortofon M15 and considerably better than the Decca Mark V, although it is necessary to point out that few discs of music are overcut to the point where even the Decca is overtaxed. The superior trackability of the Shure and the Ortofon are more in the nature of a reserve capability than a clearcut sonic superiority. And we found a few discs that mistracked with all three pickups, thus proving that the problem of trackability has not yet been solved.

Separation & Texture
Stereo separation measured better than any. pickup we have ever tested, particularly at the high end (where all others tend to lose separation), and not surprisingly, the sound was superbly spacious. Stereo imaging did not, however, seem to be quite as definitely specific as it was from the Decca, although it was a shade better in this respect than the Ortofon. Neither did it have quite the feeling of front-to-rear perspective of the Decca, although again it was judged slightly better in this respect than the Ortofon.

In terms of texture, the rankings were the same again. By comparison with the Decca's crystalline transparency and airy openness, the Shure sounded very subtly grainy and dry, but slightly less so on both counts than the Ortofon M-15 Super.

Sound quality
The overall sound of the V15-III was judged to be generally excellent, with little coloration except for a slight steeliness at the high end, which was most noticeable when reproducing massed violins, and a vague impression of heaviness. At the extreme high end, the Shure had an almost whispery delicacy—a quality we have observed from ellipticals in the past, and one which we are not convinced is entirely accurate. Original master tapes have it, but not quite to the degree we heard here. We suspect that what is happening is that the elliptical stylus is causing a slightly rising (but not peaked) high end from discs that were adjusted to sound right at the recording studio when played with a spherical stylus.

We did not test the spherical-tip version of the V15-III. but we can predict with reasonable certainty that it would have less of that extreme-top whisper and a somewhat coarser texture, with slightly less-clean tracing of loud high-frequency modulations. On the other hand, if it was also capable of tracing cleanly at 1½ grams or less—Shure's spec sheet suggests that it is—it would probably completely abolish record wear as a consideration (leaving tick accrual as the only possible consequence of disc use).

Shure recommends between ¾ and 1¼ grams of tracking force for the elliptical version, and this was the first time we did not feel it necessary to track a pickup at the manufacturer's maximum recommended force (for cleanest sound and minimum wear). In a good arm, we found no improvement in cleanness at forces greater than 1 gram, so that was the force used for the tests.

We mentioned that the V15-III had a subtly heavy sound, and we measured a very slight low-end rise that could conceivably account for this, but we have no idea what could be causing that rise. Usually, the low-frequenoy performance of different pickups is identical, except through the range where the cartridge compliance is starting to resonate with the mass of the arm. Thus, a "muddy" low end generally indicates merely that the resonance is occurring at too low a frequency, and is feeding subsonic signals through a system that can't handle them, while a "full" low end usually suggests that the resonance is occurring in or near the audible range (footnote 1).



Footnote 1: That is of course an over-simplification. The stylus damping will also affect the low-end character, by limiting the sharpness of the bass resonance, as will (naturally) any devices like transformers that are inserted between the pickup and the preamp inputs.
COMPANY INFO
Shure Inc.
5800 W. Touhy Avenue
Niles, IL 60714-4608
(800) 257-4873
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
tonykaz's picture

I'd accept that description to be true of all the Turntable Setup gear thats ever been available.

We did Arm/Cartridge setup for our entire customer base as part of our service package ( my Esoteric Audio ).

VTA is another variable thats difficult to accomplish accurately, there are far too many variables.

Record Players are fragile transducer systems, 1955-1985 R.I.P.

It's fascinating to see Ortofon still making phono carts. ( I always made good money from Ortofon Sales).

Tony in Michigan

Anton's picture

The entry is about analog.

Try checking out and audio show and tell us about how analog is dead.

LOL!

tonykaz's picture

There still remains a tiny group of Analog people. ( under 100,000 in the USA )

The entire World is digital, 3.3 Billion Phone subscribers, all data is digital, TV is digital, this Internet you use to talk to me is Digital.

The Marketing people ignore historic Analog. Of course, transducers remain Analog. ( who wants to listen to Morse Code 0s and 1s ? )

If you're Old School Analog, god bless you but it's unrealistic to expect newbees to commit to the extravert costs of building an Analog System annnnd a sizable collection of $50 Vinyl from Chad Cassem.

Garage Sales are triggering a young group of eager buyers who might buy one of the 3,000 turntables that Rega make every month. They're likely to loose interest when their heavy record collection doesn't quite perform as well as their friend's iPhone. They'll soon realize why these things are being sold in Garage Sales. ( 100 Vinyl records weigh-in around 50 lbs. )

Vinyl has a retro-cachet, I need the kids to keep buying, I have a couple hundred Vinyls to sell.

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

The DAC that's in those billion phones and other "things" is a digital to (wait for it....) *analog* converter. So now that we've established that (wait for it....) *analog* is not actually going away, what was the problem exactly?

tonykaz's picture

There is no problem.

Unlessssss

Unless you want to carry around a 'weighty' & microphonic Vinyl playback system.

256 Gb. is a much better music storage system than an entire wall unit of Crude Oil based Vinyl.

Maybe I'm missing the point ( again ). Maybe the Vinyl 'remnant' think that Vinyl is 'Perfect', maybe THAT's the problem!

tony in michigan

dalethorn's picture

There you go with that term 'perfect'. Perfection, as I mentioned previously, is in the reproduction, not in the poundage.

tonykaz's picture

In mechanical systems, each reproduction diminishes faithfulness to the original. Injection molding dies get about 50,000 hits before they're worn out, we repair them and get another 50K.

Even Chad Kassem is saying that "Uncompressed DSD is as close to master recording as possible".

Close is not perfect.

The Vinyl Business Model

These Vinyl people are hoping to re-create a non-replicatable Storage System ( not downloadable ). It's extravagantly expensive. It's supporters are Evangelical "True Believers".

The only way that I might support Vinyl is by offering a St.Anthony's Holy Water that's specific for Record Cleaning Machines.
"Brings out the Heavenly Sounds of your Records" could be the Slogan. I could include a free sample with each Acoustic Sounds Album.

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

Tony, you're diverting, deflecting, and whatever else is needed to put forth a view that's based on false assumptions. The implication that the vinyl record needs to be as permanent as digital, in each aspect of 'permanent', is false. Firstly, if you have looked at real-world vinyl collections of serious listeners, you would not find the serious degradation of the individual discs that you imagine, nor would you find quite the permanence you suggest for digital in the average digital user's collection. The things that can go wrong with vinyl are well known to collectors, and are very well addressed by the serious parties. The things that can and do go wrong with digital are virtually never addressed by their users, because digital users at best (at best!) rely on automated backups, which rarely make the minimum 3 copies of each track on separate drives. And that doesn't even address things that can cause the drives to go kaput in tandem. Don't even ask about the time and effort involved in restoring a multi-terabyte drive!!

Then we can talk about the why - why does a vinyl collector have to forsake digital, and why exactly does a digital user have to shun vinyl? And BTW - not to divert attention from the above, but how many liner notes with text and photos do you have with those CDs and downloads that come with "real album sized" liners?

tonykaz's picture

I don't want a vast collection.

I've lost my entire collection from hardware failure, I've been trying to prepare with hard copies of all my music.

I hope for a 'rental' system that's easy to search: Roon

HP lost his entire Vinyl collection in a horrible Fire.

All our valuable things are vulnerable, most importantly our health.

Of all the storage systems available today, I rank Vinyl as the worst. ( by far the worst )

How do you rank storage systems?

This is what it's all about, isn't it?

Tony in Michigan

ps. Audioquest is making MQA an available download to Firefly owners. ( thank you Steve Silberman )

dalethorn's picture

The truth is scarier than most people know. You hear all the time how blazingly fast computers have gotten, what with supercomputers performing 17 thousand trillion operations per second. You read in those flash memory ads how this SD or CF card can accept 150 or 250 mb per second, but what's the reality of that? On a modern Mac or PC, the RAM memory is used to buffer disk access, so when the cache starts to fill, you see the *real* transfer speed. And it's orders of magnitude slower.

If a user has, say, just one terabyte (1000 gb) of data on a disk that fails, and they have a backup to fill a new disk from, take a guess how long it will take to transfer one terabyte. Pack a lunch. And dinner. The big problem I have with computers, other than that the O/S filing systems are so primitive (and other add-on systems are too specialized or lack important features), is the sheer amount of work in maintaining files.

While it is true that a flood or fire could damage or destroy someone's vinyl collection, that same disaster will destroy many other personal items, which could be just as valuable. At least with vinyl, you know where your music sits, and you don't have to deal with computers and backups, etc. An ideal vinyl-based system might feature a record player for most "owned" music, and an Internet streamer for most digital music.

tonykaz's picture

B&W Kodak Prints can last 100 years ( claimed )

I have a couple of 150 year old Oil Paintings

Dead Sea Scrolls date back 2,200 years

Rosetta Stone 3,000 or 4,000 ?

Our music is being stored in thousands of places, I think. Maybe we can loose everything and still re-creat a complete library.

Someone will create more & better memory. We're still very young at all this.

Tony in Michigan

John Atkinson's picture
dalethorn wrote:
The big problem I have with computers, other than that the O/S filing systems are so primitive (and other add-on systems are too specialized or lack important features), is the sheer amount of work in maintaining files.

According to this article in the current issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine - http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/it/the-lost-picture-show-hollywood-archivists-cant-outpace-obsolescence - the movie industry is facing a crisis in data storage. The costs of backing up movie and TV show files on a regular basis are extreme.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dalethorn's picture

When I attended classes for the Microsoft SQL Server database system in 1999, we were shown an installation belonging to one of the "Tobacco Giants" - a room full of cabinets containing small drawers, each drawer containing a hard drive with unfathomable amounts of data on it - marketing data. It would seem then that the affordability of managing such data derives from its profitability.

In the past 5-10 years I managed to get 75th anniversary DVDs of the original Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, Wolfman etc., all cleaned up digitally, and they were amazing to see in their restored conditions, with great sound! Unfortunately, that seems to have been mostly a labor of love, and we haven't fared as well with other less-saleable data.

tonykaz's picture

We've recently realized that we have a Storage Problem, haven't we?

Scientific explorations only began 500 years ago with that data stored with the help of the NEW Printing Press.

Somewhere, Somehow, Someone will arrive with a durable method of storing 0's & 1's. We have the need and the desire.

Considering Human history, dating back 10,000 years, we should realize that we are now ( 2000 AD ) beginning on our curve of possibilities. ( we've just recently figured out the Periodic Table )

If we've accurately described a Problem, the solution will be "just around the corner".

I'm confidently hopeful

Tony in Michigan

Anton's picture

Are Big Macs better than tiny niche restaurant food?

Is Jay Z better than JS (Bach?) The numbers say he is.

Is Two Buck Chuck superior to Petrus?

Criticizing connoisseurship via the use of scale is pretty ignorant.

But, ignorance cells in volume, so you and the 3.3 billion digital audiophiles you reference are winners!

tonykaz's picture

I was a Dealer or Importer for every Turntable Brand in existence ( except SOTA & Goldmund ). I was a Dealer for nearly every Phono Cartridge Company, I carried more Arms than any Dealer. I was a Vinyl specialist. I was Esoteric Audio. I know Vinyl.

I'm the reciprocal of ignorance

The Day that the CD Player hit the Front Covers of Magazines my Sales Tanked and kept tanking. All my Local Audio Shops Tanked because only the Large Chains could buy & Stock the 'new' $1,000 CD players.

In 1985, every home had a Record Player. Now there are only two Vinyl Collectors that own Players in my small city of 12,000. I know both, they were once part of my customer base. They both own vast collections.

Vinyl Collecting is a hoarding obsession considering that the guy next door can have all that same collection on a thumbnail sized SD memory card.

Does Vinyl sound better? The World's population will say NO!, the Collector will say yes because it's the only way to defend his commitment.

Tony in Michigan

Anton's picture

Harlequin romances crush Proust sales. Therefore romances are the better vehicle.

League Of Legends outdraws chess clubs.

Farmed salmon outsells Copper River salmon.

The reciprocal of bitterness is rejection.

Go get your vinyl mojo back and get over being a digital Stockholm syndrome sufferer.

tonykaz's picture

isn't rational discussion.

The entire Rega Manufacturing has only one Record Player owner on it's staff, their QC guy. Even the lovely Linn People that still make my first love ( LP-12 ) have gone digital in a giant way.

Some folks treat Vinyl like it's an endangered Species that needs protection and nurturing, I think Vinyl is an Extinct Species that some folks are trying to breath life into. We can live quite well without it, it isn't needed.

But, I still have some Original Wilson Vinyl that I'll be selling for $200 ea. There are enough collectors anxious to buy them, I hope.

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

I bought this in 1974 based on this review, and was not disappointed.

jimsusky's picture

I was an "early adopter" of moving coil pickups - early in my time as an audio-nerd.

First one (ca. 1981) was the Fidelity Research FR-1Mk3F (said to have tiny capacitors to tame a rising high-end).

After that most moving magnets sounded "slow".

Last experiment relevant to this review - I installed a V15 Type V - not long before Shure stopped making them - played a few records and remembered why I never looked back.

Herb Reichert's picture

I too bought a Type III in '74. I used for years on a Dual 1019 (I wish I had both of those now.)

volvic's picture

On eboy for $299, ask JA to open the petty cash box and review it against the Technics and Linn. Would be such a great article.

tonykaz's picture

I'd love to read what you learn from those two. I once owned the 1019 which I sold once I had my first Linn LP12.

"Absence makes the Heart Grow Fond"

Tony in Michigan

jmsent's picture

..didn't always get the respect they deserved. I was a big fan back then, and I rebuild them for people today. They still remain very popular...especially the 1019, 1219, and 1229. They're no match for a Linn simply because the idler drive will be noisier and the suspension doesn't isolate as well. However, the tonearms were truly very good with lower friction and more accurate calibration than many separate arms of the time. One of my all time favorite turntables was the Dual 701 direct drive. After about 3 years of ownership I sold it and bought a Thorens 126 with an SME III arm. To be honest, it was mostly a sideways move where sound quality was concerned. I'm not into vinyl in any big way these days, but I just acquired a clean 721 which uses the famed Papst built EDS 1000 motor. Non cogging and dead quiet.

JD85's picture

There are people out there willing to pay $72 for a phono cartridge??!

tonykaz's picture

Only a very few. Will it mount on a dongle?

Tony in Michigan

Timinator's picture

This review taught me a little about my old friend. I forgot I bought her for $72. And to think I was silly enough to mount her on the too-heavy arm of a Technics DD turntable. She gave a lot of enjoyment, but even more when I paired her with a Pro-Ject carbon fiber arm and an SAS stylus. Now she puts my newer MC cartridge to shame.

The discussion about storage formats has so far not considered an important dimension: how do formats affect the enjoyment of music. The discussion suggests this would be a very personal issue, and it is. My approach is pragmatism. When I am home and I have a vinyl album, I listen to that. I enjoy handling the record, sitting close to my speakers, and feeling the warmth and smoothness. Does vinyl sound better? Anyone who has listened to the glissando of the Doobie Brothers' "Black Water" on vinyl (even my original issue LP) and on CD would tell you that it does. I also digitize my analog music for portability and permanence, knowing that I can't use my V15 on a plane and that pops, ticks, and scratches happen.

My music dollars go to whatever sounds best, which likely is the case for most Stereophile readers. It drove my wife crazy my last birthday because I requested Dylan on SACD, Cat Stevens on vinyl, and Winwood on CD(best available formats). Also, some recordings are not inherently detailed or quiet, and I economize on those.

I'm very glad I didn't economize 41 years ago.