Shure V15 V-MR phono cartridge Anthony H. Cordesman 1985

Anthony H. Cordesman wrote about the Shure V15 VMR January 1985 (Vol.7 No.8):

This cartridge ($275) seems to divide high-end reviewers more than any other, and largely along class lines. If you are a card-carrying highender, it is definitely declasse. If you bemoan the fact that high end audio now consumes more of the GNP than nuclear weapons, and are frightened of Carl Sagan's warning that cumulative emissions of upper-octave music can cause an "audio winter," then fans of expensive moving coils are effete snobs.

My own general impression—which is formed from a position of godlike wisdom and objectivity—is that the newest Shure is good value for money at the $130 it generally discounts for. It is justly famous as an excellent tracker, and it is important to note that it tracks music, not just test tones. It sounds slightly rolled off in the upper three octaves, does not resolve low level detail as well as its higher priced competition, and lacks upper-octave sweetness and life. Its dynamics are less natural than those of the better high priced competition. The latest MR stylus is, however, considerably better in providing natural highs than its predecessor if you tweak and adjust the cartridge body to get the best sound.

Unfortunately, Shure seems to have given up on the full range of precise setup jigs and gauges it issued with the first V15 Vs, and there is no way you can visually align this cartridge because of its irregular shape. Playing with VTA and azimuth—particularly azimuth—can make a real difference.

In fact, setup is surprisingly critical. The fact that the Shure V15 VMR works adequately in most tonearms in no way means that it works its best in most tonearms. It needs Litz wire in the headshell—if possible—and fast, extended interconnects. The Straightwire, Livewire, and Petersen are advised. The bass is loose in medium to high mass tonearms; low to medium mass combinations are advised. In the right tonearm, however, the bass can be quite good if less than fully dynamic, and slightly less tight than the best competition.

The V15 VMR also benefits from a hard platter mat and clamp combination like the Goldmund or SOTA, or standard VPI. This gives it a little more life without sacrificing its smoothness and tracking. I do not advocate removing the stylus brush from contact with the record. This will give the V15 VMR more life, but it also means a slightly rougher and less detailed upper octave performance, and more problematic bass in medium mass arms.

The end result, however, is close enough to a good open reel tape to be recommended. Imaging and soundstage are quite natural if the setup is good. The cartridge's excellent upper octave separation means you must adjust your speakers, have good electronics, and adjust your balance control carefully to avoid a hole in the middle.

The apparent rolloff in the high end complements most medium priced transistor electronics. Demanding, complex passages of music come through with exceptional clarity—although always with some loss of upper midrange and treble detail. The bass is as natural as anything in the price range. Reliability is excellent.

Neither a god nor a goat, but simply good value for money. (Only an idiot, however, would pay list!)—Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman returned to the Shure V15 V-MR in August 1987 (Vol.10 No.5):

Shure doesn't always have an easy time of it from high-end reviewers, and I suppose they won't get the best of times from me. I included the Shure V15 V-MR ($220) in this survey because so many of the reference cartridges I've discussed are expensive—often more expensive than most audiophiles can afford. The Shure V15 V-MR commonly discounts at mail-order houses for $125–$140. Most of the other cartridges discussed here do not discount heavily, if at all.

What you get for your $125–$140 is a relatively colorless cartridge that works well in medium-quality and even mediocre arms. "Colorless" is, in this case, a blessing. I've heard many reviewers praise other cheap or moderately priced magnetics, but when I tried them, I found that they accentuate some performance characteristics that a particular reviewer may like, but which comes at the cost of overall balance.

The Shure V15 V-MR does a good job of letting all the music through. It has flat, extended frequency response, good detail, good dynamics, and a stable and realistic soundstage. It does slightly veil virtually every aspect of performance, but does less damage in the process, without calling attention to itself. If you want a budget "reference" cartridge, I believe that the Shure V15 V-MR is it.

That said, I can no longer get excited about the Ultra series—and I have contained my joy from the start. The top-of-the-line Shure Ultra 500 is better than the V15 V-MR, but not more than $20 or $30 worth in terms of percentage of total cost for percentage of improvement in detail, life, and air. I'd much rather have an Adcom or Grado at $200–$325 than a $400 Ultra 500.—Anthony H. Cordesman

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COMMENTS
Anton's picture

It would sell like hot cakes.

Well, maybe 9,000 dollars.

Of course, they'd have to find a way to lower the output and get rid of that installation template. It would need to be harder to mount and play.

I still have one and it shows well vis a vis it's modern counterparts.

volvic's picture

Yes, three!! After using them since the early 90's I decided to try my luck on an MC for the fourth table I recently built. I put an Audio Technica AT-OCIII. It tracks fine and sounds nice but in a direct comparison with the Shure V15 MK V MR table I can hear more of the music than the Audio Technica. Maybe the AT is still new (I doubt I have 40 hours on it), but it got me thinking as to how good the Shure still is with a JICO SAS stylus.

A few days ago I read "The Finish Line for Your Phonograph Stylus…" by Bill Hart on the Vinyl Press website. It got me really thinking about spending too much on something that will inevitably wear out. The article says styluses begin wearing out at 500-700 hours, not 1000 - 2000 as we were led to believe. Suddenly I wonder if I should get another Shure V15 MK V MR cartridge.

P.S. There is nothing better in setting up a cartridge then that template for mounting it and getting proper overhang. Such a great cartrdige

Jack L's picture

...... not 1000 - 2000 as we were led to believe. "quoted volvic

Hi

Don't take in whoever 'experts' told you whatever.

My hands-on experience show me cartridge styli have lasted many many years: MC/eliptical & MM/conical. As the wear-&-tear takes place so gradually that sonic degradation get hardly noticeable.

But my way of playing LPs is very different from most, if not all, vinyl fans. I play my vinyl WET. The moisture trapped inside the LP grooves
help to reduce frictional wear-&-tear big bigtime.

I started to play WET since day one many years back (now I collected some 1,000+ stereo LPs, 95% classical), basically for killing the statics due to dry play. It works big time since day one !

Side bonus is unexpectedly lengthening the life span of the styli.

What makes me so gratified is WET playing makes the music sound much more fluid & lively vs dry play. I never want to go back dry play any more.

Listening is believing

Jack L

s10sondek's picture

Thank you for posting this review of what is now a legendary phono pickup.

But, egads, this is the second or third reference I've caught over the years regarding JA's record library having been irreversibly damaged by use of heavy-tracking, low-compliance cartridges. Oddly, all these comments issued from people other than JA.

For instance, there was a statement made to this effect by someone in a forum awhile back (http://www.tapeheads.net/archive/index.php/t-27458.html):

"I remember John Atkinson of Stereophile saying how he ruined many LP's in his early audiophile years by using an "audiophile approved" moving coil cartridge that required a fairly heavy tracking force of at least 3 grams to keep from mistracking high frequencies that eventually wiped the highs off his LP's."

And now the ST comment reprinted above from his 1989 revisit of the Shure type V-15 VMR cartridge, which recounts the condition of the LP's he heard on JA's system during his Santa Fe visit:

"They were all worn—every one. Not from neglect, but from cartridge gouging: low-compliance moving-coils that just scraped their way through the vinyl."

What I'm curious to hear is the actual truth from the horse's mouth, as it were, regarding JA's anecdotal experience with record wear over the years. Are the above reports accurate, and, if so, could JA reveal what he believe caused the record damage and what he changed in his LP playback system to ameliorate or reduce the wear?

I ask because there seems to be no end of debate out there as to mechanistically how records actually wear, to what extent, and in response to all the playback variables (surface cleanliness, tracking force, stylus profile, compliance, resonance frequency of cartridge/arm, stylus jitter, etc). As it stands, no one seems to know what to do to balance high-fidelity against record library health.

On one hand, we have the above assertions based on hearsay and anecdotal conjecture. Then, on the other, we have assurances, from the esteemed Herb Reichert (https://www.stereophile.com/content/gramophone-dreams-3-shure-sc35c), regarding the heavy-tracking, low-compliance Shure SC35C cartridge:

"It's of relatively low compliance for a moving-magnet design, and sounds best tracking at 4.5gm — which I promise will not harm your records, but will keep surface noise and groove misbehavior to a minimum."

And then, there's MF's comments in his 1997 comments also reprinted above as part of the V15 coverage:

"Back when light tracking was a fetish, I ruined many fine records by tracking them too lightly. Though it was within the specified range of the cartridge I was then using, the arm/cartridge combination simply couldn't stay on the road; the stylus went careening through the grooves, hitting the vinyl guard rails and ripping out sections as it went."

To further add to the confusion, there have been various technical publications over the years (which are beguilingly difficult to track down online) attempting to correlate tracking downforce and stylus profile to record wear using high-frequency rolloff as a quantifiable parametric response variable and SEM (scanning electron microscope) photographs of groove walls as a qualitative indicator. Those results seem to be all over the map, but perhaps that's just because I haven't been able to perform any kind of meta-study that attempts to cross-correlate and normalize across the many whitepapers done over the 30-year window of the stereophonic LP's heyday, say from 1958-1988.

So, there's a lot of confusion out there. What would be lovely would be if Stereophile could revisit this topic afresh with a survey of the prior art and science, perform some kind of meta-study, and then give its readers some guidelines about how to go about playing their irreplaceable records safely.

I, for one, would like to know if there's any practical LP wear difference between tracking with a high-compliance Shure V-15 VMR at 1.5g, versus using the aforementioned low-compliance Shure SC-35C at 4.5g. Or to what extent using a wet cleaning regimen is truly helpful for reducing record wear. Or how many additional plays a Shibata or MicroLine stylus profile buys you (if any, and of course, all other things being equal). And so on.

But, a nice start would just be some clarification of the anecdotal evidence leaking out over the years regarding the ruination of JA's record collection, as well as any other anecdotes that other Stereophile writers and readers could share from their own experiences over the years. It would help clear the air of confusion, and maybe even motivate us to clean our record grooves more thoroughly!

John Atkinson's picture
s10sondek wrote:
Thank you for posting this review of what is now a legendary phono pickup.

You're welcome. I realized last week that I have never posted the magazine's reviews of this Shure to the website, just those of the V15 III and IV and the M75. (I am still responsible for preparing the magazine's content for posting to the website.)

s10sondek wrote:
But, egads, this is the second or third reference I've caught over the years regarding JA's record library having been irreversibly damaged by use of heavy-tracking, low-compliance cartridges. Oddly, all these comments issued from people other than JA.

It is odd. I don't remember writing that I used a high-end MC cartridge tracking at 3 grams that ruined my records, but I will look in my archives. But I do think that Sam Tellig was, as we would say in England, "taking the Michael." I am slowly transferring my LP collection to 24/192 digital files and I have yet to come across a damaged disc.

My experience echoes Michael Fremer's, in that tracking at too low a downforce damages groove walls, especially with highly profiled styli. Spherical styli tend to do the least damage. The good thing is different styli ride at different heights up the groove walls so, if the record is damaged, changing to another cartridge may well resolve the problem with such a disc.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Ortofan's picture

... "spherical styli tend to do the least damage" is seemingly at odds with test results that Shure has published.
Could you please provide a reference to any data in support of this assertion?

Kursun's picture

Shure has published their test results that showed elliptical produces less tracking distortion than spherical.

"spherical styli tend to do the least damage"
That info is something everybody knows.
That's primary school stuff.

volvic's picture

They do wear out faster and can then damage records. For a thorough analysis, you can read this great article.

https://thevinylpress.com/the-finish-line-for-your-phonograph-stylus/

Kursun's picture

That's quite a long, unnecessarily long article...
I believe in my own experience.

A cartridge with a sperical tip (lets say Shure SC35C) tracking at 4.5 grams does less damage than an eliptical tracking at 1.5 grams.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Yes, I tend to agree.

My cheapie Audio Technica MM cartridge with conical stylus tracks ALL of my 1,000+ stereo LPs no sweat - at a tracking force of 1.15 gram only, measured on my digital stylus scale.

Of course I always make sure my tonearm+cartridges (MC/MM elliptical/concial styli) tracking at the right anti-skating force to minimize LP grooves damaging. Periodically, I test them on the grooveless track of my test record.

Having done test like this, grooves damage will be reduced to minimum.

Jack L

humphreyJ's picture

It's always strange looking back on something like this, 36 years later, with the knowledge of everything that's changed over that time.
I was too young to even know what a turntable was back in 1984, but I have owned tables with this very cartridge on them, and I can agree with nearly everything that you wrote back then, even looking at it from a vintage perspective.

Very cool review :^)

tnargs's picture

...for some years in the early 00's. In the end I decided I needed to look at moving coils.

Lash's picture

Back then, there was the ACD XLM, and then everything else.

dial's picture

Shure, since mid-2018, has discontinued cartridges manufacturing. I had a M 44 sold to a friend for that reason. Now most of new MM are produced by Ortofon.
Why don't you test ZYX cartridges or Coïncident amps & speakers ? Because their prices are too high ?

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