Shure V15 V-MR phono cartridge Michael Fremer July 1997

Michael Fremer reviewed the Shure V15VxMR in July 1997 (Vol.20 No.7):

Older analog fans fondly recall the introduction of Shure's M3D back in 1959—that black blob of a device was the first stereo moving-magnet cartridge. A few years later it was followed by another black blob, the M7/N21D, which tracked at a lower downforce. Put either in a Garrard Type A turntable and you were cruising down the vinyl highway in "state-of-the-art" transportation. Anti-skating? Azimuth? VTA? Are you kidding? You couldn't even adjust overhang on that setup. But you could stack records!

In 1964 Shure changed the vinyl landscape when it introduced the first V15 model. Until then a cartridge had been, for most listeners, an add-a-penny-to-the-list-price-of-the-turntable device. At about $60, the Shure made prospective purchasers think twice about cartridges. It was pricey (in today's dollars it cost more than the new 15xMR), but with its 15° tracking angle, symmetrical bi-radial elliptical stylus, and 1gm tracking capability, it quickly became the cartridge of choice for the well-heeled audiophile.

Companies like Empire, ADC, and Pickering followed with their upscale models, but sometimes being first has its advantages; Shure's top-of-the-line models kept their status—at least in America—as the Cadillacs of cartridges for many years, with the subsequent V15 Type II (1966), Type II Improved (1970), Type III (1973), Type IV (1978), and finally the V (1982) and V-MR (1983).

By the time Shure ceased V15 production at the dawn of the digital age, pricey moving-coil cartridges were already in vogue, and Shure's reputation had slipped somewhat among audiophiles—even among Shure diehards—who felt that when the Illinois company moved production to Mexico, quality had headed south as well. Having switched to moving-coils myself by then, I can't say whether that was truth or prejudice.

Audio techniques
While my 1967 Allied catalog lists Shure, ADC, Pickering, Sonotone, GE, Empire, and even Ortofon (whose SPE/T was, at $75, the most expensive Allied carried, though you could pay it off at $5 a month), Audio-Technica is not listed. Nor is it to be found in Lafayette's Golden Jubilee 1971 catalog—though you could get a Grado FTE for $19.95, and by then Stanton had beat Shure in the price department with the 681EE at $72. Today's DJs and hip-hoppers are still scratching with a cartridge that looks identical to the 681EE.

A technological extravaganza
The new V15 comes out of an era when low-mass, low–tracking-force, high-compliance cantilever/stylus systems were considered essential for high performance. Given today's medium- to high-mass arms and low-compliance, low-output cartridges, the V15 seems like a throwback to another era. In some ways it is.

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.

While the Rega RB 300 arm is a medium-mass design, its effective mass is such (because of a variety of factors best discussed elsewhere) that it works well with medium- to low- and high-compliance cartridges. The Shure tracked beautifully on the Rega arm at 1gm downforce, and its vertical and horizontal low-frequency resonance points (measured using the Hi-Fi News & Record Review test record) fell in the ideal range below musical modulations and above record-warp frequencies.

Since 1978 Shure has employed a somewhat controversial front-mounted, viscous-damped "Dynamic Stabilizer" device that uses a carbon-fiber brush to contact the record. The efficacy of damping is well accepted today, though most arm manufacturers apply it at the pivot point, which is not nearly as effective as at the cantilever end. That's why automobiles put the shock absorber by the spring—or, in today's McPherson struts, inside the spring. That's where it really belongs. Only Max Townshend's modified Rega arms feature silicone damping at the headshell, via a front-mounted trough. The problem is, having a pool of silicone floating over the record surface makes many vinyl enthusiasts queasy.

Shure's carbon-fiber contact point also makes some audiophiles queasy, but not because of the potential of an oil spill. The problem with the brush is that, despite the microscopic size of the bristles (Shure claims 10,000 pack the tiny device), they "play" the record along with the stylus. Though it was way, way down in level, I could actually hear the brush, acoustically and electrically.

On most program material I couldn't hear the brush, but when I could it was obviously unacceptable. Fortunately you can click it up and out of the way, but you have to remember to readjust VTF, as the brush counteracts downward pressure by half a gram. The stabilizer offers substantial benefits that will outweigh its problems for many vinyl lovers: it keeps the cartridge from "bottoming out" on warped records, helps keep the resonance points where they belong, minimizes power-sucking subsonic frequencies from reaching the amplifier, acts as a stylus cushion if you accidentally drop the arm, and the carbon-fiber bristles sweep away dust before the stylus reaches the groove.

When you play seriously warped records and see zero subwoofer motion, you know the device works. While some Shure enthusiasts claim the V15 sounds better with the stabilizer clicked out of the system, I reviewed the cartridge with it in position, as Shure's engineers intend.

Other high-tech features of the V15VxMR include an ultra-thin (0.0005!9) beryllium Microwall/Be cantilever, patented MASAR polished stylus, and the Side Guard stylus-protection system. According to Shure, the 6.25 stiffness-to-mass ratio of the new cantilever is the highest of any cantilever ever made, and results in outstanding high-frequency tracking. The low-mass Micro-Ridge stylus shape features a very small tracing radius, which reduces distortion; and the MASAR polishing of the contact area results in an ultrasmooth contact surface.

Sound quality
That's what Shure says. What did I hear? First, I had to mount the cartridge in the Rega. I'll tell you one thing: Being able to remove the stylus assembly makes installation much easier. When I slid the cantilever assembly out from the body, I realized that Shure hasn't changed its basic cartridge construction technique since the M3D way back when. As with the M3D, the V15's stylus-assembly/cartridge-body interface is a hollow square shaft that slides into a square internal fitting. Obviously, proper alignment of the parts during manufacturing and a close-tolerance fit are critical to the cartridge's performance.

Once the V15 was aligned and set to 1.5gm (the damping reduces it to 1), I began playing records. I noted that the Rega's non–VTA-adjustable arm was tracking virtually parallel to the record surface—which makes the xMR a good VTA match for the Rega.

Cold out of the box, the V15 sounded warm. Over time it got even warmer, though the bass tightened up a bit. By any definition, the new V15VxMR is a warm, sweet-sounding cartridge. Its basic nature, coupled with its superb tracking ability, yielded a completely grain- and etch-free sonic picture that was never fatiguing or hard-sounding.

But it didn't sound particularly exciting either. I kept wishing for more transient snap, more speed, more inner detail, more air. I kept wishing for that tightly focused image surrounded by an eerie envelope of air that lets me believe the event is actually occurring in front of me. I kept wishing for the performance you get from a $3500 moving-coil job, but that's simply not going to be forthcoming from a $299 cartridge. Nor did I expect it. I just wanted it.

What I expected from the Shure, I got. That is, I got remarkably clean, distortion-free tracking at 1gm with outstandingly clean portrayal of sibilants. I got a really suave top-to-bottom, octave-to-octave balance and control. The Shure did not stick out anywhere in the spectrum, and that's an accomplishment at this price point.

If you're looking for music with a reasonably honest portrayal of the harmonic structure of the real thing, you'll get it from the V15. It didn't skimp on the midrange or bleach the top. It didn't bloat the bass or thin it out. It gave me what's musically most important. Its biggest sins were of omission—it didn't give me all of the air and space present on live recordings, or the kind of front-to-back layering of perfectly focused images I hear from the top-shelf moving-coils, and it didn't recover the small microbursts of energy that make music sound live. Despite its low mass and high-tech features, the V15 tended toward slow and thick—it sacrificed the transient for the harmonic envelope, and trimming the capacitance didn't appreciably change things.

But look—at this price point, mix'n'match is the best strategy. If your system is too "zippy" and bright, if you're using inexpensive solid-state electronics that are etched and a bit hard and forward, the Shure might be the perfect fit. If you're doing analog on a budget—say, with a Dual ;'table—the V15 might be the perfect match. It will sound honest and take great care of your records until you can bump up your front-end.Each of these moving-magnet cartridges offers a level of technological and mechanical sophistication that few, if any, similarly priced moving-coil cartridges can match. While neither could extract as much information from the grooves as the better, similarly priced moving-coil cartridges, both performed with a top-to-bottom coherence and consistency matched by only a few of the better budget moving-coils.

Shure Brothers, Inc.
5800 W. Touhy Avenue
Niles, IL 60714-4608
(800) 257-4873

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


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 (

"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 (, 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.

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


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.