Shure V15 V-MR phono cartridge Sam Tellig 1989

Sam Tellig returned to the V15 V-MR in November 1989 (Vol.12 No.11):

Larry Archibald once told me that I managed to find myself on the horns of every hi-dilemma there is: CD or LP?

I flip over the convenience of CD and the fact I don't have to flip over the disc. But I find, still, that LPs, at their best, sound superior. The problem, of course, is that most LPs and CDs, for that matter, do not represent the particular medium at its best. Better a well-recorded CD than a mediocre LP.

Every time I make an improvement in my CD playback system—the Musical Fidelity Digilog, for instance—I manage to make an even bigger improvement in my analog front end—for example, substituting the SME 309 arm for the Rega RB300 arm on my AR ES-1 turntable.

I go down to Definitive Hi-Fi, in Mamaroneck, New York, and hang out with Lars, Lou, Steve, Tony, Jeff and the rest of the Thursday night 'philes. We have the Mike Moffat-designed Theta processor to listen to, as well as the new Krell Digital. Then proprietor Rudi Kothe puts a record on the Versa 2.0 turntable and it's all over—analog is still king, and everyone agrees, including digital-loving Lars: "The best sound I ever heard in my life," said Lars, the other night, after WQXR disc jockey—excuse me, radio personality—Steve Sullivan had finished tweaking the VTA of the van den Hul Grasshopper on the Versa 2.0.

I wonder how a Shure V15 Type V-MR might sound in the Versa 2.0. I don't think I shall get the chance to find out. I also wonder how substituting tube amps for the Krell Reference Monos on the Wilson WAMM would affect the sound of the system. The Krells sound cold. Maybe the Krells are too good: too much detail. Or maybe they're just cold. Was it my friend Mario who said that an amplifier reflects its designer's personality—warm or cold, depending on whether the person was? Yes, it was Mario, whom you'll meet again in a moment.

Before I forget, I want to tell you that the Musical/British Fidelity Digilog, reviewed last month, is sounding even better after a longer burn-in. The soundstaging has improved—deep, wide, spacious, lots of "there" there. And that sibilant smear I complained about last month—well, that's diminished.

I still think the Theta and the Krell processors do better, but at $995, the Digilog is an outstanding buy. Of course, you could wait to see how those new players and processors with single-bit conversion perform. But I wouldn't rush to buy one of the first Bitstream units. It's new technology—may take time to get it right. The good thing about Bitstream may be that it allows inexpensive Japanese CD players to sound okay—less chance, perhaps, of a player's DACs being misaligned. If you're interested in the Digilog and you like the way it sounds, go for it. Remember, though, that its improvements might be subtle and noticeable more over time—like several weeks—than they are over a few minutes in a quick A/B dealer demo.

There are other dilemmas, too. Sure enough, Larry's right. I am caught on the horns of all of them. Moving-magnet vs moving-coil cartridges. You thought that one was settled, right—like direct-drive turntables vs belt-drive. Well, the other day, I tried the Shure Ultra 500—now discontinued and a bargain if you can find one cheap, like under $200—on my new SME 309 arm. The result? Magnificent. Maybe I lucked out and got the VTA just right without any fooling around. I hear a smoothness I do not get with moving-coils. On the other hand, the moving-coils may retrieve a little more detail. But, as JGH has asked, what do you want: detail or music? If you want music, you might opt for a Shure.

Shure gets a bum rap from everyone. Audiophiles are down on them because they're so cheap—the V15 Type V-MR selling at a typical street price of $129. Not that most of these 'philes have actually heard the V. And if they have, it's probably in a grotty arm on a budget table in a Cheapskate system. Put the V in a Rega RB300, or better yet in an SME 309, and you may be amazed at what it can do. Cheap arms can make the Shures sound hashy, harsh in the treble. It's not the cartridge; it's the arm.

High-end dealers are down on them because they would be lucky to make $10 margin selling a V15 Type V-MR; you can buy it almost as cheaply as they can! That makes it a terrific recommendation in my book. If they carry the V at all, which is doubtful, they are not eager to demo it against, say a $1200 moving-coil, on which they might make up to $600 margin.

Here's another reason to go for a Shure: record wear. There isn't any with a properly maintained Shure. I've been using mostly Shures since 1958 and I have, in all that time, never worn out a record. True, I have so many records that I'm not likely to wear out an LP with any cartridge, but my library wasn't always so large.

Last summer, I visited our esteemed editor John Atkinson in Santa Fe. He played some records on his Linn. 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. Now tell me: what's worse? Losing a little detail by using a Shure, but saving your records? Or extracting a little more detail with a low-compliance moving-coil but rendering your records so worn that you soon won't want to listen to them with any cartridge? With most of your LPs now irreplaceable, give this one some thought. I have, and I'm sticking with Shure.

In the September '89 issue a reader wrote and asked if I really meant it that a typical moving-coil, in a typical audiophile's system, might last six months or so. I did mean it. That's how long most of my tweak friends seem to keep a particular moving-coil before replacing it with another. Some 'philes spend $2000 a year, year in and year out, on moving-coils. This is insane.

Buy a Shure V15 Type V-MR and you can rejuvenate it instantly with a $79 replacement stylus (typical street selling price, again). Incidentally, the replacement stylus for the Type V-MR will fit in the Ultra 500 cartridge body and work perfectly, so far as I can tell. What's more, because a Shure tracks so lightly and so well, the stylus is usually good for at least 1000 hours vs maybe half that time for a low-compliance, poor-tracking moving-coil. At $79 for a replacement stylus, that's 8 cents an hour to run your cartridge. If you buy a $1200 moving-coil and use it for, let's say, 500 hours, that's $2.40 an hour. It costs you 30 times as much!—Sam Tellig

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.