Phono Cartridge Reviews

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J. Gordon Holt  |  Jun 01, 2017  |  First Published: May 01, 1974  |  4 comments
The M15 Super is the first high-output pickup to come from Ortofon. Previous ones required either step-up transformers or a booster preamp, and it is only fairly recently that either kind of step-up device was available with high-enough quality to avoid a noticeable degradation of the sound. Early step-up transformers muddied the bass, and previously-available booster preamps added noise or hardness or both to the sound. Now that there are excellent transformers available from Ortofon and other sources, and at least one extraordinarily good booster preamp (the Mark Levinson, at an extraordinarily high price—$170), Ortofon's latest and best pickup doesn't require the use of either.
J. Gordon Holt  |  Jul 02, 2010  |  First Published: May 02, 1985  |  0 comments
Although the idea of a $1000 moving-coil cartridge no longer shocks audiophiles, it is still not exactly what I'd call "Mainstream Hi-Fi." Audio magazine's 1984 Equipment Directory—the most complete such compendium published in the US—lists only 10 models in this price range, not counting the Kiseki Lapis Lazuli at a whopping three-and-a-half grand! I have not tested most of these, nor have I tried any of the current models from the Japanese Koetsu firm, which was first with the gall to put a $1000 price tag on a cartridge. But I have tested a couple of one-granders during the past few years, and was sufficiently unimpressed to be hesitant about testing any more samples of what were beginning to look like nothing more than monumental ripoffs. So when Ortofon sent us the MC-2000, I was naturally less than enthusiastic about trying it.
J. Gordon Holt  |  Dec 10, 2006  |  First Published: Jan 10, 1988  |  0 comments
The Ortofon MC-2000 may just have been the most impractical cartridge to be unleashed upon the audio community for some years. With a high compliance (20cu) that made it ill-suited for most tonearms, it also had a preposterously low signal output of 50 microvolts, which gave new meaning to the terms hum and noise. Few MC preamps had enough gain to deliver adequate driving voltage to a system, and none of those that did had low enough noise to be usable with the 2000. If the problem wasn't hum, it was hiss; if hiss was acceptably low, there would be too much hum. At least Ortofon had the sense to be aware of the problem and to do something about it, in the form of their T-2000 step-up transformer, which is the only device I ever found that would allow the cartridge to be operated without a constant background of hum or hiss. Despite all this, I have used the MC-2000 as my reference cartridge for the last two years. Why? Because of all the cartridges I've tried, it is by far the most accurate.
Art Dudley  |  May 12, 2008  |  0 comments
An enduringly healthy phono-cartridge industry? After a quarter of a century of rushing right out to buy the latest digital music appliances? You bet.
Jim Austin  |  Aug 21, 2018  |  45 comments
I listen to music in all formats, but my most ecstatic home listening experiences have always involved vinyl. It's probably something to do with the fact that, like most people my age and older, I grew up listening to LPs—in my case, played on a Technics SL-210 turntable, and through an Aiwa receiver with beautiful green tuner lights and a pair of early Polk Audio studio monitors. I'm drawn, surely, to an improved version of the sound I heard back then. It's a powerful sentimental connection.
Art Dudley  |  Dec 24, 2006  |  0 comments
I see a pattern taking shape: Roy Gandy's Rega Research offered their first CD player in 1996, which was 13 years after the medium was introduced to the public. Now, in 2006, some 50 years after Joe Grado designed and sold the first moving-coil phono cartridges, Rega has released one of those. The year 2016 may see the first Rega fluoroscope, or perhaps wire recorder. And it'll be a good one, I'm sure.
Robert Deutsch  |  Feb 09, 2016  |  5 comments
For some time now, I've been thinking that my record player was due for an upgrade. My Linn LP12 turntable and Ittok LVII tonearm are about 25 years old, and my AudioQuest AQ7000nsx cartridge is going on 15. During that time, my listening has become increasingly dominated by CDs, but I am not yet ready to give up on LPs. Updating my LP12—for which I have Linn's Lingo power supply but no other upgrades—would involve installing the Keel subchassis, for $3250—for which price I could get another maker's new, current-design turntable and still have the LP12 to sell. The Linn Ittok can't be upgraded, and its replacement, the Ekos SE, costs $4950—out of my range. AudioQuest no longer makes cartridges. Examining my AQ7000nsx's stylus under a microscope showed no visible wear, and there was no obvious audible problem that could be traced to the cartridge's suspension, but age must be having some sort of effect. Taking all these factors into account, I decided to replace my entire phono front end.
J. Gordon Holt  |  May 09, 2017  |  First Published: May 01, 1974  |  39 comments
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).
J. Gordon Holt  |  May 02, 2017  |  First Published: Feb 01, 1968  |  3 comments
This is one of Shure's new generation of pickups with "trackability" that grew out of research on the Type II V-15 pickup.

At first glance, the V-15-II and the M75E are physically identical. They're the same size, the same shape, and almost the same weight (the M75E weighs 0.8 grams less); and both of them have the same neat little hinged cover that flips down to protect the stylus when the pickup's not in use.

Sam Tellig, Anthony H. Cordesman, Michael Fremer  |  May 05, 2020  |  First Published: Sep 01, 1984  |  13 comments
I was all set to give up on moving magnets until the new Shure VI5-VMR (MR stands for Micro-Ridge stylus) arrived. In a word, it's terrific. I was slightly disappointed with the original V15-V: I just didn't think it was a significant improvement over the Type IV. What I missed was fine detail—especially in the high frequencies and during heavily modulated passages. The original V was not quite up to the sound of certain moving coils. Which is not to say the original V was a bad buy: moving coils cost twice the price and you need a stepup. I could recommend the original V without hesitation.
J. Gordon Holt  |  Sep 10, 2015  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1979  |  7 comments
The Shure Brothers have been making magnetic cartridges since the early 1950s (they had been exclusively microphone manufacturers prior to then), and their continuing R&D program has resulted in new, improved models every few years rather than every 6 months (as seems to be the rule these days). As a result, Shure has the appearance, to most audiophiles, of a stodgy, plodding, rather "establishment" manufacturer that can be trusted to make a solid, reliable product but nothing brilliantly innovative or—for that matter—nothing remarkably good either.
Michael Fremer  |  Apr 25, 2008  |  0 comments
The audio industry may have lost a legend and a prolific innovator in Henry Kloss a few years back, but it still has another affable, creative eccentric in Peter Ledermann. In the mid-1970s, Ledermann was director of engineering at Bozak, where, with Rudy Bozak, he helped develop a miniature bookshelf speaker and a miniature powered subwoofer. Before that, Ledermann was a design engineer at RAM Audio Systems, working with Richard Majestic on the designs of everything from high-power, minimal-feedback power amplifiers and preamplifiers to phono cartridge systems. He was also an award-winning senior research engineer at IBM, and the primary inventor of 11 IBM patents.
Michael Fremer  |  Mar 22, 2011  |  0 comments
Strain-gauge phono cartridges are rarely made and seldom heard; for most vinyl fans, they are more myth than fact. Panasonic once made one, as did Sao Win, but those were decades ago. I've heard about those two models for years but have never seen, much less heard one.

As if he's not got enough to do building his extensive lines of moving-iron cartridges, preamplifiers, amplifiers, and speakers, Soundsmith's Peter Ledermann also makes a full line of strain-gauge cartridge systems available with a choice of six user-replaceable stylus profiles. I believe the Soundsmith is the only strain-gauge cartridge currently made anywhere in the world. Ledermann says it takes him a full day to build one.

Guy Lemcoe  |  Jun 04, 2020  |  First Published: Jul 01, 1989  |  3 comments
The Talisman S represented, ca 1983, the top of Sumiko's moving-coil cartridge line and shared its design philosophy and external appearance with the Talisman A and B, the remaining two cartridges in the Talisman family before the introduction of the Virtuoso line. The three differed only in cantilever material and stylus shape. The A, the least expensive, had an aluminum alloy cantilever and an elliptical diamond stylus.
Stephen Mejias  |  Nov 08, 2012  |  6 comments
It was around 7pm on Tuesday evening when I bumped into Nicole and Ms. Little on Newark Avenue, in downtown Jersey City. The girls were on their way to Kristen's shop, Kanibal Home, for their weekly book-club meeting. (Or was it Writing Club? Knitting? Screen printing? Butterfly pinning? I can never keep track.) I was on my way home, not to read, write, or listen to music, but . . .

"Hi, honey," Ms. Little said. "Going home to play with your cartridge?"

I made a face, nodded, sighed. Sensing some sharp-witted remark forming in Nicole's filthy mind, I beat her to the punch: "Yup, that's what I call it."

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