Shure's 78 cartridge can be had for not a lot of dough. I'm not sure exactly what I paid for mine but it wasn't much. Shure also makes a 78 stylus that will fit their other cartridges.
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I have three 78 carts --a Grado MC+, a Stanton 881S with D827 stylus
assembly and a Shure N78 stylus I've tried in various Shure bodies up to the
V15VxMR. They rank in that order. The Grado is by far the best sounding
despite costing only $80, but has lower output than the others and doesn't
handle warps as well as the Stanton. The Stanton is better than okay, a little
more brash sounding than the Grado, and will track anything. The Shure, in a
word, sucks. There's a lot of music in those 78 grooves, and the Shure finds
little of it. I've actually had two of these things because I thought the first one
had to be defective. It wasn't. Good luck. BTW, my primary 78 player is a
refurbed Empire 298 with the stock Empire arm, tracking at 3-4 grams.
The problem with almost all the equipment you've mentioned is that it's too good for the limitations and response limits of the 78 rpm groove, which at times can sound quite good!
A good turntable is nice. What's called for is a klutzier arm that can follow the fast warps; spring-loaded is great. Earlier cartridges are better; things like Shure M44, etc., with ordinary 78 rpm styli (3.0 mil is best all-around). Custom-made tips are called for if you want to play the older 78s and other old shellacs.
When I say "custom made," I don't mean anything like audiophile styli or Shure's ultra hi-fi 78 tips for the V15s. A lowly Stanton 500/Pickering V15 makes a superb 78 cartridge, with the ordinary stock 2.7 mil 78 stylus.
Going hi-fi with this will give you the following benefits:
- Definitive reproduction of groove damage
- Superb reproduction of dirt in the groove
The trick is to mute the response somewhat. Typically, there are no extreme highs in the groove to begin with, so why bother to try to reproduce them?
Audio professionals know when, not to aim for extremely-wide response, but to limit the response to a usable range. Indeed, I have worked in recording studios where the response from the mixing board was intentionally limited, not to the audible range, but instead to the range of the instruments being recorded. That's the idea.
Blabzigorp, I disagree strongly. The better my 78 system gets, the better it sounds. I now hear much LESS groove noise than before, especially with the Grado 78 cart. And the icing on the 78 cake was finding a Scott 121-B mono preamp with almost infinitely variable rolloff and turnover options. Before that, I never heard many of my 78s as they were meant to be heard.
Just stay away from the Shure.