You must not have heard very many cartridges to ask this question. In a analog system they are like speakers when it comes to the differences in sound from one to another. Not to mention background or lack of background noise. Even pops and clicks that you may hear from a record with one cartridge can be non exhistant with another.
The $1000 cartridges are worth it. At least those that continue to receive top reviews are. I would rather have $1000 Shelter cartridge on a cheap turntable than a $50 cartridge on a Rockport turntable.
Not THAT cheap ($50) but I agree that under-$1K carts* can sound exceptionally good on great tables thru great phonostages. The turntable is key, IMHO, with the tonearm/phonostage second and the cartridge third.
* Examples (what I'm using now): Ortofon 2M Black, Shure V15VxMR w/JICO stylus, Denon DL-103 w/Soundsmith retip and Uwe pod.
I believe it goes both ways. I have tried cartridges on my turntable that range in price from a few dollars, like $10-12 on eBay, to $10,000. What I noticed is that some really inexpensive cartridges which sound great on a lesser turntable might sound awful on a good turntable that sells at the high-end of the market. The ADC TRX series of cartridges come to mind. On an inexpensive turntable, say around a few hundred dollars, they sound pretty good, but on a turntable where manufacturing cost is no object they are overly bright, harsh and strident. You would not stay in the room through a single track. On the otherhand, the Technics 205C-IIX, a moving magnet cartridge that I bought NOS for $200, stands tall among moving coils that cost thousands, at least on my turntable. That cartridge sounded not bad, but average on an inexpensive turntable. I could give you a lot of examples, but I have the suspicion that when better equipment is involved the turntable, the tonearm, the phonostage and the wire come into play in a very big way that you don't see in most environments where more commonplace setups are found. I would even go as far as to say listening for these differences can be an indicator of sorts to determine the quality of a better turntable because such a turntable should be musical and revealing enough to blatantly show the weaknesses or the strengths of a given cartridge.
So, my take is that it is a case where you mileage will most certainly vary, rather than may vary.
Depends, to a large extent, on the tonearm.
A $50 cartridge on a terrific tonearm will sound better than a $500 cartridge on a poor tonearm.
I have a ClearAudio Victory H cartridge, $2K in its new day, in a Aries/10.5/SDS etc. About two years ago I installed a Shure 97 NOS in the rig to see exactly what the difference would be. I purchased the 97 almost twenty years ago for $35. Was there $1,965 of difference? No. Maybe I need a $20,000 table to make the ClearAudio sound $2K in difference. Could be the ClearAudio is really not that much better and I need a $5K cartridge. I don't think I will go there.
My personal experiments match Audiofeil's. I've played cartridges from $150 to $12,000 on my $11,000 rig, and carts from $75 to $2,000 on various $300-1000 rigs.
At least one cheap cart (ADC XLM MkII) sounds miles better on the top rig than on any lesser rig. It has its limits, but it shouts no weaknesses. This would make a killer combo for a dance party. Really fun to listen to, though perhaps not critically.
OTOH, the $1,500-2,000 carts (Shelter 901, ZYX Airy 2) on one cheap rig were just awful. Every weakness and noise from the lower quality table and arm were spotlighted. I couldn't take them off fast enough. Carts as revealing as these (or more so) need a good quality table and arm.
This isn't to deny experiences like Mosin's. If a cheap cartridge is flawed, you might get enjoyable performance on (some) cheap rigs that happen to mask those flaws. Better performing rigs won't do that and the cartridge will sound like the trash it is. ;-) Even the fairly costly Shelter 901 can sound trashy in a really good system. It leaks so much energy into a tonearm that it needs a really damp sounding arm, which carries its own sonic penalties. As usual, it comes down to effective component matching.
Are $1K+ carts worth it. That's a personal decision, there's no universal answer. Can you afford it? Do you have the system to take advantage of what it can do? Do your ears and musical preferences actually care about what it can do? Are you prepared to do the constant extra work that high level performance requires (there's no plug-n-play at higher levels of vinyl playback). The answers will differ for each of us.
For me there's no question: I'd buy my reference cartridge again in a heartbeat (in fact, I've done so twice - I'm on #3). Since it's now discontinued I'll probably even buy a backup before they're gone. But I wouldn't bother if my table, arm and entire system couldn't provide the solid platform, steady speed, low noise- and sound-floor and uncolored, unrestricted dynamics that a top level cartridge needs to play its best.
For you, it's up to you.
Commcat:I could not disagree with you more. An expensive rig will bring out more information using a cheap cartridge then the reverse.A cheapo TT with all its faults cannot bring out the best in any cartridge.
I don't disagree with Doug. I'm just saying that gems do exist that strut their stuff only on really good turntables, yet don't break the bank. The Technics I mentioned was the first to come to mind.
Technics 205C-IIX is just a stylus model that could be used in EPC-205C-IIL (low) and EPC-205C-IIH (high). I own EPC-205C-IIL (DC resistance is only around 30 Oms). It is great cartridge indeed.
Agree w Moisin, Dougdeacon and Audiofiel. If you really want to get an idea of what can be done with a modest (by our insane standards) price cart on a good tt/arm, check out the long running thread on MM vs MC carts (if you have a few hours to spare). And I'll repeat my mantra- high resolution transducers at either end of the chain (for analog, cart and speakers) will spotlight deficiencies up or downstream as the case may be) like you wouldn't believe.
Winn, I don't disagree with you either. So there!
And I'll repeat my mantra- high resolution transducers at either end of the chain (for analog, cart and speakers) will spotlight deficiencies up or downstream as the case may be) like you wouldn't believe.
Our first truly high end component, just by chance not by design, was our B&W N803 speakers (since upgraded to 803D's). The N803's were an upgrade directly from Bose 901's, so the increase in resolution was enormous - not your typical upgrade. We now had studio quality transducers playing whatever (crappy) signal we fed them.
This gave us the ability and drove the necessity to investigate weaknesses and limitations of every downstream component, from wiring in the wall and resonances in the floor to power cords and conditioning to source components to everything in the amplification chain and signal path.
It's a slippery slope. We started out looking for a $3-4K HT setup. Five years later we had a $60K+ two channel monster. Be careful what you wish for.
I have a Triplanar Mk7 on the Atma-Sphere 208 'table. My regular cartridge lost a channel, and for about 2 weeks the only thing I had was a Grado Green, which is not expensive at all.
It tracked fine in the Triplanar- so I tortured it with a few tracks and it held up well. It didn't sound as good- things were a bit more forward and tilted to the highs (although there was plenty of bass energy). So I experimented with loading and it calmed down a lot! In fact I was able to enjoy the music without dealing with a lot of artifact once it was loaded (about 12,000 ohms on my system BTW).
I still like my regular cartridge better, but really, the difference was not as profound as I had expected. I think that a lot of people think less of cheap cartridges simply because they never hear them with top end arm/table/preamp/etc.
Dear Atmasphere: +++++" I think that a lot of people think less of cheap cartridges simply because they never hear them with top end arm/table/preamp/etc. " +++++
I can't say and agree more that what you posted.
Normally top end analog rig comes along very high price LOMC cartridges, no one with these kind of systems ever think on a " cheap " cartridge even less if is MM/MI ones.
All we know that $$$$ not tell the whole history on item quality performance, there are many factors that thorugh its complex relationship tell the true history.
I consider fortunate the day ( around three years ago ) that I decide to test/try cheap MM/MI cartridge to see what happen and to my surprise happen unexpected things where I find that many of those cheap cartridges are great performers.
I already try very cheap cartridges but come to my mind a 50.00 one the Andante P-76 that IMHO can compete with cartridges in the 3k-5k price range.
I think that we have to take advantage that our each one audio system is a lot better than " yesterday " and this give a fair opportunity to cheap cartridges.
Regards and enjoy the music,
Thanks for all your responses. I will try a cheap one if my Benz L2 ever fails. Mike
Mike, in order to get away with that, the same rules of compatibility with your arm apply- effective mass, mechanical resonance, that sort of thing. IOW you have to apply the same care in selection for your arm like you do with an expensive cartridge, or the results will not be so good.