Audio Technica VM540ML v. N97xe Jico SAS


Gonna pull the trigger on a new cart/needle in the next month. Any recommendations between the 2 mentioned above?
bstatmeister
Tried both , the 540 is FAR better than N97 with ANY stylus !
Seems like the Jico has a better cantilever with it being boron, but the 540 has dual magnets for better channel separation. Looks like a tie with tips. Micro line and SAS look real similar.
AT is the one if you want a more open and detailed sound. Shure if you are looking for something richer and more rounded.
I would like detail, but want to keep nice full bass. Anything to worry about with the 540? It's not too bright or thin?
What tonearm are you using and what is the capacitance of your phono stage?
Stock tone arm from Technics SL1200mkll and using a Schiit Mani for phonopreamp

According to my comrade Don (griffiths) those (old) SAS styli

are made by the ''old'' Mori san who designed Sony XL

series carts. I own SAS stylus for JVC Z-1 which improves

the humble Z-1 to JVC-X1 ''status''.

Not a complete answer to my question, but the AT would be a go for me.
Sorry Viridian, trying to find out the capacitance of the Mani, doesn't look like it has it directly? Perhaps it's in the details here?

Gain 1 = L, Gain 2 = L (Decca Mode)
Gain: 30dB
THD: <0.005%, A-weighted, at 1V RMS
SNR: >90dB, A-weighted, inputs shorted
Crosstalk: -75dB, 20-20kHz
Sensitivity: 9mV for 300mV output
Overload Margin: >20dB

Gain 1 = L, Gain 2 = H (Standard MM Mode)
Gain: 42dB
THD: <0.008%, A-weighted, at 1V RMS
SNR: >82dB, A-weighted, inputs shorted
Crosstalk: -75dB, 20-20kHz
Sensitivity: 2.3mV for 300mV output
Overload Margin: >20dB

Input Impedance: Selectable 47 ohms (typical for MC cartridges) or 47k ohms (typical for MM cartridges)
RIAA Accuracy: +/- 0.2dB, 20-20kHz
Output Impedance: 75 ohms
Topology: Fully passive RIAA network with ADA4897 and AD8066 gain stages, thin-film resistors, and film capacitors throughout
Power Supply: “wall wart” style 16VAC transformer, regulated +/- 5V rails
Power Consumption: 4W
Size: 5 x 3.5 x 1.25”
Weight: 1 lb
Hi bstat -

I have a very similar set-up as yours ... Technics 1200GR (the new 1200 series) with the AT VM540.  the Stereophile review pointed me towards this cartridge.  Amp is a Rega Brio R, Parasound Zphono preamp, and Omega Compact Alnico monitors.

The AT does a nice job.  A lot of cartridge for the money.  The AT does require some break-in though, so be prepared.   Not sure what cartridge you are changing from, so I can not add too much more.  

I know the Mani pre has a series of switches that you can set for the  cartridge.  So you should be good to go.

Rich 
Coming from a Shure M97xE. You think I will notice a difference?
Yes, you will notice the difference.  I never quite grew to like the 97XE, I actually preferred the SC35C in the Shure line.  The 97XE was a little too closed sounding for me.    

Rich 
Input capacitance of Schiit Mani is 100 pf.
Thanks Stevecham, what does this mean on whether one cart will perform better than another?
Also, for those who've heard both (maybe I should start a separate thread on it, but I'll throw it out there anyway) How about how the Nagaoka MP-150 compares to the 540ML? They are nearly identical in price.
I’ve got two VM540MLs. One on my SL-1700mk2, one on my SL-Q2. They floored me with the detail an clarity of presentation. You will not be disappointed!
They may be identical in price, but they are not identical in compliance. If you go the 150 route you will want to add mass at the headshell with the 1200.
But tracking force of the Nagaoka is only 1.5 - 2.0 (similar to the Shure) why would I want to add extra wight?
I run a Nag 200 0n a project 9CC Evo arm and I don’t need any more
weight . Why on 1200 ?

I don't run Shure but I would not be surprised if they stopped production of 97 because who ever was making  them for Shure had zero  QC .
yeah just recently the main plastic body of my 97xE came off the metal upper portion of the cart while I was putting on new leads (looks like the glue disintegrated). I super glued it back but it could be a little off center/crooked...
....because the compliance is considerably lower....thought I already said that...


It might be instructive to look up the difference between tracking force and compliance as well.
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Looks like a direct correlation. the nag and 540ML overlap in the VTF and their masses are almost the same, so both have similar compliance
Compliance is the stiffness of the suspension. The moving system of the tonearm/cartridge can be modeled as a weight on top of a spring. The weight being the effective mass of the moving system and the stiffness of the spring being the compliance of the cartridge suspension. Both the stifness of the suspension and the effective mass yielding the primary resonance of the moving system.

A cursory examination will reveal the the stiffness of the spring can be increased, or decreased, independently of the moving mass of the tonearm/cartridge system. The two parameters being uncorrelated and the tracking force being only very broadly correlated with compliance.

If you look at the published specs here:

https://www.lpgear.com/product/NAGAOKAMP150.html

and click on the “specs” tab here:

https://www.audio-technica.com/cms/cartridges/e7a3d4bc8b248b64/index.html

You will see see the difference.

Of equal interest, is that the AT uses a radical stylus profile, while the Nagaoka is a nude mounted elliptical. If all dimensional parameters can be adjusted to correctly align the stylus with the groove, the much larger contact area of the radical stylus will distribute the tracking force over a larger contact area increasing stylus life as well as decreasing groove wear. Of course, none of this will tell you which cartridge you will prefer; only an audition will do that.


What's your budget? There are much better cartridges available on the market NEW or NOS (vintage) than 2-3 manufacturers people often mention here.  
Given that most 1 meter phono ICs connecting the turntable to the phono preamo will be about 100 pf, added to the Mani’s, the total 200 pf will be the capacitance load. If you look, some cartridge manufacturers will specify the optimal capacitance loading for a given model, usually in the 200-250 pf range. This spec determines how the extreme high end of the cartridge will respond but I’ve never found it to be highly significant. I have a Manley Steelhead phono stage that allows a great amount of capacitance adjustability; the results are very very subtle when playing with this parameter on MM cartridges. Nagaoka likes a lower figure of about 100 pf total, but that’s almost impossible given cables and phono pre inputs. I too use a Mani for my MMs and all three of my Nagaokas, 110, 150 and 200 sound terrific through it with a standard IC for a total of about 200 pf.
@chakster what do you recommend that is new (no NOS) for no more than $300 that is better than the AT VM540ML, Nag MP150, or N97 Jico S.A.S?
Look at these brand new Garrott Brothers cartridges, prices are in Australian Dollars (not in USD), so you have to calculate the actual price. Garrott K3 has Shibata stylus tip and cost USD 283 (AUD 400). You can upgrade any of them with Jico SAS if you want. You can also upgrade them with original Garrott styli anytime. I am a big fan of Garrott P77.  

First of all: you limit yourself if you ignoring NOS cartridges from the pinnacle of MM era (it was in the 70's, not now), they are 10 times better than anything new. Even if they are more expensive they are still the best you can buy today if you want an MM or MI. 

Some of the vintage carts can accomodate Jico SAS if you like Jico so much, as been said before Victor Z1 can be upgraded with SAS. But most of the vintage cartridges are just great with original styli. 

This guy selling NOS Pickering for low price, it's it's new and never used you can buy it. Just make sure the stylus is D3000 (Stereohedron) and it has mounting hardware kit (plastic blackets to mount a cartridge). This is a great cartridge, search online about it. Everyone is happy.

I think Grace F8 Custom is a great low budget cartridge if the stylus is something like RS8F blue (Shibata). Victor X-1IIe is great cartridge with titanium cantilever. You can also search for Stanton 881s on ebay for around $350. Here is more about Stanton in TAS article.   



 



 

chakster
"
selling NOS Pickering for low price, it's it's new and never used"

You are obviously confused, disoriented, or misinformed by definition NOS means  "New Old Stock" if it has been used it is not new and therefore can not be NOS of course many old, aged, out of production phono cartridges are advertised as NOS but they are in truth, reality, and practice used, used, used as can be verified by experts i do not know why anyoen would prefer such old products even if they are genuine NOS it is likely and even probably that elements  of the cartridge have dried up from unuse in storage!
@clearthink

You are obviously confused, disoriented, or misinformed by definition NOS means "New Old Stock"



This is excactly what i said "new and never used" and if the item sold on ebay not as described anyone can return it for full refund including return shipping under paypal buyer’s protection.

I’ve heard this BS about "dried up suspension in storage", but in practice i’ve NEVER had this problem with more than 50 vintage cartridges. If the damper is weak anyone can return the cartridge for full refund on ebay with no loss, please think about it, isn’t it the best option to buy something?

Don’t forget that we’re talking about MM cartridges, not an MC.
MM cartridge has removable stylus.

Personally i have no problem if the seller will open a NOS cartridge to check it for a 10 hrs or so, this is more like a free burn-in, honest seller will never try to lie about condition if he was able to check it. This is all good. Factory sealed cartridges have higher market value. After trying many samples of the same favorite models of many vintage cartridge i can make my conclusion that this cartridge does not have a problem with damper at all (even after 30 years in storage).

If you don’t know why anyone prefer Vintage MM cartridges i’m pretty sure you have NEVER heard or owned a decent vintage MM cartridge. Some of them are quite expensive now, some goes for over $1k. Many of us own them and in comparison with $3-4k NEW MC they are still amazing (yes, vintage MM are amazing, not a new $3k MC, not all of them).

I have both MM/MI and MC cartridges in collection. The most problematic cartridge in my life was brand new LOMC, not any vintage MM or vintage MC. Actually those carts from the golden age of analog continue to impress me every month, prices on used market is much better than distributors prices for new cartridges. If i like used cartridge i would look for a NOS sample of this cartridge for collection.

However, the OP asking about $300 cartridge, this is cheap and for this budget i would not hesitate to buy a few to try.

I hope you’re not gonna tell me that Nagaoka 150 or AT VM540ML are very impressive MM of today ? No, they are not. So who cares if they are new, the problem is that even USED vintage MM is 10 times better in sound for the same price.

Many killer MMs discovered in Raul's old thread by many contributors long time ago. 

Thanks @chakster , I appreciate you trying to steer us in the right direction. You are right, I have never heard any golden age carts, but I haven't heard many new ones either. Perhaps ignorance is bliss? Really the ONLY cart I've spent any amount of time with is the Shure M97xE -  I've had for 10 years and now it's giving up the ghost. Surely the ones I mentioned should at least put the Shure to shame? But if you are talking about what's the absolute best for under $300, now you have me intrigued by the Garrett K3...How would you compare the Garrett K3 to the 540ML? Both seem to have similar tips - Micro line compared to Shibata (I take it the Shibata is a step above?) how would this translate into what I will hear in the music all else being equal? more detail? more bass? better sound stage? Just trying to piece it all together. Thanks for your time!
Micro line styli have signicantly better wear characteristics than Shibata and elliptical, let alone conical profiles. About 2:1 compared to Shibata and 3:1 compared to elliptical. 

Price (value) is not unimportant to most of us. A $300 cartridge is not pocket change if you live in many parts of North America where the cost of living is astronomically high. The VM540ML is a star performer in a sea of others. As a very high value proposition, any incremental increase in price over it would yield little perceptible improvement. 

If if you can afford to casually drop a thousand dollars here and there to “try a few” $300 cartridges, you are much better off than many, many others. Something to keep in mind. 
There are, in fact, a large, and a small major radii Shibata cut stylus. The large cut has a 75um major radius, the same as the Microline. The minor dimension of the large Shibata is 6um vs just over 2um for a Microline. How could this possibly translate to a 2:1 better wear characteristic for the Microline vs the Shibata cut?

I would appreciate seeing the math that supports that conclusion. Wear is also changed by such things as stylus tracking force, quality of polish, cleanliness of records, etc, and I assume part of the assumption is that these factors are held constant. How do we get to this 2:1 wear figure with a smaller contact patch?


https://www.sound-smith.com/articles/stylus-shape-information
@bstatmeister

Shibata or MicroLine are all good, but i could mention 10 more different profiles, i think this topic if not about profiles, but about a good or very good MM cartridge for $300 ?

However, if you want to look at some of the best diamonds clikc here, the Shibata is in the middle, on the left is Van den Hul and on the right is Fritz Gyger.

For more information about different styli click here it’s a long thread with data and pictures.

Audio-Technica is one of my favorite brands, their cartridges are really good, the AT-ML150 OCC was a mind blowing for $350 in my experience, Cantilever is Beryllium, stylus is MicroLine. But for much higher price the top model in AT-ML series is my reference cartridge AT-ML180 OCC or OFC.

On the budget side the AT20SLa (Shibata) and even a $250 Ortofon M20FL Super (FineLine) are superb!
For this Ortofon M20FL Super i still have a NOS FineLine stylus (D20FL Super) in original box if anyone need it:) 

Unfortunately top models of vintage carts from the 80’s from any manufacturers only goes up in price.

I’m wondering why older member did not bought them 20 years ago when the price was really nothing compared to today market value ? Some member bought them long time ago and do not complain about high prices.

Victor invented Shibata stylus, the best cartridge they made with Shibata is X-1II. It’s getting more and more expensive slowly, because it’s a killer MM cartridge with Beryllium Cantilever and Nude Shibata tip.

This is AT’s MicroLine, looks very impressive, but cartridge design is not just about the stylus tip. How about the cantilever? As much as you move from Conical/Elliptical to Shibata/MicroLine in upgrade of the stylus, you can do the same upgrading Alluminum cantilever to Titanium or Beryllium or Boron ... in theory.

Practically it would be hard to tell what is the "best", because it’s a personal preferences and system dependent.

You want a NEW cartridge and the Garrott Brothers is what i’d like to add in the list. This is an old brand, the original owners are no longer with us. I am using the old Garrott P77, now they have P77i (improved version), the K-3 is one step behind.






Just bought the AT VM540ML. I didn't want to buy the JICO SAS since the main part of the Shure cart body was ever so slightly crooked after I super glued it back together.

After doing a lot of research I am confident that I bought the right one. (should pair Nicely with my Vandersteens since those are a bit laid back the extra treble and detail will do them nicely). I am excited. I will report back probably end of next week with my initial impressions.
Apparently, this is not quite true as your last post in this thread makes clear. You have already reported back and the story is an old one:

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/ways-the-stylus-tip-is-attached-to-the-cantilever

Well, after I bought the 540, I kept doing research and listening to more needle drops, so not so confident as my last post in this thread. I am giving up on the Jico since I believe the cart isn't square anymore (and maybe glued on slightly cockeyed) that leaves the Nag if the 540 doesn't work out. Again probably shouldn't have gone searching for negatives against the 540. I will attach the 540 tonight and I will finally find out if I made the right decision.
Post removed 
@chalkster: "I hope you’re not gonna tell me that Nagaoka 150 or AT VM540ML are very impressive MM of today ? No, they are not. So who cares if they are new, the problem is that even USED vintage MM is 10 times better in sound for the same price."

As an owner and user of several Pickering, Stanton and Shure vintage cartridges from the 70s and 80s, plus a number of newer models from AT, Grado, Nagaoka and Ortofon, I will say that the current cartridges manufactured, especially those by Nagaoka, are just as good as those vintage examples. Improvements in materials since the 70s, such as cantilever suspension elastomers, laser cut diamonds, precision coil winding, cyanoacrylate adhesives, all contribute to a better product that is, by price and sonics, an even better value than what was sold 30 to 40 years ago. So, I don’t agree with you on this point, especially the "10 times better in sound" comment.
So, I got the  AT VM540ML installed properly and listened to it over the weekend and....I'm not a fan. My fears were realized. On most of my records that gave me the warm and fuzzies previously, now sounded bright, thin and with the life sucked out of them. There were only 2 records that sounded better than my old Shure M97, those were Paul Simon Graceland and Daft Punk Randon Access Memories. I think the reason is that they seem to have been recorded the highs rolled off, were-as the 540 accentuates the treble so those now seemed more balanced out. Everything else was just too bright. So, yes, I am disappointed as I had high hopes for it. Did I give it a fair shake? Perhaps it did not get broken in all the way, but I do not believe the sound signature will drastically change at 100 hours, though it may get a bit less harsh. I am returning to order the Nagaoka MP-150. I will let you know how that one turns out...to be continued...
@stevecham

As an owner and user of several Pickering, Stanton and Shure vintage cartridges from the 70s and 80s, plus a number of newer models from AT, Grado, Nagaoka and Ortofon, I will say that the current cartridges manufactured, especially those by Nagaoka, are just as good as those vintage examples.


Would you like to specify which models of the vintage cartridges from the manufacturers in your list do you have and comparing to modern Nagaoka ?

Pickering, Stanton, Shure, AT, Grado and Ortofom made so many low budged inferior cartridges too, all depends on each specific models. The price range for all those cartridges today varies from $50 to $1500 easily. When you name a manufacturer i don’t undestand which particular model do you mean as your reference ?

Improvements in materials since the 70s, such as cantilever suspension elastomers, laser cut diamonds, precision coil winding, cyanoacrylate adhesives, all contribute to a better product that is, by price and sonics, an even better value than what was sold 30 to 40 years ago. So, I don’t agree with you on this point, especially the "10 times better in sound" comment.

This is the Gyger / VdH / Shibata diamonds from the 70s/80s, no one made anything better and laster technology was widely used in japan even in the 70s. I am not aware of the better products of today when it comes to MM/MI carts. Coil winding with LC-OFC wire was designed in the 80s and still the best (utilized for top models from Grace and Audio-Technica back in the day). Some new High-End MI carts like Top Wing cost $12 000 this is what you call a better value ? :) That brand new TOP WING MI coreless cartridges designed by ex Grace (Shinagawa Musen Co LTD.) engineer.

I’ve mentioned some extraordinary MM cartridges in my previous posts, exact models of vintage heritage.



Pickering: XSV3000, XSV4000, XV15 1200
Stanton: 881S
Shure: V15 MkIV, MkV

All with original, high profile, stock styli in excellent condition. Do they pass your sniff test?
My sniff test?
Everyone knows that XSV-3000 is exactly Stanton 881s.
Never tried the XSV4000, but all 3 cartridges are very good in $300-400 range, but not top models from Stanton/Pickering.

I am not a fan of Shure, but there is a Shure ULTRA-500 series which easily goes for $1500 today. And Stanton CS-100 WOS or 981 or Pickering XSV-7500 are also superior to the earlier models. There cartridges ain’t cheap today anymore, but the best from those brands.

It depends how far you can go with a choose of vintage MM, but if you really want the best then top models only.


Nagaoka MP150 ordered and on the way. Looking forward to comparing to the 540ml over the weekend
I think you need to give the VM540ML a chance. You might be mistaking it’s very articulate and detailed presentation for brightness. What did you have the tracking force set to? Looking forward to your comparison with the Nagaoka. 
I can see why people really like the 540ML due to it's extremely detailed nature, but for me I think I prefer more warmth (full velvety mid-range and solid bass with good dynamics) even if it means it's at the expense of just a tad of detail. I just find the hyper detail to suck the musicality out of the recordings and it lost it's emotional impact. I guess I am learning more about myself and what I like  with these experiments, so that's good I guess (even if it's a bit frustrating)
I think I prefer more warmth (full velvety mid-range and solid bass with good dynamics) even if it means it's at the expense of just a tad of detail.

Then why did you ordered the Nagaoka?
You need Garrott P77i if you like what you described above. 


Chakster, it sounds mouth watering, but a bit too much $$. Maybe if The Nagaoka doesn't thrill me I will save up for the Garrett.
garrOtt, not garrEtt :) 
It's Australian AU$600 = US$ 426 on their website