Benefit of low output moving-iron Grado ?


Hi all,
I'm considering a cartridge upgrade from a high output (5mv) Grado Sonata cartridge to a moving-iron Grado Master cartridge, either a low output (.5mv) or a high output (5mv). If I choose the low output version, I would have to drop an additional $250 on a phono card for my Exposure amp, whereas I've already got the high output phono card installed.
So my question is....
a) is there a sonic improvement in low output cartridges, or is it more a matter of taste
b) I hear a kind of "shrillness" when vocalists use an "s", and with other very high frequency sounds.... is this shrillness reduced by using a low output cartridge?
c) does Grado's moving-iron type of cartridge have properties unlike moving magnet or moving coil that might be relevant to the other questions I raised?
Thanks in advance, and I always appreciate this forum.
nickyt
Well, gosh. After reading such things as the Wikipedia article on cartridges (duh), and some various debates on forums... I feel that it is no wonder that nobody has responded yet! I am a little better educated on the matter now, so perhaps I can restate a few things. Apparently moving iron is pretty much a moving magnet in slightly lighter clothing. Therefore, I can only assume that Grado offers their select MI cartridges in both .5mv and 5mv versions, at exactly the same cost; so that the clearly subjective matter of choice between the two would depend on such things as the phono stage and other equipment, likely purchased to accommodate personal taste in high or low output cartridges.
My phono stage is a MM "phono card" which fits into my integrated 2010s Exposure amplifier, and is manufactured as an option by Exposure. I could buy the MC version for about $250 (would the MM phono card I've got handle a .5mv MI cartridge?). Maybe a relatively inexpensive $250 phono stage is better suited to a high output cartridge anyway?
My turntable is a Music Hall mmf 7.1 with the arm that was included. The Grado Sonata 5mv MI cartridge cost roughly half what the turntable and arm cost. Perhaps an upgrade to the Grado Master, while affordable for the reason of a "re-tipping discount" available for existing Grado cartridge owners, may be money unwisely spent. I couldn't afford a whole new table right now, but the cartridge upgrade could be possible, and I've used the cartridge fairly regularly for about five years now and is sounding worn. Perhaps the entire system I've got wouldn't benefit from a cartridge upgrade and I should just get another Sonata? Maybe the Sonata is the best my current turntable can handle?
So, treading dangerously close to restarting what is surely an old and well-worn debate on high vs. low output; I probably just sound like I don't know what Shinola is, or what it's not. But my current question is in earnest: judging from the system I've got, is it worth it to buy a cartridge priced nearly what the turntable + arm cost?
Sincerely awaiting advice,
Nicky
A stylus has about a 2000 hour life span so you do the math! The lower output Grado has less windings and your preamp might not have enough gain.
You would have to find out the input sensitivity of your phono(.5mv or less)to make sure the lower output will work!
I use the 1.5 version of the Sonata which is called Sonata VPI!
I don't think your system would benefit with the more expensive Master!
For $400 the Needle Doctor will give you a new one with trade,they do not replace the stylus on them,they just replace the whole cartridge!
BTW: I am a big fan of Grado I have been using them for over 30 years!
By using a low output version, I suspect, you will hear very little if any difference in your system. I would check the capacitance and make sure its within the recommended bounds. Check your setup again and again to be sure it was installed correctly.. Call Grado for any hints.
Not sure how relevant my experience would be to yours, but here goes for what it's worth. I wanted to upgrade my Grado Sonata high output and so I traded it in to Grado for a low output Master 1. At the time, I was using a Music Reference RM5III as a phono stage, whose owner's manual said .5mv was the lower limit of acceptable cartridge output. Sound with the Grado was anemic and shrill regardless of whatever of adjustment was applied to the RM5III, obviously a mismatch as the RM5III sounded excellent with the 5mv. Sonata. So, I researched my options and purchased a Sutherland PH1-p, which should have worked fine (if numbers and specs were all that mattered.) That was also an ultimately unsatisfying pairing, still a bit lifeless and lacking in drive and "cohones." At that point, I took a big gulp and upped the financial ante with a RCM Sensor Prelude. This finally got me into the realm of hearing what improvements the lower output Master 1 cartridge was capable of bringing to the table vs. the Sonata. In spite of the Master 1's greater refinement in high frequency response, imaging, and wonderful delicacy of small details, the Sonata still had a greater "fun factor" and was more propulsive in the nether audio regions. Not a uniform, across the board improvement IMO. At this time, I use the Grado intermittently in rotation with an Ortofon Kontrapunkt H, which seems to have more drive, jump factor, and electrical output in spite of the fact it is rated the same output as the Grado.
Thanks, Photon46 for the valuable info; very relevant. In fact, since my initial writing I realized that an operative consideration in all of this is the phono pre-amp. I looked around a little and read about the Grado Ph1 MM/MC preamp which seems like a deal and would theoretically be pretty well matched to a Grado cartridge. Since you also mentioned the fallibility of theories, perhaps someone could vouch for the particular combo of Grado Master .5mv and Grado Ph1 phono preamp? I live a distance from anywhere I might be able to audition stuff (and we have no car), so I rely a lot on research on the web.
Another side question I've got is about cartridge setup. I see that there are two screws on the top of the tonearm which go into the cartridge. If the cartridge I buy weighs exactly the same as the old one, wouldn't installation be as simple as removing the wires from the old cart, unscrewing the screws, and installing the new one in the same way? I wouldn't need an entire setup procedure from a professional, would I?
I have to admit I've never even heard a low-output cartridge and I'm going on research alone that it might be something I'd like. And with Needle Doctor's deal on trade-in cartridges along with the still-affordable phono pre-amp upgrade, it seems doable and worth the potential error in judgement. I could always trade-in the Master Standard for a Sonata Reference for the additional $450 if I'm unhappy, I suppose. And it's not like that's small change for me either, that's three weeks salary! I guess I suffer from the bug like anyone, and I find great enjoyment in listening; always have. Thanks for the heads up on the "cohones" issue! Very glad to have gotten these responses folks, thanks....
No professional setup needed! Just swap cartridges!
I have no experience with modern Grado cartridges. However, I do own a Grado TLZ, which was one of their early efforts at making a low output cartridge. (Incidentally, I don't think the Grados are classic moving iron types; I think they are "induced magnet" types, altho that is a distinction without much difference.)
The TLZ was a great cartridge in its day. On the other hand, I also don't think that all high output cartridges are inferior to all low output ones. You have to take this on a case by case basis. I have several MM cartridges that compete with any high dollar LOMC cartridge. Bottom line: you would have to try both versions of the Grado Master and make up your own mind. My opinion: given the rest of your system, you would probably be just as well off to go for the less expensive option, which I guess means the high output version of the Master. What Photon did, buying two new phono stages to try to make his low output cartridge sound OK, is nothing short of heroic, and expensive.
The Master is a $1000 dollar cartridge. What Grado are you talking about? I thought you said Sonata low and high output!
Swapping the Sonata for the Master should be pretty painless as far as setup goes. It could need rebalancing though, as there are fewer turns of wire in the low output Master and the older Sonata bodies were a variety of Mahogany whereas the newer model 1 Grados are denser Jarrah wood and probably weigh more.

If I were buying another Grado, I'd think very seriously about getting the VPI 1.5mv output version, seems likely to be a good compromise that splits virtues of both versions.
Thanks again, particularly Photon. The 1.5mv version isn't listed on Needledoctor's website, but I read an old forum elsewhere (from 2003) that they've "not discontinued them yet". Presumably this means I could get the retip price at N.D. AND get the 1.5mv version, which sounds like a reasonable idea.
I have found out that the settings on the Grado Ph1 are simply "low" and "high", with some confusion about which setting to use for a 1.5mv cartridge (it apparently depends on whether the 1.5mv cartridge is considered high or low output!). I wonder if a lack of gain-setting increments might cause a 1.5mv cartridge to hum?
Also, after reading my turntable's instructions, Music Hall recommends having a professional install anything other than what the factory installed. There is a screwplate through which the screws pass on the top of the headshell. Perhaps this screwplate moves around, and WOULD move around once the screws were removed? Maybe I could remove them gently without disrupting the position of this screwplate? I am worried I would mess it up... and I have no protractor or anything. I do know an audiophile who passes through my town sometimes, I could ask him to help if you folks think I should. I AM a novice.
Also, indeed my cartridge is .5 gram lighter than the newer Jarrah wood models, so the rebalancing you mentioned would be required - this I think I can handle.
Positive news: the retip price is fully $80 less than what I thought it was. Realistic news: time to start saving for this stuff. Thanks, Nicky
Seeing that the phono card in your Exposure sold for $269, I doubt a $500 stand alone Grado phono stage would be much of an improvement. More likely a lateral move. If your heart is set on trying a Grado phono stage, I'd call Grado and ask for their advice. They are very approachable and happy to chat in my experience. Still, my gut reaction says that a high output Grado in a Master model will give you a low hassle factor and good bang for the buck IF you are going to stick with the built in phono card in the Exposure. The move to low output cartridges is a pivotal moment in the evolution of analog addiction. Problems with equipment matching rise, sometimes exponentially, in exchange for the subtler insights low output cartridges can bestow. With regard to improving your analog chain, if you live away from dealer support, you basically either have to settle for what your turntable came with or accept that you'll be rolling up you sleeves and learning to do turntable setup for yourself. There's lots of help for analog addicts online. Get MIchael Fremer's "how to" DVD, watch YouTube videos. You can download very serviceable free protractors online, just do a Google search. EnjoyTheMusic.com has a good one to get you started.
"Sound" advice, Photon. Until I'm in a position where amp upgrades are feasible from top to bottom, it seems clear I should stick with the high-output cartridge realm of analogue enjoyment. When it comes down to it, the Sonata has always sounded banging through my Vandy 3a Sigs, and a new, DEPENDABLE cartridge would breathe new life into my system. I am glad you are able to frankly and wisely share your experience with me in our comparable situations (though it looks like your system rocks pretty darn hard). And as far as the setup goes; you're right - the only thing I have to fear is fear itself.
So I suppose all my questions are answered, and perhaps I'll check in again, or send you a personal note once I replace the cartridge. Peace, Nicky
Bad writing skills, Nicky. What I meant by "dependable" was a modest upgrade (the high-output Master) which would be SIMILAR to what I've got and have been happy with (the Sonata), without gambling on a new phono stage. Whew...
You might want to experiment with loading. We had a ZYX Universe that was very nice, one day the needle just decided to let go of the cantilever and that was that.

So we installed a wood-body Grado we had on hand. Its 5mV. It was also a little upfront/in your face compared to the ZYX (we are running a Triplanar which easily tracks either cartridge). However being a high output moving magnet, they are sensitive to loading. We've used 10K as a loading value in the past, and that seems to work well with this one too.

Funny thing, if the arm really *can* track the cartridge, you have it set up right and loaded right, you really don't hear big differences between many cartridges. Miss one of the caveats above though and its a different story!

IOW we're not hearing a big difference between the two cartridges other than output. Loading in this case was the key as the Triplanar was not the variable.
I've been lurking around this thread as I too have a Reference Sonata and felt it was very brash, comparing it to my Zu DL103 on my other table. Tried the 10k loading and it did the trick. Much more laid back but did not lose any of the sparkle.
The smartass in me wanted to post that the Grado hum wouldn't be as loud. :)
You don't get hum if set up right. If you have a Rega, you might get hum because the motor is not grounded. Easy enough to fix.
Not sure what loading is... or if my phono card is capable of being set to different loads (if loading takes place in the phono stage, that is). Could someone inform... thanks
Nickyt, i was asking myself the same question you are. i am also considering moving up cart ladder from reference sonata. because i love my ref. sonata i have decided not to open the can of worms that i anticipated moving to LO versions of grado. i am not looking for a bank account draining system changing headache just incremental improvement in detail, bass tautness, and isolation of instruments when things get cooking. with those changes in mind and loving what I have and im sticking with grado for now and see nothing wrong in your case or mine of putting that master on your similar priced table. a totl statement would be another story obviously. one thing id like to add is before i purchased my speakers i auditioned the vand sig2s and thought they were not for me. too polite, warm and paired with grado might be too much of a good thing depending on other gear and what your looking for. so i might suggest a similar priced HO moving coil(dyna 10x5?)to what youd pay for a master. that paired with the inexpensive mc phono board could yield great results with all other system synergy being equal.
Nickyt, i was asking myself the same question you are. i am also considering moving up cart ladder from reference sonata. because i love my ref. sonata i have decided not to open the can of worms that i anticipated moving to LO versions of grado. i am not looking for a bank account draining system changing headache just incremental improvement in detail, bass tautness, and isolation of instruments when things get cooking. with those changes in mind and loving what I have and im sticking with grado for now and see nothing wrong in your case or mine of putting that master on your similar priced table. a totl statement would be another story obviously. one thing id like to add is before i purchased my speakers i auditioned the vand sig2s and thought they were not for me. too polite, warm and paired with grado might be too much of a good thing depending on other gear and what your looking for. so i might suggest a similar priced HO moving coil(dyna 10x5?)to what youd pay to upgrade for a master. that paired with the inexpensive mc phono board could yield great results with all other system synergy being equal.
Cartridge loading is the act of putting a resistance (sometimes, a capacitor and a resistance) in parallel with the cartridge, such that the cartridge is driving the load.

We provided a cartridge loading strip on the back of our preamp for this purpose. Some preamps employ a second RCA connection in parallel with the input- you put the resistor on an RCA connector and plug it in.

Other preamps have a switch with preset loading positions. Still others use tiny little jacks mounted to the circuit board in the preamp.

Some phono preamps have no provision. Then you have to come up with something to make the connection.
Thanks to both Atmasphere and Fourwinds. Atmasphere: in another universe I would be a proud owner of your equipment, from phonograph down through amplifiers. Alas, it cannot be! I am thinking of asking Acoustic Sounds (where I bought my turntable) to set up the new cartridge when the time comes. Perhaps they might be able to fiddle with the loading on my preamp at their discretion.
Fourwinds: thanks for the heads up on Dynavector... I've been meaning to look into their stuff. The 20x2 looks good, and is advertised to work with "most" MM phono stages. Is this accurate?
If others are still reading: what about these cartridges from London Decca? The "Maroon" is in my price range, and with some saving, even the "Gold". They are both 5mv output, which makes me happy. I just don't know how reliable they are. Anyone care to weigh in on London Decca vs. Dynavector vs. Grado? (p.s. NOT getting rid of my not-so-polite Vandersteens anytime soon!)
For Deccas to work well, you must get the proper arm. You're opening yourself up for problems. Stick to the Dyna, or Grado MY opinion is that although Vandersteen speakers are very good across their range, they might not be a good combination with the Grado (which has a similar "non-sparkling" presentation. I am running Vandersteen 5A's and didn't like my Grado Sonata at all...too muddy in my setup. I suspect the Dyna would be a very good match.
Advice noted. I will ask my dealer if I would need a MC preamp for the Dyna, but hopefully it is robust enough for my MM phonocard. I guess I do have to admit the "sparkle-lacking" qualities of the Vandersteens; it's funny how I lack objectivity in direct proportion to the amount of money I spend on something!
I have both Grado Sonata's, the 5mv and the .5mv versions. Same year even. I prefer the low output version hands down. So do all of my friends. The only hitch is you need a fairly high gain preamp to enjoy it.
The 0.5mv version is quieter, more dynamic, has more nuance, and is very responsive.
It's amazing what can be put on a piece of vinyl....downright spooky sometimes.