Benz Micro LP S vs Air Tight PC-1 w/ files

Greetings All,

Having spent the past two weeks comparing the Benz Micro LP S to the Air Tight PC-1, I’ve posted some files to share the results. These are high resolution 96 KHz / 24 bit AIFF files made with each cartridge. I hope you enjoy listening to them and please do post your impressions.

They can be found at:

or, if your browser doesn’t redirect, here’s the full URL:

Music / track selection info:

Example #1: Gurdjieff - De Hartmann, “The Bokharian Dervish Hadji Asvatz-Troov” from “The Music of Gurdjieff / De Hartmann.” While many musicians have recorded De Hartmann’s music, this 1950 recording is of the composer performing his own work. Originally restored as reference material for Keith Jarrett’s “Sacred Hymns” album, ECM released a four-disk set of these recordings in 1987. These disks are not in great shape, but they allow us to travel back 59 years to listen to De Hartmann’s beautiful playing.

Example #2: Van Morrison, “Astral Weeks,” title track. 1968 classic is still remarkable. This track was captured from a recent 180-gram reissue.

Example #3: The Durutti Column, “Otis,” from Vini Reilly. Trippy guitar and synth loops that reference everyone from John Fahey to Terry Riley. This track was captured from the original 1989 Factory Records release.

Example #4: Walter Norris & George Mraz, “Drifting,” title track. Norris’ piano and Mraz’s bass playing range from bop to free. Emblematic of the brilliant 1970s loft jazz movement in NYC, this track was captured from the original 1974 Enja records release.

BTW, I don’t mean to suggest that these are the ultimate test tracks. They’re just a sample of what I was listening to last week ☺

Technical Info:

The cartridges were mounted on a VPI JMW 12.7 tone arm / HRX turntable. Mechanical and electrical parameters for each cartridge were adjusted via measurements and then fine-tuned with listening tests. A Pass Labs Xono phono preamp fed an Apogee Electronics Symphony workstation with an Apogee Rosetta 200 analog-to-digital converter front end. The audio was captured at 96 KHz /24 bits. Bias Peak Pro 6.0.3 software was used to create the files. No digital processing was applied to the files.

On surface noise: Each record was cleaned using a VPI HW27 cleaning machine with Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solution Formula #6 cleaning fluid. As the two cartridges appeared to respond differently to surface noise no further cleanup was done on these files, except for the Gurdjieff - De Hartmann. Extensive pops and clicks were removed from the Gurdjieff - De Hartmann captures by manually painting out the errors on the audio waveforms.
dean358 these ears, on my computer with I-Tunes...Benz wins. It sounds more silent between the notes which brings greater clarity...and it seems more dynamic. ..interesting test... Thanks
I'd be interested in reading your listening impressions of the LPs compared to the digital files. How different do they sound? Are you trying to find out which of these cartridges people prefer by asking them to listen to the digital files? Thanks.
I am downloading the files. Will give some feedback in a few days. Curious myself having owned the PC-1. I haven't started using my system to record but plan to, but will play back via iTunes into a Prism DAC.
I have been intrigued with your comparison because I am seriously considering to upgrade my phono system with Benz Micro LP S. To listen to your records on my system I had to convert aiffs into wavs and burn them on CDR. I listened to your records on loudspeakers and earphones. Unfortunately I have just an average ear for music, so I was in troubles to draw a distinction between records. Both cartridges sounded similar (well) but Air Tight seemed to me a tiny more detailed, accurate, "brighter", dynamic. In sum, if I have to choose, I would take Air Tight (in spite of that I will buy Benz Micro, because I can get it at a favourable price).
I gave CD to my colleague who has better (than me) ear for music. I will be back on Monday with his impressions/comments.
I have both an Air Tight PC-1(Supreme) and a Benz LP. In my system, on most days I really prefer the detail and dynamics of the Air Tight but I certainly don't knock the Benz for it's slightly more reserved presentation. I would say there's really no clear cut winner here. Personal preference will play a major role. I'm not sure how easy it is to judge subtle differences between cartridges via a digital file but an interesting offering none the less.
Hi All,

Ty for your responses. As I use a Tact 2.2XP for room correction and crossovers I only listen via a digital signal path. Thus the LPs are always "digital files," even when I'm just listening.

I posted these for two reasons: 1. It was difficult to demo these (and I imagine most high end) cartridges, so I thought I'd at least share and 2. As I didn't find a clear "winner" between them I wanted to see if other folks agreed (seems so).

They're both nice cartridges but for me, the PC-1 is more coherent and life like. The LP S appears to have more low bass (boost?) and sparkle on top but smears the imaging a bit. Seems like the LP S is better for rock and club re-mixes and the PC-1 is better suited to acoustic jazz, folk and classical. I now understand why people have more than one tone arm :-)

I listened extensively today. In summation, I much prefer the PC-1. There is no comparison.

I love the Walter Norris & George Mraz. Want the LP. My impressions are based on the following. The PC-1 has greater dynamic agility and greater detail. Notes seemed to have body and resolution w. out being held back. On the Benz this came out to be just slightly less dynamic and less detail. Also, I did not detect any of the famous Benz warmth at all. It was ever so slightly warmer than the PC-1, but definitely was not warm. It came closer to neutral on my sonic bias. The LPS seemed to get congested and also had some muddiness in the bass. Almost a lack of resolution. I felt you could improve the setup more on the LPS. Not sure, but it just might not be a great match in the arm. The bass characteristics I heard were more what I hear when setup is not 100% optimized. But I might be wrong. The PC-1 was well setup as it sounded as I remember it. A little tipped up in the highs -ever so slightly, I am sensitive to this, (and your SS phono revealed it even more than my tube phono by a touch), an the typical bass bloat / which many find warmth. The PC-1 is a great cartridge and the Supreme is said to correct these shortcomings.

But... I heard well into your system and noticed a few problems. There is background hum on some the tracks. Either from wow & flutter or from recording, but most likely from a ground loop. It shows up during the silence in passages. And it showed up on both cartridges. And for sure it wasn't my system as I went to check a different track on my PC and found no noise.

I hope you don't take offence as I don't know the rest of your system, but I am telling you what I heard. And on 1st listen (in a rush before work 1 morning) I couldn't hear any difference. Just goes to tell you it depends for me on when I listen. My system needed time to warm up. I used my Prism Orpheus via Firewire to my Macbookpro. You can see the rest on my system if any questions. Just to let you know the Prism can record (haven't tried it yet as to busy) LP w. out a Phono stage and digitally implement RIAA and gain so you would not need any phono to play into your system.

Finally, I really enjoyed doing this, as it gave me a listen to the LPS which I wanted to hear. Now, do it w. the PC-1 Supreme or the MSL Hyper Eminent. That is what I want to hear.
I've never understood why someone would post a digitized sample of an analog cart/system that they want others to play over the cdp in their system and then think we are hearing the same thing that they have been hearing. The amount of variables in the various systems are mind boggling.
I don't mean to bust your chops or be rude. But there is no way to hear what you've been hearing unless I hear it through your system. And even then I will probably hear it somewhat differently than you because of the difference in our hearing.

But lets think about this a minute. You play a cut from your VPI TT, and burn a copy. Then you broadcast it to others. There are different people using different cdp's run through different equipment and listened to on different speakers with various acoustical environments. Can anyone really evaluate a cartridge by listening to these cuts? You played it on a VPI w/JMW arm. Will it sound the same on a Mitchell using an Origin Live arm or a SME with matching arm? Or a ________________? Can we know that from listening to these tracks. I seriously doubt it

So IMO, we are left with the question, What value are these tracks. I suggest that for some it may be some new music to listen to. Or for someone with a VPI TT & arm as you have, they might get a glimpse of what one of these carts might sound like in their system. But even then it is certainly not a slam dunk because of the various electronics involved in the chain

I think that if I were to listen to these tracks I'd be hearing a translation(my cdp) of a translation (your burner) at best. Translations of speech are sometimes, if not often inaccurate, depending upon the 2 languages. Now if you take that one step further by translating a translation you have added even more problems to the process and have pretty much guaranteed inaccuracy. I believe we have the same problems facing us when we do this in the musical world. Yes. It may be close. But will it be accurate? I can't see how it could be

But if someone could explain to me how I can listen to these digital samples of your analog system on different equipment than you have and hear the same thing you have been hearing on your VPI table, I'd love to hear it


While I appreciate your comments as far the length of the Playback chain, any recording is a representation of the recording / playback chain of the studio in question. It does somewhat apply. In addition 24/92 is fairly true to the source. Michael Fremer of Stereophile uses the same procedure but has the luxury to do so in his system. But he does lend out his CDs to his colleagues. Now if you listen to this recording you can hear how into the OP's system as I have. It is quite revealing. I suggest you try it and see if you can come to the same conclusions I have. My conclusions are not about the "absolute performance" of the cartridges but that specific sample of what the OP provided us.
Dgad: absolutely no offense taken -- I appreciate your astute and thoughtful comments. I too heard the hum and finally got rid of it this week by separating the power supply and signal chassis on my Xono preamp (I had them sitting on top of each other.) Glad you liked the Walter Norris & George Mraz. Rick at Rino Records in New Paltz, NY (845) 255-0230 can probably get you a copy.

Artemus: I never meant to suggest that this was any type of “absolute” listening reference. I did, however, try to control as many variables as possible so that a relative comparison between the cartridges could be made. And I found it very helpful to go back and forth between the two cartridges without having to unmount / remount them on the arm. But, as you point out, they’re both sitting on a VPI TT, which biases the test. That’s why I listed the equipment used in detail.
Dgad & Dean. Thanks for the responses. I have never known where this sampling of carts began & didn't know of Fremer's part in it.


I can understand where the recording of 2 different carts would be a great practice and very informative to you since it is being done within a closed system (yours). IOW's the main variable is whether you trust the cdr and cdp to give an accurate representation of the carts. That said, I believe a reasonable assessment can be made and it is probably superior to be able to immediately listen to 2 different carts via cd rather than to have the time lapse of changing arms and forgetting what you have heard from previous cart


I also have little doubt that I might hear some differences in the OP's tracks. My question is how I should interpret what I have heard in a completely different system (mine). Can i make an accurate prediction of how that cart might sound in my system? i don't think so

I agree that I would not know how the Benz LP would sound in my own system from listening. But I could get a slight sense of character. Now the PC-1 sounds similar to my experience in my system. You should really try downloading the recordings. It is a fun test.
IOW's the main variable is whether you trust the cdr and cdp to give an accurate representation of the carts.

Actually, I believe the main variable in these tests to be the relationship of the cartridges to this particular tone arm and how well they were aligned. (I’m not a turntable set up meister, at least by the standards of the folks who post here.) There was, however, no CDR or CDP used. The 96KHz/24bit files were created using a two-channel version of this hardware:

This particular Symphony system is dedicated to capturing output from the TT and has a minimum signal path ahead of it. And, as this was not a commercial application I left tons of headroom at the a-to-d when creating the files.

If I were to listen to your samples on my stereo I would have to use both a cdr and cdp in order to do so. As i said previously, i have little doubt that this practice is fine in a closed system and probably preferable to changing carts and trying to compare
Coming rather late to this, but I downloaded these files over a year ago and just got around to listening to them carefully this morning. I'm in the market for a new cartridge and thought it would be fun to give the comparison a go.

I find the original feedback fascinating and in line with the axiom that each person hears things differently than another. When you think about it, it makes any comparisons, even ideal ones in the same room with the same equipment, rather meaningless--much like how each person sees color differently than another person. Yet, we all continue to do this since we are social animals and like to learn of other's opinions and insights--even if in the end they have no bearing on our personal reality. It's a hard habit to break, and is, I think, something central to our hobby and unlikely to ever change. I think all of us actively ignore that though there may be a few things about the sound of a particular system (or cartridge) we all can agree on, when it comes to nuances presented in tests like these, there can never be universal agreement.

After that long caveat, here's what I heard:

1) The Air Tight PC-1 suppresses surface noise on the test track much better than the Benz LP s (but at a price, in my opinion).

2) I play the piano every day, and compose music. As such, I have a set of biases about how a piano's sound board and strings "ought" to sound (which is why, of course, there are so many brands of pianos!), and in this comparison, the Benz LP S present to my ears a much more accurate, musical sound of a piano. The Air Tight is cool and mechanical to my ears in this regard.

That people prefer the PC-1's presentation and describe it as having "more resolution" is unsurprising then--many ears and brains find this "better" or more pleasing. For me, however, there is no contest between the two in this limited test--if it were two pianos being played by the same artist in the same room instead of two cartridges, I would buy the piano that is being represented by the Benz LP S' sound in a heartbeat.

Deciding if this sort of impression is useful or not is also probably meaningless. :-)

I'm not sure I understand the listening test you just did. Did you compare the sound of the two cartridges by listening to two digital files or did you listen to the actual cartridges using the same table, arm, wire etc? Please clarify. Thanks.
Dear Peterayer,

Yes, to clarify--and based on your post from last year, you may find it abstruse--I did this listening comparison with the digital files the OP posted. I realize this may cause you to dismiss my ramblings entirely; however, I heard the differences I noted rather clearly.