Get yourself a Grado!
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Shure M97xE. It tests with a near flat frequency response with the Ultimate Analogue Test LP. There is NOT a high end roll off, contrary to what other people claim by listening as compared to testing in real-time. I suggest using the Stevenson alignment geometry; I found no inner groove distortion problems or mis-tracking problems with the Stevenson at 1.25g Vertical Tracking Force (brush up). It sounded shockingly similar to my Dynavector 17D3. But, it's around $75, not $200. If you like boosted treble response, look elsewhere. If you like neutral, there is no other moving magnet I would recommend over this one, and I own the Audio Technica AT150MLX and Ortofon 2M Black. Don't let the low price fool you into thinking it's not an amazing piece of gear.
01-13-13: DconsmackWell, here's a review at TNT-Audio with frequency plots that show a downward tilt in the treble of 3dB or more relative to 1KHz. It's down at least 3dB by 10KHz at all capacitances, but has severe dropoff above 10Khz with capacitance above 370 pF. These graphs were plotted from Hi-Fi News test record pink noise tracks.
I have an M97xE; it's all right, tracks well, and if you use the damper brush it can track severely warped records. When they show up for $56 on Amazon they're worth snatching up. Otherwise, at $200 my candidates would be the Grado Silver or Gold, Ortofon 2M Blue, Goldring G2100, Ortofon MC 1 Turbo HOMC, or Clearaudio Concept V2. If it were up to me, I'd throw in another $125 and get the Audio Technica AT150MLX at LPGear.com. I have the M97xE, Ortofon OM10, and Denon DL-160, and the AT150MLX is *easily* that much better.
No, I haven't compared the AT150MLX to any of the DL103 variants. The AT150MLX gives me what I was looking for and is pretty much plug-n-play as long as you keep the total capacitive load between 100 and 200 pF. I've been happy enough with it not to experiment with another cartridge with entirely different gain, loading, and tracking force requirements. That may be my loss but I can live with it for now.
I do have an audiobuddy who went through an Ortofon 2M Red and an Ortofon MC 1 Turbo before settling on a DL-103, which he absolutely loves.
If my DL-160 is any indication, the DL-110 has an excellent tonal balance and its dynamics are bold and colorful, but not subtle. Nor would I say that it would smoke a Grado Gold unless you're only listening to certain aspects while ignoring others.
As for it having a more refined treble than an AT150MLX, dream on. As I said, if you can get the scratch together to pick up an AT150MLX for $325, it is *well worth* the extra money. It routinely retrieves micro dynamics the DL-160 doesn't even hint at. Yet it also has better tracking, wider bandwidth, and more transparency. I.e., better in every way.
I don't care what the arm and system matching is, the DL110/160 do not have as refined a treble as the AT150MLX. The HOMC Denons have a decent tonal balance and good macro-dynamics, but simply don't operate at the same level of resolution and detail extraction of the AT150MLX. If the AT sounds bright, it first of all needs the proper capacitive match (100-200 pF), and also benefits from resonance control. Once I wrapped my SL12x0 tonearm with Teflon pipe thread tape, the presentation became very linear with no loss of resolution. The AT150 wasn't bright; it was revealing undamped resonances elsewhere in the signal chain. It's part of what comes with a higher resolution transducer.
I know the difference between detailed and tipped up. I can't stand tipped up. It sounds bogus to me and I have no tolerance of it. It drives me out of the room. The low level detail of the AT150MLX is earned with a micro-line tip and very low moving mass, not treble glare that spotlights overtones and hall ambience.
I listen to classical a lot and hear lots of massed strings on my record player, from Bach to Holst, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, and Hovhanness. I also attend live symphony performances several times a year, including three between October and the end of 2012. The treble on my analog rig is linear, not tipped up. There were some brightness elements that were completely ameliorated with vibration and resonance control applied to the turntable and tonearm.
The AT150MLX wasn't TAS's 2011 Cartridge of the Year for excess brightness.
I didn't read every post. The Shure MM97xE is inexpensive, but it's frequency response is one of the most accurate available, and it tracks well with the Stevenson alignment geometry at maximum VTF and the brush up. It's not for audiophile snobs. It's for music lovers who want accuracy. (Yes, I resent some if the bashing it gets). It's not justified based on testing and listening results. It's almost not fair a cartridge that cheap performs so well.
What about the Shure m97xe/JICO SAS combo? That's about $240 total invested. I have an AT440mla and the stock Shure right now and they seem to do what most people describe. I'm hoping that the SAS will bring out more detail and track like the AT. Shooting for a sound between the 2.
I just ordered the SAS, but one person can only make 7 of those in a day so it'll be a few weeks.
However, if I had to toss one in the fire I would toss the Shure and keep the AT.