Best MM?

I want to try a MM with my Herron VTPH-2a. What's the best one? Maestro 2, Zephyr III, AT VM760SLC? Something else?

Showing 34 responses by orpheus10

This is strictly opinion, and the only facts I have to confirm my opinion, are when the very rich got much richer by manipulating the commodities markets, and made an astronomical amount of money off the price of food and gas.

For some reason, the folks here seem to know only "audiophilia"; but be that as it may, it wasn't until after the rich got much richer; that they had so much money, they began to spend it on the most ridiculous stuff, like 33,000 dollar interconnects, and all sorts of stuff that was the most expensive, with no regard to value. As if, somehow, the most expensive must be the best

For years I came into contact with rich people through real estate, and they always had an eye out for "value"; they wouldn't buy stuff unless it was worth what they paid for it, and if you recall the most expensive gear in the past was worth the high price, not some totally ridiculous price that was all out of whack.

Now it seems that almost every major high end audio brand has something that fits that bill of having some item which has no connection to value. Before now, Grado's products seemed to be related to value, but if his competitors are selling items that have no relation to value, why shouldn't he get some of that "easy money".

Since there is no way we can compare the Stantons and Pickerings to the Grado; is there any way we can compare the Grado to the Grado; I want some verification beside your word.

Time marches on, and so does progress; a lounge where a jukebox sits was not a listening room; things like "sound stage" and holographic image were not considered.

My Grado Master 2 can create a holographic sound stage, could the Stantons and the Pickerings do that?

Chakster, and Lewm, that catalog confirms some things I stated awhile back about jukeboxes. It said the Stanton cartridges were made especially for broadcast and recording professionals. Jukeboxes that went into the lounges in the early 60's were installed by professionals.

Some people distinguish "high end" by the names of the components, I distinguish high end by the sound that I hear. During the early 60's, the record you punched on the jukebox could be seen playing through the front glass; it was a 45, and I saw a Stanton Cartridge with a brush on the front end playing the record. Every thing in those jukeboxes was about as high end as you could get at that time, including the tube electronics, and speakers. That was because the sound of the music emanating from them kept the quarters rolling in big time; they made a lot of money; enough for gangsters to fight over.

I have an excellent audio memory, and I demand that my cartridge reproduce some of the "nuances" I heard from records I played at that time. One of those records was "Blue Funk" by Ray Charles and Milt Jackson; this tune has nuances that only the very best rigs can reproduce, and the jukeboxes I fed quarters certainly reproduced those nuances.

All of the artists on that record are the very best jazz masters of that time, including Ray Charles, who is known for everything except jazz.

Check "Skeeter Best" on guitar, beginning at 6:01; between 6:50 all the way to the end is where it really gets "funky"; those nuances are what I demand of a cartridge; but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Music is what it's all about.
You were never specific; Stanton and Pickering have been around for a long time and they were always considered top cartridges. 

If I only have your word in regard to comparisons of current MM's, I don't feel that's enough to go on.

I was using Empire and Shure V 15's in the 70's and 80's.

Once upon a time, I bought everything my favorite reviewer at "Stereophile" recommended that I needed. That worked out very well, until we got to cartridges. I did not like the cartridge he recommended, and it was even one of the favorites on this forum. That's when I discovered how finicky I am in regard to a cartridge, as everyone else should be.

It's taken a long time and a lot of experimentation to discover what I'm looking for in a cartridge. Since further experimentation will be both time consuming and expensive, (don't have either in abundance) I'll be restricted to Grado and Koetsu when finances allow. This means I'll have to take everyone's word for everything else.

There is no way I can debate "sound stage" in regard to any cartridges before the 90's, because I didn't get into that until after I got into the "hi end" which was early 90's.

Now that I'm into the whole bit about air and space around instruments, that's what I demand.

I was referring to the old Stantons and Pickerings that Chakster often speaks of; they were the best at that time, meaning the 50's and 60's.

Although I didn't state it, I was only referring to MM as older cartridges.

When bringing up those "old" MM cartridges we were half way into MONO; it's for sure we weren't heavy into "sound stage". My point is; these new MM and MI cartridges can produce a holographic sound stage, and from the reviews I read, are comparable to the MC's, but less expensive.

When you get into the MM's over 1K, you actually save money, because a cheaper phono will be quite sufficient, and the results might be better in some ways than the MC's.

Well Raul, to make a long story long, I will tell you a minute part of what I've done to have unaltered music.

To begin with, I have custom speakers (don't recommend it, wouldn't do it again) ; they are so neutral that the slightest change in interconnects is easily detectable.

First I engaged a "cross over design engineer" to guarantee they would have no sound of their own; then we selected the drivers; they're 3 way. (if the thought ever crosses your mind, the cross over is one part you can't leave to guess work)

While I've heard a multitude of other speakers that have personality which I've enjoyed; such as Klipsch, and JBL, I know mine deliver the musicians intentions, and the bottom line for me, is always the music.

Raul, I agree with your take on "I like it". That's why my speakers are as neutral as possible; I only want what the musicians who made the record intended for me to have; I'm a music lover, not an equipment lover.

When a person becomes an audiophile, he no longer wishes to alter the music to suit his taste, but only wants the music from the source to come through unaltered.

"I like it" can be used to justify anything; it can go far beyond differential preferences.

Are you a music lover, or an "equipment specification" lover? If you are a music lover, you will listen to what I have to say; if you are a spec and equipment lover you will dote on every word Raul has to say.

Make no mistake about this post, in no way am I challenging Raul's knowledge of cartridges, but I am challenging his method of classification in regard to good and bad.

Raul quite often ends his posts with this;

        "Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS"

There is a subliminal SS message hidden in that statement; that's because SS is more likely to have 0 noise and distortion than tube, but are you hearing what the musicians intended for you to hear or a good reproduction?

I'll give you an extreme example of music versus equipment; after my SS pre bit the dust, I asked for a CJ loaner. A "golden eared" audiophile was visiting at the time; although the CJ was apparently noisy, the music sounded better.

While I was thinking this, he blurted it out. His hearing was so acute, and his listening ability so intense, that I would invite him over for a session, and ask what I had changed without telling him. (I miss that guy)

He would demand complete silence, and after listening for awhile, he would say "You got new interconnects", and whatever his answer, it would be the correct one; that's what I had changed.

Everyone knows about ARC; I got an ARC SS pre loaner, and we listened to it for 5 minutes before returning thumbs down, and going back to tubes.

No noise, and 0 distortion can be seductive, but I want to hear every nuance the musicians are laying down, even if that includes both noise and distortion; a tube phono is a perfect match for a MM cartridge.

Chakster, the cartridges on jukeboxes were quite visible, and that brush on the end of the Pickering cartridge was unforgettable.

The jukeboxes I'm talking about were in sophisticated lounges that also featured live entertainment. The same professionals that installed sound systems in high end salons, also installed them in these lounges. Evidently you have no idea how important the sound system and music was to a lounge.

    These were among the cartridges they used;

Ckakster, jukeboxes in the city were the only high end; maybe you're thinking of jukeboxes in "podunk". Gangsters fought wars over whose jukebox would be where.

I would not have fed those jukeboxes with quarters for jive time music; they were composed of state of the art parts, like custom tube amps, beside the best cartridges and 45 turntable.

Jukeboxes were the only high end in the 60's for the ordinary person.

Chakster, I was thinking about this cartridge, but it's not MM;

To be honest, I'm quite satisfied with the Grado; it reproduces nuances quite well. People who didn't choose Grado said they were musical, and that's my major requirement.

No, I'm not trying to sell Grado, my main point has been about the effort it takes to find one's own cartridge, the one that reproduces his musical requirements; this hasn't been easy, it's taken years.

The Pickering and Stanton cartridges I saw on the jukeboxes were Mono, just like the music on those 45's. Some people claim it's better than stereo.

Raul, the question I asked was a very difficult one to answer; it involved different characteristics of the same high quality cartridges.

For example: let's compare cartridges rated "B" by "Stereophile"; we already know they're good cartridges, we're simply concerned with the differences in these cartridges.

The question I asked pertained to the subtle nuances in that particular tune; how those nuances are delivered make a lot of difference; all of the difference to me.

I'll post the tune again and point them out to you. While the entire tune is a composite of nuances, they are most critical beginning with the bass at 5:55 and then the guitar at 6:52 all the way to the end.

This was a 45 RPM mono; only the best rigs can capture all the nuances; maybe only the best ears can hear them.

Possibly, a 15K cartridge does everything perfectly, but not a 1K cartridge; that's why it's necessary for me to isolate what's most important to my musical enjoyment and go with that.

Raul, I've got a question for you; it's not that I doubt the validity of your evaluation of cartridges, but I wonder what music you use to evaluate.

For example; what differences would you find when evaluating this music with different cartridges; in the same price range of course, let's try over 1K but less than 2K.

Let us put things in their proper perspective; this stuff was a lot cheaper in 1960, and it was what the average person played music on; that's why jukeboxes pulled in so many quarters.

This was the high end in 1960, and few people owned Fisher; my rig was Emerson.,%20catalogs/1960%20Fisher%20Catalog.pdf

This was a lot of money at that time, and you got a lot of audio for your money.

I read some comments on "consoles" and most of them had no idea what they were talking about; Magnavox was good while Fisher and Grundig were very good.

Some "brandless" consoles were just beautiful furniture.

Grundig Majestic from Germany was tops;


These consoles produced some of the most beautiful music; it soothed me to sleep and I had sweet dreams. I believe the cabinet and the wood played a big part in the sound.

While all that equipment sounded good at the time, the only thing that comes remotely close to my moderate "high end rig" is the jukebox, and we are talking strictly "mono"

"So much for the good old days"


There’s something I left out; could those cartridges reproduce the "sound stage" I now demand?

As I recall, the cartridges were the top of the line Stanton and Pickering.

Jukeboxes in the late 50's and early 60's was the "high end" of that time. The reason they had the best cartridges, and 45 RPM turntables was quite simple; they pulled quarters out of patrons pockets in bars. No one I knew, nor did I have anything to compare to those jukeboxes.

Gangsters fought wars over whose jukebox was going to be where. The jukebox made more money than the lounge. This was because of the quality of the sound they delivered; they were made of the finest tube electronics, and the very top cartridges of that time.

This is the best I could find, and it doesn't even give a hint as to the quality of jukeboxes in the city; the nuances, and the subtlety of those nuances that made this tune what it was, are nearly impossible to duplicate. Maybe I'm there, maybe not; I don't have a late 50's jukebox to compare.

Ray Charles – piano, electric piano, alto saxophone ("Soul Brothers')
Milt Jackson – vibraphone, piano ("Soul Brothers," "How Long, How Long Blues," guitar ("Bag's Guitar Blues")
Billy Mitchell – tenor saxophone
Connie Kay – drums
Oscar Pettiford – bass
Skeeter Best – guitar
Kenny Burrell – guitar

Each one of those artists was a star in his own right; what we are talking about is the comparison with this music from the jukebox, with listening to those artists live.

That was Skeeter Best on guitar.

Let me repeat; it's the nuances, and the subtlety of the nuances that are so difficult to reproduce; everything in the record chain has to be perfect.

To make a long story long, I am an Electronics Technician, with a first class license; that's how I earned a living for my entire working life.

It was my philosophy that it was all in the specifications. Then one day my prized SS preamp bit the dust. I was curious as to why people would pay so much for tube preamps, that were not half as good as mine according to the specifications.

I got a loaner CJ PV 10, that had audible distortion, but the music sounded better than my highly rated SS amp with the very best specifications; that's when I decided to listen to those people who call themselves "Audiophiles", who don't even know ohm's law.

Now I listen carefully to what they have to say, because the bottom line is; "What does the music sound like when played through a piece of equipment"? The quality of that sound is a combination of things, and one of them is high price parts. That means that high quality sound ain't gonna be cheap.

When somebody tells me a $200. cartridge is going to sound better than a 1K cartridge, I'm skeptical. This is in reference to the best Stanton and Pickering cartridges. Those cartridges were in reference to "Mono"; yes, I believe they could compare with today's best, if were talking about "Mono", but I'm not talking about, Mono, I'm talking about a holographic 3D sound stage.

Raul stated that 1K was not much money; if that's all you can afford, it's a lot of money; that's what I meant by, "It's all relative".

While there are as many different colors of sound as there are colors of the rainbow, each one of these colors has to be compared within it's price range; "There ain't no free lunch", and if there is, I want to be the first to get it.

If I was in the market for a very expensive cartridge, this is the one I would buy;

That's because each time I have gone up the Grado price line, I have been well satisfied; their color of the rainbow is my color.

Since I was a born music lover, I have been in this game all of my life; however, I've only been in the "high end" since 1990.

Are we to go by objective specifications, or a subjective judges recommendations? You be the judge?

While it's for certain we can not personally review all the cartridges we would like to, I have discovered something that works for me; I place a lot of validity in the reviewers judgment who uses music that I like; which is jazz, with emphasis on the vocals.

If the reviewer uses music that you couldn't pay me to listen to, he has less credibility.

The bottom line is; I'm in this game to satisfy one person, and one person only.

Here are objective specifications you can compare. I have no idea how they compare in regard to rank with each other; you and others can be the judge of that.

The TRX-2 cantilever is a precision-made sapphire tube. Due to its excellent hardness and rigidity resonance is reduced to practically zero. The stylus tip is a nude diamond, featuring low mass and large contact area (ADC Vital III type PH LineContact 0.32 x 1.57 mil) for lower record wear. This is a wire suspension system to define the fulcrum and provide extended frequency response and low distortion at low tracking force.

Specification of the ADC TRX-2 IM cartridge:
Stylus type: nude PH line contact (vital III)
Cantilever: sapphire tube
Output voltage: 3mV
Channel balance: within 0.5dB
Channel separation (1kHz): more than 30dB
Frequency response (+/-1.5dB): 20 to 30,000Hz
Compliance: 40cu
Impedance (1kHz): 3.0 kOhm
DC Resistance: 960 Ohm
Tracking force: 1.2g (+/- 0.2g)
Load resistance: 47K ohms (Capacitance 275pF)
Weight: 6.5g

The ADC 26 is one of the finest in a renowned line of cartridges, designed and built by the world's foremost quality pickup manufacturer.

Using the unique induced magnet principle, it combines minute stylus tip mass and high compliance, resulting in unparalleled performance.

Output: 4mv at 55 cms/sec recorded velocity

Tracking force: 0.7g

Frequency response: 10Hz to 24kHz +- 2dB

Stylus: Elliptical contact

Vertical tracking angle: 15 degrees

Recommended load impedance: 47,000 ohms nominal

The Master2 and Reference2 models use a five piece OTL cantilever technology achieving an additional 5% tip mass reduction over the Platinum2 and Sonata2 models. The coils are wound with ultra-high purity long crystal (UHPLC) oxygen free copper wire. The Master2 model is mounted with Grado's specially designed nude elliptical diamond, and the Reference1 model uses Grado's true ellipsoid design diamond. These cartridges are individually calibrated.

Reference V2
OUTPUT: 4.8mV @ 5 CMV (45)
AVERAGE 40 DB - 10-30 KHZ
LOAD: 47,000 OHMS

Raul, it's all relative.

I have owned the Empire 4000 D, and the Shure V 15 IV; the Shure had a brush in front of it that collected dust and it also helped in tracking warped records. I also heard Stanton and Pickering cartridges; they were all very good cartridges, but that was a long time ago.

Currently, Grado is my favorite cartridge; this is after owning a number of other cartridges that were recommended by members here. Apparently we cherish different qualities in the music, or prefer different genres of music, (some cartridges are more conducive to one genre over another) those cartridges didn't float my boat, and Grado seems to float very few boats here. What I'm saying is, this is no one size fits all.

I began with the Platinum wood body, moved up to the Sonata, and now I have the Master 2. According to the "Golden Age of Cartridges", me and Joe Grado both went backwards; me more so than him, because I paid my hard earned cash for his backward cartridges, and continue to do so.

I'm sure that nearly 100% of the people who own current MM cartridges have owned or heard those "Golden Age" cartridges; after all there were no CD's, nothing but records, and we didn't use cactus needles; therefore we had to have cartridges.

In regard to records, cartridges and TT's; we either advanced into the "high end", or sold our records and turntables. That's because back in this "Golden Age", those Golden Age cartridges and turntables didn't hold a candle to a good CD player; that's a fact that was supported by the actions of millions of people all over this Globe.

I have no idea what happened to my old Gerard GT 55, and don't care. If I had sold my records, I wouldn't be having this conversation, but after so much noise was made about records, I investigated and discovered that if one was willing to pay the price for the trip to paradise, it could be had; therefore, that ton of vinyl I already owned had to be tested.

Presently, I'm enjoying my new record collection (the newly discovered music on my old record collection). While I have purchased some new (old) records, whether or not I'll go "hog wild" remains to be seen; the records I seek are quite pricey.

Enjoy the music.

Chakster, I recall seeing Stanton and Pickering on Jukeboxes in the days of old. Yes they were very good, but I don't recall seeing anybody sitting in front of a Jukebox trying to dial in a sound stage.

I get a 3D holographic sound stage with my Grado Master 2 cartridge. I don't recall anyone even mentioning "sound stage" in the "Golden Age" as you refer to it.

I have discovered cartridges to be highly competitive in regard to price; meaning that if the Clearaudio doesn't offer $2000 worth of sound, it won't last.

While different brands have different "house sounds", people who buy them feel they have something worth the price they paid for them.

The "Chrisma" costs more than this highly regarded MC, and whoever buys it figures it's worth the price; what I'm saying, is that the market place determines the price, and how much a cartridge is worth.

lyra Argo stereo MC phono cartridge. Medium output (0.5 mV), aluminum alloy body with boron cantilever.


Fourwnds, sometime you have to go against the wind; such is the case with Grado and this forum.

"More and more though I’m less interested in scratching that curiosity itch, maybe I’n gettin closer to finding my sound, or tired of blowing money, I don’t know."

Fourwnds, I would say all of the above. Although I would try a lot of things if it began raining money in my listening room, I don't expect that to happen.

On the serious side, I'm just enjoying my record collection immensely without thinking about anything other than how good the music sounds, and that's what I say to you;

Enjoy the music.

The purpose of this forum is to enable each person to get the best bang for their buck.

It has taken me many years to discover the cartridge for me "that I could afford". This is a long story that I won't try to shorten. Way back when Corey Greenberg at Stereophile was my go to reviewer, I bought everything he recommended that I needed. I still have 3 preamps he recommended that are working. Naturally I bought the cartridge he recommended, and he recommended it wholeheartedly.

I found this cartridge to be hard and lifeless. It seemed everyone on this forum liked that particular cartridge except me; that's when I began the long discovery process.

First and foremost, some objective search for "the best" of anything is a foolish search; if such a thing existed, you couldn't afford it, and if you could, you would have one of your "underlings" find it for you.

Yes! There is a best cartridge in your price range; it is the best cartridge for you, and you will have to make the expensive process of elimination and discovery.

I have my complete record collection on an "external hard drive"; consequently I can review records all day long without leaving my listening chair. After upgrading to my present cartridge, I noticed a remarkable change in the music; each record seemed to reveal the essence of the musicians intentions. That caused me to decide to re-record my entire collection, and since then, I have a perpetual smile on my face.

It's not easy being a "musiophile/ audiophile" with complete emphasis on the music.

Since I can't just go out and buy a 2M Black, I had to satisfy my curiosity the best way I could, and here is a comparison between the cartridge I'm using and also my favorite.

Presently, no matter how many people claimed the 2M Black was better, it wouldn't matter; that's because way back when, I chose the favored cartridge on this forum, and discovered it was definitely not for me.

BTW, I have the Grado Master 2.

Chakster, thanks for the documentary on Grado Labs; their philosophy of quality, and consistently delivering a product their customers appreciate is one of the reasons I buy their cartridges.

Grado is called "the poor man's Koetsu" for a reason; it's as close as a poor man can get to a Koetsu. I heard a middle of the line Koetsu, and when my budget allows, I'll get one; however, in the meantime, I'm quite satisfied with the Grado Master 2.

Although I moved up from the Platinum, to the Sonata, and now I have the Master, I don't recommend Grado on this forum because it's not a Rock cartridge, and that's what most here seem to prefer.

In the beginning, I relied on this forum, and I was never satisfied; that's why I say each person has to make his own discovery in regard to the best cartridge for him.

Enjoy the music.

Inna, $1000 is a lot of money to me to, but trading in my Sonata for the Grado Master 2 turned out to be the right way to go for me, and I have never been so delighted.

I would try a new cartridge every other day if I had the dough, but that's not the case.

My line of reasoning was quite simple; if I liked the Sonata, I would like the Grado Master 2 even better.

Dhcod, this is no game; if you are a music lover it is essential that you get as much as possible out of each and every time you play a record.

Since this is for the long haul, go to the max on your budget. The Clearaudio Maestro V2 Ebony sounds like a good start.

Cartridges are not an investment, they are for your supreme audio pleasure; bonds and stocks are for investment.

Music is subjective while cartridge specifications and price are objective. It’s needless to compare a $200 cartridge with a 1K cartridge, but cartridges should be compared in the same price range to get anything meaningful out of the comparison.

Anytime someone comes up with a cheap cartridge that’s better than an expensive one, that conversation gets deleted.

In regard to cartridges, I have several points to make; each cartridge, in each price range, in each brand is unique, and there is one that will take you to "Shangri La".

Forums like this are a good starting point, but you will have to experiment for yourself; anyone’s claims that a cartridge is best, means that it is the best for him, or her.

Dhcod, cartridges are very competitive; therefore, you are always speaking of the cartridges in a specific price range.

Would you ask someone who is the best girlfriend for you? Of course not, but that's what you are doing in a sense when you ask, "What is the best cartridge"?

While cartridges in the 1K range are very good, there are many trade offs for each brand. You will have to decide which "house sound" is most conducive to the aspects of the music that floats your boat the most. I mentioned the 1K range because that's as high as I am currently going, you might go higher.

For a music lover, nothing is more important than the cartridge; it can put your favorite female vocalist in the room with you, but maybe that's not what you want.

Another cartridge can rock your world, but nix the female vocalist. you see, unless you are in the vicinity of 10K, your cartridge will not do everything.

I have found happiness in the 1K range with a Grado Master; jazz is my thing and I love female vocalists.

Just like you will have to (or you had to) discover which girl was best for you by trial and error, you will have to do the same thing with cartridges. Suggestions from others on this forum is a good starting point, but inevitably you will have to make discoveries for yourself by trial and error; that's less expensive than living with the wrong cartridge for the rest of your life.