broken dreams - new cartridge help please!


I need help on selecting a replacement MC cartridge. Two years ago I put together my first serious vinyl system:

- Transfiguration Axia S MC cartridge
- VPI Scout 2 with upgraded heavy platter and JMW 10 tonearm
- EAR 83P preamp
- Line Magnetic LM-211 IA tube amp
- Legacy Studio HD Monitor speakers

Note I listed the cartridge first - I did a lot of research and perhaps spent an inordinate amount on it, but I got an amazing deal from a EU vendor from Audigon ($1100US - new in box). Loved the set up! Sound was better than I thought possible :-)

Now the sad part - last week my house cleaner snapped the cantilever off while dusting :-(. I had told her to leave the stereo to me to dust, but I guess the desire to clean what I hadn't for some time got the better of her. As the 10 JMW sticks out a bit from the VPI base and the acrylic dust cover no longer fits, it was exposed. Unfortunately, the plastic cantilever guard was such a difficult fit that I was more afraid of snapping the cantilever off trying to put it on and take off that I never used it.

I checked with Needle Doctor about replacing but as I suspected they cannot. I have emailed Immutable/Transfiguration but no response :-(

Sorry for the long preamble, but I had to commiserate with some one who might feel for me (my wife doesn't get it- she is happy listening to an Amazon Echo Plus).

Checking current prices on the Axia reveal $2450 new, $1600 used. Currently cannot afford that. I need to come in under $1000. Need some help from you more experienced audiophiles out there! My listening tastes are a bit eclectic, but center on rock and blues. Want to stick with a low output MC.

Here are some that I have been considering:
- Ortofon Quintet Black S MC
- Audio-Technica AT33Sa
- Dynavector 20X2L
- Sumiko Blackbird Low MC

I know some of these may retail over $1k, but I am not adverse to a low hour used cartridge or scouring the net for good deals.

Any help on the above options or alternatives would be very much appreciated :-)

Thanks, Rick.
rykk999
Try moving magnet, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the performance and sound quality and value. Audio-Technica VM540ML is my current favorite. At $250 it’s a massive bargain. 
Have Andy Kim at phonocartridgeretipping.com or Steve Leung at VAS Audio quote you a retip with a new boron cantilever and microridge or line contact stylus. 

Send it to either of them and you'll probably have it back within a couple of weeks and it will likely sound considerably better than any of the alternative choices you've listed above. 
ElusiveDisc.com lists "$1449.99" for Re-Tip/Exchange on a Transfiguration Axia. Sounds like a decent option; not sure why Needledoctor couldn’t help more. Give the other guys a call and see what they say. They’re getting some 40% cut for simply passing along an 8 oz package, so you’d think they would be eager to help.

I’d save a bit longer and get what you want rather than potentially settling for a lesser $1K cartridge. I’m also of the opinion that if you love a cartridge that needs work, keep it original by only having work done by the manufacturer. Otherwise get a different cartridge, and sell the body to someone who will get the work done wherever they like.

Isn’t Transfiguration Japanese? Sometimes you can search & import cartridges directly from Japan for greatly discounted prices. Varies a lot by brand, though.

I’ve heard so many stories like yours over the years. We really need a vinyl-junkie PSA: have your cartridges LOCKED away when the cleaning lady comes. It’s not enough simply to tell them to stay away from the audio gear. It’s NEVER enough! They must be physically restricted from coming into contact with your precious cartridge.
I’m sure Soundsmith, Vas or one of the other cartridge repair services will be able to help you out. I had my Sumiko Blue Point 3 done and it was better than new. Lots cheaper than buying new.
You might want to see if VAS (Steven Leung) can repair it.  The thread immediately above this one is all about Steve and very positive.

Thanks all for the info - I will definitely contact the folks mentioned about repairing. I know the Axia does use boron cantilever. Yes, they are Japanese - I may try contacting them again as well. I will report back.

I need to find a way to ensure it doesn't happen again... any ideas welcome!

Rick. 
The Audio-Technica VM540ML has an easy to use stylus guard that flips up when you’re playing a record. 
Try to install some type of lock for the tt cover.
I've been hearing transfiguration might be gone now. (Unconfirmed).
There are some real challengers to the Axia but I also think 'someone' should have it repaired even if you decide to try something new....
There are only a few things you can do to assure house cleaners don't break your cartridge.

1. Lock the room
2. Remove the headshell/cartridge or tonearm wand from your turntable
3. Don't have house cleaners

Nothing else works 100%, and talking to them or giving instructions is a recipe for failure.
Hard to verify re death of Seiji Yoshioka - nothing on their website.

https://www.avforums.co.za/index.php?topic=70852.0

w our housekeeper or nephews I have a layered yet also not riskless defense system, first I use the Lyra clear slide on cover w care!!! then I have a precut to fit cardboard barrier that I slide under front of table and tape to shelf above w blue painters tape.
FRAGILE written on it.


probably just jinxed myself....
Hi folks- thanks for the suggestions and info!

I have reached out to both Steve @ VAS and Andy at  phonocartridgeretipping.com and both have indicated they can replace with a boron cantilever. Do any of you have experience with both? Are they on par with quality and service?

Regarding future protection, I may try to craft a cartridge cover that is easier to put on than the one that came with it, but also look into a new plexi cover that will fit the JMW 10 tonearm. Any one out there have a cover that might fit that they would swap for the one I have that fits a VPI Scout with 9 in arm?

tomic601 no jinx, just good karma :-). I will def use cardboard as a defense on cleaning days if I don't have anything else.
Heard nothing but good on Steve from vas. Just search some very recent threads on him, fast service, crazy low pricing from what I see.
Good luck!

Btw, time for a new cleaning service I think!
The Absolute Sound review comparing the $249 Audio-Technica VM540ML against the $649 VM760SLC to be nearly equivalent in performance, not just in technical detail, but in communication of emotional content. 
rykk999-

Your pain is felt.

The Blackird is a great cart. It is does however, have the exposed cantilever.  It will break in a microsecond  due to loss of awareness.

Have you considered the AT ART9? Just a little north of your budget. I personally found the ATOC9 III great for half as well.

I used both for several years on my VPI.
 I've used Andy Kim. Very happy with his work. 
Hello Rick, just buy yourself a new cartridge (or lightly used one), do not bother with re-tippers, buy exactly what cartridge designed is made. Do you know the effective mass of your tonearm to select a cartridge ? 

 
@chakster  Can you expand on why you would suggest someone should buy a used cartridge over a retipped cartridge? 
Can you expand on why you would suggest someone should buy a used cartridge over a retipped cartridge?
@big_greg

J.Carr explained it on this forum much better than me. But i will try again.

Just because you, me or anyone else have no idea about canculations made by the original cartridge designed for a certain high-end model - this is the reason why certain type of cantilever and stylus has been used (most of them are exclussively made for one particular brand and not available to anyone else, never ).

You can "upgrade" only cheap/average cartridges when you change one cantilever to another, or one stylus type to another. But your retipper can’t upgrade a state of the art high-end cartridge made by well knowd cartridge designers, just becase your retipped has no clue about many aspect of the original design, material and more important a calculation to match them together.

The right way to "retip" or "refurbish" a high-end cartridge is to send it to the original manufacturer and original designer who can work on it.

If you work on it with somebody else then you have no idea what you will get and it’s no longer an original cartridge. Maybe you will like it, maybe not, but this is not the original cartridge (cantilever, stylus mass, lengh, thickness can be way different compared to the original).

It’s funny when people are so concerned about cartridge alignment and micron difference between the protractors, vta or sra, but can accept a third-party cantilever or stylus instead of the original (sometimes unique) stylus/cantilever combo on their MC cartridges.

I don’t care what a honest retipper will tell me, i know that he does not have an access to the original materials available only to the original manufacturer. Also i’ve seen a pictures of retipped cartridges under microscope and compared them to the originals. The originals are way more accurate (or completely different).

And if we’re talking about just re-tip (on existing cantilever) then you will see the enormous amount of glue added by the retipper.

This is why i think it’s better to buy another cartridge NEW or LIGHTLY USED if the cost of the retip/refurbish by the original manufacturer is too much for a user.

So many great MC or MM cartridges available on the market for under $1k (new or used), this is why i think an OP could simply try another cartridge made by well known designer.



Some good points.

I've had my Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood retipped twice, once by Soundsmith and once by Andy Kim. In both instances it seemed to perform and sound the same, but of course time passed and my audio memory isn't that great.  It's true different materials were used. I think that some might consider the ability to choose a different cantilever material a plus.

I bought a used Van Den Hul cartridge that arrived with no diamond on the stylus. I sent that to Van Den Hul and not only did he retip it, he completely rebuilt it. Definitely a different level of work and done by the creator, A J Van Den Hul himself.
@big_greg 

Yes, the story about VdH cartridge refurbidhed by VdH himself is a good example of my theory, because the SoundSmith or even less qualified retippers (there are a bunch of them around) in this case is the worst scenario for this High-End cartridge. VdH is using exclussive materials for his High-End cartridges. He's expensive, but you know why. 

Trying completely different cartridge is also good idea, because there are many cartridges of any kind that we never tried yet. 


Hi folks,
thanks for the further dialog. I did explore trying to get the cartridge repaired by Transfiguration, but I cannot get a response from them. Unfortunately,  I have heard that Mr Seiji Yoshioka, the master crafter of Transfiguration cartridges, has died, which may make it impossible to repair. 
So, what to do with a cartridge that retails for $2450 that has a broken stylus? I can't afford a new one, but didn't want to give up on this one. I have sent it to Steve Leung at VAS. He is going to replace with a boron line contact cantilever. I understand that it is not the original, but I am hoping it will sound better than any cartridge I could get for under $500.
I think it is also wise to acquire another new cartridge at some point as a backup and for comparison. I do want to stick with low output MC to pair with my EAR 834P.
I will report back on how things go. It will be another 1-2 weeks before I get it back.
I understand that it is not the original, but I am hoping it will sound better than any cartridge I could get for under $500.

Why do you think so ? Last year i’ve bought on ebay Dynavector 23RS MR with Ruby cantilever NOS and Dynavector KARAT 17DS MR with Diamond cantilever for about $500 each. Diamond is the most expensive and exotic cantilever. Both carts are fully original, both with MicroReach tips. Both are LOMC made in the 80’s.

The quality can be superb even for a relatively low price, you never know how cheap you can buy unused vintage cartridge online.

Instead you paid $500 just for the cantilever/stylus and repair fee. Of cource it’s up to you, but the price for repair job and materials is equal to the price of the new cartridge. I have no idea why people think that $500 for repair with third-party parts (not the original) is cheap in this case?




If you're getting a$2400 cartridge fixed for under $500 its $2000 cheaper than buying a new one. 
My rebuilts have sounded good or better than new.
Chakster

Not everyone has the love or trust for vintage carts as you do.

I have a few and pretty happy and comfortable with buying more and learning but it is not for all types.
@johnto

If you’re getting a $2400 cartridge fixed for under $500 its $2000 cheaper than buying a new one.

If you’re sending your High-End cartridge to a third-party vendor you have no idea what you will get. You digits means nothing. If you can’t send a cartridge for rebuild to the original manufacturer (read a cartridge designer) why you’re buyin such expensive cartridge? Just to send it to third-party vendor ? I just don’t understand the logic, really. You want a US vendor to fix a Japanese cartridge from a well known designer ? If the original designer is available this is the best way to fix a cartridge if you really like the cartridge.

My rebuilts have sounded good or better than new.

I often read such comments on the forums, seems like a third-party service is always better than original cartridges voiced and tuned by legendary cartridge designers?

You’re free to believe in this BS, but you can ask any cartridge designer (if you can) why it’s not true, luckily we have Jonathan Carr on our forum and he explained why it’s not a good idea.

Your cartridge can be better than the original only if you’re upgrading an entry level cartridge with some better and more expensive parts such as cantilever and stylus tip.


@uberwaltz

Not everyone has the love or trust for vintage carts as you do.

I have a few and pretty happy and comfortable with buying more and learning but it is not for all types.


Of course, but destroying ultra High-End cartridges (voiced by world’s best cartridge designers) with third-party vendors is not for everyone too. It’s like leaving your Porsche at Ford Car Service to replace the most important part in the engine with "something else" to say "ohh, that was cheaper and much better than the original". It could be a project, experiment or whatever, but definitely not the right way to treat ultra high-end cartridges. This is a compromise, nothing else.
Chakster
I do not disagree with you
But it maybe in this case that the oem cannot do anything for the OP with this cart if the report of death is correct.

Although maybe not ideal it may be the only option left in this case.
Rick: 

I think that you will be extremely happy with your retipped Axia. You're retipping like for like with boron cantilever and as long as the stylus is similar in profile I very strongly doubt that you'll hear any difference, certainly any significant difference, from the way your Axia played before its demise. 

And I also strongly feel that it will perform well above the level of any of your new options listed in your original post. 

You should keep us posted when your cartridge returns from VAS. 
Dear @rykk999: The Axia is very good quality performer and no maters what no re-tippers can do the job for the cartridge can performs as the original.

You need to stretch your money to take the @mulveling  advise: 1,499.00, this is not a true re-tip but you will receive a " new " Axia.

http://www.elusivedisc.com/Transfiguration-Axia-MC-Phono-Cartridge-038mV/productinfo/TRANAXIA/

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,
R.
Raul
It looks like there is a problem with Transfiguration doing any work right now, this is part of the OP dilemma.

If this is true then he may have little choice in the matter.
It’s funny to see our Mexican posts when he’s contradict with himself.
Once he told us that only Ortofon can do the job to refurbish Ortofon cartridges, because they are so special and have an access to their own exclussively made materials, now he said that for another cartridge brands it does not matter. What a BS! This is typical double standards!

If anyone would like to re-cantilever VdH cartridge not by Mr.VdH himself, but at VAS or at Kim then it’s a downgrade for sure. Much lower price, but a downgrade in quality. This rule is the same for all ultra high-end cartridges from well known designers.

You want to believe that all the cartridges must be send to SoundSmith or whatever retipper for an "upgrade" ?? Mystically 99% of the owners yelling "my cartridge is better than the original", but only a few can actually compare an original cartridge and another refurbished sample not by faulty memories, but in real time. We often see a refurbished cartridges for sale for some reason.

It also make me laugh when audiophiles claiming they are able to hear a tiny the difference in VTA or VTF or micron difference in cartridge alignment, or even a f*****g fuse (omg), but not able to hear an entirely different cantilever/stylus mounted by some third-party vendor on a bench at his garage on some ultra high-end cartridge from world famous cartridge designer who used exclussive parts for his cart, voiced and tuned accordingly after a years of try and errors.

Read an old J.Carr’s comment and learn a bit:

Changing only the stylus will alter the sound less than if the cantilever material is changed. When a cartridge is designed, the designer will consider the moving mass (sum of the stylus, cantilever and coils), the resonant character of the cantilever, and the (sonic) propagation velocity of the cantilever (affected by the cantilever’s mass and rigidity), then choose the suspension and dampers accordingly. If you change the cantilever material, you are effectively throwing the original designer’s calculations away.

There is much more (far more than what I have written above) to rebuilding a cartridge than affixing a new stylus or altering the cantilever. In over 30 years of involvement in the phono cartridge industry, I have not seen one retipper who has presented the entire story, who has effectively said "Here are the all of the considerations. Here are the cons as well as the pros. Make a wise choice that is best for you".

To retip a cartridge that was originally equipped with a stylus made by one manufacturer with one made by a different manufacturer is like rebuilding a Porsche engine with Jaguar pistons and crankshaft - the components used for rebuilding may be of high quality, but the design philosophy is rather different from the original.





@chakster I understand the point you are trying to make about retipping not being original but if I can get it 95% of the way there, that is already satisfactory for many people. You have to understand that 5% is sacrificed because of damage and small shifts. Just think of it like destroying a car engine. Even if you get a replacement engine from the manufacturer and when to the dealership to install it, it will not be the same as original because it won’t fit exactly like original with but it will feel very close and be driveable and many people are fine with that.
chakster"It’s funny to see our Mexican posts"

Why is it that you like to refer to people based on they're ethnicity rather than they're actual name you refer to people as Slavic or Polish or Mexician why don't you say they are black or Jewish or Muslim all of these people have names it is disrespectful to not use them even if it is just a screen name it is more meaningful and respectful than referring to them by their ethnicity?

@vasaudio

I understand the point you are trying to make about retipping not being original but if I can get it 95% of the way there

With all my respect, i think it depends of the exact cartridge model.

I’ve owned refurbished cartridges, i wish to believe they are very close to the original, but when i compared them to the original they are not even close. Comparison is the key, we must have two samples to compare A/B in our systems. I did that, not even close (it wasn’t your job, but another popular retipper).


Just think of it like destroying a car engine. Even if you get a replacement engine from the manufacturer and when to the dealership to install it, it will not be the same as original because it won’t fit exactly like original ...

Yes, this is the reason why most of the manufacturers of ultra high-end do not bother with refurbishing or re-tip, they are simply offering a brand new cartridge for 60% of the retail (under their exchange programm via official distributors).

I am not the one who’s ready to pay 60% of retail when it comes to $3-5k cartridge, but for many serious audiophiles it is not a problem at all. My point is that when someone jump to a premium category he must stay there, it will cost a lot, but this is a premium segment (it’s always like that). For "normal" people we have tons of amazing cartridges to choose for $300-1500 (NOS, still sealed, lightly used or even brand new from honest sellers, from grey market sellers etc).

It’s not necessary trying to be super cool buying a Porsche if you can’t even pay for service. This is my point.
Hi folks,
I appreciate the lively discussion but please keep to the topic and facts and try not to get "bent" out of shape (yes, pun intended :-).

As mentioned, Transfiguration is not able to do any repairs. I understand that the original artist will normally be the best way to ensure best results in replacing cantilever and stylus, but that is not available. I am not sure what percentage of the whole the cantilever and stylus make (likely very high), but the rest of the cartridge is a great base to work with and one that I am not ready to throw away.

As a mechanical engineer with semiconductor structure and interconnect experience, I know a little bit about materials and systems. The cantilever and diamond stylus are part of the cartridge system. Obviously, there are other parts that make a great cartridge, including housing design/material, magnet design/material, windings and coil design/material, and overall geometry. And of course quality. High end cartridges are almost more a work of art than mass produced, robot made electronics. A large part of the cost is in labor that is highly specialized. So yes, Van den Hul is best at repairing his own work.

That said, just as in art (or counterfeit $100 bills) there are people who can approach the work of the masters. They may not be 100%, but they may be very good so that 99.9% of people would not know the difference. Another part is obviously materials - I am assuming the the available boron cantilevers with line contact stylus are of good quality.

I do not know if Steve at VAS is such a person, but I am willing to take the chance. From what I have heard from others and from him, he is careful and takes pride in his work. That is all I can ask for at this point.

I will let you know my perspectives once I get it back.

Rick

Post removed 
Call Peter at Soundsmith and get his thoughts.  He did excellent work replacing the cantilever and stylus on my Cardas Myrtle Heart, and was very accessible when I wanted to talk to him.  Probably the best $450 I ever spent.
@chakster 
Buying a Porsche may not be about being super cool. It may be a dream that one would love to fulfill before leaving this earth. I also don't think it is about being super rich. It is about trying to fulfill one's dreams and desires given the lot one has. I am also a sports car and motorcycle enthusiast. Currently I drive a Honda Civic, but that doesn't mean I don't aspire towards a Porsche (or Aston Martin, or last model Viper). Regarding a motorcycle, I am the proud owner of a 2007 Ducati Monster S4RS. To my eye, this is not only the best looking Ducati, but an amazing rush with 140hp and 400lbs. I bought it used with under 10k miles at a third of what the previous owner had into it. And for the most part, I do my own maintenance - it is a labor of love.

Regarding my recent love of analog audio, I bought the best components that I could afford at the time. I am not rich, and out of the entire system (see my original post for details), the cartridge was the only component that I bought new. At that, I got an amazing deal and only paid $1100US from a high end european audio broker.

I have been extremely happy with the outcome and relish my listening time.  For me, this has nothing to do with being super cool, but at this stage of my life (just turned 59) it is about trying to get the most out of every moment. I am generally the only person that even listens to my system. Right now my finances are not such that I can buy a new or used Axia.

Does that mean I shouldn't have bought it if I can't afford to buy a new one? Not to me. Hopefully my finances will improve (working hard on that :-) and I will also be able to buy a used Aston Martin at some point. For now I will do the best I can with what I have and (try to) enjoy each day to its fullest.
Dear @rykk999: Did you already ask to Elusive Disc about trough that link?  

R.
@rykk999

It’s a metaphor, nothing personal. You can ignore my statement (i don’t own a car and i don’t design cartridges), but read what a Lyra Cartridge designer (Jonathan Carr) posted long time ago, he is one of the most knowledgeable person on this forum when it comes to MC cartridges. I hope you know his own brand Lyra?

Boron cantilevers are all different, LineContact type diamonds are also different. This is what makes one cartridge different from another, but more important how all these parts work together and here we come to a calculation and some sort of secrets that only original cartridge designer understand.

I decided not to bother with my $4-5k LOMC cartridge when i realized no one can do what Nakatsuka-San is doing. Downgrading an ultra-high ends is not what i need. Instead, i just bought another cartridge and start my own reasearch by trying many different cartridges, they are all much lower cost (under $1.5). You know what? I am much more happy with a result. Same about refurbished or re-tipped vintage MM, the originals are superior, in fact most of them superior even compared to some very expensive MC (but this is another story).

I will repead that i often see re-tipped and refurbished cartridges on sale after people raving about them claiming they are better than the original.

Practically an MM and MI cartridges are so much better, even everyone’s favorite re-tipped always claiming the MI are much better than any MC (watch his lecture here). If Peter retipped many thousands cartridges and still pretty sure than MI is better then maybe all you need is his MI with replaceable stylus ?