Cart update: old TT, new electronics

I've just significantly upgraded my system, but comparisons over the last year with my modded Thorens TD115 + Ortofon VMS20eMkII have shown it better than a Music Hall MMF7 or Planar25. I've had the TT and cart for 22 years and they make a great match: high compliance cart + low-mass tonearm. Replacement styli every few years. The TT has 10lbs inert clay in the base, a nice mat and clamp, good interconnects. I also have a 2nd TP-30 tonearm wand, and can easily drill through the top as needed for carts that can only accept screws from above (ie Grado woods).

But the signal chain is now a BelCanto Phono 1 (40, 54, 60dB gain), Sonic Frontiers Line1, McCormack DNA0.5 revB and recent Thiel 2.3, with good AQ ic/cabling. The Thiels have shown up the age of my cart. I'm doing a crash course in current carts that will be truly the next level beyond the Ortofon that has been so musically satisfying over the years. Even though the Thorens isn't the final word in modern TT design, I feel it's fine for allowing a new cart to perform well.

> reasonably high compliance, low weight, light tracking for the low-mass tonearm
> definitely NOT bright or forward because of my Thiels and preferences
> reasonably forgiving setup - tonearm has no VTA, all adjustments in headshell
> nothing too tweaky, hard-to-find or esoteric
> <<$1K used
> all the great sound qualities of modern carts incl solid articulate bass, rich mids, airy highs
> prefer not to have a very low output MC, the above criteria seem not to favor them anyway
> wide range of musical taste, but more rock-based than chamber music or new age

> Grado Reference, high or low output. What's not to like? Compliant, light, detailed, not bright, well-received.
> Benz Glider H2. Too bright? Too little compliance for arm? Too inexpensive? Better Benzes?
> Clearaudio Virtuoso. Not too much info but good company and great reviews, too heavy @ 10g.
> Ortofon Kontrapunkt a/b: too heavy, too bright, too bad.
> Van den Hul Frog: good luck finding one used.
> Shure V15 latest incarnation. Any better than my Ortofon??

Any and all useful input appreciated!

I am quite delighted with the Grado Statement Reference (mine is the low output 0.5mV model) list $1200, but I've heard that you can get one new for around $800. Can't help you with any other comparisons; I'm so happy with this that I've never even considered trying anything else. I use 60dB gain with mine. The preferred load is 47K-ohms, but I only have 10, 30, 100 ohm load options available at the higher gain settings (obviously intended for moving coils) so I use 100 ohms. Grado factory advises that the cart. is load-invarient but I really wonder about that claim. I'll have to get into my phono stage with a soldering iron in order to experiment.
Your candidate list didn't mention the Shelter 501 II, which other threads note are superior to the Glider and to be preferred to the excellent Grado.

For what little it's worth as I don't have personal experience with any of these, I went with a Dynavector 20x high output and am quite happy as it has proven very smooth and not put out by an eclectic mix from one musical genre extreme to another.
Tim, the Shelter 501 will not fit his guidlines. It is very far from high compliance, low weight, and light tracking. In fact it is the total opposite.
You are in a rare catagory. Most people would consider your table (and arm) way below the other tables you mentioned, but because you understand the physics of how your table is supposed to work, you are able to make it sound considerably good.
I am just making a guess here- I don't know if any great high complience cartridges cartridges are being made that are going to compete with a similarly priced low complience cartridge with an apropriate arm, in that price range. I do know that with older tt's and low priced high complience cartridges, apprpriately set up, the results are laughably good considering what one can obtain them for.
I have tried low complience cart's on lightwieght arms, (the frog was one) and it just didn't work. Sure, it can sound ok, but you are right to question that route, as low complient cart's on that arm would be a waste of money.
I think that another appropriate question would be, is it possible for a high complience cartridge on a lightwieght arm to perform as well or close to a low complience cartridge on a heavier, stiffer arm, considering the technology you can buy in that price range.
I would say, good advice would be, be prepared to replace the arm. Since you are wise enough to search for a cart that is of the specs you are looking for, it seems wise to consider what arms you would be willing to buy in addition, to go with your new cart.
TWL and basement are correct.The low mass Thorens arm is a major limitation to suitable cartridge choices.You'll need to either replace the arm with a medium to high mass arm such as a Rega, PT, etc or select amoungst the higher compliance cartridges available such as the Shure V15, Grados,Goldring 1000 series(& it's DNM/Reson, Roksan Corus and Nottingham Tracer variants), Regas and Clearaudio Aurum MM's.Offhand I can't think of a suitable MC (but I could be overlooking some potential candidates).
Some more information. I just spoke with John Campas at Grado who said their carts are designed for tonearms with 10-15 grams of effective mass - my Thorens is 7.5g. He said all I have to do is put 3-5g of playdoh or putty in the headshell to get it in range. That sounded questionable as wouldn't a heavier cartridge accomplish the same thing??

Even so, Grados are quite a bit more compliant than nearly all MCs due to being a MM design, so this may be my best bet. A V15 may be the most trackable/compliant but I doubt the sound would be anywhere near a Grado Reference league.

So I guess my question becomes "are there any other high compliance MMs out there that sound truly Great?". Or: "My tonearm might not bring out 100% of a good $1K cartridge, but if I pay just some attention to compliance will it sound significantly better than my Ortofon?" 1700 mentions Clearaudio and Goldring I'll look into.

Basement, your take on my situation is on-the-mark: but it would be a whole lot easier to get a used Rega25 than to change my tonearm on the integrated Thorens, thus giving me modern materials and a proper arm and cart selection, losing me the semi-auto operation nobody seems to deem worthwhile anymore, for the extra $5 it would cost.

Finally, Bob_b et al, is there any reason to go with the 5mV Grado vs the 0.5mV Grado if I have a clean 60dB gain available? Dynamics, increased RF pickup, adj loading for a MC stage applied to a supposedly load-insensitive MM, resale value?? So many options, so little money...

Thanks for all your inputs.
Hi Scott - you guys are more knowledgable about these compatibility issues than I am; I'll gladly contribute within my experience though.
Grado is a hybrid design; not moving coil, but not moving magnet either. Grado calls them a moving iron, or variable reluctance design. Both the coils & the magnets are fixed within the cartridge body, the cantiliever actually moves around a very low mass (thus high compliant) piece of ferrous metal (iron) which disturbs the magnetic field between the magnets & the coils, thus producing audio output. If Grado's proposal to increase effective mass of the arm seems like a valid approach, then I would use the low output version of whatever cartridge model you chose. You have the required gain, so why not go with the sonically superior low-output version (fewer coil windings = superior performance). I believe that you would also be less prone to hum & noise pickup with fewer coil windings vs. more windings.
Regarding fixed VTA, try to set up the spacers such that the cart body is parallel to the record surface, or perhaps just slightly negative.
Final update: bought the Grado reference.

Got it here for $495, the 5mv version. Figured if it works well I could always sell it for the 0.5mV later. Using the Thorens alignment template on my 2nd tonearm wand, was able to get VTA, azimuth, zenith and overhang all near-perfect on 1st try. Increnmental sonic improvements across the board yield overall better sound, though maybe not as much as I'd expect over a 22yo cart I paid $55 new for: HF detail, soundstaging and air, richer mids, everything more 'delicately' rendered. No doubt the arm/tt are keeping the cart from sounding its very best, but it's as good as it can be until/if I implement the 'strange tonearm tweak' thread on this forum.

The one thing I do notice that seems at odds with expectations is 1) lower bass response ( 10X the surface infrasonics vs the Ortofon esp on the outer edge of the LP, causing startling amounts of woofer pump and my watt meters showing a lot of wasted power. If #1 is due to the light tonearm moving laterally with in-phase recorded bass info with a less-compliant cart, then shouldn't #2 also be reduced for the same reason, despite it being out-of-phase vertical motion? Or does the Grado just have more vertical mechanical output below the audioband?

This is LP surface infrasonics, not airborne or structural, as proven by full gain with the stylus on a stationary record shows no feedback or excitation even jumping on the floor. And a function of LP ripples, seemingly not the resonance falling far outside the 8-12Hz range, just a much higher amplitude there. VTF 1.5 vs 1.8g no diff. VTA set just the slightest negative. And my tonearm mass isn't that far out of Grado spec. The tonearm is a 2-tube composite designed to cancel standing waves and resonances. I have an outboard processor with an infrasonic filter that cleans this all up, but I'm still curious why I lose audio bass and gain infrasonics... Bob_B, how much woofer pump do you get?

Thanks to all for your past advice.
Scott I don't really know because my woofers are horn loaded & invisible unless the cabinets are opened. But the power meters don't move mcu unless I'm blasting of course.
Sdecker, congratulations on your uprade.
The conditions you describe as well as the sound definitely indicate to me that you are suffering from not enough mass with your tonearm. I tried to find a picture of your arm but was unsuccessful, but perhaps I can share some tweaks with you that I have used in the past, but first, I'll try to explain your objective(s).
The complience is of corse, the stiffness of the suspension of the cartridge. You can substitute 'weight' for mass for concerns of the arm. The 'weight', if you will, affects the inertia of the arm, as it resist movement.
Every combination of complience and mass produces a resonent frequency that is the natural resonence of that combination. If it falls in the audioband, every time that frequency is produced it will vibrate in sympathy. The result in the range here is masking of those particular frequencies. You want to make the arm heavy enough to drop that frequency out of the audioband.
You can do it by adding weight right at the cartridge. As you move back toward the pivot, you will have to add more weight to equal the inertia of weight added at the headshell. Also, the more weight you add at the headshell, the more weight you need for counterweight.
electrical tape is a good substitute for armwrap. You can wrap it around like some commercailly avaivable do, or you can run strips straight with the tube. If you put it on without tension, or too much tension, it will stay put. This will help damp the arm from ringing.
You could also stuff the armtube. I have used a drinking straw and cotton on both the audioquest and immedia with good results. The straw is to isolate the wire from being smashed against the armtube and/or stuffing, which could be an undesireable dialectric for the wire. You could do variations, I have found cotton to work the best. Many tonearms just use packing foam, you could try that without a straw.
If your arm has a separate tailpiece (the part the counterweight slides on) it may be hollow. If it is hollow, you could stuff that.
If you can get a hold of some lead sheathing, with is available from some commercail construction suppliers, that could be used for a variety of things. it can be cut to any size, and is less than 1/16" thick, and quite heavy and flexable. I have the counterweight of my rega wrapped with it, so it is half lead. It is just taped tightly on, and it works well.
If you go to the hardware store, you could find some collers that have an allen screw in them, sort of like the fancy counterwieghts for rega's, just not as heavy, but this would be a cheap, fast way of increasing the couterwieght. Find them at ace.
I hope at least some of these help. It sounds like you already got into the thread of twl's tonearm tweak, "strange tonearm treak long". If you get your resonence down closer to where you want it, you could try some variations on some of the different explanations of why it works so well. If you were to to some similar or separete variations of twl's tweak on your arm, you could not only possibly improve your arm but help in explaining or proving the theories behind it.
Arm mass confirmed.

(A line got cut from my previous post: #1 was reduced audio bass output vs my old cart, #2 was increased infrasonics)

Thanks to basement's suggestions. I didn't have quite the materials on-hand last night for a more elegant solution (next week), so I cut a pencil to the length of my tonearm from headshell to near-pivot (4"?), added a screw for more ballast at the front, measured it out to be about 6g, and electrical taped it atop the tonearm. This raises my arm mass from 7.5g to around 14g, and it's along the length of the arm vs concentrated in one place. The arm itself is sealed and way too narrow to put anything inside of it (think black widow).

The good news is the low-end is transformed. From the lower mids down, a newfound output, weight, detail, focus, image stability. And below say 100Hz, all the way to the lowest fundamentals I could find on my bass-heavy records, it was like adding a subwoofer. Very satisfying and confirmation of the whole compliance/mass matching. It also subjectively changes the whole balance of the cart, now sounding less bright and lightweight as the lower half is now in balance.

The bad news is it didn't improve the huge infrasonics I'm getting from the setup, perhaps made it a bit worse. The massier tonearm limits the cart's lateral motion so more in-phase audio bass is reproduced electrically rather than mechanical movement. But for out-of-phase vertical LP ripples, seems the added mass has the same effect, forcing sub-audioband bass into electrical output rather than tonearm movement. I guess it must be Grado's mechanical frequency response extending to near-DC? I don't know why all phono preamps don't have at least a token sub-20Hz filter...
Okay, what you need to do is increase the lateral inertia by taping the weight onto the bearing housing, and not the arm. This will increase the lateral mass enough to retain the sonic improvements you heard, but will not affect the vertical mass, so warp tracking will not be adversely affected. This is the basis of the "Strange Tonearm Tweak" thread that is on this forum page. The weight must be increased on both sides of the bearing housing equally, so as not to affect anti-skating. I will be marketing a version of this for the Rega Tonearms shortly. It has been tested and approved by several Audiogon members. It will work on your arm too, but you'll have to figure out on your own how to make it. Mine only fits on Rega arms.