while benz is a soft sounding cartridge,
lyras are more agressive more suitable for rock and instrumental music.
lyras are more agressive more suitable for rock and instrumental music.
IMHO, the Lyra Helikon would not be overkill. It is a very nice cartridge, and worked well with my JMW 10.5 tonearm. No tracking problems at all. The Lyra is very different from the Koetsu and the Benz though. The Koetsu and the Benz's are warmer, fuller sounding. The Lyra has more air, speed and transparency. Of the three that you have listed, I would prefer the Helikon, unless your system is on the bright side and needs the added warmth.
As for buying used, I would not recommend this when buying a cartridge. I have bought many used components in my life, but none have bought me more regrets than buying used cartridges. There are too many variables. How accurately the seller tracks the hours used is a big one. Also how was the cartridge setup and maintained? How old is it? Even with low hours a cartridge's suspension can go bad from sitting on a shelf for too long. IMHO, I would never recommend buying a used phono cartridge. You would be better suited lowering your model and buying new. For example, buy a new Lyra Dorian or Argo instead of buying a used Helikon. That's just my $0.02.
Hi Jeff, it's a system synergy and taste thing really! I heard a Glider in a system using class d amps and it sounded amazing (a good balance of warm cart and clinical electronics).
I have an '80s Koetsu Black, which was inspected and re-tipped about 2 years ago (the suspension was given a clean bill of health btw). I love my Koetsu and could never sell it, however I prefer my XX-2 for its incisiveness and more "up-front" dynamics. The Lyras sound a little lean, lacking "sound density" for my ears - they tend to be good partners with dark sounding components (Garrard 301/401, SME tables, warm tube amps) and I would guess might sound too bright to you after your Benz.
I haven't heard the wood bodied Benz carts, however generally you get "more of the same but better" when you move up a manufacturer's line. A friend who has heard them all rates the Benz LP as very close to the Dyna XV1-S and ahead of the Zyx Universe, for its naturalness and ability to play good and bad recordings equally well.
You can usually make big savings buying used, provided you have access to a reliable cartridge rebuilder should it be necessary.
When rebuilding a cartridge, both the components used and the craftsman doing the work have a significant effect on the resulting sound. If the cartridge rebuilder is not the same as the original manufacturer, neither the components nor the craftsman will be the same as the original, hence it is to be expected that the sound will be different.
Dear jeff: I think that there are many cartridge options over the Glider and this depends on your budget.
My advise is that till you own a very top rate phonolinepreamp stay with a " middle " top cartridge that are really good performers, example: Sumiko Blackbird, Sumiko Celebration, Lyra Dorian, Dynavector 17D2, etc, etc.
Now, you could buy second hand but like John posted it is a little risky. Btw, there are very good cartridge rebuilders but like Jonathan posted the original cartridge source has some advantages about.
Regards and enjoy the music.
Dear Jeff: The Scout is very good TT. I have experience with new and old Koetsu's but I don't know how better match your tonearm.
About the PH5: I think that if you go to the cartridge " big league " ( top performers ) this phono stage is not up to the task and will be your very weak link.
regards and enjoy the music.
I realize that buying used is somewhat of a gamble. I do my best on making sure that the seller is trustworthy, either by feedback or some of the thread responses. I have yet to run into a dishonest Audiogoner. I also realize that shipping is also a gamble, especially with tubes and carts. I also do a lot of selling on this site, which helps with my own upgrading, there is definitely more bang for the buck and until I hit the lotto, I will keep buying more used equipment. At least until I get burned.
I do appreciate your warning and hope that you do not get the opportunity to say" I told you so" and I'm sure that you are not hoping for that to happen.
I bought my Koetsu Black from a reputable party on audiogon. He said it only had 10 hours of use since it was on a demo table in his audio store. I have no doubt that this was true. I needed to play the cartridge for about 50 hours before it sounded right. The highs opened up and it became more transparent in the mids, while still having all of the glory of the Koetsu sound. Also VTA plays an important role with the Koetsu. I found that the arm just slightly lower in the back (bearing side) is ideal and tightened up the bass tremendously.
100 does seem to be the magic number on a lot of the listings. But I got lucky and it was only 10.
Time will tell. The seller has also agreed to taking it back, if I am not happy with it. I doubt that will happen, but it's an offer, that I personally have not made to anyone.
Life is short, that's a lesson that i am constantly reminded of. We can't worry about the little things.
Believe me, I have no problems buying used equipment, almost everything I own is used. I also trust most AudiogoNer's, generally this is a very good group. My biggest dissapointments have been when buying used cartridges, NOS tubes, and used vinyl. I find that the AudiogoN rating scale is of no use in these areas, and some individuals ideas of usage and quality sound are very different from my own. I tend to buy these items new now, except for NOS tubes, which I only use reputable dealers who accept returns.
As for cd players, amps, preamps, speakers, turntables, etc...I have had no issues whatsoever, aside of shipping damage (knock wood).
I have purchased used cartridges before and been happy, and hopefully you will be too. All I'm saying is that this is one of the riskier gray areas here on AudiogoN, as condition is not as easy to quantify. The offer to return if not happy sounds promising, though a bit brave on the seller's part. So you both are taking a leap of faith. You in that his description is accurate, and him in that you can properly setup and align the cartridge w/o any damage.
Hopefully you are both rewarded.
For the record Jeff, I believe Bill's (Audiofeil) comment was made with tongue firmly implanted in cheek. :)
And yes, life is short, and we can't worry about the little things, and cartridges certainly are little things, so there you have it.
I disagree with Raul's statement on 01/07/07. Jeff's ARC PH5 is more than up to the task of providing excellent support for many top tier cartridges including the Lyra Helikon. My system includes an ARC PH5 and a Lyra Argo...both sound marvelous in my system, in my room. IMHO, I do not believe a phono preamp has to cost $8,000 to $10,000 to be considered "a very top rate phonolinepreamp".
But, Raul, during your next tour of Texas, you are more than welcome to bring your preamp by for a demo to prove me wrong. :-) I am a friend of Albert Porter's so maybe we could arrange a get together with a number of folks in the DFW area.
Dear Mcrheist: The price tell us almost nothing about the quality sound reproduction on almost any audio device.
The subject is not price but design and design fulfilment.
Do you think that the PH5 is in the same performance league that FM Acoustics, ASR or Dtarzeel ?.
Btw, it will be a pleasure to meet you and to meet your friends, please e-mail me.
Regards and enjoy the music.
I have not had the good fortune to be able to audition or hear any of the phono preamps that you mention (FM Acoustics is represented by a local dealer that I do not purchase from; ASR nor darTZeel have local dealer representation, that I am aware of). Nor do any of my local audio friends own either of the three. But, of the phono preamps that I have heard, some of which cost up to 2 to 2.5 times more than the PH5, I can tell you that the PH5 is a worthy contender. A great bang for the buck. Now does it compete with an Aesthetix IO Signature MK2 Phono Stage w/ volume control (like Albert Porter owns, almost $12k retail), the best phono preamp that I have ever heard? Absolutely not. But, with the price differential, I never expected it to do so.
The point in all of this, to answer Jeff's original question: I have heard the PH5 with a Lyra Helikon (on several occasions) and it is not overkill to use this phono preamp with this particular cartridge. Or with the Lyra Argo, for that matter.
Sorry I missed you during your most recent travels to Texas. Maybe next time? And you are correct ... enjoy the music! :-)
I got the Black and at first I was dissapointed. All lot of it came from my set-up, which I have tweaked and it is breaking in nicely. Now I am plaesed with the sound and think I made a good choice in carts. I also doubt that it is fully broken in and look forward to hearing additional inmprovements.
I keep thinking now I can stop with the upgrading. I don;t see how that's possible. There are so many things out there that I want to try, carts, stages, turntables, speakers.......somebody stop me.
Well I had a Lyra Helikon too, and it was a fabulous cartridge. I've also owned Benz Ruby 2H, Koetsu Rosewood Signature, Cardas Heart, Dynavector 20 XL, and many other great cartridges. What stopped my 'upgraditis' was the ZYX line. I plugged a ZYX Airy 3 in, and my Helikon was no longer the 'top dog'. I've since moved up to the ZYX UNIverse, and I am living happily ever after.
I know the UNIverse is expensive, but even the Airy 3 clearly beat the Helikon, and their prices are competative.
Jeff, I would say just enjoy your Koetsu Black for awhile. You made a good choice, now just enjoy the music. You'll find that if you get a 'top shelf' cartridge, it will make you want further upgrades, like a better table, arm, phono stage, etc. So there is a lot more involved than just the price difference of the cartridge. So unless you have $5K or so to put towards analog upgrades, just relax and enjoy what you have.
John is right, enjoy your black. If it is sounding good in your system now and you are getting the detail and musicality you feel is neccessary, the lyra helikon will not be the better cartridge for you.
The helikon is wonderfully dynamic and transparent, but it has an leaness to its mid range and treble which you will either luv or dislike.
me I owned one for 3 years, however it never really got used as long term listening was somewhat fatiguing for me.
I woule love it if people wrote more specifically than "it was better" or even "it was way better." Obviously we are all juggling system coloration/compatibility and personal bias/frame of reference. Jmcgrogan? Wanna give us blow by blow on the carts you listed? Thumbnail sketches would be very useful to some of the less experienced here.
You see the plethora of remarks regarding which cart to choose. Many here have vast experience so you can get an idea of what's out there and a glimpse of what sounds good.
I too have been through several nice carts over the years including the Koetsu Black, Shelter 501MkII, Benz Ruby,M09 and L2,Lyra Helikon, Grado Sonata,Dynavector 17D2 MkII, several Shures V15 III to V and a nice ZYX Fuji S.
The Lyra was best at detail retrival and air. TheZYX most dead neutral of all. But, at your price range and precluding some other very expensive alternatives, I highly suggest you look for a used Lyra Argo i.
The new design of the Argo i is excellent at capturing the virtues of the expensive Lyra designs at detail, transparency and air...but now also adds more warmth and body and increased dynamics that IMO now surpasses even the vaunted Helikon.
Jonathan Carr should be extremely proud and thanked for this excellent cart at real world prices!!
Well, if you insist, quick thumbnails, as audio prose is not my specialty.
The Lyra Helikon was my reference for about 18 months, and I was very happy with it. After living with the other 'mellow' cartridges, the Lyra's transparency, air and spaciousness were very welcome. It could sound lean at times though. Great recordings sounded great, weaker recordings sounded, well weaker.
The Koetsu Rosewood Signature was a very sweet cartridge, lovely bloom, rich vocals, though a bit soft in the high's. It erred on the warm side of neutral. Never offensive, but lacking in resolution.
The Cardas Heart was very similar to the Koetsu. Always easy on the ears, but lacking in resolution.
The Benz, I owned a Glider and a Ruby 2, were similar in sonic signature, though I never really grew to like either of them. I know the Cardas is based on the Ruby, but the Heart had more life. The Benz cartridges seemed to have some mid-upper bass bloat that smeared detail in the midrange, and just didn't sound natural to me. I don't know what Cardas did, but the bass seemed to tighten up enough that the midrange was clearer than with the Ruby.
Dynavector, I owned the 10X4 mk II, and the 20XH. The Dynavector's are really good cartridge's as well. They seem to have a nice balance between the warmth of the Koetsu/Cardas/Benz cart's and the life of the Lyra. Dynamic, powerful, yet no glare or offense. Very good 'bang for the buck' line, I would love to hear their top end DRT-XV-1s one day. If the ZYX has a natural competitor, it could be the Dynevector's.
Which I guess brings me to the ZYX. I first bought the Airy 3 S-SB about 18 months ago, when the Lyra Helikon was my reference. I was immediately stunned by the natural presentation and size of the stage. Timbre's and tonal accuracy just sounded so real it was almost frightnening. 'Right' and 'Natural' are the words that kept popping into my head. Not lean, not sweet, just right. It is very hard to describe, but easy to understand when something (to steal conrad-johnson's line) "just sounds right". Nothing was forced or artificial sounding, no glare, yet no information was missing. Not warm sounding, but 'relaxed'. It's not something that you have to strain to hear either. I sat there for a week with a stupid grin on my face (alright, maybe that's natural).
Anyway, I was apprehensive about trying the UNIverse. It was a big step up money wise, twice the price in fact. I was wondering 'how much better could it get'? Well curiousity got the best of me, and after a couple months with the Airy 3 I bit the bullet and went for a UNIverse S-SB. It was better all around. Actually describing sonic details seems to be a mute point, as in the last 15 months all I've done is listen to music now. No longer do I hear warmth or leaness, no air or rolled off high's, no more listening to bass definition or midrange anomolies. No longer do I listen for a 'good or bad' recording. Now I just listen to the music. It's so natural, so right, that I don't try to dissect the music anymore. I simply enjoy.
Is the UNIverse worth twice the price of the Airy 3? That's a tough question to answer, and would depend on your financial situation. It is definitely better than the Airy 3, but the Airy 3 will get you 85-90% of the way there for 50% of the price.
The highest praise that I can give the UNIverse is that I've owned it for 15 months now and have absolutely no audio itch whatsoever to try anything else. That is saying a lot for someone who doesn't own a single piece of equipment that's over two years old. It's rare that something satisfies me to the extent that the UNIverse has. If only I could find more gear like it, I may just step off this merry-go-round for good. :)
Hopefully this helps clarify my journey somewhat, and answers any of your questions.
OK. The ante has been upped and Piedpiper and John have made excellent points and others have chimed in so here goes:
The things that are important to me with phono cartridges are trackability, soundstage and evenness of response top to bottom. Detail retrieval is important but if the other three are not there, then it is unlikely this will also be present, at least in my experience. All cartridges thumbnailed below were used on a VPI Aries 2 with JMW 10.5 arm.
My first really high end cartridge beyond a $300 Grado and a $400 Van den Hul was a Benz Glider L2. Sonically I found this cartridge to be somewhat dry but quite detailed with a good three-dimensional soundstage but that did not extend much beyond the speaker boundaries. For instance, one of my cartridge test tracks is the end of Hendrix' Voodoo Child (Slight Return) where Eddie Kramer gets the pan pots moving and Jimi's guitar starts flying around the room, up around and behind the listening position. The ability of a cartridge to blow the "ceiling off the room" is one thing that better cartridges do while tracking this difficult inner groove and the Benz did this quite well. On acoustic music such as large orchestra or small jazz combos it tracked well, but sometimes got a bit hard on loud solo piano or in conjested areas of triple forte sections, usually at the end of the recordign where it is most difficult from a recording perspective. I ran this one at 1.8 grams.
Koetsu Urushi - moving up to this cartridge for the next few years from the Benz was a revelation in sweetness, liquidity and trackability with greater detail in the highs. The Koetsu works well on all styles of music and from lightly to heavily modulated recordings. It is highly sensitive to VTF and VTA settings and is quite revealing of the quality of the recording and the pressing; there are several pressings I have of several of my favorite albums, having picked many of these up cheaply at used stores and markets. It is very easy to discern which recording is which via the Koetsu. Where this cartridge really shines is on new pressings of 70s rock recordings and 50 and 60 classical and jazz pressing where the dynamic range wasn't crunched too heavily. Bass extension was about as good as with the Benz, clear with a lot of texture; one can hear the Moog Bass pedal definition well in recordings such as Genesis "Lamb Lies Down on Broadway." I ran this cart at 2.0 grams.
While traveling on business in Japan I found a new Shelter 501 mkII for a great price and installed this on the Aries to give the Koetsu a rest and figure out where to go in the future; have the Koetsu overhauled or go for another brand? I am also running a second Shelter on an Music Hall MM7/Project arm combo in a second system. Both Shelters are excellent at retrieving detail at 1.7 grams and are as good at tracking as the Benz; there are some highly modulated recordings such as Ray Brown's Soular Energy where some of the piano hits can slighty mistrack a bit at this VTF. Increasing this to 1.8 results in better trackability but I feel I lose some of the highs so 1.7 is the preferred VTF for both tables. The Shelter presents a deep and wide soundstage with detail retrieval that allows one to hear the separation of musicians in space with good three dimensionality. I can use this cartridge on all types of music and the mids are what I would point to as this catridge's strength. On both solid state and tube systems I enjoy a bit of laid back mids that don't present an ice-pick-in-the-ear quality even on low-fi punk with vocals screaming; this was sometimes a problem with the Benz. Also, the Shelter seems to be quite immune from playng at very loud volumes that, with the Koetsu, would get the woofers really moving at the resonance frequency. Probably this is due to a good compliance match between the cart and two arms I am running these with.
Finally and recently, I swapped out the Shelter for a Lyra Helikon on the VPI. This cartridge is one of a few components of any type that upon playing the first recording my wife exclaimed, WOW! The Lyra reveals more detail and air, solid clear bass and sweetness in the midrange than I have ever experienced before in any system. It tracks as if it was on rails and hugging all the groove undulations with its line contact stylus and mid-compliance susupension; even on the most heavily modulated recordings I have (Ray Brown), the piano never hardens but remains true to timbre, attack and presence; the envelope of each note is intact. Also more than the other carts mentioned above, I can hear much more ambience of the recording space, either added as processing or from the natural venue space. And ambience is really low signal level retrieval afterall. A great example of this is on Saint Saens' Organ Symphony 3 when the organ begins its appearance. The texture of the rich low pipes can clearly be heard with a naturalness that conveys the emotion the performance. You can tell the musicians really got into this performance. The Lyra only has about 20 hours on it so far but even if this was where it finally settled I would be very satisified with the results. Clearly the VPI/JMW is an excellent match for this fine cartridge. If there are better cartridges out there, I really don't to know about them right now simply because I am enjoying rediscovering my record collection with this fine component. Those bass pedals on The Lamb never punched through better even with CD. So clear and textured ae they, it's a bit scary in some ways. For now I am satisified with the Lyra. They are making some of the best out there. I run the Lyra at 1.70 grams.
Now if I can justify the cost of rebuilding the Koetsu, perhaps that cartridge can be restored to near Lyra performance levels.
Hope this helps
Oh yes, and with the Helikon, the ceiling completely flies away on Voodoo Child.
Steve, you win, you get to be the next Stereophile reviewer. Seriously, very nice evaluations, and I am glad that you are enjoying the Helikon. It is a fine cartridge, and you are right that it mates well with the JMW arms. The JMW's are one of the warmest arms out there, so the Lyra's speed balances well. I had the Lyra on a JMW 10.5 arm and a Basis Vector 3 arm, I definitely thought it sounded better on the JMW. The Vector 3 is more revealing than the JMW, but not as warm. The leanness that I noted with the Helikon is more apparent on the Vector 3 arm.
VPI was packaging the Lyra Helikon with some of their tables/arms when it first came out.
It would be interesting to hear the Helikon side by side with the Argo i, as Kehut mentions above, to see if the newer generation Lyra's are getting warmer. I remember when the Helikon came out it was hailed 'the warmest sounding Lyra yet'. It was sweeter than the previous Parnassus da Capo. Perhaps with the newer designs (Skala, Argo i, etc) Lyra has moved even further towards warmth. Lyra still is much faster than the Koetsu, Benz cartridges though.
Great review, thanks.
I second what John sid about the Review, and I am totally alligned with your review. I have tried the benz Ruby 3 but that is about it. I Love the Helikon Mono and the Skala Stereo. I do not have the VPI Turn. But I do have the Graham Phatom and that is an excellnet match with the Lyra.
As for the Side by side that John mentioned I have the Helikon mono and Skala stereo. It would not be a correct thing for me to say since both are different and as well all know the grooves in the MOMO LP are much thicker that the Stereo and so the Stylus is mad differently.
Since the mono groove is a bit thicker than the stereo one, they make the stylus a according to the grooves as well.
Here is the Difference:
The cantilever for the Helikon Mono is a solid boron rod, and the stylus profile is a line contact, which is unusual for a mono cartridge. However the stylus profile (3 x 70 micrometers, as opposed to 3 x 30 micrometers for the stereo Helikon) has been chosen to provide optimal playback results on monaural records rather than stereo LPs.