Lyra Helikon is nice, I have enjoyed my Grado The Reference 1 Signature. I have not heard the ZYX, all of the feedback is stellar.
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I think there is something amiss with your set-up, the cart or the arm.
I had the 501s on the 9 and 10.5i and it was wonderful. None of the stuff you mentioned above.
As a matter of fact, before i settled for the 501 years back i briefly compared them to the xx2 and i much prefer the 501 sonic signature.
the sibilance issue could be due to misalignment or the vta is not correct.
BTW, in anticipation of the flame throwers and owner/defenders, dont shoot the messenger; look at the reality of the situation.
People who really know analog speak with their wallets. All thats required is a search of Audiogons most knowledable vinyl enthusiasts i.e. albertporter, dertonarm, syntax, teres, thomackris, dougdeacon, rauliruegas, viridian, downunder, t_bone, etc. and see what tonearm(s) they employ.
You wont find a jmw among them.
I could never get my Scoutmaster or Aries to the point that I liked them either. Both always seemed to have a bright sound to me. I also did the changing out of many components in the analog sectionf my set up to get rid of it. My Clearaudio tables (Performance, Solution, Champion II) never had that sound, so I had decided to switch to a Sota, rebuilt Technics or AR, and then at the last minute, after reading all of the glowing reviews, bought a VPI Classic.
I have not been sorry at all. I love this table. After I read how Harry at VPI researched the sound of dozens of old rigs that were built as a system, I decided to try this. I wanted to avoid the upgrade merry go round with a table that was simple to set up and use, and didn't require constant upgrade tweeking. This is it, I love this table and it has a great sweet, full, rich sound with excellent pace and extension.
It's a great table.
I have heard that the new arms match better with cartridges like Shelter. I have a VPI Scout and JMW9. It was pretty easily to sell my arm, and I ordered a 9T in its place. I think a 10.5T wand would also be available (not sure if I have the model number correct...its that wand that goes with the Classic) I've not yet received the new wand yet, but it is a relatively low cost upgrade. I thought the Scout sounds nice with my Shelter, but just wanted to see what type of improvement I could make.
The Shelter is way too stiff for the JMW to track properly. These arms have a natural tendency to have sibilance distortion. I'd look for a higher compliance cartridge if you want to stick with the JMW. Better yet, as Audiofeil mentions, replace the tonearm with something like an SME, a Triplanar, or a Graham.
The phono is NAT Signature which replaced the Whest PS.20. It even smoothened and tighten the edges, so I think it shouldn't have anything to do with the phono stage...
I played with the idea of a different tonearm and it may well happen that instead of getting a new cart I'll be getting a new tonearm...
This will probably sound stupid but could one have an idea of how will a better cartridge perform on a tonearm if one's judgement came from a performance of a cheaper cart?
I have heard both the Dynavector XX-2 and XV-1s with the JMW 10.5i on both an Aries 1 and Aries 3 VPI table. I own the Dyna XV-1s.
The Dynas are an absolute perfect match for the 10.5i. The sound is detailed yet warm and dynamic. Not a hint of brightness or edge in my system. Feel free to email me and we can discuss more details and info about the carts. From the sound you are describing you want, the Dynas are definitely the way to go.
Several people that own the 10.5i tonearm use Dyna for the synergism.
I have a Aries 3 with the 10.5i and it's a nice match , very smooth with no distortion and plenty of air. The XV-1s is the way to go if you can afford it. I got better sound from my Aries when I put a granite surface plate under it.
For the money I think the 10.5i is excellent !
I'm thinking of getting the Mint tonearm protractor , if you want to sell yours let me know.
I second Philb7777 and Abill; the XV-1s on my VPI HR-X with JMW 12.7 is hard to beat. Absolutely neutral, fantastic resolution, silky smooth highs... whatever you dream of. Of course, you'll need a first rate phono stage.
Don't be closefisted here at the very beginning of the reproduction chain: What is lost here cannot be recovered, even not by megabuck amps and speakers.
As it seems I'll dig a hole in the bank account and go for XV-1s... That way, I think I'll end up with a good cartridge and if for any reason I'm not happy with it (though a lot of comments about the synergy of Dynavectors and JMWs suggest otherwise) I'll change the tonearm and kill the upgrade bug once and for all... Or at least, for a few years :)
Either Benz or Dyna cartridges are perfect matches for the 10.5 aluminum arm....the Shelters, Denons, etc. should be used with the new stainless steel arm. I am using a Benz Ebony LP with great success with my 10.5i. I like the sound of the Benz better than the Dyna XV-!s that I have in another arm, and use the Benz more often. I think this is probably system dependent. I set up my arm/cartridge both with the VPI supplied device, and a MINT...the Mint sounds better. Maybe I was more careful with the Mint, I don't know, but am just reporting. The arm can be used with damping...I find that just a smidge of damping improves the sound. I have heard systems with the Dyna and "Audiofiel" approved arms, and like my system better. That is not to say they were the same components, however I don't hear anything from my 10.5i that would make me change arms. All of this is to say, that my system works for me with my components and my ears. I have never had anyone who has heard my system criticize it, but maybe all who come to my house are just nice people.
I have had an Aries 1 and JMW 10" (original version) arm for over 10 years. I agree with mant who say that the JMW arm may not be the best arm, but I think that it works well in concert w/ the VPI decks if all is setup properly. Over or under damping is a big issue - it's a PITA to get it just right.
I have tried a variety of cartridges on the JMW arm. The one that stayed the longest was the Grado "The Reference". Not to say that it was the best cartridge for all LPs. But I didn't find anything I liked better of thought was a good value until I tried a Soundsmith "The Voice" cartridge (medium compliance version). I liked it so much that I bought an SMMC1 mono mounted on a seperate JMW arm wand. Works and sounds great, IMHO.
I use Lyra Titan-i on my Super Scoutmaster with rimdrive and 10.5i tonearm with excellent results- very musical, dynamic, very quiet in the groove, and tracks very well at 1.72 grams.
I used the Mint LP protractor to align this cart. Whatever cartridge you choose, the Mint LP protractor is highly recommended for this tonearm versus the stock VPI protractor for the best performance.
I think you should rethink the phonostage. Back a few years back I had a 501 and Whest PS.20. It sounded great. I had no issues with the combination. I went from a 501 to the 901 which was much better, faster, bigger and just more realistic. I don't know the NAT phonostage but found the 501 needed about 63dB-65dB of gain and about 120ohms of load. Your NAT looks like it max gain is only 60dB which is good for 0.6mV cartridges. I know that this part will upset many folks out there BUT also... I don't think input transformers and MC cartridges work well together. Yes, I'm in that camp BUT I now own an Ortofon Windfeld and A90 as well as other cartridges and every time I hear these played though a tube stage using transformers or a solid state stage using transformers, the sound leaves me cold and wondering 'what the hell is going on'. Failing all of that, the new Cadenza series by Ortofon are very good, BUT I really like the 501!
I'd look at something else in the system as the 501 is a good'n'.
Interesting, I'm having same issue with my JMW 10.5 and Shelter 501-2, it seems to have excessive sibilance at times, and its setup as well as I can humanly get it. I have a TNT table. May also try a Dynavector. My Shelter is about 9 years old now (I was early adopter), perhaps its just a bit tired. So the key is running a higher compliance cartridge with the JMW tonearm?