Cartridge Selection


I am the happy owner of a VPI Classic Signature, connected to McIntosh phono preamp (both MM and MC with adjustable capacitance and resistance), preamp and amplifier (preamp is tube, phono preamp and amp are solid state). Speakers are B&W 805 D3. This analog part of my system is used exclusively for listening to jazz.

Presently, I have a Hana SH mounted on the VPI Classic. I like the sound very much, but am thinking I can get more out of my system with a cartridge upgrade. I am considering the Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC Star, Lyra Delos, or Benz Micro Wood SL. Trying to keep the cost to around $2K or less.

I would greatly appreciate any insight from the group.


Koetsu Black Goldline
Should be able to find a new one under $2k. Mine was from an eBay seller in Hong Kong. There was one even cheaper, but I went for the newer manufacture date. Lotta people seem scared to death to buy this way. Good. Do not need the competition. Btw I enjoy all kinds of music, this thing is fantastic with sax, horns, clarinet, drums, cymbals, the works. 
Ortofon Cadenza Bronze if you stretch a little, or the Blue. 

I just purchased the Soundsmith Paua MKii for 2k which is half price since they had a cosmetic update they have been blowing them out at half price.

I own the Ortofon Candenza Bronze and the Koestsu Black Goldline (which I used for 15 years.  Both great catridges but the Paua is in a different stratosphere which it should be it is a 4 thousand dollar catridge.  I have a Prime Signature with the Nordost wiring you have and it is a great match, which is tricky to find. You need to look a little harder to find one at half off right now but it is still possible.  try Upscale audio.

also the rebuild price is 550 dollars as many times as you need so it if future proof value and will last you forever.  the Koetsu is a 2k trade and the ortolan is a 1k retip.
The Koetsu is way too stiff for that arm.The Lyra Delos is perfect as is the Clearaudio Talisman Gold. The Clearaudio is a bit more dynamic and it is also brighter. If you think you need a little more treble it is perfect. If your system treble is right I would go with the Lyra. I am a big fan of Ortofon cartridges but at this price point I think these two are a better value  price to performance. Up a little higher the Winfeld Ti takes over until you get to the megabuck cartridges. The best arm I know of for Koetsus is the 4 point 14. You need a heavier arm. The Stone bodied versions will go in a slightly lighter arm but they are very expensive. Never use a uni pivot  with a Koetsu. Moving iron cartridges can sound great but they are very sensitive to magnetic fields. DC motors generally work fine but if an AC 
motor is not well shielded you are going to get a hum which gets worse as the cartridge gets closer to the motor. Unless you have used one before and know you won't have a problem I would avoid them if you have AC motor. Cartridges are like ski boots once you use them there is no turning back.
I agree on the Koetsu.  the compliance on a 3D arm is marginal at about 13hz resonance which is not the best.  you could use the sound smith ezmount screws and add some weight (probably the brass ones) to help the Koetsu along.  I have to respectfully disagree about the Moving Iron carts shielding on the SS is very good and people do not have issues with them like they do with the Grados that are not shielded.

I have the same tt (mine is an SE), and just got my SS Sussurro MkII (@40% off) broken in and it sounds fantastic! No hum at all. The more than fair re-tipping charge on the SS is a major consideration.
BTW, if you are using a uni-pivot arm, have you tried the dual pivot upgrade? If not, I'd recommend getting that first.

Yes, I do have the dual pivot installed.

Do you also have the HRX pulley?
With the HRX pulley, you'll need to have a SDS or ADS. The added benefit is, going from one belt to two is a BIG upgrade. I'm running three, but the largest improvement is going to two belts

What I'm saying is, before upgrading carts, improve your TT as much as possible..
I have a friend who put a Soundsmith, not sure which one on an old Thorens TD 125 and it hummed like crazy not to mention that the arm was too heavy for it. He returned to an Ortofon SPU. 
Different cartridges have different sounds so you have to know what you like. I could give a hoot about stylus replacement. I have never replaced a stylus as I always want to try the next best thing. The single most important spec is the cartridges tracking ability next is the compliance. The biggest mistake you can make is getting a cartridge that is too soft for your arm as it is hard to make an arm much lighter. Too stiff and you can always add some weight. I always shoot for vertical and lateral resonance between 8 and 10. I think you get the best bass and dynamics here. I have never seen record warps go up that high.
Cartridges are like Tube VS SS electronics. Koetsus are decidedly on the Tube end of the Spectrum as are Airtight and the now defunct Transfiguration. Ortofons and Clearaudios lean SS. Grados and Lyras in the middle. I have not hear an Epoch yet. I have never had a Soundsmith or any other cartridge I have not mentioned in my system so I can not comment. With a SS phono amp I  like Grados (which can track anything) and Lyras. With tube phone amps I like Ortofons and Clearaudios. Currently I use a Clearaudio Da Vinci with and ARC phonoamp. Fabulous combination. I have a Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum, an Airtight Supreme and an Ortofon Windfeld Ti in reserve. The Windfeld Ti is also a cartridge that can track anything. It is a great cartridge for Rock. I have my eyes on a Lyra Atlas low output. I had a friend's in my system and it was wonderful. My audio savings account isn't up to it yet. 
I've heard most of the carts mentioned on a VPI. Great suggestions.

Include the Audio Technica ART9 in your search. I had one on  my VPI. A Kiseki Blue replaced it,only because of a crashed cantilever.

Like everything audio, it subjective like choosing your favorite ice cream.

A couple years ago, here on Agon it was the "flavor of the month" for a reason. At $1K, it performs above its price point. Check the archives.

The SS models are especially attractive because of reasonable repair cost. Most who own a high end cart, eventually experience the trauma of a cantilever disaster.

Also,if you haven't already, consider trying a tube phono to really hear whatever cart you choose. Again subjective, most opinions seem to agree a tube phono adds a level of "real" that is more convincing than SS.

I don't want to hijack the thread, I do not have a VPI but wanted to comment on the sound of cartridges.  

@mijosten you have a lot of experience with analog, I would however offer a different option about one analogy you made - in my system I would characterize Transfiguration to sound more like SS and Ortofon I would agree with you - in the middle.

@GAR Ortofon for me is hard to beat, extensive line, good sound with options, and a long tradition of making cartridges.  I am using my Jubilee now as I try to figure out what's wrong with my Transfiguration Proteus and is it fixable.  Another example of why I will always buy from a company likely to be in business  for the long haul, especially if I spend large like I did on the Proteus. 
It wasn't Transfiguration's fault that it's owner and principle brain trust passed away. Unfortunately, he must not have had a relative interested in carrying on like Grado and Koetsu. The Proteus was a great cartridge. I never owned one but I had it in my system for a weekend. We have a group of diehard vinyl audiophiles who all trust each other and we swap cartridges all the time.  If you can't get the Transfiguration fixed MySonicLabs is supposed to be very similar. One is probably in my future but the Atlas is first. I would also love to get a second TT so I can AB cartridges without having to fiddle around. Got to have something to day dream about. I'm not sure pops but I think Van den Hul will repair cartridges. 
Tablejockey, I think that is particularly true at the less expensive end of the market but when you get to Sutherland and Pass SS phono amps that argument breaks down. The one gig I would love to try is Channel D's system where you have an unequalized Phono amp go to an ADC and let a computer do the equalization. Interesting concept but I would have a hard time spending money on it. I myself tend to lean toward tube phono amps having a weakness for ARC products and 6922s
That Transfiguration Proteus was supposed to be fabulous- i missed the boat on that. I know some people view third party retippers with disdain, but since the original manufacturer is no longer around, what's the downside if the cartridge isn't working anyway? Soundsmith is first rate, but very slow. I bought a retipped cartridge from Steve Leung at VAS to tide me over; it was well done, cheap and he was fast and helpful.
 I'm using a stone bodied Koetsu on a linear arm and it is a match made in heaven. My Airtight Supreme is waiting for a rebuild. I would buy a Proteus at the right price if it could be retipped by a third party specialist. (I was told the D version was really killer but I doubt you'll find that in the third party retip market. 
Interesting that you think the My Sonic Lab is similar, @mijostyn. I never had one in my system, only the cousins-- the Airtights, which I liked.