Cartridge upgrade for VPI Scoutmaster

Hello All!
I have a VPI Scoutmaster with a Dynavector 20XH. My phonostage, pre amp, and amps are all Pass Labs. IC cables are Harmonic Technology Magic, and speaker cables are Harmonic Technology Magic Tweeter and Pro-9+ in a bi-wired configuration. VSA speakers. My stereo goal- realism.
I have two questions I was hoping to get help with.
1. What would be a great low to medium output cart for my set-up? 2K or less. And why.
2.How risky is it to buy a used cart. Is it worth the $ saved?
Thanks for your input!
I really enjoyed the ZYX Airy 3 with silver base on my Scoutmaster. Which arm do you have? That would tell us more. But my experience in moving from the Dynavector20XH to the ZYX was very positive. More music arised from my lp's in a more natural unrestrained way!
How much gain does your Pass have? Obviously that match-up would be important. The airy is .34mv. There are a lot of excellent reviews out there both on the 'Gon and by "professional reviewers."

I don't know much about buying used carts. Opinions vary on this. There is a Airy 3 demo up now from Mehran for just above 2k. Mehran is a very fine gentleman to deal with.

Good luck!
I use a ZYX R100H and am very happy with it on my Scout ,it replaced a Clearaudio Arum Beta S ,,I have never bought a used cartridge.
Thanks Mariasplunge-
Sorry that I did not think to mention my arm. It is a JMW9.
The Pass pre has user choice 4 or 14 db of gain and the phonostage has 0,4, or 14. I am currently using 4 db for the pre and 0 for the phonostage. My amps are the 600's and the VSA Senior IV's are pretty efficient so the volume knob usually does not go past 8 (out of 31!), and this is running single ended. I want to run it with XLR's which doubles (or almost doubles) the gain from the TT. Truly the lowest volume can be to much at times, which is one reason I wanted to go to low or medium output.
Thanks Raytheprinter-
I have read a bit about ZYX carts. What do you like about it compared to the Clearaudio Arum Beta S. Was it worth the price differance to you? How did installing it go?
Thanks again-
Hello Steve,
Within the last 6 months, I have sampled two very nice Cartridges on my own VPI HW-19 Table. Those being the Benz Ruby 3, and the ZYX Airy 3X SB.

Both Low Output Cartridges, being .34mv for the Benz Ruby 3, and .24mv for the ZYX Airy 3. The Airy 3, and other ZYX Cartridges are tested differently, I believe JVC versus CBS, so therefore I had found the lower rated output ZYX Airy 3 actually comes very close in output to the Benz Ruby 3.

On my Sutherland PhD, a setting of 60db Gain was suiatble for either Cartridge. I did eventually settle on 62db with the Airy 3, thus using the lowest setting on the high gain boards.

Both are very nice Cartridges, the Ruby sounding horrible upon fire-up, but after a bit of VTA-VTF tweaking-adjustment, and 5-7 hours of play began to settle down, and started to strut its stuff. Nice pure sonics, smooth, nice smooth, pure mids, relatively quiet in regards to groove noise, and everytime I played it thereafter, it continued to improve.

Still somehow, I wanted more of everything (don't we all), and for quite some time chatted with Doug Deacon about the ZYX, as Doug is a huge proponent of the ZYX.
It took me about a month to eventually decide, and then gave Mehran of Sorasound a call, and on its way, was my new Airy 3X. Two days later, the Fed-Ex Man dropped it off.

After overcoming insitial fear, as we all do, with a very expensive Cartridge, mounting, just like the Ruby was relatively easy. Only insitial worry, was that the ZYX did not have color coded pins on its rear, but thankfully the Owner's manual shows proper channel, and ground pin identification.

I believe all ZYX Cartridges, with perhaps the exception of the least expensive Bloom (I'm not positive of this though) come with permanently mounted Mounting Nuts, making installation a simple affair.

The Cartridge sounded very good direct from the box, and there are of course differences with the ZYX House sound. One of the most notable, is that I was playing some "decent" older LPs in my collection, (which I usually do when initially setting up a new Cartridge) and noting "where the heck the the groove noise, loud crackles, and pops go?!"

The ZYX Airy 3 substantially was an improvement in this uncanny groove silence it possessed, versus the Benz Ruby 3 (even though the Benz was no slouch in this area)

With the ZYX, instruments-voices seemed to have better individuality, seperation, and depth of soundstage versus the Ruby. Seemed that at first, certain areas of the sound spectrum like drums, bongoes, etc were a bit more forward-defined, jumping out at you, and after 4-5 hours of play, and some more fine tuning-tweaking of VTA-VTF, the Cartridge seemed to display better evenness, integration, and a completeness of sound, and balance. This still continues to improve at present.

Before I moved onto better, more treasured LPs, I wanted to make sure, that I had no gross errors in adjustment-alignment before risking any damage to said cherished LPs. Once my fears were buried, that all was well with Alignment, VTA, VTF, it was then onto the heavy artillery.

With my premo LPs, I noticed an absolute dead silence, in that for the first time with analog playback, I swore I was listening to CD, in regards to no background noise, no hum, no pops, no clicks, nothing!

No doubt the sonic qualities of the Battery Powered Sutherland PhD, which is also noted for being dead silent, were finally being better showcased with these similar qualities of the ZYX.

Only downside I noted with the Airy 3, was a raspness-rawness of sibilance, in that the Cartridge seemed almost like it was a mistracking fault. Doug had stated firstly, this improves with break-in, and in a worst case scenario, could be a possible shortcoming with my AQ Uni-pivot Tonearm. I note this seems to have improved, but is not yet fully gone.

I recently installed a Riggle VTAF on Tonearm, and sonics again seem to have taken another leap for the better. Bass seemed to be tighter, punchier after the addition of VTAF, and again some more very slight VTA Adjustments. This Cartridge is far from being fully broken in, so any negative comments are more than likely not flaws of the Cartridge, but perhaps lack of break in time of Airy 3.

If I was to buy used, and decided on a ZYX, I would contact Mehran of Sorasound. He occasionally gets low hour used Cartridges in, from customers who want to trade up to the TOTL.

In this scenario, you would most likely be protected with some length of dealer-distributor warrantee. When buying used from a private seller, you are essentially on your own without a pot to pee in, or a window to throw it out of. Mark
Zyx R100 Yatra or Dynavector DV-17D3 are both nice upgrades.

The JMW-9 arm is not capable of optimizing most high end cartridges including the Airy 3. It would be a waste of money.

Buy some vinyl with the money you save.
Id get a shure v15 mk III with a jico stylus.Thats what markd recomends over on audiokarma.He says its almost as good as his mega buck carts but for a fraction of the price.You dont need low output mc.Just get the ho mm shure its a giant killer with the jico sas.
Hi Srwooten, I have been using a Dynavector XX2MKII, first with JMW9 arm. I have since upgraded my arm to the JMW9 Signiture, and I am now getting much better performance than with the stock JMW. I would go to the Signiture, then try a better cartridge. I don't think you can go wrong, $500 with trade-in from VPI, if you can stand the wait time. Getting great synergy with the Dynavector P-75 MKII phono stage. Works for me.

Best of luck, enjoy,

Redtop/All, Yes, my Shure is very good, good enough to the point of never parting with it. It got even better with the Jico SAS Replacement Stylus.

I know Rauliruegas has been a proponent of MM, and has some good articles here, but I never heard him mention much about any of the Shure V-15's as personal favs, or suggesting them to someone else.

Some will argue, on what upgrade paths should be taken when it comes to Arm, Table, Cartridge. There's no doubt that the best Cartridges in the world, be it MM, or MC will suffer on a less than stellar Table, and/or Tonearm.

Now to take a decent, moderate cost MM Cartridge, such as the Shure V-15 III, place it on a $1.5K-$4K Table, with a very good Arm, run this into a great Phono Stage, and one might be pleasantly surprised at how good the sound can be.

Raul is certainly not the only Phile whos noticed how good MM's can be, provided they are set up properly, complimented with proper loading, and good equipment-components downstream from them. Would be interesting to see how the Tyoe III would react-sound with 100K Ohms loading? Anybody try this? Raul?
I agree with Audiofeil. If your going to stick with the JMW9 then don't bother with the Airy, go for the R100 and spend the money saved on great lp's. I do think Islandmandan's advice is great as well, I found the Sig arm to be a much better performer.

I am using the sig arm on my SSM and went from the 17D2 MKII, to the 17D3, and now the XX2MKII. The difference between the 17D3 and XX2 MKII is huge. Bass responce, soundstage, refinement, and just a more natural flow of the music. The XX2MKII is in your budget and a very cartridge.
Yeah the mk III is sure one sweet cart.I don't see why anyone would buy a zxy or a shelter or anything else.My brother has one with a nottingham interspace and a wheast phono pre.Its so good its amazing.It just barely beats my pioneer dd table and grado black.I use the phono pre on my pioneer receiver.My set up sounds great but my brothers beats me by a little bit.
Back in the mid-late 70's, I used a Shure V-15 MKIV, with a little integrated Kenwood amp driving Tannoy 12" Monitor Golds. When I think back on it, that was a very good sounding little system. I never had a table and phono pre that measures up to what I have now, but it would be fun to try. I might have to do that some time. I don't think I would be too surprised at how good it sounds, though.

Regards to all, enjoy,

PS to my last post-my Dyna XX2MKII cart I am using now, I bought used here on the 'Gon, seller claimed 10 hours on it, which has to be true, since it took time to break in. It has been a superb performer, and at just under $1000, as opposed to $1800, worked out very well. You pays your money and takes your chances, I guess.


I have noticed in a few of your posts that you are not a fan of the JMW-9 arm. Do you think any more highly of the JMW-9 Signature?
The airy 3 comes in both .24mv and .48mv, I am not sure about a .34mv version as mentioned in the original response post. The airy 3 is a very nice cartridge if you have a good matching phono.
I have direct experience with the JMW-9 but not the Signature. If the mechanics remain unchanged and the only difference is Nordost Valhalla wire (yuk) then I have the same opinion.

Which is, a serviceable arm that has resonance issues and will track most low to mid priced cartridges fine. However, it will not even come close to optimizing some of the finer cartridges discussed in the forum. In all fairness, there are other tonearms that won't either.

IMO, VPI builds superb turntables and average tonearms.
They build loosely coherent tables that will satisfy for awhile but really don't address many TT issues and the build average tonearms. Unipivots break cartridges easily.

Not to put VPI down, they do what they do. Ever wonder though why they have such an aggressive upgrade program? Ever wonder how an elastic band can keep consistent speed stability?

Oh well these issues are beyond the premise of this thread. Enjoy your VPI and let us know what upgrade you decide. plenty of fine input here should lead to greater sonic fulfillment!

Thank you for your input. I have decided to get an Zyx Airy 3. It is on its way and should be here by 12-3-08! I bought used from a reputable 'Goner. Will post after set-up.
Dyna and Benz cartridges work great with VPI arms. I would stick with these brands.
I've done a little recent experiment that, IMO, confirms Audiofeil's assertion of resonance issues in the JMW-9 arm. Admittedly, my Scout's Garrott Optim FGS is no uber high end cartridge. After adding a layer of's thinnest resonance damping mat between the cartridge body and headshell, there was a very noticeable increase in resolution and diminished smearing of instrumental voices in complex passages. Perhaps other cartridge bodies with different construction have resonant frequencies that interact with the arm to lesser or greater degrees, but the interaction is most obvious with this combo.
Can you use a non-VPI arm on a VPI table? I'm still struggling to determine my next cartridge. I'd like to buy a Dynavector XV-1 and be done with it, but worry that my JMW-9 Signature won't do it justice.
>I'd like to buy a Dynavector XV-1 and be done with it, but worry that my JMW-9 Signature won't do it justice.<

It won't.

However, very few $1000 tonearms will optimize the XV-1s; you are not alone.

Don't let money burn a hole in your pocket. Find a nice Benz, Clearaudio, Zyx, etc. that works well in your arm until you can afford to upgrade.

The journey is ongoing; very few find the rainbow's end.
Madfloyd...why are you letting opinions on the internet drive you nuts. Go listen on your own...if you are near Arizona, you are welcome to hear mine. You won't break anything if you buy your Dyna and put it in a VPI arm if you are resigned to the can always move on if you are displeased with the results. Call/write Dynavektor and get their opinion.
It seems there is more of a difference than just the Nordost Valhalla wire between the VPI JMW9 and the JMW9 Signature. As described by VPI "The JMW-9 Signature tonearm builds on all the advantages of standard JMW-9 unipivot tonearm. The JMW-9 Signature tonearm is completely wired with Nordost Valhalla internal wiring! It also uses an improved bearing assembly with viscous damping, has added mass for better resonance control, and adds fine adjustment of tracking force on the rear stem of the arm. It even has VPI's newest addition: mechanical anti-skate control!"
Yes I know.

My position remains unchanged. The XV-1s cannot be optimized in that tonearm. Nor can the Zyx Universe. Nor can the Transfiguration Orpheus. And on and on.

Thank you.
Agree with Stringreen. I enjoy the Benz LP on the 10.5i very much. Whether or not anyone else beleives it's optimal is superfluous. Realistically, no other true audiophile will ever hear my system so why should any other opinion matter? Recent comparisons confirm to me that the LP blows away the Shelter 90x and that a VPI arm is more than worthy of a top level cartridge whoever makes it.
Thanks for all the input.
I am sure that my "entry" level arm won't do the new cart justice, though I'll be very interested to hear what happens. (the carts' list is more than my TT/arm combo)Maybe my next step will be a new arm or perhaps even a new TT. Seems to me for $2700 my rig should have less background noise. I have heard the Airy is pretty quiet, but I don't know if the bulk of my noise is coming from my TT or the cart, though I suspect mainly the TT.
Even with the noise vinyl is awsome!
I'd buy the cart if you want it. Listen and see what you think. Add a new arm later. Or don't add one if your happy. Generaly you should only make one change at a time, then listen for a while. Then decide the next step. It's an enlightening.
Srwooten...don't be misled by some venom one poster has sprayed around. The VPI arm is actually very good and the 10.5i is excellent. I have heard many Triplanar, SME, and other arms that don't sound as good as my 10.5i. Who knows what the best is.... a 9mm H&K or a 9mm Smith and Wesson.
>>I have heard many Triplanar, SME, and other arms that don't sound as good as my 10.5i.<<

I would suspect the TP or SME were not set up properly.

Or perhaps you don't what to listen for.
This seems like a topic in which there might not be any right, or wrong answers, and I can understand what Bill Feil is saying, and he is probably correct.

Srwooten'a last post makes some logical sense, try-buy what you wish, and go from there.... :-)

I can remember reading an article which J Carr of Lyra once wrote, about how certain Cartridges can be a bit of a compromise, where the designer makes them that they will work well with a variety of Tonearms.

With that being said, I then surmise that there are the few that may not, and this may likely be some of the very top tier Cartridges from certain manufacturers.

Some of Doug Deacon's writings as well seem to confirm this, with certain Unipivot Arms having a hard time handling-controlling certain MC Cartridges. Probably one of the reasons some Unipivots have Damping Troughs included? Mark
Audiofeil...I am a professional violinist. I make a living...a good knowing what to listen for.
>>by knowing what to listen for.<<

Sure you do.

You're the guy who blew a subwoofer amp a month or so ago and didn't realize it for 4-5 days.

Real sharp listening skills.

Do you think the JMW 10.5 is worth the upgrade cost(1-2K)?I'm starting to look into what may make upgrade sense to me. New TT? New arm?
BTW- I got the cart yesterday and spent the afternoon setting it up (JOY JOY-my kind of afternoon!). Intial happiness, but am still tweaking and thinking and re-setting. Sounds really good as of yet. I'll post more specifics soon. Owner forgot to send the owners manual. Other than that am pretty well pleased. Saved $1400 buying used. Kinda.
I upgraded to the 10.5i from the 9 sig and have never been sorry I did. I don't have a problem with VPI arms myself at all and in fact enjoyed the 9 sig also. My favorite part of the 10.5i is how much easier set up is with the VTA knob. I level the arm when measuring VTF which makes the measurement much more accurate and this is much harder with the 9 sig's set screws vs the knob. I use it with the Benz LP and think I have it set up pretty well. I play vinyl nearly every day for several hours and the majority of the time this combination is mesmerizing. If you want to change tables you MAY find a better performing combination but would likely be much more costly than trying the 10.5i. If you're reasonably happy with the 9 on the Scoutmaster that's not a bad place to be for the money.
I agree with Sonofjim. The upgrade from the 9 Sig to the 10.5 is minimal. If you play with VTA, the 10.5i is very easy to adjust and then return to the original setting while a record is playing thus making it a worthwhile purchase. I have found that power cords can make a huge difference in a stereo system. You don't mention the use of good power cords. I would do that (oops) before anything else except perhaps for a Mint protractor. The proper use of this tool brings the turntable to an entirely new level of performance. Regarding buying used cartridges on line. I know you can save some money, but the purchase is an "iffy" proposition. I bought a couple of cartridges on line...2 were good, but grey market without benefit of dealer or importer support, and one was misrepresented and an ultimate loss. The internet is wild west city. I have tried to post an important find with Vandersteen 5A speakers and it never gets on the internet. I'll try one more time. What is going on....
I bet nine out of ten Scout/JMW-9 owners never have their rigs set up for optimum performance.Count me in the big group.To get that last 10% from the Scout I think you really have to sweat the details.Preferably before you start the upgrades.
I'll wager if you haven't properly set up your arm/cart with the MintLP, you're only realizing 50-60% of what it can really do, given you get azimuth, and anti-skate set.
I keep saying this, but Mapleshade NanoMount System is an amazing and inexpensive tweak that really helps.

This is all to true. The lure of new hardware is often very strong. It's easy to forget that, even in the face of brand loyalty and bias, (as we see here commonly) implementation of the equipment is far more important than what it is. As long as you have competent equipment(and you do no matter what anyone says) you'll acheive amazingly satisfying results with a little experimentation and patience. I don't think I have to tell you that you don't have the best turntable/tonearm in the world but neither does anyone else and most have a lot more invested in their pursuit.
Do you find you hear a substantial and cost-effective upgrade going from the JMW9 to the 10.5i? Or is the improvement MAINLY in ease of set-up/use.
I agree that the VPI arm is actually very good and the 10.5i is excellent. Triplanar and SME cannot compare.
The 10.5i is an excellent arm from a functional and sonic standpoint. Sonically, I also enjoyed the 9 sig and with enough patience I think it can provide very comparable results. Whether it's cost effective for you is a personal decision. It was for me. Considering the importance of diligent set up and tweaking, anything that makes that easier and more appealing is cost effective to me. Another cheaper item that makes accurate setup easier is the Mint LP tractor. Try one of these for $99 and you may stop thinking about the 10.5i, at least for a while.
>>12-04-08: Azmoon
I agree that the VPI arm is actually very good and the 10.5i is excellent. Triplanar and SME cannot compare.<<

Please list all of the cartridges you've used along with the specific SME tonearms to support this assertion.

This should be interesting.
I'm pretty impressed with the Airy 3. The dynamics are incredible. This is a very enjoyable cart. Very spacious, clean, and defined. Well rounded, though I am still getting it set up "right". I set the VTF at 2 grams as per the original owners suggestion (same TT and arm) after some experimenting. I am running it single ended into a Pass Labs Xono phono stage (the only way INTO the Xono), and balanced out to the X-1 pre. Cables are HT Magic. Cart loading I set to 199.36 ohms initial as per my last cart. I'll tweak this after I get the cart set up physically correct, and post what settings seem to work best in my rig to my ear. I’m also working on setting the Azimuth. I have some voltmeters ordered online to help me out with this. I set the VTA almost level (a little bit negative) for 180-gram vinyl.

I have the Airy-3 and a Pass Ono which is very similar to your Xono. I think you will find that the loading will sound best between 80-136 Ohms depending on the phono cable you are using.

If you test the varying settings, and find your best setting is something outside this range, please post back. I am happy with my setup, but am willing to experiment with other successful parameters. ;-)

Thanks for your input. Only a Xono owner understands the unusual load settings for this phono pre. I will try your settings after I get my cart tweaked more properly. I am using the loading I set up for my Dynavector 20X-H. I use HT Magic in and out (balanced out), and throughout my system. What cables are you using? Are you running balanced or single-ended out? What pre-amp are you using?

I was using a XLO phono cable. With that, the best loading I found was at 81 ohms.

Then I changed to a Purist Audio Venustas. I could immediately hear that the loading was different. With that cable, I found that 100ohms was best.

As the Airy breaks in, people have found that the loading requirements change. Since you bought your used, you may not have much of a break-in or loading change.

The phono cable has no effect on loading.

Ralph Karsten (Atma-Sphere) explains this quite thoroughly in a recent thread.