The more I listen to live performances the more I’m struck at how difficult it is for home audio to get strings right, both solo and massed. The violin, in particular, can be biting and warm at the same time. Any cartridges that are notably good performers?
It is one of the most difficult instruments for any system to get right. There is a very fine line between accurate and shrill. But don't focus on the poor cartridge. Some speakers will never allow you to get it right even with a $16,000 Clearaudio Goldfinger. There are many good cartridges that are capable of getting violins right. I think the point of diminishing returns is around $1000.00. Cartridges from Ortofon, Clearaudio, Lyra, Audio Technica, Grado and many others are very capable of reproducing strings correctly in the $1000 plus price range. Bellow that and you take your chances. But again it is speakers that cause the most trouble.
The Allnic Puritas is the best I've ever heard in regards to strings and female voices (as well as countertenors), which is the exact reason I bought it. I listen to a lot of pre-classical music, as well as music from the Late Medieval and Elizabethan eras, and here the Puritas is particularly good. It presents harpsichords, spinets, theorbos, lutes and the like, along with violas and other predecessors of the violin, better than anything I've previously laid ears on.
Ii's demanding on the arm though. With a compliance of 12 or so and weighing in at 11g it needs a bit of mass and excellent bearings for a truly great result.
The Allnic Puritas is the best I've ever heard in regards to strings and
female voices (as well as countertenors), which is the exact reason I
bought it. I listen to a lot of pre-classical music, as well as music
from the Late Medieval and Elizabethan eras, and here the Puritas is
particularly good. It presents harpsichords, spinets, theorbos, lutes
and the like, along with violas and other predecessors of the violin,
better than anything I've previously laid ears on.
on the arm though. With a compliance of 12 or so and weighing in at
11g it needs a bit of mass and excellent bearings for a truly great
Works very well with the Kuzma 4 Point. Nice cartridge.
Enjoying the responses which have devolved into the catchall "Everything matters!" ? Ha. Of course this categorical answer is correct and could be used to reply to 99% of the questions posed on here, but it does little to help you in trying to capture a certain sonic attribute by tweaking the cartridge part of the "Everything Matters" equation. In a perfect world we could go through every aspect of your system from AC power to how clean your records are to see which impacts the realism you seek from strings but that's not viable of course. Instead of providing anecdotal findings on cartridges that have worked well for others, you get "schooled" on why you're not even approaching the issue correctly. Oh well.
System matters but if you are looking for an "accurate" cartridge that will produce an uncolored sound with tons of detail I would look at the Ortofon Cadenza Blue. I have personal experience with it and can say it is a great cartridge for classical music.
I agree that “everything matters”. HOWEVER, in my experience the sound of recorded strings, massed strings and violins in particular, pose unique challenges for phono cartridges. The sound of the violin is unusually rich in harmonic content. When a violin string is bowed, many of the fundamental tone’s harmonics are excited simultaneously. The sound of many violins playing together seems to make it very difficult for most phono cartridges to track properly and without breakup or audible strain.
I am not sure what exactly the OP means by “get it right” since a cartridge that tracks well can still have an unnatural tonal balance which would make the resulting string sound not “right”. Conversely, a cartridge can have great innate tonal balance and have problems with tracking and audible breakup. Any other component in the audio system can also have tonal balance problems and make the resulting string sound not “right” and is why “everything matters”. But, I would say that if correct string sound is a priority, exceptional tracking ability is a good place to start in choosing a cartridge. Of course, the tonearm and its synergy with any given cartridge will affect tracking and why, once again “everything matters”. Having said all that, of all the cartridges that I have owned, for sheer tracking ability the Shure’s are hard to beat; but I generally don’t like their tonal character. MC’s with highish compliance (for MC’s) , like the van den Hul’s that I have owned have offered the best balance between innate tracking ability and tonal balance for realistic string sound.
Yes delivering the details of massed strings in a good recording is a big time hifi performance test, one of the toughest! So much going on harmonically at any particular time with massed strings!
I have a Denon DL103R cart on Linn Basik tonearm on Linn Axis table to Electrocompaniet step up transformer to Audio Research sp16 pre-amp with phono stage. This setup does the job. Took some work and time to get there testing with high quality recordings containing massed strings but worth every minute and dollar to get there.
Dear @pigvin : Get it right for whom?. You can be sure that almost each audiophile has his own " get it rigth " in almost any udio subject.
Yes, like you as we attend more and more often to MUSIC live events s we will know better about that " get it rigth ".
Of course tht everything is important in the room/system but the room/system only can reproduce what the cartridge pick-up or what the lasser pick up in a CDP.
So I agree with @frogman : cartridge tracking abilities is the main issue along the cartridge quality motor levels and agree with him too that van den Hul cartridges like the Colibri ( low output. ) is really good in any sense and a precise answer to your question.
Agreed with others. Massed strings seems one of the biggest "fall-down" points I experience in audio reproduction. They so easily can sound synthetic, or like digital samples rather than having that delicate combination of bow-on-string vividness and texture, yet with a relaxed sweetnees, and also being appropriately rich sounding, rather than the thin, shrill tone strings are often reduced to when playing in the higher registers. As it happens, the combo of my Transrotor turntable with a Benz Micro Ebony L cartridge, with my little Spendor S3/5 speakers, finally give me that lushious "strings sound beautiful...like strings!" sensation. I've been luxuriating in any track that has strings ever since using this combo.
Further following on to Frogman's and Raul's posts, because of the complexity of the sonic signature of even a single violin, let alone a massed array of them, the aural sensation produced in a "live" hall may at times exceed the capacity of music reproduction technologies to convey it. If you attend a lot of live orchestral concerts, you may never be quite satisfied with what you can achieve at home with similar music. Ignorance is bliss, and all that.
Don't forget set-up. Until I got serious about set-up, my higher end Koetsu was rather disappointing - not that much better than a higher end MM.
But when I got serious - no - actually fanatical about set-up (like azimuth in 10 minute of arc increments, and a professional torque screwdriver), the Koetsu blossomed to an unexpected degree. Resolution and definition without tears.
My thanks to those who have made suggestions about cartridges ;)
I’m intrigued about the comments about tracking. Getting the fundamental and the overtones right (for those who like statistics: I suspect “right” has a lot to do with an even transfer in the frequency domain and minimal phase distortions in the time domain) is a tough task. Peter Ledermann talks of the importance of tracing the groove accurately; I hope to hear a Paua and a Hyperion next week to try to get a sense of how well the higher-zoot Soundsmiths do with strings.
I love listening to strings and I love what my Dynavector XV-1s does to reproduce them. Never sibilant, always smooth as silk with excellent ability to resolve details. I had a Clearaudio Concerto before that and it wasn't nearly as good, especially with strings in the upper registers.
I should also add that I upgraded cartridges, then tonearms, then table, against expert advice, which was, table first, tonearm second, cartridge third. I should have listened to that advice, and saved myself some money.
Thing is, a TT generates noise. It's best to reduce that. The tonearm holds the cartridge in precise relation to the record. It's best if that precise relation is the correct one.
Asking a cartridge to make up for the TT and the tonearm is asking far too much, even of a precision instrument.
I have a dedicated tt setup for classical and hesitate to mention what it is because there is little respect for this make and approach. Strings sound breathtaking. Until I discovered this a couple of years ago I never played symphonic music, only chamber music, because the string section always sounded like a smear of strings rather than a string section. I grew up in Philadelphia during the Ormandy era and regularly attended concerts with my parents. Close friends of theirs played violin (father) and cello (son) in the Orchestra. I know what strings should sound like. When I close my eyes I'm experiencing that. While writing this the last movement of the Nielsen Violin Concerto finished. Please contact me if you wish to hear about the tt/cart setup.
I agree with (almost) everything already said here. IMO speakers are the single component most critical to whatever sound you are trying to achieve. No other single component will make as much as a difference to your systems sound.
Other components will "dial in" the sound, some more and some less, but if your speakers aren't getting you close to what you are looking to hear then you are not going to hit the mark. A change of cartridge will not overcome a speaker/room/amp compatibility mismatch.
Dear friends: All of us know that every link in the room/system chain is important.
Each of those links makes its own room/system degradation at different levels and something that we can’t avoid. The best we can do is to put at " minimum ". This " minimum " is really elusive trget to achieve it because all links inter-relationship in between.
Now, transducers links are the ones that degrades in higher way the reproduced signal. So, cartridge and room/speakers are the must critical links in the whole chain. Both links at both room/system extremes.
The source of the signal ( other than the LP or CD. ) is the cartridge and has ( for me. ) the main responsability for what we are hearing because any recorded signal information that’s losted down there we just never will recover it.
In other degree the room/speakers link has another main responsability and we have to take good care here because is where the signal can suffer more degradation.
We can have very good speakers but if our cartridge has poor tracking abilities we can’t have the resolution need it to really have that " strings rigth ".
Unfortunatelly that links interrelationship makes that everything depends on each one link quality level. Of course that two other links are each one of us MUSIC/sound knowledge levels and money we have for the audio system. So there are several limitations every where.
I’m intrigued about the comments about tracking. Getting the fundamental
and the overtones right (for those who like statistics: I suspect
“right” has a lot to do with an even transfer in the frequency domain
and minimal phase distortions in the time domain) is a tough task. Peter
Ledermann talks of the importance of tracing the groove accurately; I
hope to hear a Paua and a Hyperion next week to try to get a sense of
how well the higher-zoot Soundsmiths do with strings.
I've yet to hear a cartridge that could not get the strings right. But I've heard plenty of setups where the arm and cartridge didn't get along, and as a result it was more than just the strings that weren't right.
The ability of the arm to properly track the cartridge is far more important than what cartridge you get! I've heard a $35.00 Grado Green keep up with $3000 LOMC cartridges simply on this account!
So you do want to do your homework- the mass of the cartridge and the arm itself have an overall effective mass. The effective mass in turn works with the compliance of the cartridge to produce a mechanical resonance. You want the resonance to fall between 7 - 12Hz. If you can hit that window, then the cartridge will be able to handle bass and some warp without flopping your woofers all around, and yet will be able to hold together and stay relaxed during complex passages with lots of high frequency energy.
Now there is a bit more to it than that- the arm tube must not 'talk back' to the cartridge; IOW should be non-resonant, and the arm bearings have to be exactly correct so they are free but have no play, else they can chatter. In this regard the issue is very much like what a car has to do to keep the front tires on the ground while negotiating bumps and also providing steering. If there is any play in a car's steering or suspension it results in handling problems, excessive tire wear, etc.
Once the signal is properly tracked, you have to get it to the preamp where it gets properly amplified and equalized. This is a bit trickier than it sounds, because the cartridge has an inductance from its coils and the tone arm wiring and interconnect cable has a capacitance. The inductance and capacitance conspire to throw things out of whack: they create an electrical resonance that is either ultrasonic or Radio Frequency. In either case, the resonance is considerably more powerful than the actual signal you are trying to amplify; in the case of a LOMC cartridge it might be a Radio Frequency peak of 30dB more than the signal! If the preamp isn't designed to handle this, the RFI (Radio Frequency Interference) can overload the input of the preamp and cause excessive ticks and pops, as well as artifacts like brightness.
There are two ways to deal with this- add a 'loading' resistor which detunes the RF circuit, preventing the RFI (and kills the brightness caused by RFI), or design the preamp so it has sufficient overload margin and immunity to RFI. The latter is the preferred method, as a loading resistor forces the cartridge to do more work (for example driving a 100 ohm load is much harder than driving a 47,000 ohm load) and since that energy is coming from the cartridge driven by the grooves, the cantilever of the cartridge will be stiffer, making it less able to trace high frequencies.
So when people say there's more to it than just the cartridge they are quite right. Sorry for the long post, but having a bit of background into how this all works means you can put together a more neutral and musical system.
While I agree with everything that has been posted so far, there is another variable to getting the sound of strings correct. Nobody has mentioned the quality of the phono stage. Many phono stages are not that compatible or resolving enough to get this aspect right. What Ralph says above is 100% correct, but IF the phono stage has incompatibility with the cartridge...a problem occurs. The ability of the phono stage to amplify the cartridge signal without distortion is paramount. The more resolving the phono stage, the more the signal will pass through.
Dear @atmasphere : """
Any cartridges that are notably good performers? "" that's the OP question and I can't read nothing about in your post.
Btw, It does not matters all what you posted about cartridge/tonearm combination ( that all audiophiles know its importance. Only rookies are ignorant about. ) the cartridge self tracking abilities is the must important issue.
We can have a near " perfect " cartridge combination with a resonance frequency at 8hz-9hz but says almost nothing if that cartridge was designed with 6cu on compliance, it will be a very bad tracker and that " string rigth " never will show up. I said " strings rigth " but could be any other performance characteristic. What if that 6cu additional comes with conical stylus shape instead VDH or Shibata one? A cartridge is a whole unit and as its tracking abilities is important are other important characteristics as motor design or suspension and quality level excecution of that design.
Everything the same : cartridge abilities is the name of the game.
Once the signal is properly tracked, you have to get it to the preamp where it gets properly amplified and equalized . """
curios but instead to talk about that " amplified and equalized " subjects you gone for a way less important " road ":
The inductance and capacitance conspire to throw things out of whack: they create an electrical resonance """.
Many phono stages are not that compatible or resolving enough ...."""
well neither people touched the amplifier resolution or cable resolution or several other links in the " prolific " audio system chain.
The best linephonostage/cables/amplifiers/ speakers/TT/tonearm can only reproduce ( always with degradation of the signal that pass through each link. ) what the cartridge pick-up.
The star in an analog room/audio system is the cartridge it self ( other than the LP. ) and all the other links in the audio system chain work as slaves of that cartridge. Yes important slaves, but that's all.
In my system the London Decca Reference cartridge blows away everything else I have tried for orchestral music. It's a fussy cartridge (but not as much as in the old days) that requires a good tonearm and phono stage match, as well as precise alignment. But nothing sounds like this modern version of an audio dinosaur.
My second go to cartridge for classical are the Ortofon SPUs. I particularly love the SPU Royal GM MkII and Synergy GM models. If you can't do an SPU headshell you can try the SPU Royal N which is made for standard 1/2" cartridge mounting.
A90/95 - several. I used to sell them and bought one at a promo price. The A95 is a very good cartridge but IMO it doesn't come close to the detail and impact provided by the London Decca Reference cartridge for large, complex music.