Class "A" phono cartridge discussion.


I would like to have a discussion about what cartridges are class A. Stereophile has their list but I can't help thinking there is probably a lot left out.

Last year I traded my Delos for a used EMT TSD15 because the TSD 15 was listed as class A in Stereophile. I love the TSD 15. It is the best cartridge I have heard. But I will probably have to re tip it soon. $1250 for a re tip is expensive but I will be able to do it when I have to. Moving to anything else from here is just too cost prohibitive. Three to ten thousand for a class A cartridge is just probably not going to happen. Although Miyajima sounds enticing to me. Maybe some day. The funny thing about the TSD 15 is it has been around for decades and I'd never really heard much about it until recently.

 I'm curious if there are other classic cartridges that are class A that can be had for less than the upper echelon price? Maybe we can start a list.

The funny thing about the Stereophile list is that you have to go to a $7000 Lyra, $4800 Sound smith for Class A in those brands. There are currently no ZYX, no Dynavectors and no Shelters on the list despite being popular brands.

I do have a ZYX Yatra and had a Delos. The TSD 15 is better than both. 
siranthony
Also the only Clearaudio is the Goldfinger for $15000.
Forget Stereophile's list.  It is subject to the biases of the reviewers, equipment interaction, their latest medical condition(s), what they had for dinner, the last "conversation" with their boss and how much wine they had during the listening session(s). 

And the most important factor, their personal relationship with the manufacturer / distributor.

Yes, there are truly excellent cartridges on the list, but how many are bettered by cartridges not on the list and how many are ignored for personal reasons?

Yes... Go on... Care to name a few not on the list? I do now there is another list on the net. But that is another biased list IMO. So much left out. 
My bias slants toward AT ART9.  But even though it betters most on the "A" list, it won't get there because it is too inexpensive.

The Goldfinger does NOT belong on the list. 
Siranthony, Do you wish to restrict this discussion to cartridges that can be purchased new and are still being produced? I still remember vividly the first time I heard a ZYX UNIverse mounted in a Durand Talea tonearm (version 1.0 of both products).  Both were new to me, but the system in which they were working was not.  I had never heard that system sound as uncannily good as it did that day.  The owner has since moved on to the more expensive Talea Telos now sporting a Benz LPS.  To my ears, the sound is not as good. It's "meh".

FWIW, I know a few guys who have heard both the ART9 and the ART7 and prefer the latter.  Output of the 7 is very low, however, and I admit this is hearsay evidence.  And the TSD15 is apparently very very good, as you suggest. In fact, I am thinking about the TSD15 for myself.
To avoid confusion, I note that I should have said, "Durand Telos", not "Talea Telos".
"My bias slants toward AT ART9. But even though it betters most on the "A" list, it won't get there because it is too inexpensive."

Yes, and also because it has very limited distribution in the US.  But that doesn't explain the lack of reviews in Europe where it is both less expensive and more widely distributed.

But which of those on the "A" list does it better?  It would take a small fortune and a lot of effort to find out!

I agree, melm.

But I also question the legitimacy of ANY reviews where less than 20 people participate in completely blind testing using a variety of DIFFERENT equipment combinations. Too many times a review is discussed with a reviewer over a manufacturer-paid-for dinner or the reviewer is a personal friend of a manufacturer and doesn’t want to damage that friendship.



Would it not make most posts moot on these threads if we held ourselves to the same standards we hold audio reviewers? Just saying...

Phono cartridge performance is so subject to so many things, tonearm matching, set-up alignment, and even system synergy that it is really hard to call my experience, apples to apples, with someone else’s. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have disputed either a dealer or fellow audiophile’s alignment job. But of course, let’s assume we get all that just right.

I still really believe we should be very cautious not to make too rash or broad sweeping declarations, as they easily could flush out quite differently from kit to kit. This said, there are lots of usual suspects not listed that could be, but bargains are a much, much harder call.

I'm a Lyra fan. I've been through several. I like their high level of build quality, find them easy to align, enjoy their sonic balance, and of course the way they pull the music out of the grooves. 
I'd like to interject my choice, which is a Zu Denon 103R, which has had ESCCO's white sapphire cantilever/Paratrace stylus mod. At under a thousand dollars in this state (it probably isn't expensive enough to be included for many people), I find it fares well in comparison to some of the better (more expensive) cartridges I've heard.

Even if it's judged to not be in the running for whatever reasons there may be, it's still a great cartridge, and worth having in its own right. Recommended.

Regards,
Dan
I Agree with the Poster the EMT is one of the great MC's
 ditto comment on the Goldfinger it is overpriced and should be Class B--it is too edgy to my ears-- I'd sooner a Jan Allaerts there
it is a far superior cart to some mentioned
The Madake is the jewel in the listing in my opinion
Good luck in quest

D
I'm very happy with my AT ART-9. I feel no need to spend more. And yes, I have had cartridges that cost three + times as much. 
The ART-9 in my system has beaten some very well regarded $4-$5k cartridges. I have also heard the TSD-15 many times, in different systems but not my own system. The commonality between the TSD-15 and ART-9 is both of them are very lively and dynamic. I prefer the ART-9 because it is more refined than the TSD and also it is more neutral. It times better than the TSD. The TSD does not dissappear, you always hear it. But the ART-9 disappears.
Lewm, I wouldn't leave anything out unless it is unobtanium.

Thanks for the suggestions so far. Keep them comming.
The ART-9 is an excellent cartridge with very solid separation numbers and a very stable soundstage.  Fast, clean, very good sound.  
The problem is for any Class A recommendation the cartridge compliance and mass has to match the arms effective mass and resonance control plus do not forget the adjustment capabilities of the arm.
There are any number of posters hating and loving cartridges simply because of a good or bad arm match.  Without knowledge of your arm it is hard to make a Class A recommendation.

HW
Dear siranthony: Normally class A cartrridges are the ones each one of us own.

Now, why should you hange your EMT when you are satisfied?: maybe you want something different but if not then just re-tipped directly with EMT.

If you want something really good but diferent then you have some options here:

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/cartridges-benz-micro-lp-s-cartridge-2016-02-22-analog-34202-brade...

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/cartridges-ortofon-windfield-moving-coil-cartridge-less-than-150-h...

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/cartridges-van-den-hul-colibri-xgp-gold-reference-mk-2-brand-new-2...

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/cartridges-transfiguration-audio-proteus-mc-cartridge-2016-02-20-a...


all these cartridges are top performers and can be mated with several tonearms.

Regards and enjoy the music,
R.
Just to spice up this discussion, I am going to disagree with Raul on the Benz LPS.  I have an extensive experience listening to it on my neighbor's system, and I am quite familiar with the sound of his system using other cartridges over a period of several years.  I find the Benz LPS to be very "meh".  Compared to it, for example, the ZYX UNIverse, the first version, kicked butt on his system.  He has two LPSs and offered to sell me one for a very reasonable cost; I declined.  Benz LPS is not in my own private A category.  In fact, why not a ZYX UNI on the A list?  And for sure would one not have to include the Lyra Olympos or at least one of the top line Lyra's?  I also am and have been very fond of the better Transfiguration cartridges; very neutral without losing the excitement of music.  I know Raul likes them too.  We could have a separate A list for MM cartridges with MI types lumped in.

And I have a question for Raul:  Do you like the Ortofon Windfield better than the top line Ortofons that came before and after it?  Ortofon makes and has made some very fine cartridges, but it is not my impression that progress over time is linear in the upward direction.  Or are you just pointing out some "good" cartridges that are currently up for sale here on Audiogon?
rauliruegas, I have two turntables. Both of them are Origin Live. Both are Encounter arms MK2. Just thinking about my next project. When and if I get something else is undetermined. Sometime in the next year probably.

When I do have my EMT retipped it will probably be with EMT because I like it for many reasons. One big reason is with a conical stylus more of my LP's sound good. I thought you needed a fineline stylus to really trace the grooves. But the EMT is so fast with a conical. The drawback is the life is shorter. Probably less than half of the life of a fineline. I have always had problems with some records not sounding good with a particular cartridge. Mostly due to VTA.

The balance of the sound of the EMT is neutral to warm. It has been compared to a 103. I would agree but it is much faster than a 103. I have been down the 103 modified route. I'm not that interested in going there unless I find a deal I can't pass up. You can clean up the 103 a lot. But it will never get any faster.

I do like the ZYX and Dynavector sounds also. But the prices for the "class A" stuff is prohibitive. I have a Clearaudio Concept MC that I like also. But the Clearaudio prices soar upward so fast My nose starts to bleed.

I guess I'm a middle class guy who wants to hear class A stuff. I have DIYed most of my stuff into class A. Not much I can do with phono cartridges. The thought has crossed my mind to get a microscope and learn how to work on cartridges.    
Also I am very weary of buying any more used cartridges. I have had several used cartridge issues. I will not buy a used one again unless I really trust the seller or I get it at such a low price, it doesn't matter if it needs some work. For example I traded a Delos with about 300 hours and in very good condition for my TSD15. I paid to have both cartridges inspected. I was given the OK but I found the suspension of the EMT had a problem. It turned into a big issue for everyone involved. In the end I decided to keep it because it still plays OK and I like it. But it will need to be retipped sooner or later.
The problem with having EMT do the re-tip or any repair, is that you would also get their suspension.  That is the weak point in the EMT's design.  I believe it is Dom at Northwest Analog that has a 'long life' replacement suspension for the EMT's.  I've had the suspension replaced on mine twice by EMT.  It will be going else where next time.
Regards,
Dear lewm: I know very well the first version Universe quality performance and  that ZYx model had a notorious " problem "  in the high frequency range: to much hi-fi that gave it a false feeling of openess that in reality was a kind of distortion.

Benz Micro is a diferent cartridge performer. I use and used BM cartridges for several years since appeared the first Ruby model, then the Ruby 2, then the LP and I tested in my system the Ruby 3 and LP-S. 
BM is a performer that puts no music drama on its own other that the LP recorded music natural drama. Way diferent to the ZYX and I'm not saying that the Universe is not a top cartridge because it's but diferent. 
I prefer the BM quality performance.

Now, the Talea is an unipivot design and with wood arm wand and maybe to much wood down there with the LP-S mounted on it. The other side is that we have to have a real accurate audio system to appreciate the very good quality performance of those BM cartridges.

In the side of the tonearms that owns siranthony I think could be a better match than the Talea.

About the Windfield I can say that outperforms ( small margin. ) the 7500 and diferent from the A90. IMHO any one can buy that ortofon W. and certainly can't be/go wrong but as always with cartridge quality performance: system dependent, where in that " system " the system owner music/sound priorities and his system set up are critical.

I know I can live with the LP-S or the Windfield.

Regards and enjoy the music,
R.
Raul,

  We often butt heads but this time I am in full agreement with your assessment of Benz Micro cartridges.  I have had all 3 Rubys. Still own the 3 'S' but with a Shibata tip (my preference)   I also own the LPS custom ordered with a Ruby cantilever (also my preference)  Their top line cartridges can not be out classed by any level of equipment you can offer it.  Someones preferences may favor some other cartridge but that is no fault of the Benz's.
Regards,
Keep in mind that the "Stereophile" ratings, Class A or otherwise, are just a listing of the components they have reviewed, and don't represent all the competitive brands that are out there.
Raul, I can easily understand what one might like about the LPS.  Thankfully, you've only criticized my friend's audio system, not mine, by implying that the system can get in the way of the wonders of the LPS.  I probably can borrow his spare and listen to it on my own system, to give it a second chance.  But bear in mind that I heard the LPS in a Durand Telos, the latest version not made of wood, if even the earliest Telos was made of wood.  I also hear what you say about the UNIverse, but, sorry, a weakness of mine to like the verisimilitude that it provided and which the LPS did not in my one or two auditions of it. I heard the UNI as a little emphatic in the low to mid treble and maybe very slightly bass-shy, in the Talea, but there was real space around instruments and real 3D-ness. I would also say that as I recall we both share an appreciation of the best of the Transfiguration cartridges, just for that quality of neutrality to which you refer.  So, we really are not far apart.  And since you have given me so many other "good tips" on cartridges that I have come to like very much, I do respect your opinion.  I find it interesting that others chimed in to defend the LPS, not just you.
All ZYX sound very 3D and Airy. How much of that is natural (really recorded) is debatable. On one hand they sound spectacular on the other hand they can sound somewhat artificial (cooked) with all the extra glitters it tries to bring to the table (pun intended).
How nice that ZYX actually make cartridges named "Airy" and "4D" (which as everyone knows is even better than 3D).  I sense that Raul is successfully creating a new gospel whereby any quality of a piece of audio gear that can be perceived as a (euphonic) coloration by one camp or another is then taken to be an evil or undesirable attribute.  (Just remember that one man's "neutral" is another man's "dull".) If all ZYX cartridges sound like the UNIverse, then their less costly products are or would be quite a bargain, IMO.  And other cartridge makers could do worse than to emulate ZYX.

Few but a reviewer will ever have the opportunity to directly compare different cartridges on identical gear, so most postings in threads like this amount to nothing more than "I really like cartridge X so it must be at the top of the heap even though I have no direct evidence of that".

On that basis I'll offer my choice for the best cartridge I have heard - on my main system, a Koetsu Urushi (original production made by Sugano Senior prior to his death).
My Sonics Labs Eminent Ultra EX is a phenomenal cartridge although a bit pricey. The giant killer not many mention or know about is the Dynavector 20x2H. Don't get the L version not nearly as good. If your phono stage can handle it the H is incredibly good and beats most at any where near its price range and 1000's more. 

van den Hul is back in the USA. AJ invented the stylus named after him. Each Cartridge is built and inspected by himself and has a three year warranty. His Stradivarius line is brand new and the the culmination of 41 years of cartridge design. The Crimson Stradivarius is being reviewed by Stereophile as we speak. He also rebuilds and retips cartridges for a lot less than emt or koetsu. contacct the us distributor for an authorized dealer

Since you are cartridge shopping only, I must assume that you are very pleased with your tonearm and turntable.  That being said...don't distress over Stereophile ratings.  Everything in your analog audio chain must be optimized which is no small feat.  Revisiting this may pay huge dividends.
Inherent weaknesses in turntables performance can kill anything that follows.  Same for tonearms.  Not saying that this is your issue but it's worth a critical evaluation. 
I am constantly amazed at what people spin there wonderful vinyl on. 
Back to the heart of the matter....Ortofon can't be dismissed nor Charisma.  My current Ortofon is pretty magnificent.  Van den Hul can be superb but cartridge to cartridge variations due exist.
Happy hunting.
Any recommendations for online dealer/best price on an ART-9? Thanks.
NEEDLEDOCTOR.COM 

So I guess this discussion has pretty much fizzled out, if it all comes down to "Needle Doctor".  Almost none of the putative
"best" cartridges that I have never heard were even mentioned here.  However, a collection of subjective judgements such as this does have its limitations.  Safe to conclude that the Stereophile ratings system should not be taken as gospel or all inclusive, by any means.
I find that the ability of the arm to get the cartridge to track correctly trumps what cartridge you have- so much so that a very inexpensive cartridge will sound very much like a really pricey one **if** the arm is really able to track both of them properly (and details such as loading are given proper attention).

After having a manufacturer mentioned here not stand behind what was clearly a defect in the cantilever of his $8000 cartridge (which resulted in the otherwise undamaged cantilever loosing the stylus),  I have been rethinking the whole cartridge thing of late.

I do find that I am partial to Micro Benz- we have one here in the shop turntable that has stood the test of time quite well- its easy to set up in a lot of arms and while it must be about 15 years old at this point, has been played a lot and yet the cantilever suspension is still good!
Well, the lack of those that posted above, waxing enthusiastically, that chose not to respond to my simple question, reinforces to me, that there is some sort of class distinction/exclusion from certain threads. While I am aware of LPGEAR, I just thought I could try to join in by asking my simple question. Further posts will require much more thought before I attempt again.
Slaw, Are you talking about your one-sentence question regarding best price on an ART9?  And lack of response to your off-topic question causes you to believe other respondents to the OP are snobs?  I would instead conclude that (1) no one here may know the answer to your question, or (2) the question was beside the point, or (3) both.  Obviously, you can search for a vendor inside the USA, if you live in the USA.  Then you might check Tokyo- or HK-based vendors who regularly sell on eBay.  Most of those who have lasted over time are completely reputable and unlikely to cheat you.  I wouldn't even worry about the US warranty; Japanese dealers honor the Japan warranty, which is just as good.  Beyond that, you're on your own. 

For all I know, the ART9 is as good or better than any other cartridge mentioned so far.  But, I wouldn't really know.
Worthless list!

You have to know how to setup the arm/cartridge/ turntable yourself, and judge for yourself, in your own system, to your own taste!