Do I Have the Wrong Cartridge?

I recently got back into playing vinyl on my Linn Axis (fully serviced), but needed a new cart. Since 80% of my listening is on an ARC CD3 and not knowing how often I’ll use the TT, I set a budget of only $300 on a MM and went to my local HiFi shop. They recommended a Rega Elys II.

Now to my problem...I listen to classical music and it sounds awful with this cart; strings and brass are harsh and music sounds thin overall. All my LPs are top class, pressed in Germany and Holland.
To test my TT, I played some Rock albums and they all sounded excellent; great dynamics, wide soundstaging. Records played were a wide variety; Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Mahavishnu Orch, Kraftwerk.

So I ask you, can a middle of the road cartridge like this Rega only sound good on a particular style of music? I was told this Rega was a good all-around cart and BTW, it’s non-returnable.

Looking for any explanation and advice.
Many thanks.
Hi Lowrider,

What phono stage are you using? And how long is your phono cable? I'm wondering if load capacitance, which is affected by both of those things, could be a contributing factor. Rega doesn't seem to specify a load capacitance recommendation for the cartridge, but their own MM phono stage has a specified input capacitance of 100 pf, which can probably be assumed to be in the right ballpark in combination with typical phono cables and cable lengths.

Also, perhaps additional breakin is needed?

Best regards,
-- Al
Are your classical albums actually recorded in digital and then used to create an analog pressing. If so, and you are comparing to actual analog recorded rock albums, then you will be hearing the garbage digital creates. Most classical albums of the last 30 years were digitally recorded and mastered, so they should sound like crap.
Manitunc, if you were familiar with Lowrider's posts you would realize that when he says "all my LPs are top class," presumably referring to those he has used in assessing the new cartridge, he knows whereof he speaks.

Also, there are many digitally mastered classical LPs that provide excellent sound quality. Many (although certainly not all) of the 1980's Telarcs, for instance, some of which I recall Lowrider mentioning that he owns.

-- Al
Al...The phono stage is a SS built-in to the Rogue Perseus Magnum (4 12AU7 RCA Blackplates). I think resistance is set to 47K ohm for MM. The only settings for capacitance are
150pF and 0 PF. MM has no PF setting.

Manitunc...good question. My Classical collection ranges from 1960 to 1980 Digital masters. The analogue mastered LPs do sound better, but still too lean and sibilant.
Lowrider, I see what you are referring to, on page 6 of the manual for the Perseus. It makes no sense to me, though, that they would provide a 0/150 pf selection for moving coils, and no capacitance selection for moving magnets. So I'm not sure that the info shown in the manual is correct.

It might be worth your while to open up the preamp, and change the capacitance setting to the opposite of what it is at now. And while you're at it, make sure that resistance is in fact set to 47K, and that gain is set to 45 db and not 65 db.

Hmmm. Come to think of it, the 45 db MM phono stage gain + 15 db line stage gain of that preamp is pretty high for use with that cartridge, which has a specified output under the standard test conditions of "6.8-7.2 mv." Is the harshness and thinness particularly or mainly evident on high volume peaks?

Best regards,
-- Al
Al, no it's not a volume issue, so I'm sure it's set to MM (45 dB), although I will open it up when I have time end of the week to try your suggestions.
Let me describe what sound I'm know when you have a poor CDP and it has glare on the violins, it's very fatiguing. I always judge a good CDP/DAC on how it can handle solo or mass strings. This cart (or my settings) cannot. Music doesn't sound strained; it just lacks the warmth of vinyl, especially on a known recording such as Karl Bohm with the Vienna, 1970s.

1. Do u think the fact that Rock sounds good on my system is due to the distortions and heavy bass frequencies of the genre vs. the pristine sound of a classical recording?

2. Isn't the capacitance for MM so low that it basically is zero?
I can't say what the answer to Q1 is, without being familiar with the sound of the particular recordings. Re Q2, if load capacitance differs considerably from what is optimal for a particular MM cartridge, in either direction (too high or too low), it will profoundly affect the upper treble, quite possibly the lower treble, and perhaps even the upper mid-range. It is very conceivable that a severe enough mismatch could cause massed strings and brass to sound harsh and thin.

Typical MM load capacitance recommendations tend to be in the area of 100 to 300 pf, or in a few cases as much as 500 pf or so.

Load capacitance will affect LOMC sonics to a MUCH smaller degree, and in indirect ways that involve how the phono stage responds to ultrasonic and RF frequencies. So as I said, despite what the manual seems to say it doesn't make sense that the preamp design would provide a 0/150 pf switch for LOMC's, but no selection for MM's.

The "0" position, btw, will not really be 0 pf. It will be some presumably fairly small number corresponding to the intrinsic input capacitance of the preamp, while the 150 pf position will be 150 pf greater than that. And the capacitance of the phono cable will add significantly to that total.

Repeating my earlier question, how long is the phono cable?

-- Al
Thanks for the info on Capacitance, Al and I'll try switching to opposite setting.
Phono cable is stock 3 ft. and am waiting to upgrade after I get the cart problem worked out. As far as the cable, the Linn expert who rebuilt the table (Rick at Audio Alternative) said cable is fine for now.

Plus, did not have this cart problem with my former budget Linn cart. Not a great cart musically btw.
You sound like you really know what you are doing, and with Al's help you'll figure it out. Reading through the thread though, I notice 2 things that may be worth mentioning. First is break in. I find all the time that a new phono cart can literally sound defective until its broken in.

The other issue is the Rega cart itself. I'm not too familiar with Rega's carts, but I do remember something about them needing to be aligned using Rega's own spec's and not the industry standard spec's (It starts with a B but I can't remember the correct term.)

Either way, I'm sure you'll figure out what the problem is.
Thanks, Zd542, maybe it's just breakin. I'll have to hope that the alignment is correct since I carried my TT into the Rega dealer for the setup.
The Elys is a good cartridge though I would have also considered an Linn Adikt or a Grado, but in my expereince, those tend to hum near the inner grooves. The Rega cartridge is not particularly high, thus I am wondering whether the arm is too high which would knock off tracking angle. Also, verify VTF using a good quality scale. I have had the Shure for over 25 years and it works well. A couple of years ago I splurged on a $300 digital scale from the UK. Guess what, my Shure scale and the fancy $300 scale were a match in readings thus I sold the UK scale.

My own experience with 1980's classical recordings, particularly on the DG label, was that they sounded bright, harsh and thin. If this is what you are basing things on, maybe the Elys is showing you exactly what's on those records.
In a nutshell, your phono stage doesn't have enough headroom for your high output MM. Your cartridge is minimal, the phono stage inadequate for your dynamic classical recordings. Perhaps go back to a lower output quality cartridge, I'd say. Or, a better phono stage.
Try one courtesy of your dealer or get a new dealer.
The Rega is a very high output cartridge, but if it was overloading the phono stage it would do so on the rock recordings just as easily if not moreso than the classical records. The same goes for issues of gain and capacitance settings. Other Rega user do not mention a long break-in period.

The Rega is designed for Rega tonearms with a three point attachment method. That geometry is designed to minimize end of record distortion at the expense of higher distortion level over the entire disc side. It is possible that this distortion would more noticeable on classical recordings. Talk to your dealer about what geometry they used to align the cartridge. It is something of a longshot, but it might point you in the right direction.
Zavato, I set VTF on my Axis with a ruler and it is horizontal to platter; I was told this is correct position.
As far as my REFERENCE Classical, I'm using analogue mastered LPs from 60s and 70s...Decca, Philips, DG, and you are quite right, the digitally mastered vinyl does sound lean with very crisp highs.

Truman...Very interesting. The output specs on the Rega are 6.8 - 7.2mV. Do u know what range is a better match for my phono stage. It would be cheaper to buy a new cart rather than a phono stage upgrade.

And many thanks.

45 dB of gain in the phono stage is a HUGE amount of gain for typical moving magnet cartridges, let alone one that outputs 6.8-7.2 mV. It's no wonder it sounds harsh and strident.

With that amount of gain I'd be looking to drop the output on the cartridge way down into the 2-2.5 mV range. So high output MC's such as the Denon DL 110 and Dynavector 10 x 5 would be appropriate. The Dyna would be pricey but the DL 110 would come in way under budget and both should match up reasonably well with the arm.
Do you have the wrong cartridge? Yes.

I see these kind of posts often regarding the Elys and it reminds me of when i first moved up from a Technics auto linear tracker in the late 90s to what i considered my first quality turntable when i bought a Rega Planer 2. I asked the dealer to fit an Elys cartridge as it sat in the middle of their range and thought it would be ideal as a starter. I found nothing to recommend the Elys apart from its prodigious output which meant it would go loud and it wasn't until i moved on to other cartridges that i realised how poor the Elys is. I'm no Rega hater. I loved the Planer 2 and kept it for nigh on 12 years, buying a P25 along the way but i've never heard a Rega cartridge that impressed.

Significantly better on the Planer 2 was Denon DL160, better again was a DL304. A Nagoaka MP11 outperformed the Elys in every way as did a Goldring 1012gx and a Garrot Brothers P77.

Like many others i also bought a Rega cartridge because of the ease of the 3 screw alignment. The cartridge was a poor tracker though until i bought the HIFi News test record and using their alignment protractors with the test record found that the cartridge needed to be a couple of millimetres forward to get the overhang and hence alignment correct so the 3 screw set up was no help in the scheme of things.

My suggestion would be to try another cartridge from another manufacturer, there is plenty of choice in the same price bracket.
Zavato, I set VTF on my Axis with a ruler and it is horizontal to platter; I was told this is correct position.
VTF = Vertical Tracking Force (aka, downforce): the vertical force applied by the stylus to the record suface. It is measured with a balance or a scale, the same way you measure your body weight. One doesn't measure stylus downforce with a ruler, nor body weight with a yardstick.

Adjusting VTF by making the tonearm or cartridge horizontal to the platter could result in downforce that's much higher or lower than the internal suspension of the cartridge was designed for. Whoever gave you this advice was wrong (or you misunderstood it).

One makes the tonearm or cartridge horizontal to the platter by adjusting the mounting height of the tonearm at its base. One adjusts downforce (VTF) by moving the counterweights on the arm stub and/or adjusting the VTF dial (if the arm has one). These adjustments are separate, although their effects are interactive.


FWIW... I have no personal experience with Rega cartridges but I've seen umpteen posts like Diggory's over the years. I've never seen anyone rave about how much better an Elys sounds than whatever it replaced, but I've seen many posts raving about improvements when an Elys was replaced with something else.

Ebm's post also makes sense to me. The fact that rock recordings sound okay means little. Rock music is *supposed* to sound distorted. Guitar amplifiers have adjustable distortion built in and more is often added during mixing and mastering. No one but the sound engineers actually know what any particular rock record should sound like.

OTOH, classical and other acoustic music provide some sort of absolute standard (depending on one's hearing of course). Anyone who attends live performances has some idea of what violins actually sound like. Distortions introduced during playback are a departure from one's internalized ideal and are more readily audible as "wrong" than the same distortions in music which is *meant* to sound distorted.

Try a different cartridge and have it set up properly (or, better yet, learn to do it yourself). The suggestions on Raul's lengthy MM vs. MC thread may be helpful.
I am using a Grado Reference Platinum 1 on an old Thorens 150mkII and my classical records sound wonderful. No hum near the center on my system. Midrange is particularly sweet with this cartridge. If it is a good match with your tone arm, I think it would be a big improvement over the Rega which has never impressed me for listening to unamplified music.

Thank you all for the replies and such valuable information.

It seems that a high output MC is what I need to match my phono stage. I think my local HiFi shop just wanted to sell me a Rega w/o asking any pertinent questions. I will be making a visit to a different dealer who carries Denon.
And the distortions in Rock music confirm why the cart sounds so different when playing classical.
Once again, I thank you.

And to Dougdeacon...very good explanation. I misunderstood the term VTA. I balanced my tonearm using downloaded instructions on how to balance a Linn tonearm. I experimented by moving the counterweight and could see the different angle of the stylus in the groove and set the tonearm balance by the best sound to my ear.
And Al, I missed your post. Gee you have a good memory, I do have collection of Telarc on vinyl. They and Decca Digital have very good sonics. I do stay away from Digitally mastered LPs unless it's a must-own item.
Lastly my friends, any recommendations of a HOMC cart would be appreciated. Since I blew the money on the Rega my budget would be $200-250.

And it seems that the Denon DL-160 has been discontinued.
I can't think of many reasons to prefer HOMC to a good MM. The purpose of the MC design is to reduce moving mass on the cantilever, which increases responsiveness and dynamics. To achieve this, LOMC's have minimal coils (and thus minimal output). To achieve higher output levels from the same design, the HOMC version of a cartridge typically doubles or even quadruples the coil windings. This of course undermines the original concept. HOMCs arguably bring you the worst of both designs, often at higher cost than an MM.

My main cartridge is an $8,500 LOMC, however I own a couple of sub-$200 MMs that sound amazingly good for their cost. Again, check out Raul's MM vs. MC thread for valuable suggestions and experiences.

Just my $.02...
Thanks, Lowrider. Before you give up on this cartridge, here are some further thoughts:

I took a look at the manual for the Linn Axis, which is written based on the presumption that a Linn Akito tonearm is being used. It appears that the arm has a calibrated VTF (vertical tracking force) dial on the counterweight, which should be initially adjusted such that it reads zero when the counterweight is set such that the arm "floats" (i.e., it does not have any downward or upward force). That should be done with "bias" (antiskating) set to zero. The counterweight is then adjusted to the desired VTF.

VTA (vertical tracking angle) is set by loosening a hex screw on the base of the arm, and raising or lowering the height until (as recommended in the manual) the arm tube is parallel to the record surface. It can be and ideally should be fine tuned from there by listening.

Are those the procedures that you followed, and if so what tracking force did you end up with?

Also, I note that the manual recommends setting the bias/antiskating dial to the same value as the tracking force. That kind of recommendation has often been made by turntable manufacturers, but is completely ridiculous IME. If that is what you have done, try setting it to half that value, and fine tune from there by ear.

Concerning my earlier comments about load capacitance, given the three foot length of your phono cable, and the 100 pf input capacitance of Rega's own MM phono stage (which would presumably be a suitable match for their cartridges, in combination with the capacitance of typical lengths of typical phono cables), I suspect that neither setting of the 0/150 pf switch on your preamp would introduce a great enough incompatibility to account for most or all of the symptoms you have described. But it's probably still worth opening the preamp and trying the other setting, as that could conceivably help to some degree.

-- Al
Thanks Al, I always appreciate your advice. That info from the manual is what I followed verbatim. Dial set to zero, moved counterweight till arm was floating, etc. It was really quite easy. Used the hex screw setting; that is when I used a ruler and a Level to adjust for horizontal position.

As far as anti-skating, I've read articles debunking the Linn and other brands' method, so I've gone to minimal settings. I'm sure the table is set up correctly.

I do plan on changing to 100pf and check settings as per your initial advice. THANKS.
Dougdeacon, Thanks for more valuable advice...I'm familiar w/ Raul's thread and will read it.

But one question first, IYO should I be looking for a MM with low output specs?
Lowrider57, you started this thread saying that rock recordings sounded excellent with the Rega. These recordings could not sound excellent if the Rega was overloading your phono stage. The peak levels on rock and classical recordings are the same. Typically rock recordings have a higher average level than classical recordings so if you were experiencing phono stage overload you would hear it more often with rock recordings. And it won't sound like a Les Paul driving a Marshall stack. The distortion would be raspy and amusical sounding. It's possible that the Rega may not be a very good cartridge for classical strings, but it's not because it's overloading your phono stage.

The optimum output cartridge depends on the gain structure of the entire system, particularly the phono stage but also the line stage, amp and speaker sensitivity. I'll defer to Al on just what range of cartridge outputs would be optimal in your system. He's far more qualified than I am in anything having to do with hot and cold running electrons!
As you think about potential upgrades down the road, also be aware that the Rogue integrated phono stages aren't the units' strong points. I have read many positive things from Rogue owners about upgrading the phono.

Though in this case I would replace the cart first.
You are correct, Roscoeiii. The preamp is designed for it's tube linestage with a "bonus" phono section. But, yeah, the cart needs to be dealt with first.
Doug, thank you kindly. My comments are as follows:

First, as I know Doug realizes there are two different test standards against which rated cartridge outputs may be specified. If I recall correctly that can produce a disparity of +/- 3 db between ratings that are provided by different manufacturers. 3 db corresponds to a voltage ratio of 0.707, so it is possible that the output of the Rega cartridge, nominally rated at 7 mv, is no different than the output of some other manufacturers' 5 mv cartridges.

Second, early on in this thread I had asked "is the harshness and thinness particularly or mainly evident on high volume peaks?" My understanding is that the answer was "no." Therefore I agree with Onhwy61 that the problem is unlikely to be related to phono stage overload.

I also inferred from the answer that the combination of cartridge output and system gain and sensitivity structure is not such that the volume control has to be operated excessively close to the bottom of its range. "Excessively close" meaning that volume adjustments might become overly coarse, and/or that the two channels might tend to get out of balance.

Assuming that my interpretations have been correct, I don't think that the relatively high output of the cartridge is an issue at this point, although if you were to change to a different cartridge it would be preferable to select one having a significantly lower rated output. Which shouldn't be hard to do, as I am not aware of any other cartridges rated as high as 7 mv.

If you'd like further commentary on the overall gain structure of your system, let us know what amplifier and speakers you are using, and what your listening distance is.

Best regards,
-- Al
Thank you for the recap, Al. All your statements regarding my problem are accurate.

>"early on in this thread I had asked "is the harshness and thinness particularly or mainly evident on high volume peaks?" My understanding is that the answer was "no."<
CORRECT. Getting back to classical music; instruments that play in the upper registers such as string section sound harsh and thin at any volume level...pianissimo to forte. Very fatiguing and not an accurate reproduction of the instrument.

As far as output level of components; volume control on preamp is very close physically when comparing CDP input to Phono.

* Can anybody tell me Raul's Agon "handle" or a link to the MM thread and I'll get back to you soon.
Can anybody tell me Raul's Agon "handle" or a link to the MM thread and I'll get back to you soon.

Stand back before clicking, though. It's over 11,000 posts! We'll understand if your intention to "get back to us soon" turns out not to be practicable :-)

Best regards,
-- Al
Many thanks, Al and in the mean time I'll check capacitance in the preamp.
Doug, regarding your view of HOMC carts,
HOMCs arguably bring you the worst of both designs, often at higher cost than an MM.

My experience has been very different, I replaced an Ortofon 2M blue with a high output Benz Glider and the difference was like night and day. Clearly these carts are not in the same class. The benefit may be due to the boron cantilever and stylus shape but I think it's unlikely.

HOMCs provide a good value by eliminating the need for a SUT or high gain phono stage.

@lowrider, I would like to say stay clear of the 2m blue, but at 200$ I am not sure that there is anything much better.
thanks Nick, it seems like the 2m Blue is very well reviewed.

I still have a lot of research to do, but I'm thinking my Axis is above an entry level TT especially after the rebuild, so I'm not going to "cheap out" on the cart.

I am using a Grado Reference Platinum 1 on an old Thorens 150mkII and my classical records sound wonderful."
My new budget should be about $350 which is in line with this Grado.
The issue w the Grados is that they are unshielded and depending on the TT, they can pick p hum from the motor. It's very system dependent.

I don't doubt your experience. I'd prefer a Benz Glider to an Ortofon 2m Blue myself. (Personally, no Ortofon below the A90 has ever sounded very good in my system.) However, one example doesn't prove that HOMCs necessarily outplay MMs. That simply isn't so IME. Some MMs give some HOMCs a viable challenge (system and listener dependent, as always).

It's certainly true that, "HOMCs provide a good value by eliminating the need for a SUT or high gain phono stage". So do MM's, and at much lower cost.

Your Glider retails for $2K, your 2m Blue for $225. At MM price points one can easily try a half dozen until you find one you like and still be hundreds of dollars ahead of buying an HOMC. Further, re-tipping costs are often negligible, since many MMs have user-replaceable styli.

You've found an HOMC you love, by all means enjoy it! But for a newbie on a tight budget, starting down the MC path without experience of many different cartridges would be a leap of faith with a pretty high financial entry point.
Lots of things are well reviewed that are POS .


I would just like to add, you suggested that the benefit of an MC over an MM is the difference in moving mass and given the added coils of HOMC this benefit is lost.

I argue that the mass of HOMC although higher than the LOMC is still much less than that of an MM and the diffence is big enough to still draw a significant benefit. Paired with a properly matched phono stage a HOMC can provide results that are better than LOMC for the same total cost (cart +SUT).
We have a winner! (Nick's last post)
Regards, Gentlemen: This page (relating to moving mass):

as well as the entire thread might be interesting.

Hi, it's me again. I consulted with a very knowledgeable man at a HiFi shop. The offering of carts in the $300 range was...

Grado Reference Platinum 1 Output 5mV
Grado Gold1 Prestige Output 5mV
Ortofon Blue Output voltage 5.5 mV
Denon DL-110 HOMC Output: 1.6mV, only $139

Many negative reviews on the Grado Gold all stating a hum problem and I also ruled out the Ortofon.
The Grado Reference Platinum 1 seems to be the best of the lot, but using my Linn Axis, what are the chances of interference from it's motor? I assume that the hum happens when combining the cart with a particular design TT.

The other option is the Denon with a compliance of 15. My tonearm is low mass(don't have specs), so I don't know if they are a match.

So, is there any advice out there?
I have an Akito with a Sumiko Pearl (my local high end hifi store dude highly recommended this thing). The Pearl is astounding, but perhaps too inexpensive for some. Clean, accurate, tracks cheap...
Ortofon carts do not hum, that is nonsense. I have a Red and a Black and they are quiet. Knowledgeable HiFi salesman yeah, of course.
Stevecham, I'm saying the Grado Gold hums, I decided against the Ortofon based on it's tonal qualities; I'm looking for a warm sound (the opposite of the Ortofon and the Rega).

The Sumiko was recommended to me, but they are not a dealer for that brand.

Anybody w/ Grado experiences?
Sumiko Pearls are available online of course and I bet some places have a return policy, but I'm not sure about that. At $125 it isn't too risky a purchase, and based on what sound you seem to be seeking it may be a great fit. You never know...
Wolf, I appreciate your answer. Even the salesman recommended a Sumiko, even though he doesn't sell them.
But do to a vision problem, I can't see closeup to mount a cart myself, so I'm looking at B&M stores.

Question for you; do you have any experience with the Denon DL-110? (the DL-160 is discontinued). Also, the DL-110 has a compliance of 15, would that be a match for the Linn Basik LVX low mass tonearm?
No clue...sorry...and I only discovered the Pearl when complaining to a hifi dealer about the high frequency exaggeration of an Audio Tecnica 440MLA, which I purchsed because of rave ya never know.
Thanks Wolf. Also your Cartridge Thread is a wealth of info that we're lucky to have in the archives.
I really don't know a damn thing about cartridges. Is this statement going in the archives?