Too many changes at once make it difficult to evaluate the improvement of a single component. I'm not a fan of the Grado (sounds rolled off with wooly bass) and don't believe it is a good match for the ICs which are not the last word in transparency especially when driven with low power tubes.
The higher level wood bady Grados can sound quite lovely, particulary on acoustic music. The Sonata is a material improvement over the Platinum, and each step up from the Sonata offers improvements in resolution, soundstaging, and extension at both ends of the frequency spectrum.
If you can use and can acquire the 1.5mv output versions of these cartridges, they will provide better sonics than the 4.5mv output versions.
A Grado Sonata or Reference would be a nice match with a VPI Scout and it's tonearm. An alternative cartidge that works well with the VPI Scout, and would provide greater resolution and transparency, is the Shelter 501. But its 0.4mv output will require a competent phono stage and it is yet another jump higher in cost.
The Sonata is a very large improvement over the Platinum and worth every penny of the $200.00.
My take is that, if you want to use your excellent phono stage, stick with the higher output. you will not have to add another gain stage, or purchase another phono preamp.
Be aware that Grado cartridges can have a slight hum with Rega turntables which increases as the arm moves to the lead out groove.
..just my 2cents... I had a Grado Sonata low output on a Rega P-25. I always had a hum problem. The hum was very low, and listeners could kind of blank it out, but it always bothered me. By the way...the hum did not increase as I moved the tonearm to the area around the end of the record...it was just constantly there. I don't think that a Grado cartridge and any Vandersteen is a good match. Grado have a kind of a "tube" sound...that is, the highs seems a bit rolled off. Vandersteen's corporate sound is again, a bit rolled off in the highs. I think the combination of the 2 would be too rolled off...for me, anyway. Personally, I'd put in a Dynavektor or Benz cartridge.
I have a Music Hall MMF-7 with a Grado Reference and it sounds great.
I think Stringreen is giving good advice. The Grado/Vandersteen combo has the potential to be a bit too polite and rolled off. Another cartridge I happen to like would be a Goldring 1042, or even better, a Reson Reca. TNT-Audio.com has reviews of these two and I share the reviewer's opinions.
Thanks for all the responses so far. Okay, so let's assume I go for the Grado Reference Sonata (there just seems to be something very cool about buying an audio product from Brooklyn, New York, from a family owned company that's been in the audio business forever). What's your recommendation for a turntable/tonearm combo in the $ 1000 - 1500 range that will mate well with the cartridge ? I'm assuming that any Rega rig will cause the Grado to produce too much "hum." So how about a table with an outboard motor ?
I owned a Grado Sonata 4.5 and it is very nice but a bit lush in bass response as is the Vandersteen and Rogue if they follow their 'house' sounds
Adam18, fwiw, I lived very happily for many years with Grado Sonata/Reference cartridges and Vandersteen 2C speakers with a VPI HW-19 turntable. (Prior to that the speakers were Celestion SL700s, perhaps even more "polite" on top but more resolving).
On acoustic music the Grados and Vandersteens were a great combination, with very natural reproduction of the timbre of the instruments. Yes, some of the very top might be a bit rolled off, but the midrange was wonderful and one could listen for hours without fatigue. Your Vandersteen 1C speakers are more neutral, with a more extended top, than the 2Cs I had, so the match might be even better.
Wow, thanks a lot guys........I really appreciate all the input. It seems like Grado and Vandersteen, the meeting of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, will work very well for me. To my ears, beautiful midrange and natural timbre are much more important attributes than the slight drawbacks of extreme top end roll-off or a bit of bass lushness. So now, which table should I use to drive Sonata Reference ? Music Hall MMF-7 and VPI Scout are two good choices....what else should I consider ?? Anything from SOTA, Project, or Clearaudio ?? Thanks a lot, and Happy Listening to all.
Technics SL-1200 MK2 or SL-1210. The grado really likes fluid damping, so I would add this accesory to the Technics:
There are other nice enhancements to the Technics, such as the arm rewire, that can be found here as well.