Help Please: What Cartridge?

I am on an upgrade path in anolog front end and could use some feedback. I have a VPI MK IV, which I am upgrading to the new HR-X bearing and platter. I also am waiting on a JMW 10 arm I purchased on Augiogon. Previously I had a Rega Planar 3 with Dynavector 10X4 MK II, which I sold off. I am not sure if I made a wise decision selling the Dynavector but I was so impressed with this cartridge I wanted to get more. Other than a Denon DL103, which I had before my current system (ver low end so the true capability of this cartridge was never known to me), the Dyna was the only cartridge that I have heard (sorry I did own an AKG cartridge way back on a pioneer direct drive turntable but we won't talk about that) so I really don't know what various cartridges will sound like and am stuck trying to decide. The other problem is whether I should stick with high output MC or go low output and add a transformer. Is there really that much difference between the two? The Dynavector seamed fine to me but again I don't know what I am missing. Seams to me you may loose any advantage you may have gained in the low output cartridges by the addition of another component such as the step up and cables. My current system consists of VTL TT25 monblocks, Coincident Super Eclipse speakers, Rogue Audio Magnum 99 with phono and upgraded to premium GE NOS and Mullard NOS, Wireworld Silver Eclipse III speaker cables, Peirre Gabriel ML1 silver interconnects and Foundation Research line conditioners. My digital is Pioneer DV-09 (temporary), which I don't listen to much. Incidentally I had a Cary 303/200 but returned it to build my analog because my Rega setup sounded better!! Any help would be appreciated. The cartridges I have considered are Dyna 20HX,Karat 17, Benz Micro H2, Shelters, Grados, Clearaudio Virtuosso and Lyra Helikon. I listen mostly to Classical, Jazz and pop in that order. Any feedback would be appreciated. Thanks.
Talentkeper, very nice system.
I personally cannot listen to and compare all the great cartridges. So like you I need to solicite others opinions.

Here are a couple of sites to checkout if you haven't already. These 2 guys don't get paid for their opinions or to do reviews. Even Mikey gave the Crown jewel
(Shelter 501 mkII) a Stereophile class "A" rating.

If you had a good synergistic soundwith the dyna I would stick with that before I moved into the expensive world of transformers and low output cartridges. The new 10x and 20 are very good indeed.
If you're not going to get separate phono or step-up transformer than you'd better consider cartridges above 0.8mV Benz M2 must be a perfect match to both: your built-in phono(if you have MC) and your future turntable.
I use the high output Dyna 20X on my VPI Scout/JMW arm setup into an Audio Research SP9 MKII and am very pleased with the results. That arm with that cart seem to mate well. If you go with the HO version, you can eliminate the expense of a step up device. (IMO, to not degrade the sound, you have to be willing to invest some money in the transformer and another set of cables).

The 20X puts out around 2.3mV, so you should have no troubles at all with the Rogue.
just be aware that the arm & cartridge need to be compatible, regarding cartrige compliance & effective arm mass. I dunno those spec's for either your Dyna or JMW so you'll need to find out. When you do get that information then refer to this link, which has the info. that you'll need to find out if in fact you have that compatibility factor:
Also, do browse around the analog corner archives while you're there; you'll learn alot:

I also have a MK-IV with the aforementioned bearing/platter upgrades. FYI: I have the Grado Signature arm (medium mass) with the Grado Statement Reference {the 0.5mV low output model} (medium compliance) which is an excellent sounding combo. If you're willing to $pend at that level (apparently so) you would probably need the high output model though, or at least the medium one due to your low-ish phono gain. Yes the lower output models do offer better transparency, but as you say, the required step-up transformer might negate that benefit. I've seen these $1200 list Grado's available for around $800 new. These Grado's are not moving coils, nor are they moving magnets. They're variable-reluctance moving-iron designs, which combine the benefit of m.c.'s low cantilever mass without some of the other drawbacks of either moving coil or moving magnet architectures.
Thanks everyone for your thoughtful responses. I am still having a hard time making up my mind. Don't know whether to stick to HO or go LO with step up transformer. Buying cartridges gotta be the most frustration thing. No one will let you audition one! A person could literally go crazy thinking about this. Thanks again. Any further comments or suggestions will be welcomed.
I would not go the low output route, for sure. So you liked the Dynavector for classical? It's usually praised for playing rock the way it should be. I would use this as a starting question: What is that I'm after?

With psychic power and primal intensity,
Psychicanimal. Thanks for your input. I am after the most natural and lifelike sound reproduction that allows you to forget you are listening to components and just enjoy the music. I am not a believer that you have to spend a ton of money to get it. Maybe I'm asking for too much! Nevertheless, there must be some audio 'truth' that one can discern. Why do you think I sould not go the low output route?


There are a lot of good low output cartridges but you will either need a transformer or a preamp. If you like the Dynavector sound I would go with the Dynavector transformer. I have owned a number of LO Dyna which I liked very much. Right now I am using an Ikeda Rex which to my ears is the best cartridge I have ever auditioned by a quantum leap. "But it takes time to love...and open minds to love...and who's got time on their hands?" (M.Balin)
Low output MCs have unbelievably low outputs. Don't be misled by their output specs. Output specs must go accompanied by velocity. The output of the very low level ambient information is REALLY low. Such a signal is extremely delicate, highly succeptible to induced noise, vibration and overall degradation. In other words, successfully handling low output MCs is not cheap.

If you want, as you say, to forget about the recording, you can do very well with a high output MC or a moving magnet. Sean is very fond of his Stanton 881S and I just love my modded Stanton Groovemaster II, both MM designs. Since it broke in I haven't had the need to go back to my Ortofon X5 high output MC. The X5 is Ortofon's best high output MC, a great tracker, very neutral sounding, extremely musical cartridge suitable for all types of music. My modded Groovemaster II does not have the high frequency extension nor the soundstage of the X5 but it's sooo more musical and an even better tracker!

Keeping the noise floor under control and having good trackability is essential for retrieving low level information. That's where the ambience lies. The fact that you liked the Dynavector for classical reflects that's what you're looking for.

Who knows, you might even end up with a modded 1200 like Zaikesman and yours truly!!!
Psychicanimal. Thanks for your input. What you say makes sense. From all of the feedback I have received it seams LO have their advantages but require substantial more finess and expense in achieving their potential, whereas the HO may give you very good performance without the complexity. Now the question is: Does anyone have an opinion as to the best HO cartridge currently available, regardless of price?
You're welcome. I think TWL is way more knowledgeable to help you choose a *compatible* cartridge. I don't trust his musical taste, though!!!

As I said, the Ortofon X5 is outstanding and it outperforms cartridgesd sevral times its price. The good new is you can get it from 2Juki for $125 vs $325 in Needledoctor. Grey market, of course...

If it was me, the next steps would be a Dynavector ($500) or a Benz ($800). Bill Parish told me there's a midlle of the line Linn cartridge that's ouperforming some multi thousand dollar pieces (

I'm very happy with my modded Groovemaster II and it was designed to be an integrated headshell design for my modded 1200. More money in my pocket for room acoustric treatments and some really decent interconnects.
Thank you Psychicanimal. I will strongly consider your advise. Who is TLW?
Just browse through the analog posts and you will find TWL. Extremely knowledgeableregarding analog. Maybe someday he'll get into DDs and be "perfect"...
I will not make any comments at this time about DD turntables and MM cartridges.

I will say if you have not heard the magic of a low output mc you do not understand my point.

Get yourself a Shelter 501 MKII for your VPI MK IV, which you are upgrading to the new HR-X bearing and platter, and JMW 10 arm. This is the best cartridge period for under $1000. Ask TWL, its the cartridge he and I and many of the not so rich, but enlightened use.
Rockinroni. Thanks for your comments. What do you think is required as a minimum in step-up transformers and cables to not degrade the sound of the low output cartridges then? Is there a cost effective product that will allow you to get all the benefits of low output MC? By the way I have read Arthur Salvatore's site and find it very intriguing. Accorging to him it sounds like you have to spend some really big bucks to get the best out of Low output cartridges.
TWL. I have heard a lot about you since joining Audiogon. Your insight into this would be much appreciated. I posted this request on another thread (VPI experiment)
Hi. As I have been mentioned here, I'll weigh in with a few comments. First, I don't recommend the Shelter 501 with the JMW arm. I love the cartridge, but I don't think it is the best match with that tonearm. I would consider something more along the lines of a Benz Glider, or a Dynavector.

Psychicanimal, thanks for you kind comments about my "knowledge". As we all know, each of our musical tastes may vary, so we will all gravitate toward the "sound" that pleases us. I am pleased that you are having enjoyment from your system, as I am enjoying mine.

Talentkeeper, I suggest cartridges in the 15cu compliance range for your arm. You should audition some of the contenders mentioned, and decide for yourself.
Thank you Twl. Oh how much I would love to audition cartridges but so far I haven't had anyone willing to let me do that!! All my components were purchased by auditioning them first or with a money back guarantee. Seems like no one wants to do that with a cartridge. It's understandable in a way. I gather from your advice that medium compliance cartridges are the way to go. Thanks again.
You ARE extremely knowledgeable regarding analog, Tom. When I plan to upgrade my creature on steroids' cables you'll be the first to know. I want to have something good.

Now, I just came back from Lak's place doing a shootout between the Pure Note Epsilon and some killer underdog ICs I just got here at a Dutch auction. I took along only one CD: Gilberto Santa Rosa "Live in Carnegie Hall". Full fledged salsa orchestra with strings section. Before two minutes passed I knew which interconnect was superior. The music is so dynamic and the ambience so rich that it allowed me to get spatial, musical and timing clues very quickly (PRAT, that is).

Let me tell you this: forget that 5W, single driver thing. You can't play *salsa*...

Anyway, I'm very happy with my underdog ICs. Lak told me they sound better than some HMS he auditioned in his system.
Not the correct place to post this but...
To set the record straight and be perfectly honest, I’d say based upon the short two hour audition of your (not totally broken in interconnects), they sounded better on my modest small tube system than: Cardas Golden Reference IC’s and SC, Silver Audio Appassionata IC's and Silver Symphony 48 SC and power cord,. Bear Lab Silver Lighting IC and SC, Granite Audio # 470 IC, Audience Au24 IC and SC, HMS Topline IC and SC and Power cord (not the brand new ones they came out with recently).
I would really need to listen to them again in solo. In addition another pair of 1.5/M IC’s would be ideal so that I could be sure there was no masking by the other Pure Note in my system.
Agree with you, Larry...but I wanted to make the point that type of music is key to testing gear. It was harder to tell the difference between the IC's with your Diana Krall CD than w/ my Gilberto Santa Rosa. Salsa is extremely demanding on audio systems. Anyone who doubts this ask Frank Van Alstine...

Besides, we haven't disclosed the IC's I just bought. Not important. I'm glad I could test them in your high resolution system. Now I know the cryo'ed Tice IC's will do an outstanding job from electronic x-over to subwoofer amp. Excellent!
Lak, I agree all the cables need to be the same so you know which is speaking the singular truth.
Just as a brief follow-up, I now am auditioning the above interconnects that reference was made to. I’m using two pair of the interconnects and one pair of the same brand speaker cables. I’ll audition them on my tube system and SS system and then post my results. I’ll be comparing them to my favorite reference interconnects and speaker cables, (Pure Note Epsilon Reference).
Larry, let us know how the cables fare against the Pure Note. I'm definitely curious... steve