How good can a mono cartridge be...?

Can a modest mono cartridge better the performance of a top-of-the-line stereo cartridge?

I am wondering if anyone has practical, first-hand experience with this matter as I am deciding whether or not to invest some money in it. The situation:

1) I am luck to have a top-end tonearm and stereo cartridge
2) I have many mono LPs that sound great on the stereo setup (stereo cart, phono stage, 2 speakers)
3) My turntable will support a 2nd armboard, but my budget would not support a 2nd arm of the quality of my current arm -- nor would I be able to afford a top-of-the-line mono cartridge.

Question: Could a modest arm/mono cartridge actually perform better on mono source material than my top arm/stereo cartridge, all else equal? (No mono switches on the preamp, no mono amp, no single-speaker setup.)

What I'm assuming: If I could mount a top-of-the-line mono cartridge on a 2nd arm of the caliber of my first, then I would assume that it would perform better than my stereo cart on the mono source. Unfortunately, I could not afford to duplicate that setup, so I need to add that "practical" element to the question.

Said another way, on mono LPs...
a) Top arm + top mono cart > Top arm + top stereo cart
b) moderate arm + moderate mono cart > moderate arm + moderate stereo cart
c) moderate arm + moderate mono cart ? ( ?) top arm + top stereo cart

Has anyone experimented with this? Is it worth pursuing for me? I would have to get a 2nd armboard, in addition to the arm + cart.

Thank you!
I had separate stereo and mono setups. In my case, a Denon 102, Rega RB-250 and Nottingham Horizon was superior to my TNT HR-6, Wheatson Triplanar VII and Helikon SL when playing mono records.
I don't know where you would find a good mono cartridge today. They don't exist.
Could a modest arm/mono cartridge actually perform better on mono source material than my top arm/stereo cartridge, all else equal?

Yes. No problem. Check out a Shelter 501 mono and you are there.
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Two speakers are fine for mono. Long before stereo came along the very best systems had two speakers.

To play a mono record with a stereo cartridge it is necessary to eliminate its sensitivity to vertical groove modulation, which in the case of a mono recording is pure noise. This can be done with a jumper right at the cartridge, or a mono switch in the preamp.

Also, to play a mono record you ought to use a stylus with larger tip diameter. These are available for some stereo cartridges.
04-06-07: Viridian

"Actually, there are many good mono cartridges available. Shure, Grado, Lyra, Benz, the Denon 102 mentioned above. I am sure that there are more, they can be found at the Needle Doctor website, among other places."

Really? I'm stunned by this disclosure. I thought they were long out of production.
Uraniumcommittee really showing your vast knowledge base here. Tell us what else does not exist, please.
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Just wait for the "word" on the new Air Tight mono cartridge.It WILL be considered fabulous,but not cheap!I can say no more,without a contract being put out on me.
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thanks for the responses so far. i am fully aware that there are many mono cartridges *AVAILABLE* (including $4K models), but i am wondering this specifically:

will a modest tonearm (say a rega) + a modest mono cartridge (say in the $500-700 range) perform BETTER on mono recordings than my (top-of-the-line) tonearm + (top-of-the-line) stereo cartridge?

i cannot afford to own 2 top-of-the-line tonearms and 2 top cartridge, but i am wondering if the modest mono combination would actually sound better on mono records.

can anyone help?

thank you!
will a modest tonearm (say a rega) + a modest mono cartridge (say in the $500-700 range) perform BETTER on mono recordings than my (top-of-the-line) tonearm + (top-of-the-line) stereo cartridge?

Yes for the cartridge. Check out a Shelter 501 mono and you are there. A Mono Cartridge is for Mono Recordings and a Stereo Cart. for Stereo. To compare a cheap Rega Arm with a Top of the Line Tonearm is a different Story.
Try it with a Shelter 501 Mono cartridge, it is not expensive and you will hear your Mono's in a real good Quality.
Hi. I have a humble system so I can't tell you how the "modest" set-up will compare to your superb stereo set-up. Then again, no one from out here can honestly know what might "sound better" to you, since it's a purely subjective experience.

My suggestion, since you are curious, and since I trust that the curiousity will not disappear by itself, is to invest in the modest arm and cart that are in your price range (Rega arm and Shelter 501 cart?) and give it a go.

If it doesn't provide the satisfaction you're wondering about, you can sell both for modest losses. The psychic benefit of definitively answering the question for yourself will be well worth the modest cost.

Good luck!

[By the way, I have a tonearm on my table that allows for swappable headshells and for the past few months I've been using an Ortofon K-B ($1,200 sticker) for stereo and a Grado ME+ ($130) for mono and the Grado has pleased me more for mono -- quieter backgrounds and lusher timbre.]
hi tomasheig:
thanks -- i do believe that the modest mono cartridge will likely exceed the performance/satisfaction of the top stereo cartridge on a mono source ... but the problem is that the tonearm will also be lower quality and that could really affect things.

the match is the real question, as the tonearm & cartridge are a "system".

thanks much for the info. i was hoping to avoid any loss, but it may be that i have to go that route. if people threw up all over the idea, then i would want to avoid it.

the problem is that i have to buy a new armboard for my tonearm (~$2-300 -- pretty pricey!), so that kind of stinks. that definitely adds alot to the cost of the experiment and that is cost that cannot be recovered.

i could buy a mono cartridge to try on my current tonearm, BUT.... i wind up in the same position as when i started this conversation -- confirming what i already suspect (a good mono cartrdige can be better than a great stereo cartridge) but getting no practical info to help answer my real question about modest arm + mono cartridge.

I love my tonearm, but it does not allow for easy switching of cartridges. If that was the case, I'd probably purchase a 2nd armwand/headshell.

thank you!

Another route to consider is getting a second table, one whose cost is about what you'd have to lay out for armboard and modest tonearm. Make that table your dedicated mono table for your experiment. Perhaps a Rega table with the 250 or 300 arm (if those are what you're considering)? Then pick up your modest mono cart. If you like the sound, you can sell the table/arm for not much loss (if you buy used, you might even break even!). Then you can make the investment in the armboard and 2nd arm with the full confidence of knowing that you like the sound you're going to get (unless, for some reason, the arm you choose is terribly mismatched with your table).

Enjoy the ride!
i really don't have the space for a 2nd table, but your suggestion is an interesting one as it certainly does minimize the potential loss and allow me to do a test in my own system.

my current table is very high performance, so i could expect that the mono cart + arm would do even better on my primary setup.

interesting though. many thanks!!
Hello Ebalog
I have a Basis TT with a Graham 2.2. I have two wands for the Graham arm. 1 for a Stereo Koetsu Urushi and 1 for a Lyra Helikon Mono. IMHO, this is one of the best investment I have made. I have found that this allows me to purchase used records I would normally pass over if they were stereo. As Eldartford stated in and earlier reply, a mono true cartridge does not send any vertical groove modulation information. This where most of the damage you here on stereo records happens. A stereo cartridge will send the vertical groove info to your preamp even it is in mono mode. The Lyra does sound better than the Koetsu for mono recordings even with my preamp in mono mode because of the missing vertical info. There are a lot of very great recordings out there in mono like the Beatles records, all of them up to the White Album were recorded in mono then channeled or remixed into stereo. IMHO they sound best in mono not stereo.
I would try the extra TT if I were you, that way you can get it used then sell it off. Then add the second tone arm to your current setup if you are happy with it. If you do the extra arm I would get the RB300 with the rewired upgrade and a Shelter 501. I heard it with my setup and it sounded great. Then I purchase the extra wand to complete my setup, I went with the Lyra because I wanted even better sound quality.
Do not use these mono cartridges on 78’s as this will destroy both the record and cartridge.
thank you, hevac1!

if you had to live with the rb300 + shelter 501, would you still elect to play all your mono records with it (on the same TT) instead of using your graham/koetsu combo (again, on the same basis TT)?

or would you use the koetsu for "clean" monos?

great info!
I think you can get good performance for not too much money. I use a Denon DL-102 mono cartridge on an Audio Technica ATP-12 arm; total cost of about $350. There is much info on line about the Denon cartridge (and as always a variety of opinions); the arm is a high quality, no frills broadcast arm; its relatively heavy mass is a good match for the Denon (much better than the SME 3012SeriesII arm I have, but then I think it is a better arm all the way around than the over-rated SME.) With some careful shopping, you should be able to try something like this, and if you don't like you can sell the cartridge and arm very easily.
I do prefer my Lyra over my Koetsu for mono records and would prefer the shelter 501 if that was what I had. Mono needles do so much more correctly on mono recordings than stereo cartridges ever could IMHO. by the way records you buy that are mono, that look like crap and you would never purchase stereo could and will sound phenomenal. The only issue when purchasing used mono records is if they put the nickele trick on tonearm headshell for weight you can get groove damage that will sound like shit on mono or stereo records, but they do sound better on a mono cartridge, so watch out when buying mono records