Looking for the best moving coil cart that is around $5K used


I currently have a Dynavector drt xvs1 and am looking to upgrade. In my experience, the TT has little to do with the sound.  I have a $400 Pioneer PL 71, and It gives me just as good of sound a my VPI-Scoutmaster .  I’m looking for a used moving coil cart around $5K. I like clear sound, not too bright, but very articulate and good tight bottom end.  Please give your suggestions and why.  BTW my phono preamp is a Rhea Signature with new low noise tubes.  Sounds great, just looking for the elusive unicorn
handymann
There are lots of people out there willing to sell a second hand cart for 5000 bucks.
They are probably picking up the phone as we speak ;)
With your budget, I don't see any incentive to buy a used phono cartridge.
What bleeds said-

"With your budget, I don't see any incentive to buy a used phono cartridge"

Look for a brand-new Koetsu for about $2500 and give the rest to your financial advisor!
Lot’s of people like the Lyra Atlas for its spectacular sound- it is quite dramatic sounding, and i’ve heard it set up in some systems where, in combination with other components, everything was just that much more WOW, without sounding too splashy.
I have been using Airtights for the quite a while (had Lyras before) and like them-- not as "spectacular" -more fleshed out and they work well with my horn system- more midrange richness, not quite as spectacular in the highs or the bass (though the information is there, and presented well if on the groove).
Many people buy high end phono cartridges from japan- you don’t get support or return thru the manufacturer here b/c these are gray market goods, but the mark up on bringing these over, and providing a dealer network, support, etc. is significant. I have never done this, but others have and saved significantly. Given the cost of these things today, i’m tempted when I cycle out of my current model Airtight (Supreme) to do this with whatever their top grade model is- currently the Opus, which carries a big price tag.
Also, dealers here in the States can give you relief from the mark-up if you have a relationship.
Those are two cartridge lines I’m pretty familiar with and have had in my system. Some like the stone versions of the Koestus.
The hot ’cheapie’ is that Hana SL, which I haven’t tried.
Good luck- I’m hesitant to buy a used cartridge for obvious reasons. I don't mind spending money on gear that delivers but the price of the top cartridges has become astronomical--I don't think it is all mark-up or a rip off but it is kind of like bitching that Bentley replacement parts are expensive. I know others who think with the right arm, you can get away with a lesser cartridge. 
Either the ART1000, or one of the van den Huls. 
To Whart and Invictus005:
Thanks for your responses.  I think I had dirty ears or something last night.  My Urishi Black was sounding better than my XV1s and neither was sounding very good.  Maybe I'm getting an ear infection.
Did anyone else not receive the Discussion Forum threads last night?
Steve
Sorry I just can't get past the fact that you think the table doesn't  matter and that a 400.00 pioneer sounds as good as a VPI Scoutmaster AND that you are willing to strap a 5,000.00 used cart to the end of the latter to achieve best sound.

+1 With $5K buy new and any benefits that come with being the original owner. 

As a result of Benz Micro upgrade offers over the years I now have a Benz Ruby Z hanging off a $300, since restored, Well Tempered Classic.  
 
Of course the turntable matters, everything matters, but on the way up starting with a great cartridge allows one to experience turntable differences to a greater degree. High end reviewers are always trying a price wise mismatched cartridge with the turntable under review and often with interesting results.

Its your set Handy go for it! 
Five grand is a lot to waste on a $400 turntable. I believe also that if neither of your cartridges is doing the job for you, you don't have them set up correctly. Cartridge/arm set up is rather an exacting science, until you can master it, no amount of money thrown at cartridges will make a difference. I believe you are also off base with the statement that the table doesn't make a difference. I don't believe $20,000+ has to be spent to get a worthwhile difference, but a better table and arm will definitely make for an improvement.

I went from a VPI Scout Signature to Garrard 401 with a Dynavector arm, all bought used and restored and set up on a DIY basis, and using a Zu Denon 103R cart (which is a $250 moving coil with improvements by Zu Audio), is worlds above the performance of the VPI, even when using a $1950 Dynavector XX2MKII cartridge.

Nothing more to add, except that in vinyl reproduction, knowledge is king, the more you learn, the better your rig will sound.

Best of luck,
Dan
http://www.high-endaudio.com/RC-Cartridges.html

ZYX Universe II X - is also a great cartridge. I upgraded from the XV-1S - huge difference in detail.
Also, I agree with the folks - TT quality is a factor.
I did a similar thing. I disregarded expert advice, and spent on cartridge, tonearm, and turntable, in that order. It was a mistake on so many levels.

First, a TT gives you more bang for the buck. A better TT should give you less noise, less sibilance, more clarity, etc. If it doesn't, then something is wrong, probably setup. Very few people do it right; for example, how repeatable are the settings of the torque screwdriver that your expert uses? (German units don't drift; much).

And that's just one of dozens of potential issues. Ever wonder how far off the perpendicular the stylus and cantilever are? (Even my higher end  Koetsu is off). Well, that's why you need azimuth adjustment. Stable azimuth adjustment.

Second, cartridges wear out. Only a factory rebuild preserves the house sound, at least at the level you are considering. With a defective tonearm, that could be unnecessarily frequent. Think more dollars every so often, whereas TT do not wear out. Nor do tonearms. A good tonearm will retain its settings, whereas some tonearms will not even allow the necessary adjustments in the first place. Which may be the source of your discontent.

So I suggest that, if the mass market stuff doesn't work for you, try something else. Consider Trans-Fi. I understand that their mag-lev TT is something else; I know that their air bearing tonearm is something else, as I have two of them. ($1000 each - what a bargain!) All within your budget, if you buy from the factory. Google them.

Good luck.
As others have said, TT is a big factor in the final sound, as is the arm, but for carts you must look into the Aidas Panzerholz Diamond cart. It is quite simply the best value cart available at the moment, and selling at under $2k, it compete's with carts $5-7K+. I took a punt and it paid off, bought from Agon seller gr audio. Replaced an ART-9 and beat it across the board so conclusively I sold the ART-9 the next week, if I needed a spare cart I'll buy another Aidas..
Years ago I happened to be be at a high end hi fi shop in the bay area one day when a person was trying to make a decision about which turntable to buy. The contenders were a Linn Sondek and a Linn Basik. Both tables had the same arm and both were equipped with the same cart - I think it was a Grace F9E.

First up the was the Axis and it sounded good, but within seconds of the Sondek starting to play it was no contest. The Sondek was clearly better. I was actually stunned by the amount of the difference.

Now, to be fair, there are numerous variables that could have been tweaked by the dealer to make the Sondek sound better, so all this has to be taken with a grain of salt, nonetheless the difference was startling.

I have just acquired a Shelter 901 Mk III and loving it, but I don't have near the exposure to high end carts that others on this thread do.
I'll weigh in with a few terse comments:

1. Setup is  the weak link in the vast majority of turntables/Tonearms/cart.
2. As used cartridge is an unknown, and at best has only a portion of its life left - not just the tip, the suspension
3. I have not had that Pioneer, bu if its up to the challenge that you must pose with a $5k cart, its a bloody miracle.  See setup above.
4. Note that TTs are primarily about reducing motor noise and speed variation; tonearms however are more than good/bad - the mass-to-cartridge compliance matching becomes critical - just liek springs and dampers on a race car.
To itsjustme. I know most of u think I've lost my mind, my saying I can't hear the difference between my two TT. When first mounting my Urishi, I did find I had to increase the tone arms mass to make the cart come alive. I thought I had bought a piece of junk. However, once the mass was increased, at the suggestion of Koetsu, everything was great. The Pioneer is direct drive, which means the speed is spot on. The plinth also is quiet-maybe more than the VPI. I'm enjoying great reproduction from both. I love dropping the tone arm and hearing that imaging that only vinyl can give. U know-the sound of the stylus leading into the song?  It comes at u from both sides and u anticipate that truly wonderful sound you're about to hear. Guess I'm just looking for a change. What's better than two of the best?  In case you're suspecting my set up is skewed, it isn't. And I've experimented with different base supports. I worked for months getting a base support than was almost totally immune to acoustic feedback and vibrations. I can now play records that have heavy bass and high volume levels, with no negative repercussions. I'll ask again-did anyone else miss the forum email Friday?  I've contacted Audiogon and they're going to try to resend it Monday.  If you're willing, pls try forwarding the email to me at [email protected] net. Hope they let this go through. If not, I'll post again without my contact info. 👌
Well handyman, you say the speed is spot on because the TT is direct drive. I don’t think so.

TT generate lots of noise, which means vibration, and speed variation. It is only a question of the spectrum and amplitude of noise. For example, there is an inherent noise from the motor: cogging. Its frequency is some multiple of 1.8 seconds / number of poles. Then there is bearing noise, whose frequency is some fraction of 1.8 seconds. Then there is noise from the power supply, at idiosyncratic frequencies.

All of this noise is attenuated by the moment of inertia (rotational "mass") of the platter. Noise is nevertheless there, and it presents as artificial brightness, sibilance, high frequency edge. Its reduction is one of the main goals of high end.

If you don’t agree with my analysis, fine. But this is wholly objective: can your tonearm support fine azimuth adjustment, to a few minutes of arc? If not, your Urushi deserves better.
I should also have noted that in the real world of physical measurements, speed is always an average. So speed can be spot in when measured over a few seconds, but nevertheless have huge variation when the average is taken over a few milliseconds. The ear hears clearly to 20KHz, so a 50 microsecond average is clearly audible, let alone the problems with beats, which push the threshold further yet. This is the old statistical problem of measuring with one number, the mean. It says nothing about the standard deviation or higher moments.

Terry9. I'm sure your correct. Just like there's no such thing as a perfect circle. The TT has a built in strobe. It says the speed is correct and that's close enough for me. 🙂
Thanks to all of you for your responses.  I will consider your recommendations.  One thing I agree with-my $$ is better spent on a new cart, rather than a used one.  Interestingly enough-I had no offers to buy anyone's used cart. :)  As I said, my sound is good, maybe even great.  Just looking for somewhere to improve.  I'm satisfied with all of my main components.  Thought I might try a new cartridge, Not that the cart isn't a main component.  I think it's one of the most important ones.  Garbage in-garbage out.
Steve
If you are looking for somewhere to improve it is your turntable and/or tonearm. Just because your Pioneer sounds as good as your VPI doesn't mean that either of them are letting you get the best from your cartridge.

Try using a great tonearm like Graham, Basis, EMT, etc and you will see what I mean.

Good luck and have fun 
I've been lucky buying most of my used cartridges, but yes it does involve some luck. I've bought a couple of used Koetsu stones that sounded just like a new one (now that I've had a new one to compare, and Koetsu rebuilds too) and have lasted a long time. I'm long done buying used cartridges, but a bit of a gamble helped get me into Koetsu at I time I would't have otherwise ($3K vs. $9K new).

You just need to "luck" out on a seller who cleans their stylus frequently, plays clean vinyl, runs proper alignment & VTF, avoids traumatic stylus incidents, reports hours honestly, doesn't hide issues like a skewed cantilever, low-rider, channel imbalance, etc :P The high-rollers that run a rotation of multiple high-end cartridges are good candidates. And unfortunately the audiogon market isn't what it once was for carts on offer (I rarely see Koetsu stones that look any good for a reasonable price).

But like others said -- at this point look at your table/arm first, and don't forget phono stage either!
The ability of the arm to track the cartridge correctly is far more important than what cartridge! So the answer to your question will be the cartridge that works best in your arm.
 
The thing that would worry me about an inexpensive arm is the bearings. If there is any slop in them the arm simply will not be able to do its job. Quite often the reason there is slop is that the bearings are damaged, if they use points. If they don't (using ball bearings), they might have a lot of sticktion... For this an other reasons there is a good argument for going with something other than the stock arm. I don't remember all the Pioneer tables, although I've working on many, but what I do recall is that none of them were offered without an arm.

So that might be the tricky bit...
Maybe I missed it, but did the Ortofon Winfeld Ti get mentioned?  That is the one I would spend my $5K on without a second thought.  In fact it is the one I will spend my $5K on when my current Per Winfeld is up for renewal. I love the sound of this cartridge.  In fact I prefer it over any other I have heard including the vaunted Atlas.
There is no "best moving coil cartridge" and the higher price on the used market does not mean that 5k is better than 1k cartridge. The used marked is the platform where everyone could find a great cartridge for very good price. Not every auction ending at the high price. Some of the brands are overlooked, some are overpriced. And some brand (or the models) from the 70s/80s are unknown to the most of the buyers. I’ve never had an issues with used cartridges, but i’ve had an issues with new cartridges. Started from the very expensive MC carts (up to 4,5k) i slowly realized that the price is not so important when you’re looking for the cartridge that sounds the best for yourself in your own system. Practically those expensive MC carts are terrible, my broken new ZYX Premium 4D was a good lesson. Finding the good preamp for LOMC is a pain in the ass (just an extra expenses).

Your Pioneer turntable with its tonearm is perfect for MM cartridges, under 1k you can find extremely good (and rare) Moving Magnet carts. Recently i sold my spare AT-ML170, it’s hard to find any better cartridge, the price was under $800, easily compete with 4k MC cartridges! Another one has been shipped last month to Florida, it was NOS (never used) Victor X-1 with box and docs, the price was $1490 for a brand new cart from the late 70s. That Victor is also hard to beat by any overpriced MCs. They are all from the same era as your Pioneer. Personally i use Pioneer own top of the line MM cartridge (Pioneer PC-1000mkII) and i love it! I have MC cartridges as well, but i’m sure that for your Pioneer you’d better buy MM cartridge of the highest caliber! It will kill the LOMC!

Forget about Koetsu and other low compliance MC cartridges, it’s a waste of money, you don’t even have the right heavy tonearm to use them.

P.S. I really like the design of the Pioneer PL-70 mkII turntable along with their exclussive p-3. Sadly new turntables of today does not looks so good, something wrong with the designers.
To Whart and Invictus005:
Thanks for your responses. I think I had dirty ears or something last night. My Urishi Black was sounding better than my XV1s and neither was sounding very good. Maybe I'm getting an ear infection.
Did anyone else not receive the Discussion Forum threads last night?
Steve

probably there is dust onto the diamond, when then diamond is not clean you can roll the dice with any cart
when you can't heat differences between Tonearms and Tables you can close the book and save a lot of money. Buy your flavor of the week and enjoy it.
Post removed 
I apologize for my last response.  I asked for opinions, not just favorable ones.
Look for a Benz LPS
I would go for a DS Audio DS-002!

In my opinion better than the best ZYX, Lyra and Koetsu.
Ditch the Pioneer and get the VPI tuned up and listen to it with your Koetsu. If you still can't tell the difference, I'd give up on analogue as you aren't getting your money's worth.

I say that as an Urushi (not 'Urishi') owner. It deserves a well set up deck and an excellent phono stage like you have - but not on an inappropriate arm on a far less than stellar player..
I am very happy with Lyra Etna SL

Well you didn't ask me however I always have an opinion, one that at least with my kids goes un heeded. So. Audition a good phono stage in your system, I would guess you can now tell the difference between the VPI and the Pioneer. 
You are limited by the tt arms you have since I’m guessing the vpi has the jmw9 tonearm. If you go with an upgraded cartridge up to $5k, you need to upgrade the tonearm, maybe using the vpi tt with a new vpi 3D arm, 10” or 12” if they would fit. I would also disagree with you on the comment that your tt’s sound the same or not the weak link.
I truly love this forum. About the time I start thinking I know a little concerning high fidelity, I find out how little I actually know. I will admit, sometimes my opinion is clouded by an adult beverage or two, but still think I have a discerning ear. Although it's unlikely, I will get any takers, I live in the Nashville Tn area and am sending out a standing invitation to anyone wanting to stop by to explain to me, what I'm not hearing. Maybe I spent too many years at ZZ Top concerts, where even if u were on the last row, the sound was literally ear splitting. Yes-I'm an older guy and as I have mentioned, can't hear much above 12Khz. Perhaps what I'm missing, is in this higher range??  I've been into sound since I was four and went to my uncles and. saw where he had disassembled my grandparents hi-fi and placed the two speakers in different parts of the room. I went home and took my small tubed record player apart and took out the 4" speaker and have been intrigued by sound ever since. No such thing as stereo back then, or it was a fairly new thing. Anyway, guess my ears are old-maybe too old to hear the difference. According to my RTA, I have a pretty good room response.  I'm not ready for the old folks home just yet🙂

Allaerts MC 2 finish gold or MC 2 formula 1. The best technical

specs ever.

Were you to have a great turntable and the Ikeda 407 tonearm, I would strong recommend  the Ikeda 9TT cartridge. It is second in their lineup but is outstanding with something like the BMC MCCI phono stage.

@strongarm, I own Ikeda 345 the best of his tonearms according to

 Ikeda (see J. Carr post baout Ikeda arms). I also own Ikeda 9TT

which together form an nice combo. But my FR-64 S and Allaerts

MC 2 are in different league.

I've been all over the place on this topic over the past ten years or so.  I started with your opinion - that as long as you had a steady, well set-up turntable as a foundation, the cartridge would be all that really mattered.  I've since come around to realizing that it all matters - the cartridge, the turntable, the set-up, and the phono amplifier (and perhaps the SUT, if needed).

I've heard a VPI Prime at an audio show with a bone stock Denon 103 cartridge - that's a sub $400 MC which, by all estimation, should be like nails on the chalkboard.  It was wonderful, and the turntable brought out it's very best.  Now, that same TT can rise to the occasion if you decide to strap a $4,000 Lyra on its 3D tonearm, too.  Both the TT and cartridge can be made or ruined by the phono amplifier.  Much of the time, those traits that people are really looking for when upgrading their rig - sparkle without harshness up top, a tight, controlled bottom end, and silence in the grooves - are actually achieved through the right phono amplification.  With LOMC, an SUT is really important, too, and they aren't all that expensive in the scheme of things.

For your Pioneer, I'd be tempted to stay in the under $1,000 segments just because there are so many good choices nowadays from the likes of Ortofon, Hana, and the venerable Denon D103 and D103R.  Of course, they'll all sing on your scoutmaster, too.  Consider upgrading the VPI with the upgraded tonearm base and a 3D arm, and maybe a VAS Nova Cartridge (Steve Leung from VAS can probably hook you up with all of the above).

You can find a low hours Lyra Etna on Audiogon for $5K. this one is a Fine Cartridge, you will not be disappointed. Not far from Lyra Atlas and should fit your taste.

Good luck!
@drew_k, From all carts that I own or used to own, all except for one are MC cartridges (Lyra Etna, Dynavector TE Kaitora Rua, Madrigal Carnegie One (by Mark Levinson), Linn Troika, etc., and only $99 Shure M97XE Phono Cartridge is MM and sounds excellent for the price on my TTs. HOWEVER, I do believe that a cartridge makes a huge difference and I agree with you that the sound can be maid or ruined, but for a different reason. The biggest disadvantage with a great and expensive cart might be that you can hear all flaws of the original recording. IMHO, it has nothing to do with a cart, but a master record.
Handymaan, I know of an Ikeda 9TT  cartridge for sale. It costs new $4400. He has had it for about three years, but I seldom hear him using it. He has not advertised it

He wants $2000. I had better check to see if it is still available,if you want it. You can call: eight hundred plus 820 and thirteen and fourteen.
This isn't the right forum for this, but I still listen to CD's occasionally. I put on Abbey Road and couldn't stand how bright and brittle it sounded. Had to switch to the LP. I know-da. Should have know better. Sometimes I get lazy🙃
tooblue:  I know you and others, think I've lost my mind, what little of it is left-too much "60's."  I invite u to try setting up an inexpensive TT and strap a primo cart on it.  If your set up is correct and the TT is good, I really don't think you will hear that much difference.  I've read all the responses of how I need to pack it in and concentrate on "the flavor of the month", but I stand by what I have said.  I have top notch hardware, as well as vinyl.  After I altered my Pioneer tone arm, to give it greater mass, to me, there's very little difference in the final sound.  There have been many kind recommendations, and I will contemplate these suggestions..
Elizabeth:  I remember talking to you years ago and am not sure where you went, but glad you're back..  What say you?  I welcome all comments.
Handyman-if your have a top notch digital setup, you would think digital is equal or better than vinyl. Not all vinyl sounds good, actually, if I was to play a Beatles album, it would be the mono version, the stereo versions sucked compared to the mono’s. I have around $15k retail of a vinyl setup and there are times that vinyl sounds better and there are many times that a DSD or especially a new MQA cut would sound better than vinyl. I’m just saying don’t discount a good digital setup. You would have to spend at least $10-$15k on a good vinyl setup to compete with a digital setup costing 1/2 that. IMO
Handymann you are wrong on this account, I am 65 been to at least 20 ZZ Top concerts as well as others and still have a very good ear, just had that all checked out with a professional 4 years ago as I started to build my retirement system. I find the sound much more revealing on a really good table with a cheap cart or budget cart as to a high end cart on a cheap table/arm. I have to say though when you get it all right, wow there is no looking back. My current table is a VPI Prime/outer ring clamp/BDR racing clamp and SDS and set up well, with this combo the differences between things are always very noticeable, I run a ZYX Universe, a Dynavector DRT XV1s, a Mayabies Standard and a Grace F9R rebuilt by soundsmith with great results and the table allows me to enjoy the differences. With this said, if you don't hear a difference I would just keep the Pioneer and enjoy the music as you receive it, there isn't much you can do and that isn't a bad thing it's just a real thing. Good luck and happy listening, I wish you well. Tooblue
tooblue:  I appreciate your response and will experiment with what you have mentioned.  I think I will mount the Urushi to my VPI and hear what happens.  As of now, both the DRT XV1s and the Koetsu sound very similar.   I just posted a thread about a record clamp.  I'm going to start using the clamp all the time.  Maybe that's where I'm going off the rails.  All I want to do is learn and appreciate all the invaluable info I get from all of you.  Thanks for your patience and indulgence.
Handyman-

I want to comment on the speed/DD/strobe thing.

I don't know how much technical knowledge you have about turntables and analog sound playback, but a strobe tells you very, very little.  Its not speed accuracy that we need, it is consistency and absence of noise.

Its the small, maybe tiny, higher frequency changes to rotation speed that create distortion, combined with all sorts of vibrations. Think about this:  the vibrations mix with tiny groove wall ridges. How does your cartridge tell one from another? Answer: it cannot. It reproduces the music plus the vibrations = distortion.  Similarly a small difference from the proper 33 1/3 rpm speed is generally inaudible except to those with perfect pitch.  Since we can tune to any note we like, even with perfect pitch speed accuracy is largely over rated. But CHANGES in speed create wow and flutter.  I doubt your table wows (low frequency changes), but since it is a direct drive, with nothing to absorb the imperfect drive of the AC motor, it WILL flutter.  This creates distortions that are easily audible and generally not harmonically correlated - they are generally multiples of 60 hz.

A suspended table filters out vibrations.  A belt filters out motor vibrations> a heavy latter is a flywheel - used n pretty much everything that demands true speed consistency (not accuracy, consistency - its OK if it is consistently off by 0.1%)

Maybe the Pioneer sounds great. I cannot say.  They may have the worlds quietest motor and the worlds deadest plinth - really, they may.  But your technical argument is worse than weak, its just dead wrong.  Remember - the $5000 cart you are willing to buy still, debate aside, tell the difference between a groove and a vibration from a motor or the room.  Filter them out. And for heavens sake match the cartridge compliance to the tonearm mass, and get VTA right - those are free!

G