MM cartridges

I recently picked up a used Merrill table and having an audiomods arm installed. I am interested in installing a MM cartridge only. My choices are Grado reference, Soundsmith Aida, or Decca London super gold. Has anyone tried these cartridges and can offer feedback?
I have set up many Decca's. They put a lot of energy into the arm. I personally don't think the Audiomods is suitable. The Soundsmith I believe will be the best match and is a very good cartridge. I also briefly had a Goldring MM on an Audiomods, it sound very good ( next to an SME20/V/Skala ).
Also consider AudioTechnica AT-150MLX but don't let the price fool you.
It plays with cartridges costing much more.
+1 to Dover's post.

Of the cartridges you listed, the Aida or Grado Ref would be reasonable choices. I'd choose the Aida because I'm not fond of Grado's schmoozy warmth, but that's a matter of personal taste.

Decca London should not be on your list. On that tonearm it would likely give you fits.

The cart Andrew9405 mentioned is also an excellent choice that plays way above its price point. I've not heard any cartridge outplay it for less than $1500.

The Grado is best with a medium mass arm. You will have problems if you use an arm that is on the heavy side.
Does the AT-150 MLX perform on symphonic music or is it for rockers only like every AT used to be ?
AT-150MLX all the way. But, don't count out Goldring, Ortofon, and Nagaoka.
Gentlemen: Thank you for all your responses. I will consider all the advice. 20 years ago I dumped all my analog gear. Actually gave away a Decca Garrott, Garrott P77, Signet TK7-SU, Signet TK-9E and a AKG P-100LE for free to a young audiophile who used Analog. The one I have is a Rega Exact which should mate well the the Audiomods arm. Always liked those AT carts. But the Decca Garrott was "the one".
I'm listening to a Signet TK100LC right now. Incredible cartridge. Consider returning to MM with a vintage/new production hybrid-- an ebayed Grace F9 body with a Soundsmith turnkey OCL Ruby stylus assembly. Gets close to TOTL MM for around $600 in all.
I'm currently running a 150MLX alongside TK9E, TK7SU, and Ortofon 2M Bronze.
Sounds like you're on the right track. Good luck.
A point to keep in mind in connection with both the AT-150MLX and the Aida is that their recommended load capacitance is 100 to 200 pf. That is low enough to be problematical with some combinations of phono stages and phono cables, especially if the phono cable needs to be longish. I recall at least one of our particularly experienced members here reporting that going from 250 pf to 150 pf or thereabouts made a considerable difference for the better with his 150MLX.

Also, in my experience a Grace F9E rebuilt by Soundsmith with his $250 "ruby single crystal cantilever/nude contact line diamond" option handily outperformed the original version of the Grado Reference Sonata.

Finally, be aware that the Grados will hum in some turntables, due to the lack of shielding in their wooden bodies.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al
Grado hum -

That can be a problem with their plastic bodies as well, not just the wooden ones Al mentions. Possibly other cartridges can have this problem too but Grados seem to be best known for this potential.

In my experience when hum occurs it is a function of the location of the motor. Tables with the motor under the platter mean it is in closer proximity to the cartridge than those outside the platter so more likely to induce hum.
When I look at current Goldring bodies I wonder why all carts are not built like that.
When my Nagoka MP-200 needs a new stylus I'm going Goldring . Sound the same anyway .

08-06-15: Schubert
Does the AT-150 MLX perform on symphonic music or is it for rockers only like every AT used to be ?
Boy does it ever! I have had an AT150MLX for seven years. It's on its second stylus. I listen to more classical, especially symphonic, than I do pop or rock. I listen frequently to very dynamic pressings of The Planets, Grand Canyon Suite (Ormandy--always on a grand scale), Strauss waltzes (also by Ormandy), opera, Rimsky-Korsakov, Beethoven's Eroica symphony, various renditions of Pictures at an Exhibition, canatas such as Mendelssohn's "Elijah," Mahler, Copland, and the Living Stereo/Analogue Productions' Scherazade by Reiner & Chicago Symphony.

The AT150MLX conveys dynamics that will kick you around the room, yet resolves a surprising amount of subtle detail, especially the inner vocal harmonies in opera and cantata works, "Neptune" of The Planets, the 8-part harmonies in Elijah, tympani whacks, you name it.

It's a bit picky in setup. You do need to know the capacitance of your tonearm and interconnect cable; it wants to see a capacitive load between 100-200 pF. Also, for VTA the headshell should be level.

I use this cart to great satisfaction for everything. I also listen to big band, acoustic jazz, and rock and pop mostly from the '60s to the '80s. For me the AT150MLX does not disappoint.
I´d strongly recommend the Audio-Technica ANV150 or the ACUTEX M320 STR III (the earlier & better version aka short nose).

If you are interested I have a NOS ANV150 for sale, I bought it from Japan 2 years ago so its insurance is no longer valid, sorry ´bout that. Anyway, the parcel is still unopened and the cart as virgin. Price is 790 USD including tracked delivery Worldwide.

In order to rest my Grace Ruby, I have been doing a lot of listening lately to my Acutex LPM320STRIII, the long nose version (on a Dynavector DV505 with DV headshell). It gets better and better with frequent use, and I daresay that at this point I would judge it to be "different" from the Ruby, but not necessarily inferior. I also own an M320 and plan to audition it soon to find out whether Raul was really correct in saying it outperforms the LPM series. Harold, have you compared the M320 to an LPM320 in your own system? All of this may be moot to the OP, since Acutex's seem to be rare birds these days. Grace Ruby is another gem, of course. Vintage Grados, e.g., the TLZ and XTZ are excellent too, with low-ish output compared to an average MM. I wonder if we could bring Raul back to life by starting a new thread of this kind; he may have a patent on this sort of discussion.

I guess what the OP is learning is not to use the Decca on his particular tonearm.
I´m using the Trans-Fi air bearing linear tracker. I have not experienced the newer, long nose edition of the ACUTEX 320 but have the LPM315. Compared to the M320 it is not as certain and pure on the most demanding material, it just can´t make the highest transient attacks and therefore can´t reach the highest dynamics. I´d say its trackability is slightly limited. Otherwise it´s an excellent performer though.
Vic at Trans-Fi Audio found the M320 as the very best MM after having auditioned several top MM´s like the Garrott, Decca´s top dog, and the AT-150MLX. Don´t get me wrong, the Decca collected too much dust in his system, that´s the reason he gave up. Anyway, now he´s using namely the ANV150. Don´t take my word, visit his site.

A word about loading capacitance. All vintage top AT´s recommend low capacitance values 100 - 200 pF and I think the ANV150´s is just the same. IME very low capacitance gives better sound quality, and AT recommends these low values. In fact, my preamp´s inherent capacitance is 30 pF and Trans-Fi tracker´s wiring has 25 - 30 pF. So I´m running my AT-ML180/OCC at 60 pF and it sounds better than ever.
Dover and Dougdeacon, what is it about the Audiomods arm that makes it unsuitable for use with Decca/London cartridges? The common wisdom has always been that they like damped unipivots, but London importer Warren Gregoire tells me they actually require a stiff arm tube and good bearings, both of which the Audiomods arm possesses. As to effective mass, the compliance of the cartridges is 10X10-6cm/dyne vertical and 15X10-6cm/dyne lateral, which requires an arm of medium mass to get the arm/cartridge resonance around 10Hz. The Audiomods can be had with a counterweight of several different masses, one of which will enable that figure to be reached. Are there other considerations than those I've mentioned?
I would agree with the Decca importer - stiff arm tube and good bearings. I have set up about 20 Deccas in various arms.The most common back in the day here was the Linn Ittok. Results were variable.The best results I got from a Decca were with a Zeta tonearm, stiff arm tube and good bearings. I had an Audiomods arm on my Verdier briefly - it is excellent value for money - but I would not put a lower compliance cartridge in it. It is a bit like putting formula 1 or Indycar tyres on a Toyota Prius. Yes the tyres are better but the handling will be worse. At worst I have seen damaged records from mistracking Decca's ( remember there is no cantilever ) where the arm has not been good enough.
Arm cartridge matching is a bit of a lost art today, because with internet purchasing dealers cannot afford to carry a variety of arms & cartridges. Specifications do not always tell the story. Because nothings perfect even the best arms and cartridges are a panoply of resonances - thus results vary considerably with different combinations. The Decca is at the low end of the compliance and due to the lack of a conventional cantilever does impart a lot of energy that has to be managed by the arm. I would only recommend it with a top arm.
Probably the best analogy I can give you is the Rega RB300 back in the 80's when it was launched. A lot of folk on a budget put Koetsu Black cartridges on the Rega RB300 because the arm was "good enough", that is, it did not mistrack and they like the Koetsu sound. However it was easy to demonstrate that if you replaced that with a much better arm ( e.g. Zeta/Alphason/SME ) and a good quality medium compliance MM ( e.g. Grace F9E ) then the overall result was more relaxed, more musically coherent and ultimately more enjoyable.
Another example of the TT/Arm/Cartridge hierarchy - I initially set up the Verdier with the Audiomods and a Goldring MM. In the same system I had running an SME20/SME V/Lyra Skala SL. The Verdier combo absolutely left the SME combo for dead despite the disparity in cartridges.

Great Dover, thanks for all the info. The Kuzma Stogi Reference looks like it might be able to handle all the physical energy the Londons (or other low-compliance designs) throw into an arm. The arm tube is pretty massive (similar in shape to the SME V), and Frank's bearings appear to be respectable, though they are only common carbon steel of a good but not excellent grade. Have you mounted a Decca/London on a Reference?
I running the Decca Jubilee on a Graham 2.2 (unipivot), and have consistent excellent results. I would consider it in my top 5 (out of 70+) cartridges. I also used it on my JVC 7045 'S' shaped arm with the same excellent results.
Of course you want a arm with good bearings! Why would anyone want a are with 'bad' bearings?
The Graham 2.2 as you have stated is a unipivot, whereas the JVC 7045 has gimbal bearings. It is surprising that you get the same results with both arms with the Decca. I have set up about 20-25 Deccas on half a dozen different arms and heard substantive differences depending on arm and which Decca model is installed, even sample variations between Decca's.
Martin Colloms of Hifi News had variable tracking results when using different arms - Linn Ittok, Naim Aro, SME V - despite all having good bearings.
These variable results concur with my own experiences.
OK, well lots of feedback on the Deccas (which is my first preference). The Decca Garrot I used was purchased new in the mid/late 80's. It is long gone and was mounted on a Morch DP-6 (unipivot). The audio mods appears to be an arm that the designer keeps squeezing better performance out of with each newer level. The new London Deccas are said to be built much more reliable and better sounding. Plus they can now be purchased with a "pod". A interface between tone arm and cartridge that adds mass. I wonder if it also helps dampen the energy between cartridge and arm? If so, perhaps more types of arms can be used.
Powder1, the "pod" is called Deccapod, and is a thick chunk of aluminum machined in the exact shape of the Gold/Super Gold body. It replaces the standard flimsy plastic mounting bracket (which is a joke and should be done away with, the Deccapod becoming standard), rather than being added to it. It becomes the new top of the cartridge (with threaded holes for mounting the cartridge to a pickup arm), and does indeed damp the cartridge (but not by damping "the energy between tone arm and cartridge"---read on); without it the thin tin body is unsupported and free to resonate like crazy (you can hear the record even with your pre-amp muted!), and very microphonic. It also stiffens the whole cartridge assembly and facilitates the passing of the massive amounts (for a cartridge) of physical energy the cartridge produces into the pickup arm, making the stiffness of the arm's tube and quality of it's bearings even more important. The Deccapod's extra cost is definitely justified---I would go so far as to say a Gold or SG should not be purchased without it. The Jubilee and Reference London's don't need it (because of their different bodies), and in fact can't accommodate it.
Hello Dover,

I do not nor have I ever trusted recommended VTF settings. I use the 'image hifi presents VINYL ESSENTIALS
THE ULTIMATE PICKUP TEST RECORD' to set VTF. I assure you that those settings are different between the Graham arm and the JVC.
But what those VTF numbers are, is not the point. The Jubilee tracks and sounds phenomenal on either arm.
I do not doubt what you have discovered with your various set-ups. Arms sound different. So do turntables. So do tone arm cables. Hearing ''substantive differences'' is a given in those situations. But I do not doubt what I have also discovered! My JVC has excellent bearings therefor it works! Perhaps therein lies the the problem of reported Decca's not tracking! Not all highly touted arms 'have' excellent bearings!
Bdp24, I owned a Stogi Reference for several years. Over that time I was continually impressed by the design/features of the arm. And every cartridge I mounted seemed to work well.

I only sold it (along with the Stabi table) because of the fixed headshell and wanting something to more easily utilize multiple cartridges.

I expect the Decca would match just fine.
Thanks Pryso. I put in a call to Scot Markwell at Elite Audio, the U.S. distributor for Kuzma. The Stogi Reference is available with a number of upgrades (silver wire, etc.). The more I look into it, the better it looks. Dick Olsher really likes the 12" version, and his taste and mine are consistently aligned.
Bdp24, be certain about the wire you select. Mine had continuous wire from the cartridge clips to RCAs (not a bad thing in my mind) so changing is not a simple task.

For example I've read that silver wire can sound too bright with some SS electronics. So match carefully.
Right Pryso, Kuzma arms come standard with continuous wiring from cartridge clips-to-Eichmann Copper Bullet RCA plugs (THE way to do it, IMO), with a choice of copper or silver (at extra cost). Robert Levi has his London Reference on a copper wired Helius Omega, feeling silver wire will be too brash with the London. My phono and line stages are both tube (as is my power amp), so either will probably be fine, silver providing a little more resolution and low-level detail. Powder1, the Audiomods arm is also available with copper or silver---which does yours have?
As I said, I sold my Kuzma arm and table. Mine came with Straight Wire - copper wire with black braided wrap. Looked like this only without the DIN plug, it was continuous..

I bought mine years ago and don't remember being offered a choice with the wire.
The choice of wire may be a recent development. It's not mentioned anywhere on the Kuzma site, I only learned of it when speaking with Scot Markwell. Silver wire increases the price of the arm quite a bit, more than seems justifiable. There's nothing "wrong" with copper wire, after all! But I'm glad arm makers are starting to do the internal wiring in one continuous piece, from cartridge clips to RCA plugs. It's standard on all Kuzma arms, and an option with both Audiomods and Helius.