Mono Cartridge Recommendations

I am looking for a true mono cartridge, as I am adding a second tonearm (Musical Life Conductor SE 10") to my Technics SP10ii table. My phono preamp is an Einstein Turntables Choice - so I am looking for a MC cartridge.  Considerations include:

  • whether the cartridge was truly designed for mono (cantilever only moves laterally, typically uses just a single coil) 
  • compliance (many mono cartridges have low compliance, which can chew up grooves of modern mono records (although I'll mostly be listening to older records)
  • stylus shape/size - I could use some guidance here....
My price range is $1-2k.  Currently under consideration is the VAS Nova Mono (has two coils in balanced configuration, output ~ 0.8 mv), and the Miyajima Labs series (all have compliance around 8, which is kind of low).  Can people who have experience in this area provide some recommendations with supporting information (why).  Thanks very much, Peter
Hello Peter.

I use a Miyajima Zero and like it. After an obsessive setup, it is quite similar to my higher end Koetsu, but lacks the latter's ultimate refinement - to be expected at less than 1/5 of the cost!

Equipment comprises Quad ESL's (modified), DIY electronics, DIY air bearing TT, Trans-Fi air bearing arm (modified).

Obsessive setup consists of setting parallelism with a precision calliper, torque with a precision torque driver, endless adjustment of azimuth (can't do it on the fly). Worth it in the end - very much. I recommend the Zero.

Good luck!
Does anyone know whether the VAS is a true mono design, or a stereo design strapped into mono? I am told that it uses two coils in balanced mode.

Also - I am looking for recommendations as to where to get Miyajima cartidges with some discount to the price.  I believe that the Miyajima cartridges use a single coil, and have read that single-coil cartridges are more likely to have hum issues. Is that true for the Miyajimas?
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"cantilever moves only laterally". The cantilever in a mono cartridge is just as free to move vertically as is one in a stereo cartridge (how could it not be?), it's just that that movement produces no electrical signal. At least, that is my understanding.
MIYAJIMA is a true mono cartridge ! 
I heard the Miyajima mono for hours at the NY show on SP10 and ESLs. Superb. You cannot go wrong.

@chakster The translation on that page is adorable. They call a groove a "ditch"!
yeah, i know, but that's the official site of the manufacturer :))  
@peter_s Here is the link to Robin Wyatt whose room I heard the demo.
He is straight-talking and will get you sorted.
Here’s what Harry Weisfeld just posted the VAS Nova Mono on the VPI forums a couple days ago:

"Listening to my new NOVA MONO on a gimbal FatBoy and really loving the Ormandy Saint Saens 3rd on it. Shakes the house like the stereo cannot do.

Popped on a mono June Christy album and falling in love with those beautiful 50’s singers.

This cartridge is giving me 95% of the Miajima Zero for a lot less money and perfect tracking and compatibility with 3D arms which the Zero has issues with."
@Clearthink - What's with your tone?  Is there any reason to be anything but helpful here?  You quoted me a little out of context.  I said that "many" mono cartridges have low compliance, not all.  Particularly not stereo adopted mono cartridges.  But all the Miyajimas have compliance of 8, which is on the low side.  And, per Kevin at KAB, vintage mono cartridges were even stiffer - going back far enough the tracking forces were higher. Go back far enough and the vertical compliance was taken up by wearing of the stylus (e.g. cactus stylus on a gramophone).  If you use these really stiff cartridges on a modern vinyl recording, you can get excessive wear.  That may not be relevant to modern offerings.  In that case, I guess the question is whether the relatively low compliance of the Miyajimas is any cause for concern.  Anyhow - let's try to keep the answers helpful.

@bdp24 - Hi Eric.  I'm basing my statement about no vertical compliance on prior discussions here on Agon.  Perhaps I misunderstood.  But take a look at the sketch on the Miyajima Labs mono cartridge page and it shows a simple design where the cantilever is attached at a fixed angle to a vertical rod, that ONLY allows rotation in the lateral plane.  In that case, any vertical compliance becomes solely the material property of the cantilever, and none is provided by how the cantilever attaches.

@jbrainin - Thanks for the information.  Can you elaborate on what was meant by a "3D" arm?  Is a 2D arm a linear tracker?  Aren't most arms 3D?  I would still like to know whether the Nova is a stereo cartridge strapped into mono.

Thanks all.  Looking forward to more insight, and happy to be corrected (that is why I posted).  Peter
Re hum. Yes the Miyajimas can cause hum issues. I have a Zero and while I love it you will need to solve hum problems

The best solution is to use a phono stage or step up with a ground that can be lifted. Either that or having a mono switch on your amp. The latter causes (in my experience using an ARC Ref40) a slight drop in dynamics. My Music First step up has a three way ground switch and this clears all hum issues. The other suggested solution of using only one channel still left me with hum (which is clearly out of phase in each channel as the mono switch cancels it)

anyway expect hum and expect to need to work on dealing with it
@folkfreak Thank you for that info.  I do you have A mono switch, made by KAB, and it is well-made, but it is outboard and requires more RCA connections to place in the circuit. I was concerned about loss of dynamics. One Miyajima dealer told me that the hum could be removed by disconnecting one of the ground wires, but it sounds like that is only a partial fix based on your experience. With the equipment that I have, I don’t think I could offset the hum without some loss in performance. Unless there are other ideas or perspectives?
Re groove wear with low-compliance cartridges. If the tonearm bearings are excellent, and the effective mass is appropriate, it's a non-issue.
As Robert offers a home trial and return policy the best thing to do is to try it out. And stop trying to chase a discount on Miyajima. Robert offers fair prices and good support, simply pick the point in the model line that matches what you are prepared to spend. Having a cable prepped to reject hum is worth trying, see Joel’s discussion here

this failed to deal with hum in my system but it may work for you
In the "old days", it was widely known that using a mono cartridge on a stereo LP was verboten or at best ill-advised.  Some vintage early stereo LP album covers even have that warning printed on the back, in fine print at the bottom right of the text.  This warning is consistent with the concept that a (vintage) true mono cartridge with very low vertical compliance might potentially damage the groove walls of a stereo LP, which encode musical information in the vertical as well as the horizontal direction. Whereas mono LPs produce no musical signal due to vertical deflection of the cantilever.  In those days, many if not most audiophiles owned mono cartridges as their main standby, so it made sense to make sure that those converting to stereo ought to use caution. Clearthink's sarcasm and bad manners are not at all justified. Not that such nastiness is ever justifiable on this forum.

However, in the modern era we have a plethora of new mono cartridges, only a few of which can be said to be "true mono".  Miyajima mono cartridges are some of a very few such cartridges available.  Most other recent production "mono" cartridges are actually stereo cartridges within which the channels are bridged one way or another to produce a mono output.  Such cartridges are likely to have decent vertical compliance, unless they have been radically revised from their stereo origins, and such mono cartridges are not likely to damage a stereo LP.  Whether or not a Miyajima mono (or any of the few other true mono cartridges) can damage a stereo LP, I do not know.  But Robin Wyatt would know.
peter, the answers to many of your questions will depend on the specific monos you listen to.

I’ve read that no mono cutter heads have been available/in use since around 1990. So all of the newer mono reissues were made with a stereo cutter head. For that reason many find any good quality stereo cartridge switched to mono in the preamp or phono stage is all that is needed.

For the earlier true mono recordings a wider stylus tip may perform best for those produced before the stereo era (’57-’58). Monos produced after that up until the end of production (around 1970?) work best with the 0.7 mil styli.

The question of a true mono cartridge VS strapped has been ask many times but I’ve never seen a definitive list.
Oops - not "Robert" of course I meant Robin Wyatt at Robyatt Audio. Obviously I was thinking of this!

Miyajima Zero mono carts are about 30% cheaper in Europe (or just about anywhere else.)  This is from authorized dealers, some of whom will ship to the US.  US distributor does offer a return period which is certainly worth something though.
The original Decca cartridge was mono (L + R), and when stereo came in the cartridge was modified to create the "difference" (L - R) stereo signal. The cartridge (now marketed as London) used the same cantilever-less design in both stereo and mono cartridges, the armature holding the stylus having very different lateral and vertical compliances. London offers a true mono cartridge, producing only the L + R signal, but it is a high-output (5mV!) moving iron design, not an mc. Extremely dynamic, immediate, and visceral sound!
Vertical compliance is not a problem. It is, generally, an advantage with certain conditions withstanding.

The stereo signal is an x-y delta created from vertical and horizontal velocity.
A mono recording is only a horizontal velocity. So ignoring vertical 'imperfections' is a good idea.

However in the end it is how well the cart transduces this information that is important.

True mono carts are merely more simple devices. There is a place for simplicity.
I have played the Zero on a stereo record for a few bars. No effect - not that I'm likely to repeat that error.
bdp, Back in the 70s, my close audiophile friend and I both purchased Decca London cartridges, which we liked very much.  But somewhere or other we read that the performance could be enhanced by fiddling with an adjustable platform that was accessible by removing the top of the cartridge, which simply slides off to the rear.  Being tinkerers, we each separately "adjusted" our cartridges for best sound, and we were very pleased with the results,.... until we figured out that we had converted the stereo signal into mono.  In an attempt to reverse the damage, I tried to re-adjust mine but I don't think it ever sounded as good thereafter.

@lewm, Yeah, those 1970’s Deccas were so shoddily constructed that people did all kinds of things to optimize their sound, including the risky internal adjustments you made. The current Londons are much better built.

The Decca/London cartridge design is unlike any other, even the few that share with it having no cantilever. It has a single lateral sensing coil, and two vertical ones (out-of-phase with each other). The electrical relationship between the lateral and vertical coils is what produces the cartridges’ stereo signal. In the mono version of the Decca/London, there is but a single lateral coil, so the cartridge is incapable of producing a stereo signal; it is a true monaural design. I’m gettin’ me one!