Moving coil with a bit less leading edge

I'm interested in a moving coil cartridge that offers a little less on the leading edge, and perhaps a bit more on decay or the trailing edge. In other words, something a little easier on the ears without sounding noticeably blunted or dulled. Thanks for your suggestions/impressions.
When compared to? What are you currently using that is a bit too transparent/lean for your tastes?
Benz cartridges are excellent and musical - The more you spend the better is the cartridge
Hey John...I had been using the Dynavector XV-1S with my
former SME IV.Vi tonearm, but quit when the suspension
collapsed. I replaced the XV-1S with a Dynavector XX-2,
which despite being over $3000 less than the 1S, sounds
amazingly similar to it. I've since moved to the TW Acustic
10.5 arm(with Raven One table). The SME's relative
mellowness, along with my slightly dark sounding, older VPI
HW-19/early Mk 4 platter, melded pretty well the Dynavector
sound. Compared with the SME, the 10.5 has a relatively more
neutral and more dynamic sound. Along with my revealing
Dunlavy SC-4 speakers, the Dynavector and 10.5 sound fairly
similar in terms of brilliance and detail. I would prefer a
cartridge that has a slightly more refined quality which I
feel would provide a more desirable synergy for me. Without
elaborating, it must also be of low output; i.e., .3
millivolts or less, which narrows the field considerably.
So...any suggestions? Thanks Stringreen. I just saw your
recommendation before posting my response to John. I do like
the Benz sound, and of course will give it serious
That one, too, though I haven't heard it. The Kansui is designed to be little more refined in the highs. And it's slightly higher compliance, so probably more flexible with tonearms.
Hey Jeff, you experiences within the Dynavector line can be extrapolated to other cartridge lines as well.....and cable lines, amps, speakers, etc. The cost of diminishing returns hits fast and hard. It sounds as if you are facing a similar dilemma to when I changed from my VPI table/arm to a Basis table/arm. The Basis was much more transparent and revealing and Dynavectors weakness, a rather jagged higher end, is more exposed under such condition's. Dynavector's mate well with smoother sounding tables like the VPI.

The Benz line is a good reco, others that may also fill the bill would be a Koetsu, Shelter, Air Tight, Transfiguration, Sumiko or ZYX (silver). I haven't heard the Miyajima cartridges, so I cannot speak for them. You didn't mention a price range so I didn't mention specific models. I'm sure you can figure it out.

I can really recommend the Zu Audio modded Denon 103. It's at the bottom of the price range (c.$800) of such exalted MCs mentioned here, and I was skeptitical that it would be up there, but it has replaced a Transfiguration Orpheus (c.$6000+). I am just about to mod it for a further c.$500 by upgrading stylus and cantilever. A real giant killer.
Hi, you might try a Allaerts. I don't know what your budget is, but fits the sound qualities you are mentioning...

Allaerts are a little hard to get, only a one man company, but excellent quality and sound...Not sure on your budget, but my Allaerts MC2 Finish is pretty special..
Your comments might be right on the mark, John. And of course the required changes brought about by different, newly introduced equipment is always fun :-}. Kind thanks to you and others here for the recommendations. Based on what I've read about it, the Allaerts sounds very interesting but it's out of my price range. Denon might be too low on compliance. Otherwise, there's a good crop to consider from here.
Spiritofmusic gave a very interesting idea. These modded 103(R) are really something special, unbeatable for the price. Koetsu Black could be interesting, too. Impressive are also the cheaper Zyx carts...
This is a common problem since most high end modern moving coils seem voiced to make vinyl sound like CD. Two suggestions in addition to the excellent & affordable Zu103 already mentioned: 47 Labs MC Bee and at much more cash, the Koetsu Vermillion.

Syntax, which ZYX models are your recommending as recessed in the treble? I owned an an Airy 3SB briefly and it was the opposite of recessed in the treble.
Wrm...I once owned a high output, copper wired Zyx Airy 3. Found it a bit too "hot" sounding and ultimately fatiguing.
Very interesting that I was about to start a thread on this very topic. I currently use a Lyra Delos, I have a very similar feeling that the leading edge is a bit too emphasised without enough body in the notes that follow, especially the highs which has great extension, detail, shimmer but not enough body. It is somewhat like the sound of Ribbon tweeters compared to dome tweeters. Dome tweeters usually have more body than the more audiophile sounding ribbons IME. But then the Lyra has superb dynamics and detail. Is it not possible to have the detail, dynamics with a natural sounding mids and highs? Aren't we into vinyls to savour the naturality of this medium?
06-24-12: Opus88
Wrm...I once owned a high output, copper wired Zyx Airy 3. Found it a bit too "hot" sounding and ultimately fatiguing.

That's why I recommended the silver coils if you go the ZYX route Jeff. The silver are smoother than the copper, strange but true. I've heard that the gold coils are the smoothest, but I have not heard the gold with my own ears.
John...I seem to recall the bass performance of that copper Airy 3 I had left a bit to be desired. Some of the comments I've read from a few other Zyx owners(depending on the particular model)have also indicated bass reproduction was not a particularly strong suit. Have you been aware of any difference between the copper and silver models regarding that area?

John's comments on the ZYX line are spot on. With regard to "smoothing":
Gold coils > silver coils
Silver coils > copper coils

It's not unexpected because it has nothing to do with conductivity, it's a function of inertia. Gold is massier than silver and silver is massier than copper. Assuming the same gauge of wire, the low mass copper displaces faster than the higher mass silver and is thus more responsive. Likewise with silver vs. gold.

I happen to hate that sort of smothing but if it's what you're after, a gold- or silver-coiled ZYX would provide it. They're more Koetsu sounding than the ZYX's I prefer so maybe your cup o' tea.

With regard to bass output/macro-dynamics, the 4D (formerly Atmos) has everything the Airy 3 lacked in that respect and more besides. Read the review by my signature for more info.
Pani yes it is possible, try a good tube phono stage.

Dover, I have tried 4 phonostages and 4 cartridges in my system:

1. Leben RS30-EQ
2. Naim Stageline
3. Naim Superline
4. RCM Sensor Prelude

1. Denon 103pro
2. ZYX RS30
3. Empire EDR9
4. Lyra Delos

All within the last 3 months. Though not all at a time but still lot of overlaps. At present I have the Naim Superline and RCM stages along with ZYX, Empire and Lyra cartridges. I am really confident that the phonostages I have tried till date are superb when it comes to tone, timbre and naturalness. One can actually believe they all have tubes inside (though Leben is really tubed). The fact that Lyra has a particularly (abnormally) sizzling lacking body treble (most obvious in sounds of Cymbals) is very apparent. I have not heard anything like that in other cartridges. I have heard my RCM phonostage with ZYX 4D and R100 as well, absolutely no such problem.
The fact that Lyra has a particularly (abnormally) sizzling
lacking body treble (most obvious in sounds of Cymbals) is very apparent. I
have not heard anything like that in other cartridges.

The Lyra carts are designed to move all their energy from tracking into their
body and from that one into the Headshell from the Arm. When a Arm is used
which is simply inferior (and there are more of them out there than most will
believe) in that energy transfer - or has weak bearings - you get a lot of high
frequency problems while listening. It is not the cartridge, it is the Arm (+
Turntable, depending how the Arm mount was designed).
Zyx carts for example are exactly the opposite. They run well in ANY Arm, they
move no, or nearly no energy into the Arm. They make life much easier.
Lyra carts can show huge differences in Performance (Titan i is very famous for
that) , they CAN show, how good your System really is. Maybe there is one or
the other exception, but the Delos is not among them.
Arms are a special chapter, everyone thinks, when such a unit is ready to buy, it
is perfect and will solve all problems. Did you never ask yourself why some of
the most weak designs - technically - use wood? :-)
Jeff, I briefly owned a Airy 3, but most of my ZYX experience is with a silver coil UNIverse and a copper coil 4D. The copper 4D had great bass, it reminded me quite a bit like the Dynavector XV-1s that I had. The silver coiled UNIverse was not as dynamic and powerful in the bass as the 4D or XV-1s. I'm not trying to push a ZYX on you, I just had mentioned a silver ZYX as an option with my other previous recommendations. I also thought when you complained about the high's on a ZYX Airy 3, that you need to understand the differences withing the ZYX line.

I think that you have to realize that if you are looking for that smoother leading edge with more decay, that does mean you will also get a softer, slower bass performance. You cannot have the dynamic impact of the Dynavector XV-1s or ZYX 4D coupled with a smoother leading edge in the high's. No one cartridge does it all, softer high's come with softer low's.

Another smoother cartridge that I've owned, which sounded similar to a Benz Ruby to me was the Cardas Myrtlewood. I see a few recos for the Zu Denon 103, which I have not heard, but maybe I should. LOL.
Syntax, I assume the wooden arm wands are used to handle resonances. Am I missing something? Thanks for the description of the Lyra vs. the ZYX cartridges. I had not realized they were designed to deal with the energy in completely different ways. Would you care to comment on how an SME arm mates with a Lyra cartridge?
John...At no time in this thread have I sensed you've tried " push a Zyx on [me]". As always, I enjoy reading your comments and taking in your impressions and insights. Plus, I appreciate your delineating the differences between some of the various models in the Zyx stable. I also take well your point regarding the incompatibility of impressive dynamic impact with a smoother leading edged cartridge. To some extent, I'm certainly willing to trade off some clean dynamic impact to get a bit of a smoother and perhaps more rounded presentation of instrumental/orchestral sound[s]. As others might have gathered from some of my previous posts, I've consistently maintained the sounds I most frequently hear at live orchestral concerts rarely display the kind of clean, tight contours quite a few audiophiles prefer from reproduced music in their home audio systems. So, carry on my fellow!
What about cartridges like:

47 Labs McBee
Yamamoto YC-03s
Miyajima Shilabe
Pani...You might be interested in going to the site known as 10 Audio and reading Jerry Siegel's detailed reviews of the Miyajima Shilabe and Miyajima Kansui cartridges. I found them quite interesting.
Is there something about AlNico magnets that all cartridges that use them normally tends to be "musical" ?
You will certainly get a more rounded, less edgy sound with a non-stone Koetsu (i.e., not the jades, or coralstone, etc). But, that comes with some woolly quality and overly prominent (and slow) upper bass.

I like Allaert cartridges for a smoother and refined sound while not giving up too much in dynamics.

Syntax raised a good point about cartridge arm compatibility. The Lyra cartridges have metal bodies designed to convey vibrational energy from the cartridge body into the arm for the arm to dampen/dissipate. The arm must be well designed for that task to get the most out of those cartridges. In some threads, Jonathan Carr, the designer of Lyra cartridges mentions some arms he considered well up to the task (sorry I cannot remember which arms are mentioned).
I hope you will get to try your Lyra Delos on a better tonearm than stock Technics SL-1200 direct drive table. Don't even think about Shilabe with that arm.

Your comments about wanting a little less edge to the initial transient attack and more natural decay to the notes is really better addressed by the kind of phonostage (as well as the rest of the amplification train). That describes the tube sound vs. solid state more than one cartridge vs. another cartridge.
>>> ...the sounds I most frequently hear at live orchestral concerts rarely display the kind of clean, tight contours quite a few audiophiles prefer...

If your experience of live orchestral music is that leading edges are rounded or that the sound is other than *very* crisp and clear, you need to sit in acoustically better halls (or at least acoustically better seats).

Come sit next to me in the Belding Theater in Harford CT, where the HSO plays (and brilliantly too, under our new Music Director, Carolyn Kuan). We have season tix for two of the four best seats in the house. The sonics are crisp, clear, enormously dynamic and highly revealing... more so than ANY stereo system.

I suspect this excessive crispness you're objecting to is an artifact added by the system. Rather than trying to paper over it with a schmoozy cartridge, stick with a revealing cartridge and track down the source(s) of the problem.

My purist $.02, FWIW, etc. :)
The unique ability to pick up the trailing edge or the decay of musical instruments is exactly what I find so appealing about some of the best MM cartridges I have been playing with for the past year. I especially hear this on solo piano music with a really good MM, and I think it has something to do with the superior tracking ability of MMs. In fact, some of the posts here remind me of a debate around the virtues of MC vs MM cartridges. But there are many very expensive MCs that I have not heard, so take it with a grain of salt. I too am curious about the Miyajima cartridges and do plan to indulge in the near future.
I second the Benz recommendation. Your description of how you react to certain MC cartridges is why I chose a Benz Glider M2 over a Dyna 17d2 in a direct comparison at my dealer (Deja Vu Audio). Since then I went to a Benz L2 and then the Benz LP. Each of the Benz models has been a step up from lower priced ones, but all of them have had the smoothness you are seeking. I would also agree that a Denon 103R has a similar characteristic but it does not have enough refinement in stock condition to satisfy IMO. I recently bought a Miyajima mono and it too has the right character on leading edges. I haven't heard the Shilabe or Kansui, but they most likely have a similar sound.
I'm a bit embarrassed. It took me a while to connect the BBs in my brain to realize that simply making changes with my new tonearm's VTA adjustment dial(never had one of those before) was not enough. I needed to grab and physically move the entire arm downward in larger increments to scotch a hardness/sharpness/metallic sound I was experiencing. It's still possible though, after further listening, that I may or not prefer a bit of a warmer sounding cartridge.

Otherwise: Larry, I've got all tube electronics---EAR 88PB phono preamp and Air Tight ATM-3 monoblock amps---and have been very satisfied with them.

Dougdeacon: The "excessive crispness" I was objecting to was (as I've indicated) a lot more than just that. It was also an "artifact" of my inexcusable unconsciousness. With some of your other comments, however, I must respectfully disagree. Frankly, I'm rather surprised with your assertion that I need to sit in "acoustically better halls...or acoustically better seats". Come on now, even if you've never visited or sat in the Concertgebouw or Musikverein, I'm sure you've heard or read about their renowned, warm sonics. There are other venues here that fit into the same category, and they would not likely be characterized as "*very* crisp and clear". Would you tell those who have enjoyed performances in these places where instruments sound more rounded that they need to go to crisper, clearer halls to properly enjoy music or hear it more "correctly"? I did not find fault with those who preferred a reproduced sound with clean, tight contours, but said I have not routinely encountered this sort of sound in concert perfomances I have attended. In fairness and reasonableness, maybe both of us could use a little broadening of our experiences regarding attendance at musical venues with contrasting sound personalities. Meanwhile, here's to our continuing enjoyment of our personal preferences in sound at home.
Oh yeah....and ah Jeff, before you go changing out cartridges, check to make sure you have the cartridge you have is set up correctly. LOL. Don't worry, I'm sure it's happened to all of us. Look at it this way, you just saved a bundle of $$$.

I started a thread on AA a few months back about how I blew out a tweeter on one of my speakers, since the high's just disappeared in one channel. After getting some replies I decided to see if there were any fuses in the crossover that might have blown. While lowering the speaker to the ground I noticed that the top negative speaker cable lead (bi-wire) had come loose. DUH!!! You have to laugh...haha.
John...Ha Ha, but OUCH!!! You reminded me of the time I blew out a channel in one of my costly Benz cartridges, but I won't get into details about that! I find one of your comments above very soothing: " just saved a bundle of $$$." If only all those moments of unconsciousness or stupidity could have been reversed or avoided, we'd probably have been able to afford a Mitt Romney type of wealthy sound system. Er, on second thought, forget that. I'd rather not go in that direction. Ha Ha.
****If your experience of live orchestral music is that leading edges are rounded or that the sound is other than *very* crisp and clear, you need to sit in acoustically better halls (or at least acoustically better seats).

Come sit next to me in the Belding Theater in Harford CT, where the HSO plays (and brilliantly too, under our new Music Director, Carolyn Kuan). We have season tix for two of the four best seats in the house. The sonics are crisp, clear, enormously dynamic and highly revealing... more so than ANY stereo system.

I suspect this excessive crispness you're objecting to is an artifact added by the system. Rather than trying to paper over it with a schmoozy cartridge, stick with a revealing cartridge and track down the source(s) of the problem. **** - Dougdeacon

No truer words have been written, nor better advise given, on this forum. IMO.
Live orchestral music indoors in a decent hall has always sound incredibly clear and crisp to me and leading edges have never sounded rounded off. I regularly attend the Boston Symphony Orchestra but other orchestras in other hall also sound that way. Boston Symphony Hall happens to have particularly good acoustics.

I agree with the suggestion above, that if you are hearing leading edges that hurt your ears, that are too much or cause fatigue, then perhaps it is some kind of artifact somewhere in the chain. A softer cartridge will hide the problem, but it will obscure other musical information in the process and probably will not give you long term musical satisfaction. If it were me, I would buy the most neutral and resolving cartridge I could afford and investigate what is causing the problem with your aggressive leading edges.

It could very well be cartridge loading, cartridge set up or any number of things down stream.
Guys, don't you think it's possible for music in a good hall to sound crisp AND for a given cartridge to over-exaggerate the leading edge of transients, moreso than in nature (or in a great concert hall)? Both propositions can be correct.

Sadly and paradoxically, the word "neutral" must remain forever subjective.
Sadly and paradoxically, the word "neutral" must remain forever subjective.

Indeed. Just as one person's derogatory "round" is another's exemplary "natural," and one person's "resolving" is another's "aggressive." Most of us believe our system tells the truth when, ultimately, it reflects our taste. And that's perfectly okay. But sometimes it's good to remember that we all hear and enjoy differently, and that this hobby is an exercise in aesthetics, not epistemology. A judgement of taste may feel like it should be true for everyone, as Kant says, but it can only be subjective. So Opus, just find yourself a cartridge that suits your taste and don't worry about the rest.
I second Peterayer's comments. And I'm surprised that the thread reached nearly 40 posts before the word "loading" was mentioned.

The first things that come to my mind upon reading the description of the symptoms are overshoot and ringing. I see that the EAR 88PB phono stage/preamp uses SUT's at its inputs. Which suggests to me that a loading mismatch could cause the response of the cartridge or the transformer or both to overshoot and ring in response to high speed transients, overemphasizing them unnaturally and causing them to be fatiguing. Or if the ringing is at ultrasonic frequencies, it may cause side-effects in downstream circuitry that are at audible frequencies. And as Pete suggested, comparable effects could conceivably result from other causes at other places in the signal path.

Not sure what specific course of action to suggest, but those are some thoughts to consider.

-- Al
Many of the sounds I hear at a live orchestral concert seem
to speak with an effortless and supple voice. There is a
more complex and complete sense of richness and ambient
tonality. I often hear a more fluid, freer kind of
presentation with violins. With higher pitched wind
instruments like piccolos, their pungent or piercing sounds
come across as somewhat more listenable, not quite as sharp
than they might with reproduced music. Both hard and soft
sounds from the piano also seem to present more information
in more listenable and enjoyable fashion. Perhaps what I'm
trying to say is when I hear live orchestral instruments
being expressed either individually or collectively, it is
that combination of complex tonalities radiating outward in
different directions so freely that gives me the
impression of fuller, more complete sound that I have a
tendency to describe as rounded. Maybe too it's the less
than pinpoint presentation compared with reproduced music
that further reinforces my impression. Though it doesn't
seem so to me, some might feel I would be misusing the word
rounded here. Otherwise, I may have become somewhat
suspicious the term crisp, since I've fairly often seen it
used in association with sounds I would interpret as brittle
or stiff rather than firm. Perhaps differences in hearing
are playing a part here.

Wrm57: I think you say it very well!
Opus, you know what you're hearing and you describe it admirably. And you have a very fine system that should produce excellent sonic textures. I agree that the soundwave from an orchestra in a concert hall or a jazz ensemble in a well-designed acoustical space is far richer than anything I've heard reproduced anywhere. And a lot of high-end cartridge/arm combos err on the side of detail at the expense of that live fullness--at least the ones I'm familiar with. The closest I've gotten at home to that full, rich soundwave has been with the Kansui on a Tri-Planar VIIuii, and to a lesser extent, an SPU Royal GMII on an SME M2-12R. I also have a Benz Ebony S-L and A90 on other arms and they're great in their own ways, but they don't generate that soundwave as well. FWIW.
Al: I'm not a technically oriented person, but your point of
possible loading mismatch is well taken. Internally, the EAR
88PB has two different settings via a switch: 4 and 40. With
the transformer's input, 4 is applicable for cartridges
indicating up to 100 ohms; 40 for those up to 1000 ohms.
Indeed, I have encountered situations where one or the other
loading is clearly desirable for a particular cartridge.
Yes, at times, there can certainly be a mismatch.

Wrm57: Thanks very much for your kind comments. I had
previously used a Benz Micro LP. A wonderful sounding
cartridge until I accidentally (or stupidly) blew out one of
its channels. Wanted to get it fixed, but Benz discontinued
its policy of repairing at an inexpensive cost. I have been
quite interested in trying one of the Miyajimas, and might
eventually do so.
Actually sometimes very simple things when analyzed too deep seem really complex. Hifi is littered with equipments which do detail for the sake of detail, transparency at the expense of presence, soundstage at the expense of body etc etc...obviously there is market for such products. One may say, after all this is what hifi brings to the table compared to lo-fi. The point is even the cartridge world such examples are in plenty..why is it so difficult to accept that ? Why do we need to get into deep analysis of live music ? Just to defend such cartridges ? Thats not really important to someone who doesnt want to get into the hyper-detailed hifi world. Why has no one spoken about Miyabi 47 till now in this thread ?
Some really excellent and insightful comments above. But, no one is trying to defend unrealistically bright and aggressive cartridges. Lew, they certainly do exist; way too many of them. I think that the point that Doug, Pete, myself and others are making is that contrary to what appears to be the OP's goal (based on the original post), adding a cartridge that, by design, blunts the leading edge and tames the high frequencies is usually a recipe for failure. Better to think about the system as a whole and go for as much realism as possible every step of the way, particulary in those components closest to the source.
I get the gist of what you're saying, Lino. Personal tastes notwithstanding, when it comes to reproduced music you make good sense, and so do Doug and Pete. What I took issue with previously were Doug's comments about having so sit in better seats or better halls to avoid hearing sound as rounded. Perhaps there was some confusion or misreading centering around the term rounded. Based on my elaboration above, I hope I have corrected that.
If the brain is rejecting something, there must be something artificial about it that one is too sensitive to. No amount of live music listening at any chair can fix that IMO.
Thanks for clarifying. You said it simply and clearly, and without any annoying overshoot/ringing on the leading edge. ;)


I didn't know what halls you frequent, so thanks for clarifying. I haven't been to the Musikverein or Concertgebouw, unfortunately, but like most classical buffs I have many recordings made there. Their renowned "warmth" is quite audible in the rich harmonics and long decays, yet I don't hear any rounding at all, plenty of clean, crisp leading edges. I think we suffered a vocabulary malfunction. :)

As Frogman said, your OP did seem to be seeking a bandaid approach. It was that which I was urging against. By finding the VTA adjustment problem you actutally did what I'd recommended: identifed the source of the problem. Good job!


P.S. On any arm with a threaded VTA/SRA tower, it's advisable to make adjustments by taking the arm below where you want to end up, then move it back UP to the desired setting. This takes up the backlash in the threads and assures that the arm is actually at the setting you want. This was discussed several years ago on my "TriPlanar Tips" thread but it applies to any arm with a similar design.
Thanks for your suggestion, Doug. In sincerity, you've always been a reliable source for valuable information.