No cartridge is good enough.

It appears that even the very best can't extract everything from the groove. Yes, along with table/arm.
Is there any way, theoretically speaking, to take cartridge design and execution to a much higher level?
What about laser instead of cartridge/arm? I know there was/is one company that tried. It didn't sound better and required cleaning records before each play. But laser could be improved. This approach didn't take off, it would seem.
Have you tried the best cartridges and turntables and found them lacking? My guess is you might be surprised.
The cartridge usually isn't the problem. The tonearm and its ability to track the cartridge is. If you feel you are not getting everything from the grooves its likely you have a problem with the arm more than the cartridge.

This assumes of course that the cartridge is properly loaded (should it need it) and is using a decent phono section without problems of its own.
Dear Inna,
The closest things to what you describe are these 2 items although the "optical" cart still uses a cantilever/stylus to trace the groove.

It's a difficult proposition trying to read physical media without contact while compensating for warps, path irregularities and dirt.
Optical cartridge looks very interesting. Anyone tried it?
With ELP system, besides other things, I would be concerned about the table itself. I may be wrong.
Japanese are moving in the right direction, I think.
MM/MC cartridge is a very primitive design that we don't have to live with. The turntable itself is a very simple design that we have to live with, no objection from me.
Phono is an inherently flawed from the get go 100 year old technology. It'll never be perfect. Probably never much more than possible today. Cart alone is not fo concern. The entire system setup and how well done and integrated (cart/arm/table/phono pre-amp/pre-amp) is.

It is an amazing technology that has overachieved and managed to hang around for a long time. But it ain't getting any better than possible already today, except perhaps for those few willing to devote major chunks of time money and effort in their home to try and make it better.
In my opinion a cartridge does not "extract" music from the groove, but instead interprets the music from the groove. I view them as musical instruments that impart their own subtle flavor to the music.

The trick is to find the flavor you like.
Speakers 'interpret' music. Cartridge is a 'stupid thing' told to extract everything there is to extract.
I know there a lot of vinyl lovers here, but this conversation is like discussing how best to optimize the steam engine with the latest carbon fiber technology.

Yes, we could take miniature video cameras and photograph undulations in the grooves, then use image recognition software to regenerate the waveform. But why? Every modern technique used today (including the laser) has to go through a digital front end process, and if you are going to do that, go back to the original analog master tapes and find a way to digitally distribute the basic music with minimal loss. Throw away redbook specs and go 24bit/196K or whatever and I bet even 99% of audiophiles will not hear the difference.
@Inna- Try the Limited Edition turntable by Kronos with the Black Beauty tonearm by Andre Theriault.
Dh193449, we are not talking about digital. Nor do I think your analogy with steam engine is correct.
I could say why bother with vinyl when tape sounds better, but that's not the reality that we have.
There is another reason for optical scanning of older analog audio media- ancient discs, cylinders and other antediluvian media that are so fragile as to be damaged in the process of playback. Look up IRENE, Lawrence Berkeley labs. One was used recently to extract the information from some old Edison talking dolls; the dolls had a habit of self-destructing their little spools on playback. Some articles published on this too. I got to see IRENE on my visit to Culpeper, Va.last year, including the print out, but did not listen to the audio output.
As for the rest, whatever floats your boat....
^^ Vinyl is forecast by the Library of Congress to last 2-2 centuries if stored properly. I have LPs that are already 60 years old and they play fine.

It is an amazing technology that has overachieved and managed to hang around for a long time. But it ain't getting any better than possible already today, except perhaps for those few willing to devote major chunks of time money and effort in their home to try and make it better.

About that you would be incorrect. There have been a number of advances made in LP recording technology in recent years. One of them that stands out occurred at QRP (Quality Record Pressing, the pressing plant created by Acoustic Sounds). Their pressing machines do not vibrate as the vinyl is cooling within, resulting in vastly quieter surfaces. You may not know this, but the lacquer that is cut on the mastering lathe is so quiet that no known phono preamp system has a lower noise floor- in fact the noise floor of a lathe cut easily rivals Redbook.

When we have done projects through QRP the LPs we got back seemed nearly as quiet as our lathe cuts. IMO that is significant progress. Add that to the fact that all LP reproducers have greater bandwidth than digital- that BTW is a little-known fact about LP.

Finally, we have been doing cuts using our OTL amplifiers, in essence creating the world's first transformerless vacuum tube mastering system. The advantage here has to do with the fact that all mastering amplifiers make about 10x more power than the cutterhead could ever manage without burning up. As a result due to the fact that the mastering amps are push-pull, at a certain lower power level (somewhere between 2-5% with all push-pull amps) the distortion level of the amp starts to climb as power is decreased towards zero.

This means that most LP mastering occurs within that 'distortion window' of the mastering amplifier!

It happens that our amps have a distortion character where the distortion linearly decreases to unmeasurable as the power is decreased, similar to an SET (which is part of SET popularity BTW). The result is we can make a lower distortion cut, which is the same as saying we can put more detail in the grooves.

It ain't over till its over...
Interestingly enough, some people here try to avoid the subject, including Atmasphere.
Infection, there is a number of great set-ups, that's not the point. By the way, for that kind of money I wouldn't even bother with vinyl - I would get Studer reel deck and buy master dubs. Not an easy thing to do but good money would buy cooperation, believe you me.
Inna, in order to appreciate the full potential of your desired cartridge you need a highly resolving set-up, so don't even consider cartridges until that is addressed.

But we are.

Remember what the purpose of the LP was in the first place. The distribution of music to the masses. That job, whether audiophiles like it or not, has passed to the digital domain. No one is talking about going back to LPs for mass distribution of music, just a blu-ray is not giving way to laser disc. If music was widely available at a real 24 bit/96K digital we would not be talking about LPs any longer.

And if ultimate sound quality is the real goal, then why not 1/2" tape at 30 ips?

As far as archive issues go, you don't need a laser system. A decent phono cartridge is just fine. How often does the Smithsonian play these archived records anyway?
Your premise (the thread's title) is faulty as is your logic about using a laser. A rock at the end of a stick is extremely effective at tracing the grooves on a semi-solid slab of processed decomposed organic matter.
Onhwy61, you could further show your enlightenment by starting a necrophilic thread. Best wishes.
Inna, modern cartridges do an excellent job of tracing vinyl grooves. Do you have an evidence that this is not true? If you use a laser based retrieval system you'll most likely digitize the audio signal, which as pointed out by someone else raises questions about why even bother starting with vinyl.

If you post a question you should at minimum be open to differing opinions.
Dear Inna:    "  It appears that even the very best can't extract everything from the groove. Yes, along with table/arm.
Is there any way, theoretically speaking, to take cartridge design and execution to a much higher level?   "

IMHO, you can´t extract from the tape neither. Now, your question have to go to the cartridge designers and not to ( we ) music lovers/audiophiles.

Through the years the cartridge designers were sensible improvements on the cartridge designs and each year we see the born of new models with " new " design approaches in benefit of better quality level on LP reproduction.

I don't think that any one of us be a real " inventor " to create a unique and new overall cartridge design ( you are saying: " theoretically speaking ". ) or a different way to read those LP grooves.

IMHO, the analog experience is full of limitations and extremely imperfect medium to listen music. For me it's an " archaic " medium ( for say the least. ) to transfer the recording to a piece of vinyl where does not exist real world perfect stampers ( losless between the master cut and vinyl. ) and then read it the vinyl information through a cartridge where the stylus/cantilever rides/follow the grooves movements and the cartridge motor converts those movements in electrical signals/music.

The inherent analog medium limitations preclude using a " perfect " way to read the LP information.

"   cartridge is a very primitive design that we don't have to live with. ":

well, you have too: there is no other way to do it, at least I don't see where " to go " for I can read my thousands of LP other than through today analog rig reality.

In analog wherever you turn your face the whole picture is faulty, just from the begin. It's a medium full of distortions that not even the best set ups can make that those distortions " disappears ".

The cartridge is only one link in the very long recording/play chain and if any one of us want to have better qualioty level analog music reproduction then we have to wait that each link in that chain can improve for a wide margin and have the money to buy it and the knowlege level to appreciate/understand the new analog experience.

In the mean time the digital alternative is no more an alternative but a today new world to listen music. Unfortunatelly many many LP titles we can get in this medium.
Today DAC's at 32/384khz has nothing to envy to analog  medium and not only can even analog but beats it in several areas if not in all.

In the other side, talk about better cartridges than today designs we could see it from more than one point of view because my experiences with vintage cartridges against the today top designs are telling that overall there are not big differences. Some vintage cartridges can compete with the best today ones.

Best regards and enjoy the music,
The OP obviously does not know how to setup and adjust the cartridge/arm/turntable system!

He has probably never heard a optimally setup turntable.
Whether it is possible or not to get everything out of tape is an interesting question for a different thread.
Vinyl was never supposed to be an audiophile medium but tape was.
Anyway, as you say some vintage cartridges can compete with very best modern ones. I am sure some here will question this statement. Not me, I have no idea.
Some day I may try that Japanese laser turntable, I would now if not the cost.
don_c55, what you said and the way you said it can easily be interpreted as a slander. First think, then speak.
[quote]Vinyl was never supposed to be an audiophile medium but tape was.[/quote]

This statement is flat out false. I own a Westerex 3D LP mastering system mounted on a Scully lathe; its pretty evident just from reading the manual that the intention was the best performance possible, and FWIW when the unit was manufactured, it had distortion and bandwidth specs (30KHz bandwidth on any LP is no worries at all) that put the best tape to shame. The limitation in the LP is usually not the media or its playback apparatus, its the source (which is usually tape but these days is also digital). When you hear what direct-to-disk can do then you really realize how far ahead of tape the LP format really is. 
Atmasphere, there are totally different opinions, don't present what you say as a truth. Nor do I think that many would agree with you. Direct to disc is not considered the ultimate sound by everyone at all.
I'll repeat my opinion - vinyl is a mass market format. Can sound excellent though.
I'm with Ralph. Direct-to-Disc LP's sound more like a "live feed" (THE ultimate test, with the sound directly from the mics in the recording room compared to the resulting recording, listened to through the studio's monitors, A/B'ed in real time) than any tape I've ever heard, including first generation masters in the studio (I have a friend with a good one, outfitted with Neuman and other professional mics and a Manley tube mic pre-amp, and a 3M 2" recorder), and tapes I have made myself (with a pair of condenser mics and a Revox A-77). I've heard first generation mixes done on a 2-track 1/2" Ampex, still not as alive as a D-D LP played on a good record player. Sorry! As for 96/24 digital recordings, that I can't speak to.
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Atmasphere, why don't you send me couple of your direct to disc recordings? I don't have to defend one medium over another, I don't really care. I am just interested in the best sound possible.
inna " ... Vinyl was never supposed to be an audiophile medium but tape was ..."

Atmasphere was correct on calling this claim as erroneous. The innovation of the LP was absolutely driven by the goal of high fidelity. Tape, at the time that Goldmark and CBS introduced the LP, was not a practical consumer format. Prior to the LP, consumers relied on its phonograph predecessor and had fidelity not been the goal, the LP would never have been brought to market.

When it was introduced, the long-playing record was hailed as the huge advance in high fidelity playback that it was. It was much higher fidelity than commercially available pre-recorded tapes, which were duplicated at high speeds. That's why they had such limited HF content.
To the original OP's question, I don't have direct experience on this matter, but I suspect that a Soundsmith strain gauge cartridge ( mounted on an air-driven linear tracking tonearm on a 6-figure turntable would get you about as close as you can get.
That's what we are trying to talk about - to get beyond that.
Besides, not everyone who can pay anything uses the Soundsmith or linear tracking tonearm.
Well, since my LP rig regularly transports me to the artists' performance, place, and time, I have little urge to mess with it at present. Live performances have greater varieties of non-linearities, ambient noise, room acoustics, energy of performance, etc., and they're the real deal. Variations in state of the art vinyl playback pale in comparison.
Live performances do vary a lot but they all have one thing in common - they sound real even if they sometimes sound like crap. Hi-Fi never quite sounds real even if it sometimes sounds great. appears that no-one tried that optical cartridge or laser turntable. Or someone did try but doesn't want to post. I better ask Japanese.

Atmasphere, there are totally different opinions, don't present what you say as a truth. Nor do I think that many would agree with you. Direct to disc is not considered the ultimate sound by everyone at all.
What I posted earlier is fact, not opinion. But there is a reason that tape has traditionally been used in the mastering process of LPs and that has to do with convenience. Recording a direct-to-disc LP is pretty hard- essentially the mastering engineer has to work with the musicians to create each track, and it all has to be right over the entire LP side, otherwise you have to record the entire side over again! Tape can be erased so is a lot easier to deal with.

Tape was originally conceived as a hifi medium by the Nazis during WW2. The first tape recorders were made by them; one of three known to exist in the world is on display at the Pavek Museum in Minneapolis 

The Pavek is a must-see for audiophiles.

Most people don't realize this but the LP has a lot of bandwidth. All modern cutting systems can put information in the groove up to 30KHz no problem- and it can be played back by nearly any magnetic cartridge- further, nearly all phono equalizers have had this sort of bandwidth going back 50 years. The LP system can go lower than tape can too- the limit being the mechanical resonance of the playback apparatus (7-12Hz). Its hard to get tape to go much below about 25Hz (tape speed being a big variable).

But quite often tape does seem to sound better than the LP. This is not because of the media, its because of how the LP is produced (how much care went into the individual mastering project) and how well (or not) that the LP is reproduced in the home. 
Well, Atmasphere, you would have to prove your 'fact'. And I look forward to receiving direct to disc records from you. I'll return them, no worries.
Inna, glad you are trolling here so the big boys can lay down some history and knowledge. The ELP system was failure IIRC, reviewers stated it never worked very well, thus its limited popularity in hifi circles.
If one is sincere about wanting to hear a direct-to-disc LP, they are available. Why expect someone else to send you one? Weird.
If ELP had been a failure it would have no popularity in HIFI circles at all.
I know that there are direct to disc records, but since Atmasphere is so sure with words, I want to hear his recordings and his records.
Dear Inna: I heard the lasser LP player and there is nothing that could makes me trying to hear it again. 

""  Vinyl was never supposed to be an audiophile medium but tape was """

well as you said to Atmasphere you have to prove your statement too and certainly all of us will be exited and waiting for. Can you do it?

Btw seems to me ( I can't be sure. ) that you are a music lover and an audiophile and for sure you own thousands of LP's, correct? if yes then is obvious you own 3-4 D2D Sheffield Labs LP's: right? 
Now in order to have an idea how to help you ( and what you are looking for. ) I would like to know and be appreciated that you give us details of your whole audio system ( room condition, analog rig, electronics, speakers, cables, etc, etc. ) , your music/sound  reproduction priorities and where and why you are not satisfied enough with what you hear through it ( maybe you can name a D2D recording that you experienced in your system. ) and compared against what because there is no single audio system in the world that truly can mimic live music performance.

In the other side and I think I posted that exist no perfect medium and inside the medium nothing is absolute perfect: not magnetic cartridges, optical, strain gauge ( I heard all. ) and others.

Your whole answer be appreciated, thank's in advace.

Regards and enjoy the music,

It appears that almost everyone who posts is happy with the traditional cartridge/tonearm design.
Lasers can be improved and they will be greatly improved in time. However, it is not very likely that this will be used for analog playback. We'll see.
As for tape/direct to disc recordings, to my regret I have neither equipment nor knowledge to conduct this comparizon experiment. But those in the industry do. If Atmasphere wants to undertake it, I'll applaud it.
Dear Inna:    """  As for tape/direct to disc recordings, to my regret I have neither equipment nor knowledge to conduct this comparizon """"

So, which were your targets on this thread. IMHO makes no sense to me to post something that can´t help me or help any one of us music lovers/audiophiles.

Which your motivation to do it? because even that I gave you my time as all the other gentlemans here you just don't be " friendly "/gentle enough to give your answers to my last post, yet. Could you?

Regards and enjoy the music,

I think phono playback has come a long way since the beginning of the LP. I have many old records - records I am very familiar with, sonically. Just within the last decade or so, changing arms, tables and cartridges (and eventually phono stage) has, with amps, line stage, cable and speakers remaining the same, made a considerable improvement in the amount of information I am able to extract from the record. Is it perfect? Hardly. But, there are so many other variables in the recording process (lousy recording), mastering (bad mastering) and manufacturing (no fill, off center spindle holes, stitching, etc) that the phono cartridge is, in my estimation, just one factor among many. When a record is done well, it can be a revelation. I'm not an avid purchaser of every audiophile remaster, but the 45 rpm version of that SRV set, the track Tin Pan Alley, is pretty amazing (as well as a pretty good electric blues). Many old records sound great too. I have shelves of direct to disc and other "audiophile" records from the '70s-'80s that I don't play because the music isn't interesting to me. Finding music that I am interested in hearing on a well recorded, well mastered record is a smaller universe, but there's  probably hundreds of thousands out there that I haven't heard. If I weren't fully invested in the medium, I don't know that I would "do" vinyl, but having accumulated records since I was a teenager (I'm now over 60), I get great joy from them. I do spend more time searching out good sounding pressings than I used to-- not everything sounds great-- but I'm more gratified doing this than chasing the latest gear tweak, and listening to the same small universe of 'reference' records to evaluate the results. If there is no joy in this, what's the point? 
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inna OP
1,673 posts
12-02-2015 10:11am
Well, Atmasphere, you would have to prove your ’fact’.... 
Atmasphere produces highly respected high end tube components. He doesn’t have to prove crap to you.

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