Phono cartridge suggestions sought


Hi All,

 I am in the market for a new phono cartridge. I can run up to $1400 but would prefer not to if i can get the performance I want. 

I listen to predominantly Jazz on vinyl, though some rock, folk and classical also gets spun

I recently heard a Hana SL and Rega Apheta at a dealers—different decks, same room and system. Both sounded good although the Apheta was not as heavy sounding and at the same time sounded more “present”. I wasn’t really looking at the Apheta, but it was available to listen to. 

The room is accoustically live with lots of glass and hard surfaces but all sounds good. 

System: Naim Atom, Bryston TT, Parasound JC jr phono stage (so huge loading flexibility and gain up to the 60’s), Totem Acoustics Signature Ones, Transparent cables. Current cart: Denon 103r with 250 hours on it, so it is winding down. 

I have enjoyed the Denon. But wondering about that all elusive “more.”

on paper spec, nobody touches the Grados for channel separation, but not sure how essential a criterion that should be. Especially since I worked hard to tame some RFI from a nearby antenna and the Grados I have heard said are not well-shielded. 

Since my Totems only drop down to 45 Hz, I suppose absolute resolution on the low end could be sacrificed for other sonic goods. 

Ok, hive mind, what do you suggest?
dramatictenor
get the denon retipped with  a boron catilever by Soundsmith
So the oprions for Denon upgrades include SS, Zu and another one who’s name I can’t recall. Fstein, it is a good idea for me to keep in mind. Why do you suggest this? Also, do they preserve a conical tip or use a diff stylus profile?
Find a fine vintage MM or MI cartridge and if there are doubts about its condition, have it re-tipped by SS.  Short of spending many thousands on an MC cartridge, you will be in great shape.  And I am not even sure that spending many thousands on an MC cartridge would be better, sound-wise.  (By the way, any decent "stereo" cartridge that lives up to that label will give you more than adequate channel separation; that would be the last thing I'd worry about in terms of specs.)
Thanks lewm and fstein. The retipping makes sense as one way to go. 
If you do decide to go with the purchase of a new MC cartridge, be sure to listen to an Audio-Technica ART9.  To my ears it is as good as any cartridge I've heard, owned or currently own, which includes cartridges up to 13-14 times its price.
When you’re listening to a cartridge with conical tip you loose a lot in resolution, no matter what arm or phono stage, speakers etc. Conical tip is the worst ever stylus tip, this is entry level and pretty much oldschool. The life span of that tip is too short.

First you have to know your arm effective mass when you’re looking for a cartridge for it.

Do not waste your time with Denon retipping/refurbishing, just buy a whole new cartridge with better stylus profile, better cantilever and overall better sound quality. If you like SoundSmith just buy his own MI cartridge! 

If you want a low compliance MC it can be Fidelity-Research PMC-3 with Air-Core Coil, Contact Line stylus.

If you want a decent mid compliance MM it can be Audio-Technica AT-ML150 OCC with Gold-Plated Beryllium cantilever and MicroLine tip.

... just to name a few, but there are many more (depends on your budget) and dealers will never offer you those carts in the shops! The world of cartridges is much bigger than Hanna, Denon and usual suspects, some vintage cartridges are superior to all of them, do not ignore them.
I heard the top of the new Sumiko MM line, the $600 Sumiko Amethyst, at a dealer on Totem Hawk , very nice tone and instumental seperation .
Was mounted on a Rega P6 which was also nice.
Also, which is important to me, it is a very easy cart to mount and adjust .
On my me to me Christmas list .
Chakster, thanks for those suggestions. BTW, Sending it to SS gives an option of either a ruby or boron cantilever, with a nude contact line or optimized contour nude contact line stylus for relatively little money. With that information, and based on your concerns about conical tips, do you still think that getting the Denon worked on makes no sense? If so, why? 
Post removed 
Thanks schubert. After the 97 degree day we had here yesterday, Christmas seems far off, but glad you have something to look forward to. I will check if any of rhe local shops have that on a table. The Rega isn't a bad comparison to the Bryston as both go the relatively low mass unsprung engineering path though with different approaches to resonance control. 
OK , It was a bit in the face, dealer said would change with time which might be or not .More than most I really think a good cart can outdo a great one if it is set up perfectly and the great one is not .
It looked like the P6 had VTA  adjustment as well .
The Audio-Technica ART -9 is a great suggestion. The Ortofon Quintet Black S is another cartridge that punches way above its price point.
read reviews and get a listen if you can which is admittedly hard.
I would never get a cartridge re tipped by anyone but the manufacturer of that cartridge. You would never know what you are getting.  I have never had a cartridge re tipped and I have never worn out a stylus probably because another cartridge comes along that I want to try. Eventually you have a bunch of cartridges none of which are worn out. There are always two or three that you like best the others I give away. 
Vintage cartridges? I suppose you can rebuild them but technology moves on and I have no desire to go backwards. 
There is no new technology after Victor MC L-1000. 
So there is no need to look forward. 
 
You should be getting more than 250 hours use from the 103. Get a bottle of Stylast and apply it before playing an LP side. Afterwards use a piece of Magic Eraser to clean the tip. This should extend stylus life considerably! 
The venerable 103 is the Toyota Corolla of cartridges! A good daily driver that performs up to specs and is affordable! A good recommendation is the Hana SL with the Shibata tip ($750). A superior stlyus profile that will extract "more" from those tiny grooves!
I'll second the ditch the Denon theme, not an overly great cart but a good performer for the money and not worth re-tipping ,IMO, just get a better cart. 

+I'll also second the ART9 its a fantastic cart for the money, also the hana sl cart is quite good for the money. 

Depending on your arm compliance also look at the Van den Hull MC 10 its their entry level cart but is a wonderfully detailed cart and has the fantastic VDH stylus. I'd say its better then the Art 9 and anything Hana has to offer, I've heard all three (in my system) and own an older version of the VDH Mc10.
I have a boron-tipped 103 in a wood body. I took my garrard 301 into Soundsmith for a tuneup and the tech said it was easily the equal of a $100+cartridge
@dramatictenor

Chakster, thanks for those suggestions. BTW, Sending it to SS gives an option of either a ruby or boron cantilever, with a nude contact line or optimized contour nude contact line stylus for relatively little money. With that information, and based on your concerns about conical tips, do you still think that getting the Denon worked on makes no sense? If so, why?

It will definitely improve the sound of oldschool denon designed in the 60’s, no doubt. But it will be a refurbished MC cartridge, instead you could buy SoundSmith MI cartridge with best cantilever and stylus. You can watch his lecture and Peter will explain why MI are better than MC, he rebuild many thousands MC cartridges, but his own carts are MI, guess why? You will find the answer in his lecture.

When you ship anything to SoundSmith for rebuild it will take up to 5 month to get it back.
If you want to try something different (better than your stock denon) look for vintage MM/MI or vintage MC with best cantilevers and best styli.


I have BP#2, Dynavector 10x5, Hana SL, Art9, and Scheu SL. Art9 has best resolution, tone, energy, best in my stable. The Scheu has slight advantage over Hana SL, but not huge, like difference between Art9.
Same listening preferences, jazz, rock.

Limited perspective, but recommend Art9 or second place Hana SL
Set-up, set-up, set-up.

I suspect that differences in set-up are greater than differences between cartridges at similar price points. Which means that you might want to spend your bucks on set-up tools first. Just my 0.01 cents.
Roberjerman, i use Last before every side. And a brush for periodic hard scrubbing. I once dug deep into some very scientific studies on styli wear. Along with pictures and other data, one study said 500 hours regardless of stylus profile or brand. It should under high resolution wear after different hours of use. A cartridge can still sound great but be eating the vinyl according to that study. 
So i went to my preferred dealer and listened to an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze on a Brinkman powered by the big Parasound into some Kef Blade 2’s and a phono stage I’d bever hears of before, etc. not sure I was hearing the cadenza alone, but it all certainly sounded good. 
Here is a post about Ortofon poor quality control, read it before you will buy any Ortofon cartridge such as Bronze or others.  


Hi 
The preamp you have will accommodate almost anything. In my experience the relationship between the compliance of the phono cartridge and the mass and rigidity of the tonearm is  paramount. If you find a correct match moving coil cartridges eliminate one of the steps in conversion of mechanical to electrical energy and I generally prefer them
Terry9, I do have Chris Feickert’s set up tool, an old record of test tones and a phone speed app (plus obious thinks like a level). Any other tools for cartridge alignment and tt set up you think i should have?
Any other tools for cartridge alignment and tt set up you think i should have?

All you need is Dr.Feickert protractor and level.
Cardas Test LP
Hi-Fi News Test LP

and digital scale like this

Chakster, the article you sent  wouldn’t dissuade me at all from purchasing  product from Ortofon.  At least not from my authorized dealer. That said, I’m not sure  that’s the cartridge I want, even though I’ve owned their  products before. 
I suggest a quality torque screwdriver. Yep, I'm serious.

My higher end Koetsu was disappointingly similar to my old MM until I bought one. Then it blossomed into Koetsu Magic.

What did it do for me? Most importantly, both screws could be tightened to the same torque. That permitted me to set azimuth properly. A Linn engineer discussed this at some length years ago, and I found that his recommendations were right on. Now my MM sounds better too!
As for stylus wear, I am sceptical. I suspect that the cleanliness of records is extremely important.

I recall a study which indicated that the gunk in record grooves was equal parts fluff, grease, and diamond dust - pretty much an ideal grinding compound. Then I went ultrasonic for cleaning, which, as a bonus, made a big difference to the sound.
Chakster, the article you sent wouldn’t dissuade me at all from purchasing product from Ortofon. At least not from my authorized dealer. That said, I’m not sure that’s the cartridge I want, even though I’ve owned their products before.

We share something on here just to help people i believe, it’s up to you what cartridge do you need. I have NOS Ortofon MC2000 and it was amazing cartridge, still superb, it was made in the mid 80’s (high compliance MC, not for everyone with such a low output). Very rare model, admired by many experienced users on here.

Regarding the new Ortofon:
When cartridge pins on the new expensive Ortofon models fell off this is too bad, don’t you think so ? This is bad quality control, they are making too many cartridges. Your dealer will replace such cartridge with a new one? Are you sure? Another member who posted about this problem could NOT solve it with his dealer.

Why not SoundSmith if you looking only for new cartridges ?

Did you watch his lecture, have you seen the lowest mass MC in comparison to the highest mass MI ? The difference is huge if favor to the MI (even with highest moving mass which is still very low copared to any MC). Do yourself a favor: In this video after 27:00 timeline. 
Chakster, i have read and viewed a lot on the Soundsmith site. And I admire the company’s reputation. One concern I have is that SS seems overly dependent on one individual, at least for its better cartridges, and I haven't learned of a succession plan. Are you aware of one? That would be helpful to know. 
Additionally, if I could justify investing the funds, their SG sounds more interesting than their  MI but I would rather invest that sort of money in the market than in my toys. 
As for your question to me about Ortofon, Of course pins coming out is an issue. However, I don’t base purchasing decisions solely on the presence of negative feedback on the Internet. I have never yet encountered a product that I could purchase in which I have not uncovered negative feed back. Everything manufactured has defects, at least if there is some amount of volume in the production line. I remember back in the 80s, some cartridge companies charged more for their highest end cartridges. When asked the difference between that and the next lower product, their response was that it was the exact same product, but that they discarded more of the hire and products and label them as their next highest level. Wish i could remember that company but I was in college and probably trying to memorize other information back then.
Dear @dramatictenor :  Each one has his own preferences so you will have several recomendations for a new cartridge.

Today cartridges manufactured by companies as Audio Technica, Nagaoka, Goldring, Audio Note, Ortofon , Dynavector and the like always are a warranty of quality and they are in the market because people buy their products, no manufacturer stays in the market with out enough sales/people buying its products.

Here in Agon ads you can see this very good " new " cartridge, very good opportunity to own this quality level performance. Shelther 9000 cartridge motor is extraordinary:

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis9g9bb-shelter-9000-phono-cartridge-cartridges

Another alternatives for less money could be these ones:

https://www.audio-technica.com/cms/cartridges/0b93b60b61b69617/index.html

https://www.lpgear.com/product/AT-OC9XSL.html

https://clearaudio.de/en/products/cartridges-mm-charisma_v2.php

https://www.lpgear.com/product/NAGAOKAMP500.html

https://www.audio-philia.co.uk/audio-note-cartridges

https://www.lpgear.com/product/OR2MBLACK.html

and of course the ones by SoundSmith.

You have several good options for today cartridges , you don't need to look at the past either MC or MM/MI.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,
R.
I purchased a Kiseki Blue for less than your budget from the seller below recently and am very happy with it.

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis9gb42-kiseki-blue-n-s-brand-new-cartridges

Other cartridges I have to compare it to - Hana SL, Van Den Hul MC Two, Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood, Denon DL 301 MKII, Nagaoka MP500.  

The Kiseki is in another league, only the Van Den Hul comes close to retrieving the amount of detail of the Kiseki.
VM740ML and spend the $1000 you have left on something else.
This thread has been more informative and fun than I imagined. Thanks everyone. Such great ideas and knowledge. 
Dear @dramatictenor : """   I don’t base purchasing decisions solely on the presence of negative feedback on the Internet. I have never yet encountered a product that I could purchase in which I have not uncovered negative feed back.... """

Agree, is stupid a different way of thinking.

Good luck in your leraning hunter.

R.
Thanks Raul, and ive enjoyed reading your extensive information on cartridges btw
I humbly suggest the Nagaoka MP500. Sounds excellent to me. Well rounded.

boron cantilever if I remember correctly
+1 with rwortman. VM540ML is the same stylus as the VM740ML, and nearly the same cartridge body, at a couple hundred dollars cheaper. I have two VM540ML cartridges and I’m amazed how good they sound compared to lesser cartridges. The micro line profile is also the longest lasting at 800 to 900 hours, and you can try the Shibata or special line contact styli if you want, using the existing cartridge body. 
A vote for Sound Smith! I'd get whichever one of theirs you can afford, and enjoy knowing that it doesn't get any better (maybe equal, but not better).
I'm 71,

My cartridge/stylus comments are below, but consider them in the context of my aged attitude:.

Practical over esoteric; fine quality is good enough; chase great recordings, discover new artists, rather than tweaks.

I believe analog process records/reproduces overtones correctly, resulting in more involvement than digital even if analog involves more noise.

Similarly, that is why I prefer Tubes to SS. (Thus concentrate on efficient speakers to reduce power demands, which gets big, hot, expensive using tubes.

Primary, far and above anything else, is speaker matching and placement in any given listening space, very often unrealized.
..................................................

TT: mass mechanics/cartridge alignment most important, effects results more than cartridge/stylus 'quality'. Just yesterday, I re-checked my recent cartridge alignment, and found it ever so 'off', I re-did everything, listened, improvement far beyond any cartridge/stylus change I have used. That's after years of alignment experience. The mechanics are most important.

I have moved from elliptical to Micro-Line (both Shure and AT), back to Elliptical (current Shure M97xE). Always MM, never MC, avoiding adding the challenge of another amplification stage.  I've heard esoteric MM and MC, brought my own familiar LP's to friends, demos, showrooms. I'm sticking with M97xE.

After years of Thorens/SME/Microline: both my spare virgin Shure ML and AT ML sit unused in the drawer, I prefer the elliptical. 

I  found ML added a frequent need of deep groove cleaning that I found tedious, in the way of spontaneous listening sessions. Many times ML resulted in more noise than elliptical, especially AT without the brush.

I definitely want Shure's brush (anti-static, anti-skip, an additional level of soft touchdown). I also find the brush reduces the gunk on the stylus, reducing frequency of StyLast, thus consumption of the fluid is prolonged (not the reason, just the result).

Misalignment, aside from less than optimal results, is a cause of groove damage. IF Micro-Line is misaligned, my instinct tells me ML will do more damage to grooves than elliptical, and, if bottom groove damage has occurred, using elliptical slightly higher in the groove can produce more satisfying results. That's instinct, certainly not facts.





Elliot, Thanks for sharing your perspective’s. I spent a lot of time on alignment also. I was a chef in my first career, and precision of tools in there use is deeply ingrained in me. So I feel like that is handled. I have a Shure M97xe in “my fleet” as well, and have always enjoyed it’s “buttery” sonics, athough the sound is also more “dampedl than my Denon103r and other cartridges I have heard. It also didn’t have as high end extension or crispness—and I am old enough to be limited in that area, so that says something.

But apart from that, now that Shure is out of the game, what are you doing for replacement styluses?

As for the Stylast, I use it before every side. I have hd the current bottle three years, and I imagine the bottle will last at least another 5+, so I can’t worry about that.
Hey, here is an interesting interesting quote from an Art Dudley review of the Peachtree Nova 300:

After experiencing an excess of lightness from CDs and SACDs, I braced myself for similar results from LPs—and was relieved to hear no such thing: perhaps a simple consequence of the fact that the Shindo SPU pickup I was using has a proper, God-fearing spherical stylus, which doesn't lighten or brighten recordings as can other styli.

Read more at https://www.stereophile.com/content/peachtree-audio-nova300-integrated-amplifier-page-2#54RZs8i2uEBK...

Given our discussion about stylus profiles in here, I thought it was a refreshing take to  hear what a great ear has to say about the advantages of a spherical stylis vs the disadvantage of other shapes. 
 now that Shure is out of the game, what are you doing for replacement styluses?

JICO SAS 
Some random thoughts:
A bit more output than the 103 wouldn’t go amiss if the 60dB quoted as the maximum gain for an unbalanced output for your phonostage by Absolute sounds is accurate. 
What do you know about your arm, was the 103 a good match?
I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the performance of a London Decca I fitted to an Aro recently, and rather disappointed when it started humming when a neighbour turned something or other on in the adjacent apartment, probably his TV or a computer or some such.
If you can get to hear one a 17DX might give the apheta a run for its money but you’re into micro line there so you’ll need clean records, the plus side is the 2000 hour plus stylus life if you don’t mess up the bias setting (like I did on my first D2).
The D2 lacked a bit for body but the range has been improving there, it never lacked for speed.
I’ve heard the Atom at the factory driving Sopra 1s and at a dealership driving some Russell K floor standers, on both occasions the object was to show the improvement to be had from the Star and Nova, I’ve not hears it with speakers that were chosen for the Atom, oh and I’ve heard it powering some Shahinian Hawks surprisingly well, though not well enough to live with, its still an entry level product, how much cartridge does it need?
I get the succession thing, I have some Thiels and a Transfiguration, the latter will be very hard to replace. Ortofon and AT won’t suffer from that though AT have been known to drop support for some of their discontinued cartridges after a disappointingly short while.