Requesting Cartridge Advice

Hello fellow Audiogoners, I'd like some opinions from some of you regarding cartridge choices. First, my system details:

* Denon DRA-35V 40 wpc receiver (over 21 years old now; hoping to upgrade to an integrated amp before year's end; thinking of the Creek Evo but I am far from a final decision on that);

* Vandersteen 1C speakers (~ 55 hrs of playing time since purchasing);

* Pro-ject Xpression MkII turntable with a Benz Micro BE20E (??) cartridge; also have the Pro-ject Phonobox USB, but I only use it to digitize LPs to my Mac;

* Marantz DR700 CD recorder (which only works as a player now for some reason);

and the

* Nakamichi CR-2A cassette deck (for playback only at this point; used primarily to digitize analog cassettes).

Now a number of cartridge candidates have been recommended. These include

* the Statement Grado Platinum

* Benz mc20el

* Audiotechnica oc9

* Shelter 201

* Ortofon 2m Bronze

* Dynavector 10x5

and the

* Audio Technica 150mlx

My Vandersteens, tho beautifully open and detailed, are a little shy in the upper frequencies. So a cartridge with some brightness may not be a bad thing (altho my int-amp choice will have to take that into consideration). I just don't want it to be overdone. (My current Benz appears to be the cause of some annoying and disappointing playback problems, incl an overdone treble region and some spitty S's, never mind some of the inner tracks my cartridge doesn't seem to like very much. Bear in mind I had a pro install this thing.) The kind of sound I'm looking for may be described as follows:

Very balanced across the audible spectrum; transparent and accurate; solid, deep bass; sweet but sharply focused highs; great stereo separation and soundstage; And I want all this for no more than, say, $US450, while $US300 is preferable. Okay, you can stop laughing.

What do y'all think of the cartridge choices listed? Would you recommend something else instead? Why? Please be detailed if your time permits.

Thanks so much.
Denon made a fine receiver, but it's clearly the major limiting factor in your system. Put the money you're about to spend on a cartridge toward your new integrated amplifier instead. It will be a night-and-day difference.

The Creek Evo is a great integrated amp. But if you like Denon and the Denon sound -- and you clearly must to have stuck with your little receiver for 21 years -- then how about a refurbished PMA-2000R for around $500?

It's extremely well made, very powerful, and has an excellent MM/MC phono stage. You can afford it right now and it will take better control of your speakers, offering enhanced detail, resolution and articulation.

Cartridges are a matter of personal taste. But I don't think any cartridge line offers more bang for the buck than Denon. The $180 DL-160 was a bargain 10 years, it's a ridiculous value. It's a moving coil that has high enough output that it can (and should) be treated as a moving magnet. For a few dollars more, the DL-103 is a low-output classic and the DL-301 for $349 is a steal as well. Both will work fine with the Xpression's arm and the PMA-2000R's built-in phono stage.

The Audio-Technica AT-150MLX will offer you a boost in treble detail but it can sound a bit shrill to some ears. I also think the much less expensive AT-440MLX offers 90% of the 150's performance. You might also look at the $100 Ortofon 2M Red or $200 2M Blue. with the amplification first.
I think the motor of your project is under the platter, so the grado could give you an interferance problem similar to what it does on rega tables. A few years back, however, I had a reference platinum on my rm-4 and it sounded great with no added noise from the motor. I think the hum/magnetic interferance from the motor would be worse on the statement. The dynavector is a great cartridge if you are after just plain good sound and not seeking greatness in any particular attribute of the sound.
Hi, my first table when I got back into vinyl about three years ago was a Project Experience2. I was having the same problems you were having. I have since moved to a VPI Scout with Signature tonearm, and a very fine cartridge, a Dynavector XX2MKII. I have learned in the meantime though, that most of the ugly sounds emanating from an analog set up is due to poor set up. In spite of having a "pro" do the initial set up, that doesn't necessarily mean he took the time to do it right. If you want to hear what your table/cartridge/arm really should sound like, you need to make sure the overhang, alignment, and other parameters are set correctly. The way many vinyl addicts are going about it these days is by purchasing a MintLP arc protractor from Yip in Hong Kong. Extremely accurate for $110, besides upgrading your receiver, I believe that should be your first purchase. No matter how much you spend or acquire, if your set up isn't right, it'll never sound right. The protractor will only work for pivot-to-spindle distance specified for the table you order it for, so make sure you're going to keep the Expression before you order the protractor. That's my 2 cents worth.

That's all well-thought-out advice. Thank you gentlemen. I will wait for more responses, but if this is it, I will save this page and add it to my research collection. Got a lot to think about so far with just the 3 responses.

Goldring 1012GX
Hello Kethoticus,

Do consider getting an Audio Technica AT440MLa (the purple cartridge). I've used it for years. It's a great overall cartridge. It tracks light (1.5 grams) and it's capable of shimmering highs, so much so in fact that some complain that it sounds too CD like. However, some LPs/systems could use some brightening up in my opinion, and it sounds like your speakers may need some.

It won't break the bank either. I've seen them for sale at anywhere from $119 to $173, so do shop around.
Folks, thank you all for the advice. I'll be saving this page.