Review: Grado Prestige Black P-Mount Cartridge

Category: Analog


Firstly...I really have to apologize to Joe and John Grado. In the past I have both praised and damned their entry level Moving Iron phono cartridges for various reasons. The hum and noise interference problems when mated with early model Dual and late model Rega turntables {especially in cheapy less than perfect integrated amp and receiver systems} are pretty well documented. What I have found with this present-day entry level performer is that...simply mounted in a well designed low mass P-Mount tonearm such of that offered by the Technics SL-D30 and properly interconnected to a good separate phono preamplifier and power its meager price tag it has no peer!

Of course I must also apologize to my readers for not taking into consideration important stuff like the break-in period of which I absolutely did not understand 'til most recently {the past three years} and while I did understand that different tonearm designs could make a serious difference with the same model pickup, I really felt that different phono preamp stages did not! I now know better.

My Grado Blue Standard Mount although detailed for the most part, lacked space and definition and sounded rather hashy on inner grooves when mounted in my Pioneer PL-518 but at least was hum free while sounding even worse with all the hum one could ask for in my Dual 1200 Series type PE 3048. Of course my superb Yamaha R-500 Stereo Receiver with just about the best magnetic phono preamp {at least from a stereo receiver} I'd ever heard up to that point couldn't be the culprit...could it??? After owning the $80 TCC TC-160LC Audiophile Phono Preamp for about six months...I must admit...I say the least...oh so wrong!

So there you have it. After forty plus years of being an audio advocate...this old dog has learned a trick or two about the science of sound. Not only that but my ears and musical tastes have become more than a wee bit refined to boot. It has been educational to say the least but let's move ahead and evaluate the Grado Company's bottom of the line pickup in its most recent but despised form...The Prestige Black P-Mount. That's right...I said Pee-Hee-Hee MOUNT!

Who so ever should dare to even make mention of such a lowly beast in a high end format? Well...quite frankly...yours truly as I continue to strive to be your bargain buddy. Didn't NAD and Denon at one time offer an entry level P-Mount table sold exclusively in high end stores?

Here Grado Labs products are exclusively available from high end dealers...then it only follows and should come at no surprise that this particular P-mount pickup was picked up and paid for in full on the fourth of September, 2007 at Audio Connection of Verona, NJ...the highest of high end salons.

The Candy Store:

The Grado Prestige Black P-Mount arrives to you in a plain white box with orange and black trim along with the famous Grado logo that has been embraced by High End audiophiles for quite some time now. This basic box is still so cool after so many years! So purchasing this pickup from John Rutan's Audio Connection Of Verona, NJ for a Technics SL-D30 Direct Drive turntable that until recently had been dormant for almost twenty years proved to be both quite alotta fun and rewarding.

First...John as usual gave me a great price on this $40 MSRP cartridge and associate Mary provided the item and necessary sales slip. Let me put it to you like this...whatever you think you can get a competing audio-technica A-T 92ECD for...John's price on the Grado Black P will pretty much match it.

Not only that but John's staff will treat you like matter how much or how little you spend in his store. I've personally known this for over twenty years now. That's the way it should be. Unfortunately, other proprietors seem to think not. They prefer to embrace their pocket-filled clientelle whilst belittling those of limited cash flow. I just don't get it. Or perhaps even more sadly...I really do!

One side note I must tell you is that John wouldn't let me out of the store 'til I heard the updated version of his pet speaker system...a pair of Vandersteen Signature 2Ce's with the new midrange driver that is featured in the model Three. Once I heard the new improved model...I then understood the reason for my friend's huge kid-like grin. Paired to an Audio Research tube amp all I can say is...Hokey smokes, Bullwinkle! The Ventures never sounded so good and oh, those Mids!

Easy Setup:

But enough of my sidetracking {hey...better than mistracking!}. We're here to discuss the Grado Black P which sports that same cylindrical clear plastic container that provides home for cartridge w/stylus protector, a special tuning fork-like stylus extraction tool and instructions along with the updated classic warranty card. The product can also be registered at as I did. It's quick and painless plus you get to keep your Grado Labs 1 year warranty card as a record of purchase and if nothing else...a wonderful souveneir.

Using the original Technics side screw was simple and a must as Grado does not supply one with the unit. The cart butted up nicely to the P-Mount receptacle on the arm and the pictures will show that VTA was near perfect in both front-to-back and side-to-side. As Grado believes this is important for optimum performance...Technics SL-D30 owners need not concern themselves with any further adjustments in this regard. will need to adjust the VTF via the rear knob on the arm to 1.5 grams for optimum performance. Anti-skating compensation should also equal this setting. Grado loves that 1.5 gram setting but unfortunately Technics setup the P-Mount arm to work at 1.25 grams. I like Grado's force better as it gives the arm a better feel while still providing feather light tracking.

If you own one of the Technics belt driven versions of this table, you can still increase the tracking force by turning the rear screw. Carefully peel off the black label that states anti-skating is factory set at the base of the arm and it will reveal a small port that exposes the adjusting screw. You can use the smooth lead out area of one of your shorter LP's to visually compensate or breakout that old Shure Era V test record with the track that features buzzing in both channels. The first level you notice the raspiness in one channel is the one you want to use to make the adjustment. It is not necessary to go to the top level when the initial raspiness is noted in a lower one.

VTF can be checked with an inexpensive Shure SFG-2 Stylus Force Guage. On the SL-D30 the gauge will confirm the 1.5 gram setting.


The first two hours of break-in featured my favorite test and break-in record in the whole world...Reference Recordings "Professor Johnson's Astounding Sound Show" Cat# RR-7. Side One features some amazing and dynamic stuff that is also entertaining. Transients, musical timbres and dynamics are all in abundance and the Grado darn near aced the entire side except for ever so slightly less than perfect reproduction of bells and cymbals {Side One Tracks 2&3}. Just a wee bit of sandpaper and clanging were detected but it must be said that only cartridges of the highest quality at considerably much higher price tags than the Grado can ace this test. Some of the higher priced stuff can't match the Grado!

Now it must be said that the Technics SL-D30 is a classic Direct Drive hybrid. Unfortunately...because of that fact more than a few of you might think it to be one of those direct drive turntables noted by various audiophiles to have that metallicy bright resonant tonal quality and indeed my Stanton L720EE, A-T 3482P and 92ECD do indeed exhibit some brilliance in the SL-D30.

My personal view is that this has to do more with the plinth and even more so...the low mass tonearm. I do not believe that belt drive units are better or worse in general even though the vast majority of my thirty tables were in fact belt driven.

The SL-D30 also sports a pitch control. I really don't like these variable controls in general because I find myself constantly adjusting them to perfection before commencing each and every record play. I love the out-of- sight...out-of-mind feature of those that are factory set. Plus they must be maintained periodically and even replaced in some cases. Yet three of my four tables have them! Remember...these tt's were pretty much handed over to me on a silver the pun intended {yes, there is}!

Please keep in mind that the tables in question do so very much sound and time wonderfully and were saved by yours truly from the threat of the proverbial trash can that others were about to condemn them to. Besides...truth be known...even most belt drive units have a speed adjustment lurking in a deep dark corner {near or on the motor itself} well hidden below their plinth's surfaces.

When considering a phono must also take into consideration tonearm mass. The higher massed S-shaped tonearms from Japan provide more damping than lower massed straight/J types that Dual introduced forty years ago. Some low cost entry belt driven types from Pioneer and Technics added even more damping to their heavier S-shaped arms by sporting a bit of friction in their bearings. Two such models that I owned from the late 70's were the Pioneer PL-112D and the Technics SL-B1.

Low tracking highly compliant cartridges were not an option in these yet they would sound just short of wonderful with an Empire {the prelude to Benz-Micro} Broadcast One that tracked at 2 to 2.5 grams. One could further maximize performance with Shure's M97EJ. Even a Stanton 500AL clocking in at 3.5 g's could sound pretty cool! The higher mass thus considerable damping mated well with stiffer stylus/cantilevers.

On the other hand...low massed Duals brought to life the more compliant Shures that tracked at low forces. These same cartridges would sound muddy at best in more massive arms. And so it only makes sense that the lower mass arm of the Technics would make for a brighter livelier quick sound somewhat similar to these ole Duals.

The Technics arm sports negligible bearing friction. Geometry is perfect as the Shure M97Xe's Two Point Stylus Protractor confirmed the Grado Black's squaring up quite nicely at both points!

Follow this link for a simple but wonderful explanation of proper tonearm/cartridge matching and damping...

The Grado's medium to low compliance and cartridge mass mates fairly well with the Technics and Grado suggests you use this pickup with a slightly laid back system like mine. The balance of sound in the end can be phenomenal on many recordings while being only less than fair on others!

Listening Tests:

Right at about the twenty minute mark I heard the Black P open up an thus initial break in was complete. On sibilants the transducer did extremely well for a $28 cartridge although I belive my Perpetuum Ebner 3048/Shure M97xE deck to be better in this regard. It did a good job on my Smokey Robinson And The Miracles "Away We A-Go-Go" album although the track "Save Me" gave it the slightest bit of trouble along with some others from the album. edged out the M97xE on my Original Broadway Cast album of "The Sound Of Music" and absolutely aced the stereo recording of "My Fair Lady"...both CBS Masterworks.

Yet its separation although very good at the beginning of play...tends to break down along with its terrific soundstaging as the stylus moves inward. This came as no surprise as other budget Grados of the past were just as guilty of this little quirk if not more so. My Ortofon OM40 Gold w/Van-Den-Hul stylus mounted in a Dual CS-515 ULM table remains the champ {at least in my mind} for this particular spec!

The Soundstage presented by this model is very three-dimensional...very deep! I guess I wasn't too surprised as high end stores absolutely insist that all of their products and manufacturers feature this sometimes omitted characteristic by mass marketers.

What did surprise me was the authoritive bass this cart projects with good detail but not the quickest. There is some hanging about but not bad...not bad at all! Neil Young's "On The Beach" Reprise LP features an acoustic song entitled "For The Turnstiles" that also features Neil either punching a rhythmic palm on his guitar or foot kicking a wood bass box. Both the Grado Black P and Shure M97xE reproduce it well but the Black P clearly gives it more gut feeling and emotion!

The deep bass ability of the Grado did not also mean Big Time Hum this time around. Are you surprised? Well...I am too but the combo worked nicely with the TC-160LC Preamp and AudioSource AMP 100. The cart in general is extremely quiet even on unclean recordings and produces no surface noise whereas the Shure M97xE sometimes does. The cartridge's deep bass is balanced with a nice high end to boot that is not edgy but does tend to disappear toward the inner groove.

Distortion is extremely low for the most part. However...on Telarc's "Carmina" there is some noticeable compression although dynamics are very good indeed on most other material. The SL-D30/Black P is not as refined as the PE/M97xE combo. Still...there were times when I would switch back from my PE/Shure Reference System to the Technics/Grado combo just to brighten up things a bit. This pairing does indeed liven up the sound a bit although still very natural in the overall presentation of whatever source you choose.

I was disappointed in the Grado's inability to bring two suspect audiophile pressings I own to life. One was the 200 gram RCA/Polydor Guess Who's "American Woman" album that sounds only OK with the M97xE but best with the A-T 3482 and 92ECD while only fair to hashy with the Black P. The same could be said of the Sundazed 180 gram re-issue of Love's "Forever Changes" which fuses Rock, Acoustic and Classic altogether for one legendary stunning album. reference PE 3048/Shure M97xE table teamed up to emode all the emotion one could expect from a classic 1967 recording.

Tracking Ability is very good with only the slightest of groove chatter on a few recordings. Transients were handled well and quick with detail on Vangelis's RCA "Heaven And Hell" although reference table and cartridge clearly outperformed it but Female Voices on all LP's were surprisingly great and I'm not sure any other competing manufacturer of cartridge at any price could manage them better!

Male voices were no less a forte' and John Grado has to be congratulated for making such a low cost unit sound so real, balanced and natural...especially on older recordings. The Grado has an uncanny ability to wake them from the dead.

Whatever few shortcomings that can be attributed to this Prestige Black P are more than made up for by not only its low low price tag but by its sheer pleasant and most enjoyable musicality. It is the best P-Mount model currently available at the thirty dollar price tag. Bravo...Grado!

Associated gear
AudioSource Amp 100
Pioneer TX-5500-II Tuner
TCC TC-160LC Audiophile Phono Preamp
Technics SL-D30 Direct Drive Turntable
Polk R-30 Towers
Kimber Kable Kwik-12 Speaker Interconnects

Similar products
Audio-Technica A-T 3482
Shure M92E
Shure M94P
Shure V-15HRP
Stanton L720EE
Ortofon OMP3e
Stanton L847S
Pickering TLE
I mistakenly referred to my phono preamp as the TC-160LC. It is the TC-760LC and is wonderful! I will make a report on this great little phono preamp sometime in the future only after I get to test its selectable High/Low Impedence MC inputs.

Another thing I would like to emphasize is that the Grado Prestige Black P-Mount Induced Magnet Phono Cartridge is the first pickup I soley tested using this wonderful preamp from I was perhaps a bit too critical at times because of the new sonic revelations made known to me through this improved system of mine. The Black P nicely fills out the low and high end of the musical spectrum and keeps all players in proper perspective instead of bumping them forward like the Shure M97xE does or back like the A-T's sometimes do. My new found love in phono cartridges...Grado has shown me the light with the Audiosource/Polk amp/speaker combo and can literally shake the room without adding any tonal compensation...besides...I have none!

The balance and soundstaging is great almost to the end of play although I do notice a bit o' breakdown as noted in the report. I think that this can be improved when mounted in a good Linear Tracking Tonearm such as that of my shrouded Pioneer PL-L50 that lurks in a deep dark corner at the top of our china closet. When I finally solve the mystery of why it won't play...I'll fix it and report on the Grado mounted in the Pio with its Dynamic Anti-Resonance arm.

I will add threads here as necessary for updating purposes. I plan to test the Sumiko Pearl next in my Pio PL-518 but who knows...I may just opt for another Grado!Great Listening and Have Fun with this wonderful hobby!...Peter
My own Grado Prestige Black regular mount cartridge in a Sony PS-X800 linear tracking turntable was mounted long ago by the seller just before the sale to me, and I have used it in this family-friendly phono unit, with its easy push button operation.
The seller said to be sure to keep an open mind regarding this entry level cartridge, and wait a while before replacing it.
Although I have not done such a meticulous analysis of its performance abilities, the overall satisfaction is so great that it's still in use with a fine Mod Squad phono preamp feeding an Aronov LS-960I amp, powering some classic 1980's Duntech monitors which were designed to be hung on the wall.
I never thought to challenge it with my own prized copy of Professor Johnson's...
Someday, it will need to be replaced, but not for sonic reasons. Just as you described, it does so much right.
Agreed all around. I have a relatively new standard mount Prestige Black that replaces an older Shure M92E precursor on a Mitsubishi DP-12 belt drive turntable. Aside from having to shim the cartridge so that the stylus holder tracks level with the record surface, setup was simple and the result quite good. I have the stylus set to track at 1.5 grams, and the cartridge seems very happy there.

The high end and midrange produced are light and lovely as played through my AMC 3050a integrated amp using the high level phono input and my home brew Moral/Vifa driver bookshelf speakers. The bass is a little wooley when compared to my CDP, and even though I have gone through some lengths to isolate the plinth from vibration, some overhang remains. Not sure how much to attribute this to the cartridge and how much is the fault of the lightweight and fairly flexible plastic headshell and tonearm. In any case, it doesn't really detract from what this cartridge does right.

The cartridge/turntable system is remarkably quiet for such a budget rig, and there is only the very slightest of hum noticeable at the end of the recording as the cartridge approaches the motor on the opposite corner of the plinth, and then only at very high volume and in the absence of signal. I do not notice the loss of soundstage reported above as the stylus moves toward the center of a record.

I love this cartridge and listening to all those strings on David Grisman's Hot Dawg recording just sounds about as sweet as you can get. Overall good dynamics, good air around instruments, and would agree that vocals are very well rendered. Cartridge is so good, makes want to get a different table that has a little better timing and a little stiffer tonearm. But ain't that always the case with a solid upgrade?
When you have a free moment,
check out
for the low cost Tenderfeet for use beneath a turntable, and tiny grungebuster dots on headshell and tonearm counterweight.
The control of resonances, and vibrations with one or more of these products should solve your wooly bass situation.
The Tenderfeet under any component are quite cost effective.
Also, the Way Excellent II turntable mat is a transferable tweak for any turntable.
You can tune your sound by varying how many of these ideas you choose to keep. There is an incredibly long ninety day home trial period from this wonderful vendor.
As an aside, the replacement of the turntable belt can give new life to some turntables, including reducing wooly bass from lack of torque.

Thanks for the great ideas. I have already isolated the TT from its rack by placing it on a very heavy base which is suspended above sorbothane dots. This made a big difference. I will check out your other suggestions on
The Bee Gees made a wonderful masterpiece back in 1969 known as "Odessa". The RSO Canadian complete 2 LP reissue features two orchestral pieces known as "Seven Seas Symphony" and "With All Nations {International Anthem}".

I have never heard the latter reproduced with more depth, detail and emotion. It is a phenomenal piece that is near and dear to me. The former features a classical piano that sounds absolutely stunningly real with the Grado Black P! I have yet to hear another cartridge that can equal the accuracy of the Grado on this one.
The same Grado stylus fits the P mount as the Standard Mount. I have both cartridge bodies and can alternate
the stylus, i.e. Blue, Red, Silver,Gold between either
the Pmounted TT or the standard mount TT so a separate
stylus is unnecessary for each cartridge body. I also
understand the cartridge body is virtually the same,
regardless of the stylus so you can buy a Gold or Silver
stylus on ebay and mount it in the black body and end
up with a substantial savings from buying a new silver
or Gold cartridge.