Review: Shelter 201 Cartridge

Category: Analog

Finally, a good match for my Thorens TD190 turntable,
as I prefer the automatic feature even though my
MMF5 Music Hall has had a better sound. Classical music
of all types from Symphonies to String Quartets is my
vinyl of choice. The Shelter 201 is the newly
introduced MM version, a first for Shelter. It's
full robust sound with good detail, compares very
favorbly with the Clearaudio Aurum Beta S,also a MM
unit,a $500 cartridge compared to the $200 list price
of the Shelter 201.The Shelter is somewhat warmer,
more like the wood Grados. It does have somewhat
better detail than the Grado and more the brilliance
of the Aurum Beta S (even with a plain elliptical tip).
It stands out from its peer group as an outstanding value with an attention holding listenable sound that would put it at are near the top of the group of other cartridges I have used in the lower or middle price range. It took all of 10 minutes to set up on my Thorens. A line across the top though perhaps not intended as a cartridge overhang mark, seems to work well in alignment. The tracking force range is 1.5 to 2.0. We set it at l.75. Apparently the 50 ohm impedance caused a problem on the pre-amp for the previous owner or he did not like to robustness of the sound. I purchased the 201 with about 12 hours previous use and am relistening to all my records as this is written. Over the years, I have drifted back and
forth between MM and MC and have decided that the
sound itself is the best measure for judgement. I hear bass not heard before and an ambiance that should not be present in this priced unit, along with a blow away sound and virtually no surface noise on good vinyl.The value for the price is outstanding and Shelter should be proud of this cartridge!

Associated gear
Thorens TD190 Turntable, Harmon Kardon
HK3480 Receiver, Klipsch RB15 (small)

Similar products
Denon DL160 & 103, Shure V15 III & 5,
AT 440ML, Sumiko Blue Point & Special,
Clearaudio Aurum Beta S, Empire EDR9,
Goldring 1012 & 1042, Grado Platinum.
Great review. How do you think it compares to a Denon DL103 or DL103R? Or Goldring 1042?
Externally, this cartridge appears to be an OEM version of the Sumiko Pearl, which is less expensive. The Andante E of yore also had, well, at least the same body, if not cantilever and stylus. It appears that Shelter are not actually making the cartridge.
It does appear that the 201 is similar to the Pearl. Then
my remarks should be considered a supplement to the other
review of 5-9 on the Pearl. . I still find it an outstanding cartridge. Some have called it bright. I believe "strong" might be a better word. Yes, I prefer
it to the DL103 and Goldring 1042, having owned the 103 and currently owning a 1042. If the character of this cartridge is too much for you, then turn the volume down. It really is a sleeper and would be a super bargain as a Pearl. As you can see from other cartridges I've owned and used, this is the bottom of the heap price wise. Read Ferrari's review of the Pearl. He expresses things much better than I.

I had one and returned it to Elusive Disc, when the Distributor could not or would not tell me why this cartridge, basically a duplicate of the Pearl, cost twice as much as a Pearl. What was $100 better ? They never would answer, and Elusive Disc took it back.
While the Shelter may be a fine cartridge, I can't help but see a bit of "audiophile irony" here: the Shelter, which is probably a gussied up Sumiko Pearl (a $95 cartridge) which may, in fact, even be a gussied up version of an even cheaper cartridge being compared favorably to the Clearaudio Aurum Beta (a $500 cartridge) which is probably just a gussied up AT 95 (a $50 cartridge).

Anyone spot a cartridge trend here?
I did want to make it clear that I was not denigrating the cartridge, merely pointing out its lineage. I have heard neither the Pearl nor the 201. The Pearl has the same output, but also has a bonded elliptical stylus. I have no idea if there are, or are not, refinements made to the Shelter, such as a different cantilever material or stylus. In fact, using an existing generator may be the most cost effective way of going about this. After all, the difference in price is just $100.00 so, if there are any enhancements at all, that may well justify the price difference.
The Pearl has a .2 x .8 bonded elliptical stylus. The
201 has a .3 x .7 elliptical stylus. Peering closely
with the naked eye and a magnifying glass, it does appear
the 201 stylus pierces the stylus shaft which would normally qualify it as a "nude" elliptical. However, the
color on the back side is different than the stylus side,
which may mean adhesive was used even though the shaft was
pierced. Shelter's sheet does not say bonded or nude.
Obviously, stylus quality can vary considerably depending
on the supplier, the polish etc., so whether this difference accounts for the price differential, you decide.
There are other reasons the Shelter *might* justify the higher price. They may have taken a page out of Grado's book. It's my understanding that the whole Grado Prestige series is made on one production line. Grado then runs them through QA for frequency response, linearity, and trackability, and badges and prices them according to how well they perform. And they get a price range of $40 to $180 out of this "same" cartridge.

Plus, the difference in stylus dimensions indicates that the Shelter and Sumiko are not *exactly* the same.
Johnny B, close, but not exactly correct. The Grados do have, at least, different cantilevers, but they do select the better performing cartridge from a pair. In other words, the Gold is the better Silver, the Red is the better Blue, the Green is the better Black, but the Black is, in no way, the same as the Gold.
Oh, that's right. Their literature indicates different cantilevers, as in 3-piece or 4-piece. But is it relatively safe to assume that the cartridge body is the same? In the Ortofon OM Super line, the cartridge body remains the same while stylus selection expands the price range from $69 to $349.

And judging by stylus dimensions, the Sumiko Pearl and Shelter 201 have different stylii.
JohnnyB, yes I think that the motor is the same in all of the basic Grados, as it is with the Ortofon OM series. I think that Ortofon have carried this through to their new MM line the Red, Blue and Black.This makes a lot of sense to me, provided that the economy of scale is passed on to the consumer.
Follow up to HDM 5/15, I just retipped by Clearaudio Aurum
Beta S with an AT95E stylus with amazing results! Clip off
the wings and you can't hardly tell except for the color of
the sylus plug. I'm sure a 4 x 7 stylus may not equal the
original S but again, the sound is amazing.
I have the Pearl and it is a modern cartridge. I measured coil resistance around 600ohm which qualifies it as a modern low inductance design. Traditional MM designs such as M97 and AT120 measure around 1.5KOhm (much higher inductance) which is why the Pearl (and the Shelter) responds up to 30khz and sounds faster to my ears than the Shure and Audio Technica. Sure the Sumiko has a slightly rolled top end, but it is not slow. The Pearl and Shelter cartridges are perfect for those who like the Grado sound but owns medium or high mass arms.

Regarding nude v. bonded tip, my experience is that it doesn't matter very much. Research has shown that it is the cantilever that is responsible for the majority of the cartridge's moving mass, not the tip.
John, please point us to this reasearch; I would like to learn a bit more. Thanks in advance.
Just changed out a very used Shure M97xe I've played since I bought my Music Hall MMF2.2. I didn't like the Music Hall Tracker it came with & had the Shure on-hand. The Shure made me fall in love with my vinyl again. Changing out the Shure for the Shelter was such a HUGE improvement, I'm rediscovering all my favorites again!!The improvement in bass & overall clarity is overwhelming!! Well worth its money!! The 201 almost makes me want to try its bigger MC brothers!!
Is not a 201 just a Oyster Pearl in drag ? A fine cart either way.
I have both the Shelter 201 and the Pearl elliptical.The cartridge body and plastic molding for the stylus and cantilever assemblies appear pretty close to identical, minor marks on the plastic casting, aside. HOWEVER, auditioning the two in a system that is otherwise unchanged shows how profoundly different those stylus assemblies must be. CONTEXT: I run a DL103PRO, A DV20X2L , the Pearl, an AT95 Black (wrecked it)and now the 201 through a JELCO 750D damped , Canare or VDh arm leads, into a Perreaux phono stage or a Naim stageline 'S'( MC low only). At the moment the T/T is a Kenwood KD650 with a superb condition bearing. My 'test bed' is usually a LINN motor in an off-board housing, off board power supply, into a LINN sub-platter /bearing, custom platter, in a custom American dark oak plinth on 8Kg of stainless steel isolating pillars.

The Pearl was nice, but with a very retired mid range, a little too recessed in a well balanced system. Settings for the phono stage are: GAIN 40dB, shunt capacitance 27pF , 47K input impedance. The Shelter 201 is, unfortunately , light years ahead of everything except the DV20X2L ( must be set to 100 Ohm, 60 dB gain).

The presentation is much more reminiscent of a moving coil, with superb separation of instruments, depth of detail, and forward presence to it. There are changes to the tonality of things, even electronica, which far, far surpass the rightful expectations of a cartridge at the 2JUKI price. Mine was bought from 2JUKI on eBay, my 4th purchase from this guy.

Will demo on demand in Auckland, no problemo.
I just purchased a Shelter 201 cartridge and am having a bit of a challenge setting the VTA on my old Thorens TD15O MkII.  I do not have any sophisticated tools for cartridge set up, but the TD150 cartridge head has easily adjustable VTA settings.  With other cartridges like Grados I can align the bottom of the cartridge to be parallel to the record surface and the cartridge face at right angle to the surface as a starting point, then tweak from there till the sound locks in.  The Shelter 201 as far as I can tell has few right angles, and I am having a harder time finding the general starting point for finer adjustment.  If no one has any tricks for how to narrow the possible starting point for this cartridge, I will just brute force the process by checking through a number of settings to see what sounds best.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Got VTA set, it’s all good, nice match for Thorens deck and arm.  Nice cartridge period.
The shelter 201 had great reviews and sounded like exactly what I was looking for to upgrade my Ortofon Red on my Project Debut DC turntable. That is warm with lots of definition - not overly bright. I only have a few hours on it, and it is vastly superior to the Ortofon Red although not a fair comparison when the price difference is considered. I ordered mine from eBay - Japan for $186 including shipping. Everything worked out fine, and since it was for personal use, I did not have to pay any import duties. I believe this was a cartridge that was not marketed very well in the US and did not get on then, but may do better now. It is really nice and is not even close to broken in yet. I used the Stevenson protractor, downloaded from Needle Doctor for free - thank you very much. I was not sure what protractor to use at first, but after placing the protractor on my Project, the Ortofon Red was aligned perfectly. I set the tracking force to 1.8 grams which was the same for the Ortofon Red. The tonearm is slightly elevated towards the cartridge. Am considering a shim. I'm sure shimming would be technically the right way to dial-in the cartridge. However, I'm not sure if making such a minor adjustment is going to make an audible difference. It really sound good, but perhaps it could be better. Does anyone in the community have any experience with VTAs?

On other cartridges I have used it was fairly easy to see if VTA was close to right. With the Shelter 201, I found good alignment with the front of the cartridge close to perfectly perpendicular to the record surface. If you are close to that, you are probably good.

Interestingly I could not achieve a shallow enough angle with the Shelter to start rolling off the treble before the bottom of the cartridge started rubbing on the record surface with even the slightest irregularity. With other cartridges, this is an easy way to hear that the VTA setting was too shallow.

All that said, this is a very good sounding cartridge for the money. Fast and neutral, with deep clear bass and great treble extension and spatial cues. Just replaced headshell wires I had been using with Ortofon LW 7N and wow, just wow. Hadn’t been able to fully realize before just how good the 201 sounds.