Review: Shure M97xE Cartridge
I realize that there are already at least two reviews for this cartridge on this website so please forgive me for yet another one! I admit to being a fan of the M97xE. I now have three all fitted to different turntables and all giving great service. I bought my first M97xE in 2004 and I admit that I was somewhat disappointed with it.
However I've since come to realize that my basic lack of knowledge was the main reason for the poor perceived results. A couple of things to watch. Correct overhang adjustment (yes it is a fiddly process and more on this later), and careful attention to optimised tracking weight with due compensation for the dynamic stabiliser which is always used in my set-ups.
The third thing to watch is optimised electrical 'loading'. The M97xE is often described as 'dull and/ or boring' and this is primarily due to a slightly rolled off high frequency response. Whilst this slightly rolled off treble can actually be useful as a means of taming overly bright systems, there are actually ways to 'flatten' the high frequency response. This is a relatively new area of research but essentially this is one cartridge that does not show its absolute best at the standard 47 k input impedance of typical moving magnet cartridge phono preamps.
I have modified my own DIY preamps for a (resistive) input impedance of 62 k with significantly improved upper treble. Sadly though, altering the input impedance involves component replacements which is essentially impossible for most listeners unless one is conversant with electronics construction, however another approach works almost as well, and that is keeping the overall input 'shunt' capacitance to the recommended Shure value. This includes tonearm and interconnect cable capacitance and well as phono preamp input capacitance. Too much capacitance simply results in very heavy treble roll off! A digital capacitance meter is an easy way of measuring overall capacitance, but remember to remove the headshell (and cartridge) for this measurement of course! A value of around 200 picofarads is optimal. Getting the right value of input shunt capacitance really makes a difference. I also have several other top notch moving magnet cartridges, but the M97xE continues to be my favourite with lovely, smooth, musical playback audio quality that I find most endearing.
Back to overhang adjustment, it has taken me the better part of twenty years to properly 'work out' the Baerwald two point overhang gauges and in doing so I've come to the opinion that many are using these gauges incorrectly and therefore are not getting the best out of their cartridges, whatever they are using! It is critically important to get the cartridge overhang adjusted properly at 'both' null points. This means getting the cartridge body properly centred and parallel with an equal number of parallel lines on either side of the cartridge body, and the same at both null points. This also presumes that the stylus cantilever is properly aligned with respect to the cartridge body. This can be generally presumed to be ok although I have seen examples where it wasn't! I have managed to get proper overhang adjustment with the typical Baerwald protractors such as are supplied by Shure on three different tonearms (two S shaped tonearms and a Dual ULM tonearm), so it can be done. It is a fiddly process though, but take care and preserve. Placing the stylus tip on the reference point does make me nervous but thankfully I haven't had any accidents!
Getting the overhang right certainly makes a difference with improved tracking in general and reduced playback 'groove' noise. If you own a great cartridge, then it is definitely worth getting it tracking at its best through optimal overhang set up. In summary, I love the M97xE! It sounds great with a wide variety of musical genres and I listen to nearly everything, but mostly Classical, Rock, Jazz and Blues!
High Quality DIY electronics, mostly Elliott Sound Products designs and DIY stereo headphone amplifiers with Koss and Sennheiser stereo headphones.
Ortofon Super OM moving magnet and Ortofon 2M Red moving magnet phono cartridges.