I heard and read once a 201 is basically a slightly modded Sumiko Pearl.
For every post about the I’ve seen that’s enthusiastic about the performance and musicality of the Shelter 201, there’s always someone pointing out the obvious similar appearance of the two cartridges and concluding--with no further evidence, let alone proof--that the Shelter is a rebadged Sumiko. Never mind that Sumiko doesn’t even make cartridges; they contract with OEMs to make cartridges to their specs.
There’s a lot more to the design, build quality, and performance of a cartridge than what you can observe and logically conclude from viewing a picture on your computer screen. Yet the detractors persist in asserting they know the internal design and performance of the Shelter 201 based on what they can observe of the shared body, an untenable premise.
All the claims of rebadging that I’ve read come from people who’ve never seen or played a Shelter 201 in person, let alone done via a side-by-side performance comparison with the Pearl. They haven’t examined the internals, the magnet sizes and flux density, the geometry and position of the coils, the number of windings, the purity and grain structure of the copper.
Look at customer reviews of the Shelter 201 and you get a different story. Some have owned both cartridges. Some have owned the Ortofon 2M Blue and Shelter. Both have concluded that the Shelter 201 is NOT a Sumiko Pearl. The one thing we know is that they don’t share the same stylus, as their dimensions are different.
Beyond that, Shelter is pretty tight lipped about the 201, and why not? Why should they give up the details of how their $310 cartridge exceeds most cartridges at that price and below?
True, the US retail on the 201 is probably jacked up a bit, but it is still competitive with other $300 cartriges. As a long time owner of the Audio Technia AT150 carts, the Shelter is in the same performance ballpark. For some recordings I prefer the AT; for others (particularly acoustic jazz and vocals) I like the Shelter. But at the 201’s $165-167 price from Japanese vendors on eBay, it’s a stone cold bargain and that was my frame of reference when I wrote this review. Other than my AT150, the 201 is better than any other cartridge I’ve used in the last 10 years, including an Ortofon OM10, Shure M97xE, and the Denon DL-160; it pulls even with the AT150 series. If the 201 beats the legendary DL-160 to hell (which it does) and is competitive with the AT150 series, it’s not a Pearl. Period.