Shelter 201 Cartridge: I just put it into my system Aug. 6 2016


I'm pretty impressed so far. I need to put more hours on it to make a more informed evaluation. But so far I like what I'm hearing--excellent dynamics, excellent truth of timbre, honest and rich midrange, works well on a variety of music genres as though it was designed for each one. Full enough bass that I turn off the subwoofers for smaller ensembles. Lots of punch. Crazy enjoyment for the money. I got mine from a Japanese storefrong on eBay. USA authorized dealer list is $310; I got mine for $167. For the future replacement stylus is just $100. Any experiments, comments, reactions? 

Thanks.
johnnyb53
I have experimented with this cartridge as well, and I was quite impressed.  At the time I was comparing it to a much more expensive Clearaudio Maestro V2, and the Maestro had more detail and depth.  However, a few minutes into listening with the Shelter I forgot about the comparison and just sat back and listened.  It's a very easy cartridge to listen to, and if the Maestro breaks I will happily drop the Shelter in its place without feeling that I'm missing much at all.

Scott   
Thanks, Scott. When I'd play my Denon DL-160 back-to-back with an Audio Technica AT150MLX, I'd really notice the drop in detail when playing the DL160. When I play the Shelter 201 I'm drawn into the music and don't care. If something sticks out, it's usually its outstanding true-to-timbre midrange and the way it is equally adept at every kind of music I play on it.
I have had a Shelter 201 for a year now. Paid full retail my local dealer because Brian at Essential Audio has the reputation as being the most skilled cart installer in Chicagoland. I have this mounted on a Nottingham Analogue Spacedeck. I love it, can;t be beat for the money. I am glad I did not get a more expensive Shelter MC cart as I ripped the cantilever off the 201. The $100 replacement stylus was painless compared to the alternative.
The 201 was on the TAS list for best budget cart for 2015.
Followup 20 months later: I played this cartridge for a solid 2-3 mos. after my original post, Here are some further observations and conclusions based on a full break-in, intense playing for some months, and intermittent use after I got a Shibata stylus for my AT150:

I have played a wide variety of recordings with it--large orchestral spectalculars, intimate voice and piano, solo Debussy classical piano, Baroque ensembles, Eddy Arnold Nashville country, acoustic bluegrass, Miles Davis Kind of Blue, Diana Krall with jazz trio, Tony Bennett with jazz ensembles, Frank Sinatra with Nelson Riddle, direct-to-disk big band, small group jazz,1960s Al Hirt, Dire Straits, The Doors, Vaughan Williams 20th Century British impressionistic/romantic, and on and on. Like I said, everything I could throw at it including Billy Idol with Steve Stevens.

Right now I'm listening to the Romero family guitar quartet playing transcriptions of Baroque ensemble compositions, and it's glorious: It extracts excellent tonal balance, plenty of hall ambience without sounding like it's under water, great sense of plucked acoustic instruments in a moderately reverberant space. 

Everything I've played on it sounds like the cartridge was designed for that kind of music. I got this sensation on albums by Sinatra, Holly Cole, Astrid Gilberto (on Getz/Gilberto), etc. That's a pretty good indicator of linear response with no rising top end typical of some MM carts. It's the fifth cartridge I've owned since getting into vinyl 2007 and it really impresses me. In addition to its timbral accuracy, it's addictively dynamic with an impressive 3D soundstage and imaging.

I think just about every vinyl enthusiast should own a Shelter 201 and here's why:

For those who are accustomed to low output moving coil cartridges that cost 4 figures and above, there comes a time when you have to send the cartridge to a microscopic specialist to put a new stylus on the cantilever. This is expensive and can take months. I often see posts from such owners asking for advice on what inexpensive cartidge to buy to see them through the dry spell without giving up too much listening enjoyment. The Shelter 201 should be the one. Some of these users are also frustrated by the noise levels they get from their expensive tube phono stages when trying to add so much gain to cartridges with an output of .02mV.

The Shelter 201 has an output of at least 4.0mV. When I slipped it into my system I had to dial the gain w-a-a-y down to get the volume in line (I had been playing an HOMC with 1.2 mV output. Having adjusted the phono stage gain for the Shelter 201, the noise floor dropped like a stone. In fact, it played louder than my AT150 even they're both spec'd at 4mV output. This in turn improved the dynamic range, and my big band and orchestral showpiece spectaculars had peaks and crescendos that knocked me around the room. This cartridge is dynamic yet smooth, with very realistic timbres, great timing and rhythm--pretty much anything you could ask for.

Now, if you're a low-budget schlub this cartridge is for you, too. Any decent entry-level cartridge is going to run $100-129 or so. And while the official retail of the Shelter 201 is a fairly stiff jump to $310, at $167 for a grey market unit from a Japanese vendor on eBay, it's a reasonable step up, especially considering what a step up it is in performance. It's also inexpensive to own. Until recently my Audio Technica AT150 replacement stylus ranged from $258 to $325 (now I can get the Shibata version for under $169. The replacement stylus for the Shelter 201 is $100--even from authorized US dealers. That's an encouraging cost of ownership.

So there you have it: excellent tracker, comprehensive truth of timbre, excellent sense of timing and rhythm, very dynamic, available for $167 and stylus replaceable for $100. Most important, very musically involving and satisfying on pretty much any music you play with it. What's not to like?
I heard and read once a 201 is basically a slightly modded Sumiko Pearl.

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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.
The 201 was on the TAS list for best budget cart for 2015.

And it's still there for the 2017 edition, and rightly so. When I'm in the mood for a run of Sinatra, Rod Stewart, Tony Bennett, Boz Scaggs, and other great renditions of the Great American Songbook, I swap in the Shelter 201.
johnnyb53 - How fussy is the 201 regarding install and setup?  I am kind of a clutz and have limited patience.  Plus, my tonearm is the difficult Thorens with the covered cartridge bay.
bondmanp,

My own cartridge setup situation is the opposite of yours--my tonearm has the standard 1/2" detachable headshell, so I don't have to perform close tolerance maneuvers to get my cartridges mounted.

I will say, however that even with a detachable headshell some cartridges are easier or harder than others, As I remember it, mounting and aligning the Shelter 201 was pretty straightforward--the tonearm leads slid on easily but snugly (though that can vary with the turntable/tonearm), I didn't have to either crimp nor expand the clips I was able to mount the cartridge with some of the standard screws that came with the cartridge. Its .3x.7 mil elliptical stylus wasn't particularly fussy, either. I did the overhang/alignment consistent with my turntable (Technics SL1210 M5G) and it sounded right with no further adjustment.

You also might benefit from the customer reviews on Needle Doctor. One user put it on a Thorens TD126 MkII.http://www.needledoctor.com/s.nl/it.A/id.7530/.f?sc=2&category=877
Listening now to the 201 with a Jico SAS-1 stylus in it. Yes, the neo-SAS costs more than the cartridge itself, but the SAS sounds mighty fine. Haven't listened to the original 201 stylus in a long while, but the SAS definitely took it to another level.
SAS does wonders for the lowly Shure M-97 as well .