The Trouble with Cartridge Recommendations

I am having an issue with cartridge recommendations. I understand that the best scenario is to test carts in my system with my music in my room. This requires a pretty outstanding relationship with a dealer who has multiple carts on hand. Short of that, is to purchase through a dealer who can recommend a cart and support his recommendation with a fantastic return policy.

Problem is, with the internet at my disposal, I can purchase slightly used carts, demo models, NOS, off shore imports at fractions of the cost of going through a dealer. The up shot is my money goes A LOT further. Problem is, there is no more guaranty that it will suit tastes and existing gear...

Which brings me to this forum and a plead for recommendations based on the collective array of experience.

Let me introduce myself. I have been primarily listening to records for about 15 years and been taking it pretty seriously the last 5-6 years. I love open baffle speakers and well designed tube amps. My friends consistently have very high priced hi fi set ups so I am aware of fantastic analog reproduction. But I need to be more creative with my budget to get the most out of a dollar.

Music tastes are hard pin point. I have about 5-6 records that represent my main tastes and NEED to sound fantastic for me to be happy, the artists are: Nick Drake, Syd Barrett, OutKast, Jesus Lizard, The Dirty Three, and The shangri-las...

My system (which I enjoy and would like to keep as is):
VPI Classic 1 (standard)
PS Audio GCPH (phono stage)
Eico HF81 (fully rebuilt integrated amp)
GR Research V1 (OB speakers with Servo Sub Bass)

My ideal cart throws a huge sound stage with fantastic dynamics. Detailed low end with impact and smooth treble. I like a pinpoint centre image. I can give up the most precise detail and accuracy for pleasure and engagement.

Keeping in mind that I would like to do this on a reasonable budget is key. I will be searching for any deal I can find once I narrow my search. My short list is:
ZYX R100
Dynavector 20x
Benz Glider
Shelter 501 (901)

So thanks for reading this, and please let me know what you all think. I will certainly respond with any further info and I will also try to contribute myself to re-pay the advice I get here.
Well, if I were a VPI user, I would certainly consider the Soundsmith cart's including the Zephyr that is meant for their 'tables. Technically, you must remember that the MC vs MM argument doesn't really apply here since the Soundsmith's are Moving Iron designs. A good MI has a lower stylus tip mass than even the most highly prized (and praised) MC. I've had great sound from Dynavector, but I think you may want to look higher in the line than the 20 for long term enjoyment. I forget the model since I can't use it with my MM phono stage, but it is priced around the thousand dollar range. This is where I would go if I could use a LOMC. Spend a bit more now and eliminate the upgrade bug. Also, as much as we would like, cartridges won't last forever, so it may not be a crime to take a chance on something unknown that piques your interest. Seems like this advice goes along with your World Wide Web shopping dilema.
Thanks harv,

" Spend a bit more now and eliminate the upgrade bug." I think is good advice.

I am a little hesitant to go with the Soundsmith option. So far the Zyx has 'piqued' my interest the most -- but I think it is also the most unknown for me.
I had a Dynavector 20XL cartridge on my VPI Scout and absolutely loved the sound. Unfortunately, I bought the cartridge used and the suspension had collapsed. I ended up buying a ZU/Denon dl103 cartridge which is no way as good as the Dynavector. If you buy a used Dynavector, make sure the suspension is in good shape.

I will only buy used from someone I trust. Or who is referred by someone I trust. Been burnt in the past too.

I am currently running a Denon 103 Midas. I love the flavour and I will likely keep this cart forever (bedroom system), but the short falls are now way too obvious for me.
I currently have in use a Shelter 901 and a DV 17D3. I would recommend both.
Those are all decent cartridges for what you are looking for, but I would substitute the dyna 17d3 for the 20x if you are looking for dynamics.
As one who buys used cartridges all the time, I have never had one arrive DOA or die in my possession unless I did something stupid and broke the cantilever, which has happened exactly once. given the savings, I would never buy new. either I am just lucky, or used cartridge fears are overblown.
I have a line on a new-old-stock Zyx R100 high output for sale. Great price. Just hesitating right now...

I think I need something higher output than the Dyna 17d3. The PS Audio phonostage has good gain, but the old Eico does get a little noisy if I turn it up to loud. I think 0.3mV output is my floor.
17d3 was the Dyna I was refering to in my previous post. Sounds like you may not be able to use it either. Or, can you? What do you others think? I don't know the PS phono myself.
Currently running the Denon 103 with 0.3mV output -- I don't think I can go any lower. The PS Audio has a gain range up to 66dB which is sufficient for LOMC but the low power integrated amp is then the bottle neck. ...i think.
If you are interested in ZYX, it would be worth your while to call Mehran @ SoraSound. He is the U.S. importer/retail outlet and he often has cleaned, inspected demos and trade-in carts at very good prices. He is absolutely trustworthy and a pleasure to deal with,
I have a gcph on my bedroom system and it is fine with a 17d3
Srbedard, I believe you only identified one of three problems with reading cartridge recommendations. It is true and understandable that dealers may not be happy to loan out expensive cartridges for home trial.

But also there is the compatibility issue with your table/arm and your phono stage. For example, your VPI may not function at its highest potential with all cartridges. VPI recommends Dynavector and Grado but I'm not sure how well the other three you mention might work?

The third point is personal taste. That is something each of us has been developing our entire lives and even if you and I owned identical systems otherwise, who is to say we would choose the same cartridge.

So I can only suggest some general advice. Assuming most cartridges will have a "family sound", listen to any models you can from your four candidates. Do the research or contact VPI to inquire about compatibility of your three non-Dyna alternatives. I think you are on the right track in considering buying used. After the previous points look for reasonable offerings from your revised short list. If you have the budget, buy more than one. Nothing can replace an extended home audition, then you can resell whatever you don't prefer, hopefully for something close to your cost.

Good luck
Regarding compatibility, once I am assured that the VTA and VTF are acceptable for the arm/cart combo. Is there much else beyond compliance compatibility in pre-determining a suitable match?
I would find out the cartridge weight (plus headhsell and screws weight if available), the effective mass of the tonearm, and the cartridge compliance number. With this information, I then refer to a cartridge/tonearm compatibility chart (you can google it) and see if the resonance in hertz is between 7hz and 12hz.

I will narrow my choices based upon the above analysis. Then I would read reviews and listen to those cartridges at dealers. Once I find a cartridge I like, I would stick with the same brand (since they all have similar house sound) and upgrade to higher models in the future when budget allows.

I have been quite successful picking cartridges based upon the above process. That said, there is no guarantee that the sound will be perfect for you. There is also no way you can try the cartridge in your home system unless the dealer lets you return it for full refund. I haven't found such dealer.

Hope this helps. Good luck.
If I understand your statement correctly, I believe VTA and VTF have nothing to do with compatibility. You adjust them to fine tune the sound you like once you installed the cartridge.
I'll second Swampwalker's reco to contact Mehran if interested in a ZYX. You have to be careful with a ZYX on a VPI arm. VPI recommends cartridges weighing over 7 grams and having compliance of 10 or higher.

I don't think the lower priced ZYX's meet the 7 gram requirement. I guess you could always buy a weight from VPI to use with the ZYX. Just know that ahead of time.

Dynavectors and Lyras are very popular with VPI tables. I'm running a Dyna XX mk II on my Scoutmaster, works well.
Instead of spending $1k plus on a new cart, maybe think about upgrading the phono stage, which is the weak link in your system. $1k plus the $500 or so you could get for that GCPH would get you a nice phono stage used that could make that DL103 sing like you wouldn't imagine.
I just want to know how the Shangri-las fit in with those other groups...
"I just want to know how the Shangri-las fit in with those other groups..."

Great groups with great production.

I've got a line on two carts, any recommendations:

Benz Micro Glider M Cartridge, used from a trusted dealer -- $350

ZYX R100-H, older model, new still in box -- $750
Sonically, I'd recommend the ZYX, but keep in mind that you'll need to buy a VPI - STAINLESS STEEL HEADSHELL WEIGHT to use with the ZYX.
I am a big ZYX fan, and listen to a similar range of music. OutKast, Nick Drake, and The Dirty Three all sound great with the ZYX 4D I am using.

I would also second all of the recommendations to call Mehran at Sorasound and see what he has available. He could also speak to the suitability of the ZYX for your arm and table. A great guy to deal with.
Srbedard, thanks for that, was curious. Love the S-girls.
One of my favorite musical moments was a New Year's day party jam when one of the ladies present decided to sing "Walking in the Sand." We had a great time with that.

They had some fine hits--I never heard any album cuts.
"Sonically, I'd recommend the ZYX, but keep in mind that you'll need to buy a VPI - STAINLESS STEEL HEADSHELL WEIGHT to use with the ZYX."

Thanks, I have one.
OK, one more:

Dynavector 20x (VPI special version)

both new in box $750...

Thanks again.
If (big if, i don't have enough experience to say yea or nay) carts have a house sound, I would not recommend the Benz. I had one in my system and found it underwhelming, esp. when paired w Benz/Lukachek phono stage.
The ZYX/Dyna is a closer call, but I'd still go for the ZYX, a tad better soundstaging and a bit smoother. The Dynavector will have a bit better bass and dynamics though....sooooo....I'd still go for the ZYX. However, it is your money, so the real question is what will you go for?
you can find the Dyna 17d3 for that price and it would be my pick over the 20x.
02-20-13: Srbedard
.......My ideal cart throws a huge sound stage with fantastic dynamics. Detailed low end with impact and smooth treble. I like a pinpoint centre image. I can give up the most precise detail and accuracy for pleasure and engagement.
..........I am currently running a Denon 103 Midas. I love the flavour and I will likely keep this cart forever (bedroom system), but the short falls are now way too obvious for me.

If you like the Denon Midas' qualities, but seek greater clarity, transparency, soundstage size and image precision - then consider getting a SoundSmith ruby cantilever/line contact retip. It will provide all of these things as well as much improved tracking ability.

I only have experience with the Soundsmith's work on the Midas/103R but center image precision (not really a strong point of the stock cartridge) is top notch, in fact quite a bit better than the Ortofon Jubilee in my system. Stage width - which is admirable in the stock cartridge - is ultra wide with the retip with much improved height at the speakers and beyond. Clarity in the depth of field is markedly improved. The treble range has amazing clarity compared to stock. Low end impact is not up with the Jubilee, but improves on stock 103R and moreover has great tactile/informative qualities. Best of all the cartridge retains great tonal body and musical engagement - love the sound of brass instruments with this cartridge.
Something to consider - and a relatively inexpensive option.
Well, Thanks for the help everybody. This was a great exercise and I would hate to prolong this just to continually go over the same ground.

Moving forward I think I will wait a bit for the best deal to come along. My current set up is still fantastic.

My plan is to stick with the Dynavector or the Zyx but to move up the lines to a more mid-priced model rather than a mid-priced entry level. I know with patients, a deal will be found.

Thanks again,
Patience is a virtue that is usually well rewarded, both as a buyer and a seller.

Happy hunting!!
I would recommend the Glider. Benz carts are good at everything, while not necessarily the last word in any one area. They also have a great trade in plan, so that would help when you want something new.
You don't mention your arm, so does that mean you have a VPI arm? For the price you are showing, I don't think you could possibly go wrong with the Benz.

Thanks for the help above. I recently installed a gently used Shelter 501 MKII.

So far it is pretty great. Maybe not the last cart I'll every use, but works very well and brings the room to life.

VTF: 1.8. VTA a tad high. Load: 100ohms.
Thanks for reporting back in. Congrats on the Shelter and enjoy the music.
I should also note, that I have the 3 gram headshell weight from VPI installed as well to help with compliance matching.

So far I would rate the sound as a base line for the truly holographic hifi effect. But remaining warm, musical and fun.

The Denon 103 (aluminum) that I replaced is much more 2D. The 103 has excellent dynamics and 'wow' factor. But none of this breadth.
Good decision. I recommended the Dynavector 17D3, but I have a Shelter 901, and I think it sounds great.

Have fun with your holographic sound system!
Until just recently, I have had the VPI Classic 1 with the PS Audio GCPH combination in my system and the cartridge that I have been running is the Dynavector 20x VPI version (1.0 mv). While the combination worked well, I was concerned that the PS Audio GCPH was the limiting factor in the setup and started doing some phono stage upgrading. Based on testing with a combo of a Graham Slee Reflex Era Gold and Graham Slee Elevator EXP and testing with a Simaudio LP 5.3, I confirmed that the limiting component in the setup was definitely the GCPH. I am getting amazing bass as well as treble extension out of the Simaudio LP 5.3 and the difference in the soundstage is nothing short of astounding. Where the GCPH always provided great soundstage width, it always seemed somewhat flat for depth. However, with the Simaudio LP 5.3, the soundstage depth just opened up and really provides a great 3 dimensional presentation and makes a big difference in the vocals as well.

So, with all that said, I don't think you could go wrong with the Dynavector 20x VPI version. But you may ultimately want to take the GCPH to the next level as well.
Glad to hear you like the shelter 501. This is the cart recommended to me for my future Nottingham Ace Space with ace arm. Interesting, i went to a London dealer and he said that was bit old school and go with a Sumiko blue point, which is complete opposite the dealer said in the states. I guess i will be spending much time listening to carts prior to purchase.