VPI Cartridge People: What next?

OK, vinyl troopers, so it's getting to be time for a new cartridge, at least pretty soon.  My Dynavector XX-2 MkII has served me faithfully and is likely headed for replacement in the months ahead, so where do I go now?  I've previously moved up from Dynavector Karat to the XX-2 MkII, and that brought nice improvement, but what next?  System page is listed, but in short I'm a 99% analog only guy with VPI 10.5 arm > VPI Aries turntable > McIntosh C2300 tube MC phono.  This rig sits on a Gingko Cloud stand and heavyweight Bright Star rack. 

Trouble is, good cartridges are obviously very expensive and tough to demo.  My goal: I'm looking for the ultimate VPI-arm compatible cartridge for use with this rig. Move up in the Dynavector line? Stay put with XX-2 MkII?  Lyra cartridges have good reviews and sound tempting.  Soundsmith?  Koetsu?  Can I do make a meaningful improvement over the Dyna XX-2 MkII for less than $3K?  Listen mainly to all kinds of music and value soundstaging and image depth. Leaning slightly more Romantic than Analytical/HiFi in my audio tastes.

Have I reached the end of the line using VPI Aries with VPI 10.5 Classic 3 arm as a platform? Bring me the truth based on solid experience, folks!

Your wisdom and experiences are much appreciated in advance.  Thanks!
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For the most part, a cartridge with a weight >7 grams and a compliance >10 are best suited for VPI arms.

That said, Dynavectors and Lyras seem to be very popular choices for VPI tables/arms. Sure, you are not limited to that, but I have heard it is best to stay within the guidelines in my first sentence. So Koetsu is not such a good choice due to low compliance.

I was running a Dynavector XX-2 mkII previously, and changed to a Ortofon Cadenza Bronze several months ago. I wouldn't say it is better, but different. The Dynavector was a bit faster and revealing, whereas the Bronze is a bit sweeter and more musical. Which is "better" probably varies from recording to recording.

From my understanding, the Cadenza Black may be quicker, like the Dynavector line.

Happy Hunting,
I'm using an Ortofon Winfield which you can get new in your price range. Load it at 1000 ohms and smile.  My advice is to try your turntable without the Gingko.  It absolutely ruined the sound of my VPI, but every system is different.
You didn't mention why you think a new cartridge is needed. Is it due to a worn stylus? I sent my XX2MKII to Soundsmith, and had their top-of-the-line ruby cantilever/stylus replacement done, and it came back a much better sounding cartridge than when it was new, and at that time, it was under $400.

I was using a Scout Signature back then. For an upgrade, restored a Garrard 401, built a plinth, am using a Dynavector 501 arm. A large leap in performance over the Scout, and much more elegant to look at as well.

You might give consideration to re-tipping your Dynavector, and upgrading your turntable/tonearm, or just do the re-tip, and reevaluate after hearing the cart on your current 'table/arm.


I have a VPI Classic 3 with a 3D arm. I used to run a Dyna xx2 mk.2 which was a nice balanced cartridge.
Then I switched to a Lyra Kleos Sl and the Kleos is so much better in all areas. Faster, more dynamic, more open, bigger soundstage, with nice tonal balance and more lively.
The xx2 sounds a little dull in comparison. To my ears a big step up in sound but should be it cost more.
Since I started using the AT-ART-9, I've stopped shopping for cartridges. For under 1100 bucks, its an audiophile bargain. 

See the thread in this forum that talks about the ART-9 at length. 
I have also gone from the XX-2 MKII to the Cadenza Bronze.  I like both carts for different reasons.  The DV sounds amazing on the right record and generally does a much better job on live recordings.  The Ortofon never reaches the ultimate heights the DV can reach, but makes many more records enjoyable than the DV does.  Having both makes me want a second arm on my TT.

If I had your table, I would drop a 3D arm along with what another poster suggested, Audio Technica ART9. The ART 7  as well, if you have plenty of gain to work with. I’m enjoying my VPI classic/ART9.
The thread on the ART has a few fans who have used super carts and seem to
agree it competes with them for half to cost.
If I were doing just the cart, I would also consider the Kiseki Blue/Black. I liked what I’ve heard with these carts on VPI rigs.

The 3D arm/cart combo would be the end for me-until I could afford the VPI Avenger/DD.

I own a VPI Classic "2.7" (Classic 1/2 plinth with Classic 3 stainless steel tonearm and base).  I've been there and done it with a number of other cartridge brands and settled on the Lyra Kleos. 
I'll echo what a few have posted--if you are happy with the XX2 why make a change? Unless mistreated that cartridge should give you many years of service. If you are looking for a change what sonic attributes are you seeking? That may help guide the contributions. That said, I recently installed an ART 9 in my Scout and am quite shocked at the performance of this cartridge. I've run four different Dynas (20XH, 20XM, 20XL and XX2MkII) each was fine in their own way and a good match for the JMW9. More recently I ran an AT OC9MLII which was surprisingly good for the money--better, in my view, than all the Dyna's but perhaps the XX2MkII and also well suited to your arm. The ART 9 is remarkably refined and even handed, very neutral, spacious and dynamic. More than any of the other cartridges it just sings without imparting any signature of its own. An extraordinary buy and certainly worth your consideration should you wish to replace the XXIIMkII. Best with your search!

I have to agree with one of the posters, get the 3D arm and the Art 9, you will be one happy vinyl listener.  Any table change would be a sideways move, it is the arm that matters, do it.  I have a few "B" stock 3D arms that will be presented on the Audiogon site for sale so keep an eye open and you can save a lot of money and have your cake and eat it too.


Thanks to everyone for the great responses. A few people have asked "why change from the Dyna XX-2?"  Simple curiosity, mainly, as I've had the Dyna cartridges for a long time and I'm interested in what else is out there + I've heard and liked (but can't afford) the top Dyna cartridges (XV-1S and Te Kaitora Rua). 

But I've also had the XX-2 installed for 4 years.  It still works fine, but I'm wondering if it's ready for a re-build.  The cart gets played every day for about 90 minutes.  I'm estimating that I've got perhaps 2000 hours on the XX-2 right now. Honestly, it's hard to know whether the cartridge has lost a step in quality when one hears it every day and the changes are bound to be quite gradual.  I'm thinking it might be time for a Soundsmith rebuild (good suggestion, Dan!) and switching to something new and interesting, cartridge-wise, that doesn't cost 5K.

I really appreciate all the advice about the AT ART 9.  This sounds really interesting, and the price is obviously excellent given all the praise I'm hearing from the discussion threads. I'd been leaning toward Lyra, based on various reviews, but the AT ART 9 idea really brings the price down substantially from what I'd expected to be paying for the quality I'm looking for.

HW: thank you for the honest advice.  I say this as a long-time VPI customer and admirer of your company.  It's hard to believe that the 3D arm brings things to a much higher level than the Classic 10.5i I'm now using (which was an upgrade from the original JMW 9 arm on my Aries). But you would know, if anyone does! I'll keep a lookout for deals on a 3D upgrade.  Maybe just a replacement 3D arm wand is the right idea?

Something no one has mentioned: possible MC phono stage upgrade.  I take it the consensus is to hold steady with the McIntosh C2300 MC tube phono stage when using something like the AT ART 9?
"Something no one has mentioned...Mcintosh C2300 tube phono stage"

I took a quick look and it appears good as anything until you're ready to split hairs/$$$ like everything else audio.
The only decision that may be an issue is choosing between the 9 or 7.
With the 7, you can save a couple more bucks, but have to get one from a Japanese seller. That, and the gain issue.
The 7  may be an even nicer sounding cart, subjectively.

For kicks, I may try one next year.