" I have been using a Shure M97xE that I had laying around (and it works amazingly well)"
" Which is right? What do I want to accomplish here?"
What's the next level up from amazingly well?
Don't worry about the small stuff. If it stays in the groove and sounds good...what more could you want??
In general, VPI recommends cartridges that weigh at least 7 grams with a compliance of 10 or higher for their tone arms to work their best. The Zephyr weighs 10.3 grams and has a compliance of 10. I see that your Shure M97xE weighs 6.6 grams (close enough), but I can't find any listed compliance.
I would echo the above two replies, that if the Shure sounds great to you, then don't worry about it, just enjoy the music.
Next level of "amazingly well" cannot be published due to the site moderation guidelines.
I wouldn't settle until I reached amazingly awesome.
It does stay in the groove and it does sound better than I expected it to (it amazed me, anyway), but I think I can do better. If I end up spending $1,000 for a cartridge, I would like it to work as well as possible with the table and arm.
Or am I making a big deal about nothing?
I don't think you need to spend $1k. I'd try Goldring Eroica first that matches your setup perfect.
I have had the same question since the specs on the Zephyr, which was supposedly designed for this arm, are not ideal. So I called Peter and he said that weighting the arm with his knurled cartridge screws (can't remember the name) brings the cartridge into proper compliance--which makes no sense to me and which is why I chose not to go in that direction. There are a number of carts whose specs are more appropriate than the Zephyr which may be worth looking into. The best value for money I've yet tried is the AT OC9MLII--great match.
Thanks Dodgealum. That's the kind of information I was looking for. I never thought of Audio-Technica. The AT-OC9MLII is well within my budget.
The Zephyr is the perfect match for the 9 Sig and 10" arms, which weigh more. The best bang for the buck cartridge for the 9t is the DV 20x. Don't believe me? Just call VPI. Adding mass with weights or screws is nonsense, never worked for me no matter what I tried.
Thanks Tswisla. That sounds like good advice.
Although, I tried a DV 10x5 and wasn't that impressed. I use a Jolida JD9 and it has enough settings for anything, but I couldn't come up with one that sounded right with the 10x5. Maybe the 20x would simply be a better match for the system even though the compliance is the same.
I have run the 20XH, 20XM and 20XL on my Scout. The 20XL was the best performer. In my system the AT OC9MLII was better for half the money. Note: the Dyna's were not the "2" versions so I don't know how, for example, the 20XL2 would compare to the OC9.
I am using a Soundsmith Sussurro Paua with my Classic 2 arm. Talking with Peter and with VPI all Soundsmith carts work well on VPI arms. The compliance numbers for the Paua say it should not work with my VPI - but it does work very well. I use the Soundsmith EZ-Mount Cartridge Screws. The EZ-Mount screws come in pairs made of plastic, aluminum, stainless steel and brass. You can tweak the arm weight by using different screws. Also, the knurled screw body makes it easy to mount a cartridge.
I just got a Scout 1.1 with Soundsmith Zephyr and it sounds great, better than my Marantz TT-5S1 which had the Clearaudio Vituoso Wood. My Scout has the JMW-9t arm. At first I was using a 1M Audioquest Victoria from the table to my phono-pre, then went to .6M Victoria, which I think sounds much better.