Which cartridge is the Imaging/soundstaging champ

Hello all:
I'm a new participant in these forums, though I've read virtually every post for the last 18 months. I'm a new owner of a Scoutmaster/JMW 9.
I got a Grado Statement Sonata as a starter cartridge(also using the VPI 3 gm headshell weight), and feel like I've gotten it set up pretty wel(VTA/VTF/SRA seem as good as I can get them). I have a nice high resolution system but can't seem to create an outrageously terriffic soundstage with pinpoint imaging like my digital front end can. I really can only listen to SOTA digital recordings at this point as my analog front end is just so superior overall. I do miss the excellent imaging and stage specificity though. I'm using the Cardas Neutral Reference phono cable into my EAR 864 preamp (with wonderful Mullard NOS tubes).
I feel the Grado is the culprit. What do you think? Which cartridge in the $750-$1500 range would be the imaging champ?
Thanks for your help.
Lyra Helikon ......
What kind of music do you mostly listen to? In what areas is your system deficient? Not enough bass? Highs not there? You mention soundstage, play around with the posistioning of your speakers. Moving Coil or Moving magnet? There are alot of variables that really make this question variable.
In a different vein, I noticed when I upgraded from the JMW9 tonearm to the JMW9 Signature on my Scoutmaster, that the stability of the imaging, the width and depth of soundstage and the weight and substance of instruments and vocals improved significantly -- it was an obvious difference that was immediately noticeable. It was one of the best $700 upgrades (if not THE best $700 upgrade) I have ever invested in. You may want to consider that upgrade as well as experimenting with cartridges.

Have fun exploring!
My system has evolved over many years. the speaker positioning, room treatment have all been tweaked to the max. The same electronics, cables speakers image
beautifully with good cd and sacd recordings. It's just the analog source that is deficient in soundstage/image placement and specificity.
My current cartridge is the Grado statement sonata mentioned in my original posting.It's a low output moving iron.
The soundstaging issue crosses all musical genre. The tonal balance of the system is good to excellent overall.
I had a Grado Statement on an Aries JMW-10 which I liked a lot. I moved on to a ZYX Airy 3S-SB and the difference was quite something to behold. The ZYX has a lot more to offer on all musical fronts.......... It does all of the audiophile things: sounstaging, imaging, etc., but above all it is always musical.......... I always enjoy my records with this cartridge.

Hope this helps

you should try glueing a bar on the front off the cart like the grado longhorn. i've tried this on two cheap carts and was amazed by the improvement. more detail and much better soundstage! I use a three inch tube from a tv antenna and fill it with window sealer(doesn't dry up like plumbers putty). couldn't hurt to try and could save you a lot of money.
Its a combination of the cartridge and the phono stage, not just one, but the key lies in speaker choice & positioning.

All else being equal, if you are comparing between digital and analogue, then you're probably listening to the wrong format if you are searching for soundstage as the key for your musical enjoyment.
Shelter 501II, Zyx Airy2, and Sumiko Celebration should all be on your list. The Shelter is a good sounding match with your arm/table. I've heard the combo many times, and it clearly outperformed a Dynavector Karat 17D2 on the same table. Cheers,
I have the ZYX Airy3S-SB medium output (0.48mv) on my Scoutmaster JMW9 Signature (center clamp, ring weight, SDS) via the latest VPI phono cables into a Joule Electra OPS2 and I'd have to agree with everything CMO said above. The combo is extraordinarily musical, with excellent image height and width, especially compared to the best in CD. I have both a Modwright/Sony 999ES Platinum and a Wadia 861 and, while they are both very good, it's really no contest on the imaging front. I certainly don't want for anything more on my analog rig when comparing to my CDPs. The Wadia is at GNSC right now so we'll see when it comes back, but it has a lot of ground to make up IMHO.
It was my understanding that the Shelter 501 II was a low compliance cart. and would not match the JMW 9 well. Obviously, your experience was different.
Does anyone else have experience with this combo?
IME an unstabilized unipivot will always put some limits on imaging and soundstaging compared with a more stable arm design. Channel balance and separation are too easily compromised when stylus azimuth isn't held steady.

That said, a Grado would be my last choice if soundstaging was a priority. That's just not what they're about. The stylus on many Grado models is so huge it's hard to believe it even fits in the groove, never mind tracing delicate HF information.

As others have said, ZYX's are among the champs in this regard, without ever sounding analytical, unmusical or "hifi". IME any ZYX from the Airy 2 up easily out-images and out-soundstages a Koetsu RSP or Shelter 901 for example.

I'd expect good imaging/soundstaging from any cartridge with a modern stylus profile, like the Lyra Helikon mentioned above, Dynavectors, VdH's, ZYX's and others. HF information is crucial for reproducing soundstage, space and "air", and no cartridge can reproduce frequencies too small for its stylus to see.
WOW(again)Doug,when I read A.Salvatore's comments about "the Audiogon analog club has the most knowledgeable analog hobbyists around",I think I know who he's talking about!!!You TOO Raul!!!!
I have to agree with the upgrade to the signature arm and the Shelter 501II
I might have thought that as well, but it hasn't been the case in what I've heard on Slipknot1's JMW9-now Signature with the 501II.
At least one of the big websites/catalog outfits(forget if it's musicdirect, or elusivedisc) markets this combo as a featured item. They must like them together...Cheers,
Dougdeacon et al:
Please educate me on stylus configurations and their association with
their performance perameters. Is there a specific "sound" associated with different stylus geometries? I assume as is the case with solid state vs tubes, a lot has to do with the execution of the design. However, in the ss vs tube discussion there are frequently consistent properties of each technology.
Interesting question!
One element of the performance of the ZYX cartridges is that they all seem to reduce surface noise. I believe I've read here that some attribute that to the microridge stylus shape. I'm not sure if that's what does it, but whatever the reason, I can attest that my Airy 3 does a better job of sifting thru surface noise than most other cartridges I've heard. It makes many of my thrift shop & garage sale finds much more enjoyable than when I had my Shelter 501II.
Perhaps someone else can expand on if the microridge shape is the main reason the ZYX carts exhibit this behavior. Cheers,

Just to add a bit more to affirm some comments already made:

As Sbank notes, the Shelter 501 sounds superb in the JMW-9 tonearm (whether regular or Signature version). Here is yet another example of theory not playing out in reality. My experience also is based on listening to Slipknot1's system on many occasions (and again just this past week as we traded around some amplifiers in his system).

The Grado Sonata is a lovely cartridge in many respects, but pinpoint imaging is not it's strong suit. It would not surprise me at all that your digital system shows greater image specificity than the Sonata. The Grado Reference and Statement cartridges are much more competent in this regard than the Sonata, but they also are not as strong in this particular area as several of the other cartridges mentioned in this thread. The Grados do have have other fine characteristics, however, and I have enjoyed various Grado models in my system over the years.

You must have been one of those AS was thinking of. Who else published the definitive guide to adjusting damping fluid in a Graham?! The dealers don't understand it 1/10 as well as you. AS is right, we have a great group here and we all learn as much as we teach.

If you think about what we're trying to achieve in vinyl playback it's pretty simple. (To understand, not to do!)

We are attempting to exactly replicate the record manufacturing process, but in reverse. If our rigs could do that, with no distortion of any kind, then the signal coming from our cartridge would exactly equal the signal that went to the cutting head. That would be perfection in vinyl playback.

No rig can actually do this of course (except Rushton's!), but we seek to eliminate or reduce as many roadblocks as we can. One roadblock is this: the original lacquer was cut by a stylus whose profile was thinner and whose edges were sharper than ANY playback stylus.

Therefore, every decent LP has modulations cut into the grooves smaller than the radius of any playback stylus's contact surfaces. Even the best playback stylus cannot "see" all the musical information that's there.

What to do? Clearly, if accurate reproduction is our goal we must use a stylus that can read as many of these fine modulations as possible. Different stylus profiles will directly affect the accuracy of our playback.

CONICAL (sometimes called spherical, incorrectly)
These are shaped exactly as the word says, like a small ice cream cone. At any given level their contact radius is a perfect circle equal to the radius of the entire stylus. This radius is orders of magnitude larger than the radius of the edge on a cutting stylus, so a conical stylus will just slide right past fine modulations without reacting. Cartridges with conical styli will always have the worst HF response, other things being equal. They have progressively greater and more audible problems as they approach inner grooves, where the size of modulations for a given frequency is smaller than on outer grooves. Inner groove distortion will tend to be worse with a conical stylus than with other shapes that can read small modulations more accurately.

These are more egg-shaped when viewed in cross section. An ellipse has multiple radii, and the two small radii define the sides that contact the groove walls. This means they read HF modulations better and distort on inner grooves less, compared to a conical type. Since the stylus's cross section is no longer a "dumb" circle, stylus rake angle (SRA) starts to become a factor. Conical styli are fairly insensitive to SRA, elliptical styli are more so.

These have long, fairly sharp contact edges. They can "see" and trace much smaller modulations than an elliptical stylus. The length and fineness of the contact lines makes azimuth adjustment and SRA extremely critical. Choosing a line contact stylus but ignoring these adjustments would largely waste the cartridge's potential.

This is the most complex shape among today's styli. Imagine an ellipse (more or less) but with a very thin ridge sticking straight out from each end. Each ridge has a very small radius edge. This profile sees the finest modulations of all AFAIK. This means azimuth and SRA are still very critical. Micro-ridge styli are best at tracing small modulations, so they have the least problems on tight inner grooves. I have a few inner groove torture test LP's that no conical or elliptical stylus that I've tried can play cleanly. It takes a top quality cartridge with a micro-ridge stylus to make those grooves sound like music instead of a fingernails on a blackboard.

Obviously the rest of the cartridge will also impact the sound, but in general conical styli (lower level Grado's for instance) have great mids, rolled off highs and frequent inner groove problems. Elliptical styli occupy the middle ground. Micro-ridge and line contact styli offer the potential for superior frequency response and lower distortion on challenging passages, but also require more care in setup.

I'm not sure why a micro-ridge stylus should ride quieter in the groove than other shapes, but I agree with Sbank. The ZYX's I've tried (six different models) were uniformly excellent in this respect, and better than most other cartridges I've heard. Paradoxically, they also require the records to be cleanest to perform their best. The tiniest fleck of dust will impair micro-dynamics, imaging and soundstaging without necessarily raising the noise level.

I haven't heard a JMW. I have heard Shelters on a Graham 2.2, Basis Vector and other non-unipivot arms, as most of you know (too well!). Micro-dynamics and imaging were better on the (stabilized) Vector than on the (less stabilized) Graham, and arms with more stable bearings did better still. That was the origin of my comment about unstabilized unipivots vs. other designs. This was only one system and five or six arms, so I may be all wet in my conclusions. That's just what I heard.

Wow, thanks for such and ereudite discussion! This explains a lot.
So I guess the critical question is this: Will the JMW 9 arm allow
one of the better ZYX cartrides display their excellent detail retreival properties, or is the law of dinishing returns alive and well in this arm.
Is is more reasonable to use one of the sub $1000 Dynavectors, Helikons?
Will something like the Airy 2 shine or will its potential be wasted?
Certainly the Shelter 501 has many proponents. I'm willing to spring for the $$$
for the airy if its' potential is realized.
Thanks again
Dear Jim: Like other already posted the soundstage depends on many factors: tonearm/cartridge matching, speakers/room interaction, phonopreamp, amplifier, cables, manipulation on the record process by the sound engineer, load impedance, VTA/VTF, Azimuth, etc., etc,. You think that the Grado is the culprit but I'm not sure ( I never heard your cartridge model ) there are several factors about and for what Rushton posted the Grados are very good cartridges, not perfect but good cartridges.

What I'm worried is that you have " deficient image placement ", this could tell me that you have not only the Grado problem ( and I don't know if the Grado is the problem ) but maybe a phonopreamp problem because lesser cartridges with lesser TT/tonearm/electronics almost always have good to very good imaging, this audio reproduction characteristic ( Imaging ) is relative easy to achieve for almost any audio system that are not faulty, that's why I presume that you have some problems other/additional to your Grado cartridge and those problems could be on your phono stage or phono cable or both or your Grado is out of specs: something is out of synergy there. I don't think that " unipivot or not unipivot " was the main problem and certain not the stylus profile.

Now, why don't try to borrow a different cartridge/phono cable or phono stage for a friend or some one and test on your system and see what happen.

Btw, there is something that I can't understand or at least I don't have an answer for sure: you post that the tonal balance on your system is from good to excellent ( I understand on CD and LP, right? ) and I don't know which speakers do you own but it is extremely rare that an audio system where its tonal balance ( I understand this top to bottom in the frequency audio range )( one of the most important music reproduction characteristic ) is right on target has a deficient imaging.

Regards and enjoy the music.

The JMW-9's fairly low effective mass actually makes a ZYX a better *theoretical* match than a Shelter, at least as far as compliance is concerned.

To get optimal bass and dynamics from a ZYX on a fairly low mass arm you'd need to increase mass at the headshell by 6g or so, much as VPI recommends and supplies a headshell weight for cartridges like Shelters.

ZYX offers their own optional weight on the Airy 2 and above. Another option would be choose a less costly ZYX and use VPI's headshell weight or fabricate your own.

Would you hear the difference between an Airy 2 and your Grado Statement Sonata? Absolutely. The differences are enormous, beyond comparison even. Would you hear "everything" the Airy 2 is capable of? Frankly I don't know, since I've never heard/used a JMW. You might ask Mehran. He probably has JMW owners using his cartridges. Or post that question here or on VA.

Whether you should choose Lyra, Shelter, ZYX or something else depends alot on your sonic goals and musical tastes. Since imaging and soundstaging are what you mentioned first I'd focus on Lyra, ZYX and possibly Dynavector. At sub-$4K price levels Lyras are a touch lean, cool or analytical. Dyna's a trace rich in the mids. ZYX's fall in between, they always seem to be neutral. It's a matter of matching your tastes and system.

BTW, make sure you have appropriate gain and impedance from your phono stage before buying any LOMC. Otherwise you're wasting your money.
There are probably two issues. First, my phono cable is pretty new (Cardas Neutral Reference) and probably needs more break-in, I think I need to replace the tubes in my phono section,as I believe they're getting noisy ( I have the EAR 864 preamp which is a single chassis version of the EAR 834P & the EAR 834 line stage).My speakers (Von Schweikert VR4jr) are set up well because they develop a beautiful holographic stage with good digital material.
The other factor is probably my extrremely high expextations. The soundstage is good with decent image body and good depth, but I'm looking for truly outsanding 3 dimensionality that I believe my analog front end is capable of.
I realize that analog excellence comes from a series of small improvements.
My Grado cartridge, while acceptable is definitely not a high resolution piece.
I knew it when I got it, but wanted something inexpensive (less than $500)
to get started with.
Dear Jim: Now, I understand a little more about. Your speakers are great ones in their frequency range and a very good tool for " discovery "/detect problems in the audio chain.

Usually the Cardas cables needs around 300 hours ( at least ) to achieve its target. I never heard yours so I can't speak about but I have the Golden reference and is avery good one. Of course the new tubes will make a difference.

Btw, if you want/need to change the cartridge ( I will do it ) think about Sumiko Blackbird or Sumiko Celebration, both mates very good with your tonearm. Why don't you do something: ask directly to Mr. Weisfeld on VPI on his opinion on these Sumiko cartridges mated with VPI products that you have.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Doug,thanks SO much for the kind words.In all honesty the only thing I may(?)have added(I find it hard to believe others were not aware of some of this),on the helpful side,was some hard learned 2.2 aspects of tweaking it to max performance. I'm now beginning to wonder whether it(mine) is really meaningfully optimized without a REALLY good digital guage(most guages,of this type,except the WINDS,which I'll be getting soon,exibit drift.My current one is cute,but I don't trust it,after recent experience with the Winds).I trust few of them,and am looking forward to getting a bit more from my LP's!I really think,after recently reconfiguring my pal's 2.2,with a new Venustas(Purist)armlink,using a borrowed Winds guage,that it will be a new "KEY" to my own analog bliss!

The rest of my posts actually "sucked",and I really was a "putz" to allow the other me to think that I could get away with some of the muckraking I tried.As it is I get the distinct impression(sadly),that a really fine guy like Larry was put off enough to distance himself a bit!I hope I'm wrong,here!!

My only reason for reposting again,aside from a lovely E-mail from Raul(who happens to be a really decent guy,outside of his inaccurately perceived persona,and I always felt that way),was because I figured that I could gain additional insight(there's always stuff to "ponder")from associations here,and sometimes I may(?)be able to add something meaningful.So,in reality I'm back for selfish reasons,and to gain from picking up new insights,from people like YOU!

As it's clear that you'd like to hear about some direct experience with JMW9 & Airy2, I can offer semi-relevant experience. I'm currently using a JMW12.6 with the Airy3-S-SB. It strikes me and many visitors as a very good combination. As Doug noted above, the silver base weight from ZYX(or the VPI weight), denoted as "SB" in the model, is required for successful matching.
I'd venture to guess that the Airy2 would be great with the JMW9, and you'd find it worth the price of admission.
FWIW, I second the comment about records having to be very clean, or you hear impact of every piece of dust. Cheers,
Thanks all!!!
I've ordered a ZYX airy from Mehran.
My system is very warm with tubes tubes and more tubes.
A neutral, high resolution, detail retrieving cartridge should work perfectly.
My EAR 834P MC section has 100 Ohm input impedance, and enough gain.
Hopefully, all will match up well.
I remember reading an article in Stereophile(91) with a rep from Keotsu and he said their cartridges were designed for Classical and Jazz genre's. Now this was a long time ago and now their are so many keotsu cartridges I'm sure some are suited for other genre's like rock,Opera etc etc. What ever you buy tell the dealer what kind of music you listen to. No need buying a cartridge that does a superb job unraveling the inner detail in Classical recordings if you don't listen to classical. In life and in manufacturing you must sacrifice some things for the whole... unless you can afford it all.
I know that designers always incorporate their personal taste in the creation of their products. I think our role as music lovers is not just to learn their biases, but to be designers ourselves. No system that's created to excel in one type of music will ultimately be satisfying in the long term. Our job as we design our own systems is to select components that give us satisfaction with many types of music. By blending strengths of different components a system should be able to provide long term pleasure. My musical tastes evolve continuously. I've gone through phases of Choral music, small scale singer-songwriters, Mahler, classic rock. As a young man I was involved in performing almost all musical genres at different stages.
Ultimately, a component makes music or not. Any product that is designed for a small niche can't provide long term satisfaction. Clearly no component or system can be perfect, but real music whether amplified, acoustic or acapella has an inherent rightness that is not hard to recognize.
Hopefully, the neutrality of the ZYX cartridge will fit
with this concept of music reproduction.
Any ZYX owners care to chime in with their .02??
My $ 0.02 is that you will love the new Airy2. I love both the Air2 and the UNIverse.
Do let us know how you get on with the Airy2. It will take a while to break in. Doug will probably remember how long it took to break in the Airy2 that he test drove.
You might want to look at the Ortofon Jubellie too. I had heard good things on this cartridge in fact i bought one a year ago but have not had it mounted yet. My Monster Sigma 2000 is still giving me hours of pleasure and it was made by the same people who manufacture the ZYX cartridges. I'm sure though their has been huge strides in design since this cartridge was made. I listen too mostly Rock,Jazz,New Wave and a whole lot of Blues lately. Good luck.
i wouldn't mount a shelter 501 on a jmw-9, in my experimentation, i've found the Dynavectory 17D2MK2 to be the best sounding cart. for the jmw9 arm, you should do more research on the dyna 17d, it is an amazing cart. at any price.
The 17D2Mk2 weighs 5.3 grams. Are you mounting yours to the JMW9 au naturale or are you using the VPI 3 gram headshell weight?
Are any others mounting 5 gram cartridges to the JMW 9 without the extra headshell weight? Has anyone tried it both ways.......?
Hey Jdolgin, i use the vpi supplied headshell weight, it adds about 5 grams to the headshell.