Can Putting a Jico V15xMR Stylus Replacement Turn a Shure M97xE Into a V15xMR?

What happens when you install in a $70 M97xE a $179 Jico V15xMR stylus replacement? Rumor has it that it turns the warm, soft and wonderful sounding M97xE into a killer cartridge that's just about as good as the original V15xMR. Is the rumor true?

I have an M97xE installed on a turntable under review right now along with a few moderately priced MM phono preamps. The Shure is a fine tracker and for around $70 it's a steal especially given its high quality build and ability to track at around a gram. Plus it includes Shure's damper and brush system.

Readers have asked what happens if you install in it Jico's V15xMR stylus replacement so I tried it. It's a direct replacement that takes but a few seconds.

I had been listening to Analogue Productions excellent double 45 reissue of John Lee Hooker's It Serve You Right to Suffer. The presentation was smooth and deep, with an overall warm tonal balance. Bass was somewhat rubbery and soft and the cymbal transients were indistinct and lacked grit and shimmer but believe me it was sufficiently pleasant and involving considering the price.

Swapping out styli was like injecting the M97xE with a strong shot of adrenalin! The cymbals got properly sizzle, the bass line tightened up, there was better definition to John Lee's vocals and the entire picture took on far greater immediacy and dynamic punch.

As a $250 cartridge it would certainly be competitive with what's out there at that price point but if you've got an M97xE were you to spend $179 for the stylus replacement, you will be instantly dropping in a major sonic improvement without having to hassle with a new cartridge installation.

Does the combo compare to a V15xMR? Well, that's "out of print" so does it matter? The point is, this is a quick and easy drop in replacement that produces a huge sonic improvement. Jico makes one for the same price that's listed as the exact replacement for the M97xE but it's probably just cosmetically more compatible. Either one will do.

my new username's picture

I wasn't aware of the rumor. I was under the impression the V15 line always had a difference inductance or some such that was one characteristic apart from lesser Shures. Point being, sometimes a physically compatible stylus can bring about unexpected results.

As an example, the opposite approach--current body/discontinued stylus--is a popular upgrade for the Grado Gold1: the replacement stylus for the long-discontinued 8MZ. It's still eliptical, but finer, faster. So far so good. Whether or not it still has the lower-mid/upper bass "bump" you mentioned in your 8MZ review eons ago I can't say.

But put an MCZ stylus on say, an 8MZ and now 47k loading no longer works --- way too bright and you're playing with resisters and Y-cables ... in other words, it's not that the MCZ/TLZ etc were "brighter" but their motors were optimized for their cantilevers/styluses in significant ways.

Between eBay for old bodies and the online sellers of replacement styluses there can be some interesting "stylus rolling" as it were. Some of the vintage A-T bodies of course apply here as well. All part of the fun.

dconsmack's picture

Why would you put a Jico SAS stylus designed for the V15VxMR on the M97xE? Jico makes an SAS stylus for the M97xE. Neither Jico creates the sound of it's respective original cartridge. There's ADDED treble, likely from resonance, but the tracking will improve on a M97xE.

my new username's picture

And how do you know a Jico changes the "resonance?"

dconsmack's picture

My test record told me. The mass of the (any) cantilever creates a mechanical resonance which subsequently causes a boost in output at that resonance point. This applies to practically all moving magnet cartridges. Most create a resonance in the upper treble unless it's mass is so light that the resonance is above 20kHz and isn't audible (such as the Beryllium cantilever on the V15VxMR). Cartridges must balance this mechanical resonance with the effects of capacitance and impedance to obtain the desired treble response. I've performed at least 100 tests with various different  MM carts while manipulating the impedance and capacitance (with the amazing EAR 324 phono stage), recording the frequency sweep tests on the Ultimate Analogue Test LP,  and viewing the results on my computer. These values have a very audible effect on any MM frequency response. That being said, I found that after all my research that it's best to use a cartridge at the manufacturer's recommended impedance and capacitance. Finding a cartridge that you like is the most important. That doesn't mean you'll get a flat response though. The flattest cartridges I've tested at their recommended loading is the V15VxMR (but still was -2db around 8kHz) and the Dynavector 17D3 (and even that one had a deviation of 1.5 dB). The Jico SAS styli I've purchased are amazing, but add a boost in the upper treble, likely from the mechanical resonance of the solid boron cantilever. I can understand why so many people like this sound, and the tracking performance is excellent. 

Rudy's picture

I'm likely going to try a 17D3 next. Can't say I'm liking my current setup much.

Michael Fremer's picture

Yes Jico does make one fo the M97xE. It costs the same as the one for the V15 and I think it is the same stylus assembly with different cosmetics. When I tried this same stylus in my V15xMR I didn't hear a pronounced high frequency lift. It was slight and I was willing to attribute it to the sound of a new stylus assembly whose damping material needed some break-in. Why do you think there's added "resonance"?

dconsmack's picture

Well, I measured the frequency response at the recommended impedance/capacitance loading with the Ultimate analouge test LP and there was a bump in the treble (above 10kHz) with the Jico. Also, after experimenting with many different cartridges and their respective loading of resistance and capacitance (using the EAR 324 phono stage), I got a feel for how to balance a given moving magnet's non-flat treble response by manipulating the relationship between the cantilever's mechanical resonance and cartridge body's electrical resonance (using the frequency sweeps on the Ultimate Analogue Test LP with the impedance/capacitance adjustments on the EAR). I have both the V15VxMR and M97xE with new original styli and the Jico SAS replacements. The original V15Vx stylus with its lighter beryllium cantilever puts it's mechanical resonance above 20kHz. It tested flat 10kHz-20kHz. The Jico SAS did not. The SAS boron cantilever on both versions as well as the stylus for the Audio Technica AT150MLX (also a boron cantilever with a microline stylus) all had a similar measured boost in the treble at 47kohm impedance and 120pF total capaciatance. And, they all had a similar "outlined" detail to the sound compared to the stock Shure styli, as well as the almost-flat response of the Dynavector 17D3 loaded at 1000 ohms. Either way, the Jico SAS styli are amazing and the tracking performance is awesome. But, it does change the stock sound and it may be because of the cantilever mass, not the finer profile stylus (on the M97xE). I'm not the expert though, just sharing my observations. I don't want to spread misinformation so please correct me if I'm not understandig this correctly. Thanks for the review, Mr Fremer!

Michael Fremer's picture

Just curious...

dconsmack's picture

Nope. I recorded all my tests into Audacity and noted the results of the waveform and the dB meter. Measurements were all relative to the 1000Hz test tone on the record.

dlaloum's picture

I wrote a lengthy response including some plots/measurements... but the system rejected the posting (too long? ) joys of the internet!

To keep it simple - the resonance can be identified two ways... - both require a test record with signal up beyond 40kHz (CBS and Denon made such records)

The simpler approach is to use a very very low capacitance - thereby shifting eletrical rolloff and resonance out well beyond the cantilever resonance and then do a straight frequency response measurement - the resonance then sticks out like a sore thumb on the plot.

A more thorough method is to plot the eletrical response (pure mathematical exercise) - then deduct that from the measure response - the resulting differential plot is "everything else" other than the electrical response - which is to say mechanical response including cantilever resonances, flex losses, and magnetic non-linearities.

I can forward more information (and plots etc...) direct if desired... this interface makes it awkward!

bye for now


Paul Boudreau's picture

Somewhat like swapping out the original stylus on the Ortophon OM-5e that came with my Pro-Ject Debut III for an OM 40 stylus - big diff.

my new username's picture

From the OM20 on up is where the magic lies.

Paul Boudreau's picture

The guys at Needle Doctor clearly thought I was nuts to put a $300 (at the time) replacement stylus on a $500 turntable but they quickly recovered, being professionals (there was a mention of hot-rodding).  A total of $700 worth of upgrades for the D3 may seem nuts to others, too, but why not?  I appreciate being able to upgrade components on my own schedule.

otaku2's picture

Right. I just last week swapped out the stylus on my ancient Grado XC+ for a Green1 from Needle Doctor. Sounds great (at least, to me).

atomlow's picture

I've been listening to this combo for about 4 years, I've been extremely happy with it. Can you tell me if there's something else I should be looking at in this price range that would be better? The JICO needle will someday wear out and I'll be looking at replacing it. When I bought the JICO it was around $120, with the price jump to $180 I'm thinking that might be a bit steep for me. I've been eyeing some of the Denon's especially the DL-110 and DL-103. This will be going on a Rega P3-24 and Brio-R. Thanks.

atomlow's picture

triple post, sorry

Jim Tavegia's picture

This is really nice news. My 97 is about 2 years old and this just might do the trick.  

I just bought a new N92E stylus for an old Shure 500S body I had laying around and it sounds fine.  I will use it for the first play of my garage sale and used lp sale buys. 

Ben Adams's picture

Jim, I'm honestly surprised . . . I know you frequent the Hoffman forum, where we rave about the M97xE w/Jico combo over and over again.  

MrRom92's picture

Awesome review. I think the m97xe is a great cart and the SAS stylus makes up for it's few deficiencies. I don't think a more accurate pickup can be found under $500, maybe not even under $1000. I've used this combo for a few years now and I have highly recommended it ever since. I can trust the stylus to extract every detail out of the grooves, with minimal wear, and reproduce the music without imparting much of it's own colorations, and that's why I love it.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

...for the "audiophile on a budget" review!  I too run a M97xE, but with the directly related Jico SAS, on a modded to manual Dual 701.  I get that stupid grin, which accompanies the "I paid how little for this much?" feeling, every time I play vinyl.  Yeah, I suppose I'll get a VPI at some point, but I doubt I'll ever fully retire my old school budget rig.  (Happiness equals reality divided by expectations.)

If you ever do another MM cart shootout, please include the Shure/Jico combo.  It would even be fun to throw it into a high end MC shootout.

Stu Morgenstern's picture

I was using a Stanton 881s on a Dual 1019. The previous owner of the cartridge had installed an aftermarket replacement stylus on it. The highs were harsh and the sibilance was pronounced. On a whim, I installed an old Stanton 681eee on the turntable and used the 881s replacement stylus with it. The sound improved dramatically and I still am using that combination.

dlaloum's picture

I have done extensive measurements of the N97xE-SAS stylus and the VN5xMR-SAS stylus...

I have also compared the VN5MR-SAS stylus.


First thing is - there are production variations between differing samples - I believe they are intended to be identical, but they are not. (This may be an endemic problem within the cartridge/stylus making environment! - a topic to investigate?)

The cantilever is a two part affair with boron main section telescoped out of an aluminium base... measuring the frequency response shows two distinct resonances the first at around 16kHz and the second at circa 28kHz.

The tensioning wire is supposed (my assumption) to dampen this, and this damping can reduce the 16khz resonance to the level where it is hard to identify with standard measurement methods... my 3 SAS examples differ in the levels to which they control this resonance.

I have also measured the original VN5MR stylus, which shows only a single resonance at 32kHz (clearly the second resonance on the SAS is due to the two part construction).

On the best damped example of the SAS (which happens to be a narrow shank VN5MR-SAS), the cantilever response (which can be determined by deducting the calculable electrical response from the measured response) is quite similar to the original VN5MR, with the exception that due to the lower resonant frequency the rise to the resonant peak begins lower down.

On the SAS it starts rising from around 14kHz, and on the MR it starts from around 16/17kHz.

On the V15VMR, the rise only needs a slight adjustment to control it and bring it back to neutral, which is achieved with the relatively low inductance of 320mH.

Putting the SAS into the V15VMR body, results in a substantially "hot" high end. (substantial is of course relative.... I have not got the graphs to hand so will not quite actual figures, although I could add those later)

To bring the V15VSAS to neutral requires both a higher load capacitance and a lowered resistance (I found 27k and around 700pf was pretty neutral.)

This of course is difficult to achieve on most phono stages - it needs to be added externally using loading plugs which most people do not use, and therefore results can be quite variable.

The M97xE on the other hand is a much higher inductance cartridge, and therefore the high end rolloff begins earlier and is steeper - suiting the SAS much better.

I still believe that further load optimisation is necessary if perfect neutrality is to be achieved, but this may vary by individual stylus example (as I have experienced!) - and the only way I know of determining the optimal load is by measurement and adjustment - a process which takes time, instrumentation and is beyond most users.

Suffice it to say that the M97xE is a good match for the SAS.

The V15IV (as opposed to V15V) bodies are even better... they are 500mH - so a bit higher inductance, helping control the high end.

But their key advantage over the M97 or V15Vx is the laminated core which reduces losses due to eddy currents and hysteresis. - The result is that the "midrange trough" (drop in amplitude of circa 1 to 3db from around 2kHz to 10kHz common to many cartridges...) is reduced by 1 to 2 db. Is this a big deal? not really but the subtle improvements are what it is all about as one improves ones setup - and this effect is right in the frequencies where the ear is most sensitive, and where most of the music sits... definitely worthwhile!


SAS is also available for a range of other "forgotton" MM cartridge bodies - some of which can be quite excellent... for example the p-mount Technics P28 family ... once ubiquitous on p-mount turntables and cheap as chips... but interestingly sporting a laminated core....

Also the classic A&R P77 and its relatives...

Browsing the Jico website and doing a search for SAS provides quite a menu of cartridges for which it is available - the one caution I would add is that whether the end result is close to neutral, or close to the original manufacturers voicing is related to how close the cantilever behaviour (driven by its mass and resulting resonances) is to the manufacturers original item. - the more different the two, the more custom loading is required to bring it back to neutral.


The M97 and V15IV (and V15III) are serendipitously good matches.


bye for now


Michael Fremer's picture

Most MM phono preamps, particularly the budget types most likely to be used with a circa $80 cartridge have fixed 47K loading. This is a compromise of course and widely used "just because" but that's how it is. 

As for variations among samples that is the way of the inexpensive cartridge world. That's one reason prices are low. 

dlaloum's picture

I wonder about that...

The SAS is at a price point where a private individual like myself may end up with multiple stli - allowing comparison and analysis.

The assumption that higher priced cartridges (usually MC, with fixed styli) are less prone to variability has yet to be tested.

I believe there were some efforts in that direction in a series of articles about 10 or 15 years back, that showed a remarkable level of variation among the megabuck MC genre too... (Memory vague, and cannot find the references....)

It may be a simple outcome of things being handmade, and therefore repeatable results at such a fine level being impossible....

bye for now



Ortofan's picture

As long as you want a lower load resistance and/or a higher load capacitance, you're not out of luck. Get a pair of RCA cable Y-adaptors (with the two sockets into one plug configuration), a pair of RCA plugs and some resistors and capacitors. Plug one Y-adaptor into each channel of your phono preamp input and then the turntable cable into one side of each of the adaptor sockets. Solder the appropriate resitors and/or capacitors onto the RCA plugs and then plug them into the other socket on the adaptor. Based upon a nominal 47K input and the data from dlaloum, a standard 63.4K 1% value resistor would result in a 27K load. The value of the added capacitor depends upon your tonearm cable and the load already built into the preamp.

Rudy's picture

I've heard an SAS replacements in a couple of different V15VxMRs and was not impressed--I felt that Shure "sound" was gone, and the music was less involving and more brittle and edgy. I think your observation of the resonance issue is what caused that change in sound. I still have the original V15VMR (bought the week it was released, back when it only came with the HE stylus!), and while I've thought of getting the SAS to use it as a backup with (hopefully) decent trackability, chances are I would not like the sound.

As for the M97, the few I know who owned one were glad to be rid of them--the stock elliptical stylus was a poor tracker, not to mention having a very dull sound character to it. And to be honest, I've still never found anything that can track as well as my V15VMR...but good luck finding a NOS stylus for it!

Having said that, I wish Grado would get into a line contact type of stylus; love the sound, but trackability sucks!

dlaloum's picture

Before writing off the V15V, you should hear it with a SAS and with the loading at 29k ohm and 700pf - that will bring it back to close to the correct voicing. Just fitting the SAS and keeping it at Shure standard 47k/250pf simply will not do the cartridge or stylus justice!

If mounting the SAS in the V15Vx body the drop in R and rise in C will need to be more moderate - perhaps 35k and 550pf (at a guess) - the V15Vx is higher inductance.

The V15III & IV can take the SAS while staying at or pretty close to the original factory loading of 47k/400pf - they are the highest inductance V15's.

With regards to Grado's and line contact styli - I believe that the top end Grado styli fitted to the TOTL wood bodies are in fact line contact (although Grado is remarkably obtuse with the terminology they use!).
For Prestige or Signature bodies, you can fit the replacement styli for the TLZ, MCZ, 8MZ cartridges - these are the line contact members of the family in descending quality order... They are still available on order, and can be fitted even to the lowly Black1. (a Black1 with 8MZ stylus is still cheaper than a Gold1, and is much the superior cartridge!)

Bye for now


floweringtoilet's picture

I have used the Jico SAS replacement for the M97xE as well as their elliptical replacement stylus. I found both improved the sound of the M97xE considerably, reducing what I perceived as an upper midrange suck out with the stock stylus and improving the treble response. Tracking abilility was also vastly improved.

IMO, the stock M97xE is way too polite and boring sounding, and the Jico SAS stylus really makes it sound like an altogether different cart.

I'm not sure I understand the rationale for not using the replacement stylus that was meant for this cartridge. Maybe the differences are merely cosmetic in nature, maybe not. Could you get confirmation from Jico on that?

Your impression that the Jico SAS gives the M97xE "a shot of adrenalin" matches my own experience with the M97xE SAS replacement stylus, so maybe they are the same.

dlaloum's picture

It is not so much a rationale for using the VN5xMR in the M97xE, rather it points out that the N97xE-SAS and the VN5xMR-SAS are in fact the same stylus - with no functional differences - the only difference being the colour of the stylus guard/brush mounting (blue for M97, black for V15).

However I will say this - my one example of the N97xE-SAS has a less well damped 14kHz resonance than the VN5xMR-SAS exemplar.... 

Question remains is this manufacturing variation accidental or intentional? - is the tightness of the tension wire / damping adjusted differently for the different models, or is it simply random variation between individual styli?

Jico have never answered this question.

When I asked what the difference was between the two Jico told me there was none. (which appears to indicate that I got unlucky with my example of the N97xE-SAS.... which I hasten to say still sound fantastic)

In any case the body shape, and stylus mounting is identical between V15Vx and M97x - so the styli are physically interchangeable, and it appears with the SAS versions they are in fact identical. So you can choose based on which colour you prefer!smiley

bye for now


floweringtoilet's picture

if there was sample-to-sample variation between styli. Actually, it would only surprise me if there wasn't. Interesting to know that Jico says the two are the same. I was aware that the V15Vx stylus would fit the M97xE body, but I was not sure if perhaps there was some difference in tuning.

Ortofan's picture

Choices, choices: Ortofon MC1 Turbo and 2M Blue, Audio Technica AT440MLa, Goldring G2100, Grado Silver1 and Gold1 Prestige, Denon DL103...

dlaloum's picture

Choices yes, but if you look at each of those cartridges closely, the AT440, Grados Gold/Silver and 2M Blue are a definite notch down on the SAS. (I am not so familiar with the goldring) - and the Denon DL103 is in a whole different categoy of its own.

To match the SAS technically you need to look at the AT150 and 2M Black, the Grado's would need to be fitted with a TLZ/MCZ type stylus etc... there really is nothing out there at the same pricepoint providing even close to the capabilities of the SAS.

There are some possible combinations of cartridge with NOS styli that one can occasionally find on auction sites - if one knows enough and has the patience...

This is a high rigidity boron cantilever, with an effective tip mass below 0.3mg there is simply very little out there outside the megabuck category with this type of spec.

bye for now



Ortofan's picture

How consistently well do you think a random (old) cartridge body will perform with a random new replacement stylus compared to an entirely new matched cartridge/stylus assembly - even if it has a less sophisticated cantilever or stylus shape - that has been tested as a complete unit at the factory?

dlaloum's picture

The bodies are mass produced and the styli are seperately mass produced - they are not "matched" to each other... other than at the original design stage.

It is possible to match a stylus to a cartridge body, but that is what is now known as "custom loading" - in other words you adjust the overal electrical response to properly match the mechanical response of the particular individual stylus specimen.

There are no vendors doing this - no one is selling a cartridge and stylus with specifically matched loading parameters (which would perforce vary with each individual exemplar!)

Audio Technica used to have a series of almost identical models with increasingly "tight" specs... eg: AT15Sa/AT20Sa, AT15ss/AT20ss - both bodies and styli were individually checked and sorted for how close they were to the design ideal (which was intended for 150pf and 47k loading)... an AT20ss has a remarkably flat frequency response (also happens to sound great!) 

Shure may have done the same between the standard V15 models and the VST or Ultra versions.... (Grado does something similar for their prestige range...)

Ben Adams's picture

The Jico SAS replacement tends to be purchased by someone who is upgrading their M97xE.  So they already spent their $70 a while back, and now they're looking for an upgrade in the range of $170-$180.  A Jico SAS makes perfect sense . . . they get a dramatic upgrade and don't even have to realign their cartridge to get the benefits!

coaster92's picture

That's true. There seems to be more and more drop in or "hot rod" parts in analog. These hot rod items generate internet buzz and curiousity among users. Although in one instance here, Grado actually makes the part but don't recommend its use except on the MCZ. With the various Jicos and also expert stylus in the UK (which is probably who "The cartridge man" sends his Grado's to), there's different things to consider even if it's better "on paper". We can get hung up on measurements too. Is the resonance described above obviously audible? The real test is in the listening. In theory higher spec stylus shapes and tip mass  are "better". But one of the above posts makes a good point about an analog device being an optimised system- swapping parts then changes the parameters of the system. If Shure or Grado really wanted to they could accomodate this niche market and increase profits at the same time- as Rega has done, to some degree.

denondl304's picture

As I own two M97XEs, I went over to TTN and did a search (phrase "Shure M97xE stylus"). The site came up with no less than 4 different types of Jico replacement styli for the M97XE, namely:
JICO M97xE Super Analogue Stylus $190
JICO HyperElliptical Stylus $94
JICO Stylus for Shure V15VxMR $180
JICO Shibata Stylus for V15VxMR $158

Which one are we discussing here? Has anyone compared these?
Thanks for the review & comments by the way!


Michael Fremer's picture
I had gotten the $180 one for the V15VxMR that i wrote about in Stereophile and decided to try it in the M97xE.
rlboinski's picture

Is this the stylus in question? I don't want to accidental order the JICO M97xE cart.


SKR's picture

I just replaced my Lyra Helicon with Shure M97xe +Jico SAS N97Xe combination. There is no match. This combo out classed the Once well regarded Lyra Helicon. Please do not try this combo in only modest system as normally most people will do.. Put this combo in a true high end system with good arm and phono stage and you will notice real potential of this combo. There is no need to spend $2k or 3k . Above that I do not know.
Happy listening

drbrowning's picture

I just got my stylus from JICO and have it installed in my V15xMR and I am impressed. It does make it sound brighter than the original, but it does seem to bring back the luster and the magic of the cartridge. Now I haven't tried it in my M97xe yet. I was not very impressed with the M97xe when I first got it. It sounded very sloppy on the sibilances and there was some inner groove distortion, so if this stylus makes an improvement in the sound I will purchase one for it as well.

I was disappointed when the V15xMR was discontinued. I was able to purchase it just before it went away. I think I paid about $400 for it back in 2004. I was still able to get replacement styli back then. I think I only got one replacement and it ended up getting chipped. It is nice to get this cartridge working again with this JICO SAS stylus.

skandl's picture

I have the M97xe and it has been placed as a backup cart due to my acquisition of a V15MR that I placed a JICO on. This review gives me more ideas on how to spend my money. Thanks Fremer!

skandl's picture

John Lee Hooker's It Serve You Right to Suffer that is a great pressing BTW for those who love the blues it is a must!

mtgman's picture

Is anyone else bothered by the 25-50%, in my opinion, unjustifyable increase in cartridge and stylus prices in the last couple of years? Same technologies, just at a much higher price! Further, the now that the dollar has gained against European and Asian currencies, it seems that a price reduction would be in order...but no such luck! A few years ago, I was looking to buy a Lyra Dorian and very suddenly the price was over 70% higher! No matter how good inexpensive turntables and phono stages become, this is starting to make me wonder about continuing to collect and play vinyl, along with the high price of reissues and with too many of them having audible defects - clicks and pops! However, I do hate renting "high-res" files and not being able to copy the DSD stream of my SACD collection too...

rssarma's picture

Even the prices of vinyl have been jacked up with many records selling close to $30. If they continue this kind of price gouging they'll once again kill the very reasons people started getting back into vinyl, tangible ownership and low cost!

fredbro44's picture

( Copied from JICO site) The neo SAS (released July 21st, 2016) features a crystalline sapphire cantilever.This replaces the metallic boron cantilever of the first-generation SAS models.The damping and suspension of the neo SAS have been optimized to suit the characteristics of the sapphire cantilever