Gimme Shelter! 501 Mk III That Is
Compared to what I hear at Avery Fisher with the New York Philharmonic, this was all warm string tones, burnished brass, deep bass from the double basses the likes of which you just don't get at Avery and an overall orchestral cohesiveness that was part well-honed orchestra and part Carnegie.
Afterwards I posted to Facebook "The sound was unfortunately marred by euphonic colorations, high levels of total harmonic distortion and a wide, deep bloated soundstage probably resulting from L-R artifacts". I forgot to include the "pop and clicks" caused by coughers, sneezers and the seated restless.
In other words while I'm not suggesting my stereo sounds as good as Carnegie Hall, in some ways it comes pretty darn close when playing records but never digital. Never. Right now, using the Shelter 501 MKII, I'm playing an Electric Recording Company test pressing of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Leonid Kogan and the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra conducted by Constantin Silvestri (EMI SAX 2386). LIke the label's Johanna Martzy reissues, this one from 1960, in stereo, was mastered from the original analog tape using an all-tube cutting system meticulously restored by Sean Davies. And like the Martzy, this one's original artwork and packaging have been meticulously reproduced to where you'd have difficulty knowing an original from the reissue (except that the Columbia label had to be changed to EMI due to copyright issues). I will review it soon. And yes, it is costly but before going to The Electric Recording Company's website, consider that an original in mint condition sold late December on Collector's Frenzy for $6169! Only 300 copies will be pressed and then no more.
The point of all of this is that the warmth, lustrous string tonality and soothing smoothness I heard at Carnegie were brought home through the combination of this wonderful sounding reissue and the $1295 Shelter 501 MKIII. I'm not being exaggerating. Well maybe a little.
I reviewed the Shelter MKII way back in 2005 and recommended it unhesitatingly. The analog world has literally exploded since 2005 with new cartridges, turntables, and of course vinyl and the price of the cartridge has gone up from around $800, but it still is a wonderful sounding cartridge for certain applications. More so some than others.
The improvements made to bring it to MKIII status are unspecified, but I see from the info sheet that the output has been increased from .4mV to .5mV either through more efficient magnets or a few more coil turns. Regardless, this is a low output MC cartridge with an aluminum sheathed boron cantilever to which is attached a .3x.7mil nude elliptical stylus. Recommended tracking force is over a wide range from 1.4 to 2.0 grams. DC resistance is specified as 14 ohms, which means loading of around 100-150 ohms should work well as would an approximately 10x (20dB) SUT. The cartridge weighs 8.1 grams.
Since I haven't heard the MKII since 2005 I can't compare this to it, nor do I know why the price has jumped from $795 to $1295 if all that's been done to add a roman numeral is a few extra turns of wire. However, the MKIII's sound matches what I wrote about the MKII: it is a warm, smooth, velvety-rich sounding cartridge that manages all of those things without sounding frustratingly soft or unctuous. Its tonal balance is relatively neutral so that whatever contributes to the warmth doesn't scream at you "lower mid-bass boost!" or "rolled top end!"
Instead, the Shelter MKIII just plays music that has body, warm tonal depth and silky smoothness. It doesn't shine a light on anything nor does it expose vast space encoded in many record grooves. It is not the most detailed cartridge, probably a result of its mild elliptical stylus profile. If you demand all of the detail engraved in your records you will have to get a cartridge with a more severe line contact, Shibata or Geiger stylus profile. Those shapes can get into the sharp high frequency crevices a elliptical slides by.
The upside of missing that bit of detail is that the Shelter also misses noise, pressing defects and other undesirables picked up by the more detailed cartridges. You can find more severe stylus profiles on some moderately priced cartridges but the tradeoff is accentuation of high frequency non-linearities that produce brightness, etch, grain etc.
The Shelter MK III just glides through the grooves, tracking well at 1.6g and producing music that's easy to listen to and enjoy completely. I'd recommend it at its price point if most of your listening is to jazz, classic and/or acoustic music. Female voices sound luscious. However, if you listen mostly to amplified music you might find the balance a bit soft and/or bland. Unless, that is, the rest of your system is bright and etchy and in need of some high frequency and especially transient taming.
I put the Shelter 501 MKIII in a Palmer turntable that's way out of its price league and yet the together the two had me listening long into many evenings while the Caliburn and the VPI Classic Direct sat idle across the room. Now that' saying something!