The Gruvy Awards Records

Reissued Records
Analogue Productions RCA "Living Stereo" series
These reissues mastered by Ryan K. Smith at Sterling Sound from the three track masters are the finest sounding "Living Stereo" reissues I've yet heard and in my opinion beat the originals in most ways--unless you've built a system as a shrine to the originals. Try the Rhapsody In Blue.
Music Matters Blue Note 33 1/3 series
Music Matters' 45rpm Blue Note reissues set the reissue packaging standard a few years ago and the mastering by Kevin Gray, with Steve Hoffman on some, from the original master tapes was superb too, though some sounded a bit soft. The new 33 1/3 series mastered by Kevin Gray in his newly upgraded mastering suite--all new electronics and wiring by Audioquest--sound more transparent, dynamic and tape-like. The gatefold packaging remains sumptuous.
Mobile Fidelity Bob Dylan reissues
Mo-Fi's stereo Dylan reissues are models of transparency, detail, clarity and warm musicality. The early ones are from analog re-mixes of the 4 track masters that sound better than the originals in my opinion. The "Blonde on Blonde" in particular is astonishing.

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Sony/Legacy Graceland
This Graceland mastered by Ryan K. Smith and cut to lacquer far surpasses the original DMM cut by Greg Calbi. Original recording engineer Roy Halee supervised. He and Calbi agree this reissue is the one to have.

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IMPEX Ellington Indigos
This reissue of an original 1958 Columbia "6-Eye" mastered by Kevin Gray takes advantage of better mastering and pressing to present with dead black backdrops this elegant Duke Ellington album that presents Duke and the orchestra from a somewhat distant, almost mystical perspective--as if the listener is remembering rather than listening to the live performance. Or the orchestra is playing in an empty ballroom for its own enjoyment. Either way it glitters.

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Speakers Corner Nilsson Sings Newman
A short but amazing album long in need of an all-analog reissue. Nilsson's labor of love almost killed him. The more you listen, the more you will enjoy. It's a gift that keeps giving. Originally issued when vinyl pellets were poor, so good luck finding a clean original.

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ORG Blood, Sweat and Tears
This album has been reissued numerous times by everyone from DirectDisk,to Mobile Fidelity and the original Columbia was damn good too so if you've got one of those you're probably done but if not and you need to again hear "Spinning Wheel" or the others, this double 45 hits all of the right reissue notes. A classic of its era, for sure.

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Audio Fidelity Bladerunner OST
Vangelis's score perfectly complimented Ridley Scott's dystopian vision of Los Angeles. Even if you've never seen the movie, you'll get sucked into the visuals via the evocative music. The sound is spectacularly synthetic and this record contains some of deepest and most powerful bass ever engraved into a piece of lacquer. You might get scared.

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New Records
Neil Young Live at Massey Hall 1971 (Reprise)
"New" in the sense that it hadn't been previously released though it's from a 1971 performance, when most of these familiar tunes were new to both Young and his fans. The almost primitive recording is astonishingly transparent and transportive. A must have for Young fans.

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Paul Rodgers The Royal Sessions (Pie)
Still in fine voice at 63, one of the great singers of the rock era steps into Willie Mitchell's studio and proves to the Stax-Volt/Hi-Records veterans that the white kid can sing Otis Redding on his own terms. Great song mix, musicianship and all-analogue recording, mixing and mastering. A miraculous combination in 2014 or at any time for that matter.

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Daft Punk Random Access Memories (Sony)
Retro-Disco ear candy supreme. Brilliantly produced and recorded. The duo is no Milli-Vanilli, but still, they are pretty good. Great in the car and even better at home but of course not an every day to play record. These guys supposedly recorded every track in analog and digital and in the mix chose which sounded better. For that alone they deserve praise!

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Doug MacLeod "There's a Time" (Reference Recordings)
Yes it was recorded digitally (at 176/24) on the Skywalker Soundstage so it's not exactly an "intimate" club date, but if anyone can warm up an empty room and the musicians accompanying him it's Piedmont style blues specialist Doug MacLeod. Sometimes the blues can bring a smile to your face as can Keith O. Johnson's recording.

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Thank You Les (Showplace Music Productions)
This grab bag tribute to the late Les Paul produced by his old pal and playmate Lou Pallo will delight all Paul fans. Among those paying tribute are Steve Miller, Billy Gibbons, Slash, Jose Feliciano, Eddie Brigati and Keith Richards. The songs are standards but the performances anything but standard (though a few were "phoned in"). Recorded analog on vintage tube gear, the sound is as you and Les Paul would want it.

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TEXAS HURRICANE Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble Box Set (Analogue Productions)
Everything a vinyl reissue box set should be: sourced from the original analog master tapes—the one digital production transferred to tape to give it some "analog-ness"—, each record in a gatefold "Tip On" jacket, plus a well-annotated booklet. All in a handsome, sturdy box. Oh and by far the best sounding these records have ever been or will ever be, in either 33 1/3 or 45rpm versions.

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gbougard's picture

I havent found a way to PM you, so please excuse this comment.
I run a small label called TABOU1 and would like to send you our productions.
can you email me your mailing address

Daniel Emerson's picture

This is the only Gruvy-winner I actually own (sounds great, too!), and I would be interested in Mikey's opinion of the 3-point Rega mounting. Is it "good enough" or does using the traditional 2 bolts and doing a really meticulous set-up make a big enough difference for it to be worth the effort?

I enjoy the 3-bolt mounted sound of this cartridge on my modified NAD 533 and the lack of need for neurotic checking and re-checking. This is especially the case for those of us who are nervous about fiddling with delicate things like cartridge setup. But every now and then, I do wonder...

Michael Fremer's picture

Rega's 3 Bolt mount uses what I believe ends up being the Stephenson alignment. While it is commonly considered to be one that minimizes distortion at the inner groove area for classical music crescendos, in fact it is more complicated than that but I prefer Löfgren "A" generally. "B" produces lower distortion over the central portion of the record but produces higher distortion closer to the inner and outer groove area. 

 This article will give you more than you want to know about this subject!

Michael Fremer's picture
Daniel Emerson's picture

Not being particularly dextrous with delicate things (took me ages to set the weight after installing the Origin Live counterweight/stub upgrade), I think I'll leave it as it is, as it does sound good.

I suppose was really looking for reassurance that Rega's solution is at least one version of the right setup.

coaster92's picture

D. Emerson, Rega and others (Technics) do use something close to Stevenson alignment. Rega (or Roy Gandy) says all the alignment theories are compromises and opted for the one which deals best with "IGD" (inner groove distortion). Aside from alignment, Rega considers the mechanical interface of the cartridge and arm to be of utmost importance- I've done both 2 and 3 fixing points on the Exact (with 2 bolts I used Baerwald alignment) and for me its 3 bolts hands down. The sonic difference of giving up the third bolt is greater than the change in alignment. There is a very precise quality with percussive instruments and more rhythmic grip and snap to the music with 3 bolts, and the vinyl plays slightly quieter too. The Exact pulls off the trick of having some drive and excitement, while at the same time being a nicely musical cartridge. Really anyone with a Rega table should at least try one. Its only shortfall is it might not be for "Soundstage" listeners. The stage is good but others like Ortofon and Goldring are better there. Read the Stereo Times review of the Exact. He covers the differences of bolts also.

Daniel Emerson's picture

It means peace of mind, too, which also adds to the listening enjoyment.

pbnaudio's picture

Thanks so much for the "Gruvy" for our little Liberty B2B-1  Greatly apprectiated !



Peter Noerbaek

PBN Audio

Paul Boudreau's picture

Thanks much for the roundup.  Minor quibble:  The Nitty Gritty 2.0 is the oak-clad manual machine while the 2.5 is the semi-manual you described.

jazz and cocktails's picture

thoughts on the combo of a Traveler w/ Otello?

Michael Fremer's picture

The cartridge is available in both high and medium compliance. I think you'd want medium compliance but I'm sure Soundsmith will know which works best. It's a very good cartridge. The Ortofon 2M Bronze would be the competition at about $50 less but I've not done a comparison.

jazz and cocktails's picture

to a Carmen vs 2m Black vs Dynavector 20, all on the traveler?

TheThing72's picture

Any thoughts on the Ortofon Red 2m vs. the Grado Red? I have a Music Hall MMF 2.2 that I am looking to swap out the stock Tracker cartridge. I have been getting great results from it for about the past year with fairly heavy use. But, it is getting time to either replace the stylus or get something different. My local shop is recommending the Grado Red.. but I have not had much experience with either carts. In the past I have used Shure M97's and AT95E's.. and am looking for something a bit better. Will the Grado have issues with the MH motor?? Any advise would be a great help.

Rudy's picture

I think this is the first list I've read in a dozen or two years that includes equipment I actually own!  Yes, it's been that long since I've seriously upgraded anything.  And I tend to hang on, so what I got this year will likely be around for a decade or two.

Cartridges--2M Black vs. 20X2-H: how is the 20X2-H as a tracker?  Would the Dynavector 17D3 be preferable in that respect?  (I already realize it has more of a "romantic" sound to it, and I'm totally OK with that.)  I want to change things up a bit and might go with an MC cart.

Michael Fremer's picture

I haven't directly compared but the 2M Black's Shibata stylus is probably a slighty better tracer than the microridge found in the Dynavector but really it is splitting hairs. Haven't heard a 17D3 in a while so can't really say. But if you really want to "shake things up" with a MC, I'd get the low output 20X2 and add a step-up transformer if need be...

Rudy's picture

A late reply...

I ended up going to the 17D3, partly due to the microscopic cantilever having such a low moving mass. That did the trick, along with the MicroRidge stylus. (Anyone know if this is the same MicroRidge diamond stylus the V15VMR/V15VxMR used? Seems as though it should be a trademarked name.)

To say it tracks circles around the 2M Black is an understatement--my ancient Grado F3E+ tracked about the same as the 2M, and only cost me $55 circa 1980. The 17D3 is still maybe a small notch below the V15VMR (which I wore out my last stylus for) in trackability, but it goes right through vinyl passages that the 2M Black couldn't even cope with. (And if you recall my handful of emails, I had to do a lot of fussing with the 2M Black just to correct its alignment and sloppy build quality.) This was also the first cartridge to play back the Nat King Cole "Just One Of Those Things" LP (the S&P reissue) without Nat "lithping" throughout (and I've heard more than a few complaints about this particular LP). Also, the Dynavector seems to be meticulously built--it feels like you're handling a precision device. The 2M just feels like plastic imported junk in comparison (not to mention having a very dangerous stylus guard which broke the second time I used it).

I can now hear why MCs edge out most other cartridge types: the music just seems to "pop" out of the soundstage...maybe more holographic, I'm thinking? I notice a little more detail as well (not the treble end, but the way it picks little things out of the mix I hadn't heard before). It reminded me of last winter when I finally got the crappy Pioneer DV45A out of my system and put a new Oppo 105 in its place--I have these moments where I have to put down what I am doing since the music grabs my attention that much.

BogdanR's picture

Have you tried one on your V15VMR before plunging over $1200 on the DV?
Just curious...

Leo Quinonez's picture

It is not necessary to have Trademark.

jazz and cocktails's picture

I pulled the trigger on a Traveler/Carmen combo, should be here next week.

2channelguy's picture

Based on the Gruvy award I just ordered the ifi iPhono to go with my Traveler/Grado Sonata 1.  Should be here next week.

Michael Fremer's picture

Later today (Friday) I will post files of four MM phono preamps (3 also have MC capabilities that will be covered in the near future). You will be able to compare the four, priced from $99 to over $500. One is the iPhono but of course you will be listening "blind". 

mschlack's picture

I have the one with the big red blinking light in the middle. Having recently upped my digital game with the Auralic Vega, I now find my VPI Scout with Benz Wood SM a little behind my digital experience. Was wondering if you have any thoughts on what would be a reasonable step up. The rest of my chain is ARC LS 26/Simaudio Moon 5.3/B&W 70s. Also, are you going to review the new Phonomena?

Dr. Frankenheimer's picture

Time for me to consider a new cartridge, but not a whole new rig. So the cartridge will have to ride along in an old(ish) Origin-Live modded Rega. Which means, no fine adjustments of SRA and no azimuth adjustments. What's a decent cartridge that isn't too fussy about that sort of thing?

adidino's picture

Curious why the JC3+ is not on the Gruvies list but is on the Stereophile A Recommended Components? Vice-versa for the Lehmann Black SEII. Not on Stereophile RC but made the Gruvies list.

What's up with that Mike? :)

Dorian Workman's picture

Or was this just a one-time thing?

Shirly Coomer's picture

Can I order this in Canada?

kevemaher's picture

The performance in the London ffrr LP of Gershwin is better in every way than the Fiedler performance that Analog Productions has remastered. I have the SACD from a previous remastering and the original issued LP but not the Analog Productions remaster. I cannot comment on the technical merits of the AP issue. However the other two I have are severely limited by the awful interpretations by Fiedler and the quirky piano playing of Earl Wild. My ffrr release from somewhere post 1972, but pre 1980, conducted by Lorin Maazel with Ivan Davis on the piano is dynamic and powerful with wonderful hall acoustics. It is impeccably performed, especially by Ivan Davis. The actual LP itself has a huge soundstage, warm mellow sound, wonderful bass dynamics and is extremely quiet. My copy, bought soon after original release, was mastered by Harry Fisher. Both sides are from the first master lacquer. Side one was from the second metal master, first stamper. The second side is from the fifth metal master, fifth stamper. I wish this performance could be remastered although I can't imagine a better vinyl could be created than the one I have.

Some performances recorded by RCA in their "Living Stereo" series are not of the highest quality. The technical merits of the new AP release may be many and wonderful, but, in the instance of the Fiedler Gershwin, cannot correct for an almost unlistenable performance. Anyone have a similar experience?

latinaudio's picture

Hi Mickey.
It has been a long time since you made the Gruvy Awards.
Don´t you think it´s time to include/exclude some products and give them a new "class" treatment?

Bob257's picture

I'm considering upgrading from my current Technics SL-D20 with Audio-Technica SL450 P mount cartridge to the P6 with the Exact cartridge. I'm hoping to hear an improvement. I can upgrade later to a MC preamp and a Ania cartridge if I desire. I'm using a Yamaha a-s801 integrated amp with its preamp. My main speakers are a set of EPI 320 T/E with new drivers, and the secondary speakers are Elac 6.2 and two sets of RCA bookshelf speakers and Polk PSW10 subwoofer. Do you have any other suggested TT?

Bob257's picture

Do you think that using a preamp like the Schiitt Mani would have better sound than the preamp in my Yamaha a-s801 integrated amp?

tnargs's picture

An update of these awards would be interesting, especially at the lower price points. Thanks

Duke86fan's picture

I really need to upgrade from my simple schiit mani, Uturn orbit with grado black setup, if i really want to get into real mindblowing musical experiences

brednjam1's picture

Hi Mr. Fremer,

I actually just e-mailed you asking for some recommendations. Are these still your favorite turntables? Is there a better one in the under $1000 range?

brednjam1's picture

Hi Mr. Fremer,

Hi Mr. Fremer, I actually just e-mailed you asking for some recommendations. Are these still your favorite cartridges? Is there a better one in the under $500 range?

brednjam1's picture

Hi Mr. Fremer,

Hi Mr. Fremer, I actually just e-mailed you asking for some recommendations. Are these still your favorite preamps? Is there a better one in the under $500 range?

Boomer's picture

Mikey, thanks for all of your hard work getting all of these reviews to everyone. Just wondering if maybe it might be time to update your Gruvy Awards on the phono preamps. Are most of these units still being produced or have they been upgraded? I'm a new member and I love your website. Thanks in advance.

DrWatson's picture

Keep your vinyl record safe and dust-free by elevating it during cleaning.

One of the problems of cleaning a record is that after you clean one side, you must reverse the record and set it down on a surface to clean the other side. Meanwhile, that annoying stray speck of dirt or dust on your record jacket or towel will get stuck to your record. A good solution is to use The LAST Stand. This device elevates your record so that nothing will touch the grooves after you've cleaned them. This video shows the easy cleaning process.

Analogue+Fan's picture

Have you ever thought about incorporating the Gruvy Award Tonearms category.?
Thank you,

Donn Rutkoff's picture

So, after not being on-line for a few years; am I really, or just theoretically, harming my vinyl by cleaning with 20% of 91 pure isopropyl and 80% distilled water?

Analogue+Fan's picture

Hello team Ana\ogPlanet.

Have you ever thought about incorporating the Tonearms category for the Gruvy Award .?

Thanks in advance.

Rubikaa's picture


mschlack's picture

I'm starting to detect needle wear in my Micro Benz Glider SL. I've enjoyed this cartridge and the MB Wood I had before it, but it seems like MB is not really a player in the US anymore. What cartridges in the $800-$1500 range of MC lower output cartridges would have a similar sound? This is on a VPI Scout into Musical Surroundings Nova II/ARC LS26/Simaudio Moon W5.3/B&W 703 system. I would say my taste runs to neutral on the warmth spectrum, decent detail and excellent soundstage. I listen to mostly small group jazz and like a good bass response, life-like instruments and human-sounding vocals.

mememomo188's picture