Multi-Cartridge Survey: The Hard Work Completed!

The listening has been completed to the nine moderately priced cartridges for this survey. The cartridges are: The Audio Technica AT95E, the AT 95SA, the Ortofon 2M red and 2M black, the Grado Prestige Gold 1, the Sumiko Blue Point Special EVO III, the Audio Technica AT7V and AT150ANV and the Nagoaka MP300.

Why so many Audio-Technicas? They manufacturer many moderately priced ones, probably more than most other manufacturers. If your favorite is not among those, maybe next time.

Here's how I proceeded: I set up each on the VPI Traveler and ran the output into a Graham Slee Era Gold MM phono preamplifier. I set VTA/SRA by eye using a jeweler's loupe figuring no one buying any of these moderately priced cartridges is spending hundreds on a digital microscope.

Each was broken in for a few hours but not the 40 that's usually required for full break-in. That would have been too time consuming. It was time consuming enough! But all of these cartridges was auditioned under the same circumstances.

Here's the best part: thanks to Acoustic Sounds' Chad Kassem, we'll be able to post audio samples of each cartridge for you to judge for yourself. I used a song from the Kassem produced album My Night to Dream by Myra Taylor (Analogue Productions Originals APO 2017). The late Ms. Taylor is a 40's era style jazz vocalist who was very popular in the Kansas City area and beyond. Kassem recorded her in 2000 at his Blue Heaven Studio live to two track analog on 1/2" tape at 30IPS, engineered by the justifiably legendary David Baker, who unfortunately has also since passed away (I had met him at a party just a short time before).

The live recording on two 45rpm LPs is sonically superb. Backing Taylor are piano, tenor sax, guitar, trombone, bass, drums and back up singers.

In other words there's plenty to listen for: instrumental and vocal timbers, staging, dynamics, air and reverb, etc.

After breaking in each cartridge I recorded "Spider And the Fly" using an HRT Streamer+ A/D converter into the Pure Music vinyl recorder.

As soon as the technical issues can be worked out (shortly, not longly), I will post each cartridge's rendering of that song in as high a resolution file as can be accommodated on this website along with the cartridge's price and specs. I don't think I'll post my sonic impressions. I'd rather have yours!

Coming up soon so stay tuned!

robertaich's picture

This holds a lot of promise for cart reviewing in general. If you can get permission for a few tracks like this, you can do it for every cartridge review. "Here's exactly what it sounds like." 

Ptruce's picture

Great use for the technology. Hope the sampling rate is at least 44.1.



SuperRu's picture

I'm looking forward to the results. I almost posted seing the results. blush

Michael Fremer's picture

Maybe I shouldn't indentify the files and let readers vote on their favorites and THEN reveal what they are?

Comments please.

rischa's picture

I like this idea. Make the samples anonymous--much more fun this way.

robertaich's picture

We can't help bringing preconceived notions to anything. Let us hear for a few days or a week, then reveal. Unless there's a technological way for each user to listen, then have the identities revealed just to him or herself.

Michael T's picture

I love the idea of letting us decide without knowing the cartridge.  After all, most of us may have one or two of the cartridges, but are basing out opinions on reviews from the major audio magazines.  For instance, when I saw the cartidges you are reviewing I automatically assumed the 2M black will come in tops (I actually did install a 2M blue for a friend two years ago and was ASTOUNDED at how good it sounded for $200, playing though an all Meridian/Mirage M3si system).  I am still betting the 2M black or the Audio Technica 150 will come in tops!

cundare's picture

Have it both ways.  Number the samples and include a little text file that can be downloaded separately that matches the numbers to the products.  Easy.  I can even give you a good name for the text file: "spoileralert.txt."

Brother John's picture

Thanks Mikey, Excellent Idea, I can't wait to read your completed article.

Don't see many comparison reviews of budget cartridges these days by audiophile journalists so this is a treat.

I'm using an old Shelter 501MKII mc that you once reviewed for Stereophile which was a budget cartridge when bought it at $800 bucks but I guess now that it's around $1300 or so it can't really be considered that much of a deal anymore. However, It has been the first cart I've owned that does the total synergy thing with rest of my analog system allowing me hours of musical involvement I hadn't experienced before. Because of this I listen to vinyl 95 percent of the time. So I have you to thank for having written that article those many years ago that influenced my purchase decision and got me back into Vinyl again.

Sincerely Speaking,


amarok89's picture

After snapping off a one month old Lira cantilever I now limit myself to this price range. Since you are using an AP album for the test too bad it isn't Father and Son from Tea for the Tillerman.


rosser's picture

You know, for the price of a Grado Gold you could get that Lyra re-tipped by Soundsmith. For $350 you can get the top-of-the-line re-tip. No affiliation, just a thought. Or you could sell me your Lyra and I'll get it re-tipped. smiley

Michael Fremer's picture

A big issue with "third party" retips (not singling out Sound-Smith) is that potentially you end up with a different cantilever and stylus assembly and therefore a different sounding cartridge.

It may cost more to have it re-tipped by the manufacturer but that's really the only way guaranty sonic continuity.

DeeJayBump's picture

Some might argue that's one of the BENEFITS of a Soundsmith or Expert Stylus Co. retip. A benefit because with SS's ruby cantilver and OCL stylus or Expert's ruby cantilever and Paratrace stylus, you get sound quality that exceeds the stock cantilever/stylus performance of cartridges in the multi-thousand dollar range without the cash outlay.

Much like after-market modders who replace for-profit parts (capacitors, resistors, etc) in commercial offerings to transform the component into a sonic giant-slayer that surpasses much more expensive stock audio components for far less money.

Michael T's picture

While the sound of the cartridge changes somewhat, the Soundsmith ruby/OCL combo put my cartridge in a completely different league.  I have not read a single post on any of the audiophile forums complaining about Peter's work, or stating that it downgraded the sound.  Every person states an improvement, especially with the aforementioned $350 ruby/OCL rebuild.  The colorations my cartridge was known for are all but gone, and the tracking, especially on the inner grooves, is impeccable.

Michael Fremer's picture

Since Chad owns the full rights to that record he can offer it to us. The others are tightly controlled by others and getting permission would be next to impossible and if possible, very costly.

Mendo's picture

This is a great idea. Though I'm not currently in the market for budget cartridge (if a 2M Black can be considered budget) I would like to know how the track sounds with your Continuum/Atlas.  That way, I can record the same track at my house on my soon to be purchased HRT and see how my Avid/SME/Titan combo stacks up. Also, you could use this intructionally. Something's what too much anit-skate sounds like, too steep SRA etc. Last thought: I only need a 40 second clip, so that would help aleviate some of the pitfalls (legal and otherwise) of making them availabe at 24/96 . I would much rather have a clip at hi-rez than the whole song at 320kps. Way yo go Mikey! Another homer for the King of Analog.

Mendo's picture

Okay, I really do wat to compare, but here's what I'm really saying: I'm a school teacher and I have as fantastic of analog front end as I am ever likely to own...BUT I NEED SOME CONTINUUM CRACK!!!!!! I heard the table at its CES debut, and years later, I still can't shake what I heard. 

Jody's picture

Hearing is believing...

dolsey01's picture

I'll be adding "My Night To Dream" to my next AS order, thanks!!

I've seen other people do a similar cartridge comparison, I believe it was between a Denon DL-110 and Shure 97x on AudioKarma.  It will be very interesting to listen to, that's for sure!

I am especially looking forward to the 2M Black and EVOIII.

Synaptic's picture

is my vote too. then we can all do some unbiased listening. 

Ortofan's picture

Is it too late to include an Ortofon Omega in your survey? 

jblackhall's picture

No Dynavector 10X5? I was surprised given it's in the same range. Art Dudley seemed to like it.. Eh, I guess you could probably add a bunch so where do you draw the line? Leaves room for future studies I suppose. I'm really looking forward to the results!

ViciAudio's picture

Bring them on! :)

Next time do the same with the Goldring 2500 MM cart, probably the most serious competition to the Ortofon Black, better than the Black in many areas...

Mendo's picture

are you going to serve us up a little Continuum/Atlas/Ypsilon crack? Please...? 

Jim Tavegia's picture

As an owner it it a totally selfish request. Er, a wish.

Jim Tavegia's picture

As an owner it it a totally selfish request. Er, a wish.

uniqueusername's picture

Don't bias the listening, make folks rank them, divulge after the hearing is complete.

MrSethJM's picture


I would like to mention that cartridge comparisons would be most useful if they are demonstrating the final band/track on a record, toward the record's center. That's where they are really put to the test. Especially if there is a loud chord at the end.

I'm also surprised not to see the Shure M97xE and the AT120E and/or AT440Mla on the list of cartridges being evaluated, since they are very popular cartridges and in the same price range. In fact, they are all more affordable than the Ortofon 2M Black.

martinjohnbutler's picture

This is a great idea. I'm always seeing ads for various cartridges in Stereophile, and then left to wonder how they sound. I'm firmly in the 'budget" category for a while when it comes to turntables, but if there's an outstanding cartridge that'll help my Pro-ject Debut III perform above its class, I'm all for it. 

I've done quite a few microphone shootouts where the mics remained unidentified for a while and it was good fun. What was interesting was just how many people chose the same mic as their favorite. One suggestion, don't wait too long for the reveal, it gets really frustrating if it drags on.

DJ Huk's picture

I have a feeling the Ortofons will smoke them all.  I just hooked up the Bronze to my rig, and I've never heard such sound out of my records, ever ... 

dave2193's picture

need for budget cartridges reviews

that the avarage guy can afford and i have great respect for all these brands

and gladsmiley your covering a lot of the AT line  nice cartridges that are often over looked in the audiophile world

Banaca's picture

Are the results ready for posting?  ;-)  Let us know....

Randy Shirley's picture

I know it has been a while since this review, but I would love to sample these!