Is This Oyster Worth $300 Clams?

Sumiko has been shucking these Oyster moving magnet cartridges for many years. They've mostly been entry level products aimed at getting one started in the analog world, placed on a budget turntable and priced accordingly. The least costly $79 Oyster sported a spherical stylus that didn't deliver much in the way of detail but made set up easy and got the job done.

Moving up the line produced more detail and overall better results at still very reasonable cost, but now Sumiko has upped its Oyster line to include three new Oysters that share a newly designed generating system with the difference between the Rainier ($149), Olympia ($199) and Moonstone ($299) being the stylus assembly. So you could buy the least expensive and by changing the stylus assembly have yourself a Moonstone. The most expensive new Oyster, the Amethyst ($599) does not share a body with the others, so you can't upgrade to it with a stylus change.

I asked Sumiko for a $299 Moonstone. It features an aluminum cantilever to which is bonded a .3 mil x .7 mil elliptical stylus, which is considered a "quality" elliptical versus the .4 mil ones used on the lesser Oysters in this series that are rightly considered "budget" styli.

The Moonstone has a claimed frequency response of 12Hz-33kHz (don't try that with a CD!) and a 3mV output. Channel separation is claimed to be 30dB@1kHz with balance rated at .5dB@1kHz. Load impedance is the standard 47kHz, with tracking force recommended at 2.0 grams with the range being 1.8-2.2 grams. Compliance is rated at 12x10-6 (cm/dyne), or moderately compliant. The cartridge weighs 6.5 grams, meaning the Moonstone is best used with a medium and low mass arm.

I used it in a medium mass arm well above the Moonstone's "pay grade" and it behaved well and produced a resonant frequency in the desired 8-12 Hz range but what was most impressive was that this MM sailed through Ortofon's most demanding trackability test at 100µm peak! That's where MMs do have it all over MCs, though in the real record world, its less of an issue since few if any records are cut at such high levels.

The lesser, older Oysters never were among my favorites at their price points. They were okay but I felt they were bettered by some others and had a kind of metallic or cardboardy "aftertaste", particularly the spherical styli equipped ones.

This Moonstone is a real sweetheart! Warm, yet detailed through either the Lejonklou Gaio or the Graham Slee Ascension. The bottom was nicely controlled and well extended, the midrange rich but not "swampy" or overbearing and the top end was reasonably well extended and detailed but slightly on the soft side compared to far more costly MM cartridges, as you should expect from a MM at this price point.

Imaging was solid, stable and vividly three-dimensional, if somewhat large and "full-figured"—also expected at this price point but if there's one word I'd use to describe this cartridge it would be (pleasingly) "listenable" and it's a smooth, quiet tracker.

I listened straight through bass player Ben Allison's, moody, atmospheric Layers of the City (Sonic Camera SC 1701-01) and though I knew what I was missing compared to my usual stupidly expensive cartridges, his bass had a tactile richness and clean attack marred only by an "overhang" that was less audible than it was "known" based on comparisons with the costly stuff. Allen Mednard's cymbals had a "meaty" shimmer that produced a different sensation than I was accustomed to, but one that was 100% enjoyable. Acts of omission here, and none of commission. At $299 that's very good!

Here's the problem: I can't tell you how this compares to competitively priced cartridges so don't ask. What I can tell you is that the Moonstone produced highly sophisticated, delicate, rich, somewhat warm sound free of any obvious mechanical artifacts and resolved a surprising amount of low level information sufficient to keep me listening for an entire evening knowing what lurked on the next equipment rack! Add impeccable tracking, and an attractive, delicate "tactile" textural quality that will keep you listening for hours in ways not even the most costly digital rigs manage and you have a $299 MM cartridge that's easy to recommend without comparing to anything else at the price point. In other words, you can't go wrong spending $299 on the Moonstone. Yes, it's worth $300 clams!


paulieb00's picture

I would be very interested in a shoot out of these 2 cartridges.

OldschoolE's picture

is to just buy the Moonstone outright at $300. The Rainier at $149 plus the Moonstone stylus at $249 = $378. $300 for a cart is not bad at all if it gives equal or better performance.
I had a Sumiko Blue Point on my Denon DP47f and it was terrible. I swapped it out for a Ortofon 2M Bronze and was happy. I think it may have been a tonearm mis-match, not sure. I just remember it sounding like cardboard with a metal tinge at the end. So while that left me with a bad taste for Sumiko carts, these new ones may really be improved and I'd be willing to try again provided they match my tonearm.

Enobenetto's picture

There's a typo on the second to last sentence, that should state "$299", not "$399". Thanks for reviewing an interesting MM!

Ortofan's picture

... under $300 you can get a cartridge equipped with a fine-line stylus, such as the Ortofon OM 30 Super or the Audio-Technica VM540ML.

swimming1's picture

Had a Blue point many years ago-30.Did not impress me,despite all the hoopla!.Seemed harsh and dry,from what I remember.lLve my vintage Shure M91ED's now.Oops, probably should not have said that!

alucas's picture

can only afford this price range, remember every two years will be time to replace the stylist. that could be half the price of the whole cartridge, like replacing 1/2 your car every two years. the diamond tips are not at all long lasting, so we end up collecting cartridges? but thanks for the all the great info, i was wondering about, like a .3mil tip.

analogdw's picture

Took me forever to find my current stylist. She will never be replaced! :P

OldschoolE's picture

Every two years? No, not set in stone. Replacing your stylus depends on usage. If you play tons of records every day you may have to replace it more often than every two years. It also depends on what the life rating is. Many styli have an average life with average use of about 1000 hours give or take, which is really how styli life is measured. Of course properly cleaned records may extend that a bit as well. If you play records occasionally for example say, around 8 hours a week, you may not have to replace your stylus for 10 years!

malco49's picture

on a budget i use the ortofon OM20 on my upgraded 2004 pro-ject debut TT,OM 20-acrylic platter-speed box-and record clamp.was wondering what folks thought about that set up?

alucas's picture

8 hours a week is only 2.4 years of life and I do a simple 2 hours a day is a little over a year, but I will do 2 years, just for a start.

OldschoolE's picture

Whoops, my bad, I forgot a factor. (I'm usually not sloppy in math). You are right about 2.5 years at 8 hours a week. Personally I try to track actual use using an average time per side of an LP just to see. I do include break-in period. It is not meant to be precise or measured against anything, just curious.

cement_head's picture

I've been running a Grado Prestige Gold1 ($279) for about three years and I think it sounds great. My whole system is maybe $3000, so a $300 cartridge is about my limit and the limit of my gear. In any case, it's nice to see some reviews of equipment within reach of probably a lot of the readers of AnalogPlanet & Stereophile.

Anton D's picture

Lovely review, it bodes so well for budget vinyl listening. That just rose to the top of the Christmas cartridge list for my son.

Now, it’s killing me, what arm is playing in there?

Anton D's picture



Anton D's picture

Could it be a new Pete Riggle product?

malosuerte's picture

I am thinking about upgrading my Blackbird, and was wondering if you were going to review the Starling.

lakeallen's picture

Thanks Michael for getting in some reviews of budget cartridges and phono stages along with the higher end stuff. I bought a Lejonklou Gaio 2 the other week and am enjoying it. Keep it up Sir!

cepoyok767's picture

It's intriguing for drywall repair contractors that swapping stylus assemblies allows for customization, providing flexibility within the lineup.