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Better cartridges?

BobBob21

Well-known Member
I've little experience of turntables beyond the few I've owned and so would appreciate advice.

I upgraded my amp to an Arcam AVR550, added an Arcam rPhono stage and using Kef R500 fronts. Turntable is a c15 year old ClearAudio Emotion with the original Autumn Classic Wood MM.

With my old onkyo digital music was terrible in comparison to the turntable; thin, lifeless, unengaging and so I listened to vinyl as much as possible. Since my upgrade all music sounds better but the step up on digital is massive compared to vinyl, it's still better but much closer.

I'm guessing I'm hitting the limit of the cartridge/arm/table and assuming the cartridge is the weakest link have thought of upgrading it. I've been recommended a Ortofon Quintet Black S MC as a good match to my kit for circa £600 but don't know if this is the right point to be aiming at or overkill/bellow standard.

Music is very eclectic but mainly rock music and acoustic (salsa & jazz) but can be anything outside of "true" dance and opera

Many thanks
 

BobBob21

Well-known Member
Guess its down to:
  • Ortofon Quintet Black S MC
  • ClearAudio Concept v2 MC
  • Hana SL MC
All are about the same price, all low output MCs... no idea how to choose
 

Mark.Yudkin

Distinguished Member
The Emotion was generally designed as a package, rather than as something where you replaced it in pieces. That said, a new cartridge may well yield an improvement. The Ortofon Quintet Black S MC is a very nice cartridge.

When buying MC cartridges, ensuring a perfect match with the phono amp is critical. Since you now have the rPhono, you will need to match the rPhono and the cartridge. Pages E-6 to E-7 of the rPhono manual give the range of options you can set, so you can check compatibility with the cartridges you are considering (can it be set up?) and then carry out the necessary setup.

As to how to choose: you listen in conjunction with an rPhono. Possibly the best way to achieve this is to take your Clearaudio and rPhono with you to the dealer and audition in that context.

Personally I prefer a step up transformer over a solid state head amp for MC cartridges, but that adds to your cost and it's probably a bit late in the game to raise that question.

Another option may be to replace the TT itself. The new Technics 1200GL is an obvious candidate, but costs twice your budget.
 

BobBob21

Well-known Member
I don't have a set budget but £500-£650 seemed a sensible upper end to be looking based on the other items in the setup. I'm sure a much more expensive cartridge could sound a little better but it was trying to get the right point on diminishing returns. For a moment I did consider getting the CA Performance DC with Clarify arm and Concept MC but thought I should get more life from my TT first.

I'm at a bit of a loss how to ensure the compatibility, looking at the Quintet Black S people online typically say to use 100 ohms resistance and 60-65db gain. The rPhono can do 50-550 ohms and gain for MCs is 60,70,80 or 82 and so seemed an OK match. It seems more MM where it has a bit more of a challenge as the pF values start at 120pF where as the ClearAudio MM's typically want 100pF in total (arm, cables & stage) - maybe this is why the Aurum Wood Classic didnt get the big step up in performance I'd hoped for compared to digital music?

The Emotion was indeed a starter kit and their old entry level, from memory though the Satisfy arm and the Aurum Classic were both available separately but it was basically the same price to get the two with the table as to buy them on their own. Media reviews at the time said the setup could make good use of better cartridges hence after out cleaner kindly bending the stylus 90 degrees I decided to look for a better cartridge rather than jumping ship and getting a whole new table.
 

BlueWizard

Distinguished Member
If you turntable is 15 years old, then likely the cartridge is fine but the Stylus is worn. Generally though the Stylus is about 80% or 90% of the cost of the cartridge.

Can you tell us what you originally paid for the Clear Audio Turntable? That would give us some perspective.

Is your turntable close to this - £1200 to £1400 w/ arm and cartridge -

Clearaudio Emotion SE review | TechRadar

Apparently a very similar turntable is still made, but the price seems to have gone down -

https://www.hifix.co.uk/clearaudio-emotion-turntable-package-2-inc-tonearm-mm-cartridge

I think the cartridge is the AURUM not he Autumn -

Clearaudio Aurum Classics Wood Moving-Magnet Pick-up Cartridge

Unfortunately, that appears to be a OEM only cartridge, so I haven't been able to find a price on it.

The closest I could find for the cartridge ranged between US$350. Which makes this a pretty good cartridge -

Clearaudio Aurum Classic MK-II MK II MKII Wood phono cartridge

Although I did find this link where it is listed at £120 and reduced to £108.

Clearaudio Aurum Classic V2A Moving Magnet Cartridge - Clearaudio from TurntableWorld UK

While you can certainly go to a MC (moving coil) cartridge if you want, they are a bit touchy about matching with the of the output to the input. So, while it can certainly be done, that's a judgement call for you.

I'm going to guess that any new cartridge in the roughly £300 range would be an upgrade from what you have. £600, to me, seems excessive, but it's not my money, so not my call to make.

Clear Audio makes a range of cartridges (MM) from £110 up to £550 -

Clear Audio Cartridges MM

The Ortofon 2M Bronze is about £295 and the Ortofon 2M Black is about £495 -

Ortofon 2M Bronze Moving Magnet Cartridge - Ortofon from TurntableWorld UK

Ortofon 2M Black Moving Magnet Cartridge - Ortofon from TurntableWorld UK

I believe the 2M Black uses a Shibata diamond stylus. Shibata is a specially cut diamond to pick up finer detail from the groove, but it is more sensitive to exact positioning in the groove.

In addition to those, I would consider these MM -

Grado Reference Platinum 1 Moving Magnet Cartridge - Superfi

Goldring 2500 Moving Magnet Cartridge - Superfi

A lot of people rave about Gold Ring cartridges.

Given that I found the Clear Audio Aurum Classic for £120, I would except a Cartridge upgrade of twice that price to be a considerable upgrade. £650 strikes me as Cartridge in excess of the turntable, but that's again is a judgement call. I'm guessing you would be very happy in the £250 to £350 range and either MM or MC.

The ARCAN rPhono does have a good range of adjustments. You can control the Input Impedance, the input Capacitance, and you have a range of gain options, so the ARCAM rPhone should be workable with just about any cartridge you are likely to encounter.

I would recommend searching a little more to try and find a more accurate price on the Clear Audio Arum Classic cartridge, and to give some thought to the original cost of the turntable. That should lend you the perspective you need to determine how far you want to take it in an upgrade.

The current numbers I have are about £1100 for the turntable with the Aurum Classic cartridge, and about £120 for the stand alone cartridge. I'm not sure, and £1100 turntable (with cartridge) is enough to justify a £650 Cartridge upgrade, though the cartridge in question (Ortofon) would certainly be a good one.

Personally, I think an MM in the roughly £250 to £350, and possible up to £450 would be excellent, but your life, your money, your choice.

Steve/bluewizard
 
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BobBob21

Well-known Member
That is exactly the same as the HiFiX one you linked to but I bought it circa 10-15 years ago. According to WhatHiFi they reviewed it at £1,200 in 2004 but I paid a lot less than this as I got it directly from Germany. The SE was an upgraded version with new feet (can retro fit to the standard), a thicker platter, different case to the motor and released some time later for £1,820 and came with a £450 cartridge.

I cannot remember the original price of the cartridge, it was available on its own back in the day. Gut reaction was that it was about £250 15 years ago but I've no idea how prices have moved to know what that means today.

Happy to pay less if I can, I simply don't know a target price to be looking at and a certain retailer recommended the 3 cartridges around £600 as being at the top end of my kits capability without being over it. Naturally stores have an interest to upsell hence coming here for a second opinion.
 

BlueWizard

Distinguished Member
At the place where I found the Aurum Classic Wood for £120, they indicate that this is a discontinued item, so while they may have had it for £120, that doesn't mean they still have it.

But I did find it in stock in the USA for $325 which is about £250 by currency conversion.

Clearaudio Aurum Classic MK-II MK II MKII Wood phono cartridge

I suspect this is end of stock though.

£650 to me seems steep in general, so perhaps it not the Cartridge but the price that I'm resisting. Though I am well aware that cartridge in the range of £5000 to £15,000 are very much possible ... I just don't know why?

Again, your system, your money, your life, your choice.

Though simply a discussion thread, this poster indicates that the Aurum Classic Wood was £240 but he found it for £160 -

Clearaudio Aurum Classics Woods V2A MM Cartridge

Again, trying to gain some perspective. If we can determine the original value of the cartridge with a degree of certainty, then we can make a guess as to what constitutes an upgrade.

Next, how satisfied with the Clearaudio Aurum Classic were you? If you were very satisfied, then simply duplicate that in something similar. But if it has 10 to 15 years of wear and tear on it, likely the Stylus is resolving less detail than it used to.

I would tend to agree, that roughly £600 to £650 would be about the top of what is reasonable for your turntable, but do you really need to be at the TOP? That's you decision.

Personally, as I have indicated, £200 to £400 would probably satisfy you just fine.

Then the issue of MM vs MC. Myself, while I see the value of MC, I don't like the uncertainty, and the need for 1000x amplification as opposed to the 100x needed for MM. But that is a pure judgement call that only you can make for yourself. Myself, I'm content with MM.

Though I only know Gold Ring by reputation, not direct experience, what I hear seems very positive. These two cartridge should be well above average, and certainly worth considering -

Goldring 2400 Moving Magnet Cartridge - Superfi

Goldring 2500 Moving Magnet Cartridge - Superfi

But one does not even have to go that far -

Goldring 1022GX Moving Magnet Cartridge - Superfi

Grado, Ortofon, Gold Ring
are all worthy brands.

In MC, same brands, more or less, and one need not go as high as £600 -

Ortofon Quintet Blue Moving Coil Cartridge - Superfi

Goldring Eroica LX / H Moving Coil Cartridge - Superfi

Audio Technica ATOC9ML/II Moving Coil Cartridge - Superfi

Ortofon Quintet Bronze Moving Coil Cartridge - Superfi

The Quintet Blue uses a pretty standard Nude Elliptical stylus.

The Gold Ring use a Gyger II type stylus, which is not something I'm familiar with, but it is something other than standard Elliptical.

The Audio Technica uses a Microline Stylus which I assume means a very thin stylus in the hope of resolving more detail.

The Quintet Bronze uses a Nude Fine Line, which again, I assume is a very thin stylus.

Keep in mind, I'm just giving an overview from a single source. I'm sure there are many other fine cartridges to consider in the roughly £300 to £400 range.

In more exotic brands - Sumiko, Dyanvector, Hana, Koetsu, Kiseki, Soundsmith, and many others.

Sumiko

Dynavector Systems

Hana

I would expect good results from the SUMIKO, though again, I only know them by reputation.

At the moment, my instinct is leaning to one of the lesser Ortofon Quintet MC or perhaps the Gold Ring MM.

Though I wouldn't shy away from on of the Grado Reference (MM), but more because I think they look cool -

Grado Reference Platinum Moving Iron Cartridge

Steve/bluewizard
 

BobBob21

Well-known Member
Steve

Many thanks for your post. Well considered and researched as ever.

Maybe my thinking is to simplistic but I was a little surprised by your comment on not knowing why I'd want the upper end of what my system can make true use of. In my mind ultimately your system is only as good as your weakest link and having spent circa £5k on the audio side of my system it feels like false economy to buy a cartridge that'd be the weakest link simply to save £100/ 2% of the overall system. At the same time I don't want to spend £1,000 just because I can if it'll sound basically the same as a £400 one.

Unfortunately I don't have enough experience with "high end" vinyl to know about these things. Certainly when I first got the turntable and it was connected to my Denon AVR it was a great jump up from my former JVC all in one system "borrowed" from my parents many moons ago.

It then went into a box for a decade or so due to lack of space to set it up other than making guest appearances on occasions.

A year ago it came back out the box and I was amazed at how much better it sounded than streaming music to my Onkyo AVR. Being overall disappointed with the sound of the Onkyo in its highly subprime layout room I decided to upgrade to the Arcam. All music sounds better but where as digital went from ok to good the vinyl went from good to good+ a little bit. Hence hoping to get that bigger step up that I was used to and now the cleaner broke the old stylus, forced to buy a new cartridge anyway.
 

BlueWizard

Distinguished Member
Steve

Many thanks for your post. Well considered and researched as ever.

.... Hence hoping to get that bigger step up that I was used to and now the cleaner broke the old stylus, forced to buy a new cartridge anyway.

Keep in mind that a Stylus, like any component, can't add anything, it can only subtract to varying degrees.

Also consider, that a £300 to £400 cartridge is well above average. Most would given anything to have a cartridge like that ... anything except £300 to £400.

However, as I said several time, your life, your system, your money, do as you please.

The Ortofon Quintet Bronze would not be any slouch in sound quality, and neither would the Gold Ring, all of which are pretty expensive. Also consider that if the cartridge becomes too exotic, the turntable is not going to bring the best out of the cartridge.

The Shibata and Micro-Fine Line cartridge are more temperamental about alignment with the groove. The alignment perpendicular to the groove and the Vertical Tracking Angle become more critical. So, that is a consideration. To best align VTA, you need to be able to adjust the height of the Tonearm to make sure the Stylus is within 1° of vertical. Perpendicular alignment is based on the quality and design of the tonearm. There is not much you can do about this.

To illustrate the point, consider a conical or spherical needle. A cone can address the groove from any direction because it is symmetrical. Though at an improper angle the stereo imaging might suffer. However, an oval or elliptical needs the narrow edge to contact the grooves perpendicular to the groove. Shibata and Micro-Fine Line even more so since the contact edges are narrower. And with Shibata and Micro-Fine Line, because the edge is so narrow, it has to contact the groove vertically perpendicular to the groove. Both horizontally and vertically perpendicular to the groove. Any forward or backward angle to the stylus will compromise the fine resolving detail. This is somewhat true of all Stylus, but more so with Shibata or Micro-Fine.

So, the only point I'm making here is that it is possible for the cartridge to become so exotic that you don't really gain anything from the extra money because the turntable itself can not be setup properly to take advantage of it.

However, this is all theoretical. Those higher price cartridges might work fine in your turntable. And if they work fine, they should really work fine. But if not, then good but not great results.

In a sense, what I am saying is generally true of all audio equipment. You never really know if it is going to sound better than the equipment you have. You just do the best you can to get equipment you like, and trust that it will do the job for you.

If you are OK with a £650 Cartridge, that's fine. But understand that most people would be satisfied with a £650 Turntable and Cartridge. Myself, once the price crosses a certain threshold, I tend to resist it no matter what. So, to some extent you are seeing my personal biases reflect in my responses.

I'm happy if you are happy. Just don't let expectations exceed reality. As prices go higher and higher, the gains relative to the next model down become smaller and smaller. Though I will say that if your turntable can track it properly, the Shibata Stylus have amazing resolving ability.

I can only offer a perspective, you have to make the final decision. On one hand, don't cheap out and regret it later, but on the other other hand, don't spend beyond you ability to resolve details.

I'm happy if you are happy.

Steve/bluewizard
 

BobBob21

Well-known Member
Also consider that if the cartridge becomes too exotic, the turntable is not going to bring the best out of the cartridge.

<snip>

If you are OK with a £650 Cartridge, that's fine. But understand that most people would be satisfied with a £650 Turntable and Cartridge. Myself, once the price crosses a certain threshold, I tend to resist it no matter what. So, to some extent you are seeing my personal biases reflect in my responses.

I'm happy if you are happy. Just don't let expectations exceed reality. As prices go higher and higher, the gains relative to the next model down become smaller and smaller. Though I will say that if your turntable can track it properly, the Shibata Stylus have amazing resolving ability.

I can only offer a perspective, you have to make the final decision. On one hand, don't cheap out and regret it later, but on the other other hand, don't spend beyond you ability to resolve details

Yet again, thanks

Its that question, of when exotic goes beyond the capability of my system, that I was trying to get to the bottom of. I know that clearly the ClearAudio Titanium at £6,000 is way beyond it but is £400? £600? £900? I'm aware of diminishing returns but there is always a sweet spot based on priorities otherwise we'd all drive entry level Dacia cars etc.

Its been interesting reading about the basic theory of shapes of stylus and from a logical perspective it all makes sense however transferring logic to practical is much harder.

I'm not sure your reason for capping yourself but I realised a long time ago that you cannot take money with you and whilst I accept you can get a good system for £600 that doesnt stop me paying more for the things that I enjoy. That said, I don't buy the "best" simply because I can; with many things like cars, travel, clothes, wine etc I know what I am getting for my money and can make an informed choice but for a few things, like AV, its harder.

I managed to get a Ortofon Quintet Black S for just under the price of Ortofon Quintet Bronze so hopefully Ill be happy with it and so looking forward to its arrival on Friday
 

BobBob21

Well-known Member
The price came after the decision on this occasion. Even in the days of internet its still best to ask what a companies best price on something is rather than just hitting the add to cart button.

Hopefully will be here on Friday so looking forward to it (other than the run in period) and will report back.

Also bought a new universal cover to try and save losing a second stylus to the cleaner's duster.
 

BobBob21

Well-known Member
So long story short, the original deal fell through with the dealer keep pushing back the date and then earlier this week saying it would be another 2-3 weeks minimum.

Back to square one, after a bit of phoning around and negotiation managed to find a Clearaudio Concept MC in stock and with a decent discount (not as good as the last one though :( )

Turned up Tuesday, installed yesterday and then the Mrs came home with a headache and didn't want to listen to music :facepalm:

So from about 20 minutes experience so far....

1) Arcam rPhono is difficult to set the loadings equally as there is no scale and a certain amount of play of the tool in the slot. Have ordered a multimeter to be able to ensure the two are equal

2) The phono stage automatically adds 30 gain on MC cartridges over MM and with this its a lot louder than the previous MM was

3) Sonically its a bit too early to judge, initially it was boomy in the base but turning off the increased sensitivity on the AVR seems to have solved this (or maybe its "running in")

4) The needle going over the record is much louder than the old one.... not as in noise via the speakers but hearing the music itself simply from the turntable which is a bit odd and Ill check that all is set up right again tonight

Overall I'm happy, but mainly just from having it working again. Will have to give it more run in time and then test a wider range of music and better pressed discs
 

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