After experimenting and researching a little bit (thanks to the posts of ld and Dlaloum), i got to the conclusion that i had to try a very low compliance (and heavy VTF) cartridge. I had faith that this, coupled with a heavy arm, should have great potential for vinyl nirvana. The same tried and true formula of the late 50s, and of all broadcast studios.
PROFESSIONAL CARTRIDGE? O RLY?
Enter the Shure SC35C. Originally introduced in the 70s for the professional market; it supposedly created to be paired with a BBC tonearm that was fitted on the BBC-spec Technics SP-10. Of course, today's SC35C is not exactly the same thing; the vintage one supposedly had a nude conical stylus. Still, i see sometimes on eBay those BBC arms and it seems the BBC used the modern SC35Cs too. By the way, that arm has no antiskate. The tonearm manual is here at VE.
This is silently marketed by Shure as their "Standard" do-it-all catridge, the only one that is OK for "scratch, mix, spin", and one of the few that is listed as "tonal balance: clarity throughout the audio range". It is sometimes billed as a "professional" cartridge which is correct IMO.
Curiosly, it has an inductance of 425mH. The only other Shure cartridge that is specified at that specified at that inductance is... the Shure V15-VxMR !! Of course, this doesn't mean that the magnetic yoke will be the same deluxe "laminated core" yoke of the good V15s. But still... a nice thing. For the more technically inclined, the modeled freq response of the cartridge itself (sans stylus) is near flat. Quite unlike the Shure M44 series for example, which have a immense high frequency drop at 10-20KHz to compensate for the ugly cantilever resonance at that very same area. So we may suppose that the cantilever resonances aren't so strong.
To be honest and fair, i didn't have a SC35C cartridge body available so i used the M25C which has a slightly different inductance. I've computer-simulated the frequency response difference and this makes the M25C darker at the high freqs (5dB less response at 20KHz). Which i compensate for now using an equalizer (yes, i use an equalizer and i enjoy it... deal with it, dear purist.)Specs of the SC35C
- 0.7mil conical stylus, bonded. Stylus = SS35C.
- Shure "type I" cantilever, just like the one on the M92E
- Tracking force 4.0 to 5.0 grams, 4.5g recommended by Shure.
- Badass looks
- Badass tracking force to scare your audiophile friends
- Reasonably priced
So this is what happened. I tried the SC35C on a Sansui SR-4050C modified with a Linn Basik Plus tonearm which has 10g of effective arm mass. The sound was OK but nothing special, and similar to the N97xE, which is not a bad thing.
So i left the SC35C aside until i decided to test it on my trusty Lenco L75 with the classic, ugly, hated Lenco arm (modified). I installed the cart using the included headshell weight (which i guess it's 2g). All in all, the Lenco headshell installed was 24g heavy which should give you an idea of the mass i'm using.
- The bass
... Whoa! Real bass! The bass is well defined, very solid, very likeable, very natural. I think this is a virtue of heavy tracking cartridges, the AT11 (another sleeper... we have a thread on it) had that virtue too. The L75 is known for great bass and this cartridge surely realizes that potential.
- Surface noise
was well controlled, very reduced. Again, heavy VTF is supposed to be beneficial for this.
or warp-wow or warp-flutter was phenomenal, it gave a sense of naturalness in the sound, especially with piano music. The L75 is known to be excellent in this regard, but i think that the fact that the SC35C's heavy compliance and strong damping keeps the tonearm+cartridge resonance way out of the warp-zone frequencies, noticeably helps a lot. Tonearm+cartridge resonance appears to be 15Hz (if i analize a music track) or 12Hz (silent groove). In both cases it is well controlled (well reduced in amplitude) which is a great thing. Compare it with the typical 8Hz-9Hz obtained in other systems.
- But one of the most positive impressions was soundstage
or channel separation if you prefer. It was wide and realistic, for starters far better than the one obtained with the M97xE stylus [i believe because of the cantilever on the 97xE), and i would say near to the ADC XLM II which is a champion in this respect. Center voices stayed center perfectly, as they should.
was fairly OK (after the EQ adjustment i did, but with the actual SC35C wouldn't be so necessary. I don't really care too much for cartridge tonal balance as long as it isn't way off. In this case the cartridge was OK so this is not to be a problem.
Now on the drawbacks or things that are not so good.
lose a little bit of definition at the inner grooves. I would guess you could expect this for the typical conical stylus. But the sound is still satisfactory. Other cartridges are much better on this respect. On the mid-outer grooves, cymbals sound fine and clear.
vocals -at the mid-inner grooves particularly-, can sound "with effort" on some records. Not exactly mistracking; I guess this is the 2nd harmonic distortion of the conical at work, since the distortion sounds similar to what i got when overmodulating a tube tape recorder. Can be a good thing for some.
at the inner grooves is not stellar (like for example a JICO SAS stylus-equipped cartridge would show). It still under control, if you track at 5.0g. At 4.0g it showed some sibilance issues so better use 5.0g. Record wear? You shouldn't be worried as long as all surfaces are clean.
CONCLUSIONThe best part of this cartridge is that it motivated me to sit down and listen to my records again and again
. For this, and considering the low price, i give it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating. Thanks to its great "stability", stable stereo presentation, phenomenal bass, and correct tonal balance, i would say the "listenability" or "fun factor" of this cartridge is extremely high. I would say it has a very "analog" sound while having some of the advantages of digital sound (low background noise and good channel separation).
Plus it has a nice "serious" look, unlike the Ortofon 2M (girly look), the Grado Prestiges (plain ugly), the M97xE (wannabe V15), the AT440ML (boring), the AT95E (cheap looking), or its direct competitor the ATP-2XN (ugly), which IMHO should sound as good or even better than this Shure. Shure should make deluxe version of the SC35C with a nude stylus and special cantilever. That would be quite something!
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GOOD RESULTS
Make sure you track at 5.0g, the tracking force that real macho men use. Otherwise i'm afraid the inner grooves will show a bit of sibilance, which is bad for the record. So 5g is actually less harmful than 4.0g in this case.
Also, this cart should better be used with a HEAVY (>20g arm mass) arm. If your arm is light, you should try the Longhorn modification which will add arm mass AND lots of azimuth stability. The longhorn modification can reportedly make a Grado Black cartridge sound fantastic (which is an achievement comparable to finding the cure of cancer), so i would like to have someone on this forum try a Longhorned SC35C.
Keep your records (and stylus) pristinely clean. 5.0g is safe for the record IF AND ONLY IF there is no dirt on the record. If there's dirt, it's a whole different story. I clean the records using the vinegar technique and works fantastic.
Don't try records with extremely high bass modulations (such as the Telarc 1812) on this!! That record is to be used with high compliance cartridges. Shure's specs of this cartridge, trackability wise, was fairly good except for the bass regions.
Finally, Made-in-mexico Shure styli has some quality control issues. My dealer had a SS35C that was with a kinked cantilever, for example. So double-check what you're getting before testing.
"Hifi journalism has a lot to answer for! You really really wouldn't want to fly on an aircraft designed by them. Or stand beneath one for that matter." -- Luckydog