Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

the thin end of the wedge
Paladin
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Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by Paladin » 31 Dec 2014 00:43

Modern cartridges do their best in someone else’s place: sensible principles are proven in my home. Peeps go to great pains to force cartridges to work. I say, let it go and try an old cartridge that does their magic naturally.

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
-Richard P. Feynman

How do we know what parts to put on turntables? Oh, they can look good and be popular. We often assume good looks mean unrivaled performance. How many know that is false?

In the hey-day of “vinyls,” the design and implementation of cartridges makes all the difference in our record micro-worlds. I’m talking the entire design of the cartridge- not just the stuff we see or chat over. We all know what is best but do we know what is important? Hopefully, this post finds the people that really are dedicated and seeking just a little bit more.

My systems are provocative sounding: tube-like wholesomeness and some high delicate high-res too! The midrange is pure and the stereo separation zings off my walls. It’s the combination of using naturally musical cartridges with post-Quadraphonic solid-state equipment. But I avoid Quad equipment. It was a bad direction. It was a failure. Their cartridges failed for unobvious reasons but the equipment that needed to be tightened-up gave us quite a leap for audio reproduction.

It is not just resolution but how it is implemented. I don’t listen what for ‘what’s wrong.’ Instead, I kick back and enjoy. Simplicity and common sense is worth the work. And it can be cheap yet excellent. Band-Aids are patches to problems to cheap, modern, cartridges but their basic underlying problems remain. In the world of perfect, it is obvious that everything must be harmonious; tuned perfectly. That is what good, old-world, cartridges do best.

For those in a hurry, swing down to the middle to get the grandfather cartridges I recommend. We can get them cheaply because they are unpopular. I won’t get into the ‘why they work,’ but I may touch on a few highlights.

Quite common are the popular cartridges. In real life, they are really just “enhanced-mono” or “pseudo-stereo.” We know which ones they are by their design. They have limited separation, excessive crosstalk, loading problems, high groove noise, highest groove wear, and highest stylus wear. Often, they are modern-cheap and when you get them you don’t realize that to get them working to maybe minimum standards that they are going to cost you a stack of money. And peeps often wrongly figure out their problems.

OTOH, the best, the unpopular, are ignored. Some are the best. I call them sleeper cartridges.

What are popular cartridges? They went on everyman’s turntable. A famous cartridge maker bragged that they made 220,000 cartridges a month. That’s a big number. That is popular! If they are common then you have a popular cartridge. If there are multiple clones but just model number changes then you have a popular cartridge. When you bought a turntable in the ‘70s, if you took advantage of the ‘popular brand-name “1¢” or “free” cartridge sale,’ then you have a popular cartridge. If forums stir up your cartridge then you have a popular cartridge. If you can’t get a straight answer to your problems then you have a popular cartridge. If they cost a lot to run then you have a popular cartridge. Personally, I don’t like doubt and headaches. It’s counterproductive.

Do 1¢/free cartridges have design and manufacturing compromises? Do their high-priced kin have the same compromises? Your answer depends on your knowledge and experience. They are not what you want if you want good music.

There are cartridges we do not talk about. We simply shun them. What are these unpopular cartridges? Many of the few originally cost more. They didn’t popup in the Sunday ads. They have clever or extraordinary designs crucial to good sound. They can have extra quality in their assemblies. They were not on demo turntables. They were not in cheap storage boxes that were stored in the back room. They are no nonsense and special so they were on display; the lit front display case. Their nice boxes were handled gingerly because they were special.

Who was going to buy a $200+ cartridge when you get a popular one thrown in for a penny or free? If you bought an unpopular one then your friends would consider you daft or a snob. Either way, you lose popularity points. The unpopular cartridges are fewer and pricey. Definitely not for everyman. They are for the equally few deserving turntables that have the rights- the right parts. They make real turntables show us ‘the next level.’ Finally, in another category, some were rebrands of the famous. Those can be the real treasures.

It’s fun to go with the “in” crowd. To get serious about audio, it is personal and you have to think for yourself. To do that, you need to know what you are doing. Others use a lot of makeup to look pretty but pure beauty is natural- and you know it when you see it. A cleverly designed cartridge that does not taunt physics is a beautiful thing.

The ones I recommend are unpopular. Forgotten, they are cheap and have great support. How did I find them?

I work in reverse. At eBay, I look for buried low-cost styluses. Then I backtrack to find out what they fit. If I find a cartridge match then I look for it and its variations. Then I start digging. I research their patents and see what makes them tick. The ones with sound designs are on my personal scorecard. Then I wait. When an odd-duck cartridge wanders through eBay at a low price and I’m ready. I rarely get a counterbid and if there is one then it is small because they didn’t do their homework.

These cartridges are not for tweakers. Installed, they work. This is for the beginner or the guy that wants to have good fun at low cost. Properly designed cartridges do their best to reproduce accurate stereo sound and add as little to the chorus as possible.

UNPOPULAR CARTRIDGES HAVE GREAT VALUE TO ME: TRUSTWORTHY CARTRIDGES TO LOOK FOR

Can MM/MI cartridges have “air?” The right ones do. It is inherent in their designs. They can stand level with LOMC cartridges. Their prices are right and they won’t play second-fiddle.

http://i62.tinypic.com/293ir9s.jpg


 BANG & OLUFSEN (B&O) SP1 &SP2; aka DYNACO STEREODYNE II and PERPETUUM EBNER PE9000 (PE-9000.) By using a push-pull configuration, these moving-iron cartridges give half the distortion. Look up isobaric speakers for the reasons why they are both are good for you. Today you can pay up to $2800 for their patented MMC/SMMC cartridges. All use the Moving Micro-Cross principle. The SP1 & SP are unsealed so replacing their styluses is a breeze. Many get fooled by their higher impedance but that is appearance only. They forget that this is a push-pull design. They are electrically/mechanically balanced. In their day and in their class, they were bad-ass- they had the flattest response. Yes, in MM/MI designs, you can get “air” (broadband separation, natural high octave, and minimum crosstalk.) I could add the newer SP12 but they were rediscovered so they got scooped up. Pricewise the SP12 and their close kin are losers but the older SP1 and SP2 are available. I got my derelicts for under $50. Styluses run around $20.

They are straight up cartridges- not sloppy sounding. They will make you want to revisit your older records and you’ll gain more respect for the sounds you get.

 Who is going to argue if folks want to pay $1100 for $60 cartridges? Sony XL-MC1, MC2, & MC3 are another isobaric/push-pull design. Again, they have half the distortion. In this case, the high-compliance LOMC cartridges use replaceable styluses. New at $60, they were sneered at- they didn’t sell. I almost think Sony was trying to tell us LOMC cartridges don’t have to be expensive. Sony quickly dropped them when their CD format rocks and digital took off. But with a little marketing by adding a shroud to hide the body, adding that they are Mark Levinson designed, and rumors that they were made by Clearaudio from Germany, made them beyond criticism. It looks like the XL-MC series became the legendary $1100 Madrigal Carnegie-One cartridges. Adjusted for inflation, the Carnegie-One cartridges would be $2200 today. They are audiophile’s wet dreams. Well, the shroud that prevented stylus replacement was heavier, more mass where it counts, so they give more bass. But I could do the same to the Sony cartridge by adding a penny to the top. EBay is your friend. Only $30 each so I got a couple and the styluses were $15 each.

They have the Shure fat bass sound with the addition of an energetic and smooth midrange overlays plus a natural, realistic, top end. It’s good but the next one is far better.


http://i62.tinypic.com/4r2v61.gif

 It is worth getting a really good turntable for these. Because of weight, they are tough to mount but the dedicated can handle it. The Sony VC-8E and VC-7P high-compliance LOMC cartridges have special coils (what’s that?) to give higher output. But they still have the performance of LOMC cartridges. Both versions are high-compliance, 30 to 50-CU, and their tracking weight is 0.3 to 2.5g. The VC-8E with the help of a miniature SUT in the cartridge body has an output of 4-mV. The 7P lacks the primitive SUT but still has a healthy output of 1-mV. I prefer the 7P’s adaptability and sound. Their beryllium-bridges show amazing workmanship. And so do the entire cartridges. 1-kHz stereo separation is excellent at- 36-dB. That is more than twice the separation of a famous modern audiophile MM cartridge. The Sony’s have long legs. At 10-kHz they maintains an astonishing separation of 30dB- all done within the bounds of physics. Others fall way behind. The widely-spaced beryllium-bridge gives us little crosstalk.

To get higher output, they use a patented square coil design for 27% closer packing. That is a 27% reduction in size and more much more control over cantilever overshooting. They take replaceable styluses that are mounted on a rigid framework I call a “sled.” And if you look closely then you’ll see a short cantilever. We know that advantage. It would be astonishing technology today but these were designed half a century ago in 1964! Adjusted for inflation, the cartridges were $2157 and the styluses were $541 each. These appear to be (Sony isn’t saying) rebranded versions of the coveted, legendary, and rare Satin M8-45E. The Sony cartridges cost me $30 and the styluses are $6. Easy pickings at eBay.

They are splashy and spectacular sounding. Pure vinyl sound is pulled-out here. They have pure performance and their separation is consistent: it saturates and oozes off walls. If you want “air” then these are serious beasts to look for.

 An induced magnet design without the ADC problem and under $10 each at eBay. In the western world, the Micro-Seiki VF-3100 cartridges are pretty much unknown making them rare. It is easier to find there rebranded versions like the SANSUI SC-32, SC-50, and SC-80. They use the induced magnet design. And you’ll find a lot of styluses are still available at low cost.

ADC and the Micro Seiki/Sansui have similar sounds to LOMC cartridge but have higher output. But engineering gives a bit less stereo separation but much better than a modern ‘audiophile-tuned’ cartridge. They are still much better than a modern low-cost audiophile cartridge. The main advantage to the Sansui is you can still get NOS styluses for low cost.


 SHURE M3D; the first stereo cartridge. The M3D/M7D/RADIO SHACK RS100 are really sloths. But their syrupy sound is so smooth. Physical limits means no high octave and worst groove/stylus wear. And Shure’s weakness has always been the lack of stereo separation. In separation, their later reboots were rougher sounding. And despite their marketing of ‘light tracking is best,’ they never addressed the excessive groove/stylus wear. Light-tracking is more to induce the thin cantilever rough acting synthesized/artificial highs boost. The original M-series quit at 12-kHz. But when rare third-generation MM technology is easily and cheaply grafted on them then they become competitive with the legendary, and pricey, SP- except in separation. No broadband separation and excessive crosstalk means they won’t have “air.” But heck- it is a budget working man’s design cartridge so it does pretty good. With the fix, groove noise remains low and like good first-generation cartridges, there are no loading problems.

I use to pick them up for around $40 at eBay. No more. Apparently and quietly they have obtained cult status. Look at their prices now. Airy prices but not airy sound.

 I’ve even found a modern goodie with all the right stuff. Like the Sony XL-MC1, the problem is they cost too little. But they have all the right stuff. I won’t make mention of them anymore.


And there are more. Perhaps I will share more later or I hope others will chime in.

In each case, I listened to them carefully. I think there were smart designers. They had pride, determination, and rewards to get accurate sound. But the popular brands are not so good. They cut corners and they compromised to meet low price points. The rare designs that use good principles are refreshing. A few unpopular antique cartridges have build quality and natural sound that should be admired, and their sounds show atypical superiority. Now with low eBay prices they can be owned by everyone.

Finally, I wish you all happy music using whatever you prefer.

gvasale
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Re: Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by gvasale » 31 Dec 2014 01:49

Part of the reason cartridges could be bought for a penny to a few bucks more is 1) because many had tremendous markup, and 2) if your volume in popular turntables was high enough you could get OEM pricing on them. Here the markup was also great...like 60% off list prices. Then add the base and dustcover for normal retail & you made decent money on the sale.

I don't think that in the 6 1/2 years I worked in retail audio I ever sold a Shure M3/M7 cartridge. The others, loads...along with Pickering and ADC with ADC being the smallest in numbers. In the time period from 1968 to 1976 the others of which you speak were largely unknowns.

Snead
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Re: Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by Snead » 31 Dec 2014 02:29

Hiya Paladin!!

I haven't read your post yet, but just wanted to say that nice that you decided to stick your beak in here once in a while!

majerjack

Re: Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by majerjack » 31 Dec 2014 12:45

Good job, Paladin. Your posts provide a genuinely helpful service to those seeking a good cartridge at a good price. Please keep them coming.

fscl
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Re: Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by fscl » 31 Dec 2014 13:54

Will...... :shock: :) =D>

Great to see you back.... :!:

Great post as usual, but there goes fleabay pricing... #-o ](*,)

Fred

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Re: Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by spittenkittens » 31 Dec 2014 14:28

A couple of years ago I saw a guy asking $300.00 for a used Shure M7D. I don't know why he didn't sell it :roll:
As a rule I like all old carts, the only draw back on many is not the sound, but the vtf. Even some of those Sonotones sounded pretty good.

Snead
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Re: Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by Snead » 01 Jan 2015 03:26

Paladin, yes you are correct. The last major unexplored area of cartness is vintage Asian stuff. The Euro and American makes are so well-known that cheap thrills from them are rare anymore.

BTW, I took your advice of a couple of years back and bought an M75 and an Era4 97. The 75 in particular shot right to the top of my fun-to-listen-to list. I'd rather listen to it than anything else, except perhap for classical. That's where the 97 shines.

So, thanks!

Snead

katana1100
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Re: Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by katana1100 » 01 Jan 2015 19:18

I think a lot of carts are overpriced hunks, some are underpriced, but they fly under the radar because they don't have the marketing/magazine articles/"buzz".
One that I think is still under the radar is the pioneer plc9, standard on the pl41. A lot got tossed because people thought they could find a better name cart. Has 29db separation, no special loading needed, sounds great on any preamp, can be found for around $40 and good aftermarket stylus can be found for $15. I got three of them, great classic cart, looks like an early build from AT.
Funny how prices skyrocket when "word" gets out. I remember when pickering xsv3000 used to be cheap, heck, got a brand new Realistic rxt4 (same as old shure 97) for $60 two years ago, now they go for around 100 used with ratty needle.

Paladin
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Re: Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by Paladin » 02 Jan 2015 19:08

Hey, hey…hi guys. You’re making me feel welcome. Good to see you all spinning. I guess we are a dedicated lot, eh? The world passed us by and we remain boat anchors with attitude. And the world spins back on us; some have rediscovered our niche little hobby. I kind of like that. For a while I took an unpaid sabbatical and starting studying cartridge’s internal designs. I must have a boring life.

Snead, you made an excellent point. Good job. What of the Asian cartridges? We dabble in them; their LOMC cartridges are now accepted. So now they cost more. I hope you all got what you needed. Why don’t we touch the Asian MM/MI version? Are we scared because we don’t know what they do?

They are more variable. They seem to be more radical designs. From the ones I have seen, the assembly quality varies from average to exceptional. And their sound quality varies more. It’s fun to me; experimenting with cartridges that are low cost now but have high-quality designs and have enough stylus support so I can stock up. So what do we look for? Look at the core- the patents.

Yup, we need to look deeper into alternative designs. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by. They are unknown now, inexpensive today, and getting rarer by the day.

http://i62.tinypic.com/2dmed89.jpg

Katana1100 is right. The Pickering XSV series was darn good. It was too expensive and we wouldn’t change. I call it the ‘third generation MM design.’ I think the Pickering and Stanton’s later versions (the 880S and 881S) were the best MM cartridges the world has ever seen. And I think there are undiscovered ones.

They used newly invented technology from 1970 to make them work. Unfortunately, without their special styluses with their lightweight rare-earth magnets, once the consumables are gone, they are dead in the water. I adapted the Pickering principle on a Shure M3D. I call it the “M3D Mk-III.”

Can we make an alternative XSV cartridge today? I think so.

I think Stanton snuck one or two under us. Until now, I have only spoken once about it. This is guesswork, a bit of speculation, and very little detective work on my part. Let’s see if we can sort this out; it has been many years.

Smart businesses reuse parts. In the mid-‘80s we left- we went digital. Suddenly, Pickering & Stanton had an overload of expensive third-gen cartridges. Why not sell to their only remaining customers; the DJs stayed for a long time. It would be a simple job to re-label their cartridges.

I lost an ad from an audio magazine a long time ago and I could shoot myself for losing it. It was from the very late-‘80s or very early ‘90s. They showed off two new DJ cartridges: Stanton 890 SA and 680 HP. These were different but Stanton was too button-lipped to tell us why.

Look at the specs for the Stanton 880 SA. It was tough (Pickering & Stanton cartridges were generally tough) and it had the desirable trait a DJ wants- it has high output. But unlike other DJ cartridges, it sounded unusually, VERY UNUSUALLY, good. Like- LOMC cartridge good. The separation was above average and the treble was smooth- just like the XSV/880 series. Could the 880/881S have been the older 800 series reincarnated? And let’s not forget the later variation- the Stanton 890 FS. But when the styluses run out, unfortunately, they run out of steam. Bummer!

Let’s go the next step. The older 500 1960s series was a two-coil moving magnet design. Next was the 680 series that was a four-coil moving-iron design. They proved that both MM and MI designs work.

Now, what about that 680 HP? HP meant High-Output. It had identical specs with its contrasting fraternal twin brother with the exception of three negligible things; it has 2-kHz less high frequency (18-kHz,) 0.5-mV less output, and it was a moving-iron design.

Let the next carefully sink in.

We know that a MI designs have their precious magnet permanently installed in the cartridge. Their exciters/cantilevers are simple iron slugs. If the MI 680HP had a permanently installed high-energy samarium-cobalt magnet then any 680 moving-iron cantilever works. In other words, it can use the older audiophile 681 styluses. And the 680 series was very popular; there are plenty of styluses. Could the 680 HP could be a mutation of the 881-S but using common 680 styluses? They work for me.

A DIY hobbyist could have some fun. Shave the iron in the 680 cantilever using a sharp Xacto blade. It would not be easy but doable. The result would still have high-output and lightened rear magnet/iron mass (the most important part.) Then take on famous LOMC cartridges. I’m betting you get the 680HP missing 1-kHz and more. I may try it. Or I could be dreaming.

http://www.kabusa.com/890sa.htm

http://www.kabusa.com/680hp.htm

Katana1100 has got me curious. I need to refresh myself on the Pickering design.

Last but not least- hi Fred!

Paladin
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Re: Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by Paladin » 04 Jan 2015 06:25

http://i59.tinypic.com/2enqa07.jpg
The 1962 Shure stylus patent is out in the open. And what is their claim? Let me quote it in its entirety.

“The ornamental design for a phonograph needle, substantially as shown and designed.”

That is it. That is the whole patent. It shows an extremely simplistic structure. Not much to it, is it? “Ornamental design?” I think it was added to prevent stylus switching; they designed a nose obstruction. They made a lot of money off it. And the others followed.

Here is the original patent: https://www.google.com/patents/USD19385 ... oQ6AEwAjgK

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Re: Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by Balifly » 04 Jan 2015 06:47

I am happy to see your post.

It has been a long time since I last seen your post.

Reading your posts slowly and trying to comprehend..... :)

katana1100
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Re: Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by katana1100 » 07 Jan 2015 02:50

"They used newly invented technology from 1970 to make them work. Unfortunately, without their special styluses with their lightweight rare-earth magnets, once the consumables are gone, they are dead in the water."

This is why it is crucial that people DON'T toss their worn out oem styli! They can be retipped (like I just did ) for $87 and sound great.
If buying one off the bay, forgo the ones with a new aftermarket needle and look for ones with stock, worn our needles and get them retipped.
No one sells used or worn out styli, so if you don't get a stanton/pickering cart with an oem styli, you never will and you will be stuck with a cart that will never sound like it should.

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Re: Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by eljorge » 09 Jan 2015 18:41

Hey Paladin, looks like you have been doing the homework for us, great stuff and very informative, keep it coming. cheers, Jorge

donovan
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Re: Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by donovan » 10 Jan 2015 01:49

Great post....I do like those old vintage ADC cartridges from the 1870's.

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Re: Welcome to the Wonderful Back to the Future Cartridges!

Post by dlaloum » 10 Jan 2015 12:47

With regards to the Stantering family (ies?)

I think the true 3rd generation were the LOMM's the XLZ and the 980's - Low Output Moving Magnet...

When I move my D7500 stylus from the XLZ7500 to the XSP3000 body (from Low Output to Standard Output model) - what I notice (aside from the change in output level - and once cartridge loading is adjusted to achieve very very close to the same frequency response profile / voicing) is that there is a loss in signal starting from around 2kHz...

My own assumption is that eddy current losses start to kick in around there - and the lower signal level in the LOMM bodies, implies lower eddy currents and reduced losses...

Whatever it is the most critical frequencies 1khz to 8kHz are better with the LOMM design than they are with the standard design...

Makes one wonder why there have not been more LOMM's? (Sounsmith now make LOMM's using the B&O Microcross system... for a price)

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