I know my opinion may be unpopular, but I have found it has merit.
When setting up a cartridge, I often turn to my Shure Audio Obstacle Course LP to help with the setup. It has a helpful track for setting the anti-skating. In addition, it has a set of test tones that help you determine the trackability of your cartridge.
While I have heard the argument that I shouldn’t play test records to test the trackability, I have found a direct correlation between the test record and the records I actually play day-to-day. My old Shure V15 Type V-MR could, on its best days, play all six of the trackability grooves without ever breaking up. And it played every record I owned flawlessly, especially those which are cut on the “hot” side of the scale. Sibilance just simply is not an issue–it played everything without any tracking distortion whatsoever.
Nothing else I’ve owned has come close. The Shure M44-7 was the absolute worst tracker I’ve ever had in my system; thankfully I only use its 78RPM stylus, so it’s not a worry. My old Grado GF3E+ could only play the first three (out of six) trackability signals, as could the crappy Dynavector DV10X3 I owned.
Any time I start reading reviews, I keep hearing about what great trackers these cartridges are. Yet I bet few if any could get past the test tones. Do reviewers ever listen with vinyl that will actually push a cartridge to its trackability limit? Even some LPs that I didn’t suspect of mistracking still can, such as the 180 gram Van Morrison Moondance, which the V15 glided through but nothing else has successfully. When I hear an “s” being slurred like a bad lisp, cymbals sounding like a mistuned FM radio, or cymbal hits that “pop” with distortion, I know a cartridge is falling short of my expectations.
So far there isn’t a review out there which pits the cartridges against a set of test tones that were designed to push the cartridge to its limit. And no, I don’t listen to test records all day, but for me the test tones are a proven way to quantify what I am hearing. And sure enough, if a cartridge won’t track the full set of test tones, then it also does not track the records I own and play daily. I’ve done it. I’ve proven it.