Cartridge Hopping

I was waiting for the day this would happen: the stylus on my Shure V15 Type V has finally worn out.  (Amusingly, this is the first stylus for that cartridge I ever wore out–I managed to damage the brittle cantilever in all the other styli I’d owned!)  Records just didn’t sound right, and with this trusty old V15 racking up the miles, it was only a matter of time before the diamond would wear down.

Buying a VN5MR replacement stylus is a gamble.  These replacements are known to have a shelf life, where the suspension may actually solidify over time unless the whole assembly is stored in an airtight container.  I would never buy a used one, as the cantilever is very brittle and easily bent or broken; plus, there is no telling how much the stylus was used, without the benefit of a microscope.  Buying a new one is the only sane option, yet the few that appear now are very expensive and rarely listed.

The V15 Type V MR is not to be confused with the Type Vx, whose stylus assembly is not interchangeable.  The original Type V uses the grey stabilizer, where the Vx replacement had a maroon stabilizer.  The Vx is the 1990s reissue of the original, which came along in 1982.  I bought my Type V back in 1982, in fact, right after it was released.  Even though it first shipped with the “HE” (Shure’s Hyperelliptical) stylus, it still was a revelation, tracking anything I threw at it.  The “MR” (MicroRidge) stylus was released in 1983, and I promptly bought one.  Over the years, of course, I went through a few of them.  When Shure discontinued manufacturing of the replacements several years ago, supplies dried up.

So, that leaves me with hardly any choice to stick with my trusty V15.  What should I replace it with?  I have rolled a few options over in my head.  Criteria?  Tracking ability is top–if it can’t track a groove without distortion, I can’t listen to it for very long.  Of all the carts I’ve owned or heard, only those with some kind of “line contact” stylus can track the type of records I sometimes play.  Beyond that, I like a bit more of a laid back presentation.  Cartridges can have some extension on top, but if it is overly forward or bright, it grates on my nerves.  But I like a fuller midrange and a well controlled bass; overall, I like it to sound fluid and musical.  Revealing…but not in the traditional “treble heavy” sense that many attribute to a revealing component–I like to hear inner details and little nuances.

With all that in mind, here are some of my choices.

Sonata1 & Platinum1Grado Gold or Grado Reference Platinum: of all the cartridges I’ve owned, the two Grados I had are among my favorites.  The drawback is that these Grado cartridges all use an elliptical stylus.  Only their top of the line cart for $3000 has something close to a line contact stylus.  A shame.  Such beautiful sound, with limited tracking ability.

Audio Technica AT150MLX or AT440MLa: fantastic trackers!  Yet, current and past AT carts I’ve heard have been on the bright side, and I cannot listen to them for long as I find them tiring and tedious.  The AT150MLX is the more refined of the two.  Even back in the 1970s I didn’t care for the AT sound: my grandfather had replaced his Shure M44 with an AT, and I didn’t care for its emphasis on a “forward” type of sound.

Audio Technica OC9 Mk III: AT’s low output moving coil.  It has the same Microline stylus as the 150MLX and 440MLa, but utilizes a moving coil.  Disadvantages:  I’ve never heard it, I don’t yet own a step-up transformer, and I cannot replace the stylus.  My aging, arthritic fingers are not as nimble as they used to be.  I do not want a cartridge to fear me.

Dynavector DV20X2 or Karat 17D3:  the Karat series has been on my “lusting after” list for years.  The 17D3 utilizes an extremely short cantilever made out of diamond.  Yet the price tag and lack of user-replaceable stylus are deal killers for me.  These will be on the back burner for awhile.

Nagaoka MP-500:  This one looks interesting, having a good stylus tip and many users reporting it to be a very musical cartridge.  It is a bit out of my budget at the moment, however, but it will be one to watch in the near future.

Ortofon MC-3 Turbo:  A high-output moving coil from Ortofon.  It utilizes their “Nude Fine Line” stylus, just like the 2M Bronze.  Yet, I could find few reviews of this cartridge.

2M Bronze Verso hifisiteOrtofon 2M Black or 2M Bronze:  both are moving magnet cartridges.  The 2M Bronze uses the Nude Fine Line, but the 2M Black uses a genuine Shibata stylus, which many reviews have praised for its ability to extract information out of the grooves.  One went so far as to say the 2M Black was the logical successor to the V15 Type V/Vx due to its outstanding tracking ability, neutrality and outstanding musicality.  The audiophile press even likes it!  Those who have heard both the Black and the Bronze noted the improvement in the Black.  My question: is it really $200-$300 better?

Time will tell.  By the end of this year I will have picked my choice and will update here.  My current choice would be the 2M Black.

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