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Difference of $200 cartridge vs a $6,000+ cartridge?

Practically speaking, the key performance indicators are effective tip mass, and needle profile (longer contact patch = better).

In practice that means looking for well designed exotic cantilevers, and linear contact needle types.

The other major limitation on cartridge/needle performance is the match with the arm system... cantilever suspension compliance needs to be matched to arm effective mass - and damping in the arm system (oil, magnetic, or whatever), in combination with the level of damping in the cantilever suspension can then affect the match and the sound quality. In a perfect world, you want minimum damping in the cantilever suspension... and have the arm system damped instead - but that tends to result in very high compliance cartridges, and very low mass damped arms - sadly we have moved away from that solution over the last 3 decades....

There are some outlier designs that achieve objectives differently... eg: Dynavector Karat cartridges, where the low tip mass is achieved by shortening the cantilever drastically...

The top Stanton cartridges had an aluminium cantilever made using a proprietary hardening method, which allowed for thinner cantilever walls, and the lowest effective mass I have seen on an aluminium cantilever... (better than many exotic rod cantilevers... as a principle, tubes are lighter than rods...)

With MM designs, there are some marginal benefits that are obtained by laminating the generator core, which reduces magnetic eddy flux effects... the top Shures and AT's always touted their laminated cores...

The other thing to watch for, especially with high inductance cartridges (MM) - is they are very sensitive to loading, both resistive and capacitive.... and you can massively change their frequency response by adjusting the loading.
20 Years ago, the only way to get really neutral frequency response, was to tweak the loading with lots of measurements and adjustments - a painful and slow process....
Today, we can just pick a loading that gives us decent extended frequency response without worrying too much about peaks and troughs caused by the loading - and then do the final adjustment using digital EQ.

This is the process that Technics has effectively automated with their test record and built in digital EQ on the flagship integrated amp.... I still await the arrival on the market of other such Digital Phono Amps with built in EQ! (yes you can do it yourself, with various tools, and hardware, but it is still needlessly fiddly, where technics has shown it can be simple!)

In any case - you can go out and purchase a Shure V15V body, and then a Jico SAS stylus for it, and you instantly have a high end performance combination for under $500 (often you can find the body for chump change, so the real cost is just the stylus)

There are other similar examples.

But yes... it gets difficult to justify cartridges over US$1000... there are occasional exceptions (The Dynavector Karat is one, and possibly the Soundsmith "Voice" )
Thx!! This is what I was fishing for.
 
Thx!! This is what I was fishing for.
He is speaking to theoretical design that you can see some correlation to cartridge measurements in the measurement thread. The real question is: can you hear the difference? The case where I could readily tell the difference was with a high inductance MM with high capacitance loading via cables and phono preamp. I happen to prefer a lower compliance cartridge with a higher mass arm, but others want the opposite. It’s all trade off’s, depending on your reliance on measurements versus listening and budget. Me, I look at measurements as a starting point, then factor in compatibility - think cartridge/arm resonance - and budgetary constraints before choosing. Because turntable combos make a difference - versus digital where you have much less to worry about - at some point an audition is needed to confirm. If you get joy out of fiddling with it - it’s great.
 
What is the difference between a $200 cartridge and a $6,000 cartridge?

I couldn't tell you, but my Sumiko Palo Santos retailed for $3,500. I bought it for $800 from a buddy who virtually never used it and it sounds extremely neutral and tracks well... an added bonus is that I find it quite attractive, and to me that matters too. Think of aesthetics as "visual SINAD".

Luxman PD-300.jpg
 
He is speaking to theoretical design that you can see some correlation to cartridge measurements in the measurement thread. The real question is: can you hear the difference? The case where I could readily tell the difference was with a high inductance MM with high capacitance loading via cables and phono preamp. I happen to prefer a lower compliance cartridge with a higher mass arm, but others want the opposite. It’s all trade off’s, depending on your reliance on measurements versus listening and budget. Me, I look at measurements as a starting point, then factor in compatibility - think cartridge/arm resonance - and budgetary constraints before choosing. Because turntable combos make a difference - versus digital where you have much less to worry about - at some point an audition is needed to confirm. If you get joy out of fiddling with it - it’s great.
Thanks. This is all helpful.
 
Material and labor cost differences of a $200 cartridge vs a $6,000+ cartridge?



On a whim-- I was wondering if cartridge prices are alike cable prices? I know the needles are a huge factor but at $6000 and up cartridge what craft or specialty are you getting for them to charge so much? Is there a ceiling on material costs such as using platinum or gold wiring (Half kidding) and some rare wood for it’s body?



This started because I’m looking for a new cartridge just to change up the sound and see if I prefer one or the other. I do this every year and have tested several cartridges from each manufacturer Audio Technic, Shure, LP Gear, Rega, Ortofon, Denon, and others I don’t recall. My current Rega TT and tonearm work for me and keep me under a certain price range—I think? I keep a very unscientific notebook for each one.

I don’t know the answer, and I wouldn’t want to advise anyone what to buy as far as turntables, cartridges etc.

Anecdotally: when I moved from an older, but well regarded MICRO SEIKI DD-40 Turntable - w Ortofon Cartridge, MA-505 Tonearm, to a newer high mass German turntable with Benz Micro Ebony L cartridge, the sound became notably cleaner, less record noise, and complex passages that became congested on the previous set up were no problem on the newer set up. More CD-like in that respect.
 
Every now and then I have a craving to get back into vinyl. Damn I miss opening up Tales from Topographic Oceans and seeing the beautiful artwork. And even the craft of a stylus making amazing sounds out of a cut groove on an LP. Thank you everyone for reminding me of the cost. :) But I wish you all well on your journey.
 
the key performance indicators are effective tip mass

Audibly, if FR is relatively close, initial listening tests seem to not support that.
 
Every now and then I have a craving to get back into vinyl. Damn I miss opening up Tales from Topographic Oceans and seeing the beautiful artwork. And even the craft of a stylus making amazing sounds out of a cut groove on an LP. Thank you everyone for reminding me of the cost. :) But I wish you all well on your journey.

I had the craving too. It's cost me waaaay more time, money and sanity than I expected. Would not recommend but at this point I enjoy the sound too much to turn back.
 
I have 4 cartridges

Audio-Technica AT-VM95SH - MM - ~$200 (2024)
Shure V15 Type III - MM - ~$200 (1980)
Sumiko Blue Point Special - HOMC - ~ $300 (1985)
Sumiko Blackbird - HOMC - ~$1200 (2010)

I’d be hard pressed to tell them apart, in a test
 
See the measurements library. The peak performance is frequency -0.5+ 2dB, separation -31db, peak distortion < than -25db, Microridge and Boron cantilever. You get the that from AT for less than 1000usd, from others you pay twice as much. Beyond that you pay for luxury.
I think the VdH MC ONE Special I had is still a little bit better regarding specs (see below). However when it finally broke I went for a much cheaper AT33PTG/II - even cheaper then getting the VdH repaired. Audio memory is very short lived but my subjective impression is that the AT is just as good.

SpecificationVdH MC-ONE SpecialAT33ptg/II
Stylus Shape:VDH - IMicrolinear
Stylus Radii:3 x 85 Micron2.2 x 0.12 mil
Frequency Range:5 - 50.000 Hz15-50,000 Hz
Tracking Force:13.5 - 15.0 mN1.8-2.2 g (2.0 g standard)
Static Compliance:28 Micron/mN40 x 10-6 cm/dyne
Dynamic Compliance;--10 x 10-6 cm/dyne (100 Hz)
Tracking Ability at 15mN at 315Hz:70 - 80 Micron--
Output Voltage eff.:0.65 mV RMS (at 1 kHz, 5.7 cm/s)0.3 mV (at 1 kHz, 5 cm/s)
Channel Unbalance:< 0.5 dB0.5 dB (1 kHz)
Channel Separation:> 35 dB (1 kHz) / > 30 dB (10 kHz)30 dB (1 kHz)
Equivalent Stylus Tip Mass:0.35 Milligram--
System Weight:8.2 g6.9 g
Vertical Tracking Angle :22°23°
Recommended Load Impedance:200 OhmMore than 100 ohms (when head amplifier is connected)
Recommended Eff Tone arm Mass:8 - 12 Gram--
Moving Coil Resistance per channel:9 Ohm +/- 10%10 ohms
 
Already here for $500 - Parks Waxwing.
Not really - the waxwing does things the same way we can currently do them with multiple tools and hardware...

If what is being sought is auto EQ to achieve a flat F/R via the combination of loading and digital EQ, this is a step in the right direction, but nowhere near the automation of that process that the Technics achieves...

I've been doing what the Waxwing does for years using an custom phono pre (for loading), ADC and PC software...
 
The vinyl record is very limited in bandwidth, especially in the bass and wears out quickly, attenuating the high frequencies which then disappear irremediably after a few passages. The struggle between diamond and plastic is unequal. Concerning the cartridges, all are colored and even the low end reads any disc perfectly with ease, restoring the entire musical message (at least what remains after pressing, which is destructive for all details).
I never spent more than $250 for a Denon 103, a Sumiko Blue Point Special (old model), several Ortofons (I keep the X3, a high-level MC), an AKG and a few Shure (70 & 75, excellent even without considering price) and a Sony XL 15. Delivered with an old turntable of the brand (PS T 15) purchased for $15. My favorite arm is their PS LX 300 H).
I also had a Rega Planar 2 with a Jelco arm with detachable shell but the motor failed and I sold it. The belt antiskating (?) no longer worked either.
There are certainly limits in bandwidth, which are well understood.

The wear issues are massively dependent on a variety of other factors...

Take an average TT, put a conical stylus cartridge on there, and run it at 2g to 3g - which is quite common for current setups - and you will have a lot of wear.

Factors that can dramatically increase wear include:

High VTF ( lower vtf = lower wear, through lower force being applied to the vinyl) - but counterintuitively look at tracking

Tracking - when the contact patch on the needle cannot maintain consistent contact with the track walls, it bounces, skips and surfs the track wall waves... this is called mistracking. - the problem with it is greater than merely decreased sound quality - when the needle lands back on the vinyl wall after a bounce/skip/surf, it does so with substantially increased force, resulting in a "splash" (to continue the surfing metaphore" - which is permanent damage to the vinyl track wall. - ANY mistracking, results in dramatically increased wear. Which brings me to stylus contact patch width... if the contact patch is too wide, it cannot fit in the smaller waves on the track wall which are the encoding of higher frequencies - so your typical conical stylus, doesn not only miss out on everything over 15khz... any part of the recording that includes material at those high frequencies will cause the stylus to mistrack... it cannot fit into those grooves, so it loses contact with the wall, and causes damage on regaining contact.
Playing a record with a basic conical stylus is a recipe for rapid an permanent wear. :(
So what about elipticals - well, the better elipticals can indeed track the high frequencies... eliminating much of the mistracking wear... but take a look at the contact patch factor...

Contact Patch - so as mentioned above VTF is a direct wear factor (and the easiest one to understand intuitively) - ultimately the wear is proportional to the pressure applied per surface area at the contact patch. Wear can be reduced by reducing VTF (as long as mistracking does not set in... see mistracking above) - or it can be achieved by expanding the contact surface area - ie: spread the VTF over a larger surface area.
How do we do that? - simply expanding the contact patch will result in mistracking as it gets wider and is unable to fit between the higher frequency corrugations of the vinyl.... so we need to seperate the horizontal width of the contact patch, from the vertical height of the contact patch - what we need is a long vertical contact patch, with a very narrow horizontal width. That then allows the contact patch to maintain contact with the groove at high frequencies due to the narrow horizontal width, and spread the VTF over a larger surface area due to the extended vertical length of the contact patch.
This is what is achieved using microline, shibata, and other similar complex needle shapes.... long narrow contact patch.
Elipticals have the narrow horizontal contact patch, but their vertical length is about the same as the conical... so they often have a smaller contact patch than a conical does - reduced wear due to reduced mistracking, but increased wear due to increased VTF per area...
Swings and roundabouts - a good low VTF (high compliance) eliptical with a matching low mass arm, will achieve decent wear performance.
But wear can be reduced by a couple of orders of magnitude by moving to a line contact needle type in the same situation...

as an aside, keep in mind that higher wear levels apply to both the needle and the vinyl... a line contact needle will have a lifetime of 3 to 5 times the playing hours of an eliptical or conical stylus... (we can discuss the definition of "lifetime" - I believe Jico use the measure of distortion increasing to beyond 3%... from memory)

Cleanliness....
You want to reduce wear... make sure the record is clean! grit and dust in the track will increase wear to needle and vinyl by an order of magnitude.

Lubrication.
Yes, the vinyl surface can be lubricated which improves performance, reduces wear and increases needle life. Products include guvglide, Last record treatment (with fomblin lubricant... google it), or DIY solutions such as Armorall.

If you want to reduce wear on both vinyl and needle, and you want to reproduce what is encoded into the groove, as perfectly as possible, you have to go with a high compliance, low VTF cartridge and stylus, mounted in a low mass arm (preferably with damping) - this handles the mechanical aspects... then you need custom loading/EQ to achieve a flat/neutral frequency response, and a quality phono pre, which can handle the dynamic peaks generated not so much by the music but by the flaws in viny, the clicks and pops... so although the music may be limited to 60db to 80db dynamic range, the requirements for the phono pre, are ideally somewhere over 120db.
and this is where we start hitting limitations in our available audio technology - whether analogue or digital, achieving that dynamic range is tricky.
 
What is the difference between a $200 cartridge and a $6,000 cartridge?

I couldn't tell you, but my Sumiko Palo Santos retailed for $3,500. I bought it for $800 from a buddy who virtually never used it and it sounds extremely neutral and tracks well... an added bonus is that I find it quite attractive, and to me that matters too. Think of aesthetics as "visual SINAD".

View attachment 373695
That looks like a Jelco manufactured arm - which from memory also has oil damping built into the pivot point... it's a nice mid to high mass solution.
 
Audibly, if FR is relatively close, initial listening tests seem to not support that.
The effective tip mass is the main driver of the cantilever resonance.

Even with exotic solid tube cantilevers, that resonance can be in the 14kHz to 16kHz range.... I have 2 Jico SAS samples, both boron rod cantilevers one with a resonance frequency of 14kHz and the other 16kHz.... Needless to say, these impact directly on the FR!

You can adjust for them via loading but generally you have to compromise between flat FR in the 1k to 14k region, followed by dramatic fall off thereafter, or a less perfect midrange FR, but with good extension.

On the other hand, if you have an original V15VMR needle - with substantially lower effective tip mass, it results in a resonance frequency of circa 32Khz... and with appropriate loading adjustment, you can achieve a nice flat FR right through to 20kHz

So yes the key is as you say "FR being relatively close" - but effective tip mass affects FR directly and noticeably.

The Dynavector Karat has a very low effective tip mass achieved through its tiny short cantilever.... resonance frequency is around 50kHz.... and it easily achieves a ruler flat FR....

I have not had an oppotunity to test/measure/listen to some other designs that claim very low tip mass, eg: Soundsmith "The Voice" - the development of the B&O MMC1.

The lovely TOTL stanton's had a cantilever resonance around 19Khz... and achieved it with very thin walled aluminium tubes.

Technics EPC100mk4 was the lowest tip mass ever made, achieving a resonance frequency of aroun 100kHz - well outside the audible range. - This was achieved by making boron tube cantilevers. - Sadly no one is making such cantilevers today. - all the current styi are either aluminium tubes, or boron/saphire rods.
 
I have 4 cartridges

Audio-Technica AT-VM95SH - MM - ~$200 (2024)
Shure V15 Type III - MM - ~$200 (1980)
Sumiko Blue Point Special - HOMC - ~ $300 (1985)
Sumiko Blackbird - HOMC - ~$1200 (2010)

I’d be hard pressed to tell them apart, in a test
I ran some blind tests of about 10 of my cartridges, about 15 years ago...

Even with custom loading to attempt to achieve as flat a FR as possible, they still sounded different - close, but differences were identifiable.

When I then applied custom digital EQ to them, to achieve a flat FR on all of them, the differences between them evaporated

But doing this was far too fiddly, with too little subjective impact, to bother with on a regular basis.

Hence I await the arrival of a more automated method for achieving this.
 
I think the VdH MC ONE Special I had is still a little bit better regarding specs (see below). However when it finally broke I went for a much cheaper AT33PTG/II - even cheaper then getting the VdH repaired. Audio memory is very short lived but my subjective impression is that the AT is just as good.

SpecificationVdH MC-ONE SpecialAT33ptg/II
Stylus Shape:VDH - IMicrolinear
Stylus Radii:3 x 85 Micron2.2 x 0.12 mil
Frequency Range:5 - 50.000 Hz15-50,000 Hz
Tracking Force:13.5 - 15.0 mN1.8-2.2 g (2.0 g standard)
Static Compliance:28 Micron/mN40 x 10-6 cm/dyne
Dynamic Compliance;--10 x 10-6 cm/dyne (100 Hz)
Tracking Ability at 15mN at 315Hz:70 - 80 Micron--
Output Voltage eff.:0.65 mV RMS (at 1 kHz, 5.7 cm/s)0.3 mV (at 1 kHz, 5 cm/s)
Channel Unbalance:< 0.5 dB0.5 dB (1 kHz)
Channel Separation:> 35 dB (1 kHz) / > 30 dB (10 kHz)30 dB (1 kHz)
Equivalent Stylus Tip Mass:0.35 Milligram--
System Weight:8.2 g6.9 g
Vertical Tracking Angle :22°23°
Recommended Load Impedance:200 OhmMore than 100 ohms (when head amplifier is connected)
Recommended Eff Tone arm Mass:8 - 12 Gram--
Moving Coil Resistance per channel:9 Ohm +/- 10%10 ohms
I still have a lightly used Empire MC one... this was the Empire branded twin to the VdH MC one.... they were manufactured jointly and sold through their respective channels back in the day.

Sadly I was running an ultra low mass 4g revox linatrack arm, and the suposedly expert audio consultant told me they would be a "perfect match".... no they were not!!! (and it caused me to take a decade hiatus from vinyl!)

He was right in saying that Empire ran this cartridge on their version of the Revox Linatrack TT and arm, but what he did not know/realise, was that empire made a highly modified version of the linatrack, replacing the ultra light plastic/Delrin arm, with a heavy brass version... and beefing up the drive mechanism to handle the higher mass.... thereby taking a low mass design and turning it into a mid mass design - perfectly suited to the MC one.

Other than images in a review from 30+ years ago, I have never seen these modified Revox TT's - I don't know how many were made & sold, but can't have been a lot.

My MC one, by the way, sounds great in a mid mass arm (JVC QL-Y5F)

IMO - between the MC1 and AT33, I would probably pick the AT33 as the better performer ultimately. (from a spec glance, and not having tried or measured the AT)
 
That looks like a Jelco manufactured arm - which from memory also has oil damping built into the pivot point... it's a nice mid to high mass solution.
Correct on all counts! It works very well with this old school medium compliance low output MC cartridge.
It is really too bad they shut down. Jelco tonearms were very high quality at "real world" prices.
 
[..] My MC one, by the way, sounds great in a mid mass arm (JVC QL-Y5F)
I ran/run both MC one and AT33 on the old Linn Ekos (bought used in 1995). AFAIR it has ~12g effective mass.
 
Almost everything you say is interesting but what is needed is to make scientific listening comparisons by ABX. Otherwise we remain in impressionism.
 
Not really - the waxwing does things the same way we can currently do them with multiple tools and hardware...

If what is being sought is auto EQ to achieve a flat F/R via the combination of loading and digital EQ, this is a step in the right direction, but nowhere near the automation of that process that the Technics achieves...

I've been doing what the Waxwing does for years using an custom phono pre (for loading), ADC and PC software...
The Waxwing does it without a PC and has 24 memories to store your custom setups. A "practical" solution to fine tuning the response of your cartridge.
 
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