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Uncoloured phono cartridges

Jas0_0

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#1
Hi all,

Once you've found the correct compliance, weight and output for your system, without the help of further measurements it's hard to choose create a phono cartridge shortlist without resorting to subjective reviews.

Opinions elsewhere suggest for example that Hana is 'smooth', Denon is 'warm' and Audio Technica can be 'bright'. But... is there a brand of cartridge maker (or model of cartridge) that's generally viewed as uncoloured/neutral?

James
 

sergeauckland

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#2
Ignoring such undefined subjective terms such as 'warm' or 'smooth', and looking at published frequency response graphs for cartridges, it seems to me that they're all coloured to some extent. Most have a rise in high frequencies, some have a dip at around 2-8 kHz before the hf rise. MM cartridges can be corrected to some extent by adjusting capacitative and if necessary, resistive loading, whilst MC carts are pretty much what they are. If neutrality is the aim, then the best suggestion I can make is to have an external equaliser after the RIAA preamp, and correct the frequency response then. Buy a cartridge that tracks well, and has reasonably low distortion and crosstalk, then separately equalise the frequency response.

S
 

Blumlein 88

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#3
The good Shure cartridges. V15. Alas I think Shure only makes DJ cartridges now. The V15 was accused of tape like highs. As lp was usually sourced from tape...... Well what would you expect?
 

anmpr1

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#4
Back in the day Stanton used to advertise that they were the industry 'calibration standard'--the implication being that the 681 line was the most neutral and realistic. I know that radio stations used a lot of the 500 series because they were cheap, and could stand a lot of DJ abuse, spinnng 45 rpm's all day and night.

If I had to guess, and knowing a little about the business world, it wouldn't surprise me if Stanton gave away 681 cartridges as a quid pro quo for advertising purposes.

That said, I have two 681 derivatives and they are nice sounding. All cartridges sound different more or less. That's one thing that makes the hobby fun.

stanton3.jpg
 

Frank Dernie

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#5
All cartridges sound different more or less. That's one thing that makes the hobby fun.
It is one of the things that can make the hobby fun.
The thing with record players is that none are accurate so all will have audible differences so it is possible to tune to taste, or to match your speakers.

HiFi News have some measurements in their cartridge reviews.
 
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Jas0_0

Jas0_0

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Thread Starter #6
Ignoring such undefined subjective terms such as 'warm' or 'smooth', and looking at published frequency response graphs for cartridges, it seems to me that they're all coloured to some extent. Most have a rise in high frequencies, some have a dip at around 2-8 kHz before the hf rise. MM cartridges can be corrected to some extent by adjusting capacitative and if necessary, resistive loading, whilst MC carts are pretty much what they are. If neutrality is the aim, then the best suggestion I can make is to have an external equaliser after the RIAA preamp, and correct the frequency response then. Buy a cartridge that tracks well, and has reasonably low distortion and crosstalk, then separately equalise the frequency response.

S
This seems like really solid advice, thanks. I’m planning to swap my phono pre for a mic pre at some stage, and do digital equalisation, so will add this as a step.

I have a test record, but I’m suspicious of the pink noise track’s flatness. Are there other clever ways to measure frequency response to understand colourations?

James
 

SimpleTheater

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#7
The best cart I ever picked up was the Denon DL-103R MC. Each one is individually tested and comes with a frequency response chart, which would make eq'ing it a lot easier.
 

levimax

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#8
+1 Denon DL-103R if you want "flat" response. Attached are some measurements I made with my TT and a test record and "peak hold" on my Oscilloscope. The "vertical lines" represent the test tones on the sweep on the record so you want them to all be at the same level. For comparison is the same test on same TT of a AT VM-540ML which has a definite HF "hump" like most MM carts do. I played around with loading and capacitance but measured difference we very small and not necessarily "better" than just stock 47 Khz loading and the minimum capacitance you can get.
 

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franspambot

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#9
The best cart I ever picked up was the Denon DL-103R MC. Each one is individually tested and comes with a frequency response chart, which would make eq'ing it a lot easier.
The thing to watch out for is the very low compliance of that cartridge, which makes it less compatible with many modern, lighter mass tonearms as resonance can get a bit too close to 20Hz. I write this owning a Clearaudio Concept turntable and Carbon tonearm and being caught off-guard by this issue.

https://www.vinylengine.com/cartrid....php?m=Denon+DL103r&cm=8.5&dc=5&search=search
 

DSJR

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#10
Please be aware of how records are actually cut, or used to be back in the hey days of it all. This is what I was told by a Decca mastering engineer (all those now pricey 60's classic Decca cuts were often further eq'd to high heaven and I've personally see the evidence on a few tape boxes to kind of prove it)

Usually, no or severely rolled off bass below 40Hz (saves 'land' as less obvious 'squiggles' and granddad's old groove grinder won't jump), remaining bass is mono'd (again, to help prevent jumping), the upper mids are lifted (or bass-lower mids reduced) and a 'hot' master at hf gets a good dose of de-essing quite often. Not sure how much over 15khz was also cut at full spoeed mastering as I understand the cutter didn't always like it. So much was routinely done to get the music cut to an acetate. I also understand that 'DMM' cuts had to remove all sub 60Hz freqwuencies due to the risk of mod noise in the cutting.

So, where does that leave 'neutral' pickups? For me, the reference has to be a properly fine-tipped Decca. Somehow and taking all the compromises into account, A deccapodded Decca with fancy tip has the potential to come closest to the master I think I ever heard, at least until more recently. Trouble is, you enter into an emotional relationship with these darned cartridges, as they're damned unreliable, lop sided in compliance and if not absolutely right in build, diamond choice or setup, they tend to 'twang' a bit - all the fine tuning seems opposite to conventional cartridges too. I still keep my 'Podded' Gold Microscanner in the hope I'll have a suitable deck and arm to use it with (there's a Garrard 401 'rumble box' with an interesting unipivot arm coming as and when I can collect it).

You know, I reckon for general use, you'd do a lot worse than Audio Technica these days. Forgetting the 'foo' models, the venerable AT95E has evolved into a great and well liked series of 'VM95' models, with pretty flat responses and distortion reducing as the styli get better. Their cheaper MC types have consolidated (at least in the UK) into styli variations on their equally evergreen 'OC9' platform and the leaner tones of popular previous versions do seem to be nearer to the 'truth' even if it can be hard to bear.

Loads of others out there and this is where personal opinion comes in. I have a sneaky high regard for Rega's wild 'Apheta' range but the sound can be a bit much for warmer toned lovers and maybe the overload margins of many lesser phono stages.

Sorry for the essay (and hope I got it mostly right above). The killer for vinyl is background ticks and snaps as well as surface noise. A decent modern stylus tip can help take care of the noise annoyance BUT, the overload performance of a phono stage can kill it. I worry about cheaper stages with poor overload margins as even fifty years ago, an overload threshold of 30mV on an 'MM' stage was regarded as very poor indeed, yet some cheaper stages today are similar I believe if I read the figures right. The aforementioned AT VM95's are lower than some, so may offer a better effect here...
 

sergeauckland

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#11
This seems like really solid advice, thanks. I’m planning to swap my phono pre for a mic pre at some stage, and do digital equalisation, so will add this as a step.

I have a test record, but I’m suspicious of the pink noise track’s flatness. Are there other clever ways to measure frequency response to understand colourations?

James
I too am suspicious of pink and white noise on test records. I have several, and firstly, they're all different, and none of them match other measurements I've made. The only reliable way I know is to buy a specific frequency response test record, such as the JVC TRS-1007, CBS STR170 or the Decca SXL2057. The problem with all these is that unless you can find one unplayed, you have no idea how worn the high frequencies are, and so their accuracy is suspect.

Probably the best compromise is to buy a brand new version of The Ultimate Analogue Test LP which has frequency sweeps rather than individual bands, and so is likely to be more accurate than pink noise, which generally is for evaluation by listening rather than measuring....at least, that's what one test LP producer told me when I complained of the lack of accuracy of their noise bands!

What I've done, actually, I did it today as I just got my EMT cartridge retipped, was to record the test LP playback on my PC, then I could analyse the errors off-line. Doing that, you can adjust the equaliser to produce a flat response visualising on a screen, without putting more wear on the test LP.

Playing around with vinyl playback is a rabbit-hole one can very easily fall into, but I hope this helps.

S.
 

JeffS7444

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#12
As part of an ongoing experiment to see how good my vinyl sound can be without spending too much money, I've been experimenting with the Ortofon 2M, as it was one of the few MM cartridges for which I could find frequency response graphs:

http://www.hi-fiworld.co.uk/index.php/vinyl-lp/70-tests/103-cartridge-tests.html
https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/ortofon-2m-black-frequency-response-charts.312499/

Mine's "only" a 2M Red, but I'd like to try it with ~160 pF and 33K ohm loading. Not much concerned if response drops off above 16 kHz or so as I don't know if there's much meaningful program content there on an LP.
 

levimax

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#13
but I'd like to try it with ~160 pF and 33K ohm loading. Not much concerned if response drops off above 16 kHz or so as I don't know if there's much meaningful program content there on an LP.
I would not expect the Red to behave the same way as the Black and every combination of TT, Cart, Stylus, tone arm, tone arm wires, RCA cables are going to behave differently to changed loading. While some people "tune by ear" I would highly recommend you have some way of objectively measuring your results before you start messing around with capacitance and loading as if you make changes "blind" you are more likely to make things worse than better. Here is a good article on loading of MM carts https://sound-au.com/articles/cartridge-loading.html .... have fun in any case.
 

JeffS7444

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#14
I would not expect the Red to behave the same way as the Black and every combination of TT, Cart, Stylus, tone arm, tone arm wires, RCA cables are going to behave differently to changed loading. While some people "tune by ear" I would highly recommend you have some way of objectively measuring your results before you start messing around with capacitance and loading as if you make changes "blind" you are more likely to make things worse than better. Here is a good article on loading of MM carts https://sound-au.com/articles/cartridge-loading.html .... have fun in any case.
Thanks, I'm having trouble swallowing the ~$50+ cost of a typical test LP but I guess if I must, I must. Capacitance and resistance of cables + phono preamp are known.
 

levimax

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#15
Thanks, I'm having trouble swallowing the ~$50+ cost of a typical test LP but I guess if I must, I must. Capacitance and resistance of cables + phono preamp are known.
Yea I know but at least you will have the record. Don't get mad at me though if the Red and Black end up with the same "adjustments" :)..... the main reason I don't think they will be the same is that the "stylus resonance" plays a role in the FR and interacts with everything else.... the black has a considerably different stylus weight and stiffness and profile so I would expect FR to be measurably different.
 

JeffS7444

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#16
Yea I know but at least you will have the record. Don't get mad at me though if the Red and Black end up with the same "adjustments" :)..... the main reason I don't think they will be the same is that the "stylus resonance" plays a role in the FR and interacts with everything else.... the black has a considerably different stylus weight and stiffness and profile so I would expect FR to be measurably different.
Now there's a whole 'nother topic right there: What exactly does one get when changing from bonded to nude-mounted styli, or different stylus shapes? In the case of Ortofon 2M Red and Blue, there's a $100 price difference to upgrade from bonded- to nude-mounted!
 
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Jas0_0

Jas0_0

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Thread Starter #17
Buy a cartridge that tracks well, and has reasonably low distortion and crosstalk,
Can I just check - is crosstalk the same as channel separation? Or does knowing the latter at least lead you to the former?
 

sergeauckland

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#18
Can I just check - is crosstalk the same as channel separation? Or does knowing the latter at least lead you to the former?
Yes, crosstalk is the same as channel separation. Just another way of saying the same thing. It's actually not hugely important as long as it's over 20dB, but a high figure shows that the generators for the two channels are symmetrical and therefore the cartridge is well put together.
Stylus profile has an effect on distortion, especially end of side, and it's worth having a finer profile, albeit at a cost. All but the cheapest are nude, not bonded, as that leads to the lowest mass and therefore better tracking.
S
 

anmpr1

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#19
The best cart I ever picked up was the Denon DL-103R MC. Each one is individually tested and comes with a frequency response chart, which would make eq'ing it a lot easier.
All the 103 series (which is now down to the plane jane 103 and the R) came with that print out. My 110 and 160 didn't have it, and I don't recall whether my 301 series had them--I don't think they did. The 103 was supposed to have been designed for radio station use, so maybe that was the reason. For the engineers to look at.

The top of the line Stanton cartridges included a card with the test result values entered in by ink pen. I believe my old Highphonic MC had the B&K test sweep. I don't recall the V15 Shure series ever providing individual test responses.

I never paid much attention to 'em anyhow. A lot depended on the test conditions. A cartridge could sound different on different days depending. Even the temperature might influence FR.
 

thewas_

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#20
The upcoming high end Technics amp has an interesting automatic phono EQ (and also crosstalk cancelation) based on a test record but unfortunately its not cheap:

Intelligent Phono EQ

The Intelligent Phono EQ mounted in the SU-R1000 utilises the sound quality improvement technology for DSP, which Technics has accumulated through the development of LAPC, in order to realise high sound quality not possible with analogue Phono-EQ. This technology consists of three parts: 1. Accurate EQ Curve, 2. Crosstalk Canceller and 3. Response Optimiser. These functions can be turned ON/OFF to suit the user’s preference.

1. Accurate EQ Curve
Accurate EQ curve is achieved by a hybrid analogue-digital system. The high-gain low-pass filter (LPF) performs analogue processing, and high frequencies are raised after the A/D conversion. The use of the 40-dB LPF in the analogue region suppresses the bit loss during digital filter processing, and high frequencies are raised with high accuracy in the digital region to achieve a high S/N ratio.

2. Crosstalk Canceller
This function measures the crosstalk characteristic of the installed cartridge by using the crosstalk measuring signal recorded on the Calibration Record bundled with the SU-R1000 and then performs reverse-correction using the built-in DSP to achieve significant improvement of the crosstalk characteristic. This results in sharper sound image and more expansive sound ambience.

3. Response Optimiser
This function measures the frequency characteristic of the installed cartridge by using a TSP (Time Stretched Pulse) signal recorded on the bundled Calibration Record, and corrects characteristic disturbance. It corrects the effect of impedance matching. between the cartridge and phono equaliser to bring out the true sound quality of the cartridge. This technology aims to improve sound quality by providing a selector such as a switch in the high-sensitivity phono input line for the removal of the possibility of noise mixing.
 
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