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Decca
London Jubilee

MI

Approx 50 Hrs
Recording Level 6.8
Tracking 2.0g
Bias 1.8
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Dave's Thoughts: Bass is strong yet well controlled, taut and punchy. Throw a bass heavy track at it and it gives back the full beans. Despite its unique cantilever system, there’s a wide stereo image with a well defined centre stage. Midrange openness and detailing are on a par with the ATOC9 (my benchmark cart for this attribute), vocals and instruments are clearly presented as distinct entities. Upper frequencies are delivered with the expected precision and crispness. Overall tonal character is pretty much perfectly balanced – No real excesses anywhere, but if you are used to a slightly lean presentation, that strong bass might catch you out a little

Empire
2000Z

MI

Approx 50 Hrs
Recording Level 5.9
Tracking 1.0g
Bias 0.9
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Dave's Thoughts: Note: This cartridge was appraised with a non-original aftermarket elliptical stylus, however some owners with original stylii do recognise the key points about to be made.
Into a standard 47k Ohm MM stage, the overall presentation provided a laid back fullsome controlled bass with the detailed upper mids and highs being a little recessed in the mix when compared to many modern MM/MI's. Incremental assessments were subsequently delivered using a home modified basic phono stage of questionable quality at various higher input stage resistive loadings. Above 70k Ohms the soundstage opened up and and a brighter overall character came to the fore.
Due to the basic quality of the modified phonostage, it is difficult to provide a full assessment of this cartridge.
Original test Clips at 47k and a variety of recordings at higher loads are present in the WAV file link.

Grado
Black

MI

Approx 10 Hrs
Recording Level 7.1
Tracking 1.5g
Bias 1.4
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Dave's Thoughts:Lower midrange frequencies is a little further forward than most of my other carts. Bass is well controlled and reasonably deep, midrange frequencies are transparent but maybe a little soft for my tastes. Upper midrange/treble, although a little recessed, are punchy and refined. In my opinion a mixture of richness and warmth, probably better suited to Classical music.

Grado
Black
Expert Stylus
Paratrace

MI

1 Hr
Recording Level 7.1
Tracking 1.5g
Bias 1.4
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Dave's Thoughts:The overall character is similar to the standard product, but the whole package is tauter. There's an improved tightness to the bass without any notable loss in extension, vocals and instruments gain improved openess and definition much of the softness is addressed. The upper frequencies especially benefit, cymbal splashes are delivered with an extra crispness and there is increased clarity in all percussive work. The improved delivery added to the "Rich and Warm" character makes this a good combination if you looking to avoid a bright front end.

Grado

Z+

MI

50 Hrs
Recording Level 6.8
Tracking 1.5g
Bias 1.4
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Dave's Thoughts:It was very difficult to distinguish this cartridge from the ES Paratrace Black (above). Over the standard Grado Black, bass is ever so slightly deeper with a little more control. Vocals and instruments again are presented with improved openess and definition, especially in the upper mids. As with the Paratrace stylus, upper frequency reproduction is notably superior to the standard Black, all percussive work is delivered with increased definition, clarity and realism. In comparison the Standard Grado Black is a little unrefined and slightly harsh. Again an excellent option for those looking to avoid an overly bright front end.

Grado

Z+

8MR Stylus

MI

200 Hrs
Recording Level 6.9
Tracking 1.5g
Bias 0.8
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Dave's Thoughts: Replacing the relatively chunky bushed Z+ with the finer nude 8MR stylus delivers a notable all round improvement. That strong bass is delivered with added control and precision. Upper mids and higher frequencies still remain a little further back in the mix, retaining that warm Grado character, but there’s added dynamics, speed, transparency and detail. The 8MR also delivers greater openness, a marginally wider stereo image and some added brightness over the stock Z+. A highly accomplished and rewarding combo.

Grado

Red

8MZ Stylus

MI

Recording Level 6.9
Tracking 1.5g
Bias 0.5
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Dave's Thoughts: An assessment of the 8MZ stylus on a Prestige body. That full Grado character remains very much evident, extended bass extending into the lower mids providing a richness to the overall presentation. Over a stock Gold, the 8MZ offers an all round improvement, bass is delivered with marginally enhanced control and punch and inner groove tracking is superior, composure is held throughout the disc to the very end. On general listening the 8MZ just delivers a cleaner more open and detailed presentation. You can better hear the timbre of individual piano notes and the crisp sharp edge of high hats and symbol splashes. Vocals and instrumentation are more discernable as clear, individual elements. Against the much more lofty RSI it only loses out due to it’s slight extra edge in percussion, detail and refinement, the overall character is very similar. As an upgrade to a standard Prestige stylus, the 8MZ provides a pretty full dose of what a higher spec. Grado can deliver.

Grado

Gold

Gold Stylus

MI

200 Hrs
Recording Level 6.9
Tracking 1.5g
Bias 0.5
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Dave's Thoughts: In many respects this struck me as a slightly brighter version of the Z+, that typical full bodied Grado presentation is present, with a little more forwardness in higher frequencies. Again when compared to the Z+/8MR combo there is that same slight graininess to percussive work and some reduced control over the lower frequencies.

Grado

Gold

MCZ Stylus

MI

60 Hrs
Recording Level 6.9
Tracking 1.5g
Bias 0.5
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Dave's Thoughts: Fitting the MCZ stylus to the Gold body completely transformed the overall character. The generally warm and lush overall soundscape was replaced with excessive top end accentuation right through the upper mids onwards. High hats and upper frequency percussive work dominated the mix and vocals lacked the body I’d become accustomed to. I trialled the same stylus with the Z+ body and got exactly the same response. In order to tame this “Hot” character I resorted to reducing the input stage load. I ended up running the Gold/MCZ at around the 10k Ohm mark, here (and on my system) this becomes a complete and well balanced combination. That strong, yet taut and punchy bass is fully retained. Instrumentation & vocals are lush and now have that warmer Grado character which was missing at 47k Ohms. Also, the sweet, clean and far reaching top end is now brought into line, plenty of presence, without dominating the mix. The overall presentation is lithe, fast and dynamic, not quite as clinical as some MC’s. This is a very appealing combination.

Grado

MCZ

MCZ Stylus

MI

50 Hrs
Recording Level 8.9
Tracking 1.5g
Bias 0.8
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Dave's Thoughts: A very similar overall character to the 8MR equipped Z+, but this cart is ever so slightly more open and a tad more detailed across the board. In addition, the upper frequencies are a little more tightly defined.
One thing to note though is that this is a low output MI (1.5mV) and will need to be carefully matched with the phono stage.

Grado

8MR

8MR Stylus

MI

100 Hrs
Recording Level 6.8
Tracking 1.5g
Bias 0.5
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Dave's Thoughts: A traditional example of the Grado approach. A solid, rich, fulsome delivery with a body to vocals and instrumentation which, I've found the best LOMC's & MM's can struggle to provide. There's a broad and deep sound stage with everything strongly defined and discernible. It is however, less forward in the upper mids and higher frequencies than many and certainly can't be described as a "bright" cart. In this respect and for example, the Grado Reference Sonata 1 is more forward up top, retaining that wholesome bottom end but with a bit more openness elsewhere.

Grado

G-1+

G-1+ Stylus

MI

150 Hrs
Recording Level 7.0
Tracking 1.5g
Bias 0.5
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Dave's Thoughts: Quite a different (leaner) character to the Grado 8MR that preceded it. The more I wound the resistive loading down to fatten the sound out, the more constrained the overall presentation became. I ended up around the 20k Ohm mark. Here it gave a pretty good account of itself, generally very tidy but with a slightly "closed in" feeling, the soundstage didn't feel quite as expansive. I did a quick check and spun the same discs on the Dual with the Shure V15 VST V - this indeed was more open with greater breadth and space to instrumentation and vocals. Also, I was not entirely sure about that absolute final level of top end detail, missing some of the crisp edges to some percussion. It's not at all bad, just not up to said comparators.

Grado

Reference

Sonata 1

MI

20 Hrs
Recording Level 7.3
Tracking 1.5g
Bias 0.5
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Dave's Thoughts: The RS1 delivers that full bodied character typical of the brand and builds on the strengths of Gold/MCZ combination. It really excels in taut, controlled, fulsome delivery. As punchy and solid as the AT OC9 MLII, but with that all round extra weight and body. In addition that very fine stylus tracks inner grooves as well as any other cart I have auditioned. Everything remains crisp and sharp with a nicely extended top end, underpinned by that solid lower order. Virtually all elements of sibilance inherent (or so I thought) of my standard inner groove test track were eliminated.
Into a 47k Ohm loading some tracks possessed a very slight shrillness to vocals and instrumentation. Running at 38k Ohm gave a more natural extension and overall tone, especially to vocals. High end percussion also benefitted from the slight tweak of loading, slightly less strident and with greater finesse.
If you're after a fulsome presentation with the control and precision of a high end MC then this could well be the cartridge for you.

Nagaoka
MP-05

MI

Approx 10 Hrs
Recording Level 6.7
Tracking 2.0g
Bias 1.8
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Dave's Thoughts:An excellent performance from such a lowly Nagaoka offering. Bass is fullsome and punchy with a nice clean delivery throughout the frequency range. Against the top flight MM's the vocals are very marginally recessed and the upper treble lacks ultimate refinement, but at it's price level that's just quibbling.

Nagaoka
MP11 Boron

MI

Approx 150 Hrs
Recording Level 7.0
Tracking 2.0g
Bias 2.0
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Dave's Thoughts:Controlled bass but not quite as extended as the Goldring 1042. A generally neutral balance with a clean and refined sound throughout the frequencies.

Ortofon
VMS 30 II

MI

Approx 200 Hrs
Recording Level 6.8
Tracking 1.3g
Bias 1.3
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Dave's Thoughts: Strong punchy & clear bass lines, vocals very well defined. Clean and clear higher frequencies that do not dominate. A very refined and engaging cart, not quite as dynamic as the G1042 or as clinical as the AT 440ML.

Stanton
681 EEE

MI

Approx 20 Hrs
Recording Level 7.1
Tracking 1.0g
Bias 0.9
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Dave's Thoughts: Very similar character to the L727-e (which I believe is a P mount version of the 681). Strong punchy bass with extended (yet not overly dominant) lower midrange. As with the L727- E, upper frequencies are crisp and refined without being bright or edgy.

Stanton
L727 - E

MI

5 Hrs
Recording Level 7.0
Tracking 1.2g
Bias 1.1
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Daves Thoughts: Strong bass without being flabby, extended lower midrange that does not dominate the overall mix. Upper frequencies are well defined yet not too foward and without any notable sibilance as witnessed on the 500. A very similar overall performance to the 681 EEE.

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