Sonata1 & Platinum1

Sonata1 & Platinum1
More Reviews

Sonata1 & Platinum1Β REVIEW

Grado's $300 Platinum cartridge is the entry-level model in the brand's new Reference Series.
By: Ken Kessler

Once upon a time, when we spun vinyl out of choice rather than desperation, Grado produced some of the hottest entry-level cartridges money could buy. Provided that your turntable had a shielded motor (Joe Grado believed that shielding the cartridge itself compromised the sound), you could buck the moving-coil pressure groups with a high-output bargain. The FTE+1 (selling for a mere $15 in the late 1970s) and its myriad siblings set more than a few thousand impoverished audiophiles on the road to audio bliss. So successful was Grado, a far smaller company than Audio-Technica or Shure or the other cartridge giants, that it ran as the UK's Number Two choice for years, Avis to Ortofon's Hertz.

For whatever reason, after a decade concentrating on headphones (and doing astoundingly well with them) nephew John Grado is again promoting the cartridges, while Uncle Joe enjoys his retirement. Despite a number of detail changes and innovations over the years, any Grado owner who skipped from 1979 to 1997 would feel right at home with the latest models. Yes, even the fixed-stylus, wooden-bodied Reference models, which are so far removed from the grey or tan plastic cheap'n'cheerful gems of yore that you'd be forgiven for thinking you were looking at some rare Asian moving-coil.

Entry-level for the top-end four-model Reference Series is the $300 platinum, a fixed-coil design housed in a solid mahogany body measuring exactly one inch fore and aft or 25mm for Europe. Height is 15mm, and the width is 17mm at the widest point. Unlike old Grados, the reference doesn't have parallel sides; they bow out like a tiny coffin. Morbid, true, but at least Grado resisted putting miniature handles on it. The wood, by the way, is specially selected and cured, in order to Γ«tune' the cartridge; I wonder if Orthodox Jews can order pine? The fixed stylus (atypical for Grado, which used to supply a notoriously difficult tool for removing the styli in the older models) is the result of a redesigned one-piece magnet circuit and the craving for a reduction in chasis resonances.

Grado's elliptical tip is mounted via a brass bushing to the company's "OTL" (optimized transmission line) cantilever, said to be good for a 5% reduction in tip mass: four sections which are "telescoped" into each other, mixing hollow and solid sections and different alloys, bonded together with materials which help to damp the assembly. A special coating also deals with resonances.

The cantilever has a fixed axial pivot, its end moving in the flux created by fixed coils and fixed magnet (so a Grado is not strictly a moving magnet). The "Flux-Bridger" system's four magnetic gaps are "bridged" by the generating element, increasing the flux in one gap while reducing it in another. The coils are of ultra-high purity long crystal oxygen-free copper wire(UHPLC).

Call me an old dog immune to new tricks, but I remember the "Grado Hop" and the humming from proximity to unshielded motors, so I installed the Reference platinum in an SME V with damping fluid, fitted to the Mitchell Gyro Dec. Here's the only detail which makes installation less than straightforward; the cartridge is installed with two 9mm-long screws which enter straight into the wooden bodyshell. You definitely do not want to tighten these screws as if they were metal into metal, because the threads in the cartridge are, well, wood. The screws can only enter from the top, so you won't be able to use arms where the cartridge has to be attached from the underside, like the Decca International.

Embarrassingly, the Grado Hop seems to have been reduced to the tiniest of shimmies, so my paranoia was misplaced; the new Grado did not go all Little Egypt the instant it hit the disc surface. Tracking smack in the middle of the preferred range, at 1.8gms, and with the SME set for maximum damping, the platinum actually behaved like a low-compliance design rather than a softly-sprung 1958 Buick. It held the groove beautifully, sailing through tough passages with a facility just short of Shure-tracking.

As with Grados from the past, all that's needed of your pre-amp is a dead-quiet 47k ohm input. Grados are completely immune to capacitance variations, so you don't have to fiddle with this beyond proper alignment. The old "snaps into focus" trick works well with Grados, which respond to arm-height manipulation with vivid results. In the past, I always ran Grados with the top of the headshell parallel to the LP: the Reference Platinum seemed happy with the back of the arm a shade lower than the front, but this might change as the cartridge loosens up a bit through use.

Even though the review sample was an absolute virgin, it sounded sweet and rich straight out of the box. Running it in a bit resulted in not-too-dry bass, so keep that in mind if you hear a demo with a Reference fresh out of its little wooden container. Less zippy and certainly quieter than eldritch Grados, the Reference Platinum sounds like a cross between an older Signature and a romantic moving-coil. If anything, the focus seems to be on refinement rather than detail retrieval, absolute neutrality or even three-dimensionality, though the Platinum is no slouch in any of those categories.

What that Grado-owning time traveller would notice, going from vintage to modern is just what you'd expect from the passage of time; a mellowing. The Reference Platinum is a mature Signature 8. And just like its illustrious forebear, the Platinum is a real honey for those who want neither moving-coil nor Deccas. If this is the bottom of the range, then what does the $1200 flagship model offer?

Sonata1 & Platinum1


Buy Grado Direct from
Frequency Response
Channel Separation at 1KHz
Imput Load
Output at 1KHz 5CM/sec.
Recommended Tracking Force
Stylus Type
Compliance CUs
Stylus Replacement F=Factory

The newly redesigned Platinum1 and Sonata1 have had their coil design reconfigured, and the effective moving mass of their generating system has been reduced by 17%. All this is hand-assembled within a machined, new processed, Australian Jarrah wood housing. The Platinum1 and Sonata1 models use a modified four piece OTL cantilever technology achieving a 10% tip mass reduction over the Prestige series and ultra-high purity long crystal (UHPLC) oxygen free copper wire in the coils. The Platinum model uses Grado's specially designed elliptical diamond mounted on a brass bushing, and the Sonata model uses Grado's specially designed nude elliptical diamond.

What People are saying about the Sonata...

"After a week of warm-up, during which the Sonata was most notable for the solidity of its bass and power of itΥs subsonic bass, the sound started to become very musical."
β€” Andrew Marshall / Audio Ideas Guide / Canada
"For the extra money, the Reference Sonata represents a leap of performance beyond the Platinum and hints at what an expensive moving coil can do."
β€” Stereophile / Robert Reina Vol.21, No.6
"No cartridge reproduces a female voice better than this."
β€” Stereophile / Robert Reina Vol.21, No.6
"I'd go so far as to say that the Sonata reminded me more of my Koetsu Urishi ($4000) then of my 8MZ."
β€” Stereophile / Robert Reina Vol.21, No.6
"The Sonata is a refined and dynamic cartridge. It offers performance ahead of what you might expect for the price. Above all, the Sonata encourages you to play more of your LPs – and what greater recommendation can there be?"
β€” Michael Jones / AudioEnz
"...the Reference Sonata-1 is an excellent articulate performer, making a dramatic improvement in my analog system. There is little doubt that I will be playing a lot more vinyl records from here out."
β€” Notes and Updates to Ron's Audio-Files / Ron Zeman

and about the Platinum...

"Let me say straight out: like the Maggie 1.6QRs or the Goldman SRA, the Grado Platinum is one of those incredible bargains that doesn't just give you a "taste" of high fidelity but pretty much the whole enchilada for the price of, er, a whole enchilada."
β€” Fi magazine / Jonathan Valin Vol.3, No.11
"A prime advantage/disadvantage of phono reproduction is that every cartridge sounds different. Choosing one is like selecting wine, a process easy to get lost in. But if the cartridge is good enough, like Grado's Platinum, you'll get lost in the music."
β€” Audio / Ivan Berger Vol.82, No. 2
"On Antel Dorati's interpretation of Stravinsky's Firebird, the Platinum's reproduction of room sound and image dimensionality gave a vibrant sense of realism to the work."
β€” Stereophile / Robert Reina Vol.21, No.6
"If this is the bottom of the range, then what does the flagship model offer?"
β€” HiFi News / Ken Kessler
"At the level of investment that brings you a Reference Platinum, the performance is a amazing!"
β€” Primyl Vinyl Exchange / Bruce Kennett
"The Grado Reference Platinum phono cartridge is the most musical cartridge I've ever heard, period!"
β€” Audio Adventure / Dayna B Vol.4, No.1