Odd man out in this collection of moving coils is the Grado Prestige Gold. Way back in the '70s, the first cartridge that I ever purchased for a decent turntable was a Grado. I can't remember which model it was but I do recall that it was unusual: its removable stylus was stuck in place with a black goo, an arrangement I'd not seen before and haven't since. It also came with a peculiar tool for removing said stylus. Both items feature in the Prestige Gold.
Anyway, enough of the nostalgia. The Grado design derives from the moving iron principle and incorporates Grado's Flux Bridger generator system, in which the cantilever bridges four separate magnetic gaps. This system requires fewer coil turns, which, the company claims, makes Grado's insensitive to tonearm cable capacitance. The Prestige range is designed for 'high output and excellent stability under severe use', and roughly the top ten percent of the highly specified Silver models are selected to get promoted to Prestige Gold league.
I've always found the sound of cartridges other than moving coils to be unrefined by comparison; in particular, the top end of high output designs never quite matches coils for speed, clarity and grace. The Prestige Gold, however, seemed to be sweeter than most. It was lively and detailed but never edgy on vocal sibilants, and didn't over-emphasis leading edges on acoustic guitar. Gold? Smooth? Mellow Yellow!
Mary Coughlan's Tired And Emotional sounded remarkably easy-going. The music's rhythms had an appropriate swagger, her voice was expressive and involving, the presentation's tonal balance seemed even and there was a sense of substance that's often lacking in non-MC's.
Seduced demonstrated that Grado's Mellow Yellow could cut it at the low end of the spectrum; Curly Keranen's double bass sounded tuneful and warm but there was a decent snap marking the start of notes. The cartridge also revealed the dynamic aspects of Curly's playing, the way he choked some notes more than others and gradation in those he hit harder and let ring.
Beefheart's Clear Spot, the undoing of many an under-performing cartridges, didn't faze the Grado. In fact, the Prestige Gold seemed to appreciate the Magic Band's temporal liberty-taking. It kept things coherent and shoved them along at a fittingly brisk pace. Although not as scrupulously detailed as the best moving coils here, it still wrested plenty of information from the groove and dug down into the music's fabric to unearth its character and gestalt. It also imparted a proper feel to the music; Too Much Time, for instance, had just the lazy, funky propulsion that's needed to set feet tapping.
It's a definite Best Buy!
The Grado's presentation was extremely easy to live with and comfortably communicative. It didn't ram feisty music in my face but maintained it's lively character. For that reason alone, the Grado will probably gel in a great many systems. And as it only costs $180, yet holds its head up in more expensive company, its a definite Best Buy.