I recently received the Grado Prestige Red Phono cartridge for review. It was packed in a container surrounded by padding in a sturdy outer cardboard box, ensuring that it arrived in perfect condition. All Grado Prestige cartridges have a fixed magnet and coils that generate a flux field axial pivot. A small generator disc is attached to the back end of the cantilever and moves within the lines of flux of the four coils and magnet generating a signal in response to stylus movement. The user-replaceable, elliptical diamond stylus is attached to the cantilever and moves within the four separate magnetic gaps which comprise what Grado calls a "flux-bridger" generator system. The generating element creates a flux increase in one gap while decreasing it in another to reduce distortion. According to Grado's literature, this design requires fewer coil turns, resulting in lower cartridge mass and electrical inductance. The cartridge is said to be insensitive to tonearm cable capacitance. The Grado cartridges are hand-built in the U.S.,and each cartridge is tested against Grado's standard for performance.
Installation: Installation instructions were minimal. A sketch shows vertical alignment to be a required 90 degrees between both front and sides of cartridge with relation to the record surface. Electrical connections are shown. Additional sketches show P-mount and screw mount details and stylus removal and replacement.
Associated Equipment: The power amplifier was a Carver TFM-55x controlled by a Carver CT-17 tuner/pre-amplifier and, alternately, a Carver CT-26 tuner/pre-amplifier. Speakers were Mach 1 M-twos with two NHT model SW3 subwoofers driven by an NHT SA-3 amplifier. The turntable was a Dual CS5000, and a Shure V15-V cartridge served as a reference point.
Listening: I used the white noise cut of the Realistic HiFi/Stereo Review Model 211 Test Record (Catalog No. 50-1001) to compare frequency response to the Grado and Shure cartridges. I placed the microphone 1 in. front of the left speaker, on the tweeter centerline of the Mach One's, but with both left and right speakers (satellite and subwoofers) running. Frequency responses were similar between the cartridges, and close to flat. The Grado had just a slightly higher output at the same volume setting. Output was the same from both channels.
On "Greensleeves" from the LP Paul Desmond and The Modern Jazz Quartet (Finesse FW 37487), the Grado was very impressive. The highs sparkled, the stage was deep with front-to-back separation of performers, percussion was articulate, and imaging was very focused. Instrument tonality, especially Paul Desmond's sax, sounded very real. Resolution was great and applause was nearly like being there.
Cream's "White Room" from Wheels of Fire (ATCO SD 2-700) had a wonderful sense of ambiance and a soundstage that extended beyond the speakers. The crisp, lively percussion had great detail. Voices were natural and the highs extended.
Julie London sounded very good on "I've Got You Under My Skin" from All Through the Night (Liberty LST-74324). The soundstage extended beyond the outside edges of the speakers with good depth, ambiance, and detail. On "You Do Something To Me" from the same record, there was great bass, ambiance, and super detail of percussive attacks, highs were clear and extended. The image was very three-dimensional, and her voice was very warm and realistic.
On Aretha Franklin's "You'll Lose A Good Thing" from Runnin' Out Of Fools (Columbia CS9081), she was centered on the stage, flanked on one side by the sax and backup singers and on the other side by drums and guitar. Her voice was natural and the recording had great ambiance.
Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd playing "Samba De Uma Nota So." from Jazz Samba (Verve V6-8432) had stage width beyond the outside edges of the speakers. There was great detail and articulation, as every little nuance was audible. The depth seemed to go back past the wall behind the speakers. All of the spaciousness of the recording space seemed to be there. Each instrument sounded as it should.
Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, as performed by Gary Graffman and the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein (Columbia Masterworks MS 6634) was wide and deep, as well as spacious, yet imaging was precise. The spectral balance detail were very good.
Johnny Mathis' every breath could be heard as if one was right there on "Until the 12th of Never" from Johnny's Greatest Hits (Columbia PC 34667). There was good orchestral spread and depth. The singer's voice was natural and had a center stage 3D quality.
The CBS Masterworks recording (IM39345) of Yo Yo Ma playing Bachs Suite No. 1 in G Major was an example of how good a cello can sound with the Grado. It missed being live by a small margin, but rather was like being just outside the room's doorway. I make this comparison because I have heard my daughter playing some of the same music in the same room on her cello. The reproduction had accurate tonality, but the sound radiation pattern from the speakers is different from the live instrument. I think that was the major difference in sound.
There may be some recordable response differences between this cartridge and it's more expensive brethren, but it's difficult to imagine more pleasing and musical performance. The Grado Prestige Red is proof that one does not have to spend large amounts of money for good sound from a phono cartridge. More expensive cartridges may well provide incremental improvements in one or more areas, but the Grado performs at a level where such improvements will be small. I recommend that you consider this $ensible cartridge, as it is good value for the price.