Prestige Cartridge Reviews

Gold1 & Silver1 Cartridges

GRADO Prestige Gold Phono Cartridge

By Alan Sircom / HI-FI CHOICE

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.

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Red1 & Blue1 Cartridges

Grado Prestige Red Phono Cartridge

By James T. Frane / $ensible Sound magazine

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.

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Green1 & Black1 Cartridges

GRADO Prestige Black Cartridge

By John Borwick / GRAMAPHONE

Joe Grado was amongst the founding fathers, so to speak, of high fidelity in the United States and the intervening 40 years have seen his company accumulate some 40 patents. He did pioneering work on moving - coil cartridges but most of the current Grado cartridges use the moving- iron principle. This has a fixed magnet and coil assembly and relies on the changes in magnetic field distribution caused by motion of a lightweight soft-iron element at the end of the cantilever remote from the stylus. Externally, and for matching purposes, there is little difference between moving iron pick -ups and the more common moving-magnet but the reduced weight of the mechanism of the former can provide high quality performance.

The Prestige range of cartridges comprises six models which have the same basic design but progress higher in performance, and price, in three linked pairs. The Black model is the least expensive at 49.00pounds and the next model up, the green, is actually selected from the Black production run as amongst the top 10% in terms of test specifications; and so on through the Blue/Red and Silver/Gold pairings.

On the face of it, then, the Grado Prestige Black comes to the market as an affordable replacement cartridge for use in modestly priced systems.Itís relatively high sensitivity rating of 5mV makes it a good choice for less ambitious amplifiers and itís recommended tracking force range of 1-2 grams makes it suitable for even quite basic pick-up arms. The low stylus tip mass contributes to an unusually wide frequency response extending to about 50kHz.

The elliptical diamond stylus is fixed to a brass bush at one end of the three-piece cantilever based on Gradoís patented OTL (Optimized Transmission Line) principle. This consists of three sections telescoped together, using a mixture of alloys and hollow or solid construction, bonded by damping materials and coated with a black material providing further resonance absorption. A fixed axial pivot cenres the soft-iron element between the two pairs of magnetic gaps.The system is accurately balanced and uses a reduced number of turns of oxygen-free copper wire to produce a lighter than usual assembly overall. Cartridge weight is 6 grams.

The cartridge is supplied with the standard two-hole mounting arrangement to suit any headshell. The stylus is user-replaceable and a special tool is supplied to facilitate removal, along with a plastic cover to protect the stylus when not in use.

Performance:

All test measurements, and most of my listening, were carried out with the Prestige Black mounted on my reference SME Series V pickup arm but I also used the cartridge for a while as part of my review procedures on the Thorens TD146 MkVI turntable.

The recommended tracking force of 1.5g gave optimum 80/80 tracking as measured on the Ortofon TC 3000 computer testset and I saw no reason to experiment with an even lower playing weight in search of a, probably illusionary, reduction in record or stylus wear. In fact no trace of mistracking occured during extended listening tests with quite fiercely modulated LPs. Channel balance was precise, with both L/R outputs measuring 3.50mV, and channel separation was better than the specification at 25dB. Frequency response showed a slight dip in the region of 5kHz, which is typical of this type of cartridge, but climbed back to +2dB at 20kHz and held up for another ultrasonic octave beyond that.

Using a wide selection of favorite and technically demanding LPs, I rated this cartridge highly on all the important subjective sound quality criteria. With the stable tracking already mentioned, there was also a lack of any tendency to emphasize record surface noise. Heavy musical climaxes were handled well and quiet passages remained clear and interference-free. Extreme treble can often be an achilles heel for pick-up cartridges, but was enough smooth extention to provide natural string tone and sharp percussive effects. There was just a little loss of presence on voices and solo instruments and some bias in favor of the bottom half of the spectrum. Thus bass was particularly impressive in music where it matters most.

Pulling out that old audiophile favorite LP Cantate Domino (proprius PRO7762) with its impressive organ, trumpets, solo and choral voices in a heavenly church acoustic produced a spectacular effect. The less dynamically demanding Stille nacht track remains one of my tests for definition and spatial realism. This cartridge rose to the challenge with very little muddling of detail. The Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab audiophile remastering of Sir Georg Soltiís 1978 Decca recording of Holstís The Planets(MFSL 1-510)explores the full gamut of frequencies , dynamics and ambient depth. The Grado brought out most of the tonal accuracy and excitement and though I have heard it better reproduced, that was only with cartridges costing about 10 times the price.

At a mere 9 pounds, this Grado cartridge has proved itself to be good-natured in its easy matching to turntables and amplifiers, robust, an excellent tracker and easy on the ear. It is a welcome addition to the dwindling market of budget replacement cartridges.

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GRADO Prestige Green Phono Cartridge

By Thom Moon / $ensible Sound magazine

Joseph Grado, the founder of Grado Labs, sounds like a pretty interesting guy. He trained professionally as an opera singer. He reportedly invented the moving-coil phono cartridge, but made his mark producing cartridges of a much different basic design, at what can only be described as more-than-reasonable" prices. And only recently, in his late 70's, did he retire from active participation in the company, turning the reins over to his Nephew John.

The Prestige (and upscale Reference) cartridges from Grado are the first released since the elder Grado's retirement, but they mark an evolution, not dramatic change, of the classic Grado style. There are three basic levels in the Prestige lineup: Black/Green, Blue/Red, and Silver/Gold. In each of these pairings, the latter model is the same as the former, but is able to meet more astringent test specifications. The Green, for instance, is taken from the top 15% of the Black models production.

The Prestige Green is furnished with suitable mounting hardware and the unique tool required to separate stylus assembly from cartridge body. Separating the stylus assembly from the cartridge body with the tool can be tricky, so proceed with caution, lest you end up with the cartridge body in your hand and the stylus embedded in a nearby wall.

Mounting was not a major problem on the removable head to my Dual CS5000. I used the protractor that comes with the Dual and the Lyle Cartridges phono alignment tool (a good deal for $15.95). I tracked the Prestige Green at the suggested 1.5 grams.

The rest of the system has remained stable, the Dual CS5000 fed the Linn Majik-1 amplifier, which provided the moxie for the NEAR 50-me series II speakers through bi-wired 14-gauge zip cord. The Prestige Green was compared to my primary cartridge, a Joseph Grado Signature 8MZV($200), and A Shure V-15 Type V-MR($300).

Frankly, the Grado Prestige Green showed me a good time. And that's how I'd describe it: a good-time component. It's not ultimately refined, as is the Signature. Instead it has a bit of the "rorty" character I found in the Stanton 881S and WOS 100 cartridges I wrote about some issues back - but only a bit. For instance, on the Atlanta Symphony's recording of Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man on Tellarc, there was a brash quality to the cymbals and the trumpets were a bit too strident for my taste with the Green: those instruments sounded much more natural with the Signature. But there was nothing wrong with the tympani on the Green; same with the Signature. On the other hand, the Shure's reproduction of the whole effort was much too polite; there was no fire; no emotion. The Green lacked some depth compared to the Signature and the Shure, but left-to-right instrument placement struck me as quite good.

One night, I was in an exuberant mood, and pulled out a whole bunch of my favorite LP's: the one's I like to play air guitar or sing along with. The first was The Best Of Earth, Wind And Fire (ARC/COLUMBIA FC- 35647). The Green really seemed to get into "September"; the bass demanded that I moved my feet. And with it, I could tell the difference between the bass and kick drum, something that was always lost with the Shure. The Signature, as one might expect, was similar to the Green, but smoother on the vocals.

Then, I loaded Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms. It's always been my belief that a good system will cause the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up in the initial drum/ guitar/ synthesizer segment of "Money For Nothing". And the Green produced suitably hair-raising sound. The Signature had more detail and better instrument placement, but the Green was right in there. Mark Knopfler's voice was edgy with the Green; less so with the Signature and very mellow on the Shure.

I've always loved Gordon Lightfoot's voice, and his whole presentation of "Me and Bobby McGee" on If You Can Read My Mind (Reprise RS 6392) is a favorite of mine. It starts off with great guitar, adds even greater guitar (excellent slide work) and Gord's delivery (despite the fact that he pronounces the town in California "Sa-line-us" rather than "Sa-lee-nus") is exceptional. The Green offered a bit more bite on his voice and the stereo kneeslaps than the Signature, but there's a definite family resemblance. The Signature offered up a softer, mellower bass that sounded more like a stand-up fiddle, while on the Green, the bass sounded more like an electric.

Then, I got to Mel Tormé and my favorite album of his, Mel TormÈ and Friends: Live at Marty's (Finesse W2X 37484). The Green gave Mel's voice a bit of bite and brought him out front slightly more, but it also produced Jay Leonhart's bass perfectly on the long solo. My notes continue "This is a Good $60.00 cartridge!!" I still think so.

There's alot more good I could say about the Grado Prestige Green; I've barely scratched the surface of four pages of notes written during several long listening sessions. And that's one of the joys of the Prestige Green: it was enjoyable enough that I didn't just select out a few tried-and-true discs and stack up it's performance versus the Signature and Shure. Rather, there were many times I just pulled out LP"s at random; one's I hadn't played in a while, just for the sheer enjoyment of the music.

Can there be anything much better? Well, there can: the Signature handily tops the Green in terms of the detail, depth and overload point. However, with a $60.00 list price, the Grado Prestige Green is a cartridge most people will find thoroughly enjoyable for nearly all kinds of music, especially if their system is very slightly laid back. At it's price, it simply can't be beaten! If you have a moderately-priced turntable lurking in your closet, pull it out, get a Grado prestige Green, install it and LISTEN TO THE MUSIC. You'll enjoy!

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Mono Phono Cartridges

Grado Labs Reference Sonata Mono Cartridge

By Art Dudley / LISTENING Magazine, Stereophile - Monomania

The Reference Sonata Mono from Grado Labs is a very different thing. It isn't a moving-coil or a moving-magnet cartridge, but rather a moving-iron design in which the inner end of the cantilever is capped with a tiny iron nub, the movement of which induces a current in a series of adjacent magnet-and-coil assemblies.

The Reference Sonata Mono is an unambiguously high-compliance cartridge with a "doped" cantilever made from five telescoping segments of aluminum, fitted with an elliptical stylus. I tracked the Grado at 1.6gm, but eased back on the antiskating: Too much was audibly too much.

As with the other wood-bodied cartridges from Grado, the inside of the Reference Sonata Mono is "potted," with three different damping compounds; because of that, and because its stylus assembly isn't user-removable, I couldn't poke around to see what makes it work. But company president John Grado told me that the coils of their mono cartridges are physically reconfigured so that horizontal movement is favored over vertical, electrically speaking. The HFN/RR test record bore that out.

The Grado did an excellent job of overlooking physical groove damage and baked-on dirt. The Reference Sonata Mono was a wonderfully human-sounding cartridge, at times breathtakingly so. When I used it to play a mono reissue of Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' (Columbia/Sundazed LP 5108), I was impressed by the sense of touch it brought to the guitar playing, and the way it made the differences clear when Dylan sang with more head tone than chest tone. Equally impressive was the Grado's spatial performance (I hesitate to come right out and say imaging): Here, finally, was "hear-around mono." The voice sounded whole, and the guitar sounded physically separate from it.

The Grado also did a fine job of playing more complex LPs, such as Classic Records' mono reissue of Roy Orbison's In Dreams (Monument MLP 8003). It captured all the lovely details in the arrangement without making them small or mechanical, and the electric bass, though sounding just a bit softer than it should have, was still pacey and tuneful, not to mention downright pretty. And if you still don't think mono can be spatially impressive, you should hear how the Grado handled the layering in "Shadaroba": Despite not being strung out between the speakers, all the instruments were distinct from one another, with even some suggestion of relative scale. Very darn nice, and a lot more than I ever thought $500 would buy!

stereophile vol 28 no 6

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