If my two and a half readers have followed my posts about turntable cartridges, they will have found them rather erratic. In one of them I admitted complete confusion. There are reasons to that. The first one is I had changed integrated amplifier, speaker cables and listening room in a short time period. I lost control on my overall sound so I was not sure what was going on. My few readers would know I am fond of Grado cartridges and the way the company is family-run in the old legendary labs in Brooklyn, NY. But I had some misfortune with my Grado styli and broke the two I had just when I had lost my job and could not spend money on that stuff. Something happened in that period that made me think twice about my favorite brand and caused some confusion in what I believed were my tastes. I found a Shure cart for free from a broken turnable.
After having used Grado cartridges for years, I am now running a Shure M97HE body with a Nagaoka N97ED stylus. It is not the best the M97 body could do because it deserves a hyperelliptical stylus tip, but it still sounds really good. I also have another option, a surprising Audiotechnica AT95 upgraded with an LP Gear HE stylus. Stunning performance. A proper Shure M97HE should be even better but I still haven’t found a hyperelliptical stylus. And my Grado cartridges? I have an old Prestige Gold0 body. It had been outperformed by the following Gold1, completely outshone by the Gold2 and killed definitively by the latest Gold3 version.
The Prestige Series 3 has been a major performance upgrade by Grado. I have been considering buying one for months. But I have a nice Signature 8MX body that would deserve a proper stylus, usually the choice is the venerable 8MZ, also recently upgraded by Grado. What to do?
I’ve spent some money in the past on turntable cartridges and styli. It’s nothing exaggerated, it’s not a typical feature of mine, I’m not a serial collector and I don’t buy things just for the sake of it; I only do it if I need something. So I spent what today would be about 200e for the first serious cartridge I had, a Grado Prestige Gold first series. To replace the stylus years later I spent I think a hundred euros. Then I read about the performance of the 8MZ replacement stylus and spent 150 Euros between cost and shipping. So I wanted to try a Signature Series body and found a used 8MX for 100 euros. Recently I wanted to try a Grado Prestige Black 2 stylus on the Gold 0 body. About $50. As you can see, nothing transcendental or impossible.
My two and a half readers should know I am fond of Grado cartridges for reasons that go beyond the inherent value and performance. Soon after I started spinning vinyl records again, I wanted a cartridge my Thorens turntable deserved. I asked for advice on TNT-Audio and among the various brand names among which I was solicited to search there was Grado. I already had amazing Grado headphones. The Italian name also kind of attracted me, so I went for the top of the Prestige line, the first edition of the Gold cartridge. Many years later I learned it was loaded with an 8MZ-v stylus. It must have been a mistake at Grado Labs while assembling the very specimen that would find its way to my address. Much, much later I discovered the 8MZ was considered a noticeable upgrade for Prestige cartridges. For years, I ran that cartridge with no realization about this. I didn’t even know how important was to correctly setup a floating chassis turntable like the Thorens. I finally consumed the stylus I though was just a Gold 0 and replaced with a then new Gold1 stylus. That’s when I discovered the Audiokarma forum.
I’ve always been fond of hifi products from Grado Labs, this is no secret. I also sympathize with the Grado family for some reasons. They have just revived their phono cartridge lines. My beloved Prestige Series are now at the number 3 edition. And rumor has it they are excellent! Mine is not a review nor a test. I don’t have any Prestige 3 yet (maybe). I’m just summarizing what I heard from others. Basically, it seems the whole Prestige 3 Series is hands down superior to the preceding Prestige 2. Of course John Grado seems to be convinced about it, but some early purchaser is already listening something better out of their new Prestige 3 Series…
I have always been convinced that the strongest reason to use only Moving Magnet cartridges was the possibility to replace the stylus. It is really a convenient thing, especially if you decide to upgrade your cartridge when the needle stone has worn out; many producers allow to install a higher spec stylus as replacement, so you can improve your cartridge’s performance with time. But sometimes even MMs can benefit from a retipping instead of buying a replacement. Why? Well, maybe the available replacements are not as good as the original stylus used to be. Sometimes the replacements are no longer available. Therefore, as Moving Coil cartridge users know well, you can turn to a capable stylus retipping and repair service to keep you cartridge alive, virtually forever.