Grado cartridges have been performing very well on my Thorens TD-160. I bought a Signature cartridge used from the late Marc Morin, the Audiokarma forum’s Grado resident expert, a place where I had got a lot of precious advices from in the past. In 2014, inspired by those advices, I purchased an 8MZ stylus for the Grado Prestige Gold cartridge I was using at the time. I am a true estimator of Grado products for a series of reasons.
In 2005 I had a Thorens TD-165 and when I though about upgrading the cartridge (I was running a Goldring Elan), I wrote TNT-Audio for advice. The editor Lucio Cadeddu proposed different brands, among which Grado. The most economic section of their catalogue features the Prestige Series, which then only contained the Black, Silver and Gold models, each one being a selection of the preceding model in the series. Higher performer were the Reference and the Statement series. I had to stay within the Prestige series but I allowed myself to get a Gold. Today we have the Prestige 3 series and performances increased greatly since then. Someone says they are closer to the Signature series or even better!
I am very fond of the Grado brand from the times I had a wonderful Prestige SR-200 headphone. The Grado family makes headphones and cartridges by hand in their labs in Brooklyn since 1953.
The Prestige cartridges are considered MM cartridges but they are actually Moving Iron. Today’s Prestige series features the Black3 and Green3 at the lower end (the latter being a selection of the former); Blue3 and Red3 (same selection mode) are in the middle, sporting a 4-piece cantilever instead of a 3-piece; Silver3 and Gold3 are at the top. But I have read very good reviews even for the Black3 cartridge. Make no mistake: the Prestige 2 series was a great improvement over the previous one. A huge step from the first Prestige of which in 2005 I bought the Gold; at the time, with only 120 euros the performance improved a lot (I learned 14 years later that it had an 8MZ-v stylus installed by mistake!).
In 2010 I replaced the damaged stylus with a Gold1 (of course, I had no idea the one I damaged was an 8MZ!); therefore, a few years later I actually learned about how an 8MZ stylus, designed as replacement for the Signature 8 series, dramatically improves the performances also of Prestige bodies. I purchased one achieving a great sound improvement (actually bringing the cartridge back to how it was when I first bought it). That improvements made me wish to try a Signature body with it, so I bought the 8MX Joe Grado Signature cartridge from Marc Morin. After I successfully damaged even the new 8MZ stylus and having unsuccessfully attempted to have it repaired, I decided to revive my glorious Gold0 with a gamble: I purchased a Black2 stylus in the hope it enhanced the Gold0 performance almost up to Prestige 2 levels (almost). I’ve read reviews about how it is hard to tell the difference between a Grado Black2 and a Gold2. So I decided it was not worth spending the money for a Gold2 replacement stylus this time. I went for the smaller one, but I was not very impressed with the combination: the sound is very dark, there is an obvious drop in the high range. Too bad. Then in testing between the Gold0 and the 8MX, guess what, I also broke the Black2 stylus!
Discouraged, after a few months I decided to invest in a new Prestige and bought a Blue3 from an Italian dealer. The plan is to use it as my main cartridge and when the time comes to replace the stylus with an excellent 8MZ. It is the cheaper of the two mid-range Grado cartridges in the Prestige series. I have read in several places that the differences between one range and the other are minimal, it is also difficult to distinguish a Green from a Gold. The intermediate Blue/Red cartridges, however, have a more advanced cantilever, being composed of 4 pieces instead of three. Rumor has it that John Grado himself considered the Red3 the “sweet spot” for the new series. In the end I took the slightly less performing Blue3. The Prestige 3 series, introduced in 2020, is considered a big step up from its predecessor. The performance seems to be very close to the old Signature series so beloved by fans. It seems that the Gold3 stylus is very similar to the 8MZ, although the latter is still considered the best upgrade (it has a larger generator ring). So I will finally get back to using a Grado as my main cartridge in my system!
Interview to John Grado on head-fi.org