E&OE Copyright 2010-
Cartridges over £500
Dynavector DV10X5 mk2
There’s no mistaking the 10x5 from any other cartridge, its vivid red appearance stands out a mile, yet the sound it produces is remarkably refined for the price, with a good sense of drive and purpose. It is a high output MC design so can be used straight into any MM input on a phono stage.
My previous reservations about not having a stylus guard and untapped mountings have now been resolved (please note the picture above is of the earlier version) making this a much easier cartridge to install, which is a real blessing with such an exposed cantilever.
Hana cartridges are made by Excel Sound Corportation, a Japanese company who have been making cartridges for other manufacturers for 50 years, but this is the first ever series to bear their name. The Shibata series are so named because of the shape of the diamond used -
Two version of this cartridge are available, a conventional ‘Low’ output MC (0.5mV) and a high output MC (2mV) for connection into an MM phono stage. Invariably there will be losses when making a high output MC cartridge, but with the Hana a good compromise appears to have been struck. There must be greater moving mass from the extra turns of wire necessary to produce the greater output level, but there is only trace elements of the usual sonic downsides evident, a little loss of transparency and just the lightest touch of additional grain. What this means in reality is that you do not have to have a costly step up transformer or MC equipped phono stage to enjoy these cartridges do, so whilst the low output version does have the edge, in real terms you do not feel like there is anything missing with settling with the easier to run high output version.
Now sonically most ‘budget’ MC cartridges (by that I mean below four figures) tend to be have a blend of strengths that needed to be weighed against some weaknesses (light bass, rising treble and so on), but the Hana cartridges do not seem to do this. They do not sound cheap, or compromised, or of much at all (in the best possible way). They defy their price tag, sounding refined but exciting, well detailed but not overly analytical and just all round very musical. For the price the performance really is excellent, making them highly recommended.
Hana SH High Output Nude Shibata stylus MC Cartridge: £629.00
Hana SL Low Output Nude Shibata stylus MC Cartridge: £629.00
This is the replacement model for the classic DV 20X. This moving coil cartridge is available in two versions a high output version for use into MM phono stages (outputs 2.8mV) and a ‘low’ output version (or what I would consider close to normal MC level at 0.3mV). It uses a 6mm long aluminium cantilever and Micro Ridge stylus, and the generator is housed in a rigid aluminium body.
Ortofon SPU range
The SPU series of cartridges have evolved from the original version introduced in 1958, over the years refinements to the body material (now a wood fibre encased in resin) and detail changes to the construction have subtly evolved this classic design. Designed to be used in tonearms with removable headshells (such as classic SME designs amongst many others) these cartridges can produce a solidity and scale of sound with tremendous texture and tonal accuracy which is unmatched almost anywhere else.
The range starts with the new #1 series which is available in both Spherical (#1S) and Elliptical versions (#1E), above that there’s Classic GM (pictured above), which features a nude spherical diamond and an output of 0.2mV, with the Classic GM E differing due to its nude elliptical diamond. The Meister Silver GM II features pure silver coils and a slightly higher output (0.3mV). The next model up, the Synergy has a higher output of 0.5mV and a lower stylus tip mass which means a lower tracking force can be used resulting in improved tracking capability (hardly a weak point on any of the SPU in practice). The top of the range Royal GM has an output of 0.2mV and a nude replicant 100 stylus.
Ortofon SPU#1S: £489.00
Ortofon SPU#1E: £539.00
Ortofon SPU Classic GM mkII: £799.00
Ortofon SPU Classic GM E mkII: £849.00
Ortofon Meister Silver GM II: £1,449.00
Ortofon SPU Synergy GM: £1,549.00
Ortofon SPU Royal GM mkII: £1,879.00
A range of Mono SPU cartridges are also available, please contact us for more details.
Rega Ania Pro
The Ania Pro is a evolution from the standard Ania cartridge and primarily differs due to the inclusion of a Nude (one piece) Vital diamond stylus as used in the more expensive Apheta 2 model, in place of the Elliptical diamond on the standard Ania. The benefits of going to this level of diamond profile are primarily improvements to tracking and detail retrieval, especially at high frequencies.
Rega Ania Pro MC cartridge: £750.00
Rega Ania Pro Rebuild cost, for worn or damaged cartridges: £312.00
Audio Note IQ3
The IQ3 is a design manufactured by Goldring to Audio Note’s specification which includes a titanium cantilever and an AN type 2 diamond (both the same as used on the Io MC cartridge).
As you’d expect from Audio Note it is a very dynamic performer and builds upon the classic Goldring 1000 series strengths of a weighty and involving performance but with much greater levels of energy, resolution and realism. It has treble speed that is very reminiscent of a really good MC cartridge, with the scale and ease of amplification of a MM -
It’s also a doddle to fit thanks to the inclusion of captive nuts and the familiar squared Goldring body which makes alignment very straightforward.
Audio Note IQ3 cartridge £POA at manufacturers request
Audio Note IQ3 stylus £POA at manufacturers request
Ortofon Cadenza range
The Cadenza series replaces the very successful Kontrapunkt family of cartridges which offered excellent sound at a reasonable price. Ortofon claims that they have improved upon the performance of the previous range by implementing cobalt-
The Cadenza range of cartridges have a substantial sound that is dynamic, insightful and involving to listen to. They are truly wide bandwidth designs with superb low frequency resolution and as you go up through the range the levels of top end resolution and refinement increase. These are my favourite mid priced MC cartridges because they’re such good all-
The Hana M series stands out by being a rather special sounding cartridge design. Like its more affordable brothers it is housed in a dense Delrin like material but here with the addition of a copper slug as an interface between body and the headshell. Inside there are Alnico magnets and as the name might hint at (if you’re familiar with the Hana naming protocol) a Micro Line Nude diamond stylus.
The ML has one of the most seductive mid bands from a cartridge at this level I’ve experienced, excelling with voices and allowing them to flesh out and sound more believably present in the recording than is common. If you’re after the greatest obvious speed and attack then maybe look elsewhere, but if there is a small trade off to be had in this respect it is countered by a greater sense of naturalness, tonality and refinement, which on top of that believability in the mid band simply marks it out as an effortlessly enjoyable design, one that sounds far less mechanical than it has any right to. It also seems to glide over surface noise too.
Like all Hana models this is available in both ‘ML’ standard (called Low) output MC and ‘MH’ high output MC (i.e. for use into an MM phono stage) versions. Wherever possible we always recommend the use of a low output MC cartridge into a suitable transformer for best performance.
Hana ML standard output MC cartridge: £1,039.00
Hana MH high output MC cartridge: £1,039.00
The Delos is the ‘entry level’ Lyra cartridge and features a stiff boron cantilever, microlinear stylus profile and a machined aluminium housing.
The traditional Lyra strengths of a lively and detailed presentation are all there, making this a fun cartridge to listen to, with good speed and timing.
Exchange deals are available for existing Lyra owners, please call for details.
The D17DX Karat is an MC cartridge that has an exceptionally short (1.7mm!) cantilever made from solid diamond. Thanks to this its resonance is in the region of 100kHz meaning that the rubber damping as used in most cartridges can be dispensed with, in fact rubber pieces are only used to aid seating the cantilever onto the pole piece itself. We believe it is this and the Micro-
Dynavector D17DX cartridge: £1,249.00
Dynavector D17DX cartridge exchange: £1,040.00 (plus return of old D17D3 cartridge), or £1,000 (plus return of D17DX cartridge)
The Apheta 3 is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the third version of the Apheta cartridge. To understand the design we should perhaps look at its predecessors. The original Apheta was a cartridge that polarised opinion, it was very fast and exciting to listen to, unlike little else, but also a little lean and it took careful system matching to get the best from it and was prone to exacerbating surface noise. It was a radical design with minimal damping and exceptionally low moving mass. It was extreme, but a land mark product nonetheless.
The follow up, the Apheta 2 almost couldn’t be more different sonically despite being very similar internally. About the only trait carried across was its speed, which was still very impressive (although due to the wider bandwidth your ear was perhaps less drawn to this at first). The low frequencies were now very well extended, with strong fundamentals to underpin the notes, the mid band had an alluring subtlety and texture which draws you into the performance and the high frequencies were sweet, delicate yet still nicely extended.
The new third generation builds upon the hugely successful recipe of its predecessor. The aluminium chassis has been completely redesigned, amongst other detail changes, but most significant is the fitment of a very high quality nude (one piece) Fine Line diamond.
Like the mk2, this is one of those cartridges that simply encourages you to relisten to your favourite records, the prodigious low frequency performance reveals a lot of often previously undiscovered information on the LP, which really helps to provide tremendous scale and solidity when the original recording requires it. Tracking is even better than the previous generation, surface noise is similarly low but detail retrieval is markedly superior and more than makes up for the small price increase necessary to include this more expensive diamond profile.
The cartridge is easy to mount, with a threaded body and easily visible cantilever. Users of Rega tonearms can of course also benefit from the additional third fixing bolt.
Rega Apheta 3 MC cartridge: £1,250.00
Rega Apheta 3 Rebuild cost, for worn or damaged cartridges: £525.00
Rega Aphelion 2
The Aphelion cartridge is, in many ways, an ultimate interpretation of the recipe first seen in the Rega Apheta cartridges. An ultra stiff boron cantilever is attached to a generator assembly that is much smaller and lighter -
Its presentation is closely related to the other Rega MC cartridges, as you’d expect it keeps the speed that these cartridges are so well known for and adds an extra level of potency -
Rega Aphelion 2 MC cartridge: £3,149.00
Audio Note Range
The Audio Note range of MC cartridges span three different models from the slightly unaffordable to the extremely unaffordable! However once over the initial purchase price the running costs are very reasonable, not only will the very high quality diamond outlast many alternatives but when it comes to rebuild time the cost is much more reasonable than on many similarly high end cartridges.
Audio Note Io1
The Audio Note Io range of cartridges are quite simply the best I’ve heard, most hi end cartridges have some foibles -
The Io1 is a conventional compliance design making it perfect for use on almost any tonearm (such as Rega, Linn, SME and so on) and unlike the larger models featured below isn’t very heavy at 11 gramme's, so will work well with standard counterweights.
It features high power Alnico magnets, aluminium and wood construction and very fine pure silver wire on the coils. The cantilever is made from Titanium and the Diamond is a AN Type 2. Due to the very few winding used in the coils it has a low output (0.05mV) and likes to be used with a low impedance transformer for best results. It’s available with either Blue or Red side pieces, as shown above and below.
Audio Note Io1 cartridge: £POA at manufacturers request
Audio Note Io1 rebuild charge: £810.00
Audio Note Io2
The Io2 is heavier than the Io 1 listed above (18 gramme's, which is 7 gramme's heavier than the Io1) and is fitted with an even higher quality AN Type 1 diamond).
Audio Note Io2 cartridge: £POA at manufacturers request
Audio Note Io2 rebuild cost: £810.00
Audio Note Io Gold
The Io Gold uses a body made from solid, polished copper and subsequently weighs a little more than the Io II at 20 gramme’s.
Audio Note Io Gold cartridge; £POA at manufacturers request
Audio Note Io Gold rebuild: £922.00
Audio Note Io Ltd
The Io Ltd is the most extreme cartridge Audio Note make and is the finest cartridge we know of. It disposes of the Alnico magnets found in the other models and replaces them with field coils -
Audio Note Io Ltd: £POA at manufacturers request
Audio Note Io Ltd rebuild cost: £2,430.00