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Cartridges over £500

Hana MC Cartridges Shibata Range

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 - a fine line design that is renowned for it’s excellent high frequency resolution as well as facilitating low record wear.

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: £589.00

Hana SL Low Output Nude Shibata stylus MC Cartridge: £589.00

Dynavector DV-20X2

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.

Dynavector DV-20X2 cartridge, low and high output versions are the same price: £729.00

Dynavector DV-20X2 cartridge, exchange price: £583.00 (plus return of an old Dynavector DV-20 cartridge)

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 Eleptical 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 is available in two versions, GM fitting and the rarer A fitting, which is much shorter in body length. 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: £425.00

Ortofon SPU#1E: £465.00

Ortofon SPU Classic GM mkII: £725.00

Ortofon SPU Classic GM E mkII: £800.00

Ortofon Meister Silver GM II: £1,300.00

Ortofon SPU Synergy GM: £1,400.00

Ortofon SPU Synergy A: £1,400.00

Ortofon SPU Royal GM mkII: £1,750.00

A range of Mono SPU cartridges are also available, please contact us for more details.

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 - in many ways it’s the best of both worlds and has become one of my reference cartridges for designs under £1,000. By moving magnets standards this is not a cheap cartridge, but the performance is way beyond it’s price and the very high quality diamond lasts an exceptionally long time (and of course unlike an MC cartridge the stylus can be changed easily). The only downside I can see is it has a very long run in period, sounding bright, edgy  and flat for the first few hours of use.

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-iron pole pieces, new improved coil winding and an extruded aluminium housing.

-Cadenza Red Pure silver coils with Aluminium cylindrical cantilever and Nude Fine Line diamond:  £875.00

-Cadenza Blue Nude FG70 profile stylus and Ruby cantilever: £1,299.00

-Cadenza Bronze Replicant 100 diamond and conical aluminium cantilever: £1,499.00

-Cadenza Black Nude Shibata diamond and Boron cantilever: £1,825.00

-Cadenza Mono mono version of the Red: £875.00

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-rounders and are extremely enjoyable to listen to.


Hana ML & MH

Hana have now introduced a M Series cartridges, with nude (i.e. one piece) Micro Line diamonds. Like the cheapers S series models these are available in both standard (called Low) output MC and high output MC (i.e. for use into an MM phono stage) versions.

More details to follow soon.

Hana ML standard output MC cartridge: £899.00

Hana MH high output MC cartridge: £899.00

Dynavector D17D3

The D17D3 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-ridge line-contact stylus that gives the cartridge its superb speed, definition and detail retrieval whilst retaining a sweet presentation to the treble.

Dynavector D17D3 cartridge: £1,049.00

Dynavector D17D3 cartridge exchange: £840.00 (plus return of old D17 cartridge)

Rega Apheta 2

The Apheta 2 is the second Moving Coil design from Rega, and whilst externally similar in appearance to its predecessor, it actually shares little other than the aluminium ‘body’.

The original Apheta was a cartridge that polarised opinion, it was very fast and exciting to listen to, but also a little lean and it took careful system matching to get the best from it. The new Apheta 2 almost couldn’t be more different, about the only trait carried across is its speed, which is still very  impressive (although due to the wider bandwidth your ear is perhaps less drawn to this at first). The low frequencies are now very well extended, with strong fundamentals to underpin the notes, the mid band has an alluring subtlety and texture which draws you into the performance and the high frequencies are sweet, delicate yet still nicely extended.

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 seems very strong and even surface noise is reduced over its predecessor, plus it seems easier to match into a wider variety of systems and phono stages.

The cartridge is also quite easy to mount, with the new rigid side pieces offering greater protection of the internal assembly and wires, and users of Rega tonearms can of course also benefit from the additional third fixing bolt.

Rega Apheta 2 MC cartridge: £1,049.00

Rega Apheta 2 Rebuild cost, for worn or damaged cartridges: £520.00

Lyra Delos

The Delos is the replacement for the excellent Argo i and we have started to receive the first examples at the end of 2009. This cartridge is part of a new 5th generation of Lyra designs and the manufacturers claim the advancements include a “new body structure and pre-angled damping system. The pre-angled dampers work together with the angle of the body structure so that, when tracking force is applied, the signal coils are optimally aligned with the magnet circuit.” A more detailed write up will follow in the near future when I get a chance to audition a fully run in example. Existing owners of the Argo can upgrade to the Delos for £675.

-Lyra Delos cartridge: £1,195

Ortofon SPU A95

The A95 is a limited edition cartridge introduced to celebrate the 95th anniversary of Ortofon. It combines many of the innovations that Ortofon have developed over the years and brings the SPU design bang up to date - effectively a state of the art interpretation of this classic model. The external body is made from a wooden composite and houses an internal structure that is made from Titanium, which is created with their ‘Selective Laser Melting’ technology (effectively 3D printing involving titanium dust that is melted to form a rigid complex structure). This is the main change over its predecessor, the already legendary SPU A90 cartridge, and allows them greater control of damping and rigidity than ever before. A nude elliptical diamond, aluminium cantilever and silver plated coils complete the design.

These cartridges will be in limited supply, as just 500 will be made available worldwide, and whilst we do have some on order they will be supplied on a strictly first come first served basis (our first shipment is due sometime in August 2014), so please don’t hesitate to register your interest now.


Ortofon SPU A95 cartridge: £2,000.00


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 - an overly etched performance, or hyped detail retrieval for example but this is one design that, to my ear at least, has no obvious flaws. Musicality is an over used word, but it’s sums the Io up perfectly. Sonically it seems to have very little character, as any compromises that have been made are very benign in nature. Chameleonic would be a good word to describe it in fact. Tonally it is so natural that it quickly becomes apparent how bleached and pinched most other cartridges actually are. It’s also capable of revealing much greater subtlety than any other design we’ve come across yet it still retains the ability to startle with a very realistic dynamic range.

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 - basically windings of wire that when a current is passed through them they generate the magnetic field. This cartridge requires an external power supply to power these field coils and also an additional two wires to the cartridge to power it - these can either be rewired into most tonearms or run along the outside of the arm tube. It’s output is lower again than the other Io’s at 0.04mV. Quite simply this is the best cartridge I’ve ever heard, it has a raw musicality that is quite unique and is totally absorbing to listen to, yet like the other Io cartridges, pinning down its sound is very difficult - it just disappears!

Audio Note Io Ltd: £POA at manufacturers request

Audio Note Io Ltd rebuild cost: £2,430.00

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