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 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 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 Classic GM mkII: £650.00
Ortofon SPU Classic GM E mkII: £750.00
Ortofon SPU Synergy GM: £1,250.00
Ortofon SPU Synergy A: £1,250
Ortofon SPU Royal GM mkII: £1,590
A range of Mono SPU cartridges are also available, please contact us for more details.
Ortofon SPU Spirit
The Spirit is a special limited edition version of the SPU cartridge, originally
intended to be only available in Japan in celebration of the 50 years that 'Mr SPU'
(Mr Robert Gudmandsen, whose signature adorns the cartridge body) spent working at
Ortofon. This cartridge uses hard to source 8N pure copper wire coils and an elliptical
diamond and is already considered by many to be one of the best SPUs ever made. We
have managed to secure an extremely limited numbers of these cartridges, of which
just 500 will ever be made.
We have just sold out of these cartridges, but hopefully have a small number on their
way, please email us if you wish to know when they arrive.
Ortofon SPU Spirit MC cartridge: £999.99
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
The Dorian is Lyra’s entry level model but you wouldn’t know from looking at it,
it’s quite beautifully constructed. Its sound is vibrant and fast, with great detail
retrieval thanks to the MicroRidge line contact stylus and boron cantilever. It outputs
0.6mV so will work into any MC (moving coil) phono input.
Lyra Dorian MC cartridge: £649.00
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: £749
Dynavector D17D3 cartridge exchange: £599 (plus return of old D17 cartridge)
Music Maker 3: £725
The press have certainly latched on to this unlikely looking hi end bargain, and
for good reason too. It uses the moving iron principle (but still plugs into any
MM input) and whilst loosely based on Grado underpinnings it is the work of one man,
Len Gregory (aka the Cartridge Man) who heavily modifies it. In comparison with many
other designs it seem to make them sound as if they’re trying too hard, not to say
it isn’t an exciting listen, not in the slightest, more that it lacks the resonance's
that give some other designs a sense of added pep and brilliance, which ultimately
reveals itself as sounding forced once lived with in the long term. Tonality is where
it scores its biggest kills, sounding consistent from top to bottom with a richness
that simply sounds natural.
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: £825.00
-Cadenza Blue Nude FG70 profile stylus and Ruby cantilever: £1,195.00
-Cadenza Bronze Replicant 100 diamond and conical aluminium cantilever: £1,395.00
-Cadenza Black Nude Shibata diamond and Boron cantilever: £1,750.00
-Cadenza Mono mono version of the Red: £825.00
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.
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: £995
We always thought it wouldn’t happen, after years of being heavily pro moving magnet
cartridges, Rega launched their own Moving Coil design. Called the Apheta, this isn’t
simply another me too product, and represents a 4 year long rethink of the way an
MC cartridge should be designed. It’s especially radical as it uses minimal damping
of the moving parts and dispenses with the tie-wire found in many other MC cartridges.
This also results in a much reduced high frequency resonance, something that is inevitable
with more conventional MC designs, making it easier to match to any phono stage.
The resulting sound is almost as exciting as the design is radical, thanks to the
minimal damping the speed and immediacy are the first things you notice. It’s a very
involving cartridge to listen to, yet it doesn’t accentuate surface noise and is
also remarkably well balanced for a cartridge with such obvious strengths. The low
frequencies are a little lighter than some of its competitors, but again what’s there
is fast and well resolved. It’s rare for a cartridge to combine such an adrenalin
pumping performance that doesn’t wear thin after extended listening, but the depth
of the abilities of the Apheta mean that this certainly isn’t the case.
Rega Apheta cartridge: £920.00
Benz Micro Wood
The Wood sits approximately in the middle of the Benz Micro range. As the name suggest
this Swiss built cartridge is housed in a wood body, made from machined Bruyere,
a very hard and stable wood making it perfect for use in the construction of cartridges.
A Micro Ridge profiled diamond is used, this has very good wear characteristics combined
with great resolution and low distortion. This is mounted in a solid Boron cantilever,
a very rare and hard material, whose stiffness is ideal for this role.
The Wood is available with three different output levels, the ‘SL’ version shown
here outputs a conventional MC output voltage of 0.4mV, the ‘SM’ a higher 0.8mV (a
rather unusual output level) and the ‘SH’ outputs 2.6mV (I.e. a high output coil
level, suitable for use into most MM phono stages).
For best performance we would recommend the SL version, as the lower moving mass
of a low output cartridge always brings great gains to top end extension and quality.
Its coil impedance of 12 Ohms means that most good step up transformers will work
perfectly, however if you don’t have the budget or space for a step up transformer
then the SH version would be a good compromise.
The Wood has a powerful and well rounded sound, with instruments having great tonal
richness and natural warmth. There’s a tremendous sense of refinement and smoothness
throughout the registers, but it has no problem getting your foot tapping when the
music demands it. Instrument placement is very well defined and the depth of sound
staging is particularly impressive. To top it off, the high frequencies are sweet
and extended. This cartridge is also extremely kind to record wear and surface noise,
in fact I’d suggest it’s one of the quietest cartridges I’ve come across, and only
the Ortofon SPU springs to mind as being superior in this respect.
If you find a lot of cartridges at this level to be too forward, bright or lacking
smoothness then the Wood should definitely be high up your list to audition, it’s
also a hugely entertaining cartridge to listen to and is definitely up there with
some of the very best, and at a very reasonable price for the performance on offer.
Like all of the Benz Micro range, this model is also available in Mono guise to special
Benz Micro Wood MC cartridge: £994.95
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: £735
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: £735
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: £838
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!