Eight High-End Moving Coil Phono Cartridges

October 12, 2010

Harry Pearson has posted his two part series entitled The Third Generation of Moving Coils at The Absolute Sounds. The cartridges he reviews, in descending order of cost, are as follows:

Clearaudio Goldfinger v2 ($10,000)
Dynavector XV-1T ($9000)
My Sonic Labs ($6900)
ZYX Omega ($6600)
Benz LP S-M ($5000)
Kubotech Haniwa ($5000)
Miyajima Shilabe ($2800)
Ortofon A-90 ($4200)

His conclusions:

What has intrigued me during extended listening sessions over the past nine months is that there is not one “loser” in the assemblage I evaluated. Every cartridge retrieves the essential information—if not all the nuances—on the discs I used as references. So it is those inherent nuances that differentiate the moving coils from each other, and make for fascinating, if difficult to quantify, contrasts.

Every cartridge in this survey does justice to the music itself, an astonishment when you consider how far we’ve come since the first-generation designs.

However, it is within these “nuances” that each high-ender can find his own form of musical truth, that is to say, his preferred form, his preferred “sound” —think of this as if comparing, say, the Leica vs. the Nikon camera. Both get the essentials right, but how does each “see” things?

To me, with an exception or two among the group, these cartridges may be divided into the romantic, vivid, and “living presence” category or into the accuracy über alles category. By “accuracy” I do not intend to suggest the sort of “high-definition” hi-fi sound so prevalent among the more expensive speaker and electronic designs in today’s industry. “Accuracy” in this comparison means the retrieval of harmonic information—the ability to tonally differentiate vocal textures; the shading of small-scale dynamics; and, most importantly of all, the ability to recreate a realistically dimensional soundstage, instead of a compressed one. Unlike the moving coils of the last generation, each and every one of these is refreshingly free from the ubiquitous tonal coloration we call “character,” which puts them all in the same league of honesty and truth when it comes to reproducing music. No “goldens” nor “darks” nor “whites” nor “tans” in this group.

Note that HP doesn’t declared one cartridge the best. Other writers at TAS would do well to emulate his approach.

You can read the full review here.