advice for mono cartridge


I have a Garrard 401 with a Magnepan Unitrac and an SME 3009 Mk II Improved.

I’m thinking about turning one of the tonearms into a dedicated mono setup, probably on the SME 3009 Mk II Improved, as the Magnepan is my main arm and I really like the sound of it for stereo. The SME has a detachable headshell, making it easy to switch back and forth if necessary and I’m used to the sound of the Magnepan, so I don’t really want to change anything there.

I run MM only right now (although I guess I could pick up a step up transformer) and the SME has an effective mass of 9.5g. It also tracks only to 1.5g (although I bought the additional counterweight, which might help with that). It seems like my choice of mono cartridges is thus pretty limited. It seems the Ortofon 2M Mono Special Edition could be a good choice.

At the same time, I’m reading all sorts of contradictory info about whether vertical compliance, which the Ortofon seems to have (as opposed to Miyajima), is a good thing or not and whether a 1 mil or 0.7 mil stylus is best. Some also say a more modern line contact profile (the Ortofon has that) is actually preferable, even for older records, etc. Ortofon seems to say just that in their literature and Michael Fremer seems to agree. Also the Ortofon seems to have internally strapped output, which is somewhat controversial.

I actually heard recently a couple of very high end systems that used Miyajima mono cartridges and they sounded fantastic, huge soundstage, very realistic … but they were also clearly out of my price range, and only fit much heavier tone arms.

I have a mix of older mono pressings and reissues, presumably cut with a stereo cutter head.

I'm looking for advice from people with direct experience.

Considering the above,would the Ortofon 2M mono SE be a good choice? Does anyone see anything else more or less in that price range that might better it? Or should perhaps just wait and switch to a tone arm that would give me better options for mono down the line, perhaps a Fidelity Research FR-24, FR-54 or FR-14, which contrary to the FR-64 and FR-66, can be had for cheap. Budget is a concern overall.

Any input would be appreciated.


Jerome Sabbagh
On the Miyajima website there is some useful information on stylus tip dimensions vis the vintage of a mono LP.  I don't remember it well enough to go out on a limb here, but I think I concluded that for "late" mono LPs, which is mostly what I own (no 78s at all, usually jazz from the mid- to late 50s), 0.7 mil is to be preferred over 1.0 mil.  But in theory, there is nothing wrong with using a modern exotic stylus shape.

As to the question of vertical compliance, I would not get hung up on that.  What might matter is whether the cartridge is designed and constructed as a "true mono" or whether it was built for stereo and achieves a mono output by bridging the two channels, internally.  The latter group of cartridges are by far in the majority.  The act of bridging cancels the signal that distinguishes between stereo and mono output. Only a few companies make true mono cartridges these days, Miyajima being one of them. EMT and maybe Ortofon also make true mono, and maybe also Lyra.  I say "maybe" because the makers are very ambiguous in describing the construction of their mono cartridges.  The Ortofon that you mentioned, for example, is almost surely created by bridging the two channels of their stereo equivalent.  But if you read their ad copy, you wouldn't be sure.  One benefit of the bridged stereo type is that you get two channels of mono output; I prefer that for driving my stereo speakers in mono.  With a true mono, sometimes you only get one pair of output pins, hot and ground.  This makes it awkward to drive a stereo pair of speakers in mono.  On the other hand, if you are a purist, you might want true mono, which would have no way of leaking high frequency groove noise into the phono stage. (Mono is in the lateral plane whereas stereo information is derived from vertical motion of the stylus.  If there is no stereo signal, as on a mono LP, then vertical motion of the stylus only generates noise from whatever dirt is in the groove.  You want to cancel that signal, which is effectively achieved by bridging but it is possible that a true mono cartridge might be superior at rejecting that source of noise. (I can't say, because I have no true mono cartridges.)

Finally, there is the question whether using a mono cartridge, especially the ones derived by bridging, is any better than using the mono switch that you may have on your linestage or phono stage.  There are varying opinions on that.  I don't hear any difference.
I use my stereo cartridge to play mono records with no problems at all.  No increase in noise, distortion,tracking ability, etc.
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I don't have much mono records, but my MONO are all from the 60's/70s.

What i've learned with is that modern High-End MONO cartridges comes with the best diamond profiles, not with the oldschool profiles designed for mono. I've checked Lyra mono cartridges and information about it. 

I also niticed that true mono MM cartridges have only 2 pins (not 4) and this is a true mono design, but stereo stylus with advanced profile is always a good bonus. My Grace F14 MONO designed with stereo stylus, but internally the cartridge is true mono with only 2 pins. 

More about Grace F-14 MONO in this thread
You might check in with Robin Wyatt at
I've seen him at an audio show giving fun demos and he's something of a mono aficionado. He's, um.. a very enthusiastic talker!
Thank you all for the feedback. This is all very useful. I think Robin was actually a backer of the Kickstarter to press "No Filter" on AAA vinyl. I might reach out, although I suspect my current tonearm isn't really good for the Miyajima cartridges he sells. 
Unfortunately none of the Miyajima cartridges will work on that arm -- I ran the compatibility specs across the range and the SME 3009 just isn't going to work -- I love my Zero but like all the Miyajima's these are big and heavy cartridges!  Have you considered a different arm :-) I liked the results I got on a Wand+ with the Zero
@noromance @folkfreak Thanks for your advice. 

I got in touch with Robin. He suggests the Miyajima Spirit and said it can work with added weight at the headshell on the SME. Granted I'm sure other arms would be better matches. I am looking at Fidelity Research, perhaps FR24 MK II (I don't think I can afford FR64 right now, especially if I already go for a Miyajima) and also Audio Technica ATP-12T, which seems to be a good match for these cartridges and can be had for pretty cheap. 
Just FYI if you do go Miyajima these are prone to hum and buzzing if you cannot manage ground issues. The only foolproof solution I have is using the ground lift switch on my step up. A mono switch will also cancel the hum but kind of defeats the point of using a mono cartridge on the first place 😉. All the other recommended solutions such as only connecting one channel did nothing for me.
@saxman73 Look at a Jelco TK-850S tonearm. $795 from George Merrill. I use a few with Decca cartridges. Excellent performer.
I think any good tonearm can be used with Mono cartridge unless the cartridge compliance and toneam effective moving mass is well matched.

I believe the benefit of the stereo stylus on a true mono (MM) cartridge is higher compliance compared to oldschool mono MC and related stuff.

Higher compliance = better tracking ability. True Mono MM cartridges with higher compliance does not require a heavy oldschool toneamrs designed for low compliance mono carts.

Also a high-end stylus profile on a true Mono cartridge is better for vintage records played for decades with inferior conical styli. High-end profiles like LineContact and Shibata will ride in virgin part of the record groove walls (not touched yet by a conical profile). The music can be extracted from the grooves in much better quality.

All these can improve the sound of an old mono records.

* I'm talking about mono records from the 70's, not from the 50's whichrequire huge stylus. 
Higher compliance = better tracking ability.
That's not really true. Typically, the best tracking performance is achieved when cartridge compliance is matched to the pickup arm's effective mass. The compliance of a cartridge itself has no inherent correlation to tracking ability.
There are very low compliance cartridges that track like champs.
@cleeds i have all kind of cartridges from very low compliance to very high compliance and i only use well matched carts/arms. Most of the great cartridges does not skip on real music recorded on flat records, unless you will put them on a test record and the tracking ability test depends on the groove modulation. This is a great test for suspension, i'm sure you know that. Hi-Fi Test LP is what i use, there are 4 bands, only amazing cartridges will pass all 4 bands, the last band is the most complicated. 

Also the low compliance cartridges with 2-3g tracking force will skip on warped records, while the high compliance cartridges with 1-2g tracking force never skip on the same warped records. I've noticed a better tracking ability of the High Compliance cartridges over the years.

Mono MC cartridges are normally low compliance. 
Mono MM cartridges are mid or high compliance. 

The Miyajima is an example of the oldschool true mono low compliance.

The Grace F14 MM is an example of the true MONO MM from the golden age of analog. Mid or High compliance, depends on the stylus, but the stylus is stereo with advanced profile like Luminal Trace or even Micro Ridge (not conical).

The whole concept of mono cartridges is much wider that the vision of Miyajima designer. 

And the modern concept of true MONO MC is different, look at Lyra Mono cartridges.   

Stringreen,  Have you ever listened to a mono cartridge (of either type), or does your preamplifier have a mono mode switch and have you used it?  Because, after years of listening to mono LPs with stereo cartridges, I now would never think of doing it again.  Both my preamplifiers in (two systems) have mono switches, and I invariably hear a BIG improvement by just flipping that switch when playing mono LPs.  Much less high frequency hash, for one thing. I urge you to try it.  I own a mono cartridge, as well, but I don't always bother to use it for mono LPs, becasue I am so satisfied by the mono mode switch.
Try this: take the Audio Technica VM540ML stylus and install it in the Audio Technica VM520 mm body. 
+1 @lewm ,

I do plan to install my Ortofon Cadenza mono soon and have a true mono listening session though.
Thank you all for your input. I’m figuring out what to do.

My preamp does not have a mono switch, so that’s not an option.

@folkfreak : FYI, I found some literature by Miyajima that actually explicitly says not to use "old model SME tonearms", which undoubtedly must include the SME 3009. As you stated, it does look like I should probably switch tonearms if I want to use a Miyajima.

If it's of any use to you, I bought a Shelter 501 Mono about a year ago.  Although I don't use it much out of sheer laziness, with the mono mode switch available to me, it's darn good, cheaper than some of the Miyajima's, and I have yet to hear a rationale for why "true mono" is going to be any better than a stereo cartridge bridged for mono, or a mono switch, for that matter.  One vinylista claimed that using BOTH a mono cartridge and a mono mode switch on his preamplifier sounded superior to either method alone; I have yet to verify that, because either method alone is SO much better than listening to mono LPs in stereo mode.
Correction to my post above: the Audio-Technical VM-510M body fitted with a VMN-40ML stylus (the micro-line contact stylus that comes with the VM-540ML and VM-740ML cartridges) is a mono solution with fabulous tracking. 
I use a Miyajima Zero on all of my mono albums new and old.  I do not play 78s. I have the Zero mounted on a Project 9.1 TT with the stock arm and heavy counterweight.  My crappy  McIntosh 6900 with autoformer has a mono button and to me sounds better with the mono switch engaged.
 I discovered a long time ago that mono sounds much better with a mono cartridge than with stereo cartridge and mono engaged on the preamp.
That’s valuable testimony. A dichotomy arises because if you switch cartridges then that brings into play the fact that you’re comparing two different cartridges. The mono cartridge might just be better than the stereo one. For each of us the outcome could be different. But you’ve stimulated me to do some serious comparing. One thing is for sure, mono LPs should be reproduced in mono if you want to get the most out of them.
After a year of playing The Beatles remastered mono LP set I bought in September 2014, I bought the Audio Technica AT-MONO3/LP HOMC (mono, of course). Amazon sells these cheaper than anywhere else--$118.53 with free shipping. It features a 0.6mil conical stylus. It is also "true mono" in that it only picks up the horizontal modulations. Dropping the needle on the record (a vertical contact) is dead quiet.

My tonearm accepts interchangeable headshells, so switching from stereo to mono is pretty quick.

It was a revelation. The remastered mono Beatles records were more focused, quieter, and dynamic. My enjoyment of these records jumped by 30%.

I soon discovered that I had some other mono remasters. One such is the Analogue Productions dual-45 rpm reissue of Nat King Cole's "After Midnight" abum from 1958. Another is "Drummer Man," a Verve mid-'50s pre-stereo hi-fi LP with Quincy Jones doing the arranging and conducting, and a reunion with Krupa's featured soloists, Anita O'Day and Roy Eldridge. 

I knew this record like the back of my hand, but with this AT mono cartridge, the playback "popped" as I'd never heard before.

Given the really high prices of some high end mono cartridges, the Audio Technica cartridge for $118.53 is a no-brainer, and moving coil to boot. I like the conical stylus as well. Much less hassle in alignment and setup, and the stylus pretty much tracks the same regardless of what part of the record surface it's tracking. The only thing that might be better would be a Shibata, but for $118 I'm not complaining.

Later, I retrieved some true vintage mono LPs recorded and pressed in the '50s and '60s, acquired from thrift shops for 99 cents each (one is even an original Everest recording/pressing of Mozart wind ensembles). Played on my stereo cartridge, they were too noisy; I originally played'em once and shelved them. With the AT-MONO3/LP I pulled them out again, and--Eureka!--the surface noise was gone! Just pure center-channel music. And some of these mono LPs (Roger Wagner Choral, Vince Guarldi's "A Boy Named Charlie Brown) were made in 1969! Who knew mono production was active that late--a full 11 years after the introduction of stereo LP.

It's a win-win all around--cleaner sound, better dynamics, focused center channel soundstage, and way less surface noise.

Not many mono experts here as i can see. 

Here is more about mono cartridges in the article by Art Dudley. Only the cheapest mono carts have conical tip for mono, most of the high-end mono have at least elliptical or line contact.

What i can see in Lyra Etna MONO specs is LineContact stylus:

"Lyra-designed long-footprint variable-radius line-contact nude diamond (3um x 70um profile, block dimensions 0.08 x 0.12 x 0.5 mm)"

Why High-End manufacturers of the modern Mono cartridges are using LineContact for Mono ?  Probably because LineContact is better for Mono ? 

Why do we need a mono switch if a true mono cartridge has just 2 pins with just two wires coming from the headshell (not 4). The generator of such cartridges is a true mono. It's not enoug for a proper mono playback? 

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I agree it seems redundant to engage the mono button when the cartridge is mono.  However comparing the two with just a push of a button and my ears.  I prefer to use it.  Maybe a McIntosh preamp thing.
I will add some spices:

1) New mono cartridges from respected manufacturers have vertical compliance, they do not act like oldschool mono with latheral compliance only.  Why ?

2) New mono cartridges have the best styli with most complicated profiles just like the most expensive stereo, not like oldchool mono with conical. Why ? 

3) What makes a cartridge "true mono": A mono motor with two pins input or a mono Stylus without vertical compliance ?

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Chakster, To answer your questions:(1)  I am not really sure your assumption about compliance applies to ALL true mono cartridges.  The fact is that vertical compliance in a mono cartridge is irrelevant, since the motor does not respond to vertical motion at the stylus by producing an audio signal.  Ideally, the cartridge is totally inert to vertical movement of the stylus. I don't know whether that is always true in practice. "Modern" mono cartridges are nearly always stereo cartridges that have been internally bridged to produce a mono signal; therefore those typically do have vertical compliance.  (Bridging ideally cancels signal voltage due to vertical motion of the stylus tip.)
(2) I have read that fancy stylus tip shapes are irrelevant for mono.  JCarr has argued otherwise, I think.  Miyajima seem to think conical is fine for mono in their true mono cartridges.
(3) In my opinion, the definition of a "true mono" cartridge is that it has one set of sensors that work only to respond to lateral motion of the stylus tip, and often they have only one pair of output pins.  Compliance or no compliance.  There is no bible for this.
@lewm  Yes, the Miyajima MC is a true mono in total oldschool way (japanese style), but this is not the only cartridge on the mono market, especially if we will add some nice vintage true mono MM.  

I've been reading so much about serious advantages of the LineContact styli over the Conical/Elliptical to play vintage vinyl, so i believe same principle applied for mono records played for decaded with conical needles only. Quality must be better with LineContact type simply because this part of the groove wall is untachable by Conical tip. If the mono record is from the 50's and in used condition then it must be played with LineContact (or MicroRidge) for better sound quality. I thinks it's obvious for old records. No?   
I don't think it is quite that simple Chakster.

As I see it, all things being equal (which they never are unfortunately) there are simply more compromises to be made with mono cartridges than with stereo as a result of the 3 different types of grooves to be played with mono (very early 33 RPM pre-microgroove mono, microgroove mono and "modern" mono cut on a stereo head) as opposed to the one groove formation to be played with stereo cartridges.

With very early pre-microgroove I think it is quite possible that a larger 1 mil conical may actually give the best performance in terms of dealing with the wider groove. On the other hand, the line contact or microridge (on a mono cartridge with adapted vertical compliance) would be very likely to provide optimal performance with more modern monos and recent reissues cut using a stereo head.

I'd be reluctant to play the latter using a so-called "true mono" cartridge with no or very limited vertical compliance; Miyajima does not recommend playing "stereo" records with their mono cartridges and I see no reason to take a chance playing a modern mono reissue cut using a stereo head with a cartridge like that even though some say they have done it successfully (some also say they haven't if you search the net).

And JCarr admits himself that a LC or MR is more likely to drag along the bottom of the groove in earlier wider groove monos and/or hit dirt or damage in that area leading to more noise in playback.

I think one should also distinguish between modern stereo cartridges that simply bridge the channels to provide "better" mono playback vs. modern mono cartridges with adapted vertical compliance purposely designed with 2 coils that are oriented to both grossly reduce and/or eliminate (the purists will always argue) reproduction of any vertical info/noise while at the same time eliminating the chance for hum/noise issues when used in a typical 2 channel setup.

In my experience, the 2nd (whether it has a line contact or decent conical) is much better at mono playback than the first whether it is regarded as "true mono" or not and these mono cartridges are really the swiss army knife of monos for users wanting one mono cartridge to play all their mono records.

As most of my mono vinyl is in very good shape and I have only a handful of monos from the pre-microgroove era I am tempted to retip my AT 33 Mono (aluminum cantilever and nude conical stylus) with a boron cantilever and MR stylus at some point. I think the results would be positive on most of my collection, but not necessarily all.

But I don't really find it wanting with the conical and still prefer it on the same table on an inferior arm (with both cartridges gain optimized also using the same phono stage) compared to my much more expensive/prestigious stereo cartridge when playing both vintage monos (to be expected) and modern mono reissues (some would argue or take the position not to be expected).

For the super hardcore purists wanting to extract the most from large mono collections, I can see the need for 2, maybe three different mono cartridges.

You could take the same position on stereo cartridges but the argument would be much more about subjective preference as opposed to technical merit in terms of actually retrieving the info from the grooves.
I see your point for 78s and late 1940s and I don’t know about 45s of the 50s, but I own nothing in any of those categories. 0.7 mil or exotic nonconical stylus is fine for my needs. And I do insist upon 2 channels of mono output, however it’s achieved. That’s how I approach the mini-dilemma. Plus my preamp must have a mono switch.
From what I've read, hdm raises a good point about matching stylus size with the vintage of the LP and thus the grooves.  Apparently all the cutter heads are now stereo (no surprise) so even remastered mono LPs will have a narrower groove than the originals.  That may be why Mr. Carr recommends modern styli, if he tests with reissue pressings?
In practice, who is going to have more than one mono cartridge mounted up and ready for use?  Only a mono-phile who hates stereo, and there's not many in that category.  So most of us will choose one mono cartridge and live with it.  I already mentioned the factors that governed my own decision; I simply do not own any LPs cut much before about 1953-55.  And I don't play rock and roll 45s, either. (Nor do I know what would be optimal for those.)  If you're a 78-nick, you make a different decision in favor of 1.0mil conical or whatever.  I bought a Shelter 501 mkII mono, and I stopped worrying about it, not that I think my choice is the absolute one and only valid one.
Lew, I agree not many will bother with more than one mono cartridge, if even that.  But apparently others really get specific in matching stylus tip with the groove.  Just scroll down the options here.

Are most of those folks doing archival work?
Thanks so much for the help! I got a Miyajima Zero 0.7 mil (and the matching Miyajima mono step up) that I am eagerly awaiting a new armboard to mount. I will report back. Thanks a lot to everyone who chimed in.

Jerome Sabbagh
Miyajima Zero B - 0.7 mil stylus
Saxman - after several months you've probably gotten a good taste of your Miyajima Zero B with the .7mil stylus. What is your impression?
I ask since I'm about to pull the trigger on this exact cartridge...
Best regards,
Sorry, just seeing this Brian! I encountered a snag setting up the Miyajima. Probably just a simple as headshell wire or interconnect, but the friend who was helping me and myself couldn't do it. Meanwhile, I heard a friend's Fairchild 225A, which so blew me away that I bought one. I was able to get that one set up later and it's been on there since. Once the pandemic recedes and I can get the Zero set up again, I will decide which one I like best and likely sell the other. I will keep you posted. Sorry, this isn't terribly helpful. Did you pull the trigger? If yes, how do you like it?


Hey there!After waiting for 3 months for mine to show up it did about a week ago. Setup/alignment went without a hitch. See my virtual system for pics.
Sound is very nice, fully fleshed out with great bass and extended highs. It's a different sonic picture - much more focused in the middle of the front wall with all the performers sort of stacked up on top of themselves vs laid out in their own space with my stereo cartridge.

Still, very nice SQ and I can now play some great mono records I have.