Grado Epoch 3

I have been shopping new cartridges for my Artisan Fidelity (henceforth AF)  NGS SE. My table started life as an AF NGS. I had Chris convert it to the four arm capable ~350lb variant now sitting on my stand. I currently have the table outfitted with two Kuzma 4 Points, an 11" and a 14". I am still awaiting the update of my third arm which is a Technics EPA 100 MK 2. The technics will hold the London Reference and is having the bearing replaced with lab grade saphires. The 14" 4 Point is awaiting delivery of the Ortofon MC Diamond which replaces my former MC Anna. I was really interested in the Epoch 3 based on my own intuition and the description of the motor. I was not terribly moTved by the reviews I've read. 

I spoke to Todd of Todd the Vinyl Junkie fame concerning the Grado line of transducers. Todd is very knowledgable and a real audio enthusiast. I have bought several far less costly items from Todd in times past so I was familiar with his company. Todd graciously offered to allow an audition of the Epoch 3 which he had on hand, but John Grado found out about this and arranged for me to get a new unit for audition. Talk about service!

This is my only experience with Grado Labs. The cartridge arrived in a short period of time, and I set it up on the 11" arm using Analog Majik 2, my SmarTractor and MY EARS. Initially it sounded very nice. It has a weight to it much like my former reel to reel. It was exciting and very impressive the first 26 hours but then it started sounding kind of boring to my ears. I changed the VTF from 1.8g to 1.65g and this was part of the problem. I should have been running it in at the upper limit of the specified tracking force range. I set it to 1.854g and let her go. 

The cartridge started to open-up and now showed more vigor and life, it was energetic but not as airy, or bright as some MC's I have heard. Once I hit 57 hours she was singing again and only got better up to about 67 hours. The highs were all there as I used my AMR CD 77.1 as a reference on certain pieces of music including vinyl, I had digitized to 24/96. The highs were there, just not the way my former MC Anna did highs. The Grado has a weightier center of gravity if you take my meaning. As the cartridge continued to run in between 67 and ~97 hours it waxed and waned from good too great to, "I don't like what I hear and I am walking out of my man cave and going to bed". I am now at 104 hours, and it sounds glorious. 

I used my DartZeel NHB-18NS and AMR PH 77 phonostages with the cartridge and it sounds fantastic with both units. I have settled on leaving it connected to the PH 77, the combination is really special. The Zeel sounds a little more romantic, which is counterintuitive as the AMR is tubes and Zeel is all SS.

I used the London Reference with the SW1X LPU III Balanced phonostage for comparative purposes. The LPU III Balanced is a wonderful full sounding end of road stage with 48dB of gain. Joe over the Lotus Group was kind enough to hook me up with the LPU III. It's a real shame this piece is not talked about more, it would put some pieces that magazine reviewers pump-up to a flat out shame.  It was perfect for the London. The LPU III does not have enough gain for the Epoch 3 therefore while I did listen to both cartridges on the 4 Point (love the 4 Point and its removable headshells) I optimized each cartridge with the stage that best fit its specifications. Both cartridges are super-fast and I mean fast!!! The Grado has a wider soundstage and is simply more luxurious. Don't you hate car analogies? Well TOO BAD, here's another one LOL. The Grado would be an AMG S65 while the London is Porsche GT3. Both fast and agile but they do it differently.

On piano the Grado is big and real sounding, the London is not quite as big but on some pieces the London has a transient speed with respect to hard percussive hammer strikes that no other cartridge I have heard can match. I have decided to keep my London.

The Epoch 3 It is one of my favorite pieces of gear and it makes music like very few other cartridges I have heard. The highs are all there, they just don't slap you in the face. It sounds ridiculously good on classic rock and jazz and even classical. I have read that it probably won’t be fully run in until about 150 hours so I still must see what more there may be to come. 

I did hear some hard sibilance with the Grado and that concerned me quite a bit. The little pamphlet that comes the Epoch 3 states that the front of the cartridge should be 90 degrees with respect to the surface of the vinyl or 2 degrees down at the back (lower the tonearm). Analog Majik 2 also showed the best IM distortion number when it was lowered. Problem is, I found it lifeless and boring! I ended up with the front of cartridge 2 degrees forward (tonearm a bit higher). The sound was spectacular but then I started noticing some sibilance. Did I have to endure sibilance in order to get the life I wanted out of the cartridge. This was the dilemma.

I spoke to John who is just about one of the most unpretentious and nicest guys in audio you will ever run across, and he mentioned the cartridge should be 2 degrees forward before I ever told him that is where I had my unit. John is revisiting the pamphlet which may be old material from another model or a misprint. So then, what about the sibilance. I recalled that one of the biggest offending albums was my copy of Jennifer Warnes The Hunter. I played it again and there it was, slapping me right in the face, HARD! I then recalled that some years ago I'd digitized that piece with my 4 Point 11" running the Ortofon MC Anna on my NGS using the ADC built into the AMR PH77. These files are on my HDD and part of my Roon Library. I did this to quickly reference what a tonearm/cartridge/stage combination sounded like for comparative purposes. It was fortuitous that I had done so. I played the same MC Anna digitized piece back and bam, slapped in the face again by sibilance. Problematic vinyl was the culprit. 

One evening while I was listening, the system was sounding so real and fantastic, I found myself happy and upset at the same time. Happy because of how convincing this cartridge makes music sound real, upset because right then and there I knew I would be out $12K. 

The Grado Epoch 3 is one of the finest cartridges I have ever heard and I am glad it is resident in my system. 



Ok, just ordered, literally 30 minutes ago, the AT AT-MC2022. Not sure if I should be crying or happy :)  I will report my comparitive findings once I recieve the MC-2022 and get at least 50 hours on her. So, Christmas came early for me!

While I don't doubt that the Epoch sounds fantastic, I've always found it odd that Grado's $10K+ cartridges have just an elliptical diamond.  Couldn't they have just put in a line contact or Gyger for that price?   I don't mean to diminish the OP's enthusiasm.  Grado are on my list of cartridges to try, but the lack of microline or similar gives me pause.  Can you imagine hearing IGD on a 12K cartridge?


Hi. I think your point is valid. I believe John was building a system, and not just putting together a list of parts that make for great marketing. I was concerned about this as well, but noted that it is not a typical elliptical. All of my concerns were allayed after I auditioned the cartridge and witnessed how it went head to head with my former London Reference. Note that I wrote former as the Epoch finally outperformed the London to the point that I sold the Decca :) It wasn’t really close after the Epoch started getting some hours on the clock and the suspension loosened up.

There is nothing wrong with more acute styli, I mean my first cartridge was the Ortofon MC Anna with it’s very very picky Replicant 100 diamond. One thing I love about the Epoch is that I can dial in my 4Point and it is good for my 140g to my 200g albums. Although I loved my Anna, I do not miss at all readjusting the VTA and consequently, the VTF for albums at 180g, below 180g and above 180g, The Replicant 100 (on a highly resolving system) is that sensitive. I printed labels and placed them on my VTA tower ring for 140g, 180g and 200g (thanks Albert Porter :). This allowed me to fairly quickly turn the dial on the Kuzma VTA tower for the weight of the album I was spinning, and YES LOL, my albums outer plastic sleeves had a label with the wieght of the vinyl listed :) I have always mentioned to people that if you are thinking of purchaing a cartridge with a severe stylus, make sure your arm has easily repeatable VTA adjustments as you simply will not get the most out of your system if you do not adjust for album weight (thickness).

The stylus John has chosen has made a believer out of me, although I still have nothing against other styli including the Replicant 100.

Dear @audiofun  : Very good that you pull the triger on the 60 anniversary cartridge celebration by Audio Technica unique AT 2022.

I almost owned and own almost every MM/MC Audio Technica cartridges since the AT 20SS MM model, inclusive maybe before.

Audio Technica only designed/manufactured 2 cartridges with diamond cantilevers, I own the first one AT 1000 and just from the realease of the 2022 I shared along other gentlemans in this forum the link that really surprise me because it's the rtoday only cartridge where the stylus is not " bonded " to its diamond cantilever but the cantilever and stylus are made it as a unit not assembled.

In the past and that I remember Sony top of the line XL-88 shared the same cantilever/stylus unit/united. Btw, great performer.

I'm sure that you will deligth it.


In the other side, yes normally the price of a cartridge reflects its quality level performance. However always exist exceptions as in the case of the Umami Red this Hana model performs at quality levels way over its price. No, I'm not telling that is a " Lyra Lamda SL "  but it's really good.


Well , congratulations for that AT you own.


Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,



I wanted to add that you are not wrong that one may experience some IGD on certain albums, I have myself. I've found that with meticulous setup, this can be mostly overcome. The overall playback of the Epoch 3 is really something to experience.