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. 



It's really interesting to hear your thoughts on how the Epoch's sound changes with use.

After 300 hours on the Koetsu it sounded glorious, so I foolishly decided to use a 'flux-busting' record to "improve" it. All that happened was that the sound returned to the zero-hours, fresh-out-of-the-box sound, and it took 100 hours to get the Koetsu back to it's former glory.

This has we wondering if the phenomenon we call 'break-in' isn't really something else, a magnetic effect, perhaps.

Comments, anyone?

Mounted the Epoch on a my new ultra-damped natural fibre wand, and boy, does it sound good. From the first needle-drop the sound was obviously cleaner, weightier, and more dynamic than I had been used to.

Tracking is sensational. The bass tremolo on Bells of Ste. Ann-de-Baupre (M&K's Power & Glory) didn't touch it. The loud soprano chorus of "Since by man came death" (Colin Davis' Messiah, Phillips) was crystal clear. So was Charpentier's Pastoral (Harmonia Mundi).

The syncopation in Simon & Garfunkel's' "Cecilia" was a revelation; seemed like exceptional square wave performance. No sibilance  either. Just a clear, sweet, dynamic sound. 

That's all with just a rough set-up and two hours on the clock.


Interesting thread, particularly the discussion of cartridge break in.  I have purchased three SoundSmith Carts new over the years.  First the MIMC Star, then the Sussurro and most recently the Hyperion.  All of them needed over 100 hours of playing to reach a higher level of resolution.  As the SoundSmith carts are all MI, I wonder if there is something in common with the Grado Epoch?  Can anyone hypothesize what it might be in an MI cart that needs so much time?  

I would love to get the chance to listen to the top of the line Grados. I had several of the cheapest ones when I was in high school...


I can’t speak to why it’s taken this long for the Epoch to run-in, but it certainly did take all of 150 hours before I felt it truly came into its own. I am not convinced at 178 hours that it’s fully run-in. For the record, I designed my own 3 and 4 way active speakers and the active crossovers to go along with them. I can hear a little. I am not one to get used to an inferior sounding product just because I’ve tried to allow it to run-in for an extended period. Case in point, back around ‘98 I owned a pair of Talon Audio Khorus speakers, remember those :) I always thought they sucked! Bought them from my uncle and the claim at the time was that they required 2500 hours to fully run-in. I always suspected that a 10” driver crossing to a tweeter was never ever going to work and that the claimed 2.5k hour run-in time was simply stated with the belief that the masses would become used to the sucked out, read missing presence region. Once I designed a few speakers I knew that a 10” driver to a tweeter wouldn’t work for people who can hear. This to say that break-in is real, but some people simply become accustomed to an inferior sound :) I’m not sure if it was growing up in a house with my sister playing piano or my playing Clarinet from the 5th grade through my sophomore year, but I am very sensitive to music when it is NOT QUITE RIGHT.

I did purchase the Audio Technica AT-MC2022 60th anniversary cartridge. The Epoch 3 and the MC2022 complement each other. I have 36 hours on the AT and if it’s anything like the AT ART 1000 it will take 75 hours to fully run-in. The MC2022 is absolutely more resolute than the Epoch but the Epoch does that visceral thing:). Right tool, right job :) The Epoch will probably end up on my Kuzma 14” while the MC2022 stays on the Kuzma 11”.

I plan to start another thread specifically for the AT-MC2022 once it is run-in.