How to choose a cartridge you can't hear on your system?

My personal cartridge history has gone from a humble Goldring to a decent Benz H2 and finally a Dynavector XV-1s.  Recently my 3 year old decided to break the needle on both my Dynavector and Benz (two arm setup).  This tragedy prompted a me to send my Dynavector out for re-tipping and the purchase of a new cartridge to sustain me through the expected rebuild period.  I bought a decent Sumiko Evo III.  

All of this is to come around to a realization.  In many ways, each cartridge brings something new to the table.  The Evo II had more solidity or weight to the sonic presentation than the others.  The Benz had a seductive warmth and the Dynavector a detailed nuance I most enjoyed.  I don't think it is possible to know ahead of hearing a cartridge in ones own system which brands house sound one prefers.  

I find cartridges to be the hardest audio component to buy.  How do you choose?  
Sometimes, I can know by knowing my preferences well and reading about others' experiences. Even in your example, without much of elaboration on your part, I choose Sumiko. I would just go higher in line. Simple enough. But I suspect that if you want one cartridge combining all strengths of those three and without much negative, you might like Transfiguration more than Lyra. It's a guess of mine.
So that's the answer to your question. Unless we know for sure - we guess.
I also look at what members here with apparently good hearing, taste and budget use. They most often use one or more of those - Lyra, Transfiguration, Kiseki, Allnic, AirTight, Koetsu. I don't see many Dyna, Benz, Clearaudio etc. Some set-ups look like sound great with Ikeda and Ortofon. If I could afford any of those and wanted MC I would think and consult with someone regarding how all of them would work in my arm and with my phono. Then the choice would not be very difficult. Still, I would probably have to choose one out of two or three.
@chadlesko well, if you're a true analog hobbiest don't fool yourself and just realize that you will change the cartridges from time to time over the years anyway. This is the only way to learn more about cartridges, analog playback and the potential of the system. People who would like to stick to their first serious 2-3 cartridges without trying other cartridges are limiting themselfs, missing a great personal experience. You can not really "choose" cartridge without tryin' it in your system! You can buy cartridge, but then you can choose or not, only after you're listening your favorite records in your system with this cartridge. I'm just looking for the best TOTL models from the different brands released in the 70s/80s (they are more cost effective without any dissadvantages in quality, most likely surpass the new carts). I'm taking in count the type of the cartridge (MM, MI, MC), the materials used for cantilever, type of the stylus tip, compliance, specs to match the tonearms i have. I've learned what i have to avoid, i remember what cartridges does not impressed me and how they were build. I don't care about reviews.     

What my brother chakster forget to mention is that thanks to this

MM thread chosing carts was a kind of luxury. Because we were

the first to know we were able to sell the carts which we deed

not want to keep for more than we paid for. Experimentation for

free so to speak. This luxury however does not apply for the MC

kinds. Chakster dad obviously does not belong to the new Russian

rich (grin). So he must consider the prices. But he discovered

 something  similar. There are ''oldschool'' MC carts which are as

good as the new one with ''astronomic prices''. Say: XYZ, Palladian,

Anna , Atlas, jewel Koetsus, etc. Those are for the rich Russian

who want the most expensive stuff not necessary good stuf.

The reason is : ''my is more expensive than yours''.

The problem however is that since the debt crisis selling carts is

much more difficult than buying them. That is why his brother

Nandric owns about 50 carts which he does not need.

Hi chadlesko,

if I do not want to change most of my rig I do it as follows:

1. filter which cartridges are compatible with my tonearm and phono stage

2. which tonality (warm, detailed, spatiality, analytics, ...) I want 

3. hear different cartridges at dealers and friends

4. if possible invite someone with a possible favourite cartridge to
hear it in your system at home together with him

In the end my last new cartridges all were exactly what I expected
and what I desired (Ortofon Vero, DS Audio).

Just 2 days ago I heared together with some friends an Ortofon
SPU modified by Shindo in my system. Now I know that my next
cartridge will be a SPU.
This is the question that Davey f posed on wbf recently, he added a poll with expected results I guess. Most of us take a punt every now and then unless we want to stay with the same maker. Hearing is next to impossible, which is not so good for the makers.. I am in the same position, there are carts I wish to hear, but the dealers say no demo, just buy it, so I dont.
Ps68, that’s pretty funny...just buy I don’
I wasn’t actually “expecting” any specific winner to my poll, but the results were probably predictable, I guess??
It is a shame that this is the one piece of gear that people seem to buy with little to no real experience as to how it is going to sound. I am having the same predicament right now, shopping for a new cartridge, and one that will be better than what I already own, is no easy task. I will most likely have to drop my cash and hope for the best. Not what I like to do at all in this hobby. 
Plus, as some have mentioned, this wasn’t such a big deal in the past when the cartridge price was maybe a few hundred dollars, but today we are talking multi thousands!

I see. You support the system as it is and then complain that it’s no good. Who in fact makes it possible to thrive? Stop buying this multikilobuck $hit without listening. In one year they will beg you to listen, personally deliver it to you and will send you flowers on Christmas. And if not - to hell with them and their cartridges.
inna, i'm not sure as to who you are responding to. However, your thought that by waiting a dealer is going to be essentially begging you to buy, just doesn't seem to jive with reality. 
IME, the dealers are all pretty independent when it comes to this issue. While i agree with you that this is not in the best interest of the consumer, it certainly seems to be a somewhat uniform least in the dealers in my area. In some ways, i cannot blame them, once a cartridge is mounted it becomes a 'used' device. How the mounting and care of the cartridge is accomplished is also a variable. When we are talking of multi thousand $$ pieces, the rest follows along. Not at all a great situation for the consumer, and certainly one that I would love to see changed, but I see both sides of the picture. 
Buying without listening first is, at least IMHO, never a good thing to do....unfortunately,with cartridges, I don't see a lot of options! YMMV.
@daveyf at the same time there are many people who can buy demo from the dealer with warranty to save 30-40% at least on multi thousand $$ cartridge, most likely you're talking about MC cart only. Demo unitls sells well, in fact i bought demo amp, demo speakers, demo tonearm and happy about them, no issues. So for the serious dealer it's not a problem to have demo and to get rid of demos. But this is a proper customer service. I think the dealer must have a demo set-up with demo units, the re-seller or shop may not have demos. 
Great question...the answer is you can't.  The dearth of stores willing to demo cartridges are dwindling, and even if you hear two different cartridges in the store, setup is oh so important (I look askance at all "experts").
Dealers could have at least a few set-ups for auditioning.
Not my problem, though. When and if I am ready to pay thousands  of dollars for a cartridge, I'll make couple of phone calls and get precise advice. You got to have priviledges and connections, then you'll be fine, cartridges or not.
Let me ask a different question.  Can one generalize that a high end cartridge of a manufacturer produce system synergy if their lower end model(s) do?  

I'm curious if it is always a crap shoot or if one could try several "cheaper" models and then commit to their flagship with success.  

I would never do it, this can be a very costly mistake. Besides, many brands don't have anything that I could call 'cheap'. Over $1k is not cheap, at least for most.
I’m not sure how easy this problem--and it is a problem, at least with expensive moving coil cartridges- is to solve. Ideally, a dealer would have a few different cartridges set up, using the same arm and table. But, dealers are typically limited to certain brands. Perhaps a show- but why would a manufacturer bother? (Assuming they took the time to do the necessary set up and demonstration, they are comparing against their competition and I don’t see that happening). Listening to the cartridge in question in someone else’s system --and any system but yours is ’someone else’s’--isn’t going to tell you much- sure, you could swap out cartridges on that system and hear the difference on that system, but it still doesn’t tell you how it synergizes with your set-up.
Didn’t Fremer do some comparisons, digitize them (yeah, I know) and put them up for public evaluation on his site when he had the Continuum table and arm?
I sort of played it safe- used Lyras for many years until my dealer at the time said he thought I’d really like the Airtight. So he brought it over and installed it. I guess if I decided I hated it, he would have taken it back. But I didn’t hate it, I grew to appreciate what it did. And bought the next model when I felt it was time.
But, we are very limited by this process.
Once I get my second system set up with removable headshell, I plan to play around with some less fancy cartridges, some older ones. I think that will be instructive. In the meantime, I soldier on....
PS: there are people whose views I trust. If @AlbertPorter, for example, who uses the Airtight, says the Opus is better than the Supreme by a margin, I take him at his word, even though he uses a different arm, and has an entirely different system than mine.
inna said: "...this can be a very costly mistake. Besides, many brands don't have anything that I could call 'cheap'. Over $1k is not cheap, at least for most."

It sounds like you are using a very inexpensive turntable perhaps something like a Crosley these are not high performance turntables and are not the kind of turntable one would choose to use in a high performance Music Reproduction System. In your Crosley you probably would not want to spend more than about $80 USD for a phono cartridge. Now on the other hand a proper turntable with tonearm for a high performance Music Reproduction System would cost you probably more than $8000 USD so of course in that situation a $1000 USD phono cartridge is not expensive at all especially when you consider the cost of a high performance phono preamplifier to go with your turntable. If you want high performnace vinyl playback $1000 is actually a very modest amount to spend on a phono cartridge most of the best phono cartridges cost much more than that.
@clearthink cost has nothing to do with performance, if you think $1000 is modest price then you are ignoring the world of vintage cartridges, they are all under $1000, sometimes 50%, but they are easily killing those $3000 MC carts and we have dedicated thread on this forum with so many contributors proved that fact. All those carts were very expensive when they were made, but compared to today’s market price they are bargains (used of even NOS) !

For thouse who would like to experiement with different cartridges and different sound it’s much more reasonable to buy 10 vintage MM cartridges instead of 1 modern MC if the person is not sure (yet) what sound he would like to have in his system.

It’s not necessary anyone should spend multi thousands for the cartridge. I would say more: start with vintage MM and find the best, after that try to find a better MC (it will be hard).

If you start from the oppisite direction then you will be very disappointed in sound of your very expensive MC compared to some of the top vintage MM for 1/10 of the price you paid for your MC (not even taking in count the SUT).
chakster said:"cost has nothing to do with performance, if you think $1000 is modest price then you are ignoring the world of vintage cartridges, they are all under $1000, sometimes 50%, but they are easily killing those $3000 MC carts"

You can keep telling yourself that cost has nothing to do with  objectively improved performance and while sometimes of course you are certainly correct much more often you are completely and utterly wrong that is why there are significantly expensive cartridges available to install in Music Reproduction Systems. Your vintage cartridge is most likely dried up because of advanced age and of course if you bought it used there's no way to know its condition without using a proper microscope I have a USB microscope and have examined used cartridges for friends and in every single case the stylus looks so bad I wouldn't play even one of my old used records on it a bad stylus can destroy a good record in just one playing! You have a romantic notion of these old cartridges and some people have romantic notions of old cars but you're old car wouldn't compare to a good modern car and the same is true with cartridges in fact it is even more true with cartridges because they dry up but of course if you are happy with your old worn dried up cartridge that is fine just don't fool yourself into believing it can compete with a good new one because they are worlds apart.
New cartridge is not a new car, you tell me what is the advantages of the new cartridge in terms of material used (compared to those carts made in the 80s)? Do you hear the difference between brand new $4000 MC cartridges and $16000 MC cartridges? Are you sure the $16000 MC cartridge is better? Everyone should buy them just because the seller said it’s the best of the best asking crazy price for it? Even if the simple test is not possible like the author of this thread stated? The more you pay the more you get? And would you like to advice those cartridges to experiment with to a person who/re looking for "his sound". You may end up with those ultra high-end type of stuff after you have tried nearly all top vintage cartridges (and only if you are not happy with them), otherwice there is no reason to buy those multi thousands carts, just because they are new. Are you sure those new carts are well made and there're no flaws if you will look on them with your microscope?

Don’t know what is your source to buy vintage cartridges, but i have no isses with any of them, having many rare ones in collection and i have pretty good equimpent to look at the stylus, cantilevers etc. And BTW i’m not a person who advocate old things, just because i have not tried the new expensive things or can’t afford some of them. I owned several very expensive brand new MC cartridges and various vintage MCs too. I can not fool myself with what i hear on various turntables with various tonearms (old and new). And if you know a little about cartridge construction you should know that stuff like FR-7f MC (for example) can’t dried up! Those MM with poor materials used in suspension/damper are well known today and must be avoided.

My point is to start with the vintage cartridges and don’t fool yourself with high priced units, they are not necessarily better even if the price is 10 time higher - this is marketing for audiofools. The industry, back in the day, claimed the CD is better that vinyl and what?

+1000 on Clearthinks post.
Chakster, if you enjoy an old cartridge that is more than likely destroying your vinyl, so be it. Cartridges are a wear item, plain and simple. Like Clearthinks stated, just one play can easily damage the groove if the cartridge is badly worn.
I am in the market for a new cartridge, I will not even consider anything that is not brand new...regardless of the price, or the seller’s reputation. The age and condition of the stylus and how it was treated is a huge factor, even barely used cartridges can be badly damaged by misuse and incorrect set-up. A vintage cartridge..dried up and with a worn stylus is just asking for trouble. Unless that is you have a small LP collection of little value and like to play DJ, then who cares-- LOL. All IMHO.
chakster tried many cartridges, both vintage and modern. Why do you argue with him before doing the same? This reminds me the thread regarding power cords. Go ahead and try. Before you do it your so-called opinion is just that, it's not an opinion yet. To put it another way - you have no necessary experience to qualify for the opinion.
But, as I mentioned before, to buy vintage cartridges you have to be an expert or have an expert friend or a professional. And yes, you may lose some money, but you may save more by making the right choice. In any case, to even consider $5k cartridge you also got to have a phono stage of two/three times the cost and absolutely reference level tomearm cable. Not to mention table/arm. Cartridge is not the most important element, most people have no idea of how a great MM can play, they just jump to $2k or more modern MC and plan on getting $5k one real soon. That's not audiophile approach.
inna:"chakster tried many cartridges, both vintage and modern. Why do you argue with him before doing the same? This reminds me the thread regarding power cords. Go ahead and try"

Maybe you should check your facts inna before espousing your fervent beliefs I have tried many many so-called vintage cartridges the difference is that I bought them new when they were new and still have a handful of them around I know what they sounded like then and I know what they sound like now most old cartridges are worn and dried out and if you bought used you don't know what you have. You say "you have no necessary experience to qualify for the opinion" and you do not know what you are talking about your just another of the religious believers in this group I'm so sorry to shatter your belief system.
Oh boy, such a wondeful arrogance that you can shatter anyone's belief. I don't belong to any camp when it comes to this. I am a tape man, I think that vinyl is inferior medium, regardless of what cartridge you use.
I don't know if @ddk is around. David has a flock of wonderful, rare old cartridges, some exotic, some simply older iterations of the well-worn Ortofon SPU. I don't know whether he does anything to refresh them--but suspect he wouldn't be doing anything that would damage his records or compromise performance. 
Chakster, if you enjoy an old cartridge that is more than likely destroying your vinyl, so be it. Cartridges are a wear item, plain and simple. Like Clearthinks stated, just one play can easily damage the groove if the cartridge is badly worn.

I don’t buy worn cartridges, anyone has an ears to compare worn cartridges to a brand new reference or new old stock (sealed) you opened by yourself with zero hrs of use. The worn cartridge does not sound right from the start and must be avoided! Anyone can measure the compliance of the cartridge by using test record, this will give you the idea about condition of the damper (to make sure it’s not dried up). When you put the needle on the record you can visually make conclussion about the damper (condition). Anyone can send vintage cartridge for inspection to SoundSmith or use the microscope. Audiophiles who sells vintage cartridges got many of them in rotation and the actual usage of each of them are very low, the rare cartridges comes from private collections.

If you will think about those used vintage vinyl records that are still superior to most of the new re-issues you will understand that something made 40-50 years ago can easily surpass your new stuff, just because it was made better. Even the fact that most of those old vinyl have been played with average cartridges, does not make them inferior for some reason. Just think about it. My vintage vinyl recorded much better than new vinyl (most of them). Should i mention an old tubes and why they are superior to the new tubes (this is another story).

A vintage cartridge..dried up and with a worn stylus is just asking for trouble. Unless that is you have a small LP collection of little value and like to play DJ, then who cares-- LOL. All IMHO.

You have never tried a good vintage cartridge, so what can you say? If you’re afraid to do so just don’t do that, and stick to the expensive new stuff, that you can’t even audition before you will pay for them, and if you don’t like them you can not sell it for the same price again. So the cost of your mistakes are high, hope it’s fine for you.

My collection is definitely not the biggest, but i prefer quality over quantity. As i said earlier i prefer the originals, so the value of my collection is not low at all, you may be shocked by the price of some of my original pressings. Do you want to continue to explain me the basics?

Ignore my opinion, but just read what other people think about vintage MM cartridges and their quality compared to some overpriced MC carts:

Your own opinion sounds like: "I never tried it, but i don’t like it"

As for the DJing i will tell you about David Mancuso (RIP) who dj’ed with a pair of Koetsu cartridges and FR64 tonearms since the 70s in NYC, but he just played one record next to another on very well isolated platforms for his Technics SP-10 Mk2 on the special base made by Mitchell A. Cotter. If you will looks at the set-up at NYC Paradase Garage club (1977 - 1987) you will see the Infinity Black Widow low mass tonearms on Thorens turntables, and high compliance Stanton MM cartridges. That oldschool DJ set-up is better than many audiophiles set-up today. Those Stanton, especially the 981HZS, are amazing cartridges, believe it or not. After that maybe you will stop joking about real DJing?
Years ago I asked a dealer how can I realistically compare cartridges and his answer was “you have to trust a dealer”

The first cartridge I had on my table (LP12) was a Linn K9 which I liked. I later switched to a Rega Exact. Not thrilled with it and I sold it. Moved to a Troika- that didn’t do it for me. Sold it too. Next move to an Arkiv B. Bingo. Loved it. 

So, for me it was trial and error.

Come to think of it, I did much the same in the 70’s. Had an ADC K6E. It was ok. Tried a Stanton then an Empire. Eh. Went to a Shure V15 Type 3. Bingo, and after many years bought a V15 Type 5, which I though was ok but in some ways I liked the Type 3 better. Then a dealer recommended an Adcom cartridge which was fun. 

So- trial and error but I understand that can be dicey with expensive cartridges. 
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This post is bringing out some good points. One can only really cross reference from brand experience, discription and referral.

I think when you take into account real wage inflation from say 30 to 50 years ago but also consider the smaller demanded  for this medium, the price points are still threw the roof for some cartridges.

I grew up in the guitar building and repair business, and in the last five years I've been building on a small scale guitar pickups with a family friend. Although we are not dealing with exotic stylus we do use various high quality ( often US made ) wire types and alnico magnets. It does take some care and patience  in assembly and soldering. The price for example for a pair of 2" x 1/2" long magnets is $8.00.

My point is not to insult or doubt the quality or purchasing of the uber high end cartridges. I'm just a bit stunned by it and feel  from a personal stand point  one can get high up the latter with vintage and mid price cartridges from bigger manufactures past and present.

chakster is correct with his opinion.
Price is no guarantee for good Performance. The differences in a cartridge family are subtle, mainly differences in the amount of coils, the kind of diamond and maybe the body. When I look for a cartridge I try to listen to it first somewhere to get an impression.
...and this MM nonsense.... well, each his own religion but after 20 years of trying to push the sonic curtain, to listen to a lot of Systems and having contact to manufacturers there is ONE rule:
Do not believe what some "manufacturers/experts" will tell you. Sitting in the front of a computer, everyone can write whatever he wants. I did visit a lot of them and you can not imagine how deaf they are in reality and how lousy/shrill/compressed their System is. In all those years, this shocked me most. They do "something", they find Fans for their "something" and after a while they believe in their average "talent" and think they created something outstanding.

Dear chakster, Congratulations! Getting an compliment form Syntax

is as rare as the snow in Sahara.

syntax, perhaps look at what you just it possible that this very opinion might....just might, apply to YOU!! ...:0) 
With the climate change advancing we may see snow storms in Sahara soon enough.
So, we can't believe what " some manufacturers/experts " say, question is can we believe any of them? And if yes - who ? 

When I wrote my comment I did know that this will include myself. This is normal, I am not Jesus.
The best investment you can do, is to educate yourself. It is not easy, it will need some time but after a while you can rate something. To know what is responsible for what  is mandatory for a superior result (superior has nothing to do with a high price tag, it has more to do with "done right"). It is better than rolling a dice, isn’t it?

Syntax is probably not Jesus but certainly the nearest person

possible:  the pope for the analog believers. His best friend

Dertonarm  left alas the forum otherwise Syntax would be (only)

the cardinal.

BTW I seem to be the only one who post all his second hand

carts for check to Axel. There are obviously many persons in

this forum who never got this idea. Cost me 40 euro.

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