Looking for a Warmer Sounding Phono Cartridge

I've grown tired of the sound of high end MC cartridges. Detail aplenty, but I've begun to detest to the screechinesssssss.

No, my system is not biased that way. I'd consider my system neutral. Components are listed below. The Koetsu RS sounds wonderful. The other cartridges in my rotation are the Hana ML and the Shelter 901 MK III. These are not described in the literature as very etched sounding nor very detail rich. They are mostly characterized as neutral.
My ears no longer tolerate the highs, anything above 3KHz I would estimate. My hearing disappears at about 8KHz. I don't have any hearing problems except for the loss of higher frequencies. I find also that I'm not as interested in "getting everything that's on the vinyl". Not anymore. I want warmth with quality. I listen to the "audiophile" recordings, to R&R LPs from the 70s and classical and opera from all eras. Some LPs are very good, some not so, but performance overrides the defects. I want to continue to enjoy all of them.

So I'm searching for a good quality warm sounding cartridge, MM, MI, MC or some other, doesn't matter.

I've been researching the field and have come up with these candidates:

- GradoTimber Master 3
- Shelter 501 Mk III
- Soundsmith Zephyr MK III

I was pretty sold on the 501. based mostly on the article by Michael Fremer, but a very helpful contact at Upscale Audio turned me onto the other two. His advice sounds very sound and seems to come from experience with all three.

I would like to keep the discussion limited to the above three and to cartridges less than $1500 USD, unless there's a really great one that I've missed.

Thanks for your help.

My stuff:

Koetsu RS, Hana ML, and Shelter 901, Musical Surroundings Nova II phono pre. Alternate pre is Paragon System E (tubes) and a DIY SUT with Cinemg 1254 trans, sometimes Apt Holman Preamp 1, Technics SL-1200G, Denon DP-57L, Levinson #38s preamp, Rane EQ and Crossover, Bryston 2.5B cubed amp, Revel M105 bookshelf speakers, and HSU 15" Sub.

128x128Ag insider logo xs@2xkevemaher

It was mentioned already but based on the OP's goals my thoughts go immediately to a Benz.  The LP/LPS or Ebony series fit the bill and are frequently available here from Euro or Asian sellers for less than retail.  The LPS is outstanding, classic analog warmth but still loads of detail, not syrupy at all.  Above stated budget but maybe one of the down range models would fit.  


I’m surprised the Shelter 901 Mk III didn’t do what you want. Though I haven’t heard the 901 yet it looks like a Harmony motor in an aluminum body, and that same motor in the Accord (titanium shell) is truly wonderful IMO, and not too far off from Koetsu. You definitely won’t like the Harmony; its dry carbon fiber body leans things out and it’s more about "pursuit of detail".

Benz are a bit warm and full-bodied, but not as much as Koetsu. It’s still a relatively big difference. They also have a lot more treble energy. The Ortofon Cadenza Bronze and (even better) Kontrapunkt "c" are oddballs in their line which sound more Koetsu-like. Nothing else above or below them sounds remotely like Koetsu.

A Koestu with 1254 SUT is just going to be hard to match in the warm / lush department. The treble should not be fatiguing, even in otherwise bright systems. Not sure any other MC can do that. The suggestions for Grado are expected (I still haven’t heard one!). You might also consider the following:

  • Find a good re-tipper to keep your Koetsu running long-term. I’m considering contacting Joseph Long / needlestein if Koetsu doesn’t resume production.
  • Look at amp & preamp - this can have a HUGE impact on end product sound, and I’ve definitely noticed some carts synergize better with certain amps and/or speakers. When I’ve had brighter speaker & amp combinations, NOTHING other than a Koetsu would sound natural.


I’ll bet it’s not a cartridge issue. Have you tried other speakers other than the Revel bookshelf units, which appear to be a system weak point, even with a sub? And have considered possible room treatment issues?  If your room is too live/overly reflective that could be part of the problem. 

good luck!

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kevemaher's avatar

kevemaher OP

My concern is that you could spend a decent amount of money chasing something that does not exist.

"I use a 31 band EQ (yeah, I know, evil stuff). I can drop the treble and bump up the lower mid. I want a cartridge that does that adjustment for me."

My guess is that you have that Equalizer in a tape loop, so that you can use it or bypass it. I also bet if flat, you do not hear any degradation. Therefor you have given yourself a precisely advanced tone control, seems to be a darn good idea for you in this situation. That's Angelic, not Evil. IOW, good idea!!!!

Once you have the EQ adjusted, it sounds good on all LPs, correct? If so, DONE.


"Perhaps I will never find that cartridge with the seemingly elusive qualities that I desire. I'm not ready to accept that yet."

I might be wrong, my take: Elusive is a good word, I cannot imagine a designer of any audio device purposely  creating a product with a rise and dip as you describe. That would be considered a 'failure', and off to 'fix those problems' would occur. 

The differences between cartridges I hear are extension of range, which you do not want (except your equalizer can cut the extended highs); and tight center balance, a highly desirable feature; and wide channel separation which, combined with tight center balance improves Imaging.

For me, a stiffer cantilever produces extended bass, or bass of greater volume to match adjacent frequencies volumes. The problem, especially for you, is that stiffer cantilever material also maintains volumes at each end and extends highs, not so good for you.

My guess for you, as a category, is Elliptical on Aluminum Cantilever. My favorite is Shure M97xe. Possibly combined with a bit of adjustment of your Equalizer.


This seller is in CA, takes returns, perhaps have a discussion first, then try it.