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

Most MC cartridges exhibit electro-mechanical resonance at very high frequencies, well above the range of human hearing, depending upon load and etc.  But many do exhibit a slight 1-2db rise in FR at the very top of the audio spectrum.  Anyway, it is sufficient to say that you are sensitive to something about MC cartridges that manifests in the upper frequencies, without nailing down exactly what that is. Which is why I mentioned tinnitus. For me, I find many of them to be "thin" sounding in parts of the spectrum especially on piano and some voices.  I am guessing that this is due to very subtle mistracking, because sometimes I  can "cure" a particular cartridge by increasing VTF ever so slightly. But it's just a guess.

Since you don't have to buy another cartridge you could now replace your phono stage with a tube one. Besides, you will be using vintage cartridge, and vintage means tube electronics.


Best MM is the Audio Note IQ iii

Try ZYX for MC...they are very neutral with great detail.

Not just an opinion as I own them.

@piebaldpython Yes, I am still running the original tubes made in Hungary.

I purchased this preamp in 1980. It was in my system for about two years. I devloped a problem with the volume going to max if I touched the pot. At that time, I had little knowledge on how to troubleshoot so I put it away and purchased an APT Preamp Two.

Fasr forward to today...

Both preamps are back in my system as phono preamps. The Paragon is fed by a DIY SUT using Cinemag 1254 Xformers (the stylus is a Koetsu RS). The Apt is being used as a phono preamp for my Grace F9E with Soundsmith stylus assembly. I use the tape out.

I have rebuilt the PSU for the Paragon. I fixed the noisy pot with some Deoxit. Wish I has been able to figure that out 40 years ago!

I've performed a major update to the APT. New caps in the PS and in the signal path. Low ESR caps in the PS and Nichicon Fine Gold caps for signal path. I disassembled the volume pot (which I'm not using). This really cleaned up the sound.

I replaced the TL072CP ICs with modern OPA 2134 ICs. However these ICs draw more power and were blowing the 1/4 amp fuse (a 4A fuse did not blow). So I installed new TL0712 ICs in the tone control and gain section. I kept  the OPA 2134 in the phono preamp section. The 1/4 amp fuse was happy.

I have extensively measured both preamps after rebuild. The OPA 2134 reduced the already low 60 Hz noise on the APT (and higher order) by almost 10dB.

- Aside from reducing the 60 Hz hum,  the OPA 2134 replacement ICs on the APT did not change the distortion, nor the max input.

The noise floor is -80 dB with distortion slightly above this with both preamps.

These are excellent results. Sound is wonderful. Both have a slightly warm presentation. The Paragon does not have excessive "Tube Sound". Both are very quiet.

These guys will stay in my system for a long time.

@kevemaher  : " I'd consider my system neutral. "

Maybe measured " neutral " but exist several levels/steps of system measured " neutral " Your system " looks " as an average or a little below average system and ovbiously it performs inside that " neutral " overall quality level.


It's clear that if you are deep found in that " neutral " measured system then you have a " trouble " inside your ears not the system or you need a way stepped " neutral "  system quality above yours.

You are happy with the F9 ( I own .it ) even that measured not " neutral " in that bass range when Grace measures says is flat down there.

So, some " facts " of what you posted are against in between.

In the other side in audio  and other that measures the concept of " neutral " means different " things " to different gentlemans and you are an example of that.