What's a good cartridge for a Technics SL-1200?
March 24, 2010 4:38 PM   Subscribe

What's a good cartridge recommendation for a home listener with a Technics SL-1200? I'm currently using an Ortofon Concorde Nightclub and would like to try something new. Currently listening to a lot of jazz, but there's everything in the stacks. Thanks.
posted by the sobsister to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I really enjoy my Denon DL-160.
posted by Mendl at 4:57 PM on March 24, 2010


I love my Grado Reference Platinum cartridge. Beautiful piece of machinery, and it sounds gorgeous – deep, mellow, with a rich lower end to the midrange. It's perfect for the jazz I listen to, frankly.
posted by koeselitz at 5:15 PM on March 24, 2010


Decca's aren't for everyone, or every tone arm, but they're amazing cartridges.
posted by paulsc at 5:51 PM on March 24, 2010


Installing a Decca in an SL-1200 would be like dropping a Ferrari engine into your Honda Civic.
posted by koeselitz at 6:34 PM on March 24, 2010


I have a grado black and it's been great. I'm currently listening to pretty much exclusively vinyl for this year, so it's getting a nice workout.
posted by CharlesV42 at 7:38 PM on March 24, 2010


In the same situation the hi-fi store I visited suggested a Grado Red, which I am happy with.
posted by galaksit at 9:56 PM on March 24, 2010


That Decca description is one of the finest pieces of audio pr0n I have seen since low-oxygen copper Monster cables. They may be very fine cartridges -- I have no idea -- but the description is pure hogwash.

My favorite part was where they disparage cantilever cartridges because they "invert the motion", presumably making the sound come out upside down or something. They describe the cantilever as a "lop-sided seesaw" -- otherwise known in the real world as a first class lever with a mechanical advantage. And also "a smearing of the sound is said to occur, which many folks refer to as cantilever haze." It's comedy gold.
posted by JackFlash at 10:42 PM on March 24, 2010


Thanks to all who've responded. I'm leaning towards the Grados (I own a pair of SR325 that I like quite a bit), but have a question: are these cartridges easy to install? I ask because the Ortofon is plug'n'play, and I bought it at the time precisely for that reason.
posted by the sobsister at 4:23 PM on March 25, 2010


All Grado cartridges would require that you have a headshell to mount them to – though the hi-fi dude in me cringes hard when I think of those SL 1200 tonearms. These are really great, and a good deal, too! Er... Anyway.

Installing a cartridge on the headshell is very simple. First, just run the two screws through the headshell holes and tighten them. Second, using a pair of tweezers, just attach the four attachment wires to the back of the cartridge like this:

WHITE.....RED
BLUE....GREEN

It will look like this when you do it correctly.

It's that simple.
posted by koeselitz at 5:48 PM on March 25, 2010


JackFlash: “That Decca description is one of the finest pieces of audio pr0n I have seen since low-oxygen copper Monster cables. They may be very fine cartridges -- I have no idea -- but the description is pure hogwash. ¶ My favorite part was where they disparage cantilever cartridges because they "invert the motion", presumably making the sound come out upside down or something. They describe the cantilever as a "lop-sided seesaw" -- otherwise known in the real world as a first class lever with a mechanical advantage. And also "a smearing of the sound is said to occur, which many folks refer to as cantilever haze." It's comedy gold.”

For what it's worth, while I happen to think that the London Decca is a fantastic ripoff personally, their description is spot-on. You can hear cantilever haze. You would be able to hear it if presented with an example of it, I guarantee you. This isn't Monster Cable - style pseudoscience; it's just very simple physics. Needles may be tiny, but they obey physical laws, and unlike the silly wires and everything else the hi-fi people might try to sell you the needle actually makes the sound. That's the difference.
posted by koeselitz at 5:56 PM on March 25, 2010


(That's because, by the way, a 'first-class lever with a mechanical advantage' is precisely what you do not want when you're picking up sound from a surface. You're not trying to lift a load; you're trying to detect vibrations. The lever effect works against a good-sounding needle. That's what they're saying there, JackFlash.)
posted by koeselitz at 5:58 PM on March 25, 2010


The lever effect works against a good-sounding needle.

Unless you have proof for that I would say it is just BS. I would assume the engineers designing cantilever cartridges are aware of the physics of levers and could design them to have either a multiplying, dividing or no mechanical advantage at all. They chose the ratio they did for a reason. Perhaps it reduces the reaction force of the coil or magnet on the other end which one could argue would increase sensitivity of the needle.

The garbage about smaller movement causing music to be dynamically compressed and lack transient attack is pure nonsense. The lever provides a direct linear effect. Compression and transient attack are non-linear effects. The description of a simple lever as a "lopsided seesaw" is pure gobbledygook to imply some sort of engineering flaw. By their argument, if you reversed the lever so that it multiplied movement, it would increase the dynamic range and improve transient attack. Neither makes any sense.

The stuff about inverted motion is just complete nonsense that indicates these people are blowing smoke. What? Do they think the sound comes out upside down because the coil moves up instead of down? Total BS. Perhaps this appeals to the spatially impaired.

I must admit that the gold paint does look sharp and surely adds to the "startling, palpable presence."

Look, I apply the Homeopathy Test to these sorts of things. If they spout pseudo-scientific nonsense then I assume they are selling snake oil, especially when accompanied by ridiculous prices. Someone who has a good product doesn't need to just make stuff up to sell it.

I'm just pointing this out so that the OP at least would exercise caution. It seems from their response they have the good sense not to blow $1100 on audiophile pornography.
posted by JackFlash at 6:59 PM on March 25, 2010


JackFlash: “Unless you have proof for that I would say it is just BS. I would assume the engineers designing cantilever cartridges are aware of the physics of levers and could design them to have either a multiplying, dividing or no mechanical advantage at all. They chose the ratio they did for a reason. Perhaps it reduces the reaction force of the coil or magnet on the other end which one could argue would increase sensitivity of the needle.”

Usually they choose to exaggerate the lever because it's therefore more stable with a less precise manufacture. You have to understand that, at that level, you're not really talking about materials costing very much, since it's such a small piece. At that level you're talking about the precision of the manufacture, which is difficult to increase at a low cost. It's hard to produce a needle with less of a lever that produces a consistent sound; it's expensive to do so.

It's really not very complex, when it comes down to it, and it's based on simple physics. I think this is important to emphasize because, as you say, so much of audiophilia is based on hand-wavey nonsense and vague innuendo. I like the physics involved with cartridges because you can actually see what's going on and talk about it; it's not hidden in a black box or encased in some wires, so you can actually point to what's happening and see if it's working properly.

It's simply true that a cartridge is the most important part of the system; it's one of the few places where you can actually improve the sound quality dramatically. I probably wouldn't pay $1100 for a cartridge, but I've heard cartridges worth that much that were indeed superlative. I paid $600 for mine when it was new, and I still think I got a good deal; my own penchant is for the cheapest values on audiophile equipment that is as good as possible. Grado offers superior value for the money they charge, and I like that. There ought to be more audiophile companies that do this, but unfortunately most of them are oriented toward ridiculous marketing. You're right to be wary of that.
posted by koeselitz at 7:50 PM on March 25, 2010


koeselitz, thanks. That's very helpful. Also the info on the Rega tonearm. Easy/difficult to do should I ever decide to swap tonearms? I'm truly unschooled in these things and will tend toward the path of least resistance as a result.
posted by the sobsister at 8:10 PM on March 25, 2010


Your welcome - glad I could help.

Those Rega RB251 tonearms are fantastic. I actually have an RB250 on my turntable, and it's great. I like them as a company a lot because they make cheap tonearms that work brilliantly; the company was started by a guy who realized that if he just had the parts machined through aerospace methods he could produce a simple, relatively perfect tonearm for cheap. They're very nice pieces of machinery, and while the wiring in the earlier RB250s is sometimes subpar, I'm told they've really improved it in the RB251s.

I was wondering about the mounting myself - apparently they are not directly compatible with the Technics decks. However, I'm happy to report that another good British company, Origin Live, apparently makes an armboard for just this purpose. I like Origin Live; my own turntable is one of their older kit models, which sadly they don't seem to make any more. Great gear, and that armboard doesn't look too bad price-wise. Just a thought, if you ever consider upgrading a bit.
posted by koeselitz at 10:09 PM on March 25, 2010


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