Recommend me a headshell, cartridge, or ideally both
October 11, 2021 12:31 PM   Subscribe

I've had a vintage Acoustic Research XA turntable for about 15 years. In that time, I've had two original/deadstock plastic headshells for it that have each broken over time. (Photo of my XA and a closeup on the tonearm and sample (broken) headshell.) I feel like I know just enough about the details of turntables to know that I'm out of my depth in trying to upgrade and/or replace the most recent busted one. Can you recommend me a replacement headshell, cartridge or combination thereof that will be durable and suitable for my setup?

Some additional details:
— Total budget around $150, but talk me into something more or less and I'll think about it.
— I have two working cartridges of dubious origin, that I'm not necessarily interested in continuing to use, a Shure M91ED and a Sony VM 10P. If it would be a really good idea to keep using one of these, let me know (and I guess I'll probably need a new stylus).
— Preference is to order the headshell and cartridge together, but I can also be talked out of that.
— Music tastes are eclectic; records range in age from 1950s to this year. I'm looking for a good all-purpose cartridge and don't necessarily care that much about pushing the absolute envelope of sound quality.
— Not interested in replacing any of the other existing turntable parts or changing my current hifi setup, such as it is.
— Turntable audio is running to a modern Onkyo receiver with dedicated phono input out to vintage AR-11s.
— Not interested in investing in a pre-amp, if there are certain cartridges that require that.
— Not interested in DIY approach to fixing this problem (e.g., learning to solder or 3d print a replacement).
posted by lousywiththespirit to Shopping (3 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
That's just the standard headshell you can get from Nagaoka, Ortofon, Audio Technica and others. In metal as well, starting at maybe US$20.

Any MD or high-output MC should work with your receiver. And as tastes differ I'm not going to advise on specific cartridges.
posted by Stoneshop at 12:51 PM on October 11


Best answer: No, the AR XA is a much older design, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't share the standard headshell mount mentioned above. You would have to get one designed for the AR specifically. There are people on eBay making new parts like this: I'd recommend getting one made by seller Best Audio--they do injection molding instead of 3d printing. I don't have an AR, but I have a 1960s Dual and have bought Dual headshells from this seller. Since it's made of new plastic, it won't be brittle like an original.

Regarding cartridges, classic Shures are great, including the M91 that you have. No need to buy a new cartridge when you already have a Shure. You can get a new stylus for it over at Jico Stylus. The SAS model exceeds your budget but very well-regarded, and is their version of a microline stylus. Otherwise the N91ED at $73 is equivalent to the elliptical stylus that wold have originally come with the M91. This should work fine.
posted by TrialByMedia at 1:14 PM on October 11 [4 favorites]


The most likely faults in cartridges of dubious origin are bent/twisted stylus shanks and worn styli. Stick a new stylus on that M91ED and it will probably be good to go. It's a decent cartridge - not great, but plenty good enough to go with that turntable.
posted by flabdablet at 7:44 PM on October 11


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