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  1. #1
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Looking at Ortofon X3-MC, OM30, and Grado Silver/Gold ... opinions?

    My Sumiko Black Pearl was a regrettable purchase a few years ago. It's finally showing signs of wear and I'm ready to replace it. The Sumiko's not a bad cartridge, just boring and uninvolving. A fat sounding midrange, with rolled off highs and not a lot of punch in the bass. Question is what do I replace it with? I'm looking at a budget limit of $200, and the turntable that I use is a Dual CS5000.

    Up until I got the Sumiko, I had gone with Ortofon's OM series for almost 20 years, and only replaced the stylus every couple of years or so when it wore out. I knew there were better cartridges out there, but I was always more than satisfied with the OM series' performance and felt that it never got the run that it deserves for what it delivers (that changed last year when The Absolute Sound put the OM20 and 30 on its best buy list). And for the price, I thought the Ortofons were a great value and very easy to upgrade (you just step up to a higher line stylus and the upgrade's done). Unfortunately, all of the stores in my area stopped carrying Ortofon, and the going prices on the OM20 more than doubled from $80 to $195. I also decided against getting another replacement stylus because the cartridge body was 15 years old and showing signs of wear. In came the Sumiko cart, and it's been downhill since then.

    Up to this point, I had been looking at the Grado Prestige series cartridges, and not considering the OM series. Maybe it's just me, but paying $195 for a cartridge that I used to pay $80 for just did not sit well with me. If I was going to shell out that much, it might as well be for something different.

    But, now apparently someone got the message, because the Needle Doctor (and a couple of other vendors that I've seen) recently rolled back the Ortofon cartridge prices. The OM20 now goes for $110, while the OM30 that I thought about upgrading to on many an occasion is going for $160.

    Even more intriguing though, Ortofon's high output MC cartridges got reduced as well. Their venerable X3-MC, which uses the same fine line elliptical needle as the OM30, has been reduced to $195, while the X5-MC is going for $230. A friend of mine had a X3-MC on his rig several years ago, and it sounded quite nice.

    These choices each have tradeoffs associated with them, and this is how I see things stacking up.

    Grado Prestige series:
    POSITIVES: very well regarded for the performance value, available everywhere, known for prowess in the midrange.
    CONCERNS: issues with interference and noise with some turntables, particularly older AR decks (which my Dual turntable imitates and supposedly has had similar issues with Grado cartridges), not known for the best detail in the highs.

    Ortofon OM series:
    POSITIVES: known commodity, my turntable's adjustable VTA headshell is defaulted to the OM series, low mass works well with my tonearm, excellent detail in the highs, upgrade to the OM30 is also within price range
    CONCERNS: somewhat thin sound in the midrange (OM20), OM20 would be a zero sum gain over what I had a few years ago -- would like to upgrade the sound if possible, replacement stylus not readily available except by mail order.

    Ortofon X3-MC and X5-MC
    POSITIVES: nice sounding high output MC cartridges, X5-MC uses one of Ortofon's best needle designs, price is now comparable to the OM series (which is MM).
    CONCERNS: concern that the 2.5 mV output is too low (the cartridges I've used on my turntable output at 4 mV, and the output already sounds low with my receiver's phono input), heard that some MC cartridges are more susceptible to picking up interference, MCs reportedly not ideal for use with a low mass tonearm (which my turntable has), stylus replacement requires retipping and reinstalling.

    Anyway, that's my current thinking. Any thoughts?
    Last edited by Woochifer; 03-11-2005 at 09:38 PM.

  2. #2
    Can a crooner get a gig? dean_martin's Avatar
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    Hey, Wooch. Have you asked about needle doctor's return policy? I think it's only 10 days, but many places don't let you return carts at all. The Ortofon "sale" they've been running for a while is tempting. Hifitommy often recommends the Ortofon high output MCs. Maybe he'll chime in.

    I've considered the OM20, the Shure 97mxe, the Denon DL110 and a Grado Prestige like the Red or Silver/Gold. I don't know whether my preamp can handle the Denon's low output. I think it might be worth it to narrow it down to 2 and return my least favorite if the ol' credit card won't take too much of a hit.

    I enjoyed the Dual/Ortofon combo until my Dual died. It was a lower end model but it had the low mass tonearm.

    I had to ditch the Sumiko Oyster that came with my Pro-Ject 1.2. I picked up a Parasound new old stock cart from www.edsaunders.com for $35 to hold me over. It's handled everything from small jazz combos to large orchestras. I called needledoctor to see what they recommended as a replacement cart for the Pro-Ject. They said I couldn't improve much with my table/arm. They were wrong. If I order from them, I won't be asking for their opinions.

    Let us know what you decide.

  3. #3
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    I was doing some poking around other boards tonight, and it seems that my particular turntable has issues with the Grados. When I went with my current Sumiko, I now remember that my dealer had recommended against the Grados with my turntable as well because he indicated that they tended to hum with Duals.

    I also read a lot of mixed views of whether or not my CS5000 is suitable for a MC cart like the Ortofon X5-MC. Seems that the Ortofon OM series is a safe choice for my turntable because it's a high compliance low mass cartridge. The OM30 would be a huge upgrade over what I currently have, and an upgrade over the OM20 that I was using before. But, I am intrigued by the X5-MC because the stylus design on that model is the best one that Ortofon cuts (and the same one that's used on the Stylus 40).

    So basically I'm now down to the OM30 and the X5-MC. The X5-MC has the higher upside, but also potential issues with the compatibility with my turntable's low mass tonearm. After removing the weight plate from the OM cartridge, the thing weighs only 2.5 grams and it tracks very well with only 1 gram of force. Also, I'm concerned about the cartridge's lower output. I already have to turn the volume about 15 db higher than my other sources, and the Sumiko has a rated output of 4 mV.

    The "sale" prices on the Ortofons are actually where I think they should be considering what I typically paid for OM replacements over the years. I was used to just paying $60 for an OM20 replacement stylus every other year, so it came as a shock when I saw that $195 price for the OM20 with the Needle Doctor.

  4. #4
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    Phono Cartridge

    Quote Originally Posted by Woochifer
    My Sumiko Black Pearl was a regrettable purchase a few years ago. It's finally showing signs of wear and I'm ready to replace it. The Sumiko's not a bad cartridge, just boring and uninvolving. A fat sounding midrange, with rolled off highs and not a lot of punch in the bass. Question is what do I replace it with? I'm looking at a budget limit of $200, and the turntable that I use is a Dual CS5000.

    Up until I got the Sumiko, I had gone with Ortofon's OM series for almost 20 years, and only replaced the stylus every couple of years or so when it wore out. I knew there were better cartridges out there, but I was always more than satisfied with the OM series' performance and felt that it never got the run that it deserves for what it delivers (that changed last year when The Absolute Sound put the OM20 and 30 on its best buy list). And for the price, I thought the Ortofons were a great value and very easy to upgrade (you just step up to a higher line stylus and the upgrade's done). Unfortunately, all of the stores in my area stopped carrying Ortofon, and the going prices on the OM20 more than doubled from $80 to $195. I also decided against getting another replacement stylus because the cartridge body was 15 years old and showing signs of wear. In came the Sumiko cart, and it's been downhill since then.

    Up to this point, I had been looking at the Grado Prestige series cartridges, and not considering the OM series. Maybe it's just me, but paying $195 for a cartridge that I used to pay $80 for just did not sit well with me. If I was going to shell out that much, it might as well be for something different.

    But, now apparently someone got the message, because the Needle Doctor (and a couple of other vendors that I've seen) recently rolled back the Ortofon cartridge prices. The OM20 now goes for $110, while the OM30 that I thought about upgrading to on many an occasion is going for $160.

    Even more intriguing though, Ortofon's high output MC cartridges got reduced as well. Their venerable X3-MC, which uses the same fine line elliptical needle as the OM30, has been reduced to $195, while the X5-MC is going for $230. A friend of mine had a X3-MC on his rig several years ago, and it sounded quite nice.

    These choices each have tradeoffs associated with them, and this is how I see things stacking up.

    Grado Prestige series:
    POSITIVES: very well regarded for the performance value, available everywhere, known for prowess in the midrange.
    CONCERNS: issues with interference and noise with some turntables, particularly older AR decks (which my Dual turntable imitates and supposedly has had similar issues with Grado cartridges), not known for the best detail in the highs.

    Ortofon OM series:
    POSITIVES: known commodity, my turntable's adjustable VTA headshell is defaulted to the OM series, low mass works well with my tonearm, excellent detail in the highs, upgrade to the OM30 is also within price range
    CONCERNS: somewhat thin sound in the midrange (OM20), OM20 would be a zero sum gain over what I had a few years ago -- would like to upgrade the sound if possible, replacement stylus not readily available except by mail order.

    Ortofon X3-MC and X5-MC
    POSITIVES: nice sounding high output MC cartridges, X5-MC uses one of Ortofon's best needle designs, price is now comparable to the OM series (which is MM).
    CONCERNS: concern that the 2.5 mV output is too low (the cartridges I've used on my turntable output at 4 mV, and the output already sounds low with my receiver's phono input), heard that some MC cartridges are more susceptible to picking up interference, MCs reportedly not ideal for use with a low mass tonearm (which my turntable has), stylus replacement requires retipping and reinstalling.

    Anyway, that's my current thinking. Any thoughts?
    Have you considered the Shure V15 series. An excellent cartridge thats hard to beat.

  5. #5
    it's about the music
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    yep, heard lotsa people happy with the top-of-the-line shures
    also, if you wanna grab one, u're gonna have to get a move on, because they stopped production. FOREVER.
    I remember the days when I thought 128kbps sounded great and had never spent more than 10 bucks on cables...

  6. #6
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ruadmaa
    Have you considered the Shure V15 series. An excellent cartridge thats hard to beat.
    Out of my range. Prices I've seen are $300+, and the $225 price I'm considering for the Ortofon X5-MC is already a stretch. For not much more than the price for a V15, I can grab a low-output MC cart plus a phono preamp. Another concern is that the replacement stylus for the V15 is also going out of production.

  7. #7
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Well, it looks like I'll just go with the Ortofon OM30. It's a safe choice that I know will give me an improvement over anything that I've used before.

    I'm still tempted by the X5-MC because I like the MC sound and it uses Ortofon's best stylus cut. But, the compatibility with my turntable is a concern, as is its lower output. I don't want to invest in a cartridge and find that I also need to buy an outboard phono stage just to get the playback up to moderate levels. The Grados are also out because of their oft-mentioned hum issues.

  8. #8
    Can a crooner get a gig? dean_martin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woochifer
    Well, it looks like I'll just go with the Ortofon OM30. It's a safe choice that I know will give me an improvement over anything that I've used before.

    I'm still tempted by the X5-MC because I like the MC sound and it uses Ortofon's best stylus cut. But, the compatibility with my turntable is a concern, as is its lower output. I don't want to invest in a cartridge and find that I also need to buy an outboard phono stage just to get the playback up to moderate levels. The Grados are also out because of their oft-mentioned hum issues.
    Please post when you get it up and running. I would be interested in knowing if you can still get the lower prices on the Ortofons (it appears the sale ad is gone from needledoctor.com) and where. Thanks and good luck.

    I've been using a replacement cart for several months, but I probably average less than one album side a day. Over the past week it seems that the sounds are getting sweeter and sweeter with more ambience and detail. Do carts go thru a break-in period?

  9. #9
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Just placed the order, and I found out that the Ortofon sale at the Needle Doctor is now OVER! Since the price reductions were in the current issue of Stereophile, they'll still honor the sale price if you order by phone. So, if anyone's looking at Ortofon as a replacement cartridge, time is running short! Got my OM30 for $160 (reg. price $290), so I'm a happy camper. I look forward to once again fully enjoying my vinyl collection again after a couple of less than stellar years with that Sumiko.

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