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Thread: How we selected MC cartridges in the 80s

  1. #1
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    How we selected MC cartridges in the 80s

    Here's basically what we would do to make a selection:
    1. We'd look at reviews in the Audio Critic, HFN/RR, Absolute Sound, Audio, and Stereophile
    2. We'd call people we knew in the industry who made preamps, tonearms, or were just good engineers and listeners
    3. We'd go in a shop that carried them (I was in the greater Boston area so there were lots of choices)
    4. If they had one on demo we'd LISTEN to a record or two we brought and knew. We also usually brought a test record to see if they could track ok.
    5. We'd make sure that the specs such as mass, compliance, output voltage and impedance, frequency response, and channel separation and uniformity made sense (Audio was good for this before we walked in the door as user groups were just starting.)
    6. Once we found one we thought we liked, we'd look at the B&K paper printout of frequency response, resonance and channel separation (At someone we knew knew how truly interpret this stuff). I think some of these measurement printouts went out to 40 or 45kHZ so you could see the top end resonance as well.
    7. All things being equal we selected the one with the greatest but most uniform channel separation and the HF resonance as far out of the audio range as possible.
    8. We'd get our best price and they would mount it and usually set it up at our digs using test records, oscilloscopes and the like or we'd get an engineering friend who had same to bring his or her's over. Sometimes we'd bring it to their university/company lab along with our preamp and turntable in the midnight hour.

    The part I remember is that Fidelity Research, some Dynavectors, I think the Panasonic strain-guage system, and Ortofons used to include those, maybe some Deccas too. I don't think, eg., two famous brands that roll off the top end then and even today had them but I couldn't afford them anyway. I do think the Music Box in Wellesley, MA would run those tests for you if they weren't included but I maybe wrong but I wasn't in the carriage trade at that time. (I also was kinda turned off on the MM super-trak thing since I owned a Share V-15 mk 4.)

    Questions - (Oh, I realize that good engineering and execution is not a sufficient condition for listening pleasure):

    a. Since I've been out of cartridge buying for some time do any manufacturers actually include step 6, that is, an actual paper print out of the individual cartridge performance with the load, temperature conditions, etc. included?
    b. I note that at least one of the magazines mentioned above still runs some semblance of cartridge tests in an engineering lab. Why then would folks consider cartridges, except their own tastes, that did not measure flat, have high but uniform channel separation, and a HF resonance as high as possible, all other things being equal, such as your loudspeakers not having a rising or droopy bass or high end?
    c. Why is a more expensive cartridge necessarily a better one then and today, but more today, it seems? It wasn't in the past unless you had expectation bias...or were nouveau riche.
    d. So how do members choose a cartridge today from an anecdotal point of view?

    If I gore anyone's ox I apologize in advance.

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    Addicted to Best! DaveyF's Avatar
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    These are some good questions, Bso. I started a thread and a poll here recently to try and answer some of these questions...http://www.whatsbestforum.com/showth...-what-criteria
    The result so far, seems to be that most people buy by taking into consideration a review. Listening at the dealer is possible, but bringing the cartridge home, mounting it on your arm and listening through your system ( which i feel would be the best option) is not likely!
    Basically, I think the acquisition of a high end MC cartridge is somewhat of a crap shoot. The price asked is not necessarily going to jive with your expectation of the sound, or the compatibility with the rest of your system.
    One thing that is a BIG factor, to me, is that the cartridge has enough voltage output to not stress your phono stage....others seem to discount this issue. The B& K paper result is nice, I have this with all of my prior cartridges, but frankly it tells you nothing of how the cartridge will sound in your system.
    Since I am in the market for a new MC cartridge, your points are well taken.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveyF View Post
    These are some good questions, Bso. I started a thread and a poll here recently to try and answer some of these questions...http://www.whatsbestforum.com/showth...-what-criteria
    The result so far, seems to be that most people buy by taking into consideration a review. Listening at the dealer is possible, but bringing the cartridge home, mounting it on your arm and listening through your system ( which i feel would be the best option) is not likely!
    Basically, I think the acquisition of a high end MC cartridge is somewhat of a crap shoot. The price asked is not necessarily going to jive with your expectation of the sound, or the compatibility with the rest of your system.
    One thing that is a BIG factor, to me, is that the cartridge has enough voltage output to not stress your phono stage....others seem to discount this issue. The B& K paper result is nice, I have this with all of my prior cartridges, but frankly it tells you nothing of how the cartridge will sound in your system.
    Since I am in the market for a new MC cartridge, your points are well taken.
    Newbie mistake on my part, started my thread after seeing yours, probably should have added on to yours.

    As far as I am concerned most ratings are based on $; just because it costs more don't mean it is better. If they were blindfolded (no, not comparing A/D conversions) or not told what a specific cartridge cost, etc., or the TT was set up behind a curtain, etc. they would be significant. Most reviews are bad excuses for creative writing.

    Systems engineering: Overload, noise, inaccurate loading, all play into the TT systems performance. That's why Linn has always been thought of highly even if it not the ultimate for some people. It's a cartridge, tonearm, TT system with parameters given for the following electrical interface.

    Are there any cartridges today that have that B&K result, or do they just come in a nice box with a good review and a high price tag?

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    Addicted to Best! DaveyF's Avatar
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    One of the reasons I am still a Linnie is that they do offer a systems approach. The table can be brought up in spec to a very high level.
    Getting back to your question about the B&K result, again I feel this data to be of very limited use. I’m not certain if too many cartridges include it, I know that my Benz cartridges did...and I believe they still do.
    Nothing that I would base a purchase decision on....YMMV

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveyF View Post
    One of the reasons I am still a Linnie is that they do offer a systems approach. The table can be brought up in spec to a very high level.
    Getting back to your question about the B&K result, again I feel this data to be of very limited use. I’m not certain if too many cartridges include it, I know that my Benz cartridges did...and I believe they still do.
    Nothing that I would base a purchase decision on....YMMV
    I'm not basing a purchase decision on one item (6). Rather I am basing it on the entire recursive process as I described.

    I certainly would NOT base a purchase decision solely on what most reviewers in the mags say, "if it is more expensive it must be better." Nonsense. In turntables if it (is more expensive and weighs more) it must be better.

    SOME reviewers and hang on to demos for a long time no matter what they say about "having purchased the sample." Then what some of them do is sell the review item well below dealer cost sometimes before the/their review of the next "got to have item" is published. This is analogous to trading stocks, etc., on inside information before the good or bad news comes out.

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    Addicted to Best! DaveyF's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bso View Post
    I'm not basing a purchase decision on one item (6). Rather I am basing it on the entire recursive process as I described.

    I certainly would NOT base a purchase decision solely on what most reviewers in the mags say, "if it is more expensive it must be better." Nonsense. In turntables if it (is more expensive and weighs more) it must be better.

    SOME reviewers and hang on to demos for a long time no matter what they say about "having purchased the sample." Then what some of them do is sell the review item well below dealer cost sometimes before the/their review of the next "got to have item" is published. This is analogous to trading stocks, etc., on inside information before the good or bad news comes out.
    Unfortunately, this seems to be a common practice. Goes to show the power of the press. The fact that one review can make or break a product is at issue here. Fairly sad state of affairs IMO, but par for the course.

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