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Cartridge of the Month Club

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by ggergm, Apr 17, 2020.

  1. ggergm

    ggergm Sir Guy Thread Starter

    Location:
    Minnesota
    I trashed my Lyra Kleos cartridge last month. Bathrobe sleeves and cantilevers don't mix. It was my own fault. I broke one of my rules. The VPI isn't for playing music in the bathroom.

    I'd just buy another Kleos SL except for Lyra's new, recently improved Lambda Etna and Atlas. Not that I would in my right mind spend the price of a well maintained, low mileage used car for a needle. They're five figure cartridges. It's just that both the Kleos and Delos are getting long in the tooth. They've been around, unchanged, for at least eight years. If Lyra upgrades the top of their line, won't the other ones get some trickle-down technology? I will wait for Lyra to make their plans clear before buying a new one.

    Instead, I have four very interesting cartridges in the barn. It's time to lead them into the ring.

    Back in the 1970s and '80s, I was a card carrying member of the Cartridge of the Month Club, changing out cartridges like I changed my favorite wine. With these four cartridges , it looks like I've rejoined the club.

    First up is the Clearaudio Stradivari V2.

    [​IMG]

    Clearaudio Stradivari V2 - moving coil design//Micro HD stylus//boron cantilever//ebony wood body//0.6mv output//internal impedence 50Ω//mass 7.0 g//tracking force 2.8g ±0.2g//channel separation >30dB//retail price $4,000

    Three years ago I closed out an estate for a customer. This was the cartridge on the dead guy's Basis/SME IV.Vi turntable. Boy, it sounded bad. Very bright, I couldn't get it to sound good. The cartridge made it onto my turntable for a couple of days and my opinion didn't change. Somebody save me from the 1970s. Disco and steely sounding moving coil cartridges are back.

    Boy, was I wrong.

    I like disco.

    And the Clearaudio Stradivari V2.

    It just took a good set-up and living through disco the first time. I knew from owning bright moving coil cartridges back then that tracking them a little heavier was a good idea. The suggested tracking force for the Stradivari V2 is 2.8 grams. I think I'm tracking at 3g or maybe a bit more. Who knows? I'm in the Fun Zone world of setting tracking force and anti-skate by ear. It can be confusing but is always worth a laugh and eventually you make it out of the maze. I also loaded the cartridge into the standard moving magnet setting of 47kΩ. That's another old trick for leveling out a cartridge's tone.

    More on all of this later. I want to get to its sound.

    The Clearaudio Stradivari V2 is an airy, three dimensional, revealing cartridge. With a wonderful soundstage, it has a depth of field to die for. Its transient attack, top to bottom, is first class. It is not bright, at least not now in my system. The high end is quite smooth. My gut says it's actually rolling off with all the work I've done. But the Stradivari is analytical. You hear everything. I found that out early in my set-up, playing an original UK copy of The Clash - London Calling. I'd never before used that album for the job of setting up a cartridge. Instead, I'd spun London Calling a hundred times because it's one of the greatest rock 'n' roll records of all time. And it sounds good. I used London Calling to set up this cartridge because I knew it so well. It couldn't surprise me.

    Wrong #2.

    The Clash's song, "The Right Profile," is about the fall of Montgomery Clift, a Hollywood star from the late 1940s who had both great looks and acting chops. In 1956, he was disfigured in a car crash and never really recovered, slowly descending into a world of alcohol, pills, and eventually, an early death. "The Right Profile" is a jaunty number that has a discordant feel. I'd never identified how the band did this before playing the song with the Stradivari. Initially there is just an air of dissonance but that gets louder with time. Soon you can hear that someone, probably Topper Headon, the band's drummer and who's credited with percussion on the album's jacket, is attacking the strings of an open grand piano. Hitting the strings multiple times, an atonal chord rings out of the sustain. By the end of the song, you can hear Topper banging on the keys and strings, and even strumming them, generating more ugly sounds. The bounce of the song is countered by these disturbing piano noises, perfectly mirroring Montgomery Clift's spiral downward. The Stradivari allowed me to hear all this for the first time.

    The Clearaudio Stradivari V2 is musically nimble. Yesterday morning I listened to a 2003 audiophile pressing of Gary Burton's album, Like Minds. On it, Burton assembled a dream cast of players who had been in his various bands over the years. Pat Metheny (right channel) is on guitar. Chick Corea (left channel) plays piano. Roy Haynes, drums, is spread across the soundstage. Dave Holland's double bass and Burton's vibraphone are in the center. I saw Gary Burton maybe 15 times before he died and the still very much alive Pat Metheny even more often. I've heard Chick Corea in clubs and theaters maybe 4 or 5 times. I know how these guys sound. On the song "For A Thousand Years," Metheny and Corea open and close the number by playing the melody line in unison. Burton either joins them, plays a harmony, or accents and fills. It's a lot of midrange, all loud, all at the same time. A vibraphone has a sharp attack followed by harmonics, reverberating. So does a piano. Pat's guitar tone is almost all distortion and sustain. With these three leads at once coming from left, right and center, all using the same basic frequencies, confusion could reign. Not with the Stradivari. It clearly resolved all three instruments in space, time, character and tone. Each sounded exactly like it should, uncolored and unaffected by the other two. Most cartridges dealing with all this midrange at once would get confused and cloudy. Haze would set in. Details would be lost. Not with the Stradivari. It remained its transparent, revealing self.

    And then there was the drum solo on "Straight Up and Down." Normally on Like Minds, Roy Haynes lays back, both in his playing and in the soundstage. He's mixed into the background. The holographic quality of the Stradivari makes it interesting to hear him literally in the back of the room. But for "Straight Up and Down," the mix changes. Haynes has been moved up front. When he took his break, the transient attack and outstanding bass response of the Stradivari made it maybe the best sounding drum recording I've ever heard. It's a short break but at its end I shouted, as loud as I could, "That's it!" Some night I will listen to nothing but drum recordings on this cartridge and enjoy the everloving snot out of it.

    The Clearaudio Stradivari V2 is far from perfect. Its analytical nature can leave it sounding soulless. When the music drives it there, like it does on the Gary Burton album, it can be wonderfully warm, but that's not its first option. Call it clinical. Oh, goodie. This leaves me something to work on. I've only had this cartridge mounted up for a few days. Give me time. I have a month.
     
  2. Doctor Fine

    Doctor Fine I'm All Ears

    Location:
    Free Speech Land
    Well written and thoughtful.
    Comparison to some reference would add to relevance for those of us considering your review.
    Bear in mind many of us consume cartridges at sub $1K.
    Got anything mounted up that is more in general use by thriftier folk?
    Your enthusiasm is what keeps it interesting.
    Great read so far.
     
    cut-out and ggergm like this.
  3. ggergm

    ggergm Sir Guy Thread Starter

    Location:
    Minnesota
    Thank you for the compliments. All three of the remaining cartridges will be less expensive ones, two of the three significantly so.

    I've had trouble getting the Cartridge of the Month Club going. The first cartridge I mounted worked great for two weeks and then developed a problem. I'll need to send it into the manufacture for repairs next week but first I want to mount it second time on a different arm tube to verify the problem. I then picked the Stradivari because I thought it would be a throw-away review. I imagined the brightness I heard before would quickly eliminate it. As John Lennon famously said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." The Stradivari, and this cartridge comparison thread, have taken on a life of their own.
     
  4. ggergm

    ggergm Sir Guy Thread Starter

    Location:
    Minnesota
    The word for the day is euphonic. It means pleasing to the ear.

    Euphonic was used all the time in audiophile circles in the 1970s and '80s. Now you rarely hear it. Back then it was often a put-down used to dismiss a person or a piece of gear. Euphonic coloration was seen by some as a negative thing to have in electronics. Flat was the only way to go. The audiophile who enjoyed a phat, classic tube sound was listening through rose colored glasses. Beyond mixing metaphors, I never got it. I was a 100% transistorized guy back then, needing reliability in my system, but I'd hear audiophiles using the ruler-flat response of their solid-state gear to crow about how it was the best. You don't want euphonic coloration. Yes, I did. Isn't this supposed to be enjoyable? If by massaging its sound, my stereo is more listenable, what's wrong with that?

    I've wanted to work on the dry sound of the Clearaudio Stradivari V2 cartridge, the first of four needles in my Cartridge of the Month Club. I like a dry sound. Anybody who's first pair of good speakers were ESS AMT-1 Towers with their Heil tweeter has dry encoded into their audiophile DNA. But I also like euphonic coloration. So far I haven't found a way to tweak any more warmth out of the cartridge through setup. How about cables?

    Cables are the spices of audio. If you are making tomato soup or a marinara from scratch, and it comes out a little bitter because tomatoes can be bitter, you'll add half a teaspoon of sugar into the mix. Try prepared horseradish in your next batch of turkey soup. It enhances the flavor. I use cables to spice up my sound. There's no recipe to follow for this. I was watching an old Julia Child cooking show this week and she said she didn't cook by measuring things. She cooked by taste. I cook my sound by ear and my favorite ingredient is cables.

    A 40 year old pair of Monster Cable Interlink Reference cables, designed by Bruce Brisson before he started MIT, are in the Radio Shack that's my basement, along with maybe a dozen other good, audiophile cables. I'm picky about when I use the Monsters. They are the warmest cable I own. A store owner I admire called them hopelessly colored. So? Right now I hope they will be euphonically colored enough. I spent a while yesterday swapping cables in and out of my phono signal path until I finally went ear dead. I ended with the Monster Cables running from my Parasound JC3+ phono stage to the amp. For the cable between my VPI Classic 2 turntable and the phono stage, the Wheel of Fortune landed on a pair of Purist Audio Design Aqueous Aureus Praesto Revision interconnects. It was a dance, swapping cables in and out. The bass changed significantly with each combination. I could get more warmth but at the cost of flattening the wonderful depth of field from the Stradivari. I didn't want to lose that or its super-fast transient response. I know this tango isn't over. After listening for a couple of days to what I have now, I'll try some different combinations.
     
    googlymoogly and ThorensSme like this.
  5. Ontheone

    Ontheone Poorly Understood Member

    Location:
    Indianapolis
    I recently acquired a Lyra Kleos and it's amazing (got a good deal on an open box demo). It's making it difficult to listen to my Hana and DV carts. This is definitely a hazard of moving up the food chain. I will be curious with what the OP decides on.
    [​IMG]
     
    ggergm likes this.
  6. MGW

    MGW Less travelling, more listening

    Location:
    Scotland, UK
    It most certainly is and a nice review.
    I cannot help but wonder what Joe and the boys would have thought about London Calling being played with a 4k cartridge! :)
     
    Mick Jones and ggergm like this.

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