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. 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.