Do any of these inexpensive MM cartridges offer a flat or nearly flat EQ response?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Khojem, Nov 6, 2010.

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  1. Khojem

    Khojem Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Irvine, CA, USA
    After reading through many MM cartridge threads here, I have become confused.

    Do any of these actually offer a flat or nearly flat EQ response?

    Ortofon 2M
    Bias 2

    Some say yes, some say no. Is there a consensus?

    Reason I ask is I'm in the market for my first TT: a Rega RP1. I've read so-so reviews on the stock cart (and many of the others I've listed).
    I want to find a flat or nearly flat sounding EQ replacement cart.

    Noticed the Bias 2 is offered in an upgrade package from Rega, but there's not much info on how it sounds.

    I would rather not spend over $150. Most likely $50 to $100.

    And yes, I realize for the price I'm not going to get an excellent flat sounding response.
    But is there one which is closer to flat sounding?

  2. MikeyH

    MikeyH Stamper King

    Berkeley, CA
    MMs are very sensitive to loading. Loading includes the variable R+C of your arm, cable, and preamp input. Some even when they measure flat sound brighter or dimmer (e.g. AT 440 bright, Shure M97xe dim).

    I'd suggest you get a cartridge loading box, or make one, (some RCA plugs, 2-Y adapters and some resistors will do it)
  3. I was reading in the Rane PS-1 phono preamp instructions that the Audio Technica should be switched to 100pF, while it recommends most other cartridges should be set to the 250pF setting.. There was a higher setting for a specific 60s vintage Shure cartridge, but I can't remember the cartridge itself? (M44 or M55? - don't quote me on it, but I believe it was one of them which supposedly had a recommended 450pF, if I recall). As a note, the Rane phono preamp has been out of production for several years now, and it was one that Shure had once recommended (it was more widely known in studio settings and perhaps the DJ scene). As mentioned, that preamp had 3 switchable settings. 100, 250 and I believe 450pF settings (I'll check, since my friend is currently using the one that I originally had - I never was able to find a 2nd unit for myself).

    As for cartridges, I seem to end up with different results on different tonearms as well, depending on the cartridge/tonearm compatibility (or as mentioned, even the wiring's capacitance being another variable). The Audio Technica seems to be the least fussy of them all, working with most anything. Same seems to be true of the Shure (HiFi) cartridges, too. The Ortofon Super OM (likely somewhat similar to the 2M) sounds great on my modified Pro-Ject 1.2 tonearm, but for some reason, was not quite as good a match for the Linn Akito tonearm (though the 2M might be better in this respect? I can't say for sure). The non-V15 Shures (with exception of the type "RS", type II and the earlier original) are "less bright" on the top end and may be quite satisfying, especially on an inexpensive turntable (whereas a "bright" cartridge may bring out too many of the turntable's or system's "deficiencies", or perhaps be too "revealing" for some, if that makes any sort of sense). Not to say that the "brighter" cartridges won't sound good on inexpensive setups, (such as an "entry level" Technics belt drive), but their fullest potential might be better enjoyed with a better quality turntable/tonearm setup (such as a better Technics or Audio Technica, etc "direct drive" or any of the "audiophile brands" such as Rega, Linn, etc.). In the end, it all comes down to one's preference, relative to their budget (I've set up some enjoyable used turntable setups that were in the low end of the price range). My thoughts.
  4. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    I once was convinced that the Shure V15 VxMR cartridge I had a few years ago was rolling off the highs with my preamp. I spent weeks tracking down a CBS Labs test LP with all kinds of frequency sweeps, pink noise, the whole deal. Cost me about $25-$30 on eBay.

    Finally put it up, checked it out on a scope... and the damned thing was within .25dB of perfect. No roll-off. I was amazed it was as flat as it was. (Phase was very good, too.)

    I'm convinced it was totally psychological. Either that, or I was playing some records that were just a little rolled-off during mastering (or the highs got ground up through wear).

    I think all of the cartridges Khojem names were designed to be flat, but I think real-world performance could be anybody's guess.
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  5. OcdMan

    OcdMan Senior Member

    I have no experience with Rega cartridges. The Rega RP1 already comes with the Ortofon OM5e cartridge, right? If it were me, I'd put an OM-20 stylus on the OM5e and then save up for the 2M Bronze down the road. The OM series has always been regarded as fairly neutral. The AT440MLa needs less than 200pF (which includes tonearm wiring, interconnect, and phono stage) to sound anywhere near close to flat. With my AT440MLa, I had to go under 100pF and load it down around 37k to get a truly neutral frequency-response as measured with a CBS test record. That required some soldering at the preamp but it sounded smooth and natural at that point and it was worth it at the time. The other ATs on your list, the OM5e with its original stylus, and the 2M Red just don't cut it for me in a number of areas. The Shure M97xE is another option but also requires some fiddling with the load to smooth it out. Without a good test record, like some of the old ones from CBS, tweaking the frequency-response is mostly guesswork.
  6. KT88

    KT88 Senior Member

    Best response yet. Yes, the problem with response is loading in all cartridges. MM carts often require capacitance changes. As noted, AT carts typically cannot be loaded to be flat with typical phono stage options, which makes them all sound rather bright. The opposite is true with the Shures. The Shure will sound more correct but is still going to show a deviation in the other direction with it sounding slightly darker than flat.

    In fairness, the RP1 sounds really good straight out of the box with its OM5e. The Ortofon cartridges also don't suffer from loading issues with most common phono stages, they are a plug-n-play solution if you want a flat response. In that light, you can probably live happily for some time with the stock unit. If you want better sound immediately and a stylus that will take better care of valuable records, then the Ortofon Stylus 20 is a very good upgrade for the RP1 when you want to keep it under $150. If you can afford to save up for the Rega Elys 2 or the Ortofon Bronze, you will be handsomely rewarded with excellent sound.

    The Rega Bias 2 is a good choice as well and has a good synergy within Rega systems. It will have a less than perfectly flat response but I don't hear it as just the upper mids on up that are effected as with other cartridges. It sounds to me as if it actually has a slight boost in the LF, making it have a more dynamic response at each frequency extreme. That is often rather pleasing and results in a more flat sound with many systems. The Linn systems work much the same way in this regard. That is because the Lp signal is compressed compared to a digital signal with most Lp playback systems. It takes a very high end Lp playback system to overcome that, so when you are looking at the more affordable table/arm/cart/phono section groupings, getting a sound that has a touch more bass and HF emphasis than "ruler flat" is a good thing. That's because when all is said and done, the analog system output "sounds" more flat but with dynamics and extension, when this is the case. It just makes for a more engaging sound and most listeners will be more impressed with the bass response and HF dynamics than they would be if it was truly flat at the cartridge output. In other words, it's hard to recover dynamics and so the bit of boost at either end of the spectrum makes up for it. With most cartridges though, this is not the case as has been noted with the AT and the Shure. They tend to effect only the top end of the spectrum and it either sounds bright or dull without some careful loading adjustments.
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  7. Vinophile

    Vinophile Active Member

    Cambridge, UK
    I'd recommend the Ortofon 2m range as well. Get the 2m Blue and upgrade to a Bronze later on.
  8. attym

    attym Forum Resident

    any links to "loading"? I wouldn't know where to start adjusting this.
  9. StirBlues

    StirBlues Forum Resident

    Baltimore, MD
    +1, I'd also like someone to de-mystify this concept for me
  10. MikeyH

    MikeyH Stamper King

    Berkeley, CA
    Cartridge Loading 101..

    A cartridge has inherent impedances, that interact with the impedances between it and the first phono preamp stage to form a complex filter. Responses can be changed by playing with the values you can adjust.. in particular, the total capacitance and resistance can be fiddled.

    The link I give has some explicit examples. You can do this by ear pretty easily.

    Look up some electronics rules: basically you increase capacitance linearly by adding a capacitor across the signal and return. You decrease resistance inversely by doing the same with a resistor. You can mod your preamp input or just use a circuit soldered to a plug and socket, or use a 'y' adaptor and put the circuit in a plug. Remember all those extra cables add pF anyway.
  11. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

  12. Thomas_A

    Thomas_A Forum Resident

    Uppsala, Sweden
    Steve, Possible to make a library of catridge measurerments at the forum? I know there are many such made but difficult to get sn overview.
  13. harby

    harby Forum Resident

    Portland, OR, USA
    Here's an oldie thread of mine that could be reopened if anyone is interested in discussing the frequency response of phono stages, which can be measured without relying on other infrastructure. Testing a Preamp's RIAA frequency response
    I'm kind of curious how tube stages deliver and affect the audio.

    I think other internet destinations have adequate libraries of manufacturer catalogs and spec sheets for cartridges, often with frequency response plots.

    The manufacturing variation (such as +/- 1.5dB allowed variation in channel balance) between individual cartridges makes any recent user response test only a sample of their particular cartridge, and relies on harder to replicate fidelity of the test conditions and test discs. Shure, for example, recommends 68k ohms on an M91; do we supply that for our test, knowing that few can adjust MM impedance loading away from 47k?

    One of the more informative types of reviews is offered on a few cartridges by tnt-audio. Since all types of cartridges are affected by loading, it is especially informative to see how a particular cartridge responds to changes in both impedance and capacitance, and how they may possibly be made flatter with ideal changes.

    Shure M97:

  14. allied333

    allied333 Audiophile

    AT440 is bright, but replacement VM540ML is flat per measurements with small increase above 10kHz.
  15. McLover

    McLover Senior Member

    The OM5e is closer to flat response than the other options. The others are too trebly loaded into a 47K standard MM loading with 220 pf. Some McLover advice to you. Hunt down an Ortofon Omega (OM line) for $30 or a bit more on eBay, and it's also fully upgradable to OM 40 or any point in between.
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