LP Gear "Vessel" Cartridges

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by patient_ot, May 17, 2017.

  1. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    I received the cartridge today and have just set it up. I'll post more thoughts soon but I'm midway through the first side of a Berlioz LP and my impressions are that this cartridge is maybe slightly to the warm side of neutral. It needs time to break in and I will fine tune the alignment (I used the Conrad Hoffman Arc protractor) as soon as I receive an OEM alignment gauge for my turntable which is on the way.

    One thing I will say is that if you do order this cart, don't count on the included hardware to work with all headshells. I had to use an extra set of screws from a Shure cartridge to make it work as both sets of included screws were too short.
     
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  2. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    Some pics of the cart's packaging:

    [​IMG]

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  3. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    Tested the cart with some jazz this morning:

    Weather Report - Sweetnighter

    Wynton Marsalis - Think of One

    McCoy Tyner - Fly With the Wind

    The cart performed quite well on all, but I definitely think it needs break in time. From reading up on carts in this lineage (Excel/Sumiko/Shelter) 30 hours of break in time is recommended due to the stiff suspension out of the box.

    Going to play some "rock" later today and see how the cart performs. Pleased with it so far. A little less detailed than my primary cart but this A3SE has a pleasing sound.

    [​IMG]
     
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  4. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    Update:

    I've been playing more records with the cart and have fine tuned it a bit.

    I redid the alignment with a new arc protractor (still waiting on my OEM gauge) and increased the gain on my phono preamp to 48db. Since the output of the cart is only 3mv, I found this necessary to get the sound I wanted. I suppose this might be a bit hot for some people (it is according to the KAB calculator), but it sounds better to me than the previous 42db gain setting I typically use with my other carts.

    I think at this point the cart is dialed in, but maybe needs just a little more break in time as it probably has less than 15 hours on it.

    My impression of the overall tone of the cart remains mostly the same. It has an even sound, maybe leaning slightly to the warm side of neutral. So far I have tested it with a wide variety of music (classical, jazz, punk rock, new wave/post punk, hard rock, blues rock, etc.) but I still have a few more types of records I want to try.

    I think it sounds very nice overall but it is missing some of the detail of my main cart and struggles a little with the most challenging inner grooves. I fully expected that due to the bonded .2 x .8 elliptical stylus. I suspect that as you move up the Vessel line, those problems disappear.
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2017
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  5. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    Update:

    The cart is breaking in nicely. Just in the last few days it has opened up significantly due to the stiff suspension wearing in a bit. I continue to use it exclusively when I play records.

    I received the OEM overhang gauge for my turntable, and my Hoffman protractor alignment was so close to it, I just left it the alignment alone. At this point I've tested a lot of different types of music on it and haven't found much of anything that this cart doesn't do well.

    Overall, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it if the cart is a good match for your tonearm. I will say again that if your phono preamp lacks adjustable gain this cart may not be for you. Personally I like this cart a lot more than some of its similarly priced competitors (e.g. Ortofon 2M Red, Shure M97XE) but that's probably down to the sound signature of my system and personal taste.
     
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  6. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    One more note:

    After some more testing tonight I think the 48db setting on the Mani is too hot for this cart. I figured this out after listening to the Moody Blues' "To Our Children..." LP. If you know this album, you know that it has big shifts in dynamics and volume throughout (heavy bass also). I was getting some distortion on certain parts of that album, so I put the gain back down to 42db on the Mani and re-played side 2 of the LP. Definitely better.

    I think the sweet spot for gain on this cart is probably somewhere between 43db-46db depending on your system, your listening levels, and your record collection. If one has a phono pre where they are able to set gain 1db at a time, I would simply start at 40db and go up in 1db increments on a record suited for this test. You'll know where to stop and can dial it in perfectly.
     
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  7. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    Update:

    At this point I have been using the Vessel A3SE exclusively for over two weeks. The cart is fully broken in at this point. Here is a summary of my final thoughts:

    Cartridge Pedigree:

    From some internet digging the OEM for this cart appears to be Excel Sound Corporation, and the cart appears to be based on the Excel ES-70 model, but built to LPGear's specifications. Other carts in production that are based on the ES-70 include the Sumiko Pearl, the Shelter 201, and some Garrott Brothers' models. In the past there have been a variety of carts sold based on the same ES-70 platform, such as the A&R P77 and some models sold under the Coral name.

    Sound Profile:

    I would say the sound is slightly to the warm side of neutral. The sound is clear and not boring to listen to. There is a little bit of top-end roll-off, but nothing I found off-putting. Bass is good enough to reproduce bass-heavy music with no problems. Some people may find this to be a positive, as the cartridge is quieter in the groove than some other elliptical and advanced stylus profile cartridges I've heard or tried in my system. Pretty much any genre of music sounds very nice with this cartridge. The soundstage seems to be average for an MM cart, not noticeably wide or too narrow.

    Mounting and Set-Up:

    The cartridge comes with two sets of screws and nuts, both of which I found too short for my headshell. I'd recommend having some extra hardware on hand to mount the cartridge in case you run into this problem. While mounting the cart, I found the safest route was to remove the stylus until I was ready to align the cartridge. The included plastic stylus guard is hollow in the center and doesn't offer the best protection.

    Alignment was not difficult but the stylus tip is set back a bit from the plastic stylus housing, which means it can be a bit more challenging than cartridges where the stylus is more exposed. Not a huge issue. Good alignment is important with this cartridge to get the best sound.

    In terms of compliance, the cartridge is probably best matched with medium mass tonearms. My tonearm is on the heavier side of low mass at 11g and posed no problems I can detect, and checks out with the Vinyl Engine Cartridge Resonance Evaluator. It is probably not a great match for ultra light tonearms like those on some Pro-Ject turntables.

    Output is 3MV, which is a bit low compared to many MM carts on the market. I would estimate the sweet spot for preamp gain to be between 43db-46db.

    Break-In Time:

    I found break-in time on this cartridge to be greater than other cartridges I've used. Out of the box, the cantilever is quite stiff, leading to a closed-in sound. As the cartridge breaks in, it seems to track better and the sound opens up more, revealing more detail in the music. I would give this cartridge a minimum of 30 hours of break in time before finalizing judgment on the sound. If you lack the patience to get past the break-in period, this cartridge may not be for you.

    Tracking:

    I found the cartridge tracked well at the recommended 2.0g VTF on just about any record I tried with it, including some with mild warps. Inner groove tracking is very decent considering the .2 x .8 elliptical stylus, but IGD is present on the more aggressively cut records in my collection. Records with very narrow deadwax will give this cartridge more trouble than conservatively cut records with wider deadwax, the same as any elliptical cartridge. If you are not overly sensitive to IGD, I wouldn't worry about this very much. I will say that I think this stylus performs better than the more common .3 x .7 and .4 x .7 elliptical styli typically included with other carts in this price range.


    Overall Value:

    The overall value of this cartridge is on par with its competitors in the same price range (~$100). Whether you prefer this cartridge over other similar carts comes down to personal taste and what cart is the best match for your system. I personally prefer this cartridge over the Ortofon 2M Red, the Shure M97XE, and the equivalent model from Audio Technica (formerly the AT100E, now replaced by the VM520EB).

    Those looking for a somewhat neutral, yet warm cartridge that does not sacrifice too much detail may want to consider the Vessel A3SE.

    I am personally interested in how the Vessel cartridge performs with the upgrade styli available from LP Gear. The next level up would be a nude line contact stylus priced at $230 (stylus only) or $260 (complete cartridge). I would imagine this solves the minor issues with this cartridge but I am also curious how it would impact the overall sound profile of the cart.
     
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  8. Leepal

    Leepal Forum Resident

    Location:
    Swindon, UK
    ^^^patient_ot, your experience of this cart is pretty much the same as mine...except you're much better at describing it than I could. I bought it with the head shell attached, alignment seems correct (as best as I can tell with my eyesight anyway) so haven't changed it, just adjusted the VTA. Now I'm also curious as to what the next stylus up the food chain sounds like but will need to save a bit more for that.
     
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  9. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    I'm guessing they set it to a 52mm overhang or whatever is common on many of the 'tables that use similar geometry to Technics. If my turntable accepted universal headshells I may have gone that route. Unfortunately I need wacky proprietary headshells for my current turntable. Set up wasn't too bad with an arc protractor. I'd imagine the ruby cantilevered version of the cart ($$$) is need of a very careful and delicate setup.

    It will probably be awhile before I try the next stylus up for this also. I recently had to buy a new stylus for my primary cart, which is one of the reasons I went with the basic model for this cart.
     
  10. 33na3rd

    33na3rd Forum Resident

    Location:
    SW Washington, USA
    Thanks for the review!
     
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  11. dl2341

    dl2341 Active Member

    Location:
    Atlanta
    I bought the A3SE for my new Audio Technica AT-LP3 turntable (second system). I tried my Grado Prestige Gold1, but it never did sound the way I wanted it. The new A3SE sounds very good with a smooth output through the audio spectrum. With only 15-20 hours, I do expect it to sound even better in the future. This is most likely made by Nagaoka in Japan, but the stylus tip was selected by LP Gear to give a solid range of stylus for one body. Its exactly what Grado does with their Prestige series.
     
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  12. HiFi Guy

    HiFi Guy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Orlando, FL
    I was guessing it was made by Excel in Japan. Is there something that says Nagoaka to you? Does it sound like one?
     
  13. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    Excel and Nagaoka are both OEMs, not clear who made this cart though. One of them, definitely. There is a new Pioneer/Nagaoka model that is similar, but uses a DJ stylus.
     
  14. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    One more thing, before anyone gets too excited about the Nagaoka connection, the Vessel is a moving magnet cart, rather than a moving iron cart like the Nagaoka MP-series.
     
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  15. HiFi Guy

    HiFi Guy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Orlando, FL
    My A3SE will be here today. I figured it would be wiser to start at the bottom and move up the line by replacing the stylus if I like it-minimal risk.
     
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  16. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    Definitely. Make sure to give it the appropriate break in time.
     
  17. HiFi Guy

    HiFi Guy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Orlando, FL
    It's up and running. 2 sides in (different albums) and I'll say this- we've been way way overpaying for cartridges for years. $99? No way....and yet it is.
     
  18. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    To clarify, do you mean overpaying as in paying more than $99 for carts or that A3SE is overpriced at $99?
     
  19. HiFi Guy

    HiFi Guy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Orlando, FL
    The A3SE is incredible for $99. If I heard this and was told $350, I'd believe it.
     
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  20. Doug Walton

    Doug Walton Forum Resident

    Location:
    United States
    I know that after reading this, I am compelled to own one:

    "... The R defines itself and its users as those who transcend the vulnerability of success, advance their intellect and sentience, extend their humanity and exceed their personal best. For the user, the R3SV is a synergistic choice.

    With its hardness and soundspeed, Ruby has far higher sensitivity to stimuli from groove modulations. The refined cylindrical Ruby cantilever in the R3SV discovers and transmits more material from groove modulations, more energy sheltered within record grooves thus conveying more inspired sentience and realism."

    :sigh:
     
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  21. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    Yeah, hyperbolic ad copy kind of comes with the territory of LP Gear. Not just on this but other products too. One of the reasons I did a review was to get past that.
     
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  22. PhilBiker

    PhilBiker sh.tv member number 666

    Location:
    Northern VA, USA
    Count me intrigued. My 440MLa stylus is getting pretty old and replacement costs are daunting. I've had good experience with LPGear in the past.
     
  23. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    It's a very different cart from the 440 or any ATs of similar lineage. I did replace my 440 stylus on my Signet hybrid recently, that was about $150 and will be $200 when I spring for the new renamed model when it is time for another replacement.

    Unfortunately any cart with an advanced stylus profile is only going to be more expensive in the future. It's frustrating for someone like me with a low tolerance for inner groove distortion.
     
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  24. PhilBiker

    PhilBiker sh.tv member number 666

    Location:
    Northern VA, USA
    The Pfanstiehl hyper-elliptical in my living room system was only $50 and gets me 85%+ there compared to the 440MLa. HE is not nearly as advanced or difficult to manufacture as a microline of course, but the fact that it's playing from a tangential arm helps minimize IGD. I'm going to have to pony up some time though as at least I think my 440MLa stylus is pretty tired. I should get it professionally checked out - I may be bothering about nothing.
     
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  25. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    USA
    What cart does that go on out of curiosity? Does Pfan still make it?
     

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