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Cartridge upgrade: Shure or AT?, Mixed reviews, what are your suggestions
misterelie
post Apr 29 2013, 01:34
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I finally got a decent starter turntable, an AT-Tt120USB. For the value and the awe of conversion, I'm very happy with the results so far. I am new to turntables, growing up as they were going away in popularity, so I'm practically a noob with these things.

I want to upgrade the cartridge on it. I've got two contenders: the Shure M97xe and the AT440mla. The AT is twice the price, but gives a closer sound to cd's from what I've read.

My purpose in getting the turntable and upgrading is simply so I can convert my lp's over to lossless digital, not replaying the records over and over through speakers.

Keeping in mind the type of turntable I have and what I want to use it for, which do you suggest I get? I am not as concerned by the fact that one is twice the price of the other (although it factors in, of course).

Oh, I forgot to mention, the kind of records I am transferring are almost 100% classical-orchestral and jazz from the 1950's to 1980's. all are on 33 1/3.

Thanks.
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cliveb
post Apr 29 2013, 08:50
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QUOTE (misterelie @ Apr 29 2013, 01:34) *
I want to upgrade the cartridge on it. I've got two contenders: the Shure M97xe and the AT440mla. The AT is twice the price, but gives a closer sound to cd's from what I've read.

Both the M95XE and the AT400ML are fine cartridges and which one's sound you prefer would be a matter of personal preference.

But before you think about upgrading, there are a few points to consider:
1. The AT-LP120USB is available with two different pre-installed cartridges. If yours has a green stylus body, the cartridge is an AT95E. If it has a white stylus body, it's an ATP-2.
The ATP-2's output level is 5.3mV, while that of the AT440ML and M95XE are 4mV. If you have the ATP-2 and you plan on using the USB output from the turntable, it's possible that the new cartridge with the lower output won't fully utilise the dynamic range of the A/D converters in the turntable.
One the other hand, the AT95E's output level is 3.5mV, so if you have this one then there's a slight chance that the new cartridge with slightly higher level could overload the A/D converter and produce clipping.
Having said all this, the difference in output levels is minor. If you do lose dynamic range in the converters (compared to the ATP-2), it will be much less than 1 bit of resolution, so is unlikely to be an issue. And it seems unlikely that the gain structure in the turntable's phono preamp - A/D converter system will be set so critically that the very slight increase in level over the AT95E would induce clipping.

2. The compliance of the AP440ML and M95XE is likely to be higher than that of the one you have now. I am not personally familiar with the AT-LP120 turntable, but its pickup arm might possibly have too high an effective mass to comfortably house the new cartridge. If its mass is too high, then record micro-warps (all LPs have them) will excite the cartridge/arm system into unwanted resonance.

Given these potential issues, you should ask yourself what it is about the sound of the existing cartridge that you find unacceptable. Are you sure it isn't good enough already? Is your desire to upgrade based more on hope that you'll get better sound rather than to fix a known problem?
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misterelie
post Apr 29 2013, 15:33
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QUOTE (cliveb @ Apr 29 2013, 03:50) *
QUOTE (misterelie @ Apr 29 2013, 01:34) *
I want to upgrade the cartridge on it. I've got two contenders: the Shure M97xe and the AT440mla. The AT is twice the price, but gives a closer sound to cd's from what I've read.

Both the M95XE and the AT400ML are fine cartridges and which one's sound you prefer would be a matter of personal preference.

The ATP-2's output level is 5.3mV, while that of the AT440ML and M95XE are 4mV. If you have the ATP-2 and you plan on using the USB output from the turntable, it's possible that the new cartridge with the lower output won't fully utilise the dynamic range of the A/D converters in the turntable.
One the other hand, the AT95E's output level is 3.5mV, so if you have this one then there's a slight chance that the new cartridge with slightly higher level could overload the A/D converter and produce clipping.


.....

Are you sure it isn't good enough already? Is your desire to upgrade based more on hope that you'll get better sound rather than to fix a known problem?


Good questions and I appreciate you answering the way you did as this was information I didn't know I needed.

It has a green cartridge, so M95XE.

My reasons for wanted to upgrade are: when I am listening to just about any record, the mid-range is sounding noticeably muffled. And the loudest points of almost any piece, classical or jazz, the edges are having a touch of shrillness in them, as if the needle can't handle the vibrations of the groove. I hear these problems before I do any kind of software amplification or touching up.

Both are problems I attributed to the quality of the cartridge/needle. Am I incorrect in this? If you think upgrading the cart won't solve this, please let me know. As I said earlier, I'm new when it comes to phonographs, so if this is a tech barrier or something that's resulting from my purchasing a $200 turntable, I'll deal.
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punkrockdude
post Apr 29 2013, 16:40
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QUOTE (misterelie @ Apr 29 2013, 15:33) *
My reasons for wanted to upgrade are: when I am listening to just about any record, the mid-range is sounding noticeably muffled. And the loudest points of almost any piece, classical or jazz, the edges are having a touch of shrillness in them, as if the needle can't handle the vibrations of the groove. I hear these problems before I do any kind of software amplification or touching up.
I hear you. What I can't stand with a cheap stylus is the inner groove distortion. I have an AT 440ML (something like that) and the difference was very big even if it did not remove it (inner groove distortion) completely. Regards.
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misterelie
post Apr 29 2013, 17:20
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QUOTE (punkrockdude @ Apr 29 2013, 11:40) *
I hear you. What I can't stand with a cheap stylus is the inner groove distortion. I have an AT 440ML (something like that) and the difference was very big even if it did not remove it (inner groove distortion) completely. Regards.


That's almost identical to the one I'm looking at. Do you really notice a difference?
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punkrockdude
post Apr 29 2013, 17:27
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QUOTE (misterelie @ Apr 29 2013, 17:20) *
QUOTE (punkrockdude @ Apr 29 2013, 11:40) *
I hear you. What I can't stand with a cheap stylus is the inner groove distortion. I have an AT 440ML (something like that) and the difference was very big even if it did not remove it (inner groove distortion) completely. Regards.


That's almost identical to the one I'm looking at. Do you really notice a difference?
Yes I honestly noticed a very big difference. It sounded clearer and overall a lot better. I noticed a big difference in the outer grooves but the biggest is the closer it comes to the centre of the record compared to cheaper cartridges. I used a Grado Black or something before that cost around $40-50.
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DVDdoug
post Apr 29 2013, 19:05
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Before CDs were introduced, I was always upgrading or wanting to upgrade. But since since records can never sound as good as CDs,* my philosophy now is, "You can't go wrong with Shure's best". (I don't know how it compares to the AT.)

If there's a way you can A/B or audition different cartridges, you might want to compare to the Shure and choose one that sounds better. Personally, I don't see the point in spending more than the price of the Shure.

QUOTE
The AT is twice the price, but gives a closer sound to cd's from what I've read.
The thing is, the best turntable/cartridge for thousands of dollars might be 90% as good as a CD. But, only if you have a very good record in very-good condition. So, you maybe you can get close to 90%, but you can never get close to 100%. (A percentage like 90% is meaningless, but the point is you can spend lots of money for tiny improvements but you can't get that close to CD quality.)

The biggest problem factor is noise, and that mostly depends on the record.** You can also get some noise (hum & hiss) from the phono preamp. (The cartridge is not a noise factor, except that a higher-output cartridge will give you a better signal-to-noise ratio from your preamp.)

Distortion depends on the loudness of the recording and the ability of the cartridge to track high-level signals (ignoring any distortion that's a permanant part of the record/recording). Increasing the tracking force to the cartridge's recommended maximum can help, so I'd try that before upgrading to a better cartridge.

Frequency response depends on the cartridge and the recording. Frequency response is the first thing I noticed whenever changing/upgrading cartridges. Many (most) older recordings have rolled-off high frequencies. In the "vinyl days", I had to pull-out one of my best records to appreciate an upgraded cartridge. (Of course, you can compensate for frequency response wth equalization.)

QUOTE
My purpose in getting the turntable and upgrading is simply so I can convert my lp's over to lossless digital, not replaying the records over and over through speakers...

..when I am listening to just about any record, the mid-range is sounding noticeably muffled. And the loudest points of almost any piece, classical or jazz, the edges are having a touch of shrillness in them, as if the needle can't handle the vibrations of the groove.
If you care about sound quality, my advice is always, buy the CD (if it's available). wink.gif If budget is a consideration, consider used CDs.

Many older records simply don't sound good. Many older records did not sound that good when they were new. sad.gif


* Some people prefer the sound of vinyl. That's a matter of personal taste. But, technically (noise, frequency response, distortion), CD is superior.

** For removing "Snap", "Crackle", and "Pop", I use Wave Repair ($30 USD). In the manual mode, it does an amazing job on most vinyl defects and it only "touches" the audio where you identify a defect. But, it usually takes me a full-weekend to fix-up an LP transfer. This page lists some more-automated software.

This post has been edited by DVDdoug: Apr 29 2013, 19:14
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Nessuno
post Apr 29 2013, 19:33
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QUOTE (DVDdoug @ Apr 29 2013, 20:05) *
If you care about sound quality, my advice is always, buy the CD (if it's available). wink.gif If budget is a consideration, consider used CDs.

I second this advice: don't know about jazz, but about classical, except from very rare recordings, a lot of what has been issued on vinyl between the fifties and the eighties has been reissued on CD from master tapes, often by budget price labels for pre-seventies recordings. Give a look, for example, at ArkivMusic web site.


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misterelie
post Apr 29 2013, 23:08
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Thanks for the advice. I am not looking at purchasing new albums, just taking my collection I already have and getting the best sound possible with a reasonable cost over to digital. I don't expect vinyl to have as clear a sound as a modern release would, especially considering I'm using entry level gear, I'm just looking at upgrading one component to tweak the sound out a little better before doing the audio enhancements.

Thanks for the advice, all.
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