Being retired from the audio industry after 40 years and being an audio purchaser since 1962 gives me a unique perspective on reviewing equipment for enjoying music. I have gut reactions to a lot of what goes on in the business and I have many personal biases as to what music should sound like.
Let me state right off the bat I believe music should sound like real instruments or as close as we can get. That is what I enjoy, but I also firmly believe that fidelity means true to the source. That source is the master tape or digital file that was produced at the recording session. So, we have two competing factions here; the real instruments and what we capture as the sound of real instruments. This is not always the same thing.
In reviewing components, in order to assess fidelity, it is essential to have the original source to work with and then see how close the competing format gets to that source, or how much it changes it. I am lucky to have collected a few hundred reel to reel tapes over my lifetime.
Some are one or two steps from the master, some commercial 2 tracks from the late 50’s, and a few really good tape machines to play them on. I will be comparing the sound of sources to this standard. Most of what I review will be equipment I actually purchased after I auditioned them, because life is too short to write about products I sent back. For cartridges, these will be short, concise reviews using only records of which I have the master tape copy or commercial 2 track copy.
The speaker systems I use will include JBL Everest, Joseph Audio Pearl 3, Kef Blades, Genesis Maestro, Pure Audio 15TB, GRF Tannoy 15” Gold, and Eminent Technology 8B. The rooms are treated and sound exceptionally natural with high ceilings and good dimensions.
I have collected over 10, 000 records over the years, but for consistency, I will use the following 10 records for all my reviews.
GRADO STATEMENT V-2
I will begin with the Grado Statement, Version 2. I have had the G-S V-2 for roughly 6 months now and it is has given me a new perspective on reproducing vinyl in a composed, orderly way.
In the last fifteen years, I have owned many, many Grado cartridges. Some have been rather unremarkable, while others have kept me up late at night listening to records as if it were the first time.
The new G-S V-2 is a completely new design and melds the speed of a moving coil to the renowned smoothness of mid-range of moving iron. I will not go into the usual marketing BS that accompanies so many reviews, but will instead concentrate on a few things that really matter.
The new Grado has the lowest background noise and lack of groove noise I have ever heard. It is lower than the Atlas, Etna, Hyperion, etc. The sound the cartridge produces allows the low level information from the record to leap out to great effect from a jet black background.
Most people remember reel to reel as a noisy but smooth medium. It is not. With a good machine and the right equalization, 60 year old tapes are relatively quiet while new 15 ips 2 tracks are “spooky” quiet. The Grado gives you a feel of what this is like, while tracking like a train on steel rails, as stylus chatter is virtually non-existent.
The most important part of this presentation is the ultimate smoothness this cartridge can produce without breaking a sweat. When listening to the Hugh Masakela disc the explosion of transients from a black background is absolutely tape like and gives rise to that old reference “goosebumps”! This is only possible if you load the cartridge at 10K or more ohms. I tried it at the normal MC loadings and found it to be good but constricted. The use of 10K or 20K loading opens up the upper mid-range and top while still keeping that smoothness and lack of grain. I found 47K to be a bit bright, but if you have a treble control on your preamp or speaker, this is easily fixed.
I found the best match for the cartridge to be a standard 12” JMW 3D arm. The cartridge requires the second outrigger pivot point to track at its best and to completely remove any of the Grado “dance” and produce tight clean bass and very stable images. The oscilloscope representation of a stereo signal was an almost perfect 45 degree line that varies slightly with frequency but remained stable over the run from 50 to 10K. It tracked the Shure test record very well, only slightly missing the toughest band. I used three rubber weights on the anti-skate for the test but none for listening. There were no issues of mistracking or cantilever displacement not using anti-skate.
My favorite test is the UA Steve Lawrence “Till There Was You”. This cartridge put Steve in the room between the speakers and a full soundstage way past the loudspeaker (KEF Blades) boundaries. It felt like I was listening to a tape with 55 db of separation instead of a cartridge with a promise of 30+ db of separation. The record jacket explains and shows how the microphones and instruments were laid out and the Grado accurately placed them in the same position as the drawing.
The special cut on “Hatari” where they spaced the grooves to let the bass get cut into the vinyl without any compression put you in the jeep with John Wayne chasing that rhino! The Atlas has more dynamic power, but the Grado was no slouch and dynamic enough to give you rattled teeth fillings. On the JBL Everest and the Genesis Maestro, the low end was stunning, so the Grado will only be limited by how much air your speakers can move.
Last but not least, the Grado on the 45 RPM reissue of “Take Five” was as smooth and natural as the reel to reel tape, only missing that last ounce of power, solidity, and speed in the top end that the Atlas can provide for 3 times the price.
The Grado Statement V-2 is very highly recommended and I could live with it the rest of my life!
Update: Harry has started a "Star System", he identifies the Grado Statement V-2 as 8 out of 10 stars.
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