Schiitr Phono Cartridge Thunderdome Nov 14, 2019

Discussion in 'The Meeting Place' started by purr1n, Nov 15, 2019.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    For this gathering, five different carts (none of them all horribly expensive and all quite affordable) were set up on the tonearm wands for the Sol turntable. As an aside, the advantage to unipivot arms is that cartridges can be pre-mounted ont he arm wands and then easily swapped. The fact that Schiit's arms are $200 a piece instead of $2k makes stuff like this feasible for mere mortals with more limited budgets. Instead of headphones, we can now collect cartridges. (I've got three carts on three arms already. BTW, the Sol beta has been making progress, it's almost ready for prime time).

    For those who are not aware, the Thunderdome events at the Schiitr over the past few months are blind tests comparing pieces of gear: amps, DACs, phono cartridges, etc. SBAF folks. Most of the time, the blind tests turn out what is expected. However on occasion there are surprises, well not really. Things can usually be explained.

    One thing is for sure: Blind tests are lot more fun and a far better method for evaluating audio gear than measurements. This is a subjective hobby after all.

    To be continued...
     
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  2. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Five cartridges A to E. The Salk Song 3s were using. Freya S into Aegir. The Salk 3s aren't my favorite speakers. The bass, despite the 7.5" driver isn't too great, the ribbon to scan-speak mids isn't the most cohesive. Upper mids are harsh, lower mids lack body, bass lacks ball, ribbons sound steely. Lots of stuff will come down to synergy, so figured it would be good to mention the system components. There was a small group of us (5) doing the evaluation.

    Here are my notes:
    • A: congested and dull. shouty mids
    • B: much better tonal balance. lows now evident. less shouty and more cohesive. tighter transients
    • C: very dynamic, sharper edges, but brighter, a little bit in your face. more square, less nuanced
    • D: good balance, midcentric in a good way, opens up stage, well textured, slight congestion with difficult passages, great "Prat" and microdynamics, head-bang to Beethoven's 5th
    • E: straight up, clear, tight
    Generally, it as agreed that A was no-go, and that D was the best with B coming in second. Personally I also liked E a close third, but most of the others chose C as the close third.

    Marv preferences: D .. B . E
    Overall group: D .. B .. C

    Keep in mind that these results may be not same on other systems. Note that there are many other factors that could also affect the sound such as VTA, VTF, etc. The VTF was set to manufacturers' spec, but many experienced TT owners know that tone and transient response can be tweaked with VTA and VTF.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2019
  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    First place (D)
    Grado Reference Platinum $350
    [​IMG]

    Not surprising. This was the most expensive of the bunch, but still very affordable. This was the high output MM version, but I could have easily mistaken this for an MC.

    Second place (B)
    Grado Red $170
    [​IMG]

    Now this was surprising! I know I've said I wasn't a fan of the cheaper Grado carts, but I'd easy recommend this cart, especially for neutral, leaner, or brighter setups. Warm, inviting, and far more nuanced than it should be for the price.

    To be continued.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2019
  4. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    The other good ones - these weren't bad at all. Their presentation is more straightforward, and on another system, could have just as easily won out. In retrospect, I'm not surprised that the above Grados worked well. They are generally known to have a more tubey and richer sound - something that would work with small towers such as the Salk 3s or bookshelves like the KEF LS50.

    Ortofon 2M (C) Red $99
    [​IMG]

    Dynamic, bright, sharp. I've used this before and gotten the best results from the SL1200 type or cheaper lightweight plinth type tables. Just a bit too tipped in the highs with the system used.


    Nagaoka MP110 (E) only available in Japan or from eBay $~150
    [​IMG]

    Has some similarities with the above, relatively less bright, a bit more body, richer overtones, but still clear and snappy.
     
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  5. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    A couple of takeaways:
    1. Blind tests are fun. There's no need to feel threatened by them. Yet we don't need to make it difficult for ourselves with double or triple blind tests using ABX methodology. The sonic differences among these cartridges were easily discernible. We made some effort to adjust volume to similar levels.
    2. Blind tests are better than SINAD measurements. I'm pretty sure that in terms of SINAD, these carts will all measure poorly in relative to modern DACs using opamp IV and output stages, very similarly poorly. Yet these carts all sound very different from each other to the human ear. SINAD is 200% useless in telling how something actually sounds like. Throw away your AP-555s and use your ears!
    3. Blind tests are a great way to challenge our preconceptions. If I had knowledge beforehand, I may not have put the two Grados at the top of the list. Now I"m actually kind of a fan and very interested in them. I've love to see a battle between the Denon DL-103 and the MC version of the Platinum.
    4. People hear the same. Barring hearing damage Most people are going to hear the same, but will have slightly different preferences. And even when it comes to preferences, the variance will be slight. I've never believed the line that "people hear differently". I've been to enough of these Thunderdomes, and also similar exercises at various small meets, and the fact is, when all variables are controlled (recordings, components, peer-pressure, etc.), people are going to hear the same thing.
     
  6. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    A question purely in the interests of understanding system synergy ;) - gonna tell us what A was?
     
  7. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Forgot. Grado Gold.
     
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  8. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    P.S.

    There was also a DAC Thunderdome, blind test with a group, which I excused myself from because of my intimate familiarity with the DACs.
    • Modi 3 vs. Modi Multibit
    • Gungnir (old school DS) vs. Gungnir Multibit A2.
    In both instances, the DS DACs won. I am not surprised at all. I believe one person out of the five may have voted for Gungnir Multibit A2. It my understanding it was a tonality issues with the A2 sounding cooler (I can't think of a worse match with those speakers) and also the old DS Gungnir (which I am still a fan of, and actually still have one) still having legs.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2019
  9. schiit

    schiit SchiitHead

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    Yep, doing blind listening events every month has been one of the smartest things we've ever done. Once we were even able to do a double-blind event, with tubes obscured by PVC pipe and sent in by a fan (so nobody had any idea what was what). I was honestly worried that we wouldn't hear much difference when the tubes were used in the Saga+ tube hybrid buffer, but the differences were easily discernible.

    We're gonna keep doing these events, they are a ton of fun, and we learn a lot!

    With respect to the Multibit vs delta-sigma results...yep, that was a surprise. In full disclosure, we used a potentiometer to dial down the hot DAC in each case, but the hot DAC was D/S on one side and Multibit on the other. And the tweak was very small (0.2-0.4db). So I expect you'll see us continuing to tweak both technologies, and I'm curious what a rematch with Bifrost 2 would be like (especially with Unison USB--heck, maybe try Unison USB vs Gen 5? It shouldn't sound any different...because it certainly doesn't measure any different!)
     
  10. Andre Y

    Andre Y Friend

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    Thanks for the really interesting reports guys! Just for my own edification, what are the relative outputs of the Grado cartridges? Hotter/softer is fine – no need for exact numbers.
     
  11. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    5mV for Red, 4.8mV Platinum
     
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  12. dmckean44

    dmckean44 In a Sherwood S6040CP relationship

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    The Grado Red is a good cart and was extremely popular when it came out, I think everyone had one. I quit using mine because it exaggerated IGD in my system at the time. That's probably not an issue with the Sol and it's long arm.

    I'm not surprised the Nagaoka MP-110 didn't do well in a head-to-head shoot out. I like that cartridge but it always sounded a little wimpy compared to my Denons and Shures. Everything sounds small. Piano and snares have no body in comparison. Plus it needs loaded with an extra 500ph capacitance or it will be too bright.
     
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  13. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I know at least one member here who chose the old-school DS Gungnir over the latest Multibit A2 version. Already have been on record several times on how to pair the A2 Gungnir. I look for emphased midbass, warm upper bass, and laid back upper mids. The Salk 3 is the opposite of this.

    Also, when it comes down to DACs, recordings, components, familiarity, and listening position are going to be crucial. Under these circumstances, the comparison is mostly going to be tone play synergies.

    I do wonder if the Bifrost 2, more slammin' , warmer tone, more toward the "classic vintage R2R" sound would have fared better.

    As far as Modi 3 DS, totally not surprised. The Modi MB lacks microdetail compared the latest and greatest from the AKM "velvet" sound chips. There's been plenty of discussion regarding the velvet sound, and it really does sound that like that. I almost get the sense that AKM purposely came out with the velvet sound to gel with the "HiFi" sounding gear common at audio shows. Regardless, the latest AKM chips kill the 16-bit part in the MM in terms of plankton. And I'm not sure the syrup or honey of the MM, did the small woofer in small cab of the Salk any favors.

    DS (AKM Velvet, ESS9038, etc.) has made huge strides since a decade ago where they make us want to jump off a bridge.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2019
  14. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Add in some good SPDIF, something common and affordable to compare against Unison. I'm thinking Pi2AES, DigiOne, etc., but doesn't have to be a Pi-based streamer.

    You know, because there's a lot of enthusiasm around Unison right now (which can be a good thing!), but sometimes bubbles burst naturally, over time (Gen 5, sorta), or in controlled environments.
     
  15. YMO

    YMO Friend

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    If you are bias against Grados for their headphones and have a turntable, give their carts a shot. However, a good bit of them aren't shielded well and thus hum like a mofo. Still like their sound thou....
     
  16. Hammy

    Hammy Friend

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    Regarding the DAC half of the Thunderdome. Is the Schiitr room and speakers set up in a way to do good imaging and layering and some 3D sound? A big part of why I like the multibit DACs is the imaging and layering and how with the right setup you can get some 3D sound imaging going on. If the speaker setup and room isn't set up to do that style of imaging then that could bias the preferences towards the DS DACs. Plus with multiple people listening, not everyone is going to be in the sweet spot.
     
  17. Cspirou

    Cspirou They call me Sparky

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    I've seen some praise around SBAF for the Audiotechnica MM carts. I hope that's part of the next shootout
     

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