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Grado Labs Opus3 moving-iron cartridge High Output version Review and Follow-up on the Music Hall mmf-1.3 turntable

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I recently reviewed the Music Hall mmf-1.3 turntable, and as good as the turntable was, I did feel the included $30 Audio Technica AT-3600L phono cartridge prevented the turntable from performing as well as it could. After discussing about using a better phono cartridge with both Roy Hall of Music Hall and the folks at Grado Labs, they both felt a Grado Labs Timbre Series Opus3 would give a significant improvement over the stock phono cartridge that came with the mmf-1.3. Discussions about the compatibility of a phono cartridge with a turntable are all over the place on the internet, complete with a lot of total misinformation. I am sure most would agree Roy Hall and Grado Labs are a much better source of information.

Grado Labs was founded by Joseph Grado (1924-2015) in 1953 in Brooklyn. Over the past 70 years, Grado has become famous for their remarkable headphones and phono cartridge designs. What is truly amazing to me is the way Grado has kept their prices in line. My Grado Reference Platinum phono cartridge was considered a bargain at $300 when I purchased it in 1998. Twenty-four years later, the latest Reference Platinum3 is $400.

The Grado Labs Opus3 at $275 is the least expensive phono cartridge in the Grado Labs Timbre line of moving iron cartridges. The Opus3 is housed in a maple housing and it is hand assembled. The quality and appearance places the value way beyond the $275 price tag. Grado phono cartridges have a fairly high compliance according to the included specification sheet, although I have never had a problem using various Grados on my medium mass Sumiko Premier MMT tonearm. The Grado Silver sounded wonderful on my Thorens TD-147 turntable with a tonearm effective mass of 7.5 grams, which is very light and performs best with a high compliance cartridge.


I have stated on numerous occasions that the Hana EH high output moving coil at $475 has been my favorite phono cartridge. Right up there with the Hana is the aforementioned Grado Labs Reference Platinum high output moving iron cartridge. I enjoyed the Platinum on my main turntable from 1998-2016.

I have purchased more Grado Labs phono cartridges than any other brand, so I will admit a certain bias towards the brand. I have owned two Grado Labs Reference Platinums, two Silvers, a Green, and a number of Black phono cartridges over the years. Grado Labs makes phono cartridges in every price category, so as my system improved, I moved up the line.

I carefully installed the Grado Labs Opus3 onto the Music Hall mmf-1.3 turntable, tracking it at about 1.9 grams. The threaded holes on the top of the cartridge with the Allen-type screws (an Allen wrench is provided) make it much easier to mount than when you have to fumble with a pair of screws and nuts. This is a physically large phono cartridge and I had a little trouble aligning it because its size made it difficult to clearly see the stylus. I did eventually get the sound the way I thought it should be. Also, there are no color markings on the cartridge body for connecting the headshell wire leads, which made it a little difficult. The included instructions will help with the connections.

I used the same inexpensive 2-channel receiver and speakers that I did with the original Music Hall turntable review. I wanted to listen to the benefits of this turntable in a typical system that a person starting out purchasing a turntable may have before moving up to more high-end components.

I listened to a lot of the same records when reviewing the Music Hall mmf-1.3, including a variety of classical music, jazz, and rock. I started with a L’Oiseau-Lyre recording of Handel’s Messiah and the Grado Labs Opus3 had no trouble keeping pace with the complex passages in that piece. Right out of the box the difference in sound between this Grado and the Audio Technica that had been on the Music Hall was astonishing. This is why a number of experts feel that the phono cartridge is the most important part of your turntable ensemble. The biggest strength of the Opus3 is the lushness and musical body it delivers, which cheaper phono cartridges just cannot provide. It is more like you are listening to music actually being performed as compared to the playback of a recording of that music.

The Opus3 is very quiet and surface noise is kept to a minimum, which make for a truly engaging listening experience. The treble is very sweet sounding and musical if a little recessed. The midrange seems full and makes the record sound more like music. The bass is nice and deep with a full sound, although the Grado Reference Platinum may have had a bit more bass. The balance through both channels was even. The Grado has wonderful imaging and soundstaging to further connect you to the music in the same way my moving coil phono cartridges do. Tracking is very good with no inner groove distortion. There was no hum. Initially the sound was a little dark, but it opened up over time. The Opus3 excelled at sounding completely natural on every genre of music as a I continued to play more records. There is a three-dimensional presentation to the music with this Grado that my under-$100 phono cartridges just do not have.

I next connected the turntable to my Wyred 4 Sound mINT integrated amplifier. My Magnepan speakers completed the system. This would give the turntable and phono cartridge a chance to really shine. This stereo system as is would satisfy me on a long term basis.

Again I played a variety of records, including the usual classical records as well as some jazz and rock. The combination of the Grado Labs Opus3 and the Music Hall mmf-1.3 paired with the more high-end components really kicked everything up several notches. There is a Grado house sound that I would describe as on the lush and less-analytical side of things, which I have always liked. The musical virtues of the Opus3, such as the wide soundstage and the precise imaging, were all apparent. Yes, the highs were a little on the sweet side, but the cymbals are still evident, just not in your face. The midrange was very nice and the bass is full. I have been using the Magnepans primarily with my Talisman low output moving coil cartridge, but overall I prefer the Opus3. The Talisman has a wonderful midrange; however, it is a little limited in the bass compared to the Opus3, which also has better dynamics.

A big difference between the better phono cartridges, such as my Hana and Talisman moving coils, versus my sub-$100 phono cartridges is the front to back layering of music. This is a critical part of a better music system for me, especially when there are a lot of instruments, such as orchestral or big band music. Since this is the type of music I play on a regular basis, I need this aspect. When combined with good side-to-side imaging, this can really transport you to the concert. This was what made me appreciate the original Dahlquist DQ-10 speakers and later the primary reason why I continue to use my Alon speakers — because together with the phono cartridges they really make you feel you are listening to live music. The Opus3 combined with the Music Hall turntable gives this layering, which really connected me to the music. Using the Magnepans was also a contributing factor. When I switch to my cheaper phono cartridges all of the shortcomings become really noticeable.

After listening for a while, I feel I can use this phono cartridge on the Music Hall mmf-1.3 turntable playing records every day and not feel I am missing much from my more expensive equipment. The Grado Labs Opus3 reminds me a lot of my Reference Platinum. In hindsight, I should have kept the cartridge shell and traded it in for a brand new Platinum to use in my cartridge rotation.

Some brief comparisons. The Opus3 performs close to the level of the Hana EH, though they have very different presentations; the Hana offers a tad more clarity. When compared to my Nagaoka MP-110, which I reviewed last year, I preferred the Opus3 and would easily pay the difference in price. Before I received the Grado, I listened to my Sumiko Olympia phono cartridge, which I consider an excellent cartridge and an outstanding value at $200. Right now I consider the Olympia the minimum phono cartridge to use in my main system and the Opus3 the next level above the Olympia. There are only two phono cartridges I have ever owned that I would prefer to the Opus3 and they both cost more: the Hana at $475 and my old Reference Platinum.The difference in enjoyment is not much, so the Opus3 could satisfy me on a long term basis.

One drawback of the Grado Labs Timbre line is the stylus is not user replaceable, just like moving coil cartridges. Once the stylus is worn out you have to send it to one of the many phono cartridge re-tippers out there. Or, Grado Labs has a very generous trade-in program, so for about what you would pay for a new stylus for a moving magnet phono cartridge you can purchase a brand new Opus3. This would be the best alternative. It may take a couple of weeks to send your old Grado to the dealer and wait for the new one, especially if it is not in stock. For me, this is where the Audio Technica AT-3600L comes in handy as a temporary substitute.

There are reasons why Grado Labs phono cartridge have been around since 1953. The company may be better  known these days for making some of the best headphones in the world at really good prices. The same can be said about their phono cartridges. I am purchasing this phono cartridge and keeping it installed in my newly acquired Music Hall mmf-1.3 turntable. The $275 price tag got me really close in performance to my Hana phono cartridge. I have to give props to the recommendations of both Music Hall and Grado Labs, because this is a great combination. I now have a third option along with my AR and Thorens turntables. The Grado Labs Opus3 phono cartridge, just like the Music Hall mmf-1.3 turntable, is highly recommended.


Copy editor: Dan Rubin

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4 Responses to Grado Labs Opus3 moving-iron cartridge High Output version Review and Follow-up on the Music Hall mmf-1.3 turntable

  1. Bob C says:

    Excellent review! I have a great interest in purchasing a cartridge with a wood body & that “maple wood” on that Grado Labs Opus3 look’s gorgeous! By what you experienced as far as performance/sound qualify, I think it’s a serous consideration! Funny you should mention the Audio Technica AT-3600L (which I have) cause it’s a very low price cart but it sounds really good & it’s been around for a long time.

  2. tom roy says:

    hi Byron, hiftommy here. my system can be seen in the audio asylum inmate systems:
    i have had a few Grados that i loved, the F1+, 8MZ, FTE+1, GT+1. even the lowest models had good sound but the F1+ and 8MZ were just excellent. i have always wanted to try one of the wood-bodied ones but i have so many other carts mounted and unmounted (including some NIB) that it would be financially silly.

    you make the Opus 3 sound very tempting, however. i notice the wide Pontiac stride on the front end of the cart and a warning is when using a SOTA Reflex Clamp or one of similar width and edge height, the cart can run into the clamp in the runout groove and cause undue stress on the cantilever suspension. i know this because my Shure V15VxMR with JICO SAS has this problem. i solved it by using my Orsonic DS200G reflex clamp which has a smaller diameter as well as a thinner edge.

    a friend has an Oracle that has a ? Sonata on it which he loves and is about to trade in at Grado for the usual hefty discount. he is not being lured away even though he has a fine Counterpoint 5000 preamp with a great MC section as well as MM. moving iron does seem to be a golden pathway to good sound, i just loved my ADC XLM back in the day and i already mentioned the grados i had owned.

    keep the great reviews coming.


  3. Stringreen says:

    I too have been a Grado admirer/user. I used to live in Westfield, NJ, and visited Joe Grado at his home there.

  4. Steven Levey says:

    Hello, great review. I too had an older Platinum and have previously appreciated used Grado cartridges as well as their headphones, but I did recently take advantage of Grado’s exchange upgrade program for the new Platinum 3 low output on an ifi Zen preamp. It is a generous exchange and does take a month for the process. But, certainly worth the wait because the Platinum 3 is remarkable. I’m using it on the top Fluance table witch came with an Ortofon Blue, that the Platinum 3 blows away. I too appreciate the sound stage and accurate timber of instruments, especially in small ensemble jazz quartets and trios. I’m glad you mentioned that there is no hum, because my previous Platinum 1 did create a hum on my previous Project Carbon, even with the Acryl it platter, towards the label at the record. Thanks again

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