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Three Cartridges, Two Tables, Hours of Fun

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My audio buddy Steve recently acquired an Audio-Technica 1005 tonearm and Grado Sonata cartridge for his Thorens TD-125 turntable. We decided to get together and listen to them along with a Denon DL-103 he already had. A classic ‘shoot-out’.

I brought my Dynavector 10×5 to add to the mix, but left it attached to the Ariston RD-11 Superieur for a little competition with the Thorens TD-125.

The headshells for the arms were just alike and made cartridge changing a breeze. The Uni-pivot Audio Technica 1005 was especially quick and easy to set up, more so than my S.M.E. 3009 Series II (improved).

The Victor:

I wanted to not like the Grado but couldn’t. You hear a great deal about this cartridge’s ‘liquid’ mid-range, but that ‘liquidity’ really extends from bottom to top. We listened to a pretty good mix of short selections including female Jazz vocal (Julie London), overblown studio Country (Emmy Lou Harris) and Rock-n-Roll (Dire Straits). There were times when I felt that the Sonata was almost too pretty; but the character of the music still came through. Bass was deep and powerful if just a touch over-cooked. I had the feeling that SET power tubes, other than the UX-45 we used, might have trouble controlling the bass output.

Surprisingly, the Sonata’s imaging was more upfront than either that of the DV or the Denon. I had thought the DV was somewhat forward-sounding and would have bet the Sonata would seem laid-back in comparison; but almost the reverse was true. There is excellent depth and width to it, as well. It really filled the room with music.

First Loser:

The Dynavector, we agreed, was oh-so-close to the Grado in quality, if quite different. Therewas none of the liquidity of the Sonata but more ambience, a result of clarity in the treble. After hearing how the Grado conveyed sounds, I was left with the feeling that perhaps the 10×5 let’s you hear the words better than the music.

At its price, though, and given the fact it is a moving coil with superb dynamics and bass, and has 2.5 mVolts output, the Dynavector 10×5 is an excellent value with virtues that might be preferred by some. I, for one, will have no trouble living with it until another one of those ‘no interest for 12 months’ Master Card offers appears in my mailbox.

Passed Out On The Course:

The Denon DL-103 is unquestionably a very average-sounding cartridge that is seriously over-priced.

There, I said it.

I’ve now heard it in 2 different arms, on three different tables and 2 speaker systems. The mid-range was about the same as my back-up Grado Green, and the bass was lightweight. On the plus side it had a clean, clear sound with good imaging and dynamics. If the 103 was half its $200 price, it would be among those to consider at that price point.

That Audio Technica arm was a pleasure to look at, wonderfully simple to adjust and sounded remarkably similar to the S.M.E. During the cartridge comparison, I never heard different qualities when each was switched from one arm to the other. Unfortunately, it’s out of production but samples appear on E-Bay from time-to-time, which was where Steve purchased his. Valued at $250 to $300, the 1005 is a well-kept secret.

There was virtually no difference between the sonic qualities of the TD-125 and RD-11 Superieur. Not surprising, as the constructions, 3-point spring suspensions and massive aluminum platters are so similar. From previous experience, I know the same is true between the Ariston and a pre-Cirkus sub-chassis/Armageddon power supply Linn Sondek LP-12. Curious how a TD-125 or LP-12 fetches $600 to $900 on Audiogon or eBay, while Ariston’s languish at $350. But then mine’s not for sale.

We wrapped up and discussed a DIY pre-amplifier project over beer and barbeque. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

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