Would you put a $7,000 cartridge on a $4,500 turntable?

I just got off a call with a local dealer about impressions of expensive cartridges and couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed.

I wanted to get a sense of what more there was to gain by going up the chain, but the sales guy kept going on about how my turntable wasn’t made for audiophiles because it didn’t have enough VTA adjustment and it doesn’t make sense to drop coin on an expensive cart for it. I’ve read about people putting $7,000 carts on turntables that might have cost $1,500 (which today cost $5,000 because of rarity).

Not that I would do something so crazy, but what do you guys think? Was he right?

Also, if you have experience to share, what does a $7,000 cartridge get you that a $5,000, $2,500, $500 cartridge doesn’t?

When you consider the job a cartridge must perform “the sky’s the limit” to some extent. Imagine having to accurately transcribe 0.4 thousandths of an inch feature in a groove of vinyl! I currently have a $5k cartridge mounted to a $5.5k table and the results are really magic. This of course assumes you have the rest of your audio “chain” up to snuff. There’s no point in trying to resolve micro-detail if you’re playing into a cheap amp and speakers. Don’t want to sound elitist, just lessons hard won over many decades. Only you can decide what’s best for you based on budget and audio goals. Good luck.

EDIT: I would also echo some advice noticed below that system synergy is very important. I have both a Rega TT (RP10) and Rega cartridge (Aphelion2). This ensures good tonearm cart matching and with Rega the cart mounts with (3) screws so setup is simplified too.

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I would never spend that kind of money on a phono cartridge, so the answer for me is a definite no.

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What’s you current setup? Table, cart, phono stage? What are you looking for u. An upgrade? What do you feel is lacking in your current setup?

I don’t have an opinion on optimum ratio of value of cartridge to value of turntable. I’m not convinced there is one. But boy do I have an opinion about cartridge cost. I’ve played with MCs, MMs and even MIs up to 5 grand over … decades. I’ve decided the sweet spot for cartridges that give me 99% of what I want without paying thousands more for the extra 1% is 2k to 3k. I have a hard rule of not paying a penny over 3k. My two MCs fall in that range. There is a ton of competition in high performance cartidges in that price class. I focus as much on optimal tonearm compatibilty as I do on frequency response, trackability, tonal balance when selecting my catridges in that price range. Have never been disappointed.

One other consideration. I’ve decided I don’t want more than 3k of my hard earned green tied up in a component that by design wears out. Yeah sure maybe I can have my cartridge retipped or rebuilt. But realistically my buying pattern is to replace to stay current with the newest models and design improvements. Just me. Others may take a different approach when their faverave cartridge gets long in the tooth.

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Technics SL-1200GAE, Ortofon Cadenza Black and a Stellar Phono Pre. The rest of the stack is BHK.

Going from a Hana SL to the Ortofon Cadenza was like opening up the windows and feeling the sunlight hit my face.

Will I be able to smell the sea breeze with a higher end cartridge?

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It’s possible but you have to remember. Once you get to a certain point it’s less of a smack in the face improvement and more evolutionary vs revolutionary. Diminishing returns.

My question is what do you fee your missing or what more are you searching for. You have to answer these questions first. Otherwise you’ll be on a never ending chase. Like a dog and his tail.

Sounds like you have a great setup. There will always be something better out there. Just be careful and really think this upgrade through. Things can get REALLY expensive REALLY quick. LOL

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That Cadenza Black is a superb cartridge. I think your dealer is probably steering you right IMO. The deck needs to improve to get more gains from your setup. My 2 cents. My approach with turntables is the cartridge shouldn’t cost more than the deck, before the deck becomes the limiting factor. Also what does your turntable sit on? That makes an impressive improvement as well with noise floor and immunity to vibration. It is a big rabbit hole and a good topic.

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It’s hard to answer that question because part of this curiousity is just that – curiosity. I don’t know what I want if I don’t know what to want. Why does anyone go to the extremes in a hobby? It’s different for us all, but one thing hobbyists do is to try to understand the limits and what it means for them – whether they want to go that far is having a reference point.

Right now, I’m curious to know what more there is to be had – certainly curious of anyone’s experiences stepping up through each level.

…further to my post, to let you know how good that Cadenza Black is, my father has a Black series cartridge on his SME Series V-12 tonearm on a Thorens TD 550 turntable. I believe around a 30k CDN setup.

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Understood. I think if you’re that curious and have the funds I’d say go for it. See the difference for yourself. You can always upgrade your table and use the new cart on whatever table you decide to get if you go that route. There will definitely be a difference. If that difference is for the better and worth the price to you is up to you to decide. I’m sure there are some folks here that have played around with carts in that price range. I look forward to hearing about your journey.

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I’d be more interested in seeing what happens if the original poster upgraded his turntable and used the cadenza black cart. I wonder if the 1200 is getting everything that cart can offer. Just wondering. I’m not familiar with the technics turntables.

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That’s an impressive setup!

On your question about platform; it sits on a sturdy MDF bookshelf, but I have a friend building a custom poured 3" epoxy and walnut platform that will sit on a Butcher Block RigidRack on top of Gaia feet.

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Oh how exciting! I would be willing to bet you will get some gains from the new platform. As good as the Technics table is, you would benefit from a better tonearm and heavier platter. I would take the $7k and upgrade the turntable/tonearm. Do it in stages and you will hear the differences each step makes.
One of the MOST important things which hasn’t been discussed is proper tonearm/cartridge setup. I messed around with cheap setup systems, then decided to invest in my turntable and purchased the Dr. Feickert Protractor. That was a phenomenal change in allowing the cartridge to perform its best.

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I have a $5,000 Koetsu Urushi. I bought it second hand and have since had it retipped. I have a few others, in particular a $1,500 Soundsmith Zephyr Mk3. I also have a Dynavector XX2-Mk2 at about $1,800. They are on appropriate tonearms, an Origin Live Illustrous Mk3 and a Jelco 850, both 12". I can’t remember how much my deck cost, but it is exceptionally well engineered, and I have good phono amplification.

I’ve heard a lot better, the top Lyra cartridge with their special limited edition step-up transformer on the Brinkmann reference direct drive system fully loaded down to the NOS valve power supply. That lot is well over $100,000.

The Koetsu are silly money because of 150 year old Japanese guys spending days winding the coils and and lacquering little wooden boxes. Contrast Rega, who have a 30-year-old guy with an electron microscope and world class fine muscle control who can wind the coils on an Alpheta 3 in half an hour and someone else finishes them off. They are magnificent and cost £1,250, about $1,500.

I think the important thing is to match quality of components as the system will only be as good as its weakest link. They also have to be set up properly, which is usually not that difficult as long as you don’t have a Linn LP12. That’s why Rega packages are so popular.

If I had $7,000 I’d just buy a Rega P10 with Alpeta 3. It’s just obvious. Nothing else comes close.

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I’d take the advice of the guy and not put a very expensive cartridge on a tonearm that’s not fully adjustable.

What you get from expensive cartridges is quite the same as from expensive DAC‘s…more magic (sorry that Im so general here).

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Optimum playback quality in vinyl requires careful attention to synergy and the weakest link is going to really impact the overall presentation. It’s my opinion that your tonearm is likely to be the weakest link and 7k for a cartridge is disproportionate relative to the table/tonearm. I’d spend the money on a tonearm upgrade first.

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It’s all about balance. Ask yourself “so I have $3K burning a hole in my pocket, if I wanted to spend it on my hifi, where would it give me the most pleasure”.

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Not a chance. Does what you have sound good to you? Your dealer is in the business of making money. He might be looking to upsell you on a new spinner.

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You can ask this question about everything. For example what does a $6,000 DAC get you that a $4500 DAC doesn’t? And so on and so on.

I personally believe the source is the most important part of any system. You put garbage in and you get garbage out. Sounds like your dealer was swaying you away from spending 7K on the cartridge because of your tonearm.

Only you can make the decision on the amount you spend. But remember the price of a product doesn’t always equate to sound quality. I’m sure most of the time business decides the price of a product.

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