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Product: The Music
Maker - MM cartridge
Manufacturer: The Cartridge Man - UK
Contact: Fax.: ++33 208 688 6565
Approx. price: 850 $/Euro (550 UKP)
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu
Reviewed: April 2001
audiophiles MC (moving coil) cartridges have always been considered
the top of the heap, the creme de la creme, best of the best
At the same time, MM (moving magnet) carts have been taken into serious account only for budget analogue set-ups, with some notable exception.
The first name that comes to mind is undoubtedly Grado, American maker of excellent budget carts as well as fine hi-end jewels. Also, how can an audiophile worth his weight in vinyl forget Clearaudio, Decca, Goldring and other fine cartridge makers which have always offered pretty good MM carts to the analogue-addicts crowd?
So it seems MM carts aren't all that bad. Actually there is some advantage in the MM approach to vinyl playback: high output (no need for transformers, step-ups and noisy hi-gain phono stages), easy stylus replacement (err, not always all "that" easy) and, last but not least, easier arm interface.
These are not stone-engraved sentences, since any rule has its notable exceptions. All I wanted to do is recall that MM's can have still something to say, technically.
Clearaudio, Decca et al. there's a new name you should already know:
Len Gregory. Yes, the famous Cartridge Man, the guy behind the
HFN & RR
test disc, a must for any audiohile willing to get the best out
of his analogue rig.
If you already know that disc you're probably aware of the amount of experience and knowledge Len Gregory has in the field of vinyl playback, w.r.t. tracking, bias, distortion etc.
Well, the good news (not exactly new, anyway) is that Len makes also a cartridge, the Music Maker, a hand-made moving iron hi-end cart built to become the REVENGE of the MM carts crew.
Apparently, the Music
Maker seems a Grado cart, one from the Signature series.
Actually, only the body is taken from a Grado donor, the cart is all
new, inside and outside.
First of all, the stylus! Its profile is called "Complex Line Contact" and has been designed to maximize the contact area.
It is mounted on a diminutive composite cantilever, damped both internally and externally to minimize resonancies. Even the body of the cart has been internally damped, to maximize the signal/noise ratio.
Internally, all the electrical connections have been rewired and singularly insulated, both mechanically and electrically, in order to avoid noise problem typical of some Grado cart when used with certain turntables.
The compliance - roughly speaking the ability of the cart to react to mechanical actions from the grooves - is pretty on the high side, at 30 cu and it is claimed to be constant through the whole cantilever operating range. Neat.
The output is usual for a standard MM cart, at 4 mV @ 5 cm/s.
The review you're about to read is the result of several tests during the last months, mainly into my main system. The partner for the Music Maker cartridge has been my Roksan Artemiz arm (with all the bells & whistles included).
The review took more
time than expected since a correct set-up of a hi-end cart is always
tricky, especially if you don't have a SME V arm :-)
My Artemiz isn't exactly the easiest arm to adjust as antiskating, VTA etc. are a pain in the neck. Secondly, an unexpected amount of HiFi components arrived at my doorstep SIMULTANEOUSLY so the Music Maker installation procedure and listening tests took more time than planned.
Thirdly, I have several EXCELLENT personal reasons (racing season just opened and so on... :-)) so I'm here begging Mr. Gregory's pardon if this test goes online soooo damn late.
Anyway, it was time well spent and worth the wait.
After few days of
break-in the Music Maker was ready to sing. Ah, that voice!!!
One of the outstanding atouts of this cart is the mid range:
female voices are sooo natural and sensual! Take Diane Schurr, for
example: this weighty, strong and talented voice is reproduced by the
Music Maker with grace, without compressions or traces of
Even the natural sibilants sound realistic, not just electronic, if you know what I mean. When you hear a voice (live, not recorded nor amplified) chances are you will hear lots of sibilants. That will appear natural to your ears. Sibilants on recorded stuff (and on some LP with a kind of "loudness" eq.) are normally ear-splitting, you perceive these as artificially created by your HiFi system.
Not so the Music Maker: sibilants are there, where they should be, but you feel them naturally. This means the amount of distortion in the mid-high range area is extremely low and the tracking ability of the cart is top-notch.
Actually, the tracking ability of this cartridge is something that should be heard and experienced: play your favourite torture track and see the stylus dance through the nasty grooves with ease. I have several examples, let me mention just two of these: Telegraph Road from the album "Love over gold" (Dire Straits) and Build from the album "People who grinned themselves to death (Housemartins).
These are two excellent (commercial) recordings with plenty of deep, thunderous bass and delicate musical patterns in the mid-high range. The finale of the long instrumental suite of Telegraph Road is a good test to detect the ability of the cart to follow dynamic jumps, clean bass lines and crystal clear mids. Chances are that with a lesser cart, the whole intricate and dynamic musical pattern becomes a kind of "wall of sound", with no possibility to detect one instrument to the other. Well, this cart has been able to give a FULL picture of the whole and - at the same time - to dig into the details with plenty of ease.
Build is another torture test. Apparently, the musical program is easy BUT!!! the bass lines are really deep, punchy & powerful while the rest of the music is played gently and softly by the piano. This means the cart should be able to preserve the gentle part while playing really deep and floor-shaking bass, not an easy task.
In these cases, other carts tend to sound thin or, conversely, muddy, with an obtrusive mid-bass that covers everything.
The Music Maker succeeds playing smoothly and undistorted in the mid-high range with PLENTY of bass and punch. When, in the finale, all instruments play together and the voice start to go higher and higher things become even more difficult. Mission Impossible? Nope! This is when the Music Maker...makes wonders :-)
Still from the LP "Love over Gold" there's another good track I use for testing analogue equipment, it is the well known Private investigations. Even this track is apparently simple but if you start "investigating" deeply into its structure you'll suddenly realize this is NOT an easy job for a cart, especially because it is the LAST track of the LP, that is, the one closest to the end of the grooves.
The Music Maker investigates deeply into the Mark Knopfler's Private Investigations revealing ANY detail and offering it to your ears, naturally. For example, there's a moment when the kick drum plays solo in the background, then a bass note is added onto it. Though they are played simultaneously, you can still detect clearly when the kick drum hits the leather and the finger strucks the bass string.
Overall, I'd say this
ability to reveal any detail isn't of the surgical kind, as sometimes
happens with hyper-detailed MC carts: the Music Maker is
transparent without being surgical. It always sounds smooth
and lush, easy on your ears.
It does have all the detail you want from a hi-end MC matched with the body and weight in the bass of a very good MM cart. Very deep bass, articulated and clean mid-bass, introspective, precise and smooth mid-high range.
Who said LPs are poor
on overall dynamics? There's no need to use virgin vinyl 180-grams
pressing audiophile LPs to match the dynamic performance of my Wadia
digital playback system. A good cart is all you need. A good one like
this Music Maker that, thanks to its excellent tracking
ability, can sound explosive, when needed. No matter if it is an
essential jazz drum kit or the thunderous double kick-drum of Van
Halen: they will sound lively, punchy and weighty even during the
hardest to track grooves.
Yes, this cart can rock! Just put "Panama" on (Van Halen, "1984") and turn that volume knob clockwise! Or, if you're not a hard rock fan, play an acoustic guitar-voice duo. This cart will be able to capture any variation and modulation of the voice, even if whispered, together with the precise pizzicato of the guitar.
This means the cart excels both in the macro- and micro-dynamics departments.
Aaah, this is the
field where a good analogue rig can beat hands down even the most
hi-endish digital system. And, guess what?, it is one of the forte's
of this cart.
First of all, let me spend two words on the width of the virtual soundstage. Extended WAY beyond the speakers (left and right), it virtually fills the whole rear wall and sometimes off-axis recorded sounds appear coming from the windows two meters at the right of the right speaker :-)
Then you have depth. You need a good phono stage for this, otherwise the fascinating performance of the Music Maker can be heavily affected. It is not the depth of the image to be outstanding rather than the ability to create several distinct virtual planes where the instruments and the players live. No, no need for audiophile recordings to get this kind of magic. A good commercial recording is enough to create a realistic soundstage that extends not only behind the speakers but even behind the rear wall, that magically disappears.
This cart doesn't create anything of its own, though. With respect to the height of the image, for example, it faithfully respects the proportions created (or destroyed) by the sound engineers.
So, for example, while Mark Knopfler appears naturally tall in "Private Investigations", it seems he sings sitting on the floor on "Six blades knife" (from "Dire Straits", 1st album). So, not artificially expanded images, just exactly what's into the records.
Finally, a good sense of "air" surrounds players and singers while the overall "focus" appear to be very good.
Since it is a standard
MM output you just need a (good) MM phono preamp or input. Being a
moving iron engine, the cart's performance is not influenced by the
capacitance load offered by the phono input stage + interconnects. It
just needs a standard 50 kOhm load, as usual with MM carts.
The stylus and the cantilever are extremely thin and small, so a great care should be used when installing or cleaning the cart.
Recommended tracking force is 1.5 grams (&plminus; 0.05) but a careful tuning by ear and the use of a good test LP is strongly recommmened. Tracking force is affected by several parameters, room temperature being one of the most influent.
The Music Maker uses a Line Contact stylus, so proper VTA and antiskating set-up are of paramount importance to get the best out of this cart. The already cited test disc could be very useful.
The Music Maker is supplied with non-magnetic screws and bolts: use them and avoid regular steel ones.
This cart is mostly neutrally balanced, so it can be the right choice for many HiFi systems. Obviously enough, do not use the Music Maker with cheap arms and tables, or you'll get just a mere % of the sound this cart is able to deliver.
I wouldn't dare to say
this cart is inexpensive though it certainly costs a lot less than
many MC competitors. Anyway, 850 $ are still a good amount of money
and, for this price, a better package would be strongly welcomed.
Indeed, it is a cheap plastic box with transparent cover with an
A4-printed owner's manual (with pics taken directly from the classic
Grado owner's manuals).
Visually, the Music Maker reveals its "hand-made" nature though this is not really relevant in a HiFi cartridge (...that sounds this good).
Sonically, if you're searching for razor-sharp vinyl playback you'll probably find the Music Maker too...er...smooth. This cart is _naturally_ detailed. It is NOT a surgical weapon.
The Music Maker
is an extremely interesting product: it links the best of both (MM &
MC) worlds together: it is clean, accurate and detailed like a good
MC while it has the warmth and the "weight" of the best
In the end, the quality/price ratio of this cartridge is simply excellent.
Only real Music Lovers apply.
A big thank you to Len Gregory for having let us test this nice cart
while CDs pressing quality is rather uniform from one Country to the
other (though not subtle differences do exist), LPs quality
can greatly vary from one copy to another.
This means that your own copy of the cited albums may sound very different from the ones I have used. For example, my copy of "People who grinned themselves to death" is perhaps a lucky one, as other copies of Housemartins LPs don't sound that good.
many thanks for the excellent review of our "Music Maker" cartridge. What I found very gratifying about it is the fact that the particular qualities we have striven to achieve with this unit during playback have been acknowledged so absolutely.
The cartridge is a very nautral device, hence the smoothness without lack of detail. It does track exceptionally well too, another quality that helps to produce high frequency information without added distortion. Being a high output device means that signal processing can be kept to a minimum, because it is a certainty that you cannot process a signal more and make it better.
The stylus profile (as the reviewer has already discovered) is responsible for the level of music information, and the stylus finish for the lack of surface noise - always a difficult balance to find.
It isn't so much that
the reviewer was complementary about the product that pleased me, so
much as the way that the reviewer was able to hear the positive
qualities of the cartridge without having been told beforehand what
he should listen for. The ability of the unit speaks for itself - as
your reviewer said - only Music Lovers apply.
© Copyright 2001 Lucio Cadeddu - http://www.tnt-audio.com
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