Monday, August 13, 2018

Further Listening: Grado Green1 and Audio-Technica 1001

I wanted to do some further listening to the Grado Green1 and the Audio-Technica 1001 (which, as I mentioned previously is virtually identical to various other Audio-Techinca p-mount cartridges) to see if my initial impressions held up, and also to try them with a variety of music. First let's take a look at their respective frequency response charts.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, the Grado Green1 has a suck out in the upper midrange and treble, where the 1001 stays relatively flat. The maximum difference is only about 2dB at 6 kHz, but this is an area where the human ear is particularly sensitive, so the difference between the tonal balance of the carts should be readily apparent.

Here's David Bowie's "Panic In Detroit" from a near mint US RCA promo pressing of 'Aladdin Sane' (yes, I own a promo copy of 'Aladdin Sane', it's good to be me).

Here's The Go-Betweens' "Cattle And Cain" from their US compilation on PVC Records called 'Metal And Shells'. Once upon a time, 'Before Hollywood' and 'Spring Hill Fair' were not available in the United States, and so we Yankees had to make do with a compilation that selected tracks from both albums.

Here's the dB's "Amplifier" a Peter Holsapple composition so good the band put it on two different albums. This version is from their second LP, 'Repercussion' although I believe it is the same recording they would later release on 'Like This' following Chris Stamey's departure from the band. Note that there is a loud click reproduced by the Grado that is entirely absent from the recording made with the Audio-Technica 1001 (listen at 0:27 and 3:35 for the Grado click, and again at 6:43 to hear it missing from the 1001 recording).

The dB's record plays very quietly in general, but I did want to try a noisier LP to get a sense of how each cart handled surface noise. Here's June Christy's "Something Cool" from the 1955 Capitol LP of the same name. On this cut it seems to me again like the Green1 is picking up more surface noise than the AT1001.

So should we generalize and say the Audio-Technica is great at suppressing surface noise while the Grado Green1 accentuates it? Not so fast. Take a listen to "Light My Fire" as performed by José Feliciano from his 1968 RCA LP, 'Feliciano!'

The Audio-Technica cart is clearly picking up a lot more surface noise than the Grado Green1 on this cut.

So what's going on here? It's always difficult to say for certain, but I believe it's a combination of two things: The 1001 sports a .6 mil conical stylus, while the Grado Green1 has a .3X.7 elliptical stylus. It's very likely the .6 mil conical is hitting a part of the groove that is relatively more worn than where the .3X.7 elliptical sits (the reverse being the case in the two previous examples). But this is also an area where the difference in tonal balance can have an effect. Vinyl surface noise largely lives in that 7 kHz and above region where the Green1 has a dip in amplitude, and so the surface noise is generally less noticeable (but so are the high frequencies). That's the price you pay for getting unattenuated treble. It's also a good argument for owning a cart that can accommodate styli with different sized and cut diamonds, as the 1001 can.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Phono Cartridge Comparison: Audio-Technica p-mounts vs the world

If you are looking for an amazing sounding phono cartridge on a tight budget I do have one unqualified recommendation to make: Track down one of Audio-Technica's p-mount cartridges. It is not easy for me to recommend the cart by name, because it's been marketed under dozens of names, some of them as brands other than Audio-Technica. They're hexagonally shaped, and have been marketed in different colors over the years. Currently available models on Amazon include the AT85EP, AT81CP, AT3482P. There are many NOS versions available on eBay. I picked up a NOS ATZ100X off eBay for $20.

Unless you have a turntable with a p-mount arm, you'll also need a p-mount adaptor to fit this to a standard tonearm. Some models come with a p-mount adaptor, others do not, so that's something you might want to check on. 

I've put four variants of this cart through their paces (Audio Technica 1001, AT-Z100X, and Series III and V), and as far as I can tell the internals of the carts are all the same. The only thing that varies between them is the stylus. More basic models come equipped with a .6 or .7 mil conical styli with either an aluminum or carbon fiber cantilever. Others feature either .3 X .7 or .4 X .7 elliptical styli. It's not hard to find them with finer cut styli, and many variants can be found on eBay and other sites. Versions with higher quality styli will of course tend to be more expensive, but the good news is even the .6 and .7 mil conical styli perform brilliantly. Sites like LP Tunes and Turntableneedles also have more exotic replacement styli available for these carts, so you can start with a .7 mil conical and move up to a Shibata or hyper-elliptical if you so choose later.

Here's the Z100X variant with a .7 mil conical diamond and a carbon fiber cantilever pitted against the much more expensive and highly regarded Denon DL-110. Take a listen to Pentangle's "A Maid That's Deep In Love" from 'Cruel Sister'.

Do you hear a big difference between the two? If so, congratulations, your hearing is much better than mine. I paid about $250 for the Denon and and $20 for the Z100X. There is a part of me that really wants the Denon to be obviously superior. I spent a lot of time researching carts before shelling out for it. I'd like to feel like I was a smart consumer who got his money's worth, but to my ears the lowly $20 p-mount cart gives the Denon a run for its money.

Every Audio-Technica p-mount I tested displayed very flat frequency response, much more so than the other two budget Audio-Technicas I tested, which both had an audible dip in the upper midrange and treble. Here's the plot for  the AT-Z100X with .7 mil carbon fiber cantilever.

What you see above is an admirably flat response for a phono cartridge at any price, and every one of the the five cartridges I tested gave a similar flat response. Remarkably, the similar Audio-Technica 1001 with .6 mil conical stylus and aluminum cantilever tested even flatter.

Here's the Audio-Technica 1001 going up against a really fine EMPIRE EDR.9 cartridge. The song is "Canto De Ubirantan" by Sergio Mendes and Brasil '77 from their 'Primal Roots' LP (don't judge before you listen). 

Here's the 1001 going up against a nice Signet cartridge (Audio-Technica's old premium brand) on Dexys Midnight Runners' "Let's Make This Precious" from 'Too-Rye-Ay.' 

Tracking ability for the Audio-Technics p-mount carts appears to be excellent as well. Each sample I tried, regardless of the stylus, was able to track all four bias tracks on my Hi-Fi News Test Record, which is difficult to achieve. I can't say for certain how that result correlates with tracking music, but any cart that can track the Hi-Fi News "torture" track should handle most music very well. I did not detect any tracking problems while listening. 

Another bonus is the fact that the stereo channels on each sample were all closely matched as well. As mentioned previously, channel balance tends to be a real weak point for many budget carts. The only area these carts didn't excel in was stereo separation, which was only average.

I'm not saying everyone should throw away their pricey, exotic phono carts in favor of this cheap Audio-Technica, but if you pick one of these up you may well wonder why anyone would bother to pay more. These carts (along with the Numark/Ion Groove Tool) were a real pleasant surprise for me and show its possible to get great sound out of your LPs even on very tight budget.

Phono Cartridge Comparison: Grado Green1 vs Pickering XV-15 and Denon DL-110

I really wanted to include a budget priced Grado cartridge in my comparisons, and my local record store, In Your Ear Records in Warren, RI was nice enough to loan me a lightly used Grado Prestige Green1.

Grado cartridges tend to be a bit of a lightning rod, inspiring devotion and derision in seemingly equal measure. Grado is the last cartridge manufacturer in the United States with all their cartridges still made in Brooklyn, NY. Take a listen to the Grado Prestige Green1 (current production model is the Green2) compared to a Pickering XV-15, a cartridge from a now sadly defunct U.S. company. The song is 10cc's "The Things We Do For Love" from 'Deceptive Bends.'

Here's the Green1 compared to the Denon DL-110 on the Talking Heads' "The Great Curve." This is a song I tend to use a lot because I find it very revealing of a cartridge's strengths and weaknesses.

Grado carts have a sound that many people find seductive. A look a the frequency response chart compared to the Pickering UV-15 and the Denon DL-110 will help you understand that signature sound.

As you can see (and probably heard), the Grado has a significant suck out in the upper midrange and treble region of the audio band (the Denon and the Pickering have a much smaller dip in this region). Whether this results in a mellow, relaxing, "analog," sound or a sound that is dark and closed in is in the ear of the beholder.

I found the Green1 does some things very well. Its stereo channel separation is exceptional, and unlike many carts the Grado maintains excellent separation across the entire audio spectrum. The channel balance was also exceptionally good. Unbalanced stereo channels are often an Achilles heal of cartridges in the $100 price range, but the Green1's channels were closely matched. Unfortunately, its tracking ability on my Hi-Fi News Test Record was unexceptional. Even tracking a 1.8 grams (slightly above the 1.5 gram recommended tracking force) the Green1 couldn't make it through the third bias track without some distortion. How this effects tracking in real world conditions playing actual music is open to debate. 

The Grado Green1 definitely imparts its own character on the music. This could be said of any cartridge, but it's probably more true of the Grado than on average. Whether that's a good or a bad thing is a matter of opinion.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Phono Cartridge Comparison - Audio Technica AT95E vs Denon DL-110

I wanted to see how the Audio Technica AT95E stacked up against a more expensive cartridge, in this case the Denon DL-110 which lists for $300 in the U.S., but can easily be found for around $210.

Here's a comparison using Colin Blunstone's "Caroline Goodbye" from his 1971 LP, 'One Year'. It was the first album he released after the dissolution of the Zombies.

Here's another cut from 1971, Al Green's classic "Let's Stay Together" from the album of the same name.

My preference here is for the Denon DL-110, and a look at the frequency response graphs for each cart shows why.

As you can see the DL-110 offers flatter frequency response, particularly on the 2kHz to 10kHz region. This is a particularly critical region as human hearing is the most sensitive from about 2kHz to 5 kHz. 

So the $160 question is whether the difference between these two carts is worth the difference in price. I can't answer that question for anyone other than myself, but perhaps these videos can help you decide for yourself. Some might complain that it's not possible to make this kind of evaluation via a compressed YouTube video. This is a fair point, and I wouldn't advocate making any decision exclusively based on what you hear in a YouTube video. But at the same time, in my estimation the essential differences in sound between the carts comes through in the videos. 

Next we'll listen to how the Denon DL-110 compares to a brighter sounding cart like the Groove Tool, then I move things in a bit of a different direction that I hope you'll find interesting.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Phono Cartridge Comparison - Battle of the 110s - Denon DL-110 vs Nagaoka MP-110

I wanted to do a deeper dive comparing the Nagaoka MP-110 and the Denon DL-110. I like both these carts a lot. The DL-110 is the first moving coil cartridge we've listened to, but it is a high output moving coil design that will work well with most standard moving magnet phono preamps. 

Take a listen to The Cure performing "Caterpillar" from a U.S. Sire pressing of 'The Top':

Let's try something a little different, here's vibraphonist Red Norvo performing "Red Sails" 'Music To Listen To Red Norvo By' from an OJC (Original Jazz Classics) pressing of an album originally released in the 60s on Contemporary Records:

Here we have a cut from a beautifully recorded Classical LP, Antal Dorati directing Philharmonia Hugarica, performing Respighi: Suite Number 2 for Orchestra: "Campanae Parisienses" based on a dance by Bernando Gianoncelli. I recorded this from a Golden Imports reissue of a 60s Mercrury Living Presence LP.

Finally, we have "Cemetery Gates" by The Smiths from a 1986 U.S. Sire pressing of 'The Queen Is Dead'.

These videos have been up on YouTube for a few months and opinion on the carts seems about evenly divided, with perhaps a few more commenters voting in favor of the Denon. Those who like the Nagaoka praise its rich sound, while those who favor the Denon tend to call it more open.

The DL-110 appears to offer very flat frequency response (all of these graphs are generated from measurements I took using the 'CBS Laboratories Technical Series Professional Test Record', which was used by many publications to measure carts back when that was still a common thing).

This is a much flatter response than we've seen from any of the other cartridges I've presented so far. Its tracking ability was quite good, sailing through the first three bias tracks on the 'Hi-Fi News & Record Review Test Record' and playing the final track with only moderate distortion. It should be noted however that two of our cheaper cartridges, the Audio Technica AT95E and the Numark/Ion Groove Tool, were able to play even the final "torture" track on this record without distorting, a feat I previously though near impossible. 

The Denon DL-110 recently jumped in price from around $110 to $200 leading some to believe it is no longer a good value. But the DL-110 is a venerable design first introduced in the early 80s, and adjusted for inflation at its original price it would go for around $500. If you are looking for a tonally neutral cart with good, fast, sharp transient attack, the DL-110 is still a good choice. If you crave a more "romantic" sound, the MP-110 might be more your cup of tea.

Is the Denon worth the premium over a $50 cart like the AT-95E or the $25 Groove Tool? That's a judgment call you'd have to make for yourself. In the coming days I'll try to help you make that judgement with more videos comparing the DL-110 to both carts in the coming days. Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Phono Cartridge Comparison - Audio Technica AT95E vs Nagaoka MP-110

The Nagaoka MP-110 has garnered a lot of praise in various corners of the internet, especially on YouTube. Less known in the U.S. than Shure or Audio Technica, Nagaoka is a Japanese manufacturer with a long history. A lot of what they do is OEM for other companies, as well as aftermarket stylus manufacturing.

Unlike the Audio Technica and Shure models, which are both moving magnet designs, the MP-110 is a moving permalloy design (hence the MP moniker) with a fixed magnet. This is very similar to the moving iron design used by manufactures like Grado. In practice this won't mean much to most users as the cart is compatible with any standard moving magnet phono preamp.

Let's compare the sound of the MP-110 to the AT95E. The track I chose for this comparison is the Talking Heads' "The Great Curve" from their 1980 album 'Remain In Light'. I picked this track because with so much going on with multiple polyrhythms, multi-tracked instruments, backing vocals, etc. it's a very revealing track.

Unfortunately I sold the MP-110 I used to make this recording before I got around to measuring its frequency response, so no swanky graph this time. It's nevertheless pretty easy to hear the MP-110 is a brighter, more forward sounding cart than the AT-95E. I would guess it starts to have a slight lift right around where the AT95E's response starts to dip (around 2 kHz).

The fact that I sold the cart shouldn't be taken to mean that I didn't like it. It's a nice sounding cart (but you can make up your own mind about that, that's why I post comparison videos). What I can tell you is that the Nagaoka did not track my Hi Fi News Test Record as well as either the Shure M97xE or the AT95E. It really struggled with the final "torture" track, and I found it was necessary to bump the VTF (vertical tracking force) up to about 2.0 g to get the best out of it (if you get one of these I really recommend setting the tracking force around 2.0 g).

Most of the time the lesser performance on the test record did not correlate with problems with actual music as far as I could hear. However, the Nagaoka did occasionally struggle with sibilants in my experience. Here's a comparison between the MP-110 and a Denon DL-110 on T.Rex's "Life Is Strange" from a U.S. Reprise pressing of 'Tanx':

A couple things to keep in mind here: This is a really tough song for a cart to track cleanly, and the DL-110 is a more expensive cart than the MP-110 which goes for around $130 whereas the Denon sells for $200 or more in the U.S.

Here's a comparison using David Bowie's "Fashion" from 'Scary Monsters (and super creeps)' between the MP-110 and the Shure M97xE (this one with stock stylus):

Hopefully these videos will give you a fair sense of the kind of sound you would get from an MP-110 even without the benefit of frequency plots, etc. If you visit my YouTube channel you'll find lots more comparison videos featuring the MP-110.

Phono Cartridge Comparison - Audio Technica AT95E vs Shure M97xE

The Shure M97xE has been discontinued now that Shure has decided to exit the phono cartridge business. But I wanted to compare it to the Audio Technica AT-95E anyway because it's the next logical step up from that cart in terms of price. The M97xE was selling for about $100 at the time it was discontinued. It's going for more than that now, but I assume prices will fall again once vinyl lovers adjust to the idea of a world in which Shure doesn't make phono carts.

Let's take a listen to a comparison featuring The Clash's "Train In Vain" recorded off a nice original UK pressing:

I'll cut to the chase here. I can't hear much difference between these carts on this track. There is a slight difference in channel balance with the Shure leaning a little more toward the left channel and the AT to the right. That's about it. I'm not saying there's no difference, only that I can't hear it. Maybe you can.

Looking at the frequency response graph I created shows that indeed the two carts share a similar tonal balance. The AT-95E has a bit more energy beyond 6 kHz, but other than that they look (and sound) very similar.

Audio Technica carts have a reputation for being bright, but that's certainly not true of the two from the brand I've listened to so far. In fact, both are a bit reticent in the treble, although the AT-95E not nearly so much as the CN-5625AL.

Both the Shure and the Audio Technica performed well on the bias tracks of the Hi-Fi News Test Record, with the AT playing all four tracks without distorting, and the Shure only breaking up slightly on the final "torture" track. I don't particularly hear any problems with their tracking ability on this famous inner groove track. The Audio Technica measured slightly better in terms of channel separation, and its channel balance was a little better too at +1 dB in the right channel, where the Shure was +1.5 dB in the left on the pink noise track.

One thing to note: The Shure M97xE was outfitted with an LPGear Elliptical stylus, not the stock Shure stylus. If you want to hear the difference between these two styli, listen here. It's not substantial, but to whatever degree I hear a difference it favors the aftermarket LP Gear stylus.

I've bought two separate Shure M97xE carts and both had issues with the stock stylus. The venerable cartridge maker in my experience really let quality control slip over the years. With rivals like Audio Technica offering a $50 cartridge that easily competes with what was at the time their top-of-the-line cart, it's not hard to understand why Shure chose to get out of the cartridge game altogether. Despite their history as innovators in the world of cartridge design, they seem to have given up years before they officially closed their phono production line.

If I sound down on the Shure, I don't mean to. The M97xE a nice sounding cart that can be made even nicer sounding with various exotic aftermarket styli (including the Jico SAS which really transforms the sound the cart), but I can't recommend going out and paying some of the crazy prices people appear to me asking for them right now when you can arguably get something just as good or better for $50.

There are other competitors in this price range including the Ortofon 2M Red which I've not heard. Next we'll hear how a Nagaoka MP-110 stacks up against the AT-95E.

Second Listen - Audio Technica AT95E vs Numark/Ion Groove Tool

Here's another comparison between the Audio Technica AT95E and the Numark/Ion Groove Tool:

This time I picked "Why Can't I Be You" from a 1987 U.S. Elektra pressing of The Cure's 'Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me'. I chose this in part because it's a typical, bright sounding 80s mastering and I wanted to hear how the differing tonal balances of the two carts would affect the music.

You can make up your own mind which sounds better, but I will say it's not the slam dunk in favor of the more expensive Audio Technica I hoped it would be. I still think the Groove Tool is a bit too bright, but it has better stereo separation than the AT95E which is also possibly just a little too recessed in the treble.

In the coming days I'll do some comparisons with two other popular carts at around the $100 price mark to see how they compare: The Shure M97xE, and the highly regarded Nagaoka MP-110.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Phono Cartridge Comparison - Audio Technica AT95E vs Numark/Ion Groove Tool

I previously compared two very inexpensive cartridges in the Numark/Ion Groove Tool and the Audio Technica CN5625AL. I found the Groove Tool to be a surprisingly nice sounding cartridge for something that is given away free with cheap turntables, and was particularly surprised to find that it could track the final "torture track" of the Hi-Fi News Test Record. I've seen many much more expensive cartridges give up the ghost on that track.

But what happens if you step up to the next price level for a cartridge? A very popular option at around $50 is the Audio Technica AT95E. Let's listen and see how it compares to the Groove Tool. This video features Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim performing "Change Partners" from their 1967 collaborative LP 'Frances Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim.' I picked this track in part because it is a real test of how a cartridge handles sibilance (the spitty "ssss" sound). When the LP was original released, the engineers at Reprise liberally applied a "de-esser." While that helped control the sibilance, it also resulted in a kind of dull, mushy sound. Mastering engineer Kevin Gray clearly chose to leave the de-esser off when he cut the LP for Rhino in 2004 which results in a clearer, more open sound, but the album is an obstacle course for any cartridge seeking to track it cleanly.

Listening to the Groove Tool next to the AT95E here again highlights the bright character of the cart. While the AT95E has a more laid back sound, in my opinion it's not dull the way its little brother the CN5625AL is.  When I measured its frequency response I did find an upper mid-range dip, but it is not nearly as pronounced as with the cheaper Audio Technica.

To me the Groove Tool sounds a tad relentless on this cut, where the AT95E suits the relaxed nature of the music better. I can certainly imagine someone making an argument for the more lively Groove Tool however.

The AT95E, like the Groove Tool, aced all four bias tracks on the Hi-Fi News Record, which indicates it should be an excellent tracker. To my ears, both carts acquit themselves well on this very difficult track suggesting their performance on the test record corresponds to how they perform with real music. 

I'm going to put the AT95E through its paces in the coming days (this cart, like the Groove Tool is on loan to me from an individual), but my initial impression is positive, and I can hear why it is so highly regarded. You could spend a lot more than $50 and do worse (I know because I've done it).

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Audio Technica CN5625AL: Ditch the cart or upgrade the stylus?

In our shootout of ultra-budget cartridges I found the Audio Technica CN5625AL somewhat wanting compared to the more lively Numark Groove Tool cartridge. My subjective impression of the cart was of muddiness and lack of detail in the upper midrange and treble. This impression corresponded strongly to the measurements I took of the cartridge which showed a substantial dip between 1 kHz and 10 kHz.

The CN5625AL comes standard with many tables, including U-Turn Audio's highly regarded budget turntable, the Orbit Basic. So let's say you bought an Orbit or some other table fitted with a CN5625AL a year or so ago and are starting to wonder if you can get more out the vinyl record experience. Guess what? I have good news for you: You can!

One way to get better sound would be to replace the CN5625AL cartridge with a Groove Tool or possibly a more expensive cartridge. But that is not your only option. The Orbit is marketed to people who want good sound, but don't want to pay a lot and generally don't want to spend a lot of time messing around with tiny lead wires and little screws. For me doing that kind of work is part of the fun of the vinyl experience. (Most people would probably consider that a bit weird, but I won't judge your hobbies if you don't judge mine. Deal?) I'd be the first to admit installing cartridges on turntables is not everybody's idea of fun.

Another option is to simply upgrade the stylus on the CN5625AL. This is very easy to do and requires no special tools or know-how. You should probably change the stylus on a cart like the CN5625AL after every 500-1,000 hours of use anyway. An equivalent replacement stylus will likely set you back $15 or so. But you could also consider an "upgraded" stylus like the Bliss Elliptical from (full disclosure: I have no relation to this business beyond being an occasional customer).

At $35 the Bliss Elliptical costs more than the cart itself, but the real question is, "Is it worth the $20 premium you'd pay over the cost of replacing the stock stylus?" Let's listen and find out!

Here once again is DEVO's "Freedom of Choice" but this time I switch back and forth between the Audio Technica CN5625AL with the Bliss Elliptical and the stock conical stylus. You can listen for yourself to see if you can hear an appreciable difference. If you listen with headphones or on your stereo system, I guarantee you will hear something different between these styli.

The most obvious difference is in the channel balance. My CN5625AL with stock stylus is about 2.5 dB louder in the left channel than the right channel, whereas when fitted with the Bliss Elliptical it is about 1.0 dB louder in right channel (measurement based on the pink noise recording). So already we can point to an objective improvement with the more expensive stylus: Its stereo image is more balanced than the stock conical stylus. A 2.5 dB channel difference is going to be pretty noticeable, whereas a 1 dB difference will be much more subtle (either can be addressed with a balance control knob of course). We can expect some sample-to-sample variation here, so your mileage may vary, but it is not surprising that the Bliss Elliptical stylus would have better channel balance than the stock stylus, as it is built by a highly respected Japanese manufacturer of phono styli that has an excellent reputation for quality control.

There is a more subtle improvement with the Bliss Elliptical in tonal balance. Putting the Bliss Elliptical on the CN5625AL results in a less muffled sound than what we heard with the stock conical stylus. This difference can be seen in the frequency measurement graph:

The frequency measurements are virtually identical up to about 5 kHz but, as you can see, the dip between 5 kHz and 10 kHz is less significant with the Bliss Elliptical stylus fitted to the cartridge. The Bliss Elliptical improves the CN5625AL in another crucial respect: Stereo separation. Whereas the stock stylus only managed 12.5 dB of stereo separation at 1 kHz, the Bliss stylus bumps this up to a respectable 18.5 dB. Nice! Are these changes worth the $20 difference in price? That's for you to decide, but I'd say yes.

Of course replacing the stylus is only one option. You could ditch the CN5625AL altogether and buy a different cartridge. Let's compare the CN5625AL with Bliss Elliptical to the Numark/Ion Groove Tool again using "Freedom of Choice" (I promise I won't always use the same songs, but it is valuable to have some consistency when making direct comparisons like this):

Personally, I think I would still take the Groove Tool with its brighter tonal balance over even the improved CN5625AL. But the gap has certainly been closed significantly. And of course the Groove Tool isn't the only replacement option, there are better carts out there which I'll cover in future posts.

Unfortunately, adding the Bliss Elliptical to the CN5625AL does not get you a "giant killer" of a cartridge. Arguably you can get better sound with a cart that costs less than just the Bliss replacement stylus. Nevertheless I can heartily recommend the Bliss Elliptical stylus to anyone looking to improve the sound of their CN5625AL (or other compatible cartridge). It's a simple, worthwhile upgrade that requires no technical knowledge doesn't involve fiddling with delicate wires and the like.