The Cartridge Man is Len Gregory and he’s been making cartridges for a good number of years now. He used to produce a cartridge based on the AKG P8ES, but as AKG ceased production and were eventually bought this eventually meant that Len’s supply of components dried up. Around the same time (twenty-ish years ago) Grado ceased production of their “Signature” range of cartridges and after speaking with John Grado, Len gained permission to build his own version of the “Signature” range of cartridges.
We asked Len why he was attracted to the Grado cartridges: “I was attracted to the Grado design because, as with the AKG, it was Moving Iron technology – which I felt was advantageous over both Moving Coil or Moving Magnet designs having considerably lower moving mass whilst retaining the advantages of high output (less pre-pre amplification: better signal to noise, lower distortion, better separation) as well as better tracking capability.”
Len believed that the performance of the Grado design could be improved by a significant margin by implementing various fundamental changes in the production techniques and with greater attention being given to the mechanical integrity of the cartridges…the cartridges also have a more sophisticated diamond profile. Move up the Cartridge man range and you get things like pure silver coils, sapphire cantilevers and a different micro-diamond profile which Len says pushes the performance even further.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Len is constantly improving the Music Maker design and Cartridge Man’s exchange scheme means that you get all the current updates and not just a retip – you can also trade up the cartridge Man food-chain with commensurate increases in exchange price.
Set up is a simple affair and detailed instructions come with the box. Tracking weight is 1.58g give or take 0.05g and Len says that this is critical, but with today’s digital scales this is pretty easy to achieve without too many tears. Loading is 47K Ohms and so the cartridge goes straight into the standard moving magnet input and output is 4mV. VTA we found needed a little experimentation to get the very best from the cartridge and slightly beyond horizontal gave us the best results. The arm was mounted in an Origin Live Silver tonearm on the Wilson Benesch Circle turntable. The tech-spec suggests that anti-skate requirements are minimal and indeed we found this to be the case. Len suggested giving the cartridge a fair amount of time to run in and we did so…about a week.
The first tune on the platter with new bits of turntable related kit is always “Songbird” from Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” album – it’s a record I know well and I can immediately hear if something is amiss in set up. In fact nothing was amiss and so on with some more tunes.
I have a distributor friend Anthony who when we’ve spoken says his favourite record is Deep Purple’s “Made in Japan” but I’ve never really got on with it if I’m honest. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of the tunes on the album but didn’t really see it as a stand out record. However, it just seemed to come alive with the Music Maker III. On the opening of “Child in Time” with every little touch on the cymbals you can hear the metallic tap like I’ve not heard before on this bit of vinyl (I’ve never heard it on CD so can’t comment) and the great thing is there seems to be a distinct lack of the old snap, crackle and pop, to the extent that Linette (an anti vinyl crusader) commented that it wasn’t like listening to records and this is high praise indeed! Bass guitar is clear and melodic and when Mr Gillan starts to scream you’re pinned to the back of your seat. Popping the same record onto the Technics 1210 with the same arm and our Audio Technica EV33 cartridge we heard the album as being somewhat softer. Back to the Music Maker III and you get an immediate crispness and depth that with the other cartridge was lacking. Blackmore’s guitar has an actual tone to it rather than sounding like just another electric guitar and, you know what, I think I might just be beginning to see why this record is held up as a classic.
Rufus Wainwright’s “Out of the Game” from the album of the same name again distinguishes the Music Maker III as a very dynamic performer. The music just seems to come alive with his slightly nasal vocal presentation being apparent and very easy to distinguish. What I especially enjoyed was the perception of him moving to and from the microphone and it’s clear that that the cartridge is allowing us to hear a good deal more in the recording and the mix than with our EV33.
Baden Powell’s 1976 “Tristeza” has plucked guitar that just sounds so explosive with the Music Maker, but in quieter passages you can still hear all the minute detail in the fingering and again I feel that the record really came alive.
On Tears fro Fears’ “Mad World” from the album “The Hurting” the snare drum just explodes from the mix. I know I’ve used the word “explode” a few times in this review but it’s the only word I can find to describe what the Music Maker does to the sound of some instruments – the explosiveness isn’t overbearing and it’s not to the fore, it’s just as if certain sounds start from nothing, reach their peak and then disappear without lingering…and that’s a good thing as to my ears as it adds a certain preciseness to the overall sound. The rest of the ingredients in the mix appear to be balanced with each other but there just seems to be so much more of each of them than I’m used to.
On Dub Syndicate’s “Strike the Balance” bass is deep, taut and controlled with an overall feeling that there is a more forward to back separation to the mix – vocals are up front, bass behind and effects come and go. It’s an effects laden record but with this cartridge bolted onto the origin Live Silver you just seem to get a better insight into the mix and, as with other records we’ve thrown on the turntable, there just seems to be more of the music there than there was.
Big Bill Broonzy’s “This Train” from the “Last Session Part II” on the Verve label has the recording laid bare and you really can hear how the tune was recorded. Broonzy’s voice is full of emotion and feeling and guitar takes a bit of a back seat where it should be in this recording… but it’s all there.
I like The Cartridge Man Music Maker III a great deal indeed. We’ve had a lot of kit in the house over the last few weeks and this is going to be the hardest to send back. Price –wise (£750) it’s a couple of hundred quid more expensive than my Audio Technica but you can hear that extra money and it is to my mind well worth the extra expenditure and I’m sure it will out perform a good number of pricier cartridges.
The Music Maker III is convenient for many people who don’t have the facilities to accommodate a low output moving coil design as it plugs straight in to the moving magnet input and this will be a good selling point for many.
Len named the cartridge very well indeed – it just seems to make music…it digs deep into the grooves and drags heaps of detail to the table whilst managing to keep its cool and track brilliantly. We’ve played vinyl a good deal more over the last three weeks and this is in no small part due to us enjoying the Music Maker’s character.
Author – Stuart Smith
Review System – Wilson Benesch Circle Turntable, Origin Live Silver Tonearm, Technics 1210 (OL Modified), Origin Live Silver Tonearm, Audio Technica EV33 cartridge, Electrocompaniet phono, Monrio Pre, Tellurium Q Power, Jade Audio Interconnects, Epiphany Acoustics Interconnects, Tellurium Q Interconnects, Tellurium Q Ultra Black Speaker Cables, hORNS Mummy Loudspeakers.